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Monthly Archive: October 2003
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October 30, 2003

I am going to study in America!
Ghazal Geshnizjani  [info|posts]

art.gifYesterday I was informed that I am not allowed to attend a workshop because it is held in Fermilab and I am an Iranian! I am the only one among all the speakers of the workshop who is excluded because of my citizenship. Less than a week ago my husband was informed that he is not allowed to apply for a scholarship from NASA not because he is a foreigner but because he is from an unfriendly country! I am practically not allowed to go to any conference outside the US because I am Iranian and I have chosen to study in the USA. I am not allowed to see my father while I am here because he is an Iranian!

My friend can hardly visit his wife, let alone live with her because they are Iranian students. Our friends who went back home this summer to see their families havenít been able to come back to continue their studies yet, because they are Iranian. My friendís mother hasnít been able to see her only grandchild at all, and now the child is 5 years old and it is just because she is an Iranian woman and her daughter has chosen to study in the USA!

So I wonder, what is the cost of higher education! How far can we go in this game of being abused and discriminated against for science and how far can they go, playing the role of our Gods? Do we have any better alternative? I guess it must be better than staying in Iran if so many of us are willing to go through so much trouble,* sacrifice our rights, bear the humiliation and come over here!

Are we the ultimate lovers of the science, prepared to pay any price for it, or is it just that we have gone through so much in our homeland that we still like it better here?

Of course it isnít that if we go back to Iran this discrimination wouldnít affect us anymore. Not only do they put sanctions on the sale of simple up-to-date technology to Iranian experimentalists and not let papers from Iran be published in American journals, they also interfere with Iranís theoretical science affairs with others as well. For example, I was talking to an Argentinean scientist who had traveled to Iran once for a cosmology workshop and he was telling me that although he likes attending conferences in Iran, each time he enters the US, because of his trip to Iran, he has to go through a lot of harassment, so he is not sure if it is a good idea for him to visit Iran for a second time. Each time the US decides to attack one of Iranís neighbors, international conferences or workshops in Iran get cancelled as everybody is scared to travel to the region!

What drives me so crazy is when Bush goes on saying how they are a friend of Iranian people and Iranian students and are trying to help them to get their freedom back. I know that most politicians lie to people, and he has proven to be one of the worst liars for his childish case for attacking Iraq, but still telling people lies straight in their face while you are doing the exact opposite in front of their eyes, thatís really absurd!

*Finding someone who is willing to give his/her credit card number, so we could pay for exams and application fees which are very expensive in Iranian currency, making few trips to foreign countries to take the exams and apply for a US visa, running after professors for few months to write recommendation letters (a standard procedure in most countries), in the case of boys, waiving military service so they can get out of country, Öand believe me each of these is quite a project for itself!

October 29, 2003

The Divine Nose!
Mehrad Vaezinejad  [info|posts]

nose_h.JPG"I want my nose back", she was crying. Less than three month after her second Rhinoplasty, Shabnam, a 23 year old Iranian girl, looked quite strange to other people waiting for the doctor to visit them. There was no such thing as nose in Shabnam's face, at least in the first glance. "Where else could she take her appeal to?" I was asking myself while the secretary tried to gently show her the way out!

Who was responsible? And who could she blame for her nose and apparently her face malformation? Simply, what had happened to the poor girl's nose?

Rhinoplasty or Nose Surgery is one of the most common procedures of Cosmetic Surgery. "Cosmetic surgery is performed to reshape normal structures of the body in order to improve the patient's appearance and self-esteem." According to American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), Rhinoplasty is a specific procedure for "Reshaping nose by reducing or increasing size, removing hump, changing shape of tip or bridge, narrowing span of nostrils, or changing angle between nose and upper lip."

Although the account for first American Rhinoplasty was published around 1837, some evidence suggest that Hindu physicians before the time of Christ had made efforts for nose reconstruction! I, personally, do not know when it all began in Iran, but I think it gradually became epidemic during the last five years. Nowadays nose surgery is so common in Iran you could hardly find girls who have never took such an operation (at least) under consideration. Itís most frequent in 18-25 year old girls, although it is becoming more popular between those in their 30's.

Actually, cases similar to the one I mentioned in the first paragraph are not quite often. To be honest, I've seen that nose surgery, once successful, helps those who've done it a lot with their self confidence. Obviously, a successful operation brings with the changes in appearance, also the opportunity of being more in the spotlight. So, if itís to the best interests of the one who takes the risk, and it doesn't harm others, there is no room for being opposed to it. However, there is a point about nose surgeries in Iran that I can not understand:

Some say Rhinoplasty is best explained in terms of seeking beauty by those who try it. I can understand that to some extent. But, how those girls/boys know, even after a successful surgery, if theyíre closer to what they call beauty? I mean which beauty are they seeking? Why thousands of hugely different types of noses before surgery, become a single typical tip-up nose after the surgery? Do we have to believe in existence of some divine shape of nose which well fits to every face?

October 28, 2003

Shifting our perceptions about the people
Ali Zuashkiani  [info|posts]

Figure1.JPG Most of us may have known the fact that Iranian people are unpredictable. What I will talk about here is not unpredictability in general but unpredictability in favoring political leaders. Although everyone may be fully familiar with this issue in Iran but I want to clarify it with more examples. We all remember days in which Khomeini was being praised extravagantly, days when no one could dare to criticize either him or anyone (anything) related to the Islamic regime. Also those days that Khamenei was elected twice as an elected President of Iran. The same thing repeated several years later, for the new president, Rafsanjani. It seems that this scenario is being replicated again for Khatami. The aim of these few lines is not to blame anyone or any idea but to try to explain only a possible reason for this phenomenon.

I want to use a statistical realm called Bayesian statistic to shed light on some hidden angles of this behavior. Bayesian statistics is all about updating old beliefs when new facts are observed. It assumes that for each variable (unknown or what is not completely defined) some prior belief can be assigned (Prior Knowledge) which then can be updated to a new belief (Posterior Knowledge) after observing some facts related to the unknown variable. The unknown variable in this case can be the personality: e.g. evil-ness or angel-ness of a political leader. Assume that everyone in our mind has a place on the axis of evil-angel. The axis has two extremes: complete evil and complete angel, as shown in the figure below.


We are not usually sure about the value of things, so we can express our uncertainty as a distribution function (a little knowledge of statistic is needed here). The surer we are about a value, the tighter its distribution function that means we do not allow the value change freely in its domain.

Now consider we have a prior knowledge about a leaderís personality which is placed in our evil-angel axis in our mind as bellow:


In its best case, this prior knowledge usually comes from the leader's history, but in the societies that people stereotype other people, it can have other origins such as whether the leader is "Mullah" or "Sayyed" or whether s/he smiles, s/he is beautiful, has a calm and kind face, or other stories/rumors. When the leader comes to power, people update their knowledge about her/him. Let's assume that the leader does a number of good and bad things during her/his time in power, as shown by the points on the evil-angel axis in the figure below. These points represent degrees of evil-ness and angel-ness, which can be related to their performer (the leader).


