Sunday, June 28, 2009

Views from Iran: Iranian Reformists Speak


Iranian member of parliament (MP) and mid-ranking Shi'i religious scholar Hujjat al-Islam Ghodratollah Alikhani delivers a ballsy speech with impecable flare criticizing Ahmadinejad and his conservative and Iranian "neoconservative" (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps & Basij) allies. The talk of a uniform Iranian "clergy" is nonsense, and this proves it.


The popular late Ayatullah al-Sayyid Mahmoud Taliqani speaks about the dangers of the return of despotism in Iran. A key revolutionary intellectual, he was a member of the Central Revolutionary Council formed after the flight of Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, the last shah (despotic "king") of Iran in January 1979. However, Taliqani was soon sidelined by Khumayni and his conservative revolutionary allies. Taliqani argued that constitutional democracy and socialism were thoroughly compatible with Islamic principles, and he maintained open ties to the revolution's leftist parties. He opposed Khumayni's "absolutist" notion of wilayat al-faqih (Vilayet-e Faqih, in Persian). After being sidelined, Taliqani became increasingly quiet on political issues, and he died on September 10, 1979. If only his vision had been implemented instead of Khumayni's.....




Reformist Iranian Shi'i scholar Hujjat al-Islam Mohsen Kadivar, currently a visiting professor in the United States, speaks (in Persian) on a panel at Columbia University. A student of Grand Ayatullah Hossein 'Ali Montazeri, Kadivar bravely criticizes the Iranian regime for its violent suppression of demonstrations following the presidential elections. Kadivar was imprisoned for over a year by a special court which tries "dissident" religious scholars in Iran. When asked upon his release if he would repeat the criticisms that originally landed him in jail, he said, "yes." Ballsy...




Kadivar speaks (in Persian) in front of the United Nations building in New York City about the Iranian regime's crackdown on demonstrations following the "re-election" of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president.
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See also HERE and HERE.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Where is the Love?



This music video montage seems appropriate today, with violence increasing in Iraq and Afghanistan/Pakistan, demonstrations in Iran, and bloody conflicts raging in Somalia, Darfur, and elsewhere around the world.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Return of Zarqawi: Multiple Deadly Bombings Target Iraqi Shi'is

The late Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian leader of al-Qa'ida in the Land of the Two Rivers (AQI), was virulently anti-Shi'i and dedicated to turning Iraq into a new base for transnational Salafi jihadis. His organization and allies are responsible for the deaths of thosands of Iraqi civilians, police, and security personnel. The writing at the bottom right-hand side of this video still reads "Shura al-Mujahideen," the name of a loose umbrella for the most extreme Salafi jihadi groups operating in the country, many of them led and staffed primarily by non-Iraqis. The Shura was disbanded in 2007 with the formation of a new umbrella, the Islamic State of Iraq, under the leadership of a shadowy individual known as Abu 'Umar al-Baghdadi. Al-Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. airstrike in June 2006, and was succeeded as head of AQI by the Egyptian Abu Hamza al-Muhajir.


NOTE: I do not subscribe to the simplistic division of Iraqis into three major groups, namely "Kurds, Sunnis, and Shi'is." I identify the confessional identities of groups in this post simply as a means of identification as it relates to my argument, and not as an artificial division as is done by many journalists and pundits.

While the world's eyes are focused on ongoing demonstrations in neighboring Iran, a murderous series of bombings have targeted Iraqi Shi'i civilians during the past five days. The attacks, which were follow a recent series of terrorist attacks near Shi'i shrines targeting Iraqi and foreign pilgrims, are reminiscent of the bloody sectarian tactics perfected by the late leader of al-Qa'ida in the Land of the Two Rivers (AQI), the Jordanian Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi. Before he was killed in a U.S. airstrike in June 2006, al-Zarqawi outlined his plan to create a civil war between Iraqi's communities in a crazed letter to Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the chief ideologue of al-Qa'ida "Central" (AQC), which was intercepted in 2005.

"[The Shi'is are]…a lurking snake, a crafty and malicious scorpion, a spying enemy, and a mortal venom. Here, we are entering a battle on two levels. One is open, against a furious enemy and patent unbelief [the U.S. and foreign, non-Muslim Coalition]; the other is more difficult and fierce, against a cunning enemy who wears the garb of a friend [that of a Muslim], pretends to agree, and calls for solidarity [this may refer to al-Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr], but harbors evil and takes tortuous paths. He is the heir to the esoteric gangs that traversed the history of Islam and left indelible scars on its face. The attentive observer and careful witness will realize that Shi‘ism is a looming danger and a true challenge. ‘They are the enemies; so beware of them. The curse of God be on them! How are they deluded (away from the Truth)…," writes al-Zarqawi.

"Peace unto You, O' Shaykh of Jihad"

The full letter, in both Arabic and English, can be read HERE. Throughout the letter, he most often refers to Shi'is as "Rafida" or the plural, "Rawafid," or "those who reject," a derogatory term used by Salafi Sunnis against Shi'is. Some analysts have argued, and I tend to agree, that Zarqawi was the founder of a new form of Salafi jihadism, one which is fueled in large part by an almost incomprehensible violent hatred for Shi'i Muslims. His strategy was even questioned by his former teacher, the Palestinian-Jordanian Salafi jihadi shaykh Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, and al-Zawahiri.

AQI and other Salafi jihadi groups suffered a series of setbacks beginning in 2007, after the U.S. military secured an alliance, thanks to generous amounts of money, some Iraqi tribal councils, the "Awakening Councils" (Majalis al-Sahwa), and their militias, which the U.S. prefers to call "Sons of Iraq." It was driven out of many of its former safe havens, but has proven remarkably resilient. The series of recent attacks which have specifically targeted Iraqi Shi'is and foreign Shi'i pilgrims may be a sign that AQI and its allies, whose ideology, though hostile to all Muslims who do not subscribe to it, retains a special virulence against Shi'i Muslim, are returning to the tactics of the late al-Zarqawi, which proved so effective in 2006 following AQI's February bombing of the revered Shi'i shrine of al-'Askariyya in Samarra.

