ISLAMIC JIHAD COORDINATES WITH OTHER GROUPS
JERUSALEM [MENL] -- The Iranian-sponsored Islamic Jihad has been termed a leading contractor of insurgency attacks in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Israeli security sources said Jihad has used Iranian funding to recruit operatives from other insurgency groups for major attacks against Israel. The sources said Jihad has recruited operatives from such groups as the ruling Fatah movement and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine for suicide and other missions.
"Islamic Jihad has long sought cooperation of other groups because it does not have enough operatives," a security source said. "Now, with plenty of Iranian money, Jihad can recruit whomever it wants."
The Iranian funding has been relayed to Islamic Jihad headquarters in Syria, the sources said. From there, Jihad sent the funds through couriers arriving in the West Bank.
Iran's women continue to defy hardliners
By Najmeh Bozorgmehr
Published: January 15 2005 02:00 | Last updated: January 15 2005 02:00
The six Iranian women and four men who make up the Mehr-Banoo classical music band are given a warm reception by an enthusiastic crowd in northern Tehran.
But the presence of female performers, wearing yellow scarves and long black shirts and trousers, outnumbering the men in the band, poses a direct challenge to Iran's hardliners, who would like to see greater restrictions on women.
Mahroo, a woman singer in the band, is not allowed to sing solo, as the regime regards it as un-Islamic for women to sing to men. Instead, she is accompanied by Hamed, a male singer.
"It is difficult to co-ordinate voices, but we do what can be done. I am happy as long as I can sing," Mahroo says.
As a woman, she is at least able to perform to a mixed audience, thanks to some liberalisation following the reform movement that followed the election of President Mohammad Khatami in 1997.
But even this, and other relaxations in social and political rules, are now at risk, following a shift to the right that took place after the parliamentary elections last February.
The conservatives won back control of the previously reformist legislative body after the Guardian Council, a constitutional watchdog, rejected more than 2,000 reformist would-be candidates, including 80 sitting deputies.
Iran's hardliners had capitalised on widespread disillusion with politics, due to the slow pace of reforms. And the balance could tilt further in their favour in presidential elections expected in June.
But despite their growing political strength, the conservatives face a challenge in the social arena. Their main source of support comes from the traditional sections of Iranian society. But there is widespread dissatisfaction with the regime among Iranians under 35 years old, who make up about 70 per cent of the population of 70m.
Many are highly educated and with access to internet and satellite TV, making attempts at censorship futile.
"The mental gap between the rulers and young people is now between 100 and 150 years," said Mohammad-Ali Abtahi, a former vice-president who resigned in protest at parliament's conservative shift.
Young people are able to ignore the intense power struggles within the leadership and go their own way thanks to the "institutionalisation of the reforms", says Mr Abtahi.
"During the past seven years, we managed to help society get on a train. .. It may stop because of differences in the engine room, but whenever it starts moving, it goes in the same direction - towards reforms. This path is irreversible," he says confidently.
One of the most obvious manifestations of the gulf between Iran's conservative hierarchy and the country's young is in the Islamic dress code. A quarter-century after the Islamic revolution made wearing the hijab compulsory for women outside the home, the issue remains controversial.
Many young women ignore the loose dresses recommended by the religious establishment and instead wear tight trousers, covered with short overcoats or flimsy cotton shirts. Their headscarves slip backwards to reveal as much hair as possible, and they wear heavy make-up.
Last summer, a Tehran police chief announced during a crackdown on women for non-observance of hijab that the arrest of "100 street supermodels" would resolve the problem. But this proved not to be the case, as many women responded with defiance.
Recently a member of parliament, who was also a cleric, tried to beat a woman journalist inside the parliament in protest at what he considered to be her improper dress. He was prevented by other parliamentarians from doing so.
Fatemeh Rakei, a former MP, sees a "short-sighted and restricted interpretation of Islam" as the main problem. "We are suffering from a horrible paradox. Some claim that they are serving Islam, whereas they are striking the biggest blows against Islam, because their methods are outdated and their Islam has few customers. The stick is not today's language any more."
Social challenges are not restricted to cosmopolitan Tehran. Senior clerics have raised concerns over the spread of "corruption" in the holy city of Qom, where women are expected to wear the all-encompassing black chador.
The parliamentary research centre in Tehran is working on a standard uniform for women that would fully comply with Islamic codes. But experts say that even if it was approved, it is very unlikely that people would comply. MPs behind the proposal refused to be interviewed.
Mahroo does not seem too worried about the future of her singing - even if power does fall more fully into the hands of the conservatives. "I do not want to think about presidential elections. That has nothing to do with me."