Tehran Redefines Terrorism

tehran redefines terrorismUnbelievable as it may be, there is no universal definition of terrorism. One person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter.

It would seem very simple: The targeted murder of innocent people, as a means of instilling fear, should be regarded as terrorism no matter what the cause or the objective (political, ideological, economic or whatever). But by this definition, it seems that every war, no matter its size, can be defined as terrorism, as long as civilians are hurt or fear being killed.

Unlike traditional wars which are fought between military units on military fronts, terrorists target the “homeland” – civilians.

Iran, a state sponsor of terrorism, is portraying itself as a champion against terrorism and in the process, has redefined terrorism.

 

In the beginning, the West defined terror

terror 1For years, the West seemed to have the monopoly on deciding who is a terrorist. This isn’t surprising.  After all, terrorism was born as a method for “underdogs” to fight the strong, or for those seeking independence against those enjoying statehood. Since the West was usually the target for terrorist attacks, the West defined who was a terrorist.

Iran was long ago defined by the West as a state supporter of terrorism because of its support to organizations such as Hezbollah, Hamas, Al Qaeda, Islamic Jihad, Taliban and others which are defined to this date as terrorists by most Western countries (US/Canada, Australia/New Zealand and the EU). Iran’s support to these organizations included funding, training and supplies. Iran’s relation with Hezbollah is probably the strongest and Hezbollah militias fight in all of Iran’s battles and wars in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

 

A wider definition of terrorism

images (1)Over the last few decades, the superpowers sometimes chose to support local terrorist militias to help fight their wars instead of engaging the enemy on traditional battlefields. This may have been strategically necessary to win wars against enemies who also used terrorism, but it seriously hurt the West’s legitimacy to criticize the use of terrorism.

Furthermore, these same organizations, sometimes backed by the superpowers, began terrorizing countries in the Middle East and suddenly supporters of terrorism became victims of terrorism.

ISIS is a classic example of the birth of a terrorist organization in our era. Born as a political Sunni entity against Shiite domination, it brought terrorism to a new savage level. It wasn’t enough to simply kill civilians. Ritual beheadings, burning alive, systematic rapes, horrifying torture/amputations and firing squads became the norm – and all the horrors were filmed and shown to the world shamelessly. Unfortunately, ISIS also influenced the redefinition of terrorism in other ways.

 

Tehran redefines terrorism

Iran_Presidenr_Hassan_Rouhani_speak_UN_General_Assembly_2013Two years ago, Rouhani launched his WAVE (World Against Extremism and Violence) initiative at the General Assembly of the UN, strategically placing Iran as a champion in the fight against terrorism. Although Iran supports terror organizations, this fact was overlooked under the cause of eradicating ISIS. As the rampage of ISIS widened across Syria and Iraq, Iran took the front stage in becoming a legitimate partner in counterterrorism.

From the Iranian perspective, they have their own definition of who is a terrorist:

  • “The West”: The West, especially the US, was defined as supporters of terrorism for its support of militias as well as for waging wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which took the lives of civilians and local militia.
  • The Regional Enemies of Iran: These include primarily Israel (for its ongoing conflict with the Palestinians) and Saudi Arabia (for its support of terrorist militia such as Al Qaeda). Other countries such as Bahrain and the UAE are sometimes included in this list.
  • The Enemies of Friends of Iran: This definition was tailor-made by the Iranians to describe the rebels fighting Assad. While Tehran uses designated Hezbollah terrorist militia to fight Syrian rebels to uphold Assad’s regime, which has already caused the death of hundreds of thousands of civilians, it reserves the right to define the Syrian rebels as terrorists and themselves as freedom fighters.

 

It is time to define categorically and unequivocally what is terrorism and who can be defined as a terrorist in order to prevent the abuse of such terminology by countries like Iran.

 

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8 Arguments For and Against the Nuclear Deal

pros and consThe Huffington Post ran an article on Eight Arguments Against an Iran Nuclear Deal — and Why They Are Wrong. It’s worth reading. It goes through 8 reasons why people are skeptical of a nuclear deal with Iran with rebuttals on why the nuclear deal is the only viable solution at this time.

What the people at HuffPost don’t seem to understand is that the Iranians are playing hardball while the US is still trying to figure out the rules of the game:

  1. Khamenei restated his red lines which refute all of all of the US’s demands: immediate sanction relief, no inspections, no access to scientists, no 10 year time limit, no limit on R&D.
  2. The Iranian parliament, drafted a law to ban “any inspection of military, security and non-nuclear sites as well as access to documents and scientists” making the negotiations of such inspections illegal. It should be noted that the bill breezed by easily and was followed by “Death to America” chants.
  3. Rouhani quietly stated that the nuclear deal is available IF there are no “excessive demands”, which includes any demand that deviates from Khamenei’s red lines.
  4. Zarif followed this with his “failure in talks is not the end of the world” quip leaving no doubt that Tehran is ready to leave the negotiations.
  5. On the other hand, Kerry seems to be too eager for comfort: The US seems so intent on signing a deal, any deal, that it keeps on re-accepting Iranian red lines. Here’s one of the ideas being bounced around lately: The US may be ready to trade good nukes (nuclear plant for electricity) for bad nukes (heavy water plant in Arak).
  6. Khamenei’s “nuclear fatwa” calls for blind trust above wide-eyed transparency and is seriously being considered by the US as a way to save face with Khamenei.
  7. Iran has a definite Plan B in the form of aligning itself with Russia, China and its trade neighbors (Azerbaijan, Turkey, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan etc…) thus satisfactorily circumventing of any of the effects of the remaining sanctions and placing the US between a rock and a hard place. The West, on the other hand has no viable plan B except increase sanctions, which will lose their teeth after Iran’s Plan B.
  8. And finally, Tehran is getting more and more involved in fighting in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, reminding all that it is ready to take the fight beyond its borders.