The al-'Askariyya Shrine in Samarra after the February 2006 bombing, which destroyed its dome.

Two of the 12 Imams of Twelver Shi'is, the 10th, 'Ali al-Hadi, and 11th, Hassan al-'Askari, are buried inside. The shrine, according to popular belief, is also where the twelfth Imam, Muhammad ibn Hassan "al-Mahdi," who is believed by Twelver Shi'is to be in a mystical occultation, will return at the appointed time.

On Saturday, June 20, a kamikaze (suicide) truck bombing targeted an Iraqi Turcoman Shi'i mosque in the village of Taza in the north of the country, killing at least 73 people and wounding over 200. In April, 60 pilgrims were killed by two female kamikaze bombers near the Shi'i Kadhimiyya Shrine in Baghdad. In early May, a teenage bomber was stopped before he could detonate his explosives-belt inside an Iraqi Turcoman Shi'i mosque in the northern city of Kirkuk.

Taza, Iraq after the bombing

The latest attack occured yesterday (Wednesday, June 24) in Sadr City, a sprawling area of Baghdad which is home to over two million people, most of the Iraqi Shi'is. Unlike the other recent attacks, the vehicle bombing in the Mraydi Market was not a kamikaze attack. A rickshaw packed with explosives, which were hidden with produce, attached to a motorcycle exploded, killing at least 72 people, though the toll may rise. However, reports suggest that the operator of the motorcycle got off before the explosives were detonated. It is unclear whether this latest attack was supposed to be yet another kamikaze mission, but was not due to "cold feet" by the driver.

Though AQI seems to be returning to its former (successful) strategy of targeting Iraqi Shi'is, the organization and its allies also seem to be forgoing a high number of attacks (frequency) for a series of well-planned and very deadly "spectacular," or "big" attacks. In addition to a return to the strategy developed by al-Zarqawi, the late AQI chief was recently "honored" in a nasheed (a religiously-themed, or in this case militant-themed, song) in he is identified as the "Prince of the Martyrs," or "Amir al-Istishhadiyyin" in Arabic. The nasheed is accompanied with photographs and footage of al-Zarqawi with AQI jihadis in Iraq, and the famous photograph of his bruised face following his death. The nasheed video also includes footage of roadside bombings against the U.S. military, footage of prominent Iraqi politicians and security officers, including Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, a prominent Sunni politician who heads the Iraqi Accord Front, and footage of U.S. military personnel with members of the Awakening Councils, including the late Shaykh 'Abd al-Sattar Abu Risha, who formed one of the first councils in al-Anbar Province in western Iraq, which was an AQI stronghold from 2004-2006. These individuals are described as "unbelievers" and "criminals."

"Islamic State of Iraq: The State of Islam, with God's permission, Remains"

The video closes with a series of statements read by Abu 'Umar al-Baghdadi, the "caliph" of the Islamic State of Iraq. The statements all begin with one of the ISI's "mantras," the ISI "remains," or "will remain," which is an integral part to much of the visual media produced by the group, or in its name.

Photobucket


View the video nasheed. Warning: It includes footage of violence.

During the heyday of al-Zarqawi's tenure as leader of AQI, kamikaze suicide vehicle attacks were a bedrock of his strategy, one which he first employed in 2003 in attacks against the headquarters of the United Nations and the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad. These attacks are glorified in video nasheed releases such as the following, entitled "Final Goodbye." This video is a perfect example of the type of media that AQ, through its al-Sahab (The Clouds) media wing, and its allies and affiliates, such as al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghrib (AQIM) have perfected. AQIM has released multiple videos since April, including a nearly two-hour video, 'Ushaq al-Hur (Lovers of the Pure Beings of Paradise).


View the video nasheed "Final Goodbye," which includes footage from both Iraq (by AQI and its allies) and the Maghrib (by AQIM). The video shows no actual violence, but is one of the best examples I have seen of Salafi jihadi media. Around the 4:50-minute mark, the text reads "Ghazwat Badr Baghdad," or "Badr-Baghdad Raid/Battle," a reference to the Battle of Badr, when the Prophet Muhammad and his supporters defeated a much larger Meccan force sent to destroy them.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Family Feud: Iran Edition, Khamenei vs. Khamenei


Hujjat al-Islam al-Sayyid Hadi Khamenei, a mid-ranking Iranian Shi'i religious scholar and brother of the current supreme leader of the republic (Rahbar-e Jumhur) , al-Sayyid 'Ali Khamenei, by Wednesday of last week (June 17) was arguing that a body representative of all sides should review the disputed Iranian presidential election results, and hear candidates' complaints. Hadi is a member of the Association of Combatant Clerics based in the shrine city of Qum (Qom), a large and some say growing body of Reformist religious scholars critical of the existing ruling political system. He met with representatives of candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi on Tuesday, June 16, and said that this impartial body should include representation from all sides, from representatives of his brother to Mousavi and the other three candidates, and members of the parliament and judiciary. Such a mix would prevent any one side from dominating or prejudicing the impartial review. The body's findings would be presented to the general public.


A public advocate for the Reformist camp, Hadi has been physically assaulted and seriously injured by pro-regime elements, such as members of conservative student organizations (nicknamed "Hizbullahi," which may explain unfounded rumors that LEBANON's Hizbullah is in Iran to quash demonstrations, which is also a rumor being spread by ideological right-wingers in the U.S., Canada, and Israel) and Basij militiamen. His first newspaper, Jahan-e Islam, was banned in 1995, and his second newspaper, Hayat-e No, was banned in January 2000.

