Rouhani on Freedom of Speech and Islamic Extremism

rouhani freedom islamAs we noted in our earlier posts, most Iranian leaders reacted to the Charlie Hebdo massacre accordingly: Yes, the massacre is reprehensible BUT the victims deserved it for having insulted Muslims.

Rouhani is different in that he not only understands the sensitivities of Muslims, he is acutely aware of the sensitivities of Westerners whom he feels he needs in order to allow Iran to develop and prosper.



Rouhani on Charlie

charlie 6Rouhani condemned the massacre accusing the terrorists of increasing Islamophobia with their deeds. His condemnation was tempered slightly by the content of Charlie: “A magazine which is used as a weapon of prejudice is always full of bullets of insult and certain people sow the seeds of hatred and others harvest vengeance under the name of religion but with the sickle of massacre.” Hatred in the name of religion is fuelled by hatred in the name of freedom of speech.

He went to great lengths to separate the sensitivities of Muslims who felt insulted by the satire of Charlie Hebdo from the sensitivities of Westerners who were horrified from the reactions of Muslim extremists to the freedom of speech.

A good way to understand Rouhani’s mindset on the sensitivities of this issue is to read and listen to his own words his reactions to similar issues in the past.



Rouhani on Rushdie

rushdieRouhani clearly understands that the sensitivities of Muslim regarding criticism of Islam is equaled to the sensitivities of Westerners regarding criticism of freedom of speech.

In order to understand his mindset on this issue, one should listen to Rouhani’s take on the fatwa against Salman Rushdie and the furor it created in the West: “It’s not a matter of the civil rights of a Western citizen…it is a cultural war…according to their point of view, the problem is that a sentence has been issued for an individual who is a citizen of another country…Our response is that the fatwa is a religious decree…we as a government have not issued an order to assassinate this person, so it cannot be said that we have broken international laws, but we say this is the duty of Muslims. And this duty is determined by God.

In short, he understands why the fatwa is so abhorrent to Westerners but he also understands why the fatwa had to be issued and respected.




Rouhani on “Freedom”

freedom iran 2For Rouhani, freedom has to be tempered and controlled in order to not turn into anarchy: “People (in Iran) are completely free to express their thoughts. Of course, there are laws and rules in every country. There is a court, and if anyone disobeys the law, then it is the law that deals with that person…if we don’t abide by the law, it would be a shambles. We have to distinguish between freedom and shambles“.

That is why issuing a death sentence to Iranian blogger Soheil Arabi for (re)posting a criticism of the Prophet is legitimate. According to Rouhani,  Arabi transgressed the law knowingly and therefore should be held accountable as a criminal because freedom, he believes, must be limited and controlled: “Danger is when, God forbid, there is a group that considers itself equal to Islam, a group that considers itself equal to the Revolution, a group that considers itself equal to the guardianship of the Supreme Jurisconsult and introduces [another] group against religion, against Revolution, against the guardianship of the Supreme Jurisconsult. All problems originate from this point.”

Once again, Rouhani seems to understand the upside of freedom but he warns that too much freedom leads to the unraveling of the fabrics of society in general and Islamic society in particular.



Rouhani on the future of Iran

iranRouhani first and foremost has a clear understanding of the power of diplomacy: Diplomacy, is the art of understanding a region…estimating its strength and position, and finding opportunities critical to exploit.” But more importantly, Rouhani has a vision for the future of Iran: “In 20 years, our dominant discourse should be “progress and development” – if the dominant discourse is security, then the economy, and science and technology, cannot be the first priorities“.

This form of development is dependent on foreign investment which shies away from Tehran’s traditional focus on security and arrogant attitude of self-sufficiency: “Our difficulty with foreign investment is that the world sees our country as a security risk. We have paid a very high price economically.” In his mind, the future of Iran is dependent on de-isolation and foreign investment and not on self-sufficiency as Khamenei arrogantly tries to portray.

But Rouhani is also a devout Muslim who believes in Iran’s role in leading Islam: “The leader of the Islamic movement is Islamic Iran…the Imam’s (Khomeini) line, path, and thought rules over the hearts of all free Muslims and movements. The eminent leader of the Revolution, his eminence Ayatullah Khamenei…is the leader of the world of Islam today. His message, his words, his cries, his line, his path is the guiding direction for Islamic movements.” Iran’s future is not only in development but in leading Islam globally.

