Sunday, December 27, 2009


Ashura processions and mourning ceremonies are the hallmark of Iranian society these days. In every city , in every street , in many homes ceremonies are held reciting prayers and commemorating the legacy of Imam Hussein. Imam Hussein is known as the "Light of Guidance and the Ship of Salvation", for he chose a dignified death instead of a life of humiliation and submission to oppression.
The commemoration of Ashura has always been inspiring for Muslims and this inspirational role was instrumental during the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. Similarly in Iraq, mourning for Imam Hussein was totally banned during the rule of Saddam since the Baathist regime felt threatened by the vitalizing messages of Imam Hussein. " I do not see death other than salvation and life under oppression dark and useless".
The legacy of Imam Hussein is laden with ethics , even during the battle, his behavior and manners are lessons for humanity. Imam has the chance to close the waterways on the enemy so that thirst would defeat them, but he prevents his army from doing citing the unethical basis of this action. Imam engages in dialogue with the enemy who have come on the orders of the ruler, Yazid to kill Imam and his followers for not accepting his rule and leadership. He invites them to contemplate on their actions , he asks them do you know who I am? Imam is telling them to think twice before they choose on which side they wish to fight. The enemy commander has given them promises he will not be able to fulfill, they have accepted the rule of an oppressor and Imam explains this reality for them. Ashura is not only a historic event but it is a culture of dignity and love.
Today things are very different from what they were even a year ago in Iran. Now 3 decades after the Revolution for the first time serious restrictions are set on the processions and ceremonies of Ashura. Many ceremonies have been banned on the pretext that they belong to the Reformists or the Greens. There have been sporadic, but widespread, protests following the death of Ayatollah Montazeri , now coinciding with processions for Ashura. People marching commemorating Ashura and protesting against the current policies were beaten yesterday in Tehran. Last night, hooligans armed with clubs attacked Jamaran, the home of the late Imam and the center where he delivered his speeches and sermons. Former President Khatami was speaking there when this attacked occured . The audience was attacked with clubs and other Chinese made anti riot gadgets. Large groups of demonstrators gathered out of the center and marched in Niavaran avenue towards Tajrish. They chanted very harsh anti government slogans.
The Greens have called for large demonstrations in all major cities for Ashura, today. The fervor of Ashura is gaining momentum and once again religious values and faith in the Truth are incentives for change. The famous saying that "Everyday is Ashura and Every land is Karbala" refers to the universal and unlimited nature of the message of Imam Hussein, a reference which finds relevance not only in Iran but anywhere in the violence and war stricken  world today.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Ayatollah Montazeri

The world has become familiar with the term Ayatollah only  after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. The word was officially included in English dictionaries a few years later. Ayatollahs are high level clergy or scholars  of Islam ,the word literally meaning sign of God. They have been the subject of much news and debate and have emerged on the global scene since Imam Khomeini came forward with the paradigm of a religious democracy or Islamic Republic three decades ago.  Imam invested on the concept in Shia jurisprudence which recognizes those leading and knowledgeable Ayatollahs who are aware of world affairs, in control of their egoist desires, and  in struggle with their selfishness  could lead the society if they appeal to the people. Conceptualized into the theory of " Velayate Faghih" or Leadership of the Jurisprudent provided the theoretical basis for the creation of the Islamic Republic in modern times. Leading religious figures like the late Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri supported Imam Khomeini on this highly debated issue, during the conception of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran. During later years Ayatollah Montazeri was appointed as the Vice- Leader but due to harsh criticisms and certain people in his entourage he was stripped from his title a few months before the demise of Imam. Montazeri who enjoyed a very high ranking due his profound knowledge and insight on matters of Islamic studies returned to Qom and led his classes in the Seminary. He also remained critical of political conditions in the country. He had indicated repeatedly that although he believed in the Velayate Faghih and had played an important role in the institutionalization of this concept,  he also believed in regulatory processes that would maintain necessary oversight over the functions of the leader and ensure that he does not surpass the Constitution and the law. Montazeri was a Islamic scholar who believed in standing up for the truth even at the expense of his position. His championed the human rights cause from the perspective of Islamic jurisprudence and in his serious criticism of the actions of the government of Ahmadinejad particularly after the recent Presidential elections provided  inspirational support for the Green movement. Montazeri died last week at 87 in Qom. His repeated condemnations of repressive government policies and his portrayal of Islam as a religion of peace, tolerance and human rights, made him very popular among the people and particularly the young generation who saw him as the personification of a true Muslim who courageously stood up against oppression even in the name of Islam to protect the truth and to provide an example for all freedom seekers in the world.
 Mourning ceremonies in Qom were marked by the presence of hundreds of thousands of people , many displaying their green symbols and mourning for the charismatic Ayatollah.  Government pressures and unrest created by holigans on the streets have prevented the ceremonies from taking place in other cities. Security forces have prevented newspapers and news agencies from reporting on these matters. In the Tehran City Council we proposed to name an appropriate venue in Tehran in his name. Government censorship prevented any dissemination of this news. Nevertheless, the demise of Montazeri at the begining of the month of Muharrram has give a new impetus to the Green wave.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Message

