Sunday, March 30, 2003

Speech in the ceremony of freedom of expression awards 2003

Speech in the ceremony of freedom of expression awards 2003
Wednsday 26 march 2003 - Index in Censorship for free expression.

Two years ago, on one of these days when I was in prison on the charge of writing and was spending a part of my nineteen months of conviction in a solitary cell, Dr. Hashem Aghajari announced his protest against the imprisonment of thinkers and writers,and now I am here on behalf of who are in death rough only for a speech..

If he were not in prison in these days when the world are crying against war, he would have definitely joined them. As he has done all his life. Twenty years ago, he lost his leg in a war.
He aspires to a more humane world where people would not fight with each other, would tolerate and love one another more and respect the freedom of their opponents.

The Iranian student, three months ago in their protest against Aghajari arrest carried a panel on which they had painted a beautiful flower with the gallows' rope around its neck as a symbol of their teacher.
In the Iranian new year,s eve, one week ago , a young girl who missed her father wrote a poem in which she says if her father returns home from prison, she will bombard the whole world with red apples. The name of her poem is "The story of a legless father" and at the beginning of her poem, this sixteen years old girl writes:

My youth black hair turned grey
Under the ruins of needs
From whom shall I acquire my black hair?
Would shadows answer me?

And indeed you and all the humanitarians of the world who keep the memory of Aghajari alive, will answer Maryam and say, 'Yes, our hearts are with you and the shadows are awake.'
I had no ways to ask permission from Aghajari for what I am doing, but I am sure that in that immense silence of the prison ,Dr Aghajari knows that the world are not shadows and our hearts are with him.

Sunday, March 16, 2003

Three Choices of Islamic leaders

A great event occurred in Iran on February People turned their backs to all political groups, including the reformists and in big cities, 88% didn't vote and this was a very sad news for Islamic Regime of Iran which always had a great crowd of people participating in elections and demonstrations and showed it to the world as a sign of its popularity.
After the results of the election which was the most insipid election of the past twenty four years of the life of Islamic Republic, the leaders of the regime faced three opposite analysis of this event that will determine the future fate of the regime depending on the one finally adopted.
The reformists, conservatives and traditionalists with each group having their own concerns for the future of Islamic Republic, have their own analysis of this event and each is trying to transfer their analysis to the decision-makers on top in the quickest possible way.
The reformists who confessed their defeat after five years of continuous struggle with their two opponents in wining the votes, with a hope still alive in their minds try to show that peoples' indifference should make the leaders to pay more attention to people and give up their insistence on Islamization of the regime.
According to the reformists, in order to find a way out of the present crisis, the religious regime of Iran has no other alternative than yielding to the demands of people that include western types of freedoms, that is the very thing that traditionalist clergy fear most and have called it Western Cultural Invasion.
The conservatives look at the results of the recent election with one eye laughing and the other crying. The defeat of their reformist rival was the very event they were waiting for and were actively preparing its grounds in the past five years, but not at such a price. While realizing the danger of the present situation, they believe that the reformists' rush in implementing reformation and their inefficiency in responding to peoples' demands is the main cause of this tragic event.
A part of the conservatives see themselves ready to accept reformation and change that part of their behavior that has made people particularly the young generation to turn their back to the regime and they thus invite leaders to choose middle ways and cooperation with reformists. They believe that with such a policy they can save the regime from the present crisis of legitimacy.Before the announcement of the result of the election of Islamic councils, Kargozaran Sazandegi, (operators of progressive construction) the party led by Hashemi Rafsanjani, the moderate clergy, thought that they will finally seize power and public popularity because they fundamentally aim to improve the standards of life and economic prosperity. But the election showed that they too are no longer in the public field of vision.
From the view of the fundamentalists whose difference with the conservatives comes to light mainly under critical circumstances, the result of the election is not a catastrophe as the President Khatami has said, but a great victory that prepares the scene for the emergence of a regime based on holy guidance of the high ecclesiastics. They believe that such a government like that of Taliban in Afghanistan can shape Islamic society of Iran much more efficiently.
Objecting both political fronts, the traditionalists believe that only by the formation of a powerful government based on Shiite principles can lead to the survival of Islamic Republic. In contrast to the conservatives, they believe in market economy and thus welcome the extension of economic relations with the world. Traditionalists see the world as a cultural battlefield and hold anti-exoticism as one of their favorite values.
This group of clerics and their peers in theological schools, the juridical power, Guardian Council and the Assembly of Khobregan (elites) see themselves as the crème of the society and see people's votes only secondary and as a kind of amusement and ornament of a religious regime and believe in a two-staged election with candidates being first selected by the clerics and in a fair distribution of wealth and prevention of the outspread of the world culture – including democracy.
That the people turned their backs to the election in which all the legitimate political groups were actively participating showed that after five years of Khatami's Presidency, people are tired of the existing antagonisms between Fundamentalists and Traditionalists with the Reformists and there is no longer the possibility of adopting a middle eclectic way and the Islamic Republic should choose between the continuation of the same policy or putting an end to the reformist movement. And this is while the easy, but futureless policy of Traditionalists has still some advocates and supporters.
What makes it difficult for the decision-makers of Islamic Republic to find a new way is that the reformist solution – tested already by election of Khatami – inevitably need to limit the traditionalists' power and praxis that is the main power source of Islamic Republic.
The middle way necessitates the exclusion of the reformists' active figures, but this is not a remedy in the present affairs of the world. The experience of the past five years shows that the continuation of the inner struggle between reformists and the other two groups will only lead to further weakening of the government and it is not accompanied by people's support.
The alternative that the traditionalists suggest necessitates the exclusion of all the reformists and also public opinion while at the same time yielding to the accompanying isolation on the international plane.
The existing situation in the world is far more difficult than it was during the early years of the establishment of Islamic Republic. Even then Ayatollah Khomeini discouraged the traditionalists by his emphasis on election and establishment of some institutes such as the Assembly of Discernment of the interests of the regime.
The alternatives that the leaders of Iran after February 28th are facing, require painful operations that the decision makers of Islamic Republic have been avoiding in the past and have always managed to escape the impasse by finding middle ways, but Ayatollah Khomeini, the charismatic leader of the revolution who had a great mastery in difficult and even violent operations is no longer among them.
Five years after the last innovative middle way of accepting Khatami's candidacy in the presidency election in 1988, accumulation of general demands and unresolved economic and social crises show that avoiding painful operations that governments sometimes carry out in order to stay in power is not any cure, but will only prolong the pain and make it chronic.
Under the world's present difficult situation and Iran's neighborhood with Afghanistan and Iraq and middle Asian countries, in fact all the regimes of the Middle East are facing a great challenge. The reformists believe that there is no way to avoid a tragic end except by gaining the support of the people.
In the message that President Khatami delivered the day after the election of Islamic Councils, he acknowledged their defeat and has said that Islamic Republic is facing a great danger, but there is still a chance. However, there are many people who believe that extremists have no longer left any chance for the survival of Islamic Republic.