These new pieces of data if used fully to update the prior knowledge about the leader would result in the new curve plotted next to prior knowledge curve. However, what happens in reality is that people usually stick to their prior belief and try to keep it unchanged. The only way to do that and maintain consistency in their mind is to down the weight of the points that do not conform to our prior knowledge and at the same time give more weight to the points that support their prior beliefs. Blaming other people for what the leader has done or assuming that the leader has acted under duress are but a few examples of sticking to prior belief. These modifications will result in a new graph which is depicted here:


This process happens every time a new fact is observed, however, the more facts contrary to the prior belief are observed, the more difficult it is to modify the weights and to keep the same prior beliefs. At one point this process will get reversed, which means that the level of inconsistency between the leaderís functions and our prior belief is raised to a point which can not be remedied by the down-weighting process anymore. At this point people are mentally exhausted because they haven't been successful in justifying the leader's actions. Tired of this justification process they finally eliminate their prior knowledge.

In this situation what would be the new belief about the personality of the leader? Let's look at the observed facts so far on the evil-angel axis (see figure below). You may see some shifting in the leader actions from the right to the left side of the axis which means a drift to the evil side. This can be because the people have not given appropriate feedback to the leader and the leader gradually has deteriorated.


The above curve represents the true representation of the observed behaviors, without any perception and processing bias. However dealing with a personality in the gray zone needs much more effort. According to a theory, the degree of information transmission is a function of one over uncertainty. Therefore the more uncertain we are about a system, the more difficult it is to work with that system. A personality in the gray zone as is the case in the above graph cannot be modeled as easily as a personality in the black or white zone. Keeping in mind that the people are already tired and may feel belittled because of justifying their leader's actions for many years and being betrayed in return, one can predict that people would not spend any more energy for saving their leader face. After eliminating previous belief about the leader the new belief will be made as shown below, using some modifications in the weight of each deed to outweigh the negative sides.


In its new form, the curve is much easier for interpretations and dealing with uncertainty. Every thing is again predictable and easy to judge. No need to bother each other's brains by trying to find out the facts behind each face or by attempting to find the best way to give feedback to the leaders. This is the end for the current leader, but who is going to be the next?

[P.S.] The word "leader" can be replaced with some other things such as friend, an idea, a religion etc.

October 25, 2003

Gender Separation in Iran
Babak Seradjeh  [info|posts]

gender separation The segregation of the sexes in Iran is a strict and commonplace parctice. Although it has traditional roots in the Iranian society, but the Islamic Republic has given it new dimensions. The explicit exmaples include: there is no co-ed elementary or secondary education in Iran, and the mixing of girls and boys in universities has always been controversial and a subject of commotion (some branches of the Islamic Free University even introduced separate classes for men and women); there are different sections for men and women on the buses; most seriously, being in the company of a person of opposite sex, other than an immediate family member or the spouse, is a crime punishable with lashes (in the recent past in public places) and/or jail.

The scope of the effects caused by the separation of men and women goes beyond what this limited space can afford: from the daily sufferings of the individuals of a very young society or the large scales of a people's psyche, to the waste of time, energy and resources of a nation to enforce it, this official policy has many severe consequences. So, here I would only talk about a few rather arbitrary points that have occupied my mind in the recent days and leave the rest to other people to explore.

Family Formation

A direct consequence of the present sex segregation in Iran is the way in which families are formed. Specifically, the current situation naturally increases the number of arranged marriages. There is little lawful room for the average boy and girl to meet up and date,* so they can choose a partner out of their own free will. The main venue of their lawful union passes through their families: they are the ones who meet up, discuss the matter, set the costs and the dates. Although in some classes of the society, the boy and the girl are given a bigger say, still it is the family that usually has the upper hand. I believe the separation of sexes has greatly aggrevated this issue.

Image of the Opposite Sex

The image of women in a society has been of central importnace to the feminist** movements. After all, wemon as second-rate citizens, women as child-bearers, women as housewives, and other traditional images of women in the patriarchal society are what feminists have fought in their struggles. Although the revolutionary nature of the rulers in Iran has somewhat resulted in bringing women into the spotlight of activity, the strict isolation of male and female circles has blocked the way to any fundamental change in the image and therefore the status of women in the bulk of society. In particular, all the three above-mentioned images of women have been, explicitly or implicitly, promoted by the official stance of the Islamic Republic governments.

Higher Education

The low success rate of girls in higher education, in spite of their equal and even higher rate of acceptance in post-secondary schools, is a rather staggering issue. It is in part due to the society's image and expectations of an adult woman in which, as discussed above, a higher education has a minor role to play. So, why should a girl continue her studies, or even study as hard as a boy who is expected to make a living and earn bread for his future family. Just a handful of the women comprising 50% or more of all university enrollments, who have a burning zeal for knowledge or success will overcome the high barriers and pursue their studies, in most cases in another country.

However, in my conversations with my female peers or friends, I have been told many times that girls in universities face a rather big issue of confidence. Many of those brilliant high school students find themselves in a discouraging environment in which they cannot show off themselves or are not paid due attention or respect. In my opinion, this lack of self-confidence, if truly universal among Iranian girls, is yet another, indirect, consequence of the unisex system of education: girls do well in their own schools, but when in university they feel unequipped to challenge their successful male peers who are brought up by the society and the educational system to think they are the stronger and wiser party of the competition.

Of course, the issue of co-ed vs. unisex education is not a simple matter to decide: each one has its own advantages and disadvantages. However, in a society like Iran, the separated system of education only aggrevates the situation, since the practical way to solve this problem is through a controlled environment where the sexes can come in terms with themselves and gain self-confidence. Such an environment could only be achieved in the schools.

The problem of self-confidence is not limited to girls. It can show up for boys who, for instance, leave their winner position in the Iranian society and find themselves in the unfamiliar and stressful settings of a Western society, where they have to play the dating game to find a girlfriend/partner. I think that is a main reason, among others, why so many Iranian men, living abroad, come back to Iran to find a wife. In most cases it is simply because they they cannot win a partner in their new host societies.

And the coda: all in all, the segregation of sexes as an official code, is yet another brick in the wall of a strictly patriarchal society's guarantee of the continuation of its structure.

* Dating, as is understood in the West, is an unknown practice in Iran. Here the word is used for lack of a better one in English.
** I'm using the term "feminist" rather loosely and in a broad sense.

October 24, 2003

The Role of Student Groups
Yaser Kerachian  [info|posts]

Store_Door.jpg I was wandering around the internet a few days ago. Then I came across the website of Sharif University of Technology, a University where many of the authors of this weblog have got their undergraduate degree from. In the right corner of this website, there are a few links to some of the university student groups. I started to check their websites. The website of the Islamic Association of Students, the main pro-democracy student association in the university, hasn't been updated since the year 2000. However, the website of the Political Studies Office, a pro-conservative student group updates on a daily basis. Looking at other student groups, I observed that those groups that advocate conservative and religious values seem to be more active than others whose activities are actully closer to what the majority of students would want to see.