Hadi , unlike his older brother, is a leading member of the Reformist camp, and worked as an advisor to former two-term president (1997-2005) Hujjat al-Islam al-Sayyid Muhammad Khatami, also a Reformist. In the past, Hadi has said that the powers exercised by the supreme leader were excessive and should be reduced, and he has publicly opposed the power of the Guardian Council (for more on the bodies in the Iranian government, see HERE) to disqualify candidates from running for parliament and the presidency. Hadi himself was barred from running for a seat on the Assembly of Experts, which elects and can remove the supreme leader, in 1998 by the Guardian Council, which said that he lacked the necessary "theological qualifications." This is hypocritical, since 'Ali Khamenei also lacks the scholarly requirements and requisite education to be supreme leader according to the original requirements in the 1979 Constitution. For more on this issue, see the "Comments" section of yesterday's post HERE.

Al-Sayyid 'Ali Khamenei

In 2000 at Tehran University, Hadi publicly criticized the Guardian Council's disqualification of hundreds of Reformist politicians, including sitting parliamentarians, from running for election or re-election that year. He said that the move endangered Iranian democracy, distorted the results (since conservative candidates outnumbered Reformists on the ballots), and was an improper use of power.

Given their very different views on politics and social issues, and their often contentious relations in public, one must assume that those Khamenei family get-togethers must be the epitome of "awkward."

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Grand Ayatullah Makarem Shirazi's Statement on Iranian Elections, English Translation


For a short report on the diversity of views among Iranian Shi'i religious scholars ('ulama) see HERE.

A good friend of mine who is fluent in Persian (Farsi, specifically) was kind enough to translate the letter/statement (in Persian) issued by Iranian Grand Ayatullah Nasir Makarem Shirazi on the election dispute and related events into English. Although he wishes to remain anonymous, I am nonetheless very grateful that he took the time to do this, particularly as he is fresh from a lengthy trip overseas, and translated, of his own volition, despite being jet-lagged.

For more on Shirazi, see HERE.

Shirazi clearly has chosen his words carefully, and it is necessary to read the statement with care. As with any translation, it cannot hope to capture the "full" meaning of the original language. Many Iranian 'ulama, such as the mid-ranking scholars (Hujjat al-Islam) Mohsen Kadivar, Hasan Yusuf Eshkevari, and Mohsen Sa'idzadeh, as well as Grand Ayatullah Hossein 'Ali Montazeri and the late Grand Ayatullah al-Sayyid Muhammad Kazim Shari'atmadari (1905-1986), have suffered retaliation, house arrest, and even imprisonment for expressing views openly critical of the existing political system and its senior leaders. Shari'atmadari was even stripped of his scholarly rank, a move that has no basis in Twelver Shi'i history, for opposing some policies in the early years of the Islamic Republic. He died under house arrest. Montazeri, once successor to the first jurisconsult (faqih, in wilayat al-faqih in Arabic, or in Persian, Vilayet-e faqih, or "guardianship of the jurisconsult/jurist'...a "faqih" is, generally speaking, a religious jurist), Grand Ayatullah al-Sayyid Ruhollah Khumayni, was removed in 1989 as successor after he questioned the direction that the revolutionary movement had taken, including privately criticizing decisions of his old friend and teacher, Khumayni. Since then, he has routinely been placed under house arrest, and has been harrassed by supporters of the current faqih or "supreme leader of the republic" (Rahbar-e Jumhur), al-Sayyid 'Ali Khamenei, who was "given" the title of Ayatullah, and then Grand Ayatullah, upon becoming the new Rahbar, despite the fact that he does not possess the requisite education. As one former professor and mentor put it bluntly once, "Outside of revolutionary Iran, he [Khamenei] wouldn't be considered even an Ayatullah." The central theme of Shirazi's letter/statement is that peaceful means and dialogue should be used to solve the country's current dispute.

The Persian text reads:

از سوی دفتر معظم له منتشر شد :

پيام حضرت آية اللَّه العظمى مكارم شيرازى (مدّ ظلّه العالی) به تمام هموطنان عزيز


بسم اللَّه الرحمن الرحيم

درود بر ملّت بيدار و هشيار ما كه با حضور پرشور و كم‏نظير خود در انتخابات، حماسه‏اى به يادماندنى آفريدند و جهانيان را در شگفتى فرو بردند.

اينجانب به فرد فرد شما عزيزان كه در داخل و خارج با شركت خود در انتخابات روح تازه‏اى در كالبد انقلاب دميديد و نشان داديد همگى به كشورتان و به نظام جمهورى اسلامى وفاداريد تبريك مى‏گويم و سعادت و سربلندى شما را از درگاه خداوند متعال مسئلت دارم.

اميدوارم برگ زرين اين پيروزى در آتش اختلافات نسوزد و همگى سعى كنيم با حفظ آرامش از طرق قانونى به تمام نگرانى‏ها پايان دهيم و فراموش نكنيم كه در اختلافات فراگير هيچ برنده‏اى وجود ندارد و همه مردم و كشور و نظام زيان مى‏بينند.

فراموش نكنيم كه قرآن مجيد اختلاف را هم رديف صاعقه‏هاى آتشبار آسمانى و زلزله‏هاى ويرانگر زمينى مى‏شمرد و در جاى ديگر آن را همرديف شرك و كفر مى‏داند.

