“Mohammed — in pictures”

That is the title of this piece by Barnaby Rogerson in the Spectator. There are three beautiful pieces of medieval art (two Persian and one Turkish), and those alone are worth the price of the click. There is, of course, a short essay explaining why there is now so much resistance to depicting Mohammed in art (of both the high and low brow variety). Check it out:

Whatever the heritage of their medieval past, Sunni Islam — in the Arab-speaking Middle East — had decisively turned its back on depictions of the Prophet well before the 18th-century emergence of Wahhabism. Once again there are no definite answers. It may have been a gut reaction to the magnificent art produced by their Iranian Shiite rivals but it also reflects a very real fear that Mohammed was slowly being turned into a demi-god and that in the process his actual prophetic message would be ignored. This was especially true in the far eastern frontiers of Islam, such as India and Indonesia (numerically the two largest Muslim nations in the world) with their ancient syncretic traditions. So the attack on imagery can also be seen to have a constructive element embedded within it, concentrating all attention on the text of the Koran and reinforcing the Arab nature of that revelation.

Take this as you will. My instinct is to suspect “the Arab nature of that revelation” as the initial reason for this change in Islamic aesthetics. That is to say, I suspect that a medieval notion of Arab chauvinism is responsible for the shift.

Undercover Occupants

[Editor’s note: the following is a short essay by Payam Ghorbanian. Payam was born in Tehran, Iran. He got his bachelor of science in Engineering from Zanjan University in Zanjan, Iran. He has been participating in liberal political activities and he was involved with some think tanks in Iran. He is doing research in the field of international relations and Iran’s foreign policy as an independent activist. He is now living in San Jose, California.

I am excited to post his thoughts because of their potential as a conduit for intercultural dialogue and exchange. I have left his essay largely intact, but did break up some of his longer paragraphs for clarity’s sake. Thanks to Payam for taking the time to write this.]

One of the worst Persian attitudes, which really makes me upset, is that we really like make everyone feel pleased and at the same time we are trying to make our friends, our families member, and finally ourselves feel proud. This seems to be just wasting of time and even sometime more than wasting. It really holds us back from being flexible and being more focused just on our life.

The fatal mistake in terms of power games is taking one step back because of pacifying your enemies. I remember these fatal mistakes occurred during Mr. Khatami presidency (1997 – 2005) and it seems that it is going to happen again. During that time reformists tried to please everyone. Liberals, communists, and extremists could fit in themselves in what they portrayed for future of Iran. The goal of “let’s get together” is just useful for the specific action and in a limited time not for unstable country like Iran. We are not taking the issues for the country like Switzerland. In fact, you cannot just chant when your enemies are ready to die for their sinister goals.

Mr. Rohani and his consultants during last month just tried to convince the middle class people that they are so preoccupied about what he has promised during his presidency campaign.  Rohani also said: “… I have never forgotten what I had said to my people but you should understand; there would be a prolonged way with unforeseen obstacles that we have to pass it through together…”. However, this is not the way that people of Iran are thinking and believing at this time. The fact is that the imprisonment of leaders of green movement has been lasting up until now and there are still so many political prisoners in prison. In fact the pace of executions is still through the roof and opposition can be called easily sedition.

All of these issues just mean that the new government and the new goals of basis changes have not been acknowledged by the powerful organizations that live in the parallel world of responsibility. These groups of extremists can take any action whenever they want without taking any obligation and no one has the authority to prosecute them. They are not supposed to be questioned and on the other hand, no one knows who they really are. I call them “Undercover Occupants” which means obviously they are connected to somewhere but where exactly this department of power is remains the question that no one has the answer of. There are always lots of rumors which they are the members of Basij militia or some religious departments but it is still in denial.

Four years age, in 2008, during the rebellious days of Tehran, these undercover occupants attacked The University of Tehran. So many students were injured and finally the supreme leader commanded the “Supreme National Security Council” to get involved and back them off. They also tried to condemn in public during the chairman of Islamic parliament (Ali Larijani) speech. In fact Ali Larijani is so close to the supreme leader! These undercover occupants were also involved in occupation of the embassy of the Great Britain in Tehran, which caused the big collapse of foreign policy for Iran. I can count thousands of these nonsense and non-logical movements which sometimes caused the supreme leader’s reactions. Occupants recently confronted president Rohani and actually went up against him after he got back home from New York. They criticized him that he was not authorized to talk to president Obama and that he put country down.

They are just like the people who think the mission of possessing of sacred goal is on their shoulders, no matter what would be the responsibility. When they think there is a threat they just interfere. I heard some of them are the presidents of the industries who occupied the manufacturing companies of Iran after the revolution and also the business men who could take advantage of governmental economic rent during these 35 years; therefore, they should be concerned about their positions when the wind of change flows.The undercover occupant groups really remind me of the Nomenklatura category inside the Soviet Union

Obviously President Rohani has decided to discard his goals about his domestic policy for a while until the nuclear issue and sanctions are still on the table. He really thinks being triumphant in talks between Iran and 5+1 can help him precede his domestic policy inside the country. However and on the flip side, the extremist members of the Islamic Parliaments and some members of the Revolutionary Guard put their total vigor to not let him proceed. The upcoming parliament’s election and economical situations will be so important for the players of this poker table. The supreme leader has not taken a side yet which is so meaningful in Islamic Republic of Iran. As I have heard, during this year the economic situations in Iran are getting better. The hope of better future has still long way to be cultivated but people are still hopeful to upcoming talks. These are all proofs that show us having better relations with powerful countries will help you to have better chances. We are not living in the separate worlds and our planet is so combined that being isolated just deprives you not anyone else.

Last month, foreign ministers of European countries and especially Mrs. Ashton had several meetings with foreign minister Zarif. Mrs. Ashton recently went to Iran and talked in person with Mr. Rohani. She had also a meeting with some political prisoners and their family members, which dragged the undercover occupants to the front of the Austria Embassy where that meeting had occurred. They were claiming who let her to talk to the “Fitna” followers, the name which they have been using for naming oppositions in Iran during election in 2008. After while the extremists in parliaments called up Mr. Zarif and the Minister of Intelligence and Security. They asked the same question that undercover occupants had asked before.

One of the recent issues which might partially help the extremists inside Iran for improving their positions is the issue of Ukraine. The commander of IAF (Iranian Armed Forces), Hassan Firuzabadi, clearly shows respect to what Russia has done inside the Ukraine and Crimea. He also said the vandals just pulled off the coup and it was not the process of legitimate transactional and transformational leadership. Now they believe the most newest powerful country just pops up and subsequently the consolidation of 5+1 is fragile right now so there is no need for retreating at this time which I think it could be somehow the fact that the United States and the NATO don’t want to respond literally to the Russia and president Putin in order to force them back. Finally the internal battle inside Iran would go on and this battle would demonstrate the balance of political groups, the supreme leader and the Revolutionary guard. It could be one of the effective occurrence for Iranians.