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Iranian Alert - January 9, 2005 - 25 years after revolution, Iranians eager to change regime
Regime Change Iran ^ | 01/09/05 | Freedom44

Posted on 01/08/2005 9:23:12 PM PST by freedom44

Top Story

Saturday January 8, 2005
The Guardian

Twenty-five years after the revolution, Kevin Rushby meets a new generation eager to shake off the fundamentalist legacy

The world was gone mad. The coach was a Volvo and on the door it said Millwall Football Club. The sound system was playing Elvis as we boarded,"... we can't go on together with suspicious minds..." and the video was Indecent Exposure with Clooney and Zeta-Jones. Outside the door, men were finishing their Winston cigarettes. A girl wore Levi jeans and touched the sticking plaster on her surgically improved nose. A mad world indeed - at least in terms of my expectations. This was the Islamic Republic of Iran during Ramadan on the super-luxe express coach from Kermanshah to Hamadan.

Later, when we were under way, two Iranian soldiers came down the aisle for a chat, berets under their epaulettes, not much interested in the film - they'd seen it before. Did I like Pink Floyd, they asked.

Iran is changing, and fast. The mullahs still hold the reins of power, but there is a new generation coming of age in the country, one born after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and impatient for modernisation and freedom. Tehran is full of pizza joints, internet cafes, and cars. Teenagers communicate in Pinglish, a text messaging soup of English and Persian. New motorways and buildings are everywhere. A friend who has visited every year since 1978 warned me, "Now is the time to go, the place is changing so quickly I can barely recognise it."

Nowhere are the changes more evident than in Tehran, a huge polluted monster of a city dedicated to the car. More precisely the Hillman Hunter - they shifted the factory out here 30 years ago and have been producing them ever since. Sitting in jams and breathing their 70s-standard emissions is a Tehrani pastime, and a cheap one too, with petrol at about 7p a litre. Brief escapes can be had: there are the cavernous halls of the Archaeological Museum, the bowels of the National Bank (for the Iranian Crown Jewels) and many parks - with a bit of luck you might also stumble upon a tea shop like the one in Shahar Park, all rugs, hookahs and fin de siècle orientalist glitz. But I was glad to leave and head west on a huge loop that would take me deep into Kurdistan, to within 50 miles of the Iraqi border, catching buses or taxis as I needed them.

First stop was Soltaniyeh, a small town 200 miles west of Tehran, where a 13th-century invader decided to rest his bones. The Tomb of Oljaitu, the Mongol khan, scarcely registers on the tourist trails of the world, but this remarkable building has a 52m-high dome that spans 26m across a vast octagonal central hall.

Tiny spiral staircases rise up inside the walls, linking a series of balconies which allow close examination of the intricately tiled interior. The Mongol hordes swept through here in the mid-13th century, laying waste to cities and destroying six centuries of Islamic civilisation. Yet the barbarians were soon absorbed and civilised themselves, finishing Soltanieh by 1320.

I changed from bus to taxi there and found myself with the moustached holy man I dubbed Mystic Magdi, probably one of the few drivers who can explain the theory of metempsychosis while negotiating a hairpin bend. As the late sun danced through stands of poplar trees beside villages of mud-walled houses whose roofs were piled with winter fodder, we rose up into the mountains and Mystic Magdi declaimed: "People are thirsty for a religion of love. They are fed up with dry legalism. That kind of Islam has kept us dwarfed and stunted - human equivalents of those Japanese bonsai trees." His impressive mouth-veiling moustache trembled beneath the hawk-like nose as he spoke, like a terrified chinchilla.

At dawn next day, we watched the sun rise over the home of a pre-Islamic deity: Takht-e-Soleiman, a volcanic crater where Anahita, goddess of water, used to preside over the coronation of Persian kings. The lake is an irregular circle about 30m across and is faintly warm. According to locals, its level never falls, no matter how much water is drawn off, nor has anyone ever plumbed its depth.

