Monday, December 26, 2005

The Duties of a Commander

While the chief of police confirmed that no connections had been made on last week’s attack on a presidential guard, Gholam Hossein Elham, the government spokesman said in a news conference that an armed man had been killed in a gun battle with a group of men, leading to the capture of a number of them.

Elham said that a group of Passdaran Revolutionary guards whose mission had been completed were on their way to the southern port of Chahbar outside the Persian Gulf when they were attacked by armed men. The police chief, Ahmad Moghadam, contradicted Elham’s version of events when he claimed that the aim of the armed men was definitely not the president. According to him, the armed men were robbers who intended to rob innocent travelers. “It just so happened that three of the passengers were members of the Passdaran Revolutionary Guards Corps who were on their way to Saravan for the preparations of the president’s trip there.”

What is striking about the news and interview is the calm and accepting manner in which the chief of police talks of the absence of security and safety in the country. It is as if he was saying: “I was relieved when I learned that the bandits were not aiming for the president,” as if targeting other citizens is acceptable because they “regularly” do this! By downplaying their importance, it is as if he had absolutely no responsibility to provide safety to the citizens of this country.

Had the safety of the public and the security of the country been important to the chief, who is said to be a very close personal aide to the president, he should have called the attack a “politically motivated” one, because bandits cannot freely and simply wait in ambush and attack travelers, as they used to in Western films. The chief’s words however, imply that when he learned that the attack was not related to the president’s trip, it did not matter that the attackers fled the scene, and that the roads continue to be hazardous to travelers. It really does not matter, in his eyes that the very same outlaws will continue to harass and kill others around the country.

My recommendation to the police chiefs and law enforcement officials is to replace their deadly verbal attacks on the US, Israel and Europe with carrying out their sworn duties to ensure the safety and security of the homeland. Anyway, how do they expect to frighten those they intend outside the country when they cannot upset the criminals inside it?

The other issue that is startling is the conflicting versions of the same event between two high offices of the country, namely the president’s office and the police chief. This inconsistency and disarray is widespread among different agencies these days and in fact has been the norm in the extensive government bureaucracy during the past few months. A few examples will suffice to make the point. Just a few days ago the director of the Social Insurance Organization was removed from his post, and then reinstated the next day. The leader of Iran’s Majlis (Parliament) faced yet another, his third humiliated, during his third trip abroad, when he visited the Russian Duma. The president appears to have not trust or faith in his own government and the government machinery at large, in the words of the Majlis deputy from Malayer, when he promotes the idea of the Imam Reza Charity Foundation to parallel the work of many government agencies.

It appears that “normal” has lost its meaning, and harmful events are growingly treated as routine.

Monday, December 12, 2005

New Media Trens Against Iran

The coverage of Iran over the past few days by the major international and domestic news and television media such as CNN and BBC, among others, seems to have provided the goal of Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He wanted to be in the spotlight and he got it. It does not seem to have mattered how he got to the front pages and the headlines.

In all of these films that quote Ahmadinejad at the UN General Assembly, or show him meeting ayatollah Javadi Amoli, it is stressed that the current Iranian government is rapidly turning Iranian society into one in which superstitions dominate while the president makes claims of directly representing the Shiite’s 12th Imam, considered to be in occultation, thus negating any need to provide plans and programs to address the pressing issues of the country and people.

In the film shown by BBC World Service, for example, the people of Ilam province were shown welcoming the Iranian president, and interviews in with Ilam residents expressed their hope and confidence in Ahmadinejad who they said would improve their lot and even bring them into money. In contrast to that, the same film showed young Tehrani residents, from the upper and wealthier sections of the city, who viewed Ahmadinejad’s remarks as jokes and baseless.

One may say that from the time the elections unexpectedly brought into office a hardline-conservative president in Iran, a new window has opened on the country, one with a common theme of hardening of views on Iran’s leaders and its programs, such as its nuclear projects and goals. This contrasts with the reporting of the very same media before the elections which was noticeably becoming more and more sympathetic towards Iran’s views on its quest for nuclear power and while remaining critical of the US for its assumptions and aggressive posture.