In a way, Rouhani symbolizes the crux of the problems that Iran is going through: his head is facing toward the West but his heart is in Islamic rule.


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Charlie vs. Muhammad

charlie 5

The case of the Charlie Hebdo massacre epitomizes a “clash of civilizations”: on the one hand, Democracy/Freedom/West and on the other, Extremism/Terror/Islam. As the Charlie Hebdo massacre recedes quickly into yesterday’s news, the questions surrounding the rights and freedoms of Europeans and Muslims are echoing louder.

The main question remains: “Should the freedom of speech in a Western country be stifled  because of the perceived religious feelings of others?

From a Western point of view, the answer is a resounding “Yes”, since the freedom of speech is the foundation of a democratic society as long as that freedom remains equally available to minority groups as the majority.

Muslim extremists have their own clear answer and it is an angry “No” for two reasons:

  • Because sometime in the very distant past, Islam forbade criticizing or satirizing the Prophet Muhammad, and those who do should be punished by death since they “corrupt the earth” with their words and acts.
  • Because in the present, the governing bodies of some Muslim countries are led by religious extremists who place the laws of Islam above the freedom of choice of their citizens, stifling any form of criticism or satire against the Prophet or Islam.

The conflict between cultures occurs once Islamist extremists try to enforce the laws of Muslim countries in the Western countries they live in – just like the Kouachi brothers.


Muslims Reaction to Charlie

Je-suis-mohammad-APAll over the Islamic world condemnation of the terrorist act was balanced between denouncing terrorism and blaming  the victims’ pens and imaginations as well as blaming their government’s policies in Syria and Iraq.

As outlined in our previous post, Rouhani might be leading his WAVE (War Against Violence and Extremism) initiative but that did not stop Iranian clerics and politicians siding with the terrorists on the Charlie Hebdo massacre. These same leaders easily condemn ISIS for the horrors they have committed in the name of Islam just across the border in Iraq and in Syria, but once the victims are Europeans, they cynically believe that terrorism might be justified.

Not only were the victims blamed but showing solidarity with them was forbidden: newspapers, journalists, bloggers and politicians were warned and those that did not heed the warnings, such as Iranian newspaper Mardom-e-Emrooz, were shut down. Muslims, the extremist Islamists argued, should not show solidarity with people who satirized the Prophet although some brave Muslims did just that.

Not surprisingly, the Islamist extremists were supported by none other than the Pope, who obviously feels that religion should be above criticism – perhaps he too longs for the days when the Vatican was an integral part of power and government.


Europeans React to Muslim Reactions

21396_600Were such a massacre to happen in Tehran, as it does daily in smaller doses, the French might tsk-tsk for a few seconds but they would continue to believe in the freedom of speech even if it is not universal. But the fear of Muslim extremism has everybody rethinking priorities and in so doing are handing Europe on a platter to a minority of Muslim citizens.

Over the past week, millions of Muslims all over the world (Iran, Chechnya, Somalia, Niger, Pakistan, Algeria, Gaza etc…) joined their leaders in blaming the victims and martyrizing the terrorists, while back in Europe, the millions of protesters identifying with Charlie “sobered” up to a future filled with Islamic extremists. The millions of people who protested with “Je Suis Charlie” signs are being replaced by people who are willing to trade basic freedoms for a removal of the threat from Islamist extremists: In a recent poll, 42% of the French felt that the press should not run any content that may offend overly sensitive Muslims.

Those same 42% might not be able to see far enough into a future in which Shaariah laws can take precedence over French laws. In much the same manner, Muslim extremists can “legitimately” demand that French women wear hijabs and that offices, stadiums and coffee shops become sex-segregated.


The Lines are Being Re-Drawn

Islam_EarthquakeThe Charlie Hebdo massacre has woken the silent European majority out of its sleep for a few moments only to place their heads in the sand. Unfortunately for them, extremists from all sides don’t want to remain silent: Muslim extremists know that they have the European majority on the run and nationalist fascists are horrified to see their worst nightmares come true and their national identities dissolved in a myriad of religious sensitivities.

And from afar, Khamenei is hoping that the time for a long-awaited global Islamic Awakening, with Tehran at its front, has arrived. Leaders like Khamenei believe that democracy is overrated and that a religious leader should set the tone. Yes, there are so-called democratic elections in Iran for the presidency but the Supreme Leader is elected for life and his word is…Supreme.

