AVOID MUSLIM IRAN
Iran Sentences 18 Christians to Prison for Their Faith in New Crackdown on Christianity
BY STOYAN ZAIMOV
CHRISTIAN POST REPORTER
June 3, 2015
Iran's revolutionary court is believed to have sentenced 18 Christian converts to prison for their faith in a new crackdown on Christianity in the Islamic Republic, a report said.
Fox News noted that the charges include evangelism, propaganda against the regime, and creating house churches to practice their faith. It added that the total sentences come close to 24 years, but it's not known how many years each individual received, due to the lack of transparency in Iran's judicial system
"The cruelty of Iran's dictatorial leaders knows no limits," said Saba Farzan, the German-Iranian executive director of Foreign Policy Circle, a strategy think tank in Berlin.
A number of the imprisoned Christians were arrested in 2013, and sentenced in accordance with Article 500 of the Islamic Penal Code, which penalizes threats to Iran's clerical leaders.
Morad Mokhtari, an Iranian convert to Christianity who fled the Islamic Republic in 2006, added: "Iranian religious authorities prefer that they [converts to Christianity] leave Iran because the authorities can't control them," Mokhatari said. "Just their name is evangelism. Imagine someone says he's a Christian and has a Muslim name."
Christians in Iran make up a tiny minority of the 78 million-strong population, and often face persecution from the government. Watchdog group Open Doors lists the country at No. 7 on its World Watch List of nations where Christians are most heavily targeted for their faith.
Open Doors points out on its website that almost all Christian activity in Iran is considered illegal, "especially when it occurs in Persian languages — from evangelism to Bible training, to publishing Scripture and Christian books or preaching in Farsi."
It added: "In 2014, at least 75 Christians were arrested. More Christians were sentenced to prison and pressure on those detained increased, including physical and mental abuse."
Iran's human rights record has faced great scrutiny, especially in light of a historic nuclear deal it reached earlier this year with the U.S. and other Western nations, which promises to lift international sanctions on Iran in exchange for restricting its nuclear program.
The American Center for Law and Justice and other groups have said that the deal should not be finalized until Iran shows clear signs it is willing to improve its treatment of Christians — and release the American Christians it currently holds in its prisons, including pastor Saeed Abedini.
U.S. Senator Mark Kirt, R-Ill., has added in a statement: "The Iranian regime's systematic persecution of Christians, as well as Baha'is, Sunni Muslims, dissenting Shiite Muslims, and other religious minorities, is getting worse not better," Kirt said.
"This is a direct consequence of President Obama's decision to de-link demands for improvements in religious freedom and human rights in Iran from the nuclear negotiations."
Iranian protesters storm British diplomatic compounds
By Robin PomeroyTEHRAN | Tue Nov 29, 2011 6:30pm EST
(Reuters) - Iranian protesters stormed two British diplomatic compounds in Tehran on Tuesday, smashing windows, torching a car and burning the British flag in protest against new sanctions imposed by London.
Britain said it was outraged and warned of "serious consequences." The U.N. Security Council condemned the attacks "in the strongest terms." U.S. President Barack Obama said he was disturbed by the incident and called on Iran to hold those responsible to account.
The attacks come at a time of rising diplomatic tension between Iran and Western nations who last week imposed fresh sanctions over Tehran's nuclear program, which they believe is aimed at achieving the capability of making an atomic bomb.
Iran, the world's fifth biggest oil exporter, says it only wants nuclear plants to generate electricity.
The embassy storming is also a sign of deepening political infighting within Iran's ruling hardline elites, with the conservative-led parliament attempting to force the hand of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and expel the British ambassador.
"Radicals in Iran and in the West are always in favor of crisis ... Such radical hardliners in Iran will use the crisis to unite people and also to blame the crisis for the fading economy," said political analyst Hasan Sedghi.
Several dozen protesters broke away from a crowd of a few hundred outside the main British embassy compound in downtown Tehran, scaled the gates, broke the locks and went inside.
Protesters pulled down the British flag, burned it, and put up the Iranian flag, Iranian news agencies and news pictures showed. Inside, the demonstrators smashed windows of office and residential quarters and set a car ablaze, news pictures showed.
One took a framed picture of Queen Elizabeth, state TV showed. Others carried the royal crest out through the embassy gate as police stood by, pictures carried by the semi-official Fars news agency showed.
All embassy personnel were accounted for, a British diplomat told Reuters in Washington, saying Britain did not believe that any sensitive materials had been seized.
Demonstrators waved flags symbolizing martyrdom and held aloft portraits of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who has the final say on matters of state in Iran.
Another group of protesters broke into a second British compound at Qolhak in north Tehran, the IRNA state news agency said. Once the embassy's summer quarters, the sprawling, tree-lined compound is now used to house diplomatic staff.
An Iranian report said six British embassy staff had been briefly held by the protesters. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the situation had been "confusing" and that he would not have called them "hostages."
"Police freed the six people working for the British embassy in Qolhak garden," Iran's Fars news agency said.
A German school next to the Qolhak compound was also damaged, the German government said.
Police appeared to have cleared the demonstrators in front of the main downtown embassy compound, but later clashed with protesters and fired tear gas to try to disperse them, Fars said. Protesters nevertheless entered the compound a second time, before once again leaving, it said.
British Prime Minister David Cameron chaired a meeting of the government crisis committee to discuss the attacks which he said were "outrageous and indefensible."
"The failure of the Iranian government to defend British staff and property was a disgrace," he said in a statement.
"The Iranian government must recognize that there will be serious consequences for failing to protect our staff. We will consider what these measures should be in the coming days."
The United States, alongside the European Union and many of its member states also strongly condemned the attacks.
There have been regular protests outside the British embassy over the years since the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed shah, but never have any been so violent.
The attacks and hostage-taking were a reminder of the 1979 takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran carried out by radical students who held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. The United States cut diplomatic ties with Iran after the hostage-taking.
All British embassy personnel were accounted for and safe, a British diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters in Washington.
The diplomat said the attack likely flowed from Britain's November 21 decision to impose new sanctions on Iran because of its nuclear program, including a ban on British financial institutions dealing with their Iranian counterparts.
"It's impossible, really, not to reach that conclusion," the diplomat said, suggesting that the protests may have been sparked by the Iranian authorities.
"In the past we have certainly had demonstrations that have ... been sanctioned, if not encouraged, by the government. I don't know about this one. I don't think we'd put it past them," said the diplomat.
"It's hard to imagine, in a place like Iran, that these were some kind of spontaneous (event)," said a State Department official who declined to be identified.
The demonstrations appeared to be a bid by conservatives who control parliament to press home their demand, passed in parliament last week and quickly endorsed by the Guardian Council on Tuesday, for the government to expel the British ambassador in retaliation for the sanctions.
A lawmaker had warned on Sunday that angry Iranians could storm the British embassy.
"Parliament officially notified the president over a bill regarding degrading the ties with Britain, obliging the government to implement it within five days," Fars news agency quoted speaker Ali Larijani as saying.
Ahmadinejad's government has shown no willingness to compromise on its refusal to halt its nuclear work, but has sought to keep channels of negotiation open in an effort to limit the worst effects of sanctions.
An Iranian official told Reuters the storming of the British compounds was not planned by the government.
"It was not an organized measure. The establishment had no role in it. It was not planned," said the official, who declined to be identified. Iran's Foreign Ministry said it regretted the attacks and was committed to ensuring the safety of diplomats.
Police arrested 12 people who had entered the north Tehran compound, Fars said, quoting a police chief as saying they would be handed over to the judiciary.
Protesters said they planned to stage a sit-in at the gates of the north Tehran compound and would not move until they were told to do so by Iran's religious leaders.
Britain, along with the United States and Canada, imposed new unilateral sanctions on Iran last week, while the EU, France and Italy have all said financial measures against Tehran should be strengthened.
U.S. hikers freed from Iran are heading home
After more than two years in Iranian custody, two Americans convicted as spies took their first steps toward home Wednesday as they bounded...
By SAEED AL-NAHDY and BRIAN MURPHY
The Associated Press
MUSCAT, Oman — After more than two years in Iranian custody, two Americans convicted as spies took their first steps toward home Wednesday as they bounded off a private jet and into the arms of relatives for a reunion in the Persian Gulf state of Oman.
The families called this "the best day of our lives," and President Obama deemed their release — under a $1 million bail-for-freedom deal — "wonderful news."
The release capped complicated diplomatic maneuvers over a week of confusing signals by Iran's leadership on the fate of Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, both 29.
For Iran, releasing the two was a chance to court some goodwill after sending a message of defiance with hard-line justice in the July 2009 arrests of the Americans along the Iran-Iraq border. The Americans always maintained they were innocent hikers.
"Today can only be described as the best day of our lives," said a statement from their families.
The release came on the eve of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's previously scheduled address Thursday to the U.N. General Assembly's annual ministerial meeting.
The families waited on the tarmac at a royal airfield near the main international airport in Oman's capital, Muscat. Also returning to Oman was Sarah Shourd, who was arrested with Bauer and Fattal but freed, also on bail, a year ago. She received a marriage proposal from Bauer while in prison.
At about 20 minutes before midnight, Fattal and Bauer — wearing jeans and casual shirts — raced down the steps from the blue-and-white plane. The men appeared thin but in good health.
"We're so happy we are free," Fattal said in Oman. "Two years in prison is too long," Bauer said.
In many ways, the release was a mirror image of the scene last year when Shourd was freed on $500,000 bail. That deal, too, was mediated by Oman, an Arabian peninsula sultanate with close ties to both Iran and the United States.
Just a month ago, Bauer and Fattal were appealing their eight-year prison terms for espionage and illegal entry into Iran. They denied the charges and said they were merely hikers who wandered close to Iran's border.
The first hint of change came last week, when Ahmadinejad said they could be released within days.
But the hard-line ruling clerics said only they had the authority to set the timing and ground rules to release the men. After several days, the Americans' defense attorney secured the necessary judicial approval for the bail Wednesday.
A $1 million bail — $500,000 for each one — was posted Wednesday. The Americans' lawyer told the semiofficial Iranian Students News Agency that the government of Oman had paid the bail. Oman also reportedly paid bail last year to secure the release of Shourd.