Now, to the bottom lines:

  • HuffPost: The bottom line is that this deal promises to be by far the most effective way of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and doing so moreover without recourse to military action.
  • Iran 24/07: The bottom line is that this deal cannot guarantee prevention of a nuclear Iran and if signed, will probably be short-lived because of lack of transparency and the issue of snap-back sanctions.

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On Volleyball, Women, Rouhani and the Regime

volleyball

The issue of female spectators at volleyball games in Iran is a microcosm of Iranian politics in general:

  1. At first there is a status quo that is contested by the Iranian people who are seeking more freedom.
  2. The West backs the protesters in their cause in the hope for change.
  3. Rouhani voices support for the protesters.
  4. The Iranian authorities look as if they will concede to the demands of the protesters.
  5. Hardliners protest in their turn, promising blood, and the authorities renege on their decisions at the last minute.
  6. The protesters’ rights are curtailed while the West along with the helpless Rouhani, protest once again to no avail.

The bottom line is this: despite the protestations of the Iranian people, Western human rights groups, the international volleyball association and President Rouhani himself, the status quo has returned because a few hardliners promised blood.

If this is how Tehran acts over a volleyball game, why should anyone expect any more on the issue of executions or the nuclear deal?

 

Ghoncheh Ghavami – the “volleyball prisoner”

_79215113_7605b70b-c9ed-47eb-a00d-adc476875e34Last June, a young British-Iranian human rights activist by the name of Ghoncheh Ghavami, attended a volleyball game in Tehran and was subsequently arrested. She was released within hours and then rearrested to rot in jail for five months until her trial. At first, the accusations against Ghoncheh ranged from spreading propaganda, ties with the opposition and even spying. After six months, which included minimal communications with her lawyers and family and repeated hunger strikes, she was tried only for “propagating against the ruling system” and sentenced to one year in jail.

Meanwhile, many human rights activists and organizations, together with the international volleyball federation (FIVB), and even Rouhani himself, picked up her cause and called for her release. The FIVB went as far as to sign a resolution “not give Iran the right to host any future FIVB directly controlled events such as World Championships, especially under age, until the ban on women attending volleyball matches is lifted“. Finally, the courts acquiesced and on November 22nd, Ghoncheh was finally set free of jail but not out of Iran due to a travel ban for two years.

As far as everyone was concerned, it seemed that the authorities had capitulated: Ghoncheh was not free, but at least she wasn’t in jail and the authorities had agreed to sell tickets to women fans.

 

Protests on all sides

_83749168_83748411In January, the Iranian volleyball association had agreed to allow “some” women into the match. “Some”? The authorities didn’t specify but it was believed that 500 family members and foreign women (expats and diplomats) would be able to attend. In April 2015, the deputy minister of sports, Abdolhamid Ahmadi, reiterated that women would be allowed into stadiums.

The vagueness of the authorities sent Iranian social activists to protest and the FIVB reiterated its decision: “The FIVB is monitoring the situation and will liaise closely with the international federation of volleyball officials onsite, to monitor Iran’s conditions for hosting the 26th FIVB world league. The FIVB remains totally committed to ensuring inclusivity and the right of women to participate in sport on an equal basis all around the world“.

But, the protesters and the clout of FIVB were not enough to counter the shouts of the Ummat Hezbollah hardliners who handed out leaflets promising to take “a stand against the presence of prostitutes… in stadiums,” and promised that “this Friday there will be blood”. The tide was changing.

Iran’s vice president for women and family affairs, Shahindokht Molaverdifor, tried to take on the hardliners, protesting officially and through her facebook page that a “crowd of sanctimonious people who published one notice after another denouncing the modest and decent girls and women of this land who talked of confrontation used obscene and disgusting insults that only befit themselves“.

 

Iran vs. US…without women

1745763The long awaited match between Iran and the US was looming and the issue of the women fans still looked grim but somehow, the FIVB remained hopeful: “We hope that the government will allow Iranian women to cheer for their national team alongside their male counterparts“.

The hopes of the FIVB and fans were shattered as security agents stopped and checked cars for women inside, prohibiting the cars to continue up to the stadium. The match would be held, despite the promises over the past few months, without women in the stadium. Iran went on to beat the US, 3-0, breaking their 6-0 winning streak.

But Iran’s win was overshadowed by the issue if segregati
on and the inability of the FIVB to force Iran to open its stadiums to women.

The hardliners had prevailed and had done so despite the efforts of Rouhani and his administration.

