10 May 2013

Witch Hunting In Iran

People are still persecuted for being witches in much of the world in the second decade of the 21st century (as I've pointed out in many previous posts at this blog). 

This happens in Iran too.  But, in Iran, unlike many of the other places where this happens, many of the witch hunts, and much of the sorcery rhetoric is transparently political at the level of national and international politics.  In contrast, in most of the world, witch hunts seem to be driven mostly by the petty social dynamics of local villages and neighborhoods decoupled from any larger political agenda.
Mehdi Taeb, a senior cleric in the Iranian government, recently addressed some students at an Iranian religious school and explained to them that the major reason so many nations have gone along with the latest round of sanctions against Iran was because Israel had been using magic to persuade the leaders of these nations to back sanctions. Without the Israeli witchcraft, the sanctions would not exist. Taeb explained that the Israelis have used this magic before, as in 2009, against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad when he was running for president. Many Iranians openly opposed Ahmadinejad, who won anyway. This, to Taeb, was proof that devout Moslems could defeat the Jewish magic.
What’s interesting with this observation is that, two years ago, Taeb and his fellow clerics tried to get rid of Ahmadinejad and his zealous (against corrupt clerics) associates. One method used was to send the police (which the clergy control) to arrest key Ahmadinejad aides and accuse them of witchcraft and sorcery. This led to street brawls between fans of Ahmadinejad and Islamic hardliners. Clubs, knives, and other sharp instruments were used. There was blood in the streets. All because of a witch hunt.
It is almost stunning how similar Iranian politics tactics today resemble those that would have been familiar to Bronze Age Persian Princes thousands of years ago, so far back in history, in fact, that legend starts to blend freely with factual historical accounts.

It is hard to know what Iranian elites think of this nonsense.  Iran is not a third world country and, unlike petrokingdoms like Saudi Arabia, it has an economy that reaps a great deal from the labors of an ample middle class (by West Asian and North African standards anyway) rather than oil wealth that takes only minimal indigenous cultural and economic sophistication to reap handsome rewards from exploiting (although Iran certainly has substantial oil wealth as well).  Likewise, Iran is not totally isolated from the outside world to the extent of modern North Korea, tribes in the interior of Papua New Guinea or the Amazon, or Cold War Albania. 

Many people in Iran, including many people who fan the flames of witch hunts there, must surely know that this is nothing more than absurd and malevolent mischief.  But, the tool probably wouldn't be used at all if nobody believed it.   And, it is hard to know who in the somewhat isolated society does and does not believe.

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