Despite a fine new tarmac road, this miraculous site remains serene, lost in a landscape of arid mountains and sudden patches of green where most people still rely on donkeys for transport. We swept on westwards, Mystic Magdi proclaiming Universal Love and Brotherhood. "There is no Hell and no Heaven. God does not divide His creation."

I asked about that moustache: didn't the prophet Muhammad only have a beard? Magdi recalled the reply of a poet denounced by a pious mullah for having a dangerously un-Islamic moustache. "But it helps strain the dregs from my wine!"

At Sanandaj, capital of Iranian Kurdistan, I bought wild honey in the bazaar and admired the local costumes. Men wear tasselled turbans, bristling bandito moustaches and baggy trousers secured with a broad cummerbund. Women go for the Merlin the wizard look in bright colours, though sadly only the older generation. The youngsters are all in tightly belted raincoats and headscarves, the latter a legal requirement as women's hair is deemed sexy. I asked a mullah if a woman who shaved her head could go without a scarf, but I didn't get a definitive answer.

Next driver southwards was Amin the Animal, a one-man mongol horde who whipped his Hillman Hunter to a gallop and never let it stop as we plunged through yet more spectacular mountain scenery. "How long have you been driving?" I shouted from the rear seat and he took both hands off the wheel to delve into his back pocket. "There!" he cried triumphantly, turning to pass me a licence document. "Twelve years as..." He grabbed the wheel and yanked us out of the path of an oncoming petrol tanker."... as a professional driver."

Kermanshah's main attraction is the rock carvings in Taq-e-Bostan on the edge of the city. A soaring mountain face rises abruptly from the plain and a spring emerges: at this magical boundary, humans have carved images of gods and kings. Mithra is there, standing on a lotus flower with sun rays exploding from his head. Anahita too, presenting the diadem of royalty to Chosroes II, the last monarch before the Islamic invaders arrived.

"Those Arabs were barbarians too," Animal told me. "Lizard-eaters and drinkers of camels' milk from the desert, all coming here to Persia and thinking they can be kings." He was paraphrasing Ferdozi, 11th-century Persian chronicler, and a favourite quote for these times of heightened anti-Arab sentiment in Iran when the frequent cry is: "We are Persians, not Arabs."

At Hamadan, there was a reminder of another epoch, this one long ago and almost forgotten. At the shrine of Esther, I was shown by a member of the 28-strong Jewish community into a tiny sarcophagus inscribed in Hebrew and Persian. Hamadan was once known as Ecbatana, the capital of the Medes, Old Testament stalwarts and regional super-tribe until the 6th century BC. Esther achieved lasting glory for becoming wife to the Persian king (probably Xerxes in the fifth century BC) and saving her people from persecution.

In the early Islamic period, prior to Mongol invasion and destruction, the city was famed for its scholars, and in the town, buried in the centre of a traffic island, is one of the most important intellects Islam has produced, Avicenna, the 11th-century polymath whose important medical work qanun al-tibb, canon of medicine, introduced the word canon to English.

There's no disgrace, in modern Iran at least, to a traffic island burial. These extravagantly tasteless roundabouts are the new victory arch, the latest paradise garden, the ultimate unattainable pedestrian goal. While around them buzz Hillman Hunters in a smoky halo of obeisance, on top are the mad creations of untrained local sculptors. That night as we motored east to Kashan, I discovered several fine examples. One featured a set of artificial palm trees around a 20ft tall pile of dung, or perhaps it was a vast portion of chocolate ice cream, all lit up with red fairy lights.

Kashan's main attraction is the Bagh al-Fin, a walled paradise garden on the edge of town under the looming desert mountains. Built after the 1574 earthquake knocked down the previous incarnation, it is the oldest extant garden in Iran and one of the best. Water from a natural spring brims from stone cisterns, then tumbles through various tiled channels and pools, all lined with cypress and plane trees.

In the hammam at the side, the 19th-century prime minister Mirza Taki Khan was assassinated. He had wanted to modernise the country, bringing in alien concepts like "embezzlement is wrong". The Queen Mother, chief embezzler, ordered his death by bleeding, a warning to other would-be modernisers.

