TED in Baghdad! Hopefully Tehran, Cairo, Tripoli and Damascus next


TED in Baghdad! Hopefully Tehran, Cairo, Tripoli and Damascus next
by Iqbal Latif

Rumi said ‎"The Eye does not see the Ear until a mirror is placed in front of the eyes." A society unable to see it own self in a mirror decays rapidly. A society not only needs to see but hear from her ears the voices of street in a mirror of self reflection and self evaluation.


TED dialogue opens up a platform where academicians, intellectuals and common people examine the road map forward. Opening the door of dialogue is key to the closed mind of a man. Small step it may sound but this small opening is a huge progress form debauchery and mental depravity of an apparatus that allowed no dissent under Saddam.

Some may argue with me that I seeing too much in opening of TED in Baghdad. It may be, but if Thomas L. Friedman’s can make global war and peace assumptions based on nations where McDonalds exists; I see no reservation to make a comparison that where TED exists pluralism will find its nascent roots firmly implanted. Thomas L. Friedman’s in 1999 in his book The ‘Lexus and the Olive Tree’ made the observation that: “No two countries that both had McDonald’s had fought a war against each other since each got its McDonald’s”. A kind of tongue-in-cheek, his point was that due to globalization, countries that have made strong economic ties with one another have too much to lose to ever go to war with one another. While the observation have some truth, the conclusions to be drawn are uncertain.

This is culmination of a dream, emergence of a society where free forums of ideas can become centre of academy and intellectual activity. Ted opens its doors in Baghdad! Free thinking is an absolute must for a nation, a dialogue where we agree to disagree but continue to discuss the options, as it happens here right on Iranina.com. Under Saddam this would be just not thinkable! The dividend of the freedom of mind. I wrote this in 2005, it is a pride to see Ted opening its doors in Baghdad Dar-ul- Salam of Mesopotamia.

In an article that we wrote in 2005 'May be it was not a war against Islam but a war for Islam!' we predicted:

Liberalism in Iraq will have to be an organic outgrowth of that nation's culture; it will be the final test whether Islamic cultures can allow for liberal democracies in the Western mould. I would hazard that the institutions, which will arise in Iraq will be a direct consequence of that nation's heritage (much as in Japan where the democratic structure has been adapted to the indigenous Japanese cultures and Keiretsu survives despite the destruction of the 4 Zaibatsus). Saddam and Ba'athism was perversion of traditional Iraqi culture and impeded the evolution of a nation state. What will be the result of the invasion is the reversion to the indigenous trends and geopolitical faultlines in Iraq.


May be Iraq was not a war against Islam but a war for Islam. Possibly "Qom Ayatollahs" could learn and like to defuse their activism in favour of Sistanis "quietism." They should look at Sistani's apolitical conduct and lack of lust for temporal powers, he took a back seat as "politicians" conducted Iraqi squabbling in typical parliamentarian smoke filled rooms. Instead, arguably the centuries old feud of the control of "marjaiyya" and Najaf insistence to wrest Shiite clerical control back from Qom will be the hall mark of new ideological wrangling between two hearts of Shiite Islam, the militants of Qom and the pragmatic of Najaf are draw into a new squabble. Baghdad will once again take its role as the capital of Islam, with Kerbala and An-Najaf as the minarets bellowing the cry of freedom to the oppressed Shi'ites of the world.

A stable Iraq threatens "Qom" ideological dominance, shifting of "Vatican" of Shiite Islam back to Najaf from Qom where it was taken during Saddam decades old crackdown on Shiite orthodoxy is a bitter dose for ecclesiastical powers of Qom, who now seem to enjoy the global reverence of the Shiites. Like Saudis who despite of the huge "oil" take pride in the title of "custodian of two holy mosques" through which they claim ascendancy of Sunnis Islam as de-facto caliph, Qom enjoys unchallenged global leadership of Shiite Islam. Sistani seems to have put spanners in the works!

