Khamenei, Soft Wars Save Lives


Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is justifiably paranoid about the effects of a “soft war” on Iran. His definition of a “soft war” is based on the level of change instigated by “foreign influences” on the state of Iran, its national ideals and the minds of its population without any military activity. “Foreign influence”, can take on many faces but it can be easily classified into two categories: “Western” business and “Western” culture although in many cases, Western business and Western culture are interchangeable due to the Western focus on capitalism.

Without judging whether a “soft war” on Iran is good or bad or whether Western business and culture are good or bad, since this depends on your perspective, Khamenei is right. A “soft war” which uses money and culture instead of missiles and soldiers can be very effective in destroying, or at least weakening, the regime in Tehran.

On the other hand, such a “war” could save thousands or even millions of lives if the alternative to such a “soft war” is a “hard war”, a war determined by military might. In a world of growing nationalism and fundamentalism (see Donald Trump, Brexit, Vladimir Putin etc..), a “soft war” may be the only logical and humane alternative.

 

Khamenei’s views on the “soft war”

Here are a few quotes by Khamenei on the “soft war”:

  • Speech at Assembly of Experts, May 26th, 2016: “Our officials and all parts of the establishment should be vigilant about the West’s continued soft war against Iran…the enemies want to weaken the system from inside…By impairing centres of powers in Iran, it will be easy to harm the establishment from inside…The only way to materialise the (1979 Islamic) revolution’s goals is national unity and not to obey the enemy…Iran’s enemies try to influence decision-making centres, alter Iranian officials’ positions and change people’s beliefs…We should be strong and empowered”.
  • Speech at the Islamic Student Association, April 19th, 2016: “Right now with the issue of the youth, there is a comprehensive soft war between the Islamic Republic of Iran on one side and America and Zionists and their followers on the other side…Westerners, especially America, want the Iranian youth to be without faith, cowardly, unmotivated, inactive, hopeless, optimistic toward the enemy and pessimistic toward their own commanders”.
  • Speech at Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, October 12th, 2015: “The main goal of this well-thought-out and calculated war is to transmute the Islamic Republic of Iran, and change its essence and nature while maintaining its appearance…They (the enemy) seek to influence the people and a wide range of their beliefs, especially [those of] the youth and elite…Our people have some beliefs about the former corrupt and authoritarian regimes, and in the soft war efforts are made to depict this ugly, wicked and black past as a brilliant and beautiful one…(we must ensure that) “the young generation is brought up revolutionary”.
  • Speech at Mashhad, March 2014: “Culture is like air, and if this air is poisonous it becomes dangerous for people…Therefore the focus of the enemies on culture is more than in other areas. Why? Because of this big impact that culture has. The target of the enemy’s actions in the field of culture is made up of the faith and beliefs of people…Cultural officials must be aware of cultural infiltration; cultural infiltrations are very dangerous…We do not want to say that all cultural damages are the work of foreigners; no, we are also responsible; different officials, cultural officials, non-cultural officials, insufficient and wrong efforts have had an impact…We cannot forget the presence of the enemy in the cultural field. Today and from the early days of the revolution, propaganda machineries [of the West] made all their efforts in order to make people lose faith in the foundations of this revolution…Freedom – which is a great blessing from God – is itself possessing of rule; without rule, freedom has no meaning…That we see some using arts, using expression, using different tools, using money, make people stray from the path, attack people’s faith, infiltrate people’s Islamic and revolutionary culture, and for us to sit and watch and say “this is freedom”, this kind of freedom exists nowhere in the world”.

OK, you got the gist by now – feel free to Google “Khamenei soft war” to get more insights on Khamenei’s perspective of the “soft war”.

 

Khamenei’s fears increase post-JCPoA
no cokeFor years, Khamenei didn’t have to worry about any “soft wars” since Iran was “protected” from foreign influences  from the world, not only because Khamenei wanted it that way but, because of the myriad of sanctions Iran was under. But the signing of the JCPoA, the lifting of sanctions and the rush to attract foreign investors into the ailing Iranian economy have opened doors through which the “soft war” can enter into the minds and hearts of the Iranian people.

For a man like Khamenei who remains a “revolutionary” at heart and who strives to maintain the status quo established in the Islamic Revolution in 1979, a revolution against the Western/Capitalist/Colonial/Imperialist/Oppressive forces, Western business/culture is the enemy since it can lead to grass-root changes. From his point of view, he is absolutely right. Were Iranians open to Western business and culture, many might choose to adopt ideals and ways of living which would weaken the power of the regime, its laws and its ideals and, once enough people decide to buy into an alternative to the current regime, a counter-revolution could occur which might undo some or all of the changes which followed the Islamic Revolution on which the regime is based on.

Khamenei’s answer to these foreign influences is to isolate Iranians through a “Resistance Economy” in order to minimize the effects of foreign businesses on the Iranian economy and people and “Revolutionary Islamist” ideals which are meant to minimize the effects of Western culture on the Iranian population.

The “Resistance Economy” is actually quite simple to maintain since it is achieved by simply banning foreign investments, just as Khamenei banned 227 American brands/products, by making the process of investing in Iran a bit more difficult or by taxing imports. Sure, some Iranian business people will feel that they are missing opportunities and many Iranian consumers might feel that they are missing out on owning some products. Such feelings might lead to a thriving black market or local versions of banned products/brands but they usually do not fuel counter revolutions unless they lead to a failing economy.

Maintaining the “Revolutionist Islamist” ideals is trickier to do since it requires the constant oppression of any thought or act which may question these ideals. Here too, a “black market” has already developed through which Iranians tap into Western culture through satellite dishes and the internet. In the process, human rights are trampled on as the freedom to question or criticize the regime and its ideals are stifled. Any Iranian who thinks of or offers an alternative to the Revolutionary Islamist ideals is immediately identified as an enemy of the state for fear that such thoughts might spread and weaken the regime’s base of power. In both cases, walls must be built and guarded.

In both cases, Khamenei uses basic fears and hates in order to motivate the regime to maintain the status quo, thus maintaining the base of power.

 

Building walls instead of trust
“Soft wars”, just like “hard wars”, are based on solidifying and amplifying the differences between “us” and “them”, “us” being the good/true/just  and “them” being the bad/lie/unjust. And just like “hard wars”, the first way to combat “soft wars” is to build walls which separates “us” from “them”. These walls can be physical, legal, bureaucratic or ideological and the higher they are, the higher the persons building the walls feel safe regardless of the greater good of all the people behind the walls. To be fair, Khamenei isn’t the only one pandering this fear of “soft war”: men like Donald Trump and the British leaders of Brexit, to name two relevant examples, want to build walls.

The JCPoA can become a “wall-breaker” because once more Iranians adopt Western brands and Western ideals, the differences between “us” and “them” begin to fade. And it’s not only Khamenei who thinks so…US Secretary of State John Kerry is actually betting on this: “Doing business is one of the best ways to create interests and vested purpose, if you will, in furthering transformation“. It is this “transformation” that Khamenei fears and that drives him to erect higher walls.

But can Khamenei successfully block such a “transformation” over time? Obviously not since a) transformations will always seep through the financial and cultural “black markets” and b) Khamenei will not live forever and his successor may be open to change.

President Hassan Rouhani was elected on a ticket for change and although many of his promised changes remain unfulfilled (many will remain so), his calls for change have been heard by the regime leaders and the hardliners and they don’t like it. This is forcing Rouhani to adapt his calls for change to fit the “Resistance Economy” and the “Islamist Revolutionary” ideals. He, obviously, supports Khamenei’s “Resistance Economy” but points out that it is necessary to “import”, or develop through foreign businesses, expertise and “knowledge bases”.  Likewise, he, obviously, supports “Islamist Revolutionary” ideals, but unlike, Khamenei, Rouhani is a pragmatic politician who understands that a) his base of popularity is in the younger and more secular population, as well as women, which is not as “revolutionary” as the regime and b) problems with human rights will deter foreigners from investing in Iran.

