On Annan, Robinson, religion and hypocrisy

Nov. 10, 2008
Following the passage in Teheran of a new Islamic Penal Code, which codifies 
the death penalty for males who abandon Islam, the Iranian government called 
for a conference on "Religion in the Modern World." With former UN 
secretary-general Kofi Annan, former high commissioner on human rights Mary 
Robinson, past prime ministers of Italy and Norway, and former president of 
Portugal in attendance, Muhammad Khatami, the former Iranian president, called 
upon the "religious leaders of the world to try new ways to create a peaceful 
co-existence and invite the world to establish peace and security." 

This is a commendable and noble appeal, but one that is overshadowed by the 
brutal history of religious intolerance in Iran under the Islamic republic 
which Khatami represents. 

Consider some recent events: Last month, security forces entered the Imam Abu 
Hanifa Mosque in the Azimabad suburb of the city of Zabol. The mosque also 
served as a religious school and dormitory. They arrested and evacuated the 
sleeping students and staff and then brought bulldozers and destroyed the 

This is not the first time such an episode has taken place. Several other 
mosques have been destroyed in a similar fashion. Why does the Islamic republic 
destroy mosques? 

IRAN IS a religiously diverse country with significant Sunni, Baha'i, Sufi, 
Zoroastrian, Jewish and Christian minorities. With a population of 70 million, 
there are an estimated 10 million to 15 million Sunnis (this includes the 
majority of Kurds, virtually all Baluchis and Turkomans, and a minority of the 
Arabs). Following the Islamist revolution, Sunnis have suffered systematic 
discrimination. Attempts of forced conversion to Shi'ism have increased in 
recent years. 

This may help explain why Mawlavi (a religious title used by Iranian Sunnis) 
Ahmad Narouee, the deputy director of the main theological school in Zahedan 
and a moderate Sunni cleric, was arrested last month. Narouee is one of the 
most moderate Baluchi Sunni clerics in Sistan-Baluchistan province. He comes 
from one of the oldest and most influential Baluchi clans, and he is widely 

Although close to 400 members of the Narouee clan have been killed since 1979, 
Mawlavi Narouee remains tolerant in his views. He discourages people from using 
violence and encourages patience. He supported negotiations with Teheran in the 
hope that Sunnis would receive local government posts and promotes economic and 
social development. His moderate views are often criticized by radical elements 
in the province. But many credit him and his moderate colleagues with 
preventing increased bloodshed and violence in the province. 

Apparently none of that matters to the radical Islamic regime in Teheran. 
Narouee was arrested and is being kept incommunicado in an undisclosed 

RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE is not new to the Islamic republic. Since the 
establishment of the republic in 1979, all of Iran's religious minorities have 
suffered varying degrees of pressure and persecution. Even Shi'ite groups are 
not immune from persecution if they do not adhere to the Khomeini's radical 

One case in point is Ayatollah Kazemaini Borujerdiand. He was imprisoned and 
tortured together with many of his followers. His crime was to call for a 
non-political interpretation of Shi'ite Islam and for the separation of 
religion and state. A few days ago, he published an open letter to the supreme 
leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and dared him to agree to a free 
referendum under international supervision. 

But what goes on in Sistan-Baluchistan and other predominantly Sunni provinces 
differs greatly from such a vision. 

Recently, two Sunni clerics Moulavi Muhammad Yousof Sohrabi and Moulavi 
Abdoulghodus Mollazahi were executed after being forced to confess on 
television that they were actively creating divisions between Shi'ites and 
Sunnis. Since 2004, more than 130 people, mostly Sunni men, from as young as 
15, have been executed or killed in Sistan-Baluchistan on similar charges. 

On September 7, seven young Baluchi men, three of whom were related to the 
headmaster of the Imam Abu Hanifa Mosque, were arrested by security forces in 
the city of Zahedan. Their whereabouts remain unknown. 

Since the beginning of the revolution many Sunni mosques in predominately 
Shi'ite cities have been destroyed, closed, or converted to Shi'ite mosques. In 
cities such as Mashhad, Ahwaz, Turbat-e-Jaam, Shiraz and Teheran, many Sunni 
mosques have been closed or destroyed by the regime. Getting a license to build 
a new one is impossible. Such a systematic assault on mosques by a regime that 
professes Islamic faith is quite astounding. 

Khatami, a likely presidential candidate, would like us to believe that the 
regime he represents seeks to create a world in which religion, politics and 
faith can live in harmony. A few former diplomats, who perhaps seek further 
honor and glory, buy his line. 

But hopefully not for long. As Edmund Burke has said: "Hypocrisy can afford to 
be magnificent in its promises, for never intending to go beyond promises, it 
costs nothing." 

Khatami and his colleagues should be forced to respond to serious questioning 
about the recent events in Iran. His easy statements about "peaceful 
coexistence" must not be accepted so easily - not by Annan and Robinson and not 
by the rest of the world. 

Nir Boms is vice president of the Center for Freedom in the Middle East. Shayan 
Arya is an Iranian activist, member of Constitutionalist Party of Iran and 
associate researcher at the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural 
Tolerance in School Education.

Kirim email ke