June 27th, 2009
11:59 PM ET

"Punished mercilessly" – Is this Islam?

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/meast/06/24/iran.tolerance/art.ayatollah.afp.gi.jpg caption="Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei."]

Octavia Nasr
Middle East Affairs Editor

“Annihilate the rioters,” demanded one of Iran’s fundamentalist clerics during Friday prayer. He believes that the opposition “defied the orders” of Iran’s Supreme Leader, who “rules by God’s design.” Therefore, “they should be punished mercilessly." Either way, his words couldn’t be harsher or more extreme. Some would say those words couldn’t be more un-Islamic.

The word Islam means “surrender.” The entire religion is based on surrendering one’s self, speech, action and thoughts to god. When moderate Muslims hear what this Mullah has called for, they wonder which brand of Islam he is advocating.

The first pillar in Islamic faith is the declaration called “Shahda” that there is no god but Allah and that Mohammed is his prophet.

The first verse of every chapter in the holy Muslim book, the Quran, goes like this, “In the name of God, most merciful, most compassionate.” Devout Muslims start many of their activities or speech with these glorious words.

Where is the compassion in the Iranian mullah’s speech? Where is the Mercy?

He’s directing his wrath at his own people; their only crime was to ask for an honest vote and to insist that their votes counted in a timely presidential election. They are the ones who shouted from their rooftops every night since their demonstrations began, “Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar” –God is Great. They are the ones who were denied their legal right to demonstrate so they had to defy the regime and take to the streets anyway.

They are the Iranian opposition movement, young people, mostly students, many women who were kicked and beaten in the streets; they were shot at, detained and even killed. They were called traitors and terrorists. Despite all that, they kept going out for more show offs with Iranian police and a brutal volunteer militia known as the Basij.

The Iranian regime imposed a crackdown on foreign media which made the story impossible to cover freely. The world ended up with two views of on what’s going on: The government perspective came through the state media, radio, TV, newspapers and websites. The opposition turned itself into a media outlet where everyone with a cell phone became a correspondent. They uploaded their images to video-sharing websites and interacted with the world through social media. They provided raw, unedited picture to the entire world.

Now one cleric vowing to “teach them a lesson” is a sign of more brutality and more bloodshed to come. The only difference is that when it happens, if it happens, it will be behind closed doors. We can’t count on Iranians who turned their cell phones into newsgathering machines and became the story and journalists telling it at the same time.

What tomorrow will bring them is a mystery that no one is there to witness or report on.

Filed under: Iran • Islam • Octavia Nasr
soundoff (256 Responses)
  1. robert

    The cowardly silence of the American president has caused the untimely death of those on the side of freedom and Democracy. This is no time for silence.

    June 27, 2009 at 12:45 pm |
  2. Michael K

    John F. It's nice to see that ignorance and hatred are not reserved just for "Islamic" (if you really can define this brand of it as such) extremists. I'm sure the west is proud of you.

    June 27, 2009 at 12:45 pm |
  3. Lynn Prince

    Outstanding article........thanks for the insights.

    June 27, 2009 at 12:43 pm |
  4. Jerry

    This is the true beliver's Islam. Read the Koran. Those guys are on a mission from God. Until you infidels either convert, pay the tax, or die, they will not stop.

    June 27, 2009 at 12:43 pm |
  5. Mike

    I can't help but think of what happens to people who protest (think economic forums and political conventions) or those who are locked up in civil and military prisons under US control, and think...

    ...This is Freedom?

    It's the same shoe on a different foot... and it fits PERFECTLY.

    June 27, 2009 at 12:43 pm |
  6. Joey Lowe

    Well said John Fullerton! As for back as I can remember, wherever you find violence, murder, bombings, torture, beheadings, suicide bombers and such, you also find Isalm.

    June 27, 2009 at 12:40 pm |
  7. tcaudilllg

    It's a good thing the Iranians are still working on their nuclear program, or else the U.S. wouldn't have an excuse to put a stop to this by force, IF the Iranian Left can't do it themselves.

    On the day these men are brought to their cruel fate, I will experience a mix of regret and satisfaction that the wardens of human destiny have been beaten back for another generation. If Michael Jackson - if Neda - can die before their time, then so can these old farts.

    June 27, 2009 at 12:40 pm |
  8. khurram

    devil himself will be proud of this guy doing his work instead of true message god sent through koran. Maybe he is member of hell's version of enron?

    June 27, 2009 at 12:40 pm |
  9. tcaudilllg

    It's a good thing the Iranians are still working on their nuclear program, or else the U.S. wouldn't have an excuse to put a stop to this by force, IF the Iranian Left can't do it themselves.

    On the day these men are brought to their cruel fate, I will experience a mix of regret and satisfaction that the wardens of human destiny have been beaten back for another generation. If Michael Jackson can die before his time, then so can they.

