Saturday, January 3, 2015

An excellent column in Washington Post on religious nationalism in the Middle East by Brian A. Catlos, who is a religious studies professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Following are some excerpts, but do read the Religious Nationalism finds a footing in the Middle East

'With many reports of this violence come adjectives such as “barbarous” and “medieval,” along with the intimation that this sort of intolerance is particularly characteristic of Islam and antithetical to the enlightened and rational secularism of the West.
But brutal as this sectarian violence may be, the fact that there are so many religious minorities in the Middle East stands testament to the reality that, despite long-standing antagonisms, myriad ethnic groups and religious denominations have not only survived but even thrived in this region through some 1,500 years of Islamic domination. The richness of the culture, where many of the ancient sects and arcane languages — often surviving only in small, highly localized communities — predate Christianity, Islam and even modern Judaism, has no parallel in Europe. The Yazidi religion, for example, goes back to Mesopotamia; Aramaic, the language of Jesus, continues to be spoken in a clutch of villages near Damascus.....'

'This reflects an entirely different model of political compromise than that which has developed in the West, and it may seem regressive to us. But it is an arrangement that developed organically and has functioned for about 14 centuries.
The breakdown of religious tolerance and plurality in today’s Middle East is not, then, a manifestation of some particularly Islamic barbarism or evidence of a return to the Middle Ages. Nor is it religious in motivation, although it may be in expression. It is a symptom of what we call modernization, and its political framework: nationalism....'

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Is Iran's Supreme Leader subject to oversight? Constitutionally yes, but...

Iran's constitution gives wide powers to the supreme leader. The preamble of the constitution states that in the physical absence of Hidden Imam, nation would be guided by a person, recognized by the people as leader 'under all conditions, so that there shall be security against deviation by various organizations'.

Article 57 states, 'The powers of government in the Islamic Republic are vested in the legislature, the judiciary, and the executive powers, functioning under the supervision of the absolute vilayat al-'amr and the leadership of the Ummah, in accordance with the forthcoming articles of this Constitution. 

Article 110 enumerates the vast powers of the Supreme leader:

Following are the duties and powers of the Leadership:
  • Delineation of the general policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran after consultation with the Nation's Exigency Council.
  • Supervision over the proper execution of the general policies of the system.
  • Issuing decrees for national referenda.
  • Assuming supreme command of the armed forces.
  • Declaration of war and peace, and the mobilization of the armed forces.
  • Appointment, dismissal, and acceptance of resignation of:
a. The fuqaha' on the Guardian Council.
b. The supreme judicial authority of the country.
c. The head of the radio and television network of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
d. The chief of the joint staff.
e. The chief commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps.
f. The supreme commanders of the armed forces.
  • Resolving differences between the three wings of the armed forces and regulation of their relations.
  • Resolving the problems, which cannot be solved by conventional methods, through the Nation's Exigency Council.
  • Signing the decree formalizing the election of the President of the Republic by the people. The suitability of candidates for the Presidency of the Republic, with respect to the qualifications specified in the Constitution, must be confirmed before elections take place by the Guardian Council; and, in the case of the first term [of the Presidency], by the Leadership.
  • Dismissal of the' President of the Republic, with due regard for the interests of the country, after the Supreme Court holds him guilty of the violation of his constitutional duties, or after a vote of the Islamic Consultative Assembly testifying to his incompetence on the basis of Article 89 of the Constitution.
  • Pardoning or reducing the sentences of convicts, within the framework of Islamic criteria, on a recommendation [to that effect] from the Head of judicial power.
The Leader may delegate part of his duties and powers to another person. 

So with such imperial powers, is supreme leader subject to insight? 

The constitution says yes and give this power to the Assembly of Experts (Article 111). The current supreme leader also agrees but argues that oversight should be broad and if the supreme leader fulfills that basic conditions of leadership, all of his actions and that of his subordinates should be beyond criticism. Now what are these broad conditions. According to constitution (Article 109), there are three conditions

  1. Scholarship, as required for performing the functions of mufti in different fields of fiqh.
  2. Justice and piety, as required for the leadership of the Islamic Ummah. 
  3. Right political and social perspicacity, prudence, courage, administrative facilities and adequate capability for leadership.

Others have argued that because he is guardian/supreme leader of all, nobody has the capacity/ability to judge/oversight him.

Shahir explains the dynamics of this important issue in his article in Al-Monitor (See

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Separatist movements - the peaceful route to independence?

Scotland, in the end, decided not to be independent. However, it did encourage other separatist movements, many of which supported Scottish referendum. There is evidence that Catalonians from Spain helped the ‘Yes’ vote campaign and many Kashmiris in Scotland and England supported Mr. Salmond’s Scottish National Party, not for any love for an independent Scotland but for its positive implications for Kashmir region. Despite the negative results, referendum has shown that there is no need for fighting or killing for independence in the 21st century. As Jonah Blank, senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation, writes in the Foreign Policy after the Scottish referendum (See From Glasgow to Kashmir) :
Almost every modern nation has some sort of local separatist movement, and the international community views nearly all of them either with indifference or contempt. Merely to be considered a quasi-legitimate candidate for independence, a group generally has to suffer generations of brutality bordering on genocide. Even then, the odds aren't great. Just ask the Kurds.
The vote in Scotland shows what modern-day secessionism should look like. What if an ethnic group didn't have to justify its bid for a separate state through a saga of historical oppression, or seek to achieve it through a violent insurgency? What if the standard for independence were nothing more than the statement: "We want out." London agreed to take aye for an answer.