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Khirad On November - 5 - 2009

13abanmontage

13 Aban 1388 / November 4th, 2009 began with an early morning 4.9 earthquake near the southeastern port city of Bandar-e Abbas. But, 850 miles away to the north in Tehran, there were other tremors brewing beginning around 9:00 AM. Indeed, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, their Basij militia, and police had been preparing for it, cordoning off city squares, shutting down communications and threatening stiff reprisals for any who shouted slogans other than the officially prescribed “Death to America” or “Death to Israel”. In fact, early posters from Reformist sites promoted the event with one sign reading “Death to no one, day of respect for other nations grows” (the final word is also used with sabz, green, akin to verdant in English).

Even though the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran states in Chapter III, Article 27 that: “Unarmed assemblies and marches may be freely organized, provided that no violation of the foundations of Islam is involved”, permits are assuredly not granted, and furthermore, the last clause of that article leaves much leeway in judicial interpretation for such capital offenses as “Enmity with God” and the even more vague “Being Corrupt on Earth”. Such are the perks when your government is based on the rule in absentia of the occultated 12th Imam, represented by the Supreme Leader. Ergo, you disobey Khamene’i, you are at odds with God (not to suggest that the Supreme Leader, or rahbar, is in theory considered infallible like the Pope, though). This stumbling block over permits is why after the crackdown by security forces in July opposition rallies have exploited ideologically-reinforcing national holidays such as Qods Day on September 18th and November 4th. The Islamic Republic isn’t even comfortable with “Freedom Zones” — unless that’s now an Orwellian term for a cell in Evin Prison.

This day, but one of the many political holidays of the Islamic Republic of Iran, was the commemoration of the seizure of the American Embassy, or “Den of Spies” in 1979. At the time, it was also the 25th anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini’s exile by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and also the shooting of students the year prior by security forces at Tehran University. Motivations for the seizure of the compound by Leftist students can be found readily and I don’t feel a need to go in-depth into those here nor did I plan on doing a ‘444 days retrospective and what it means now’ piece. For any who do not know, this very same embassy was the planning center of Kermit Roosevelt and the CIA in ousting Mohammed Mossadegh, nationalist Prime Minister during the time of Shah Reza Pahlavi and the global energy hegemonic designs of Britain through the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (later British Petroleum). I would but also proffer of interest that during the Constitutional Revolution in 1906, more than 12,000 used the British Legation as asylum from the heavy hand of Mozaffar ud-Din Qajar. It must be stressed that ideas and events don’t occur in a vacuum, and this is particularly true in a land with thousands of years of continuous history. If there is something to be taken from this, it might be that the culturally sacrosanct concept of bast, or refuge, was violated not once, but twice (first time was February earlier that year in 1979), due to a legitimate historic concern, still very fresh, which rapidly got out of hand and became exploited by the reactionary wing of Khomeini.

So, it is with irony (much intentional), that this anniversary, marking Revolutionary student martyrs who died the year before, and the hostage takers themselves, should be used by the Green Movement, whom has its own student martyrs, symbolized by now immortalized names such as Neda Agha-Soltan and Sohrab Erabi. Not only that, but hostage takers in the 1979 Crisis have been among the most vociferous Reformists for many years, including Massoumeh Ebtekar, better remembered in the US as “Sister Mary”. Two are still in jail, Mohsen Mirdamadi and Mohsen Aminzadeh. Saeed Hajjarian, who also survived an assassin’s bullet through the head in 2000, was released a few weeks ago. The movement also intentionally utilizes Revolutionary themes and language, the Islamic color green, and the central Shi’i concepts enshrined into politics (or polluted by them, as the Iranian scholar Abdolkarim Soroush believes) such as Tyranny, Justice and Oppression, turned back on the regime. The chants of “Ya Hossein, Mir-Hossein” are a most striking example of this, in combining the chant  “Ya Hossein” from during Ashura processions, the Shi’i observation (though it is hardly a passive event) of the martyrdom of Imam Hossein, with the name of Mir-Hossein Mousavi. Little is left to the imagination in its implications.

