Monday, March 31, 2008

Fitna and the Vatican

As a seventh or eighth grader, I was trying to challenge my history teacher who was telling the class that Islam had spread in its early years from the Arabian Peninsula with the force of the sword. I attended Iranzamin, an international school in Tehran, our lecturers were American or European and most of our textbooks, including the history book our teacher was referring to, was American.

The textbook said exactly the same thing; that Islam had spread not due to the belief and conversion of people who had got the reviving message and were persecuted by their rulers and tyrants, but by force of the sword. A commonplace evident distortion of history by Christian historians, reflects the policy of denial that was practiced for a long time.

That history book was full of references to the merits of the Roman Civilization and excessive references to the services that European civilization had rendered to humanity and of course the American civilization. Very little, if any, mention was made of the great services that Islamic scholars, scientists, artists and leaders had provided. That was back in 1974.

Today, there is more understanding and recognition of the Islamic civilization in many dimensions, there are many sincere attempts on behalf of Christian authorities and scholars to appreciate the role of Islamic culture in the scientific, technological, social and political advancement of the human civilization.

Yet, there still are malevolent attempts to incite religious hatred and to depict a distorted image of Islam for the world. There seems to be a well orchestrated ongoing effort to portray Islam as a religion of violence, hatred and revenge. The film "Fitna" by Dutch far-right MP Geert Wilders, which features images of attacks in New York and Madrid intertwined with recitations from the Holy Quran, has provoked widespread condemnation.

I saw the film on the internet last night. It is very unfortunate that under the disguise of freedom of speech, which is a highly valued principle, a European politician would go to the extremes of insulting a divine religion known to be the fastest growing religion on earth.

The coincidence of the news given by Monsignor Vittorio Formenti, the compiler of the Annuario Pontificio, the Vatican yearbook is striking. He said "For the first time in history, we are no longer at the top: Muslims have overtaken us." He added that figures for 2006 showed that Catholics accounted for 17.4 per cent of the world population while Muslims accounted for 19.2 per cent.

Asked for an explanation Monsignor Formenti observed that "While Muslim families, as is well known, continue to make a lot of children, Christian ones on the contrary tend to have fewer and fewer". He said the figure for the Muslim global population was derived from data submitted to the United Nations by Muslim countries. He did not mention the high number of converts particularly in European countries.

I think there is an ongoing effort to create tensions leading to a collision course between Muslim and Christian societies who have been living together in peace for centuries. Muslims in Europe are emerging as a reality that has to be dealt with in a just and dignified manner. Up to now they have been generally excluded from the political and economic processes of their societies. Contrary to Iran, where religious minorities have a quota in the Parliament, Muslims lack any political representation in many European countries although they have strong minorities. These populations are mostly peaceful, law abiding and hardworking citizens.

The Fitna is a test for the values of democracy, tolerance and respect for diversity of opinions that Europeans claim to cherish and promote.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Mashad: The Pilgrim's Getaway

The Nowrooz holidays are still underway. Millions of Iranians are travelling they have taken to the roads, railways and airways and are touring throughout the country. Some are also travelling abroad . In 2005, more than 30 million people had travelled in the country during Nowrooz. I suppose it is much higher now. Along with the family we went to Mashhad to visit relatives and for paying a visit to Imam Reza , the eighth descendant of the Prophet Mohammad.(SA) According to official estimates more than 5 million pilgrims had visited Mashad during the first week of the holidays. The Governor was heard over the radio asking people not to come to the city due to the shortage of services that could be provided!
The city has grown significantly during recent years but opportunities for travelling and tourism and standards of living have also improved leaving expectations much higher. The city is both an attraction for pilgrims but also for shopping as well. Large malls and super markets as well as department stores, parks and other attractions have popped up in the city. Agricultural and industrial activity has boomed during the past decades in the suburban areas. However, water shortage is a major limiting factor for such activity in most eastern parts of Iran.
Mashad is only one of the 9 or 10 mega cities that have emerged during the past decade in Iran . Actually the country’s demographics have changed drastically from a village based society to one where the majority now, over 60%, live in cities and megacities. This however can be considered as a step forward in the development process only if indicators of human and social development improve in parallel . In reality , these indicators, specifically those related to primary health care, nutrition, primary ,secondary and tertiary education, have improved significantly , yet we still have a long way ahead. The major challenge we face today is in the economy and creating new jobs for over 700,000 people every year, that is a difficult job isn’t it?

