Monday, July 13, 2009

Neda Agha-Soltan's death revisited . . .

Marzieh Amirizadeh
Maryam Rustampoor
Muslim-Background Christians
(Image from BosNewsLife)

Although I'm now about 90 percent convinced that Neda Agha-Soltan's death was a purely random killing by the Basij, who had no suspicion that she might have been Christian, the case of Muslim-background Christians such as Marzieh Amirizadeh and Maryam Rustampoor is what raised my suspicions:

Marzieh Amirizadeh, 30, and Maryam Rustampoor, 27, have been held for over four months in Tehran's notorious Evin prison apparently for converting to Christianity from Islam.

Iranian Christians and rights investigators said the two young women, who were arrested March 5, suffered sleep deprivation as part of police interrogations and were held in solitary confinement for three weeks in May and early June.

Later, they were put together in one small cell for about two weeks before being moved to a larger area to make place for other inmates, including many protesters who were detained following last month's disputed presidential elections, said Christians with close knowledge about the situation.

About 600 women were reportedly brought to Evin prison during the protests. (Stefan J. Bos, "Concerns Over Detained Iranian Christians Amid Political Turmoil," BosNewLife, July 7, 2009)
As the report notes, apostasy from Islam is taken very seriously in Iran:

Apostasy along with murder, adultery, rape, armed robbery, and drug trafficking are all punishable by death in Iran, and last week Iranian media reported that at least six people were hanged for murder in the same prison where the two Christian women are held.
Iran's hardline on apostasy, combined with the seeming cross worn by Neda Agha-Soltan, left me wondering . . . but my former student Hajir, an Iranian, expressed skepticism that Neda had been specifically targeted:

Even though it might seem interesting that a girl whos name is Persian was wearing a cross in a picture, to me it is not surprising at all. First of all many of people who I know that live very secular if they find something stylish they might wear it for a period, therefore they are not necessarily Christian.

Or since many Persians these days are confused with their religious identity might identify themselves with any religion temporarily, but they cannot be considered real converts because [they] mostly do not have deep understanding and they just follow the trend for a short period.

But still there are many (unknown number) of Christian converts in Iran that she might also be one of them, Her religious belief is really uncertain to me, indeed it seems a cross to me in the photo.

. . .

I personally think her death was just like other deaths that unfortunately took place within the past few weeks and the only distinction is the video that has made the scene more significant than the others.

I believe she was shot down by Basij troops and the death was not plotted in advance. Because police were even unable to locate the protests, how could they possibly know somebody who has no high profile -- like her -- is somewhere among the protesters to plan to kill her?!
Hajir's final point is a very astute one. Following through on some plan to kill Neda Agha-Soltan in the chaotic crowds would have been very difficult. Still, let's not dismiss it entirely, for Iran's Islamist leaders are said to be worried about conversions away from Islam, especially conversions to Christianity, so much so that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has reportedly promised, "I will stop Christianity in this country" (Kenneth R. Timmerman, "Freedom to Believe," NRO, December 15, 2005). Consider this analysis from the news report above on Marzieh Amirizadeh and Maryam Rustampoor:

Elam Ministries linked the attacks [on Muslim-background Christians] to concern among Iran's leaders about the spread of Christianity in the Islamic nation. "Because Iran is a strategic gateway nation, the growing church in Iran will impact Muslim nations across the Islamic world."

The group said in 1979, there were less than 500 known Christians from a Muslim background in Iran. "Today the most conservative estimate is that there are at least 100,000 believers in the nation."

Church leaders have reportedly said that they believe "millions" can be added "to the church in the next few years-such is the spiritual hunger that exists and the disillusionment with the Islamic regime." (Stefan J. Bos, "Concerns Over Detained Iranian Christians Amid Political Turmoil," BosNewLife, July 7, 2009)
One need not accept the optimistic projections of Elam Ministries to recognize that the Islamic Republic of Iran might be paranoid about such conversions. Some supporters of the Iranian government even seem to revel in the brutal suppression, as with this "Anonymous" individual in a comment to one of my blog entries on the election in Iran:

Ahmadinejad was ahead before the election, and there is no reason to believe he did not win a landslide. He has been rubbing the West's nose in its own sh*t for over 4 years.

Four more years, like it or not. (Your own sh*t, that is.)
I found courtesy difficult to maintain in the face of such vulgar gloating by an individual who didn't even bother with asterisks (though I have since supplied these), but I did manage what I hope was a sufficiently irenic reply:

Anonymous, when I saw the "Anonymous" signature, I expected the sort of comment that you posted, so I wasn't surprised and therefore certainly not disappointed.

Congratulations on your victory. You sound happy with it.
We'll just have to see how this all plays out over the years and months, but "Anonymous" should recall that fateful warning to Sir Gawain: Þe forme to þe fynisment foldez ful selden ("first things to last things very seldom match," SGGK, Part 2, line 499).

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At 11:13 AM, Anonymous Saber Fencer said...

Off topic, but....

Jeffery, look at this....
'What's Brewin': Bob Brewin’s Take on Defense Information Technology [].

What Bob fails to mention is that you are the one who made the paper actually readable....

Thought I should let you know...

At 1:44 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks. I had just read that news article before seeing this comment. Congratulations. If I recall, the paper that you wrote was already readable before I checked it.

I did think of your research on this when I read of the recent cyber-attacks. Looks like you were right. Do you get a promotion for this?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:24 PM, Anonymous Saber Fencer said...

Hardly....hoping this will pass with not too many people noticing.... :)

At 3:05 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Too late -- I'm already blogging on it tomorrow. Your superior officers, all of whom read my blog, will be contacting you soon.

Jeffery Hodges

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