My increasing empathy for those who risk their lives for an alien people is fuelled by the hope of a thriving civilization re-establishing itself on the banks of the Tigris. There is a primary reason in that Iraq does not have a history of strong Islamist movement and like other Middle Eastern populaces the Iraqis have strong tribal and clan connexions that prevent the formation of an Islamic state. There must be an underlying national culture to allow for the propagation of a specific Islamic ideology and indeed those who have been of the Islamists persuasion either belong to the minority culture (MMA in NWFP & Baluchistan because of the Pathans) or the urban proletariat (Algeria's Arab failed to persuade the Berbers to Islamism). Ethnically diverse nations cannot just look to Islam as a bond for there needs to be a strong national culture to provide an uniform platform (Iran's culture is heavily Persic-centric and has strong assimilatory tendencies, which is why the Kurds of Iran tend to be the most integrated). Iraq is bifurcated along ethnic lines and Islam cannot be the sole unifying influence (perhaps in a few decades if the Baghdadi Sunni culture permeates the entire nation then there is the possibility for an unified Islamic movement but that would also have to assume an uniformity of Arabic dialects). The secession of Bangladesh from Pakistan shows that Islamic ideology alone cannot hold a nation together for there must be a linguistic, cultural or historical rationale. Allah has a thousand names and that axiom holds true in the Islamic Crescent.

Iraqis at any rate are historically a very secular population and seem alien to the orthodox "desert" Islam that is said to be practised from Morocco to Pakistan (whereas the lands from Bangladesh to Indonesia practise the variant known as "Monsoon Islam" derived significantly from Hindu culture). As the war taught us Iraq is pretty much a few scattered cities in Al-Jazirah (the island between the Tigris and the Euphrates) and the tribes in the desert as far as the eye can see. In the years of infrastructure and redevelopment the possibility of the population turning to extremist Islam seems rather far-fetched for relatively active and burgeoning economies tend to have politically apathetic populations.

Iraqi Shi'ism does not allow for a strong religious presence in the government, the Ayatollahs may be running the show in Basra but they are theologically prohibited from wielding power in the style of Khomeini. It isn't in the culture of south Iraq (or of any other Islamic nation) to embrace a theocratic form of government as in Iran.

Freedom of mind in this open age of communication cannot be harnessed, beware those nations where intent is censored, where voices of people are not heard and the leadership acts like an ostrich, their days are numbered. TED is coming to you soon Tehran.


more from Iqbal Latif
Iqbal Latif

Culmination of a dream:

by Iqbal Latif on

TEDxBaghdad 2011 on Livestream. On Saturday November 12, 2011, the first ever TEDxBaghdad conference will be held in the Al Rasheed Hotel in Baghdad, Iraq. Our theme and focus is “Make the Impossible Possible.”
3/23/2003 7:49:08 PM
Culmination of a dream:  The sacrifices of every fallen soldier and innocent civilian killed in this war cannot be forgotten. We should pray for God’s mercy and help in fulfilment of this important mission ASAP so that a peaceful Iraq will help make our world and region far better place to live. For people of Iraq nothing can be more important than removal of the present yoke of terror and despotism. Iraqis for last 25 years have been used a cannon fodder for his war machine until today brain washed hard core cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel, it is sad but necessary that emancipation of human kind be pursued with all sombre seriousness. //www.siliconinvestor.com/readreplies.aspx?ms...

Iqbal Latif

The reason I keep barking!

by Iqbal Latif on

Why we should not be a silent spectator when injustice and cruelty is committed? The reason I keep barking:

"All that is necessary for the forces of evil to succeed/triumph is for enough good men to do nothing. When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."

Edmund Burke in 'Thoughts on the Cause of Present Discontents.’ and David Sisler 'IF GOOD MEN FAIL.'

Iqbal Latif

I see Shiite quietism to return!

by Iqbal Latif on


I see Shiite quietism to return; the schism I have talked about for last few years, will be the result of this whole revolution, geo politics of the area will not help Iranian mullahcracy, with Syria gone and Turkey taking a key role the era of more freedom based and democratic Syria.

This is just the beginning of the story of how Shiite rule in Iran is going to suffer the disasters of dialect. Khomeini was a single minded puritan of supreme order, disciplined, detached, distant from the concept of loyalty to the motherland, burning desire to change Iran to become Dar al-Islam, whereas for most of Iranians it is the other way.