 

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Iran Nuclear Threat Returns

As the financial benefits of the JCPoA continue to elude Iran due to sanctions unrelated to the nuclear issues (terrorism, human rights etc…), the nuclear issues are moving back to front stage. Tehran is threatening that it would “resume large-scale uranium enrichment” if the US doesn’t free up all sanctions against Iran even though all of the nuclear-related sanctions were lifted on time. In fact, the US has become one of Iran’s major lobby groups in the world, openly calling for world businesses to do business with Iran even if Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei banned over 227 US corporations from Iran.

To make matters worse, the reports from the IAEA since the implementation of the JCPoA are not helping to blow away the fears of a militarized nuclear program in Iran: the reports emanating from Iran are less detailed and murkier despite the promise for more “transparency” and allow for what President Barack Obama said in order to reassure the world: “this deal is not built on trust; it is built on verification”. The reports lack in-depth data and lingering questions are left unanswered such as the exact whereabouts of Iran’s stockpiles of Uranium.

Furthermore, the IAEA tested soil samples from Parchin, which were unprecedentedly taken from the site not by IAEA officials but by Iranian officials,   produced two different types of man-made Uranium giving reason to believe that tests on nuclear weapons were carried out there in the past. Parchin remains highly suspicious according to the IAEA satellite pictures show evidence of a massive clean-up, evidence that was backed up by the IAEA’s only visit to Parchin in 2015. Tehran, of course, denies any wrong-doings and refuses to allow further inspections of the base.

This refusal is an example of the growing differences between how the JCPoA was understood by the West at its signing and how it’s being interpreted in Iran today. Visits to “suspicious” sites, which was part of the JCPoA to allow IAEA officials “access where necessary, when necessary”, remains another point of contention since the IAEA has not reported on visits to any such sites.

But the problems do not begin nor end with the IAEA. The JCPoA included specified clauses which would forbid the testing of ballistic missiles “designed to be capable of” carrying a nuclear payload. The fact is that since the signing of the JCPoA, Iran has carried out three ballistic missile test that we know of. The US and the UN warned Iran that the missile tests were a breach of the JCPoA but these allegations were hotly contested by Iran’s FM Javad Zarif, the chief architect of the deal: the JCPoA, he says “doesn’t call upon Iran not to test ballistic missiles, or ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads … it calls upon Iran not to test ballistic missiles that were “designed” to be capable….that word (“designed”) took me about seven months to negotiate, so everybody knew what it meant“. This issue was weakened further by the weak wording in which the UN “calls upon” Iran to desist from testing missiles and not “prohibiting” the missile tests. US Secretary of State Johan Kerry tried to rectify the wording by asking Iran to rewrite this clause in the deal but he was brusquely rejected by Tehran’s defense minister who called it “nonsense”.

Other outstanding issues include the stockpiles of heavy water at the Arak plant which were meant to block the possibility of a “Plutonium path” to a nuclear bomb and more importantly, the estimates of Iran’s “break-out” time (to build a bomb) is still being disputed. The Obama administration sold the deal by claiming that it would extend the “break-out” time to one year but the estimates are now placed at only 7 months.

All of these issues point to a growing distrust on both sides on the validity of the JCPoA. This distrust is enhanced by none other than Khamenei himself: the issuer of the infamous “nuclear fatwa” and an ardent denier of Iran’s plans to militarize its nuclear program in the past, present or future, is so disenchanted with the nuclear deal that he continues to add fuel to the fire of fears. In a speech to the Assembly of Experts entitled “With Power, We Can Take From the Enemy (the US/West)“, he made it clear that Iran has mastered the potential to enrich Uranium to 20%, emphasizing that “if a country is able to bring itself to 20%, from there until the 90%-99% (level needed to build a nuclear bomb) is an easy task, there isn’t a long way (left to go). They (the world powers) know this. The Islamic Republic has progressed on this path”.

The fact that Khamenei places so much emphasis on the ideal of martyrdom makes any thoughts of a nuclear bomb in his hands a nightmare of global proportions.

The West, especially the US is now stuck between the proverbial “rock and a hard place”: If it reneges on the deal and slaps back sanctions, Khamenei will follow on his threat to “burn the deal” and will definitely increase the enrichment of Uranium which will pressure the West into deciding whether to wage war on Iran or wait until it builds a nuclear bomb…both options are scary since they can easily lead to World War 3.

The other alternative is to play into Khamenei’s raging paranoia of a “soft war” meant to increase “foreign influence” in Iran through allowing foreign businesses and investments into the Iranian economy. As Kerry stated, “doing business is one of the best ways to create interests and vested purpose, if you will, in furthering transformation“. This strategy is surely a winner in the long run but it requires that Iran remain stable and open to the world for a long time since foreign businesses remain wary of investing in Iran as long as the regime remains volatile.

As long as President Hassan Rouhani remains in power, such a strategy may succeed since Rouhani has placed great emphasis on attracting foreign investments despite Khamenei’s repeated calls to maintain a “resistance economy” as if the JCPoA were not signed. And even if Rouhani does win the 2017 elections, it must be noted that his ability to steer Iran to a less “Revolutionary” path is severely limited by, once again, Khamenei, who is proud to view himself as a “Revolutionary” rather than a politician – a fact which helped Henry Kissinger to say that Iran has to decide “whether it is a nation or a cause“.

Until then, the world will have to keep on holding its breath and hope that Iran will choose peace with the world instead of trying to fulfil Khamenei’s ambitions for a “Global Islamic Awakening” which could be powered by a nuclear war.

 

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Iranian Irony Over Bahraini Sheikh

Last week, Bahrain stripped a Shiite Sheikh, Issa Qassem, of his citizenship, charging him with instigating an “extremist sectarian atmosphere and working to divide Bahraini society” and “follow(ing) foreign religious ideologies and political entities (Iran)“. There are rumors that Sheikh Qassem might be deported or even imprisoned but his fate is still unknown for now.

The reactions from Tehran were as immediate as they were definitely hostile and the internal issue of stripping a citizen of his citizenship quickly escalated into open calls from Tehran for a bloody revolution in Bahrain.

What makes Tehran’s position ironic is that it readily strips any citizen who is critical of the regime of his/her freedom, dignity, humanity and in some cases, life. Tehran likes to present itself as the supporter of the oppressed and as a champion of human rights while it tramples on the human rights of its citizens repeatedly. To add insult to injury, Tehran’s calls to open rebellion in Bahrain is not the first: It successfully supported Houthi rebels in Yemen to oust the government until Saudi Arabia intervened.

Bahrain’s decision on Sheikh Qassem may or may not be a political mistake by the government but what is certain is that Tehran’s efforts to “Export the Revolution” are definitely dangerous to the governments of its neighbors.

 

Tehran calls for a revolution

In general, the reaction from Tehran is meant to fan the fires of a ground-roots revolution or even a coup d’etat:

Any way you read these lines, it is clear that Tehran wants to topple the government in Bahrain and is inciting the Shiite Bahrainis to do so. It should be remembered at this point that over the past few years, Bahrain reported several times that it has busted terrorist cells sponsored by Iran, cells which were meant to overthrow the government.

 

Tehran yearns to “export its revolution”

crescent dominationsIt’s not hard to understand why the Iranians are upset: the majority of Bahrain’s population is Shiite while its government is a Sunni minority and Bahrain is openly aligned with Iran’s regional arch-enemy, Saudi Arabia. Last year, diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and then with Bahrain, Kuwait, Sudan, Yemen and a host of others following the execution in Saudi Arabia of another Shiite Sheikh, Nimr al-Nimr, who was charged with inciting sectarianism and instigating terrorism.