Saturday, March 15, 2003

Man will go back to jungles again

Three days ago, the postman delivered a letter from
Swiss embassy, the responsible for U.S interest section in
Iran, to one of my neighbors living in the Western
part of Tehran. In this letter they had officially
asked my neighbor who have American passports to
have their documents ready at hand and fill their
car's gas tank and have a list of all their belongings
and be ready for emergency conditions.
Naturally, all the members of the family panicked.
Some twenty years ago, again under some emergency
conditions they were forced to collect all their
belongings and leave the country. It was when Iraqi
planes poured bombs and missiles on Tehran everyday
and my neighbor who is a surgeon witnessed many
wounded and dead everyday and when he discovered that
his young daughter was psychologically affected, he
decided to immigrate. They were among those lucky
people who managed to get into America and it took
them a long time until they finally settled in New
York. But last year, after September 11, they returned
to Tehran. The emergency conditions and the frightful
days that followed Bin Ladin's attack on Twin Towers
of World Trade Center were unbearable for them.
In the first few days of their return, they were
overfilled with happiness. Tehran was not the city
that they had abandoned, ruined and war ridden. There
was neither no sign of the fundamentalists who were
all over the city streets during the days of the
revolution, nor of the revolutionary guards who at
nights fearing Iraqi war planes, shot any house with
its lights on. Instead there were highways constructed
after the war and skyscrapers built over the
demolished houses and young girls taking advantage of
the reformist movement, walked in parks with their
friends. They soon learnt to have their parties and
celebrations in privacy of their house and only when
going outdoors have their scarves on and continue
their quite life and watch their favorite TV channels
through satellites. At nights the streets of Tehran
were safer than the streets of New York and water and
electricity and telephone were cheaper. And TVs showed
that the fundamentalist Taliban in Afghanistan, in the
east of Iran were overthrown and driven to caves.
In the past few months that American forces have been
deployed in the Persian Gulf Region, threatening
Saddam's regime, the family of my neighbor watched the
news calmly, happy to know that neither Bin Laden, nor
Saddam threatened their city and their home until that
Saturday when they received the above letter from the
Iran-Iraq war that forced our neighbor to immigrate
twenty years ago is the same war that these days the
President of America and his men are referring to. The
war that Saddam Hussein started and left nearly three
millions homeless and costed more than thousands
million dollars for both country and with the help of
a simple calculation took both countries twenty years
back and affected the life of seventy million people
with its destructive outcomes.
In Iran a revolution had occurred and Shah's modern
and powerful regime, that was called Gulf's gendarme,
with sixty eight thousand U.S military adviser supporting
and protecting it inside the country was overthrown
and replaced by a resistance front whose leaders
together with ordinary people shouted the most radical
slogans against Shah and his main supporter United
States. Again in a September but this time in 1979, a
group of revolutionary students climbed up the walls
of American Embassy in Tehran and occupied it and kept
fifty Americans as hostage for 444 days and played
with the awesomeness of American superpower while the
second superpower was quietly watching. Berjenev was
still alive and Soviet Union was in the peak of its
power which made the feat of revolutionary students
appear even more striking.
It was exactly at that time that Saddam Hussein
received the command of Fate. Considering the acute
dispute going on between Iranian Revolutionary regime
and Jimmy Carter's government, he concluded that he
can attack Iran. Saddam Hussein who wanted to bring
Iran with her 10 million population into a war with
Iraq with her four million population was sure of the
support of America and her allies, taking into account
the fact that Iran had just gone through a revolution
and her army was still in a disorganized confused
state. So he ordered the attack. Whether he had
received a message or not is not known. Later in some
of his interviews he claimed that he had consulted his
Western friends. And in order to coax his people into
the war, Saddam had selected a slogan too: Defending
Islam against Iranians who were introduced in his
propaganda as a bunch of non-Moslem Majus -
fire-worshipper - and a friend of Israel. If certain
people had sent him a message from Washington, they
weren't wrong as the Islamic Republic released the
hostages three months later and was not willing to
easily end the war that Saddam had started. For the
leaders of Islamic Republic had decided to punish
Saddam for breaking out the war in order to be able to
live in peace afterwards, but America and Europe did
not like to see Saddam overthrown and did not wish
Revolutionary government of Iran to win the war.
During the subsequent eight years of Iran-Iraq war,
financial support of Arab countries and American and
European military aids compensated for weakness and
smallness of Iraq and provided Saddam with the
opportunity to buy arms from the west with million
million dollars of Iraq and other Arab states oil
income. While Iran too, spent seventy percent of its
oil income on buying arms from different sources and
with higher prices.
The war that today Mr. Bush, the President of America
and Tony Blair, the Prime Minister of Britain refer to
as a sign of Saddam Hussein's threat to his neighbors,
was not possible in its own time without American and
European supports and aids. The raw material of the
chemical bombs that according to the recent reports of
American and British governments were used six times
against Iranians and Iraqi civilians living in cities
around the frontiers were manufactured in German
factories and the missiles thrown at Tehran and other
Iranian big cities were made in France. That is why
today Iranians do not believe that France and Germany
are against military attack on Iraq due to
humanitarian reasons. As they do not believe that
America has sent two hundred thousands of his forces
to the region for the purpose of disarming Saddam
Hussein and combating terrorism.
Our neighbor, forced to immigrate for the third time
in the past twenty years due to emergency conditions
upon receiving a letter from Swiss embassy in Tehran,
rightly asks for which uncommitted sin do we have to
wonder in a ring between dictators and religious
fundamentalists and economic powers? In the second
decade of the twentieth century, the parents of Dr.
Jalali, our neighbor, too were forced to leave
everything behind in Russia and immigrate under the
most unbearable conditions. On their way from Moscow
to Tabriz, in the north of Iran, they lost two of
their children. A family with such a past history
celebrated the beginning of twenty first century while
in harmony with President Clinton they were hoping
that the world would never see days like that again.
Like millions other people throughout the world, they
thought that with the fall of Soviet Union and
information explosion that has made it possible for
humans to know about each other more, they will not
witness massacres, bombardment, destruction and
immigration, but in the third year of the new century
once again they received a mail.
The content of the letter that the postman delivered
to our neighbor, Dr. Jalali, is what is forcing
hundred thousands people in the Middle East to think
of immigration. Thousands people should cross the snow
covered mountains of Iraq to reach Turkish frontiers
that are of course closed. As they were closed twenty
years ago. So they must turn and join thousands others
who are moving toward Iran from the south and west of
Iraq. Those hungry bare-footed people are not as lucky
as our neighbor and except a homeless life in deserts
and camps and burying their sick children in strange
roads have no other choice. What will the children of
this generation do? Would it be surprising that there
will be a couple of them who with a command of another
Ben Laden will ride on a plane to kill themselves in
order to kill thousands others?
What sort of vista of the new century do these nervous
killings and massacres in a world where
fundamentalists are acting freely will offer us? Would
disarmament of Saddam Hussein and the overthrow of
Iraq's despotic blood sucking regime, put an end to
continuous immigration, homelessness, pain and
suffering of men?
If the majority of people of the world and even those
three millions that joined the anti-war demonstrations
in Europe in the past few weeks could be sure that
attacking Iraq would be the beginning of the end of
the painful fate that chased the people of the whole
world throughout the past century, they would
definitely agree with it. Otherwise in harmony with an
Iranian poet would sing: Man will go back to jungle
again/ will go to mountain/ to cave.

