The Board of Trustees of the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade has chosen Navid Kermani, the German author, essayist and expert in Middle Eastern Studies, as the recipient of this year's Peace Prize. The award ceremony will take place during the Frankfurt Book Fair on Sunday, October 18, 2015, in the Church of St. Paul in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. The ceremony will be broadcast live on Germany's public TV channel ZDF. The Peace Prize has been awarded since 1950 and is en-dowed with a sum of €25,000.
Statement of the Jury
The German Publishers and Booksellers Association is delighted to award the 2015 Peace Prize to
As an author, essayist and expert in Middle Eastern Studies, Kermani is one of our society's most important voices. Indeed, if our society is to establish and cultivate peaceful coexistence based on dignity and human rights, then today, more than ever, it must rise to the challenge posed by the experiential worlds of individuals from the widest possible national and religious backgrounds.
Kermani's academic work, in which he explores questions of mysticism, aesthetics and theodicy in particular in the Islamic world, have marked him as an author who uses his tremendous knowledge to engage in gripping theological and social discourses.
His novels, essays and especially his reportages from war-torn areas, show the extent to which he is committed to the dignity of all individuals, but also to garnering respect for all cultures and religions and to fostering an open European society that provides shelter for refugees and space for all humanity."
Biography of Navid Kermani
Navid Kermani was born on November 27, 1967 in Siegen, Germany. The fourth son of Iranian immigrant parents, Kermani was already writing articles for a regional newspaper known as the Westfälische Rundschau at the age of fifteen. After completing his Abitur (general qualification for university entrance) and an internship under Roberto Ciulli at the Theater an der Ruhr in Mülheim, he began his university education in Islamic Studies, Philosophy and Theater in Cologne, Cairo and Bonn. His dissertation titled "Gott ist schön. Das ästhetische Erleben des Koran" ("God is Beautiful. The Aesthetic Experience of the Quran") published by C.H. Beck in 1999, garnered him much attention in the arts pages and "Feuilleton" sections of major German-language newspapers as well as in the international press. In 1995, parallel to his studies, Kermani began writing literary criticism and reportages for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and in 1998 he became a permanent employee in that paper's Feuilleton department. In addition, he also worked as a dramaturg at the Theater an der Ruhr in Mühlheim (1994/95) and at the Schauspielhaus Frankfurt (1998/99). In 1994, he founded the first international cultural center in Isfahan, the hometown of his parents. The center was forced to close in 1997 due to tensions in German-Iranian relations.
From 2000 to 2003, Kermani was a long-term fellow at Berlin's Institute for Advanced Study (Wissenschaftskolleg) and also headed up the "Modernity and Islam Working Group" during that time. He additionally initiated many international research projects, including the project known as "Jewish and Islamic Hermeneutics as Cultural Critique," out of which grew a proposal for a Jewish-Islamic Academy in Berlin. In 2003, after his first literary publications, Kermani decided not to pursue an academic career; instead, he committed to living as a freelance writer, which he has done ever since. He nevertheless attained the academic Habilitation in the field of "Orientalistik" at the University of Bonn in 2005.
In addition to his literary activities, Kermani went on to author many essays, reportages and observations on art in the major German-language newspapers and magazines, including Der Spiegel. From 2006 to 2009, he was a participant in the first German Islam Conference and in 2007 became the first writer belonging to the second generation of post-war immigrants to Germany to be inducted into the German Academy for Language and Literature. In 2008, he received a one-year stipend for the Villa Massimo in Rome and in 2010 was responsible for the prominent Frankfurt Literary Lecture Series. In 2013, Kermani was a guest professor for Islamic Studies at the University of Frankfurt and in 2014 guest professor in German Literature at Dartmouth College (USA).
Navid Kermani's literary work, which was first published by Ammann Verlag and since 2011 by Carl Hanser Verlag, repeatedly thematises the fundamental questions and "border experiences" of human existence, including love, sexuality, ecstasy and death. His academic work focuses to a large degree on the Quran and Islamic mysticism. In addition, Kermani has also worked time and again as a correspondent reporting from war-torn areas. In his public statements and appearances, he often deals with the relationship between faith and society as well as between the West and the Middle East.
Navid Kermani has lived in Cologne since 1988 and is married to Katajun Amirpur, a professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Hamburg. The couple has two daughters.
