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.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Gaza is a Symbol

The world cannot afford to remain indifferent towards the ongoing tragedy in Gaza. The cries of Palestinian children echoes throughout the world. Gaza is now under siege for several weeks and Israel has blocked all entry points preventing even medicine and food from entering. News of an eminent humanitarian disaster is on the way. Only once in a while a few truck loads of medicine are allowed entry.
The continuing growth of new settlements and the denial of the right to return for millions of Palestinians stranded in camps or in exile are evident reasons why the global public opinion seriously doubt the sincerity of the Zionists and their supporters.
Actually more diplomats and top level politicians feel the same way and sympathize with their cause . I remember some of the discussions I had with a group of UN diplomats on the sideline of an international environmental event. They were totally disillusioned with the double standards governing political , economic and social spheres in today's world. They felt that the Palestinians were betrayed by the international community . During a certain period ,they were kept busy with the negotiation process while new settlements were built so that there would practically be no land left for them to bargain. A reality they named the " blue cheese" phenomenon.
In the international conference hosted by the Club de Madrid and the Foundation of Dialogue Among Civilizations, last month in Tehran, the causes of violence and intolerance in today's world were discussed. I remember Professor Iqbal Riza the Special Advisor to the UN Secretary General , mentioned that the actions of a few powerful in the global village have led to the suffering, despair and anger for the many oppressed peoples. How could they trust the world leaders after what they have experienced, he noted. Reverend Chane, the Bishop of Washington was also very critical of the unilateral policies which have undermined the confidence of the public opinion particularly when it was done under a religious pretext.
I also mentioned the importance of the Palestinian issue as an outstanding crisis which the international system has not succeeded in resolving in a just manner. Palestine is a symbol for freedom seekers; it is a symbol of the injustices and double standards prevailing in this age. Those who believe in human rights, freedom and justice should stand up now in support of Gaza.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Freedom of Expression ?

For several hours ,I was under peaceful siege and questioning of dozens of journalists who sought to find replies for their political , social, urban and international queries. I took some time yesterday (Thursday) afternoon to visit the National Press Fair held in Tehran. The Press Fair is now an annual event and many newspapers and news agencies take part to introduce their work and activities in the field of journalism. The free press has faced many challenges in the past in Iran and some members of the press were absent due to the ban that the judiciary has set on their publication, nevertheless many independent newspapers and reformist press were present. It was a very demanding function, since I was constantly ushered into different booths and expected to visit and of course, provide an interview for each. Some of these newspapers now have a considerable readership, although many argue that the numbers are still much lower than what should be expected considering high literacy and education rates in Iran.

A popular Tehran daily, Hamshahri, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Tehran Municipality, now has a group of affiliated journals as well. I spent more time with them, since as a Tehran City Councilor ;I felt we needed to take more stock of the assets of the newspaper group for better urban management. In meeting with some of the more conservative media I could not refrain from stressing upon the importance of observing freedom for the press and allowing a wider spectrum of views and criticism to be voiced. I criticised some of the current policies in curbing freedom of expression and troubles created for independent press. There were many people around us asking for autographs, contact numbers, proposals and ideas for urban management and environmental protection. I guess I missed some of them in the crowd and the hassle created.
The interviews were mostly political , the news agencies were asking about the alignment of political parties and their coalitions. They were also inquisitive about Mr. Khatami, of every 10 people I met 9 were asking whether Khatami would accept to stand as a candidate in the upcoming Presidential elections. "The answer is not clear yet, otherwise you wouldn't all be asking the question. Mr. Khatami has not made the decision. There is alot of pressure on him to stand, but he has his reservations and that makes it difficult to decide." I told them.
After 3/5 hours , there were still many media asking for interviews , the closing of the exhibition at 8 pm was a relief for me. My vocal chords were just not holding up. I left the fair pondering on the reasons why as an Islamic Democracy we have not fared well in tolerating criticism and allowing more freedom of expression as stipulated in our Constitution.
The Reform movement has endeavored to create an opportunity to accommodate the principle of freedom of expression and the right to criticise power, but that has proved to be a difficult ordeal in the past.We have to hope for the future.

Monday, November 17, 2008

My Economy, Your Economy, Our Economy

Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani the head of the Expediency Council and the Experts Council , two top level political councils in the Islamic Republic, yesterday criticized the government of President Ahmadinejad for not abiding to the National Vision for 20 Years. The current policies of distribution of wealth (alms) he noted are not in line with national development policy. This rare expression of direct criticism is indicative of the concerns that economists and experts have voiced regarding the state of the economy in Iran. In this dimension, at least , it seems we are moving parallel to the Western or industrial world. The G-20 session in Washington, has emerged without any concrete remedy or solution for the current global crisis. While major European economies are now feeling the recession and openly expressing that the outlook is worse than expected, the US economy is not faring much better. They are dealing with a significant shrink in economic growth and also an increase in unemployment. While Japan is also following the same direction it seems that other more independent and non-aligned members of the global community are attempting to decouple their economies and some may be more successful in alleviating the pressures and delaying the effects.
I remember we had breakfast in Barcelona, in mid October, on the sidelines of the IUCN Congress with some friends , two professors from Yale and a renown Indian personality who held significant economic and political clout . He mentioned that certain European politicians were angry over the independent position of Indian diplomats in recent WTO negotiations. Apparently, the Indians had opposed the wavering of agricultural subsidies in support of their farmers and vulnerable agriculture sector. Not to mention that Americans had also insisted on keeping their agricultural subsidies for some time now. Someone , he said ; had proposed that India should take loans from strong European banks , mentioning Irish banks as potential lenders. That morning in Barcelona we had heard the news that Irish banks had faced a serious blow due to the global crisis. A few days later we heard on the news that Pakistan , which is known for its pro-west political orientation and open to foreign investment and manipulation in its economy was facing serious woes and setbacks as a backlash of what was happening in the West. The economies of developing countries are more vulnerable and their weak populations will suffer the most from the misdemeanors of capitalist leaders of New York. Particularly since the food crisis and environmental pressures have been building in recent years. Unfortunately world leaders still do not believe that all nations are passengers of the same ship. Prosperous and poor nations will all face the same destiny, sooner or later.
The picture in Iran is similar in a sense and very different in another. We are now facing difficult economic challenges due to the lowering of petroleum prices in Iran , but most of our problems also stem from the faulty and unstable policies of the current populist government in power.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Interfaith Dialogue: Rhetoric or Practice?

