Burscheid / Germany, June 17, 2006


Mahmood Ahmadi-Nejad
President of the Islamic Republic of Iran

Mr. President,
dear Dr. Ahmadi-Nejad

I am not sure whether the President of the United States of America already answered your letter of May 8. Anyway it had the character of an open letter, was published in the internet and has close connections to Germany, the country where I was born and where me and my family live. So please accept my reply as a reaction of a possible addressee.

I will close with some proposals for an agenda to be initiated by Iran. It may initialize a more promising development. I guess it is time for specific ideas and offers leading to action. An exchange of diplomatic views may not lead much further. Right in the beginning I apologize for any undiplomatic formulation that may occur: This is my first letter to a foreign head of state.

1. As you, many of us Germans are trying to find a clause in respect of the growing international tensions, crises and wars, the millions of people being displaced and hurt, even murdered, cities, houses and civil infrastructure being destroyed, local cultures being neglected and eroded and nature being harmed, partly in an irrevocable way. As you, we notice severe contradictions in positions, words and deeds of politicians and leaders. If I may add: politicians and leaders of any nation and creed.

There are light-handed explanations as the power-vacuum left from the collapse of the Soviet empire. And I would also concede that Western states and organisations tried to make use of the new strategic situation and tried to actively become a spearhead of a Western style global civilization. At the same time, technology flow and the effects of globalisation seem to have made states more vulnerable and stateless nets more of a danger, even for broad infrastructure and for the performance and even existence of weaker states. As you, I guess that the sovereignty of any state is the prerequisite for an international peace order, and my strong conviction is due to the German aggression in WW II. Furthermore we may agree that dangerous aggression is not limited to military action, but includes economic aggression and especially cultural forms, where the basic texture of a society may be destroyed by new aims and values, new knowledge and a new adjudication of resources.

2. On the other hand – and even more disturbing in nature – we may argue that peace and stability are not guaranteed automatically but need a continuous effort to neutralize the aggressive, conspicuous and explorative traces of mankind. That is why teachers, mullahs, rabbis and priests bear a very special responsibility and why as far as I know any kind of belief has modules of reconciliation and forgiving. Please allow me explaining a very personal experience and lesson:

Some years ago I went running at a weekend. I like running through nature, for it clears my spirits and gives me a closer look at the beauties of God’s creation. It was early evening and the sun was setting behind me, casting yellow-red beams through the leaves of the surrounding trees and painting patterns of light on the soil and the trunks right before me. In a distance of approximately 25 meters, there was a wooden post of a telegraph line; and on that post I could see an arrow of the very same colour, directed right up into the sky.

For a second it crossed my mind that someone high above tried to address me by that arrow of light, and that it would be a kind of gentle menetekel (Daniel 5, 25-26). As a man raised up with science and technology, I quickly dismissed that thought and passing the post, I definitely noticed that it was an arrow of trivial paint, not of light. The notion that I would like to draw attention at follows right now: I suddenly felt disappointed. That arrow could have shown a special kind of relation to God honoured by a sign of light. And I somewhat tried to keep up that first interpretation by a new attitude: That I just was taught a special lesson, still addressing me personally and with a special privilege.

Interim: People attending the speech of Pope Benedict XVI on May 28 in Auschwitz noticed a rainbow in the sky. It was interpreted as proven God’s interest in that event and that man (see 1 Moses 9, 12/13).

A second interim: Whilst writing about that scene on my laptop, I missed the station to leave the bus for work. It gave me a nice extra walk of thousand meters and a look at nature. Who ever looks upon us, he definitely has humour of a kind.

For some time I tried to figure out the lesson of that day. After intensive contemplation that lesson seems to be: Like a child in a family of many children, men tend to crave for any sign or symbol of privilege, by father or mother, by teachers – and by God. And unanimously men form their conception of God according to their individual looks, customs, and behaviour. Whilst I strongly believe that the world visible and not visible to us would not exist without the presence of a creator, I find it not probable that this creator has looks like we have or that he thinks thoughts like we do. So I fully agree with the holy books that there should be no picture or even a sign symbolizing that creator.

Going a step further – and assuming that this creator is everywhere or nowhere, joining everybody or nobody – I come to a reconciling and at least to me most logic conclusion: It is neither sensible nor fair to think of God addressing us personally or as division of mankind. There is no promised land or a God’s own country or an ethnic group elected by God; there is just a mandated world, mandated to all mankind. God is therefore not to be found amongst those rules and symbols, that differ between the various religions, creeds and beliefs, but just and only in the combining, consensual and congenial factors. I may add that especially the crucifix is a symbol so loaded with cruelty and sacrifice, that children and non-believers cannot possibly understand the peacefulness, mercy and human compassion of the thereby represented belief.