Hours later, the men were in a convoy with Swiss and Omani diplomats headed to Tehran's aging airport.
Seattle environmental activist Fred Felleman is Fattal's uncle. "It's been a particularly hard two years, two months — too long," Felleman said Wednesday.
He said that while in prison in Iran, his nephew had been practicing to take the exam for graduate school.
Since her release last year, Shourd has lived in Oakland, Calif. Bauer, a freelance journalist, grew up in Onamia, Minn., and Fattal, an environmental activist, is from suburban Philadelphia.
Arrests of Christians in Iran is Condemnable, Incongruous
Published on January 12, 2011 by Michael Ireland
Religious Liberty Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance has
issued a statement condemning violence against Christians in Iran.
The statement, released to Christian media, says: “The ongoing raiding of homes and arrests of Christians in predominantly Shi’ite Iran, which began deplorably during the Christmas season, needs to stop immediately.”
The RLC says that since December 26, Iranian security agents in plain clothes have searched the homes of many Christians and arrested at least 40 of them in a crackdown in the capital city of Tehran and a few other places.
The Commission says: “The onslaught, targeting converts from Islam and those engaged in evangelism, continued despite preceding international concerns over the arrest of a pastor, Behrouz Sadegh-Khanjani, and conviction of the pastor of the Full Gospel Church in Rasht, Yousef Nadarkhani, for apostasy, leading to awarding of death penalty.”
The Commission statement says that Tehran’s governor, Morteza Tamadon, was quoted by state news agency IRNA as saying that missionary evangelicals had stepped up their activity in Iran, which according to him is a “cultural invasion of the enemy.” The governor went on to say, “Just like the Taliban, who have inserted themselves into Islam like a parasite, [evangelicals] have crafted a movement in the name of Christianity.”
WEA-RLC Executive Director Godfrey Yogarajah said, “The growing authoritarianism in Iran only shows that the regime’s popularity is falling drastically which is making the government highly insecure and unnerved.”
Yogarajah added: “It is highly condemnable and incongruous that while Shi’ites themselves face persecution in Sunni-majority countries like Pakistan where they are minorities, in Iran some of their leaders emulate the same intolerant Sunni extremists by persecuting the Christian and other minorities.
“Regular campaigns against minorities by the Iranian regime cost the people of Iran dearly, as they divert the country’s limited resources that could be used for citizens’ welfare to fund activities that only create tensions and isolate the country even further.”
The Commission explains that in Iran, Christians account for only around one percent of the Muslim-majority population. The Iranian regime also persecutes other minorities, including Zoroastrians, Baha’is, and Sufis.
In its statement, WEA-RLC “urges the human rights and religious freedom fraternity and international policy analysts to treat and highlight the escalating persecution of minorities in Iran as an extremely serious issue.”
The Religious Liberty Commission is monitoring the religious liberty situation in more than 100 nations, defending persecuted Christians, informing the global church, challenging the Church to pray (www.idop.org ) and giving all possible assistance to those who are suffering.
The Commission also makes fact finding trips and meets with governments and ambassadors speaking up for the suffering brothers and sisters. At the United Nations the Commission reports about the situation and arranges special hearings with Christians from countries under pressure.
Mullahs' rape of Persian culture renews pattern of violence since the 7th century
By Sheda Vasseghi
Sunday, July 25, 2010
The barbaric regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran recently amputated hands of several convicted thieves in the city of Hamedan or ancient Ecbatana, one of the capitals of the Achaemenid Persian Empire (550-330 BC) whose founder Cyrus the Great declared the world's first known Bill of Human Rights. Ms. Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani was forced to confess an alleged adultery after enduring 99 lashes. As countless Iranian women before her, she awaits an execution by stoning pending a global uproar against the regime's barbaric behavior.
The efforts of the clerics in Tehran to destroy Iranians as a people is not the beginning of the Iranian genocide, but the continuation of the policy of the Muslim invasion of 7th century which spread by making Iranians the subject of grand scale destruction. Sharia Laws provide any and all violent means to accomplish this goal.
Iranian philosophy based on freedom of choice and equality cannot naturally co-exist with a system based on intolerance and prejudice towards women and people of different faiths. Simple conversion to Islam is also not sufficient given Islam ignores pre-Islamic history and culture, and does not recognize national identities. Iranians were aware of their national identity at least as early as 1500 BC prior to their migration from Central Asia to what is now known as Iran.
The past 31 years of gross violation of human rights, amputations, hangings, child executions, prison rapes, punishments by stoning, assassinations of nationalists and opposition leaders, and the like are only the continuation of what Iranian people have endured in their own country at the hands of these foreign invaders. The defeat at the battle of Qadisiyyah in 636 is considered the beginning of the Iranian plight. The victory of an Islamic Revolution in 1979 is labeled by many Iranians as Qadisiyyah II.
With their systematic conquest of the affluent Sasanian Persian Empire (224-651), the Muslims burned Iranian palaces, thousands of libraries, and priceless archives. Muslims called Iranians "ajam" or mute and "najis" or impure. Thousands of Iranians were slaughtered, raped, and forced into slavery. Immediately after the conquest of Iran, Muslims gave the status of "dhimmi" or rights of residence in return for special taxes to the majority of Iranians, who were Zoroastrians. Under this status, Iranians were subjected to frivolous persecution, discrimination, forcible conversion, and harassment. Thousands of Iranian priests were executed and hundreds of Zoroastrian temples across Iran were either destroyed or converted to mosques.
The Iranian genocide has been an ongoing project for centuries. Besides violent attacks against their culture, history, national memories, arts and sciences, wealth, standard of living, and natural human rights, Iranians were also on the verge of losing their language which was revived by a national poet-hero Ferdowsi (940-1020).
About 200 years ago, because of an incompetent government and excessive meddling of the clerics in the country's affairs, Iranians lost approximately 1.35 million square miles of territories via forced treaties.
Unfortunately, history was repeated when in 1979 the mullahs took control. Their meddling led to a bloody war with Iraq in the 1980's resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths and mutilations and destruction of cities. Because of the clerics, Iranians are once again facing destructive and detrimental separatist movements in Sistan-Baluchestan and Khuzistan which would result in loss of additional territories. Because of the clerics, Iranians face potential military strikes by those nations threatened by the theocracy in Tehran which could result in more territorial losses.
Because of the clerics, Iranian national archives that were painstakingly collected by nationalists such as the late Dr. Shojaedin Shafa prior to the 1979 Islamic Revolution were once again destroyed. Because of the clerics, Iranians continue to live with sanctions denying them access to open market goods and services while endangering their health and financial well-being. Because of the clerics, millions of Iranians are addicted to drugs because of depression and oppression. Because of the clerics, Iranian girls and women are being raped in prisons and sold to sex slavery trades in the region. Because of the clerics, millions of educated nationalists fled the country taking their wealth and knowledge with them. Because of the clerics, the Iranian genocide continues.
Over 3 million brave men and women of Iran have poured into the streets since June 2009 against the anti-Iranian occupiers in Tehran. Iranian nationalists living abroad continue to support their efforts by holding demonstrations and using technology to show the regime's atrocities to foreign nations. Despite epic rise of terrorism across western countries, the U.S. and the Free World continue to play around with the Islamist regime assuming that short-term benefits received via sanctions and black market are worth the long-term damages in the near future.
The longterm prospects for mullahcracy are not good. As Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) put it: "No government power can be abused long. Mankind will not bear it. There is a remedy in human nature against tyranny, that will keep us safe under every form of government."
And let us not forget the words of Thomas Jefferson: "In every country and every age, the priest had been hostile to Liberty."
Iranians will not cease their centuries of struggle against inhumanity. The day will come when a free, secular, and democratic Iran under a nationalist leadership will once again protect its people's rights and security. The Iranian genocide organizers and supporters will be hunted down one by one. It is time for the Free World to practice what it preaches and support the Iranian opposition against tyranny. Regime change is a must! It would be good for Iran, the Middle East, and world peace. The West should stop engagements with pro-Sharia Law "reformists" and provide media communication venues badly needed by the pro-democracy nationalists so they can guide and educate Iranians during their national uprising. A secular, democratic Iran will end Iranian genocide, and foster healthy, prosperous relations with other freedom loving nations. Time is of the essence!
Sheda Vasseghi is on the Board of Azadegan Foundation and is a regular contributor to WorldTribune.com on Iran’s Affairs.
118 Days, 12 Hours, 54 Minutes
On June 21, reporter Maziar Bahari was rousted out of bed and taken to Tehran's notorious Evin prison—accused of being a spy for the CIA, MI6, Mossad…and NEWSWEEK. This is the story of his captivity—and of an Iran whose rampant paranoia underpins an ever more fractured regime.
By Maziar Bahari | NEWSWEEK
Published Nov 21, 2009
From the magazine issue dated Nov 30, 2009
Evin Prison, June 21, 2009 (around 10 a.m.)
The interrogator sat me in a wooden chair. It had a writing arm, like the chair I'd had in primary school. He ordered me to look down, even though I was already blindfolded: "Never look up, Mr. Bahari. While you are here—and we don't know how long you're going to be here—never look up." All I could see from under the blindfold was the interrogator's black leather slippers. They worried me. He had settled in for a long session.
"Mr. Bahari, you're an agent of foreign intelligence organizations," he began. I had gotten a look at him when he and his men had dragged me out of bed and arrested me a few hours earlier. He was heavyset—I later learned that the guards called him "the big guy"—taller and wider than me, with a massive head. His skin was dark, like someone from southern Iran. He wore thick glasses. But I would know him now only by his voice, his breath, and the rosewater perfume used by men who piously do their ablutions several times a day before prayers, but rarely shower.
I could see Mr. Rosewater's slippers right in front of my foot. He was towering over me.
"Could you let me know which ones?" I mumbled.
"Speak louder!" he shouted. He bent toward me, his face an inch away from mine. I could feel his breath on my skin. "What did you say?"
"I was wondering if you could be kind enough to let me know which organizations," I repeated.