According even to Iranian state-run English language news, Press TV, they admitted at least several thousand protesters at 7 Tir Square, and an unspecified amount throughout the city, “dispersed” as it was so genteelly phrased, by police forces. Figureheads of the movement, Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, along with former President Khatami and subtle figures such as Yaser Rafsanjani (son of the quintessential man-behind-the-scenes in IRI power politics, Hashemi Rafsanjani, whom has now receded from the limelight) were also in attendance, after rumors of house arrest circulated over Mousavi in the morning — such is the problem with the combination of both heavy restrictions on international reporting and the lightning fast spread of the Persian propensity to gossip. Confirming events or any accurate numbers are exceedingly difficult. This is more true outside of Tehran, where it is tentatively reported that demonstrations sprung up also in Isfahan and Shiraz, with rumors of more in Mashhad, Tabriz and even Ahvaz. In other words, throughout the country.

Back in Tehran, there appears to have been tear gas and bullets fired into the sky. More and more videos are coming out now showing the same familiar scenes from the summer of motorbike-mounted thugs and mindless brutality. Karoubi is reported to have been accosted (yet again), and an uncertain amount of demonstrators injured and under arrest. I even saw pictures of a rotund older man in typical muted khaki-colored clothes distinguished with a black and white checkered Palestinian style keffiyeh, the “uniform” of the vigilante militia known as the Ansar-e Hezbollah; the same group responsible for the terror and bloodshed in the dorms of Tehran University during  the 18 Tir Student Protests of 1999.

Meanwhile, at Tehran University, marking the 30th anniversary of the takeover of the US Embassy, which happened years before they were born, 2,000 students are said to have outnumbered police forces and forced the police back, peaceably. As always though, information is sketchy. What is known is that ever since universities began the academic year a few months back, spontaneous mini student rallies have been recurrent and appearing on YouTube, in addition to the emblematic evening cries of Allah-o akbar. So much so that the government is beefing up its Basiji headquarters in the universities, and there has even been some talk from the IRGC commanders, archconservative mojtahids (clerics) and members of the majles (parliament) of shutting down the country’s schools, as they were during unrest in the last years of the Pahlavi regime and early years of the Khomeinist regime to purge and rewrite curricula. Historically, universities have been the hotbeds of dissent, and it is absolutely no accident the national Friday Prayers are held on the campus of Tehran University. Even in days recent, students at Sharif Technical University, which is situated near Azadi Square, were still chanting for Mahmoud Vahidnia, whom at an official gathering on October 28th walked up to the podium and to his face chastised Supreme Leader Khamene’i for twenty  minutes on living in a bubble and the government’s reaction after the June 12th unrest. As to my knowledge, he is still safe. It all happened on state television, so an arrest or disappearance might be a little to early to expect if it is to occur. Khamene’i had to save face by posting it on his website, it appears.

Among the chants at demonstrations were “Khamene’i is a murder, his Velayat (Supreme Leadership) is void” and “Obama: are you with us or against us.” Of course, these rhyme nicely in Farsi and a lot is lost just there. With the first, it can be seen that this really isn’t just about the election, so all those so-called progressives calling demonstrators whiners or comparing them to bitter Birthers should understand that such uprisings have started with micro-issues no less than a tobacco tax or a rumor of a hike in tuition and ballooned to become much more, harnessing an outlet for long simmering grievances across the board. As to the Obama chant, I can hear Senator John McCain rearing his unwanted bellicose voice again (BFF and veritable GOP-mole, Joe Lieberman, is also upset that Obama canceled funding for the National Endowment for Democracy, i.e. fund for not-so-covert regime change), and every day something happens in Iran I am reminded how thankful Mr. “bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” is not Commander in Chief! But still I expect him and all Republicans to say that Obama is soft, that he’s dithering, whatever the talking point is. The Rushbots have been already been at it. Curious how they rarely ever express concern for the Iranian people but just take shots at Obama. As to the pangs felt when they chant to Obama, I feel them, but am reminded of this excerpt from Afshin Molavi’s book “Soul of Iran”,

On a couple occasions, Amir asked me, hopefully, “do you think America will save us? Overthrow these mullahs?” […] Another time, he said, “America ought to just leave us alone. We can make change ourselves.” All across Iran, I heard such contradictory remarks, revealing that the shadow of America still looms large in the Iranian psyche.

