Iran says Obama administration’s removal of group from US terror list shows ‘double standards’

Iran condemned on Saturday the Obama administration for taking an Iranian militant group formerly allied with Saddam Hussein off the U.S. terrorism list, saying it shows Washington’s “double standards.”

The Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), which began as a guerrilla movement fighting Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, helped overthrow the monarch in 1979 then quickly fell out with the Islamic Republic’s first leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. It fought in the 1980s alongside Saddam’s forces in the eight-year Iran-Iraq war but disarmed after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The State Department delisted the group on Friday, meaning that any assets the MEK has in the United States are unblocked and Americans can do business with the organization. On Saturday, at their Paris headquarters, MEK members gathered to celebrate, tossing flower petals and displaying photos of members killed in the past 15 years.

The group claims it is seeking regime change through peaceful means, aiming to replace Tehran’s clerical system with a secular government.

However, a senior State Department official suggested that removing MEK from the U.S. terrorist list does not translate into a shared common front against the Islamic Republic.

The MEK was removed from the European Union’s terrorist list in 2009.

Restrictions on Religion Are Tightening, Study Finds

Government restrictions on religion around the world were highest in the Middle East and North Africa, particularly in the period before the Arab Spring uprisings, a new study has found, underscoring a factor that fueled hostilities in the region and led to the rise of political Islam after the revolts.

The study, by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, said that in 2010 government restrictions on religion were “high or very high” in most of the Arab Spring countries, where suppression of Islamist movements contributed to the uprisings and spurred subsequent incursions of Islamists into political power.

Over all, the study found a worldwide rise in religious restrictions. It measured two basic yardsticks: a government restrictions index, and a social hostilities index. Government restrictions include moves by authorities to ban faiths and conversions, and to limit preaching. Social hostilities encompass mob violence and “religion-related intimidation or abuse,” such as harassment over attire.

The study found 15 countries with very high levels of social hostilities in 2010, up from 10 in 2007, with the new additions being Egypt, Nigeria, the Palestinian territories, Russia and Yemen. It noted that “in Nigeria, violence between Christian and Muslim communities, including a series of deadly attacks, escalated throughout the period.”

Separately on Thursday, United Nations human rights investigators in Geneva said that more than 300 Christians had been arrested since mid-2010 in Iran, where, they said, churches operate in a “climate of fear.” Iran is given a score of “very high” on Pew’s Government Restrictions Index.

The Pew study found that restrictions also increased in Europe, like the Swiss ban on construction of minarets, and in the United States, noting a rising number of instances in which people were prevented from wearing clothing or beards, and problems in building places of worship.

Fewest Numbers of Americans Concerned about Terrorism since 9/11

Findings from the 2012 Chicago Council Survey of American Public Opinion

September 10, 2012 WASHINGTON, D.C. – Fewer Americans are concerned about international terrorism as a “critical” threat to the United States than at any point since September 11, 2001, according to the 2012 Chicago Council Survey released today. While a majority is still worried, the intensity of concern about terrorism has steadily declined. At the same time, most Americans do not credit the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan with reducing the threat.

The survey report, Foreign Policy in the New Millennium, from The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, will be discussed by a panel of experts hosted by the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars and NPR as part of The National Conversation series. For more information, download the reportwatch a live webcast of the event starting at 12:30 p.m. EST, and follow @ChicagoCouncil and @TheWilsonCenter for live updates.

While Americans consider the Middle East as the greatest source of future threats, they are gradually shifting their foreign policy focus towards Asia and a rising China, viewed as important more for their economic dynamism than as a potential threat. For the first time since the Council first asked the question in 1994, a majority of Americans (52%) see Asia as more important to the United States than Europe (47%).

The 2012 Chicago Council Survey finds that the views of “Millennials”—those between the ages of 18 and 29—are shifting in a more pronounced way than those of older Americans. They see the world as less threatening, and show less concern than other age groups about international terrorism (see figure), Islamic fundamentalism, and the development of China as a world power. Millennials also favor a less activist approach to foreign policy, with a slight majority (52%) saying the United States should “stay out” of world affairs, compared to just 35 percent among older age groups.

