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Iran Feature: The Ghosts of Ahmadinejad's Right-Hand Man (Pedestrian)

In the context of the current political crisis, Pedestrian considers ghosts, sorcerers, and President Ahmadinejad's confidante and Chief of Staff, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai:

In 2009, when the Iranian elections were in national --- and international --- spotlight, during the TV debate between Mousavi and Ahmaidnejad,which kept us Iranians, all over the globe glued to our TV (or monitor) screens, something funny happened. Mir Hossein Mousavi, the soft spoken, apprehensive opposition candidate said on live TV: “this government is a government of fortunetellers and exorcists.”

Mousavi was to pay a heavy price for these words.

Following the election, when the Supreme Leader openly backed Ahmadinejad in his notorious Friday Prayer speech, he also directly targeted Mousavi’s statement, condemning those who “blatantly attribute magic and wizardry to the government".

How ironic indeed.

By now, word of Ahmadinejad’s falling out with the leader have made headline news. What has made less of an international headline is the stories of goblins and spirits that have entered OFFICIAL political discourse in Iran.

In fact, it was headline news just today, May 9th 2011: "The Exorcists Have Been Detained".

Jinn, the supernatural creatures depicted in the Koran as occupying a parallel world to that of mankind, are a part of Iranian folklore. They are goblin like creatures, between a man and a ghost. I grew up with funny stories my grandfather told of “jinns” that his grandmother had claimed to see in their basement. In a 800 year-old mosque [imamzadeh] in our hometown, jinns are depicted as goblin like creates with big, fat stomachs and two ugly ears. The phrase “eyneh jinn” [just like a jinn] is widely used in our language. When someone pops up out of nowhere, or looks scary, we say “he jumped at me, eyneh jinn".

But exorcism, séance and mediumship are not everyday Iranian practices. I don’t know how widespread these practices are, compared to other countries? In my lifetime at least, I have heard very little of these pursuits. Twice in high school and once in university, classmate would tell me that they practice séances at home with their parents using a ouija board, I heard occasional tales of some old man in the middle of nowhere who keeps jinns in his basement...but that’s the extent of it.

Esfandiyar Rahim Mashaie, the president’s faithful BFF for whom he has had to pay a heavy price, has long been rumored to practice such voodoo magic, long before the 2009 election.

But a few weeks ago, rumors surfaced about a particular Abbas Ghaffari, the government’s personal “Jinn Gir” --- exorcist --- who has been practicing his magic on his interrogators after his arrest. It was rumored that his main interrogator had died of a heart attack.

The reason why these stories are not only wild rumors but actual political discourse is because a number of high ranking Iranian politicians (including former parliament speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel) have come out condemning “exorcists and wizardry practices by some in the government”.

On Monday, the judiciary spokesman, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejei, who served as the Minister of Intelligence in the previous Ahmadinejad cabinet, in a press conference officially announced that the “exorcists have been arrested.”

My question is: why now? Is it an attempt by the Supreme Leader to further weaken Ahmadinejad and make him out to seem like a total nutjob, which he had previously ignored in his zealous approval of him? How much does the Iranian public accept the influence of evil spirits and goblins anyway? Did the SL "feel" the spirits were causing him trouble? Is this just another distraction? The extent of the arrests and discussions makes me guess otherwise.

But really, to have wizards and genies as headline news in your country, spoken of by some of the highest officials in the land, is quite a feat. I have to pinch myself to believe that all this talk of ghosts and goblins and spirits and exorcism, are actual discussions taking place inside the circles of our political elite. Game of Thrones seems to have less fantastical elements than our pragmatic politics.

Wish they were watching Casper instead. He’s cute, cuddly and knows a thing or two about living peacefully with humans.

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