Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas in the Tehran City Council

Armenians Celebrating Christmas in a Church in Tehran
The Holy Scripture of Islam, which is believed to be a total revelation  to the Prophet Mohammad (SA), has several recurring references to the succession of Prophets who all came to deliver the message of the Creator. The Quran is unique in that it makes strong references to the beliefs and teachings of other Abrahamic traditions; emphasizing on the common themes of monotheism, abolition of all forms of slavery and subjugation,and the basic ethical and moral principles that all religions preach. The story  of  each prophet and their societies includes references to the incorrect beliefs and practices that have set blows to the livelihoods of peoples and undermined their dignity and each narration also points to the direction of salvation and eternal happiness for all humankind. Actually, most  divine Prophets deal with the lost ones, those who have not found their goal and direction in life, those who are disoriented and have forgotten their selves.
Among these narrations the story of Maryam the mother of Jesus, and the birth and life of Jesus is extraordinary. This story begins with references to the vow of the mother of Maryam, and that when she realized that her child was a girl, and was dedicated to serve the House of Solomon, she insisted to proceed with the vow; which meant that  a woman would serve in a Jewish monastery  for the first time. The chastity of Maryam and her status as a woman chosen to be a model for all are hallmarks of the Chapter and verses devoted to this lady.  The birth of Jesus and the fate of Maryam are also described in beautiful terms in the Quran.
Today ,in the Tehran City Council, a Christian member of the Friends of the Council, delivered a report on the conditions of district 8. This Armenian citizen who has been elected like hundreds of other Friends of the Council to oversee and facilitate the functions of local municipal authorities, was chosen to deliver the weekly district report. His report to the City Council included references to their activities, as well as  the social and environmental problems in the district.

Meanwhile, reformist members  of the Council took the opportunity to greet Christian Iranians on the occasion of Christmas and the New Year.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tazieh, Art of Ashura

Today is the tenth of Muharram and Ashura is celebrated in many Islamic nations. Mass processions continue for several days in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, parts of Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan , India and many other countries.  Several years ago, I was surprised to learn that Ashura is an official holiday in India, a country which harbors 75 million Shia Muslims. Muslims mourn the martyrdom of Hussein the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. He was killed on orders from Yazid, the Ruler of Damascus in 61 (AH) for the reason of  not endorsing the oppressive and tyrannical rule of Banni Ommayeh. Imam Hussein and his few companions fought in Karbala to expose the hypocritcal nature of the Ommayeh regime and to demonstrate the authentic values of Islam. " I `have no intention in my uprising other that to revive the authentic values of Islam and to bring reform to the religion of my Grandfather." he stated when threatened in Karbala.
Mourning processions, speeches and , food which is distributed on the basis of vows for Hussein are the hallmarks of these days. Many  speeches and mourning ceremonies are also held to discuss the dimensions of the Hussein's revolution.   Ashura has served as an inspiration for not only the Islamic Revolution in 1978, but also for Shia's in their struggle against Saddam in Iraq, against the Israeli aggression in Lebanon and Palestine, and for many others against any oppressive system. Even today, ceremonies reflect the political atmosphere that surrounds them. Some of them take a more political and critical dimension while others only take the form of rituals.
Ashura has its own artistic appeal as well. Black, green and red are the colors of Ashura. Many have read poems for Imam Hossein or created paintings, and other artistic creations. One of the traditional arts of Ashura is the Tazieh,  literally meaning condolence theater;  which is a theatrical replay of the events of Ashura symbolizing epic spirit of resistance and righteousness. Tazieh is practiced and performed in many countries; in India and Pakistan the tradition is to build a replica of the masoleum of Imam Hussein, which I have seen in some ceremonies. Tazieh is usually performed in the street or in a local  public area. Abbas, the brother of Imam wears green armour and Shimr the person who martyrs Imam Hussein wears red. They recite poems and tell the story of Ashura .
We watched a Tazieh this morning in Tehran. Dozens of spectators were standing in a circle and the skit was perfomed in the street using small loudspeakers. They were wearing colorful costumes and they invited people to pay their vows. Even though now, some academic art centers in Iran are reviving the arts in the authentic forms, it is  still sad to hear that tradtional arts like Tazieh are gradually fading away and that few people are learning this art from their elders.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Tehran's Uncertain but Radical Diplomacy

During the past week, after a group of radical youth attacked the British Embassy and Gholhak residence in Tehran, many reactions have occurred. Diplomatic missions have left host countries on both sides and rhetoric in condemnation and support of the action has not subsided. The majority of political observers have questioned the intentions behind the action and even some conservative and pro-government groups seem to have condemned the act. The stark reality is that Principalists who are wielding absolute power in Iran, are responsible for all the events taking place at both internal and external levels. The financial scandals and rising inflation on one side, the unlawful policies taken  and the ongoing pressures on Reformists and critiques on the other, all point to the incompetence of the Principalists in managing the affairs of the country. The two rival factions of Principalists, as a result of  their serious internal disputes, have created many setbacks in the economy. Some believe they are resorting to taking the internal disputes to a new diplomatic and international level.

The majority of Iranians hope that rational policies will replace the current decisions and that the international community will prevent any radical decision against Iran. Sanctions and economic pressures are taking their toll, initially on the private sector and the people . Even the threat of harsher action or a military strike will play into the hands of the radical forces and create more difficult conditions for the people and opposition groups like the Reformists.
Even the threat of war should not be tolerated at a time that we are still witnessing the crimes against humanity in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the name of NATO and international coalitions.  Where has war created more security and happiness? Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine are all paying a heavy price due to years of war and violence resulting from occupation and oppression.  Libya has suffered much from the aerial attacks of NATO even though these attacks resulted in the removal of a dictator. Neocons and radicals in the US and the Zionist lobby are pressing for war against Iran once again ,since they feel threatened by the influence of a strong and reasonable Iran.
Let us hope that the American people will remind Obama that they voted for him since they were weary of the war mongering Bush and his neocon entourage . Now what is to be done if Obama proceeds in those very steps towards a new war and aggression? His analysts and advisors need to inform him that Iran is now very different from any country that has been attacked in contemporary history. He also needs to be informed that Iran has not attacked nor initiated war against any nation in the past 750 years , more than three times of US history.
Another piece of advice that Obama needs is that Israel does not look to secure US interests in the region. Instead it supports creating more havoc to find room for its aggressive policies in face of the Arab Spring and Islamists coming to power in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya through a democratic process which might undermine Western hegemony.
European countries like Britain should display more restraint and revisit their one sided policies against Iran, the majority of British voters who condemned the militaristic actions of Blair will not side with  a war mongering Cameron either. He better also see the wider picture and change tone and attitude towards Iran. On an internal note I hope that pressures on Reformists will diminish so that we could witness a strong turn out for the up coming elections.

