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The struggle for Shi'ite hearts and minds (Part II)

Text by Leela JACINTO

Latest update : 2009-05-13

The contest for the Afghan Shi'ite leadership pits Ayatollah Asif Mohseni, an influential cleric and the architect of a controversial family code, against Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq, a parliamentarian and seasoned Afghan politician.

Part II: 'The Iranian government’s Afghan TV station'
Ayatollah Asif Mohseni’s Tamadon (civilization) TV began broadcasting messages in mid-April accusing Marefat High School of converting students to Christianity and calling on Afghans to protect the sanctity of Islam.

School principal Royesh himself dismisses the allegations of a Judaeo-Christian agenda, noting that the school is primarily funded by the Hazara community.

The funding for the Khatam-al-Nabyeen center, on the other hand, is a source of intense speculation in Kabul circles.

“When you have a big mosque with loudspeakers, a radio and TV station, a madrassa, all in prime Kabul property, it makes you wonder,” mulls Shinkay Karokhail, a firebrand Afghan female parliamentarian who has crossed swords with Mohseni’s supporters over the family code. “There are all sorts of allegations and scandals surrounding him.”


In the unregulated media environment of Afghanistan, many allegations are hard to corroborate. But most Afghan experts agree that Mohseni’s funding comes from official Iranian circles.


A group of journalists who quit his Tamadon TV station, for instance, say they were trained in Tehran and hosted by the Pasdaran, or Iranian Revolutionary Guards. They say they quit due to excessive editorial interference by the Iranian advisors at the TV station.


“If you watch Tamadon TV, the programs present a nearly exclusively Iranian political outlook,” says Ibrahimi. “There is extensive coverage of Hezbollah and the Palestinian issue and the US presence in Iraq. They are trying to mobilize public opinion against Israel in Afghanistan and they exaggerate the opposition to the US military operation. This is the Iranian government’s Afghan TV station.”

A complicated relationship with Iran

As a historically-oppressed Shi'ite group in a Sunni-majority nation, Afghanistan’s Hazaras have a close, but complicated relationship with Iran. While the Iranian government supported Hazara political parties during the anti-Soviet jihad, many Hazaras are opposed to the official Iranian fiqh – or interpretation of Islamic law.


Due to the appalling discrimination Hazaras historically face – as described in the best-selling novel, The Kite Runner – the community has stood to gain the most from a modern, secular, Western-supported democracy that protects minority rights.



For many Hazaras, education represents the most effective way to improve their social lot. Attacks against schools such as Marefat then, are particularly alarming for the Hazara student community.


Banin Khawazi, an 18-year-old Marefat student recounts how her illiterate carpenter father confronted her about reports that the school was converting students to Christianity. “I asked him if he saw any changes in my behaviour and then I discussed this family code with him,” she says earnestly. “He was shocked to hear me speak. It was the first time I opened my mouth before him. He listened to me and accepted my views. That’s why our parents send us to school. We have to speak up for what is right, we really have no choice.”


Date created : 2009-05-13