Yet it does raise another problematic issue. Our talks with the Islamic Republic over their nuclear program are partially successful due to Ahmadinejad’s vulnerability domestically (and by extension those whom he is supposed to legitimize and who actually call the shots regarding Foreign Policy). Among the myriad of reasons I sided with Obama over Hillary in the primaries was the promise to initiate rapprochement with the IRI. However; June’s events left me soul-searching. I think Reza Aslan has summed up my conclusion to this moral dilemma more coherently than I can encapsulate myself,

It is quite simple, really. The only way to punish a country for its bad behavior is first to have some kind of relationship with it. That is precisely what Obama is trying to do. By working toward the normalization of relations between the U.S. and Iran, Obama is laying the groundwork for real, meaningful, and lasting reform in Iran.

With Obama, a black man with the same middle name as the revered Shi’a Imam Hossein, which was much mocked by Islamaphobes on the right, what I realized at the time of the campaign and what they couldn’t see, still can’t see, is that this man, merely by being the President of the United States of America, deflates one of the main pillars, the raison d’être of the Islamic Republic: hatred of the hypocrisy of the West, primarily it’s emotionally charged nemesis, America. So too does his acknowledgment of the 1953 coup d’état in his Cairo Speech which halfway met one longtime demand of Iran, an apology. Remarking on the Islamic Republic’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of the US Embassy seizure, Obama issued this statement, again repeating what he said in Cairo, “We have heard for 30 years what the Iranian government is against; the question now is what kind of future it is for.” In Iran on the same day, speaking to the demonstrators, progressive Grand Ayatollah Montazeri said,

The occupation of the American embassy at the start had the support of Iranian revolutionaries and the late Imam Khomeini and I supported it too, but considering the negative repercussions and the high sensitivity which was created among the American people and which still exists, it was not the right thing to do.

The people on the streets in green know what they are for. When conservatives shouted “Death to America!” they shouted back “Death to Dictator!” Will we continue to see these fissures continue to rumble the foundations of the IRGC-dominated regime, or are they but aftershocks running out of steam?

Tehran has over a hundred fault lines underneath it say seismologists, and there have been proposals for the capital to be moved closer to Qom by the 2020’s. I don’t feel this decision is fully based in the physical sciences, though. I think that in one form or another dramatic reform within the Islamic Republic, or the Velvet Revolution that the IRGC commanders are so obsessed with, is inevitably drawn in the fault lines we see now within even amongst the leadership, whom always demonstrated a sense of tawhid, or unity, even during polite disagreements before. Theirs was once a common purpose, now there appears to be real cleavage. It might not happen this year, or the next; but the point to look at is that the vaunted “Children of the Revolution” Khomeini had wished for, have been orphaned by his flawed experiment, an experiment which is now but an ossified dream re-experiencing itself in the past, rather than moving forward and adapting. With approximately 70% of the population under 30 the demographics are shifting ineluctably, like tectonic plates, towards an ensuing, gradual, Green Tsunami. I only  hope that this change is as peaceful as possible. Enough people have died for Revolution already. Every Iranian knows the name of Gandhi. Let them continue in that path. Let us but add to the historical sediment of dates to be remembered such as 13 Aban, more events like this to be layered over the old. Days where brave men and women, manteau and chador, young and old, rich and poor, risked the truncheon for a voice. As empty as the word can become in political rhetoric, they are risking beatings, prison, rape and the noose-crane for freedom – azadi. Will you join me in bearing witness, or have you lost interest like the media did, too?

26 Responses so far.

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  1. Bernard Marx says:

    Excellent post Khirad. Very informative. I visited Iran in 2000 and was amazed by this beautiful country and the friendly and intelligent people I met along the way. I hope the progressives are successful in their push for change, but I definitely agree that the US has no business trying to interfere. I think this would back-fire badly given the history between the two and the psychological impact of this history.

