November 10, 2004

Iranian interlude

I don't think I'll blog it in its entirety, but it's a fascinating collection: Islam and Revolution I: Writings and Declarations of Imam Khomeini (1941 to 1980). Here he is in the very first year, his first political tract, a "Warning to the Nation," writing about Iranian society:

Notice first the deplorable state of the court, and then consider the various ministries, examining one by one the officials who are content to sit behind their desks in utter idleness. Then proceed to inspect the army, and see what mentality motivates the troops and their commanders. Descending the scale, take a look at the civil and military administration in all the provinces. Finally, step over to the Consultative Assembly and watch the legislature at work! Wherever you go and whomever you encounter, from the streetsweeper to the highest official, you will see nothing but disordered thoughts, confused ideas, contradictory opinions, self-interest, lechery, immodesty, criminality, treachery, and thousands of associated vices. Then you will understand how our country's income is obtained, and on what it is spent.

In a similar vein, in the same essay, Khomeini attacks what to him is a particularly troubling reform undertaken by the Pahlavi government:

Of course, they regard the civilization and advancement of the country as dependent upon women's going naked in the streets, or to quote their own idiotic words, turning half the population into workers by unveiling them (we know only too well what kind of work is involved here).

Have I ever mentioned what filthy minds these politico-religious scholars always seem to have? It's not enough to argue that unveiling is a mistake, or that it is a decision that should be left to individuals and imams rather than the state, but Khomeini prefers to imagine that every woman in Iran is a whore, swooning in the grip of their naked sin.

Elsewhere in the "Warning to the Nation," we find this justification for theocracy:

The only government that reason accepts as legitimate and welcomes freely and happily is the government of God, Whose every act is just and Whose right it is to rule over the whole world and all the particles of existence. Whatever He makes use of is His own property, and whatever He takes, from whomever He takes, is again His own property. No men can deny this except the mentally disturbed.

Here your humble narrator coughs and raises his hand, ever so meekly, to point out that while government by God might be something of an improvement, He's not exactly doing a whole lot to actively campaign for the job, let alone fulfill it. Khomeini suggests that, as a substitute, the legislature could enact laws that are "a kind of commentary on the divine law," but that begs the question of who the commentator is (and here we hear Khomeini coughing and raising his hand...).

And all that in one essay written in 1941. There's much else worthy of comment -- in 1964, Khomeini went ballistic when Iran signed on to the Vienna Convention, which among other things provided diplomatic immunity to, well, to diplomats and their staffs. For Khomeini this was too much, and later he suggests that the primary cause of his banishment was his opposition to the Vienna Convention (it may well have been -- I'll have to look it up and see). Of course, that's precisely the international treaty and international norm that was broken when Khomeini's thugs raided the U.S. embassy. Reading his Nov. 12, 1979, address to the Papal envoy sent to interceded on behalf of the hostages is surreal, or would be were it not indicative of all that would follow -- the establishment of a terror state bent on acquiring nuclear weapons.

...And yes, I'm back.

Posted by Ideofact at November 10, 2004 10:24 PM

Is Khomeinei using clever rhetorical excess to describe unveiled women as "naked"? Or does he really think that any visible flesh is equivalent to public nudity?

I have been told that prostitutes in that part of the world manage to use certain clothing styles to mark themselves as "in business", while remaining fully clothed/veiled.

If this were true, what woud Khomeinei do about this?

Posted by: steve h at November 11, 2004 10:44 AM

Here your humble narrator coughs and raises his hand, ever so meekly, to point out that while government by God might be something of an improvement, He's not exactly doing a whole lot to actively campaign for the job...

Excellent turn of phrase!

Posted by: steve h at November 11, 2004 10:48 AM

Thanks for the kind words.

At one point recently, I seem to recall (I think I posted here about it), the Iranian mullahs decided that it was permissible for a woman to enter into a short-term (hours long?) marriage with a man which was essentially a legalized form of prostitution. I don't know how Khomeini would have felt about that, but the mullahs perhaps felt, I suppose, that their legalized prostitution was a kind of commentary on the divine law.

Posted by: Bill at November 11, 2004 11:39 AM

Here's the story to which I referred (one of many, actually)...

Posted by: Bill at November 11, 2004 11:49 AM

Bill and steve h:

Unless one uses the terms 'naked' or nudity to refer only to the absolute lack of clothing, then it is by necessity a culturally and morally defined term. What would have been considered by the average reasonable person in the United States to be public nudity in the 1920s vs. the 1960s vs. the 1990s would all be different things. And of course, outside of the fictional 'average reasonable person' there would always be a range of opinions.

For a Muslim who believes in the Islamic revelation, the private parts of human beings which should not be exposed publicly has been defined by God. To expose those private parts in public amounts to nudity.

So, steve h it may be obvious to your englightened self that a woman in a bikini or a mini skirt should not be said to be naked but it would not have been obvious to your grandfather and it may not be obvious to your more religiously inclined Christian/Jewish neighbor.

For a woman to expose anything other than her hands and face (and in some opinions her feet) in public is by the Islamic definition exposing part of her 'private area.'

As to the temporary marriage issue, while it should be noted that the Shi'a do not consider it to be prostitution in any way, the vast majority of Muslims would agree that it is troubling and to Sunni Muslims, it is believed that it was forbidden by the Prophet (saw) and is not permissible.

Contrary to what you seem to be implying in your comment, however, Bill, this is not some new development that was thought up for purely cynical reasons, the concept of mut'ah (temporary marriage) has been discussed in Islamic law and the difference between the Shi'a and the Sunnis noted for centuries.

Again, I do not condone temporary marriage and in fact believe it is illegitimate and those involved in it would be committing a major sin. Of course, no more so than those who simply live together without marriage or engage in a 'dating' or other relationship where they do not take any responsibility at all or are not committed for any length of time.

Posted by: Abu Noor al-Irlandee at November 11, 2004 02:17 PM

Well, obviously "naked" is poetic license -- whether on the part of Khomeini or Hamid Algar, his translator, I'm not sure (in standard English usage, naked pretty much means without clothes; perhaps in Persian there's gradations implied, and maybe Algar felt that "inappropriately dressed" or "decked out like a slut" or what not didn't quite capture Khomeini's meaning...

I still wonder at a mentality that assumes (Qutb was a prime offender) that a woman who gets a job is automatically engaging in sin.

As to the temporary marriage business, I think we've talked about this before. I don't know what you think I'm implying -- the article I linked seems fairly self-explanatory to me, and notes the practice is based on a longstanding Shi'ite tradition.

Posted by: Bill at November 11, 2004 11:46 PM