Last week many global leaders joined an interfaith dialogue initiative led by King Abdullah the Saudi Monarch. The fact that leaders have acknowledged the imperative of dialogue as a remedy to current inflictions is in itself a positive development. The fact that erroneous Western policies towards the Muslim world have been criticized by Arab leaders who are renown for their Western alignment is also noteworthy. However the fact that such an initiative would be led by leaders who do not have a prominent role in the Islamic world and who have not followed such initiatives in their political careers is questionable. It takes the whole initiative to the level of empty rhetoric with no practical backing.
Today, in the absence of personalities such as President Khatami who put forward the policy of Dialogue Among Civilizations and led an initiative which was warmly welcomed by the global community and is still followed in academic and independent circles , it is natural that self proclaimed leaders would step forward and fill the gap. The outcome is however essentially different. Before being considered as a politician President Khatami is considered to be a thinker and scholar of political and religious science. He has enough theoretical backing for what he has proclaimed . He considers his progressive pro-democracy Islamic thought to be a natural outcome of the Islamic Revolution. For eight years, he displayed in practice, the example of a political leader with robust ethical principles who stands as a role model for Islamic leadership. President Khatami is still a popular figure, among young Iranians he is a beacon of hope for those who aspire to see the prosperity of Iran's Islamic Democracy.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Obama Season

There has been extensive coverage and much attention on the American elections in Iranian media over the past week. Even while the Iranian President had initially predicted that Obama would not be allowed to become President, he congratulated the President -elect in a message impressing many Iranians and others alike. Although many Iranians and most political groups reformist and principalist are hopeful that President Obama will bring a change in American foreign policy , many are yet skeptical and feel that he may not be able to keep his promises. The question that many put forward is how profound and genuine is the 'change' that Obama will bring about in the directions that the Administration has been taking for the past years. Will he stand firm to change the domineering and militaristic policies America has pursuing for the past decades? Will he keep the spirit of multilateralism that he professed in his famous Berlin speech or will he succumb to the imperial policies of the conservative elements in Washington? There are many historical and political reasons for Iranians to be cautious in expressing their content for seeing a new President after Bush in the White House. Can President -elect Obama gain their trust and confidence after more that three decades of a " tall wall of mistrust"? It remains to be seen .

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Too modern , too soon

In fear of falling behind developing countries sometimes push forward and move ahead too fast. This jeopardizes the whole development process and could take developing nations to a state of superficial development or unsustained development. This race for rapid progress goes on at the expense of the environment and natural resources. The strong emphasis on environmental programs and policies in the National Fourth Year Development Law has not resonated well with the current administration in Iran and since the economy is mostly government funded this has led to a serious neglect of environment standards and policies. In addition to the social and environmental damage, the serious economic loss cannot be overlooked. Degradation of natural resources leads to major economic challenges and can contribute to poverty and unemployment.

This is a lesson which industrialized nations learned through a process of several decades, however developing countries do not have that opportunity. Their youth are restless and expect to enjoy the benefits of economic development quickly .

I remember in 2002 at the Johannesburg Sustainable Development Summit , the Japanese Prime Minister Mr. Kouzomi spoke in the High Level Working Group that I headed. He mentioned how Japan had achieved a sustainable development policy through education, change in lifestyle and attitudes as well as stringent standards and serious regulation. Developing countries should learn from the experiences of Japan, he said. While acknowledging the significant achievements of Japan in this regard, I told him we in developing countries have a major problem and that is a shortage of time . There is a sense of urgency in these countries that pushes governments to take decisions which are not always sustainable.
This push for advancement and modernity has other consequences as well. I went to a MS immunology class last week with my notes and information on transparencies only to realize that the projection facilities for transparencies had been considered as obsolete and wereno longer available. Instead, only the PowerPoint option was available. I delivered the lecture without any visual technology that day and I later had to explain to our educational managers that even in most international conferences today the transparency option is still available. I had the traditional transparency technolgy back in class this week.
Too modern, too soon!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Speaking to Young Iranian Students

At the heart of political resistance and struggle against despotism and imperialism , the Islamic Students Association (ISA) is a six to seven decade long student movement in Iran. I was invited to speak for an audience of 500 freshmen students newly enrolled and members of the ISA from Tehran University on Thursday. I had to address a very lively and youthful audience on the history and features of the student movement in Iran.

During the Shah's regime, alongside communist activists the ISA formed the major focal points of dissent and resistance. The culmination of their protests and strikes in the universities led to the victory of the Islamic Revolution. Many from the ISA were imprisoned and tortured by the dictatorial regime of the Shah.

After the Revolution, the ISA continued on an independent path to promote a progressive democratic and revolutionary interpretation of the Revolution and Islamic tenants. They faced many pressures from governments which did not approve of their critical and independent positions. The culmination of these pressures led to the 18 th of Tir event in which students faced both physical and psychological trauma.

I spoke about these developments and criticized the current government for some of its policies in curbing the freedom of speech in society and particularly in universities. I also spoke about the generational gap and the need to understand our history and culture and to deal with the globalizing world while preserving our identity and heritage.

The students were constantly responding to my political references to the criticisms of the current government and also to my references to the former President Khatami. They repeated their applause for the political views I was elaborating and seemed very excited about the possibility that Khatami would nominate himself for the upcoming elections.

I am not sure that everybody here in the political spheres of Iran would welcome the idea.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Headscarf, Radicalism and Yazd

The VIP guests of President Khatami also took part in the second day of deliberations and many of them spoke on issues pertaining to security and peace in today's world. Mary Robinson pointed to the issue of the Islamic covering and why this matter was obligatory for even non Muslim women in Iran. One of the clergy who is a university scholar as well explained that according to Islamic sharia nonMuslim women are not obliged to wear a headscarf but that in Iran the covering has become a social regulation. I also explained that the issue is in part a faith issue and in part a social regulation. For Muslim women, the Hijab provides a sense of identity and it has become a symbol of resistance in face of the capitalist campaign to commodify women. Mrs. Robinson responded by saying that she understood the identity issue and was also concerned about the commodification of women but that she could not go along with the obligatory approach on this matter.
The roots and causes for violence and radicalism in today's world were discussed. Poverty , despair, injustices and the role of double standards in international affairs were mentioned by practically all participants. To create confidence among nations many of those trends need to be reversed.
I have written in my Farsi blog how satisfied and contented the guests were following their meeting with the Supreme Leader . The American Bishop Chane and Prime Minister Bondevik expressed their gratitude for what they described to be a very informative and lively dialogue . They were surprised at his knowledge on contemporary and international issues.
The guests also visited Yazd on the third day. They had some time to visit the historical sites of Yazd which are very beautiful.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Long List of VIP Guests in Tehran

