Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Amir Taheri responds to his critics

An interesting response from Taheri, but without enough details to satisfy me.
Regarding the dress code story it seems that my column was used as the basis for a number of reports that somehow jumped the gun.

As far as my article is concerned I stand by it.

The law has been passed by the Islamic Majlis and will now be submitted to the Council of Guardians. A committee has been appointed to work out the modalities of implementation.

Many ideas are being discussed with regard to implementation, including special markers, known as zonnars, for followers of Judaism, Christianity and Zoroastrianism, the only faiths other than Islam that are recognized as such. The zonnar was in use throughout the Muslim world until the early 20th century and marked out the dhimmis, or protected religious minorities. (In Iran it was formally abolished in 1908).

I have been informed of the ideas under discussion thanks to my sources in Tehran, including three members of the Majlis who had tried to block the bill since it was first drafted in 2004.
I do not know which of these ideas or any will be eventually adopted. We will know once the committee appointed to discuss them presents its report, perhaps in September.

Interestingly, the Islamic Republic authorities refuse to issue an official statement categorically rejecting the concept of dhimmitude and the need for marking out religious minorities.

I raised the issue not as a news story, because news of the new law was already several days old, but as an opinion column to alert the outside world to this most disturbing development.
From reading this press release, it does not sound that he knew what other articles were going to be published by the National Post on the dress code (unless he's being disingenuous). I don't know how it is that the NP acquired his article and what his relationship is with the editors of the paper. Perhaps, as some suggest, there is a sinister relationship between them - if so, perhaps commenters to this post can enlighten us further.

The sources he mentions are NOT other Iranian emigres, but (unnamed) sources in Teheran - which was also true in the original article, where he named one, Mostafa Pourhardani, Minister of Islamic Orientation. Who are the three unnamed members of the Majlis who are his sources? Why doesn't he name them?

But in this press release he is much less categorical than in his editorial piece, where he says that the law "also envisages separate dress codes for religious minorities, Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians, who will have to adopt distinct colour schemes to make them identifiable in public." He says further, "Religious minorities would have their own colour schemes. They will also have to wear special insignia, known as zonnar, to indicate their non-Islamic faiths. Jews would be marked out with a yellow strip of cloth sewn in front of their clothes while Christians will be assigned the colour red. Zoroastrians end up with Persian blue as the colour of their zonnar. It is not clear what will happen to followers of other religions, including Hindus, Bahais and Buddhists, not to mention plain agnostics and atheists, whose very existence is denied by the Islamic Republic." In the press release, in contrast, these are ideas under discussion - but by whom? And how likely is it that these ideas will come to fruition? Are these ideas put forth by a minority or a majority?

This is an unsatisfying statement, which raises more questions than it answers. I think it is necessary for Taheri to publish an additional article that supplies the sources for his statements and gives convincing details that counter the remarks by the Jewish representative to the Majlis and the Iranian government that categorically deny that one of the purposes of the law is to mark out religious minorities.

On the other hand, the article by Chris Wattie in the National Post (cited above) that contains the denials about the religious minorities part of the law, contains information that indicates that these provisions were under discussion at a certain point, if not now.
Sam Kermanian, of the U.S.-based Iranian-American Jewish Federation, said in an interview from Los Angeles that he had contacted members of the Jewish community in Iran - including the lone Jewish member of the Iranian parliament.

They denied any such measure was in place.

Mr. Kermanian said the subject of "what to do with religious minorities" came up during debates leading up to the passing of the dress code law. "It is possible that some ideas might have been thrown around," he said. "But to the best of my knowledge the final version of the law does not demand any identifying marks by the religious minority groups."

Ali Reza Nourizadeh, an Iranian commentator on political affairs in London, suggested that the requirements for badges or insignia for religious minorities was part of a "secondary motion" introduced in parliament, addressing the changes specific to the attire of people of various religious backgrounds. Mr. Nourizadeh said that motion was very minor and was far from being passed into law. That account could not be confirmed.

Meir Javdanfar, an Israeli expert on Iran and the Middle East who was born and raised in Tehran, said yesterday that he was unable to find any evidence that such a law had been passed. "None of my sources in Iran have heard of this," he said. "I don't know where this comes from." Mr. Javdanfar said that not all clauses of the law had been passed through the parliament and said the requirement that Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians wear special insignia might be part of an older version of the Islamic dress law, which was first written two years ago. "In any case, there is no way that they could have forced Iranian Jews to wear this," he added. "The Iranian people would never stand for it."

However, Mr. Kermanian added that Jews in Iran still face widespread, systematic discrimination. "For example, if they sell food they have to identify themselves and their shops as non-Muslim," he said.
Perhaps Taheri's Iranian informants are themselves not up to date on what the debates are and the meaning of the law; perhaps they spun it to him in this direction; perhaps Taheri himself is the author of the spin. I think the only way we'll know is with further detailed reporting.


  1. Retraction from the Israelie National Post?--Please,I can't find any.Day to Day the National Post always wants to remind us Canadians about the poor jews and the bad germans. Come to think of it--maybe,it's time for Jews to easily identifable.

  2. No, the retraction is from the Canadian National Post. The Israeli newspaper is the Jerusalem Post, which was not retracting anything,

  3. "Interestingly, the Islamic Republic authorities refuse to issue an official statement categorically rejecting the concept of dhimmitude and the need for marking out religious minorities."

    This is a remarkably dumb, and invalid, point. Do the U.S. authorities respond to demands for clarification from Iranian newspapers, as a rule? It's a "they've not denied that they've stopped beating their wife" argument.

    "Come to think of it--maybe,it's time for Jews to easily identifable."

    This seems to be a remarkably ugly sentiment.