Highlights of the week
Will Iran’s Supreme Leader once again be forced to drink from the poisoned chalice? Intensive media focus on Khomeini’s agreement to ceasefire with Iraq
Iran reacts to escalation in Syria after explosion in Damascus
Do the Revolutionary Guards intend to penetrate into religious education?
“No to compulsory veil”: virtual campaign for women’s freedom of choice in respect of veils
Will Iran’s Supreme Leader once again be forced to drink from the poisoned chalice? Intensive media focus on Khomeini’s agreement to ceasefire with Iraq
Last week, July 17, Iran commemorated the anniversary of the decision made by Iran’s former Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1988 to adopt U.N. Security Council Resolution 598 and agree to a ceasefire with Iraq, ending the eight-year war between the two countries. The anniversary of Khomeini’s decision was marked by an extensive and rather uncharacteristic media focus on his agreement to the ceasefire. The Iranian media discourse surrounding the issue was one of clear and unequivocal support for the decision made by Khomeini to agree to the ceasefire—a decision which, as he put it, was the same as drinking from the poisoned chalice.
The front page of the Supreme Leader’s website featured a number of selections from the remarks Ali Khamenei made in 1989, soon after being appointed Supreme Leader, on Khomeini’s decision. In the remarks cited on the website, Khamenei expressed his support for adopting Security Council Resolution 598 and discussed the achievements that were made possible thanks to its adoption. Khamenei stressed that the decision to agree to the ceasefire had nothing to do with fear of the enemy or the pressure exerted on Iran—instead, the decision was driven by Khomeini’s recognition of the economic problems of which he had been informed by top regime officials, who argued that the toll the war was taking on Iran was too heavy. It was neither fear, nor the assault of the enemy, nor the United States’ threats to intervene in the fighting that drove Khomeini to agree to Security Council Resolution 598—it was domestic reasons. Khamenei noted that, during the ten years that Khomeini served as Iran’s Supreme Leader, not once did he agree in any way to yield to the threats made by Iran’s enemies. Even though he was a kind and compassionate man who was sometimes moved to tears by human suffering, he would not be cowed by the threats of air raids on the cities of Iran. All the enemies of the revolution clearly understood that he could not be intimidated or bullied.
Once Khomeini realized that accepting the resolution would be conducive to Iran’s interests, he agreed to reconsider his earlier stance on the issue. He saw it as an Islamic interest, and was able to rally the entire nation behind the ceasefire. The people of Iran, who had been calling for the war to continue for as long as it had been fought, agreed to the ceasefire at once because of their faith and confidence in the leader of the revolution.
Khamenei discussed the achievements made possible for Iran thanks to the acceptance of the Security Council Resolution. The willingness to accept the ceasefire provided a boost for the Iranian nation’s fighting spirit, determination, and sense of responsibility. This was particularly evident in the late stages of the Iran-Iraq War, when the Iraqis took advantage of Iran’s acceptance of the ceasefire to launch another attack against it. According to Khamenei, accepting the decision foiled the conspiracies of Iran’s enemies, who exerted considerable pressure on the country by such means as threats, large-scale bombardment, using chemical weapons against civilians, shooting down airliners, hitting civilian ships in the Persian Gulf, and imposing an economic blockade.
However the situation may have unfolded, Iran knew that by accepting the resolution it would be able to defeat its enemies. If the ceasefire was, in fact, implemented, Iran would be able to achieve its aims—in the opposite case, Iran would prove that the Iraqi regime was not really interested in a ceasefire, justify its demand to eliminate the Iraqi aggression at its root cause, and show that there was a close link between the Iraqi aggression and the world powers. Accepting the resolution boosted Iran’s legitimacy in the world and brought the Iranian nation closer to the fulfillment of its fundamental objectives on the international scene (the Supreme Leader’s website, www.khamenei.ir, July 13).
