Iran security forces stepped up clashes with protesters in Isfahan Wednesday, the birthplace of dissident cleric Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, whose death has energized the opposition.
By Scott Peterson
Iran security forces and opposition protesters stepped up clashes on Wednesday in the city of Isfahan, the birthplace of Iran’s top dissident cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri. Montazeri’s death this past weekend, and the rituals marking his passing, coincide with a new push by regime opponents during a 10-day religious commemoration.
The government has responded by harassing two reformist clerics who could replace Montazeri, as well as stripping the opposition’s top political figure – Mir Hossein Mousavi – of his sole official post.
In Isfahan, pro-regime basiji militiamen used batons, chains, and stones to beat mourners who gathered at the city’s main mosque to remember Montazeri, the spiritual mentor of the Iranian opposition, whose websites reported the clashes.
“While people were reciting the Quran [in the mosque], plainclothed forces attacked them and threw tear gas into the mosque yard and sprayed those inside with pepper spray after they closed the doors,” reported the reformist Parlemannews. “They severely beat the people inside,” then doused the clerical speaker with pepper spray and arrested him.
“Tens of thousands gathered outside for the memorial but were savagely attacked by security forces and the basijis,” witness Farid Salavati told the Associated Press. He said that dozens were injured as riot police and vigilantes clubbed and kicked men and women alike – some in the face – and arrested 50 people who had gathered to mourn the grand ayatollah.
Montazeri – the chosen successor of Iran’s first supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, until a falling out in 1989 – had been unrelenting in his criticism of the officially declared reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last June, as well as of Iran’s current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“Khamenei is a murderer, his rule is invalid,” protesters shouted on Wednesday, referring to violence since June, in which severe force has been used against Iranians who marched to reverse the official result. They wanted to see the “Green Movement” presidential candidate, Mr. Mousavi, elected. Scores died in June and thousands were arrested; protests have flared repeatedly around the nation since then.
Government announces state of emergency, calls in military for help
In Isfahan, the clashes on Wednesday portend more violence, as protesters and pro-government forces alike prepare for the religious peak of the Shiite calendar, Ashura, which falls on Sunday. By the end of the day on Wednesday, it was reported that the governor had announced a state of emergency and reportedly called in the military for help.
“The regime has no alternative but to try to block the commemorations of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, because it has been state policy to demote him,” says Mehrdad Khonsari of the Center for Arab and Iranian Studies in London. “But given the events of the last six months, this only aggravates the situation [and] becomes a catalyst for more protests and is counter-productive.
“Every demonstration is a dress rehearsal for the next demonstration. Once Ashura is over next week, there will be more demonstrations,” says Mr. Khonsari. “The fact is there is no likelihood that these protests are going to come to an end anytime soon.”
Mousavi stripped of title
Mousavi, a former prime minister who has vowed not to back down in his challenge, was on Tuesday stripped of his one official post – as president of Iran’s Academy of Art since 1999 – after joining mourners for Montazeri’s funeral in the Shiite holy city of Qom on Monday.
Mr. Ahmadinejad was reported to have broken off a domestic trip to take part in the meeting that removed Mousavi. Judicial officials last week made clear they had “evidence” against Mousavi, and might arrest him – an act that analysts say would surely provoke a popular outpouring on the streets.
Pro-regime forces expanded their crackdown to include the two high-ranking reformist ayatollahs who might fill Montazeri’s shoes as spiritual guide to the opposition.
Security forces on Wednesday reportedly surrounded the compound of Ayatollah Jalaledin Taheri, the former Friday prayer leader for Isfahan. Originally appointed by Ayatollah Khomeini – the founder of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution – he resigned in 2002 in protest then at the direction the regime was going.
Taheri has called the June results “illegitimate,” and was the organizer of the Wednesday commemoration in Isfahan. Until he resigned, his sermons were sometimes disrupted by pro-regime vigilantes – the same ones he lambasted in his 2002 resignation letter as “louts and fascists, who are a mixture of ignorance and madness, but whose umbilical cord is connected to the center of power, and who are completely uncontrolled and beyond the law.”
Pro-reform grand ayatollah’s offices also attacked
Those same vigilantes and their more formal basiji militia brethren on Tuesday also attacked the offices of the pro-reform Grand Ayatollah Yusuf Saanei in Qom. They broke windows, insulted and beat up his staff, and put up posters of Khamenei, according to a report on the main reformist party website. Police prevented the staff from defending the premises.
The semi-official Fars News Agency on Tuesday reported that pro-regime theology students staged a protest against “the insult against sanctities” during the Montazeri funeral, and their protest ended up outside Grand Ayatollah Saanei’s offices. They signed a statement for Saanei to be stripped of his religious authority.