President Khatami had important guests in Tehran, this week. The fifth in a series of workshops in Tehran , Oslo and Geneva, this Conference on Religion in A Modern World was the final sum up of dialogue between religious, academic and political leaders from various cultures and religions. Held on October 13-14 in Tehran, this event was assessed as a major breakthrough for the moderate supporters of dialogue, at a time when Americans are still taking aggressive positions against Iran and in light of the up-comming Presidential elections in both the US and Iran.
Kjell Bondevik the former Norwegian Prime Minister, Sadiq Al Mahdi former Prime Minister of Sudan, Kofi Annan the former UNSG, Joseph Deiss the former President of the Switzerland, Lionel Jospin the former Prime Minister of France, Mrs Chandrika Kumaratunga the former President of Sri Lanka , Zlatko Laumdzija the former Prime Minister of Bosnia, Romano Prodi the former Prime Minster of Italy, Mary Robinson the former President of Ireland and Jorge De Sampio the former President of Portugal , Dr Abdullah the former Afghan Foreign Minister ,Professor John Esposito from Georgetown University and the Right Reverend John Chane were all here yesterday and today. Also many other scholars and academicians from different countries attended the Conference.
There was a highly publicised opening ceremony yesterday and many members of the media, Ambassador and high level politicians attended the ceremony. President Khatami mentioned the importance of dialogue as a means to confront radicalism and violence in today's world.
Before the panel began Mr Doaee a former MP and close associate of Mr. Khatami presented him with 65 rose flowers on the occaision of his birthday. The President thanked everyone but insisted that the coincidence was purely incidental.
After the opening ceremony the first session was a Panel on Religion, modernity , globalization and dialogue. Professor Esposito moderated the session while Dr. Deiss and I were the Keynote speakers. Dr Deiss spoke on dialogue as an imperative and the importance of achieving a common understanding and strategy. I spoke on Religion and the Lost Anima in a Globalising World. I stressed on the importance of good governance and sound leadership in today's world. How can leaders who have no peace of mind and heart and cannot transcend to connect with the higher levels of spiritual life, lead and inspire the world for advancment and peace?
There is much more share about the sessions and the dialogues we had on the sidelines. I will try to write more about the event.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Spirituality and Conservation

I did not have the opportunity to tell you about the Spirituality and Conservation Dialogues we had in Barcelona. I was held on Thursday morning and I spoke along with 6 other panelists about the importance of integrating the religious perspective in dealing with conservation issues. I spoke on global environmental leadership and the spiritual deficit , with emphasis on Islamic perspectives.Human excesses greed and a totally materialistic approach to life has perpetuated an aggression against nature in addition to the wars waged against humans. I spoke of Quranic perspectives that see the earth as a cradle and human beings as caretakers or viceroys of God on earth. Concerning Islamic views on the value of natural resources I mentioned the importance attached to water as the source of life and to the tree as the connection between the heavens as the earth. A major cause of the ongoing destructive policies , I stressed was the lack of integrity and sound leadership. The global leaders, I noted, are deprived of inner peace and therefore make decisions based on aggression, control and dominion . You can see the brochure and the panel here . We had some slides from Iran as well as Iranian music in the background before the session started. Professors Grim and Tucker also did a great job. We had a press conference and a session in the Futures Pavilion after the panel.

I think it was a positive start for IUCN dealing with religion and conservation. I hope they will continue to work on this important issue. Abrahamic religions have an immense wealth of wisdom on our relations with creation and nature, they might help humanity out of the quagmire it is currently stuck in.

There is an important international meeting underway in Tehran now. I will come back on that shortly.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

On a Ship in the Port of Barcelona

Hello to everyone from Barcelona .

The IUCN Congress is a great environmental event where you see the power of NGOs and scholars and scientists in the field of the environment. We missed the opening ceremony yesterday, since our plane arrived about 9.30 but we had a chance to see some of the exhibitions and pavillions on different topics. The dedication to the environment among these people is inspiring . I'm travelling with my son who ususally not had the chance to travel with me abroad when I was in the government but now he is with me. Our special guide or angel as she calls herself is Nicole. She is making the arrangements for us.

We met with Dr. Tucker this morning , she is a Professor at Harvard University and along with her husband Professor Grim they lead a center working on world religions and the environment. She and Professor Grim were our guests in Iran when we held the International Conference on Environment Religion, and Culture in 2001. They have done alot of excellent work in that area. We discussed many different issues including how women have to make a balance between work and family .
I also met with Dr. Achim Steiner the current UNEP Executive Director . We spoke about how the November 6 event which is being held every year by the Center for Peace and Environment, could bu up graded to include experts from the international community. November 6 is the international day for Prevention of the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict. Dr. Steiner was very positive on that matter, he also proposed a collaboration with the Tehran City Council Environment Committee.

I also attended a High Level session on a ship hosted by Prince Turki Ibn Naser , The President of Metereology and Environment of Saudi Arabia. I met many people some who I knew before but also the new Iraqi Minister of Environment she was of Kurd origin and had lived previously in Iran . There were some speeches done on the Marine Environment and Dr. Vali Moosa the IUCN President spoke about the importance of international seas and how they are being exploited.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Physiology of Memory and Learning

The Islamic Teacher's Association (ITA) is a non-governmental organization working to restore the rights and promote the welfare of teachers in Iran. They have reformist tendencies and they usually speak out against the one sided policies of the government against the welfare of teachers. Some of them have been arrested for protesting the policies and some have been charged inciting unrest among the teachers. The Ministry of Education is the largest ministry in the cabinet and while we have more than 18 million students enrolled in different levels the ministry also has about 1 million employees, teachers and personnel. There are many shortages that we still have in terms of budget, appropriate schools in remote parts of the country and other challenges , this government has the worst scorecard as compared to other governments in dealing with the issues facing this sector and the woes of the teachers.
I was invited to speak at a gathering of 2000 members of the ITA in the south of Tehran. It was after Iftar and I was actually exhausted but I began with a short excerpt from one of my lectures on psychoneuroimmunology on the formation, storage and retrieval of memory in the brain. New theories on the physiological basis for memory and learning focus on several functions which could enhance diversity and thus such a large pool of diverse information. The proliferation of neurons, the diversity of DNA and and diversity of proteins and chemicals produced are all candidates for memory formation and storage. I told them how research on this matter is still on the frontiers of science and how there is still much to understand about this mystery of human nature and physiology.
I also spoke about the difficult conditions that the country faces in terms of inflation and unemployment and stressed on the importance of making informed choices on the basis of a correct understanding of the circumstances that we face in the upcoming Presidential elections next spring. I told them that the fruits of the Islamic Democracy that we enjoy are obtained as a result of the efforts of those who have sacrificed and fought for liberty and independence in Iran. We need to make the best and prevent despair and indifference from gaining control over the political conditions.
After the speech many of the attendees were asking me whether former President Khatami would stand as a candidate for the next round. I responded by telling them that he had not decided and asked them to pray so that God would help him make the correct choice.

I will be attending the IUCN Congress in Barcelona next week. I will be speaking at a plenary session on Spirituality and Conservation on the 9 th of October. I will be also meeting with members of the press on the sidelines of that event. I will give you more on that as soon as possible.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Jewish Rabbis, Quds Day and Zionism

I met a group of anti Zionist Rabbi in Tehran , in 2005 on the sidelines of the International Conference on Environment , Peace and Dialogue Among Civilizations. As the Vice President of Iran I welcomed them and stressed upon the difference that we see between Judaism and Zionism and our common Abrahamic values. I also met some Rabbis from France in the sidelines of the Arctic Cruise I attended last year in Greenland. In reaction to a Russian Scientist who said in her speech that divine religions have nothing to say about the environment , I told them if leaders of Abrahamic Religions had worked together on the valuable themes projected in the Torah, the Bible or the Quran on nature and conservation , this Russian lady would have known better than to say such incorrect words. They were first taken aback, hearing this from me from Iran, but then they appreciated it and agreed that we need to work on some of the common themes that we have and to emphasize on the unity of the Abrahamic tradition.

