Che Guevara family protests Islamist exploitation of legacy
A very important story by Kimia Sanati from InterPress Service, Oct. 3:
Islamist, Socialist Revolutions Don't Mix
An attempt to rope in the son and daughter of the Argentine revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara to forge a parallel between Iran's Islamist revolution and the socialist revolution in Latin America through a four-day conference has ended in fiasco.
After Aleida Guevara protested from the podium against perceived distortions of her father’s ideology by the first Iranian speaker, Haj Saeed Ghasemi, the four-day "Che Like Chamran" conference, that started Sep. 25, was aborted and the Latin American guests whisked away.
"Che Like Chamran," the title of the conference, was chosen for the alliteration in the names of the two revolutionaries and because both Che and the Iranian, Mostafa Chamran, fought alongside revolutionaries in other countries. But the similarities end there, no matter what the organisers intended to promote.
Chamran, a United States-educated engineer and Islamist, helped Mousa Sadr found the Amal Movement in southern Lebanon and fought alongside Amal guerrillas in the late 1970s. Appointed the young Islamic Republic’s defence minister by Ayatollah Khomeini, Chamran organised and led paramilitary forces during the early phase of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) and was killed in battle in the Khuzistan province in 1981.
"We feel responsible towards all of humanity...unity is of especial importance to us. The reason for the relations established between our student group and the children of Che Guevara and the Latin American countries is what we have in common," Morteza Firoozabadi, secretary of the Pro-Justice Student Movement (PJSM), explained to the Islamic Students News Agency (ISNA).
"We are never afraid of death and that is what Americans are most scared of. They cannot accuse us simply by citing things like terrorism, seeking war or breaching human rights. We only aim to free the oppressed and to restore the rights of all the people of the world so we do not recognise borders and do not care what names Americans use for this," Firoozabadi was reported by ISNA as saying.
Organised by the student militia of Tehran University, the conference was attended mostly by counterparts from various other universities as well as members of hardline student groups such as the PJSM that strongly support President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s policies. These groups regularly organise demonstrations and protest rallies against the US and other western countries.
But Ghasemi, who is associated with Iran’s Esteshhadiyoun (volunteers of suicide operations) must take credit for scuttling the conference. Referring to a translated version of a Che Guevara book that he held in his hand, he said Che Guevara was religious and believed in God. "The people of Cuba, Fidel (Castro) and Che Guevara were never socialists or communists. Fidel has several times admitted that he and Che and the people of Cuba hated the Soviets for all they had done."
"Today communism has been thrown into the trash bin of history as it was predicted by Ayatollah Khomeini," Ghasemi told the conference and added that the only way to save the world was through the "the religious, pro-justice movement."
An indignant Aleida, however, started her own address "in the name of the people of Cuba." "We are a socialist nation," she asserted. She also said the people of Cuba were grateful to the Soviet Union and there had never been any discord between the two nations, as mentioned by Ghasemi. She advised him to "always refer to original sources instead of translations to find out about Che Guevara's beliefs."
"My father never talked about God. He never met God. My father knew there was no absolute truth," Aleida said, responding to Ghasemi's speech. The coverage of her address by state-sponsored news agencies like ISNA was brief and excluded most of her contradictory remarks.
At a meeting later with students of Amir Kabir University of Technology, where the leftist groups are particularly strong, Camilo Guevara told students he approved of all that his sister had said at the conference, ISNA reported.
The other main speaker, Mehdi Chamran, brother of Mostafa Chamran, avoided mention of Che Guevara or his ideology in his address. Chamran, who is chairman of the Tehran City Council is a loyal supporter of Ahmadinejad.
"President Ahmadinejad's promotion of closer ties with certain Latin American countries such as Venezuela, Cuba, and Bolivia called for some kind of identification of his brand of Islamist militant ideas with those of the leftists in Latin American countries," a leftist student activist from Amir Kabir University told IPS on the condition of anonymity.
"Ahmadinejad has visited several Latin American countries over the past two years. He has brought (Hugo) Chavez and (Daniel) Ortega here. Belief in socialism is considered a crime in the Islamic state, punishable by death. Ahmadinejad's slogans against the West and the U.S., his pro-justice rap, and his promises of economic assistance bring them here—much to our disappointment," she said. "Daniel Ortega and other leftist leaders too must clarify their position about their relations with Iran. We feel greatly betrayed when for their countries' economic benefit they choose to support extreme rightists, fascists like Ahmadinejad," she added.
Following Aleida's outspoken address to the conference, the organisers took flak from their own comrades. "It is appreciable to commemorate Che Guevara as a revolutionary figure. Otherwise, our former perspectives on his ideas, methods and attitude are still the same. We are Muslims and he is non-Muslim. The difference will always remain," Mohammad Sedaghat, the leader of Student Militia of Shahed University was quoted by ISNA as saying.
"Chamran was a revolutionary Shiite Muslim whereas Che Guevara was totally atheistic. The only thing they had in common was their spirit of fighting injustice. For choosing friends we must meet other criteria, such as being God-loving—besides being anti-American," Sedaghat was reported as saying.
Mohammad Jaffar Irani, a reformist student activist, was quoted by ISNA as pointing out that the same group that organised the conference had always considered Che Guevara an atheist. "If anyone other than the (hardline) group that organised this event had done so they would have gotten into a great deal of trouble," he was quoted saying.
"The organisers of the event were hardline supporters of Ahmadinejad who have nothing in common with leftists, even the Islamic leftists of the early days of the (Iranian) revolution. President Ahmadinejad has in fact much in common with President Bush, although he may sound very 'leftist,'" an observer in Tehran told IPS on condition of anonymity.
"Leftist countries must realise that if the issues that make the Iranian hardliners confront the West such as its demand to be accepted to the nuclear club are resolved, today’s leftist allies may instantly turn into their common enemies," he said.
"Unfortunately some wrong approaches (remarks) diverted the course of the conference from (discussing) commonalities to the differences (between the two revolutionaries). This caused the conference to be deviated from its main course," Sajjdad Saffar Harandi, leader of the Student Militia (Basij) in Tehran University, told the pro-Ahmadinjead website Raja News, explaining the fiasco.