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Refugees, Xenophobia, and Islamist Politics: Two Letters

Mina Ahadi is an Iranian exile, living in Germany. She opposed the Shah as well as Khomeini. In 1990 she fled to the West. An adamant secularist, critical of all religion and therefore an opponent of Islamist politics, she does not appear to distinguish between “Islamic” and “Islamist” in her prose. She identifies herself as a communist, she is a leader in the “Central Committee of Former Muslims,” and she is a principled defender of human rights. In two recent open letters, translated below, she stakes out positions that not only provide insight into contemporary German political discussions but that are directly relevant to U.S. debates as well.

In the first letter below, dated May 21, 2016, she addresses Frauke Petry, a leading spokesperson for the “Alternative for Germany” (AfD), which was founded initially as a liberal free market party but which rapidly turned toward a conservative nationalism, promoting xenophobia and deploying a racist rhetoric. The AfD is hostile to Angela Merkel’s refugee policies. In the letter Ahadi describes how one can, indeed how one must, welcome refugees fleeing existential threats but nonetheless remain deeply critical of politicized Islam. Her task in the letter is to distinguish her own secularist, progressive critique of Islam from the AfD’s animosity to Muslim refugees. In contrast, political discourse in the United States and much of Europe tends to assume that any critique of Islamism or any security concerns regarding terror threats is necessarily “Islamophobic.” Ahadi shows that one can support refugees and nonetheless not ignore political and security concerns.

In her letter to Petry, Ahadi addresses the political right; in the second letter, dated December 17, 2015, to Sahra Wagenknecht, she turns to the left. Wagenknecht is a leader in the The Left Party (die Linke). Here Ahadi is turning down an invitation to meet with Wagenknecht and takes the opportunity to articulate her general critique of The Left: in Germany, as elsewhere in the West, leftist parties refuse to criticize repressive elements in Islamist politics, especially misogyny but also aspects of the criminal codes (stonings and other executions). Instead they regard any such criticism as “Islamophobic,” while they simultaneously celebrate political Islam as a vehicle of “anti-imperialism.” Clearly writing with her own left-wing perspective, Ahadi takes none of this: abuses of human rights deserve criticism, not apologetics. Her clear condemnation of regressive values and politics in this context is an all too rare exception in the international left. The U.S. government’s refusal to discuss Islamist aspects of political violence is part of the same phenomenon that Ahadi addresses in Germany, and in fact she combines the critique of Islamism with the complaint that the West has often enough fostered the development of reactionary Islamist forces.

Together, the two letters, one to the right and one to the left, describe a field of political debate that deserves attention on both sides of the Atlantic.

—Russell A. Berman

Open Letter from Mina Ahadi to Frauke Petry

May 21, 2016

Dear Frauke Petry,

I have received an invitation from Markus Frohnmeier, a member of your party, to a meeting with you. In the interest of politeness I would like to explain why I cannot accept.

I assume that you would like to speak with me, the Chair of the Central Committee of Ex-Muslims, about the role of Islam in our society. My fundamental stance is unambiguous: religion is a private matter. That holds for Islam as much as it does for Christianity and all the other religions that have always been opponents of cultural progress. History teaches us that as soon as social conditions conform to the conceptions of a religion, oppression, persecution, and restrictions on liberty follow.

As a political activist, I experienced the brutal and fascist-like character of the movement of political Islam on my own body. As you perhaps know, I fled Iran 35 years ago. When the Iranian Revolution failed and the Islamists seized power and Khomeini imposed the obligatory headscarf, I and other courageous individuals organized protests and demonstrations. Due to my activities critical of both the regime and the religion, the Iranian secret police searched my apartment while I was at work. My then husband and five guests were arrested and quickly executed. After that I lived for eight months in hiding in the center of Tehran, before eventually fleeing to Iranian Kurdistan. After taking part in armed struggle for ten years in Kurdistan, I fled to Vienna in 1990, and I have been living for several years now in Cologne. Since founding the Central Committee of Ex-Muslims, I have been threatened by Islamists in Germany and have long required bodyguards.