Thursday, March 20, 2008


We are approaching the Iranian New Year, Nowrooz which will begin in less than one hour in Tehran . We actually have the exact time 9,18",19' am, which corresponds exactly with the spring equinox and the changes in the earth’s axis, the revival of nature after a long rest in winter. Iranians and many countries in this region including Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Girghiszistan, Turkemensitan and Kazakistan, parts of Azerbaijan and Pakistan all celebrate Nowrooz. This indicates the radius of Persian influence. Today with the large numbers of Iranians living abroad, the radius is much larger. Iranians have made significant contribution to human civilization and this contribution still continues to date.
Nowrooz tells us we should also learn from nature and take the opportunity to revive ourselves, to refresh our hearts and minds. Nature has the capability to renew and rejuvenate itself, after distress and pressure; rivers can purify and cleanse their water, rangelands can restore their vegetation. This constant cleansing and purification and revival is the essence of life and nature.
Can we find these same qualities among humans? Have individuals and societies maintained this natural feature throughout the ages? Is the concept of modernization relevant in this context or does that undertake only novelty and what is “new” and usually confined to the material realm? This question becomes very meaningful when we deal with the issue of leadership and the qualifications of people to take the affairs of nations and the world in their hands. Each and everyone of us needs a Nowrooz to revive our dormant hearts and minds. Nowrooz Mobarak!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Shopping in Tehran After the Elections

You can smell spring in the air now in Tehran. As we approach the final days of the Iranian year and Nowrooz, momentum for last minute chores and shopping is high. Shopping centers and particularly the Bazaar or the traditional trade hub in Tehran have been very busy. Employees and workers usually receive an additional pay or what we call eidi, on the occasion of the new year and that is when spending becomes indispensable. The prices ,have been however, soaring with no end to this trend in sight. Although the government and state media try to down play the drastic effects inflation has on the livelihoods of people particularly those living in the larger cities. Many predict that prices will jump even higher next year.
The state media announced the final election results for Tehran and the rest of the country. As predicted , the conservatives won over 60% of the seats with no difficulty or competition, as their major rivals had been barred from standing. In the remaining seats the reformists and independent candidates won over 50% of the seats. In Tehran, contrary to the City Council elections last year, where reformists won 25% of the seats (4 out of 15), people were baffled to see that the reformists were left behind in numbers and none won in the first round where 19 conservatives(principlists) including many supporters of the government came ahead.The rest (11) will remain until runoff elections are held next month. The reformists have placed their objection to the voting process and have serious doubts on the accuracy of the counts and many have called for a recount of the votes. No reformist representatives in Tehran for the time being, other than us in the City Council!
I had a live interview with Sahar Television channel last night and they asked me whether I considered the elections to be a fair play on level grounds. I told them the elections were very difficult for the reformists. They faced all forms of challenges and obstacles and in many respects they felt they were treated unfairly. From the ethical point of view the Principlist government could have done better in keeping to its "principles", however they proved that clinging on to power is a priority for which principles could be overlooked.
Nevertheless, many observers believe that the ultimate alignment in the eighth Parliament will be between the supporters of the current government and its opponents.In that case there will be a strong coalition among the reformists and the more moderate principlists on important issues such as economic and social policy. That could bring about some of the change for the better that so many Iranians wish to see. Well, we have to wait and see....