A number of news websites also widely discussed Khomeini’s decision to agree to the ceasefire, painting it in a positive light. In interviews given to the media, several top Iranian officials who had served in various positions during the Iran-Iraq War talked about the differences of opinion that arose between members of the Iranian leadership on whether the ceasefire agreement had to be accepted, and justified Khomeini’s decision by saying that it was based on Iran’s national interests.
Mohsen Reza’i, the chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council, who served as chief of the Revolutionary Guards during the war, praised Khomeini for accepting Security Council Resolution 598 and referred to the Supreme Leader’s decision as a masterpiece of political thought which put an end to the enemy’s conspiracies. In an interview granted to Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow, a program aired on Iran’s national TV, Reza’i said that, if Khomeini hadn’t agreed to the ceasefire, there’s no telling how the war would have turned out.
He argued that Iran had refused to accept earlier ceasefire proposals because it was interested in obtaining additional concessions, but that when the conditions of the war changed, it considered Security Council Resolution 598 a reasonable plan, one that the country could accept. The main reason for accepting the ceasefire, according to Reza’i, was the economic problems facing Iran at the time and the tremendous suffering of the Iranian people. The reports from the front and Iraq’s use of chemical weapons against Iranian civilians also sped up Khomeini’s decision to accept the ceasefire. Reza’i said that, before Khomeini agreed to the ceasefire, he himself had had reservations about putting an end to the fighting and was concerned when the decision was finally made. However, when he met with Khomeini several days later, heard his explanations and saw that he was calm, he calmed down as well (Tabnak, July 20).
Gholam-Reza Falahati, who served as a Revolutionary Guards commander during the war, said in an interview given to Fars News Agency that accepting Security Council Resolution 598 put an end to the conspiracy plotted by Iran’s enemies to portray it as a warmongering country. According to Falahati, the enemies of Iran tried to eliminate the revolution by portraying the Islamic republic as a warmongering country which threatened regional stability. The Western countries, particularly the United States, intervened in the military operations and attempted to manipulate public opinion by spreading various lies to destroy Iran. He noted that, while there were some in Iran who considered the ceasefire a tremendous victory which ensured the safety of the regime and the revolution and thwarted the enemies’ conspiracies, others argued that the war had to continue until the enemy was completely annihilated. They too, however, humbly accepted Khomeini’s decision (Fars, July 17).
Ayatollah Hassan Mamdouhi, a member of the Assembly of Experts and the Union of Lecturers at the religious seminaries in the city of Qom, also justified the acceptance of Security Council Resolution 598 and argued that it was Iran’s salvation. In an interview given to Mehr News Agency, the top cleric said that some had mistakenly believed that rejecting the resolution would be conducive to Iran’s interest, failing to realize that the regime and its leader were required to make decisions in accordance with the changing circumstances. A man whose decisions influence the fate of Islam has to make decisions based on interests in every instant. He compared Khomeini’s decision to “drink from the poisoned chalice” to a man donating his blood to save his son’s life (Mehr, July 17).
Mohsen Rafighdoost, one of the founders of the Revolutionary Guards and the minister in charge of the Revolutionary Guards during the war, said in a press interview given on the occasion of the anniversary of the decision to accept Security Council Resolution 598 that, after Iran achieved a victory over Iraq in the battle for the liberation of Khoramshahr in May 1982, there were two prevailing views in Iran about the need for the war to continue. Supporters of the first view believed that the ceasefire agreement had to be accepted, while those who subscribed to the second view argued that the war was not over yet, and that the fighting had to continue until the occupation of Baghdad. According to Rafighdoost, the then Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi was engaged in correspondence with the Revolutionary Guards over the conditions that had to be fulfilled to meet the objective of conquering Baghdad. He subsequently shared with Khomeini the conclusion that the list of demands brought up by the Revolutionary Guards could not be fulfilled, and that accepting the ceasefire was therefore a better choice (Fararu, July 17).
