The recent speech by Ali Khamenei
[mentioned today only in one other place
] seems reason for serious concern about Iran’s reaction to the embargo. Khamenei is suggesting that they are in the last days, when the twelfth Imam is supposed to return and usher in the Final Judgment. The speech seems to be an attempt to prepare the Iranian people for war.
This kind of vision about the times was clearly implied in the language of Ruhollah Khomeini when he was calling for a movement against the Shah in 1979. And Khomeini himself was sometimes spoken of (especially by his students) as “the Imam”, a term that in that context vaguely implied that he was the long awaited Mahdi/12th Imam. The ambiguity was deliberate.
Khamenei’s speech is a sign of a serious attempt to muster the Iranian people for a sacrificial war comparable to that Iran was forced to fight the army of Saddam Hussein in the 1980s. So it is reason to worry. Iran is being seriously boxed in, and so the regime could take measures that could lead the country and the region into war.
What I wonder is how this rhetoric can sell in today’s Iran. Khameini well knows how unpopular he and his clerical administration is. He is not crazy, and this administration is much more savvy than we sometimes take them to be.
We can all regard the many signs of instability and hatred in the world, of which this is one, as reason to hope that the world leaders will demonstrate restraint and wisdom.
Below is a statement I received today broadly distributed from Dr. … , a former official of the the Iranian government under the “progressive” Prime Minister Muhammad Khatami. Dr. … is notable for his efforts to create relations between Muslim and Christian theologians through an institute which he founded and directs in Tehran. He is also notable for his involvement in the demonstrations against the government of Iran during the 2009 demonstrations, and for the abuse he clearly suffered when he was imprisoned for it. He went into prison a portly short man and came out many months later evidently 100 pounds lighter. The time spent in custody and the lost weight clearly discounted the statements of loyalty he made when he was finally released. Before his ordeal he paid a visit to Washington University in St Louis as well as to Covenant Seminary, whose faculty had visited him in Tehran some months before, so he has friends here who have followed his career and taken note of the abuse he has evidently suffered at the hands of his own government, dominated as it is by a kabal of less progressive Shiite theologians.
Now he is resurfacing as the head of his Institute and making a statement of great interest because it seems to depart from the usual rhetoric of the Islamic Republic. Here, in his statement of congratulations to Christians in their time of celebration, is a condemnation of dictatorship and even a call for the Islamic regimes of the world to allow non-Muslims to practice their faiths.
The Institute … is honored to compliment New Year to you and your colleagues. Coincidence of New Year and birthday of Christ shows that religion is the most powerful factor in human life, which has been abused either it is able to solve huge problems of humanity. so that we invite all religions to note common subjects and make dialogue about them, to solve man’s problems also to achieve the spirituality. The biggest event of world in the last year, was fall of dictators in Muslim’s countries. Spirit of the struggle against dictatorship was Islam-willing and once again it confirmed the importance of religion in human life. we, in our turn, request of new leaders and authorities in Islamic countries to accept actual share of other religions and their faithfuls, grant them their full rights of citizenship so that all religions will be able to expand intellectuality and theism in the world, to replace peace instead of current violence. Accept good wishes of my colleagues and me, in the Institute … for New Year. [signed] … [from] Iran- Tehran
Dr … is proposing that the “new leaders and authorities in Islamic countries accept … other religions and their faithfuls [followings], [and] grant them their full rights of citizenship ….” This plea for tolerance of other religious groups can hardly be other than a challenge to his own government, which famously cannot bear dissent or unauthorized religious practice. Buried in his congratulations to those of us in the Western world — I’m sure it went out to his whole address list — is a veiled critique of his own political context, one that, as he says, has “abused” religion. I hope he can be safe in such a place; Der … knows by experience how painful it can be to those who embarrass a dictatorial regime.
The Iranians have discovered another large gas field — they claim 1.4 trillion cubic meters of reserves — in their Caspian Sea waters. They already have the largest combination of oil and gas reserves in the world. The significance of their discovery will lie in what they can make of it.
In any case, the discovery underlies the special difficulties the western world, especially the United States, of course, has in dealing with the Iranian government. Even though roguish in policy it claims sovereignty over one of the most richly endowed territories on the earth.
Here is the TehranTimes report:
Iran envisages $50b investment to explore oil, gas fields in Caspian Sea
Iranian oil ministry has envisaged investing up to $50 billion to explore oil and gas fields in the Caspian Sea, the Mehr news agency quoted a member of parliament as saying on Friday. “In a recent meeting with the oil minister, he elaborately explained on plans to explore oil and gas fields in the Caspian Sea,” Ali-Asghar Yousefnejad stated. Iran announced on December 11 it has discovered a large gas field in the Caspian Sea with at least 50 trillion cubic feet (some 1.4 trillion cubic meters) of reserves.
The field, in waters 700 meters deep, lies wholly within Iran’s territorial waters, Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi explained. He added excluding this new discovery Iran has 11 trillion cubic meters of proven gas reserves in the Caspian Sea.
[For more, click on the title above.]
Dr. Robert Canfield Professor of Anthropology, Washington University in St. Louis