 Time to hope and pray for better prospects on all said above.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Isfahan, The Beloved

I was surprised to see so many foreign tourists in Isfahan last weekend. The  calm and mild weather convinced us to take off to Isfahan for the weekend and visit some relatives. We took part in some family gatherings. It is interesting how Islamic teachings, dated centuries ago, have emphasized on family relationships and visits (sele arham). As if the Religion had predicted that due to industrialization and urbanization, human beings would loose family ties and relationships would ultimately disintegrate. These relationships set the basis of social integrity and moral development of the society which are at stake in the industrialized lifestyle pursued by many Western societies.
Isfahan was more beautiful than ever since, after several months that Zayanderood the major river of the city had dried up, water was let into the river once again and the beautiful SyoSe Pol or the bridge with 30 openings was once again crowded with tourists. Every part of Isfahan is part of our national and even global heritage, its beautiful mosques with exceptional tile works, the historical  bridges and the exceptional artwork seen in many buildings . Isfahan is a symbol of the love artists and architects have displayed through out human history for the Beloved.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Peace for the Environment

The civil society is not very active and outspoken these days but the occasion of November 6 , the day designated by the UN as the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict was an important event that could not be missed. The Center for Peace and Environment convened an international seminar on this occasion last Wednesday. http://en.pengoo.ir/index
The diplomatic community in Tehran, academia , NGOs and members of the press attended this event. Dr. Babran welcomed the invitees and I made an opening address, this was followed by the message of Seyed Mohammad Khatami the former President  and the speech of  Salah Zawawi the Ambassador of Palestine  and Mohammad Reza Tabesh the Head of the Environment faction of the Parliament . After the opening,  a panel session with Ambassadors of Afghanistan, Croatia, Japan, International Red Cross  and an Iranian academic was moderated by  Dr. Kahrom, the renown Iranian environmentalist. The Japanese Ambassador made a very interesting comparison between the  nuclear disaster in Nakasaki and Hiroshima and the recent Tsunami and nuclear fallout. The resilience and hard work of the people of Japan was noteworthy, while the natural environment will take a much longer time for restoration.
In the opening, I stressed upon the importance of resolving international conflicts by dialogue and  refraining from any act that would aggravate the very volatile conditions in this part of the world . The Persian Gulf has suffered excessively from war and environmental degradation during the past decade and it would be a disaster if any new military venture would occur.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

No Need For Help From Clinton

Today the moderate conservative daily " Islamic Republic" has criticized the national state radio and television for censuring the statement of the American Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton who said in her interview with the BBC that the internal opposition or Green Movement never appealed for foreign support. The article in the daily notes that the national radio and television should have reported objectively and used this matter to close ranks among political parties and to lessen tensions on the internal level.  Reformists have been constantly condemned by their conservative Principalist rivals for enjoying support from  Western states. Even while, they openly emphasized on their independent policies and called for non-interference in Iran's internal affairs by the west, Reformists were accused for their lenience towards the "enemies". During the bitter events of 2009 , after the disputed Presidential elections, reformists were charged for being supported by the West, since their Satellite channels had broadcast the events without censorship. Lenience and support for the Western powers has been the major accusation that rival groups have put forward to strengthen their religious supporters and legitimize the harsh measures taken against the reformists.
Intervention by foreign powers is not the solution for the problems of nations. The interventions of NATO in Afghanistan , allied and American troops in Iraq have devastated the social fabric, left thousands killed and permanently injured and destroyed the basic infrastructure, thereby taking their economies decades back. Even in Libya, the NATO forces have razed airports, industries, highways and power plants leaving the basic infrastructure in the country severely damaged.
Even now Clinton hopes that Iranians would ask for foreign support, as they encourage the Syrians to ask for foreign support against the atrocities of Assad. The reality is that foreign intervention is not the solution  and Libya cannot be a model for other countries . Syria is very different from Iraq and Libya, but Americans become blind when it suits them.
Iranian reformists have become united in their condemnation of Clinton's remarks on the necessity for foreign intervention as a remedy for political and social challenges. Even if we suffer we need to find internal and national solutions .


Friday, October 14, 2011

Plotting by Americans or Iranians ?

Strained and severed , relations between Iran and America are now facing a new challenge. American officials have been making allegations, during the past days accusing Iran of plotting to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador in the US. The media orchestration of this news and the platform on which the accusations stand have been for many observers, reminiscent of the scenario that  Collin  Powell, the American Defense Secretary had put forward for the  Congress in 2003, referring to alleged weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  After no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, under pressure from anti war activists, Powell was forced to admit in 2007 that he had provided false evidence at that time.
Now, the world is witness to the unfolding of a similar scenario against the Islamic Republic of Iran. Many observers, including former CIA and State Department analysts such as Gary Sick, believe that the evidence provided against Iran is inconclusive and even though Iran has lost the confidence of many Western governments, such scenarios cannot justify any offensive against Iran.  A New York Times Blog (The Lede)
 http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/12/iran-experts-ponder-an-alleged-terror-plots-b-movie-qualities/ brings up serious questions as to the authenticity of the evidence and the skepticism that many observers have in this regard. Even the Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/oct/13/obama-us-toughest-sanctions-iran?newsfeed=true takes a cautious note in its report on the matter and notes: Obama says the US wil impose tough sanctions,despite growing scepticism over the amateurish nature of the plot and the apparently shambolic background of the main suspect. 
The unresolved political stalemate after the 2009 elections in Iran has created many political tensions in the internal scene and left the educated intellectuals discontented with a government now struggling with charges of embezzlement and other scandals. In addition to suppression of reformist activity, the internal strife among the Principalists rival groups in power has also aggravated the situation.

In spite of all said, all political  groups in Iran  are united on one front against any foreign manipulation or intervention. No Iranian political group will support the current unsubstantiated propaganda campaign which seems to provide some political space for the American government in dealing with its internal economic and political crises, like the growing Occupy Wall Street Movement.  Former President Khatami recently gave a message reiterating the fact that he believes that pressures and intimidation against Iran are unjustified. He also made it clear that  the government should not make any pretext for foreign intimidation. He firmly stressed that all political groups including the reformists are united in their position on matters of national security and integrity.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Tribute to Wangari Mathaai, Memories of Heaven

I first met Wangari Mathaai on the sidelines of an international environmental event in Nairobi. Her attractive personality and her devotion for the environment would engage anyone who dealt with her. In 2004 during a conference for Women Leaders of the Environment, where women ministers had gathered to discuss policy on the environment, the UNEP undersecretary announced that Mathaai was chosen as the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. The excitement from this news and her presence in the session led many of us to congratulate her for her outstanding achievements for peace, eradication of poverty and protection of the environment. Wangari was a vanguard not only for African women but for women throughout the world. She had moved ahead in both education and civil society , despite her difficult conditions to serve women in her country and her continent. Her Green Belt Movement has planted more than 30 million trees in Africa and has helped nearly 900,000 women, according to the United Nations, while inspiring similar efforts in other African countries.
In 2008, after being pushed out of government, she was hit with tear gas by the police during a protest against the excesses of Kenya’s entrenched political class.
“Wangari Maathai was a force of nature,” said Achim Steiner, the executive director of the United Nations’ environmental program. He likened her to Africa’s ubiquitous acacia trees, “strong in character and able to survive sometimes the harshest of conditions.”