انتظار مى‏رود شوراى محترم نگهبان همان‏گونه كه وظيفه قانونى آنها ايجاب مى‏كند و رهبر معظم انقلاب بر آن تأكيد نهادند با دقّت و شجاعت و بى‏نظرى كامل به شكايات كانديداهاى محترم رسيدگى كرده، پاسخ قانع‏كننده‏اى به مردم بدهند.

همه ملت عزيز ما يقين دارند كه منافقان كوردل و فرصت‏طلب در آشفته بازار اختلافات فعال مى‏شوند و با تخريب اموال مردم و به آتش كشيدن آنها چهره ملت مهربان و صلح‏طلب و پاكدل ما را در جهان به زشتى رقم مى‏زنند. سعى كنيد صفوف خود را از آنها جدا سازيد.

برادران و خواهران عزيز! در اخبار خارجى آمده بود كه حوادث تلخ اخير كشور ما در صدر تمام اخبار جهان قرار گرفته است و مفهوم آن اين است كه دوستان ما كه در منطقه و جهان بسيار زيادند احساس نگرانى مى‏كنند و دشمنان ما هم كه كم نيستند مراقب فرصتى هستند تا ضربه‏هاى خود را وارد سازند، شما فكر كنيد در اين شرايط چه وظيفه‏اى داريم؟

رأى دهندگان محترم! آنها كه به اختلافات دامن مى‏زنند از هر گروهى باشند تنها راه را براى سيطره دشمنان صاف مى‏كنند.

مطمئن باشيد اگر خداى نكرده كشور و انقلاب ما آسيب بيند تمام منطقه آسيب خواهد ديد و دچار دگرگونى خواهد شد و اين مسئوليت ما را سنگين‏تر مى‏كند.

عزيزان! ما صدها هزار شهيد و جانباز براى به ثمر رسيدن انقلاب داده‏ايم. مطمئن باشيد امروز ارواح آنها و روح مقدس امام راحل بنيانگذار جمهورى اسلامى ناراحت است. خدا نياورد روزى را كه بر اثر غلبه احساسات بر عقلانيت، ارزش تمام آن خونها به خطر بيفتد.

رأى دهندگان محترم مخصوصاً شما اى جوانان عزيز! من به همه شما احترام مى‏گذارم. بياييد از طريق مذاكره اختلافات را برطرف سازيم. همه به هم احترام بگذاريم، سخنان ركيك به يكديگر نگوييم و اخوت اسلامى را زنده كنيم.

عقلاى قوم در اين لحظات، وظيفه سنگينى دارند؛ بايد با حفظ آرامش، يكديگر را دعوت به مذاكره كنند و دست در دست هم بگذارند و سرانجام دولتى با استفاده از تمام ظرفيت‏هاى مديريتى همه جناح‏هاى وفادار به انقلاب تشكيل دهند تا ايرانى آبادتر و سربلندتر از گذشته بسازيم و نامهربانى‏ها به مهربانى تبديل گردد و دشمنان ناكام شوند و دوستان اميدوار. إن‏شاءاللَّه

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The English translation reads:


Message of Grand Ayatullah Makarem Shirazi to all dear compatriots:

In the Name of God, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful

Praise be unto a conscious and alert nation who with their exhilarating and little-before-seen presence in the elections, created a memorable coalition and astounded the entire world.

I congratulate each and everyone one of you dear friends, both from within the country and from without, who participated in the elections and breathed new life into the body of the Revolution, and showed that all of you are loyal to your country and to the Islamic Republic. I ask for your happiness and your respect from all-Mighty God.

I hope the precious leaf of this victory does not get burned in differences. All of us should attempt, by keeping our calm and through lawful means, to end all disputes and to not forget that in widespread disputes no one prevails and the people, the country, and the state all suffer (together).

We should not forget that the Holy Qur’an places (these sorts of) disputes at the same level as storms of fire and tumultuous earthquakes, and in other instances (in the Qur’an), at the level of Shirk [worship of beings other than God] and Kufr [unbelief].

It is expected that the respected Guardian Council, according to its legal responsibility and the insistence of the glorious Leader of the Revolution, with precision, courage, and in an entirely unprecedented manner should address the candidates’ concerns, and should give an acceptable response to the people.

All of our dear people are certain that blind and opportunistic hypocrites are active at times of chaotic dissidence, and by destroying and burning the property of the people, deface the friendly, peaceful, and pure-hearted in front of the world. Try to distance yourselves from [these hypocrites].

Dear brothers and sisters! Foreign news agencies have said that the latest unfortunate incidents in our country are the most important news all over the world. This means that our friends, who are plentiful within this region and indeed all over the world, are concerned; and our enemies, who are not small in number, are waiting for an opportunity to inflict their own injuries (upon us). What do you think our responsibility is in this situation?

Dear respected voters! Those who accept dissidence from whichever group they are make the path easier for our enemies.

Be sure that if, God forbid, our country and our revolution sees any harm, the entire region will see harm and will be forced into an upheaval. This makes our responsibility that much more important.

Dear friends! We have given hundreds of thousands of our people, (who were) martyred and injured for the creation of this revolution. Be certain that today their souls and the soul of our deceased blessed imam, the founder of the Islamic Republic, are unhappy. God forbid that day come when, because our feelings overcame our reason, the value of all that blood is put in danger.

Respected voters, especially the dear youth! I respect all of you. Come, and through discussion, resolve these differences. Everyone should respect everyone else, do not use insulting words against each other, and revive Muslim unity.

The wise members of the nation, in these instances have a great responsibility: they must, through keeping calm and peaceful, invite one another to discussions, and hand in hand once again create a government by using all the managerial resources of the different parties who are loyal to the revolution–so that we may create a better and prouder Iran, change antagonisms to friendliness, disappoint our enemies and make hopeful our friends. If God so wills.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Right-wing Media & Twitter Echo-Chamber Continue to Spread Unsubstantiated Rumors

See yesterday's POST for the necessary background information and discussion before reading this post, as it builds on yesterday's.

