Sunday, December 28, 2008

Gaza will Resist

Initially, I wanted to devote this post to the Seminar held by the Center for Peace and Environment in Assalouye in the Southern Pars region in Iran . Assalouye is one of the major petrochemical and gas refinery centers of the world, centered in southern Iran. Along with a long list of scholars and experts we delivered a series of speeches on the environmental challenges of the petrochemical industies. Although these complexes have taken great strides in areas related to wastewater treatment, EIA, environmental management and hazardous waste management, there are still major air pollution issues due to the open flares in the region. We spent the morning in Assalouye and came back with a 1.5 hour flight to Tehran.
HOWEVER after the massacre in Gaza I cannot help mentioning the tragedy , where Israel has dropped 100 tons of bombs only yesterday. This has led to the killing of more than 280 people to this moment, mostly civilians in less than two days. Palestine has not seen such aerial bombardments and terrible crimes since 1967 and it is interesting to know that no Israeli has been killed by any Palestinian during the past 6 months. Gaza has been under seige now for more than 6 months only because they have not recognized the legitimacy of Israel. The Leader of the Revolution has serously condemned the killings in his message today(Sunday) and announced tomorow as a day of mourning. It is quite shameful that in such circumstances human rights activist and supporters of peace remain silent. It is also shameful that double standards rule when it comes to the death and killing of Palestinian civilians. Israel seems to have the right to kill people to secure its security .
In any case, Israelis will be confronted with the unity of the Palestinian people , their heroic resistance and their readiness for martyrdom. In addition the awakening of the Islamic ummah is underway.... Leaders of the Arab world are mostly silent, there is little support, Egyptian leaders seem to have compromised the security of Gaza for their selfish concerns.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Two Birthdays and a Film

Women leaders of the environment gathered in Helsinki to discuss ways women could contribute to the improvement of the state of the world's environment in 2002. We were about 28 Ministers and Satu Hassi was the Finish Minister of Environment, at that time. In addition to my keynote speech , I had asked for some time to screen a short film on the life of the Virgin Mary and the Birth of Jesus Christ, based on the narration of the Holy Quran. The film was originally a popular TV series broadcast on Iranian TV and it was later transformed into a movie . I had asked Mr. Ali Akbari, the producer, to produce a short excerpt for screening , with English subtitles in this session. The short film was screened during one of the break sessions. I did not think it would be so well appreciated by the audience. Many were surprised to learn that the Quran has devoted so many phrases to the life of the Virgin and her Son and some were moved seeing the egalitarian approach of the Quran openly expressed in this narration. The beautiful description given in the verses of the Quran about Mary's inspirational role against the prejudices and injustices of the ruling system of the Jewish Rabbis was well portrayed in this film.

There is so much that Abrahamic religions have in common, there are so many reasons for getting along, for working to eradicate poverty , injustice, ignorance and protecting nature. We should wish ,on Christmas eve , for peace and security and for a future to which our children everywhere in the world could look up to.

But there is another birthday party tonight as well. It is the first anniversary of Persian Paradox which was born exactly this night a year ago. I wish to thank all those who visited the blog during the past year and particularly those who left me their messages and notes. I hope Persian Paradox has made a connection in the vast skies of the blogosphere.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The EU Compromise and A Chat

During the years I was in office, EU Ministers would firmly emphasize and stress upon climate change policy in international environment meetings. They would highlight the gravity of the climate change trends and the commitments that members of the global community should make to ensure that the warming of the earth's atmosphere is slowed down. EU States usually displayed their firmness in this debate, while developing countries had reservations on regulations that would ultimately curb their development processes. The G77 countries would argue that the warming of the earth is a phenomena that has aroused due to decades of Western industrial growth and now that it is the turn of developing nations to advance, they are confronted with a global commitment to curb greenhouse gas production.
EU States met on December 12 in Brussels to allow East European countries to continue use coal as an industrial fuel until 2020. Coal combustion creates large amounts of greenhouse gases, in addition to other pollutants, and EU States in the past worked hard not only to eradicate it from Europe but also to discourage other countries from using it. This compromise is a setback for the EU that traditionally stood firm on its principles and could be taken probably as an indication of change . It also indicates that East Europe is well behind the rest of Europe, similar to the developing world in terms of the commitments it could make in this regard. This session and the COP meeting in Poland did not deliver any promising message for environmentalists who are concerned for the future of planet earth.
The Australian Ambassador in Tehran payed a visit to my office in the Tehran City Council yesterday. The importance of promoting dialogue on issues of mutual interest, joint workshops for exchange of experience on environmental matters with the Council or with the Center for Peace and Environment were discussed. He noted that the economic crises had not hit the Australian markets yet and that their government had worked hard to regulate private sector investments so that scandals like the Madoff issue in Wall Street would not happen.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Shoe Intifada and Identity