When Peter Jennings asked him on his return to Iran in a AF plane his answer was classically dispassionate, nonchalant: "What do you feel in returning to Iran?" Khomeini answered in a cynical tone: "Hichi!


I see fault line emerging and the 'quietism' of those Ayatollahs who were in majority and were sidelined on concept of VF is becoming a more sustained challenge. May be Rafsanjani and others will now opt for Sistani model. I am sorry it is definitely very long and maybe it is my fault, but the subject of 1400 years of schisms needs some justice and background; the Iranians diasporas need to be aware of those historical elements that will implode to bring the change.Qom apprehends a challenge over the concept of the Velayat-e-Faqih — the divine authority of a top religious leader in the absenc of the infallible imams. Theologically the thesis of Vilayat-i Faqih was rejected by almost the entire dozen grand ayatollahs living in 1981 like Abu al-Qasim al-Khu'i and Shariat Madari (who died in 1986), openly opposed Khomeini. Gulpaygani, al-Qummi, al-Shirazi, and al-Najaf al-Mar'ashi maintained a distance or Takiya.


Ironically only one Grand Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri Najafabadi approved the concept. His 'Dirasat fi Vilayah al-Faqih' gave legitimacy to Khomeinism claim.Imagine what he did to his closest ally and ideological consort.


The Najaf seminary’s view of the Velayat-e-Faqih is that of a supervisor and adviser. The Qom school believes in direct intervention by clerics in executive affairs being their legitimate right and moral obligation. Theologically the thesis of Vilayat-i Faqih was rejected by almost the entire dozen grand ayatollahs living in 1981 like Abu al-Qasim al-Khu'i and Shariat Madari (who died in 1986), openly opposed Khomeini. Gulpaygani, al-Qummi, al-Shirazi, and al-Najaf al-Mar'ashi maintained a distance or Takiya. Ironically only one Grand Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri Najafabadi approved the concept. His 'Dirasat fi Vilayah al-Faqih' gave legitimacy to Khomeinism claim.Imagine what he did to his closest ally and ideological consort. Many things helped Khomeini, his intransigence was one.


Iqbal Latif

Clerics of Najaf and beasts of Qom!!

by Iqbal Latif on


@Only the clerics of Najaf have the arrows sharp enough to kill the Beast.

I agree; The only change that I foresee is the one where internal dissent will destroy this regime, the change will come from within, those who think that this contradiction of rulers and ruled can  continue are wrong. 5,000 year old civilisations do not disappear, Iran is a mother civilisation and has background of rich culture and history, it is not in her character to act like hyenas or show  attributes of tearing each other apart. 'Some extremely radical clout of Mullahs aside' across the board civility of language and culture of Iran imposes some decorum of style in the revolutionary zeal of the rank and file movement. Iranian change will be one of style and purpose not open ended bloodletting. Tribal areas like Afghanistan, Pukhtuns and Libyans cannot be compared even closely with  the most backward of Iranian constituencies.


The regime will initially implode, the inability of the house to impeach the Minister of Economy is first sign of dissent by the Legislature. The inability of getting more than 72 votes to grill Ahmadinejad are signs of under currents where the Council of Guardian and Legislature are divided, the concept of VF is dogmatically a newborn idea not favoured by the rank and file of the Shiism.


None of the Vatican four i.e. Four senior Grand Ayatollahs that constitute the Religious Institution (al-Hawzah al-'Ilmiyyah) in Najaf support activism of Khomeini, it will not last, the preeminent seminary center for the training of Shiite clergymen will pursue the line of quietist approach until Imam Ghaib appears. The story of Hw Qom hijacked the Shiite leadership from Najaf where it belongs is as follows:


To understand the background of this schism between Qum and Najaf, one needs to look profoundly at contemporary centers of Shi'ites learning's.