I stood at the podium that day and thanked Professor  Wangari  Mathaai and told her that since the year before Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian woman and human rights lawyer, had won the Nobel Peace Prize, , I wished to congradulate her, on behalf of Iranian women. The Peace Prize I said, was in fact transferred from Iranian women to African women. I also gave her an environmental emblem of Mount Damavand which was designated as an Natural National Monument in Iran. Wangari spoke that day and she mentioned that we all see eternal salvation as residing in Heaven. "Heaven is according to Divine scripture , full of gardens , trees , pure water flowing", she said. "All the natural beauties of this world fit with the description that we have of Heaven, but when we destroy those beauties, here on earth , how can we expect to enjoy them, as a reward for our actions in Heaven...."
We also planted several trees that day... . We pray for her soul now, she sought to realize and protect that heaven on earth, she worked for the impoverished , she served the environment and she sided with justice against oppression . May God bless her for what she was.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Peace Related Issues

On the 21st of September 1998, which is the International Day of Peace, President Seyyed Mohammad Khatami proposed the initiative of Dialogue among Civilizations to the United Nations General Assembly session in New York. In 2001 , the year named on that occasion,  the Twin Towers of New York were destroyed in a terrorist attack that prompted a pre-emptive attack by the neo-conservative government of George Bush first on Afghanistan then on Iraq. In that atmosphere peace lovers and freedom seekers in the world looked up to Khatami for his insight and forward looking initiative.  While the initiative was welcomed by many countries few did very little to change the conditions and prevent war and aggression. In the national scene many observers believed that Khatami's initiative should have translated into a national dialogue as well. This however did not materialize. It many be that even today a return to dialogue at the national level might be the ultimate solution to the current political stalemate in Iran.
Two other important events related to peace have hit the headlines this weak . Burhanedin Rabbani was one of the most influential political and religious figures of Afghanistan who led the National Peace Council . His assassination last week by radical Taliban factions is a serious blow to the peace process. No one will deny his instrumental role in promoting peace and understanding among political factions.
The historical speech of Mahmoud Abbas in the General Assembly and his bid for the creation of a Palestinian State was also an important milestone. Abbas took an important step for the Palestinian people and it is now upon the United Nations to respond appropriately.The Americans have lost their face as a peace maker, they have taken sides with the Zionist and public opinion in the world are well aware.
Excerpts from the 1998 speech of Khatami :
Now allow me to speak here as a man from the East,

the origin of brilliant civilizations and the birthplace of
divine prophets —Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed,
peace be upon them all. I come from the noble land of Iran,
representing a great and renowned nation famed for its
ancient civilization, as well as for its distinguished
contribution to the founding and expansion of the Islamic
civilization, a nation that has survived the strong winds of
despotism, reaction and submission, relying on its cultural
and human wealth. It is a nation which pioneered in the
East the establishment of civil society and constitutional
government in the course of its contemporary history, even
though, as a result of foreign interference and domestic
deficiencies, at times it may have faltered in its course; a
nation which has been at the forefront of the struggle for
independence and against colonialism, although its
national movement was subverted by a foreign orchestrated
coup. And it is a nation which carries the
torch of its popular revolution, not won by force of arms
or a coup, but by dethroning a regime of
coup d’├ętat through the power of the enlightened word.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Arasbaran

Nature lovers can find many attractive and beautiful sites in Iran. On the Eid Fetr vacation we found the opportunity to visit Arasbaran and the Aras river along with family members. The Aras river is located in the Nouth Western border of Iran, adjacent to the Republic of Azerbaijan and Armenia and the disputed Nakhjavan territory. This large river has green riversides with tall bushes. In that region,  we also visited two ancient Churches , the Church of Saint Stephanus ( the first Christian martyr) and the Church of Nana Maryam. The Church of Saint Stepanus was open for the public and parts were under renovation and protection as monuments of national heritage. The presence of these historical sites are a clear indication of the long history of peaceful coexistence among followers of divine religions in Iran.
As we traveled from the Aras river to the southwest we entered the perimeters of Kiamaki Protected Area and further down the Arasbaran Forests Protected Area.  This trip was reminiscent of the many visits I had as Head of the Department of Environment some years ago, only now I was with the family and not the DOE directors and personnel. The pristine Arasbaran forests of Iran are recognized as one of the important biodiversity hotspots of the globe, meaning that the diversity of flora and fauna in this region is very high.
As we enjoyed the magnificent scenes, news of the street clashes and arrests of protestors in Urumieh and Tabriz who had objected to the trend of drought in Lake Urumieh brought us back to the realities of environmental degradation. In the previous week ,I was asked to make several interviews on the policies and measures taken during my tenure to combat the trend leading to the drying up of the Urumieh National Park. I had given detailed explanations on the research project leading to a management scheme and the measures and strategies we had taken to engage both the water and agriculture sectors on this matter to provide the water required by the lake on a regular basis. The DOE had warned the officials in 1998 we had layed out a road map for the protection of the Lake. Many parts of that project were underway  in 2004 . These protection schemes and strategies were later abandoned by the ninth government and only reconsidered recently after serious protests rocked the region. No one can dispute the fact that the environment was never a priority for the government of Mr. Ahmadinejad.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Quds and Democracy

"And we conveyed to the Children of Israel in the Scripture that : You will surely cause corruption(mischief) on earth twice and most certainly  you will behave insolently with great insolence." Holy Quran , Sura Asra , Ayat 4.
The Holy Quran has made a correct prediction concerning the Jewish zionists who are now creating mischief for some time in the world. The fact that Israel was created based on the occupation of Palestinian lands and based on the massacre and mass expulsion of hundreds of defenseless Palestinians is undeniable. For years Israel has created an atmosphere of fear mainly with the support of the American government and the tacit support of pro American dictators such as Mubarak of Egypt and Ben Ali of Tunisia. It has regularly detained and imprisoned citizens of the West Bank and Gaza, it assassinated political figures and leaders whenever it wished and it has attacked and killed Palestinians in a regular strategy of terror and usurpation .  After its attack on South Lebanon and then its attack on Gaza , the zionist entity has lost its legitimacy in the face of the public opinion in most parts of the world including the US and Europe. Western governments however, have relentlessly stood behind Israel with the assumption that this state is necessary to curb the growing powers of the Muslim world.
The awakening of the Arab world and the downfall of dictators in recent months has further weakened this regime. In addition, zionists have awakened to the reality that in this spring of freedom and democracy , authentic Islamic values are still seriously safeguarded. Israel now has realized that the anti-zionist sentiments are stronger than ever.

