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Iran's intriquing new weave of tradition and changeQOM, IRAN On a recent Thursday, the marble-paved courtyards of Qom's 400-year-old Hazrat-e Masumeh shrine were filled with family groups of Shiite pilgrims from different communities. Many were Iranians, but I also heard snatches of Arabic amid the Farsi and saw faces from throughout central Asia and saris from the Indian subcontinent.
Like nearly all the women here, I was wrapped in an all-encompassing black chador. (It's hard to keep that massive, single piece of cloth from slithering to the ground. I marveled at the young mothers who managed theirs while pushing strollers or keeping restive toddlers under control.)
A shrine official who learned that my husband and I were from America greeted us warmly and pressed small souvenirs into our hands. He said that as nonbelievers, we could not enter the shrine spaces but could look at - and yes, photograph - the stunning turquoise-tiled domes and minarets from the courtyards. Fifteen million pilgrims come to the shrine each year, he said.
All around the four-acre complex, busy arcades of shops cater to the pilgrim trade. (Qom's confectioners make a special gingery toffee of much deserved renown.) Shrine-related seminaries and religious high schools dotted throughout Qom serve 70,000 students. The most famous person to have studied and taught here was Ayatollah Khomeini, author of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution.
All these reminders of an entrenched Islamic tradition stood in contrast to the aura of change we found a few hours later in Tehran, when we participated in an extraordinarily rich discussion - principally among Iranian scholars - on the relationship between Islam and democracy. Iranian-Canadian professor Forough Jahanbakhsh, the sole female presenter there, noted at one point that religious intellectuals in Iran have a good basis on which to address this topic, "because we have 25 years of experience of Islamic government here to reflect on."
Another thought-provoking presenter was Mohsen Kadivar, who graduated from - and taught for 14 years in - the seminaries in Qom. Dr. Kadivar, who wears the robes of a trained mullah, presented an intriguing theory of what he called "liberated democracy," based on complete equality among all human beings and a continuing freedom of conscience and belief.
This stimulating, four-hour discussion had its own interesting history. It was cosponsored by Ferdowsi University in the eastern Iranian city of Mashhad and the Washington-based Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy. Originally, the event's organizers had planned a two-day conference at Ferdowsi, which like all Iranian universities is owned and run by the state. Then, shortly before the conference's Dec. 1 opening, religious militants in Mashhad announced they would physically attack Kadivar and four of the other listed participants if they showed up.
The city's authorities reportedly said they could not guarantee the safety of the threatened five. So the conference organizers scaled back their plans in Mashhad and swiftly set up the additional session in Tehran, where Kadivar and the others could all present their thoughts. Significantly, the Tehran session was hosted - generously and efficiently - by the Ministry of Education.
The topic "Islam and democracy" evidently stirs much controversy even within the ranks of pro-regime people here. At a broader level, 25 years after the mullahs took power in Iran, the role of religion in the lives of its 70 million people also seems deeply contested.
Quite separate from the troubles encountered by the conference, our own plans to travel to Mashhad also fell through, so we spent a couple of fascinating days between Tehran and Qom. Some Iranians we met railed against the restrictions that the mullahs try to impose on people here. Others, more pious, supported signs of personal piety such as keeping to an ultramodest dress code, but expressed concern that the government's attempts to enforce such restrictions had alienated many young Iranians not just from the government, but from Islam itself.
Certainly, in Tehran, observance of the government-preferred social codes is much more relaxed than in Qom, where nearly all women wear the all-concealing chador in public. In the streets and shopping malls of Tehran, by contrast, many younger women wear tight jeans, covering their thighs with only the flimsy flaps of a long cotton shirt. And though Tehran women wear headscarves in public, many of these scarves are pushed back to reveal large amounts of once-forbidden hair. In Tehran, street stalls now openly display long-banned CDs, and young people crowd onto the Internet to experience things - like pop culture and mixing of the sexes - of which the ruling mullahs heartily disapprove.