Monday, March 10, 2003

The future challenge of Iran

During the midnight of the last day of January, the neighbors of Husseinali Montazeri, the lofty clergy and the greatest dissident Ayatollah, woke up by the sound of cranes that had appeared to remove the guard chamber and iron road barriers built five years ago, in order to put an end to house imprisonment of a man who even in his eighties inspires awe in certain rulers of Iran and gives hope to those who still believe in the possibility of a religious government observant of Human Rights.
The end of the household imprisonment of Ayatollah Montazeri took place two days before the onset of the celebration of the anniversary of the victory of Islamic Revolution in which he played an important role twenty four years ago. But the number of people who rushed to the religious city of Qum to visit him the next day after his liberation was significantly less than the crowd that when he was released from Shah’s prison in October 1978 raised him on their hands; the same people who forced Shah to flee from the country four months later and put an end to 2500 years of monarchy. Now after the release of Ayatollah Montazeri, the most well-known dissident of the present leaders of Islamic republic, are we again to wait for unexpected events taking place in Iran?
Ayatollah Montazeri who had an interview with BBC a few hours after the disappearance of the guards and his liberation from his household imprisonment said nothing about the difficult time of his arrest and presented no political plan, but while his voice was broadcast, everywhere in the country, in the streets and buses and offices everybody was talking about the news of his liberation. His followers and disciples in Qum and Isfahan and Tehran dared to bring out his pictures that they had hidden in cellars and other hiding places since his removal from his position by Ayatollah Khomeini.
The question now raised after Montazeri’s release in the mind of specialists in Iranian affairs in various media was whether this decision made on the verge of the trip of Christin Patin, the foreign commissar of European Union and Human Rights inspectors to Iran was due to the pressure of Europeans who had set conditions for extension of their relations with Iran. Have the leaders of Iran decided to show that they intend to put an end to violation of human rights in the country as the day of American attack on Iraq is approaching and Islamic Republic is threatened by a similar danger? Is Ayatollah Montazeri a serious threat to Ayatollah Khamenei who is sitting in his position as the leader of Islamic Republic? Could the release of an influential and effective dissident who dared to criticize religious despotism while Ayatollah Khomeini was still alive lead to a new movement in Iran when the majority of people have lost hope in any political reformation taking place in the country; and finally was this decision merely made because the security officials were worried that his death under such conditions may lead to insurgences and explosions that in turn may lead to unexpected changes in Iran?
The answer to all these questions may entails parts of the truth, but there is one question still remaining: What will be the consequences of this event in Iran? In order to find the right answer to this question we have to go back and show the role and significance of Ayatollah Montazeri in the set up of Islamic Republic.
What has granted Ayatollah Montazeri the position to play the role of a dissident and opposition under two political regimes and to give such significance to his imprisonment and release is his perseverance in his convictions, and although some of these believes may have strong tone of traditionalism and anti-modernism, nevertheless the modern society of Iran has a great respect for him. He is the only clergy among the early leaders of Islamic Republic that gave up the life-time role of the leader of Islamic republic and even though he had a part in the unpleasant events that followed the victory of Revolution in 1978, but with his criticisms and objections expressed openly he corrected his path.
In 1978, when the mass protest against the monarchy was culminating, the ex-regime released two clergies, Mahmoud Taleghani and Husseinali Montazeri, on the birthday of Shah as a sign of conciliation with the religious front and for the purpose of calming down the people. An hour after their release from the prison, they joined the crowd that demanded the fall of monarchy in their mass protests. Taleghani was more popular and independent, while Montazeri was closer to Ayatollah Khomeini and shortly after his release from the prison, he traveled to Noffle Le Chateaux in France to meet the Leader of the Revolution and announce his submission and in less than a year, he was the head of the parliament that was to compile the first constitutional law of Islamic Republic.
It was in the same parliament that Montazeri proposed the thesis of Velayat Faghih (the rulership of a clergy) and encouraged its approval by the assembly of Khobragans (highly qualified religious and professional specialists in law) by his constant insistence. To put an ecclesiastic in the highest position of rulership was a thesis that not only many old popular clergies did not approve, but there are many objections against this idea in classical religious Shiite texts as well.
But Montazeri believed that with the presence of a great enemy like Soviet Union in the north of the country and the power that pro-communist forces had in Iran and with the various crises shadowing the whole country with the fall of monarchy, the country can be saved from anarchy only if a powerful clergy assumes the highest position of the government.
Thus the Islamic Republic took shape with the approval of Constitutional Law that put a clergy in the highest position of rulership in the new government of Iran that sounded like a religious monarchy to the opposition. Once Khobregans approved this law, they also elected Montazeri as the vice-leader, replacing Ayatollah Khomeini when the time arrives. A highly difficult and challenging responsibility for which Montazeri did not possess the necessary experience and the delicate political subtleties and tolerance.
In the third anniversary of the establishment of Islamic Republic when the war with Iraq and internal and external crises were threatening the government seriously, Ayatollah Montazeri now seemingly familiar with complexities and challenges of rulership left the center of the government and returned to Qum. The same path that Ayatollah Khomeini had taken two months after his return to the country, but failed to continue due to the overall crisis going on in the country. Montazeri’s first protest took place at the time when the ruling clergies started to establish open and concealed economic and political relations with the world by using the opportunity that the war offered them.
When age and illness overwhelmed Ayatollah Khomeini and apprehension in relation to the future of the country in his absence overwhelmed all the clergies and their conservative followers, Montazeri possessing the high position of vice-leader, tried to defend the rights of the deprived and poor people of villages and small cities in his speeches and proclamations, thus by supporting the monopolized form of state economy he simultaneously challenged conservatives and traditionalist clergies and stockbrokers in Bazaars (central markets).