For years, the Western democracies have preached for acceptance for their minority citizens simply because that is the basis of democracy. But when the minority becomes a threat to the principles and physical being, will they continue in the same way? Whether the answer is yes or no, democracy as we know it will cease to exist.


Related post: tehran-je-suis-charlie-but


Tehran: Je Suis Charlie, But…

charlie 3

Much like 9/11, the Charlie Hebdo massacre is a wake-up call to understand that Islamic terror is not bound geographically to the Middle East. It isn’t just about a bunch of crazy trigger-happy individuals sating their blood lust somewhere in a desert – it’s about the power that  a few righteous Muslims with guns have on the Western world.

The fact that their target was a satirical magazine which lampooned Mohamed (just as it lampooned any figure of religious, political or celebrity authority) is a clear message to the West that much like in the countries they originated from, criticism of Islam is unacceptable. They didn’t just kill 12 French nationals, they brought the rigid ideals of Islamic rule to Paris and the world.


The Terrorist are the Tip of the Iceberg

Cherif Kouachi and Said KouachiOf course, most Muslims, as are most Christians, Jews, Buddhists etc… are against terrorism.

But make no mistake, the terrorists firing the guns were supported by a group of people who supplied them with guns who were in turn supported in their views by a much larger group who took satires against the Prophet to heart.

They were legitimized by previous attacks by Muslims on any individual, group or country in the name of Islam from the fatwa against Salman Rushdie to 9/11. The terrorists and their supporters may be legally viewed as European nationals living in Europe but deep down, they would like Paris to be a bit (or a lot) more like Tehran.


Islamic Reaction to the Terrorism

charlie-hebdo-cover-1Overall, most Islamic leaders condemned the massacre as well they should. Terrorism is a double-edged sword on the loose that can easily turn on its supporters. Islamic terrorism feeds the flames of Islamophobia and brings the world closer to a monumental clash between Western ideals and Islamic ideals.

In the process, the voice of moderate Muslims who want to live in peace and harmony with their fellow human beings who don’t share their religion is extinguished. These moderates understand that the sword of Islamic terror will one day turn on them and that terrorism in the name of Islam is a threat to Muslims all over the world.

The overwhelming  identification of Muslims with the victims (Je Suis Charlie) is a beacon of light in the darkness of Islamic extremism and brings hope that we might all be able to get along in the future.


Tehran Condemns Terrorism, BUT…

wolf2Since he communicated his WAVE (World Against Violence and Extremism) initiative in his speech at the UN assembly in 2013, president Rouhani has led an Iranian stand against terrorism. He was joined by other Iranian leaders who spoke out against terrorism repeatedly and with increasing volume as ISIS’s rampage brutally tore through Iraq.

Yes, they condemn terrorism BUT they blame others (the “West”) and dismiss/deny/”forget” their own responsibility for the rise of terror. In rhetoric, the word “BUT” is acknowledged as “the great eraser” which negates whatever was written or said before it.

In this case, Iranian leaders condemnation of terror is severely weakened by their accusations and their denials. In much the same manner, Iranian leaders have condemned the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo, BUT…


Islam vs. Democracy

shariah 2Iranian leaders in Islamic regimes may pay lip service to democracy by holding elections but it is clearly understood by all the regime members that Islam precedes democracy and all its freedoms. Human rights chief Larijani denounces the UN’s attempt of forcing on Iran a  universal definition of human rights as “a new kind of terrorism” believing that human rights in Iran should be subject to Islamic laws and right now, those definitions are definitely against freedom of speech and any criticism of Islam or the regime.

So while local and international journalists’ voices are being shut by censors and jailors in Iran, Tehran banned Iranian journalists from expressing their solidarity with their fellow journalists in France.

At democracy’s foundation is the right for minorities to express themselves and to obtain equal rights as the majority. But democracy is in danger of imploding once minorities are organized to overthrow the system from within by legally changing the identity of a country. Europe is stuck between a rock and a hard place: If European countries accept Islamization in any of its forms – negating freedom of speech, sha’ariah laws etc… – they will lose what is left of their national identities. And if they don’t, they will have to resort to fascism in order to prevent the Islamic minority from achieving its rights.