Dictators in the region must also understand that pro-independence and anti-zionist policy cannot be employed as a pretext to close in on individual freedoms and curb democratic values. Islamic reformism alongside democracy will enable people to become aware and make wise decisions concerning their future.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Imam Ali and the Downfall of the Dictator of Libya

We have been celebrating the nights of Ghadr or "value".This has been an opportunity to gather and pray together.  Imam Ali Ibn Abitalib was martyred on such a night in the month of Ramazan  40 years after the hejira. He was then, the leader or khalifa of the  Muslim  society . Ali had a unique status among the companions of the Prophet , his attractive and strong personality, his thirst and sacrifice for the truth and for justice were qualities  revered among both enemies and friends. Ali had proven to be reliable, and trustworthy. He was considered to be the most qualified successor to the Prophet of Islam in personal attributes and behavioral traits. He had the substance and compassion to forgive his enemies and to withstand the oppressors. However, those who  claimed to be Muslim but only in name, those who could not tolerate his justice  and his values became aligned against the symbol of righteousness . The hypocrites had begun a smearing campaign against Imam Ali which led to his martyrdom.

The unique personality of this man, his lifestyle and his teachings, gathered as the Nahjul-balaghe, have been studied and reviewed by scores of scholars from all faiths and backgrounds. Many point to his four- year government as an example of a just and efficient system of governance, unprecedented in those ages. Many examples of Imam Ali's practices are now taken by Reformists as cases that prove that certain practices of the current Iranian government are not in tune with what they claim to be as followers of Imam Ali.  The self criticism of Imam Ali and his respect for those who criticized him and his struggle against despotism and tyranny are among some of the issues that Reformists point to.
The coincidence of these nights of Ramazan with the transformations in Libya and the downfall of one of the most despised dictators of our age is also interesting.

With astonishing speed overnight,  revolutionary forces have entered Tripoli, signaling the end of  the reign of a four decade old dictator. After months of struggle and hundreds of martyrs, the Libyan Revolution against tyranny and oppression is coming to a culmination. It seems that Dictators, like Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Saddam Hussein, Ben Ali, Mubarak, Ali Saleh and now Ghazzafi have awakened to the reality only when it was too late. This is a common feature of unlimited, endless and unregulated power in the hands of men who were actually at one time revolutionaries themselves.
The footage emerging from Benghazi and Tripoli shows the jubilation of the people, the calls of Allah o Akbar and the religious atmosphere among the revolutionaries indicates that religious beliefs are key factors in this movement. They now feel that the suffering and sacrifices they experienced was worth it. It seems that the Libyan people expect NATO to leave the future of Libya to the people and Western forces are expected to refrain from interference. We all hope that the revolutionary forces learn from the lessons of other revolutions and fill the power vacum with a transitional government to bring order and pave way for democratic and constitutional changes.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Street in Tehran Named After an American Woman


We approved a street in Tehran to be named after Rachel Aliene Corrie in the Tehran City Council last Tuesday. This street was named after an American activist who was crushed to death by an Israeli military bulldozer in the Gaza Strip in 2003.
Corrie, a pro-Palestinian activist from Washington, was trying to prevent what she and other campaigners believed was a push by the Israeli military to demolish nearby Palestinian homes. She was 23 at the time of her death. I think this was the first time an Iranian street has been named after a US national since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Before the Revolution, we had at least three high streets in the Iranian capital which were named after former US presidents: Dwight Eisenhower, John F Kennedy and Franklin Roosevelt. They were all changed to revolutionary names later. Eisenhower was changed to Azadi or freedom. Roosevelt was changed to Mofatteh , a revolutionary figure martyred in that street. Now we have a street named after an American citizen, not a President, but a hero and martyr for humanity. Considering the recent news that the Israeli government has approved 1600 new houses to be built in occupied Jerusalem , this decision of the Tehran Council is a strong sign of ongoing support for Palestinians . Nevertheless, considering the escalation of violence in Syrian cities many Iranians also sympathize with Syrian protesters , many feel that they have much in common with them.
On a similar move, I made a proposal last week to name a street after Ameneh Bahrami the Iranian woman who pardoned the convict who had sprayed acid in her face and had permanently disfigured her face and left her blind. She pardoned him only after the man was convicted  and was set for Ghesas meaning legal compensation or retribution in which he would be blinded with acid. Ameneh made it clear that she wanted this to be a lesson for men who practiced this inhuman act.  She also  has set a mark for those who did not understand that in pardoning and forgiveness there were great  lessons for all. "She is a heroine who deserves recognition", I said in the Council . "The Iranian society needs compassion and forgiveness above all , we need to disseminate the message of forgiveness in order to confront the hatred and violence in our society." I noted.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Ramazan Once Again

Muslims enter a one month period of fasting today. Ramazan is a lunar month during which Muslims abstain from the worldly enjoyments and adhere to moral codes meaning refraining from lies, deceit and fraud. Ramazan literally means burning, implying that the impurities and sins burn  out . Fasting is a change in the monotonous ways of life. It is a new lifestyle in which the spiritual dimensions are just as important as the material dimensions. Ramazan is an uprising against the consumerist lifestyle that has permeated our lives, it is a return to human and spiritual values. During this month the Holy Quran is read with contemplation and thought. This provides an opportunity to think about some of the basic issues which are forgotten in the current modern age.

The hunger which we experience in Ramazan should enable us to understand the pains and sufferings of  the impoverished and downtrodden . The ongoing tragedy and famine in Somalia is one case which requires more attention from Islamic societies. Islamic governments like Iran should take more serious measures to address the sufferings of Muslim nations, not only  in the context of political interests but also in the context of our humanitarian commitments.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Lessons from the Philosophy of Awaitance

