Saturday, November 28, 2009


I was invited by the representative of Imam Khomeini in Hajj Affairs, Mr. Mousavi Khoeiniha to be a member of the International Affairs Delegation, in 1983. I had attended the Omra ceremonies of Hajj when I was very young, but this was the first time I was attending Tamatoh ceremonies.
Hajj, as I understood, was a lifetime voyage that every Muslim who had acquired the necessary wealth, and according to interpretations; necessary insight should make. Hajj is composed of rituals with very profound spiritual, social and political significance, the best understanding of which I had obtained in Dr. Ali Shariati's book, Hajj.
The Hajj Pilgramage is an international congress of the greatest dimension in human history. More than 2 million Muslims from all over the globe , from diverse social, cultural and racial backgrounds attend the ceremony in one common dress, reviving the ceremonies that Prophet Abraham, the father of contemporary monotheistic religions performed. The voyage has several stages,reminiscent of the stages of human intellectual and spiritual development. The Pilgrim has to enter a phase of Ehram ,restrictions which could release the spiritual senses and energies that we loose during the overtly material lives that we lead today. These stages consists of a camp for Cognition in Arafat , and for a battle against the devil in Mena, an attemp to shed all  the negative attributes that deny human dignity .The three days of camping and walking are culminated by the Sacrifice , where each pilgrim has the opportunity to prove his or her pure intentions walking in the steps of Abraham, ready to sacrifice one's dearest attachments for the Divine. The rituals terminate with a ceremony in Mecca ,revolving for 7 times around Mecca or the House of God in devotion and prostration .
In 1983, before the ceremonies commenced, Iranian pilgrims, along with thousands of pilgrims from other nationalities performed peaceful marches in the streets of Mecca and Medina, as a demonstration of the political unity of Muslims against the atrocities of Israel and American hegemony. These peaceful marches displayed the grandeur of the Muslim Ummat in unity and brotherhood . Saudi police prevented these demonstrations for the fear of the large populations in later years.
Many Muslims would take part in meetings arranged by the Representative of Imam Khomeini in the Iranian headquarters. That year a group of Muslim women from South Africa joined us in the tent in Mena on the day of Arafat( meaning cognition). We read a prayer that day,known as the Prayer of Imam Hussein on the day of Arafat. The sisters from South Africa did not know Arabic and I had to translate for them. It is a beautiful touching prayer and also somewhat difficult in terminology and concept, but I did it and we were crying all the way through.
"Oh God-Almighty! Thou are the One Who has poured the sweetness of Your love within the hearts of your friends and lovers so that they should stand in prayer in front of You and adore You with humility. Oh Thou are the One Who has dressed your Believers with the robe of fear so that they should stand and repent in front of you."
The sisters who had joined us had not heard of this prayer, they had enjoyed the ceremony and told me at the end that they never knew that Shia prayers were so powerful and meaningful and so congruent with Sunni prayers. That was a memorable Hajj for all of us.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Chemical Weapons

A seminar concerning the effects of air pollution on those injured by chemical weapons was held, this week, in Tehran. Many war veterans and civilians who had been seriously injured during the war had attended. As I entered the seminar hall, loud and incessant coughs could be heard, continuing throughout the session. During the war, between 1980 and 1988, Saddam employed scores of various chemical weapons against both civilian and military targets; enjoying the active support of Western powers and the indifference of international bodies responsible for world peace and security. The tragedy and massacre of Halabje and Sardasht are evident examples of genocide in contemporary times.
Medical scholars spoke on the various long term complications of sulfur mustard, one of the commonly employed gases, on respiratory, skin, eye and immune systems. Those afflicted usually suffer from severe respiratory illneses throughout their life. Government authorities lectured the audience on the importance of combatting air pollution and honoring the war veterans. I noted in my speech that public officials should provide a report of their work indicating what they have achieved . I reported on the status of the environment committee established in the Tehran City Council and particularly what has been done to abate air pollution in Tehran. I was also very careful to mention that the government had failed to fulfill its legal commitments, had dissolved relevant working groups and had not taken proper steps to address the matter during the past four years.
A group of young men who had been injured in the city of Sardasht when they were very young, performed a Kurdish dance at the end of the ceremony. When one of them went up to the podium to describe how he suffered from the wounds and injuries of the sulfur mustard gas employed in Sardasht, when he was only five, many people in the audience wept.

As I spoke with many of the chemical victims, I was thinking about certain European governments that were accomplices in providing Saddam with chemical weapons and their tacit support for his policy of attacking residential areas . Have those countries been held accountable for their actions or have they escaped justice to date?
I have been working with the Sardasht Cohort Study Group on the immune parameters of injured citizens of Sardasht, about two decades after the attack. I will link some of our research articles which have been recently published in this field.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Iran's Fragile Private Sector

Privitization has been an important economic policy for Iran in the Third and Fourth Development Plans. The establishment of new Government owned corporations was banned and those existing were obliged to set their shares for sale to the private sector. According to the Constitution of the Islamic Republic, the economy consists of three sectors, the government, the cooperatives and the private sector. However,due to the difficult years after the Revolution and the Iraqi imposed war, oil revenues had been the major source of income and major development and infrastructural projects were undertaken by government companies or those in which the government had major shares for a long time. Large intergovernmental trusts and corporations also surfaced during those years and made it very difficult for small private corporations to compete and survive. Inspite of official policy to promote private sector interests and activity, rising inflation rates, the recent political crisis and a strong intergovernmental sector have prevented the practical implementation of these strategic policies.
Two major national projects in which these intergovermental corporations won the tenders were recently taken up not only by local media but also by legal authorities as possible illegal transactions. The powerful winner of the bid however has confidently sealed the deal. These are signs of more difficult times for Iran's fragile private sector.