When looking at partisan differences, the 2012 Chicago Council Survey finds that political polarization on many aspects of U.S. foreign policy is overstated. Opinions in “red” and “blue” districts overall are similar. While the parties often differ in degree, there is generally consensus among the majorities. Independents, however, distance themselves from both Republicans and Democrats. They are less likely than both to support an active U.S. role in global affairs and less likely to view U.S. leadership as “very” desirable.

Other key findings of the 2012 Chicago Council Survey include:

•         Just over half (54%) support an attack by U.S. ground troops against terrorist training camps and facilities, down from 82 percent in 2002.

•         Majorities oppose the UN authorizing a strike on Iran (51% opposed), oppose a unilateral U.S. strike on Iran (70% opposed), and do not want to get involved in a potential Iran-Israel war (59% opposed).

•         To deal with the crisis in Syria, majorities of Americans support diplomatic and economic sanctions (63%) as well as a no-fly zone in Syria (58%).

More than 1,800 Americans were surveyed for the 2012 Chicago Council Survey.  The 2012 Chicago Council Survey was made possible by generous support from the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the Korea Foundation, and the United States-Japan Foundation.

###

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, founded in 1922, is a prominent, independent and nonpartisan organization committed to influencing the discourse on global issues through contributions to opinion and policy formation, leadership dialogue, and public learning.  The Chicago Council has been conducting nationwide public opinion surveys on American views on foreign policy since 1974.  These surveys provide insights into the current and long-term foreign policy attitudes of the American public on a wide range of global topics.

Canada closes embassy in Iran

News Agencies – September 7, 2012

 

The Canadian Harper government has closed the Canadian Embassy in Iran and ordered all Iranian diplomats in Canada to leave the country. The move effectively severs ties with the Islamic Republic after years of increasingly tense relations marked by accusations, warnings and sanctions.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in Russia for an APEC summit, has repeatedly described Iran as the greatest threat to global security, a statement echoed by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird as he announced the embassy closure.

Baird revealed all Canadian diplomats had left Iran, while Iranian diplomats in Ottawa have been instructed to leave within five days. While the Harper government often co-ordinates its actions on Iran, such as the levelling of sanctions with the U.S. and other allies against Iran, Baird said Canada is the only country suspending diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic at this time, calling it a “made-in-Canada decision.”

French father wins custody of children in Iran after converting to Islam

News Agencies – 10 July 2012

 

An Iranian court has granted Frenchman Dany Laurent custody of his two children after a bitter battle that lasted nearly six years. Laurent, from the eastern French city of Besançon, was reunited with his children nearly two weeks ago after they were kidnapped in 2006 and taken to Iran by his former wife, Fatemah, despite a court order.

 

Fatemah was convicted of illegally taking the children to Iran and faced three years in jail. However, Laurent took the judge’s advice not to seek her imprisonment. Laurent’s lawyer warned him that the police may not hand over his children as they are Muslims and cannot be raised as non-Muslim. The French father then converted to Islam.

Interview with Mohammad Mojtahed ShabestariWhy Islam and Democracy Go Well Together

The Shiite scholar Mohammad Mojtahed Shabestari is regarded as one of the Iran’s most influential Muslim reformist thinkers. In an interview with Jan Kuhlmann, he explains why there is no inconsistency between Islam and democracy.

You have stated that Islam is a religion and not a political programme. Many other Islamic scholars, however, say that it is not possible to separate religion and the state or, alternatively, religion and politics. Do you thing these spiritual leaders are mistaken?

Mohammad Mojtahed Shabestari: You cannot expect politics to adhere to the sort of ethical principles found in religion. And conversely, you cannot expect religion to follow a political programme with the aim of achieving certain social objectives. As I understand it, religion is the relationship between man and God, in which man speaks to his God, his God listens, resulting in inner emancipation. This is why I hold the view that religion, and also Islam in particular, cannot be equated with a political programme.

