Paris 29 June (IPS) The furious controversy over Hojjatoleslam Mohammad Khatami shaking hands with uncovered women in the Italian city of Udine might become a landmark revolution in Islam or cost him his rank as a middle cleric and even land him in jail.
A videotape, taken with a digital camera by Mr. Marco Orioles, a university sociology lecturer, shows the former Iranian president exchanging handshakes with Gianola and Cristina Nonnino, well-known producers of grappa, the famous Italian brandy, in the region around Udine.
Hard line conservative media have called for Khatami to be stripped of his clerical robe.
Under Islamic laws, it is forbidden for a man, let alone a cleric, to shake hands with woman who is not his immediate relative.
Hard line conservative media have called for Khatami, -- already under heavy attack by the conservative factions --, to be stripped of his clerical robe for having committed an “unforgivable offense against sacred Islamic rules”.
In a statement, the cleric's office said that the video, posted first by YouTube and immediately posted by several Iranian radical sites supportive of President Mahmoud Ahmadi Nezhad, a fanatic Shi’a Muslim, denied that Mr. Khatami shook hand with women and charged that the videos had been edited to give the impression that he is shaking the hands of uncovered women.
But in interview with the Italian private news agency Adnkronos International (AKI), Mr. Orioles has assured of the authenticity of his footage, adding that he didn't want to “provoke a commotion”.
"None of the 67,000 people who in the first few days viewed the incriminating' footage will have had any doubt as to its authenticity", Orioles told AKI. He was referring to the number of times the footage was viewed.
The images were captured on 12 May when Mr. Khatami, now the president of the International Centre for Dialogue Among civilizations and Cultures in Tehran, was visiting Udine to give a lecture on his pet subject.
The Iranian hardline daily “Kayhan”, run by Mr. Hoseyn Shari’atmadari, a high-ranking intelligence officer specializing in the interrogation of political and intellectual dissidents who is a senior advisor to Ayatollah Ali Khameneh’i, the leader of the Islamic Republic, suggested Khatami, had allowed himself to fall prey of a US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) trap.
“I think the CIA only discovered it had a modest sociology lecturer as an agent in Udine, the day after Kayhan published its editorial", Orioles said.
Faced with undeniable evidence, Mr. Khatami explained latter that because of the crowd, he “might have shaken some hands, but I don’t remember exactly”.
There are now tow solutions to the hand shake drama:
A) Both parties, the conservatives who are more and more unpopular because of Mr. Ahmadi Nezhad’s economic and diplomatic fiascos in the one hand and the reformists, badly defeated in all last elections on the other, decides to bury it where it is, considering it, as suggested by Keyhan, as a C.I.A plot to discredit both Islam, the Islamic Republic and a former Iranian president highly appreciated by the international community for his efforts to bring closer civilizations and religions.
Nevertheless, his hand shake would create a land mark precedent in Islamic Canons and possibly, help non-turbanned Iranian officials who, because of the Islamic rule, -- which is enforced in Iran but ignored by almost all Arab and Muslim nations -- are obliged to suffer humiliation during their official trips abroad when facing female counterparts, as seen with the case of the Speaker of the Majles, Mr. Qolamali Haddad Adel, who, during a recent trip to Belgium, was forced to cut short his visit after he refused to shake hand with the president of the Belgian Senate, a woman who had the bad idea to invite him.
B) Under pressures from hardline religious and political circles, Mr. Khatami is condemned and stripped from his robe and rank as cleric and this would be the first time in the life of the Islamic theocracy that a president, who is also a cleric, faces such a disgrace. Although other clerics have been defrocked before, like Hojjatoleslam Hasan Yousefi Esskevari, an advocate of reforms in Islam, but the case of Mr. Khatami would undoubtedly trigger a hot debate among high-ranking Iranian clergy.
The hand shake would create a land mark precedent in Islamic canons.
However, the vehement denial of the event by Mr. Khatami, a man whom many Iranians, mostly women and the youth, liked because of his open mind, tolerance, encouraging dialogue and rejecting religious obscurantism, has dismayed many of his supporters.
“If Mr. Khatami is assured that the video had been manipulated, he must with no hesitation take the case to the courts. This would be a good occasion case for him to make known those who are plotting to tarnish the good name and image of the former president and aims at stopping the reform process in Iran and put an end to the plot. If not, he must present his apology to all those who accuses him of having trespassed a well-known rule of Islam”, Ahmad Ra’fat, an Iranian journalist based in Rome, told Iran Press Service.
“Many of those who had voted for Mr. Khatami and supported the reforms never could imagine that simple and ordinary acts like shaking some hands in the streets of a town like Udine would undermine the future of reforms in Iran. Worse, this writer and many others could never imagine that a president who talks about the rule of law, civil society and dialogue among civilizations would fall so down to the point of not having the courage of accepting responsibility of his own acts and deeds and unashamedly revert to lying”, Mr. Ra’fat, who also covers for AKI, wrote in the Persian internet magazine “Rahbord”. ENDS KHATAMI HANDSHAKE 29607