My next taxi driver, a former tae-kwando champion, was not impressed. "These mullahs have deep pockets, too," he muttered, then added, rather cryptically, "No one knows where they buy their clothes."

All down the roads in Kashan were signs of rapid modernisation. Traditional mud-domed houses lay fallen and disintegrating while concrete boxes rise proudly next to them. In the restaurants, Persian cuisine is taking a drubbing too: dumbing down towards a diet of kebabs, pizza and burgers. The best food I had was home cooking: bread baked under a fire by some nomadic shepherds; home-made tangy cheeses and butters; the mix of green olives, pomegranate juice and crushed walnuts, a grilled portion of Caspian sturgeon.

Reaching Isfahan, the old capital, I discovered a wonderful tea shop inside one of the pillars of the 17th-century bridge over the river. The five little window seats are the most popular spots in town for tea and a hubble-bubble pipe filled with apple scented tobacco. In private, the most popular smoke is opium, its aroma flavouring the air outside the doors and windows as you explore the city.

Central attraction is the Maidan Naqsh-e-Jehan, a vast public square, off which lies the equally immense Royal Mosque, with its cliffs of ornamental blue tilework and a dome that sends back an echo of the tiniest noise. Built in the early 17th century, the mosque's cool tranquillity stands in splendid contrast to the frenetic activity of the bazaar opposite.

Between Isfahan and Shiraz, travellers steel themselves for a marathon: first is Pasargadae, Cyrus the Great's tomb and ruined palace from the sixth century BC, then comes Persepolis, founded by Cyrus's successor Darius the Great in about 518BC. For this, I hired the most colourful character yet: Mr Mathematics. The 200 miles to Pasargadae went by unnoticed as he explained why the number seven does not exist - neither does my memory of how he proved this.

Pasargadae is said to be the world's oldest known site of a garden, a wonderfully evocative place with remnants of buildings scattered over a dusty plain, the stone reliefs showing strange chimerical creatures: a man-fish, a horned and winged angel, and a half-man half-bull whose impressive reproductive organs have been polished smooth by 2,500 years of visitors' hands.

Mr Mathematics took me over to Cyrus's tomb. "When Alexander the Great came in 330BC," he told me, "the body of Cyrus was still inside, in a gold coffin."

This most famous of invaders does not quite have the same image in Iran as we expect in the west. "A barbarian," opined Mr Maths. "Terrible man. Drunken, looting, uncivilised monster."

We headed off for Persepolis. Unmissable and extraordinary, it is the cultural highlight of any visit to Iran, excluding taxi driver conversations. As you enter through the Gate of All Lands, the graffiti creates a context of previous visitors: Henry Morton Stanley 1870 en route to find Livingstone, plus hosts of British officers on their way to death or glory in Afghanistan, India and Central Asia. That earlier vandal, Alexander, left a deeper impression when a drunken party ended with the burning of the palaces, the effects of which can still be seen in the Tachara, Darius's private palace, where the stone is clearly heat-damaged.

On the eastern staircase to the largest palace, the Apadana, is the treasure of Persepolis: the carved reliefs depicting ambassadors of dozens of nations coming to pay homage. Parthians in their pointy hats, Abyssinians, Greeks from Odysseus's Ionian islands, Bactrians, Arabs, Indians and Gandarans from Afghanistan - they all march forwards with their gifts, a memory of when the whole region was at peace.

As I examined the reliefs, a group of students came over. They didn't think much of my questions about Alexander - they wanted to talk about Iran now. "Alexander was like the Islamic Revolution in 1979," said one. "He destroyed everything. Now Iran is a very dark place and we are struggling to come to the light."

No one I'd met had a good word for the Revolution, but these young people were especially forceful. One of the students edged forwards, "Tell the world that we are not tourists," he said vehemently.

There was a silence. One of his friends, possessed of slightly better English, smiled apologetically, then corrected him. "I think he means: 'Tell the world we are not terrorists.'"

