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On April 17, Iran celebrated its National Army Day with military parades and a warning to its enemies, which apparently includes Facebook.

Pictures from the military parade in the city of Isfahan show military jeeps carrying anti-Facebook banners, which declare that the social-networking site is one form of proof of the “soft war” Iran says its enemies have launched to bring down the Islamic establishment.

Facebook is very popular among Iranians, who have to access the site through anti-filtering tools.

A Basij official claimed last year that some 17 million Iranians are using Facebook. Iranian officials are clearly not happy about the popularity of social media, which they accuse of being tools of U.S. intelligence services.

During the 2009 postelection protests, opposition members used social media to document human rights abuses by government forces.

Iranians discuss taboo subjects on social-networking sites and inform others about news and developments that are often being censored or ignored in state media.

One example is this video of last week’s visit by Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad to Bandar Abbas, where an old man tells him that he’s hungry and a young woman climbs into his car to talk with him.

Last year, a symbolic stoning, similar to the one performed at the annual haj, was staged against Facebook and YouTube at an exhibition of digital media.

This year, military forces marched against Facebook.

We’re wondering, what’s next?

-- Golnaz Esfandiari
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei (center) speaks to armed forces commanders in April.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who has the last say in all state matters, has spoken out publicly against nuclear weapons.

In a March meeting with nuclear scientists, Khamenei said that Iran considers the possession of nuclear weapons to be a sin and that the country would not pursue them.

Iranian media have also reported that Khamenei issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, against such weapons.

But amid escalating tensions with the West over Tehran's nuclear program, which the country's leaders insist is for peaceful purposes, the reported fatwa is being scrutinized anew.

Will the alleged ban hold up in practice and under all circumstances? Can the fatwa be reversed?

Those questions are being debated by analysts in the West, but also among regime supporters inside Iran., a hard-line Iranian website, recently asked, “Aren’t nuclear weapons needed to preserve the Islamic establishment?”

The website was referring to comments made by the founder of the Islamic republic, Ayatollah Ruollah Khomeini, who said that preserving the Islamic establishment is an obligation that supersedes all others.

"If regional and international conditions become such that Iran will find it necessary to build nonconventional weapons for its own survival," asked, "would it be permissible to build nuclear weapons?"

An Iranian cleric and researcher, Hojatoleslam Hossein Ali Salmanian, who was interviewed by the website, suggested that nuclear weapons cannot function as a tool for the preservation of the Iranian establishment.

“Nuclear weapons will also threaten us. It is likely that they will lead to the death of people in the Islamic republic and elsewhere in the world. They won’t help at all to preserve our establishment," said the cleric. He noted that a nuclear weapons capability did not prevent the collapse of the Soviet Union.

"What if [Iran] is attacked in a way that it has no choice but to use nuclear weapons?" asked in a follow-up question.

Some observers have warned that an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities could lead the country to pursue nuclear weapons, prompting a reversal of Khamenei's ruling.

Salmanian responded by saying he didn't believe the United States or Israel would use nuclear weapons against Iran in the event of a military conflict.

As far as the West is concerned, Khamenei’s alleged fatwa clearly has not erased fears that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons.

But Vali Nasr, a former senior adviser at the U.S. State Department, says Khamenei's public stance against nuclear weapons is significant in that it can help in negotiations with Tehran.

Nasr says that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who met with Khamenei in March, later told U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the supreme leader's public comments could be used as “political leverage” and that Washington shouldn’t miss the opportunity.

“When Erdogan and Davutoglu met with Khamenei in March, they got an earful about [his nuclear stance]. You can take it any which way you want. You could think that they’re practicing dissimulation, or hiding their true intent, which could be said about any political position; or you could assume that the Iranians were sending a very clear signal that they were going to meet [U.S. President Barack] Obama’s red line [of weaponization]," Nasr said at an April 16 event at Washington's Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

On April 1, Clinton called on Iran to substantiate its forswearal of nuclear weapons. She said Tehran's policy could be demonstrated in a number of ways, including shipping out some of Iran’s enriched uranium in exchange for fuel for its research reactor and opening up its nuclear facilities to inspectors.

European Union diplomats who took part in last weekend's nuclear talks in Istanbul have said that Khamenei's fatwa was mentioned by the Iranian delegation.

The diplomats likely offered the same response as Clinton: Prove it.

-- Golnaz Esfandiari

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About This Blog

Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.


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