There are two main reasons for why students should try to be involved in the student groups. In the first place, they participate in the running of their own university. Those student groups that organize social events as well as others that solve student problems by discussing them with the university officials simply improve the student life in the university. On the other hand, it is a great opportunity for the members of these groups to learn how to work in a group. Even on the low level of a small group, students can practice democracy among themselves. When they graduate from the university, they can use these experiences in their new career. We could hope that those who may decide to become politicians one day have already learned some of the necessary expertise and will not start from scratch. The student groups could also be a very good initiative for the NGOs, which currently our country desparately needs. Having said that, it was quite dissapointing for me to see that my favourite student groups are no longer very active as they used to be.

Quite often, when we, as Iranians, get into a discussion about the current situation of our country, we talk about what the reformists (in particular, Khatami) should or should not do. We usually forget what we ourselves ought to do as if our duty is only casting a ballot every one or two years. At the same time as the reformists are trying to move the reform ahead on the government level, people should leave their houses and actively participate in running the society. On the university level, this responsibility is over the shoulder of students.

In future, whatever happens in Iran to break the current political deadlock, in its best possible scenario would be only a temporary solution and cannot bring a long-standing democracy. Democracy has to take root in Iran and this will not happen unless all the people participate in it.

October 22, 2003

Nuclear Taliban
Kaveh Khodjasteh  [info|posts]

Pakistan is the only Muslim country with declared nuclear weapons. They are still at war with India over Kashmir: They have defiantly tested their missiles and weapons in a [cold war style] weapons race with India and are allegedly receiving help from China and North Korea[rumors?]. The country is ruled by General Parvez Mosharraf who overthrew a more or less democratically elected government but then there's always the chance that he himslef might be overthrown by    --guess what, the Taliban. He might not even be overthrown, for that matter, he simply might be replaced in the coming elections.

The Taliban were originally religious students, an evolved form of Muslim seminary students; who were trained in the Islamic schools of Pakistan during the cold war; who roamed across the borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan during the Soviet occupations to teach and satisfy the intellectual needs of a poor and underdeveloped nation; who took to arms [Who gave them weapons?] and fought alongside other Mujahedeen against the Soviet army; who are now back to the tribal areas of Pakistan and Waziristan [North of Afghanistan, reminds me of "The Man Who Would be King", It's time they made a "remake".]

Where did the Taliban go? Well Simple answers won't do this time, unless if one is willing to forget what Islamic Fundamentalism can bring. They simply went back to their origins, their strongholds, the seminaries in Pakistan. Last year, the elections in those regions, brought back the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, a pro-Bin Laden, anti-United States religious coalition, which vehemently opposes the invasion of Iraq, back into power after 30 years. In the newsest elections they proved to be even stronger. To most of them America has started a war against Islam and as Muslims they have to launch Jihad against Americans and believe it or not, this is what the Pakistani president said recently on Pakistani TV about his views on American war against Terrorism.

On a different note, the news of Taliban activity comes almost once every week from Pakistan and apparently, CIA's hunt for Bin Laden and Molla Omar has been mainly in the South Pakistan area, were apparently, al-Qaeda is not using the high-tech means of communications any more; They have enough manpower to use people as messengers and protection, which makes it even harder to monitor them with high-tech instruments. The attitude of Pakistani police and information agents seem to be not quite what is expected of a country which is an ally of the US in the war against Terror.

The US adminstartion might be safe ignoring Saudi Arabia [the source of the Sunni Muslim Fundamentalism, in my opinion] for a while but a nuclear Pakistan under MMA is a clear and eminent danger that threatens India, Afghanistan, Iran, occupied Iraq, Israel and Russia. And a friendly reminder to those subscribing to Zinn-Chomski rhetoric: That rhetoric ignored the Taliban situation in Afghanistan and failed after September 11, 2001. In fact that rhetoric was too late in adjusting itself to a sudden change of the world order, while the neo-conservatives were quick to ride the wild horse immediately. Unfortunately it's a wild horse.

[This is also interesting: Pakistan nuclear programme from Now magazine]
[And a feature from CBC: Pakistan-Taliban Nexus]

October 17, 2003

Waking Dreams
Guest Auhtor: Amir Togha

girls.jpgA few years ago I cast off my apathy at long last and began to feel responsible for the fate of the human species. Not all humans, of course. Mainly Iranians. I was not thinking of them as distinct individuals, though. Iranians en masse! I was mostly concerned about the budding youth, the children in any of the many Ali-Abads of that vast land that is stretched from the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf, from Khoy to Chah-Bahar, and from Khorram-Shahr all the way to Sarakhs and more --the country that I had spent all my childhood in.

For some inexplicable reason or perhaps because of some condition I was developing, the sights and scenes that I had seen, the sounds and voices that I had heard and the scents and smells that I had smelled all those years long gone had started to surface and haunt me. As if they were all saved in a hitherto locked chamber of my memory that somebody had inadvertently unlocked.

The jasmine tree that was hanging out from above the wall of a neighbor's house would just pop up in my mind when I was in class writing something on the board for my naughty students who innocently did not have the slightest idea where I had come from. A tree that I used to stop my bike under, reach up and fill my lungs with the heavenly fragrance of its little snow-like flowers when it was in full bloom.

I was all of a sudden concerned about the little kids in those remote villages of my country where the ever-present ever-pungent odor of the animals' manure mixes with the aroma of the burning wood. Children who, given the opportunity, would lead the future of a country that, for whatever irrational reason, I so much cared about.

But why on earth did I even care? I was not living there anymore! Or was I?

I don't know. There was no logical explanation that I could think of. Maybe I cared because I had been born and raised there; that I knew the people, their generosity, kindness, and readiness to make sacrifices for their friends, as well as their meanness, nosiness, and hypocritical ways. After all, I myself was one of them.

I had not been born in China, India, Luxembourg or Burkina Faso! By sheer accident, I was born in Iran to parents who were born there before me to parents who were born there before them. Truth be told, none of us had a say in where we would like to be born. Then living amongst them, I gradually learned and internalized their special ways of handling Life.

Let's not philosophize about whether I could have been born somewhere else to different parents, with blond hair and light-colored skins or flat noses and thick lips. After all, that person would probably not be me. Only I am I! Nevertheless, I more or less looked like the people I could see around me; at home, in school and on streets. Like them, I had one big Iranian nose, two dark eyes, still darker hair and a pair of bushy eyebrows.

To make a long story short, I felt responsible. But I had a very hazy idea of what I should or could do with that burden. The urge to change the world that gnaws at normal people in their late teens and early 20's was taking shape in me around the beginning of my fourth decade. God, I was so behind!

Regular people in their 30's are already too experienced, or disillusioned, to dream about improving anything beyond the confines of their personal life. Even accomplishing that much would call for a celebration. Buying a new car, getting a job promotion, or even getting to paint the house would fill them with a joy and happiness that they know very well they should treasure.

Then in their late 30's, when they are approaching the next age with a big zero in it, they would prepare, as any wise person would, for their midlife crisis. Now with the pace of my progress in life, only heaven knows when I will get there. In fact, my "midlife" crisis may hit me long after I am dead!