So you see: I have had to pay a high price for my wish to live an independent life in a just society. I know exactly the reasons for such a flight. And I am very happy that I have had the chance in Germany to lead a good life. But others faced similar destinies. That’s exactly why many people have fled to Germany, because they wanted to live in an open society instead of in an Islamist dictatorship. Many have fled from war, terror, violence and exploitation.

Can you envision a world in which people use their energy to offer a helping hand to those in need of protection?

Frankly, I fear you cannot. Instead your party has been propagating a cynical anti-immigration politics, while tolerating thousands of deaths. Instead of expressions of sympathy, you even rant about using firearms on the national borders. Let me ask you clearly: have you really learned nothing from history? How many more people have to bleed to death in NATO barbed wire fences, how many have to die of thirst and drown in the Mediterranean, before you show a single emotion or even one human gesture? Is your callousness really unlimited?

Even if the AfD publicly claims allegiance to the humanistic tradition of enlightenment, it is only lip service. It basically advocates a similarly authoritarian, homophobic, and sexist—in short, misanthropic—position as do the ultraconservative Muslim associations. With its traditionalist and patriarchal understanding of the family, its aversion against progressive sex education, and its regressive position on human rights and science, your party dreams the same fundamentalist dream as do the Islamists. You both reduce people to group identities, instead of treating individuals seriously in terms of their particularity.

The parallels are no accident. For the AfD is the party of the arch-reactionary, fundamentalist Christian movement in Germany. This explains why it criticizes Islam, on the one hand, while, on the other, it uses different criteria for the no less irrational Christian religion. This is the only way to explain why Beatrix von Storch, a woman with religious delusions, occupies a leadership position in your party.

Dear Frau Petry: Neither the idea of a Christian Fortress Europe nor a cultural-relativist appeasement politics toward Islam corresponds to my understanding of an open society. But the staged Islam criticism of the AfD is a fraud that serves to camouflage xenophobic perspectives.

I do not want to be misunderstood: it is necessary to criticize Islam, as much in Europe as elsewhere. Political Islam is a dangerous movement and one of the major problems of our time. Tragically many European governments as well as the Left and intellectuals have ignored this problem or suppressed it. While courageous Iranians tried to push back against the politics of stonings, executions, and the oppression of women, our leftist friends in the West responded to Islamic barbarism with equanimity.

But xenophobic groupings like the AfD offer no solutions to the problem. The only answer to barbarism is solidarity with progressive, humanistic movements.

Mina Ahadi

The original letter appears here.

Open Letter from Mina Ahadi to Sahra Wagenknecht

December 17, 2015

Dear Sahra,

Your speech in the Bundestag has left me astonished and shocked, because you, like the Left Party, fail to understand the political situation. In your lively address, you speak out against brutality and war. You argue that terror cannot be fought with bombs. I would add to that that the solution to the problem requires drawing on various factors. One cannot fight terror with bombs, but neither with silence nor with a trivializing representation of political Islam.

It is a bitter truth that the Western states—America, England, and France—have relied on political Islam to secure their own power. In countries like Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, and others, terror gangs of the Islamic movement have damaged or destroyed the lives of millions. To be clearer: I am speaking of stonings, mandatory veils, and mass executions. I am speaking of official laws according to which you and I are only worth half as much as a man.

As an Iranian I have been directly fighting against the disgusting character of the movement of political Islam for 36 years. After your moving speech, I googled to see how often you have spoken about the crimes of the Islamist movement. Google destroyed my hopes: You have never spoken for a minute about stonings, whippings of women, or the execution of, for example, atheists or communists. Google showed me that under the name “Sahra” there is nothing about the Islamic movement.

