Monday, May 22, 2006

That lone Jewish Iranian representative: the history of religious minorities in Iran

My original post about the (now pretty much debunked) report of an Islamic dress code law for minorities quoted that report as stating that the clothing designations were to apply to Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians in Iran.

That got me wondering about the histories of those three minorities in Persia, now Iran. So I started by looking up the history of Jews in Persia, and discovered this article, which sheds quite a bit of light on the history of all those minority groups, including their recent representation in Iran's legislature. I have no reason to doubt the information in it, but it's best to issue a caveat that all the following information is based on that one article from something called the "Iran Chamber Society," which (at least according to its own self-description) appears to be a non-affiliated and nonpolitical group dedicated to learning about Iranian/Persian history and culture.

I'm sure books have been written on the subject, and this is only a short article, but the gist of the history is that yes indeed, these three communities have ancient and deep roots in Persia. They had all experienced an unusual amount of religious freedom for the times until the Moslem conquest of Persia in the seventh century. At that point, all members of polytheistic and pagan religions were given the choice to convert or die, but Jews and Christians, as "people of the book," were given second-class citizen dhimmi status under reigning sharia law (made to pay poll taxes, prohibited from friendship and intermarriage with Moslems, etc.). Zoroastrians were later included in this category, interestingly enough.

Putting the whole thing in context, if one compares dhimmi status to the previous pre-Moslem-conquest religious freedom in the area, it was indeed a restriction. But if one compares it to the status of Jews in Europe at the time, for example, for the most part dhimmi status seems like an advance. Application of the more stringent discriminations varied over time according to the whim and personalities of the various rulers of Persia.

There were massacres or these minority groups as well--also not unheard of in Europe, to say the least. But more recently, especially by the turn of the nineteenth into the twentieth century, the secularization movement swept through Persia/Iran and owed some of its success to the activities of members of these minority groups. In 1907 their efforts bore fruit--except for the Bahais, who were still excluded--citizenship there was now based on nationality and not religion, and the Majlis (the legislature) was secularized and no longer solely Islamic.

Here's the part that relates, interestingly enough, directly to the story that began this whole quest for me. You may recall that one of the people denying the rumor was the sole Jewish representative to the Iranian legislature. Many--including myself--were wondering about this man: how did he get elected? Who was he?

It turns out that the 1907 law establishing the national Majlis ordered that there be representatives of each religious minority: one for each major religion. In fact, the way it worked was that Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians could participate by voting in the election of their respective single representatives, but not in the selection of any other members of the legislature. It was a strictly segregated vote for a very limited representation (Jews were to vote only for the single Jew, Christians for the single Christian, and Zoroastrians for the single Zoroastrian), but it was a slight advance over what had gone before.

When the Shah came to power he furthered religious tolerance in the country and even ignored the ban on non-Shiite Moslems in government. During his regime there were not only some non-Moslems in government; even some members of the previously most reviled group, the Bahais, served. This all ended with the 1979 Islamic revolution, which restored the rule of sharia law.

At present, the old 1907 rule is in force, allowing one representative each from the Jewish, Christian, and Zoroastrian populations of Iran. The article is mum on the topic of how they are elected; my best guess would be that the old way is followed on that, as well, and that each minority group votes only for its one representative and no others.

So that is apparently the story of how Maurice Motammed came to be the lone Jewish representative in Iran's Islamic parliament.

23 Comments:

At 1:45 PM, May 22, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

When the Shah came to power he furthered religious tolerance in the country and even ignored the ban on non-Shiite Moslems in government. During his regime there were not only some non-Moslems in government; even some members of the previously most reviled group, the Bahais, served. This all ended with the 1979 Islamic revolution, which restored the rule of sharia law.

Anything is better than the hated Shah.

 
At 3:23 PM, May 22, 2006, Blogger nyomythus said...

Edward Said (1935-2003) describes some of the conflicts between Palestinians and Jews and here in is, impart, a denial. He does not refer to Israeli, but Jews, as if Israel was not an ethnically pluralist state. Another criticism is that individuals who find themselves as rulers of foreign lands do so best with power and intelligence, intelligence as in knowledge of the history and people of whom they rule – and ruling them in the way of the native culture not the occupying culture. An Islamic population simply can not co-exist within a democracy with other religions in peace, dhimmitude forbids it. In the Shah’s Iran, a non-Muslim ruling over a Muslim people in any circumstance would have been unbridgeable, intolerable

This is because this is no Islamic doctrine to loop around it -- no Reformation, no New Testament, nor a moral code like the 10 Commandments to "Treat your neighbor like you would like to be treated.”