The urge started to die away before I took action. Which again worried me for a different reason. I mean I had not taken advantage of the golden opportunity that had finally knocked at my door. The urge was now giving way to guilt. There is always something to suck the joy out of your life! But what should I have done with this belated overwhelming sense of social responsibility anyway?

Well, I did nothing. Don't blame me! What could I have done? It's funny I did not even try to get rid of her. She had been sitting there for a long time, nagging at me constantly. But she did not make sense at all. What did she want from me? "Get off my back, already," I'd whisper cautiously. So we lived together an uncomfortable life. She would get on my nerves every now and then, spoiling the fun every single time I tried to enjoy my American moments.

The mental pictures continued to pop up on the wide screen. They were just out of control. My only reaction was to sulk. Lately, she does not even bother. I must have disappointed her. Could it be that she has given up on me? Or is it that I have come to my senses and given up on redirecting the course of the history of mankind? Or even making a difference...

Amir Togha entered the world in a hospital in Shiraz, Iran. He later obtained a licence in pure math from Kerman University and visited Italy. Amir now lives, somewhat happily, in Arlington, Virginia, trying to complete his 35th cycle around the sun. The above piece is his first attempt at writing an autobiographical fiction.

October 15, 2003

Iran's Nuclear Plan: a Matter-of-Fact Review
Arash Bateni  [info|posts]

Click to Enlarge The controversy about Iran's nuclear activities was raised earlier this year when officials from International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran was building a surprisingly sophisticated uranium-enrichment plant at Natanz. Initial information about this plant had come last year not from Iranian government but from an exiled opposition group. In this posting I would like to provide a more technical view of the current situation.

There are only two realistic uses for uranium enrichment: to produce low-enriched uranium fuel for nuclear reactors and to produce highly-enriched uranium for fissile heart of nuclear weapons. Tehran claims that it is pursuing a nuclear program for energy production only. However, practically and economically, establishing an enrichment facility cannot be justified for the current civilian program (Bushehr nuclear reactor), for which Russia had agreed to prove the uranium fuel. One report suggests that the gas that Iran's oil industry routinely burns would generate several times the electricity expected from the controversial Bushehr reactor.

There are some other suspicious nuclear activities in Iran. For instance, Iran has turned some of its imported uranium (from China) into uranium metal: a bomb ingredient! It can also be used in some kinds of reactor fuel, but it has no use in Iran's planned reactors. Iran has also announced a plan to build a heavy-water research reactor in Arak. Heavy water is extremely useful in making plutonium for bombs and the existing power program depends on light-water reactor. Yet, the main controversies about Iran's nuclear plan remains around its uranium enrichment activities.

The process of uranium enrichment is incredibly difficult and energy intensive. Thousands of tons of uranium ore should be processed into powder form called yellowcake. Then it needs to be refined and converted to a uranium hexafluoride gas that requires a separate chemical plant itself. Only then the real enrichment work can be started, based on either a membrane or centrifuge plant, which is the size of at least 10 football fields. More that 100 centrifuge casings have already been installed in Natanz!

Many of the techniques required for the above process are safeguarded by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). So Iran had to undertake a secrete program to acquire the advanced hardware and technical knowledge. Where form, is still a question. But possible candidates are Russia, China, Pakistan and North Korea.

There are several ways to monitor the nuclear activities of the country. Very advanced technologies are needed to stop the discharges emitted from the plants. In a rush to build up a nuclear arsenal, Iran probably does not have the time and resources to implement such facilities. By monitoring such emissions, both atmospheric and aquatic, it is possible to determine the state of progress in weapon development that Iran might have reached. Satellite thermal imaging can also spot such energy intensive plants easily.

However, the main international concern is that Iran already has the basic technologies needed for weapons making. From now on it could stay even within the tougher rules, polishing its enrichment and other skills that are all legal for civilian purposes under the NPT. Then a 90-day notice is all that required to quit and go rapidly nuclear. Such undermining the NPT's peaceful intent from inside makes the treaty worse than useless. (Countries like Israel, India and Pakistan never joined the treaty and North Korea withdrew in January 2003.)

Despite the above controversies, no evidence has found so far that can 'prove' Tehran's intention for nuclear weapons. The Bushehr electricity generating reactor has the capacity of 1,000 MW. Iran claims over next 20 years it intends to build several more reactors with a total capacity of 6,000 MW. Meanwhile, it aims to master all the technologies of the nuclear-fuel-cycle, hence building a fuel manufacturing plant at Isfahan.

Currently there are more questions than answers regarding Iran's nuclear plan. But one point is clear: time has past for Russia to suspend its nuclear dealings with Iran, and for Europeans to call off their trade talks. If Iran has started a nuclear weapon program it will not see the benefit of giving it up, unless the price of keeping it is driven up sharply.

For more information see:
Iran's Nuclear Threat, Time
Time to Call a Halt, The Economist (subscribers only)
Fissionable, The Economist (subscribers only)
Iran's Nuclear Plan: Q&A, BBC News
Iran needs nuclear power, International Herald Tribune

October 14, 2003

Reformation: Up and Down and Around
Kaveh Khodjasteh  [info|posts]

For a while in the intellectual circles of the still religious educated class in Iran, people entertained a vision of new reformations in Islam that would embrace freedom, democracy and nationalism. They envisaged a new version of Islam that would solve the dilemma of a nation divided between the traditions of the past and the confusing political trends of a new era. These visions became so mainstream that the word "reformation" picked up an air of progressiveness and even tolerance. This association however is misleading and unnecessary. Reformation, as an intentional transformation, can bring extremely orthodox ideas back into power. In this post, I'll try to bring examples of such conservative reformation movements.

During the 15th and 16th century, after the emergence of nation-states in both Europe and the Middle East, Abrahamic religions had to find a new role in their respective societies: Christians, Jews and Muslims. What happened in all of these three religions was more or less a reformation to more orthodox and rigid interpretations of faith, responsibility and morality: a return to the origin.

In the remnants of the Abbasid empire after the Mongol invasions three new empires were flourishing: Ottoman Turks, Safavid Persians and the Moghuls of India. They all came equipped with an ideological base of Islam that built upon the tradition of Sufism, Philosophy and/or Asherism. However they were all going through religious reformations.

In the Ottoman empire after a period of more or less open discussions and gradual innovations in Islam and its metaphysics, conservative champions of shariah like Ahmad ibn Taymiyah of Damascus and his pupil Ibn al-Qayin al-Jawziyah, who were very popular at their times, started a new reformation movement to extend the Shariah to make it apply to every circumstance that a Muslim would possibly encounter. Ab initio this sounded not very repressive: just a solution for the anxieties and difficulties of the age of reason for Muslims. However in their zealous effort they attacked Kalam,Philosophy and even Sufism. Like their Christian counterparts they wanted to go back to the original Qur'an and Hadith: "I have examined all theological and philosophical methods and found them incapable of curing any ills or of quenching any thirst. For me the best method is that of the Koran".* Remember that since those times (not entirely dissimilar to these) were times of doubt, awe and expositions to new worlds and ideas, these reformations were indeed necessary; They helped people free their mind from the labour of moral responsibility. Thus was said: "The doors of ijtihad are closed".

