Archive for the ‘Iran’ Category

Changes in Iran

June 15, 2009

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By Jamal Hasan

In spite of the steady stream of gloomy news over the years, I had never lost my faith in the Iranian people. I can still recall those days when the tyrannical Shah ruled supreme with the blessings of a superpower. Many a friend had predicted, and correctly so, that the regime was bound to collapse sooner or later. The denouement was sudden even by the standard of the volatile Middle East. Shah’s regime proved rotten to the core and came down like a house of cards in the face of challenge from Ayatollah Khomeni.

The Savak-controlled society suddenly seemed so free. The Iranians on the street were visibly jubilant. Newspapers were publishing articles that never would have seen the light of day during the days of the Shah. Democracy was in the air. I, like many, was convinced of the dawn of a new era.

But gradually, but surely, our jubilation turned into despair. It was soon apparent that the theocracy ushered in by the Ayatollahs could be just as tyrannical as the monarchy that it had supplanted.

Jews and other religious minorities began leaving the country in desperation. The Ayatollahs kept the people intoxicated with religious fervor so that it wouldn’t occur to them to challenge the oppressive edicts imposed under the new regime. The common man in Iran had hoped for a new era of freedom. But the ruling clique, like any other autocratic regime, would rather make hay while the sun shone. Monopoly of favored syndicates and business houses were blessed with official favors.

scan001001I recall seeing a huge political rally at the Lafayette Park in Washington DC way back in the February of 1986. Thousands of Iranians had braved the winter day to make their voices heard. The air was thick with slogans like Markbane Khomeni (Khomeni Murdabad) and Drukbane Rajavi (Rajavi Zindabad). They were Mujahedeen Khalq sympathizers. The educated and the politically astute were looking up to the Mujahedeen Khalq and its leader Massood Rajavi for succor. But his continued linkage with arch enemy Iraq proved disappointing to the nationalistic Iranians. The fervor and enthusiasm gradually waned. But I continued to hope against hope that the Iranians will soon wake up and smell the coffee.

Then came the recent election. It has heralded a much needed change in the political culture. Stagnant fundamentalism seems to have finally yielded to Iran’s thirst for freedom. Hojatoleslam Mohammed Khatami, who is being hailed as Ayatollah Gorbachev, is determined to usher in a democratic order.

The charismatic former culture minister, was a late entrant in the election race in March. His message of tolerance electrified the people as no other Iranian leader ever had in a long time. Khatami seems determined to end the era of obscurantism in which religious fervor had to make up for the lack of everything else. Khatami’s victory in the elections has brought in a dramatic turn in Iranian politics.

Khatami was recently speaking at a women’s conference in Tehran. He spoke out on the subjugation and exploitation of women in the name of religion. Even Taslima Nasrin might have had a heart attack if she had attended to Iranian leader’s feminist discourse.

The Iranian sensation at the Cannes International Film Festival is another portent of the new era. Film maker Abbas Kiarostami’s “Ta’m E Guilass” ( a taste of cherry) was a notable award winner at the Festival. Initially, the Iranian government had been reluctant to allow the director to join the Festival. But, later, in a dramatic change in thinking, the director was allowed to proceed. The movie maker had not been a favorite of the government during the Khomeini era. Moreover the subject of the movie did not quite conform to the line promoted by the establishment. But now Iran is basking in the glory reflected from Kiarostami. Thanks to Khatami’s bold thinking, Iran is now in the forefront of human creativity of movie making.

What is happening in Iran was unthinkable only a short while ago.

But truth is stranger than fiction. I had always believed that Iran, with a cultural heritage that is the envy of nations in every corner of the world, cannot be kept in chains forever by the obscurantist.

I am delighted that Iran is now reclaiming its rightful role as a leader in cultural endeavors.
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Mr. Jamal Hasan writes from USA. His email is: poplu@hotmail.com. This was a Feature Article in News from Bangladesh dated 29th December, 1997

Moni Basu in Atlanta Journal-Constitution

May 26, 2009

WAR ON TERRORISM: IRAN: Internal splits thwart U.S. thaw

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By Moni Basu

An exchange between the United States and Iran over Iran’s role in Afghanistan has revived a bitter war of words that was put on hold after the Sept. 11 attacks.  It has also exposed a clash of opinions within the two countries on how to deal with each other.