The issue of the Awaited Imam, Mahdi or the Messiah has been a source of inspiration and motivation for centuries among the followers of Divine religions. For Muslims and Shias, the philosophy of 'awaiting' for the appearance of the Savior is an integral aspect of belief.  To await for the Imam prayers are recommended but in addition, this philosophy is based on behavior and actions as well. Awaiting for the Imam is a form of protest against the existing circumstances in every era. In fact it implies an effort to overcome the challenges and obstacles in the way of justice and peace. These challenges begin with the self and the ego and lead to the society. The awaiting believer strives to, learn from mistakes and wrong doings and improve circumstances; being a reformist by heart. The person who awaits the Hidden Imam, is not satisfied with the status quo and looks forward to the coming of the Imam who will bring about the major transformations in our world.
This motivating philosophy which is followed by believers in many religions has the potential to bring social mobilization and change in society. This has created a pretext for many who have exploited this matter for their personal or political gain and have used the concept to deceive ordinary people. This matter is documented in Islamic history and for this reason in religious scripture anyone who claims to have seen or met the Imam or those who have determined a time for the appearance are refuted as fraud.
One of the issues that the conservative or Principalist political groups in Iran confiscated during election campaigns and used to attract public opinion was the concept of awaiting for the Hidden Imam. During the ninth presidential elections in 2005, Ahmadinejad's team propagated the idea that the appearance of the Imam is near and that his election will enhance the matter. His team also had employed the matter before during his short term as the Mayor of Tehran. During the ninth Presidency Ahmadinejad repeatedly implicitly indicated that his government was in contact with supernatural powers and the 12th Imam. He evenly openly mentioned that his government has the important task of "global governance" and that the 12 th Imam is governing and running the affairs. He made these comments specifically when serious problems with the Parliament arouse and he was accused of taking illegal measures and neglecting the legislative processes. Reformists spoke out strongly against this campaign of deceit and abuse of a progressive religious philosophy. They clearly indicated that this form of religious propaganda is contrary to all religious and revolutionary principles. Reformists faced serious retaliation and their voices were suppressed particularly after the disputed elections of 2009. They were accused of many matters including , insulting the President.
Now after the internal rifts among the Principalists in power surfaced and after Ahmadinejad openly confronted the verdicts of the Supreme leader, the matter of abusing the concept of Awaitance for political purposes has come into light and Conservative critics of Ahmadinejad are putting forward the same argument that reformists had presented months before.
The novel experience of dealing with a Religious Democracy and an Islamic Republic in modern times is a challenge that needs to analysed and understood with care. There are many lessons from which both Islamic societies and other democracies can learn.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Women and the Awakening

Editorial
Farzaneh Journal of Women's Studies


The ongoing awakening of the Middle East and North African societies which led to the Egyptian and Tunisian Revolution is a clear example of a dynamic social and political movement inspired by not only democratic values and the aspiration for freedom but also by Islamic mores and values.  Recent developments in Yemen, Bahrain and even Jordan , Morocco and Syria all point to the contagious nature of the message and the repressive temperament of the regimes still  clinging to power.  The role of women in inspiring and promoting these mass movements has been clearly demonstrated in  news reports and footage emanating from these events, in spite of heavy restrictions and obstacles for journalists and reporters.  The most intriguing aspect of these developments is considered to be the unpredictable nature and chain reactions involved.  
In the academia,  although a number of recent studies of movements in the Middle East have attempted to depict a realistic vision and have articulated criticisms of the clash of modernity and tradition and attempted to move beyond cultural based explanations of movements (El Mahdi 2009: 1011-1039; Naghib 2009: 155-174; Dabashi; 2008; Bayat 2005: 891-908; Abdelrahman: 2004; Wiktorwitz: 2004; Hafez: 2001) yet none have even come close to predicting  the events of 2011.   Some scholars have mentioned the emerging role of Muslim women in these societies but none have anticipated that they would take a leading role in the transformation of their societies to democracy and the realization of a modern Islamic version for the woman's  role and status.
For long there had been reports on the growing trends of Islamization in Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries contrary to secular and even non-Islamic   government   policies. These trends were hallmarked by a growing appeal for the hijab or Islamic covering, particularly in the academic sphere as well as an increasingly larger population displaying their Islamic loyalty in the form of attending group prayers and demanding more mosques and prayer rooms in public areas.  This trend which was  overlooked by government politicians  in Egypt nor was it understood by researchers who studied these societies.  Many scholars who  have produced   theories which posit progressive movements as purely Western and secular ,   have now realized that they carry a blind spot regarding movements in the Middle East. These recent  events while not totally inspired by religious and Islamic values like what happened in  the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1978,  usually enjoyed a strong Islamic backing from both fundamentalist and progressive outlooks.
 In reality, women and men in these societies aspire to liberate their countries from the humiliating policies of corrupt dictators supported by foreign , mostly Western powers. They see Islam as a progressive and liberating force and wish to rebuild their societies on values such as justice, peace and progress for all. The vanguard role of women in the conception and promotion  of these movements, as seen in news reports, has been commented and reviewed in many news analysis but very little has yet emerged in the academic sphere.  The fact that women in Egypt , Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria  took part in the demonstrations which led to violence due to repressive government policies and were injured and even martyred, is an important hallmark which will enable women in these societies to play an instrumental role in the making of new institutions and reforming the existing political structures. It is also an important indication of the support that Islamic leaders have provided despite harsh government repression for women's participation.  Footage from many cities indicated that young women and girls also played an important role in this struggle  and considering the vulnerability of this age group and the social complications associated with their political activism, many observers consider this matter as a turning point for these Muslim communities.

The tragedy of Libya however, is another story where the role of women cannot be overlooked in both parties. While the Qaddafi regime claims to support the advancement of women, many young women from various walks of life took part in demonstrations against the regime. Although as the violence escalated and led to street clashes and a form of civil war emerged after Western allies began aerial attacks, the presence of women in the streets diminished owing probably to the high level of violence and intimidation on behalf of the government militia.
In conclusion, as events unfold and countries of the region move towards an awakening and socio-political transformation,  the lessons and achievements of other Islamic societies should be conveyed so that a constructive exchange of experience occurs. Academic centers need to take the lead in providing a sound and objective analysis for each society  enabling an insight into the rapid transformations of our days.  In the absence of foreign interference there is much hope for a new road map for the region, in which women would revive their identity and advance to realize their God given potentials.

Farzaneh Journal of Women's Studies Vol 17 is now published. (www.farzanehjournal.com). 