France’s National Assembly Diversifies

Le Monde – JUNE 19 2012

Mostly “white” until now, France’s National Assembly has diversified
following the legislative elections on June 17^th . Eight deputies of
Maghrebian, Asian and Brasilian origin have been elected. They are all
members of the Socialist party. The Maghrebian members include: Kader
Arif (Haute-Garonne), the former minister of veteran affairs, who
arrived in France at 4 years old with her Algerian-born parents. Malek
Boutih (Essonne), 47 and of Algerian origin, has spent 30 years working
in social and political organizations, including SOS Racisme, where he
was president from 1999-2003. Kheira Bouziane (Côte-d’Or), is a 58
year-old Economics professor born in Oran, Algeria. Chaynesse Khirouni
(Meurthe-et-Moselle) was a micro-finance teacher at the University of
Lorraine before she became involved in politics in 2008. And, Razzy
Hammadi (Seine-Saint-Denis) who was born to an Algerian father and a
Tunisian mother. Hammadi was formally the president of the Socialist
Youth Movement from 2005-2007 and has worked for the public service
since 2008.

Other members of immigrant origins include, from Tchad, Seybah Dagoma
(Paris), 34, a former lawyer who formally worked for Bertrand Delanoë as
person in charge of the social economy. Born in Nantes, she is a
founding member of the think tank, Terra Nova and of the scientific
council of the Jean-Jaures Foundation. Pouria Amirshahi (France
overseas), was born in Iran and came to France when he was five. His
father returned to Iran and he grew up with her mother in a housing
project in the outskirts of Paris. Eduardo Rihan Cypel (Seine-et-Marne)
is 36 years old and was born in Brazil. He’s known for his work fighting
against the immigration policies within Sarkozy’s government.

Dutch Police Use “Disproportional” Force to Dismantle Asylum Seeker Camp

25 May 2012

 

Police intervened to break up an impromptu camp established by failed asylum seekers near Ter Apel, the Netherlands. Riot police arriving in 20 minibuses used force to dismantle the site and arrested about 110 individuals at the site, failed asylum seekers from Iran and Somalia who claim that they will come to harm if returned to their country of origin. A group of Iraqi asylum seekers, involved in the camp’s original set up two weeks ago, had been removed earlier to an apartment complex where they were guaranteed housing until June 15 as the Dutch and Iraqi immigration ministers negotiate next steps.

Meanwhile a judge in Groningen determined that the level of response and force in the deconstruction was “disproportional”. The defended actions claiming that it was a necessary measure due to the health concerns at the impromptu camp.

Supposed Fatwa against Iranian Rapper Shahin Najafi *”We Will Continue with Our Work”*

Iran’s grand ayatollah has issued what many have interpreted to be a fatwa against the rapper Shahin Najafi, who has lived in Germany for the past seven years. In this interview with Shahram Ahadi, Najafi gives his take on the situation

Shahin Najafi is an Iranian rapper who has lived in Germany since 2005. His songs are known to be critical of socio-political developments in his home country. His latest song, “Naghi”, which was named after the tenth imam in Shia Islam, has caused a stir in Iran. The lyrics call on him in a sarcastic and almost obscene way to come back to life and end the catastrophic status quo in Iran. Iran’s 92-year-old Grand Ayatollah Safi Golpaygani said: “If the song contains any insults or indecency towards Imam Naghi, then it is blasphemy, and God knows what to do.” The Iranian press interpreted the statement as a fatwa against Najafi. But a theologian in Tehran on Thursday, 10 May, put the comment into context: “The grand ayatollah has not issued a fatwa. He was answering a question about the defamation of a Shia saint … “


Toronto Islamic School critiqued for anti-Jewish books

News Agencies – May 10, 2012

A Toronto Islamic school’s teaching materials, which have prompted a police hate crimes investigation because of their portrayal of Jews, were originally published by Iranian organizations, records show. The passages of the East End Madrassah’s texts that drew the most widespread condemnation are excerpts from two books, including one published by the Al Balagh Foundation in Iran.

The other book, which contrasts Islam with “the Jews and the Nazis,” was published by the Mostazafan Foundation of New York, which the U.S. alleges was a front organization for the Iranian government.

Jewish community groups were disappointed to learn that materials from Iran had found their way into Canadian school texts. Neither the madrassa nor its parent organization, the Islamic Shia Ithna Asheri Jamaat, could be reached for comment. The East End Madrassa rents space every Sunday in a high school owned by the Toronto District School Board. The madrassa apologized to the Jewish community earlier this week and promised to review its teaching materials.