The new wave of negative reporting against Iran began with president Ahmadinejad’s UN General Assembly address in September 2005. The speech and other events since then have made it easier for government’s opposing Iran’s drive to acquire nuclear energy to criticize Iran. Under the current circumstances, governments that in the past were under pressure from their constituents to oppose US pressures on Iran’s nuclear programs will soon have a free hand in dealing with Iran. For example, the upcoming talks between Iran and the West (Europe directly, and the US indirectly) will take a different course and nature than they had during the last two years where Iran was inching forward in its drive to win the confidence of the international community.

At the same time, political reforms in Iran that were recognized by and welcomed by international thinkers to be moving the country towards pluralism, possibly making it a model for other Middle Eastern states, also collapsed. Iran is now viewed not too differently from Afghanistan’s Taliban. Former president Khatami’s eight-year achievements all went down the drain in a matter of weeks. The respected position that Iran was beginning to enjoy because of its civil experience all but disappeared. And things will be even direr in future, where the president may not even be able to travel to any country except handful ones with hungry populations in Africa and Asia. The most unfortunate aspect of this change is that the loss of respect, image, confidence etc is not in return for any gain in any sphere at all for Iran.

The ones who have benefited, however, are the likes of Bin Laden and his number two man Moqtada Sadr of Iraq. Soon, supporters of Afghanistan’s Taliban leader Mola Omar will look up to Ahmadinejad for inspiration. Iranian society too has become more polarized, in which one watches over the other. We are now a people distant from each other, and even inimical, leading to weakness and inefficiency. No matter what the slogans of officials may be.

If president Ahmadinejad is honest in his claim that world leaders have lined up for his advice (a claim that is synonym with a joke), then why does he denounce and reprove the hundreds of managers and technocrats who are responsible for the achievements he brags about.

At the very last banquet by the late Shah of Iran given in honor of the visiting Chinese leader, the latter held the monarch in the highest regard possible. Just a year before that, US president Carter was in Tehran calling Iran an island of stability in a turbulent region and calling its leader the center of Middle Eastern politics, adding that he was surprised at the depth of knowledge the monarch exhibited. Previously other world leaders bestowed the same respect on the Shah, but this did not lead him at any time to make a claim that world leaders were in line to benefit from his advice. If pro-government Kayhan newspaper these days reports – albeit the hundred so omissions and distortions - about some unknown American researcher who approves of Iran’s policies, then one should be directed to read the voluminous pages written earlier in praise of the pre-revolution governments. At the time the Shah finally left the country, there were 18 leaders waiting to travel to Iran to see him. But never did he brag about the world waiting to hear his advice, putting Ahmadinejad’s claims and bragging to shame.

In the words of a famous Iranian poet, “now that you are king, act like one.” Mr. President, if you really want to be respected by world leaders, then at least try to be a statesman. Appearing on the front pages of international newspapers – without looking at the contents - is not an accomplishment. If you really want to do something useful, take the opportunity that has been offered to you and mobilize the masses to deal with the pollution that shut down schools and offices just last week. There are hundreds of issues that need leadership to be tackled ranging from the agricultural problems, labor problems, the recent air crash and air industry safety, the escape of intellectuals and technocrats, etc. Nowadays the opportunity is there because petro-Dollars seem to be pouring in rapidly at rates greater than the plans and expectations, in with no change in sight.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Is this a US or an Islamic Model?

The Speaker of Iran’s Parliament recently said: “The extensive participation of Iraqi people in their elections, and other political and social events is greater than those of many other Arab countries and this is not what they have learned from American but from Islam.” Can he prove this statement though?

Had someone with no or little experience in political issues said this, one would have no problem in dealing with it, as they usually and blatantly say such things. But when someone who is recognized to be a cultured person and knows Islam, reasoning and the meaning of his words says it, then we begin to ponder.

What is happening in Iraq these days, including in his words extensive participation of the Iraqis in elections and other social and political events does in fact not derive from Islam. I say this because the Muslim leaders of the world have not yet agreed on whether elections and people’s votes are necessary or not. In our own Iran these days plenty of words on the subject are exchanged which prove contrary to Parliament Speaker Haddad Adel’s contention. If it were as Adel says, then why were there no such events before the US militarily toppled Saddam’s dictatorship. Or for that matter why is it that there are no elections in other Arab countries, let alone “extensive participation” by their public?