TOPICS: Foreign Affairs; News/Current Events; War on Terror
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To: beavus

The Guardian story is a good one--but without the cite I cannot use it for distribution.

21 posted on 01/09/2005 9:53:05 AM PST by the Real fifi
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To: the Real fifi
The Guardian story is a good one--but without the cite I cannot use it for distribution...

Freedom44 and I embed the links, I usually do so on the logo of the website and he usually puts a photo up of the top news story and embeds it there.

In this case the link is to the Guardian in the UK.,8922,1385600,00.html
22 posted on 01/09/2005 10:54:19 AM PST by DoctorZIn (Until they are Free, "We shall all be Iranians!")
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To: freedom44

Sharon weighs peace with Palestine; fears Iran's nukes

By William Safire

A global coalition of the giving bolstered by American military ships and choppers that are able to deliver needed relief to sick and starving tsunami victims rightly dominates the news. In Asia, the cataclysm's aftermath pulls even warring factions together.

Not in the Middle East. Palestinians and Israelis must first resolve their internal battles before they can begin to make peace with each other.

In Gaza, the leading candidate to replace Yasser Arafat in Sunday's election, Mahmoud Abbas, known as Abu Mazen, has embraced the radical Arabs who want not peace but conquest. These terrorists are firing rockets and mortars at nearby Israeli civilians in the hopes of making Ariel Sharon's planned withdrawal of settlers appear to be a surrender to the warriors of Hamas.

When Israeli defenders returned fire this week, Abu Mazen called all Arab casualties "martyrs who were killed today by the shells of the Zionist enemy.'

He hopes to win extremists' votes by adopting their hate- filled rhetoric as well as Arafat's platform of a "right of return' of Arabs to overwhelm Israel.

Sharon hopes this is campaign oratory to increase the expected majority for Abu Mazen. But the Palestinian, by appeasing his fiercest faction of die-hards, is playing with fire. To reach a settlement, he will have to make compromises that these warring radicals totally reject which, if they refuse and rebel, would mean Palestinian civil war.

The Israeli internal split is not about the usual parliamentary politics. At the moment, Sharon's Likud-Labor majority needs a few religious-party votes that will be determined by a 95-year- old rabbi. If that is not obtained by the usual method (a U.S. metaphor of political pork is not applicable in this context), then Sharon will go to elections to demonstrate the will of the Israeli people.

The split in Israel goes to the nature of the Jewish state. Ultras among the rabbinate talk of advising Israeli soldiers to refuse to obey orders to eject settlers who refuse relocation from Gaza.

Civil disobedience, with acceptance of its consequences in law, is legitimate in a democracy; military disobedience to legal orders is beyond the pale.

Were it not for the Israeli Defense Forces acting loyally under discipline, rabbis with the right to worship in synagogues and to dissent in the public square would be the first to be driven into the sea by the Arab extremists now being pandered to by Abu Mazen.

If there is to be a settlement, both Arabs and Jews must assert majority rule, which means that soldiers follow the orders of elected officials. I have no doubt that Arik Sharon, with Shimon Peres at his side, will do that. I wish I could be as sure about Abu Mazen.

Sharon is hopeful. "In the past, I have shaken hands with Abu Mazen, and with him I can talk,' he told me the other night. "I would never shake Arafat's hand.'

He is also confident that he can carry out his disengagement during or after an election, if one is needed provided his counterpart on the Palestinian side makes certain that the thousands of Israelis making this painful exodus are allowed to leave in peace. I take that to mean he expects Abu Mazen to restrain his armed extremists by any means necessary.

Egyptians under President Hosni Mubarak are now proving helpful, Sharon said: "I managed to convince them to release an Israeli they held in prison for eight years for nothing, and that changed the atmosphere stopped the smuggling of antitank weapons into Gaza.' But what motivated Mubarak? "They are the most important country in the Arab world, and want to be recognized as a major factor.' Is that all? "They want to strengthen their relationship with the United States.'

