by HANA H. in Tehran
25 Feb 2010 03:02
Iranian politicians have mastered this 'art of riddle-talk.' Most foreign journalists reporting on Iran do not realize that in order to understand the truth of the political situation in the country they must first learn to crack the code of the 'Iranian way of speaking,' as true intentions are often lost in translation.
I remember right after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was announced the winner of the presidential race, in his first press conference, a foreign reporter asked him if he was willing to guarantee the safety of his rivals. Ahmadinejad replied by saying that when one passes a red light he gets a ticket for speeding. That British journalist walked away huffing and puffing and infuriated by what she later described as Ahmadinejad's unwillingness to be logical, interpreting his response as a sign of his arrogance.
If that journalist had been acquainted with Iranian riddle-talk he would have known that Ahmadinejad was saying, "My rivals are part of the system, therefore they will be safe. However, if they persist in their demands for a vote-recount they will get a slap on the wrist." In other words, Ahmadinejad was saying that no one goes to prison or is executed for speeding.
Iran is the set of a soap opera with the characters continuously rearranging alliances and being cast in new roles. There are the 'good guys', the 'bad guys', the 'repenting villains' and the saints who come back as villains after a few episodes.
In order to fully comprehend which Iranian politician supports what side one must learn to read between the lines.
On Tuesday, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the head of the Assembly of Experts and Expediency Council, whom many believe is the power behind the scene in Iran, addressed the meeting of the Experts with a speech that was viewed as mostly moderate and pertaining to general political developments in the country.
What was overlooked, however, were the threats made to Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei by the head of the assembly, who is essentially tasked with supervising Iran's Leader.
Rafsanjani opened his speech by extending his condolences over the martyrdom of the 11th Shia Imam. "After his martyrdom the Muslim Ummah was deprived of its late leader, even though [his successor] the Hidden Imam, who God has saved, is there for the Muslim Ummah," he said.
Rafsanjani used the word "rahel" meaning "the late" to refer to the 11th Imam, Hassan Asgari, who was 'martyred' by lethal poison. Shiite Iranians feel very strongly about the martyrdom of their religious leaders and would never use the word 'rahel', meaning passed away from natural causes, to refer to a martyred Imam. Being a cleric Rafsanjani knows this all too well.
As far as Iranians are concerned, there is only one Imam-e rahel and that is the founder of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini.
The Islamic Republic has taught Iranians that the teachings of the Shiite Imams are necessary in every aspect of life and comprehensive enough to provide answers to trivial as well as important matters.
Rafsanjani next said, "Imam Mahdi is like the sun hidden behind clouds and in time of need we will make use of his words of guidance."
His choice of words in Persian, however, could mean 'If there is ever need, we also have the option of referring to what Imam Mahdi (the 12th Imam) said," which stands in stark contrast to the preachings of the Islamic Republic.
Clearly, Rafsanjani was telling Ayatollah Khamenei 'we can handle things on our own and if there is ever need we will ask your opinion as the successor to Ayatollah Khomeini.
Persian speakers know that most times when one is reprimanded by elders, they are first reminded of the good things they have done and then told off. For instance if a child gets bad grades in school, he is told "You got good grades in math last year and even this year when you were sick you still studied and got a good mark." Then comes the warning that only Iranians understand: "I know you know how important it is to study your math lessons." The hidden message is, 'If you do it next time you will get the spanking you deserve.'
"The important thing for us is to keep this collection [i.e. establishment] on the scene and we must not allow attacks to target the leadership and the establishment and for him [the Leader] to become the target. I know better than anyone else that the leadership does not want the scene to become too heated and for anyone to be hurt just as after the Kahrizak incident he [the Leader] issued a statement and requested consolation [for the victims] and punishment for the perpetrators [of the crime]," Rafsanjani said.
Rafsanjani went on: "The Leader is still careful not to have an overflow [of sentiment] or the utterance of useless words."
Rafsanjani used the Persian-style reprimand on the Supreme Leader. He also used the word "toghyan," which translates as "overflow of sentiments or rebellion and revolt."
He was not just stating facts, Rafsanjani was telling the leader to watch his moves and to be careful with his decisions or else there will be a rebellion and the whole establishment and all its keepers will meet the fate of the Pahlavi regime after the 1979 Revolution.
Iranians also have a way of dealing with situations by stating that their "hands are tied because of what higher powers want."
"Today I know of no one better than the Leader to be the axis of unity," Rafsanjani said. "Of course everyone can be of help and if he [the Leader] accepts the responsibility of guide, which he has, the Assembly of Experts, which has great influence on the people, can use his [the leader's] guidance to move forward."
In this case, the higher power is the people. By saying that the Assembly of Experts has great influence on the people, Rafsanjani meant to say we can unite the people to demand you gone and as they are the higher power if they want you gone we will have no choice but to unseat you.
So really, Rafsanjani used his final statement to tell Ayatollah Khamenei, "Your fate is in my hands because I head the Assembly of Experts" and "therefore, I set the rules."
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