Saanei told the Monitor in late 2003 that vigilantes were “criminals … and wild wolves,” and decried the regime’s tyranny, violence and prisons for rendering Iran unfit to be “presented as an Islamic example.”
Clerics distancing themselves from government to retain legitimacy
Opposition websites reported that Montazeri’s family have called off the traditional third and seventh mourning nights to prevent further disturbances, after vigilantes and basijis attacked the offices of Montazeri and his son following the funeral on Monday.
“Montazeri was the spiritual leader of the Green Movement … but the situation is really beyond the need for having a spiritual person back this movement,” says Khonsari. “You don’t need a cleric to legitimize it. But the clerics are legitimizing their own positions by distancing themselves from the ruling establishment, to indicate they are in tune with general aspirations.”
Khamenei, through his spokesman Ali Saeedi, specifically beckoned the nations of Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan and Afghanistan to join together with Iran in preparation for the Mahdi’s soon coming.
The purpose of uniting now, a report in Al Arabiya explained,is to fight Israel and the U.S. – seen as the two greatest obstacles to the coming of the Mahdi and the age of Islamic “justice” that would ensue.
“We have to train honest forces that can stop the obstacles that may hinder the coming of the Mahdi like the United States and Israel,” Saeedi stated. Saeedi also emphasized that the Iranian revolutionary guard possessed a special religious authority to prepare the way for the Mahdi.
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“While the belief in the Mahdi has been widely held by Shi’a Muslims, it has taken on a dramatically more political tone in recent years since the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,” explains Joel Richardson, author of a new book called “The Islamic Antichrist,”which hypothesizes that Islam’s prophesied Mahdi is one and the same as the Bible’s Antichrist.
Mahdism is now increasingly being used as a political tool by appealing to the religious and nationalistic tendencies of various Muslims groups. This particular call for Islamic unity stands out because of its pan-Islamic, cross-sectarian appeal.
While many have assumed that the marked rise in fervor and devotion in recent years in Iran was primarily due to the influence of Ahmadinejad, this statement reveals that Mahdist devotion is also held quite fervently by Ayatollah Khamenei as well.
According to Al-Arabiya, Saeedi emphasized that obedience to the Ayatollah is the same as obedience to the Mahdi or the “guided one” – “who is the prophesied savior of Islam.”
With news arriving this past week that Iran now has the capability to develop nuclear weapons, the Mahdist conference and this call for Islamic unity under the banner of the Mahdi takes on an added dimension of interest. Last year, one of the presenters at the Mahdist conference, Dr. Mariam Tabar, asserted the, “military capabilities of the future Mahdist state depend on Islamic governments in the here and now acquiring abilities to stand against the enemies of the imam [al-Mahdi].”
Opening the conference this year, was Dr. Mahdi Mostafavi, the chairman of the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization, who spoke against the dangers and evils of Christian Zionism. “Putting an end to the tyranny and brutality” of Zionism is one of the basic goals of Mahdism, he explained.
Dr. Mostafavi also offered a wildly distorted version of the Christian end time narrative. Claiming that Christians are making efforts to bring about the Battle of Armageddon, he stated:
“In order to make this war happen they consider brutality, war and violence allowed and in their propaganda, they ask Christians and especially soldiers to create a situation for Jesus to reappear. These soldiers would be considered martyrs if they are killed in this way and would be in the circle of Messiah’s Twelve disciples,” Dr. Mostfavi explained.
“These evangelists try to reinforce their belligerent notion ideologically even by mentioning verses from Gospel. They start war in Afghanistan and Iraq, torture prisoners of war in detention camps like Abu Ghraib, and spread their doctrines throughout the whole world.”
While the Christian narrative of the return of Jesus is one where Christians passively await a savior to deliver them from an aggressive empire, Islamic narratives often portray Muslims as aggressively and actively pursuing Islamic world dominance, particularly over the nation of Israel.
This year, it was also announced that Iran will be establishing a University of Mahdism to train theologians and politicians, according to Richardson, who has been assembling details of the recent conference.
One speaker at the conference, Abdollah Adam Gaya from Nigeria, spoke about the need to export Mahdism to the West:
“[In order] to fight against the [Western] cultural invasion against Islamic Shiite values, we must also export the Mahdism culture to the West… Imperialist powers fear the growth of that culture and therefore they are after attacking it. …”
Gaya also explained that the vehicle of Mahdism was the most effective tool to unite not only all Muslim countries, but also the whole world:
“Propagating and defining the Mahdism Culture are the most effective steps in order to establish unity among Muslim Nations of the world because not only Mesianism and Mahdism are the common grounds for understanding between all Muslims but between all religions in the world,” he added.