The begining of Muharram marks the new year for many Muslims, while for Iranian Shias this day marks the begining of mourning ceremonies commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hussein the grandson of the Prophet of Islam, about 6 decades following the Hejira. According to Islamic and non Islamic historians , the Ommayid Dynasty that had risen to power after the fourth Caliph ( Imam Ali) was martyred , used their powerful status as the Leader of the Faithful, abusing the sincere devotion of Muslims, and taking the faith as a shield to protect their abject interests. Yazid the son of Muawieh, who was famous for his excesses in eating drinking, womanizing and brutally crushing his opponents payed no attention to the plight of the people  who lived in poverty, and oppression. In outright opposition to the despotic rulers Imam Hussein, defying the ruling establishment sets out towards Kufa where we know as Iraq today, in response to their invitation for him.   Yazid who feels threatened by the charisma and courage of Imam Hussein and his entourage decides to send an army to force him to sign a truce and submit to his rule of tyranny. Imam has come to Karbala with his companions and his family not for battle, but the army of Yazid arrives . " Death is more valuable than a life with humiliation." according to Imam Hussein . Submission to an oppressive ruler constitutes  a form of humiliation that undermines human dignity. Then death becomes more valuable than life.
The message of Imam Hussein still echoes centuries later since it is a message for all humanity irregardless of race, creed, nationality or social status. It is an eternal and universal message for all times.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Copenhagen Climate Negotiations and Iran

As the Vice President of the Islamic Republic, I headed the official delegation of Iran to the Kyoto negotiations in 1997. We were greeted by the Iranian Ambassador to Japan Manouchehr Mottakei ( the current Foreign Minster) and my late father Dr. Taghi Ebtekar, in the Narita International Airport .  Instead of a VIP limousine, which would also emit more greenhouse gases, we took the SHINKANSEN  or the high speed bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto to attend the conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or UNFCCC . (Thats three Cs to make sure. )

 My father( who had a long history of executive and scientific activities in the field of the environment and climate change) had chaired the experts delegation and briefed me on the status of the negotiations. He told me about a Chinese scientist, who led the Chinese delegation, telling the UN session that now since the West has advanced, in energy technologies and their populations are prosperous  in glamorous  cities at the expense of emitting an excess of greenhouse gases to the global atmosphere, they are pressing to curb the emissions of developing countries. Now, a poor Chinese farmer wants to plant cucumbers for his livelihood while he is told that restrictions prevent him from doing so; the Chinese scientist had told the conference. This very meaningful phrase gave me a profound insight into the nature of the negotiations  and debates that ensued and actually continue up to today .
I have been reviewing my memoirs of those days after reading several  news reports about a Danish Text floating around at the UN Copenhagen climate talks yesterday. These talks  are reported by certain news media, to be in disarray after developing countries reacted forcefully  to documents that show world leaders will be forced to deal with an agreement that hands more power to rich countries and sidelines the UN's role in all future climate change negotiations. Unequal limits on per capita carbon emissions for developed and developing countries in 2050 are included in the draft meaning that developing countries would have to undertake commitments to cut emissions.While committments made in Kyoto were boycotted by the US and most industrialized countries  never fulfilled their committments in the first place, developing countries are now coerced into accepting new quotas. The unity of developing countries which have forcefully resisted pressures from the rich countries, under the G77 will be shattered since, according to this draft least developed countries are the only ones that do not face any new commitments.
In 1997 during the Kyoto negotiations which led to the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol , as the Vice President of the Islamic Republic of Iran , I spoke about the importance of addressing the concerns of developing countries and listening to the voices of the downtrodden people of the South many of whom still face abject poverty and lack the basic necessities of a decent livelihood.  Al Gore,  who was also a Vice President then, spoke before me about the importance of combatting climate change and the role that America , he vowed would play to guide the world out of the devastating tragedy of climate change. A promise that was broken from the moment George Bush was sworn in as the President of the United States of America.

The Danes are now accused of lobbying a pro-west text without informing developing nations.
The Danish hosts now need to come clean about their intentions. The Danish foreign secretary, Per Stig Møller, stressed yesterday that it is crucial the poorer countries get economic support from the rich to make any climate deal work. But only  10 Billion dollars for developing countries is not going to heal the widening gap between the North and the South. It seems that a much stronger political and economic determination at the highest levels is necessary to change current trends and prevent a global catastrophe. I have seen political leaders talk very strongly and emphasize on what has to be done, but in practice very little happens.
On certain documents that indicate that certain data on the warming of the earth have been manipulated I think that Dr. Pauchuri the Head of the IPCC should respond with sufficient clarity on this matter. Further ambiquity and political games on this scandal will seriously damage the reputation of thousands of scholars who have truthfully served this cause up to now.
The final point I would like to make is about Iran. During the seventh and eighth governments, Presidency of Seyed Mohammad Khatami, we incorporated   many policies concerning energy efficiency and curbing GG emissions and abating air pollution. During the ninth government most of those policies were abandoned and regulatory and government institutions on the environment were weakened due to the irresponsible behavior of government officials. It became clear that no serious political will exists at the highest levels of the executive branch to protect Iranian or for that matter the global environment. I have no reason to believe that this government which has been seriously weakened by internal dispute and popular dissent after the Presidential elections this year, will act otherwise. What I do not understand are the intentions of Mr.Ahmadinejad  who apparently wishes to take part in the Copenhagen conference. My guess is that he participates presumably for a test of international legitimacy or media fanfare .