Of course, had Sheikh Qassem and the majority of the population not been Shiite, there is ample reason to believe that Tehran would have not even commented on the issue but since Tehran has taken upon itself to “Export its Revolution” to as many “oppressed” people as it can, it is always on the look-out to support Shiites, whether they are majorities such as in Iraq, Lebanon and Bahrain, or whether they are minorities such as in Yemen, Syria and Saudi Arabia, or even when they are total outsiders such as in many Latin American or African states.

So, Tehran’s stand can be summed up in three goals: 1) Stand up for Shiite brothers wherever they may be, 2) Stand up for the human rights of the “oppressed” and 2) Spark and support a rebellion in Bahrain.

Seems quite simple and were Iran another country, a country with great human rights, a country not intent on “exporting a revolution”, a country such as Canada, Sweden or New Zealand, one might be tempted to cheer it on to save the poor Bahrainis.

But that’s not really the case:  Tehran has been accused, rightfully, of meddling in its neighbors affairs – despite the fact that the Iranians pride themselves in not having started a war in two centuries, Tehran is now actively involved in the civil war in Syria (together with Hezbollah), in sectarian wars in Iraq (with Hezbollah and Shiite militias), in trying to overthrow the government in Yemen (through Hezbollah and Shiite Houthi rebels) and, of course, in supporting the Palestinian cause in Gaza-Israel (through Hezbollah, Hamas and a host of other organizations). Hezbollah is its key proxy and as Hassan Nasrallah aptly put it: “Hezbollah’s budget, its income, its expenses, everything it eats and drinks, its weapons and rockets, come from the Islamic Republic of Iran….As long as Iran has money, we have money… Just as we receive the rockets that we use to threaten Israel, we are receiving our money”.

The problem is that Tehran continues to deny any form of meddling and prefer to describe its military interventions as “helping” out at the request of its “friends”. The fact that its friend in Syria, Bashar al-Assad, represent a Shiite Alawite minority and that its friends in Yemen, the Houthis, are also Shiite minorities is inconsequential to Tehran. So, not only is Tehran meddling in its neighbors affairs, it isn’t, as in the case of Syria and Yemen, always on the side of the majority or even the rightful government.

Whether or not the Bahrainis had the legitimacy, or not, to strip Sheikh Qassem is a matter of debate and one can side for or against Bahrain. But what is certain is that Tehran’s calls for rebellion in Bahrain are illegitimate. Imagine if a neighboring country to yours would incite rebellion in your country – for example Argentina on Brazil, Thailand on Cambodia, Kenya on Uganda, Belgium on France, the USA on Canada, Russia on the Ukraine…it would be a “no-brainer”. If Saudi Arabia were to issue similar threats to Iran, war would be declared.

Tehran is treading a very thin line between trying to maintain a peaceful disposition meant to encourage foreign investments and global support  while at the same time actively exporting its revolution to any country that may accept it.

 

Tehran is a serial human rights abuser

But here’s the irony and the hypocrisy of Tehran’s stance on Bahrain: Much like the regime in Bahrain, Tehran isn’t open to criticism or national protests. During the 2009 elections, the “Green Movement”, headed by Mehdi Karroubi and Mir-Hossein Mousavi, called for reforms and more personal freedoms for Iranians. The outcome of the election was that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected and the outcome of the elections was hotly contested by many politicians and mass protests. Needless to say, the protesters were rounded up, most were brutally interrogated, many were sent to jail (some are still serving time), some dies in protests or in jails and others fled Iran and visit Iran at the peril of being arrested for their past “crimes” (such as Nazanin Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian woman who returned to Iran to visit her family and is now in jail). Karroubi and Mousavi kept on hammering for reforms but they were ignored by the regime. Following the emergence of the Arab Spring in 2011, Karroubi and Mousavi called on Iranians to rekindle the protests and they were both promptly placed under house arrest, without trial, where they remain to this date.

The victims of the Green Movement are not the only victims to suffer for trying to change the regime. Thousands of  Iranians were, are and will continue to be  arrested, interrogated/tortured, imprisoned and executed for simply trying to do the same: The regime continues to crack down on artists (poets, musicians, caricaturists etc…), journalists (paid media, blogs, social media etc…) and activists (human rights, women’s rights, children’s rights, minorities’ rights, workers’ rights etc…) and even people in the fashion industry (models, photographers, make-up artists etc…) for simply not toeing Tehran’s strict Revolutionary Ideals. A caricature of Iranian MP’s as animals landed Atena Farghadani in jail for 12 years and 9 months (she was released on appeal after 18 months), a facebook comment by Sohel Arabi sent him to be executed (later diminished following his “confession”). Sometimes, the regime even gets creative as in the case of former president and reformist, Mohammad Khatami who is indeed free but is under a media ban which means that no media outlet can publish an article or a picture of him.

Zarif, who seems to be so worried about the “rights” of the Bahraini people is impervious to the rights of the Iranian people, rights that his president, Hassan Rouhani, promised to support during his election campaign. He promised to set Karroubi and Mousavi free, to allow more freedom of speech, to give equal rights to minorities etc…but these promises were discarded from the start and there is serious doubt that Rouhani can ever fulfil these promises. And herein lies the irony: Tehran is outraged that Bahrain would dare to strip a Bahraini of his citizenship for criticizing the regime but has no qualms about stripping Iranian citizens of their freedom, their dignity, their humanity and in some cases, their lives.

Whether Tehran understands the irony, is being deliberately hypocritical or is simply following a strategy to “export the revolution” is open to interpretation but one thing is certain, instigating a rebellion in Bahrain serves Tehran’s agenda.

Zarif Talks Love but Instigates Hate

On the 22nd of June, PressTV published an article of Zarif’s latest speech in Paris which exemplifies Zarif’s special “skills” – each quotation is filled with hypocrisy and underneath the sugar-coated benign statements of peace and unity once can hear the rumbles of war and the cries of its victims.

Zarif is notorious for his hypocrisy on the war in Syria, on the fight against terrorism, on Holocaust denial and on human rights as can be seen in the following articles: “Zarif’s Hypocrisy Increase“, “Zarif’s Endless Hypocrisy” and “Zarif is “Breathtaking in his Hypocrisy“.

He knows how to talk about peace and unity while his government promotes sectarianism, terrorism and extremism in the region and in the world. He knows how to talk about the positive nature of Islam as a religion while his government pushes the fundamental nature of Islam to its bloody limits. He knows how talk about human rights of the “oppressed” people around the world while Tehran tramples repeatedly on the human rights of Iranians.

It’s a shame that people accept his smiling disposition and peaceful words at face value.

 

Muslim unity, extremism, terrorism and  subversion

Following are three statements concerning the need for Islamic unity to fight terrorism and extremism:

  • “In the Islamic world, we need to show how we can fight, by ourselves, the extremism and terrorism that has affected the Muslim world”.
  • “Instead of accentuating our differences, we must show how our common challenges are in the name of Islam and for development of the Islamic states and Muslim community”.
  • “We follow a religion that can simply realize that if we don’t stand together, we will lose together. We need to be united so we can make a better future for our children”.

These three statement seems totally benign were it not for the fact that Iran is itself a supporter of terrorism through its elite Qods forces and through terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah.