I hope you have heard of me. I am a citizen who has spoken out in nearly all German cities against stonings, executions, the burqa, misogyny, and Islamic terrorism, while at the same time criticizing the policies of Western states, including Germany. I was never your guest (of the Left Party—ed.). Why not? Because your party continuously understands the Islamic movement as the embodiment of a liberation movement of the people—of those countries where we come from—against imperialist domination, and perhaps you think this way too. You treat every tactic and action of these criminals as “anti-imperialist.” The Islamic movement is itself a movement for the subjugation of the population in general, and especially the left. This movement terrorizes and murders with Islamic convictions and according to the laws of the Koran.

The Islamic movement took shape in Iran, the country where your father came from, as a response to and the destruction of the revolution that originally had left-wing characteristics.

The “Islamic State,” as a twin brother of the “Islamic Republic,” started in Iran. Its barbaric establishment was accompanied by the bestial mass killings of thousands of young people. I have never seen a single sentence from your Party condemning the crimes of the Iranian corollary to the Islamic State. Why not?

You and I are leftists and Communists. We have not yet met in Germany because we hold different positions on the great catastrophe of the century, the cruelty of Islamic terrorism. You have never recognized the criminal role of political Islam in today’s world. You have supported the apologists of multiculturalism and postmodernism. You have ignored the women who have fallen into the hands of these psychopaths who treat them like prisoners. You have simply focused on your work and your life. There is nothing in your politics that supports the women’s movement in the Muslim world. Why not?

I am an Iranian communist. I have spent many years of my life fighting a monster that was brought to life by Western countries. In Iran, we fought against the politics of stonings, executions, and misogyny, while our left-wing friends, especially left-wing women in the West, tolerated the stonings with untroubled aplomb. I hope you know what I mean.

As a woman from Iran, under the domination of Islamic terrorism, I accuse:

• the Western states for having helped the reactionaries who belong to the Middle Ages
• the intellectuals, who wants to silence us and who propagate the notion of an unthreatening Islam
• the Left, that has been silent or apologetic, by claiming that executions are just part of our culture

Close your eyes and mind your business, and ultimately you, the Left with political responsibility in society, have gone a step further and insisted that there are no problems. Sometimes you even celebrated former president Ahmadinejad as a victor over U.S. imperialism.

In the Bundestag you spoke about Afghanistan and the bad politics that led to the emergence of the Taliban. Those politics were not just a matter of bombings and invasions but also the structure of the Afghan government, repeatedly defended by the German government at the Afghanistan Conference—a government from which all modern and secular forces were excluded and civil rights were substituted by religious-ethnic law.

In 2011 we held a demonstration in Bonn against a decade of bad politics from the Afghanistan Conference. We believed that those politics would lead to further years of bloody confrontations in Afghanistan. No one from your party participated in our protest.

Dear Sahra,

We opposed war and terror, state terrorism and Islamic terrorism. At the present moment, left-wing politics requires a third front, simultaneously against state terror and Islamic terror. Unfortunately your party does not participate in the opposition against Islamic terror. For that reason, it does not belong, in my opinion, to the left camp.

Communism is the appropriate and creative response to the problems of humanity for a better life. Ignoring problems, overlooking difficulties, and misinterpretations of the anti-imperialist struggle have destroyed your relationship to the population of Muslim countries. As a seasoned warrior against political Islam I believe you have either misunderstood the problem or ignored it. For this reason you have not been on our side in the fight against political Islam during the past 36 years.

I hope this letter will lead to some rethinking. For years, the Islamic movement has spread with the construction of mosques, with forced veilings, gender segregation in schools, etc. Many Germany are appropriately worried about the erosion of the relatively secular principles of Germany—but your party stands as usual on the side of the Islamists.

Please think about this.

I await an answer to this letter.

Mina Ahadi

The original letter appears here.

Translated by Russell A. Berman.

1 comment to Refugees, Xenophobia, and Islamist Politics: Two Letters

  • tia rose

    what is a German communist today? Why blame the West for not doing something about the abuse of Muslim women the world over? If the Muslim people can’t end it how can foreigners? And I do feel hurt by what you say: I support multiculturalism, the acceptance that all human beings are God’s creation and therefore all equal and loved. Women in the USA have done much for decades to help Muslim girls and women.