Friday, June 17, 2011

Flower Carnival in Tehran



Tehran Municipality holds seasonal flower exhibitions and this month the exhibition was followed by a flower carnival in the streets. The political atmosphere in Tehran is grim, but the flower exhibition was beautiful.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Dust Storms

During several months in summer and fall, many cities in Iran have been suffering from dust storms and severe air pollution. Tehran has also been inflicted by this phenomena during recent weeks. Aerial satellite images indicate that the sources of these dust storms are from deserted farm lands and desert areas in Iraq, Syria , Jordan and Saudi Arabia. These dust storms take the particles high into the atmosphere and they travel across boundaries into Iran.
We held a large hearing session on the issue in the Tehran City Council Environmental Committee and invited all sectors involved with the matter  last night. Experts spoke on the issue, indicating that a reduction of rainfall and mismanagement of water resources particularly in Turkey, where new dams have withheld most of the water coming in the Tigris and  Euphrates , has resulted in the drying up of marshlands in this region. The only solution for the dust and air pollution which has hampered activity in many cities, is international cooperation for land management and natural resources protection. Planting of species which could protect the soil and prevent erosion is the ultimate resolve. Cities like Beijing have face similar challenges in the past and have improved their air quality with long term planning and regional cooperation, I mentioned in the session.
This could be done in the context of the Convention to Combat Desertification , the Convention on Climate Change and other conventions such as the Wetlands Convention . We concluded that international and bilateral cooperation is essential and all regional countries including Turkey should be involved in this process.
These events indicate the importance of environmental policies and collaboration at the regional and international level to protect natural resources.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Imam and the Realities of Today

32 years have passed since Imam led the most significant event of his age i.e., the Islamic Revolution. Imam Khomeini had set the stage for a return of Islam to the center stage of politics. He set new  standards for governance and politics in the religious realm.  His theory of the rule of the jurisprudence and the religious democracy were novel political frameworks which were implemented and embodied in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Today, Iran has taken significant strides in many areas, the indicators of economic and social development all point to a rapid pace of advancement. This trend has however had its fluctuations and has not always been upwards.
 Now, for the past 6 years an Administration has come into power led by Mr. Ahmadinejad . His supporters  initially claimed that he was the miracle of this millennium ; his populist policies and his bizarre behavior was tolerated by other Principalist leaders on the pretext that they needed him for a comeback to power.  He has befriended many of his allies for various reasons during these years and today many have come to the same conclusion that reformists made in their initial encounters with his behavior and mentality. Now it seems the time has arrived for the moderate conservatives to see the reality in a different light.
Some believe that the angle created with the views of Imam during these recent years is more serious than all the contradictory policies practiced during those 27 years before. The reality is that while much has been achieved from those initial objectives of the Revolution, the ethical challenges of these recent years and the dangers that lie  ahead  have overshadowed the future. These are difficult challenges and tests for the nation and the Revolution. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Khatami Initiative

Rapid developments in Iran and the Middle East have attracted the attention of analysts and political observers once again. In Iran, signs of the internal drift between the Ahmadinejad group and the Supreme Leader have emerged after Ahmadinejad refrained from appearing in Cabinet sessions for more than a week. His Chief of Staff is the main culprit and he is under attack for using unconventional means, such as supernatural powers to exert his power over the affairs of the country and to "deal" with his rivals. In addition, Ahmadinejad is condemned by Principalists for not obeying the Supreme Leader, who he claimed to follow with all his heart during his first round of Presidency. This well orchestrated bond did not last long during the second round and now things are falling apart with the Parliament as well. The leaders of the pro-Leader factions in the Parliament have been seriously criticizing Ahmadinejad for his illegal measures. Now, they have adopted a bill to investigate billions of Tomans distributed among 9 million citizens prior to the disputed Presidential elections in 2009. None of the three rivals of Ahmadinejad accepted the results of that election on grounds that both prior to the elections and during the balloting and vote counting  serious illegal and irregular measures had been reported.    However, all criticism and opposition was severely suppressed during a two year campaign that still continues. Now, it is becoming more and more evident that the Reformists were very correct in their predictions and concerns. There is now also much news about possible embezzlement and money laundering by what their conservative rivals call the "devious group" within the government.

Those who love Iran and still believe in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic hope that a return to the law and justice, freedom of political prisoners and a free political atmosphere for Parties, activists and civil society would pave way for national reconciliation and a return of stability and prosperity to the country. Former President Khatami spoke on those notes recently, stressing once again on those necessary preconditions, he stated that we might have to forgive each other in order to move forward. Some have criticized his move as a step back in retreat, while others have welcomed the move as an initiative that could bring national unity and confidence among all social groups including particularly the educated and intellectual elite of the country who have become more and more disgruntled with the awkward measures and manners of the Ahmadinejad group. Khatami's initiative has broken the deadlock on many sides and is the center of an on going debate among both Reformist and Principalist groups.
The reformists are hopeful that as the light emerges from behind the dark clouds, all political dominations would reconcile to protect the future of the nation, including its natural and human resources.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Councils Reflect Democratic Values

We celebrated the anniversary of the creation of local Councils a few weeks ago. The major debates reflected in the media were focused on the current status of Councils throughout the country.  Even though the Constitution clearly gives full authority and status to councils elected by the people in governing the affairs of the Municipality and other local affairs, there have been many obstacles in this way.  President Khatami held the first elections after the Revolution in 1998 despite heavy criticism and  the uncertainty concerning the competence of the councils and their inexperience. Since then more than 30,000 urban and rural councils have performed their legal duties for three rounds. During these years they have gained more experience and have sought expertise in different areas of urban management. This has changed the face of many cities and villages in Iran and has provided a unique opportunity for people to take charge of their affairs in a democratic manner. Council elections are considered to be the most liberal elections in Iran due to the light vetting processes involved as compared to other elections.
During these years those who have  opposed the democratization of Iran and who essentially believe in the Islamic State as opposed to the Islamic Republic, have taken numerous measures to weaken and limit the role of the councils. The ninth and tenth governments in particular have displayed their animosity in face of urban councils and particularly Tehran. It is a common rumor that Ahmadinejad considers Ghalibaf the mayor of Tehran as his political rival and therefore seeks to weaken his image among the citizens of the Capital.
In short Councils in Iran are an important gauge for the democratic processes today. Their strength and success will reflect the  capability   of  the people in running their affairs and taking the matters of the country into their hands.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Clinton and the Democratic Aspirations of 1979

 In 2005 , I was invited to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, as the Vice President of the Islamic Republic.  In one of the high level sessions where many world leaders had attended, some American Senators, including Joe Biden, faced many questions on American economic and diplomatic policy.  When I was asked to comment on the debate, I brought up the question why the US displayed  double standards in dealing with the world. I asked why did the US support dictatorships when they were US allies and opposed democracies when they were American adversaries? How can Americans claim that they adhere to the values of freedom and democracy in the world when, in reality they only see the national interests of their government? In light of the prevailing circumstances in the world, what are the real core values America claims to promote , I asked. The American senators  attempted to convince their audience but did not have much to say in response, but many world leaders from Asia and Latin America were thankful that someone had brought up this bitter reality.
Now, seven years later, this bitter reality has translated into an awakening, it has led the people of the Middle East and North Africa to stand up, take their affairs into their own hands and crush the corrupt dictatorships who relied on Western or Eastern powers to survive. Seven years later on, the American government had still vested hopes on a ailing dictators like Hosni Mobarak or Ben Ali  to secure their interests and those of the Zionist entity in the region. Those baseless claims about democracy and human rights are now seen in a different light. Even when Clinton spoke at the US Islamic World Forum last week, the arrogant and relentless tone had not changed. She did however use certain terminology that was surprising in a sense. In one part of her speech she criticized the Arab world for not allowing women to advance as in other countries; not recognizing the fact that American influence and control over government policies during the past decades has played a major role in keeping Arab women back. Clinton cannot overlook the reality that her government is  complicit and will be held accountable for it's hypocritical   foreign policy.
On a more interesting note Clinton in her speech, refers to the Islamic Revolution of Iran   as the "democratic aspirations of 1979". The question arising for any observer is whether Americans had recognized the democratic nature of the Islamic Revolution back in 1979, and  if so,why had they taken any opportunity to crush or subvert the Revolution ? Does the Administration now understand how this policy has fueled radicalism and led to the very difficult circumstances we face in Iran today. Do they realize that their actions have created a false pretext for the pressures on Reformists and activists in Iran today?  Mrs. Clinton needs to provide an explanation for the dark history of American intervention in Iranian affairs. She may need to  carefully reread contemporary history as well. 