His main and determining opposition versus conservatives began when he protested against their brutal and severe reactions to their opponents. Montazeri who had experienced prosecution and arrest for years in Shah’s prisons believed in milder methods and acceptance of repentance of the young followers of various guerrilla groups that were arrested and executed due to their participation in assassinations and street demonstrations. Opposed to him were the conservatives who had managed to save the country from all the threatening dangers by their appeal to the harshest possible measures. They had seized the highest ruling positions in the Revolutionary courts, Sepah (Revolutionary army), the intelligent and security services with the support of Ayatollah Khomeini and did not heed Montazeri’s admonitions.
Montazeri’s critical and bitter letters to the leader of Islamic Republic and his attempts to reveal the course of executions and prosecution in the prisons that led to the election of a group to inspect the prisons and rehearing of the execution verdicts, although were successful for a short time, but they made the conservatives to realize that if he were to replace the old sick leader of the Revolution, he would be a great obstacle to the continuation of their rule over politics and economy of the country due to the power anticipated by the law for Vali Faghih. Thus a group of influential individuals was quickly mobilized against him with Ahmad, Ayatollah Khomeini’s son as its effective dynamo.
The removal of Ayatollah Montazeri from his position took place when Khomeini was in sickbed and the intelligent service had approached the office of his vice-leadership, executing the latter’s intimates including Mehdi Hashemi with the excuse of revealing the affair going on between Hashemi Rafsanjani and Ronald Regan’s state, famous as “Iran Gate’ in America. In the letter announcing the removal of Montazeri from his position Ayatollah Khomeini called him “a part of his body” and expressing his regret for Montazeri’s behavior, he advised him to withdraw from political activities and insisted that he only had the right to teach in theological schools. The conservatives revealed this letter five years ago for preparing the way for Montazeri’s household arrest.
By the final months of Ayatollah Khomeini’s life, it was already known that with the apparent aim of renovation of the country ruined as the result of the eight year war with Iraq, the powerful ecclesiastic had the intention to change the constitutional law in order to rule the country differently in the absence of Khomeini. During those days that Hashemi Rafsanjani had been elected as the President that had now more power in his hand, nobody still knew that in that afternoon of fourth of June 1989, ten hours after the announcement of the death of Ayatollah Khomeini, Ali Khamenei would be the man who would replace him. Montazeri congratulated Ayatollah Khamenei in a telegram on the same day, showing that he was not discouraged that somebody else has taken his position.
However the severe treatment and suppression of opposition taking place under the presidency of Rafsanjani and the dominance of conservatives over intelligent and security services and Ayatollah Khamenei’s use of the additional power that the new constitutional law had bestowed the leader of the Islamic Republic, once again brought Ayatollah Montazeri to the battlefield of power and after his first public speech, certain groups organized by the conservatives attacked his office, but the real blow to his freedom and his household arrest happened when following the victory of reformists, and the disclosure of assassination of dissidents, financial corruption and economic dealings in the past, Montazeri’s opposing tone intensified in all his speeches and proclamations evidently aiming the highest ruling authority of the country. The man who had suggested and insisted on the inclusion of the idea of Velayat Faghih as an article of the constitutional law was now reasoning that Vali Faghih should merely be a just supervisor and not a dictator ruling despotically.
With the publication of the above speech, the conservatives who defeated in the presidential election were waiting for an opportunity to show their real power arranged an organized attack and with the extensive arrest of Montazeri’s relatives and followers intended to put on him trial, but by receiving the news of the probable rise of a public insurgence, they gave up the idea. This event planted once more the name of Husseinali Montazeri as a warrior and defendant of public rights in the mind of the new generation. However, it was after this event that the conservatives succeeded to execute policies that prevented the reformists to reach their goals and as the recent census show the majority of voters have lost their hope in the reformation movement and the reformists who came to power with their votes. The return of Ayatollah Montazeri to the political scene of the country is taking place under such conditions.
What has forced the leaders of Islamic Republic to take this risk in the twenty fourth anniversary of the establishment of Islamic Republic to release Ayatollah Montazeri and allow an effective critic of the regime to re-appear on the political scene of the country is not important. What is important is that in contrast to the optimistic view of opposition, it will not bring about further weakening of the government, but instead it will give it the opportunity to repair its undermined connection with people. Such freedom will not help even those in favor of separation of religion and politics, but rather it will pave the way to link democracy and religion for those who have realized that Islamic fundamentalism is facing a great danger and democracy is the only way that can save the government from the international pressures.
The young generation of Iran demanding a better and more modern life do not expect a miracle from a clergy, no matter how liberalist he may be; that is why the release of Ayatollah Montazeri will not add to the followers of reformation, nevertheless it can help and benefit the course of peaceful reformation in Iran, because it will automatically decrease the influence and power of the conservatives. With his presence, the theological schools will be relatively freed from the monopoly of the conservatives.
Following a crafty policy in practice, Islamic traditionalists and fundamentalists have used every opportunity to propagate the idea that the reformists intend to establish a scholastic and laic government and the real meaning of reformation is the overthrow of the religious rule. Through such propaganda, they have managed to prevent faithful masses and clergies who are still the main source of power in Iran from joining the reformation movement. The continuation of their false propaganda will be more difficult with the direct presence of Ayatollah Montazeri on the scene.
Among those who arrived at Qum on the first day of February was the sister of Hashem Aghajari, the university professor condemned to death on the account of his supposed insult to Islam and Imams during the speech he delivered for university students. Zohreh Aghajari knows that if Ayatollah Montazeri approves that his brother’s speech was not in fact an insult to Imams and Islamic values, no force can carry out that clamorous verdict and this is no little influence in the present conflict in Iranian society that is trying to establish a connection between religious rule and democracy and to improve its life without another revolution.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Dream or Reality?