In an interview given to the conservative website www.598.ir, Mohammad Kowsari, one of the wartime commanders of the Revolutionary Guards, also addressed the differences of opinion between members of the Iranian leadership over whether or not the ceasefire agreement with Iraq had to be accepted. He noted that Khomeini’s willingness to accept the ceasefire stemmed from a combination of political, military, and economic factors, and from his recognition that a ceasefire was in Iran’s best interests. He noted that Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was in charge of the fighting, as well as other top Iranian officials, had reached the conclusion that the war could not continue due to economic and other considerations. Mohammad Khatami, who was in charge of public relations during the war, said that the people had grown tired of the fighting. Most senior political, military, and economic officials advised Khomeini to agree to the ceasefire, and he accepted their opinion even though such a decision was not foreseen by the enemy.
Kowsari noted that the commanders on the ground felt differently than the top officials, who had advised the Supreme Leader to agree to the ceasefire. He stressed, however, that the result of making that decision was positive, and that it allowed Iran to reclaim all the territory conquered by the enemy. He added that, unlike all other government officials, Khomeini was well aware of his fellow countrymen’s ability to endure the war if it persisted. He believed in God and trusted the abilities of his people, but did not want to make a decision that would be out of touch with reality, which was why he accepted the recommendation to agree to the ceasefire (www.598.ir, July 17).
The media discourse on the Supreme Leader’s agreement to back down from his position, which, throughout the years of the war, had rejected any solution that did not involve toppling the Ba’ath regime and having it condemned by the international bodies, may be indicative of the discourse that is currently being held by the Iranian leadership about the need to reevaluate the country’s nuclear policy in view of the increasing pressure exerted by the West. Last week, Yadollah Javani, the advisor to the Supreme Leader’s representative in the Revolutionary Guards and former chief of the Revolutionary Guards Political Department, admitted that there are two conflicting approaches within the Iranian leadership about the way Iran has to deal with the escalating pressure from the West, and that the Supreme Leader favors the hawkish approach. In a speech given at a convention of Revolutionary Guards and Basij members in Yazd Province held on July 17, Javani said that one approach supports a resolute struggle against the enemies of Islam and the revolution, chiefly the United States. Supporters of this approach oppose making any concessions to Iran’s enemies and are in favor of strengthening the values of the revolution and uniting around the Iranian leadership. Javani noted that, if the decision-makers and people of Iran adopt this approach, there is no question that Iran will be able to win against its enemies and repel their attacks. Another approach favors making concessions in view of the pressure exerted by the world powers and establishing relations with the United States. According to Javani, this approach is supported by some of the country’s top officials and key personalities, and is criticized by the Supreme Leader. It is an approach based on changing values in accordance with state interests, and it will only lead to increasing pressure on Iran from its enemies (the Basij of Yazd Province website, http://yazd.basij.ir, July 17).
In an interview given to Fars News Agency, Javani stressed that there is no room for comparison between Iran’s current situation and its situation during the Iran-Iraq War. He said that those who argue that conditions nowadays are more difficult than those that prevailed in Iran at the time of the war express a non-professional, unrealistic view. Any comparison between Iran’s current situation to its situation during the war at the domestic, regional, and international levels shows that Iran is substantially better off than in the past. During the war Iran had a faulty infrastructure, whereas now it has vastly improved infrastructure and capabilities. During the war it was dependent on foreign countries in many fields—a dependency which no longer exists. What is more, it ranks among the world’s top 8 to 10 countries in science and technology. Looking at foreign currency reserves, the state of the refineries, the industries, and the military and defensive capabilities, there is once again no comparison between Iran’s current situation and its situation during the war. Iran is now a developed country that is able to defend itself against pressure. The regional and international conditions, too, have shifted in its favor. During the war Iran was surrounded by enemies, while the current situation has changed as a result of the “Islamic awakening”, and the country has friendly relations with Iraq. On the international scene, Iran is facing weak enemies, the Western countries and the United States are facing an economic crisis, and the Americans have been defeated in Iraq and Afghanistan. While the sanctions imposed by the West are serious, Javani said, Iran can negotiate the current phase with success thanks to the circumstances and the abilities of the Iranian people (Fars, July 18).