In 1999, Kermani published his doctoral thesis under the title "Gott ist schön" ("God is Beautiful"), and it would go on to be translated into many languages and become a definitive work in the field of Islamic Studies. Following that, he published a number of other works, including a collection of reportages with the title "Iran. Die Revolution der Kinder" ("Iran. The Revolution of the Children") and a collection of interviews titled "Ein Leben mit dem Islam" ("A Life with Islam") (2001), in which Kermani captures the autobiography of the Egyptian Quran expert Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid. After the 9/11terror attacks in New York, Kermani used his book "Dynamit des Geistes – Martyrium, Islam und Nihilismus" ("Dynamite of the Spirit – Martyrdom, Islam and Nihilism") (2002) to analyze the history of self-sacrifice and the genesis of Islamic terror.
The first ten years of Kermani's literary career included a story titled "Das Buch der von Neil Young Getöteten" ("The Book of Those Killed by Neil Young") (2002), which was conceived as the soundtrack for a life spent between baby colic and philosophical reflection. The book went on to become a major popular and critical success. These years also included the fine-spun narrative miniatures in "Vierzig Leben" ("Forty Lives") (2004) and the short story collection "Du sollst" ("Thou Shalt") (2005), in which he depicts situations of degenerate and brutalized sexuality using biblical commandments. The children's book "Ayda, Bär und Hase" ("Ayda, Bear and Hare") (2006) and the novel "Kurzmitteilung" ("Text Message") (2007), about an event manager who gets thrown off for a few days by the death of a distant acquaintance, are two further examples of this productive period.
At that same time, Kermani also published several collections of essays and academic works, beginning with "Schöner neuer Orient: Berichte von Städten und Kriegen" ("Beautiful new Orient. Reports from Cities and Wars") (2003). This work is a collection of reportages that depict the contradictions and ambivalences of today's Islamic world. The theme of his following book, his Habilitation thesis titled "Der Schrecken Gottes – Attar, Hiob und die metaphysische Revolte" (2005) and published in English in 2011 as “Terror of God. Attar, Job and the Metaphysical Revolt” (2011), focuses on the doubts held by men and women about God in the face of injustice and misery in the world. This book is a fundamental examination of the motif of rebellion against God within monotheistic religions: "In an era of politically motivated demarcations and exclusions between the Islamic-Oriental and Christian-West worlds, Kermani's enterprise literally breaks down these borders. In all respects, this book is more dangerous for religious fanaticism and totalitarianism than any attack on religion undertaken by an atheist." (Frankfurter Rundschau).
The volume "Strategie der Eskalation. Der Nahe Osten und die Politik des Westens" ("Strategy of Escalation. The Middle East and the Politics of the West"), which was also published in 2005, is a compilation of commentaries on the fight against terror and the many opportunities wasted in the attempt to root out extremism. In 2009, Kermani published "Wer ist wir? Deutschland und seine Muslime" ("Who is we? Germany and its Muslims"), a book in which he examines questions of integration and calls for a nuanced view of religions and their meaning in everyday life.
In 2010, Navid Kermani was asked to give the prominent Frankfurt Literary Lecture Series at Goethe University. His lectures were published as an independent work in 2012 under the title "Über den Zufall. Jean Paul, Hölderlin und der Roman, den ich schreibe" ("On Chance. Jean Paul, Hölderlin and the Novel I'm Writing"). A novel he began in 2006 – one that ended up being more than 1200 pages – was called "Dein Name" ("Your Name") (2011) and went on to win the Joseph Breitbach Prize. In this book, the narrator creates a five-year panorama of his everyday life and the course of world events: the Neue Zürcher Zeitung called it "a true monument to the human mind."
In the reportages collected in "Ausnahmezustand. Reisen in eine beunruhigte Welt" ("State of Emergency. Travels to a Troubled World") (2013), Kermani takes the reader on a journey to the crisis area that extends from Kashmir, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran all the way to the Arab world and the borders and coasts of Europe. Taking a differentiated look at everyday scenes and interpersonal relationships, he is able to describe in an impressive manner the human fates that lie hidden behind the otherwise nameless reports from the world's most crisis-stricken areas. In 2014, Kermani travelled across Iraq for a series of reportages that were initially published in Germany's Der Spiegel magazine and shortly thereafter as an eBook.
In his novel "Große Liebe" ("Big Love") (2014), which takes place in the 1980s and climbed to number one on the literary ranking known as the SWR-Bestenliste, Kermani depicts the timeless drama of life in all of its majesty and exuberance as linked to the stories found in the Arabic-Persian mysticism of love. His latest book, "Zwischen Koran und Kafka. West-östliche Erkundigungen" ("Between Quran and Kafka. West-East Inquiries") (2014), traces the encounters between Western and Middle Eastern literature, art and religion and has "the most beautiful essayistic prose to be found in the German language today" (WDR).
