November 27, 2007

On the history of Hijab/Hijab Crackdowns in Iran

A friend of mine asked of some details of Hijab story in Iran. This post was developed as an answer to that question.


Many decades ago, when the first Shah of Pahlavi Dynasty was in power, a ‘Compulsory De-veiling’ was put on the official cultural agenda. That Shah made it an obligatory duty for every woman to leave Chador (Iranians traditional Islamic Hijab) aside and ‘become modern woman’. That was not a successful strategy: the very traditional society of then Iran resisted it.

The second Pahlavi (the famous Shah you have heard of, who was a strong ally of US and suffered the Islamic Revolution) made a better choice: step by step cultural changes, through showing a new modern model of life which included many symbols of American Dream. Cinema and other propaganda tools helped that thing happen quicker. It was an effective strategy, and during a period of about 2 decades, majority of people either gave up on strict traditions or at least got used to a new model of life which tolerated those who did not follow strict Islamic codes. It doesn’t mean, however, that traditionalists and fanatics were rooted out: they did exist, but enjoyed almost no power. It is still kind of a surprise to me to see how many un-veiled women participated in those pre-revolution demonstrations against Shah.

After the Islamic revolution overthrew Shah Regime, a wave of Islamization raged the country. A Revolution, even the Iranian Revolution which succeeded with not so much slaughter and murder, is a chaos in the first place: Revolution tries to restructure the whole social order, and therefore causes a transient situation to happen in which time there might be a temporary dominant order shaped by revolutionary caused or else. Whatever the origins of that revolution were, during the final stages of Shah Regime and early stages of post-revolution acts, it turned into an Islamic one. The masses expected Islam to bring a full-scale justice to their society, and Islamic Values happened to play the dominant role in that period of time.

But I do strongly believe that the same way first Pahlavi failed to force people to give up on Islamic Values, Islamic Regime also failed to convince people to accept strict Islamic Values. With regards to those un-veiled women who demonstrated against Shah, the revolution didn’t convince them to embrace Islamic Codes; it just forced them to do so. And in the case of social changes, force just makes a petty transient change, if any.

When Saddam attacked Iran, officials had to urge people to go to fronts (you know, ‘human waves’ were the most effective weapon Iran had against Iraq’s modern army), and deploying religious intentions was the best way to do so: some Islamic values such as martyrdom and sacrifice were exalted. What supplemented this official agenda was the fact that Iranians were not ready to treat Saddam’s army the same way the French treated Germans. Patriotism and Islamization got correlated. Then, a second wave of Islamization happened to intensify the first (originally revolutionary) wave.

End of that war and the death of Ayatollah Khomeini (the very charismatic leader of revolution) coincided. Hashemi Rafsanjani became the president and a wave of Liberalization happened in the name of Reconstruction. Take a look at my other weblog post: “Post-war presidents of Iran”. 8 years of liberalization, followed by 8 years of political reformism, and then the surprising election of Ahmadinejad happened to influence all equations.

In that 16-years-period of Liberalization and Political Reformism, some new freedoms were awarded to people. Those freedoms were more culturally than politically, and Hijab turned into a symbol of change. Some people, especially some youth, tried not to obey Strict Hijab Codes: long coats women sometimes wear in Iran instead of Chador got smaller and smaller, tighter and tighter, and some new colors replaced the black and dark colors which traditional and religious women usually prefer to use. Those who do not wear a complete Hijab are called Bad-Hijab.

But, as pointed above, it didn’t mean that traditionalists and fanatics didn’t have any share of Iranian society. Some wild guesses (from the statistics obtained in different elections) might suggest that roughly 10% of people are loyal to traditional and strict values. And their representatives and political parties dedicated to fanatics enjoy a much bigger share of political power in Iran. Those liberal-minded officials, who preferred a more liberal society, had to sometimes take some actions to satisfy these fanatic groups. As the ‘fashion’ & ‘leaving Hijab aside’ turned into symbols of cultural change (especially within youth), seasonal Hijab crackdowns (forcing people, especially girls, to follow stricter codes) turned into something usual. These crackdowns are:
(1) Seasonal: they happen in spring and summer, when girls want to adjust their clothing to hot weather!
(2) Limited to big cities.
(3) Not so harsh: such actions usually include just oral instruction, and in some cases temporary detentions. When somebody is arrested, a close kin (father, etc.) should go to police station and the person as well as that kin should sign a paper which says they would never violate regulations anymore.
(4) Random: these crackdowns are not continuous and do not cover all parts of the city in the same time. Police officers usually choose few locations to run the action, for example some crowded squares or malls, randomly choose some bad-Hijab people and do it.

