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Nobel Peace Prize laureate speaks out on Iran

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Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi Photo: deutsche welle / flickr

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi Photo: deutsche welle / flickr

I heard the Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi talk about the situation in Iran on Monday (July 13, 2009). What she said was very impressive.

Shirin Ebadi said many more people have been killed in Iran in the aftermath of the elections than we know now. “What happened in Iran is an obvious human rights violation”, she told a Deutsche Welle journalist.

Ebadi described the first day of demonstrations in Tehran after the Iranian elections: “When the Iranian people demonstrated peacefully, there were no problems – not even a window was broken. But towards the end of the demonstrations shots were fired from office buildings. Some died and many more were injured. That was the beginning to the state’s crackdown. That night at 3 a.m., a student residence was attacked, five students were shot dead and several were injured.”

Journalists attending Shirin Ebadi's press conference Photo: deutsche welle / flickr

Journalists attending Shirin Ebadi's press conference Photo: deutsche welle / flickr

Shirin Ebadi said the government’s actions were neither in line with the Iranian constitution, nor with Islam, nor with human rights.

Ebadi said the Iranian people would continue their demonstrations. But the protest would take on new forms because of the government crackdown on the street demonstrations. Ebadi added that this continuing protest and the criticism from within the Iranian clergy will further destabilize the government.

The Iranian human rights activist called on Germany and Europe to increase the pressure on the Iranian government.

But Ebadi made it very clear that she’s opposed to military intervention and economic sanctions. Those, she said, would only hurt the people of Iran.

Shirin Ebadi criticized the West for only concentrating on the nuclear dispute in its negotiations with Iran. “You wonder,” she said, “whether the Europeans only care about their own security and not the security of the people in Iran.”

She also criticized companies like Nokia and Siemens, saying they had delivered technology to Iran, which is now being used to monitor and control the citizens.

Ebadi is an outspoken human rights activist

I was impressed with Shirin Ebadi’s courage to speak out. Some of her co-workers in Iran have already been imprisoned by the regime. But that doesn’t deter her from fighting for human rights for the people of Iran.

Shirin Ebadi giving a radio interview Photo: deutsche welle / flickr

Shirin Ebadi giving a radio interview Photo: deutsche welle / flickr

When asked whether giving interviews to foreign journalists in the West could cause problems for her in Iran, she replied “That’s not that important to me. I consider this a task that has to be done.”

What surprised me was that Shirin Ebadi had left Iran shortly before the elections and has not been back since then. She said that her co-workers had urged her to stay in Europe and raise awareness for her cause there. She’s in constant contact with her colleagues back home, who keep her informed about the situation in Iran.

Of course, she’s freer to talk and to take action when she’s in Europe than when she’s in Iran. But it’s risky for her, nevertheless. After all, her husband and her family are still in Iran. They might have to suffer the consequences of her actions abroad.

But despite the risks, Shirin Ebadi expressed confidence that she would be able to return home “after I have finished my job here.”

Citizens defeat racists in Cologne

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United against racism, terror and violence

United against racism, terror and violence

You won’t find me at a lot of political rallies.

So when I got my ass up this weekend to go out and demonstrate, you know that it must have been a cause that was very important to me.

This weekend, racists and neo-Nazis from all over Europe had planned to gather in my home town Cologne for an “Anti-Islam-Conference”.

They were hoping to use public sentiment against the construction of a big mosque in Cologne to their advantage.

They’d planned a big rally in one of Cologne’s downtown squares, the Heumarkt, with speakers from right-wing parties like France’s Front National, Italy’ Lega Nord and Austria’s FPÖ.

Cologne debates construction of a big mosque

Many people in Cologne aren’t comfortable with the idea of building the new mosque. Cologne is a very catholic and a very traditional city.

But the fact is that the city also has a large Muslim population. And so far, they’ve been meeting in small neighborhood prayer rooms.

The new mosque will give them a central meeting place in town. And it’ll be an architectural statement that Muslims have become an integral part of this city.

Demonstration against racism in Cologne

Demonstration against racism in Cologne

And while the debate about the construction of the mosque is a regular part of the democratic process in Cologne, racism and xenophobia are not.

That’s what brought the people of Cologne out in droves this weekend to protest against the “Anti-Islam-Conference”.