"CIA, MI6, Mossad, and NEWSWEEK." He listed the names one by one, in a low but assured voice.
I was struck by Mr. Rosewater's confidence. I did not know then exactly which branch of the fractured Iranian government he worked for. When I was arrested, hundreds of thousands of protesters had been filling the streets of Tehran for a week, outraged over the disputed reelection of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. There had been violence. The club-wielding militias known as Basij had inflicted much of it on the marchers, women as well as men. But some of the protesters had fought back too. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader, had decreed that the protests stop, but nobody at that point was sure they would. At least, nobody outside Evin Prison was sure. Mr. Rosewater was another matter.
I would later discover that I had been picked up by the intelligence division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC. Before the June election, this unit of the Guards was little known; whenever journalists and intellectuals ran afoul of the authorities they were usually questioned by the official Ministry of Intelligence. But the IRGC, which reports directly to Khamenei, had been growing dramatically more powerful. Many suspect that the Guards rigged the election. Certainly they led the crackdown that followed.
IRGC intel is now responsible for Iran's internal security, which means that its rampaging paranoias have suffused the regime. There remain players within the system who can make rational decisions about Iran's international interests; if there weren't, I would still be in jail. But the Guards are exacerbating the Islamic Republic's worst instincts, its insecurity and deep suspiciousness. As world powers try to engage Tehran to mitigate the threat of its nuclear program, it's critical that they understand this mindset and the role the IRGC now plays within the Iranian system. I learned all too much about both while in the Guards' hands.
Everything was an education inside Evin—from the questions Mr. Rosewater asked, to what answers made him beat me, to physical details. Now, for instance, I studied his slippers and light-gray socks. In Iran, low-ranking functionaries often wear shabby plastic sandals, and they have holes in their socks. That first day I was hoping Mr. Rosewater was only a junior agent, a flunky trying to make himself sound important. I was hoping to find a hole in his socks. But there wasn't one. His slippers looked as if they had been polished.
Mr. Rosewater was to be my nemesis for 118 days, 12 hours, and 54 minutes. He never told me his name. I saw his face only twice. The first time was when he led the team that arrested me. "This prison can be the end of the line for you if you don't cooperate" were his welcoming words. The second and last time was after I was freed—and warned by him never to speak of what had happened to me in jail. If I disobeyed, he said, I would be hunted down. "We can put people in a bag no matter where in the world they are," he said menacingly. "No one can escape from us."
I did not believe him. I do not believe him. But the doubt lingers, which is what he wanted—what the regime he serves wants from all of us, in fact. They are masters of uncertainty, instilling it among their enemies, their subjects, their friends, perhaps even themselves.
If he could, Mr. Rosewater would threaten me for the rest of my life. But 118 days was enough. I do not want to be his captive any longer.
Vali Asr Avenue, June 21, 2009 (a few minutes before 8 a.m.) Four of them came for me. They told my mother they had a letter for me, then showed her something resembling a warrant and followed her inside. She woke me gently. "Dear, there are four gentlemen here from...the prosecutor's office? I don't know. They say they want to take you away." Her tone was even. My father had been jailed repeatedly in the 1950s for fighting against the shah's regime. She knew what to say.
The men adhered to a strange code of etiquette. They took off their shoes when they entered the apartment, and later, while searching my room, they declined my mother's offer of tea. They told me later that they did not like to impose on the families of those they arrested. One even apologized to my mother for using a Kleenex to wipe away his sweat while going through my personal belongings. The possibility that they might be arresting an innocent man, however, did not seem to trouble them. Early in the revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had issued a decree: "Keeping the [Islamic] system alive is the most important task of a Muslim." In their minds they were simply carrying out their religious duty.
Three of the men had bland looks, like accountants. Mr. Rosewater was clearly the boss. He wore a brown suit and a white shirt. When he entered my room he sized me up like prey. I could see a revolver under his jacket, but the way he stared at me made it clear he preferred to use his gaze as his weapon, to pin me down with it. I was going to be watched like that until I broke. "Don't worry," he told my mother with a smile as they led me away. "He's going to be our guest."
There were five cars waiting outside, all unmarked. No one wore uniforms or showed badges. As we drove off I asked one of my captors if we were heading to Evin Prison. "Maybe we are. Maybe we are not," he said. Then I was ordered to take off my glasses and don my blindfold. I took a last look around. We were on Kurdistan Highway driving north. We were definitely going to Evin.
Built in the late 1960s, during the reign of the shah, as a high-security jail for political prisoners, Evin Prison soon became synonymous with pulled fingernails and broken bones. Its early residents were mostly communists and Islamists. After the 1979 revolution, the Islamists put their captors as well as many of their former leftist cellmates behind bars. They used some of the same techniques as their predecessors, but more efficiently. Many of those who had withstood the shah's torturers broke within days under the new management.
"Welcome to Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, or whatever it is you Americans build," a guard said to me after we arrived. He spoke with an Azerbaijani accent, and sounded older. "I'm not American, my brother," I said with a smile. "You work for them, so you're one of them," he said. "But don't worry. It's not a bad place here." The old man handed me off to a guard in another building. I was taken to my cell.
I once interviewed a former Islamic guerrilla who had become a government minister. The problem with the shah's secret police, he said, was that they thought they could break a prisoner's will through physical pressure, but often that just hardened the victim's resolve. "What our brothers after the revolution have masterminded is how to break a man's soul without using much violence against his body." As I stepped into my cell I wondered how violent was "without much violence."
I took off the blindfold.
The Quran says that one of the worst punishments Allah inflicts upon sinners is to make their graves smaller. My 20-square-foot cell was like a tomb. The walls were made of faux marble. They were off-white, and the texture of the stone reminded me of an old man's pale, transparent skin. You could see grayish-blue veins. The walls were clean, even spotless, except for some defiant aphorisms and Persian poetry in small, crabbed handwriting. Three sentences were written larger than others: "My God, have mercy on me," "My God, I repent," and "Please help me, God."
London , November 2009 My wife, Paola, is breast-feeding our 2-week-old daughter, Marianna, on the couch. The little girl is enjoying every drop of milk. No Madonna and child were ever more beautiful. We are listening to one of the songs that kept playing in my head in Evin, that helped me tune out what was happening and find some peace inside myself—"Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye," by Leonard Cohen:
I loved you in the morning,
Our kisses deep and warm,
Your hair upon the pillow
Like a sleepy golden storm.
Those lines became Paola for me, part of a whole musical refuge of lyrics and melodies. Of such stuff is survival made. Thank you, Mr. Cohen.
Evin Prison, June 22, 2009 (around 4 a.m.) A guard woke me and told me that after morning prayers I would meet again with my "specialist," which is what the prison guards were told to call the interrogators. This would be my third session in 24 hours.
When Mr. Rosewater came into the interrogation room I could hear him yawning. He asked if I wanted half of the peeled-and-salted cucumber he was eating. When I declined, he was insulted. "What? Do you think that interrogators don't wash their hands?" I said OK, and I ate.
Mr. Rosewater wanted me to tell him about a dinner I'd attended with eight other journalists and photographers at a friend's house in Tehran in April, several weeks before the election. "You are part of a very American network, Mr. Bahari," he said, as if summing up his case in a courtroom. "Let me correct myself: you are in charge of a secret American network, a group that includes those who came to that dinner party."
"It was just a dinner," I murmured.
"Yes. A very American dinner. It could have happened in…New Jersey, or someplace like that." He paused. "Your own New Jersey in Tehran."
The strangeness of the accusation was unsettling. New Jersey?
"You've been to New Jersey, haven't you, Mr. Bahari?" The thought seemed to infuriate him, and I was struck by the feeling that for some reason he might have wanted, secretly, to go to New Jersey himself. The worst thing that can happen in any encounter with Islamic Republic officials is for them to think that you're looking down on them.
"It's not a particularly nice place," I said, trying to sound conversational.
"I don't care. But it is as godless as what you wanted to create in this country."
"I'm sorry. I don't understand."
"You were planning to eradicate the pure religion of Muhammad in this country and replace it with 'American' Islam. A New Jersey Islam." He was building his case, and my responses were irrelevant. "Tell me," he said, "did any of the women at the dinner party have their veils on?"
"Then don't tell me that you didn't have a secret American network. A New Jersey network."
I was born in Tehran and lived there the first 19 years of my life, before going to Canada and Britain for my studies and to begin my career as a journalist and documentary filmmaker. I returned in 1998, making movies and reporting for NEWSWEEK. But until my imprisonment I had never fully appreciated the corrosive suspicion that is rotting the Islamic Republic from within. The Guards see real enemies all around them—reformists within the country, hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops outside. Even worse are the shadows—supposed agents of Britain, the United States, and Israel—upon whom they impose their own fearful logic and their reinvented history. Only Muslims, only they, are victims.
it happens, I may be the only Iranian or even Muslim filmmaker who has
ever made a film about the Holocaust (The Voyage of the Saint Louis, in
1994). Mr. Rosewater was offended by the very idea and worked hard to
connect me to what he called Jewish and Zionist "elements." In his
lexicon, Jewish persons were rare. There were only "elements."
I don't know if Mr. Rosewater had ever seen a Jewish person in his life. I think not. He had never been to New Jersey either. But he believed that he knew everything there was to know about such people and such places, and his faith in his facts was unshakable.
Evin Prison, June 26, 2009 (after evening prayers) Mr. Rosewater was not alone. I could hear someone else in the room, another interrogator. He was complaining about my written answers to questions about different individuals. When he came closer I saw he had shiny, polished black shoes on. His trousers were neatly ironed and creased. "Mr. Bahari, your answers are very general. We hope that you can give us more detailed answers," he said. He sounded more mild-mannered than my normal tormentor. He was the good cop today, the voice of reason.
"I just write what I know, sir. And if I give you more details, that means I'm lying."
"Well," said Mr. Rosewater, who had been fairly quiet up to this point, "we have interesting video footage of you. That may persuade you to be more cooperative." I could not imagine what that might be. Something personal? Something that might compromise my friends? But…I reminded myself I had done nothing wrong.