In some extreme cases, if the arrested person violently resists officers or is too-bad-Hijab, they could be introduced to courts. But the spokesman of Iran’s Judiciary System publicly announced that there are no laws requiring any punishment for bad-Hijab people who are not too-bad-dressed.

Ahmadinejad unexpectedly assumed about two years ago. Though masses generally voted in his favor seeking financial benefits and cutting the perceived corrupt hands which supposedly exploit country’s resources, his election helped fanatics get the upper hand (albeit not the final say). The cultural consequences of his election to some extent appeared in web-filtering, cinema and dailies’ censorship and a harder Hijab Crackdown. But new round of crackdowns was just a bit harder than previous experiences, not so much. I saw some clips published on web about a woman with blood all over her face who was injured by some police officers. Yes, that is true, but I think it was not done deliberately.

Generally, I think that officials are well aware that in current situation, with regards to foreign pressures as well as internal problems (including high rate of unemployment and inflation, which grew worse during past years despite the highest oil revenues of whole history), any harsh pressing in this case might cause full scale chaos, which might threaten the very existence of Islamic Republic regime.

I invite you to visit this report... such things are still ongoing behind (and even sometimes in front of) the scene.
The children of the revolution: Young Iranians are pushing for change

November 21, 2007

Experimental Sciences and the Existence of God

Note: some philosophical debates included here.

Who is God’ was a post in MEY, of that author, Nissim, who is trying to make a practical use of Common Sense in order to make the world a bit better. As usual, this big phenomenon called God, stimulated many people to comment on the subject, both Atheists and Theists... and again I failed to keep myself from the discussion.

In such debates, it is very common for people to ask/wonder if there is a ‘Proof’ for the existence of God. Honestly, I don’t know if there is such a flawless proof. But, besides my obsession about Incompleteness Theorem of Kurt Gödel (footnote), I want to share another point here: Experimental Sciences are inherently unable to prove anything.

When a guess about the function of an observable phenomenon happens to explain it better than other guesses, it turns into a theory. But this theory (a) neither ensures prediction of future experiences, and (b) nor is able to prove that it is the best possible guess. The latter (b) means that probably we may find out later that this theory has already failed to cover some aspects of past occurrences neglected in out first assessment of the phenomenon and the guess related to it. And the former (a) translates into the fact that we can never gather all the causes which might influence phenomenon.

Then, what do Experimental Sciences do? They provide evidences for us to conclude what is more likely to be true. Since examples usually make a better sense, let me say that: using all those Mechanic Theories, some engineers fabricate an airplane and say: “as we know, this device is more likely to fly if guided in a proper way, and will land safely if directed by an experienced pilot. But for sure, nobody has ever guaranteed that it would work, for there are lots of already unknown causes which might affect the behavior of this device and let it fail.” This statement is obviously from a deterministic point of view, from that point which believes every effect has a cause. Those who do not believe in causality as a universal rule, they have a much harder time speaking about the probability of something, for probability is only valid when causality is considered a rule.

One might argue: “yeah, one day we may be able to conclude all possible causes, and that day, we may prove Experimental Theories: Since we know all the possible causes, we may exactly predict the next stage or behavior of every conceivable phenomenon, and that is called Proof.” But an answer is that if some possible causes decide not to reveal themselves to us (whatever the reason), we can never conclude them. Therefore they are able to return/appear at any given time, influence current phenomena and consequently theories, and refute them.

Finally, seeking for an Experimental Proof for anything (including the existence of God)... that is called Mission Impossible.

Footnote: Incompleteness Theorem of Kurt Gödel states that in every system of logics, there is at least one true statement which will never be proved; also, there is at least one false statement, which may never be refuted.

November 20, 2007

God, Modern Science and our understanding

Another debate happened about God, in which Omid, in order to show our weakness in understanding the God's nature, referenced to a famous example: Box example.
  • Imagine you are in a box. You want to believe there is something outside the box. You do believe it... But all your conclusions and theories are based off what you know, and all of what you know is based on your experiences in the box. So the tools you use to quantify something outside the box are inherently futile.