In the end, their massive protest foiled the efforts of the right-wing extremists.

A broad coalition against racism

Opposition against the “Anti-Islam-Conference” in Germany’s media and among the public had gathered force throughout the last week.

Anti-Nazi demonstrations get front page coverage in Cologne's leading local paper

Anti-Nazi demonstrations get front page coverage

Germany’s radio and television stations, newspapers and many websites reported in-depth on the upcoming meeting of the racists in Cologne.

They also described the growing dissatisfaction among the city’s citizens about the event.

And they reported about planned anti-nazi demonstrations and creative ways to obstruct the racist rally. A broad democratic coalition formed.

Cologne turns anti-racist protest into a carnival

One the funniest anti-racist initiatives was “11 000 Bellydancers”. The organizers called on people to come dressed up in oriental garb and dance to oriental music. The aim was to contrast xenophobia and racism with multi-cultural fun, song and dance.

And while there probably weren’t 11 000 bellydancers on Saturday, you did see quite a few people wearing oriental outfits. It was a little like a summer carnival.

Other forms of protest included some of Germany’s most popular bands joining forces for a concert against racism. It took place exactly at the time and within hearing distance of the right-wing rally.

Meanwhile, protesters blocked the streets leading to Heumarkt square, so that the right-wing supporters who wanted to attend the “Anti-Islam-Conference” couldn’t get to the rally.

Whenever someone tried to get through the blockade and onto Heumarkt, the protesters started chanting “Nazis raus!” (Nazis get out).

Racist rally doesn’t take place as planned

In the end, there were only about 90 right-wing supporters on Heumarkt.

The low turnout was a blow in the face to the organizers, who had hoped to attract thousands of supporters.

And it was a victory for civil rights.

I’m proud of the thousands of people of this city who gathered in peaceful protest against racism.

I’m proud of the demonstrators who blocked the tram line that leads from Cologne airport into the city. This prevented hundreds of racists who had arrived by plane from getting into town.

I’m proud of the airport officials, who threw the racists out of the building when they tried to hold an improvised press conference there.

I’m proud of the teenagers who blocked the streets leading to Heumarkt.

I’m proud of the Cologne hotel manager who asked the racists to pack their bags and get out as soon as he found out who had checked in to his hotel.

An important step forward, but still a long way to go

I know that – even though the racists had to retreat this time, they still have a lot of popular support. In Cologne, in Germany, in Europe.

This time, the supporters were silenced by the massive protests.

But they are still among us. Silent now, but waiting.

The organizers of the “Anti-Islam-Conference” have already announced that they want to schedule another rally in the near future.

The public debate about multi-cultural society is far from over. Integration and tolerance remain difficult in Germany.

Bellydance for tolerance

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Cologne and the river Rhine

Cologne and the river Rhine

The people of Cologne have a nice sense of humor. They’ll even turn political protest against Neo-Nazis into a carnival.

Liberal groups in Cologne are calling on the people of the city to stage a mass bellydance on September 20th. They’re hoping that 11 000 dancers will swing their hips to oriental music in protest against a neo-Nazi rally planned for that day.

Right-wing organizations from all over Europe will be meeting in Cologne from September 19 – 21 for an anti-Islam convention.

Its “highlight” will be a rally in downtown Cologne. Notorious right-wing politicians from all over Europe will be there – including Jean-Marie Le Pen, the head of the French “Front National”, representatives of Italy’s Lega Nord, Belgium’s Vlaams-Belang and Austria’s FPÖ.

Not the kind of people I like to see in my home town.

And not the kind of event that’ll give the city good press.

Many citizens of Cologne are furious about this right-wing rally. But there’s no way to stop it. The authorities say it’s a legal political demonstration. They can only step in when speakers openly advocate racism or hatred.

So to show their opposition against this right-wing convention, the people of Cologne have decided to bellydance against Neo-Nazism.

I think that’s a much more imaginative idea than simply calling a counter-demonstration. Because the idea of a left-wing demonstration clashing violently with the right-wing demonstration doesn’t really turn me on either.

So, people of Cologne: get out your “I Dream of Jeannie” outfits and bellydance for tolerance on September 20th!

Written by Thorsten

September 10, 2008 at 2:57 pm

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