Will this disaffection from the mullahs' rule lead to the kind of broad political upheaval that 25 years ago swept Iran's Shah from power? Most likely, not any time soon. Several Iranians said the fact that sudden "regime change" in neighboring Iraq had led to massive insecurity and social breakdown made even the most ardent reformers here very wary of pushing for too much change, too fast. But rapid or not, change is clearly on its way.
Whatever happens nationwide, though, I predict the esthetically stunning shrine complex here in Qom will survive.
Helena Cobban is working on a book about violence and its legacies. She spent two months traveling in the Middle East this fall.
ElBaradei Phone Transcripts: Conflict of Interest?
By Steve Roeder
December 15, 2004
The Bush administration continues to examine intercepted telephone conversations that Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an inter-governmental organization under the auspices of the United Nations, had with Iranian officials. The Egyptian-born ElBaradei has held the position for two terms since 1997, but the U.S. opposes his serving for a third term.
According to the Washington Post, phone calls of ElBaradei were intercepted, and they report that the Bush administration hopes to find information to aid in the removal of ElBaradei as director of IAEA. ElBaradei questioned U.S. intelligence on Iraq and stands for a more careful approach concerning Iran's nuclear program and thus is not very popular in the Bush administration.
The report, sourced to three unnamed U.S. government officials, said phone transcripts have not yielded evidence of immoral conduct by ElBaradei. However, some administration officials believe the phone conversations indicate that ElBaradei lacks impartiality because he tried to help Iran during its diplomatic crisis involving its nuclear programs. Others say the transcripts exhibit standard telephone diplomacy, the Post said.
The U.S. states that Iran seeks to develop its nuclear weapons under cover of its atomic energy program. Iran denies the charge. Last month, under international pressure, Iran agreed to temporarily suspend uranium enrichment processes.
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, in response to reporter queries, indicates that the Bush administration views the potential retirement of ElBaradei in light of the "Geneva Rule" and the terms of service for the leaders of those United Nations organizations.
Said McClellan, "There was what is referred to as the "Geneva Rule" that was agreed to in Vienna. And the countries there agreed that the heads of [United Nations] organizations should only serve two terms."
Department of State spokesman Richard Boucher concurred.
"Our view has always been two terms is enough," Boucher said. "The Geneva Group, that's an informal group of 14 largest donors to the U.N. system, has a policy that heads of U.N. organizations should serve no more than two terms. I think our policy [of] two terms at these organizations has been applied very consistently by the United States. That has been our policy; it remains our policy. It's a policy that we have expressed publicly and in private to heads of organizations, including Dr. ElBaradei. But it's not new."
The Post said the White House lacks international support to block ElBaradei from winning a third term, but it said several senior policy makers said the White House was searching for material to bolster its case against ElBaradei continuing for a third term.
Boucher contradicted The Post's comment, saying, "The group that meets in Geneva, that Geneva Group of 14 donors, plus especially the co-chair of the group is the U.K., I think that's the same as our [policy], all the general policy that they share."
The newspaper also said the United States had been canvassing for possible candidates to replace ElBaradei, but had yet to settle on one ahead of a December 31 deadline.
Said Boucher, "If once we know who the possible candidates are for this particular agency, then we will look at the particular agency and decide what to do about it. "
McClellan indicated that the administration will continue to work with the director.
"We work very closely with Dr. ElBaradei to address proliferation issues and address issues of nuclear weapons programs in countries like Iran and North Korea," McClellan said. "And we will continue to do that during this term."
Since 1984, ElBaradei has been a senior member of the IAEA Secretariat, holding a number of high-level positions. Before his current position of Director General, he has been the agency's legal adviser (1984 - 1993) and Assistant Director General for External Relations (1993 - 1997).
During the 2003 Iraq disarmament crisis, ElBaradei, along with Hans Blix, led a team of U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq, seeking evidence of weapons of mass destruction.
Ten days before the 2004 US presidential election, a query by ElBaradei about 377 tons of missing explosives in Iraq surfaced in what many pundits are calling an "October surprise".