I saw the flicker of a laptop monitor under my blindfold. Then I heard someone speaking. It was a recording of another prisoner's confession. "It's not that one," said the second interrogator. "It's the one marked 'Spy in coffee shop.' " Mr. Rosewater fumbled with the computer. The other man stepped in to change the DVD. And then I heard the voice of Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.
Only a few weeks earlier, hundreds of foreign reporters had been allowed into the country in the run-up to the election. Among them was Jason Jones, a "correspondent" for Stewart's satirical news program. Jason interviewed me in a Tehran coffee shop, pretending to be a thick-skulled American. He dressed like some character out of a B movie about mercenaries in the Middle East—with a checkered Palestinian kaffiyeh around his neck and dark sunglasses. The "interview" was very short. Jason asked me why Iran was evil. I answered that Iran was not evil. I added that, as a matter of fact, Iran and America shared many enemies and interests in common. But the interrogators weren't interested in what I was saying. They were fixated on Jason.
"Why is this American dressed like a spy, Mr. Bahari?" asked the new man.
"He is pretending to be a spy. It's part of a comedy show," I answered.
"Tell the truth!" Mr. Rosewater shouted. "What is so funny about sitting in a coffee shop with a kaffiyeh and sunglasses?"
"It's just a joke. Nothing serious. It's stupid." I was getting worried. "I hope you are not suggesting that he is a real spy."
"Can you tell us why an American journalist pretending to be a spy has chosen you to interview?" asked the man with the creases. "We know from your contacts and background that you told them who to interview for their program." The other Iranians interviewed in Jason's report—a former vice president and a former foreign minister—had been ar-rested a week before me as part of the IRGC's sweeping crackdown. "It's just comedy," I said, feeling weak.
"Do you think it's also funny that you say Iran and America have a lot in common?" Mr. Rosewater asked, declaring that he was losing patience with me. He took my left ear in his hand and started to squeeze it as if he were wringing out a lemon. Then he whispered into it. "This kind of behavior will not help you. Many people have rotted in this prison. You can be one of them."
London , November 2009 The morning of my "confession," I woke up humming "The Partisan," a Leonard Cohen tune about World War II re-sistance fighters:
When they poured across the border
I was cautioned to surrender,
This I could not do;
I took my gun and vanished.
The thought of resisting had crossed my mind, too. But why? I was a journalist, not a freedom fighter. Political prisoners in Iran were forced to make false confessions all the time. I'd always known they had been coerced, and had sympathized with the victims. Surely others would feel similarly about me. But even now, months later, the experience gnaws at me. My father spent four years in prison under the shah without asking for mercy. What would he think of his son apologizing to the Supreme Leader after eight days?
Evin Prison, June 29, 2009 (after midnight) I was deep asleep when a guard opened the door to my cell. "Get up! Specialist time!" Mr. Rosewater did not say hello as usual. He dragged me away from the prison guard. "The fun is over!" he said. He pushed me several times so hard that I almost fell on the ground. He then grabbed my arm and started to drag me along rapidly. He was breathing heavily and kept on repeating, "Islamic kindness is over. You little spy, we will show you what we can do with you. You're going to see what we are capable of." He shoved me into a room. There seemed to be several people in it, whispering among themselves. The smell of sweat and rosewater was strong.
All of a sudden the room erupted in a cacophony of greetings. Everyone wanted to say hello to someone they called "Haj Agha." The nickname literally means someone who has been to Mecca for pilgrimage, but among Iranian officials it signifies seniority. Someone took my hand and put it in Haj Agha's hand.
"Salaam, Mr. Bahari," he said. "Do you know why you are here?" His voice sounded familiar, like that of a well-known regime propagandist who has a show on Iranian TV. He definitely did not want to be recognized, and told me to keep my eyes completely covered.
He turned aside and asked someone, "Is the car here yet?" Then he addressed me again. "Mr. Bahari, you're suspected of espionage. You have been in contact with a number of known spies." He named a few of my friends, mostly Iranian artists and intellectuals in exile. A car was coming to take me to a counterespionage unit, he said. There I would be interrogated more than 15 hours a day and subjected to "every tactic" until I talked. The investigation would take "between four and six years." I could be sentenced to death.
Haj Agha made sure to say the word "death" as if he were talking about a cup of tea. In fact, he immediately said, "Would you like a cup of tea?"
"Thank you," I said. I could barely get out the words. I was lost in thoughts about my mother, about Paola, about our unborn child. How could I have put them in this situation? I was a bad son, I thought, a bad husband, a bad father.
"Unless," said Haj Agha, pausing one more time. "Unless you would be interested in a deal, Mr. Bahari."
Soon after my arrest, in addition to accusing me of working for various spy agencies, Mr. Rosewater had insisted that I'd "masterminded the coverage of the election by the agents of the Western media in Iran." This played to a familiar fear. Ayatollah Khamenei liked to warn Iranians about a "cultural NATO" as threatening as the military one—a network of journalists, activists, scholars, and lawyers who supposedly sought to undermine the Islamic Republic from within. Anyone on the streets of Tehran in June would have known just how spontaneous—even leaderless—the post-election protests had been. But Khamenei and the Guards clearly believed, or at least wanted Iranians to believe, that they had been orchestrated by foreigners. They called the plot a "velvet revolution" or a "soft overthrow." "You are worse than any saboteur or killer," Mr. Rosewater had raged on that first day. "Those criminals destroy an object or a person. You destroy minds and provoke people against the Leader."
In Persian there is a very poetic word, jafaa, that refers to all the wrongs you do to those who love you. According to Mr. Rosewater, I was guilty of jafaa against Khamenei. Now I was to repent.
The next morning I was brought to Haj Agha's office. Cameras had been set up on tripods. Mr. Rosewater sat behind a curtain and fed questions to reporters from three state-run media outlets. "Give your answers as clearly and articulately as you can—of course, in your own words," Haj Agha instructed me. I was to explain how a velvet revolution was staged—by foreigners and corrupt elites, using the Western media—and how only the wisdom and munificence of the Supreme Leader had thwarted this latest attempt.
I tried to keep my answers as vague as possible, with what I hoped would come across as ironic detachment. (A source in the old Intelligence Ministry told me later that my soliloquy was "a case study in saying nothing.") Inside I seethed as one of the "reporters" joked with Mr. Rose-water and tried to help him devise tougher questions for me.
Evin Prison, July 4, 2009 (a few hours after noon prayers) After the "confession," Haj Agha had promised, I would be freed soon. But the next time I saw the burly Mr. Rosewater, he closed the door to the interrogation room and for the first time started to beat me.
Some police manuals, even in the West, say that hitting a prisoner with a closed fist constitutes assault, but an open-handed slap does not. Perhaps Mr. Rosewater had read such a guide. His meaty palms slapped me hard across the back of my neck and shoulders. "I thought we had an understanding, sir!" I protested as I tried to protect my body.
"Move your hands, you little spy!" he screamed. "Understanding? What stupid understandings could we have with a spy like you?"
The beatings would continue from that moment until late September. Mr. Rosewater didn't beat me while asking me questions. He beat me before or after, simply to show he was in control. He pretended not to enjoy it. At one point he told me he beat me mainly because he was angry. "What you have done, Mazi, makes my blood boil. I don't want to raise my hand against you, but what do you suggest I do with someone who has insulted the Leader?" He claimed his own father had been a political prisoner before the 1979 revolution, and the shah's torturers had pulled out his toenails so brutally that he still couldn't walk properly. I should feel lucky, Mr. Rosewater implied.
I did not. Once or twice a year I am felled by devastating migraines. Mr. Rosewater knew that, from the medication I'd brought with me to Evin, and he took particular pleasure in pounding the back of my head.
What I hated most, though, was when he called me "Mazi." Only my close friends and family call me Mazi. The nickname is familiar, affectionate. In his voice it sounded obscene. "I'm really sorry, Mazi, that your days are numbered," Mr. Rosewater would tell me. The next time I saw him, he promised, I'd be standing on a chair with a noose around my neck. He would personally kick the chair out from under me. I would not know the date of my execution in advance. But, he assured me, it would take place after morning prayers, around 4 a.m.
Weirdly, after long interrogation sessions Mr. Rosewater would sometimes start to open up. He would appear to grow weary of screaming and hitting me, kicking me, whipping me with his belt, and he would start rambling like a drunk confessing to the bartender after last call. "Many of my friends have had to divorce their wives," he told me one night. "We have to work late shifts. We have to travel without much notice, and the job puts a lot of psychological pressure on us. Not many women accept that. I adore my wife. I kiss her hands and feet for understanding me and putting up with my job."
One night about a week before the holy month of Ramadan began, his cell phone rang. It was Mrs. Rosewater. "Hello, dear," he said. "How are you?" He had his hand on my neck. "How is the honeycomb?" She must have been preparing food for the holidays. He moved his hand toward my ear and started to squeeze it. "I know, it's lovely, isn't it? It's much better than the one we had last year...I'm glad your mother liked it, too. How is she, by the way...Well, darling, he is a doctor; he knows what he is talking about…Wait a second." He hit the back of my skull as hard as he could and yelled, "Didn't I tell you to write down the damned answers?" He pushed my head down toward the chair's writing tablet. I started to write again. He continued talking with his wife. "I don't know how long I'll be here tonight. I may just sleep here. Don't wait for me for dinner." He came toward me again. With a crack, his belt hit the writing arm of the desk. "Write!" he roared.
London , November 2009 Any bruises had faded by the time I arrived in London, but Paola was shocked by how thin I was. One of the first things Mr. Rosewater had promised me was that he would send my skeleton home. He was right. I lost 25 pounds in prison.
I quickly realized that to cope with the interrogations I needed to be both physically and mentally fit. I probably exercised five hours a day in my tiny cell. I did 500 sit-ups and 60 push-ups. I did yoga. I lay on my back, kicked my legs up in the air, and bicycled.
For a while I was allowed to walk in the prison courtyard for 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon. They put six or seven of us next to each other, and we strolled back and forth with our blindfolds on. The guards called it hava khori—literally, getting fresh air. That was the only time I could see the sky, by raising my head and squinting from under my blindfold. At first I didn't know how one could walk blindfolded. But I quickly memorized the number of paces between the walls of the courtyard. I even started to jog.