Furthermore, Zarif’s statement sound hollow in regards to the outpouring of hostile statement from Tehran towards the government of Bahrain over the stripping of citizenship of Sheikh Issa Qassim because of his efforts to topple to incite “sectarianism and violence” in collusion with Iran. Qods chief Qassem Suleimani didn’t mince words when he called for a “bloody intifada” in which “the toppling of the regime will only be a small part of the repercussions that will also include armed resistance“.  Meanwhile, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has repeated his call to support the “oppressed” in Bahrain. Even Hezbollah is invoking a military conflict in Bahrain by calling Bahrain’s actions as “very grave step that proves that the Bahraini government can no longer deal with the peaceful popular movement” and called on the people of Bahrain “to express its anger and rage decisively“.

And then, what about Russia? After continuously complaining about the ineffectiveness of the West’s efforts at fighting ISIS and warnings to the West not to enter the war in Syria, Tehran welcomed Russia’s military activity in Syria with open arms.

Zarif might say that he is calling the Islamic world to fight extremism and terror together but at the same time, Tehran is instigating extremism and terror on its Muslim neighbors. And remember, if an Iranian citizen criticizes the Iranian regime as the Sheikh Qassem did, not only would he be sent to jail and perhaps even the gallows, any hostile comments from neighboring countries, such as those from Ian to Bahrain, would be seen by Tehran as an act of subversion or even war.

 

Global Islam, peace and human rights

Then Zarif touched on the benign nature of Islam and the need to show the world a unified Muslim front:

  • “We belong to a religion which believes every human being is like all humanity and killing one human is like killing all humanity”.
  • “We belong to a religion which considers the world as a united whole. It is not hard for Muslims to show to the world that their religion is a universal religion”.

There are two inherent problems with these statements:

The first relates to Zarif’s belief that under Islam, “killing one human is like killing all humanity”. Although this may be theologically true, the fact that it is being said by an Iranian FM is beyond irony. Tehran is ranked second in the world, after China, in the number of execution – ranked first in the number of executions per capita. Based on Zarif’s logic, since Iran executed over 1,000 people in 2015, Tehran is responsible for “killing all humanity” over one thousand times in executions in Iran alone. Furthermore, Iran is openly embroiled in wars in Syria and in Iraq (as well as other conflicts in Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia etc…) and its soldiers and the soldiers of its proxies such as Hezbollah, are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands in these wars alone. So now, Iran is “killing all humanity” hundreds of thousands of times beyond its borders. Finally, whether Zarif likes it or not, Islam is being abused by Muslim terrorists all over the world, including many terrorist organizations which are openly backed by Tehran such as Hezbollah and al-Qaeda, who are responsible for killing innocent civilians and thus, according to Zarif, “killing all humanity” over and over again.

The second problem lies in his call to “show the world” that Islam is a “universal religion” and that he views the “world as a unified whole”. Yes, there are Muslims living all over the world most in Muslim countries and others in non-Muslim countries all over the world. But Iran is unique in that it is the only country in the world which openly calls for the “Export” of the Islamic Revolution under the guise of a “Global Awakening”. His call for Muslim unity sounds sinister once you listen to Khamenei’s vision: “Today, it is our turn. Today is Islam’s turn…this century is the century of Islam…the goal is Islam…the New Islamic civilization“. When Zarif says that Islam views the “world as a whole”, what is to become to the rest of the world which doesn’t accept Islam? Are the non-believer, the “kefirs”, to be treated well under a universal Islamic religion? Will they be accepted just as the non-believers who were slaughtered for centuries by Muslim conquerors who offered them either to become Muslims or to die? Will they be accepted just as people in Iran who belong to minority religions such as Sunnis, Christian and Baha’is who are persecuted in Iran by the people and the regime? Islam is, like all religions, neither good nor bad and Muslims, like all believers around the world are neither all good nor all bad. Unfortunately, Islam, like all other religions, is abused by people who want acquire more power and to fulfil their religious visions regardless of whether people are hurt or killed in the process.

 

Injustice, Palestine and the Revolution

tehran an diranFinally, after portraying the positive sides of Islam, Zarif adds the classic touch: Islam isn’t the problem…Israel is: “The most important injustice is the injustice being done to Palestine. Against attacks and violence, we have to minimize our differences”.

Whether Zarif is correct about this or not depends on whose side you are on. But the constant threats by Iran to annihilate Israel, Tehran’s open support for armed conflict against Israel in Gaza, in Israel and around the world and its constant scapegoating of Israel calls into question the benign nature of all of his earlier statements.

Zarif would want Israel to become the “common challenge” of all Muslims around the world and in order to do so, based on the actions of Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist organizations in the past and in the present, terrorism and extremism are fair game to free the Palestinian people. And what is to happen to all the Jews in Israel one Israel is destroyed? Will they be accepted within the “united whole? Will the killing of on Jew or one Israeli also be like “killing all of humanity”? Of course not.

Zarif might portray himself as a benign diplomat who is searching for unity and peace while in fact he is fully in tune with the importance of Exporting the Revolution: Tehran has a “viewpoint that has the potential to be projected globally and change the international order…why doesn’t Malaysia face such problems? It is because Malaysia does not seek to change the international order…it may seek independence and strength, but its definition of strength is the advancement of its national welfare”. In other words, Tehran is not content to simply thrive in its own right within the boundaries of its country. Its worldview is one of leading a change on a global scale. Furthermore, underneath all of his flowery words awaits the Revolution as he wrote quite simply: “Without revolutionary goals we do not exist …our revolutionary goals are what distinguish us from other countries”.

Tehran’s benign version of Islam is really meant for Shiite Muslims alone. It is to their benefit alone to unite with Iran regardless of the amount of blood spilled in order to fulfil Khomeini’s vision of “Exporting the Revolution”.

If only Zarif really meant what he said. If only the regime in Tehran would emulate his peaceful vision? If only reality resembled Zarif’s spoken ideals. But no…Zarif knows how to talk but he certainly doesn’t know, or even want, to walk his talk

British Iranian Mum Charged for Spying in Iran

It’s official: Nazanin Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian journalist, charity worker and free-speech activist who has been in jail in Iran for the past two months, was charged this week by the IRGC with “spying” and plotting the “soft overthrow” of the regime.

Her chances of a quick release are effectively zero as Nazanin is burdened with four damning circumstances:

  • She is a journalist and happens to be in Iran during a massive crackdown on free speech.
  • She is British and the UK is hated by Khamenei only a little less than he hates the US.
  • She is imprisoned and to be tried in a country with a seriously flawed judicial system.
  • She is being charged with crimes which are political in nature and literally undefendable.

If Jason Rezaian’s case is taken as a relevant case study (a dual-national journalist accused of spying), she will spend over a year in jail and will be freed not by an Iranian court but by diplomatic pressure. It’s time to place pressure on the regime to issue an immediate release or at least offer Nazanin a fair trial even if the chances of such an outcome are slim.

 

Being a journalist and a British citizen made her a target


Nazanin was arrested on the third of April at the airport in Tehran following a family visit back in Iran with her two-year old daughter, Gabriella. She was immediately transferred to solitary confinement in a prison in Kerman, 600 miles south of Tehran to be interrogated and then sent to the notorious Evin prison in Tehran. Her daughter was allowed to stay with her grandparents but both Nazanin and Gabriella were forced to relinquish their British passports.

But Nazanin isn’t only a dual citizen – she is also a journalist and an activist in the field of journalism. Working as a journalist in Iran is definitely like walking on a tight rope since any expression of direct criticism against the regime is tantamount to “spreading propaganda” and “insulting” the regime, the Supreme Leader, the President etc…Since 2009, over 600 journalists have been arrested in Iran. The situation has steadily worsened following the signing of the JCPoA which increased Khamenei’s fears of “foreign infiltration” and led to the known arrests of tens of journalists, artists, activists and models who dared to criticize the regime and its ideals by their words, art or actions. Since Iran doesn’t recognize dual nationalities, Nazanin, as with other dual nationals, cannot enjoy the official support of the newly re-opened British embassy and is being treated as any other Iranian. Communications with her family are limited and she has no known contact with a lawyer.