Just, “The unbeliever is unclean” …and actually more than just this.

It’s like the situation with black Mississippi legislators during Reconstruction (1865–1877), if Federal troops had not been present it would never have happened. Speaking of Reconstruction, one hundred years later Freedom Summer was organized to protect the rights of black Mississippians to exercise their lawful right to vote – what are the parallels between this and the first Crusade launched to protect Christian minorities in the Holy Land? Today, Mississippi is a vastly different society -- and for the better.

 
At 5:31 PM, May 22, 2006, Blogger neoneoconned said...

yeah well the first crusade was a rather murderous enterprise. The population of Jerusalem were slain by liberating christians for a start. And in many places and at any different times Islamic societies have been tolerant of a wide range of different religious beliefs - certainly more than the uncivilised crusaders were. The radicalised version you get in Iran and Saudi Arabia certainly is not - but don't make the mistake of lumping them all in together.

 
At 6:00 PM, May 22, 2006, Blogger al fin said...

And yet, what are the two established islamic nations who wish to have and retain control of the islamic holy places? Saudi Arabia (Mecca, Medina) and Iran (Shia sites in Iran and Iraq).

Iran sees itself as the rightful guardian of shia sites--even those in Iraq. This will be a bone of contention, perhaps decided by the neutron chain reaction.

Neo, it is difficult to understand why any rational being would prefer the Ayatollah's Sharia with its purges and bloodletting, to the Shah. Although the Shah was an autocrat, compared to the mullahs he appears almost enlightened.

I propose moving control of the holy sites to Turkey, and depriving Iran and the House of Saud of that honour.

 
At 6:14 PM, May 22, 2006, Blogger nyomythus said...

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At 6:15 PM, May 22, 2006, Blogger nyomythus said...

Neo, it is difficult to understand why any rational being would prefer the Ayatollah's Sharia

Men

Under Sharia, men have complete and total power. It is not benevolent in the least, it is an orgy of joyous blood-letting -- hence the derivation, "Islamofascist".

 
At 6:19 PM, May 22, 2006, Blogger nyomythus said...

That's all good, but if I may, Islamic societies have been tolerant of a wide range of different religious beliefs yes they have been tolerant and have practiced under the law of Sharia "dhimmitude" which is to "accept a condition of humiliation" which includes "dress codes", taxes for non-believers, second class citizenship, or death, etc...

Where are the Great Zoroastrians today? Or the Nestorian Mongol Christians? Or the large Jewish and Christian populations of the ancient Middle East? Or the once great Empire of India? etc... Completely or to a degree they have assimilated under dhimmitude or died under the sword, preferring to convert than live in hopelessness for generations, or forced into armed serve; “Mamluks” [non-muslim slave soldiers]

The principal key factor is what was then is still the normal – Islam has not changed, there has been no modernization of Islam, no Enlightenment, no Reformation, no New Testament, no moral code such as the 10 Commandments; as then as it is now, convert, or be a slave; if not a slave, then die [see 9/11]

 
At 8:35 PM, May 22, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

The question people should ask is. If Saladin's forces in the Crusades were more civilized than Richard the Lionhearted's, then what became of the vaunted "Arab civilization" and what then became of the European civilization?


I propose moving control of the holy sites to Turkey, and depriving Iran and the House of Saud of that honour.


I propose using Iraqi shock troops to annex Iranian territory and towns, and introduce "imperial democracy" to Iraq's fellow Shia brothers and sisters living under fanaticism and a heretical religious order.

Islamic states went into the toilets, and they did that quite handily without Western help.

 
At 12:53 AM, May 23, 2006, Blogger neoneoconned said...

look yrmadwankr history is a lot more complicated than your childish black and white view....go and read some.


...here is a little thought exercise for you. try to picture what life in iran would be like now without the anglo-us inspired coup of'53. go on think outside your stupid little box for once.

and iraqi shock troops? god almighty they can't even ontrol iraq......

 
At 1:30 AM, May 23, 2006, Blogger douglas said...

I wonder how many in the religious minorities even bother to go vote. He probably got elected by his family and friends.

 
At 3:30 AM, May 23, 2006, Blogger Judith said...

"the first crusade was a rather murderous enterprise. The population of Jerusalem were slain by liberating christians for a start. And in many places and at any different times Islamic societies have been tolerant of a wide range of different religious beliefs - certainly more than the uncivilised crusaders were."

