Friday, May 19, 2006

Non-Muslim Insignia

Michael Rubin, The Corner:
Just as some additional background, Patrick Clawson and I included the narrative of the Jewish and Christian minorities in our recently published Eternal Iran (NRO Q&A here) . READ MORE

The Iranian people are far more tolerant than their leadership, but it is unfortunate that Ahmadinejad could cite ample precedent if he so desired: The Nazi practice of forcing Jews to wear a yellow star had its origins in what is now Iran and Iraq when a ninth century caliph forced his Jewish subjects to wear yellow patches.

From time to time, subsequent rulers revived the practice. Shiite clerics long deemed any food touched by Jews to be unclean. While blood libel only took root in Iranian society after the sixteenth-century arrival of European ambassadors, as Iranian society wrestled with modernity, violent anti-Semitism grew. Pogroms wiped out the Jewish community in some towns and villages in Iranian Azerbaijan in the mid-nineteenth century, and serious pogroms also swept through Mashhad, a Shiite shrine city in northeastern Iran in which the current supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, was born and raised. It was also in Mashhad that, despite the oft-cited mantra that there is no compulsion in Islam, Shiite clerics forcibly converted the remaining Jews to Islam under threat of death. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini made anti-Semitic conspiracies a frequent theme of his speeches. A great resource is Habib Levy's Comprehensive History of the Jews of Iran, available from a specialty Iranian studies publisher translated from the original Persian.

With regard to the Christians, there have been many periods of oppression. Iranian governments sometimes looked at the Armenian Christian community as a fifth column and, in recent years, vigilante groups have assassinated evangelical Christians-there is some mention of this in recent State Department human rights reports. The Baha'i community is perhaps the most vulnerable and, of course, while there are functioning churches and synagogues in Tehran and Isfahan, the ruling authorities will not tolerate Sunni mosques in Tehran, a city of perhaps 14 million people.