Coming geopolitical quakes
The world can now count on one geopolitical earthquake every 10 years. Between 1985 and 1995, it was the fall of the Berlin Wall, the implosion of the Soviet Union, the collapse of communist parties the world over, and America's emergence as the world's only superpower.
Between 1995 and 2005, it was the September 11, 2001, attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that triggered a war on, and the defeat of, Afghanistan's despotic Taliban regime followed by a war on, and the defeat of, Saddam Hussein's bloody tyranny. So between 2005 and 2015, what's on the global menu?
Movers and shakers as well as long-range thinkers and planners meet in a wide variety of intelligence and think-tank huddles. These over-the-horizon, out-of-the-box appraisals range from good news scenarios (the minority) to the kind of global unraveling funk whose only antidote would be a desert island.
Behind all the geopolitical jargon about the "functioning core of globalization," "system perturbations," and "dialectics of transformation," there is the underlying fear of a Vietnamlike debacle in Iraq that would drive the U.S. into isolationism a sort of globalization in reverse.
Among the most interesting and optimistic librettos in the game of nations is peace in the Middle East made possible by a deal with Iran. Keeping this kind of negotiation with the ayatollahs secret in the age of the Internet and 4 million bloggers taxes credulity. It would also take a Henry Kissinger or a Zbigniew Brzezinski to pull it off. However, if successful, it would look something like this:
A nuclear Iran removed from the "axis of evil," and recognized as the principal player in the region, is the quid.
For the quo, Iran recognized Israel and the two-state solution of a "viable" Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.
Iran ends all support for terrorist activities against Israel. Iran-supplied and -funded Hezbollah disarms and confines its activities to the political and economic arena in Lebanon.
In reality, Iran is automatically the region's dominant power after U.S. armed forces withdraw from Iraq. The Shi'ite side of Islam, long the persecuted majority in Iraq, will emerge victorious in forthcoming free national elections. A minimum of 1 million Iranians have moved into Iraq since Operation Iraqi Freedom 2 1/2 years ago. The Iran-Iraq border is porous, mountainous, largely unguarded and no one has even an approximate count. The Jordanian intelligence service believes the Iranian influx into Iraq could be as high as 3 million.
In Syria, the Alawi regime, in power since 1970, is also a Shi'ite sect of Islam. In Lebanese politics, the Hezbollah Party is a Shi'ite movement. The oil fields of Saudi Arabia are in the kingdom's eastern province where Shi'ites are the majority and Iran is a hop, skip and jump away.
One all-too-realistic geopolitical nightmare was a weapon of mass destruction terrorist attack on the U.S. West Coast. A nuclear device detonates in a container ship about to enter Long Beach, Calif. News had just broken about pollution of the U.S. food supply, most analysts assumed by transnational terrorism. The U.S. can prevail conventionally anywhere but seems helpless in coping with asymmetrical warfare.
In quick succession:
The dollar ceases to be the world's reserve currency.
The shaky coalition governing Iraq collapses and civil war breaks out between Sunnis and Shi'ites.
Fear of the unknown produces a new consensus in the U.S. that global civilization is no longer America's business.
The U.S. debate shifts to adequate city perimeter defenses.
With the U.S. no longer the global cop, the defense budget of almost half a trillion dollars can be drastically pruned and savings transferred to homeland security.
U.S. client states are informed they are on their own. Congress abolishes global aid.
Egypt loses its annual stipend of $2.5 billion; Taiwan and Israel are told they will must fend for themselves.
Social trust becomes the new glue of society bonding with like-minded neighbors with shared values.
International coalitions dissolve and new ones emerge. China seizes new opportunities for its short- and long-range needs for raw materials in the developing world from Brazil to sub-Saharan Africa's pockets of mineral wealth.
The United States, Canada and Mexico form a new stand-alone alliance with Britain.
Turkey, Israel and Iran become a new self-protection core against dysfunctional neighbors with no upward mobility.