To be among one million people who speak of peace, love and justice and cry out their hatred of war and massacres is of the most auspicious feelings that one can experience in one’s life. London, on Saturday created such an experience. It was not really that important what the speakers were saying or what was written on the placards. What was important was the gathering of one million people even from other parts of Europe and America in such cold freezing weather on a the day after the Valentine’s Day to deliver their message to the people of those hot and arid lands that the fire of the oil wells has made their land even hotter; from the shores of Tames’ river to the coasts of Tigris and Euphrates, from Britania to the Mesopotamia that the British drew its map eighty years ago and turned it to a country that since a quarter of century ago has been the seat of heated news.
Not only for the British who had never in their life assembled in such a great gathering, but also for all the Europeans, last Saturday turned to be a majestic day. Europe that has seen many great wars in the past few centuries still carries the wounds of the two World Wars on her body. Saturday’s gathering showed that the British and other Europeans do not want their children to go to war fronts and participate in any war in the twenty first century as well.
When in Germany that started the two world wars the majority of people will Peace and have forced their government to say NO to America, attainment of a life without war no longer seems far-fetched. Europe will not see anymore wars. But it appears that the people of the Middle East must bear such a wish in their hearts for many years to come. Until the day that the problem of Israel is still an issue and the oil wells are springing, the desire for peace and love seem unreachable. It is a long time now that these people die with the hope to live on lands where one million people could gather to express a view different from their regimes is buried with them. But it appears that as long as people like Bin Ladin are trained and as long as dictators are in power, war, hatred, disease and death will not leave them alone.
An English poet who is accompaning us in our march along Hyde Park asks a Syrian journalist ‘why do you put up with dictators?’ And the young Syrian journalist replies, ‘as long as the representatives of our dictators have embassies in your Europe and America and make great deals, sell oil and buy arms we will not be able to get rid of them.’
In the history of Britain, gathering of one and a half million people is unprecedented, but in the Middle East it is something that often happens. Their big difference lies in the fact that such great gatherings in that part of the world is either for the purpose of overthrowing regimes or they are summoned to support the regimes. A peaceful gathering of even hundred people without the fear of police and shooting, without the horror of arrest and execution taking place somewhere in the Middle East in protest to certain policies of their governments is something that has not happened yet. In most parts of the Middle East, not only people are deprived of the possibility of gathering in such great numbers to protest against their governments, but of having independent newspapers and parliamentary members and the students are arrested for writing an article against their states and get familiar with violence when twenty, put in prison cells with thieves, murderers and brutes
Saturday, more than one million people gathered in the heart of London to send their love to the people who sell them oil to warm up their houses so as to warm their hearts in return. They gathered to send their love to the people whose greatest sin is that they happen to live on lands with great oil reservoirs that can turn the wheels of cars and in Europe and America for years to come. If they wish to live in a world where every day of it would be a Valentine’s Day, they have to ask their governments to sell democracy to the people who live on the oil wells. To sell medicine to them to heal their pains and agonies.
Solana, a Spanish student who had come all the way from Brighton to join the gathering in London, while crying out of a great excitement had cut Janek’s caricature from the Guardian and showed it to the people around him and said ‘to the world that would be devoid of Bush, Sharon, Saddam, Bin Ladin, bombs, missiles and explosives where the political and economic powers would allow people of the world to exchange love with each other.’ Oil only heats up the houses, but loves warms the hearts.
Living in my hometown while Iraqi planes manufactured in Russia with French exhausts bombarded it at nights with my child trembling of horror, I never imagined that a day would arrive that I will participate in a gathering whose main desideratum was the fall of Iraq Regime. But it happened and now the thought of Iraqi children trembling of horror in the arms of their parents horrifies me.
Tony Blair was right to say that even if the number of people participating in the anti-war demonstration in London reaches one million, it is still less than the number of people killed by Saddam, but what he did not say was how Saddam attained such a power. Why is it that until September 11 when Bin Ladin changed the political image of the world, nobody talked about such figures? The statistics that Collin Powel, US Foreign Minister revealed to UN about the number of people killed by chemical bombs dropped by Saddam Hussein’s army were not obtained this very yesterday.
Last week Akbar Montakhabi died in Tehran after twenty years of struggle against his excruciating pains and wounds and lung cancer and blindness. He was wounded twenty years ago in the chemical bombardment of the city of Halabcheh by Saddam’s special forces and all these years nobody asked him about what he was going through.
To live in a peaceful, loving world, requires more of these gatherings.

