0702 GMT December 11, 2019
Today’s world is, more than ever, in need of practicing the official recognition of differences. The emergence of new various forms of religious, racial, ethnic and, even, national intolerance in different countries has led to an increased level of insecurity and violence for their citizens.
The aspiration of establishing sustainable peace, based on accepting equality for all people despite their differences, is still a very distant ambition. This comes as to accept the differences, primarily, the ground is required to be prepared for people to gain greater knowledge of each other. Further promotion of cultural, scientific and official exchanges among countries will help prepare the ground for reducing misinterpretations, misunderstandings and misconceptions.
Unfortunately, global politics is, at present, among the major obstacles to the correct representation of cultures and citizens’ identities. The global politics seeks to make everything uniform and turns a blind eye to the diversity existing in reality.
Municipalities and city councils, as the closest bureaucratic organizations to citizens and the main pillars of local governments representing people, particularly, in the world’s well-known megacities, can play an important role in preparing the ground for shaping policies from the base, and consequently, recognizing different cultures and identities, promoting tolerance toward different identities and curbing violence across the world.
In a majority of the cases, megacities present a general image of their citizens, governments and nations. This, to a large extent, holds true about the Iranian capital of Tehran, as a metropolis. Once upon a time, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831), German philosopher and an important figure of German idealism who for years taught philosophy in the Free University of Berlin, held that the Persian Empire was established based on the concept of unity in diversity and comprised many different ethnicities. Iran has been, and still is, the outcome of peaceful social interactions among these various ethnic groups.
The modern day Tehran is a complete example of the picture presented by Hegel of ancient Iran approximately two decades ago, a city comprising various identities, cultures and, even, religions, which have lived together for years without any identity conflict. Over the past half a century, Tehran has always welcomed migrants and has been home to people from different ethnicities with dissimilar cultures coming from across the country. A street, Si Tir Street, in Tehran and its junction with Jomhouri Avenue are known in the city as ‘Religions Street’ and ‘Religions Intersection’ respectively. Within the area around the street and the intersection, numerous houses of worship belonging to the followers of different religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Zoroastrianism and Islam, are located at short distances from each other. Saint Peters Church, Saint Mary Church – an Armenian Apostolic church, Haim Synagogue, Adrian Fire Temple and Prophet Ebrahim (PBUH) Mosque, which are located in this area, present a unique picture of the peaceful coexistence of different religions in Tehran which has incarnated in an urban form and still continues its life in the city.
The most important feature of the modern day Tehran is the simultaneous existence of diversity and cultural tolerance in the city. Today, Tehran is a multicultural megacity. Annually, numerous events are held in Tehran to consolidate this multicultural identity. For instance, this summer, a festival featuring folk music belonging to different parts of Iran was held in different metro stations cross Tehran, which was widely welcomed by the citizens and spread happiness across the city. In addition, as part of nocturnal celebrations in the city, customs and traditions belonging to local identities are presented to citizens every year. Under the domination of the world’s political media, such an image of Tehran has hardly been provided with the opportunity to see itself presented internationally.
In view of Tehran’s features, it appears as if the Iranian capital and Berlin share numerous commonalities. Over the past years, the German capital has also managed to host people from different ethnic groups and religions coming from across the world and has experienced multicultural life in its neighborhoods and streets. Berlin is also, in a way, presenting a picture of the multicultural modern day Germany.
In addition to this, universities across Iran and, in particular, Tehran have, since a long time, been, and still are, places to present German thinkers’ thoughts and opinions. A large number of works by these thinkers and philosophers have been translated into Persian. At university, Iranian students learn about Friedrich Nietzsche, Immanuel Kant, Hegel, Wilhelm Dilthey, Max Weber, Georg Simmel, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Bertolt Brecht and Ludwig van Beethoven and their thoughts. They also gain knowledge about Neo-Kantianism and Frankfurt School. In addition, thoughts and opinions by these thinkers are discussed in different seminars and conferences at Iranian universities.
German archeologists and Iranologists, such as Walther Hinz and his wife Heidemarie Koch and Ernst Herzfeld, and in general German Archaeological Institute (DAI) in Tehran have also played a prominent role in carrying out field studies, explorations as well as historical researches about Iran. For instance, a major portion of the knowledge we have about the history of Persepolis and Pasargadae have been acquired thanks to the explorations and researches by German scientists and institutes. Moreover, German engineers have participated in designing and building a large number of what regarded as manifestations of modern technologies in Iran, such as factories and railways.
It seems that Tehran and Berlin can begin to enter into wide-ranging transactions in the fields of culture and tourism in the light of their similar historical backgrounds and cultural familiarities with each other, to help people across the world gain greater knowledge of different cultures and prepare the ground for the establishment of a lasting peace for citizens in all countries.
I, as the representative of Tehran’s people in the city’s municipality, have focused an important part of my efforts and plan in the field of international relations on expanding cultural exchanges. I know that to achieve this, I have to overcome the rough political atmosphere currently pervading the world’s media and, to some extent, public opinion, which is a herculean task. However, I hope to be able to hold joint cultural and scientific events to help people in Tehran and Berlin gain greater familiarity with the two metropolises’ history and culture, in cooperation with Berlin Municipality and City Council and through establishing relations with elites as well as cultural, social and scientific formations in the German capital. I also would like to use Berlin’s scientific experiences, particularly, in the field of becoming a smart city, promote tourism between the two capitals and prepare the ground for a lasting friendship between the two metropolises’ citizens. The other part of my plan is to invite Berlin’s citizens to come and visit the multicultural city of Tehran, and provide the people in the Iranian capital with the opportunity to travel to the German metropolis through facilitating the processes involved in this field.
‘The Struggle for Recognition’ is the title of a book by Axel Honneth, a distinguished German philosopher. We are required to move along the path of recognition if we prefer a lasting peace over the war of ‘The Deadly Identities’ – the title of a book, ‘Les Identités Meurtrières’, by Amin Maalouf, an award-winning Lebanese-born French author.
* Pirouz Hanachi is the mayor of Tehran.