A surprising figure has wished Jews a happy holiday in a surprising way: Iran’s new president Hassan Rouhani, via a ‘tweet’. His warm words are welcome, but we must pray that Rouhani’s amicable outlook to religious minorities manifests itself in deeds, as well as in words, in the coming months.
“As the sun is about to set here in Tehran,” Rouhani tweeted on Wednesday, “I wish all Jews, especially Iranian Jews, a blessed Rosh Hashanah [Jewish New Year].” Rouhani’s benevolent approach contrasts markedly with former President Ahmadinejad’s, who once horrified the Jewish community and the world by calling the Holocaust a lie. Throughout his election campaign Rouhani made a point of calling for equal rights for all ethnic and religious minorities. Now it seems that he is determined to maintain his reputation as a friend to Iran’s minority communities.
However, minority communities have seen no improvement since he took office, perhaps largely because Rouhani does not have direct control over the Ministry of Intelligence and judiciary which are the main perpetrators of persecution against Christians and others. A fatwa was issued on July 31st against the Baha’i minority;, subsequently a Baha’i believer was murdered in Iran in late August. The attack is believed to be religiously motivated. There has been a spate of arrests of Christian converts in the past few months across various cities, and numerous Christian prisoners have had long-term sentences issued or upheld in recent weeks. So Rouhani’s message is welcome. The tone is welcome. But what ultimately counts is whether he can get other bodies to adopt his pragmatic approach.
• Rouhani’s words to be followed up by action
• Iran’s religious minorities to be allowed to live in freedom
• Courage for those living under intimidation