Khatami Warns Against Radicalism In Iran
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
7 May 2006
Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami today warned against what he called "organized radicalism" in Iran, in an apparent reference to his successor.
Although he did not name President Mahmud Ahmadinejad by name, Khatami told students at Tehran University that "a certain group" was trying to impose its radical ideology on Iranian society.
Khatami warned that even what he called "well-known fundamentalists" were unhappy with the situation.
IRAN: CIVIL SOCIETY FEELS CONSERVATIVES' WRATH
by Omid Memarian*
BERKELEY, California (IPS) - Nearly a year has gone by since Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to office, and his establishment is continuing to suppress civil society, intimidate the press and arrest activists.
Since the government's security forces violently interrupted a peaceful protest in support of women's rights in Tehran on Jun. 12, dozens of women activists have been summoned to court -- some having been interrogated for more than a week.
Nooshin Ahmadi Khorasani and Parvin Ardalan are two prominent activists who have spent more than four hours a day answering questions. Their lawyer, Nasrin Sotoodeh, told IPS that the charge is "mobilising people for illegal protests", a violation of national security laws that can carry a lengthy prison sentence.
During this month's women's rights gathering, which attracted more than 5,000 people, security forces arrested the former reformist member of parliament and student activist Ali Akbar Mosavi Khoeiniha, among more than 60 others. Though most were released within a few days, Khoeiniha is still being detained at an undisclosed location.
Just two months ago, the Iranian intelligence service, which has close ties to the president, arrested Ramin Jahanbeglou, a prominent scholar, with no clear charges filed as of yet. At the same time, the National Security Council prohibited the press from criticising Iran's foreign policy in a bid to avoid further international isolation over its nuclear programme.
Mansour Ossanlu, the director of the Union of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company, has been detained since December following the union's peaceful protest. Many student group members were also summoned to the Revolutionary Court in the past week to explain their political activities. Moreover, many women and human rights groups have been repeatedly intimated and asked to report all of their activities and meetings.
In fact, activists, students, journalists, and civil society organisations have felt mounting pressure following the fall of the reformist government, and later on, the domination of the city councils, parliament and the presidency by hardliner conservatives who follow Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other high-ranking clerics.
A review of the past decade's events in Iran illustrates how weary and suspicious the conservatives have become of civil society. In their view, the development and expansion of civil society networks and discourse has been an attempt by the reformists to imitate the success of the conservatives in creating revolutionary organisations, such as Basij and Sepah.
They reason that since opposition groups do not have the military might necessary to overthrow the Islamic Republic directly, they will try to bring about its demise indirectly through influencing civil society and weakening the institutional structure of the country.
That is why after the consolidation of power by conservatives, which came about through undemocratic means and the elimination of reformist candidates in the seventh parliamentary elections of February 2004 and the presidential election of June 2005, civil society actors became concerned with the impact of political developments and their own future.
Their main concern is that the current government will negatively influence the direction of -- or put to halt to -- some of the reform era liberalisations, which had invigorated journalists, intellectuals, students, women and labour groups.
Now, only a year after President Ahmadinejad's election, it is becoming apparent that the hardliners who occupy positions in essentially non-democratic institutions such as the police, the judiciary and parallel security establishments are expanding the scope of their suppression and censorship. Most likely, their efforts will accelerate and toughen in the coming months.
The hardliners cite the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of Eastern European regimes as a direct result of the expansion of civil society and international and aid organisations. The suppression or control of civil society, they argue, is essential for the survival of the regime, and it can be attained through sporadic arrests of activists, accusations of espionage against NGO members, and increasing the price of activism in general. They have started this process since capturing the parliament in 2003.
The conservatives have also sought to create "counterfeit" civil society networks to limit or disrupt the expansion of the independent, democratic civil society. These organisations are in all likelihood connected to one governmental agency or another. While they do not truly represent the people or their interests, they can take over the space of civil society and also tamper with its activities.
