Tuesday, May 23, 2006


A few implications in the kerfuffle over the Iran "Jewish Star" story.

It began with an Amir Taheri column in Canada's National Post reporting that religious minorities in Iran would, under a new law making its way through the Majlis, be required to wear distinctive clothing marking them as non-Muslims. The original story seems to have been removed, but it was saved in many places, as here. The story made the wire services the same day, and generated instant controversy. The controversy is understandable, since we're talking about

...a law passed by the Islamic Majlis (parliament) on Monday.

The law mandates the government to make sure that all Iranians wear "standard Islamic garments" designed to remove ethnic and class distinctions reflected in clothing, and to eliminate "the influence of the infidel" on the way Iranians, especially, the young dress. It also envisages separate dress codes for religious minorities, Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians, who will have to adopt distinct colour schemes to make them identifiable in public. The new codes would enable Muslims to easily recognize non-Muslims so that they can avoid shaking hands with them by mistake, and thus becoming najis (unclean).

The interesting thing was the inevitable debunking story that followed in the National Post the same day.

Experts say report of badges for Jews in Iran is untrue

Several experts are casting doubt on reports that Iran had passed a law requiring the country’s Jews and other religious minorities to wear coloured badges identifying them as non-Muslims.

The Iranian embassy in Otttawa also denied the Iranian government had passed such a law.

“These kinds of slanderous accusations are part of a smear campaign against Iran by vested interests, which needs to be denounced at every step.”

Sam Kermanian, of the U.S.-based Iranian-American Jewish Federation, said in an interview from Los Angeles that he had contacted members of the Jewish community in Iran — including the lone Jewish member of the Iranian parliament — and they denied any such measure was in place.

Meir Javdanfar, an Israeli expert on Iran and the Middle East who was born and raised in Tehran, said yesterday that he was unable to find any evidence that such a law had been passed.

“None of my sources in Iran have heard of this,” he said. “I don’t know where this comes from.”

There is nothing in the article that justifies, among other things, the categorical and tendentious headline. It quotes various exiles and Iranian diplomats saying that no such law is force yet. It does not contradict the Taheri report.

Taheri, for his part, stands by the story.

The law has been passed by the Islamic Majlis and will now be submitted to the Council of Guardians. A committee has been appointed to work out the modalities of implementation.

Many ideas are being discussed with regard to implementation, including special markers, known as zonnars, for followers of Judaism, Christianity and Zoroastrianism, the only faiths other than Islam that are recognized as such. The zonnar was in use throughout the Muslim world until the early 20th century and marked out the dhimmis, or protected religious minorities. ( In Iran it was formally abolished in 1908).

I have been informed of the ideas under discussion thanks to my sources in Tehran, including three members of the Majlis who had tried to block the bill since it was first drafted in 2004.

I do not know which of these ideas or any will be eventually adopted. We will know once the committee appointed to discuss them presents its report, perhaps in September.

Interestingly, the Islamic Republic authorities refuse to issue an official statement categorically rejecting the concept of dhimmitude and the need for marking out religious minorities.

I am definitely not inclined to give the Iranian regime the benefit of the doubt as the many debunkers of the story seem to be. But I did make one observation about the media and its love of the term "experts."

Every time a headline uses the word "experts," it's essentially a demand that the reader arrive at the one correct belief. But the experts said so! There's no disputing it! This is so even if, as in the above story, the "experts" aren't all that expert. It should make people wonder the next time we get one of those ridiculous boilerplate headlines like "Experts say Saddam was a gentle, misunderstood lamb" or "Experts conclude global warming will kill 8,657,322. by next week." The Beatle song applies here:

Expert texpert choking smokers,
Don't you think the joker laughs at you?

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