The reality is that people everywhere are now well aware of their human and Islamic rights and have decided to stand up and resist oppression to regain the dignity they have been given by God. They have come to the understanding that independence, freedom and democracy are an integral aspect of Islamic teachings.   It seems that the dynamic societies in this region will not rest until they  achieve their objectives. 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Nowrooz and Reform

The Nowrooz holidays are an opportunity for travelling around the country. Along with the family we went to Mashad, the major pilgrimage city of Iran. Although the Shrine of the Eighth Imam was very crowded but the rest of the city was not. . Nowrooz is the time for a renewal of nature coming to life after a long winter rest. A spiritual and personal renewal is also intended in this celebration.The political stalemate in Iran , the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the volatile situation in many regional countries were hot issues discussed in social circles these days. The events in the region may be in tune with the revival of nature in spring. 

Unrest and brutal suppression of the protesters in Syria was initially overlooked in Iranian State owned TV stations but I saw some reports a few days ago in Press TV , an indication of the fact that friends and foes of the Islamic Republic are all vulnerable in face of the democratic uprisings of the region.   People are more and more aware of the realities surrounding them and they have more expectations from their rulers. They expect more oversight and just democratic processes. They are fed up with corrupt pro West or pro East governments, they are in a quest for their freedom  and their independence. They are Muslims who seek the dignity that Islam proclaims humans are created with. Governments like Syria and Jordan are responding with reforms since they witnessed that in Tunisia and Egypt , Presidents were forced to resign after confronting popular demand. Syria has released its political prisoners with hopes to quell the protests and Bahrain and Yemeni governments are proposing reforms in the judiciary and political processes. It is now evident for all that reform and democratic rule without any foreign interference is the way ahead. Libya now faces very difficult circumstances due to the stubborn resistance of Qaddafi and the aggression of Western forces.
Governments which resist reform will take their countries to the verge of destruction and civil war or political stalemate, reform is a necessity for any dynamic political system in this era. Islam calls for self correction and control in the ethical and spiritual dimension and this reform process must be also considered at the social and political levels .

Monday, March 14, 2011

Earthquake Diary : From Bam to Japan

The earthquake and tsunami in Japan revived memories of the terrible earthquake of Bam in 2003. Bam is a city with about 100,000 residents in southeastern Iran. I had visited the city and the beautiful historical citadel  dating to centuries ago, once before the earthquake. Residential areas of  the city were mostly built of brick and steel and the historical citadel was all mud and clay. The city was surrounded by large date palm plantations and dates from Bam are still the most famous brands in Iran.
The  6.6 M earthquake devastated more than 80 percent of the buildings and 26, 261 people died and hundreds were injured. For the several initial hours the relief systems of the city were disrupted and it took some time before the officials realized the depth of the tragedy . Those golden moments were the time relief workers had to save lives.  The tragic images of the city I visited, in my capacity then as the Vice President, are still vivid in my mind. Avenue after avenue, street after street, homes were devastated and very few buildings remained. The government was very quick to provide relief and reconstruction projects were developed . I visited Bam once again 9 months later , the situation was much better and people were living in pre-constructed homes which were small, but provided the essential residential needs for a temporary period. Plans for reconstructing the ancient citadel were also underway at that time. The psychological and human rehabilitation would take much longer.
The government decided to set up a supreme national council for disaster response and to establish a national scheme including projects to strengthen existing building and enforce regulatory standards. Some of the construction projects were slowed down in the next government but the experience caused many officials to work for implementation of more stringent regulations in the construction sector.
Nowadays, when I visit districts of the greater Tehran Metropolitan area, as a Councilor and Head of the Environment Committee, I also visit the projects underway for education training and local earthquake response and relief groups which are underway. Tehran ,like many cities in Iran is located in an earthquake prone area and we all need to be prepared since many buildings in Tehran are not properly built and do not have the necessary strength to  withstand an earthquake.
The tragic scenes of Bam and now Japan are also a reminder to all of us, that the earth on which we stand and the ground on which we firmly walk and march is far more unreliable than we think . Our lives are numbered days on earth but our souls are eternal ....These natural disasters are a wakeup for all, a warning for those who oppress nature and the ecosystem with their excesses, it is a warning for those who oppress others, whether in the name of freedom and democracy or in the name of religion and peace. These events are a sign of the nearing of the day of reckoning when every soul will be summoned to respond for his or her deeds, it is a sign of the infinite power and reign of the Almighty Creator and the ultimate weakness and impotence of this selfish, egoist human being who sees none but his interests and profits........

Friday, February 25, 2011

Domino of Events in the Region

On Friday last week we were watching the Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo. Millions had attended and shouted slogans calling for the cleansing of the Government from Mubarak agents. I was watching the scenes in Benghazi today, protesters had a banner saying " Thank you Egypt , Thank you Tunisia" . Protests and demonstrations are the word of the day everywhere and any time. More interesting were demonstrations in Amman, Jordan and other cities throughout the Arab world.  It seems that the domino of developments in the Middle East is so quick and so unpredictable that analysts cannot find the opportunity to provide insight into the events. Even the Saudi Monarchy has felt the tremors and has announced welfare measures for their citizens. Its also interesting to note that most of these cities have a square or circle named Tahrir or Freedom and yet they have to struggle and suffer for freedom.
The hypocrisy of the Obama Administration in sharply condemning certain repressive socialist or anti -imperialist governments such as Qaddafi and only lightly criticizing pro American dictators like Mubarak and Ben Ali has become evident. The question remains whether the ultimate model for governance in these countries is a western style liberal democracy, an Islamic Republic similar to the Iranian style or a more liberal Islamic Democracy like what is experienced in Turkey or Malaysia.
There are two major concerns for the future of  these nations, the first is the interference of foreign powers particularly the US which senses a loss of influence and  feels threatened for the safety of the Zionist regime. The second concern is for the dictatorial forces, the forces of wealth, power and media or hypocrisy who still yearn to regain power, this time with another face and color.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Egypt, Tunisia and the Future of the Middle East

After the successful Tunisian Revolution, the people of Egypt are now, after weeks of demonstrations and protests, celebrating the resignation of  Hosni Mobarak after 3 decades of autocratic and despotic rule. Many observers compare these events with those in Iran , 32 years ago . They try to draw an analogy between the Islamic Revolution in Iran and what happened in Egypt. While there are parallels to consider, there are also evident differences, as well. The military refrained from taking sides from the begining in Egypt, contrary to Iran in 1979. The movement in Egypt was national, not ideological, although  Islamic forces ( the Muslim Brotherhood)  played a major role,while Islam was in the mainstream of the revolution in Iran.