In August 2015, Kermani's forthcoming book, "Ungläubiges Staunen. Über das Christentum" ("Incredulous Astonishment. On Christianity") will be a reflection on Christian art and religion from the personal viewpoint of a German writer of Muslim faith.
In addition to his many books and essays, Navid Kermani has always also contributed to political and social debates in the form of speeches and lectures. He is particularly committed to the preservation and further development of the European project. In 1995, for example, he attracted considerable attention for a speech he gave on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the reopening of the Burgtheater, in which he denounced Europe's refugee policy. In 2009, the Minister President of the Federal State of Hesse, Roland Koch, withdrew the Hessian Cultural Prize because of an article Kermani had written in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung about the "crucifixion" of Guido Reni. Koch would go on to apologize to Kermani, who was then given the prize again. Kermani donated the prize money to the Catholic Church in Cologne-Vingst, which itself had collected money for the construction of the Cologne Mosque.
In May 2014, in his oft-quoted speech held in Germany's Bundestag marking the 65th anniversary of the promulgation of Germany's "Basic Law" or "Grundgesetz," Kermani forcefully analyzed the language and normative power of the Grundgesetz. The speech was chosen as "Speech of the Year" by the University of Tübingen. In his address, Kermani cited Willy Brandt's famous genuflection in Warsaw as the symbolic event of the post-War era – one with which the Federal Republic of Germany found its contemporary identity and dignity:
"I am not inclined to sentimentality, especially in front of television screens. And yet, I experienced what many did that day, on the occasion of [Brandt's] 100th birthday, as we were shown footage of the German chancellor in front of the memorial in the former Warsaw Ghetto. We watched him take a step backward, hesitate a moment, and then, completely unexpectedly, fall to his knees.
To this day, I cannot watch this without getting tears in my eyes. And the strange thing is: alongside everything else, alongside the emotion and the memory of the crimes committed, each time it's a new amazement. They are tears of pride.
And I'm talking about that very quiet yet unambiguous pride about a Germany that is capable of such gestures. This is the Germany I love. Not the boastful, bruiser-type, 'proud-to-be-a-German' Germany or the 'European-but-basically-just-German' Germany. It's much more that nation that frets over its history, that quarrels and struggles with itself to the point of self-reproach, but also a nation that has matured from its own failures, one that no longer needs all that pomp, one that modestly calls its constitution the "Grundgesetz" or Basic Law, one that approaches 'the foreign' in a too friendly way, an innocent way, rather than risk falling into the trap of xenophobia and arrogance."
As he goes on, however, Kermani also makes sharp criticism of the "distortions" that have been undertaken with regard to the Grundgesetz. Here he concentrates first and foremost on Paragraph 16, that "wonderfully concise sentence ('Politically persecuted individuals have a right to asylum') which has since been turned into a monstrous law containing 275 words, each desolately stacked upon the other and firmly intertwined with one another, with the ultimate goal of concealing one thing, i.e. that Germany has virtually abolished asylum as a fundamental human right."
In early 2015, after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, Kermani spoke of his commitment to the core values developed during the Enlightenment in a keynote speech held at the Cologne gathering marking the tragedy. He argued that we need more freedom – not less – in order to avert the ambition of terrorism – but also of Europe's right-wing thinkers – to drive a wedge into society. At the same time, he called on Muslims to not simply dismiss terrorism as "un-Islamic": "In the very moment that terrorists make a claim to Islam, terror has something to do with Islam. We must seek to understand the doctrine that incites people worldwide to violence against one another and murders and humiliates people of different faiths."
Navid Kermani has received several stipends, awards and prizes for his literary and academic work, including the Ernst Bloch Prize (2000), Annual Award of the Helga and Edzard Reuter Foundation (2003), European Prize of the Heinz Schwarzkopf Foundation for Scientific and Journalistic Work (2004), Hessian Culture Award (2009), Hannah Arendt Prize for Political Thought (2011), Buber Rosenzweig Medal (2011), Heinrich von Kleist Prize (2012), Cologne Culture Prize (2012), Cicero Speacker's Prize (2012), Gerty Spies Literature Prize (2014) and the Joseph Breitbach Prize (2014).