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Reza Aslan

Reza Aslan

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As the world watches the election crisis in Iran, Hooshmand Afshar of Chelmsford, a native of Iran, sees history in the making — but also history repeating itself.Afshar, an engineer and U.S.

citizen, is a Bahai, a religious faith that originated in Persia in the 19th century.After the 1979 revolution, Afshar, who was working in Africa, said the new government canceled his Iranian passport.He and his family have lived in the U.S.

since 1984."As Bahais, we do not interfere in politics," said Afshar, who said Bahais strive for universal understanding among peoples, and who believe political partisanship can be divisive.

"But I can still talk about the issues of human rights."In the recent crisis, he said, "There have definitely been human rights violations." Should the U.S.

intervene in any way in the Iran election crisis?(answers)What would be the best resolution to the Iranian election crisis?(poll)He referred to reports of brutality against backers of candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi â€" whom the government says lost to incumbent Mahmoud Ahmedinejad -- and efforts to block them on the Internet.He communicates in a limited fashion with family and friends in Iran.

He takes for granted that calls and e-mails to and from Iran are monitored, and that Bahais, along with Zoarastrians and other religious minorities, are singled out."They can live in Iran, but they have no freedom of speech, and no freedom of religion," said Afshar.

"There are members of the Bahai faith in prison, accused of being spies."He said the protests are not about the election alone, however, but are part of Iran's long struggle for self-determination.

He hopes for peace and justice, regardless of who is in office, in Iran and all nations.

"A society that doesn't have freedom of speech, or freedom of religion, or basic rights like these, is doomed to fail," he said.

Yes, it's the economy Not everyone views the election results the same way.Jalil Mortazavi, of Brookline, hosts the satellite television talk show "Robadtha" â€" literally, "What's happening" in Farsi, the majority language of Iran.Mortazavi doesn't take sides, but believes Ahmedinejad did win.

"I don't doubt he got the vote," Mortazavi said.He said the Boston area is home to about 10,000 Iranians.Mortazavi has lived in the U.S.

33 years, and came here as a student before the Revolution.

"I was in Iran October last year … we decided to celebrate Thanksgiving, end we ended up having 39 guests."A lively discussion ensued about the upcoming elections, with about a third of the extended family â€" most of them younger voters â€"supporting Mousavi, and the rest favoring Ahmedinejad.He said, in general, residents of smaller villages, older voters, and those who consider themselves deeply religious, have favored Ahmedinejad, who he said is seen as sympathetic to the poor and disenfranchised.Mortazavi believes the scope of the opposition may seem larger than it is, due to e-mails, Internet postings and text messages.

"They can be loud and clear, and they have got their messages all over the place," Mortazavi said.Recently he spoke to family members who said many now fear for their safety just trying to do errands.

He said a 24-year-old niece called her father and begged him to pick her up from work, because she was afraid of being caught up in the violence, he said.Mortazavi said the real deciding factor is not freedom of speech or expression, but whether Iran can improve its economy.

Legitimate winner or no, "If [Ahmedinejad's administration] can't control the high price of food, and if they don't seem to be succeeding, in four years they will be out."He added, "I think the government really got the message.

They really have to do something for unemployment.

These young people don't have a job and don't have a future.

You have to take care of them.

Inflation is killing people.

The food prices are double and their wages are the same as five years ago."By the numbersBut Reza Aslan doesn't doubt that fraud was rife, and believes Mousavi's supporters cut across all lines of demographics and generations.Aslan, a Los Angeles-based writer and native of Iran, frequently comments on issues in the Islamic world and is the author of two books, "No god but God," and "How To Win A Cosmic War."Aslan said, "This is not just about the young, and not just about the middle class," adding that many conservatives and senior establishment figures are also complaining of election fraud.Aslan said Ahmedinejad may well have carried the majority of votes, but said in many parts of Iran, the numbers don't add up.For example, he said Mousavi, an ethnic Azeri, lost his own, Azeri-dominated province to Ahmedinejad — a prospect Aslan finds unlikely.A preliminary analysis of election results by the Royal Institute of International Affairs and the Institute of Iranian Studies at St.

Andrews in London reports inconsistencies in the government's official results.The report also questions the assumption of heavy support for conservatives among rural or low-income voters.Does it matter?Iran is not the only nation suffering political instability or violence.Asked if the coverage and attention is deserved, Aslan said, "The attention is justified," and said Iran is "the most powerful Muslim country in the region.

It has influence in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Its nuclear program is of concern.

No matter who is in charge of Iran, the U.S.

will continue its dialogue with Iran, because there is no choice in the matter."That said, he said there is no role for the U.S.

to play, although many, including several Republican leaders, have urged the Obama administration to intervene."It will only harm the reform movement, no matter how good his intentions are," Aslan said.For Iran, "It's an all or nothing moment.

Either (the protestors) will be stopped and be crushed, and Iran will become more militaristic and isolationist," Aslan said.

"It all remains to be seen.

Iran is at the tipping point."Contact Margaret Smith at [email protected]
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