    • Khirad says:

      You would have been there after the clamp-down of ’99, but still during Khatami’s first term, I think. It should be noted that the reference about ‘respect for other countries’ comes from him. But, visiting the country I’m not sure how much politically you would notice or not. I haven’t had the chance myself, and quite frankly, would be a little paranoid after all I’ve written online.

      On another unrelated note -- this has been nagging at me for some time. I should have done more on distinguishing between the “Leftist” overtaking of the embassy on Valentine’s Day (which Khomeini opposed and threw them out of), and the one which he gave his blessing to later that fall (taken by his Islamist faction). That was just lazy and careless on my part.

      Plus a bigger correction, I had this cringing feeling when I realized I’d written Mossadegh was PM under Reza Shah Pahlavi, when he was under his son, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the difference of a dozen years (subconsciously I probably wanted to talk about the old man).

      Okay, I feel a little better now to get that sorted out.

      • Bernard Marx says:

        Politically I didn’t notice too much, but I can’t say I was particularly attuned to the situation there at the time.

        I was there purely to travel around and sight-see, but I did viisit the ‘US den of Espionage’ and have some nice photos of the murals adorning the outside wall -- including a nice one of the Statue of Liberty complete with skeletal face.

        The funny thing is that if it weren’t for the history between the US and IRan I think Iran would be America’s natural ally in the region. A Persian, Shiite country surrounded by Arab, predominately Sunni countries (many of whom consider Shia Islam to be heretical) seems like a much more natural ally than the Wahhabi Saudis for example!

        Just goes to show how interferring can back-fire and have repurcussions which last for generations to come.

        I hope you do get to visit sometime in the future. It certainly is a special place.

  2. bitohistory says:

    Very, very good post More at any time. My only question “has
    Rafsanjani lost his voice or has it been silenced? What little i know I thought that he was a force that brought the county some hope.

    • Khirad says:

      No one silences Rafsanjani without his approval. I suspect he’s been working Qom, the Assembly of Experts, and possibly bazaaris, whom are the one sector historically needed still with some more ulama for change to happen. Or he’s still working on a political coalition to form into an opposition party, like a shadow government. Parties as such don’t really exist. There are factions, ideological guilds sort of, but only three main streams of general camps: reformist, conservative, archconservative.

      Whether or not his absence leading Friday Prayers was his choice or not is still to be worked out by me. He may have been silenced in that regard. I would say he brings hope in that he’s a powerful ally to have, and his children are decidedly pro-Reformist. Without him Mousavi and Karoubi might have been in the courtroom already. Although, one can never be certain the machinations going on -- Khamene’i playing a little of both sides (though he made it clear which one expresses his views). I admit I have a little paranoia too about such things, it’s contagious.

      In all honestly, I don’t know what’s going on, and Rafsanjani can be a shadowy figure for the richest man in Iran.

      • bitohistory says:

        Thank you, Rafsanjani does seem to be a very “shadowy figure” to me (fromm what little knowledge I have.) Can the clerics in Qom perform some type of “silent coup”? Do they have the power? Ah, just wondering aloud. The power structure mystifies me.

        • Khirad says:

          The Assembly of Experts can dismiss the Supreme Leader and install a new one. The power of the clerics has been diminishing since the rapid rise of the IRGC into politics at the helm of Ahmadinejad though. Don’t get me wrong, the assembly and Qom (which is an amorphous power center, admittedly) still lean -- sometimes reluctantly -- with Ahmadinejad.

          Funny thing, when Ahmadinejad had his “halo” experience at the UN it was actually some of the most conservative Ayatollahs who were furious. The reasoning being 1) it’s superstitious, 2) even if you believe in that sort of thing, it isn’t supposed to happen to a lay person!

  3. Khirad says:

    I know I didn’t follow the rule of sticking around after publishing, but I had a dentist appointment and errands to run. This being my first article, I always marvel that it’s only after you click the button that you notice typos or remember stuff to add or tweak. Oh well, this was long enough and more of a general primer for more articles forthcoming, perhaps. I hope I did okay besides that regarding policy.