Some observers have drawn an analogy with the events of last year in Iran. They compare Egypt and Tunisia to the protests in Iran and believe that the people of Egypt were inspired by what happened in Iran last year, not what happened  32 years ago. However, we see and interpret the events as they are an important sign of change in the region. The life of the dictators is over and people do not look up to the US as their savior any longer. The US has once again, lost its face in supporting  despotic regimes in Egypt and Tunisis. Democratic and Islamic values will determine the fate of the Middle East. The people will learn from the lessons and mistakes of other nations including Iran and will build their future upon those valuable experiences .

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Recent Developments in Air Pollution Policy

Air pollution is still a major problem for our large cities. Records indicate that air pollution was diagnosed in as far as 1974 as a major problem for Tehran. As the population and number of vehicles increased drastically over the years, from a few thousand to over 4 million in 2011,and due to the lack of serious determination in recent years the issue seems to have become unsurmountable.  In 1998, with the assistance of a team of experts and building upon three major studies a Comprehensive Plan to Combat Air Pollution was drawn up. The plan was adopted in 7 chapters a year later by the Government and implementation began. A strong inter-sectoral management committee was established, all car production lines were brought in line with environmental standards, lead was out-phased from gasoline, natural gas was promoted as a clean fuel and public transportation was enhanced during those years, until 2005 when the government changed.
The new government had other priorities, thus many of the programs concerning air pollution were cancelled or faced serious obstacles.This led to serious setbacks in programs and targets set for reduction of pollutants. This year we have faced more than 80 days of unhealthy air pollution levels. Aromatics, particulate matter, NO2 and ozone are major pollutants detected in Tehran . When it became clear for the Tehran City Council that the Government has a 5 year delay  in providing a revision of the Comprehensive Plan to Combat Air Pollution, they adopted the Environmental Committee proposal on this matter last month.
More interesting on this matter is the fact that the Tehran Municipality won an international award of Sustainable Transport, but the Government which sees the Mayor of Tehran,Mohammad Ghalibaf as a rival, opposed his presence in the US for accepting the award . Despite the Administrations opposition Alireza Dabir, a member of the Council went to receive the award instead.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A Letter to Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev, had unusual high profile guests on January 4, 1989. Imam Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran had decided to send an official letter, carried by a high-level delegation, for the Soviet leader. The Imam had sent very few such letters during his 11 year term, thus this event was considered to be of utmost importance.
His envoys consisted of Ayatollah Javadi Amolli a prominent religious scholar, Dr. Javad Larijani a top diplomat and Marzieh Dabagh a revolutionary woman activist, imprisoned and tortured for opposing the monarchy. The sending of the letter was unconventional , its contents were confidential and not disclosed even for the emissaries. The members of the delegation received much publicity during and after the event. Particularly important was the inclusion of a woman in this high level delegation, indicating the importance Imam attached to their role in diplomacy and dialogue. Although this diplomatic role for women has yet to be appreciated in the Iranian administration today.
The envoys were warmly welcomed in the Kremlin where they met Mr. Gorbachev and the letter was read out loud and translated simultaneously. The timing of the letter was also significant; this was soon after Iran had accepted the UN resolution 598 for ceasefire ,after the aggression of Saddam against Iran. No one could anticipate what Imam had to say to the Soviet leader. The message praised Mr. Gorbachev's boldness in changing the Soviet system.
''It is clear to everyone that Communism should henceforth be sought in world museums of political history,'' ''Materialism cannot save humanity from the crisis of disbelief in spirituality, which is the basic affliction of human societies in the West and the East.'' Finally Imam had asked Mr. Gorbachev to seriously study and research Islam.
Gorbachev had carefully listened , and then replied after a brief contemplation . Initially he had thanked , Imam for the letter and had pledged to reply appropriately , he had noted that legislation for the freedom of religions was underway and he believed different faiths could live in harmony together. He then made the point that this religious invitation could be considered as a form of interference in the affairs of another country , since each country is free to chose its religion and faith.
In reply ,the head of the delegation thanked Mr. Gorbachev for patiently listening and pledging to provide a response. Mr Javadi noted that on the interference point, he must make a clarification, he noted: “You are free Sir to rule the Soviet Union as you prefer, this message does not concern what is above nor below the land or even the skies of the Soviet Union, this message concerns only you and your soul.”
Mr. Gorbachev is a respected former leader a now  active in sustainable development and peace issues. He has founded and leads an international NGO, Green Cross with active branches in many countries.
The Brisbane Earth Dialogues was an international conference held in 2006 in Australia under his auspices. I was invited to address the Conference as the first woman Vice President of Iran and as a Champion of the Earth and I met Mr. Gorbachev on the sidelines.
We discussed about Imam's letter. I asked him whether he recalled the meeting and the letter . He said he recalled them very well. He even recalled that the lady in the delegation wore gloves. I pointed that Imam had not sent any letter to any world leader other than him, indicating that he regarded him highly and worthy of a intellectual dialogue. Mr. Gorbachev acknowledged that he had been very engaged and busy during those times and that he had not given due attention to the matter at that juncture. I pointed that through this letter Imam had attempted to initiate a dialogue between two cultures and religions. Although Imam had passed away, the letter was still a matter of lively debate in Iran and in other Muslim media. Every year on the anniversary interviews, seminars and debates on the mission and the letter were convened. Mr. Gorbachev was surprised to hear that the letter is still a relevant entity for Iran and the Islamic world. He indicated his readiness to work on an initiative to revive this dialogue and to revisit the message that Imam sent him.
Now in 2011 we face very difficult challenges in Iran and in many parts of the world.
The concept and policy of Dialogue among Civilizations reinstated by former President Khatami is seriously challenged now by radical power structures in Iran, violent groups who deny dialogue at the national and international dimensions have undermined many democratic processes of the Islamic Republic. Revisiting the letter of Imam Khomeini on the anniversary might remind us of the importance that he gave to dialogue and understanding among faiths, cultures and even politicians.







You can see the New York Times Article of January 1986 below:
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=950DE1DA153EF936A35752C0A96F948260