Sunday, March 02, 2003

Do Westerners sometimes say the truth?

For us Iranians having Russian planes carrying French made bombs crossing over our heads for eight years, it is difficult to imagine that the true intention of Jacque Chirac and Putin in objecting American military attack on Iraq is to defend innocent civilian people of this country. As many Iranian soldiers wounded by chemical bombs that Saddam Hussein’s army poured on their heads refused to go to the well-equipped hospitals in Germany for treatment because they had heard knows Germany supplied the raw material of these bombs. Similarly they do not believe that Gerhard Shroder is against American military invasion of Iraq for humanistic reasons. We tell ourselves the fight is over something else.
But among millions of pessimistic people who see Iraq crisis as another game over oil, some are optimistic too. They are the people who tell themselves that the world has changed and the twenty first century with the collapse of the Communist Block and Information revolution and the world’s attention to human rights is the beginning of a new era in human civilization. In the new struggle and challenge that has started in the world, they are hoping to receive their own piece of cake and that is freedom of people from the grip of despotic reactionary fundamentalist rulers who live in the Middle Ages.
Which one of these two groups is right? Would the clamor that started a day after September 11 and following the overthrow of Taliban Government in Afghanistan is now aiming at Iraq have any effects on the historical fate of the people of Middle East? Would it help the reformist movements shaping in the Middle East countries to exit the vicious circle of backwardness and attain democracy without violence and in a peaceful way?
On September 22, 1980 I had taken my son to the city center of Tehran to do some shopping for him as the next day was the beginning of Autumn and the new school year was to begin. My son was six years old then and he was to start school and like other human beings it was a great day for us. But suddenly around noon the sound of sirens filled the air and an hour later Radio announced that Iraqi army has attacked large cities in Iran. We spent the night in the dark basement and the pleasant memory of the first day of school had already disappeared from our mind and the nights and days of horror and bombardment and massacre had started. An event that continued until my son was thirteen and started high school. Throughout those eight years of war, it was America and Europe that by selling arms to Saddam – and sometimes Iran-- made the continuation of all that senseless blood shed and demolitions possible. In the world of politicians, their approach was called ‘the policy of dual containment’ but the people who were killed and their cities were demolished knew nothing of the terms of the diplomatic world.
Two weeks ago when Colin Powel American Foreign Minister announced in UN that Iraqi army had bombarded its neighbor Iran with chemical bombs several times and never hesitated to kill even its own people, an Iranian satirist wrote, ‘Indeed the news reach New-York very late, after twenty years.’
When the first Iraqi chemical bomb fell on an Iranian city near the frontier, not a single American or European statesman condemned this event. The German hospitals where a group of Iranians wounded by those chemical bombs was hospitalized refused to announce the real cause of those wounds and did not mention the word chemical in their documents and bills. If they were ready to testify that all those people were suffering from the wounds of chemical bombs, then could Iranians complain to the International courts against German companies selling chemical materials to Iraq?
Akbar Hassani, the Iranian soldier wounded by Iraqi chemical bombs who lived under the oxygen tent for twenty years suffering from the most excruciating pains and experiencing death several times due to asphyxia died a couple of weeks ago in Tehran. Before his death, when Hassani heard that in their speeches British Prime Minister and President Bush talk about what Saddam Hussein did to his neighbor, he smiled and thanked god.
After the impending American military invasion of Iraq, would Hassani’s fatherless children live in a world where nobody would no longer die of pains and wounds of chemical bombs? This is what if Iranians and other people of the world who demonstrated in hundred cities with the slogan of No War believe, will not then have anything against the invasion of Iraq and disarmament of Saddam Hussein and his overthrow. The problem is that it is something difficult to believe.
Two weeks ago when Naji Sabri, Iraqi foreign Minister traveled to Iran, a group of Parliamentary Members impeached Iranian Foreign Minister who had gone to the Air Port to welcome Sabri. 63% of Iranian MPs have lost one of their family members in the war with Iraq. They were angry to see such a warm welcome to Saddam’s representative. In response, the government tells people that the purpose of military invasion of Iraq is not to punish Saddam Hussein, the murderer of your children and fathers, but is oil. Most of the people believe that, as thousands people in America and Europe believe the same.
