The “Piece Church”

One wonders what the “Prince of Peace” would have to say about “bringing a piece” to Church. Tonight, the New Bethel Church, in Louisville, Kentucky will be “packing it (guns) in the pews” to “celebrate our rights as Americans.”
That’s right, Pastor Ken Pagano is urging his flock to bring their weapons to his Assemblies of God church. Talk about “fire and brimstone.” Open guns must be unloaded; concealed firearms … well, they won’t be checked.
An AG Professor friend who knows Ken Pagano tells me that Pagano is a reasonable, well-educated conservative chap. (with a Doctorate of Ministry) My friend suspects this event to be more about publicity to attract new members to a small church. Indeed, Pagano has received much media attention, even appearing on Fox News.
Pagano asserts that he wants to celebrate how “God and guns were part of the foundation of this country,” that if we didn’t have guns, we wouldn’t have America. Any proceeds from a “raffle” at his bring-your-guns-to-church-day, he says, will “go to charity.” (Would that be the NRA?)
Pagano says he wants to start a dialogue, that he just wants to “promote responsible gun ownership,” that he is open to considering other approaches. Then again, who would want to “dialogue” with someone toting a semi-automatic machine gun?
I wonder too about the fears driving this. We’ve heard about horrible shootings in churches lately. The solution isn’t to bring more “pieces” into the church, but more peace. If matters get really bad, then metal detectors and security. The notion of weapons in a modern sanctuary “creeps me out” — as a person of faith. I wonder too if there’s a good bit of ole’ time southern revanchism afoot here, as I’ve heard all too much “chatter” about “the black man who is going to take away our guns.”
Pagano apparently revels in the attention and is undaunted by the few criticisms he’s heard: “I don’t see any contradiction in this. Not every Christian denomination is pacifist.”
On that point, Pagano does not know his own church’s history. Until 1967, the Assemblies of God Church was officially an antiwar, pacifistic, and peace-seeking church; even today, youth from that church are able to claim “conscientious objector” status. (though very few do)
For more on this lesser known history, I recommend a new book by Paul Alexander: PEACE TO WAR: Shifting Allegiances in the Assemblies of God. Alexander chronicles how the former peace church (among the fastest growing worldwide) devolved into a war church — and suggests how it might yet reclaim a middle position, for the sake of its own witness.
Paul Alexander, a Professor at Azuza Pacific University, deserves a wide reading in “charismatic” circles — his book was even favorably reviewed by Amos Yong of (Pat Robertson’s) Regent University.
Alexander runs a new organization called, “Pentecostals and Charismatics for Peace and Justice.” (strange as that may sound to those who recall my lament about “the mother of all sermons” here at JWN” ) Alas, I doubt his influence is felt very far – yet. Shunned by the AG and mega-evangelical presses, his book was jointly published by two Mennonite Houses. (kudos to Cascadia & Herald)
As for tonight’s gun-fest, cameras are banned, to protect the “privacy” of the gun owners. No doubt. Maybe one of those courageous Iranian protesters with cell cameras can get a peek for us?
As far as I know, the Assemblies of God church hierarchy has remained muzzled about Pagano. The silencer ought to be removed. Or are guns and war the only “fire” left in the soul of the Pentecostal church these days?

Scott’s choices (re. Iran matters)

(title tip to Gary Sick’s stimulating blog. )
Four compelling commentaries about Iran developments:
1. Suzanne Maloney’s “Clerical Error,” on Council on Foreign Relations web site:

The convergence of… — mass mobilization and elite infighting — has produced the most serious threat to the survival of the Islamic Republic since the early years of its existence. However the election turmoil plays out, it has irreparably shattered the Islamic Republic’s most important underlying assets — elite cooperation and popular participation….

Four weeks ago in these pages, I reviewed why “elite cooperation” was key to Iran’s complex decision making. Whether the consensus forming mechanisms can be restored is indeed a vital question.

The closest parallel to the current protests is the mass mobilization that preceded the 1979 revolution. Then, as is happening now, disciplined crowds spanning Iranian society’s traditional cleavages among generations, ethnic groups, and social classes poured into the streets…. The dissent that Mousavi is encouraging violates the central tenet of the Islamic Republic’s political culture, which is based on a shared commitment among “khodi,” or insiders, to the preservation of the system….

Maloney is less convincing on where this is going, yet provocative:

“The reformists on the streets and in the corridors of power have emphasized the moderate nature of their demands; neither group is seeking to overturn the Islamic system. This caution may help enable the regime to prevail, but its short-term survival may leave it fatally weakened. In the aftermath of a stolen election, Iranians will remain mobilized in unprecedented numbers against their government and the leadership will be undercut by profound internal cleavages…. What follows will — in either the short or long term — represent a genuine improvement for both the Iranian people and the international community.”

