LEIDEN, the Netherlands (JTA) — Among his many talents, Afshin Ellian has a knack for making people want to kill him.
It’s a trait he demonstrated as a fugitive in his native Iran after the Islamic Revolution; then as a refugee in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where he angered secular Stalinists; and finally in Holland, where he lives under 24-hour police protection because of his criticisms of Islam.
Ellian has never been someone to toe the line, however. As many in Europe were rushing to condemn Israel’s operation in Gaza last month, Ellian, probably the most famous Iranian in the Netherlands, used his platform at the Dutch magazine Elsevier to blame Hamas “for putting their people in an inhumane position by needlessly waging war.” He has criticized the Western media for ignoring massacres in Arab countries and focusing instead on Israel. And he has drawn death threats from Muslim militants for zingers like this: “Radical Islamists are so determined to prove Islam is the religion of peace that they are willing to kill for it.”
Having found himself in the line of fire so many times, it’s unsurprising that the 46-year-old philosopher, poet and law professor dismissed suggestions that he might be deterred by Hamas rockets from carrying through with his first trip to Israel, a country he first heard of as a young political activist in Iran.
“Israel is what I wished Iran would be after the fall of the shah’s regime,” Ellian said in an interview last month at his office at Leiden University. “Its democratic nature is seen as a weakness by the Islamists in power but is a powerful model for young Iranians seeking change. Israel is also a central element — a made-up enemy — in the identity of the Iranian Islamic Republic, which oppresses them and has made me stateless. In short, Israel is relevant to my life.”