My true refuge, though, was music. Once, after a particularly brutal beating, I swallowed three migraine pills and passed out. Two women came to me in a dream. They had kind faces; in fact, they reminded me of my sister Maryam, who had died of leukemia in February.
"Who are you?" I asked.
"Sisters of mercy," they answered.
They touched my forehead gently to soothe the pain. In the dream I smiled and heard Leonard Cohen singing his song of the same name:
Oh the sisters of mercy, they are not departed or gone.
They were waiting for me when I thought that I just can't go on.
And they brought me their comfort and later they brought me this song.
I woke humming those words, free of pain. From that moment Leonard Cohen became the guardian of my universe. He was the secret that Mr. Rosewater could never discover.
Revolutionary Courthouse, Aug. 1, 2009 (before noon) I was blindfolded as we drove. Mr. Rosewater hadn't told me where we were going, but he had told me my role. "Mazi, you can be a great service to yourself and the country today," he'd said at one of the predawn interrogation sessions he had begun to conduct ever since threatening me with the noose. He slapped the back of my head. "You want to be free, don't you?"
"Yes," I said quietly.
"So, all you have to do is repeat what Haj Agha taught you about velvet revolutions, in a press conference." He smacked my legs until they stung. "But this time we need names. We need to know who are the agents of the velvet revolution. We need names, Mazi. No names means the noose. Understood?"
Waiting at the courthouse that morning, I had no idea that in another room more than 100 bedraggled prisoners—many of them leading reformist figures and former government ministers—were sitting in the dock as a prosecutor read out a long, outlandish account of their roles in the supposed velvet revolution. Two of them—former vice president Mohammad Ali Abtahi, and former deputy interior minister Mohammad Atrianfar—were later brought out to "confess" their roles to state-media reporters.
My turn came after lunch. We ate chicken kebabs and drank dough, a savory yogurt drink similar to lassi. Mr. Rosewater gave me his drink, saying he had to watch out for his blood pressure. "Names, Mazi, names," he reminded me.
Again I didn't provide any. Of course I knew several reformist politicians—any veteran Iranian journalist would have. Many of them, in fact, had also been leading revolutionaries; over time they had decided that the system they'd helped put into place could survive only if it was modernized. That was heresy to the new generation of Guard commanders. These hardliners emerged after the Iran-Iraq War convinced that Iran had no friends abroad, only enemies—and was saddled with a corrupt, impious leadership. In their view the old guard needed to be purged from the system as thoroughly as the shah's cronies had been.
It was clear that Mr. Rosewater wanted me to implicate these reformists, to link them to my media bosses in the West. Next to me on a dais sat another prisoner: Kian Tajbaksh, an Iranian-American scholar who worked for the Open Society Institute, run by George Soros, a particular bogeyman of the Guards. The fact that the government had licensed both of us to do our jobs only confirmed the Guards' suspicions about the Iranian establishment. "Those who gave you permission are even guiltier than you are," Mr. Rosewater said to me once.
When we finished, I knew what awaited me back at Evin. In the interrogation room Mr. Rosewater beat me without saying a word. He didn't have to explain.
Evin Prison, August 2009 Day after day, hour after endless hour, the interrogations went on, growing surreal in their outlines of nefarious conspiracy, then circling back to more concrete matters, like the names and professions and opinions and connections of anyone I knew or might know. Early on, Mr. Rosewater had demanded my e-mail and Facebook passwords, so he had a very long list of contacts to grill me about, one by one. What did I know about this journalist's links to foreign organizations or governments? What was that one's take on events in Iran? And, if they were women, had I had sex with them?
This last subject occupied Mr. Rosewater for several weeks. He was a young man, perhaps in his mid-30s. Sometimes, I think, he used sex as a way to humiliate me. But he also seemed genuinely curious about someone who had spent so much time in the West. Once he asked me how I knew one lady friend:
"We met at a party," I said.
"A sex party?"
I was taken aback. "I don't know what a sex party is," I said hesitantly. "I've never been to one."
"Yeah, right," he said sarcastically. He was convinced that any party where women went unveiled had to be depraved. His professors, he said, had taught him about free love in the West. "You can't tell me that you can't just take any woman's hand in the Champs-Élysées and have sex with her." He drew out the syllables in "Champs-Élysées," the way he had with "New Jersey."
Such nonsense was draining. But at least the questions represented human contact. Other times Mr. Rosewater would order the guards to lock me in my cell for days. By the time they dragged me out, hollow-eyed, I looked forward to his questions. Twice I seriously considered suicide by breaking my glasses and slitting my wrists with the shards. I wondered how long it would take to bleed to death.
Evin Prison, Sept. 17, 2009 (around 9 a.m.) "It's very strange that no one has said anything about you yet," Mr. Rosewater told me one day. "Don't you have any friends or relatives?" I thought he was bluffing but couldn't know for sure. The prisoner's worst nightmare is the thought of being forgotten. Then, one morning in September, the friendliest of the prison guards—a man with whom I exchanged obscene jokes—opened my cell door and said, "Mr. Hillary Clinton, you can go have hava khori now."
I was mystified. "Why 'Hillary Clinton'?" I asked him. "She talked about you last night," he said, referring to comments the U.S. secretary of state had made to her Canadian counterpart. I was ecstatic. This meant there was international pressure to free me. I wanted to hug the guard. Instead I told him one of the funniest and most obscene jokes I knew.
Early on I'd had conversations in my head with friends and colleagues, in which I made suggestions about how to go about getting me released. As time went on these seemed ever more futile. But in September, I began to see signs that the Guards were under pressure to free me. First they allowed me to call my mother, then to share an iftar dinner with her during Ramadan. Then they let me call Paola—to warn her to stop giving interviews. (Bless her, she knew that the message meant she should do more.) Mr. Rosewater began claiming he wanted to free me before our baby was born at the end of October, a key part of the publicity campaign on my behalf. Eleven days before my release, I was moved out of solitary confinement and into a cell with four leading reformists, including Atrianfar. We had TV.
One disenchanted Iranian official told me recently that the Guards blocked my release for weeks; Mr. Rosewater was among the loudest calling for me to be tried swiftly and harshly. I doubt he ever cared about the multilayered pressure campaign that NEWSWEEK and others had put together on my behalf—the editorials and petitions, the diplomatic démarches, the quiet personal efforts of world leaders. But there were Iranian officials who also disagreed with my detention. Soon after the election they might have been too hesitant or too powerless to do much. But by September, with Iran on the verge of nuclear talks, they could make the case that I had become a distraction. "You were more of a liability than an asset in jail," the disenchanted official told me.
I still don't know what finally broke the deadlock. A few years from now, after the Guards have consolidated their position, I'm not sure anything would.
London , November 2009 I am nervous but exhilarated as I type out the words on my laptop:
Don't contact me anymore. I have never spied for anyone. I am not going to start by spying for you.
I send the e-mail to the address Mr. Rosewater gave me. In the days leading up to my release from Evin he had forced me to sign documents saying I would "cooperate with the brothers in the Revolutionary Guards" once outside the country. He'd given me a list of names to report on, including most of my Iranian friends in London and other Western cities. He'd given me the e-mail address to use.
The night before I left the country, he asked to meet me at a hotel in downtown Tehran. His glare was just as menacing as on the day he arrested me. When the waiter told him our tea would be delayed, that the water needed time to boil, Mr. Rosewater shot him a spine-chilling look. The tea was ready within minutes.
We made awkward small talk. He had brought a colleague with him, an older man whose voice I had heard occasionally during interrogations. "We hope to have constructive cooperation with you in the future," the man said soothingly. I smiled and nodded politely. Mr. Rosewater was more blunt as he reminded me that the Guards could find me anywhere in the world. "Remember the bag, Mr. Bahari. Remember the bag" were his last words.
I'm remembering something else instead. In my dream, when the two sisters of mercy came to my aid, it was comforting to think that one of them was Maryam, my own beloved sister. At the time I wondered who the other could be. Now, holding my newborn daughter in my arms, I know. Her name is Marianna Maryam Bahari.
Book Review: "Living in [Iranian] Hell" by Gazal Omid Larry Kelley - 1/1/2006
Ghazal Omid, Iranian expatriate author of Living in Hell, a newly published autobiography and political memoir, has caused quite a stir in conservative Iranian society with her taboo-breaking style. She receives hate mail in the “God will send you to the devil and you will roast in hell.” vein. Her response, “I’ll be sure to pay you a visit.” She established her website, www.livinginhell.com, not just to promote her book but also her cause—the liberation of Iran. The Iranian government is retaliating by denying Iranians access to her website and succeeded in temporarily shutting it down completely. Test
A disturbing truth about Ghazal Omid’s life is that it is the story of millions of Muslim women. Her book begins with an account of her mother being sold by her family, at age 14, into a loveless marriage to a heroin addict for $4000. Abandoned after the wedding night, she was able, after one year, to secure a divorce but her parents, Ghazal’s grandparents, “…treated her (mother) as an outcast and would rather have seen her dead than divorced.”
Her story progresses to her roots and her mother’s second forced marriage, at age 16, to a wealthy, middle age stranger who became her biological father. In an almost poetic way she speaks of her own future and others like her, making the point that little can be expected from a generation whose fate and abuse was pre-ordained. Her father was a man with a dark secret. He not only didn’t divulge that he had another wife and seven kids but had also raped his sister, resulting in her death; a secret confessed by his own mother, on her death bed, to Ghazal’s mother.
When Ghazal was twelve years old, she too was molested for over a year by the youngest of her three adult brothers. Her mother blindly loved her deviant son, refusing to learn of her daughter’s torturous molestation. Ghazal explains her own helplessness, “She wouldn’t have believed me and could have killed me in an “honor killing,” This level of male domination and cruelty meted out against women and female children is still in practice, not only in Iran, but much of the Middle East.
Astonishingly, despite the torment Ghazal went through, although she lost her faith in God once, she returned to Islam. Now she is a defender of true Islam and condemns its perversion as seen in many Islamic countries, including Iran.