The positive stance that has been expressed in recent days in the media debate over Khomeini’s acceptance of the ceasefire agreement with Iraq is not necessarily indicative that the Iranian regime intends to prepare the ground for a compromise with the West on the nuclear issue. However, the extensive media discourse on this issue may hint that there is a beginning of an understanding in Iran that the country’s leadership is facing a moment of decision similar to that faced by the revolution leader in 1988, and that, like his predecessor, Khamenei may soon be required to decide whether he is willing to “drink from the poisoned chalice”.
Iran reacts to escalation in Syria after explosion in Damascus
This week, commentary articles published by Iran’s conservative media expressed their ongoing support for the Syrian regime and their confidence in its ability to successfully negotiate the current crisis. The daily Jomhuri-ye Eslami argued that the political, military, and PR efforts made by the United States and its allies against Syria have failed. China and Russia vetoed the proposals brought up by the Western countries in the Security Council, the Western-backed military activity conducted by the Syrian opposition has been suppressed, and the lies published by the Western media about the situation in Syria have been exposed. At the same time, Hassan Nasrallah has once again taken a clear position in favor of the Assad regime.
After the explosion that occurred in Damascus last week, the daily argued that, if there are some people who have so far failed to understand the difference between the popular uprisings in the Arab countries and the developments in Syria, the recent events in Damascus have made that difference very clear. In Arab countries, unarmed civilians took to the streets, shouted slogans against their governments, which were supported by the United States, European countries, and Israel, and had them toppled. Those who operate in Syria, on the other hand, are terrorist elements that have the support of the West, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. Despite the determination of the United States and its allies to initiate an indirect military intervention in Syria to topple the Assad regime even without the approval of the U.N. Security Council, the solidification of the Syrian army presence and the exposure of the American-Zionist plan will prevent the Western conspiracy from coming to fruition. It is perfectly clear that this conspiracy is intended to strengthen the “Zionist regime” in the region and hurt the Palestinians. The independent Islamic countries need to protect Syria and oppose the conspiracy jointly created by the United States and Israel. It is for this reason that Iran, too, has to continue supporting Syria, Jomhuri-ye Eslami concluded (Jomhuri-ye Eslami, July 21).
The daily Keyhan accused Israel of masterminding the terrorist attack in Damascus and estimated that the escalation in Syria may provoke an all-out military conflict between Israel on one hand and Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah on the other. An editorial published by the daily this week said that the revenge against Syria and the heads of its security apparatuses had been planned by Israel for years, and that about three months ago Israel’s PM Netanyahu had clearly stated that it was time for revenge against Syria. According to Keyhan, the explosion in the heart of Damascus required preparations in advance and precise intelligence information of the kind that the Syrian opposition, which has its headquarters outside of the country, doesn’t have. The Al-Qaeda organization also lacks sufficient intelligence and security capabilities, making it very likely that the attack was perpetrated by Israel, which has considerable experience in carrying out such operations in Damascus, among other places. Israel’s uncharacteristic deployment in the Golan Heights prior to the explosion in Damascus and its allegations that Iran was responsible for the terrorist attack against Israeli civilians in Bulgaria are proof that the explosion in Damascus is the beginning of a security and intelligence war by Israel against Syria.
According to the daily, the security atmosphere in Syria is gradually turning into a military atmosphere. This means that there is now an increased risk of a military conflict between Israel on one hand and Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah on the other, which may develop into an all-out, unlimited war. This state of affairs puts Israel at risk, since it has no ability to deal with such a military conflict. The escalating security atmosphere in Damascus will make it easier and simpler for Syria to fight the armed opposition, the article said, and will make any action taken against Syria by Israel and Turkey more expensive and consequential for those countries. Such an atmosphere will allow Syria, which is currently on the defensive, to improve its status and be better able to hit the aggressor countries (Keyhan, July 21).