The accusations against her are, to say the least, dubious and echo the accusations against WaPo reporter America-Iranian journalist Jason Rezaian as well as a string of dual national citizens who were arrested by the IRGC following visits in Iran to visit their families – 13 known cases in just over a year, the latest one being Homa Hoodfar, a 65 year-old Canadian Iranian professor who flew to Iran only to be arrested by the IRGC. Her fate is yet unknown and she still hasn’t been charged.

Meanwhile, her daughter will not be able to leave Iran and her husband will be a fool to visit since he too can find himself in jail simply for being her husband. Gabriella “celebrated” her second birthday with her grandparents and a video-chat with her dad. Even her family residing in Iran has to be careful to not pressure too much the regime as there are numerous cases in which family members are imprisoned following visits or protests at the jail

 

Nazanin becomes a pawn on a global scale

Another problem in Nazanin’s case is that she is British and the sentiment of the regime towards the UK is ranked by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei right beside the “Great Satan”, the US – his exact words were that “evil Britain can’t be trusted“. Were Nazanin visiting from Italy, from Russia or from Venezuela, she would probably not be in jail right now. As such, she has become another pawn in the political agenda of the regime, a means to place pressure on the UK government. It is noteworthy that Hoodfar, the Canadian Iranian woman was arrested suspiciously close to the outcome of a court case in Canada which awarded victims of Iranian-supported terrorism $13 million in Iranian assets, an act which is hotly contested in Tehran.

Is Nazanin a spy and a counter-revolutionary? Well, according to the regime, anyone who criticizes the regime or calls for a change in the regimes Islamic Revolutionary ideals and laws is an enemy of the state and is liable to be executed. Since Nazanin is a program coordinator for journalism and media programs of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency, she is a prime suspect for the IRGC’s fears of “foreign infiltration”. The IRGC claims that Nazanin was arrested following a “massive intelligence operation” which “identified” her as one of the “main ring leaders in a network of hostile institutions that were operating in recent years under the supervision of foreign government’s spying and media services“.

But whether or not she is deemed as a spy by Western standards, the IRGC is using her to pressure President Hassan Rouhani’s agenda of “constructive engagement” with the world. As such, there is little hope that he will actually fight to free her from this political situation.

Destined to an unfair trial

Iran’s judicial process is inherently flawed in many ways in such a manner to minimize the chances of a fair trial especially in cases where the regime feels it is being attacked.

  • Many crimes, such as “insulting Islamic sanctities”, “insulting the Prophet of Islam”, “enmity against God”, “corruption on earth”, “apostasy”, national security” and “spreading propaganda against the system” are legally undefendable and defendants, and their lawyers, do not have the right to be present at their trials.
  • “Guilty until proven innocent” is a standard in Iran as suspects don’t have the right to an explanation of their arrest or of their rights, can be held in jail before trial for up to two years, can be denied of their rights to access a lawyer indefinitely and can be forced to choose a lawyer from a restricted list supplied by the investigator.
  • Torture is actually legal if it is done “for the purpose of extracting confession or acquiring information” – torture can take the form of beatings, ill-treatment, humiliation and degradation before and after their trials and have no legal way to prosecute their torturers.

Based on Jason Rezaian’s tribulations, what can we expect to happen to Nazanin?

  • She will spend many months in jail until her trial actually begins – Rezaian, for example, remained in jail for 9 months before being formally charged and he was freed only due to a prisoner swap after 18 months.
  • She will have minimal contact with her family – Rezaian was frequently incommunicado and his contacts with his family was limited…Nazanin was at first unable to contact her family, then allowed to call them daily and then, once again, the contact was cut off.
  • She will find herself with minimal or without any legal representation – Rezaian was, at first, denied legal counsel and then was allowed to meet his lawyer sporadically and there is no reason to believe that she will have a fair trial in any case.
  • She will most probably be condemned to death – her crime, just as Rezaian’s is punishable by death and if, like Rezaian, her trial will be conducted by the “Hanging Judge”, Abolghassem Salavati, she can’t expect leniency.

Meanwhile, her family will miss her, petitions will be signed, foreign diplomats will try to free her, Iranian diplomats will express sympathy and nothing will happen unless a major diplomatic event occurs. Until then, anyone who values the basic freedoms of speech or who plans to visit Iran in the future should include Nazanin and the other unfortunate victims of the IRGC in their prayers and sign this petition.

 

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Fan the Sparks of Feminism in Iran

On the issue of women’s rights in Iran, there is bad news, good news, worse news and potentially good news:

  • Let’s start with the bad news: Women’s rights in Iran, as in most countries ruled under Shariah laws, are severely limited I comparison to Western countries. This article is much too short to get into all of the oppressive laws and traditions so you might want to check out this quiz to test yourself or simply google “women’s rights Iran”.
  • The good news is that “the only way is up”. When women are legally worth only half of their male counterparts and they are forced to dress and act in certain ways, any improvement in women’s rights will be a substantial change from the current situation.
  • Unfortunately, there is worse news: Under the oppression of the regime, there are little or no opportunities for women to fight for their rights. The regime, which views any criticism as a sin, is hell-bent on maintaining the status quo of the Islamic Revolution. Women, and men, who do present an alternative in which women and men enjoy equal rights are either branded as prostitutes, accomplices of the hated “West”, “seditionists” etc…
  • Finally, the potentially good news…Even under such an oppressive regime, there are some isolated cases of people, especially women, who are fighting for better rights, for equality with men, for more power in public office, for the end of gender segregation, for the end of enforced hijabs etc… These brave women might not have, yet, brought about the change that they struggled to achieve but they are noteworthy and should be supported.

In a country where change can only happen in leaps and bounds, each spark, even a small one, can light a bonfire if there is enough grass-roots support to fan it to life.

 

Increased awareness in women’s rights

Although the regime might be able to stifle actions that may improve women’s rights, it can’t extinguish the growing awareness of women, and men, to the notions of women’s rights in other countries. Trips abroad, meeting foreigners, access to social media and word of mouth are opening windows for Iranian women to view what their rights could be like and then compare the potential to the glum reality. The gradual increase of secularity over time through the younger generations, is also another impetus for change since secular Iranians are less likely to support and accept Shariah laws. Richer Iranians, especially those living in and around Tehran, are also more secular and more open to emulate notions of freedom which they see in the West.

Furthermore, over the last 3 years, three political events have added their own pressure to the potential of liberating women’s rights (emphasis on potential):

  • In 2013, Hassan Rouhani was elected to the presidency on a ticket for massive changes in foreign and domestic policy. His first task was to tackle Iran’s isolation and the signing of the JCPoA is a testament to his success in this field. He made 74 distinct promises of which 13 were achieved and 26 are in progress but his promise for equality for women is officially stalled. Rouhani is openly sympathetic to women’s causes but unfortunately, he remains a puppet of his Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, who wants to retain the status quo.
  • The signing of the JCPoA is sure to raise awareness of the tattered state of women’s rights as foreigners, foreign brands and foreign communications, even if they are not from the West but from countries such as Russia or India, will promote more rights for women. Unfortunately, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s emphasis on a “resistance economy” and his paranoia of “foreign influence” are bound to inhibit the influence of foreigners in Iran.
  • The last parliamentary elections doubled the number of female members of parliament from 9 (3% of 290) to 17 (6%). This may sound like a huge win for Iranian women but Iran is still ranked 175 out of 193 countries for the percentage of women in national parliaments. Underneath the 100% increase lie two major problems:
    • 1) only 586 (9%) out of the 6,229 parliamentary candidates were women meaning that not enough women are motivated enough to strive for public office.
    • 2) An estimated 97% of the female candidates were disqualified during the vetting process prior to the parliamentary elections by the religious and hardline Guardian council leaving only 19 women…the same council disqualified 100% of all female candidates for the Assembly of Experts.