2. Anything by Roger Cohen, including his on-the-street account on Sunday, and especially his take in tomorrow’s NYTimes on “The Children of Tomorrow.
Among keepers in his Sunday essay, Cohen observes how Supreme Leader Khamenei “factionalized himself” by taking sides in a dispute central to the system. Instead of soothing the wounds, last Friday’s sermon catalyzed further broad demonstrations by “people of all ages. — an old man on crutches, middle-aged office workers and bands of teenagers.”
To Cohen’s doubts about whether the world, or the UN could help the protesters, one woman tellingly realized: “So, we are on our own.”
Even as the world indeed is watching, “in the end that is true. Iranians have fought this lonely fight for a long time: to be free, to have a measure of democracy.” Therein may be their best “weapon,” in the Iranian context — self-reliance.
For tomorrow’s column, Cohen movingly writes:

Continue reading “Scott’s choices (re. Iran matters)”

Evidence of Iran Discontent

I appreciate that some respected observers remain doubtful about the extent of the protests in Iran. Yet as I (Scott) see and sense it, the evidence has been building for several days that popular disquiet over the recent elections returns is nationwide, in all regions, across all socio-economic, ethnic, regional, and linguistic groupings.
Two quick items for consideration:
1. Five pictures from Esfahan, Iran’s second largest city (and among my favorite places in all the world), showing perhaps a million protesters jammed into and spilling out of the world famous Imam Square. (aka maidaan-e naqsh-e jehaan)These pictures were forwarded to me via a western based Iran scholar, who received them directly from a relative in Esfahan.
To grasp how huge Imam Square is (80,000+ square meters), try visualizing a football field, turn it sideways at one “narrow” end of Imam Square, and then add 14 (fourteen) more football fields after it. Or for the google maps generation, try this image.
That Esfahanis might show up in such large numbers to protest does not surprise me, as a week ago, I highlighted a huge rally in the same spot for Musavi during the campaign. (See these pictures.)
2. An important oped essay by my long time friend Eric Hooglund, syndicated by Agence Global, entitled “Iran’s Rural Vote and Evidence of Election Fraud.”
Professor Hooglund (now of Bates College) is an authority on the subject, having lived in and frequently traveled to rural Iran for nearly four decades. He literally witnessed Iran’s revolution unfold, as he was there working on a dissertation later published as Land and Revolution in Iran. Earlier this year, he wrote a splendid review of 30 years of post-revolutionary rural development achievements and problems for Middle East Report. He was again in Iran recently, and I know of no one with a broader network across Iran’s diverse rural landscapes.
In his oped, Hooglund – Eric – challenges the widely heard media refrain of Ahmadinejad’s strength being “rural” by giving us details of what is happening in just one of the villages he knows well. (though I understand he prudentially changed names.) I encourage readers to read the whole essay, to find out why even in a rural village, Ahmadinjad had become quite unpopular, and why it is now “seething” with “palpable moral outrage” over the irregular handling of the local ballots and by the results.
Eric has shared with me multiple accounts of similar anger building all across the country. Eric also adds a critical distinction: the disquiet he senses is not so much a blanket referendum against the system, but for reform from within it, and that’s the hope they saw in candidate Musavi, even as he indeed is one of the elite. Yet within that political elite, a profound division has erupted., as Eric well summarizes it,

“over how Iran should be governed: a transparent democracy where elected representatives enact laws to benefit the people or a ‘guided democracy’ in which a select few make all decisions because they do not trust the masses to make the right ones.”

This dispute exposes core fissures at the heart of the system that cannot be easily swept back under the Persian carpet. The smoldering discontent will not be easily extinguished, and it’s far too early to declare a winner in the deeper contest.
Today (Thursday) will likely be an interesting further barometer of these pressures.