 

The issue of the segregation of sports may seem minuscule besides issues such as executions, terrorism, oppression etc…which are part of Tehran’s regime. But in fact the issue mirrors the regime’s actions by hardliners to oppose any form of loosening up of the Shariah laws established in 1979. President Rouhani promised to make peace with the West, to lead a peaceful nuclear program, to create equality for women, to allow more political freedom etc…But the fact of the matter is that if Rouhani cannot convince the regime and the hardliners to allow some women into a sports stadium, how can he be trusted to carry out far bigger changes?

 

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Why Does Tehran Back Taliban?

talibalFear of ISIS has been a stepping stone for Tehran’s military involvement in Syria and in Iraq and it now seems to be a stepping stone into Afghanistan as well. In short, apart from signing security deals with the Afghan government, Tehran began supplying Taliban militia with weapons and money to fight ISIS in Afghanistan and on the Afghan-Iran border.

The fact that Tehran is supporting a fundamentalist Sunni, and once anti-Shiite, militia is not intuitive, to say the least and 3 questions remain unanswered for now:

  • Why is Tehran supporting the Taliban and not the official Afghan armed forces?
  • Does Tehran’s support of the Taliban have anything to do with Kabul backing the Saudi war against the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen?
  • Is funding the Taliban to fight ISIS the real reason for such a drastic move or does Tehran have an alterior motive?

Of course, truthful answers to these questions are overshadowed by the political spins and denials that are already out of control. But answering these questions might be the key to understanding the mindset of the leaders in Tehran.

 

Why Taliban and not the Afghan Military?

afghanistanThe Taliban seems to be the strangest group to partner with Tehran ever. The radical anti-Shiite stance expressed by the Taliban for decades frequently led Tehran and Taliban to outbreaks of violence which cost many lives on both sides. Meanwhile, the governments of Tehran and Kabul have been busy signing MoU’s and agreements over the last year. So why not fund the Afghan military instead of partisan militia?

Once again, there is no simple answer. Perhaps, Tehran is betting on the Taliban warriors, known for their ferocity, to deal with ISIS. Another reason might be that Tehran is covering its bases just in case the Taliban returns to power. What is certain is that Tehran understands that they can more easily sway a militia group such as the Taliban than the Afghan government which has allegiances with Tehran’s regional arch-enemy, Saudi Arabia.

And lastly, but more practically, Tehran has already mined Afghanistan for “volunteers” to fight for Assad in the civil war in Syria and most of these fighters were once Taliban militia.

 

What About the Houthis and Saudi Arabia?

yemenThe Afghan government gave the Saudis a passive “thumbs-up” in their war against the Houthi rebels in Yemen who are backed by Tehran. Needless to say, the Iranians were not happy. But surprisingly, many Afghans were not happy about supporting the Saudis either.

Tehran’s support for the Taliban may, in the future, be equated to its support of the Houthi rebels if the Taliban’s power increases and manages to overthrow the current government.

To make matters more complicated, the Taliban was traditionally supported by Saudi Arabia and funding the Taliban may be a way for Iran to weaken the militia’s ties with the Saudis.

And lastly, one must remember that although Afghanistan’s president visited Tehran, he has visited Riyadh many more times. Meanwhile, over the past two years, 3 Taliban delegations have been welcomed in Tehran where they met with politicians and IRGC officials.

 

Fighting ISIS or a Bigger Agenda?

regionSince NATO stepped out of Afghanistan, the situation there is becoming more volatile with many powers trying to fill in the vacuum. Iran is already a significant part of the Afghan economy, especially in regions bordering Iran: Tehran supplies Afghans with electricity and water as well money and infrastructure to support Shiite factions in Afghanistan.

Supporting the Taliban can also feature as a pressure point in the nuclear deal brewing between Iran and the US. Iran has expressed worries that the US could use Afghanistan as a base from which to attack if the nuclear deal goes bust. In fact, some believe that were a nuclear deal to be signed, Tehran would probably back down from supporting Taliban openly.

But much more importantly, Afghanistan could one day become another Iraq for Iran – a country which is dependent financially, politically and militarily to such an extent that opposing Tehran would be unthinkable. By surrounding itself geographically with allies, Iran can export its Islamic Revolution while at the same time, keep these countries free of any power which wants to attack Iran.

 

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Tehran and ISIS – It’s Complicated

iran and isis

The relationship between Tehran and ISIS is a complicated one:

  1. Iran consistently accuses the US/Saudis of creating ISIS and thus supporting terrorism.
    But in reality, ISIS was born out of the vacuum or power and stability in Syria and Iraq, a vacuum that was filled by Tehran.
  2. Iran and ISIS are enemies and are at war in the fields of Syria and Iraq.
    But fighting ISIS legitimizes Iran’s political and military involvement in Syria and Iraq which suits Tehran’s regional aspirations.
  3. Iran has taken the lead, as well as the costs and the glory, of fighting ISIS.
    But fighting ISIS has also forced Tehran to cooperate with the “Great Satan” and other regional enemies, a situation filled with tension and mistrust.
  4. ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) has not yet targeted Iranian territory.
    But fighting ISIS may result in an invasion by ISIS of Iranian soil in the future.
  5. Both ISIS and Tehran’s raison d’aitre is to promote a global Islamic revolution, although one is Sunni and another is Shiite.
    But Khameini is constantly calling for a global unity of Muslims under Islam regardless of religious factions
  6. Tehran has a long history of promoting Islamist extremist/terrorist militias such as Hezbollah, Hamas, Taliban etc… for its agenda so, why not ISIS?
    But Tehran modus operandi with terrorist militia is based on Tehran controlling the agenda and ISIS isn’t listening to Tehran.

