Geopolitics

For Iran, Western Values Are The True Threat To Power

More than an Israeli or American air strike, or the economic effects of sanctions, the powers-that-be in Tehran face a deeper risk rising from within Iranian society.

Girls in western jeans walking past a picture of Ayatollah Khomeini in Tehran
Girls in western jeans walking past a picture of Ayatollah Khomeini in Tehran
Rudolph Chimelli

-Analysis-

BERLIN - In Teheran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the last word. But is the “No” of Iran’s spiritual leader really his last word when it comes to negotiating directly with the U.S. in the conflict over his country’s nuclear program?

Maybe not. His position must be seen in the context of Iran’s domestic politics – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is not in Khamenei’s good books, only has four more months in office. Taking such a huge step as starting to reconcile with the U.S. – something most Iranians want – is not going to take place while Ahmadinejad is in office.

In this conflict, now over a decade old, so many red lines have been crossed, so many opportunities wasted, so many deadlines frittered away, that there is no longer such a thing as “never.” Israeli leaders have been seeing the imminent advent of an Iranian bomb since the mid-1990s.

On the other hand, a few years ago Khamenei himself said that if it served Iran to cultivate relations with the U.S., he would be the first to do so. And if things get that far he wants the credit to go to him, not to reformers or populists. Now however, the Americans have tightened sanctions against Teheran so from his standpoint talk is useless. "I’m not a diplomat, I’m a revolutionary," he says.

A solution to the conflict is possible despite Khamenei’s deep-rooted mistrust of the Americans. Settling the exasperating dispute about uranium and centrifuges would end economic sanctions – and then nothing more would stand in the way of broader reconciliation between the two countries. But here’s the rub – the spiritual leader fears nothing as much as he fears free exchange between people, free exchange of thought and goods. Every chance he gets, he warns of “cultural invasion.”

In Khamenei’s view, the spread of cultural values would lead to moral corruption, promiscuity and the destruction of social fabric. In that sense such values are far more dangerous to him than military attack. Washington pundits are credited with saying that mini-skirts would be more effective than bombs in Iran. This fear is what has led to the recent increase of pressure on Iranian journalists, artists and intellectuals, and the demonization of opposition leaders as “deviants.” For Khamenei, economic sanctions are the lesser of two evils.

When the Ayatollah speaks

Khamenei himself does not feel the consequences of such sanctions. For over three decades he has been either president or supreme leader, separated from the reality of everyday Iranians by the security measures and personality cult that surround him. He doesn’t believe that the sanctions can hurt the country in the long-term. On the contrary, he says: the sanctions foster independence, the development of Iran’s own potential, and a sense of self-determination.

The reality is a little less rosy. For followers of the spiritual leader, Iran’s independence and national dignity may be a fetish, but the truth is that nearly all Iranians suffer from the sanctions. But Khamenei has the last word.

The Western media doesn’t seem to have picked up on the fact that Khamenei recently read Iran’s political classes the riot act. Never have the president, parliament, high-ranking clerics, revolutionary guard and business leaders been so divided. Never have there been so many accusations of corruption, protection and despotism.

The most recent conflict between Ahmadinejad and the powerful clan of parliamentary chairman Ali Larijani was only stopped because Khamenei ordered a stop to it. Until the presidential elections, all critical discussion in public is forbidden. To Khamenei, anyone who disregards this is a “traitor.”

Various institutions will be making sure that Khamenei has the June presidential elections well under control – first and foremost the Guardian Council that vets all candidates and weeds out the ones deemed unsuitable.

For President Ahmadinejad it will be difficult in the time he has remaining to find puppet candidate – someone to carry on his policies – through all the hurdles. Among conservatives, it’s not yet clear who of the many contenders will get Khamenei’s seal of approval. And whether former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, the big outsider in the Iranian power tussle, gets into the race again is presently unclear. Meanwhile, moderate reformers appear to be betting on Hassan Rowhani, a former Iranian nuclear program negotiator.

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Society

Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.


The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.

Hollandse-Hoogte/ZUMA

Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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