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Sender: owner-imap@webmap.missouri.edu
Date: Fri, 16 Jan 98 16:04:44 CST
From: scott@rednet.org (Peoples Weekly World)
Subject: Teheran summit: a democratic future for Islam
Organization: Scott Marshall
Article: 25807

Teheran summit: a democratic future for Islam

By William Pomeroy, People's Weekly World, 17 January 1998

The summit meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference that was held in Teheran, Iran last month was featured by deliberations and declarations of major significance for the development of Islamic states, for relations with Western countries, and for peace in the Middle East and other areas.

Attending were 65 delegations from 54 member states of the OIC, including 28 heads of state and some of the principal Arab friends of the U.S., together with the bitterest Islamic opponents of U.S. policy. The OIC, whose secretariat is based in Saudi Arabia, subordinates differing political outlooks of its members to the common religious belief, embracing both the majority Sunni sect centered in Saudi Arabia and the minority Shia sect in Iran.

The summit took place, however, at a time of spreading discontent among the world's one billion Moslems over the failure of the U.S. to uphold and advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process or general peace in the Middle east. Rankling, too, are the harsh U.S. sanctions against four Islamic states.

Just before the Teheran summit had been the dismal failure of the U.S.-backed Middle east and North Africa Economic Conference (MENA) held in Qatar, which was boycotted by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other supposed U.S. allies (MENA was set up to promote Arab-Israeli economic integration).

In Teheran, the mood in the OIC of opposition to U.S. policy was perhaps best exhibited by the presence of the deputy prime minister of Iraq, Taha Yassin Ramadan, the first such top-level visit since the cruel Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88, with the prospect of reopened diplomatic relations indicated at the OIC summit's end. Nevertheless, although denunciations of U.S. imperialism occurred in speeches, this was not the thrust of the summit.

A central theme, voiced by many speakers, was a strong condemnation of extremist terrorism, with denunciation of gruesome crimes by the GIA in Algeria, of the Taleban in Afghanistan, and others. Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah, in line for the throne in that country, called for an end to extreme militancy which has shed innocent Moslem blood in the name of Islam.

Most important, the final agreed OIC Teheran Declaration, proclaimed at the end of the conference, denounced terrorism committed in the name of Islam. It did so, however, while distinguishing terrorism from the struggles of people against colonial or alien domination or foreign occupation.

Taking place as it did in Iran, the summit deliberations were considerably shaped by the course of events in that country which epitomize the two main currents in the Islamic part of the world, the conservative authoritarian and the relatively democratic liberal.

Attempts by the U.S. to stigmatize Iran as a terrorist rogue state and to isolate it with tough sanctions have tended to obstruct understanding of a changing situation in Iran. The ruling body of reactionary mullahs that took control of the 1979 revolution that overthrew the Shah and has sought to establish an oppressive authoritarian Islamic fundamentalist and anti-Western state has had limitations put upon it by a 1981 constitution which has enabled the development of other power-centers in the society, especially that of an elected parliament and presisdency.

The supreme authority continues to reside in the fundamentalist 70-strong Assembly of experts that elected Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (successor to Ayatollah Khomenei) as supreme leader for life in 1989. Khamenei denounces democracy as a Western concept alien to Islam and insists that authority must come from appointed leaders and not a vote-holding public. Increasingly, however, popular support has swung to the elected president and parliament.

Last May, in a testing presidential election, the two power centers came into a sharp confrontation. The candidate backed by Khamenei and his Assembly was overwhelmingly defeated, a moderately liberal ayatollah, Mohammad Khatami, winning over 70 percent of the vote. Khatami's broad support, both secular and clerical, but especially among youth and women, showed the significant trend in the society.

At the OIC summit, these two opposing tendencies shaped the proceedings. As the supreme leader (in the Islamic sense) of the host country, Ayatollah Khamenei gave the introductory address, a reiteration of the fundamentalist outlook, attacking Western materialism, gluttony and carnal desires and calling for Islamic unity against Western cultural and technological invasion.

Contrasting with this was a second address, by President Khatami, who stressed human rights, the need for democracy in Moslem countries and for dialogue, not confrontation, with the West. Khatami contended that Moslems must use Western scientific and social achievements to advance.

He appealed for an Islamic civil society in which government serves rather than dominates the people; where it is accountable for its acts before the people whom God has attributed the right to decide their own destiny, (a direct challenge to the fundamentalist authoritarianism).

OIC delegates received the Khamenei speech in silence, but gave prolonged applause to the speech of Khatami. This general sentiment was expressed forthrightly in the final Teheran Declaration which, together with its denunciation of terrorism in the name of Islam, called for interaction, dialogue and understanding among cultures and religions. (Although the OIC meet heard delegates attack the U.S. and Israel as the enemies of peace in the Middle East, it was the call for dialogue that stood out.)

Immediately after the OIC meeting Khatami made a straightforward call for dialogue with the Great American people. He said he would soon make a historic address to Americans: I hope that as such dialogues, thoughtful dialogues, increase, we shall get closer to peace.