Monday, May 22, 2006

A Vote of Thanks Is Expressed By Iranian Jews

Eli Lake, The NY Sun:
A leading spokesman for Iranian Jews is thanking the world for its outcry over a report that the mullahs were readying legislation that would require Jews and other religious and ethnic minorities to wear distinguishing markers.

While the legislation considered in the Iranian parliament, the Majlis, so far does not create a dress code for Iran's Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians - an echo of Nazi laws that required Jews, homosexuals, Gypsies, and communists to wear distinctive armbands and badges - the spokesman, Sam Kermanian, said yesterday that he suspected early reports of this kind may have been a trial balloon.

"I am not sure if we have the whole picture. The person who originally reported this, Amir Taheri, is someone with fantastic credibility. In my heart, I think there must have been something that triggered this," Mr. Kermanian said.

Mr. Kermanian, who is the secretary-general of the Iranian American Jewish Federation in Los Angeles, spent hours over the weekend on the phone with Tehran trying to determine the accuracy of a report in the New York Post by Mr. Taheri and a stronger piece in Canada's National Post that said the proposed regulations would require Jews to wear special badges, evoking memories of the yellow Stars of David that Jews were obliged to wear in Nazi Germany.

The National Post story turned out to be incorrect. Over the weekend, the representative of Iran's Jewish community in the Iranian legislature, Maurice Motamed, denied that the proposed dress code changes would require minorities to wear distinctive clothing or badges. The chairman of the parliament's cultural committee, Emad Afroogh, also told wire services that the initial reports of such restrictions were "worthless."

A summary of the legislation that appeared on the Majlis Web site contained no specific language designating special dress codes or markers for minorities, either. Nonetheless, the regime in Tehran has been more brutal to its opponents in recent months. A video surfaced over the weekend of the leader of Iran's striking bus drivers, Mansour Osanloo, discussing and showing the results of his torture, including a gash on his chin and a hole in his tongue, at the hands of his jailors earlier this year. The torture of Mr. Osanloo was first reported by The New York Sun in March.

A Canadian-American reformist philosopher, Ramin Jahanbegloo, also remains in prison after being arrested at the Tehran airport on April 27 despite increasing international pressure.

Mr. Taheri, for his part, is sticking to his story. In a May 20 dispatch for the New York Post, Mr. Taheri wrote that the new Iranian law would envision separate clothing guidelines for ethnic and religious minorities, to "enable Muslims to instantly recognize non-Muslims so that they can avoid shaking hands with them by mistake."

An Iranian-American anti-regime activist living in New York, Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi, said the formal legislation does not contain language on the special insignias, but added that Mr. Taheri was correct in saying this measure is being discussed and considered.

"I have spoken to quite a few people and it is a subject being discussed," she said. "This is about being able to decipher who is who, so they can pinpoint the dissidents who make trouble for the regime and determine what ethnic group they come from." READ MORE

Some who fear that President Bush may be planning a land war against Iran, or at least the aerial bombing of its suspected nuclear facilities, pounced on the fact that the central claim of the National Post story has not been confirmed. On his Web log yesterday, the former president of the Middle East Studies Association, Juan Cole, called the original National Post story a "black psy-ops operation," implying it was deliberately planted to demonize President Ahmadinejad.

But the prospect of a dress code for non-Muslims in an Iranian theocracy is not so far-fetched. Iranian religious leaders historically mandated dress codes for non-Muslims. The country's current constitution already carves out special status for non-Muslims, prohibiting them from obtaining senior posts in either the army or government. Muslims in Iran officially enjoy preference over non-Muslims in gaining admission to universities.

A national ordinance enacted in 2000 and 2001 requires all non-Muslim butchers, grocers, and purveyors of food to post a form in the window of their place of business warning Muslims that they do not share their faith. At the time it was put in place, the code was defended on the grounds that it enforced Islamic dietary law.

Yesterday, Mr. Kermanian said he was grateful for the outpouring of international support after the report of the badges legislation first surfaced. "Our community was heartened to see so much international support on the subject," he said. "And considering the anti-Semitic environment in Iran, which exists due to government-sanctioned propaganda, this sort of support is a matter of great comfort to us now."