While some Muslims have emphasized the peaceful nature of the Mahdi’s reign, many in Iran obviously disagree.
Adnan Oktar, a prominent Turkish intellectual and Sunni author has repeatedly emphasized that under the Mahdi; no blood will be shed, guns and weapons will be eliminated and any traditions which infer anything different are unreliable.
Others however have a very different view. In His work Imam al-Mahdi, the Just Leader of Humanity, Ayatollah Ibrahim al Amini, professor at the Religious Learning Center at Qom affirms Larijani’s comments, when he states, “The Mahdi will offer the religion of Islam to the Jews and Christians; if they accept it they will be spared, otherwise they will be killed.”
Richardson’s “The Islamic Antichrist” has debuted at No. 1 on Amazon in two religious categories and held those positions for nearly two weeks.
In “The Islamic Antichrist,” Richardson, a student of Islam, exposes Western Christians to the Muslim traditions. He says most Christians have no idea of the stunning similarities between the biblical Antichrist and the “Islamic Mahdi.”
Richardson’s book stands in stark contrast to most other popular prophecy books of the last 40 years.
The student of the Middle East says that after decades of reading popular prophecy books and even best-selling fiction like the “Left Behind” series, millions of evangelical Christians around the world are expecting the Antichrist to emerge from a revived Roman Empire, which many have assumed is associated with the Roman Catholic Church and the European Union.
Not so, argues Richardson. His book makes the case that the biblical Antichrist is one and the same as the Quran’s Muslim Mahdi.
“The Islamic Antichrist” is a book almost certain to be greeted in the Muslim world with the same enthusiasm as Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses.” The author is prepared. He has written the book under a pseudonym to protect himself and his family.
“The Bible abounds with proofs that the Antichrist’s empire will consist only of nations that are, today, Islamic,” says Richardson. “Despite the numerous prevailing arguments for the emergence of a revived European Roman empire as the Antichrist’s power base, the specific nations the Bible identifies as comprising his empire are today all Muslim.”
Richardson believes the key error of many previous prophecy scholars involves the misinterpretation of a prediction by Daniel to Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel describes the rise and fall of empires of the future, leading to the endtimes. Western Christians have viewed one of those empires as Rome, when, claims Richardson, Rome never actually conquered Babylon and was thus disqualified as a possibility.
It had to be another empire that rose and fell and rose again that would lead to rule of this “man of sin,” described in the Bible. That empire, he says, is the Islamic empire, which did conquer Babylon and, in fact, rules over it even today.
Many evangelical Christians believe the Bible predicts a charismatic ruler, the Antichrist, will arise in the last days, before the return of Jesus. The Quran also predicts that a man, called the Mahdi, will rise up to lead the nations, pledging to usher in an era of peace. Richardson makes the case these two men are, in fact, one in the same.
Richardson is the co-author with Walid Shoebat of “God’s War on Terror: Islam, Prophecy and the Bible”and co-editor of “Why We Left Islam: Former Muslims Speak Out.” “The Islamic Antichrist”is published by WND Books and is available autographed in the WND Superstore.
The Times quoted Western intelligence sources as saying the Iranians completed their research program to create weaponized uranium back in 2003.
Contrary to a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate report which claimed that Iran halted its nuclear activities because of the threat of an American invasion following the occupation of Iraq, the real reason for the halt was that the Iranians had figured out how to detonate a warhead that could be fitted on its long-range Shehab-3 missiles, according to the Times.
“If the Supreme Leader takes the decision [to build a bomb], we assess they have to enrich low-enriched uranium to highly-enriched uranium at the Natanz plant, which could take six months, depending on how many centrifuges are operating,” an intelligence source told the Times. “We don’t know if the decision was made yet.”
Aside from the Natanz plant, the source speculated that Iran may have built a number of small, secret facilities which store materials that can be developed for a nuclear bomb, the Times reported.
American officials briefed Israel last week on the administration’s ideas for intensifying sanctions against Iran if it fails to respond to U.S. President Barack Obama‘s offer of dialogue.
In his meeting with Israeli officials, U.S. National Security Advisor James Jones indicated that Tehran has until the UN General Assembly in the last week of September to respond. U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates delivered a similar message during his visit here earlier this week. If no satisfactory answer is received, the Americans said, they would work to form an international coalition to impose harsh sanctions on Iran.
A senior source in Jerusalem said the American message to Israel in these talks was to “lower its profile” and refrain from “ranting and raving” about Iran in public until the international evaluation on Iran takes place at the end of September. “Until that date, we must give diplomacy a chance,” the official said.