Or perhaps, by some miracle, Islamic extremism will fizzle out and a French Muslim will prioritize himself as a French citizen first and a Muslim believer second…not the other way around.



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Rouhani Under Fire…Again.

rouhani fire 2

Managing your finances can be tough sometime, but no matter if you’re a 22 year old kid or a wealthy businessman, one rule of thumb always applies: set a logical ladder of priorities.

Under Fire Economically

oil-price-fall1Simple, isn’t it? Apparently not always: Iran is struggling for years now with crippling economic sanctions, and now its list of problems is topped by dropping oil prices (this problem is so dire, that Iran’s parliament speaker has even spoken about the country’s intention of creating an “oil free economy”).

Iran is also ever increasing its security budget (a 50% hike for the upcoming year), and it is safe to say that the nuclear program is not a money making or money saving project.

Under Fire Politically

hardlinersBut there is a bigger battle here for President Rouhani: He is fighting for home. The struggle between him and the hardliners, who are trying to assert control over the Islamic Republic, is heating up:  Rouhani recently made it clear that he would confront the hardliners in his efforts to clinch a deal in which Iran would agree never to produce a nuclear weapon in return for the lifting of crippling international sanctions.

This will seem to the hardliners as a surrender. And the economy has given the president’s opponents even more ammunition against him – so much so that last week he resorted to what seems to be the ultimate threat in Iran – he said that he would put important issues for a vote in a referendum (Only in a country such as Iran, a popular vote is considered such a threat to the ruling classes).

Nobody really knows what Rouhani wanted to ask his people in the referendum nor does anyone apart from Khamenei know what are the chances of a referendum to actually take place but by speaking of a referendum, Rouhani is reminding hardliners (including Khamenei) that he received the people’s vote for change.


Under Fire Personally

rujbhThe attacks against Rouhani are increasing: Basij commander Naqdi denounced Rouhani as a “fake revolutionary…who joined the ranks of revolutionaries to acquire leadership and riches“.

This battle for control and power has been waged since Rouhani’s election, and the supreme leader Khamenei, as we wrote before, is not helping Rouhani’s cause. But now, as deadlines are getting closer and closer, the fight reaches culmination, and its results will affect not only Iran, but also the region and quite possibly the rest of the world.


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Khamenei, #IranianLivesMatter

iranianlivesmatterKhamenei’s has developed a keen interest in the welfare of African Americans and Native Americans:  in a series of tweets, he rants on the evils of slavery, on the plight of Native Americans and African Americans, on the “arrogance” of the West, on colonialism etc…together with hashtags such as #BlackLivesMatter, #Ferguson, #NativeAmericanLivesMatter &  #WoundedKneeMassacre.

But Khamenei is not content to just criticize the West’s historical problems: besides his usual praises of Islam and the Prophet, he “found it in his heart” to praise the teachings of Jesus and Mary in order to emphasize the “cruelty” of the US in respect to the teachings of Christianity.

Glaringly and cynically absent, of course, were tweets concerning the welfare of the oppressed in Iran.


khamenei tweetsPerhaps, Khamenei simply chose to believe his Judicial Chief, Sadeq Larijani, and Human Rights Chief, Javad Larijani, who state that there are no problems of human rights in Iran. Their denials are at their worst since they deny the horrible experiences and lives of the hundreds of thousands of victims of repression in Iran. These are the same Larijanis who continue to treat any criticism and reports by governments and NGO’s on the horrid state of human rights in Iran as being politicized attacks by the West.

Or perhaps,  Khamenei is so detached from his own people that he seems to care more about the fate of victims of racism in the US than the fate of oppressed  women, religious minorities, gays, opposition leaders, bloggers, journalists etc… in the Islamic State of Iran.

Or most probably, Khamenei is guilty of abusing the problems of human rights in the US as a political weapon to stir up hatred against the US by American minorities and by countries  critical of the US in general.

#MillionShadesOf Racism

shadesThere is racism in the US just as there is racism and discrimination all over the world without exception. Races, religions and sexes are simply brands with sets of beliefs and expectations that disregard the actual human beings within these brands. A brand is a short-cut for people to decide how to act and react to a certain brand without investigating each time. Each reader will have pre-conceived ideas about Muslims, Negroes, Italians, gays, women etc…that may have nothing to do with the people they are assigning these brands to.