Whatever the case may be, Tehran will continue to wage a tactical war against ISIS but underneath it all, ISIS may be serving Tehran’s regional and global strategy so well that if ISIS did not exist, Tehran would have had to invent it.

 

Iran Also Created ISIS

isis 1There is evidence that proves that leaders of ISIS were once supported by the US and Saudi Arabia in an effort to promote US interests in the Middle East but those ties were severed once ISIS “went rogue”. Meanwhile, the civil war in Syria and the weakening of the Iraqi government, both of which are connected directly to Tehran, created the instability that ISIS required: there were enough disgruntled Syrians and Iraqis to join ISIS and enough weak areas in which wars could be waged. The fact that the US pulled out of Iraq only made it easier for both Iran and ISIS to march in.

 

ISIS is Iran’s Tactical Enemy and Strategic Ally

isis 5Tehran may be fighting ISIS in the battlefields in Syria and Iraq but without ISIS, Tehran’s military involvement in these countries might warrant a foreign military intervention just as its involvement in Yemen brought on a military reaction by Saudi Arabia.

There is growing criticism within and outside of Iran against the regime in Tehran for supporting Assad in his civil war. The cost of supporting Assad is believed to be approximately $10-$15 billion a year and now that Tehran is sending troops to Syria, the cost is bound to grow financially and in the loss of Iranian lives as well.

As to Iraq, Tehran is eager to bring Baghdad and has been supporting the Shiite factions there for the past few years. Baghdad is a key city in the vision for an Iranian empire as outlined by Rouhani’s chief adviser on Ethnic and Religious Minorities, Ali Younessi.

With Lebanon already under Iranian control, Syria and Iraq on the way, and Yemen and Afghanistan in its sights, Tehran can finally begin the process of building a regional empire.

In contrast, the US remains Tehran’s strategic enemy even if it is Tehran’s tactical ally against ISIS.

 

A Common Enemy Creates Strange Allies

isis 7When ISIS began its rampage last year (29th of June, 2014), the tone from Iran complacent: IRGC generals spoke about ISIS as an isolated issue with no real repercussions to Iran. But as ISIS stormed through Iraq, the same generals changed their tune: Tehran, as a regional leader and a friend of Baghdad and Damascus, would eradicate ISIS…in fact, Qods chief Suleimani claimed that only Iran could wipe ISIS off the map.

The nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 suddenly created a situation in which Western forces, specifically the US, were ready to fight beside the Iranian forces in the effort to eradicate ISIS. This strange coalition of enemies was fragile from the start and the Iranians wasted no time in criticizing the US for its “ineptitude” on the battle field.

 

Will ISIS Wage War on Tehran?

isis 3ISIS, even within its name, makes no territorial claims over Iran. And even if it did, it would seem pointless: ISIS is a Sunni movement which is trying to carve out a Sunni kingdom within Syria and Iraq and would never be welcome by the people of Iran who are Shiites.

Furthermore, ISIS is winning in Syria and Iraq because both of these countries lack any stability at this point in time while Iran’s regime is firmly entrenched with a powerful army. So, even in their wildest dreams, the leaders of ISIS probably do not view themselves entering triumphantly through the gates of Tehran. But they will probably find a way to bring the war to Iran on its borders with Iraq.

 

Two Sides of the Extremist Islamic Coin

isis 4Yes, ISIS is Sunni and Iran is Shiite. But both are striving for a world that will be Islamic and religious. They do not strive for a modern and updated version of Islam but want their citizens to be part of the ancient version of Islam based on Shaariah laws.

The chances of a unity between Iran and ISIS seems as close as a unity between Tehran and Riyadh but one must not forget Khamenei’s
fervent vision of a Global Islamic Awakening and his calls lately for unity among all Muslims of the world.

 

The Fine Line Between a Terrorist and a Freedom Fighter

isis 6The leaders in Tehran were quick to use ISIS in an effort to redefine terrorism: Rouhani’s first foreign policy initiative was to create WAVE (World Against Violence and Extremism) using ISIS as the clear definition of terrorism. Obviously, Rouhani conveniently forgot to mention Tehran’s ties with terrorist militia. Suddenly all the Iranian leaders placed themselves firmly and righteously against extremism, violence and terrorism.

But what about Tehran’s support of Hezbollah, Hamas, Taliban etc…What about Tehran’s support for the Houthis rebels in Yemen? What about Tehran fighting its wars in Syria and Iraq with Hezbollah and Taliban militia? And what about the atrocities carried out by these same militia in Syria and in Iraq?

Whether Tehran likes it or not, in many cases, ISIS and Tehran are very similar in many respects.

 

In reality, ISIS is really a localized problem – 10-15 thousand militia on a rampage in Iraq and Syria. But the horrors of ISIS and Tehran’s involvement in both these countries make the fight against ISIS a global one. Paradoxically, Iran needs ISIS as a way to free itself from its connection with terrorism and as a card of legitimacy to spread its military power over Iraq and Syria.