There was an encrypted SMS message floating around on the eve of Ghadir Eid this week. In addition to Eid greetings, there was something in the text about the commencement of the shoe intifada .Alongside all the media coverage given to this event, this text message referring to the shoe-cide actions of the Iraqi reporter against President Bush, only less than 24 hrs after the event was very interesting.

I had the opportunity to attend a book launching ceremony in the Quran Museum on Wednesday. The museum is headed by Mr.Masjed Jamei , who was the Minister of Guidance during the reformist government and now is my colleague at the Tehran City Council. A copy of a hand written version of the Holy Quran, dating back to about 500 years ago ,during the Teimouri age, has been published by the Museum . The magnificent piece of art , including calligraphy and paintings or tazhib, as it is known , makes the manuscript unique and invaluable.
At the ceremony, held on the occaision of Eid Qadir. President Khatami mentioned the importance of this day, and noted how some use this day to highlight differences among Shia and Sunni and to emphasize each on their identity. Khatami spoke about the identity issue and how it is defined according to Imam Ali. He quoted a phrase from a famous sermon of Imam Ali calling to his governor Malik. In that sermon he sets the norms for good governance ,as we know to be a virtue for the global community even today. He notes: Fill your heart with the love of the people for they are two groups. Either they are your brothers and sisters in religion or they are your equals in humanity.

What Khatami stressed upon was that identity is an important challenge for individuals and societies. Imam teaches us that while maintaining your personal and religious identity, you should cherish your human identity since its recognition allows for a dynamic flow between cultures and religions, a valuable exchange of experiences and knowledge for humanity as a whole. The globalization processes entail a sort of negation of identity according to some. There are intentional efforts to install a single politically obedient consumerist and materialist culture as the world culture which would serve the interest of the few that claim to rule the world. On the other hand others consider fundamentalism as an effort to consider only one religion, culture, and identity to be authentic and everything else as fake. Global peace requires leadership that carries Imam Ali's vision.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Oil revenues and democracy

It is snowing now for several hours in Tehran. I was caught in a 3hr traffic jam coming home from the City Council. The streets are all covered with snow and moving towards the northern parts of the city becomes difficult. We had an important session today in the plenary on air pollution abatement programs and an extraordinary session in the Environment Committee on the technical inspection procedures. Unfortunately, the government apparatus is not performing properly regarding the comprehensive air pollution abatement plan which they should implement. We discussed ways that the Council could assist in promoting the programs.

This was what you would call a very busy week for me. The week began with the Baran Conference on Petroleum, Development and Democracy. I was invited to moderate the first session in the morning. The speeches delivered were very interesting in terms of the relationship between the levels of democracy and the state of economy particularly in petroleum based economies. Some of them pointed out that governments with oil revenue based economies are not accountable to their people like tax based economies. Listening to what most of the economists and sociologists had to say , one could conclude that in addition to the great contribution that petroleum has had to the economy of our country and its significant role in the advancement of national development programs , oil revenues have also served as obstacles or restraints for the democratic processes of the country.

I had a lengthly interview with the Japanese NHK television network in the afternoon that day. They are producing a comprehensive report on the third decade of the Islamic Revolution.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The New Clinton Age?

The designation of Hillary Clinton as the Secretary of State by President elect Obama has been viewed by Iranian analysts in diverse terms. I think that the fact that Obama has elected his major party rival for this office is noteworthy and a sign of pluralism in the system. Others have considered this as a decision to contain her as a potential rival in the Senate or elsewhere. Hillary has not been on similar lines with Obama on issues like going to war in Iraq. She took different positions particularly on foreign policy issues. Hillary does not reflect the multilateral and liberal approach that Obama projected during his campaign. Actually foreign policy is the area where these two had the most divergence of opinion.
The appointment of Susan Rice as the UN Ambassador and the elevation of her post to cabinet level is another development we should follow. Nevertheless, we still have to wait with realistic optimism to see whether President elect Obama intends to keep his "change you can believe in " slogan with respect to foreign policy or not. Some observers have become skeptical with respect to the appointments he has made particularly keeping Gates as the Defense Secretary. The important question is will Obama succeed to change the wrong course that American foreign policy has taken after WWII? Will the arrogant and domineering attitude and the militaristic policies truly "change" now? Can people accross the world who have suffered the consequences of American interference policy believe in the change he will promote ? On Iran, Obama has consistently indicated that he will negotiate without any preconditions and on this position he was different with respect to other candidates. How will Clinton work that out remains to be seen.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Two Political Congresses