Our President spoke at the UN General Assembly a couple days ago, I believe he stroke a more moderate and reasonable tone. Even though most of what he has to say has been the core themes in Iranian foreign policy for a long time now, I would not agree with the way he put his speech , as if it were a sermon, nor would I emphasize so much on the differences and disparities in today's world.

We are celebrating the Day of Quds today. What began in Iran as a proposal by Imam Khomeini to support the Palestinian cause is now an international campaign marked by worldwide rallies. In many international fora, I have said that the unresolved issue of Palestine, the historical facts and the conditions of Palestinian people today all point to the inability or the unwillingness of the international community, the Security Council and its apparatus to resolve the matter. Quds is a standing symbol of global mismanagement, a reminiscence of the double standards that govern today's world, a sign of continuing injustices that plague humanity . The plight of millions of displaced people , who are now living for more than 2 generations in refugee status in camps with very dire conditions is now easily dismissed in negotiations, the plight of millions living in siege in Gaza or the inhuman conditions of Apartheid in the West Bank are overlooked and forgotten.
I do not agree with the denial of the Holocaust, it occurred and it was a tragedy for humanity which will always be condemned . I do however agree with the question that why should the Muslim Palestinians who resided in Palestine for generations, why should they suffer for the crimes committed by the Germans in Europe?
The expansionist and racist stipulates of the Elders of Zion and the outrageous crimes committed in the name and by Zionist regimes are well known to the international community. More important today is the influence and dominion that Zionism has in American political and economic apparatus. I have spoken with many Americans who are now very fearful of the pivotal role that the Zionist lobby plays in American politics and the dreadful role that they play in manipulating American foreign and national security polity to serve the interests of the State of Israel first and above all. The American public have not realized that the prosperity and good life that they enjoy , is in part due to the sufferings that their government has inflicted upon nations in the world . They need to understand that if they believe in the democratic nature of their political system then they are accomplices in the actions of their politicians and will be held accountable for the policies of their government .
The understanding has grown, after 9-11, but more after the 33 day war in Southern Lebanon and the human tragedy Israel created by attacking civilian areas and targeting freedom fighters. The Palestinians have resisted occupation, terror and war for several decades now, their cause is a symbol of injustice and oppression in the world. For this reason it becomes a duty for every liberal, freedom seeking and enlightened fellow human being to stand up to this entity and to voice their protest and objection and to uphold the truth for the sake of their own dignity and future .
The Palestinians have the right to a State and the right to decide for their future. The question is where do we stand on this matter?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Living Nights

If sleep could be likened to a temporary death, when one feels nothing, sees and hears none and makes contact with another realm, the subconscious or the inner self, however you like to call it, then staying awake at night could be likened to another life. Night becomes an opportunity to live in another dimension, a revival . That is probably the concept behind the "Living Nights" that we have in Ramazan. The idea is to stay awake on certain nights which are known to be nights of Ghadr or Measure. It is like the opportunity to measure yourself realistically and to find out how much you meet the standards or how much you have fallen off course. There are certain equations in Ramazan , which could be rooted in the fasting and serious restraint from wrong doings , that make that inner self more accessible. In those nights, flight and access to the realm of the spirit, that which we have so wrongly forgotten , for the sake of a dazzling and charming yet deteriorating and entropic world, becomes possible. It is as if the heavens are closer or those who have fasted have become lighter.

Then if a soul is revived, it would be possible to revive a society. If a leader revives his soul, then he would not rule on the basis of selfish, arrogance and vengeance. His leadership would stem from love, passion and altruism.

It is a common spiritual experience, for followers of divine religions and the believers. In Tehran, I met Archbishop Capucci, a Palestinian clergyman who had fought against Israeli occupation and aggression. He told us how he was treated in Israeli prisons , how he was given dog food and how they spat in the food to humiliate the Palestinians. That was in 1979 way before the Intifada, but the Islamic Revolution had given their cause a new life and spirit. " I lost a lot of weight " he said " but that made me lighter , and my spirit could fly easier and higher..."

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Heated Debates on Presidential Elections

Debates for the upcoming Presidential elections have now been underway for some time. The tenth Presidential elections in Iran will be held in June 2009. Different political tendencies are now engaged in internal debates on how to proceed for the sensitive election campaign and who to consider as the most appropriate candidate. The Principalists now have serious doubts about supporting Mr. Ahmadinejad for the second round. Many feel that he has not been able to deliver considering the promises and commitments he made during the election campaign. Inflation, soaring commodity prices, rising unemployment and general discontent have lowered the popularity of the current President. This has has been a reason for concern among Principalists who cannot reach consensus on their next candidate. In addition, more moderate among them and those who consider themselves as Principalist Reformists, are highly critical of government policies. The current Mayor of Tehran is among those criticizing the economic and political decisions taken by the administration.

On the other hand the Reformists are in difficult circumstances. They cannot remain indifferent to the future of the Islamic Revolution and the devious version of thought and practice being made in the name of the Religion. They believe that reform is the only alternative. Mehdi Karroubi has been nominated by his party , however those in the reformist camp believe that he will not be able to compete with the rival candidates. Taking all calculations into consideration ,Seyed Mohammad Khatami is the ideal candidate; he still wields vast popularity , particularly among the young and educated Iranians. In comparison with what they see today, the era of Khatami was an era of sustained growth, hope and prosperity. The problem is that Khatami has serious reservations and has not yet announced his nomination. His reservations are not personal, he has doubts on other matters.
While national elections are engaged with heated debates, we convened local elections on Friday for the Friends of the Council in Tehran . In 370 districts of Tehran elections were held among local candidates for local 7-person councils who will serve as advisers to the City Council. The turnout was higher than expected and we had to print more ballots to keep up with the demands . The elections were held peacefully while more than 500, 000 inhabitants of Tehran took part. I visited ten polling stations in different regions of the city and the general atmosphere was positive.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Lessons for Sarah Palin

John McCain made a surprise pick, stepping on Obama's Convention bounce, when he appointed Sarah Palin as Vice President. This decision seems to be made on the basis of the large voter turnout that Hillary Clinton, as an influential woman politician had produced during her campaign . Sarah Palin was to compensate, as an alternative competitor, for some of the apathy that had piled up against the aged and aggressive image of McCain who had developed many clashes with the media.