Live blog sites 4 Iran events

Regarding the intensifying “controversy” {e.g. “rioting, unrest, civil protest, hooliganism, or (in A/N’s terms) “traffic violations” — take your pick} about the Iranian Presidential election results (and whether or not there’s been massive fraud or even a coup within the system), two valuable live blogs for following events:
1. from the Huffington Post
2. from National Iranian American Council (hardly a site pre-disposed to be ideological one way or the other)
Note especially the videos in the live blogs, and the calls for marches tomorrow (all over the country) and for a national strike on Tuesday. We shall see.
If jwn readers have other sites to help us discern events, (in english or persian), please post. Thanks!
I admit to being puzzled by the suggestion that an esteemed veteran journalist (Robert Fisk -who yes has long covered the Islamic Republic – among other things) who is now in one Iranian city on a short term visa, who can quote one friend “who has never lied to him” to the effect that “Ahmadinejad really won,” has more credibility than those of us who have studied Iran long and hard and who are monitoring the process from say, Michigan or Virginia. Maybe. Yet it’s not even clear if Fisk believes him.
Happens that I received a message from an ordinarily very cautious friend (a professional who has served the regime for nearly its entire existence), who is of the view that the election results are a clear “fabrication.” And golly, I also used to have “Persian only dinner” with him too (several as I recall) — in Tehran, in private. And as far as I know, he’s never lied to me either. :-}
Much still to sort out among fellow bloviators. I will reflect more on my own Thursday post later tonight. Advance hints: the genie unleashed in the past few weeks cannot be readily stuffed back into the bottle; the political fissures opened up will not be easily swept under the carpet.

“Israel’s horse in Iran’s Race” Pt. 2

Nearly two weeks ago, I posted a short question asking if Israel and/or its current leadership would have a favorite in Iran’s elections. While one poster accused me of being a “student of Goebells” for asking such a question, several commenters realized that Israeli and neocon hawks have been quite grateful to the “gift” that Ahmadinejad has presented for them.
Three leading subsequent examples:
From Soli Shahvar, head of the University of Haifa’s Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies, writing in Israeli’s largest circulation paper:

[I]n light of the structure of Iran’s regime it could very well be that an Ahmadinejad win – and as result continued popular bitterness within Iran and the harsh approach to Iran on the international stage – is better for Israel.

Elliot Abrahms in the New York Times:

“a victory by Mr. Ahmadinejad’s main challenger, Mir Hussein Moussavi, is more likely to change Western policy toward Iran than to change Iran’s own conduct. If the delusion that a new president would surely mean new opportunities to negotiate away Iran’s nuclear program strikes Western leaders, solidarity might give way to pre-emptive concessions.”

Daniel Pipes:

“I’m sometimes asked who I would vote for if I were enfranchised in this election, and I think that, with due hesitance, I would vote for Ahmadinejad….” {The reason, Pipes went on, is that he would} “prefer to have an enemy who’s forthright and obvious, who wakes people up with his outlandish statements.”

Just hours ago, Pipes went further on his own blog:

When Mohammed Khatami was president, his sweet words lulled many people into complacency, even as the nuclear weapons program developed on his watch. If the patterns remain unchanged, better to have a bellicose, apocalyptic, in-your-face Ahmadinejad who scares the world than a sweet-talking Mousavi who again lulls it to sleep, even as thousands of centrifuges whir away.
And so, despite myself, I am rooting for Ahmadinejad.

They may get their wish. As I write, Iran’s elections tabulations are reportedly more than half-way complete — with a commanding lead for Ahmadinejad.

Top Ten Reasons to Anticipate Musavi as Iran’s Next President

Received wisdom tells us in America that it is too hazardous to predict elections in Iran. Said wisdom, often from prominent think tanks and editorial writers, includes refrains denouncing Iran’s elections as badly flawed, mere “staged democracy,” and/or meaningless in terms of policy. (a tendency echoing Israeli foreign ministry talking points.)
I call it laziness mixed with institutional inertia and pre-set agendas. For those able to go beyond stale analysis and look closely, there are major signs suggesting Iran’s hotly contested Presidential race is leaning strongly in favor of Mir-Hussein Musavi. The tea leaves are decidedly green — Musavi’s campaign color. Musavi could win well over 50% on the first round, thus avoiding a run-off.
Here’s my top ten reasons for seeing green:
10. “It’s the foreign policy, stupid.” As I suggested here on May 23rd, current President Ahmadinejad’s foreign policy has been among the top symbolic issues in the contest. All three of his opponents have repeatedly pounded away at how his confrontational style has hurt Iran’s interests, how it has caused Iranian passports to be “worth less than a Somali’s.” Musavi even tied Iran’s economic troubles to foreign policy failings.
Moreover, Iranians by wide margins in recent polling actually prefer better relations with America — and Ahmadinejad has a credibility problem in saying he’s the best candidate to achieve it. By contrast, a common campaign poster for Musavi proclaims, “A New Greeting to the World.” The days of Marg Bar Amrika may be numbered.
9. Ahmadinejad’s return volleys at his primary accusers are back-firing. First, claims that it was “his” foreign policies that restored Iranian pride have infuriated leading system figures, like Hassan Rowhani, who (correctly) emphasize that Iran’s foreign policy decision-making, including on nuclear issues, is a multi-layered process. Condemning key strategies tried during the Khatami era in effect is a slap at Iran’s Supreme Leader.

