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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

The Theocratic Threat To Secular Freedom

There is only one honest impulse at the bottom of Puritanism,
and that is the impulse to punish the man with a superior capacity for happiness

- H.L. Mencken

Anthony McIntyre 27.4.02

Iran since it succumbed to theocratic rule in 1979, with its accompanying emphasis on religious law, has proved a Paradise for power obsessed clerics and a Purgatory for secular dissidents. The recent death sentence - announced in a Diplock style non-jury court - imposed on the history lecturer Hashem Aghajari illustrates the danger faced by those who question the status quo. His crime in the eyes of his accusers, blasphemy. His actions - merely to question in public the clerics' unaccountable power to interpret both Islam and the Koran.

The case resonated in many ways that of the academic Dr. Younis Shaikh, arrested in Pakistan in 2000. His ‘crime’ was to convey some historical details to his students during the course of a lecture at Islamabad's Homoeopathic College, such as Mohammed the Prophet not having become a Muslim until he was 40 years of age; that the parents of Mohammed were not Muslims, having died before the Prophet had developed Islam; and that the Arabic practice of shaving arms and pubic hair was unknown until the advent of Islam. This so enraged the Movement for the Finality of the Prophet that it sent a mob to his college and the local police station threatening to burn them both if Shaikh was not charged. He was - the resulting sentence, death. Like their forerunners in Christendom, before society somewhat civilised Christianity, clerical fascists, whatever their time or place, do not like their writ to be challenged. Secularism is viewed as a disease rather than essential to the intellectual and cultural health of society.

While it may have angered many, few will claim real shock at Aghajari's fate. In a sense he may be lucky as his verdict was determined by ostensibly overt judicial process and his appeal is likely to succeed, indicating a shift in the balance of power within Iran. Others were less fortunate as a result of having been confronted with extra-judicial measures to silence opposition. In 1998 Sa'id Emami, alias Eslami, was the mastermind - according to Iranian authorities who 'officially' identified him - behind the murders of four political figures and dissident writers. Emami was no small fish operating as a loose canon. He was educated in America and returned to Iran in 1981 two years after the 1979 Islamic revolution to take up a position in the new regime's intelligence network. For almost five years he functioned as a deputy intelligence minister, responsible to Intelligence Minister Ali Fallahiyan, who is wanted by the German government in connection to the 1992 murders of Kurdish dissidents in Berlin.

A little window on his centrality to the Islamic establishment is to be found in the following vignette. Before dying in prison - by his own hand if the official version is to be believed - Emami had devised a bill introduced in the Parliament by 26 conservative MPs which aimed at smothering even further what little independence remained for the Iranian press. In a strictly confidential report submitted to the Information Minister, Eslam advised that the activities of the independent press and dissident intellectuals be restricted as much as possible: 'in order to contain that threat from the dissidents, one has to stop them writing, to create dissension among leading writers, pitting them against each other and discredit them.’ Among suggestions contained in the Eslam sponsored bill was one that if adopted would lead to the banning from professional activity anyone writing articles critical of the country's leader. This was replete with all the power lust we, in recent years, have come to associate with Robert Mugabe - illustrating that secularists every bit as much as theocrats are responsible for repression in non-Western societies.

This is important when historicising repression in Iran particularly in light of the ‘war on terror’ and its supposed objective of creating more secular regimes in those countries it targets. The spread of Western values to such countries has hardly brought with it a concomitant improvement in human rights. The reverse has often proved to be the case. The violent suppression of dissent in Iran pre-dated theocratic rule. Ted Grant writing in February 1979 at the time of the collapse of the country’s monarchical junta noted that:

The Shah maintained his regime by perfecting an instrument of terror and repression in the form of Savak, the Secret Police. It could best be compared to the Gestapo in its devilish tortures, assassinations, executions and in the horrors which it imposed on the Iranian people.

But Savak had been formed under CIA supervision in 1957 and its members were trained by Mossad. It ran the censorship office to sit on top of journalists, novelists and academics. Universities, trade unions and peasant groups were also subject to its penetration and surveillance. Books were banned and removed from public display.

When, after the 1979 Revolution, Savak was disbanded and its chief, General Nematollah Nassiri executed by popular demand, there was a flourish of intellectual and cultural activity. Suppressed publications began to resurface in a climate of vibrancy. But is was all short lived. The theocracy, every bit as intolerant of public freedoms as its predecessor, established Savama which was merely Savak in clerical drag.

In the Left’s defence of the right of Islamic states not to be subjected to Western interventionist ‘swap the dictator’ forays, it should never lose sight of the massive brutality practiced under these regimes. And without supporting secular and democratic elements within such societies - by no means all pro-Western - the argument for interventionist wars prevails somewhat by default.





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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.
- Hamilton Wright Mabie

Index: Current Articles

15 December 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Arrests in London of Turkish Hunger Strike supporters


The Beast is Back
Henry McDonald


Christmas in the "Holy Land"
Margaret Quinn


The Theocractic Threat to Secular Freedom

Anthony McIntyre


13 December 2002


Giving Political Leadership
Liam O Ruairc


The Truth About Turkey
Mags Glennon


Belfast Socialists, Capitalism and War
Davy Carlin


Don't Join the RUC/PSNI

Sean Matthews


The Untouchables
Anthony McIntyre


Chaos Theory: Stickies and Stones Break Bones
Eamon Lynch




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