She survived the Islamic revolution and the eight-year Iran/Iraq war. With her home in a prime Iraqi target area, she and her mother would go to bed at night expecting to be killed in bombing raids. She grew up in an oppressed society that taught children to hate people of different cultures but refused to hate someone she didn’t know. Because of her Islamic education and curious mind she was not poisoned by the propaganda of a government that was imprisoning and killing its opponents by the thousands.
Ghazal, an outspoken woman at early age, was branded a subversive at her mullah-controlled university because, like Rosa Parks, she refused to sit at the back of the classroom and refused to be silent. During her university years, she was abducted by the secret police from the streets of Isfahan, the nuclear plant city. She escaped, temporarily, by jumping from the speeding kidnap car. Seriously injured, she was rescued by people on the street but, soon afterwards, was taken to prison and given a Hobson’s choice; sign a document stating the abduction never happened or remain in prison until she did. She describes the fetid prison conditions in which women and babies were being held indefinitely. As Ghazal signed the document, she recalled that when Galileo was forced to recant his theories about the universe, he left prison declaring that, despite what he had just said, the earth was not flat and still revolved around the sun. Ghazal vowed she would inform the world about a regime that has killed more than 130,000 of its citizens attempting to silence them. After the kidnapping, she received threatening letters and was watched constantly.
Realizing she was marked for an orchestrated death sentence on trumped up charges, a common occurrence, she fled Iran, thru France to Holland from where, using a fraudulent Algerian passport, she flew to refugee status in Canada; arriving alone, penniless and without language in an alien land. She describes her life in Canada, her personal growth and learning North American culture to bridge the gap between East and West.
She explains, without excusing, the origin of terrorism, its root in poverty and cultural ignorance created by lack of education, resulting in misguided suicide bombers.
Her experiences are important for everyone to know about because one incident in particular shows that the enemy we fear is already living among us and we would not know it if 9/11 had not occurred. Ghazal describes her meeting with a Canadian member of an al Qaeda sleeper cell. Near the end of Ramadan 2004, from her adopted home in British Columbia, while sending out drafts of her now published book, she received a peculiar instant message from a total stranger asking her, in Arabic, if she were a Muslim, explaining that he was from India but was Muslim and asked if he could meet her. After several days and much persistent e-mail, she agreed.
Her mysterious dinner companion turned out to be a burly, well-dressed, six-foot man with closed cropped beard and shaved head. He told her that he was an engineer, owned a condo in Montreal and was traveling west for business. She writes:
I sensed that he was not just a guy but also a guy with a big secret. Finally, our conversation came around to politics. I must have looked stunned when he said he had worked with Bin Laden when Russia occupied Afghanistan. He quickly added that Bin Laden could not have had any part in 9/11. I asked him how he could know that.
“I know the guy. He gave up his own life to help others,” he told me.
“At this point, I had a sensation as if my hair were standing on end. I thought, my Lord, I have just allowed myself to be manipulated into meeting with an al Qaeda member. As he continued to talk about Bin laden, his face turned a reddish hue as he defended him with passion and anger in his eyes.
Next, I asked, “So who do you think was behind 9/11?” He said that it was all CIA, trying to frame this wonderful man.
“What would you do if he ordered you to kill Americans or Canadians?” I asked.
He said with conviction and no hesitancy, “If Bin Laden ordered me to kill all the Canadians or Americans I would do it.”
Ms. Omid has become an important spokesperson is in the vanguard of Iranian heroines living in the West; women who openly advocate revolution and regime change in Iran. This is a dangerous business, as the author’s meeting illustrates.
I found Living in Hell an in-depth, enriching read with great descriptions of history and culture and voluminous research that makes this book a must-read political memoir. It is not only informative; it is painfully truthful. North Americans will appreciate the freedom they have and what it is like to live in Iran, as a woman. As we follow Ghazal’s struggle for survival and freedom, we cannot help but become her allies. Her story transcends religion and ethnic differences and connects the reader with the essence of human existence and it is endearing because westerners are largely altruistic.
Iran's president: Israel must be 'wiped off the map'
The Associated Press
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's hard-line president called for Israel to be "wiped off the map" and said a new wave of Palestinian attacks will destroy the Jewish state, state-run media reported Wednesday.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also denounced attempts to recognize Israel or normalize relations with it.
"There is no doubt that the new wave (of attacks) in Palestine will wipe off this stigma (Israel) from the face of the Islamic world," Ahmadinejad told students Wednesday during a Tehran conference called "The World without Zionism."
"Anybody who recognizes Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation's fury, (while) any (Islamic leader) who recognizes the Zionist regime means he is acknowledging the surrender and defeat of the Islamic world," Ahmadinejad said.
Ahmadinejad also repeated the words of the founder of Iran's Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who called for the destruction of Israel.
"As the imam said, Israel must be wiped off the map," said Ahmadinejad, who came to power in August and replaced Mohammad Khatami, a reformist who advocated international dialogue and tried to improve Iran's relations with the West.
Ahmadinejad referred to Israel's recent withdrawal from the Gaza Strip as a "trick," saying Gaza was already a part of Palestinian lands and the pullout was designed to win acknowledgment of Israel by Islamic states.
"The fighting in Palestine is a war between the (whole) Islamic nation and the world of arrogance," Ahmadinejad said, using Tehran's propaganda epithet for the United States and Israel. "Today, Palestinians are representing the Islamic nation against arrogance."
Iran does not recognize the existence of Israel and has often called for its destruction.
Israel has been at the forefront of nations calling and end to Iran's nuclear program, which the United States and many others in the West say is aimed at acquiring weapons of mass destruction. Iran says the program is for generating electricity.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Ahmadinejad's comment "reconfirms what we have been saying about the regime in Iran. It underscores the concerns we have about Iran's nuclear intentions."
French Foreign Minister Jean-Baptiste Mattei condemned Ahmadinejad's remarks "with the utmost firmness."
Harsh words for Israel are common in Iran, especially at this time of year, the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. In Iran, this Friday — the last Muslim day of prayer in the Ramadan holiday — has been declared Quds Day, or Jerusalem Day. Rallies were slated in support of Palestinians — and against Israel's occupation of parts of the city and other Palestinian lands.
Other Iranian politicians also have issued anti-Israeli statements, in attempts to whip up support for Friday's nationwide Quds Day demonstrations.
But Ahmadinejad's strident anti-Israeli statements on the eve of the demonstration were harsher than those issued during the term of the reformist Khatami and harkened back to Khomeini's fiery speeches. Ahmadinejad was a longtime member of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards, which even operates a division dubbed the Quds Division, a rhetorical reference to Tehran's hopes of one day ending Israel's domination of Islam's third-holiest city.
After his election, Ahmadinejad received the support of the powerful hard-line Revolutionary Guards, who report directly to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Last year, a senior member of the guards attended a meeting that called for and accepted applications for suicide bombers to target U.S. troops and Israelis.
Iran announced earlier this year that it had fully developed solid fuel technology for missiles, a major breakthrough that increases their accuracy.
The Shahab-3, with a range of 810 miles to 1,200 miles, is capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to Israel and U.S. forces in the Middle East.
Iran bans foreign
Wednesday October 26, 2005
A committee of Islamic clerics in Iran, led by the country's new hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, this week banned foreign films in an effort to wipe out what they called "corrupt Western culture".
Elements that were specifically named as affronts to the government's vision of Iran's Muslim culture included alcohol and drugs, secularists, liberals, anarchists and feminists.
The ban, which follows Mr Ahmadinejad's campaign promise to promote Islamic culture and confront what he called a cultural invasion by the west, aims to distance the state from the open cultural policies undertaken by former reformist president Mohammad Khatami that encouraged cultural coexistence and dialogue among civilisations.
Many experts and officials say the ban will only cause Iranians to turn to the black market for western videotapes or to foreign satellite television broadcasts. It is understood that the ban will have little effect on cinemas where few Western films play anyway, but it could dramatically change television, where all channels are controlled by the state and overseen by religious hardliners.
State-run television has hitherto shown foreign films after censoring many scenes deemed immoral or offensive. Films considered hostile to the Islamic values preached by the ruling establishment are already banned altogether.
"This new ban appears to be part of a campaign to push Iran back to the 1980s and to impose the same restrictions that were only just eased under Khatami. But it will be impossible to take Iran back to the 80s again," said international relations professor Davoud Hermidas Bavand.
Under President Khatami, Iran's 70 million citizens, more than half of whom are under 30, enjoyed growing social and political freedoms and were exposed to western popular culture through satellite television. The dishes are officially banned but tolerated by authorities. Many residents in Tehran hide them under tarpaulins or disguise them as air-conditioning units.
Western music, films and clothing are widely available in Iran, and hip-hop tunes can be heard on Tehran's streets, blaring from car speakers and music shops. Bootleg videos and DVDs of films banned by the state are widely available on the black market.
Already, the state-run television station in the holy city of Mashhad in north-eastern Iran has reported that police closed several video clubs last week on grounds that they were offering films inconsistent with Islamic culture.
Iran blasts Muslim countries for ties to Israel
Friday, 7th October 2005
Tehran, Iran, Oct. 07 – A senior Iranian cleric blasted on Friday fellow Muslim countries for having ties to the state of Israel, accusing them of “betraying Islamic people and society”.
At the Tehran Friday prayers sermon, Guardian Council chief Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati vowed that Tehran would continue to stand against the “Jewish enemy”.
“Today, Israel calls on them (Muslim countries) to make their relations public and they are in this path. The vulgar action of the Pakistani President in America was for this purpose”, Jannati, who heads the country’s top vetting organ, said.
“I believe that the development is the publicising of [their] relations. The only country that can stand up to Israel and the plundering, evil forces, and fight against injustice and violation of values and the Holy Quran is the Islamic Republic of Iran, and I am sure that such a thing is possible”, the Guardian Council chief added.
He called on Muslims to rise to Jihad, adding that the Islamic Republic must never give in or appease the “enemy”.
Iran police kill Ramadan offender
Monday October 17, 2005
TEHRAN - Iranian police
have been accused of shooting and killing a motorist after he failed to stop
when spotted eating during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, a press report
The victim, identified as 22-year-old Seyed Mostafa, was shot dead in Tehran on Saturday.