In the Safavid Persia [as it was still officially called Persia and not yet Iran] very similar to their contemporaries, the Italians through the renaissance, there was a revival of artistic expression and a creative return to the pagan origins of Iranian culture. Despite that the conservative reformation was taking shape and in fact the Safavids became the exponents of a new Twevlver Shi'ism and started wiping out Sunnism in Iran. Shah Ismail, the first king of the Safavids even saw himself as the Imam of the era and brought back the ancient pre-Islamic ideas of "King, the Shadow of God". The Shi'ite scholars, despite enjoying the greater respect and autonomy they were receiving after this period, never sympathized fully with the ruling dynasties. In fact for them the doors of ijtihad was not closed and any verdict was open to challenge. A challenge that they used in many occasions. However they did not dismiss philosophy and metaphysics, up to the point of producing theologists and philosophers such as Mir Damad and Mulla Sadra with visions similar to those of Greek orthodox Christians and also to the Jewish Kabbalists.

India picked up its share of this reformation much later. During the rule of Akbar, the third Moghul emperor of India all faiths were accepted. He even became vegetarian and gave up hunting out of respect for Hindus. He even started a Sufi cult under his name that became also a place for mystics from different faiths too. His tolerance however was reversed completely by his successor, Aurengzebe who started limiting Hinduism and even began destroying non-Muslim temples in India: an unfortunate move that left its marks on both Muslims and Hindus in the Indian sub-continent such harshly that the separation of India and Pakistan in the modern times can only be called natural.

All of these three trends show examples of religious reformations that led to more conservative and stricter rule of religion in people's lives. These reformations although somewhat needed at their time became the basis of a static and strict version of Sunni Islam as of we know it now. Indirectly they also provided enormous political and economical power for the clerical orders of Shi'i Islam. In the coming posts in this series, I will try to cover the more recent efforts in Islamic reformation, namely those by Jamololdin-e-Asad Abadi (Afghani) in the early 20th century and the modern reform movements in Iran and the Arab world.

[I will provide some references for this work soon]
[The Thread: Reformation: Motivation and Background]

October 12, 2003

Our Heroine: Shirin Ebadi
Guest Auhtor: Bahman Kalbasi

shirin_ebadi.jpg The news was stunning: Shirin Ebadi won the Nobel Peace Prize. She would surely be among the top 3 women, if those who are following the news and developments in Iran were to name the most active, brave, straightforward and dedicated females of the last 25 years of political and social activism in Iran.

She was the first woman to become a judge in the history of Iranian judiciary system in the era of Pahlavi dictatorship, but she was sadly removed after the 1979 revolution when the backward interpretation of Islam that was implemented did not allow women to serve as judges. Fortunately she didn't stop. Not only she continued her precious career fighting for justice as a brave female attorney within an extremely sexist system, she also started writing articles and publishing books to advocate democracy, freedom and human rights in general, and women and children rights in particular.

She became better-known to the general public when she got involved in sensitive political cases.

Defending prominent and outspoken intellectuals, who were prosecuted only because of their beliefs and their courage to criticize the corruption and tyranny of the powerful fundamentalist clerics, made her an exceptional figure. Many still remember her defence of the famous author, Abbas Maroofi, back in 1995. We won't forget the fall of 1998 when she became the first lawyer to stand by the family of late Mr. And Mrs. Forouhar—brutally murdered by the agents of the intelligent service—and represented their case. In this connection, she is a member of Committee for the Defense of Rights of the Victims of the Serial Murders.

We, as student victims of the savage attacks on Tehran University dormitory by fanatic vigilantes supported by the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic, can't forget her courage when in summer of 1999 she was one of the two lawyers who defended us in the partial courts till the end. She was sent to jail herself in the process of presenting the evidence, accused of producing a video-tape of Amir Farshad Ebrahimi, a former member of the paramilitary vigiantes, who disclosed insider information on the workings of the group and the events surrounding the attacks. And there were times when thugs-for-hire stopped her in the dark and threatened her to death.

Her doctorine of peaceful, non-violent and legal fight has already become a principle for Iranians in their struggle for a true democracy. She stood for Iranian women who have been deprived of not only their right to speak their mind and elect their government but also of their basic right to freedom of dress and their fundamental right to be protected by the state against often assaults by the men in their family and to be treated equally when it comes to disputes with their husbands, sons and fathers. She is among the founders of the Society for Protecting the Rights of the Child, an organization in support of children rights, as well as the Iranian Association in Support of Human Rights, which provides free legal aids to the victims of human rights abuse.

The Nobel Peace Prize for an Iranian woman on the one hand brings honor and pride to all Iranians—women, men, Muslim, Zoroastrian, Jew, Christian, Bahai, Kurdish, Azari, Persian—especially those who care or actively participate in the dangerous process of achieving democracy in Iran, and on the other hand has a very strong message to two prominent groups who are opposed to such a process.

First of all are the hard-line and anti-reform rulers of Iran, who are in a very embarrassing and politically difficult situation. After all one of the thousands that they sent to jail and oppressed in the last 25 years and especially in the past 6 years, is now a world wide figure. They must understand that there is a limit to how much they can crack down a nation, that wants reforms. The international community no longer ignores dictators. A message is also being sent to the neo-conservatives in Washington and their Iranian monarchist allies who are counting the minuets to go back to Iran the way Ahmad Chalabi went back to Iraq. I think the message is really clear: Iranian people are able to have their voice heard in the international community, they need proper international help, similar to the type of political aid that South Africans got with the leadership of Nelson Mandela, but they strongly reject any attempt to repeat Iraq's experience in Iran. The Prize shows that a great potential exists within Iran. Thousands of honest and well-educated activists bravely put their safety in danger and sacrifice the calm of their daily life by helping their fellow citizens in a broad campaign against the violation of human rights with whatever expertise they have. We do not need alternatives such as the LA-based oppositions; we have chosen the peaceful path of reform and in this long-term solution, we are honored to have heroines like Shirin Ebadi.

External Links:
Society for Protecting the Rights of the Child: SPRC web site, still under construction
Deutche Welle Persian: an Iranian Association in Support of Human Rights recent statement in Persian
Payvand: Shirin Ebadi: Evin prision is not that bad
The Christian Science Monitor: A tough place to be a woman

Internal Link:
FToI: Shirin's Day

Bahman Kalbasi studied Physics at Isfahan University of Technology. He was arrested after 18 Tir [July 9th, 1999 student protests] and jailed for two months. In the trials that followed he was given a five-year suspended prison sentence for "violating national security." He came to Canada on immigration status afterwards and currently studies political science at York University in Toronto.