On Thursday, the Bush administration accused Iran of harboring members of the al-Qaida terrorist network and attempting to undermine the pro-Western interim government in Afghanistan.  “Iran must be a contributor in the war against terror. Our nation . . . will uphold the doctrine of either you’re with us or against us,” President Bush warned. He spoke following reports of al-Qaida terrorists crossing into Iran and U.S. intelligence concerns that Iran might be shipping arms to its allies among Afghan factions.

On Friday, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iran’s powerful former president and long-standing U.S. critic, retaliated by calling Bush “rude and impudent.”  “How does [Bush] dare speak to our nation in such a manner?” he said, objecting to the United States laying demands on Iran.  Other Iranian government officials said that “there is no ground for al-Qaida fighters and their supporters to seek shelter in Iran.”

On the surface, Iran’s past relationship with neighboring Afghanistan makes the U.S. charges seem implausible, though they may be true, said experts on the region.  A Shiite Muslim nation, Iran has long opposed the hard-line Sunni Islam promoted by the Taliban and Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network. In 1998, Iranian troops massed on the Afghan border after the Taliban killed eight Iranian diplomats in Mazar-e-Sharif.  “I find it extraordinary that the Iranian clergy would have any links at all to al-Qaida,” said Jamal Hasan, a free-lance writer in Washington who has observed Iran for many years. He said the U.S. accusations could be a way to further isolate Iran as a terrorist state. The Bush government recently blamed Tehran’s Islamic regime and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah for having a hand in shipment of arms apparently headed to Palestinian extremists but seized by Israel.  “Whatever Iran did in the Palestinian territories is despicable,” Hasan said, “so perhaps Bush is making trouble for the Iranians on the Afghan front.” The United States severed diplomatic ties with Iran after the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was seized during Iran’s 1979 revolution. But in recent months, analysts viewed several incidents as potential steps to warming relations.  Reformist President Mohammed Khatami condemned the Sept. 11 attacks, and Iran quietly supported the U.S.-led effort to topple the Taliban. “It was a dramatic departure for Iran to support the Afghan campaign,” Hasan said.

In November, Secretary of State Colin Powell stated publicly that Washington wanted to “explore opportunities” with Tehran. The remarks came even though Iran remains on the State Department’s list of terrorist countries and despite the fact that more conservative members of the Bush administration want America’s relationship with Iran to remain in a deep freeze.  Divisive opinions on U.S.-Iran relations are more apparent in Tehran, where the reformist movement, led by Khatami, has been trying for years to open up Iranian society and has placed itself at odds with the conservative clergy.

By all accounts, the Iranians seem satisfied that Afghanistan’s Shiite minority has been granted fair representation in Kabul’s new government. Iranian aid and promises of reconstruction have poured across the 600-mile border.  Peace and stability in Afghanistan pave the way for a number of projects the Iranians have been promoting for years, including a gas pipeline to India, Hasan said. Iran would also like to see the return of 1.5 million Afghan refugees to their homeland. In that sense, a quieter Afghanistan serves Iran’s best interests.  But, for the first time, the Islamic regime in Tehran — which came to power in 1979, the same year Soviets marched into Afghanistan — will have to deal with the discomfort of having a pro-American government next door.

“In his heart of hearts, I am sure Khatami is cheering that, although he would never admit it,” said Thomas E. Gouttierre, director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska in Omaha. “But [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei doesn’t feel positively about it. That’s the dichotomy of Iran. We have to deal with a split country here.” And ultimately, it is Khamenei, the country’s religious leader, and his religious hard-liners who still wield ultimate power. They probably find it more palatable to embrace America’s worst enemy than to hold hands with America, Gouttierre said. The clerics see the choice as one of befriending Islamists (Sunni or Shiite) or the enemy of those Islamists.  “The clerics realize that their own future is predicated on keeping alive the external specter of the United States,” Gouttierre said. “That’s the only thing they really have to justify their presence anymore. . . . They are capable of doing extreme things, and even though al-Qaida would not be pro-Shiite, they might at least share a common enemy”.  
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The essay originally published in  Atlanta Journal-Constitution on January 12, 2002. The text used to be accessed at the following link:
http://www.accessatlanta.com/ajc/epaper/editions/saturday/news_c3f35d…
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Is it Prudent for America to Leave Iran in the Enemy Camp?