He was also playing loud music with his car stereo, the government Iran newspaper said.
"Even if the police claim is right, is eating during the fasting month punishable by death?" the victim's brother was quoted as saying.
The report did not say if the family would press charges against the police, who have been actively enforcing a dawn to dusk Ramadan ban on public eating, drinking and smoking as well as a wider campaign to crack down on "lawless elements".
Iran's Final Solution Plan
by Daniel Pipes
New York Sun
November 1, 2005
"Iran's stance has always been clear on this ugly phenomenon [i.e., Israel]. We have repeatedly said that this cancerous tumor of a state should be removed from the region."
No, those are not the words of Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, speaking last week. Rather, that was Ali Khamenei, the Islamic Republic of Iran's supreme leader, in December 2000.
In other words, Ahmadinejad's call for the destruction of Israel was nothing new but conforms to a well-established pattern of regime rhetoric and ambition. "Death to Israel!" has been a rallying cry for the past quarter-century. Mr. Ahmadinejad quoted Ayatollah Khomeini, its founder, in his call on October 26 for genocidal war against Jews: "The regime occupying Jerusalem must be eliminated from the pages of history," Khomeini said decades ago. Mr. Ahmadinejad lauded this hideous goal as "very wise."
In December 2001, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former Iranian president and still powerful political figure, laid the groundwork for an exchange of nuclear weapons with Israel: "If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in possession, the strategy of colonialism would face a stalemate because application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel but the same thing would just produce minor damages in the Muslim world."
In like spirit, a Shahab-3 ballistic missile (capable of reaching Israel) paraded in Tehran last month bore the slogan "Israel Should Be Wiped Off the Map."
The threats by Messrs. Khamenei and Rafsanjani prompted yawns but Mr. Ahmadinejad's statement roused an uproar.
The U.N. secretary-general,
Kofi Annan, expressed "dismay," the
U.N. Security Council dubbed it "verbal terrorism," and a unanimously condemned it, and the
European Union condemned it "in the strongest terms." Prime Minister
Martin of Canada deemed it "beyond the pale," Prime Minister Blair of
Britain expressed "revulsion," and the French foreign minister, Philippe
Douste-Blazy, announced that "for France, the right for Israel to exist should
not be contested."
Le Monde called the speech a "cause for serious alarm,"
London Sun headline proclaimed Ahmadinejad the "most evil man in the world."
The governments of
Turkey, Russia, and China,
spoke against Mr. Ahmadinejad: "Palestinians recognize the right of the
state of Israel to exist, and I reject his comments." The Cairene daily
among others, expressly condemned the statement.
Maryam Rajavi of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, a leading
opposition group, demanded that the European Union rid the region of the "hydra
of terrorism and fundamentalism" in Tehran. Even the Palestinian Authority's
Al-Ahram dismissed his statement as "fanatical" and spelling disaster for
Iranians were surprised and suspicious. Why, some asked, did the mere reiteration of long-standing policy prompt an avalanche of outraged foreign reactions?
In a constructive spirit, I offer them four reasons. First, Mr. Ahmadinejad's virulent character gives the threats against Israel added credibility. Second, he in subsequent days defiantly repeated and elaborated on his threats. Third, he added an aggressive coda to the usual formulation, warning Muslims who recognize Israel that they "will burn in the fire of the Islamic umma [nation]."
This directly targets the Palestinians and several Arab states, but especially neighboring Pakistan. Just a month before Mr. Ahmadinejad spoke, the Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf, stated that "Israel rightly desires security." He envisioned the opening of embassies in Israel by Muslim countries like Pakistan as a "signal for peace." Mr. Ahmadinejad perhaps indicated an intent to confront Pakistan over relations with Israel.
Finally, Israelis estimate that the Iranians could, within six months, have the means to build an atomic bomb. Mr. Ahmadinejad implicitly confirmed this rapid timetable when he warned that after just "a short period … the process of the elimination of the Zionist regime will be smooth and simple." The imminence of a nuclear-armed Iran transforms "Death to Israel" from an empty slogan into the potential premise for a nuclear assault on the Jewish state, perhaps relying on Mr. Rafsanjani's genocidal thinking.
Ironically, Mr. Ahmadinejad's candor has
had positive effects, reminding the world of his regime's unremitting
bellicosity, its rank anti-Semitism, and its dangerous arsenal. As Tony Blair
noted, Mr. Ahmadinejad's threats raise the question, "When are you going to do
something about this?" And Mr. Blair later warned Tehran with some
menace against its becoming a "threat to our world security." His alarm needs to translate into action, and urgently so.
We are on notice. Will we act in time?
Iran's hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad triggered new international outcry by saying the "tumour" of the state of Israel should be relocated to Europe.
His remarks were greeted with outrage from Germany, Austria, Israel and the United States, at the forefront of an international campaign to prevent the Islamic regime from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Ahmadinejad, who in October said arch-enemy Israel must be "wiped off the map", said that if Germany and Austria believed Jews were massacred during World War II, a state of Israel should be established on their soil.
"You believe the Jews were oppressed, why should the Palestinian Muslims have to pay the price?" he asked in an interview with Iranian state television's Arabic-language satellite channel, Al-Alam.
"You oppressed them, so give a part of Europe to the Zionist regime so they can establish any government they want. We would support it," he said, according to a transcript of his original Farsi-language comments given to AFP.
"So, Germany and Austria, come and give one, two or any number of your provinces to the Zionist regime so they can create a country there... and the problem will be solved at its root," he said.
"Why do they insist on imposing themselves on other powers and creating a tumour so there is always tension and conflict?"
Ahmadinejad, a straight-talking former commando who swept to the presidency after a shock election win in June, is no stranger to controversy.
"Unfortunately this is not the first time that the Iranian leader has expressed outrageous and racist views towards Jews and Israel," said Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Mark Regev.
"I hope that these outrageous remarks will be a wake-up call to people who have any illusions about the nature of the regime in Iran."
Israel's views were echoed by the United States, its closest ally.
"It just further underscores our concerns about the regime in Iran. And it's all the more reason why it's so important that the regime not have the ability to develop nuclear weapons," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Ahmadinejad's combative suggestion that Israel was "totally unacceptable" and Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, speaking after a meeting with US President George W. Bush, called the remarks "an outrageous gaffe, which I want to repudiate in the sharpest manner."
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the EU's nuclear diplomacy is "not made easier by the fact that Mr Ahmadinejad comes up with new ideas, that the people of Israel could move to Germany and Austria, to resolve the Middle East problem".
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi also condemned the remarks.
In Ahmadinejad's interview, he referred to the Holocaust as a matter of belief, and raised the issue of revisionist historians -- who attempt to establish that figures on the number of Jews killed by the Nazis are wildly exaggerated -- being prosecuted in Europe.
"Is it not true that European countries insist that they committed a Jewish genocide? They say that Hitler burned millions of Jews in furnaces... and exiled them," he said.
"Then because the Jews have been oppressed during the Second World War, therefore they (the Europeans) have to support the occupying regime of Qods (Jerusalem). We do not accept this."
The Holocaust was Nazi Germany's systematic slaughter of an estimated six million Jews between 1933 and 1945.
Official Iranian media frequently carry sympathetic interviews with Holocaust revisionists, and the regime itself also refuses to recognise Israel.
Ahmadinejad also proposed "a referendum in Palestine for all the original Palestinians" to decide on the future of what is now Israel, the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
But he said "the best solution is resistance so that the enemies of the Palestinians accept the reality and the right of the Palestinian people to have land."
He was speaking in the Muslim holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia where he was attending a summit of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.
After calling for Israel to be "wiped off the map" in October, Iran was chastised by the UN Security Council and drew fierce condemnation from the West -- already alarmed over Iran's nuclear ambitions and ballistic missile programme.
A scheduled visit to Iran by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was also called off as a result of the remark.
Ahmadinejad's tone has also been a major departure from his pro-reform predecessor Mohammad Khatami, who had eased anti-Western rhetoric and sought to bring Iran out of international isolation by calling for a "dialogue among civilisations".
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has banned Western music from Iran's radio and TV stations, reviving one of the harshest cultural decrees from the early days of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Songs such as George Michael's "Careless Whisper," Eric Clapton's "Rush" and the Eagles' "Hotel California" have regularly accompanied Iranian broadcasts, as do tunes by saxophonist Kenny G.
But the official IRAN Persian daily reported Monday that Ahmadinejad, as head of Iran's Supreme Cultural Revolutionary Council, ordered the enactment of an October ruling by the council to ban Western music.
"Blocking indecent and Western music from the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting is required," according to a statement on the council's official Web site.
Ahmadinejad's order means broadcasters must execute the decree and prepare a report on its implementation within six months, according to the newspaper.
"This is terrible," said Iranian guitarist Babak Riahipour, whose music was played occasionally on state radio and TV. "The decision shows a lack of knowledge and experience."
Music was outlawed as un-Islamic by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini soon after the revolution. But as the fervor of the revolution started to fade, light classical music was allowed on radio and television. Some public concerts reappeared in the late 1980s.
Western music, films and clothing are widely available in Iran, and hip-hop can be heard on Tehran's streets, blaring from car speakers or from music shops. Bootleg videos and DVDs of films banned by the state are widely available on the black market.
After eight years of reformist-led rule in Iran, Ahmadinejad won office in August on a platform of reverting to ultraconservative principles promoted by the revolution.
Since then, Ahmadinejad has jettisoned Iran's moderation in foreign policy and pursued a purge in the government, replacing pragmatic veterans with former military commanders and inexperienced religious hard-liners.
He also has issued stinging criticisms of Israel, called for the Jewish state to be "wiped off the map" and described the Nazi Holocaust as a "myth." (Full story)
International concerns are high over Iran's nuclear program, with the United States accusing Tehran of pursuing an atomic weapons program. Iran denies the claims.
During his presidential campaign, Ahmadinejad also promised to confront what he called the Western cultural invasion and promote Islamic values.
The latest media ban also includes censorship of content of films.
"Supervision of content from films, TV series and their voice-overs is emphasized in order to support spiritual cinema and to eliminate triteness and violence," the council said in a statement on its Web site explaining its October ruling.