The European Union and Russia, in continuing decline, close ranks; EU inherits de facto responsibility for Africa south of the Sahara, plagued by genocidal wars and the AIDS epidemic.
China and India, with one-third of the world's population, and competitive with Western countries in high-tech jobs and technology, form a de facto alliance.
Pakistan's pro-American President Pervez Musharraf does not survive the ninth assassination plot; an Islamist general takes over and appoints A.Q. Khan, former chief executive of an international nuclear black market for the benefit of America's "axis of evil" enemies, as Pakistan's new president.
The House of Saud is shaken to its foundations as a clutch of younger royal princes, who have served in the armed forces, arrest the plus 70-year-olds now in charge known as the Sudairi seven and call for the kingdom's first elections.
Osama bin Laden returns to Saudi Arabia and is welcomed as a national hero. Bin Laden scores an overwhelming plurality in the elections and is the country's most popular leader.
A.Q. Khan sends bin Laden his congratulations and dispatches to Riyadh his new defense minister, Gen. Hamid Gul, a former intelligence chief and admirer of the world's most wanted terrorist, who hates America with a passion. His mission is to negotiate a caliphate merging Pakistan's nuclear weapons with Saudi oil resources and monetary reserves.
Northern Nigeria petitions Islamabad and Riyadh to be considered as a member of the caliphate.
Absent the long-time global cop, and traditional alliances in shambles, transnational criminal enterprises thrive with unfettered access the world over.
U.S. multinational companies, unable to protect their plants and employees, return whence they came.
International airlines morph back into interregional air links.
Switzerland, a small defensive country with compulsory military service, is in vogue again; larger countries with several ethnic groups begin breaking apart a la Yugoslavia.
Goods stamped "Made in China. Secured in Singapore" are back in business, smuggled into the United States.
The EU can no longer cope with millions of North Africans and sub-Sahara Africans flooding into Spain, Italy, France, who roam freely and hungry in the rest of Europe. Islamist radicals sally out of their European slum tenements to besiege U.S. Embassies in protest of their jobless plight.
Japan goes nuclear after U.S. troops withdraw from South Korea.
A slight detour from this global ship o' fools imaginary cruise had Pakistan and India, no longer restrained by the United States, miscalculating and exchanging a nuclear salvo over Kashmir. A billion Indians survive. A city disappears, Islamabad. Pakistan, part of India prior to independence in 1947, collapses as a unitary state and becomes part of India again.
To be warned is forewarned. Short of WMD terrorism, the intelligence insiders are concerned about implosions in the former Soviet Muslim republics. They also say there is no more important objective for the Bush administration than repairing transatlantic relations. Chris Patten, the EU's outgoing foreign minister says, "The world deserves better than testosterone on one side and superciliousness on the other."
Iran Exile Leader Accuses EU of Appeasing TehranWed Dec 15, 2004 03:04 PM ET
STRASBOURG, France (Reuters) - An exiled Iranian opposition leader accused European Union states on Wednesday of appeasing Tehran and urged them to support regime change in Iran.
Maryam Rajavi, the self-styled president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the political wing of the People's Mujahideen guerrilla movement, was speaking at a private meeting in the European Parliament.
"European appeasement provided ample opportunity to the mullahs to inch closer to the nuclear bomb," she said, referring to Iran's clerical rulers.
Rajavi was speaking two days after the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana opened talks with Iran on a long-term agreement on nuclear, economic and security cooperation after Tehran agreed to suspend uranium enrichment activities which could help it make an atom bomb.
Both the United States and the EU consider the People's Mujahideen to be a terrorist organization.
Rajavi urged the EU to remove the group from its list of outlawed terrorism organizations, since it was an obstacle to political change in Iran.
Rajavi was hosted by Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a vice-president of the European Parliament, and two MEPs who co-chair a group called Friends of a Free Iran, Paulo Casaca of Italy and Struan Stevenson of Britain.