The conservative website Mashregh also estimated that the Syrian regime will successfully overcome the current crisis. An editorial written by the commentator Mehdi Mohammadi said that the predictions published in the West proclaiming the fall or resignation of Assad are not indicative of reality but rather of the psychological warfare campaign waged by the West against Syria.
The opposition in Syria is not a popular one, and the citizens are either spectators or victims, the article said. Those who support the regime are afraid to take to the streets because they feel that the government’s ability to guarantee their livelihood and security has declined. This does not imply that there is popular support for the opposition, the proof of which is that the opposition has not been able to organize even one demonstration in its support. Many among the opposition are members of the Muslim Brotherhood, a significant number of whom are interested in obtaining public support and Saudi funds and have secret liaisons with the West and secular forces in the Arab world. Even if the Assad regime does fall, the Americans will not let the government fall into the hands of that Muslim Brotherhood group that is interested in continuing or even widening the conflict with Israel. The Muslim Brotherhood should know that the only way to power is through elections. The Syrian opposition has the Western countries to thank for their political and material support. It is backed by outside elements and is increasingly involved with the security objectives of Israel and the United States. It doesn’t have a support base in Syria, and it goes as far as to commit crimes against Syrian civilians to intimidate them. The Syrian regime, on the other hand, has managed to retain its political and military cohesion, and has not lost control of the country. The terrorist attack in Damascus is proof that the opposition has realized that the situation is grave as far as it is concerned, which is why it has allowed Israel to penetrate into the scene and use its capabilities to perpetrate the attack.
It was the article author’s assessment that the Syrian regime is unlikely to fall. It may grow weaker or face escalating international pressure, but it will manage to survive. After it overcomes its current predicament, it will seek revenge against those responsible for the current instability in Syria and become increasingly anti-American and anti-Israeli. This will reinforce the axis of resistance that surrounds Iran and have a positive effect on its status. The developments in Syria will also positively affect Iran in terms of the international balance of power. Given the recent experience in Libya, it is unlikely that Russia and China will cooperate with the West on Syria, which will also undermine their cooperation with the United States on the Iranian nuclear program. The formation of an anti-Western front supported by Russia and China is a strategic achievement for Iran.
If and when Syria will emerge from the current crisis, there will be a change in the Western countries’ diplomatic approach towards the Iranian nuclear program. The destabilization of Israel’s security that will occur when Syria comes out of the crisis will force the West to offer fundamental concessions to Iran on the nuclear issue. The change in the strategic balance following the events in Syria is therefore likely to help Iran and hit Israel’s security (Mashregh, July 21).
In contrast with the optimistic predictions published by the conservative press about the Syrian regime’s chances of survival, Mohammad Irani, Iran’s former ambassador to Lebanon, estimated that the explosion in Damascus is a manifestation of the most severe crisis faced by the Syrian regime since the start of the uprising in March 2011. An article published on the Iranian Diplomacy website said that the Syrian security forces are now having difficulties controlling central locations in the capital city, and that the terrorist attack is an indication of how deeply the opposition has been able to penetrate into the supreme military headquarters, being a significant achievement for the opposition.
It was Irani’s assessment that the stability of the regime is now at serious risk. The challenge currently facing the Syrian regime is reminiscent of the crisis that occurred in Syria during the Muslim Brotherhood uprising in 1982—only then, the opposition consisted of just the Muslim Brotherhood and was supported by the Iraqi regime alone. Now, however, there are various factions that operate against Bashar Assad’s regime, and they have the support of the West, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey. The widening of the conflict indicates that the opposition now enjoys a higher level of training and has better equipment compared to the early stages of the uprising, and that the chances of finding a solution to the crisis through negotiations between the two sides are slim (Iranian Diplomacy, July 21).