What if, with Egypt's help, Abu Mazen is able to co-opt and pacify the Palestinian jihadists? And on the Israeli side, what if the other internal battle is resolved, and the settlers accept reality? Wouldn't a negotiated disengagement then resuscitate the road map?

The optimistic Sharon looked beyond the Arab-Israeli impasse to what he considers the threat to his nation's existence: "There is an 'axis of terror.' It runs through Syria and Hezbollah, which has 13,000 rockets deployed in Lebanon, to Iran. And Iran's nuclear missile program is today the greatest danger not just to Israel, but to the world.'

-- William Safire is a New York Times columnist. Write him at 229 W. 43rd St., New York, NY 10036.

23 posted on 01/09/2005 10:57:52 AM PST by DoctorZIn (Until they are Free, "We shall all be Iranians!")
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To: freedom44


By AMIR TAHERI January 9, 2005 -- A COUPLE of days ago, in Paris, I borrowed the crystal ball of a gypsy magician in Mont martre to steal a peep into 2005. ...

I cannot tell you what the events of 2005 will be. But I can tell you what the undercurrents that shape events are. The first concerns the concept of political power and its provenance. This is changing in a dramatic, though little noticed, way. Traditionally, power in the Middle East has been shrouded in mystical fog, its origins traced to divine will, military conquest, charismatic leadership and revolution. That view is now changing as more and more people in the region look to elections, that is to say the expression of people's will, as the proper origin of political power — a power exercised in the interests of the whole community.

The 2005 calendar is filled with dates for elections. Today, Palestinians go to the polls to elect a new president in their first truly pluralistic experience. And that is only the first step. Before the year is out they will also elect a new Parliament. Next door, Israel, too, is almost certain to have elections in 2005. Even with a grand coalition under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the people of Israel would have to be directly consulted on the momentous decisions in 2005. At the end of January the people of Iraq are scheduled to go to the polls in the first free election in their history. The importance of what is at stake cannot be overestimated.

Iraq is a key Arab and Muslim nation and the success or fail ure of its experiment will impact many other countries. What is happening in Iraq is the biggest political battle that the Arabs have experienced since they emerged as independent nation-states in the last century. On one side there are forces that want Iraq to become part of the global mainstream where elections are the sole means of gaining and losing power. On the other, we have all the forces of despotism, religious and secular, that are determined not to let Iraq choose a future through elections. Their position is clear: If we are not in power, Iraq should not exist.

After the Iraqi election, the focus will shift to elections in Saudi Arabia. These are limited in scope and, thus, may not attract the same attention. Nevertheless, the coming of electoral politics to Saudi Arabia is a revolutionary turning point in the political development of the kingdom. Despite reports of initial tepid interest, my guess is that by the time the voting schedule begins many Saudis would decide to give it a try. Seen against the background of the series of national dialogues organized last year, plus a timid but welcome opening in the media, the municipal elections indicate the willingness of at least part of the Saudi elite to stay the course of reform.

Next, we shall have parliamentary elections in Lebanon in May. These come at a time that Lebanon is moving to the center of international attention. The May elections could provide a mechanism for avoiding a major crisis with unforeseeable consequences. But they might also unleash forces that could threaten Lebanon's existence.

In May or June, Iran will hold presidential election. Some may dismiss Iranian elections as meaningless because candidates are approved in advance by the authorities that could also cancel the results. Such a view is short-sighted. Even choreographed elections matter as we saw with Muhammad Khatami's presidential victory in 1997. The ruling establishment could use the coming election either as an opening to civil society or as a switch to a policy of political iron-fist combined with economic liberalization — that is to say the Chinese model.

The year will also witness parliamentary and municipal elections in Afghanistan. The consolidation of the new Afghan state would not only help stabilize Central Asia but would have a positive impact on democratization throughout the region.

The second undercurrent likely to be with us in 2005 is terrorism in its many guises. The Afghanistan and Iraq wars served as needles that pierced old festering blisters. The destruction of the Taliban and the Saddamites forced terrorists of all ilks out of the woodwork to fight open battles. Having geared themselves for a gangrene strategy, that is to say low-intensity warfare to wear out Arab and Muslim societies over a long period, these terrorists were dragged into open combat in both military and political battlefields where their defeat, no matter how long it takes to accomplish, is certain.