 

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Does Khamenei Unite or Divide?

khamenei unitesKhamenei is calling the Arab states and/or their Muslim citizens to unite under Islam against the West. The “and/or” part is crucial since he is not only calling on the leaders of Arab states who are already aligned with ideals of the Islamic brotherhood. The call is also meant to reach the ears of citizens of Arab states which are not aligned with Iran or its fervent Islamic government and in inciting them to rise up against their governments in the name of Islam.

That is why, on the one hand, Khamenei calls for Shiites and Sunnis to unite against the global arch enemy and “Great Satan”, the US,  while at the same time, he calls to relieve Iran’s regional arch enemy, and Sunni leader, Saudi Arabia, of control over Islam’s holy sites.

This isn’t a new call: Khomeini has been calling on his Muslim brothers to do so since 1979. Khamenei picked up the call under the guise of a “Global Islamic Awakening”. But the call for creating a unified Muslim front has escalated over the past few years due to the military, economic and political developments in the Middle East and the world.

 

Islam vs. “the West” vs. “the East”

west iran eastAlthough its very name implies it, this call is only nominally a religious one: Islam is not presented as an alternative to Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism or any other religion. Instead, it is presented as the solution to the multitude of problems that plague the citizens of Arab states, problems that are conveniently packaged as “the West”, “imperialism”, “colonialism”, “arrogant powers” etc…In fact, it isn’t really a solution but a means to unite any citizen of any state who sees himself/herself as victimized by “the West” either directly or through his/her government which is friendly with the West.

Many Arab states have gone through the Arab Spring only to find themselves free from the dictators who ruled them but torn of their national identities. Iraqis, Egyptians and Libyans initially celebrated ridding themselves of Saddam, Mubarak and Ghadaffi but they were soon disillusioned by the politicians and leaders who tried to fill the vacuum. In some countries, as in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, the ruling families retained their powers while in others, such as in Syria and Yemen, the revolution escalated into a prolonged civil war.

Meanwhile, the North American and the Western European states are weakening. Whether this is as a result from economic and political mismanagement or from a lack of coherent national identity brought on by an influx of immigrants and a generation of citizens who take less pride in their national identity and have more solidarity with their global identity.

The weakness of the West is highlighted by the growing success of the Eastern superpowers like China, as a world economic leader, and Russia, as the historic opposer of the West. The leaders in China and Russia are far from heeding the call of Islamic unity but they all understand that this call is aimed at hurting the West, and specifically the US, in whose downfall they have a vested interest.

 

Shiites vs. Sunnis vs. “the Rest”

Spect_Sunni_Shia_SEKhamenei’s call to unify Muslims requires all Muslims to put aside their rival interpretations of Islam to fight the West. Unfortunately, the battles between the different factions of Islam echo the battles that were fought many centuries ago between the Christian states aligned under Catholicism against all the other Christian leaders who defied the Vatican. There and then in Europe, as today in the Middle East, the battles are fought not over religion but over the power that religion offers the leaders of the states.

Khamenei’s call to Islamic unity is extraordinary since Shiites represent at most 15% of the worlds’ Muslims and a unification of Islam by the Shiites would be a major victory for the minority faction. Were this call to originate from the Sunnis, as it did many centuries ago in the Islamic conquest of the Middles East and Northern Africa, the call to unity might have sounded more natural and less political.

Were the differences between Tehran and Sunni states only religious, there might have been an affinity to unite. But, much as in the case of Europe in the sixteenth century, religious differences only played a nominal part while the real reasons to heed the battle cry of a religious war could be found within the mindsets of the rulers themselves. The fight for the “ideal” form of Christianity was heavily overshadowed by England’s king Henry VIII’s wish to divorce and remarry and for his hot-cold relationships with France’s king Francis I and Spain’s emperor Charles V.

In the same manner, the Saudis are weary of Khamenei’s call not based on its religious merit but simply because Riyadh and Tehran are self-defined regional rivals. They listen to Zarif’s warnings that ISIS is an equal threat to Sunnis and Shiites with understanding, but are weary of Iran’s agenda to stir up horrified and scared Sunnis against their leaders.

 

The fact that the call for Islamic unity emerges from Khamenei places more emphasis on the particular interests of Iran than on the collective goal of Muslim states.

 

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EP Iranian Delegation Example of Political Impotence

EP impotenceThe EU parliamentary delegation to Tehran stirred up, once again, an issue of human rights in regards to MP Schaake’s head-dress. Although there is merit to this issue since Shaake is very pro-Iranian (she strongly supported opening an EU delegation in Iran) but she is also very pro-women’s rights, the storm over Shaake’s head-dress overshadowed the main problem with this delegation’s visit: besides meeting with the government officials, the delegations did not meet with any opposition leaders or human rights activists as outlined in last year’s EP resolution on EU delegations to Iran.

The furor over Shaake’s head-dress may be a visual symbol of the problem of human rights in Iran but the real problem is that although the EP is very vocal about the problems of human rights in Iran, the delegation did absolutely nothing to deal with these issues in Tehran.

Adding insult to injury, the EU delegation was bared by the Iranian authorities from speaking to foreign media while in Tehran.

 

The EP Resolution on Iran

13930125000452_PhotoIBack in in March 31st 2014, the European Parliament issued a resolution concerning its strategy vis-a-vis Iran. The gist of this resolution is that the EP should help to promote better relations with Iran while keeping up the pressure to improve the state of human rights there.