A great example of this can be found in Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink”: Gladwell, whose mother is black, takes a test on racism and finds out that he himself is racist in regards to blacks.

All of this doesn’t justify racism in any manner: it just puts racism into a “million shades of grey” perspective instead of just “black-white”. Nor does it mean that all incidents of racism are similar to each other.



Any act of racism should be viewed according to the following criteria:

  • Personal vs. Institutional Racism: It’s impossible to magically erase any thoughts/feelings of racism in every person in the world. It isn’t impossible to eradicate institutionalized racism through laws and constitutions. There is a huge difference between a racist police man (judge, politician…) and a racist police force (court, government…). Both are reprehensible but the latter is much worse.
  • Empowered vs. Defenseless Victims: Victims of racism should be able to fight back at their oppressors. Ideally, they should be able to freely communicate their plight through the media, to legally protest their cause and to take their oppressors to court. These are legalized freedoms that may not negate the actual acts of racism but they empower the victims to fight back for their rights. The freedom of the press, protests and litigation to fight back at racism may not negate the actual act of racism but each successful fight discourages racism in the future.
  • Improving vs. Worsening Trend: Each act of racism should be judged by its place on the scale of the trend in a specific environment to find out if it is representative of a growing norm in the future or a stubborn survivor of the past. Although the victim might not care about trends, they represent an important context to understand the specific act.

It’s time…

stop wasting time

  • for the regime in Tehran to admit to its inherent problems of human rights and to plan how to deal with racism in the future.
  • for Khamenei to listen to the plight of his own people instead of trying to highlight the plight of other nationals.

for the West to hold Iran accountable for its horrid state of human rights instead of believing populistic drivel meant to divert attention

Tehran’s Choice: Live in House Arrest or Die in Court

choiceIn 2009, Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi campaigned against President Ahmadinejad as reformists.  The election ended with Ahmadinejad winning the presidency again and accusations of vote rigging by Ahmadinejad’s friend and Minister of Interior Sadegh Mahsouli. The results were upheld by Iran’s Guardian Council and within days, a nationwide protest was born and later “killed” in a severe crackdown by Supreme Leader Khamenei.

The two continued to campaign for reform but two years later, following their support of the Arab Spring, both were put under house arrest without a trial. Under house arrest, they have less rights and healthcare than even ordinary prisoners and have no access to news, telephone or internet. They are isolated even from their loved ones and have left their homes only for medical treatment.

To Trial or Not To Trial

questionThey remain accused unofficially of sedition, “corrupting the earth” and an “unforgivable sin”. These accusations might not sound like much to a Western court but the punishment for these crimes in Iran is death. That’s why a lot of hardliners, including Khamenei himself, believe that the house arrests without a trial is an act of kindness and were Khomeini alive, they would both be dead. The crucial issue is that officially, they have not been accused officially of any crime since they are not to be tried in court.

Although it is widely believed that Mousavi and Karroubi are under arrest because of their accusations of rigged elections, some insiders point to their “seditious” behavior during the Arab Spring of 2011.

Judiciary Chief Sadeq Larijani makes no excuses and claims that not only are the house arrests 100% legal, the crimes of Mousavi and Karroubi “the 2009 Sedition was a move against national interests and 100% against our national security“. Larijani has no qualms about putting the two on trial. In fact he believes that there is enough evidence to find both guilty but they cannot be tried because of a mysterious “decree of national security”. And yet, in true Iranian style, his deputy, Mohseni Ejei announced that “if conditions permit”, both would stand trial.

Devil’s Choice

rock hard placeKhamenei seems personally piqued by the fact that both have not “apologized” but insiders believe that even if an apology was issued, “their repentance would not be accepted”. The main issue they are expected to repent on remains their questioning of the election results, an issue which hurt Iran inn Khamenei’s eyes.

Calls to release Mousavi and Karroubi have echoed around the world since then. Even Rouhani called for their release during his election campaign but nothing is simple in Iran: it seems that releasing the two or putting them on trial is not under the jurisdiction of Rouhani. Once again, only Khamenei can make a definitive move here.

Now, calls for a fair and open trial are being heard from moderates and hardliners alike and their trial could turn into a real test for Khamenei, Rouhani and Iran. But more so, it is a test for Mousavi and Karroubi who have to choose between losing their freedom or losing their lives: either they continue to accept their house arrest and live or they go to trial and most probably face the gallows.