    • KQuark says:

      It’s a shame we’ve had such a terrible event happen today because this piece is what PlanetPOV is all about. I for one would greatly appreciate updates on the Iran issue and all foreign policy issues, especially in the Middle East. In the long run what matters most for making the world safe is progressing towards a peaceful Mideast, especially by ending the occupation of Palestinian lands which is the crux of all the problems in the region.

      • Khirad says:

        I noticed the world section is a little sparse, and your Afghanistan article lonely. I loved the maps on that. 😉 A little encouragement is much appreciated. To think I was so nervous posting this!

    • javaz says:

      I hope you do write more articles!
      This one was very informative and I look forward to reading more authored by you.

  4. KQuark says:

    Excellent, excellent article Khirad. Some incredible insights and information. Definitely worth bookmarking for future reference.

    I sincerely hope and believe our relations with Iran will be much better by the end of President Obama’s term. Of course the wild card is Israel and if they will overreact because like Iraq, Iran militarily is a contained paper lion.

    • Khirad says:

      Thanks! *blush*

      There was a WSJ article by Yossi Klein Halevi on Oct. 30th that had me apoplectic:

      “If Iranian leaders are prepared to sign an agreement, Israelis argue, that’s because they know something the rest of us don’t.”

      In other words, the Iranians are right in their suspicions. It doesn’t matter WHAT they do. It will always be something else…

  5. AlphaBitch says:

    Thank you so much, Khirad. I follow what is going on in Iran with great interest. Many of my students and their families have lived in Iran, while the Taliban were in charge in Afghanistan. I have a very dear friend here who is from Iran (having moved here 27 years ago), and who is an imam. I go to his mosque and bring my “children” (both Sunni and Shi’a) every year. I wear a green wristband with the words Daneesh Beju (seek knowledge) in solidarity with the Iranians who wish for a more reformed society. And I love love love Reza Aslan.

    If I may make a suggestion to all of those who are curious about Islam but are afraid to ask -- read Reza Aslan’s book “No God But God”. I found the pre-Islamic history portion incredibly enlightening, and came away with the realization that AT ITS TIME, Islam was incredibly progressive and offered far more rights for women than did either Judaism or Christianity. Shocking, but true.

    I’m not Muslim (although my imam friend calls me an “honorary Muslim”, and I am honored to be considered such). I was brought up as a Lutheran, belonged for a few years to a Methodist church. I consider myself a Christian, although those with the more fundamental mindset might not. It doesn’t matter. I am a person who cares about ALL other people, whether we share an ethnicity, a religion, a lifestyle, a geographic proximity, a sexual orientation or not.

    Thanks again to ALL of you for this wonderful site! It lifts my soul.

    • Khirad says:

      Thanks. I would also recommend Aslan’s book as a fantastic introduction to Islam. Pre-Islamic Arabian religion is indeed fascinating, and hard to pin down, exactly. But yes, contemporaneously, Islam had more rights extended to women than the other Abrahamic faiths. I might make the argument that Pre-Islamic Persia wasn’t too bad either, though I could be challenged on that I’m sure -- and be forced to dust off my books.

      I’m not a Muslim either, my avatar here is a clue. And my avatar on HP is also a clue as to the interest which brought me to become fascinated with Iran many years ago. In any case, you sound like an actual follower of Jesus, and that’s just fine by me.

      Thanks for the kind comments.

      • AlphaBitch says:

        No, thank you! Did you also read the book “Iran Awakening”? I don’t remember who wrote it -- it was a woman -- but it was also very informative. That’s where I first learned about the coup in ’53.

        Honestly, between what havoc we wreaked in both Iran (in the 50s) and Afghanistan (in the 70s), you’d think we’d have learned!!! The blowback seems to run about 30 years after we act.

