While Germany’s media are reporting non-stop on the country’s most famous contemporary writer—the 1999 Nobel Laureate in Literature Günter Grass—because of his “poetic” attacks on Israel’s right to defend itself, the plight of Iran’s severely repressed democracy activists has been largely ignored by both Grass’s defenders and critics.
According to Mr. Grass’s poem, Israel is the source of all bellicosity. He airbrushes the threats of Iran’s leaders to wipe Israel off the map, including with a nuclear strike, out of history. He further omits the blood-soaked repression of Iran’s regime against its own population. There is no mention of Iran’s judiciary hanging gays or stoning men and women. The tsunami-wave execution of Iranian adolescents is non-existent in Grass’s world view and writings.
Published on Wednesday in the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung, Mr. Grass’s poem titled “What Must Be Said” accuses Israel of seeking to "annihilate" the Iranian people. It is hardly surprising that Grass’s anti-Israel lyric has been termed an expression of a kind of intellectual anti-Semitism.
According to commentators in the German press, the former Nazi Waffen SS member Mr. Grass invoked a running list of anti-Semitic attitudes and language targeting Jews and Israel. His argument that Jews are warmongers recalls the crass justification from the Hitler movement’s ideology to murder Europe’s Jews. A translation of his poem
can be read at the end of this Guardian dispatch, which notes Grass’s “educated anti-Semitism.”
Dr. Clemens Heni, a first-rate German scholar who has written extensively about modern anti-Semitism in the Federal Republic, wrote me by email on Thursday, saying that “ I think Grass is perhaps the biggest anti-Semite in Germany after 1945 in terms of being a famous personality.”
A leading German-Iranian intellectual Nasrin Amirsedghi told me via telephone on Saturday that the obvious absurdity of Mr. Grass’s poem can be captured by a Persian proverb: ”Three things that one cannot hide: Love, a pregnancy, and riding on a camel.”
Ms. Amirsedghi, a long-term critic of Tehran’s human rights record and the regime rulers who decimated the country’s democracy protestors in 2009, told me that “Mr. Grass is riding on the camel. In his poem he takes sides with the Mullah barbarians…With this poem he has disqualified himself and turned himself into an evil accomplice” of Iran’s clerical regime.
Though newspapers in Germany reported that the New York Times published the poem, the Grey Lady sent me the following response on Thursday. Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for the New York Times, wrote: ”This appears to be misinformation in the German press. While we don't typically discuss what we plan to publish on our op-ed pages, I can tell you that our op-ed editor has never seen this piece and as far as we can tell, it was not submitted to us.”
On Thursday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu issued an unusual statement on Mr. Grass. As the JPost’s
veteran diplomatic reporter Herb Keinon noted
: “It is rare for Netanyahu to react to anti- Semitic and virulently anti-Israel statements made abroad.” Mr. Netanyahu zoomed in on a largely neglected topic in the Grass row. He said, “It is Iran, not Israel, that stones women, hangs gays and brutally represses tens of millions of its own citizens.”
While the regime-controlled press in Tehran is in a state of euphoria
about Grass’s pro-Islamic Republic lyric, a number of prominent German-Iranian dissidents and public intellectuals sent me counter-responses. Dr. Kazem Moussavi wrote me on Saturday, that Günter Grass “is silent about the dictatorial Mullah regime. He is also silent about the denial of the Holocaust, the repression of human rights of the opposition in Iran.” Dr. Moussavi adds that the “anti-Israel poem of Günter Grass is a present for the clerical fascists in Iran.” The Mullah regime has already praised Grass’s political positions the Iranian press, wrote Mosssavi. He sent me a series of links to pro-Grass reports in Tehran’s press.
Iran Press TV wrote, “Never in the history of postwar Germany has a prominent intellectual attacked Israel in such a brave way as Günter Grass with his controversial new poem. Metaphorically, the Nobelist has delivered a lethally lyrical strike against Israel.”
While Mr. Grass is fixated on Israel, the plight of persecuted minority groups in Iran’s tightly controlled society remains a non-existent topic for the social democrat party
The German-Iranian scholar, Dr. Wahied Wahdat-Hagh, sent me his blog (From Tunis to Tehran) on the website of the weekly paper Jungle World. A day before Grass published his poem, Dr. Wahdat-Hagh noted
that April 1, 2012 marks the day that “the seven leading Baha’i members have been incarcerated 10,000 days in the notorious prisons of Gohardascht, Qarchak and Evin. They are members of the repressed religion Baha’i and that is the reason they have been imprisoned.” Here
is a list of the Baha’i people in Iran’s penitentiaries.
When Germany’s Ambassador to Tehran Bernd Erbel assumed his post in Tehran, he highlighted on the German embassy’s website that he was looking forward to “preserving the historical treasure of the German-Iranian friendship.” Sadly, Mr. Grass has built with his poem on a reactionary tradition that advances the interests of Iran’s clerical rulers at the expense of pro-democracy activists.
In 2007, Ms. Amirsedghi penned a poem about the failure of Mr. Grass and other German intellectuals and politicians to confront Iran’s drive to obtain nuclear weapons and its ruthless despotism. It is worth citing in light of Mr. Grass’s bizarre lyrical aggression against Israel.
I, The Knight
Tall on his horse
For the earthly worms,
Calls to the stars
Up in the heavens:
I, the knight,
Will save you from the rats.
Confused, the knight rides,
stumbles across hell
Falls into it
Calls from the deep:
I, the knight,
You, earthly worm,
Here and there,
Town or country,
Pull me out.
The earthly worm
Blind, blinded by gloomy sun,
Where is the knight?
It emerges from hell,
Boiling with delight,
The knights voice:
I, the knight,
Will save you from the rats!
Click here to return to Blog home page