Without such skepticism, when America made Taliban with its medieval aged government flee from Kabul and now when it is sending thousands of its youth to the Middle East to overthrow Saddam’s government, surely Iranian people who have awful memories of both of these neighbors should have been and should be the only people in the world praying for America and its allies and send them flowers.
It is over twenty years that Iraqi people are living under the oppression of the despotic regime of Saddam Hussein who has killed thousands of them for being Kurd, Shiite, Communist, dissident, criticizing and protesting against his dictatorial regime. Surely, these people should pour flowers under the feet of American soldiers who are going to overthrow Saddam Hussein and according to their Arabic tradition, burn harmel for them and jubilate. But it is not like this and everybody knows that it is not going to be this way and in Iraq even if people do not attempt to build small ambushes and show individual resistance as Bin Laden had advised them in the message he has sent them, they will not welcome the invading forces even as much as Afghans.
Even the horror that the dictatorial governments of the Middle East are now feeling because of the impending American attack on Iraq should be the best news for the people awaiting freedom for years, but it is not.President Bush’s government had to spend a year on the controversy over military invasion of Iraq to convince the people of the world, and particularly of the Middle East that a better life is awaiting them. Even if the regimes of this region that are not true representatives of were convinced, the problem would not be solved. As exerting pressure on European governments to accept war and cooperate with America will not solve the problem. What is President Bush’s policy to convince the people of the world?
Last week, in a gathering in Tehran, Hashemi Rafsanjani, the powerful statesman of Iran said, “If their ( American) intention is to take away the oil and distribute it justly, then there is no need for military force and war as this is exactly what we want too.” This is the free-spoken expression of what the majority of leaders of the region speak in their negotiations behind the closed doors. It is evident that American power show has been quite effective up to now. When the most outspoken dissenter of America that is Iranian clerics that following the occupation of American embassy in Tehran and keeping the American stuff as hostages twenty four years ago, have been insisting on the slogan of Death to America and are not ready to give it up even now has reached such a point, it is obvious that Untied States and her allies do not have much difficulty in winning the rest of the regimes of the region.Whether America is contemplating on military invasion of Iraq with the intention of fighting against terrorism and destruction of mass massacre armaments as President Bush’s government claims, or is preparing for a war for the purpose of its supremacy and control over future oil market in the region as anti-war demonstrators believe, nevertheless it still needs to convince the public opinion of the whole world. In one word, the poor and oppressed people of the Middle East should be convinced that after taking such a risk, they will live in better and freer countries. They should believe that the world has changed. They should believe that twenty first century that began with total supremacy of America, will be a different century, a more humane century.
The twentieth century was a century when people of the Middle East experienced nothing except pain. America and Europe sold arms to Saddam Hussein, Taliban, Saudi’s Sheikhs and Kuwait for years and were silent toward their despotism and violence. And they never talked about human rights when they sat around the negotiation tables for Trade, in the Arab-Israel dispute, they only backed one side, they even sometimes supported fundamentalism, gave the dictators the chance to do whatever they wished, to fight with each other and to buy more arms by selling oil.
If the new century is going to be another century, it should be proved to people. Before that, in any war or dispute or discord that happens, people will automatically look back at the history of the Twentieth century and will compare it to one of the events of those hundred years such as world wars or other wars. And they are right to write like that Iranian poet wrote, ‘on the day when the last drop of oil comes out the wells we will be left alone with thousands tons of metallic decomposed fish, hills of revenge and enmity and arms that we need for killing each other. Even then we still would not know how to fish. In those empty lands and crowded cities we will remember only one thing, that on the other side of waters nobody says the truth.’
In this poem, fishing means human rights, means hygiene, means education, means better life, means to accept that sometimes Westerners many say the truth.