The council has also issued a ban on foreign movies that promote "arrogant powers," an apparent reference to the United States.
The Associated Press.
Europeans Oppose 'Scientific' Debate on Holocaust: Iran
Hardline Iranian President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's view that Jews were never massacred during World War II is
"scientific", Iran's foreign ministry has insisted.
"The type of response from the Europeans to the theoretical and scientific debate of Mr Ahmadinejad has no place in the civilised world and is totally emotional and illogical," foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said Sunday.
"What Mr Ahmadinejad expressed was scientific debate, and the reaction surprises me," he told reporters. "The reaction from European officials is a sign of their total, blind support for the Zionists."
Ahmadinejad has caused international outrage with a series of anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish remarks, in the course of which he has said Israel was a "tumour" that should be "wiped off the map" or moved to Europe.
On Thursday he said the Holocaust -- during which an estimated six million Jews were killed under Nazi Germany -- was a "myth", and that Israel should be moved as far away from the Muslim world as Alaska.
"The Europeans should get used to hearing other opinions, even if they don't like them," Asefi said.
Cradle of the apocalypse
TODAY The Sun brings you a chilling frontline report from deep inside the nuclear powderkeg of Iran.
Chief Foreign Correspondent Nick Parker and photographer Ray Collins secretly slipped into a country that is defying the world in its determination to develop nukes.
They found ordinary Iranians terrified at the prospect of fanatical president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad getting his hands on the bomb.
Our men also got close to the secret complex that has sparked world outrage — the uranium enrichment plant at Isfahan.
By NICK PARKER Chief Foreign Correspondent
IN Iran's bleak and forbidding landscape Iranians fear their fanatical leader is plotting a nuclear apocalypse.
Yesterday I got within a mile of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s doomsday factory — and found a nation filled with dread.
In the capital Tehran, one woman shuddered at the prospect of the zealot getting his hands on a nuclear bomb.
The 35-year-old bookseller warned: “He could soon have his finger on a nuclear button.
“We all tell ourselves the unthinkable could never happen — and that he is not lying when he says Iran has no need of nuclear weapons.
“But how can we trust a man who has told the world he is on a mission from God?” A former soldier sipping tea in a café put it more bluntly.
The former lieutenant declared: “We fear we have elected a madman.”
The white-haired 55-year-old — a veteran of the bloody war with Iraq — said: “He won the election promising us better everyday lives.
“But now he seems obsessed with provoking America and the West.
“Many ordinary people are worried by his religious mania — he can’t wait for the apocalypse.”
Blacksmith’s son Ahmadinejad, 49, has declared Israel must be wiped off the map. He has told followers to prepare the way for the return of the revered “Hidden Prophet” — known as the Mahdi.
According to Islam, the Mahdi will bring justice to the whole world.
But he will not come back until the earth is rocked by a period of terror and catastrophe.
Many in Iran fear their president is out to cause just that.
He has already triggered global outrage by breaking UN seals on his uranium enrichment plant at Isfahan. Ahmadinejad claims Iran simply wants nuclear fuel.
"Most people here — especially young people like me — want to forget the past and build better relations with other nations.
“But we’re heading back to the dark ages now.”
Photographer Ray Collins and I got within a mile of the top secret Isfahan nuke base after sneaking into Iran as tourists.
Our driver was too terrified to take us all the way. He explained: “This is as far as anyone dare go. Any further and we might not come back.” In the distance the base’s stark 10ft high perimeter fence was clearly visible.
Troops regularly patrol the wasteland around the complex.
Yesterday grey unmarked trucks rumbled along the track leading to the plant, which is close to a peak called Shah Mohammad.
Our driver told us: “The nuclear base workers and its scientists never come into the local town.They live and work on the base. Its secrets stay behind the wire.”
The plant lies just six miles from the historic city of Isfahan — an architectural gem with glittering mosaic-covered mosques and minarets.
Its citizens are proud of their centuries-old record of religious tolerance. Armenian Christians and even a community of 3,000 Jews live in relative peace among the Muslim majority.
But these days, despite the smiles of conscript soldiers we spoke to, a tangible sense of foreboding grips the city.
One Jewish trader — a 50-year-old who gave his name as Isaac — said: “Our greatest fear is a strike on the nuclear plant by America or Israel.
“It could contaminate the whole city. Ahmadinejad is risking all our lives by taunting his enemies.”
Armenian Christian Vahick, 42, who runs a souvenir stall across the Zeyandeh river, said: “We all have much to fear from this man.
Muslim hotel boss Shah, 58, said: “A lot of people here are terrified by what Ahmadinejad is doing because the nuclear site is so close to the city.
“If his enemies bomb the place who knows what could be released into the air.”
Israel — which bombed Iraq's French-built Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981 — has already warned a similar strike on Iran may be ordered.
But destroying the nuke site will not be easy. Locals said much of it has been built deep underground to protect it from even the most powerful “bunker buster” bombs.
Experts fear Iran could develop a nuclear weapon within two years. That would leave the region at the mercy of a maniac who first paraded his fanaticism in a bizarre maiden speech to the UN General Assembly last September.
In it, Ahmadinejad appealed to God to “hasten the emergence of your last repository, the promised one, the perfect human being, the one that will fill this world with justice and peace.”
He later declared that he felt himself surrounded by a radiant light during his rambling address begging for the Mahdi’s return.
And in a video distributed two months later on an Iranian website, he said: “For 27 to 28 minutes all the leaders did not blink.
“It’s not an exaggeration because I was looking.”
In reality UN delegates had simply been left agog at his crackpot performance. Recently Ahmadinejad’s rantings have taken an ever more sinister twist.
When 108 people died last month on a military plane which crashed in Tehran, he gave a clue to the extent of his fanaticism. He said: “What is important is that they have shown the way to martyrdom which we must all follow.”
In Isfahan — which has seen its tourist trade plummet — hotelier Shah told how he feared for his family’s safety.
He said: “It is ironic that a place in Iran where Jewish people can live in peace is at the centre of this international crisis.
“We are praying to all our Gods that Ahmadinejad stops this madness.”
· An Israeli MP has called for Iran to be banned from soccer’s World Cup in Germany after Ahmadinejad claimed the Holocaust was myth.
Iran opens exhibition mocking Holocaust
TEHRAN, Iran -- An exhibition of cartoons about the Holocaust opened this week, reflecting Iran's response to last year's Muslim outrage over a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper.
The display, showing 204 entries from Iran and abroad, was strongly influenced by the views of Iran's hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who drew widespread condemnation last year for calling the Holocaust a "myth" and saying Israel should be destroyed.
One cartoon by Indonesian Tony Thomdean shows the Statue of Liberty holding a book on the Holocaust in its left hand and giving a Nazi-style salute with the other.
Masoud Shojai, director of the host Caricature House, said a jury looked through 1,200 entries received after the contest was announced in February by the co-sponsor, the Iranian newspaper Hamshahri.
It came following worldwide protests by Muslims against the Muhammad cartoons published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. Many Muslims considered the cartoons a violation of traditions prohibiting images of their prophet.
Hamshahri said it wanted to test the West's tolerance for drawings about the Nazi killing of 6 million Jews in World War II. The entries on display came from nations including United States, Indonesia and Turkey.
About 50 people attended the exhibition's opening on Monday.
"I came to learn more about the roots of the Holocaust and the basis of Israel's emergence," said 23-year-old Zahra Amoli.
The exhibition runs until Sept. 13 and the winner will receive $12,000. The exhibition hall is next to the Palestinian Authority's embassy, which was Israel's diplomatic site in Iran before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Iran Near Bottom Of Religious Freedom Ranking
The U.S. State Department's annual report on religious report says Iran is "of particular concern," criticizes Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, but reserves some praise for Turkmenistan.
PRAGUE, September 16, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- For the seventh year in a row, the U.S. State Department's annual report on religious freedom around the world, designates Iran a "country of particular concern" for imprisonment and harassment of people based on their religious beliefs.
John Hanford, the State Department's ambassador at large for religious freedom, said at the launch of the report, on September 15, that the purpose of the report is to "spur debate in other countries, hold governments accountable to their international commitments, speak out on behalf of the persecuted, and in the end, provide a sense of how well we are living up to our own ideals."
The report says that the eight "countries of particular concern" -- countries that in Washington's view are the worst violators of religious freedom -- are Myanmar, China, North Korea, Iran, Sudan, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam.
Considered slightly better are 12 other countries where religious freedoms are far from secure. They are Afghanistan, Brunei, Cuba, Egypt, India, Israel and the occupied territories, Laos, Pakistan, Russia, Sri Lanka, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan is faulted for "outrageous" crackdowns on Muslims, which Hanford says included a further tightening of a religious law and increased harassment of worshipers.
"Such abuses are particularly unfortunately where, as in Uzbekistan, they undermine a long-standing societal tradition of religious harmony," Hanford said. "Uzbekistan also provides an example of how governments often choose to use repressive registration laws as a means of restricting non-approved religions or simply to outlaw certain faiths entirely."
While the situation in neighboring Turkmenistan is also seen as grave, Hanford did note a modicum of progress. He said that "where previously only two religious groups were allowed legal status, we've now seen nine new religions and denominations allowed to register, an opening upon which we hope that government will continue to build."
Attitudes in Russia toward Jews and Muslim ethnic groups have become more negative in the past year, the State Department says. But Moscow is also praised for reacting quickly to an attack on a Moscow synagogue this January.
In Afghanistan, the report says decades of war and years of Taliban rule have contributed to a conservative culture of intolerance.
Nonetheless, Hanford says the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai is "seeking to uphold constitutional guarantees of religious freedom, despite a long-standing culture of intolerance."
The State Department's annual review of religious freedom around the world is required by the U.S. International Religious Freedom Act. In all, the survey covers 197 countries and territories. Countries in the lowest ranking may be hit with U.S. sanctions if they do not improve.
The Iranian authorities on September 16 dismissed the report as "political" and "lacking legal proof."
In a statement, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini also said the report "pursues a U.S. foreign policy agenda and is of no value."
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