 

Sparks of women’s rights

Most of the brave women who are sparking up the issue of women’s rights are not activists per se in that they aren’t carrying picket signs nor are they really “working” at doing so. Take the hundreds of Iranian women who shared pictures of themselves without hijabs on the facebook community “My Stealthy Freedom“: these women are taking a big risk by sharing these pictures – two weeks ago, the regime cracked down on models and photographers in the fashion industry who did exactly this, closing down their social media accounts, shutting down businesses and forcing them to openly “confess” of their sins. The hijab-less women in My Stealthy Freedom may escape the regime’s radar since they are not famous but they remain in real danger. It is awe-inspiring to see the pictures of these brave women and even to see the support they receive from their husbands through pictures of their husbands supporting their cause or pictures of couples kissing.

For now, though, the regime has kept far away from My Stealthy Freedom, probably due to the high level of global awareness of this campaign. Other campaigns such as the “ID card challenge” in which Iranians shared pictures of themselves as opposed to pictures of their ID cards were promptly shut down by the regime.

Two weeks ago, another spark was ignited when Taraneh Alidoosti, a prominent Iranian actress in the Academy Award winning film, “The Salesman” inadvertently exposed a “feminist” tattoo, a “woman power” symbol made of a purple female sign and a clenched fist. As could be expected, the hardliners took a critical view of the tattoo and its meaning and immediately went on the attack while supporters of women’s rights defended the tattoo and its bearer. The issue raged on her twitter account and included, to date, over 6 thousand likes and at last 1 thousand retweets . “Keep calm and YES I am a feminist“, she wrote and while some attacked her (“You are advertising foreigners”) others were cautionary (“Keep calm and You will be in Evin Prison Tomorrow”).

And then, there is the case of Atena Farghadani, the Iranian cartoonist who drew a caricature of Iranian MP’s as animals following a proposed bill to deny and limit contraceptives in order to increase the birth-rate. She was arrested and sent to jail for 12 years and 9 months but managed to be freed after 18 months in her appeal following worldwide pressure to free her.

Another ongoing campaign is taking place over the rights of women to cheer on Iran’s national sports teams in volleyball, football etc…from stadiums which are legally gender segregated. Some women like Ghoncheh Ghavami protested by entering a stadium openly while others like “Shakiba” snuck in disguised as a man. This campaign has great potential only if the governing bodies such as FIFA (football) and FIVB (volleyball) decide to enforce their laws against gender segregation and forbid international games in Iran until the stadiums are open to women as well.

Each win by each Iranian citizen to improve human rights might seem limited: sharing a picture without a hijab, a woman power tattoo, 18 months in jail instead of 253 months, sneaking into a sports stadium…these all sound very small to cultures in which loudly protesting women bear their breasts publicly or sue their governments in order to improve women’s rights. But in Iran, each spark of activism should be cared for and shared with others because no one knows which spark, as well as where and when the spark occurs, will light the bonfire of massive protests.

 

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The Hypocrisy and Irony of Iran, Hezbollah, Drugs, Executions, Latin America and Syria

How are Iran, Hezbollah, drugs, executions, Latin America and Syria connected? Here are some key facts:

  • Hezbollah is trafficking in drugs in Latin America (as well as in Lebanon) and shipping these drugs (mostly cocaine) to the EU.
  • Hezbollah is then channeling its drug money into the Syrian war effort on behalf of Assad.
  • Hezbollah is doing so with the support of Iran which is also supporting Assad.
  • Iran is waging one of the biggest wars on drugs in Iran, executing 600-700 drug-related criminals each year.
  • The UN and some European countries are financially supporting Iran’s war on drugs.
  • The UN and some European countries are supporting Iran’s and Assad’s “war against terrorism” against ISIS
  • The joint forces of Assad, Hezbollah and Iran are responsible for over 96% of all civilian casualties in Syria.

Conclusions?

  • The UN and the EU are helping Iran fight a war on drugs while Iran is helping Hezbollah traffic in drugs from Latin America to the EU.
  • The UN and the EU are lamenting the devastating civil war in Syria which is fought by Hezbollah and Iranian soldiers, financed by Iran and Hezbollah’s drug trafficking.

In other words, the West is getting “screwed” by Iran and Hezbollah on the issues of drugs and terror, while paying them and thanking them for it, and the Syrian Syrian people keep dying…it’s hard to determine which is worse: Iranian hypocrisy or Western gullibility?

 

Hezbollah in Latin America

The influence of Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah, in Latin America is steadily growing: Reports streaming out of Latin America point to an increasingly worrying trend from benign cultural organizations such as mosques, cultural centers, schools, boy-scouts etc…to criminal influences linking Hezbollah to drug cartels.

At this time, Hezbollah’s home base is firmly entrenched in what is called the “Tri-Border” area linking Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay but its activities extend into other countries such as Uruguay, Chile, Columbia, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname and Venezuela. Obviously, such a network cannot manage on its own and it is backed by the many Lebanese expats, local Shiite imams, anti-US organizations and Iranian officials in these countries. In fact, there is a steady stream of Latin American born clerics and politicians who fly into Iran for “religious training”, all expenses paid by Tehran.

Just how large and powerful is the Hezbollah-Iranian network? According to Alberto Nisman, Argentina’s former general prosecutor, it’s enormous with hundreds of terrorist cells all over the continent as is outlined in his 2013 report. Nisman must have gotten too close to the truth because he was murdered two year later just before publishing an extended report on the issue.

Just as in Lebanon, Hezbollah operatives are well entrenched in the trafficking of drugs to fund its terrorist activities all over the world. Unlike Lebanon, where the drug of choice is Cannabis-based, Hezbollah is trafficking in cocaine in Latin America and most of the drugs are then sent to Europe. Hezbollah’s drug operations are backed with sophisticated money-laundering platforms to allow the organization to cash in on its illegally acquired funds – these include used car dealerships and sophisticated bank transactions.

Earlier this year, the DEA, together with several EU countries, took part in a bust of Hezbollah’s money-laundering schemes but it seems that they have only busted the tip of the iceberg: Hezbollah is still in full force in Latin America and the drugs keep on rolling inThe money that is raised from these drug schemes are funneled back into Hezbollah’s war and terrorist efforts which are focused, at this time, mostly in Syria, fighting together with Tehran to save Assad.

 

Iran, as always, right beside Hezbollah

The linkage between Iran and Hezbollah in general doesn’t have to be elaborated on judging from the praises Tehran frequently heaps on Hezbollah (“shining like the sun“) praises Hezbollah and supports Hezbollah both financially and militarily while Hezbollah readily admits that Iran is its main supporter. The linkage in Latin America is evident in the name of one of the two major Hezbollah networks there: Hojjat al-Eslam Mohsen Rabbani.

Rabbani is a Shiite cleric who moved to Argentina in 1983 and later on, became Iran’s cultural attache in Buenos Aires. He is linked, along with many Iranian leaders, to the bombing of the AMIA building, an Israel-Argentine cultural center, in Buenos Aires which killed 85 and injured hundreds. Naming its network after this Iranian terrorist speaks volumes on Tehran’s involvement in Hezbollah in Latin America.

