TCS Daily

Natural Tremors, Political Temblors

By Pejman Yousefzadeh - January 19, 2004 12:00 AM

The recent and horrifying humanitarian disaster in Iran -- which was brought about by an earthquake in the southeastern city of Bam -- has refocused attention on the country. Close to 30,00 have died as a result of the quake, and aid is flowing in from the United States and other countries (though not from Israel, thanks to the Islamic regime's refusal to accept Israeli aid). In addition to the ongoing humanitarian drama, there is an issue as to how Iran's political establishment is going to be affected by the earthquake.

It will take much more time before the long-term impact of the quake is clear, but what is clear now is that the Islamic regime's response to the quake, and the regime's many past actions, demonstrate that in addition to being a group of totalitarians who foment terrorism abroad and repression at home, the mullahs of the Islamic regime are the worst possible guarantors of their own people's safety and security.

One need only read this article by Iranian writer Amir Taheri to appreciate the responsibility that the Islamic regime bears. After detailing Bam's long history with earthquakes (the city has been destroyed by quakes multiple times), Taheri tells us:

By the early 1970s, the government had decided not to allow people to build new houses in Bam itself. The city's ancient monuments were declared part of the heritage of mankind under UNESCO and no new buildings permits were issued for almost six years.

The revolutionary turmoil of 1978-79 provided racketeers with an opportunity to seize large chunks of land in Bam and use it for poorly designed and badly constructed houses and shops. The racket was backed by a group of powerful mullahs who, in exchange for a cut in the proceeds, issued fatwas (religious opinions) that canceled government orders that banned house-building in the city.

The mullahs claimed that the shah had wished to keep Bam empty because of a secret plan under which the city would be turned into a Zoroastrian center. They also dismissed warnings from the National Seismological Center in Tehran that opposed the repopulation of Bam. The mullahs claimed that the Hidden Imam would protect the new inhabitants of the city against all disasters.

Thus, more than half of those who died in the earthquake could be regarded as victims of a racket ran by mullahs and their associates with the help of religious prejudice and superstition.

Most Iranians knew nothing of the racket that the earthquake has exposed. The discovery that so many people died because cynical developers and bribe-taking mullahs sought a fast buck has sent a shock wave throughout the country.

It should surprise no one, therefore, that the aftermath of the earthquake has left Iranians even more enraged at their government than they have been in the past. Pseudonymous Iranian writer "Geesou Atasheen" reveals the depths of that rage with this article:

Though many aid workers were turned back, others were allowed to stay. Iranians were becoming angrier by the day as the mullahs arrogantly refused help from countries like Israel. A cab driver in Tehran was heard saying: "What nerve these mullahs have to turn away aid offered by the Israelis...those poor people over there are constantly dealing with those suicide bombers, who are probably financed by the clerics of the Islamic republic of Iran, and yet they are kind enough to offer us their aid and these audacious zealots over here threaten to attack them!"

Though the European aid workers are treated with respect, they also receive a great deal of aloofness. The arrival of a U.S. colonel and his aides in Hercules C130 military transport planes, however, proved to be a raging success. Iranians had gathered in the Kerman airport to greet them with arms full of flowers, shouting, "AMRIKAAYEE...KHOSH AMADEE" (American, you're welcome). Iranians hugged them and hung on to them as if their "saviors" had come. Departing Americans were met with pleas from the crowd, begging them to stay. One of the American aid workers involved said that she was shocked and deeply moved to receive such a reception.

[President] Khatami and [Supreme Religious Leader] Khamenei's visits to Bam, however, lasted no more than a scant hour each. Though they were surrounded by "walls" of bodyguards, they could not be shielded from harangues and insults hurled at them. "It is your fault this happened to us," one woman cried. "You knew that this could happen and you liars never warned us." The hatred for the regime reached a fever pitch as it became clear that, in fact, all the information about the seismic activities and dangers of the region had been made available to the clerics for years, and they had simply ignored it.

Even now, the high-handed hardliners in the Islamic regime take steps to further alienate and disgust the populace. The hardliners are blocking perhaps as much as 50-60% of the 8,200 reform candidates for Parliament from running, as well as obstructing the candidacies over half of the 1,700 reformers vying for seats in Tehran. In addition to being completely anti-democratic, this action is suicidal. Iran desperately needs political reforms for increased transparency in its government -- to ensure that the corruption that led to the building of homes and destruction of lives in Bam will have little chance of happening again. It also needs political reforms in order to increase the chances that there will be economic liberalization in the country. As Thomas Sowell points out, wealth and economic prosperity are important to a country not only for materialistic reasons, but also because wealth serves as a bulwark against the devastating effects of natural disasters -- by making possible infrastructure that will better withstand calamitous disasters, and will better provide aid and comfort to those afflicted.

As horrible as the Chernobyl nuclear reactor meltdown was when it occurred in 1986, its one saving grace was illuminating completely the failed nature of the Soviet state whose incompetence and neglect made the meltdown possible. It is too late to save the historic city of Bam and the nearly 30,000 who have lost their lives. But it is not too late to prevent future disasters from being visited on Iran through misconduct, mismanagement, and the continued futile attempts to vindicate the Islamic regime to its own people. Here's hoping that the tremors felt in Bam will be felt in Tehran, and will finally displace a failed regime.

The alternative, as we have seen, is too horrible to bear.


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