Similarly, Ahmadinejad’s populist allegations of corruption of Musavi’s supporters, including “pillars of the revolution” such as former President Hashemi-Rafanjani and his family, produced shock waves in the system that may bite him back. Supreme Leader Khamenei, often presumed to be an Ahmadinejad backer, (a debatable assumption in my view) has strongly rebuked such mud-slinging, and has repeatedly reiterated his neutrality in the race.

Rafsanjani cried foul in a widely re-published poetic letter, accusing Ahmadinejad of “counter-revolutionary” behavior. Khamenei has not commented publicly, yet his silence may also speak volumes. He neither criticized the sensational charges, nor prevented their publication. On election eve, Khamenei received Rafsanjani for a 3 hour private visit. Of note, Rafsanjani also chairs Iran’s Assembly of Experts, which in theory, has supervisory powers over the Leader.

8. Ahmadinejad’s challengers have also made great sport lampooning his charts and graphs of Iran’s supposedly healthy economy. He’s been branded widely as “the liar,” a “delusional fanatic,” the “propagandist” who “squandered the nation’s wealth.” As Musavi put it quite bluntly,

“We are up against a person who says black is white and four times four equals five. He looks into the camera and lies with self-confidence…. There is nothing worse than when a government lies to its own people.” — So much for Iran being a “totalitarian” place that didn’t tolerate criticism of politicians.

While the less affluent rural areas may be swayed by memories of Ahmadinejad’s generous handouts and potato doles when oil revenues were high, inflation is again accelerating and unemployment rising — raising fears across social strata. Even his rural base may be eroding.

7. Women have also played an unprecedented and and even powerful role in this campaign, energized by Musavi’s wife, Zahrah Rahnavard, a politics professor, artist, and former University chancellor. (This will be news to Americans still Reading Lolita in Tehran, but yes Virginia, in the “real” Iran, women do vote, do think, and they’re quite politically aware)

Ahmadinejad’s brazen debate insinuations about Rahnavard’s Ph.D. were widely seen as condescending and insulting. More analogous to Hillary Rodham Clinton than Michelle Obama, Dr. Rahnavard shot back that, “Either [Ahmadinejad] cannot tolerate highly educated women or he’s discouraging women from playing an active role in society.” In Musavi’s wife, Iranian women and activists frustrated by recent set-backs again have hope. As Rahnavard recently put it, “Never have women had so much self-awareness. Women have always been just under the skin of history. Today, we assert ourselves.”
Iranians are also stunned to see the couple campaigning together and even holding hands as they move through crowds. As one amazed Iranian commented to the LA Times, “I’ve never seen a politician who holds his wife’s hand in public. And he holds it with love and respect, not with possessiveness.”

6. The unprecedented sharpness of the nationally televised debates among candidates, and substance packed campaign speeches have stirred tremendous excitement and energy, especially among younger voters. The Musavi camp regularly accused Ahmadinejad of behavior that fosters “dictatorship,” and has campaigned instead for a “civil rights charter” and guarantees for ethnic rights. Iranians nationwide realize that this time, there’s real choices to be made among candidates with sharp differences about real issues that matter profoundly to all Iranians.

Speaking of dictatorships or “sultanistic” behavior, a group of Iranian Interior Ministry employees risked their careers in signing a letter charging that an Ayatollah (presumed to be Mesbah-Yazdi — marja to A/N) had issued a fatwa condoning manipulation of the vote process, to protect the system. While this might seem to be evidence of vote rigging potential, I find it intriguing that the claims have not been denied — and instead we have intense calls for multiple forms of monitoring the integrity of the voting.

5. Evidence: The crowds, the crowds. A “Green Tsunami.”

Continue reading “Top Ten Reasons to Anticipate Musavi as Iran’s Next President”

Israel’s horse in Iran’s race?