Tehran’s efforts to Export its Revolution, right under the Big Satan’s door (the US) isn’t accidental: The ties between the heads of states of Latin American countries who were or are anti-US and Iranian leaders are strategical for Tehran. Here are countries which, when lead by anti-American leaders, are willing to open their markets to Iran, are a great potential for Muslim converts, are a source of drugs and money and best of all, are a toe-hold on the American continent in the war against the US.

 

On drugs and death in Iran

As always, when it comes to Iran, there is an ironic twist in all of this: Drug trafficking in Iran is illegal and is punishable by death. In fact, Iran is being accredited by the UN as being the biggest champion in the war against drugs estimating that Iran is responsible for 74% of the opium bust and 25% of the heroin busts in the world. This war comes at a huge price in human rights since, according to Iranian authorities, drug-related executions account for approximately 80% of all of the 1,000 or so executions a year and even Javad Larijani, Iran’s chief of human rights is begin to rethink the validity of these executions.

Furthermore, Iran’s war on drugs is partially supported by the UN and the EU since Iran portrays the war as a means of stopping the flow of drugs from Afghanistan into Europe. So while Iran is cashing in on millions of dollars from the UN/EU to fight drug trafficking through Iran, and executing hundred on the way, Iran is simultaneously partnering with Hezbollah in drug trafficking from Latin America to the EU.

And what makes matters worse is the fact that both Iran and Hezbollah are channeling huge amounts of money into Assad’s war efforts while some EU countries and the UN actually support Iran’s and Hezbollah’s activities in Syria viewed from the perspective of fighting terrorism and ISIS.

But things are just getting more complicated as a war between Hezbollah and ISIS is brewing in Latin America. ISIS wants in on the drugs, on the money and on the volunteers and one thing can be certain: the guys in ISIS will not be as gullible as the guys at the UN.

 

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Who Represents the Iranian People?


Unlike Hassan Rouhani and the members of parliament, Ali Khamenei was not voted into his position by the people of Iran. This might seem a triviality to some but the fact that Khamenei was chosen to become the Supreme Leader by the Assembly of Experts means that nobody can really know just how many Iranians really support him especially in view of the popular vote that moderates and reformist received during both the presidential and the parliamentary elections.

During Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s terms as president, this fact wasn’t critical at all since Ahmadinejad and Khamenei usually saw eye to eye on most issues. But Since Hassan Rouhani became president through national elections, the question regarding the legitimacy of Khamenei’s rule as the leader and representor of the Iranian people is growing.

Khamenei obviously is the supreme ruler of Iran but does he represent the Iranian people more or less than Rouhani? And if it is less, why is Iran still touting itself as a democracy?

 

Two voices from Tehran

As outlined in an earlier article entitled “Two Voices from Tehran“, there is an obvious division by the moderates who are effectively led by Rouhani and the hardliners who are backed by Khamenei. Rouhani, who was voted into office by the Iranian people on a ticket for change, has voiced his criticism of Khamenei’s views on numerous issues such as the economy, freedom of speech, the rights of women, political prisoners, foreign policy etc…

To be honest, his criticisms are never openly against Khamenei and usually voiced in a roundabout way, followed by his denials regarding any division between himself and Khamenei: “the enemies would never see their wishes realized to have discord between the Leader and the branches” .

To those who don’t buy into the moderateness of Rouhani, his manner of criticism (roundabout + denials) is proof that he is a hardliner on par with Khamenei. Others continue to believe in his moderateness and his promises for change but blame the nature of the “supreme” powers of Khamenei, pointing out that people who dared to stand against Khamenei politically found themselves under house arrest such as Karroubi & Mousavi or politically sidelined such as Khatami & Rafsanjani.

 

Khamenei’s supreme powers

The fear of angering Khamenei is not only based on Khamenei’s supreme powers but on the many facets of the regime which are hardline in nature. Clashing with Khamenei means clashing with the Guardian Council, an unelected body which has the powers to approve or disqualify candidates for all elections as well as laws passed by the parliament. It would also mean clashing with the IRGC, a branch of the armed forces with immense military, political and economic power loyal to Khamenei as well as clashing with the Basij, a volunteer paramilitary militia which is controlled by the IRGC.

In short, clashing with Khamenei effectively requires the dissolution of all the unelected hardline elements of the regime which, to date, is powerful enough to protect and preserve itself. Only a ground-roots uprising such as was experienced in the Arab Spring could achieve such a change and, in tune with the countries which experienced such upheavals, no one can be certain if the rulers of Iran in the aftermath will represent the people or not.

 

Khamenei retakes front stage

For now, it’s obvious that Khamenei is not a happy man: He is angry, frustrated, paranoid and worried about the direction that Iran could take following the signing of the nuclear deal fearing that the call for change by the Iranian people, as seen in their votes in the elections for the presidency and the parliament, will materialize and ruin the revolutionary ideals he so loves. At stake, in his mind, is not only his vision of the welfare of the Iranian people but his legacy as the protector of the ideals of the Islamic Revolution.

For the first two years of Hassan Rouhani’s presidency, Khamenei took a back seat. He was still pulling strings and would suddenly jump to center stage to voice his commands, but his overall support of Rouhani was clearly understood. But once the reality of the signing of the JCPoA hit home, Khamenei changed gears and he took front stage: suddenly, it was Khamenei who was dictating foreign policy, directing the implementation of the nuclear deal, banning US brands from Iran, dictating the strategy of the economy etc…

The growing strength of the reformists in the parliamentary elections only increased Khamenei’s unease and his willingness to step over Rouhani.

 

Khamenei continues to rule

In fact, lately, Khamenei is becoming more critical of Rouhani and his biggest achievement to date, the nuclear deal and the revival of the Iranian economy. While Rouhani courted the West, Khamenei made it clear that the US (and the UK) were still Iran’s greatest enemies.

While Rouhani worked to place Iran in the global economy, Khamenei believed that such a move would be a “loss and defeat” for Iran, preferring his “resistance economy” free from “foreign influence” and the focus on “culture” as a model to preserve the nature of the regime. While Rouhani tried to iron out the problems of dealing with global financial organizations which feared US sanctions, Khamenei introduced many “I told you so” elements into his speeches: “Some of us of course knew that something like this might happen but others didn’t“. While Rouhani called on the regime to allow for more freedom of speech, Khamenei allowed a crackdown on political critics, journalists, artists and activists while maintaining that the internet was “a real battlefield” promoting “un-Islamic thought”.

Despite Rouhani’s popularity, it’s clear that he has lost his power-base within the regime. His promises of wide-ranging social changes will be left unfulfilled for now and his calls for “constructive engagement” and moderateness will remain in the spheres of political propaganda. If he manages to win the next elections in 2017, he may have a chance at reinforcing his political power but then again, he might not win and he might not be able to stand against Khamenei. And if Khamenei does pass away until then, it’s not clear whether Rouhani’s call for changes will be accepted by the next Supreme Leader or not.

 

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Iranian hardline backlash results in rise of floggings

The state of human rights in Iran is actually going from bad to worse: execution rates, politically motivated arrests and imprisonments, prolonged imprisonments without trials, denial of access to lawyers and sham trials, denial of medical treatment to prisoners, persecution of minorities and floggings and amputations…all are on the rise.

All of these cruel punishments reflect the insensitivity of the regime to the demands of the Iranian people and the fear that the regime experiences from any prospect of change that would weaken the ideals of the Islamic Revolution. To make matters worse, all of these punishments run, in fact, counter to the constitution of Iran and/or counter to international laws which Iran has formally and legally accepted – Flogging is banned by international law as a form of torture.

The latest cases of floggings offer a clear indication as to the stubborn, inhumane and even desperate nature of the regime which are backlashing the popular vote of “moderate” and “reformist” elements in the government and in parliament. These hardliners are viciously reacting to signs of change in the hope of preserving the status quo. These floggings should be stopped for two simple reasons: a) physical punishments such as these should be banned world-wide because of their inhumanity, b) most of the cases of floggings are politically motivated and are not administered to hardened criminals and c) the judicial system in Iran is inherently flawed and many of these “criminals” do not have the luxury of a “fair trial”..

