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Book review / archive | Article from March 12, 2013

Navid Kermani: "State of exception", C. H. Beck, Munich 2013, 254 pages

The German-Iranian writer Navid Kermani (dpa / picture alliance / Marc Tirl)

The Islamic scholar Navid Kermani repeatedly travels to the crisis areas of the Near and Middle East, to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Palestine, Syria and Kashmir. His reports have now appeared in book form. They allow us to better understand the conflicts in the region.

Navid Kermani, novelist, journalist and Islamic scholar, loves to travel. And in countries that other people tend to avoid: In the crisis regions of the Near and Middle East - to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Palestine, Syria and Kashmir. His reports have now appeared in book form - texts that help us understand the conflicts better and prove that Navid Kermani is one of the best German reporters.

In his reports, Kermani exemplarily combines curiosity, the power of observation and the power of speech and thus takes his readers deep into strange worlds. In the north-east of Pakistan, where he tracks down Sufis and their threats from fundamentalists, but also reports on the immense cultural diversity of Lahore. While walking through the old town he encounters women with face veils and heavily made-up transsexuals, business men in gray suits and barefoot fools, he sees Koran schools next to beauty salons. And he meets cozy, friendly Islamists who are tough on their opinion.

Kermani lets them speak, just as he builds a lot of dialogues into his reports. Because he does not judge, he listens and describes - for example how he himself encountered the uprising against the mullah regime in Tehran in 2009. In doing so, he does not analyze hastily, hard-nosed and cool like many other journalists, but remains compassionate. You can experience the impotence of the demonstrators and the immense brutality of the so-called anti-riot commands up close. Kermani himself has to give up his role as an observer and flees with the demonstrators. In contrast to the optimistic international observers, who only report from outside, he immediately senses that the opposition to the brutal regime has no chance.

This proximity enables new insights - even if you think you know all the facts. Take Syria as an example: Kermani will travel there in September 2012. His report of a hospital where government militias carried out a massacre is shocking. But it's amazing how openly people talk about politics there, almost compulsively. Kermani lets them speak and thus reveals contradictions: Assad's secular regime is supported by theocratic Iran; Western Syrians defend the authoritarian regime, while strictly religious bearded men and veiled women hope for democracy.

Most of the texts have already appeared in abbreviated form in German-language media. Nevertheless, the book is much more than a collection of well-hung newspaper reports. His descriptions show exemplary contradictions, they also show how violence occurs and where it leads and they explain developments, according to two reports from Afghanistan, one from 2006, a second from 2011.

Anyone who wants to see the everyday life of people in the crisis regions of the Near and Middle East, the life behind the news, should read Navid Kermani's sensitive reports. Report that won't let you go that quickly.

Discussed by G√ľnther Wessel

Navid Kermani: State of emergency. Travel to a troubled world
C. H. Beck, Munich 2013
254 pages, 19.95 euros