October 11, 2003

You name it
Guest Auhtor: Ali Shahidzadeh

seahorse_w.jpg My wife and I are having a bit of a dispute at the moment over what name to give to our first child, to be born next March. We don't know its gender yet, so I'd go for something like Farzad or Homayoon for a boy and Farzaneh or Azadeh in case of a girl. But, alas, she won't hear of it because in her words these names "sound awkward"-;now, Jesus!-;and we've got to choose more "melodious and pretty" ones like Parvaneh, Sahel, Mehrdad, ...

No accounting for tastes, of course, but let's see then: what principles should be applied in choosing names?

In my ever so humble opinion, the most important aspect of a name is its meaning, and that's why names used for designating animals, plants and objects (however cute or beautiful they may be) are not among my favourites. I am glad my simple-natured parents named me Ali (lofty, noble). Not out of any abstract love for the Shiite saint, though—I'm anything but religious—but just because it's a splendid name with a lovely meaning that has always given me pride and self-confidence.

Many people in countries like Iran name their children on a purely religious basis and without giving a moment's thought to its meaning or historical implications. A very common example is Fatemeh (Muhammad's daughter): Take a trip to any Shiite town in this country and you'll see that nearly half the female population is called that name. Now what does Fatemeh mean exactly? In case you didn't know, it's something like ‘weaned before time’. Hardly a feather in anyone's cap, especially at a time when everyone—form doctors at the UNICEF and the World Health Organization down to presenters of TV family programmes and talk shows—is going on and on about the virtues of breast feeding. Well I suppose the bearded, pious father of a Fatemeh will argue that the name actually means ‘weaned (or separated) from all evil’—and there have even been attempts at modernisation (Fatima is becoming popular)—but obviously straws are being clutched in both cases.

A few years ago, a major newspaper in Tehran published a letter from a man who had filed numerous requests with the registry office to have his daughter's name changed and had been rejected on every occasion. He had tried all administrative and legal mechanisms, every conceivable loophole in the law, but to no avail whatsoever. The letter said:

Coming from a religious background, we chose the name Omm-ol-Banin (mother of Abbas, a Karbala war hero) for our only daughter and we were very proud of that. But now I am ready to give my life to have that name changed because classmates and kids in the neighbourhood are calling the girl “Ommol” (fuddy-duddy): Come here, Ommol! Where are you going, Ommol? ...

Amused? Naturally. But the horror of it is that the hapless child was so devastated by these taunts that she was not going to school anymore.

Indeed, it takes some ill-advised, excessive religious fervour plus a good deal of ignorance to put that sort of name on a child:

For one thing, Omm-ol-Banin means ‘mother of boys’; it's not a name, rather it is the nickname given to one of Ali's wives whose children were all boys. It makes absolutely no sense to call a child Omm-ol-Banin, not least because she isn't a mother yet, and even when she becomes one, her offspring may not be an exclusively male lot.

And within the same logic of fanaticism, the government is now refusing to register names like Kourosh (Cyrus), Daryoush (Darius), etc on the grounds that they are too un-Islamic!!

It's no secret that the people running this country simply can't resist poking their noses into every corner of our lives—we've got used to it. But that a nation should be forced to reject its own history and culture—and in such a petty, ridiculous fashion—defies both belief and common sense.

Historical and cultural matters are also important. Just as Fatemeh is a popular choice among Shiites, names like Ayesha, Khadija and Hafsa are very common in Sunni (mostly Arab) countries, where people have got this age-old tradition of naming girls after the wives of prophet Muhammad. Moreover, things like Zayed and Yazid (ie, one who brings abundance and prosperity) are perfectly decent names per se—Zayed is the name of the president of the UAE and there is a popular TV presenter on the MBC network called Yazid. Now who would even think of naming a boy Zayed or Yazid in a place like Iran? The first one will draw a good laugh as it means ‘useless’ or ‘superfluous’ in modern Persian. As for the second, I think you agree that calling anyone Yazid would be nothing short of sacrilege in these parts.

Ideally a person's name ought to fit their social status, appearance and even physical characteristics. ‘Shahpour’, ‘Khosrow’, ‘Dara’ and the like are most appropriate for kings, princes and rich kids. For a very ugly person, names such as Ziba, Parichehr, and Golrokh are best avoided. Recently a friend of mine chose the name Rostam (the mythical hero in Shah Nameh) for his baby son, but later changed his mind. But why? I wondered. “Well, just in case the child turns out to be a frail, diminutive one, with a name like that he may end up becoming the laughing stock of the entire school or district!” said the far-sighted new daddy.

While it's only too natural for a brutal, sadistic dictator to be called Saddam (harmful, destructive), I wonder what to say about the British commander of the UN peacekeeping force in Bosnia in the early 1990's, General Michael Coward. If names are supposed to bring pride and confidence, then Coward isn't the most glorious appellation for a person in the noble military calling. Without wishing to be unkind to the worthy general, just think what he wouldn't give to have his name changed?!

So, a penny for your thoughts here: what criteria, if any, should be applied in selecting names? How much should we allow our choices to be influenced by cultural, historical and religious considerations? Is the meaning issue all that important?

Ali Shahidzadeh was born in Tehran in November 1969. He graduated from Tehran Medical University first as a general practitioner and later as a specialist in preventive medicine and public health. He currently teaches public health and research methodology plus English and French languages to students of medicine. His personal interests include books, languages and the Internet.

October 10, 2003

Shirin's Day
Mehdi Yahyanejad  [info|posts]

ebadi.jpg Shirin Ebadi became the first Iranian to win a Nobel Prize. She received this year's Nobel Peace Prize for her struggle for basic human right in Iran. She is the first Muslim woman to win a Nobel Prize.

We do not have a habit of open threads in Free Thoughts on Iran, but I thought this is such a great news that it is worth to make it an exception. Please feel free to express your thoughts and excitement in the comment section.

External Links:
Nobel e-Musuem report
CNN report
BBC report
Iranian students news agency (in Persian)

October 08, 2003

Why a Ph.D.?
Hazhir Rahmandad  [info|posts]

phd2.jpg When I was applying for the U.S. universities in the fall of 1999, I had a set of reasons for applying and some criteria for selecting the programs. Having been in the academia for a few years, I now find my initial decision-making process to be potentially flawed, even though I am fairly happy with M.I.T. and what I am studying.

Going back to my application time, I am not sure why I decided to continue my studies abroad. For one thing, I had a couple of courses with Dr. Mashayekhi which changed the way I looked at the world and motivated me to learn system dynamics more deeply. Yet it is very likely that I would have stayed in Iran and continued for an MBA from Sharif if so many of my friends were not applying. In fact, it was kind of the next natural step: you take courses each semester and you know what comes up next, and for the 7th semester you know that you should go to Dubai (or somewhere else) to take TOEFL and GRE* and apply. In effect, I didn't need to think so much about the decision, just like I didn't think about going to high-school when I finished my junior high!

Deciding where to apply was a little more challenging. I knew about MITís program in System Dynamics, however, for the rest of my applications, I went through several of the ranking lists from US News and found the top schools that had something to do with Industrial Engineering and Management. I only applied for Ph.D.ís because I thought there was a higher chance of getting financial aid Ö and after all it was a Ph.D. (i.e. my grand mother can boast about it more than a M.Sc. or M.A.)!