Before the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, Najaf was the most important center of study for Shia religious leaders.However, Saddam Hussein ordered mass arrests and the expulsion of senior clerics, giving the Iranian seminary in the city of Qom the opportunity to take over the religious leadership of the Shias. Qom became the pre-eminent religious center for Shia Muslims since the Iranian revolution, however, Najaf has a history of more than a millennium of leadership, and the Iranian clerics who run the holy city of Qum, are facing a revived rival.


As of mid-2003 the seminary in Qom hosted between 40,000 and 50,000 clergy, while the number in Najaf stood at about 2,000, down from about 10,000 before the Ba'ath regime took. The first exodus from Qom to Najaf is expected to be by exiled Iraqi clerics, estimated to number between 3,000, and 5,000.

At the heart of schism lies reluctance of seminary of Najaf to get involved in worldly affairs -- in essence al-Hawzah al-'Ilmiyyah in Najaf wants to shield the highest Shi'ite religious leadership, the marjaiyya, from politics - this is an old tension within Shi'ite Islam between two conflicting tendencies, quietism and activism.


Whether clerics should confine their activities to religious affairs or also seek a role in politics has been a matter of fierce debate among Shi'ites for well over a century. Sunnis, who in theory are expected to obey their rulers and even tolerate a tyrant in order to avoid civil strife and preserve the cohesion of the Muslim community, observant Shi'ites recognize no authority on earth except that of the imam.

The twelfth imam is believed to be hidden from view and is expected to return one day as a messianic figure, the Mahdi. In his absence, there can be no human sovereign who is fully legitimate. This ambivalence toward worldly power has resulted in different interpretations within Shi'ite Islam regarding government accountability and the role of the clerics in state affairs. Imam Khomeini's concept of the rule of the jurist is only one among several competing views.

Qom is worried to face a challenge over the concept of the Velayat-e-Faqih - the God-given authority for a top religious leader to oversee secular in the absence of the Prophet Mohammad and infallible imams. The Najaf seminary's view of the Velayat-e-Faqih is that of a supervisor and adviser. The Qom school believes the opposite, with Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, officially considered as the highest religious authority of the world's Shias. Qom sees the direct involvement of clerics in state ruling and executive affairs as their legitimate right and moral obligation.

The battle of wills in present altercation was undoubtedly won by the elder grand Ayatollah Sistani and his favored doctrine of "quietism" won over calls of "activism." From designed chaos aimed at popular uprising of the South to peaceful withdrawal Sistani political maneuverings helped defuse the crisis, in the process he has emerged as a new force to reckon with. Iranian born Sistani plan to have higher goals his ambitions of Shiite heart and soul stems from his desire to shift the thrust of Shiite theocracy from Qum to Najaf and Karbela.


In this connected world all springs will lead to flowers, there are no autumns, autumns are for the tyrants! Man is free and expresses itself freely. Iran is on its way towards a long everlasting spring. Iran had its botched disastrous spring in 1979, they are31 years ahead to unchain their ties from the archaic mindset. The implosion will come form within, the system is going through a severe dialect, internal destruction as freedom of man cannot be compromised any further.  

VF and Resurrection of Christ is symbolic allegorical myths, there is no substance to it. Nothing will come from skies if nations will not correct their course of action. The message of freedom and liberty is the unsurpassed pioneer to resolve of human misery. We need reason, logic and compassionate ecclesiastical priestly control if so required as an opiate drug so that faithful can be weaned off initially under its tutelage, once they are mature and rationalist it can be discarded to posterity.




I'm a visitor 2 yrs,9 mos...Best entry I've ever seen @ I.com

by bushtheliberator on

dear Iqbal Latif,

  I'm the Least Informed About Iran I-com visitor, but accept that the Najaf vs. Qom competition is central to Iran. and Iraq's future. Most of the I.com netizines wish the IRI would drop dead, but haven't a clue how to do it (save a few proponents of Gulf War Three ). My jingoism is revealed in my metaphor :

Only the clerics of Najaf have the arrows sharp enough to kill the Beast.


Thoughtful, original, and

by vildemose on

Thoughtful, original, and eloqently written as alwasy. I really enjoy your writings, both content and style.

"We cqan have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both." - Louis D. Brandeis