Appatently, the above comment has something to do with science... and here is my comment to that of Omid:

  • I enjoy the way you get into discussion; it bears an evidence of your academic thinking. About your comment: with regards to the famous example of Box, you are to an extent true and to another extent wrong.Firstly, you are right. Modern science, following its very essence which takes into account just observable phenomena, has nothing to do with those possible objects which may do exist outside of Box. Pay attention that ‘observable’ is equal to ‘measurable’ in this sense, and when a thing is not measurable, that is out of the league of practical sciences. ‘Pain’ is a good example: very observable, but not subject to a quality measurement. (Reference: “Developing Nursing Knowledge: Philosophical Traditions and Influences” by Beth Rodgers => Chapter 5)Secondly: you are wrong. Before going a step further, pay attention to the fact that there are 2 general grounds of results derived from science: Synthetic and Analytic. Without getting into the complicated glossary of philosophers, let’s suppose that some of these results are based on experience and some of them are not based on experience.About that part of the results which are based on our experience, there is an extensive debate that whether they do apply to objects outside of the Box or not. Following the skepticism of Hume (which reduces Causality to a daily habit, not a rule; etc.) leads to an even worse condition: we may not apply these results to the objects inside of the Box.For those results which are not based on experience and do not bear any limitation, they will apply to any object, whether inside of the Box or outside of it. For an example, check the Incompleteness Theorem of Kurt Gödel.Now, a very important question arises: is modern science capable of setting some limitations on the nature of God? Or, on the other hand, on our understanding of God? That’s the mark, try to hit it!

November 12, 2007

Ahmadinejad made a new statement/mistake

In the second round of his provincial visits, Ahmadinejad met the people of Southern Khorasan, East of Iran, and as his usual manner, preached them about the advent of Imam Mahdi, Savior of Shiite tradition. This time, as his usual manner (again), he made a great mistake in choosing the proper words to elaborate what was in his mind. He said:
“The scene is fully set to greet that glorious event; a day in which all the prophets, martyrs and good men will come and help [the savior]. Some people might assume these things just a joke; that is because there is no [real] belief in their hearts: They are modern Satanists and idolaters. They pretend to be intellectuals, but their understanding of the world is less than that of a GOAT.”

Source (for exact words): Farsnews

The End.

November 9, 2007

Post-war Presidents of Iran

You may directly go to the Part II of this post, if you are not eager/patient enough to read some details of Iran’s contemporary politics.

Part I: The Story

Few months after Ayatollah Khomeini, late founder of Iranian Revolution, consented to UN Security Council Resolution 598 (which ended Iran-Iraq war), he passed away out of severe illness. Since many prominent figures of Iran’s revolution got assassinated by opposition groups in the early periods of establishment of Islamic Republic, and some other got marginalized during post-revolution events prior to the death of Ayatollah Khomeini, Ayatollah Khamenei (then president of Iran) and Ayatollah Rafsanjani (then parliament speaker of Iran) were the most important active political actors of then Iran. Ayatollah Khamenei was assigned to the leadership of Iran, and Ayatollah Rafsanjani got chosen as president for a 4-years-period. No rivals, no real competition.

Rafsanjani became the president of post-war Iran. He began reconstruction, and after 4 years, people chose him again with a fair vote. Pragmatism was the central part of his general strategy and approach, and technocrats got significant positions in his administration. Rebuilding infrastructures was his number one target, and ‘Dam Building’ turned to the symbol of reconstruction. In the case of cultural and political matters, he usually tried compromise. Limiting the power of extremists was also a part of his agenda, though due to post-war conditions he was not much successful in this case.

According to Iran’s constitution, one is allowed to claim presidency no more than two consecutive terms. Then, after his 2nd term of presidency, a real competition happened. The candidate of so-called traditional parties [i.e. those parties which were closer and more loyal to original values of revolution and the example set by Ayatollah Khomeini], who was believed to be the definite winner, lost the election to reformist candidate.

Khatami, reformist candidate, gathered 20 million and 22 million votes in his 1st and 2nd presidential elections respectively, which meant a significant win. His main promises in either campaign were defending the freedom of speech, establishing rule of law, spreading the influence of people’s vote in different parts of the system, protecting individual freedoms, etc. Many intellectuals believed that Khatami was aimed at helping Iranian society get closer to international community, giving up on some radical slogans which did much harm to the cause of Iran. The core ideology of reformist ideologues was that political reforms constitute the basis of any further reform, either economic or cultural or else.