Pariliamentarism and democracy are two relatively novel concepts in Iran . Although the Parliament is now a century old in Iran, democracy is only three decades old and both institutions still face important challenges today . Even while facing pressures, political parties in opposition to the government are more active on the eve of the tenth Presidential elections we have ahead.
I attended two grand political meetings yesterday. The first was the annual congress of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, a reformist party created more than a decade ago . The second session was also a political gathering of another reformist party; The Iranian Kargozaran Party. Kargozaran or "technocrats" as we consider them were created by the followers of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani. The party leader is now Karbaschi , the renown and successful former Mayor of Tehran. He proposed the formation of a moderate coalition government that would replace the radical and weak government in power today.
The IIPF Congress began with the speech of the Party leader who provided an exegesis on the evolution of the Islamic Republic. Dr. Mirdamadi spoke of the aspirations that people had 3 decades ago, he reviewed the initial objectives that the Revolution pursued , he pointed to the achievements and advances. Specifically, he made point of the fact that the current government does not meet with those standards and objectives and that in some respects the country seriously needs reform to keep on track. The Islamic Republic needs to preserve its democratic identity just as it needs to keep its Islamic values alive, he noted.
Mr. Khatami and many other prominent figures took part in both sessions. We were concerned that this coincidence of the two party sessions would not lead to any dispute or give any message of discord among reformist groups. That would have been a propaganda lead for the government media against the reformists. Both sessions took place successfully with a two hour time lapse and the message emerging from both was one of solidarity and collaboration among reformists.
I had an interview with a local news agency on the occasion of the 16 th of Azar or Student's Day . On this day in 1953 , during the Shah's regime, student demonstrations against the visit of Richard Nixon to Iran in 1953 were confronted with anti riot police who had fired against the students, killing three of them in front of the Tehran University School of Engineering. My late father was an engineering student at that time at Tehran University , he had clear memories of that dark day and the ensuing anger and hatred among Iranian youth.
I will speak on that occasion at two national universities on Saturday and Sunday. I will come back to you on news of those two events .

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Khatami Speaks Out

Baran or the Foundation for Prosperity, Progress and Freedom of Iran was established in 2005 as a non-governmental organization by former President Khatami. The Foundation aims to compile and document the experiences of two rounds of reformist government in Iran. The gains, losses and lessons learnt need to be objectively analysed and understood as a worthwhile experience of governance in the Islamic Republic.
Some observers believe that the reform period has been one of the most successful era that Iran has experienced during the past century, in terms of achievements in economic growth, sustainable development, social and political advances and much more. They believe that this successful term of governance in the Islamic Republic is worth studying in depth. Baran has begun a series of sessions on the principles and and basic precepts of the reform movement in Iran. The theoretical basics of reform discourse and the understanding that Khatami is expected to provide in this respect is discussed in each round.
In each session President Khatami presents his perspectives and then questions are put forward from the audience. The third session in these series was held tonight. Hundreds had attended and Khatami spoke clearly about certain features of the Constitution which are not properly upheld and which need to be precisely implemented. No power structure is left without oversight and regulation according to the Constitution, he said and even the Leader is held accountable for his actions based on certain articles of the Constitution.
Khatami mentioned that one of the best memories of his two terms as President was the moment when in 2004 students in Tehran University harshly criticized him following the speech he delivered. We have a long history of despotism, colonialism, tyranny and imperialism in Iran, he noted and now after the Revolution we are only learning to implement democracy , freedom and authentic religious values. The fact that a student could criticise the power structure and directly address the President without any fear of retribution was a great leap forward, and I felt proud he said.
I think what Khatami mentioned is an important experience for power structures in both developing and industrial societies. Freedom in the true meaning of the word is not limited to individual freedoms, lifestyle , and enjoyment but it is the freedom to choose for one's destiny, to question governing policies, to move upstream against the mainstream current. Very few governments in today's world can tolerate those standards . Democracy is a very common and regularly used term that has apparently lost its true meaning in many societies, both Eastern and Western.