Meanwhile, the Asr-e Iran website criticized the way that the events in Syria have been covered by Iran’s official media. A commentary article published by the website the day after the explosion in Damascus argued that the Iranian media portrayed the situation in Syria as being much more secure and stable than what was reported even by Syria’s own media. For example, the Iranian official Arabic-language channel reported that the situation in Damascus was perfectly calm. The Iranian media tried to convince the public in Iran that Damascus was in a state of absolute security and that nothing out of the ordinary was happening in the country. Wanting to see calm restored to Syria is natural, Asr-e Iran said, but it is wrong to print false headlines that have no actual impact on the situation and have no other effect than to make the people believe in a distorted version of reality.
The truth is that, after the explosion, fierce clashes took place between the opposition and the Syrian army, which were reported and shown by Syria’s own official television. Oddly, even though the clashes were reported by the Syrian television, some media outlets in Iran insisted on concealing the reality from the public. This is non-professional conduct that damages the credibility of the media in the country. The website warned that the public may lose its trust in the official media and turn to foreign media instead. Some media outlets in Iran believe that the public has no choice but to rely on Iranian media reports, and that if they provide dishonest reports about the situation in Damascus, the story will have a happy ending, Asr-e Iran concluded (Asr-e Iran, July 19).
At the same time, a number of news websites issued warnings about the possible risk to the lives of Iranian nationals staying in Syria, and called on the government to take the necessary measures to ensure their safety. The Asr-e Iran website warned that the expansion of the conflict between the opposition and the Syrian regime poses a threat to the Iranian citizens in Damascus. Broad swathes of the Syrian opposition belong to extremist Salafi groups that operate with the support of Saudi Arabia, and they will have no qualms about perpetrating crimes against Iranian citizens using religion as an excuse, as they did in Shi’ite holy sites in Iraq. The Syrian opposition takes a dim view of the Iranians both because of their nationality and their belonging to the Shi’ite denomination of Islam.
The Iranian government has the urgent mission of allowing special flights between Tehran and Damascus to evacuate those Iranians who wish to do so, and it cannot leave its citizens to fend for themselves. The website took issue with the fact that no sufficient measures have been taken so far to protect the citizens of Iran, saying that those Iranians who reside in Syria are deeply concerned. If Iranian citizens—perish the thought—become the victim of a terrorist attack, it will not be enough for the authorities of Iran to send a letter of condolence or condemn the attack, Asr-e Iran said, stressing that the effort to protect the lives of Iranian citizens across the globe is solely the responsibility of the government (Asr-e Iran, July 20). This week Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Salehi denied reports according to which Iran intends to evacuate its citizens from Syria. He said that the situation in Syria is calm, and that the Iranian citizens who reside in that country are experiencing no problems whatsoever (IRNA, July 22).
At the very margins of the media coverage of the developments in Syria, the website www.598.ir, affiliated with the radical wing of the conservative camp, published an article titled “Examination of the latest developments in Syria from the viewpoint of the event of the [Mehdi’s] appearance and Judgment Day”. According to the article, the developments in Syria may herald the approaching return of the Twelfth Imam, the Mehdi. Based on Shi’ite eschatological literature, the article’s author, Hojjat-ol-Eslam Hassan Nowruzi, argued that one of the signs pointing towards the reappearance of the Mehdi is an all-out, extended civil war in Syria, which will have an impact on the entire world and will culminate with the return of the Mehdi. The Western countries and the Russians are trying to take over Syria to establish their control in the region and guarantee their interests. According to Muslim traditions, however, the one who will take over the country is an Arab descendant of Abu Sufyan, known as Sufyani. In Shi’ite eschatology (a branch of theology concerned with Judgment Day), Sufyani is supposed to reappear in the midst of Damascus prior to the Mehdi’s return. He is a tyrannical, corrupt figure, who will fight against the Mehdi before his army is swallowed up by the earth. According to the article, Sufyani will be a deviant, anti-Shi’ite ruler, who will oppose Messianic views. He will banish the other elements that work in Syria and take over Damascus and its vicinity (including Jordan and Lebanon). As a result of these power struggles, Syria will be destroyed.