UPDATE (5:05 p.m., June 25): A blog post by a well known Iranian dissident in exile is now being circulated on Twitter as "proof" of the "Lebanese Hizbullah in Iran rumor." A good friend who is fluent in Persian was kind enough to provide a summary of the post, which cites no original sources or evidence that "proves" anything, let alone the rumor. The post also reuses two photographs run almost one week ago by a Persian ad English language web site with a royalist (shah) banner prominently displayed. This web site also did not provide evidence for its allegations of who the individuals photographed were. Now, scores of people, most who probably cannot read any Persian, are yet again participating in the Twitter rumor echo-chamber. Some ignorant Twitter users are even misidentifying the language of the blog post as "Arabic;" I mean, all those "squiggly line" languages are the same, right?

The dissident-blogger provides no actual sources, and simply repeats the same sourceless rumors that have been circulating for nearly a week. His claim rests on the "argument" that Hizbullah is now "repaying" those from whom it benefited. Of course, this would also include Mir Hossein Mousavi, who,
along with Iran's ambassador to Syria, Hujjat al-Islam Ali Akbar Mohtashami-Pur, was instrumental in supporting Lebanese Shi'i groups when they were coalescing into a unified movement (Hizbullah) in the mid 1980s.

UPDATE (12:49 p.m., June 25): Shaykh Na'im Qassem, Hizbullah's deputy secretary general, said in an interview: ""Hezbollah has nothing to do with Iran's internal affairs," he said. "We don't side with anyone. This is an internal Iranian issue. What is happening there has nothing to do with our situation. We have our own Lebanese identity and popularity, and these events don't concern us."


UPDATE (9:15 p.m., June 23): Veteran Middle East and war correspondent Robert Fisk, of the British newspaper The Independent, who is in Tehran chimes in about the rumors:

"Now for the very latest on the fantasy circuit. The cruel "Iranian" cops aren't Iranian at all. They are members of Lebanon's Hizbollah militia. I've had this one from two reporters, three phone callers (one from Lebanon) and a British politician. I've tried to talk to the cops. They cannot understand Arabic. They don't even look like Arabs, let alone Lebanese. The reality is that many of these street thugs have been brought in from Baluch areas and Zobal province, close to the Afghan border. Even more are Iranian Azeris. Their accents sound as strange to Tehranis as would a Belfast accent to a Cornishman hearing it for the first time. Fantasy and reality make uneasy bedfellows, but once they are combined and spread with high-speed inaccuracy around the world, they are also lethal."

The rumors are becoming more and more ridiculous now, and continue to spread thanks to dishonest or uncritical users of Internet sites such as Twitter. I have seen multiple claims, with no evidence to support them whatsoever, of "Syrians, Sudanese, Chechens, and Taliban" in Iran as riot-breakers. Is this the same Taliban, from Afghanistan, who is virulently anti-Shi'i and hanged Iranian diplomats in the 1990s? And are these the same equally anti-Shi'i Chechen groups? What's next, North Koreans?

NOTE:
Some have made an ad hominem allegation that I am an "apologist" for the Iranian government. This claim is demonstrably false, as evidenced by my past writing on the demonstrations and other issues. See, for example, HERE and HERE.

Other readers mistakenly think that I am saying that there are certainly "no members" in Iran for the rumored purpose. I am not arguing this. I am criticizing the blind acceptance of such rumors, any rumors, without reliable substantiation or those which are based on purported "verification" by blatantly ideologically-motivated media sources or anonymous and possibly fictional "sources." I am also criticizing those who peddle such rumors as fact, whether on Twitter (as many are doing) or via other mediums.

The Problems with Twitter discussed HERE.
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As I wrote yesterday, unsubstantiated rumors are circulating wildly around Twitter and Internet discussion forums and blogs alleging that the Lebanese Shi'i party Hizbullah (Hezbollah) and the Palestinian Islamist group HAMAS have "sent" members of their paramilitary wings to Iran in order to assist the government in cracking down on demonstrators. The rumor about Hizbullah originate from unsubstantiated allegations from anonymous sources contained in an article in the German newspaper Der Spiegel, which also alleged recently in yet another anonymously sourced and highly contested article that Hizbullah carried out the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri in February 2005. Even Hariri's son and inheritor of his political party, Tayyar al-Mustaqbal (Future Movement), Sa'd al-Hariri, and his allies, such as Druze strongman Walid Jumblatt, were extremely cautious about the article's allegations. Despite the questionable reliability of the allegation, the rumor soon spread like wildfire over the social networking site Twitter, and from there to online forums and blogs. Twitter's reliability as a news source, which was being trumpeted at the beginning of the week, was soon called into question because of its role in promulgating rumors and unproven allegations as facts.

The rumor about HAMAS seemingly can be traced to one of two sources, either a highly biased article in the right-wing Israeli English-language newspaper The Jerusalem Post, dated June 17, or a blog post on an Evangelical Christian blog called The Last Crusade, written by one "Paul L. Williams" and dated June 18. The two pieces include essentially the same material, as well as IDENTICALLY worded paragraphs and minimally reworded paraphrases. It is unclear whether "Williams" or the writers at the Post were guilty of plagiarism.

For example, both articles use this nearly identical quote, with minor edits (e.g. "it was" in the Post and "it's" in the blog article):

"It’s ironic, the knife wielding man added, the victorious Ahmadinejad “tells us to pray for the young Palestinians, suffering at the hands of Israel.” He expressed his hope that Israel would “come to its senses” and ruthlessly deal with the Palestinians.