Here are some soundbites from the resolution and their resulting impotence:

  • It stated that “any future Parliament delegations to Iran should be committed to meeting members of the political opposition and civil society activists, and to having access to political prisoners” – the last delegation met only with regime leaders.
  • It calls for the opening of an EU delegation in Tehran as “an efficient tool for influencing Iranian policies…on issues such as human and minority rights” – no such delegation was ever opened.
  • It welcomed the “release of several prisoners of conscience in Iran, including the human rights lawyer and Sakharov Prize winner Nasrin Sotoudeh” – since then Sotoudeh was sent back to jail.
  • It called “on the Iranian authorities to release all imprisoned human rights defenders, political prisoners, trade unionists and labour activists, and those detained after the 2009 presidential elections” – all of them are still in jail or under house arrest.
  • It condemned “the restrictions on freedom of information, freedom of association, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, academic freedom, freedom of education and freedom of movement, as well as the repression and discrimination on the basis of religion, belief, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation that persist, inter alia against the Baha’i community, Christians, apostates and converts” – all of these issues have paradoxically gone from bad to worst under Rouhani.
  • It called “on Iran to cooperate with international human rights bodies and its own NGOs by acting upon the recommendations of the UN and the Universal Periodic Review (UPR)” – Tehran simply dismissed the UN Special Rapporteur’s report and the UPR as “politically motivated”.
  • It stressed that “women’s rights should, without fail, remain an area of special focus in any dialogue between the EU and Iran” – Even under Rouhani’s “moderate” government, Iranian women still suffer from legalized gender segregation and massive discrimination.
  • It considers that “Iran should use its considerable influence in Syria to stop the bloody civil war and calls on Iran’s leadership to adopt a constructive role in the international efforts to find a solution to the Syrian crisis” – meanwhile, Iran is spending approximately $15 Billion a year in Syria and is now sending troops to fight Assad’s war which has killed 200,000 and injured over one million Syrians.

As such, when the EP chief Catherine Ashton visited Iran, she stirred up controversy not over her head-dress but over the fact that she met with human rights activists and lawyers in the comfort of the Greek embassy.

This resolution was harshly criticized by Tehran and perhaps that is why the last delegation did not even try to meet any opposition leaders, nor did the issue of human rights figure prominently in its discussions in Tehran. Instead, the delegation focused on talk regarding the upcoming nuclear deal and the promise of trade in the future.

 

Meanwhile, EU MP’s denounce regime

deprez755Meanwhile a group of 220 MP’s have signed a petition to “end the executions, free political prisoners, stop the repression of women and respect the rights and freedoms of the Iranian people” while expressing “our solidarity with the ten-point plan of the Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi, which calls for a democratic pluralistic republic based on universal suffrage, freedom of expression, abolition of torture and death penalty, separation of church and state, a non-nuclear Iran, an independent judicial system, rights for minorities, peaceful coexistence in the region, gender equality and commitment to Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. The petition was not only focused on human rights: It accused Iran as being “at the heart of the crisis in this region and not part of the solution. If fundamentalism and extremism is to be uprooted in this region, Iran’s destructive influence and interference should end.”

The reaction from Iran was, as usual, dismissive: The foreign office criticized the EP for meddling in Iranian politics and went as far as to say that such a petition never existed which sparked reaffirmations from MEP’s as to the validity of the petition.

 

Although the EP seems set on trying to help create an environment of rapprochement with Iran, it remains impotent since it did not yet decide what are its red lines as to the changes required by Iran’s regime to do so. Without these red lines, there is a lot of talk but nobody is ready to walk the talk. The EP has to decide what is more important: to open trade doors with Iran or to pressure the regime into improving human rights. Only then, can a European delegation reach visible political solutions.

 

Art and Death in Tehran

art and death

Tehran’s attitude to political cartoons is downright schizophrenic: the regime offers artists who want to draw cartoons that are favorable to the regime not only freedom but money/prizes ($12,000 for first prize in the holocaust contest), enlisting, in fact, the talents of these artists into their propaganda machine.

On the other hand, the regime offers prison and/or death for those who dare to draw cartoons that are critical of the regime.

 

Tehran promotes artistic freedom

iran_cartoonIran Cartoon is a website of political cartoons from around the world. The site is sponsored by the municipality of Tehran and “works for the recognition, upgrading and propagation of cartoon and caricature in Iran and World, so as to encourage and support Iranian and Foreign cartoonists and fans and introduce their works both in Iran and the world“.  It’s worth visiting since the administrators of the site are very thorough in gathering political cartoons on many subjects but don’t expect to find any cartoon that criticizes Iran or Islam in any way.

The sites holds contests regularly and the themes mirror the propaganda of the regime:

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International Yemen Cartoon & Caricature Contest 2015: Theme – “1/ Silence Of Media And International Associations, 2/ Genocide And Killing Baby In Yemen, 3/ Treason And Accompany Of Arab League” – Anti-Saudi Arabia, Anti-Arab League.

 

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The Second International Holocaust Cartoon Contest – 2015: Theme – “We Don’t deny Holocaust, We are not Antisemite, But we have 3 important questions about Holocaust: 1-If West doesn’t know any limit for freedom of expression, why they don’t permit the researchers and historians to consider Holocaust? 2-Why should Palestinian oppressed people compensate Holocaust. The people that didn’t have any role in world war II? 3- We are worried about another Holocausts such as Atomic Holocaust( Holocaust in Iraq, Syria and Gaza)”. Anti-UN, Anti-US, Anti-Israel.