While there are many examples of these types of organisations, they have been established with great professionalism, and there will likely be a great increase in their number in the next few years. This will create an environment in which the voice of civil society will no longer be the voice of the people, but rather, the voice of the government.
[There is also] a growing trend to limit to participation of independent groups at international conferences and replace them with groups that represent the government's official viewpoint. [..]
In the past, the reformist government often used civil society as a weapon to guard against the hegemony of the conservatives in traditional organisations. [..] As a result, the main focus of the reformist government was on the quantitative, rather than qualitative expansion of civil society. Presently, many such new organisations are too weak to influence government policy in any meaningful way.
The Ahmadinejad administration has dried up the many funding sources for NGOs and civil society groups since coming to power last June. [..] In addition, the Ahmadinejad administration has raised the political cost of having connections with international donors and organisations.
*Omid Memarian is an Iranian journalist and civil society activist. He has won several awards, including Human Rights Watch's highest honour in 2005, the Human Rights Defender Award. Omid is currently a visiting scholar at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.
Iranians Split on How Society Should Work
Angus Reid Global Scan : Polls & Research
July 14, 2006
Adults in Iran are divided on which path their country should take, according to a poll by Zogby International released by Reader's Digest. 36 per cent of respondents would prefer a more religious and conservative society, while 30.7 per cent would like Iran to become more secular and liberal.
In addition, 15 per cent of respondents believe Iranian society should stay as it is, and 18.3 per cent are undecided. [..]
Would you most like to see Iran's society become more secular and liberal, more religious and conservative, or just stay as it is?
More secular and liberal
More religious and conservative
Just stay as it is
What do you think the most important long-term goal for the Iranian government should be?
Reforming economy so it operates more efficiently
Developing arsenal of nuclear weapons for defence
Expanding the freedoms of Iranian citizens
None / Not sure
Source: Zogby International / Reader's Digest
Methodology: Telephone interviews with 810 Iranian adults, conducted from May 18 to Jun. 1, 2006. Margin of error is 3.5 per cent.
Iran threatens Israel re Syria
Iranian President quote:
"If Israel commits another act of idiocy and aggresses Syria, this will be the same as an aggression against the entire Islamic world and it will receive a stinging response," he said in a telephone conversation with his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad.
Quite a statement.
Iran: Signature Drive Targets Gender Discrimination
28 August 2006
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Activists in Iran have started a petition drive calling for changes to laws that discriminate against women. Organizers hope to attract the signature of 1 million Iranians -- a challenge that they say public officials could not ignore. Authorities blocked the gathering at which the launch was supposed to take place on August 27 on a technicality. But women's rights defenders are collecting signatures and vowing to broaden their campaign nevertheless.
This campaign is just the latest move by women's rights activists who argue that Iran can be Islamic and nondiscriminatory at the same time.
Police violently dispersed a public protest two months ago aimed at raising awareness of gender discrimination. One of the demonstrators involved in that event -- former reformist lawmaker and student rights activist, Ali-Akbar Moussavi Khoeni -- remains in custody.
This new initiative is aimed at pressuring lawmakers. Organizers want to demonstrate that many Iranian citizens -- women and men -- are unhappy with laws that treat women as second-class citizens.
Islamic laws as applied in Iran deny women equal rights in divorce, child custody, inheritance, and other areas. A woman's testimony in court is worth half that of a man, and a woman needs the permission of her father or husband to travel.
Testing Public Support
Activist Golnaz Maleki told Radio Farda that the demand that discriminatory laws be amended has broader support than just women's rights defenders.
"One million signatures can at least demonstrate that our demands are not only the demands of 4,000 or 5,000 people who go to various gatherings, are beaten up, and then go home," Maleki said. "There is wide support for these demands."
Campaigners also argue that Iranian legislation lags behind cultural norms and women's status in society. In Iran, more than 60 percent of university entrants are women. Iranian women actively participate in many spheres, including in the education and NGO sectors.
Activists believe the legal discrimination against women negatively affects the lives of men. They say it has led to what they describe as an unbalanced and unhealthy relationship between men and women. [..]