May 26, 2009

By Jamal Hasan

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A recent front page story in The Washington Post raised a lot of eyebrows in Washington metropolis for sure. That article was written concerning Russia’s renewed military partnership with Iran.

According to the startling news, the new military agreement between the two countries occurred after the Russian Defense Minister’s visit to Tehran, which I must opine was a first such event to take place after 1979 Islamic revolution in that nation of about 70 million strong Shiite Muslims.  Russia, before taking such a radical step of reconnecting to Islamic Republic of Iran had given the prior notification to the United States that she (Russia) would no more abide by 1995 US-Russia agreement vis-à-vis arms’ sales to Iran after 1999.

For many western experts on Middle East or Islamic affairs, Islamic fundamentalism seems to be a real enigma. It is ironical that today’s taboo word “Islamic fundamentalism” was once a favorite of many wheelers and dealers inside the Washington beltway. During the Cold War days, the western nations led by USA aided and abetted various shades of Sunni-Islamic fundamentalist movement that came very helpfully in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Iranian revolution, albeit outwardly Islamic fundamentalistic, bloomed in a time when Iran was under siege by a dictatorial monarch, who was considered to be a stooge of Uncle Sam. The root cause of anti-Americanism in Iranian society was due to Reza Shah Pahlavi’s perceived extraterritorial allegiance to USA. It had little to do with antagonism between Islam and Christianity. Amongst Ayatollah Khomeini’s supporters in revolution were socialists and even communists who were persecuted by the monarch. Lest we forget, the main essence of Iranian revolution was good old nationalism. It is rather unfortunate that many orientalists fail to understand that even till this day!

In the Khomeini era, Iran’s ambitious venture circled around Middle East and in Lebanon in particular where a sizable Shiite population lives.  During the worst period of the Middle East turbulence, during the recurring kidnapping of Americans by Shiite groups in Lebanon, the Shiism was constantly demonized in western media. In those days, the word Shi’a became synonymous to terrorism. At the time, no analyst bothered going deeper into the theological basis of Islam. It was assumed that Shiites were the bad guys while Sunnis were the good guys. Precisely during this period, Osama bin Laden and his renegade followers were dedicated to serve western interests by confronting the Soviets in Afghanistan. But it did not take too long for them to expose their true color.

The historical difference between the Shiism and Sunnism may not appear to be significant to people out of Islamic faith. A serious study would, however, show that Shiite theologians’ indifference to the doctrine of several Muslim Caliphates put this important branch of Islam in almost on a totally different path. Lack of total adherence to the Islamic caliphates may challenge the Islamic sociopolitical system that is prevalent among the majority Sunnis of the world. Also, Shiites’ practices of the broad-based three-times prayers as opposed to five-times prayers of the Sunnis are no less significant matter either. As the status of the Caliphatic successors was not well defined in the predominantly Shiite society of Iran, a unique scenario in Iranian Islam may not be rare to observe. That would be unimaginable in places like Riyadh or Islamabad. A case in point might be the availability of imaginary portraits of Prophet Muhammad or Ali (the undisputed spiritual leader of the Shiites), which is not so uncommon in the folk culture of Iran. Conversely, possession of such artifacts could be tantamount to sheer blasphemy in many orthodox Sunni societies where minimum punishment for such offense could be a death penalty.

The 1980’s 444-day long Iranian Hostage Crisis was a watershed event where a group of Iranian students took over the American Embassy in Tehran and kept 52 Americans as captives. This incident only intensified mistrust and embitterment in Iran-US bilateral relation, which was in the nascent stage after the ouster of Shah of Iran. The resentment on the American side escalated to such level that US law enforcement agencies started to deal harshly with a good number of Iranians inside USA many of who were living lawfully in this country. The irony of the matter is a great majority of the Iranians settled in USA were so-called westernized without even any religious commitments. As one analyst pointed out, “These Iranians are as Americans as could be.” The end of Hostage Crisis came as a blessing in disguise not only for the US Government but for the expatriate Iranians as well. 