D-Logo---FINAL-1-560x0International Daesh Cartoon & Caricature Contest 2015: Theme: “While the arrogant government with their unwavering support could bring such savaged group to the Islamic world to kill and murder many innocent Muslims and on the other hand in order to deceive world opinion chants the slogan against this group of mercenaries, any kind of help is worthy to uncover them.  And in every possible way reveal the evil face of their supporters (Western- Hebrew-Arabs).” Anti-DAESH, Anti-US, Anti-Israel.

Many artists apply to these contests and by doing so, help promote the regime’s agenda. Whether one agrees with the agenda or not, the pieces of art are sometimes piercing and always thought provoking and, as such, are worthy of the title “art”.

 

Tehran jails artists

Free Atena FarghadaniAthena Farghadani is an Iranian artist and she has been sent to 12 years and nine months in jail for caricaturing the members of the Iranian parliament as animals. Through her art, she was criticizing the Iranian parliament’s vote to restrict birth control (as part of Khamenei’s plan to increase birth rates).

Obviously, the regime didn’t find any of this funny and within days of posting her art on facebook, she was brought in for “questioning” in January 2015 and was subsequently tried and convicted for “propaganda against the regime, insult to representatives of the parliament by means of cartoons and insult to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the three branches of government during the course of interrogation“… 12 years and nine months for a cartoon.

She probably made matters worse for herself when she bravely wrote an open letter to none other than Khamenei himself who, in her words “for 25-some-odd years has not only preserved and protected his own position, but who also sits as the head of all three branches of government…who these past years has been both a judge and a lawmaker, both a president of the country and head of a non-representative parliament of Iran”.

The letter is a plea for freedom in general: “What you call an “insult to representatives of the parliament by means of cartoons” I consider to be an artistic expression of the home of our nation (parliament), which our nation does not deserve!” And what you refer to as an “insult to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the three branches of government during the course of interrogation” I consider to be a firm response to the arrogance of your armed forces about the so-called “security” and “power” that causes them to “entrap” provocateurs like me.”

Athena’s crime was to believe that the vote that Rouhani got from the Iranian people meant giving Rouhani’s promises a chance. Rouhani promised more human rights, more equality, more freedom of expression. To be honest, Rouhani continues to promise but either his hands are tied or he is paying lip-service to the people in the West he wants to influence into signing a treaty which will lift all the sanctions.

 

Tehran supports killing artists

charlie 1And of course, one should never forget the murders of the artists at Charlie Hebdo whose crime was to caricaturize the prophet Muhammad. Although Tehran was not directly involved in the shooting, the leaders in Tehran did not hide their support of the act itself:

Instead of “Je Suis Charlie” (I am Charlie), the overwhelming response in Tehran was “J’Accuse Charlie” (I accuse Charlie), turning the victims into the criminals.

 

The freedom that artists have in portraying their beliefs and thoughts are limited to whether they are supportive of the regime or critical of it. Any art that is critical of the regime or of Islam is liable to lead its maker to jail or to the grave. And yet, Tehran promotes cartoon contests under the guise of artistic freedom.

 

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Iranian Involvement in Syria Escalates Alarmingly

15000 troops

Assad’s war against the Syrian rebels is going from bad to worse: A series of critical losses against the rebels and dwindling coffers have weakened Assad to a point where some believe that his days as ruler in Damascus are numbered.

so he naturally called on his closest ally, for help and 15,000 Iranian troops are on their way to Syria with another 35,000 to be deployed in the very near future.

Iran’s increasing involvement in Assad’s civil war should light some serious warning signs and the main question remains what exactly will Tehran expect in return.

 

Up until now…

31iht-ednisman31-articleLargeFor a while, Tehran was content to support Assad politically and financially while downplaying its military aid in the civil war raging in Syria. It seemed, outwardly, satisfied to let its Hezbollah militia to spearhead the fight against the Syrian rebels while supporting the militia with IRGC “advisers” and “Afghan volunteers“. Although there were rumors that some of the casualties were Iranian troops, Tehran stuck to denials: Tehran supported Assad but Iranian troops were not involved in the battles and Assad himself joined in these denials.

At the same time, Iranian leaders such as Zarif and Larijani continued to warn foreign powers to stay away from the Syrian conflict and to let the Syrians deal with the civil war by themselves. Whenever talks of foreign involvement by the West or the UN arose, these same leaders would cry “foul” and call these efforts “meddling” while accusing “the West” of being responsible for the civil war in Syria, the birth of ISIS, the rise in extremism etc…

 

From bad to worse

Qassem Suleimani with a group of peshmerga fighters in KurdistanLast week, Hezbollah requested Iran “send 50,000 soldiers from the infantry force to Syria to manage the war there and prevent the fall of the Assad regime, which has begun to collapse recently”. Qods leader Suleimani wasn’t far behind and announced that “the world will be surprised by what we and the Syrian military leadership are preparing for the coming days” and sure enough, word has leaked out that 15,000 Iranian troops are on their way to Syria.

