Friday, June 02, 2006

Why the Neo-Nazis Salute Iran's President

Allister Heath, The Spectator:
Hjalmar Schacht, the Nazi economics minister, had many unusual interests but one was especially telling. He was fascinated with the theory, famously enunciated by King Darius the Great, that the Persians were of Aryan lineage, and argued that this made them the Nazis’ natural allies. So when in 1935 Shah Reza Pahlavi renamed his country Iran, which means Land of the Aryans in Farsi, he helped seal a pivotal alliance.

Seventy years later a shared anti-Semitism has spawned a new entente between Germany’s now thankfully small band of neo-Nazis and Tehran. Nazi thugs have promised to march in support of Iran at the Iran–Mexico World Cup match in Nuremberg on 11 June. In return, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad chose an interview with the German media at the weekend to question once more the reality of the Holocaust, and to say that if it did really happen, the Jews should be removed from Israel to Europe. READ MORE

Given Ahmadinejad’s view that Israel must be ‘wiped off the map’, it is no surprise that he is being feted as a hero by Nazis, racists and even white supremacists. But it is not only the Jews who need fear Ahmadinejad; a sinister crackdown on all of Iran’s religious minorities is gathering pace. Non-Shia Muslims have long been treated as second-class citizens by the Islamic Republic, discriminated against in education, government jobs and services, banned from serving in the military, and their public religious expression severely restricted; now they are positively under siege. It is a story that has gone unreported in Britain but which confirms the monstrous nature of a regime that could soon have access to nuclear technology.

Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, head of the Guardian Council, recently described non-Muslims as ‘sinful animals’ and ‘corrupt’. After criticising him, the only Zoroastrian member of parliament (there are 22,000 Zoroastrians in Iran) was charged with the ‘dissemination of false information, slander and insult’.

Paradoxically, compared with minority Muslims and Baha’is, Iran’s 30,000 Jews have so far got off relatively lightly — they have only had to put up with a new barrage of propaganda and incitement to hatred rather than direct violence or mass arrests, as was the case a few years ago. The education of Jewish children is also becoming trickier, and it is even harder to distribute religious texts.

Some of Iran’s 300,000 Christians have been unluckier. Ali Kaboli, a carpenter from Gorgan, was arrested by the secret police on 2 May. Kaboli had previously been threatened for holding Christian meetings in his home, had survived an arson attack and had long been kept under close surveillance. His ‘crime’ is to have converted to Christianity from Islam —albeit 33 years agoand to have tried to share his faith with others. Since his arrest, many of those who worshipped in his house have also been questioned.

It could have been worse. Six months ago Ghorban Dordi Tourani, 53, another convert to Christianity, was found stabbed to death in front of his home in Gonbad-e-Kabus, a few hours after being arrested. But Kaboli could share the fate of Hamid Pourmand, a lay pastor in the Assemblies of God Church and an Iranian army colonel, now serving a three-year sentence in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison for supposedly concealing his faith from his military superiors. After intense international lobbying, Tourani was acquitted of apostasy, an offence punishable by death.

Pressure is just as intense on the country’s tens of thousands of Sufi Muslims, who are hated by the extremist Shia clerics, as are the small Ahl-e-Haqq minority. A court in Qom last month sentenced 52 Sufis — and their two lawyers — to one year in jail, 74 lashes, and fines on various trumped-up charges. Some 1,000 Sufis were arrested in February after clashes over the closure of a prayer house. On 21 May, in a development which bodes ill for the community, one of the country’s top Sufis, Ahmad Shariati, was summoned before judges. Meanwhile Sunni Muslims, of whom there are six million in Iran, have long complained of detentions, torture of their clerics and a ban on teaching in state schools; disgracefully, they still have no mosque in Tehran.

While the regime loathes Israel, rounding up Jews would be the best way to trigger international outrage, so a surrogate enemy has been found: the Baha’i religion, which was founded in 19th-century Iran. Their ancestors converted from Islam, so they are deemed apostates; and because the Baha’i faith has its headquarters in Israel, they are wrongly accused of being Zionist or US spies. Unlike Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians — who are at least given some constitutional protection because their religions are recognised — Iran’s 300,000 Baha’is are officially ‘unprotected infidelsor a ‘misguided sect’ and hence the lowest of the low.

The gravest incident for many years took place on 19 May in Shiraz, when 56 young Baha’is were arrested. They were teaching poor children as part of a Unicef programme. Three of the youngsters remain in jail; those released have had to hand over property deeds or their work licences to secure bail. None of those arrested has yet been formally charged but when they eventually are, fabricated allegations will be the order of the day.

In the past 14 months 125 Baha’is across Iran have been arrested and held for up to a month, often incommunicado and in secret locations, as the authorities step up their campaign. Vile lies are propagated by the state-controlled media, with one article this year fabricating a tale of gatherings that the (in fact strictly teetotal and non-violent) Baha’is would hold on the eve of the solemn Shia mourning festival of Ashura, where they would supposedly drink alcohol, dance and sacrifice a Muslim child, in a despicable libel reminiscent of the anti-Semitic forgery, the Protocol of the Elders of Zion.

Ordinary Baha’is are also increasingly being sent hate-filled text messages and can no longer go to university. Typically, Roya Habibi, of Kermanshah, now out on bail, was charged with ‘teaching the Baha’ism sect and acting in an insulting manner towards all that is holy in Islam’. Six months ago Dhabihu’llah Mahrami, a Baha’i prisoner of conscience, died in his cell in Yazd in mysterious circumstances. Two months earlier a judge had warned him: ‘Even if you are released from prison, we will get rid of you in a [car] accident.’ When, in March, the UN special rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on Freedom of Religion or Belief released a secret letter from the Iranian high command ordering police and Revolutionary Guards to ‘identify’ and ‘monitor’ members of the Baha’i community, she said the existence of such a letter made her ‘highly concerned’.

Given the intensifying persecution of minorities in Iran, including Christians and Muslims, it beggars belief that Tehran retains so many apologists in the West who are prepared constantly to downplay its crimes. Comparisons with the 1930s can be overdone, but in the case of Iran, the regime is inviting them by its actions.

Allister Heath is associate editor of The Spectator and deputy editor of the Business.