The BBC has an interesting story about a diplomatic row between Argentina and Iran over the worst terrorist attack ever in Argentina. In 1994 somebody detonated a car bomb that destroyd a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, killing 85 people.
Argentina has long suspected that Iran was behind the bombing, but it recently put its cards on the table by issuing arrest warrants for four Iranian officials including,
- Ali Fallahian, the former Iranian intelligence minister
- Mohsen Rabbani, the former cultural attache at the Iranian Embassy in Buenos Aires
- Ali Balesh Abadi, a diplomat
- Ali Akbar Parvaresh, a former education minister
Iran denies the accusation, but it doesn’t help its case by appealing to the saem lame excuse that Middle Eastern governments always used when accused of wrongdoing — it’s just a bunch of “baseless allegations” invented by the Israelis.
Besides there’s the little problem of phone calls intercepted from the Iranian embassy in 1998 which established beyond much doubt that Iran had been involved in the bombing. Argentina expelled several Iranian diplomats at that time, but its investigation into which specific individuals were responsible for the attack stalled.
What’s changed in the meantime? In September 2001 en individuals went on trial in Argentina for havin gassissted in the bombing. These were mostly Argentinian police who were accused of taking bribes to protect a stolen car ring that the terrorists used to purchase the car ultimately used in the bomb plot. Of course there’s alwasy been suspicion that the police may have been more directly involved, especially given the rather large amounts of money that exchanged hands (one of those accused receieved a $2.5 million bribe). Perhaps that trial and its aftermath led to new leads.
Either way this episode illustrates that while George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil” characterization may be a bit overblown and simplistic, Iran has been an active sponsor of terrorism in foreign countries and after Iraq is likely the biggest threat in that region (which is why supporting internal efforts to liberalize should be a major policy goal of the United States).
New Zealand News recently ran a chilling story about how the Iranian legal system devalues the lives of women. The story centered around Tehran-based human rights lawyer Hadjimashhady whose daughter was killed in a car accident in 2002 after a 70-year-old opium addicted truck driver fell asleep and ran a stop sign.
Under Iranian law, Hadjimashhady was entitled to blood money from the family of the driver, but because the victim was a woman, he was only entitled to half the blood money that would have been required had the victim been a man.
Hadjimashhady told The New Zealand Times that he wasn’t interested in the blood money, and that the differing rates for men and women make the whole affair even more bizarre,
I don’t want the dieh [blood money]. Janooreh [the truck driver] doesn’t have any money, he wasn’t insured, and he doesn’t have any family. But this law, this is a reactionary law. It is something that belongs in medieval times, I think.
A group of female Members of Parliament in Iran are campaigning to equalize the monetary amounts. They note that while the system may have made sense in a traditional, nonindustrial society — where the death of a man could mean the death of the primary income provider in the family — that it is insulting to women in contemporary Iran.
Fatemeh Rakei of the Iranian Parliament’s Committee for Women’s Issues also cites a similar religious tradition called quessas, in which if a woman murders a man the mans’ family can demand vengeance (i.e., the death of the woman), but if a man kills a woman, the woman’s family must first pay the man’s family half of the man’s blood money before demanding vengeance.
Rakei told The New Zealand News that she believes this has led to an increase in wife killing since many families simply can’t afford to pay the blood money.
The price of women. Tim Elliott, The New Zealand News, February 15, 2003.
In late September, the Iranian city of Yazd hosted an awards ceremony for the Iranian film industry. Actress Gohar Kheirandish presented the award for best director to Ali Zamini, and Kheirandish became so excited that she kissed Zamini on the forehead and shook his hand. Kheirandish immediately found herself in court and at the center of a debate over public morality.
Following strict Islamic law, it is illegal in Iran for unrelated men and women to have any sort of physical contact, including handshakes. Former Iranian ambassador to the United States Hadi nejad Hosseinan was quoted by an Iranian newspaper as explaining that while serving in the United States, “During ceremonies, I hold a glass in one hand and my bag in other to avoid shaking women’s hands.”
Kheirnadish’s kiss was condemned by conservative Muslims as nothing more than an assault on public morality by the enemies of Islam.
Mohsen Talebpour, representative of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Al Kahmenei, organized a protest in Yazd and told the official Iranian news agency that, “Today the enemy has targeted our islamic beliefs.”
An editorial in weekly Iranian newspaper Ya Lessarat lamented that, “Our enemies are trying to harm Islam through our culture and this event is an example of that fact.”
As for the legal repercussions of the kiss, Zamini was arrested and then released on $2,500 bail while Kheirandish was expected to return to Yazd to turn herself in. In addition, a local Culture Ministry official who failed to immediately have Zaminie and Kheirandish arrested was himself arrested and charged as an accomplice and later released on $6,250 bail.
Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson don’t have anything on these folks.
Kiss lands Iranian actress and director in court. Parisa Hafezi, Reuters, October 3, 2002.
In the United States, stories about computers and women typically revolve around how the male-dominated computer culture devalues women’s unique way of knowing. But in Iran, women are turning to Internet web logs to talk openly about topics that otherwise might get a woman in trouble in that conservative Islamic country.
Weblogging in Iran apparently took off after Iranian journalist Hossein Derkhshan wrote a simple guide in Persian about how to create a weblog. Seven months later, there are more than 1,200 Persian weblogs according to the BBC, with many written by women.
The women post anonymously and can talk freely about sex and other topics without the fears of violating some cultural taboo. One female weblogger told The BBC,
Womnen in Iran cannot speak out frankly because of our Eastern culture and there are some taboos just for women, such as talking about sex or the right to choose your partner. I have the opportunity to talk about the things and share my experiences with others.
At least someone appreciates oppressive patriarchal technology.
Web gives a voice to Iranian women. Alfred Hermida, The BBC, June 17, 2002.
After the Iranian revolution in 1979 and the subsequent war with Iraq, Iran’s radical Islamic regime explicitly sought an increase in the population of Iran and succeeded too well. In the decade from 1976 to 1986, the population if Iran increased by 50 percent.
At that rate of growth, Iran’s population would have reached 108 million by 2006. But, in fact, through a variety of measures, Iran has managed to check its population growth with the population projected to only reach 71 million in 2006.
How did it achieve this rapid decline in growth? Through a combination of methods.
In 1993, it sensibly dropped certain maternity benefits for couples who had more than three children. According to the BBC, Iran is believed to be the only country in the world where men and women are required to attend classes about contraception before they can obtain a marriage license.
In addition, Iran has made both condoms and contraceptive pills widely available. Contraceptive pills are available at pharmacies across Iran, and the government gives away condoms at health clinics around the country.
The upshot is that Iran has achieved a reduction in its birth rate in 10 years that it took developed countries 40 years to reach.
Condoms help check Iran birth rate. Jim Muir, The BBC, April 24, 2002.
A recent conference on the status of the Caspian Sea area highlighted the ongoing lack of development due to corruption and a lack of any stable structure determining who has development rights over the area.
Prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, control of the Caspian Sea was divided between Iran and the USSR. Currently five nations — Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan — claim rights over the sea, though so far the five nations have been unable to come to an agreement over the sharing of those rights.
That has left a lot of confusion that has deterred investment in the region. As U.S. envoy Steven Mann told the conference, “Successful development of the Caspian basin is not something we can consider inevitable.” That is true especially when the problem with corruption in the former Soviet republics is taken into account.
So what should be one of the wealthiest regions of the world, thanks to enormous untapped oil reserves, is nowhere near its potential due to a lack of a predictable legal structure.
Corruption ‘deters Caspian investors’. The BBC, February 26, 2002.