If the purpose of these words is not to glamorize US military occupation of Iraq, then there are other ways to achieve it.

Someone may ask why does Saddam Hussein appear in an Iraqi courtroom with a copy of the Quran under his arm. Is it not because he and thousands others like him believe that by resorting to the Quran they can negate the will of the Iraqi people as demonstrated in their “extensive participation” and votes, and thus rationalize the conditions of the ancient regime? After all, was it not Saddam himself who added the word of the Quran onto the Iraqi flag and did he not justify everything he did, including his attack on neighboring Iran in the name of Islam?

Adel’s assertion also raises another question: If free elections come from Islam, then why is it that in Iran and other Islamic countries we have an appointed body that vets candidates which negates free elections and then presents a second round, which is an undemocratic act that even the Americans did not do in occupied Iraq.

Coming from a teaching background and guiding the country’s Academy of Language and Literature, Haddad Adel could have claimed that if Islam did not wish or was against the elections, the Iraqi people would not have participated in such an “extensive” manner. This would have been in line with ayatollah Sistani’s thoughtful and measured positions. And even if that position was granted to Islam by Adel, then we would be asking why then is Sistani insisting that he does not want the Iranian Islamic Republic model for the people of Iraq.

The reality and truthfulness of the situation is what sheikh Fazlolah Nouri, who ironically is revered today by the leaders of the Islamic Republic, argued a century ago, that Islam is not in agreement with elections in which every person has one vote and where all people are equal. Let’s not go far and accept that elections and the ballot are creations of the West. And if we or the Iraqis are modeling, it is from the West, not the Quran. If they still don’t believe this, then I refer them to history where hundreds of documents show how Islamic clerics have opposed this notion.

What one can argue is that this model does not contradict Islam, and that Islam does not have any principles that deny it the utility of this Western idea. In that case we can then refer to the Iraqi elections and the words and deeds of ayatollah Sistani as supportive examples. Of course there will be some who will continue to argue and they would have asked had the interests of the West not been met, would they still advocate the one-person, one-vote principle?

This reasoning would be out of line when everyone knows today that Iran has great influence in Iraq and over the majority of its Shiite population, which is why US President George Bush has tasked his ambassador to Iraq to talk to Iran about the situation in Iraq. But even if Bush had not done so, the behavior of Afghan and Iraqi groups that support Iran indicates that Iran has appropriately and thoughtfully strived to bring stability to these two neighbors. This is in fact the best reason that it is not against votes and elections.

Americans have a thousand indicators for their claim that the vote and the ballot box are their creations. History supports such claims that since the last two hundred and fifty years and after the French Revolution, the ballot box has been the indicative sign of democracy and pluralism all over the world. Just as history has shown that this America is the only country that has run on this principle since its inception. What other country has such a record? Regardless of whether the US is a “Satan” or Angel, heaven or hell, it is the only country in the world whose constitution begins with “We the people”, and there is no other factor even religion in there. This is why all religions are free there and there is no official religion. And this is why its ballot box has no barrier or limitations.

In contrast to that, Islam has always pursued the principle of allegiance to the leader, who has never been constrained by anything except Islamic laws. He has been the ruler over people’s life and property. This is similar to Afghanistan Loe Jorge. The grouping of the powerful and tribal chiefs, such as our own Expert Assembly, or the House of Lords in the UK. That model may have been useful in those days especially for the East which knew of no other way than force and the sword to find its leaders. But today we have the ballot box, elections and the voice of the people, which are all closer to democracy and are considered modern.

Why even go that far. Take a look at Iranian newspapers published in Iran. They are full of articles opposing democracy, arguing on Islamic grounds. Let’s not forget the words of ayatollahs Mesbah and Janati who explicitly oppose democracy and even call former president Mohammad Khatami secular because he supported democratic principles and democracy.

With that said, by simply looking at what is going on in Iraq, is there any doubt that the events there are based on the democratic model? How can one claim Islam is the driving force for democracy among the Iraqi people?

Just because they dislike America and consider its government bad, they cannot negate reality and facts thereof. As even Adel himself advised a representative in his own house: “why narrate a poem with which we have an issue.”