Dejagah Should Go
By Zeev Avrahami
Der Spiegel Online International
The German Football Federation claims that an Iranian-German player is dropping out of a match in Israel for personal reasons. But rising football star Ashkan Dejagah has told a national daily his reasons are political, owing to his split loyalty to Iran. If that's true, he should be dropped from Germany's national team.
Berlin is trying. It's trying hard to march forward to a brighter future without forgetting its past. That's why, a few meters from the German parliament, the Reichstag, one can visit the futuristic "TUI World" travel agency, where cosmopolitan Germans can book a ticket to just about any city in the world. A few meters from the new Holocaust memorial site one can get cash at the "Deutsche Bank of the Future" on Friedrichstrasse. And not too long ago, one could visit T-Mobile's "House of the Future," located just a few meters from Checkpoint Charlie.
Sadly, these aren't the only places where one experiences the stark contrasts between the New Germany and its dark past. Sometimes the historical ghosts are strong enough to paralyze you, make you choke and stand back and ask yourself: What the hell am I doing in this country?
You argue with the locals about the rise of right-wing extremism and the surreal number of racial attacks, which are enough to leave you thinking that Germany never really cured its cancer. You hear people here argue that allowing far-right parties to exist merely underscores the strength of German democracy. Besides, they say, these attacks happen only in villages in the states of the former East Germany, where unemployment is rampant and an underclass is emerging.
If you read the papers last week, you would have seen that three foreigners were attacked at a gas station in Berlin's Pankow district, just three stops away from my home. And again you wonder whether the Germans' dealings with their past were simply cosmetic, like treating a tumor with aspirin; you wonder if those huge public memorial sites that they built on the most expensive real estate in the capital are like a collective letter of indulgence so they don't have to deal with their past on a personal level.
Now comes the latest example: the upcoming trip of the German under-21 national soccer team to Israel. Of course they are scheduled to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem to lay down a wreath in memory of the 6 million victims. But if you really want to know how the team is dealing with Germany's Nazi past, it won't even be necessary to accompany them on their trip to Yad Vashem -- just take a look at how they are dealing with it at home.
Ashkan Dejagah, one of the young national team's leading players and someone who is being groomed to become one of the future offensive stars of German professional soccer, has refused to play in a match against the Israeli team. Dejagah, who was born in Iran and migrated to Berlin at a very young age, excused himself from the game, citing what the German Football Federation (DFB) described in a press release as "personal reasons."
Both his team coach and the DFB apparently found these reasons convincing enough to let him get away with it. And if there are really "personal reasons" behind his cancellation, then Dejagah is better off not flying to Israel. There is no game in the world worth having relatives in Iran suffer for -- indeed, no game is important enough to allow a man to be stripped of his right to go back to the country where he and his family came from.
This, though, is where things get prickly: Dejagah told the Bild newspaper that he had decided not to play in Israel for "political reasons." If that's indeed the case, then Germany's leading football body is backing a player who sings Germany's anthem and wears its uniform while at the same time identifying himself with a regime which has declared its desire to wipe Israel off the map and publicly questions whether the Holocaust ever happened.
Football is sacred in Germany, and it's an ideal forum through which the country can showcase its principles. When, during the 1994 World Cup, Stefan Effenberg, a German midfielder, was kicked off the field after getting a red card, he flipped off the cameras as he walked off the pitch. DFB reacted promptly: It suspended Effenberg from the rest of the tournament and sent him home on the first available plane.
If Dejagah excused himself because of political motives, the DFB's reaction to the current case shouldn't be any different: He should be suspended and put on a plane home, clearing the way for him to play on the Iranian national team. After all, he has already claimed to have "more Iranian than German blood in my veins."
Zeev Avrahami is a freelance journalist who lives in Berlin and writes for the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronot. Of Iranian descent, he was born on the Sinai Peninsula before his family was expelled.
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