"Our main goal is to create a dialogue among citizens and educate them about their rights," Maleki said. "And we also want women to become sensitive to their status under the law and in society. We also want to create a collective morale among women and encourage collaboration," [Maleki said].
"The main method is based on the face-to-face method -- signatures will be gathered through door-to-door contact and conversations with women," [another campaign member, Farnaz Seyfi, told Radio Farda]. "Another method is identifying places where women gather -- for example, in hair salons, sport clubs, parks, on public transportation. Campaign members will go to these places and talk to women. Another method is organizing seminars and meetings that promote dialogue; in these places, signatures will be collected from participants."
Activists insist that collecting signatures against discriminatory laws is only "the first phase" of the campaign. They say the next phase includes proposing new laws.
Maleki said the current campaign ismodeled on a similar effort that was launched in Morocco in 1992 and led to changes in the law. But she said she suspects that campaigners in Iran have a more difficult task ahead of them than their colleagues in Morocco.
"[Collecting] 1 million signatures is in fact one of the goals -- we've set June 19, 2007, as the deadline," Maleki said. "But I'm personally not very hopeful that, by that day, 1 million signatures will have been collected. From what I know from Morocco, [Moroccan activists] collected 1 million signatures in three years. [But] they had different conditions -- their king [supported them], and they had a volunteer force of 9,000."
Authorities prevented the event on August 27 at which the campaign was supposed to kick off -- a seminar on "the Impact of laws on women's rights." But organizers began collecting signatures from those who turned up neverthelesS.
They also distributed pamphlets on laws that activists claim deny women basic rights.
Campaigners have also launched a website to further their cause, called we-change.org.
Several prominent intellectuals, lawyers, and literary figures have publicly backed the compaign, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, poet Simin Behbahani, and film director Jafar Panahi.
Iran bans fast internet to cut west's influence
Wednesday October 18, 2006
Iran's Islamic government has opened a new front in its drive to stifle domestic political dissent and combat the influence of western culture - by banning high-speed internet links.
In a blow to the country's estimated 5 million internet users, service providers have been told to restrict online speeds to 128 kilobytes a second and been forbidden from offering fast broadband packages. The move by Iran's telecommunications regulator will make it more difficult to download foreign music, films and television programmes, which the authorities blame for undermining Islamic culture among the younger generation. It will also impede efforts by political opposition groups to organise by uploading information on to the net.
Iranian women use the internet in village of Qarn Abad, 240 miles north-east of Tehran.
The order follows a purge on illegal satellite dishes, which millions of Iranians use to clandestinely watch western television. Police have seized thousands of dishes in recent months.
The latest step has drawn condemnation from MPs, internet service companies and academics [..]. "Every country in the world is moving towards modernisation and a major element of this is high-speed internet access," said Ramazan-ali Sedeghzadeh, chairman of the parliamentary telecommunications committee. "The country needs it for development and access to contemporary science." [..]
A petition branding the high-speed ban as "backward and unprincipled" bearing more than 1,000 signatures is to be sent to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Scores of websites and blogs are censored using hi-tech US-made filtering equipment. Iran filters more websites than any other country apart from China. High-speed links can be used with anti-filtering devices to access filtered sites. [..]
Parastoo Dokoohaki, a prominent Iranian blogger, said the move was designed to foil the government's opponents. "If you want to announce a gathering in advance, you won't see it mentioned on official websites and newspapers would announce it too late. Therefore, you upload it anonymously and put the information out. Banning high-speed links would limit that facility. [..]"
The crackdown comes in an atmosphere of increasing restrictions on the media. Last week, Mr Ahmadinejad launched a fierce attack on the head of the state broadcasting organisation, IRIB, which he blamed for stoking public fears about inflation. Iran's leading reformist newspaper, Shargh, was also closed last month.
Iranian Lawmakers Protest Ban On Website
February 21, 2007 -- More than 130 Iranian parliamentarians have protested to President Mahmud Ahmadinejad about the banning of a conservative news website that has been critical of the president.