Even here it is the feminine archetype or the anima that comes to the rescue of the very rigid and masculine impression that Republicans carry today. Their campaign advisers have planned for immediate results but whether that would resolve the long term impressions or not remains to be seen.
Sarah Palin who clearly suffers from a lack of foregn affairs experience and insight made some brief references to international issues in her Convention speech. On the need to drill for new energy resources she said " .. to confront the threat that Iran might seek to cut off nearly a fifth of world energy supplies.." While she is correct on the 1/5 ratio ,Mrs. Palin needs to understand that Iran is a peace loving nation that has never taken any aggressive action against any nation for the past 700 years which is 3.5 fold the history that America holds. In addition, Iran has strived to improve its relations with the world and was particularly focused on this policy during President Khatami . Therefore, Iran may only do so in direct response to any threat to her national security.

She also made a reference to Obama's position on meeting with the Iranian President without any preconditions , and by referring to Iran as a terrorist State, she tries to make a point. Palin is however, ignorant of the fact that Iran has been a victim of terrorism and has cooperated with her government in confronting terrorist activites. She has missed the point that Iran leads the region with one of the highest rates of scientific articles published in ISI Journals or that Iran has one of the largest blogger societies in the developing world.

Sarah Palin ,you have a long way to learn , that whether you like it or not, relative to its neighbours Iran has one of the most secure cities in the region and that it is a major player in global equations. You also need to learn Mrs Palin, that as an opponent of the current government I understand the weaknesses and shortcomings of our government and I find enough room to voice those concerns and criticisms without the need for any foreign intervention.

Once you learn those lessons , if your party wins the elections , you might be able to change the current arrogant tone of your government and deal with Iran on equal terms , to improve relationships for the benefit of both nations and for the benefit of peace and security in the region and in the world.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Guests of Ramazan

Muslims are guests of God's feast during this month. Fasting is a change of habits, a change of attitudes and behaviours. Its not only to refrain from eating and drinking but more important is to refrain from lies and deception. Ramazan is about forgetting yourself and remembering the pains and sufferings of your brothers and sisters. It is an opportunity for flight from the material nets of the world to the realm of the spirit. In today's world where the restless mind and wandering spirit rob us from our inner peace , we need to search for that peace within our inner selves and Ramazan is a unique opportunity .

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Hero and An anti- Family Bill

Hadi Saee has captivated the minds of Iranian youth. At the final moments of the Olympic games when Iranians had lost hope of any gold medals, he came to the rescue as a national hero. With a broken hand and an injured muscle Saee displayed his strong morale and his resilience in face of the apparently insurmountable obstacles . Sitting with Saee in the Tehran City Council , I have become familiar with his humble and very polite manners. Although he is a reformist at heart, I believe his championship should not be confiscated by any political group !

We adopted a bill to name a major circle or important location in Tehran in his name. I had a post about his gold medal on my Persian blog with many readers and comments indicating their support. I had also criticized the management of the team and the Sports Organization that had led to a sharp fall in the number of medals as compared to Athens and Sydney.

A reader had asked about my views on paragraph 23 of the Family Bill which is currently being debated in the Majlis. Legal and social activists have voiced their strong opposition to this bill which opens the way for polygamy without the consent of the first wife. There is a consensus among women across the political spectrum to stand against this paragraph . It has been dubbed as the anti family bill due to the serious challenges it poses for the future of families. There have been many articles written on this issue and many sessions held mostly criticizing the Majlis Judicial Commission for their preliminary adoption of the bill. Reformists have led the opposition but hopefully they will not be alone in this campaign for women's rights. I hope the MPs will realize the tragedy that this amendment could ignite, undermining the stability and integrity of the family which has always been so important for Iranians.

Last week I came across this inspiring picture of a poem from Hafez on the wall of a kindergarten in Europe. We need to do much more to promote understanding and love among our youth. That is, if we are looking forward to a world without war, poverty , terrorism and injustices.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Ossetia, a scandal and a time to wait

The recently appointed Interior Minister , Ali Kordan now faces a serious challenge on the authenticity of a honorary Oxford university degree he flaunts. The ministry has posted a document which has numerous spelling and grammatical typos and Oxford University has denied issuing such a document. He now faces serious opposition from even his own party members. This is a serious test of moral integrity for the President and the Majlis. What has made this issue more controversial is the fact that the President brought up the issue of the Leader's support for these ministers in the confidence vote session of the Majlis. This scandal has sparked a very strong debate among political activists from all sides and political tendencies. For an Islamic Republic, ethical values should stand above all other considerations and it seems that some people have forgotten that.

In 2005 ,President Khatami delivered the government and economy to his elected successor in the most favorable economic conditions that any Iranian government had. The current government's incompetency to resolve economic woes and provide basic services such as gas and electricity to the people has caused even Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani the head of both the Expediency Council and the Experts Council to speak out on the inability of the government to manage affairs properly. Mr. Rafsanjani is considered to be a moderate voice who has now recently broken his silence by openly criticizing the government. Although some internet sites have been filtered but the issue is well covered in the press and other sites and many politicians have asked for the resignation of the Interior Minister. I also think that he should resign and the President should apologize for this big mistake he has made.

I had found time to read a historical article yesterday concerning the vast influence of Iranian civilization in the region. There was a section that surprised me with information I knew nothing about. There was a report on Ossetia and the fact that the origins of these people were from the Aryan tribes who had migrated from Iran thousands of years ago. They still call their region Ariestan and cherish Persian customs like Nowrooz and Chahrshanbe Suri. The Ossetians have strong family ties and traditions very similar to Iranians and their lifestyle is still very alike. The recent events and the claims of ethnic cleansing on both the side of the Georgians and the Russians is seriously troubling for everyone. I hope the situation is contained and the Ossetians find the opportunity to live in peace and prosperity.

Even as there are global efforts for peace and security in the world, it seems that things are not working out as they should be. This essentially means that the mismanagement of global affairs , the incompetence and lack of moral integrity among political leaders and the rising sense of insecurity in the world are all pointing to a bitter reality. We are not satisfied with the current circumstances, we are waiting for better times and for better leaders. Tomorrow is the birthday of Imam Mahdi , who is the Twelfth Imam waiting for the time to appear, he will come not to conquer through war and bloodshed as some Christian Zionist eschatologists profess; but to promote justice, love , understanding and peace among religions and cultures.

It is interesting that according to Shia traditions, Imam Mahdi is known to have a multicultural background. His father is a descendant of the Prophet of Islam, his mother is a Byzantine princess who was originally Christian, and his great grandmother is an Iranian princess. More interesting are the narrations that indicate that his reappearance will coincide with the return of Jesus Christ and that they will pray together and they will unite, for the betterment of mankind, for there is no discord or dispute in the realm of God.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Unlimited and Eternal Power

However you see or understand democracy, it starts from the roots, and like a tree grows strongly when its roots have penetrated in the soil holding firmly to the earth. In a religious society like Iran, with a long history of despotism and colonial domination you need to work patiently and continuously to ensure that democracy takes root. The Constitution of the Islamic Republic today provides ground for this discourse in Iranian society, but that alone does not suffice, particularly taking into consideration the conflicting interpretations and the obstacles facing the realization of democratic values.