Hans Küng, a very reputed Swiss theologian outside of the mainstream theology, told: “There will be no world order without peace between the nations and peoples. There will be no peace between the peoples without peace between the religions. And there will be no peace between the religions without their dialogue. The only way to political peace is the way of a mutually accepted ethos, based on the religious traditions of mankind.” The even more famous Leonardo Boff fully consents in his “Ethics for a New World’ and adds: “World Ethics is the basic understanding in respect of binding values and irrevocable standards and attitudes that can be indorsed by all religions, even by non-believers and atheists. The elementary values to be built upon are definite truth and irrevocable justice. At the core of universal ethics lies humanitas, which means the obligation to treat any man and woman in a humane way, irrespective of his or her situation, class, religion or age.” I guess it would be worth while to organise an Iranian-German workshop on the idea of world ethics and the perfect place to do so might be Isfahan, that very ancient city with a long lasting record of peaceful cohabitation between religions. A specific proposal follows at the end of this letter.

3. You hesitate, dear Dr. Ahmadi-Nejad, to believe in the history of Auschwitz as it is told these days. At least you report on questions of your students, that you were not able to answer in a satisfying way. Your students’ interest and concern is certainly not to be understood without the political impact on the birth of the state of Israel. Right in the beginning I unanimously agree, that whatever conflict has arisen out of the emigration of refugees to Palestine and out of the founding of the state of Israel and whatever means of reconciliation and compensation are necessary, it is the responsibility of Western, mostly of European states. When I am stating that the main causes for the present situation and any responsibility for a change must be looked for in Europe, I find it nevertheless worth while exploring, whether other states of the region did the possible amount to ease the pains of generations of Palestinian refugees or if they at least tolerated the given situation as a grim reminder for world conscience, or if they can contribute to a joint effort for a sustainable future.

In respect of Auschwitz both of us can neither prove nor disprove the central facts from our own experience or studies. Therefore we have to base our judgement on information provided by third persons. But I would like to make it very clear: If we have made use of the accessible sources, we may not stay in a state of constant ambiguity. We either have to express a clear view and show the facts proven or disproved by the scientific means or we have to leave the debate. It is very near to a political lie which you rightly disapprove so much, to draw a politically critical issue into doubt without convincing evidence, on the base of vague assumptions, and to an own end. Be very sure that my generation would be living much more comfortable – that’s what you aim at – if German history was confined to great preacher men, scientists, writers, composers, painters and philosophers. As a boy of fifteen I tended to the position that losing a war automatically makes you a loser in moral history. I learned better. Losing a war in the first place gives the unique chance of realising what your administration otherwise is able to conceal or downplay.

There may have been miscalculations and exaggerations according to numbers of murdered persons. But is beyond any scientific dispute that the Jewish people in the area controlled by German forces were purposefully deprived of any civil rights, were displaced to concentration camps in the East, and died over there in hundreds of thousands by gas, by deliberate famine and forced work and by mass-diseases due to worst sanitary conditions, not to speak of the masses of victims in Jewish ghettos like the Warsaw ghetto. I would like to draw your attention especially to the study of Jean-Claude Pressac, ‘Les Crematoires d’ Auschwitz’, Paris 1993. Pressac originally was – as you are – very sceptical in respect of the organized murder in German concentration camps and he collected any accessible information, which after the collapse of the Soviet empire was completed by evidence gathered by Soviet troops at the end of WW II. From Pressac’s work you may derive a number of 470.000 up to 550.000 persons, predominantly women, children and elderly people, murdered intra muros in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. This may be less than those numbers cited in the Seventies, but it is over half a million times as much as the holy Quran estimates tolerable (5, 32). My conclusion is: If my or your ethnic group would have been subject to prosecution like the Jews of Europe we would have tried to leave that scene of a nightmare, that became reality. Should Iranian scientists have made findings that clearly disprove these facts I would be very interested to know. And it is my deep conviction: In the first place it is the responsibility of the German people to examine their past and learn their lessons without comfortable escape.

I would like to add here: Apart from the fact that Europe did not take much notice of the murder of Jews, Sinti and Roma, enemy soldiers and physically or mentally disabled Germans – actually there was some intelligence and protest – you are possibly not convinced that a state with the cultural heritage of Germany was able to organize a crime of that dimension. My explanation is simple, almost trivial, but nevertheless most worrying: As well as the German troops left millions of Russians starving, confiscating the regional harvest and storage, the Concentration Camps seem to have murdered those detainees, that could not be made use of by nearby German factories, just because they could or would not feed those people. So just an economical, semi-logic reason may have made men to objects without value. This gross inhumanity is not so far from people harmed or killed in refugee camps. Or from the innocent women, children and elderly people victimized by suicide bombers – to be more precise, by the structures behind this phenomenon.

