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The view from Farang
Iran news has become more amusing - perversely - in recent months


December 20, 2005

I find myself increasingly detached from Iran the longer I live in Farang, though that is a relative qualification: I follow Iran news every day, especially as it has become more amusing - perversely - in recent months.

One thing may be said of Iran's nomenklatura: reformers are nicer guys all-round, but conservatives have a lively imagination: wipe Israel off the map, Imam Mahdi delighted with the composition of parliament, light surrounded the president when he spoke at the UN etc... At least they don't bore us with tedious, vacuous promises and pseudo-didactic lectures on political development, like that ex-president who thought he had pioneered the dialogue between civilizations (and which civilization did he represent, one wonders?).

The best Friday prayer sermons in Iran are generally by conservatives: like the Guardian Council secretary Ayatollah Jannati (a little shrill he may be, but passionate, with convictions), not to mention the Orumieh preacher Hassani whom everybody loves. I hope they keep him there for years to come ("You'll end up on the gallows Mr. Journalist," he used to say - marvellous - carry on vicar. I bet his congregations are full).

Another interesting preacher was the former judiciary chief and present Guardian Council member, Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi. He was often angry, again a man of convictions. He warned the trailer-trash speculators that have destroyed Tehran's northern districts and cut down thousands of trees to build tower blocks that they would answer for this on the Day of Judgment: I hope so. (I met him once during an interview, he seemed a nice man. "Don't tell me about Mr. [Ayatollah] Montazeri," he told the interviewer, an American journalist, "they things I could tell you about Mr. Montazeri...")

He suggested in one sermon, I seem to remember, that the Religious Leader or Vali-e Faqih is "discovered" in keeping with a celestial plan, and that elections in Iran are really a desirable or preferable formality, or expression of support for state leaders. This neatly expresses the dividing line between reformers and conservatives (or some conservatives): is the Iranian polity to be the government of an oligarchy of theologians and the pious (guiding Iranians to some degree of earthly prosperity, but mostly toward faith and otherworldly salvation), or an Islamic Republic - a democracy where the state also promotes faith and virtue?

This admittedly is of little interest to Iranians listening to Googoosh or some LA Iruni rapster: who represent, frighteningly, the future of Iranian culture. Mullahs may not be universally liked, but they do represent a constituency in Iran. They will not disappear when Mr. Reza Shah goes back (hypothetically), though their supporters may do, in the perfect weathercock manner of Iranians. I always say, if you went out 25 years ago to shout "Marg bar Shah" (but now blame religion for Iran's ills), then please be quiet for another 25 years or more. You did your bit, thank you very much.

Mullahs - we may say this of them - have been consistent in their claims and pretensions. Efficient, technocratic government was never their primary concern, but it is disputable to say that Iran's main problem is too much religion. Its problems are those that affect all badly-run, dictatorial states: lack of accountability, corruption, injustice, press censorship, torture and abuse in state custody. I believe they have that all over Africa.

Deceit being one of the deplorable vices of politics, some of the worst offenders in that regard have been that assortment of trash in Iran called the Left. They lie and cheat like the venomous snakes that they are, only to win power and proceed with their murderous intentions. Just look the MKO: do not say they do not lie all the time, and every day. Indeed, one of the Iranian regime's deplorable aspects is its Leftist economics and antipathy to private enterprise: deprive the people of their economic rights and you have given civil society an almighty slap in the face.

My travel policy is simple: only travel to democratic countries. Spend you money in liberal democracies. Which is why I hope to go to Mexico, Colombia and Argentina next year, Inshallah. I am curious to see if they have Starbucks there, and what pastries they serve.

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