In a letter to Ahmadinejad today, 136 lawmakers demanded the lifting of the ban imposed on February 20 against the Baztab website.
The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance declared Baztab illegal for "acting against the constitution, disrupting national unity," and "spreading lies."
Iran gets first womens island
Wednesday 21 February
TEHERAN - For the first time, Iran will get an entire island on which men are not allowed, the Iranian press reported on Wednesday. The island Arezou in the Orumiyeh Lake, near the border with Turkey, will be made wholly men-free. Elsewhere in Iran there are already beaches that are partially men-free. Women can sunbathe there without veils, without running the risk that men with whom they are not married, will be able to see their hair.
France gets animated over black and white take on Iranian revolution
30 June 2007
Imagine a full-length, animated film with no lovable talking animals, no simple storyline and almost no colour. Imagine a cartoon movie about the Iranian revolution, seen through the eyes of Bruce Lee and an Abba-loving child who becomes a homesick teenager exiled in Europe. Just such an unlikely-sounding movie, Persepolis, went on general release to glowing reviews in France this week.
It is the first full-length, animated biopic of an "ordinary" life; or the first animated autobiography.
Marjane Satrapi has already made her experiences as an exiled middle class Iranian into a best-selling series of four cartoon books. In the film, her drawings come to life. Persepolis - which won the Prix du Jury at Cannes last month - is part of a movement to push animated movies beyond traditional boundaries.
In another respect, Persepolis tries to turn back the tide. The directors refused computer-generated images and reverted to laborious hand-copying of drawings.
There are a few minutes of partial colour at the beginning but the movie is mostly in monochrome.
The French language version has voiceovers by, among others, Catherine Deneuve. An English-language version is expected to be released in the autumn.
The film follows the life of Satrapi, from just before the Islamic revolution in 1979 to her exile in Austria and then France. She is the daughter of a wealthy, artistic, left-wing family. Her uncles are freed from the Shah's jails, only to be imprisoned by the mullahs.
The early part of the movie is stolen by her freedom-loving granny, who swears like a trooper, smokes opium and puts jasmine flowers down the front of her dress to "make her breasts smell nice".
Although politics are ever-present, it is not a political tract. Satrapi says: "I wanted the personal story, driven by the theme of exile, to be almost more important than the Big Story."
None of which prevented the Iranian government from saying the movie presents a "distorted" view of the Iranian revolution.
Iranian President Rebuffs Oliver Stone
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, depicting the Oscar-winning filmmaker Oliver Stone as "a part of the Great Satan," rejected Mr. Stone's proposal to make him the subject of a documentary, The Associated Press reported. Mehdi Kalhor, media adviser to the president, said he had sent a "negative answer by Ahmadinejad" to Mr. Stone, the Fars agency reported. "It is right that this person is considered part of the opposition in the U.S., but opposition in the U.S. is a part of the Great Satan," Mr. Kalhor said, adding, "We believe that the American cinema lacks culture and art." A publicity representative in New York said Mr. Stone had not been formally notified of the rejection, but he released a statement saying: "I have been called a lot of things, but never a great satan. I wish the Iranian people well, and only hope their experience with an inept, rigid ideologue president goes better than ours."
Iran's thought criminals
Kian Tajbakhsh - a scholar, social scientist and urban planner - is languishing in an Iranian jail. Why?
July 25, 2007 7:00 PM
My friend, Kian Tajbakhsh, is in jail in Iran for ... well, being an intellectual. He has not had access to a lawyer nor any visitors since being jailed for espionage and undermining the state. In short, if you live in Iran nowadays, intellectuals are the new terrorists. As in Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia, purveyors of ideas, information, and emotions are the enemy, especially if the people espousing such ideas happen to work for a foreign organisation.