There are perseverative samples of inhumanity in the history of mankind, whether in ancient times by Timur or Tamerlan, a devoted Muslim and friend of finest arts, later by Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot, nowadays at Srebrenica, and there is a countless number of massacres unmentioned today. To me, all this shows the broad responsibility that God has left to us personally: to actively shelter men and prevent repercussions of a most inhumane and deadly past. So it should be our joint effort to work out the dignity and uniqueness of humans as it is laid down in our sources of faith and make it an irreversible paradigm of our professional and private behaviour.

4. You might know that in Germany the signs of xenophobia are on the rise again. Drawing the lessons of the past into doubt without sound evidence may constitute a very personal responsibility for future crimes against Muslim people as well. I am attaching a poll from May 2006 regarding the highly critical attitudes of Germans to the Muslim community. 65% of Germans esteem continuing conflicts between the Western and the Arabic-Muslim communities very probable. Positive notions are increasingly attributed to Christian people, negative to those of Muslim faith. To me it seems to be most worrying that the polarization is so quickly developing. We should not contribute to that escalating effect by additionally encouraging the right wing, that is notoriously nationalistic, anti-Semitic as well as anti-Muslim, with cheap and craved for explanations.

Unfortunately, the documentation of the attached poll is available just in German. So I add a file displaying some reported results as well, which are at the core of the poll, with my personal English translation. It would be most interesting to know, how the very same questionnaire would be answered in Iran these days, wouldn’t it?

5. Although I fully endorse the right of any country to build its future on science and technology, I have to accept that items of science may contribute to the mistrust between countries. Almost any aspect of science may be seen as critical under this aspect, even findings in medicine. You may know that in WW I even the development of antibiotics was estimated as of tactical importance and as critical, because it could increase the war-leading ability of enemies. Therefore the finding was kept a secret in the course of the war.

Any development that may lead to the ability to build nuclear weapons may amplify mistrust among nations. I would appreciate any instrument that combines transparency and incentives for the disarmament of nations that already possess nuclear weapons. A very interesting new approach would be to increase the public control over science and technology, which will be another proposal made at the end of this letter.

6. Let me come to a point that according to my analysis gravely contributes to the global unrest, but is rarely mentioned. Unlike most commentators and a trend set by Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations-theory I do not believe that the most driving factor behind the virulent terrorism lies in different race, ethnics, belief, culture or customs. As a matter of fact, especially the traditional cultural bridges between the Islamic orient and the Christian occident – with embedded Jewish communities – are very manifold. Between Jews and Arabs there are lots of cultural parallels, for example in the traditional law of families (e.g. the iqrar, by which a child born out of wedlock is declared legitimate), in religion, language and writing. You are certainly by far more familiar with those cultural similarities than I am.

My conclusion would be as to the causes of terrorism and to possible strategies against terrorism: We are facing today more of a clash of countries or groups of different age than of different culture. Especially those men recruited for terrorist action were brought up with western technologies, are surprisingly often members of middle or even upper class families. Their personal development resembles very much those terrorists, who shook up Western societies in the Seventies and Eighties. Therefore the patterns of cultural estrangement might be – at least as far as terrorism is concerned – misleading and definitely not be to the advantage of our countries and peoples. So we should foster a mutual strategy of better understanding, personal interaction on the level of the peoples and of building up of sustainable trust, especially among the youth.

7. Let me finally propose an agenda of an overriding mutual and even global interest, where Iran could take the initiative and would harvest broad sympathy:

a)      World ethics
I propose to establish an international and intercultural dialogue, that leads to a set of values and rules acceptable to men of any religion, belief, creed, even to those not adhering to God. The dialogue could be initiated by an Iranian-German workshop, organised in Isfahan, that ancient city with a long tradition of tolerance between religions and with complex mutual influences, e.g. by scientists like Ibn Sina, also known as Avicenna.

b)      Internationally acceptable rules of conflicts
Derived from the formulation of ‘world ethics’ it would be important to discuss the rules of international crisis management, but not concentrated on rules for procedure (e.g. an international body for decision making) but focussing on material law, i.e. the concrete conditions and facts under which an intervention is assessed as internationally tolerable, e.g. in cases of proved gross violation of human rights, ethnic mass murder, but definitely excluding e.g. wars that shall secure natural resources or trade channels.

c)       Democratic control of research; cultures of democracy in comparison
Research, especially research strategies relating to security, is commonly planned and executed by government authorities without special interaction with the voters. It would be interesting to discuss, whether there could be an earlier point of information of the public or even co-determination and whether such procedures of transparency would contribute to a better international understanding and to the reduction of mistrust and crises. In Germany interesting procedures have been developed, that integrate ordinary citizens in state planning processes and publicly present the results (‘Bürgergutachten’ or ‘citizen planning cells’ according to the model of Peter C. Dienel). This would be a revolutionary approach for both Germany and Iran.

