Islam & Christianity In A Developing Cold War; Post-9/11 Events Are Moving Fast.
*** Rafsanjani Has Revealed A '88 Letter From Imam Khomeini In Which He Said A Nuclear Bomb Could Help End War With Iraq
*** Musharraf On Sept. 30 Told The Americans And Their Allies They Would Be On Their Knees Now In The War Against Terror Had It Not Been For Pakistani Assistance In Pursuing Qaeda; But Despite All His Efforts, He May Not Be Able To End ISI's Support For The Taliban; Can He Prevent The Talibanisation Of His Country?
NICOSIA - Islam and Christianity are facing a cold war, one development having emerged after 9/11. A dialogue between the two faiths has been going on for decades but the potentially explosive outcomes of its inconclusiveness used to be suppressed by the Cold War between the West and the Soviet Union. The collapse of the Soviet Union in late 1991 left a vacuum which the radicals in Islam have since tried to fill.
The radicals represent the two extremes in Islam: the Neo-Salafis on the Sunni side and the most intolerant Ja'faris on the Shi'ite side. Although they are at war against one another, they both face the prospect of a hot war against Christianity.
The cold war is between the mainstreams of Christianity and each of the mainstreams in Sunnism and Shi'ism. That Christianity's state of belligerency, or state of self-defence, will unify the Sunni and Shi'ite mainstreams because of the cold war remains to be seen; it is an issue to be debated until one of the two takes a definitive stand against its "enemy". Religion is a dangerous ideology.
Conflict between the two extremes in Islam is as deep as, if not deeper than, the conflict between Christianity and Islam as a whole and this reality will have major implications for the Middle East. One test is what will develop between the US and the Ja'fari theocracy in Iran (see overleaf).
In a Sept. 12 address at the University of Regensburg in Germany, Pope Benedict XVI quoted Emperor Manuel II Paleologos of the Orthodox Christian Byzantine Empire as having in 1391 said to a Persian intellectual: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached". One phrase from his lecture ignored by the media was: "The emperor must have known that Sura 2:256 [of the Qur'an] reads: 'There is no compulsion in religion'". The comments infuriated the Muslim world.
The pope has since said several times that he was sorry about the reactions to his remarks and that they did not reflect his own opinions. Benedict on Sept. 25 met with representatives of Muslim countries as part of efforts to defuse the anger.
A stark assessment of terrorism trends by US intelligence agencies has found that the American invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism - notably the Neo-Salafi movement - and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since 9/11.
The US study says "four underlying factors" are fuelling "the spread of the [Neo-Salafi] jihadist movement": (1) entrenched grievances - such as corruption, injustice, and fear of Western domination, leading to anger, humiliation, and a sense of powerlessness; (2) the Iraq "jihad" (holy war), which may result in a Shi'ite-Sunni war (see fap4-IraqFederalOct2-06); (3) the slow pace of real and sustained economic, social, and political reforms in many Muslim majority countries; and (4) pervasive anti-US sentiment among most Muslims - all of which jihadists exploit.
Egypt on Sept. 24 banned editions of Le Figaro and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, because of articles deemed insulting to Islam. Though Cairo rarely bans mainstream European publications, a decree by Information Minister Anas el-Feki said the offending editions would not enter Egypt.
Le Figaro of Sept. 19 had a piece on the Prophet Muhammad by French philosopher and teacher Robert Redeker, who wrote: "Merciless warrior, pillager, murderer of Jews and polygamist - that is how Muhammad portrays himself in the Koran. Hatred and violence live in the book by which every Muslim is educated, the Koran".
The German paper, dated Sept. 16, had an article by historian Egon Flaig looking at how Muhammad was a successful military leader. Flaig presents other arguments supporting the view that Islam has had a violent history. Later Germany allowed the showing of an opera deemed insulting to Islam, while in the Muslim world the situation against Christianity was getting more tense.
News of the ban came as the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, expressed disappointment that EU leaders had failed to defend the Pope over his Sept. 12 remarks. In comments published on Sept. 24, Barroso said that, while Europe must take the threat of Islamic extremists "very seriously", it must not confuse tolerance with "a form of political correctness" which puts others' values above its own.
Germany's Welt am Sonntag weekly on Sept. 24 quoted Barroso as saying: "I was disappointed that there weren't more European leaders who said, 'Of course the Pope has the right to express his point of view'. We must defend our values". Barroso urged Europeans to encourage moderate Islamic leaders to take a stronger stance against the extremists, saying: "The problem is not the comments of the Pope, but the reaction of the extremists".
In its decree, the Egyptian Information Ministry said the two European newspapers "published articles which disparaged Islam and claimed that the Islamic religion was spread by the sword and that the Prophet was the prophet of evil".
Iran Will Get More Radical, Less Tolerant: Jockeying by very radical mullahs for the Dec. 15 election of the Assembly of Experts, a group of 86 scholars charged with overseeing the Supreme Leader of Iran's Ja'fari theocracy, is raising concerns that Tehran will move further towards authoritarianism. As in the last elections for the assembly in 1998, the watchdog Guardians Council has already barred reformist mullahs from running.
President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad's source of emulation, Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, is seeking to fill the assembly with men trained at his Qom college. Mesbah-Yazdi, 72, is close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He controls the theocracy through loyalists appointed to high positions after Ahmadi-Nejad took power in August 2005. His followers have great sway among the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Basij volunteer paramilitary force.