Here in the U.S., the first time I was reminded of application process was when prospective applicants started contacting our professors and us to find out about the program, life in Boston, research interests and life of a Ph.D. student. Their questions were a little surprising to me, I never articulated my surprise consciously, but if I did, my thoughts would have been something like "You shouldnít ask these peripheral questions, you belong to a higher class if you do a Ph.D., so if you can, you should make it!". I was even more surprised when some senior students discouraged prospective applicants from applying in quiet a few cases! They highlighted the importance of being really dedicated to research and being ready to suffer a few poor and challenging years without that much of positive feedback. Moreover, they emphasized that getting a Ph.D. is worth it only if you want to stay in academia or do research for the rest of your life.

Comments of senior students didn't change my view on the criteria for selecting to do a Ph.D. however, the Bostonís cold winter did! At least by December I was persuaded that one should not only check US, but also, in comparing different schools! Then it took me a few more semesters and some social science courses to bitterly accept that science does not reveal the absolute truth, and scientists are not the modern saints who deserve special respect! Now after over three years, I can see and feel the challenges of doing good research, and the dedication and passion that it requires. Gradually I am learning to balance encouragement with cautionary comments when talking with prospective students—as my senior colleagues used to do—and I am learning that politics play as strong a role in academia as any other domain I have experienced!

In short, I have had a humbling experience in academia: I have found my criteria for selecting a Ph.D. program to be poor, my original way of looking at science to be naÔve, and my implicit ranking of people based on their education to be stupid! Nevertheless, I have also enjoyed this experience for many reasons, I have learnt a lot of other interesting things along these humbling points, have made a lot of good friends, and have broadened my worldview by experiencing a whole new culture and life style. For these reasons I usually encourage interested Iranian friends to try the experience of education in some other countries; however, now I tell them to first do a masters, or their undergrad** abroad and then make an informed decision if Ph.D. is what they really want to do.

* Because of the U.S. sanctions against Iran, these exams are not offered in Iran and one should go to another country for taking them.
** I still think the chances of getting financial aid is higher if one gets a Ph.D. admission, yet that chance is high enough for master programs that, in my mind, it is worth additional applications and effort. About undergraduate programs, interesting enough, there are more financial aid opportunities than most Iranian friends think. In fact most prominent undergrad programs have a quota for international students to keep the campus diversity high, and they give up to full financial support for those international students who can not afford the tuition and cost of living here.

October 07, 2003

A Dictionary
Kaveh Khodjasteh  [info|posts]

khazar.jpg A Dictionary of the Khazars is no ordinary dictionary. It is a surrealistic novel that engages in an interfaith dialogue over the fate of a mysterious race of people who inhabited the lands between the Caspian and the Black Sea. The Khazars as they were named were nomadic and warrior like people who had an ancient cult of interpretation of the dreams. Their empire vanished from the face of history almost as soon as they converted to one of the three Abrahamic religions [most historians now say, they converted to Judaism].

I bought the book out of curiousity [my other choices were one by Eco and another by Böll] and on my last trip to Iran found it a very well read despite the unconventional narrative style (a dictionary no less).

The author, Milorad Pavic, is famous in Serbia for his poetry which actually makes the imageries of the book very striking through its pages. The literary style of the book is that of magical realism best exemplified by authors such as Marquez or even Kundera, but is a bit more difficult to follow because of its post-modern inclinations.

To be complete in its relativistic and pluralistic intentions, the book comes in two editions, a male and a female that differ only in one paragraph and a very crucial one. Besides the book itself is divided into three parts: Muslim, Christian and Judaist and comes with a unifying chapter that combines all three in the modern world.

I have to add that overall I didn't find this book to be very deep and moving (like most of post-modern art pieces) but it definitely contains sentences and paragraphs that after reading them, you will have to put down the book and contemplate for some time on their meaning.

October 06, 2003

Iranian Technology Forum
Mehdi Yahyanejad  [info|posts]

On Saturday September 29th, a full day Iranian Technology Forum (ITF) was held at MIT. This conference was organized by SiliconIran, a recently founded Information Technology firm in California. Around 200 Iranians and non-Iranians were present for the event. Most of them were high-tech professionals including venture capitalists, CEOs and academics. There were also a few students present from local universities such as MIT and Northeastern. The talks were about new developing technologies in the high-tech industry and also the available opportunities for investment.

During the coffee breaks and lunch, people had a chance to meet each other. This was the first time that ITF was being held on the East coast, and as such it was a good chance for Iranian businesspeople living on the East coast to get to know their counterparts on the other coast. The conference atmosphere was friendly. There was no sign of the over-formality that is sometimes present at Iranian events. Some people were wearing suits while a few others were in informal clothing. This relaxed attitude was true in the case of language, too. Persian and English were both spoken in the lobby outside of the conference hall. However, all the talks were in English, mainly due to the presence of non-Iranians and the convenience of the speakers.

The talks were amusing! Almost all of the speakers had professional PowerPoint slides full of statistics, figures and video clips. They talked about investment opportunities, new communication technologies, the future of the semiconductor industry, medical advances and the outlook for information technology.

Shaygan Kheradpir, chief information officer of Verizon Communications, told the audience how in the near future Verizon would make it possible for its cellular phone customers to broadcast their location over the Internet. This means that to keep track of the whereabouts of your teenager, it is enough to buy him or her a cell phone.

Dr. Massoud Khatamee, who is an executive director of the Fertility Research Foundation, talked about advances in biotechnology and infertility treatment. To remind the audience how common infertility treatment is, he said that he was contacted by the Clinton family for advice on fertility when Hillary Clinton wanted a child at age 4648. Khatamee joked how absurd it was that they came to talk to an Iranian who is also a Republican with the lastname "Khatami," something that can only happen in America. He added that he told them to have a child you need a man, making the audience burst into laughter.

What was absent from the conference was any mention of Iran. The reason for this was not hard to understand from what the last speaker of the day, Mohammad Sanati, told the audience. Dr. Sanati is the founder of Sina Soft Co., one of the biggest software companies in Iran. His company created many beautiful Persian fonts as well as the most commonly used Persian word processor, Zarnegar. He talked about the great potential of high-tech industry in Iran. Iranians are crazy about technology. He had even spotted a beggar on the street with a cell phone. He said, however, that the U.S. sanctions have crippled the growth of high-tech industry in Iran. For example, the American credit card giants, Visa and American Express, are not allowed to provide services in Iran. This means no E-business, which relies on credit card payments. The sanctions also hinder foreign investments and make it difficult for Iranians to purchase American software. He also named other existing infrastructure problems in Iran that have kept Iran backward in this regard.

At the end of the conference, people left for smaller gatherings in restaurants in downtown Boston. They left the conference with a higher spirit and a better confidence in the ability of Iranians to have their own professional organizations, where they can learn from one another, improve their business network and promote the image of successful Iranians.