When asked if these militia fighters could have been mistaken for Lebanese Shi’ites, sent by Hezbollah, he rejected the idea. “Ask anyone, they will tell you the same thing. They [Palestinian extremists] are out beating Iranians in the streets… The more we gave this arrogant race, the more they want… [But] we will not let them push us around in our own country.”

The individual being quoted, if he actually exists, incorrectly uses the word "race" and provides the "interviewer" (or fiction writer) with a quote that would make any right-wing Israeli and/or radical Zionist ideologue salivate.

Both articles quote anonymous sources, who fail to explain how they were able to not only tell that certain individuals were not Iranian, but know that they were "Arabs," and further, how they were able to tell which groups these alleged characters belonged to. The Post bases its entire article on two anonymous sources. It is remarkable that their "special writer" was only able to get two individuals, if they are real, to "confirm" the "validity," so-called, of the rumor. Haven't hundreds of thousands of Iranians been demonstrating? These factors call into question the reliability, validity, and factual basis of both articles, and particularly that in the Post.

The right-wing Zionist outlet The Israel Project, which like CAMERA, masquerades as an "unbiased" protector of journalistic "truth," issued a press release on June 18 recycling the rumors about Hizbullah and HAMAS having sent members to Iran to assist in the quashing of the ongoing demonstrations. The press release cites the Der Spiegel article, which claims that the U.S. government-funded Voice of America media outlet claimed that "5,000 Hizbullah members" were sent to Iran (though a search on the VOA news web site turned up no such claim), the article from The Jerusalem Post, and Pajamas Media, a network of right-wing blogs and web sites based in the United States. The Pajamas Media article cited provides no verifiable sources to back up its claims that Hizbullah and HAMAS members are participating in the quashing of demonstrations. General mention is made of "Palestinian intelligence sources," who are not further identified. Even if true, these "Palestinian sources" would most likely be members of security and intelligence services connected to the Fatah ruling party, headed by Mahmoud 'Abbas, who has elongated his term as president of the Palestinian National Authority, despite his term having expired earlier this year. Fatah's security and intelligence organs are dominated by Fatah party strongmen like Muhammad Dahlan and the thuggish Jibril Rajub (Rajoub), who have an interest in spreading disinformation and propaganda against their chief rivals, HAMAS. Dahlan in particular has a motive to do so, as Fatah security forces and militias under his control were soundly and humiliatingly defeated in 2007 during the HAMAS-Fatah war in the Gaza Strip. Dahlan reportedly assisted the Israelis with targeting during the assault on Gaza in December 2008 to January 2009.

The Pajamas Media article, and The Israel Project's press release, both claim, providing no sources, that Venezuela has sent "anti-riot police" to aid the Iranian government as well. The inclusion of Venezuela, another country whose leader, Hugo Chavez, is hated by American right-wingers and Neoconservatives, makes these rumors all the more suspicious, as they seem to be just too perfect, and, if true, might allow these groups to push forward their own selfish agendas.
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In an article-interview about the recent Lebanese parliamentary elections and the ongoing process of forming a coalition, national unity government, Hizbullah's secretary-general (leader) al-Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah declined to take sides in the current electoral dispute in Iran, and warned the March 14 ruling political coalition not to interfere in Iranian internal affairs:

"I will not touch on the Iranian elections now that is an internal matter. I advise the March 14 media, politicians and analysts to stop interfering in the Iranian [presidential] elections, because they do not understand anything with regard to the issue, and before we know it they will start presenting President Ahmadinejad and Mir Hussein Moussavi respectively as March 8 and 'March 14' [the two competing Lebanese political coalitions], this is absurd!"

See yesterday's post for the reasons why it is not in the party's interest to choose a side in the ongoing electoral dispute in Iran.

See Alexander's excellent discussion of these and other major debunked rumors at The Ruh of Brown Folks.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Lebanon's Hizbullah (& Palestinian HAMAS) in Iran? Dissecting the Rumor


UPDATE (5:05 p.m., June 25): A blog post by a well known Iranian dissident in exile is now being circulated on Twitter as "proof" of the "Lebanese Hizbullah in Iran rumor." A good friend who is fluent in Persian was kind enough to provide a summary of the post, which cites no original sources or evidence that "proves" anything, let alone the rumor. The post also reuses two photographs run almost one week ago by a Persian ad English language web site with a royalist (shah) banner prominently displayed. This web site also did not provide evidence for its allegations of who the individuals photographed were. Now, scores of people, most who probably cannot read any Persian, are yet again participating in the Twitter rumor echo-chamber. Some ignorant Twitter users are even misidentifying the language of the blog post as "Arabic;" I mean, all those "squiggly line" languages are the same, right?

The dissident-blogger provides no actual sources, and simply repeats the same sourceless rumors that have been circulating for nearly a week. His claim rests on the "argument" that Hizbullah is now "repaying" those from whom it benefited. Of course, this would also include Mir Hossein Mousavi, who, along with Iran's ambassador to Syria, Hujjat al-Islam
Ali Akbar Mohtashami, was instrumental in supporting Lebanese Shi'i groups when they were coalescing into a unified movement (Hizbullah) in the mid 1980s.

UPDATE (12:49 p.m., June 25): Shaykh Na'im Qassem, Hizbullah's deputy secretary general, said in an interview: ""Hezbollah has nothing to do with Iran's internal affairs," he said. "We don't side with anyone. This is an internal Iranian issue. What is happening there has nothing to do with our situation. We have our own Lebanese identity and popularity, and these events don't concern us."