As an NGO , the Center for Peace and Environment endeavored to play its share in this domain by convening a workshop on the role of environmental NGOs in promoting awareness and changing lifestyles in Iranian villages. We had invited four NGOs and experts to provide their success stories for the media and other NGO members. Education for protection of endangered species such as the cheetah, sustainable agricultural methods that would decrease pesticide and chemical fertilizer use, environmental education experiences for women's cooperatives in 30 villages throughout Iran and a project on enabling rural women to develop their potentials for sustainable resource management were discussed. Most of these projects had commenced during my tenure at the Department of the Environment and they had developed experiences worth sharing. I thanked them at the end and we gave them each an artwork of calligraphy from the Holy Quran.

On Thursday, I attended the annual congress of the Organization of the Mujjahedin of the Revolution. They are one of the major political parties in the reformist camp. All leaders and prominent members of the reform movement were present. Mr. Salamati read the Party's statement and then Dr.Hajjarian was given the floor to present his views. The audience gave him a lengthy standing ovation. After being attacked by a radical group in 1998, he now uses a walker and has difficulty in speaking. He went to the podium and announced that his speech would be read by another person.

He spoke about the necessity of containing and limiting the extent of power in any political structure. There is a tendency inherent in political power, to seek unlimited authority and to reign for an eternity. Democratic processes are in place to limit and control power and through efficient means of oversight and regulation to ensure accountability and transparency. He compared uncontrolled power to a high voltage current that can burn homes and neighbourhoods if not properly controlled to lower voltages appropriate for home appliances. He mentioned the regulatory mechanisms enshrined in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic which are not fully practiced. His speech was as usual very clear and to the point. I however, have certain doubts whether the timing of this discourse, which targets the power and leadership structures , is appropriate. We are nearing the very sensitive months before Presidential elections and the reformists should take necessary precautions.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

My City Tehran

Urban and Rural Councils are a clear manifestation of the democratic processes in Iran. President Khatami made the decision during his first term to finally reinstate the law and perform the nationwide elections in which more than 300,000 Iranians were elected in local councils paving way for the implementation of the Constitution and establishment of the basics of local government and decentralization. The current Government now however, sees the Councils as its rival and competes in limiting the authority of these locally elected bodies. According to legislation passed during the previous government, the state was obliged to delegate its local authority in municipal matters to the Councils , instead they are now narrowing the role and authority of these bodies.

In the Tehran City Council we have decided to meet with the people in each district once a week. It is important for us to engage with the people at the local level and with the local authorities. In addition to a 15 person City Council , the Council has held district elections for more than 300 Friends of the Council Groups who are elected in each district for providing advice and oversight and connecting them with citizens at the local levels. This has proved to be a successful experience although there are still shortcomings and problems in terms of the authority delegated to them as well as their budget and plans. Along with some advisors and members of the Environment Committee we visited District No.One in the north of the city. Our first program was meeting with some local people. They had come to meet and speak with their representative. This is a wealthy sector of the city, and the most expensive in terms of land, rent and other daily expenses. It also has many environmental and social problems like other districts.

A large meeting with the local municipal officials had been arranged . They provided reports on environmental management schemes and waste management projects. I then spoke about the importance of environmental protection , sustainable waste management and the challenges we faced in Tehran and the whole country. I told them I hoped to bring the national and international experiences we had to the local level although, Tehran being so vast and highly populated, is a country by many standards. We then met with the members Friends of the Council . They discussed their local environmental issues and I was quite surprised to see them so well informed and sensitive about environmental standards and particularly the protection of green area and trees.

We then visited some of the projects in the city. We inspected a waste recycling center , a mountain trail managed with the assistance of a local NGO, a riverside cleanup project and some other environmental activities. We were finished about 5 in the afternoon. I felt guilty since I told all these people that we wanted to finish soon and we did not have time to stop for lunch. Yet everyone was now hungry. The delegation agreed it was the best tactic to save time.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Visit to Kabul

I was a member of the high-level delegation that President Khatami led to Kabul only a few months after Hamid Karzai was installed in 2002. We started at 6/30 and had a 1/30 hour flight from Tehran over the Hindukush heights , in the early hours of daylight, breathtaking scenes from the mountain range could be viewed from the small plane we were flying. Kabul airport was still littered by dozens of shattered warplanes and tanks . It was a dreadful view from above. Blue-eyed blond Americans escorted the delegation, welcomed by Karzai in the Airport, to the presidential palace. It was a fascinating visit , after the downfall of the Taliban, after so many years of internal conflicts and war. Women were back in the streets of Kabul and contrary to the naive speculations that Laura Bush and Cherie Blair had made in their trips and messages to Afghan women , they had not all put the burga aside , many still covered their body and head in spite of the change in political atmosphere. Freedom had not done away with the hijab for the Afghan women. However they had a very very long way ahead.

The opium production and trade business was by then deeply rooted in Aghanistan. Since before the Revolution in 1979, Iran was the transit route for the trade of narcotics, taking its toll on the Iranian populace. Hundreds of kilometers of rugged mountainous borders has made it very difficult almost impossible to prevent the influx of Afghan nationals, many of whom are engaged in the illicit trade. During the years after the downfall of the Taliban poppy crop plantations have increased and the trade of opium has boomed. Today Afghanistan provides more than 90% of the world's opium.

A few days ago I watched a report on Aljazeera describing the incompetence and reluctance of the Karzai government to deal with the matter. The show also aired an interview with a former advisor to the Bush Administration who indicated that high-level American officials were involved in the narco-trade. I was contemplating on the matter, trying to digest what I had for long speculated, when I came across a New York Times report; "Is Afghanistan a Narco State?"This report implies that both the Afghan government and the American administration are accomplices in the illicit drugs production and trade. The report provides insight into some of the startling realities in Afghanistan today, it reads:
" By late 2006, however, we had startling new information: despite some successes, poppy cultivation over all would grow by about 17 percent in 2007 and would be increasingly concentrated in the south of the country, where the insurgency was the strongest and the farmers were the wealthiest. The poorest farmers of Afghanistan — those who lived in the north, east and center of the country — were taking advantage of anti drug programs and turning away from poppy cultivation in large numbers. The south was going in the opposite direction, and the Taliban were now financing the insurgency there with drug money — "

I knew this was happening from long before, since when we visited Kabul, a major issue I followed was the drying of the Hamoun wetlands which were located in the Southeast of the country close to the Afghan border. The Hirmand river flowing deep from the Hindokush mountains provides water resources for the wetlands and according to a historic treaty, this right to freshwater resources for the Hamoun has been officially recognized. However the Hirmand river has not been flowing into Iran due to the large plantations which the Afghans were creating to derive water from the Kajaki Dam and the river; no ordinary crop plantations according to the information we were receiving, but the lucrative opium trade was on the rise and demand for poppy cultivation was supported by the wealthy and powerful. Without the water resources from Hirmand the large and regionally important wetlands were devastated.
The Hamoun wetlands are now dry for the third consecutive year. The satellite picture on the left belongs to the 1980s while the other belongs to 2001.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Dialogue With Good Intentions

There was a SMS (mobile message ) floating around last week. I received it from 3 different people. It read " President Ahmadinejad has responded to the 5+1 package on the nuclear issue and he has said the answer is 6!" It seems there was a positive tone in the message that related to the actual developments underway.