Mr Tajbakhsh, an internationally respected scholar, social scientist, urban planner, and dual citizen of Iran and the United States, has languished in Tehran's Evin Prison - notorious for its documented cases of torture and detainee abuse - since May 11. I was shocked last week to see him on Iranian TV, pale and wan, giving the kind of faked confession that would have made Soviet prosecutors blush.
Soft spoken, mild mannered, thoughtful, and with a wonderful sense of humor, Mr Tajbakhsh is portrayed by the Iranian government as a ravenous wolf ready to devour the regime. He was arrested along with other leading Iranian-American intellectuals, including Haleh Esfandiari of the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars. Ms Esfandiari is a 67-year-old grandmother - just the right age to set about undermining Iran. Her lawyer, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, has been denied access to her. Meanwhile, journalist Parnaz Azima is not allowed to leave Iran.
As an intellectual, Mr Tajbakhsh cannot expect the world's celebrities to beg Iran's government for his release. Instead, he has received support from other intellectuals, such as the 3,400 members of the PEN American Centre, the writers' organisation that fights for freedom of expression. The 14,000 members of the American Sociological Association have also asked for his release.
You would think Mr Tajbakhsh's record in Iran would rule out an accusation of treason. He has been a consultant to several Iranian ministries on urban planning, and helped the government in major rebuilding projects after the devastating earthquake that destroyed the ancient city of Bam in 2003. In 2006, he completed a three-year study of local government in Iran - hardly the stuff of insurrection and regime change.
But he was also a consultant to the Soros Foundation, which, according to Ahmadinejad's government, has worked against Islam. That idea is preposterous. In fact, the foundation's many contributions to the Muslim world include help following catastrophic natural disasters in Pakistan and Indonesia, providing medical supplies to the Palestinians under blockade, and allowing scholars and intellectuals to learn from each other by translating and publishing works from English into local languages and vice versa.
What makes Mr Tajbakhsh's incarceration look truly pathetic is that Iran boasts of one of the oldest civilisations in the world. Persians mingled easily with the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, conveying their skills, discoveries, and statecraft to the west. The image of the Persians portrayed in the recent film, 300, is simply false. Moreover, Muslim Iranians have always respected their pre-Islamic civilisation. Thus, the Islamic revolutionaries in 1979 made a point of preserving the Zoroastrian fire temples.
In its Muslim era, Iran has boasted of some of the greatest poets, writers, and scientists in the world. None of this would have been possible if Iran's ancient Muslim rulers had not allowed academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas and expression - something that is sorely missing in today's Islamic Republic. Other autocratic rulers in the Muslim world are learning from Iran's example, cracking down hard on intellectuals, journalists, lawyers, women activists, or just about anyone who has ideas and wants to exchange them with others. For such Muslim rulers, intellectuals are the new global terrorists, bombarding their regimes with intellectualism. And my friend Kian Tajbakhsh - alone in his cell in Evin Prison wondering what he has done wrong - is the face of this new form of repression.
In cooperation with Project Syndicate, 2007.
Will Iran's 'Marriage Crisis' Bring Down Ahmadinejad?
By Azadeh Moaveni
Tuesday, Jun. 09, 2009
My friends Farhad and Mahnaz are the quintessential Iranian couple. They are both engineers with a shared passion for hiking and movies and have been smitten with each other for six years " but Farhad and Mahnaz can't afford to get married because even a one-bedroom apartment is beyond their reach, despite their both having decent middle-class jobs. This reality has preyed on their relationship, compelling them to consider leaving Iran. And they blame the government for their situation.
"We aren't lazy, and we aren't aiming for anything so high," says Mahnaz.
These days, the phrase "marriage crisis" pops up in election debates, newspapers and blogs and is considered by government officials and ordinary Iranians alike to be one of the nation's most serious problems. It refers to the rising number of young people of marrying age who cannot afford to marry or are choosing not to tie the knot. By official estimates, there are currently 13 million to 15 million Iranians of marrying age; to keep that figure steady, Iran should be registering about 1.65 million marriages each year. The real figure is closer to half that.