Some of the traditions say that two Sufyanis will appear prior to the Mehdi’s return. In the first stage, a preliminary civil war will be fought between various elements, and the struggle between them will last for a long time. The second stage will be the appearance of the first Sufyani, who will attempt to change the political face and status of the Al-Sham region (Syria). This period will also last for a long time. In the third stage, the second Sufyani will appear, swiftly take over the region, and work towards the elimination of the Shi’ite school of thought. The fourth stage will be the return of the Mehdi, who will wage a struggle against Sufyani, the West, and the Arab countries.
Since Sufyani’s first priority is stabilizing his power and eliminating the various elements that work in Syria, he does not intend to engage in an all-out confrontation against the Shi’ites at the very beginning, and he will even take action to weaken some of the enemies of the Shi’a. Once Sufyani has proven his power, the Western countries (Europe, America, the Zionists, and Turkey’s “American Islam”) and many of the region’s Arab governments will cooperate with him in view of their common goals and their fear of the Islamic awakening. Sufyani’s main strategic aim is to conquer Iraq and wage a war against Iran to prevent an Iranian takeover of the region and an Iranian march on Jerusalem. Eventually Sufyani will be defeated by Iran, clearing the path for the Mehdi’s appearance (www.598.ir, July 23).
Do the Revolutionary Guards intend to penetrate into religious education?
Last weekend the Shi’a Online website reported that the Revolutionary Guards intend to open a religious seminary in the city of Qom in the near future. The website criticized the plan, saying that throughout Shi’ite history top Shi’ite clerics had taken pains to maintain the independence of the religious seminaries, and had not let governments—even Islamic ones—meddle in their internal affairs. The website noted that, even though the government once had plans to establish its own religious seminaries, it had to reconsider its intention due to opposition from top clerics, including Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi. Speaking about the issue, Makarem Shirazi said that even the Supreme Leader intervenes in the affairs of the religious seminaries by virtue of his juridical authority as “source of emulation” (marja-e taqlid), not by virtue of his authority as leader of the state (Shi’a Online, July 19).
This is not the first time that the Revolutionary Guards have been reported to be planning to penetrate into religious education. In February 2012 an Iranian website reported that Hojjat-ol-Eslam Ali Sa’idi, the Supreme Leader’s representative in the Revolutionary Guards, said that the Revolutionary Guards were planning to establish a religious seminary, and stressed the need for equipping religion students with up-to-date knowledge in the spirit of Haghani Seminary in the city of Qom (www.rovatehadis.com, February 16). The seminary’s approach is rooted in the extremist political teachings of the cleric Ayatollah Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, one of its senior lecturers, and many of its graduates went on to attain leading positions in the Revolutionary Guards, the security and intelligence apparatuses, and the justice system.
Several days after Sa’idi’s statement, the Revolutionary Guards released an official announcement denying that the organization has any plans to establish a religious seminary. A spokesman for the Revolutionary Guards said that Sa’idi’s remarks had been misrepresented by the media to cause damage to the Revolutionary Guards. He clarified that Sa’idi had intended to express his personal aspiration to promote the use of the standards, management methods, and curricula of the religious seminaries, including Haghani Seminary, in education institutions where Revolutionary Guards are trained. It was not his intention that the Revolutionary Guards should establish their own religious seminaries. The spokesman said that, since the revolution, the Revolutionary Guards have acquired considerable experience in creating education and training centers designed to improve the organization members’ philosophical, cultural, and political awareness. He emphasized the deep connection between the Revolutionary Guards and the top clerics and said that, in light of this connection, the Revolutionary Guards use teaching strategies and content that are also used by the religious seminaries (ISNA, February 26).