Khomeini in DearbornBy Robert Spencer
FrontPageMagazine.com | November 17, 2004
Last Friday, Muslims in Dearborn, Michigan, held an anti-American, anti-Israel demonstration. Protestors carried a large model of Jerusalems Al-Aqsa Mosque and waved signs bearing slogans such as US Hands Off Muslim Land. But the most arresting image was of a Muslim woman carrying a large sign featuring the face of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Time dims memories. I wonder if any onlooker at the demonstration saw the Khomeini sign and remembered those tense days of the Iranian hostage crisis, when Khomeinis regime violated the traditional sanctity of the embassy and held 50 Americans for month after month while Jimmy Carter dithered. I wonder if any of the onlookers knew that Khomeinis triumph in Iran in 1979 embodied the idea that Islamic law was superior to all other ways to order societies, and must be pressed forward by force. As Khomeini himself put it: Islam makes it incumbent on all adult males, provided they are not disabled or incapacitated, to prepare themselves for the conquest of countries so that the writ of Islam is obeyed in every country in the world....But those who study Islamic Holy War will understand why Islam wants to conquer the whole world.
The goal of this conquest would be to establish the hegemony of Islamic law. As Khomeini put it: What is the good of us [i.e., the mullahs] asking for the hand of a thief to be severed or an adulteress to be stoned to death when all we can do is recommend such punishments, having no power to implement them?
Khomeini accordingly delivered notorious rebuke to the Islam-is-a-religion-of-peace crowd: Those who know nothing of Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war. Those [who say this] are witless. Islam says: Kill all the unbelievers just as they would kill you all! Does this mean that Muslims should sit back until they are devoured by [the unbelievers]? Islam says: Kill them, put them to the sword and scatter [their armies] . Islam says: Whatever good there is exists thanks to the sword and in the shadow of the sword! People cannot be made obedient except with the sword! The sword is the key to Paradise, which can be opened only for the Holy Warriors! There are hundreds of other [Quranic] psalms and Hadiths [sayings of the Prophet] urging Muslims to value war and to fight. Does all this mean that Islam is a religion that prevents men from waging war? I spit upon those foolish souls who make such a claim.
Was the woman who carried Khomeinis image in the Dearborn demonstration concerned about the human rights of women? Did she know that the Ayatollah himself married a ten-year-old girl when he was twenty-eight? Did she know that Khomeini called marriage to a girl before her first menstrual period a divine blessing, and advised the faithful: Do your best to ensure that your daughters do not see their first blood in your house?
It is unlikely that the protestor knew that in 1985, Said Rajai-Khorassani, the Permanent Delegate to the United Nations from the Islamic Republic of Iran, declared, according to Amir Taheri, that the very concept of human rights was a Judeo-Christian invention and inadmissible in Islam. . . . According to Ayatollah Khomeini, one of the Shahs most despicable sins was the fact that Iran was one of the original group of nations that drafted and approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
I wonder if anyone at the Dearborn protest realized that the appearance of these signs in Dearborn, Michigan, exalting this man as a hero, indicated that Khomeinis vision for society is alive in America today and that it is dangerously naive to assume that all Muslims immediately and unquestioningly accept American pluralism and the idea of a state not governed by religious law. The Netherlands is just finding out, thanks to the cold-blooded murder and attempted decapitation of the blasphemer Theo van Gogh by a Muslim who appears to have been part of a larger jihadist cell, that not all the Muslims in Holland are the committed pluralists and secularists that they have been assumed to be by credulous European authorities.
With Khomeini a hero in Dearborn, Americans may be finding that out for themselves before long. Just where American Muslims stand on Khomeinis doctrines and how many stand with Khomeini are still forbidden questions for the major media. But if the old man could have spoken from his sign in Dearborn, he might have said, Ignore me at your own risk.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and the author of Onward Muslim Soldiers: How Jihad Still Threatens America and the West (Regnery Publishing), and Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the Worlds Fastest Growing Faith (Encounter Books).
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