The World from Berlin: German-Iranian Footballer 'Typical Example of Failed Integration'

German-Iranian soccer player Ashkan Dejagah's refusal to play in an international match in Israel has unleashed a storm of controversy in Germany. The press is divided on whether to condemn or condone the player and some newspapers ask if this is a sign of failed integration.

Ashkan Dejagah wearing the German strip in a previous under-21 international encounter.
REUTERS

Ashkan Dejagah wearing the German strip in a previous under-21 international encounter.

The refusal of Iranian-born German soccer player to play an international match in Israel has caused a storm of controversy in Germany.

Ashkan Dejagah, 21, has refused to travel with his team mates to play in Tel Aviv on Friday, and now German Jewish groups are demanding that he be excluded from the team altogether.

Dejagah has dual citizenhip -- he was born in Tehran and has lived in Germany since he was two years old. The striker, who is regarded as one of Germany's most impressive young soccer talents, plays with Bundesliga team VFL Wolfsburg and for the under-21 national team.

While the player had told his coach that he could not play in the game for "personal reasons," he was quoted in the mass-circuation Bild as saying "there are political reasons." The player, who still has family in Iran, told the BZ newspaper: "I have nothing against Israel. But I'm worried about having problems later when traveling to Iran."

Iran refuses to recognize Israel and forbids its citizens from visiting the country or playing in any sporting competitions with Israel. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has questioned the Holocaust and called for Israel to be "wiped off the map."

While the German Football Federation (DFB) granted Dejagah's request because he had cited personal reasons, its president, Theo Zwanziger, said on Tuesday that he would not tolerate a player cancelling his participation because of his world view. "A player who wears our team shirt must identify with this country and its values."

The Central Council of Jews in Germany has sharply criticized the player's stance. "It is inconceivable and impossible that a national team player initiates a private boycott of Jews," Vice President Dieter Graumann told SPIEGEL ONLINE. Meanwhile, Central Council President Charlotte Knobloch called on the DFB to exclude Dejagah from the national team.

While some German newspapers sharply criticize Dejagah's decision and question whether his stance is an indication of failed integration, others are more sympathetic about his fear of Tehran's reaction if he were to play.

The left-leaning Die Tageszietung writes:

"Naturally Dieter Graumann is right when he says that 'it is inconceivable and impossible that a national team player initiates a private boycott of Jews.' But is that what Ashkan Dejagah has done? He has cited 'personal reasons' for asking to be left out of the international match. If the Iranians wanted to, for whatever reason, they could mercilessly exploit the Dejagah case. Dejagah knows this and he has good reason to fear it."

"Naturally one would have been pleased if Dejagah had made a stand against this inhumane regime that is permanently campaigning against Israel, and had played there. But you can't demand that he do so when he has family in Tehran."

"It would be incorrect to immediately assume that he has a fundamental dislike of Jews. ... People should keep in mind the reasons behind Dejagah's decision. And they should seriously think about whether they would like to accept the responsibility for what would have happened if he had played."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"Dejagah could have wrangled his way out of the game with a conveniently timed injury ... Instead he opened his big mouth and said he couldn’t go for 'political reasons.'"

"One can imagine how great his fear is that his relatives in Iran might be persectued (if he played). And how great his fear is that he would not be able to travel to Iran with an Israeli stamp in his passport."

"His close friends know who Ashkan Dejagah fears the most in this matter. Not the regime in Tehran, but his father in Berlin. The family has lived in Berlin for 20 years but it is no secret that Mohammad Dejagah would have preferred to see his son in the Iranian team uniform rather than the German one. (According to media reports, Mohammad Dejagah has told the Iranian state news agency IRNA that he would like to see his son playing on the Tehran's national team.) Their new country has not become a real home for the family. Dejagah's case is, above all, a typical Berlin example of failed integration."

The conservative Die Welt writes:

"No one has to be a hero, you can't enforce civil courage. You can understand that Dejagah is afraid to play on Friday in the match against Israel … Dejagah could have given many excuses to stay away from the game unobtrusively."

"He is reported to have said 'I have more Iranian than German blood in my veins.' One doesn’t have to accept that. A national player represents his nation -- he is neither an international nor a dual citizenship player."

"The young man has revealed an important dilemma in the immigration society. There are many immigrants ... who maintain a completely functional relationship to their new home. ... They often demand full civil rights but then, after they get them, they still feel foreign. And they often feel a deep loyalty to their old home and to the blood in their veins."

In more naive times this double orientation was lauded as enriching society: two identities ... were better than one. Dejagah has now emphatically shown that unclear loyalties can be a danger to a free society."

-- Siobhán Dowling, 1:20 p.m, CET

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