The constitution adopted after the 1979 revolution led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini provided for a system of checks and balances meant to ensure that the government would not move towards authoritarianism. So even as it enshrined a supreme leader, who has the final word on all matters, it created the Assembly of Experts to oversee his activities. But after the death of Khomeini in 1989, a system of vetting election candidates was put in place to eliminate any threat to the rule of the supreme leader.
On paper, the powers of the Assembly of Experts include the ability to replace the supreme leader if he acts against Islam or the constitution. But Mesbah-Yazdi and Khamenei are allies - the supreme leader finances Mesbah-Yazdi's school - and the likeliest outcome of a power play by Mesbah-Yazdi would be to strengthen the supreme leader, even at the expense of the assembly. Mesbah-Yazdi is a particularly aggressive defender of the supreme leader's absolute power, and he was a strong critic of the previous president, Muhammad Khatami, who tried to introduce a modest programme of social and political changes.
Mesbah-Yazdi, the mentor of the Hojjatiyeh association which says the Mahdi will return to Earth before 2008, holds that democracy and elections are not compatible with Islam. In July 1998 Mesbah-Yazdi said: "Democracy means if the people want something which is against God's will, they should forget about God and religion. Be careful not to be deceived. Accepting Islam is not compatible with democracy". In November 2002, the daily Aftab-e-Yazd quoted him as saying: "Who are the majority of people who vote? A bunch of hooligans who drink vodka and are paid to vote. Whatever they say cannot become the law of the country and Islam". He has criticised democracy more cautiously since the election of Ahmadi-Nejad in June 2005, but his disdain for the election process to fill the Assembly of Experts was evident in a speech in Mashhad recently in which the news agency ISNA quoted him as saying it was like the vote of the "ignorant for the learned".
The Hojjatiyeh believes the time has come for the Mahdi, a child who went missing in Samarra' (north of Baghdad) in 941 AD, to return and rule the world and thus begin a new era of justice to mankind. Under the complex system of Velayat-e-Faqih (rule of the supreme guide), the supreme leader is the Mahdi's deputy on Earth; as such, Khamenei rules the world as well as Iran. He exercises this power through his "deputy" within each of the Ja'fari communities across the globe. His deputy in Lebanon is Hizbullah Sec-Gen Hassan Nasrallah who recently marked a "divine victory" over Israel in a 34-day war which ended on Aug. 14 (see news13-SyriaIranVenz-Sep25-06).
Mesbah-Yazdi is a founder of the Haghani religious school in Qom where most officials of the theocracy were trained. After the death of Khomeini, he founded the Imam Khomeini Education and Research Institute. Since then, he has become close to Khamenei. He has educated more than 700 students who are extremely loyal to him. Many of them are running for the assembly. They are mullahs but have studied the humanities, and many hold degrees from Western universities like McGill and Manchester. At least one US citizen is among his non-Iranian scholars in Qom.
The Dec. 15 vote for the assembly will be the fourth since the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Mesbah-Yazdi's seemingly modern mullahs are running as independents to avoid announcing their affiliation to him - under tight secrecy which often blankets elective matters in Iran. The competition this year is between Mesbah-Yazdi and the pragmatist/traditional ayatollahs. These include Grand Ayatollah Fazel Lankarani and Grand Ayatollah Abdullah Javadi Amoli. Amoli is the father of the famous Larijani brothers. Amoli, an ally of Khamenei, is a chief rival to Mesbah-Yazdi and wants to prevent the latter from controlling the assembly. How this will affect Amoli's sons remains to be seen.
It is Amoli's "anointed crown prince", one of the Larijani brothers who, like former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani lost in the June 2005 presidential elections, is the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC). As such Ali Larijani is the top negotiator with the West on Iran's nuclear issue. Another Larijani brother, Mohammad-Javad, heads a team attached to the SNSC which is in charge of proposed "full relations" between Iran and the US. If the Dec. 15 vote leads to such group's demise, Iran might have a war with the US.
Rafsanjani, heading the pragmatic camp in the theocracy, filled the assembly elected in 1990 and 1998 with traditional men with whom he had influence - such as Lankarani and Amoli. But Rafsanjani has not announced his candidacy, and may not run if the prospect of winning the position of the leader of the assembly seems dim. He suffered a defeat in parliamentary elections in 2000. The New York Times on Sept. 25 quoted Rafsanjani's son, Mehdi Hashemi, as saying his father had "set a condition and his participation depends on that". But he declined to specify the condition.
Turnout was a low 37% in the second assembly election in 1990, in part because voters felt little connection to it. The New York Times quoted Muhammad Atrianfar, a close aide to Rafsanjani and the publisher of the daily newspaper Shargh, as saying: "People have not received any reports about the activities of the Assembly of Experts, and no one can even imagine the supreme leader can be replaced". Shargh was shut down in September.
In 1998, turnout was 46% after the landslide presidential victory in 1997 of Khatami, who encouraged people to vote in the assembly elections. This year, to bolster turnout, the election authorities decided to hold the vote at the same time as local elections. But requiring the candidates to be approved by the Guardians Council undermines the point of the vote.
The NYT quoted Emadedin Baghi, a reformist journalist who studied religion for many years, as saying: "If the [assembly] members are independent and genuinely carry out their duty, the Islamic Republic can become democratic. But vetting its candidates has put a cancerous tumor in the assembly, which does not allow it to function properly".
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Publication:||APS Diplomat News Service|
|Date:||Oct 2, 2006|
|Previous Article:||The Iran Challenge.|
|Next Article:||How Lebanese & Non-Sectarian Is Hizbullah.|