October 05, 2003

Khomeini vs. Khomeini
Babak Seradjeh  [info|posts]

head.jpg In the past few months one person's interviews and actions have drawn the attention of the media as well as the curious observors of the political developments in Iran. His name is Hossein Khomeini, a grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran. He wears the same outfit as his grandfather, which marks him out, at the first glance, as a member of the clergy ruling cast. Their words, however, are a world apart.

The ruling clerics in Iran are in fact only a part of the Shiite clergy class who became fully invloved in politics after Ayatollah Khomeini became the first ranked Shiite cleric in Qom religious seminary (hoze ye elmie ye qom) after the death of Ayatollah Borujerdi. Prior to that time the mainstream approach to politics among the Shiite clerics was that of abstention with few exceptions during the early 1900's constitutionalist revolution (Sheikh Fazlollah and Modarres) and the oil-nationalization movement in the early 1950's (Ayatollah Kashani). Khomeini caused a revival of the idea of political engagements of the clerics after the example of Fazlollah and Modarres that reached its peak when the clerics took control of the new government after the 1979 (Islamic) revolution. The idea had by then been solidified in the thesis of Vel‚yat e Faqih (Sovereignty of the Jurist) and was later exemplified in the Ayatollah's all too reiterated quote-motto: "Our religion is the same as our politics and our policy is the same as our piety." (Di‚nat e m‚ ein e si‚sat e m‚ st va si‚sat e m‚ ein e di‚nat e m‚ st.)

Hossein Khomeini is a son of Mostafa Khomeini, Ayatollah's son who passed away in a car accident in Iraq in 1977, whose death is told to have ignited the 1979 revolution with a series of protests after an allegedly insulting article was published in the daily Ettelahat. He recently left Iran for Najaf, a Shiite holy city in Iraq, and delivered a speech in the American Enterprise Institute in Washington D.C. on September 26. He is expressly opposed to the idea of an Islamic government, let alone the thesis of Vel‚yat e Faqih. In his refusal he follows the traditional Shiite belief in awaiting for the absent 12th Imam, the last infallible capable of bringing justice and rule of God to the earth.

Ruling out the possibility of an Islamic government (in the time of long absence of the 12th infallible Imam) is not new per se. What comes from Mr. Khomeini as a bit of a shock is his belief in a totally secular, democratic government in a fashion that seems to me to be far beyond anything any cleric has so far articulated. There are cleric dissidents in Iran who are constantly brought to the special clerics court on charges of opposing the Islamic Republic, such as Mohsen Kadivar, Hasan Yusefi-Aökevari, and even the former Interior Minister Abdoll‚h Nuri. Their opposition sums up to a demand for freedom of speech and a rather subtle support for separation of religion and state. None of these dissidents has so far expressed such clear advocation of a non-religious secular society, neither have they been so bitter in their criticims of the Islamic government.

In response to the BBC Persian reporter who asked him what he thinks about the relationship of the constitution with Islam Mr. Khomeini said: "The constitution should be completely void of any religious content." He further explained that he thinks Shiite mujtahids (scholars) should only tell people what God's rules are with respect to their personal lives and should not have anything to do with the power. He said an Islamic rule that could only be fulfilled in presence of Islamic government is automatically null in the time of absence. On reporter's insistence he added:

Islam should be completely a matter of personal relationship of the individual and his/her God. But when the majority of people are muslim, the opinion of the majority would be reflected in some areas, such as the civil rights [...] We don't want a government that teaches ethics, but one that follows people [...] Islam should not at all be taken into account in governmental affairs [...] If a majority of people say they want an Islamic government, this is in contradiction with the basis of a secular and free government and it shouldn't be accepted.

When we add to the above Mr. Khomeini's support of an American intervention in Iran, his stance finds some potential weight in Iran's future developments since he could act as an american-friendly spokesperson for the clergy community in Iran. His speech at AEI, a conservative thinktank, could be seen as a move by the US in this direction.

Whether or not Mr. Khomeini could play an important role in Iran's future political scene, the media coverage that he receives due to his name and bold words, brings to the surface the dilemma of the reaction of an Iranian society that is still deeply religious to the clergy community as a whole in light of their 25-year track record in power. This dilemma is manifest in the question that pops up in any Iranian's mind, that is whether Mr. Khomeini is honest in what he says, or just an opportunist.

External Links:
BBC Persian: Interview in Persian. (.ram file, 15'20")
BBC News: Khomeini kin seeks action on Iran. English section of the dissident cleric Mohsen Kadivar.

October 02, 2003

To sign or not to sign, that is the question - or is it ?
Arash Jalali  [info|posts]

There have recently been several postings as well as some very interesting and thought-provoking comments on FTOI regarding Islamic Republic's nuclear issues, especially the signing of an additional NPT protocol. I have also been reading a lot about this matter in Iranian newspapers. It seems to me that there have been enough articles written about this additional protocol to give one a fairly good understanding of the implications of signing (or not signing) it.

However, having read the GOV/2003/69 resolution, there appears to be a very common misconception - even among Iranian journalists - as to what exactly it is that the board calls on Iran to do by the end of October 2003.

If one takes a cursory look at the text of the resolution, one of the first things that catches one's attention is the series of underlined words in it, such as "calls on", "stressing", "recognizing", "decides", etc. I am certainly not an expert on international law but I reckon these underlined words signify legal terms which have specific connotations. For example, the board has in some cases, "decided" that Iran should cooperate whereas in other cases it has "called on" or even "requested" Iran to take some sort of action. Having said that, here are a few observations which I believe would help us better understand the situation:

  1. Only in one article, i.e. article 4, the specific date of October 2003 has been mentioned as a deadline for Iran's compliance regarding five issues none of which has anything to do with the signing of the additional protocol, and that is indeed where the (probably strongest) term, "decides" has been used.
  2. The board has merely "requested" Iran to "work with the Secretariat to promptly and unconditionally sign" the additional protocol as a "confidence building" measure. The verb "request" seems to have the least imperative tone since it has also been used to address the IAEA's Director General.
  3. The October 30 deadline, among other things, demands Iran to fully declare all of its imported material and enrichment equipment as well as to determine the source, date of receipt, and the storing (hiding?) locations of such imports.

Iranian politicians, as well as the media, have somehow (intentionally or otherwise) managed to lead everyone, at least in Iran, into believing that the issue, i.e. the deadline, is about signing the additional protocol, whereas the issue is really about Iran coming clean on its already committed material breaches of the NPT; and that I think is the real dilemma the Islamic Republic is facing. We all know what happens if Iran does not comply with the resolution, but even if they in fact do fully comply with GOV/2003/69 then they will have to confess to an already committed breach.

There are two outcomes here, both of which could potentially lead to sanctions against Iran, unless the Islamic Republic somehow manages to cut a secret deal with the Americans and/or the Europeans so that they would cut them a little slack and turn a blind eye on their past breaches in return for God knows what, but certainly including Iran's full compliance in the future which could also include the signing of the additional protocol. It is quite possible that the foreign minister's latest trip to New York was just about cutting this very deal.