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Americans and Democracy in Iran

I voted yesterday with millions of Iranians.The nationwide voter turnout is estimated to be between 55-60%. The Reformists could compete for only about one third of the 290 seats in the Majlis due to the widespread disqualification of the Council of Guardians. Nevertheless the Reformists are hopeful, since they are well aware of their high popularity among the people. It is clear that people take part in elections with high hopes vested in change for the better.
Regional and international developments are noteworthy as well. The English Aljazeera asked for a live telephone interview the other day. They wanted to hear my reaction on the resignition of the Commander of American forces in the region,Admiral Richard Fallon. He had apparently spoken to Esquire newsmagazine about his reluctance to follow the administration's line in planning for a potential attack against Iran. I told them this is a indication of the deepening rifts within the adminstration and the military apparatus on their strategy vis a vis Iran. It is also an indication of the opposition that exists to the radical neocon ideologues. Fallon probably realized that any attack against Iran would ignite the whole region , destablize many other states and thereby begin a chain reaction. He was also aware of the military preparedness of Iran and the fact that the Iranian administration is very very different from Sadam or the Taliban. In any case I told Aljazeera that when these things come up before national elections they negatively influence the democratic processes in our country. If America is true in its claim to support democracy and freedom in the world it should change its antagonistic and arrogant approach on Iran, since that approach has made things more difficult for the democratic movement in Iran.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Dubai and An Election Rally

The Summit in Dubai was an excellent opportunity to meet with successful and influential women from different backgrounds. The Conference and the Middle East Excellence Award Ceremony were both well covered by Arab media and satellite TV. Many of them interviewed me after my speech. During my speech I had mentioned the need for inclusion of a feminine perspective in global decision-making processes. War, I argued was the consequence of the suppression of feminine archetypes and decisions driven by power and lust. My speech was preceded by an address by Mary Robinson the former President of Ireland who described her experiences in dealing with some of the issues in Africa and other developing countries. Some friends in Iran contacted me with SMS to tell us that they had seen me in Alan Satellite Channel. Dubai TV, Al Agharia, City 7 and some regional newspapers including Khaleej Times had also made interviews. Some people enjoy the publicity but I take it as an opportunity to speak the unspoken. We came back on Sunday late at night.
Last night we attended a large election rally for the Reformist Coalition. The 30 coalition candidates had attended and and hundereds of people had come to listen to their views and programs. When I arrived the anchor woman announced my name and everyone applauded . While I was there dozens of people came forward to speak and discuss their problems. I enjoyed talking to them although it was a demanding job after a long workday.
I still think the elections are not lively yet. The reformists feel they have recieved unfair treatment in every aspect. After the initial disqualifications, the campaign process has begun under very strict regulations. The law does not allow for candidate posters or pictures to be attached. I hope double standards do not rule here.Both refomists and principalists should be treated equally before the law. After all as religious politicians we should take ethics more seriously. What do you think?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Friends of Khatami

The elections have kicked off in Iran. The election campaign officially began at midnight last night. Although many reformists were finally qualified to enter the race, there still are many reformists totally excluded from the process. Many people believe this is unfair and unconstitutional. This morning we had a meeting in the City Council on ways that we could help to enhance voter turnout.Since the outcoing parliament has passed laws that have seriously restricted campaigning methods, we were discussing ways to engage people and particularly what could be done to create a more lively election process. There are many billboards in Tehran, now displaying the motifs belonging to different polictical parties and coalitions. The reformists have emphasized on improvement of economic indicators, fighting against backwardness, and improvement of relations with the international community. Reformists will provide a full 30 person list in Tehran although in some large cities they do not have a list due to the disqualification of their candidates. The principalists and supporters of the government have not been able to come to a full coalition. The reformists also have offshoots although the main strong nationwide coalition uses the acronym "Friends of Khatami" which is very meaningfull for the voters.
I had a live interview on the elections with Press TV this evening and I spoke about the characteristics of a democratic election . I mentioned the peacful shift of power from one political orientation to another to be one of the valuable indicators of democracy. I still think the major challenge we have ahead is an ethical challenge.But it is also a traffic challenge .
As we approach the final days of the year, traffic jams and conjested highways become a routine procedure in Tehran. In spite of dozens of new freeways and autobahns, since the number of cars has increased dramatically in parallel during the past years ,we are always in need of more room. I sometimes wonder and have brought up the question in the City Council on whether we are designing Tehran for cars or for human beings?
Before I forget let me say that I am leaving for Dubai early tommorow morning. I have an opening speech in the Global Business Women and Leaders Summit and another one in the Middle East Awards Ceremony. You can see the link here :