UPDATE (9:15 p.m., June 23): Veteran Middle East and war correspondent Robert Fisk, of the British newspaper The Independent, who is in Tehran chimes in about the rumors:

"Now for the very latest on the fantasy circuit. The cruel "Iranian" cops aren't Iranian at all. They are members of Lebanon's Hizbollah militia. I've had this one from two reporters, three phone callers (one from Lebanon) and a British politician. I've tried to talk to the cops. They cannot understand Arabic. They don't even look like Arabs, let alone Lebanese. The reality is that many of these street thugs have been brought in from Baluch areas and Zobal province, close to the Afghan border. Even more are Iranian Azeris. Their accents sound as strange to Tehranis as would a Belfast accent to a Cornishman hearing it for the first time. Fantasy and reality make uneasy bedfellows, but once they are combined and spread with high-speed inaccuracy around the world, they are also lethal."

The rumors are becoming more and more ridiculous now, and continue to spread thanks to dishonest or uncritical users of Internet sites such as Twitter. I have seen multiple claims, with no evidence to support them whatsoever, of "Syrians, Sudanese, Chechens, and Taliban" in Iran as riot-breakers. Is this the same Taliban, from Afghanistan, who is virulently anti-Shi'i and hanged Iranian diplomats in the 1990s? And are these the same equally anti-Shi'i Chechen groups? What's next, North Koreans?

NOTES:
The first commentor makes a thinly disguised ad hominem allegation that I am an "apologist" for the Iranian government. This claim is demonstrably false, as evidenced by my past writing on this, and other, issues. See, for example, HERE and HERE.

Other readers mistakenly think that I am saying that there are certainly "no members" in Iran for the rumored purpose. I am not arguing this. I am criticizing the blind acceptance of such rumors, any rumors, without reliable substantiation or those which are based on purported "verification" by blatantly ideologically-motivated media sources or anonymous and possibly fictional "sources." I am also criticizing those who peddle such rumors as fact, whether on Twitter (as many are doing) or via other mediums.

The Problems with Twitter discussed HERE.


Also, please see the "Comments" for this post to read important
points and counter-points from readers.

Read Alexander's excellent, balanced examination of this and other rumors circulating in the U.S. and European media, and among segments of the demonstrators themselves on The Ruh of Brown Folks.
Choice quote: "
I think that spreading rumors such as these two damages the credibility of the protest movement. It is simply hypocritical to accuse Ahmadinejad of fraud and then circulate forged letters and false rumors."

UPDATE (5:55 p.m., June 18): Distortion of a quote from an article from the Iranian government funded Press TV media outlet is making the rounds on Twitter, claiming: "Lebanese Hezbollah Chief Nasrallah says Iranian protesters “are in illusion," linking to a short Press TV online article. The actual quote, in context, reads (I have not edited the quote, even to change spelling to the transliteration style employed at Occident):

"Now yes, some of our friends in Iran have caused a problem because of the dispute over vote counting. There have always been disputes of this kind in Iran but with the presence of Wileyet el Fakih, the Supreme Leader Khamenei, and the maturity and presence of mind of the Iranians, Iran will pass through this crisis easily," Nasrallah stated.

"And all those people who are dreaming and analyzing and holding up hopes otherwise, they are in illusion," he concluded. "


The placement of the quoted line has been changed, and a meaning has been added by dishonest Twitter users. Nowhere does Nasrallah refer to the demonstrators as being "in illusion." Rather, he says that those who think Iran will not "pass through this crisis easily" (see the line immediately above) are "in illusion." Yet more evidence that one must be carefuly relying solely on Twitter for reliable news.

Meanwhile, more rumors are being peddled on Twitter that now claim the Palestinian Islamist group HAMAS has sent people to Iran in order to suppress the demonstrations. The evidence? Quotes attributed to anonymous "Iranians," and polemical screeds on right-wing web sites.

One such site is the blog Gateway Pundit, which reproduces photographs from a source that uses the old royalist Iranian flag prominently in its banner that are allegedly of "HAMAS and Hizbullah" members in Iran. How one can tell the nationality of the two men, let alone what groups they are members of, is not explained. The blog also quotes an article from the right wing Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post. The first line is key:
"Palestinian Hamas members are helping the Iranian authorities crush street protests in support of reformist presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, two protesters told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday." The newspaper's "sources"? Two shadowy, unidentified "protestors." It is also remarkable that a rightwing Israeli newspaper has reporters in Iran.

The article from The Jerusalem Post uses identical text from a polemical screed penned by a "Paul Williams" for a conservative, seemingly Evangelical, Christian blog named "The Last Crusade." The newspaper does not list Mr. Williams as a contributor to the article, and it is unclear which party is guilty of plagiarism, but the same text appears in both the article and the blog screed.

This screed is also republished by the right-wing Canadian media outlet Canada Free Press.

Even The New York Times is promoting these rumors. In this article on the Basij, they provide a hyperlink to more articles on the Lebanese Hizbullah (Hezbollah) when they write "Ansar-e Hezbollah," the name of a pro-regime Iranian group.

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A rumor has been circulating widely on the Internet that 5,000 members of the paramilitary wing of the Lebanese Shi'i political party Hizbullah have been "brought in" to assist the Iranian government suppress pro-Mousavi, Reformist, and other demonstrations. This rumor has been spread on a variety of web sites, including those of the far right and far left in the United States, including the far left Daily Kos [both camps share remarkably similar, dim, views of the ongoing events in Iran, and other issues; they are not as different as they may wish to believe.] The rumor reportedly is based on unsubstantiated claims printed in the German newspaper Der Spiegel, who published a largely unsubstantiated claim that Hizbullah was behind the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri in February 2005, which was based largely on "anonymous" sources. Other bloggers have noted seeing similar rumors being spread on supposedly responsible and reliable news outlets, like CNBC.