After Khatami finished his 2 terms of presidency, an exciting competition happened. Many candidates participated, including:
- Ayatollah Hashemi (ex-president), with his well-known resume, also with some modifications in his behavior and slogans supposed to be necessary to attract the youth.
- Dr. Moein, reformist candidate and a key member of Khatami administration, believed to be more decisive and more liberal as a pro-reform actor (compared with Khatami).
- Ayatollah Karrubi, the ex-reformist parliament speaker, known to ordinary people for his famous slogan during presidential campaigns (assigning 50$ monthly to every Iranian, if he could win), and known to intellectuals for his ability to deal with Islamic Regime as a pro-reform actor (usually including compromise).
- Some candidates of so-called traditional parties, including Dr. Ahmadinejad as the most fanatic one.

As expected, none of the candidates could gather more than 50% of votes, extending elections to second round. Ayatollah Hashemi and Dr. Ahmadinejad went to the next round. For the second round, reformists officially supported Ayatollah Hashemi (in spite of all the criticisms they had previously expressed about him) to defeat Ahmadinejad. By the way Hashemi meant ‘lesser of two evils’ to some reformists, and ‘father or even caretaker of reformist movement’ to some other reformists. In an astonishing event, Ahmadinejad got around 13 million votes and Hashemi finished with less than 10 million votes.

Ahmadinejad had promises mainly focused on financial subjects, cutting dirty & corrupt hands which exploit national resources, and bringing the revenues of oil to the (dinner) table of people. He repeatedly stressed out that ‘original revolutionary values must be revived’. In the visits he paid to different provinces before elections, he used to meet war casualties [some of them with sever condition, for example those who were affected by chemical weapons, still live in special wards] as well as graves of the martyrs of Iran-Iraq war. Wearing Chefyeh [i.e. an originally Arabian cloth, similar to a scarf, which people use to cover head and neck in summer in southern provinces of Iran; for the same reason, Iranian soldiers extensively used it during war. After 8 years of Iran-Iraq war, Chefyeh turned into an important symbol of those who had sympathy with the values of war, especially martyrdom] was a straightforward message to all. Whatever the rational of his election, Ahmadinejad marked a significant breakthrough for fanatic supporters of (original values of) revolution.

Part II: Moral Result of Story

Choosing pragmatism/technocracy (Hashemi), political reformism (Khatami) and finally revolutionary extremism (Ahmadinejad)... does it show a drastic change in the way Iranians reason? Not necessarily. I think a simple theory might explain the whole event (at least to an extent): people, in lack of real political parties, resort to every possible option just to make an improvement in their day-to-day life. Note that Iranians don’t care what reformism or extremism might mean to the rest of the world. Unfortunately, they also pay no attention to the by-products of each option [i.e., given that an option makes life better is come ways, other outcomes of it might make life worse in other ways]. This is the first logical conclusion of the whole story. We may even be able to extend this theory to the Revolution itself.

Second logical conclusion might be that Iranians have not found out what is in the root of their problems. In the process of election, people face many important questions, including ‘Is a political reform required to make any further improvement’. Choosing Khatami means ‘yes’, choosing Ahmadinejad means ‘no’, and changing the mind from this to that means ‘I don’t know’.

The third logical conclusion in which I strongly believe is that before establishing full-scale democratic infrastructures (including real political parties) which can guide and manage the political life of the society, granting free-election right to the people might come to be the worst nightmare of the country.

November 6, 2007

New Scholarships awarded by IRI

For Iranian Graduates who hold a bachelor or master degree:
As you well know, Ministry of Science, Research and Technology is to choose new candidates for scholarships this department awards every year to some of the outstanding students. As an example set by the previous administrations of Hashemi and Khatami, the ministry is (said) to put the name of some figures closer to the ruling party in the final list of qualified candidates.
Despite the fact that there may be enough evidence approving of the whole story, high ranking officials in the ministry reject such rumors and claim that ‘all those interested may submit their CV through ministry’s website’ and ‘political matters may never affect the result’.
As said above, this is not something unique to the current president, and the story may go back even to the Shah regime, though some people strongly doubt it and claim that scholarships in that period of time were more due to scientific eligibility than this time.
But I strongly urge everybody to submit their CV and also post anything new they know to reveal if the officials are not sincere in their claim.
Do not laugh please; you might think that this would be a complete waste of time, but remember that the history will be based on documents, god willing albeit!