Which candidate would Israel favor the most in the upcoming Iranian Presidential contest?
It’s of course a loaded question. No candidate in Iran would wish to be seen as favored by the Islamic Republic’s perceived nemesis.
And we also should add that Israelis, particularly those analysts who follow Iran matters closely, might disagree considerably. So let’s narrow the question to refer to the current Israeli prime minister. :-}

The Color of Iran’s Elections

Iran’s presidential race is getting quite colorful — literally — as Iran’s two reformist candidates have taken the unprecedented steps of adopting colors for their campaigns. Mir Hussein Musavi’s camp has taken on green, and Mehdi Karrubi’s white — both venerable colors within Islam and Iran. (symbolizing to many joy and peace).
Presidential Ahmadinejad’s team initially thought of adopting “red” (the third color in Iran’s national flag) as their color, but changed their mind, perhaps knowing Iranians are a bit weary of blood red. Ahmadinejad partisans instead complain that campaign painting misuses sacred symbols and darkly implies imposed color revolutions. Reformists counter their colors are “religious, not velvet.”
“Red” though might describe the intense “heat” being generated within Iran’s current Presidential elections, including on policy issues that might surprise western ears. For example, on Tuesday, Musavi told students in Tabriz that he supports free-speech, since that was a key goal of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution:

“The revolution was aimed at guaranteeing us freedom of speech. It is not in our best interest to not tolerate opposition, because this would make it impossible for us to be part of the modern world.”

On related issues, candidate Karrubi recently has even been arguing for reforming the constitution, whereas Musavi has challenged the appeal of that argument by advocating that existing protections of liberties within the Constitution should be better implemented first.
Battling perceived government media bias in favor of Ahmadinejad, Musavi’s strategy has relied upon modern technology to get out his message, especially among younger voters, using e-mail, cell-phone text messaging, twitter, and even facebook. The government briefly tried to block Iran access to facebook, but has since restored it.
As I suggested on Saturday here, foreign policy also continues to loom large, with candidates trading blistering barbs about nuclear negotiations.

Continue reading “The Color of Iran’s Elections”

Newsweek: “Everything you know about Iran is Wrong”

Check out the June 1st Iran-focused issue of Newsweek, which audaciously proclaims, Everything you know about Iran is wrong. (unless, of course, you’re a regular jwn reader)
In editor Farheed Zakaria’s opening “bombshell,”

“Everything you know about Iran is wrong, or at least more complicated than you think. Take the bomb. The regime wants to be a nuclear power but could well be happy with a peaceful civilian program.”

Zakaria then briefly outlines why the Iranians might just be ready, for rational reasons on their own terms, to cut a nuclear deal. (See also Newsweek’s short interview with the IAEA’s Mohamed El-Baredei)
Along the way, Zakaria challenges a particularly virulent form of extremism, not in Iran, but within current Israeli propaganda about Iran:

“Iranians aren’t suicidal…. In an interview last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the Iranian regime as “a messianic, apocalyptic cult.” In fact, Iran has tended to behave in a shrewd, calculating manner, advancing its interests when possible, retreating when necessary….
[But] One of Netanyahu’s advisers said of Iran, “Think Amalek.” The Bible says that the Amalekites were dedicated enemies of the Jewish people. In 1 Samuel 15, God says, “Go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”

Zakari gently notes that, “were the president of Iran and his advisers to have cited a religious text that gave divine sanction for the annihilation of an entire race, they would be called, well, messianic.”
They’d also be prosecuted by Alan Dershowitz, John Bolton and friends for “incitement to genocide.” They might also be called…. jihadis.
My favorite article in the Newsweek collection is sub-titled, “A Journey through the Heart of Iran” by Hooman Majd. (author of “The Ayatollah Begs to Differ.”) Many of his vignettes remind me of my own journeys inside Iran last decade — many of which are found in “The Iranians.” Majd is quite right to observe that:

Continue reading “Newsweek: “Everything you know about Iran is Wrong””

Iran Politics: It’s the foreign policy, stupid.

Contrary to standard western myths about Iran, citizens of Iran are quite capable of debating the question of ties to America. Indeed, the issue is shaping up to be a “hot,” if not the hottest, issue in Iran’s upcoming Presidential elections.
First, the who: Iran’s “Council of Guardians” recently issued its less-than-transparent ruling — approving just four candidates to run for President: 1. incumbent Mahmud Ahmadinejad; 2. former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Musavi; 3. former parliament speaker Mehdi Karrubi; and 4. former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps head Mohsen Rezai.
As Iran does not yet permit a party system, four hundred, seventy or so other individuals who had applied to run were turned away. Never mind that most of these rejected candidates were not serious, Mohammad Seifzadeh, of Iran’s Committee for Free and Fair Elections, contends that the current screening process reduces the election to a “race between government candidates, not people.”
Among the four candidates now running, there’s no surprises; the Guardians merely permitted the four leading, best known candidates into the contest. Yet there are significant differences among the candidates; much is at stake.

Continue reading “Iran Politics: It’s the foreign policy, stupid.”