The number of 5,000 is ridiculously high. The best "guestimate" puts the number of Hizbullah's active paramilitary fighters at between 1,200-2,000, with the party being able to call upon perhaps several thousand more "part-time" reserves. The number circulating in the Internet rumor even exceeds the estimates of Israeli intelligence, which has an interest in exaggerating the numbers of Hizbullah's paramilitary fighters. Even given the fact that some of Hizbullah's elite forces receive military training in Iran, it is unlikely that the number of part members in that country number anywhere near 500, let alone 5,000, at any one period of time.


Hizbullah paramilitary fighters

This rumor is built about the erroneous, polemical claim that Hizbullah is not really a Lebanese movement, but simply a "proxy" or "puppet" of Iran. According to this claim, peddled by many Israeli officials and their allies abroad, particularly in the United States, Hizbullah will thus do whatever the supreme leader (rahbar-e jumhur), al-Sayyid 'Ali Khamenei, asks, without question. In reality, the party is a Lebanese phenomenon and is primarily focussed on domestic issues, and was formed between 1982-1986 to address domestic concerns. The party has a close, strategic alliance with Iran, with which it also shares many ideological similarities, particularly with regard to politics. Khamenei is also recognized as the party's "guide," as was Grand Ayatullah al-Sayyid Ruhollah Khumayni before. However, individual party members are free to follow the marja' al-taqlid (religious reference; grand ayatullah) of their choice. Informal studies suggest that most follow either Grand Ayatullah al-Sayyid 'Ali Husayni Sistani, based in Iraq, or Grand Ayatullah al-Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah, based in Lebanon.

Considering the key point in political horsetrading in Lebanese politics right after the recent parliamentary elections, it is unlikely that Hizbullah would send all of its full-time paramilitaries or even its part-time reserves abroad. The ongoing tense relations between March 8, the National Opposition political coalition of which Hizbullah is a member party, and the ruling March 14 coalition make such a move by the party even more unlikely.


A massive Hizbullah rally in Beirut

The argument that Hizbullah would send the bulk of its active paramilitary force abroad because it fears losing substantial financial support from the Iranian government is factually unfounded. The ties beween the two remained strong during the two terms of Reformist president Hujjat al-Islam al-Sayyid Muhammad Khatami (1997-2005). The polemical "logic" that Iranian financial support of the party "proves" that it is a "proxy" would mean that foreign aid from one country to another makes the second country a "proxy." Therefore, the militant Lebanese Maronite party Phalange was an Israeli "proxy" in the 1980s, since the rightwing Likud government of prime minister Menachem Begin provided over $100 million in support to it, hoping to install a pro-Israel Maronite regime in Lebanon.


Hizbullah leader al-Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah (left) meets with Sa'd al-Hariri, the leader of the largest party in the ruling March 14 political coalition, the Sunni party Tayyar al-Mustaqbal (Future Movement), in Beirut on October 27, 2008.

There are claims that some of the forces acting to quell the demonstrators in Iran are "speaking Arabic" (be afraid!), though these claims are based largely from Internet claims, such as those dominating Twitter at the moment, which have not been independently verified or proven. Some argue that, if true, these individuals may simply be from one of the Arabic-speaking minorities in the country, particularly since nearly 50% of the population are not native Persian-speakers and/or are not ethnically Aryan ("Persian"). Iran has a large Arab minority in the west. A counter-argument to this explanation notes, accurately, that the Iranian Arab minority and those minorities who may speak Arabic are generally hostile to the Iranian government, regardless of who is president. Iran's radical jihadi Sunni groups, such as Jund Allah (God's soldiers) are drawn primarily from the country's Baluchi and Arab minorities.



Is it possible that Lebanon's Hizbullah has sent some of its members to Iran? Sure. I just don't find it probable, particularly in the numbers claimed in the rumors/allegations. It is more likely that biased European and American journalists and Internet pundits confused the nickname of usually plainclothes pro-government students and other individuals (hizbullahi) or members of the Basij, a government reserve that includes a large paramilitary wing (similar in some ways to state national guards in the U.S.) and, erroneously, assumed that these "reports" referred to Lebanon's Hizbullah. There is also a Turkish group that goes by the same name. As for Twitter "reports" about "Arab-speakers," these have yet to be independently verified and may in fact have emerged from the prejudice of some Aryan Iranians ("Persians") to Arabs, and non-Aryan Iranians.



Members of various Basij units, including a scouts-type unit for Iranian youth (middle) and a women's unit (below).


See also Andrew Exum's take @ the Abu Muqawama blog HERE and HERE.

The rumors are now making the rounds on far right blogs and the Twitter echo-chamber, one of the big negatives of Twitter as a "news" service.
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Appendix

Hizbullah leader al-Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah did congratulate Khamenei on the election, but he would have done this regardless of the outcome, as he has in the past.

The official English translation of this letter reads:

"In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. Your Eminence Grand Ayatollah Imam Sayyed Khamenei (May you live long) Peace and God's mercy and blessings be upon you... On behalf of my brothers and sisters in Hizbullah, I congratulate your eminence on this magnificent epic created by the great Iranian people in this historic presence last Friday, in the presidential elections, when they renewed their support and faith in this blessed system and the values and principles of the Islamic Revolution-founded and led by His Eminence the late Imam Khomeini (May God honour his soul). This magnificent epic is one of the great blessings of your wise leadership, your paternal guidance and your tremendous patience, whilst it has introduced joy to the hearts of all the vulnerable and the Mujahideen...hope was revived through the strength, sturdiness and solidity of the structure of this dear republic which represents a great, strong, and steadfast backing of our resistant people and defending their rights in the face of the aggressors and extorters. I ask God Almighty to perpetuate your noble presence to achieve under your leadership more of glory and command for Iran and the nation."