November 2, 2007

Halal Food

This post's story is about Revolutionary Guards of Iran. If you are not patient enough to get the point of this post through step by step introduction I set here, you may go directly to part (iv).
Today, Halal Food (i.e. foods or drinks allowed to be used by Muslims) is to an extent a well known term which belongs to Muslim tradition and means to them what Kosher means to Jews. According to the Islamic jurisprudence, meat obtained from some certain animals is not Halal (including dog, pig, predators, rabbit, etc.). Also alcoholic drinks are not Halal. ‘Not Halal’ in Muslim glossary is equal to ‘Haram’ (i.e. Illegal foods and drinks). Any food which comes into contact with these Haram things would be Haram.
For meat, there are some additional conditions which should be met in order to make the obtained food Halal. For example, Fish is only Halal if it dies out of water. Also a person who kills a Halal animal (like cow, camel, etc.) should follow some certain guidelines: the animal should be killed in the name of God, head of the animal should be directed toward Mecca, etc. No need to mention that water, vegetables (most of them) and things of this kind are considered Halal. Note that if a person is likely to die out of hanger, he may use any kind of food and nothing is forbidden to him anymore.
In addition to Halal and Haram, there are three other kinds of foods: Makruh (i.e. you would better avoid this type of food, though it is not Haram. For example: meat derived from donkey), Mustahab (i.e. you would better use this type of foods, though it is not compulsory. For example: use a little salt before and/or after main dish).
Wait a minute! For sure, I’m not going to describe the details of such Islamic laws in this post. There is another thing I prefer to mention here.
As said above, there are four types (or classes) of foods with regards to their origin and/or the way they are processed. This is a very physical approach to food, and as you well know, religions usually consist of metaphysical features as well as their physical aspects. And Islam is not an exception to this rule. Islam invites people to pay attention to the soul of food as well as its body (i.e. ingredients). From the point of Islam, foods with regards to their souls are also categorized in four classes: Mustahab (encouraged), Halal (normal), Makruh (discouraged) and finally Haram (forbidden).
There are many interesting examples in this field. For example, when a cow’s milk is only enough to feed its calf, people are discouraged to use its milk.
Sometimes the money (which pays for food) matters, not the food itself. Therefore a food might be physically Halal, but spiritually forbidden because the money used to buy this food was Haram (like whatever things obtained through gambling or usury). Here, income plays an important role, and when we speak of income and money, we must refer to the Economic Policy of Islam.
Though some elements of Islam’s economic policy (for example: forbidding usury and gambling) are well-defined/well-known, its general approach to Economics is somehow vague. Almost every Muslim scholar has his own understanding of the subject. Ayatollah Shahroudi, head of Iran’s judiciary system, says that Islam believes in a Free Market strategy and doesn’t allow government to interfere in market’s internal and inherent mechanisms. Albeit there are some exceptions to this general rule, though these exceptions are very rare. An example of these exceptions is hoarding food in the time of famine. In this case, government might use force (even sword/gun) to feed the people.
According to the Muslim Tradition, a case which makes a food spiritually discouraged is when people are reduced to pay something and food is obtained from that money. An example of this case might be this: somebody is in need of something you have, and you require him to pay double. Ayatollah Memar Montazerin, a popular local clergy in Isfahan (usually those clergies not connected to regime are still much popular in society), adds another example: most of the municipalities’ income is of this kind (people go to get permission to rebuild their homes, and municipality usually requires them to pay a fair amount of money).
Few days ago, I met an old friend and he told me a story which came to me as a surprise. He said:

  • There is a mosque in our neighbor. There is a charity in that mosque and I work there voluntarily few hours each week. We gather donations (either money or food) and help poor neighboring families. It was about 3 years ago that we reorganized the whole office and bought a computer to make the most of our activities.
    As you well know, there is a Bassij [i.e. a Militia supervised and supported by Revolutionary Guards] center in every mosque. One year ago, Revolutionary Guard Office of Isfahan announced that it would offer every Bassij center a new modern printer, and they did so. Then, the Bassij office of our mosque gave us that printer they had received: we got a brand new printer, though it was not of a famous trademark.
    After 9 months or so, it got broken. There are three or four centers in Isfahan which are dedicated to repairing printers, and we took the printer to one of them. Manager of the center looked at the printer and laughed. We asked why he laughed, and he said: “few months ago, a cargo of electronic devices (including printers and else) was to be smuggled to Iran [i.e. the owner wanted to import them without paying obligatory tax and duty. Iran is very decisive against smugglers]. Naval forces of Revolutionary Guards found the cargo and confiscated it, then distributed the devices in the country, between their local offices and also between some charities! Your printer’s trademark shows that it was a part of that cargo!”

Whatever the reason (even fighting smugglers), this behavior is not Halal. This kind of ‘income’ for a country is at least discouraged, if not forbidden. And, it will spiritually damage the so-called religious regime, I think.