Why does this matter? Because Iran's government cannot afford to further alienate the young people that comprise more than 35% of its population. The young are already seething over their government's radical stance in the world and its trashing of the economy, and their anger easily expresses itself politically. As they decide how to vote in Friday's presidential election, young people like Farhad and Mahnaz are likely to base their decision in part on who they think will address the problem closest to their heart.
Iran used to be a society in which people married young. In a Muslim culture that viewed premarital sex and dating as taboo, this was pretty much a social imperative. My mother married at 28, and in the 1970s that meant she had brushed up against spinsterhood. But today, Iranian women are attending university in unprecedented numbers " they account for over 60% of students on Iranian campuses " and typically enter the workforce after graduating. This has turned their focus away from the home sphere, made marriage a less urgent priority and changed women's expectations of both marriage and prospective husbands.
With young people pursuing more liberal lifestyles and shunning the traditional mores of their parents' generation, the marrying age is steadily climbing. This terrifies Iran's religious government, which still peddles the virtue of chastity and views young people's shifting attitudes toward sexuality as a direct threat to the Islamic Revolution's core values. "The sexual bomb we face is more dangerous than the bombs and missiles of the enemy," said Mohammad Javad Hajj Ali Akbari, head of Iran's National Youth Organization, late last year.
Unfortunately for the government, the mismanagement of Iran's economy " with its high inflation, unemployment rates and soaring real estate prices " has deepened the marriage crisis, and with it the resentment among young Iranians.
Amir Hekmati is a determined 31-year-old civil servant from Tehran's Narmak neighborhood. He earns the equivalent of $500 a month and has saved assiduously. He's also managed to secure a loan from the ministry where he works and a small sum from his parents, but even with that he can't muster enough to buy a studio apartment in an outlying district of the city. Two women he admired turned down his marriage proposals on the grounds that he did not already have his own place. "If women would just agree to be girlfriends and date, we wouldn't be forced to pursue marriage in the first place," he complained.
Hekmati's experience is typical of young Iranians, who are finding themselves increasingly priced out of the marriage market. During the tenure of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, real estate prices have soared across the country, but especially in Tehran, where they have risen as much as 150%. Economists have blamed the spike on Ahmadinejad's disastrous economic policies. The President flooded the economy with capital through a loan scheme, cut interest rates 2% and embarked on huge state construction projects that drove up the price of building materials. Those changes prompted many investors to move out of the stock market and the banking system and into real estate, which was considered a safer bet. Apartment prices in the capital more than doubled between 2006 and 2008.
The real estate boom was a disaster for middle-income Iranians, particularly young men seeking marriage partners. And many of those who have married and moved in with in-laws are finding that inflation is eating away at their savings, meaning it will take years, rather than months, to get their own place. The resulting strains are breaking up existing marriages " this past winter, local media reported that a leading cause of Iran's high divorce rate is the husband's inability to establish an independent household. Many others are concluding that marriage is best avoided altogether.
Ahmadinejad's government response to the crisis included a plan, unveiled in November 2008 by the National Youth Organization, called "semi-independent marriage." It proposed that young people who cannot afford to marry and move into their own place legally marry but continue living apart in their parents' homes. The announcement prompted swift outrage. Online news sites ran stories in which women angrily denounced the scheme, arguing that it afforded men a legal and pious route to easy sex while offering women nothing by way of security or social respect. The government hastily dropped the plan.
As Iranians head to the polls on Friday, Ahmadinejad faces the prospect that the very same broad discontent with the economy that propelled him to victory in 2005 could now help unseat him. Samira, a 27-year-old who works in advertising, recently became engaged and is among the millions of young Iranians who are eyeing the candidates through the lens of their own marital concerns. "Ahmadinejad promised he would bring housing prices down, but that didn't happen at all," she says. If left to their own salaries, she explains, she and her fiancé will never be able to afford their own place. That's a key reason they're voting for Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the leading reformist candidate, who has made the economy the center of his platform. Like many young Iranians, they hope a new President will make marriage a possibility once more.