The third undercurrent that merits attention in 2005 is the deepening desire for reform. For the first time ever, reform and changes have become the main themes of Arab politics. Last year dozens of conferences and seminars were held on the subject, and the 2005 calendar is dotted with many more.

Cynics would dismiss all these as nothing but a talk athon. But in politics, talk does matter. The change of Arab political discourse, from one obsessed with religious themes, to one concerned with matters such as economic development and educational excellence, is a leap toward modernity.

The political vocabulary of the Arabs, Iranians, Afghans and Pakistanis is changing to welcome new words and phrases such as opening, accountability, good governance, human rights, pluralism and diversity. Arab and other Muslim elites' fascination with the ideological triplets of Marxism, fascistic nationalism and Islamism is coming to a close, opening the space for the advance of liberal and democratic ideas. The women's prise de conscience and the young people's thirst for freedom and opportunity are among the factors that encourage hope for the future.

The next big idea for Arabs and Muslims may well be about the best way of joining the global mainstream as an active participant and not a real or imagined victim.

Having said all that, there is, of course, no guarantee that my predictions will prove right.

The Middle East may well turn out to be the only part of the world hermetically closed to the global trends of democratization, economic development and social change. The Iraqi election may be disrupted or, if it goes ahead, produce a majority for some version of religious fascism.

All the talk about reform and change may well end up as nothing but talk, a kind of political masturbation. The very idea of reform may etiolate under the impact of political lethargy and intellectual inertia.

None of the countries in our region is insured against the nastiest of surprises. The Middle East, as Gen. De Gaulle once observed, is designed to defy reality by living on the margin of probable impossibilities. My predictions could, indeed, prove to be nothing but images in Alice's mirror.

I hope they won't be.

I also hope that if I am right everyone remembers, and, if I turn out to be wrong, no one does.

Amir Taheri is an Iranian author of 10 books on the Middle East and Islam and a member of Benador Associates.

24 posted on 01/09/2005 11:08:39 AM PST by DoctorZIn (Until they are Free, "We shall all be Iranians!")
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To: freedom44

Iran To Grant Limited Access To Military Site

Iran -- map9 January 2005 -- Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Asefi said today that his country will allow the UN's nuclear watchdog to take environmental samples from outside a military site.

He said the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will be allowed to take samples from a landscaped area outside the huge Parchin military complex to eliminate all ambiguities over its controversial nuclear program.

The United States has alleged that the site southeast of Tehran is used for secret projects that could facilitate the development of a nuclear weapon.

"The discussion is not about visiting military installations," AP quoted Asefi as saying today. "To show that nothing other than peaceful nuclear activities are carried out in the Islamic Republic of Iran, we agreed to allow the taking of environmental samples from the green spaces in the complex."

The IAEA is expected to visit Parchin to take the samples in the next few days or weeks.

Asefi said Iran's decision to allow access of the site was made on a voluntary basis.


25 posted on 01/09/2005 11:19:27 AM PST by DoctorZIn (Until they are Free, "We shall all be Iranians!")
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To: the Real fifi

That is a true story from inside of Iran, for sure!

26 posted on 01/09/2005 11:41:41 AM PST by F14 Pilot (Democracy is a process not a product)
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To: DoctorZIn

"(IAEA) will be allowed to take samples from a landscaped area outside the huge Parchin military complex"

Lol. Wonder how long ago they "landscaped" that area?

27 posted on 01/09/2005 7:36:33 PM PST by nuconvert (No More Axis of Evil by Christmas ! TLR)
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To: freedom44
This thread is now closed.

Join Us At Today's Iranian Alert Thread – The Most Underreported Story Of The Year!

"If you want on or off this Iran ping list, Freepmail DoctorZin”

28 posted on 01/10/2005 1:55:25 AM PST by DoctorZIn (Until they are Free, "We shall all be Iranians!")
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