        I believe with my whole heart that the Iranians are capable of defining for themselves what type of government they would choose. They are young, and educated. Compare that with Afghanistan -their neighbor and linguistic cousin, as it were -- which has an illiteracy rate of something like 85% in 2001, now down to around 45% (I think that’s what I remember seeing recently). Hard to make informed choices when you cannot read/write. But if Iran can pull it off, it could likely inspire and motivate Afghans to do the same. The genie is out of the bottle for them as far as technology, so we’ll see.

        I would so love one day to tour both places, especially Bamiyan and Qom. My imam pal told me that the Essenes were from around that area, and that Mary’s lineage was also from around there. I also thought it interesting that Mary is mentioned more times in the Qu’ran than in the Bible! I’ve read both, and learned much in each.

        Did you ever read “The Irresistable Revolution” by Shane Claiborne? A TRUE follower of Jesus, and an inspiration to me. We had him come speak at our Methodist church -- wow wow whee wow! His premise is “What if Jesus really meant what he said?” Gives you pause…..

        • Khirad says:

          There are so many places in Iran I’d love to visit. All the historic sites, Persepolis at the top, tombs of the Poets, Mossadegh’s home, and even the two major pilgimages of the Fatima shrine in Qom and Imam Reza in Mashhad. From all I’ve ever read though, Qom is not a fun place to be.

          That Ebadi book is now on my list. I don’t read much Christian material (I’ve been meaning to get around to stuff like St. John of the Cross, for example), but I’ve also heard people who like Spong. Sounds like you found a progressive Methodist church. I still can’t believe Bush was supposed to be one. I hadn’t heard of him but the blurb was what I’ve hated about the new Youth-oriented churches. Something which I think they nailed in the movie “Saved!”

          With Iran, I’m just finishing up Nikki R. Keddie’s seminal “Roots of Revolution” which I will add to my stack and cross of one of many more I have on my list. I felt a little wrong writing this with 40 pages to go. There are so many more insights to be gained from the formulators of Revolutionary thought.

          • AlphaBitch says:

            Thanks for the tip on Keddie’s book. I”ll put it on my list, after Horse Soldiers (about Afghanistan -- AGAIN).

            Don’t get me wrong -- I’ve read Spong (much better than Borg) and other Christian writers. But that’s not my love. Shane Claiborne writes as a radical, which was more appealing to me. I’m bored with the church route for now, and concentrating on working with people. My new project is to work assimilating Iraqi and Afghan refugees in my city to their new “home” instead of allowing them to remain confined in a European style ghetto environment. There are only 30 staff people to work with over 1000 refugees this year; they need help! We meet next week with my imam friend, the person who heads the refugee program here (also a friend), and a professor at our best university, who will start a service learning project for International Studies students to get involved. It’s much more a “roll up your sleeves and do the work” (a la Shane Claiborne) than “listen to the Word” type inspiration.

            As to Methodists: my husband and I went to the main office and asked they excommunicate both Bush and Cheney. Since they wouldn’t, we left. No regrets so far!

    • javaz says:

      Very nice post.

  6. FeloniousMonk says:

    Yes, Khirad, well spoken. People need to remember that it was our interference in Iran’s internal affairs in 1953 that begin this great termoil that we still see today. Thank you for the fine historical perspective. I remember the issues of many Iranian students here in the early 1970s, and how torn they were on many issues.

    • Khirad says:

      There was a quote from the GQ article on the Hostage Crisis that made me laugh cause I’ve heard the similar refrain over and over,

      They’d beat the freakin’ hell out of you, and then they’d ask, “When this is all over, can I get a visa?” In Iranian culture, they can compartmentalize anything.”

      Everyone can be said to be full of contradictions. But Iranians, seen through the lens of Classical Persian poetry at least, are something else. Not fickle, but like the mirrors found in their shrines, able to refract many angles against each other in dazzling complexity all at once.

      I shouldn’t be generalizing so much though. They are human, and to understand many issues regarding America, it would be helpful if Americans put themselves in their shoes for a while pondering how we would feel and react as a nation about incidences as seemingly cut-and-dry as Air Flight 655, for example.

  7. javaz says:

    Excellent article, Khirad.
    Thank you.


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