What is not surprising is that numerous Iranian officials, including Rouhani, Zarif and Larijani reiterated over the past few days support for Assad. Rouhani ominously vowed to support Syria “until the end of the road” adding that Tehran has “not forgotten its moral obligations to Syria and will continue to provide help and support on its own terms to the government and nation of Syria“.

 

Many questions arise

Iran-and-Syria-flags-combinedThis latest move by Iran raises three key questions:

  • Is Iran’s involvement in Assad’s civil war legitimate? Iran and Syria signed a military agreement endowing both sides to aid each other in case of war. But in this case, Syria is not fighting a war against another country. Tehran argues that the rebels are supported by foreign powers, namely Saudi Arabia, which gives it the right to aid its ally. This is a classic case of the “chicken and the egg” since the Saudis stated that their support of the rebels is in response to Iran’s support of Assad (echoes the situation in Yemen in which the Saudis are bombing the Houthi rebels who managed to overthrow the Yemeni government with the aid of Tehran).
  • Does this involvement reflect the will of the Iranian people? Tehran’s decision to finance a civil war in Syria (estimated at $10 billion) comes at a time when the Iranian economy is still weak. Zarif said that “the government of Iran follows the people not the other way around” but does the Iranian people support such an escalation of Iran’s involvement in Syria? Are the Iranian people ready to kill and fight for Assad? Nobody knows because nobody asked the people.
  • What does Iran expect in return from Assad? Trade, an obvious reason, can not be a reasonable option since Syria’s economy is shaterred. Some might argue that Tehran’s increased involvement reflects its fears of ISIS and other militia hostile towards Iran and or Shiites. Others believe that Syria is destined to be part of Iran’s aspirations for an empire that will include Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen for now.

Whatever the case may be, Tehran’s increased support in Syria will not be overlooked by the regional powers nor the UN. If Assad is destined to fall in his civil war, Iran’s intrusion can only escalate the involvement of other regional powers in the area, namely Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Zarif’s Utopia: the People Lead the Regime

zarif liar 2Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif’s latest interview with Charlie Rose will be remembered mostly for Zarif’s ludicrous statement that “Iran doesn’t jail people for their opinion“, a blatant lie which denies the existence of all the activists and political prisoners who have suffered or are still suffering in Iranian prisons.

But within this same interview is another blatant lie which is far more encompassing: At one point, Zarif alluded to the fact that the hatred for the US (“the Great Satan”) is based on the general feelings of the Iranian people and not on the feelings of the leaders of the regime in Tehran (specifically Khamenei). He also alluded to the fact that the increase in centrifuges from 2,000 to 20,000 wasn’t fuelled by Khamenei/Ahmadinejad but by the feeling of oppression by the Iranian people from the sanctions. And finally, that Khamenei has “always” supported the choices of the Iranian people. Zarif summed this thought up by stating that “the government of Iran follows the people, not the other way around”.

Once again, the slick Zarif has managed to lie, with a straight face, while trying to make us believe that the regime in Tehran is actually following the path of Lincoln’s famous “government of the people, by the people and for the people” at Gettysburg.

But the spirit of Lincoln is as far from Tehran as is the prophet Muhammad’s spirit from the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris.

 

So, what does this make Khamenei?

amiri20130417141414517_0Zarif seems to conveniently forget that Iran is led by a religious theocracy that overrules its democratically elected government. Khamenei is called the Supreme Leader because he has the supreme powers, for life, to steer his regime in whichever direction he seems fit. The “will of the Iranian people” may have some influence, but denying Khamenei his own hate and distrust towards the US is preposterous.

  • Were this true, Khamenei would listen to the millions of women in Iran who find the Hijab laws oppressive and allow women the freedom to choose between wearing a hijab or not.
  • Were this true, Khamenei would put a stop to the imprisonment, torture and executions of political, human rights and religious activists whose only crime was to voice opinions which criticized the regime.
  • Were this true, Khamenei would allow the Iranian people, through its politicians, journalists and artists to enjoy the freedom of speech without fear of being thrown in jail or worse.
  • Were this true, Khamenei would not place the rule of Islam above the beliefs, wishes and aspirations of the Iranian people, allowing the Iranian people the choice to live by the laws of Islam or not.
  • Were this true, Khamenei would reduce the power of the mullahs in the “assembly of experts” who will be choosing the next Supreme Leader after his death, and increase the power of Iran’s democratically elected parliament.

No, the regime doesn’t follow the people but instead the Iranian people are forced to follow one man and one man only: Supreme Leader Khamenei.

 

So, what is the will of the Iranian people?

Iran-Election-3-620x350Apart from the democratic processes that are evident in Iran through general elections (candidates for government and parliament are pre-screened and selected), the will of the people can paradoxically be identified by what the regime is trying to oppress or suppress.

The will of the Iranian people can be found in the leaders that they chose and judging from Rouhani’s promises on the election trail, they are far from the will of the regime/Khamenei: he promised a rapprochement to the West (Khamenei’s hate for the US is well documented), he promised easing problems of human rights (Khamenei is striving to keep the status quo) and he promised eradicating corruption (Khamenei’s ties to the IRGC make him the head of corruption).

 

“Of the people, by the people and for the people”, Mr. Zarif? No – “Of the mullahs, by Khamenei and for his supporters” is much more reflective of the situation in Iran.

 

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