 

Real people and real suffering

Here are a few of the known and prominent cases of floggings in Iran:

Other cases include Christian converts and Baha’is for being despised minorities, political prisoners and their relatives for criticizing the regime, artists who crave creative freedom, young ravers who want to dance and party, fashion models who dared to share pictures of themselves without hijabs, dog owners in Tehran walking their dogs, people chewing gum during Ramadan etc…Notice that these aren’t murderers or rapists but are men and women who, in another country, would not even be arrested let alone flogged.

For a full list of floggings in Iran (7,440 cases from 1999 up until 2013), please visit this site and make sure to look for offences of “morality/religious”, “political/speech” and the ubiquitous “other/unknown”. And if you want to get an idea as to the laws regarding flogging in Iran, you might want to visit this site.

 

The politics of floggings

The regime in Tehran continues to claim that there is no problem of human rights at all in Iran. The narrative from Tehran on this issue is two-pronged: a) human rights cannot be judged by global standards but should be viewed on a local context according to the laws of the state and b) the pressure by the West on Iran in regards to the state of human rights is baseless since it is politically motivated. The first point, the global-local perspective, is understandable – citizens of a country enjoy rights that are accorded by the governments that they chose. The problem is that most of these travesties of justice are actually in contradiction with the Iranian constitution and/or international laws which Iran has formally and legally accepted. The second point, the politicization of human rights, is equally understandable – the West is pressuring the regime politically to improve the human rights of its citizens but that doesn’t mean that the numerous infringements of human rights in Iran are not real.

It seems counter-intuitive that human rights would deteriorate following the elections of “moderates” and “reformists” in the government and in parliament and following the signing of the nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1. If most of the Iranian people voted for a “moderate” president and “reformist” MP’s, would it not be logical that social changes would follow? The answer to this question is the Iranian standard “yes” and “no”. It is precisely because of the popular vote of the people for change that the hardline elements in the regime, from the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei through to the hardline politicians and mullahs and the governing bodies of the regime (the IRGC, the Assembly of Experts, the Guardian Council, the Basij etc…). The backlash against Rouhani and his nuclear deal is being paid by the Iranian civilians who felt that the times were “a-changing” only to find that the promises of some politicians had changed but the tone of the regime remained the same.

 

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The Holocaust Cartoon Contest is about Palestinian Resitance

The Iranian organizers of the Holocaust Cartoon Contest claim that the issue of the Holocaust has become a social taboo which stifles any discussion or any questioning as to the Holocaust itself and that the Holocaust paved the way to the existence of Israel at the expense of the Palestinians. The critics of the contest, on the other hand, state their case which is also easy to understand: the Holocaust was an undeniable anti-Semitic catastrophe and anti-Zionism is just a politically correct form of anti-Semitism.

Unfortunately, these two polarized views are unbridgeable even on a theoretical level and the existence of the contest only increases the chasm between the two narratives. It seems impossible to choose a middle ground in this issue and in order to decide which side of the chasm one stands, the issue has to be examined on two levels: the context and the content.

 

The context

The Iranian House of Cartoon which organizes the Holocaust Cartoon Contest is sponsored by the Municipality of Tehran and states its goal as “the recognition, upgrading and propagation of cartoon and caricature in Iran and World“. This all sounds positive but it’s noteworthy that the contest is simultaneously promoted through another Iranian site called “ResistArt” which is much more specific as to the essence of the content it publishes and its goal to “spread of Resistance Culture and the values of Islamic Revolution and Holy Defense (and) making a field for discussion and speaking between active and creative artists in culture and art of resistance in Iran and other countries by emphasize on Islamic World”.

“Resistance”, in this context, mirrors the Revolutionary Ideals of the Iranian regime against the “imperialistic”, “colonial”, “oppressive” West and more specifically, the US and Israel. Other contests include the “International Yemen Cartoon & Caricature Contest” (attacking Saudi Arabia), the “International Daesh Cartoon Contest” (attacking Saudi Arabia and the US) and the “Down with America” cartoon contest (attacking the US). From this point of view, the cartoons and the contests are less about creative freedom and more about political propaganda aimed to serve the goals of the regime.

Now, what about the Holocaust Cartoon Contest? Massoud Shojai Tabatabai, the Secretary of the Holocaust Cartoon Contest  explains that the contest is not meant to “deny or prove (the) Holocaust” but is meant to raise questions such as “why should the oppressed Palestinian people pay compensation for the Holocaust” and why doesn’t the world designate a “piece of Germany to give to the Jews”? Furthermore, Tabatabai explains that a main theme of the contest is the linkage between Adolph Hitler and Benjamin Netanyahu and linking the Holocaust in Germany during World War 2 to the “Holocaust” in Gaza.

Since Tehran has repeatedly made it clear that a) the Palestinian cause is an incremental part of the Revolutionary Ideals of the regime in Tehran and that b) Tehran wants to destroy Israel, one way or another, it’s clear that the Holocaust contest isn’t really about free speech or artistic freedom but it is a propaganda tool by the Iranian regime meant to achieve this goal. When questioned on the issue of the contest, Iran’s FM Javad Zarif complicated the issue by unsuccessfully trying to distance the regime from the contest when it is all too obvious that without the regime’s backing, such a contest would not exist.

 

The content

Now, it’s time to check out the cartoons themselves in order to understand what are the messages being spread through this contest.

The cartoons can be liberally categorized into seven intertwining categories:

 

Linking the Holocaust with the suffering of the Palestinians: These cartoons equate and link the Holocaust in Germany to the “Holocaust” of the Palestinian people. The difference between a planned genocide of millions of people based on religion and the causalties of war between two warring neighbors is conveniently forgotten.

 

The suffering of the Palestinians: These cartoons portray the plight and suffering of the Palestinians although the linkage with the Holocaust, other than the suffering of a people, is not clear at all.

 

Demonizing Netanyahu: These cartoons portray Netanyahu as Hitler, as a friend of Hitler, a demonic surgeon killing Gaza, a propagator of death and blood, the destroyer of peace, a vampire etc… This theme was actually suggested by the organizers.

 

Emphasizing freedom of speech in regards to the Holocaust: These cartoons are meant to portray the censorship on the issue of the holocaust. In reality, the world is free to talk about and even question the Holocaust up to the point of denying that the Holocaust existed. On the other hand, drawing a cartoon of Mohammad is a sin according to Tehran which chose to blame the cartoonists in the Charlie Hebdo massacre instead of the terrorists themselves.

 

Linking the Holocaust with money: These cartoons create a direct linkage between the Jewish victims of the Holocaust and money that went, supposedly, to establish the state of Israel. The connection between the lives of the victims of the Holocaust in Germany and money is fragile at best.

 

Anti-Semitism: These cartoons are anti-Zionist in nature but the style of the cartoons are definitely anti-Semitic since Jews are portrayed in very stereotypical graphics (religious Hassidic Jews with long hooked noses and beards).

 

Holocaust denial: Although there is only one cartoon that actually denies the Holocaust, it is noteworthy that the organizers decided to exhibit as well – in this case, the Holocaust is equated to a bed-time story of folk tales such as Snow White or Pinocchio.

While it is possible to agree with some of the messages in these cartoons, when they are placed together, it’s plain to see that the cartoons are not about the Holocaust at all but are directly tied to the Palestinian cause. It’s not about creative freedom, or the freedom of speech at all and is meant, in fact, to support the Palestinian “resistance” against Israel and the US.