Iranian-Born German Soccer Star Boycotts Israel Game

Catch-22 Situation for Ashkan Dejagah

U-21 football player Ashkan Dejagah has said that he doesn't want to play in the international football match against Israel for personal reasons. In his commentary, Peter Philipp argues that the public should accept his refusal

The Iranian-German U-21 football player, Ashkan Dejagah, has said that he does not want to play in the international football match against Israel for personal reasons. In his commentary, Peter Philipp argues that the public should accept his refusal

What a welcome relief to the hum-drum of German politics! What a wonderful opportunity for tabloids and political backbenchers alike to pander to public opinion and vent their anger!

When the Iranian-German U-21 football player Ashkan Dejagah announced that he could not take part in the U-21 international in Israel for personal political reasons, the reaction was swift and damning.

"Unacceptable!" thundered politicians from the conservative party (CDU) and the Social Democrats (SPD), left- and right-wing united in their outrage. After all, they reasoned, where would we be if sportsmen and women were allowed to decide against whom they wished to compete and - quite apart from that - there is no place for politics in sport.

"Private boycott against Jews"

So say the very people whose comments are doing just that, bringing politics into sport. Any German or immigrant in Germany who does not subscribe to the principles of the German community, they say, should be asked to hand back his German football jersey.

The Central Council of Jews in Germany endorsed this statement, adding that it is unacceptable for a member of the German national football team to "initiate a private boycott against Jews".

They would have been right had the young man in question declared that he rejected Israel and did not want to play there for that reason. But he didn't; he spoke of personal reasons and drew attention to the fact that he is not only German, but also Iranian.

Those who badmouth Dejagah merely show that they know nothing about the kind of catch-22 situation in which German immigrants find themselves. They also show that they understand either little or nothing about integration. It goes without saying that immigrants who become naturalized Germans should do their utmost to integrate themselves into German society.

But this cannot mean that they have to abandon their past, their background, and all that goes with it when they are naturalized, leaving it behind them "at the door" so to speak.

Of course he has connections in his former country; he has friends and relatives, maybe even property. Ethnic Germans are allowed to maintain personal links to foreign countries, so why can't an immigrant retain his ties with the country of his birth?

Teheran and Jerusalem enmity

To expect anything else from him would be wrong and unjust. In most cases, such expectations are not made. The situation changes, however, when things get political – and things are certainly political between Iran and Israel. Not because this Iranian-German footballer wants it to be so. No, the people responsible for the status quo are those in Teheran and Jerusalem who swear enmity towards each other.

It is the ordinary people who have to carry the can and, as is the case with Dejagah, to face either sanctions or, at the very least, serious unpleasantness. The German media and its politicians would do well not to play up such stories and certainly not to give them a completely different spin.

It begs the question as to what would happen if the footballer in question was an Israeli-German footballer and the international was being played in Iran. The answer is clear: no-one would insist upon that player taking part in the match.

In this case too, there are two sides to integration: that of those who integrate themselves into society and that of the society that integrates them – or not, as the case may be. Integration cannot be about self-denial, it requires consideration, esteem, and respect on both sides.

These elements are missing in the case at hand. But apart from all that, there is another reason why the politicians' populist sound bites are out of place in this discussion: Ashkan Dejagah is already 21 years old and will only be playing in the U-21 team for a few more months.

Peter Philipp

© Deutsche Welle/ 2007

Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan

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