Not true. At various times Jews did well in different parts of Europe. And Islam was at least as bloody as Christianity toward Jews and Christians.

The Crusades - in which the Christians were as bloody as the Muslims - were a reaction by Christians to Muslim invasion of Christian countries. What is now Turkey used to be part of the Byzantine Empire, which was Christians. The Hagia Sophia was a church before it was a mosque. Jews and Christians lived in Palestine, Muslims invaded and massacred and took slaves soon after Islam was founded.

The land was originally the Jews', and it would have been nice if they gave it back to us, but it certainly was Christian land before it was Muslim land.

 
At 3:35 AM, May 23, 2006, Blogger neoneoconned said...

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At 5:48 AM, May 23, 2006, Blogger neoneoconned said...

yeah well on those grounds you should give the US back to the "native" americans. And it was the Romans really messed things up for the Jews and it is a VERY long time ago

 
At 7:25 AM, May 23, 2006, Blogger nyomythus said...

yeah well on those grounds you should give the US back to the "native" americans. And it was the Romans really messed things up for the Jews and it is a VERY long time ago

That's a black and white analysis, simplistic reduction. In fact, Europeans started the wars with Native Americans.

 
At 7:33 AM, May 23, 2006, Blogger nyomythus said...

Someone's basing their facts from the movie, "Kingdom of Heaven"?

Speaking of movies I can't wait to see that new movie "Islam: ...." I can't remember the title!

 
At 8:49 AM, May 23, 2006, Blogger neoneoconned said...

what on earth are you talking about little apple thief?

 
At 10:02 AM, May 23, 2006, Blogger snowonpine said...

Can't help but wonder if this one Jewish representative in the Majlis isn't the typical "happy ehnic minority" or "happy religious minority" type that the Chinese, for instance, drag out to show tourists on their "Potemkin Villiage" tours. What happens to this guy if he steps out of line?

 
At 10:14 AM, May 23, 2006, Blogger nyomythus said...

Of unexpected consequences: It’s interesting that Christopher Columbus discovered the New World because of the Fall of Constantinople. His expedition was in search of new trade routes to India. If it were not for Islamic Jihad, America would not have been discovered by Europeans, but would have probably have been settled by Russians or Chinese. Perhaps human freedom would not have had a foothold in the world. England’s emerging progressive democracy could not have stood alone. This is not a good thing from Jihad, but an unexpected consequence. Don’t diminished the gift of human freedom; we were first lucky, then came the hard work – none of which I can take any credit for. We chat online, enjoy extra sleep on Saturdays, tinker with hobbies, live and love whom we wish, work extra jobs if we please – and we are not even Nobles, just little people living on the planet. I can even steal a little piece of candy at the store, without the fear of having my hand chopped off – absurd, but I take it for granted, the world could have been much more sinister. And who says it still can’t be? The utterly exorbitant comforts of Civilization can be one incredible Matrix from the burning flesh of barbarity.

 
At 10:16 AM, May 23, 2006, Blogger nyomythus said...

What happens to this guy if he steps out of line?

Steps out of line -- they'll treat him like a King [Rodney] ...More humor. lol

 
At 10:46 AM, May 23, 2006, Blogger Goesh said...

- a token Jew in the Legislature is worth two in the ghetto, or so they say. We can probably trace alot of this back to Saladin, who upon extending his reach even further and into Egpyt pretty much wiped out what the Fatimids of Cairo had been able to achieve, including a fair degree of religious tolerance and great importance granted to the arts and sciences. Dar al-Hikma was an impressive learning center but ol' Saladin pretty much put the kibosh on it and essentially looted it and he began to confine and restrict scholars. This is just my opinion, but again, I think it set a trend and pattern for future islamic rulers.

 
At 12:51 PM, May 23, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

A lot of people don't know this, but Russian divisions would disappear down the hole and not come up if they tried to fight in Iraq

The combined military might of the entire Northern Hemisphere couldn't succede in Iraq or Afghanistan. But the United States alone could and are.

It's amazing how many billions our allies are paying to reconstruct Afghanistan and Iraq. A lot of people seem to think that means you can always win a guerrila war if you throw money and men at the people. Quantity over quality.

It's been a long time since the powers on this globe has fought a war by themselves.

 
At 1:46 PM, May 23, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

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At 1:09 AM, May 24, 2006, Blogger douglas said...

Then there are the Bahai- severely persecuted in Iran, and I notice they don't warrant representation...

 

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