If the Revolutionary Guards go through with their intention to establish a religious seminary in the city of Qom, it will be yet another manifestation of the organization’s growing influence and deepening penetration into politics, society, and economy. The Revolutionary Guards’ plans to bolster their influence on the religious seminaries may also reflect the efforts made by the regime in recent years to tighten its hold on the seminaries. Prior to a visit held by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to the city of Qom in October 2010, Jaras, a website affiliated with the reformist opposition, reported on severe differences of opinion between top clerics and the authorities over the regime’s intention to place the religious seminaries under the authority of a council headed by Ayatollah Morteza Moqtada’i, the director of Qom’s religious seminaries, who had been appointed by Khamenei. According to Jaras, some of the council members belonged to Iran’s security forces or the Revolutionary Guards. The website reported that several top clerics, including Ayatollah Lotfollah Safi-Golpayegani, Ayatollah Hossein Vahid Khorasani, and Ayatollah Abdolkarim Mousavi Ardebili, had been vehemently opposed to the plan to subject the religious seminaries to a government-affiliated council, and called for their independence to be preserved (Jaras, October 7, 2010).
“No to compulsory veil”: virtual campaign for women’s freedom of choice in respect of veils
In recent days over 14,000 web surfers have joined a new Facebook campaign to let women in Iran decide for themselves whether or not they want to wear a veil. Thousands of men and women from Iran and elsewhere posted comments and photos on the “No to compulsory veil” Facebook page to support the campaign, led under the slogan “A veil by choice is the Iranian woman’s right” (Hejab-e Ekhteyari, Haqq-e Zan-e Irani). Over the past week the campaign has been joined by intellectuals, political activists holding various views, journalists, and artists, as well as thousands of ordinary Iranian citizens from Iran and other places.
Behzad Mehrani, an activist for human rights and one of the organizers of the campaign, said in an interview to the reformist website Rooz that the campaign is the brainchild of several liberal students from a number of universities in Iran, who cooperate with political and independent activists to promote the awareness of and struggle for a free choice of lifestyle, part of which is dress code. Over half of the students behind the protest reside in Iran, Mehrani said. He also noted that, at this point, about 1,200 people—half of them from Iran—have sent their photos to the initiators of the campaign to have them published on the Facebook page. He expressed his hope that the virtual campaign will be the beginning of a movement that will spread to the real world (Rooz Online, July 23).
In addition to the activity on Facebook, a number of websites affiliated with the reformist opposition have teamed up to promote the campaign for women’s right to make their own choice on the issue of the veil. The Jaras website reported that the regime is stepping up its efforts to enforce the Islamic dress code, and that members of the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution, on orders from the Supreme Leader, are currently promoting activities intended to present an Iranian-Islamic model as an alternative to the lifestyle and dress code which the West is trying to disseminate in Iran.
In an interview given to the Jaras website, Maryam Akbari, an activist for women’s and children’s rights, said that the veil is a “red line” as far as the regime is concerned, but that the enforcement operations conducted by the internal security forces on the streets indicate that the authorities have failed to enforce the Islamic dress code on the public (Rooz, July 22).
The reformist website Kalemeh published an interview recently given by Na’ima Ashraqi, the granddaughter of Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader the Islamic revolution, to the Jamaran website. In the interview, Ashraqi criticized the policy of compulsory veiling in Iran, and said that the leader of the revolution had been opposed to compulsion in all religious matters, including the veil. In her opinion, the enforcement of the veil by the authorities is unwelcome and is not even required by Islamic religious law. Compulsory veiling, she said, does nothing to improve social safety or morality, and even has the opposite social results. A non-religious person who is required to dress and behave in a certain way in public will act immorally in the privacy of his own home. She said that, in her own experience, such negative social phenomena as young girls being harassed on the streets are more severe in Tehran than they are in London or Toronto (Kalemeh, July 23).