Saturday, March 01, 2003

Tehran: Life in the midst Fire

During daytime, Baghdad television that covers southern and western Iran broadcasts footage showing fortifications set up in the streets of the Iraqi capital and people burning American flag to prove their loyalty to the country's dictator, Saddam Hussein. However across the Iranian territory to the East, just a few kilometers away from the watchful eyes of revolutionary guards, one of the most sophisticated military complexes is under construction by the United States, which settled there after the fall of Taliban.

Throughout the region, extending from the European frontiers in Istanbul to Hindu Kush Mountains near China, from cold southern steppes of Russia to hot African deserts, America has a presence that is defined by oil and gas, except in Iran where throughout the past quarter of the century the cry of death to America has been loud. However in both Washington and Tehran, there is a belief that Iran's turn will come after US is finished with Iraq.

In the foot of snow-covered mountains in north of capital, Tehran, a retired professor of history is showing others around him in a coffee shop an article in the Time magazine about the CIA-incited coup against the nationalist prime minister, Dr. Mosaddeq. The magazine says that the coup in August 1953 was the first such action taken by the American intelligence agency after the Second World War. A photograph of the former Shah returning to Iran after the coup decorates the article. Asghar Kashani, who is 74, believes that after half a century nothing has changed. Americans used the threat of communism to justify the coup. They are now using threat of terrorism to launch a military attack on Iraq.

A few meters away, a group of university students carrying bread and cheese and a few textbooks in their knapsacks are talking about a demonstration that is to be held to protest the imprisonment of one of their friends, a student arrested by special forces during another demonstration against the recent death sentence passed on an outspoken university professor, Hashem Aqajari.

In the early hours of the polluted winter morning, middle aged men, wearing sport outfits returning from their mountain climbing, talk about economy while having their breakfast with great crave. On the other side, a group of women, covered from head to toe as a protection against both the cold weather and the revolutionary guards who impose the Islamic dress code, hijab, talk about a play in an arts festival in which for the first time after the Islamic revolution, two actresses appear without the official hijab.

These three age groups have no interest in the daily news about the crisis in Iraq. Most of them think about the reform movement in Iran which started six years ago and has since been struggling hard against the fundamentalist and extremist self-proclaimed defendants of Islamic state.

This is a general description of Iranian society that has tried to keep away from crises in neighboring Afghanistan and Iraq for the past fifteen months. But the dilemma the government faces cannot be imagined by the young generation interested in political progress. The current crisis in a region where Muslim fundamentalism is ripe might not give the religious government in Tehran the chance to stay neutral in the midst of fire and continue its slow and exhausting democratic process.

Almost two million Afghans have taken refuge in Iran as the result of the long civil war in their country. Even the end of Taliban era has not lessened their numbers. At the same time Iranian government has been setting up refugee camps near the Iraqi borders to the west for the one million refugees expected in case America attack on Iraq. And this is only one of the sparks of the Middle East fire that might find its way into Iran.

Intensification of Iraqi- American crisis has put foreign policy of Iran in the same difficult position that it found itself during last year's Us-led attack on Afghanistan. After the war against the traditionalist Sunni Taliban and Al-Qaeda, Tehran tried to participate in the celebrations without cheering its great enemy, the United States. Iran's foreign minister, Kamal Kharrazi, was the first foreign official to congratulate the new leader of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai. However Iran didn't join the military alliance and continued with its slogan of death to America.

Meanwhile, Iraq's foreign minister, Naji Sabri, who was scheduled to visit Tehran a few weeks ago, was forced to cancel his trip after some MPs, who had lost at least a relative in the war with Iraq that raged for eight years, threatened to impeach Mr. Karrazi if Saddam Hussein's representative set foot on Iranian soil. The same MPs advised the government to extend its relations with Europe to bypass the US.

The government's attempt to improve relations with Europe, surrendering to the their demands on human rights is one of the policies adopted to keep the country away from the crises over its borders. Freeing the most prominent dissident cleric, Ayatollah Husseinali Montazeri, from house arrest after five years; the verdict of life sentences and long imprisonments passed by the military court on those secret agents who brutally killed four anti-government activists five years ago; and relative pause in the activity of controversial courts set up to prosecute outspoken journalists, political activists and students defending political reform in the past few years, are all in line with the course of action taken to please Europeans just before the visit to Tehran by EU's high officials.

Iranian television's evening news programs, that these days begin with a few announcement in relation to the anniversary of the Islamic revolution and the establishment of the Islamic Republic, show extensive footage of demonstrations held in Europe in protest to American military plans against Iraq. Anti-American slogans are being magnified, but Tehran is the only capital where young people do not show any interest in protesting against such a military attack.

Most of the streets and alleys in Tehran still carry the names "martyrs", those who were killed in the war that started by Saddam Hussein in 1980. More recently death of a general was announced who had been wounded in an Iraqi chemical attack, living the past twenty years in pain and agony.

Despite all this, the question that occupies the mind of Tehran's politicians and decision- makers is whether after the expected fall of Saddam Hussein, the fire sparked by Islamic fundamentalists on September 11 and have already destroyed Taliban extend to other oil-rich countries with an anti-American position. This is a difficult question that nobody in Tehran seems to have any answer for. Will the Iranian Foreign Minister who is scheduled to visit London next week receive an answer from British government?