The hot weather in Tehran these days is made hotter by news that spreads, first as gossip, but quickly takes ground as fact. Steps for a gradual but full blown rapprochement with the US are apparently underway .The Americans will wisely send Undersecretary Burns to the 5+1 negotiations tomorrow in Geneva. The letters of Dr. Velayati ( Advisor to the Leader) published in Liberation and other newspapers which I mentioned in a former blog post indicated a cautious change of tone. The Guardian article made official a rumour that floated around a week ago on the establishment of an American Interests Section in Tehran. Finally the Iranian Foreign Minister Motakei in Istanbul spoke favorably about both the Interests Section and the direct flights between the two countries.
Although we should not overestimate the importance of these developments, it seems that improvement of relations will not only genuinely benefit the two nations, but both the Bush and the Ahmadinejad administrations will make the most from this development in their party elections. We need to wait until tomorrow to make any final judgment on the outcome of these talks yet we can hope that both sides take part with good intentions in mind . They also need to mind the fact that the deal that they strike needs to be face saving for both countries. The Americans need to understand that Iran cannot be ignored or denied any longer.
I think Iranians will welcome these developments but with much scepticism, they have learned to be patient and leave the final judgements to later, more convenient times.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Imam Ali , For All Times

When we speak about legendary figures who have lived in the past , the most important issue is the relevance that these figures have for current generations. If they are to serve as role models they must bring a message that transcends time and geography , that means necessarily with a strong spiritual and inspirational quality.

The celebrations and holidays we now have in Iran are related to the anniversary of the birthday of Imam Ali, the cousin of the Prophet of Islam , the Khalifa and first Imam and known by foes and friends as a sublime model for humanity . Much has been written and said about the Imam. I think what is most important today is how much is his personality and life is relevant to the challenges that we face in the world and how can he relate to contemporary generations who are searching for a direction in life . It is usually said that young people can easily connect if they find sincerity and meaning in the message.

Imam Ali's (AS) last will to his sons Imam Hasan (AS) and Imam Hussain (AS) after the attempt on his life by a stab from Ibn Muljam:

"My advice to you is to be conscious of Allah and steadfast in your religion. Do not yearn for the world, and do not be seduced by it. Do not resent anything you have missed in it. Proclaim the truth; work for the next world. Oppose the oppressor and support the oppressed. Maintain communication and exchange of opinion among yourselves. Beware of disunity and enmity. Do not desist from promoting good deeds and cautioning against bad ones. "

Friday, July 11, 2008

Fire in the House and the G8 Summit

In the 1992 Sustainable Development Summit in Johannesburg, Jacques Chirac the former President of the French Republic began his speech with the phrase " Our house is on fire", thereby describing not only the state of the world environment in a few words but also alluding to the serious disorder in the affairs of the globe. In my speeches on the future of sustainable development , I would use the term " serious mismanagement of the world" to describe the same situation which is usually well described and analyzed by politicians who have learned to deliver eloquent speeches but have failed to take appropriate action.

The G8 summit hosted by Japan last week was another gathering of the kind. Although Japan preferred to let climate change issues dominate the debates, however the food crisis became the major urgent crisis.

The reality is that Africa and major parts in Asia suffer from a long history of colonialism and despotic rule from which they have not recovered yet. For this reason Europe and the G8 are in a sense accomplices in the fearful fate that awaits these impoverished nations if serious change of course is not taken and relief not provided. Africa has suffered tremendously from weak economies ravaged by a single- crop agriculture totally serving the interests of a few. I have met many African leaders who have spoken with much hope and optimism of the change they can bring about if their economies are permitted to grow. Today the scourge of poverty and AIDs has been coupled with sporadic instances of internal and ethnic strife, in all of which the footprints of the White supremacist race is traceable.

I have heard in international sessions the disgusting rhetoric of some donor states who claim that their generosity should be reciprocated by a gesture of gratitude from the poor nations who owe their existence to the mercy of the great powers. There is a explicit reference to this behaviour in the Holy Quran, asking the donors to honor the dignity of the needy.

Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary General ,was quite outspoken in the G8 Summit , he expressed his concern on the fact that the assistance promised to Africa has not been provided. He made the unprecedented plea that G-8 members make no new commitments at this session but that they just go ahead and fulfill their previous pledges. The Head of the World Bank also made a point by noting that exceptional rises in food prices and hunger will impede the development process in major parts of the world and that this will adversely affect all economies.

It is strange how the powerful have spent such large amounts on military expenditure; trillions of dollars are spent in Iraq for military purposes, but when it comes to hunger and human lives these countries have very little left to donate . When they do it is with much fanfare and propaganda, as if the true objective is to save the face of their Country , not to serve humanity.

Generally speaking , people do not trust world leaders today. They have no reason to. The current state of insecurity, hunger, poverty and war is the expense that many have to pay for the luxurious safe havens of the few rich that dominate and rule.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Reasons for Bitterness

Eventhough the war ended in 1988 after Iran accepted the 598 Security Council Resolution, we still have reports of the martyrdom of victims of chemical warefare. The human and psychological scars are immense. The international community did not react properly to the crimes of the regime of Saddam at that time. The US administration was supporting Saddam with hopes that he would contain the advancement of the Islamic Revolution. This is a strong reason why we all should work for peace that is just and sustainable.

This news item is an eye-opener; how long can the world order be held up by a system of in-human double standards?;_ylt=Aud9eLGXh2SW2_SC6TboC_xg.3QA

Monday, July 7, 2008

Change of Nuclear Climate?

There has been a lot of diplomatic shuffling this week concerning the nuclear issue. Early this week the Advisor to the Supreme Leader made a remark on the 5+1 nuclear incentive package indicating that he believed Iran could benefit by taking a favorable approach to the new package. Manoucher Mottaki Foreign Minister also spoke in a positive tone in different occasions until Fareed Zakaria asked him on a CNN show whether this was a genuine change in direction or was it only a game played to give Iran more leverage in the negotiation table? Although the Government Spokesman and later the President who is now in Malaysia, had a different approach on the matter as usual. There is a general consensus now that Iran should cleverly avert any confrontation pursued by the radical neoconservatives and the Zionist lobby. A reformist newspaper published an interview with a former diplomat who works closely with President Khatami, who indicated that major foreign affair strategies have always been determined by the Leader and all responsible powers should follow his guidelines on the matter.

I have mentioned my belief in the need for continuing negotiation on all sides to find solutions which would enable all sides to preserve their face and retain their national interests. There has been a rational proposal to include Iran in the 5+1 negotiation group, thereby Iran would be involved in direct negotiations, without putting us in the predicament of facing the US in a bilateral negotiation which is still considered too risky by principalist forces in Iran.