In a broader context the culturally different approaches to democracy and the amount of responsiveness to the prevailing wishes and needs of the citizens, that any of the systems is able to produce – the degree of democratic efficiency – should be discussed as well.

d)      Young and aging population; fostering apprenticeship
The populations of Iran and of Germany are very dissimilar in structure, especially in respect of age distribution. The different economical situation and the growing cultural alienation contribute causes of conflict. It would be most interesting to discuss and find out, whether long term strategies can be found to create a win-win-situation, that on the one hand helps by transfer of skills and financial resources to Iran and on the other solves problems by filling gaps in a decreasing German population and letting Germany take part in interesting future developments, assuming that the youth of Iran has a high potential as an avantgarde.

That activity could possibly be combined with an effort concentrating on education and especially vocational education and training in both countries, addressing the pressing problem of better integrating young people with a migration background into the education systems, pushing international personal exchange and reducing juvenile unemployment.

e)      Craftsmen, artisans and writers
Islam – and ancient Persia – has a well known tradition of craftsmanship, of beautiful design and of writing. It would be very interesting to organise a cross cultural meeting that shows in a very peaceful manner historical and present mastery in these fields. Isfahan again could be a very inspiring place for this effort.

f)        Living history
An item of special interest for the youth could be to show and demonstrate in plays or productions the respective degrees of social, cultural, economical and scientific development in Iran and Germany (or in further countries), that were reached at important incisions in history, e.g. at the birth of prophets, the outbreak of wars or on the eve of basic scientific developments.

g)      Sustainability
Iran is especially interested and engaged in sustainable technologies, e.g. in respect of water treatment. There is also a special link to Islamic traditions that developed in arid and semi-arid surroundings. E.g. the Islamic concept of ownership does in principle not entitle the owner to consumption or destruction, but admonishes to the sustainable use for the benefit of society and the generations to come. This is an example to be worked out to the benefit of mankind. It would be a good context and a special clue, if Iran would invest oil revenues – money that may be related to future pollution – in a clear and visible sustainability effort with other nations. It would be especially appealing, if this effort aimed at technologies and strategies for the poorest countries of the world that will be additionally victimized by the already measurable effects of global warming.

h)      Malaria
Iran seems to have good conditions for taking a research and resolve initiative, because Iran has a formidable tradition in medicine and medicine research and – as I understand – suffers in some regions under this plague as well. Again, this would be an effort especially to the advantage of the very poorly developed countries.

i)        Men and women
I do not want to offend by proposing this item for a mutual effort. According to my personal impression women are subject to subordination both in the East and in the West. In the West they are often sexually vilified under the pretext of liberation and they still are underrepresented in politics, culture and economy. In Iran there are very different rules for the attire of men and women, maybe as a protection, maybe under the pretext of protection.
I noticed that the majority of Iranian students is female. Nevertheless those high, visible and influential positions in society seem to be accessible and accepted even less than in the West. At the same time ‘womens’ rights’ is a major item of misunderstanding between the cultures, even between women of different cultures. Therefore it would be worth while to concertedly work out more transparency and empathy.

j)        Mutual public opinion polls on the perception of Christianity and Islam
It could be of a mutual interest to cooperatively organise and annually repeat a survey on the respective perception of the religious values and attitudes. The first step could be a cooperation with the Allensbach Institute of Public Opinion Polls to launch an opinion survey in Iran equivalent to the poll ‘Eine fremde, bedrohliche Welt’ (May 2006).

k)       Drug abuse
There seems to be a mutual interest in understanding and fighting the fast rise of drug abuse. It would be interesting to discuss and develop further strategies as well for the regions of drug origin as for the parts of society that are especially endangered in our countries, notably the youth.

l)        Criminals, mullahs/priests, criminologists
This may be my most surprising proposal: It could be fruitful for both sides to organize a meeting of (1) former criminals, that have been successfully rehabilitated and want to prevent further criminality, of (2) representatives of both religions (or possibly including Jewish representatives as well), and of (3) specialists in criminology to discuss the respective strategies, measures and successes in reintegrating of convicted criminals and in preventing crime. I am certain that the Jesus described in the Holy books would have appreciated this approach very much.

More or less by chance these are twelve proposals that could be put into effect one by one any month, covering a year of intensive Iranian-German dialogue. Certainly there are more and much better opportunities of cooperation on all levels of society to be brought into discussion and especially addressing the youth.

I am looking forward to any feedback on these views and proposals and I will address copies of this letter to appropriate German authorities.




Dr. jur. Karl Ulrich Voss
Kuckenberg 34, D 51399 Burscheid
www.vo2s.de, uli@vo2s.de