The Lebanon quagmire and Israel’s role in the region pushed a few of the militant Shiite organizations evidently anti-western. Shiite terrorist objectives evolved due to a regional conflict. That was primarily a casualty of political fallout. Religiously speaking, we seldom find any trend of proselytism in Shiism. From that context, it could be similar to Hinduism, Judaism or Buddhism. Absence of evangelistic nature of Shiism will hardly prompt this Islamic sect to a potential collision course against Christianity or secular West. Contrary to this, the emerging militant Wahhabite movement imported from the Middle East notably Saudi Arabia that had altered the inherent resiliency of Sunnism has the totally opposite feature. Like the global Marxism of yore, this strain of a religious virus had a specific agenda. The mission started out as a means to convert and transform the entire world under Ummatic umbrella in a fascistic setting.  Patronized by the Saudi royalty and a section of the Pakistani ruling elite, the Taliban regime of Afghanistan is designated to change the status quo of any liberal Muslim majority country.  The Taliban followers know it very well that threat, coercion and blind fanaticism can get them to their desired karma. Like a domino effect, after the success in Afghanistan, it is now Pakistan’s turn.  The Wahhabite virus’s planned route would incorporate much of Central Asia after contaminating a series of the Muslim majority nations of the former Soviet Union. That will not end there. The potential victims of this archaic dogmatic orthodoxy range from Algeria to Morocco and Malaysia to Bangladesh. Taking into account of the big picture, Iran may play an antidotal role in restraining the epidemic.  For now, this country is already playing a decisive role of putting Taliban genie in a regionalist bottle.  Russians also have understood Iran’s position for the better.

While many Iranians in USA were not hesitant to assimilate with the mainstream Americana, the situation is quite different for the majority of Muslim immigrants from other Third World countries. An amazing trend of transforming into orthodoxy is observed among the members of a number of Muslim immigrant groups coming to the United States. Noticeably, quite a few non-practicing Muslims become “Born again Muslims” in the land of the so-called infidels and the mosque-based culture thrives on such fresh blood.  As most of the mosques in USA are predominantly Sunni-based, a wave of Wahhabite politicization engulfs the mosque culture in the country in a hurry. Needless to say, many mosques become the epicenters of political Islam where religious sermons given on the Sabbath day hardly confine to God and scripture only. The inherent political nature of this new Islam unfolds its motive to undo injustices imposed upon Muslims around the world.  The crusade for humanity, for obvious reasons, has the goal of alleviating the pain and suffering of Muslims of the world. In this backdrop, fundamentalist outfits like Taliban and al Qaeda may succinctly be portrayed as the ultimate saviors. And Osama bin Laden can hardly be perceived a villain in such an Umma laced political discourse.

To my knowledge, the Shiite mosques in USA were not blamed for harboring terrorists. The possible presence of terrorist sympathizers in Sunni mosques made some powerful US officials decisively edgy. Only a few months ago the Canadian authorities captured a few Algerian terrorists for masterminding attack on US soil. The Director of US Congressional Anti-Terrorist Task Force lambasted the mainstream Sunni-based mosques in USA for sheltering such criminals. Furthermore, not too long ago, the CIA Director George Tenet, at the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Hearing, spoke on the increasing threat of Islamic fundamentalism worldwide emanating from the Sunni-Wahhabite persuasion.  He categorically mentioned Pakistani Islamic zealots in this regard. Just a week ago a report coming from London was enough to raise alarm bells in western capitals. According to the report, a few Sunni-based mosques in UK were alleged to fund, recruit and train Muslim terrorists for clandestine Jihadi missions abroad. As the report says, some of the recruits were as young as eighteen years old whose ignited passions were to be martyrs in Jihad in Kashmir.

How the Wahhabite Muslim terrorists have spread their tentacles into the heart of USA, the sagas of World Trade Center bombing and the embassy bombings in Africa are sufficient testaments to those sad incidents.  In both cases American Muslims of Sunni denomination played vital roles in the violent acts. Following the footsteps of their mentors, these American Muslims bear Jihadi zeal that has global implication. The other day, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright commented on the Muslim terrorist Osama bin Laden. She said that the individual as Osama has a mission to attack a particular way of life. These words speak for themselves. While the Talibanesque Islamists have a worldwide agenda, Iranian leaders, whatever degree of fundamentalism (Shiite precisely) they may preach cannot match that magnitude at all. It is time American foreign policy experts reassess their positions regarding their long-track record of Iranophobia.  It can safely be said that Iran may not be the ultimate demon targeting its claws to the secular West. Ironically, the actual devil is camouflaged among the American allies in the Arabian peninsula. Isn’t that shocking


This essay was published in NEWS FROM BANGLADESH on January 3, 2001 in its Editorial and Commentary section.