The proposal for establishing an office for American Interests Section and Consulate was welcomed by both political factions and some government officials while most official reactions indicated skepticism on the possibility of this plan. The reality is that many people believe that Americans need more than ever to understand the realities of Islamic Iran today. The influx of journalists , academicians and athletes has apparently not been sufficient to convey the spirit of the nation to American politicians some of who seem to be increasingly obsessed with an Islamic Iran which stands defiant in face of the injustices of the global world disorder.

In a different, but closely related, development Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has told US President George W Bush that Moscow will not accept plans for America to place part of its controversial missile defence shield in Lithuania. The two leaders talked about the issue on the sidelines of the G8 summit in Japan. Russia has been firmly opposed to US plans to base facilities for its missile defence shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. This has boosted Iran's strategic standing in the region and indicates that certain genuine alliances with shared interest issues have been formed. These alliances could shift the balance and ensure continued stability and peace for Iran and eventually for the war and terrorist stricken countries of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Fourth of July and the Tragedy of July 3

Which is easier; to remeber or to forget? America is a powerful nation. The American people some times do not realize the vast implications of their government's decisions. As the American government and people now celebrate the 4 th of July, their independence day they should not forget the tragedy of the 3rd of July. Only then could it be a day of reawakening and change for the American people.

If they claim and believe to be a free and democratic nation they should also know that they are responsible for the actions of their government and that they will be held accountable for the indifference that they display in face of the tragic policies and adventures that their administration pursues beyond its borders ,as they term it: overseas. Americans are not always aware of the actions of their government and their military in the missions they follow overseas. The public are kept far away from the truth by government controlled media and therefore this makes their judgement and assessment very unrealistic and sometimes irrelevant . What has happened all these years afterwards indicates that the American government is not particularly clever in learning lessons either.
This event and ensuing news and rumours about the fact that the USS Vincennes Commander was decorated with a national medal for his dreadful action in obedience to the orders given by a higher rank are intriguing particularly since it coincided with Independence Day. Also there were rumors that his daughter committed suicide after she realized the shameful reality of her fathers mission.
Iran Air Flight 655 was a civilian airliner shot down by US missiles on Sunday July 3, 1988, over the Strait of Hormuz, toward the end of the Iran-Iraq War. It resulted in killing of 290 passengers, among them many women and children. Operated by Iran Air from Bandar Abbas, Iran, to Dubai, UAE, the aircraft flying as IR655 was destroyed by the U.S. Navy's guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes between Bandar Abbas and Dubai, killing all 290 passengers and crew aboard, including 66 children , ranking it seventh among the deadliest airliner fatalities. Vincennes was traversing the Straits of Hormuz, inside Iranian territorial waters, at the time of the attack and IR655 was within Iranian airspace. According to the US government, the crew mistakenly identified the Iranian Airbus A300 as an attacking F-14 Tomcat fighter. However, the Iranian government maintained that the Vincennes knowingly shot down a civilian aircraft. The event generated a great deal of controversy and criticism of the US. Some analysts have blamed US military commanders and the captain of the Vincennes for reckless and aggressive behavior in a tense and dangerous environment. You can read more :

Thursday, July 3, 2008

In Search for Peace

I was supposed to continue my report on the Oslo Workshop last week but I was so busy with my work at the City Council and the university that I just could not find time for a new post. The Workshop concluded with two major events . First was a commemoration of women's day in Iran where we presented a 20 min excerpt from a TV serial broadcast in Iran some years ago . The film entitled The Holy Mary is based on the narration of the Holy Quran on the life and status of Mary the mother of Jesus.

Since the Quran devotes a whole chapter and many other verses to her life and in that narration a very balanced gender approach and a progressive perspective on women, can be perceived, this subject could be taken as an example of how religions deal with gender equality . Also the issue could be considered as an example of interfaith dialogue or practical dialogue as some term it to be diapraxis. We celebrated the event with a birthday cake with white marzipan topping and colorful flowers. Gifts, handicrafts from rural women's cooperatives from Minab ( Southeast Iran) were also distributed.
The workshop concluded with a statement which highlighted the importance of interfaith dialogue on gender justice as well as the importance of learning from the success as well as the failures of other societies. The importance of including women in global peacemaking efforts and taking the feminine perspective in that dimension was also highlighted.
This was an exceptional opportunity for us to listen, learn and engage in a dialogue across cultural , religious and social lines.

We understand that today more than ever we need to work to prevent conflict and war and to promote peace and security in the world.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Dialogues in Oslo

I have returned from Oslo yesterday, but I was too busy until now.

The Oslo Workshop was an invaluable experience of interfaith and intercultural dialogue and proved to be very stimulating and informative for all of us involved. The workshop was held in a historic hotel with traditional settings about 20 km out of Oslo. The antique Persian carpets covering most of the rooms caught our eyes.
We began with an introductory session on Sunday evening , during dinner. The participants were given a warm welcome by Mr Bondevik and Mr Khatami and each person was given the chance to introduce themselves. I spoke about the importance of the event and about the coincidence with the Woman's Day event and the Resolution 1820 of the Security Council which was issued a few days ago and which considers sexual abuse of women in war to be a war crime and crime against humanity.

I also spoke about the importance of exchanging experiences and how certain practices prove effective in changing perceptions on women. I mentioned the case of the Indonesian President Megawati and how she was allowed to first become Vice-President on the basis of the fact that a woman in Iran had been appointed as Vice-President.

The workshop began at 9 on Monday with the opening speeches and I moderated the first and major panel that we had . I spoke on the different views that existed on women's status and rights in Islam and the West and the fact that intra-cultural and religious dialogue was also important. I referred to my resource paper on Natural Peace : The Feminine Factor and noted that compassion is lacking at the level of global politics in today's world. However, I noted that certain women politicians who believe in the power of compassion are still available and then I described the experience I had in dealing with Mrs. Halonen as she was the Finnish Foreign Minister and I was the Iranian Vice President and I invited her to come to Iran when it was still difficult for Europeans to visit Iran but she accepted and came and that had a very positive effect on our relations with Europe and the rest of the world. She maintained those relations when she became President , an office that she still retains today.

We had many informative presentations during the workshop.Dr. Koolae from Iran spoke about the challenges she faced as an MP with traditionalists who did not allow modifications of the marital law to maintain an equitable gender balance. We had two Reverends from the US who spoke on the importance of religious dialogue with the context of the globalization trends. Lena Larsson represented Muslim minorities living in Europe and she spoke eloquently about their challenges and hopes. Sadiq Al Mahdi the former Sudanese Prime Minister noted in his speech that we face three categories of thought on issues like the rights and status of women. The first group are the reactionaries who do not accept any dynamism in religious jurisprudence.

The second are the secular who totally reject religion and take a westernized approach on the issue and third are those who see Islam as a religion with principles taken from revelation but also dynamic in accepting human interpretation and integrating the rulings with the requirements of time and place ,while preserving the principles.

We had some interesting developments in the afternoon. I will post another report on that section shortly.