    June 27, 2009 at 12:39 pm |
  10. Joe

    Is this Islam? Where have you been for the last 30 years? The Beirut Barracks bombing, Iranian hostage crisis, first World Trade Center bombing, 9/11, Beslan School Massacre, Russian Opera House, Daniel Pearl, African Embassies bombed, London bombings, Spain bombings, Indonesian bombings, shoe bomber...and that's just off the top of my head. Islam does mean surrender...or our mujahadeen will kill you. I can't believe you are naive enough to ask! It's called a history book – READ IT!!

    June 27, 2009 at 12:39 pm |
  11. Eric Goff

    The message of Islam is the same as Christianity: "Our way is the only way, and everyone else will go to hell." When you take this statement to the limits of its absurdity, do you abandon the statement, or keep on practicing the absurd?

    June 27, 2009 at 12:39 pm |
  12. Paul Cummings

    John Fullerton. You are no better than the Iranian mullah.

    June 27, 2009 at 12:39 pm |
  13. RichM

    Khameini is Islam's new prophet. To defy him is blasphemy.

    June 27, 2009 at 12:38 pm |
  14. N from Illinois

    “Punished mercilessly” – Is this Islam?" Finally someone has actually addressed the ultimate question. I read CNN every day, way too much time on my hands. But I have never seen Islam questioned. Anderson, I like to disagree with a lot that CNN reports on, but I am glad to see someone finally raise this question to the world. Now if you guys and gals can just remember to attach “Communist” back in the title before the word China. I will really be impressed. Great question, and article, the world will learn the truth; oppression always rears its ugly head. Today it is in the form of an Islamist Cleric.

    June 27, 2009 at 12:37 pm |
  15. ron

    Everyone is getting rid of their corporate computer systems and looking to upgrade to the fastest calculating force known to man. An Iranian vote counter!!

    June 27, 2009 at 12:36 pm |
  16. Will

    What always makes me laugh is humans who say they are doing the will of God, now if we believe in a God and he created this world and the people that live on it, dont you think God is in control of that department. Those who come and say they are killing in the name of God deceive themselves as well as the masses. God doesnt want his creation going after each other, he created Man/Female to live together without death. When will mankind figure this out? God has been merciful, he can take us all out at anytime remember that, he doesnt need Humans doing it for him.

    June 27, 2009 at 12:36 pm |
  17. Zooot

    "young people, mostly students, many women who were kicked and beaten in the streets; they were shot at, detained and even killed." Sounds like hundreds of American riots. Hmmmmm.....

    June 27, 2009 at 12:35 pm |
  18. david nathan

    I swear to all the prophets in heaven there will be peace and prosperity in Iran and all over the world ,only when the mullahs are kicked out from my beautiful Iran

    June 27, 2009 at 12:34 pm |
  19. Joe

    Where is your commentary when the Pope make inflammatory remarks?

    June 27, 2009 at 12:34 pm |
  20. Shawn Fleming

    It is a relief in my life time to see a President that has integrity and will do what is right and a true family. I thank the Obama' s. God Bless!

    June 27, 2009 at 12:34 pm |
  21. Midwest

    The Iranian regime is clearly unsustainable now.

    As the younger Iranians grew into voting age, they were sure to look for changes to the oppressive leadership that had ruled for all their lives. The younger generation sees little use in being ostracized from the world community because of perceived, or real, hostility from the West and non-Muslim countries.

    The Mullahs that have ruled Iran with impunity and with claims of divine right are now as, or more, corrupt than the Shah and his CIA handlers. Centuries have passed, around the globe, with various religions claiming that they are closer to God and therefore, above the laws and tenets of modern society and Iran has now taken their place among this shameless group.

    The young Iranians are now at a defining moment about their own future. Their defiance of the rigged vote is essential to stopping the corrupt regime of the Mullahs and the falsely voted in new president.

    The shooting death of Neda and subsequent official line that a "terrorist group" had mistakenly shot her is an indication of how incredibly low the false government of Iran will sink to.

    The Mullahs are through. Their absolute rule is now without a solid base and their days are numbered. Let's just hope that their remaining days are short and without bloodshed.

    June 27, 2009 at 12:33 pm |
  22. John Bahrami

    This should serve notice as to the real character of this regime and what Iranians have endured for 30 years. It should serve notice to people who have advocated for years to talk, talk and more talk with this regime, including our President and Vice President . This regime is a Murder Inc. complete and Iranians knew from day one. Too bad other people and countries are now just realizing that.

    June 27, 2009 at 12:33 pm |
  23. fazsha

    Never think of people as groups. This cleric does not speak for everyone, anymore than Obama speaks for me. Obama has his opinions, I have mine, you have yours.

    We are all individuals, and I would never assign the citizens of any single country to a single judgment.

    Once you realize the "magic" of having each person stand on his own merits, you are more compassionate, because you are no longer making sweeping generalizations about groups.

    June 27, 2009 at 12:33 pm |
  24. Leigh

    These "Mullah's" are no more than gangsters and use a peaceful religion as their basis for their insane actions. How can a country with so much youth put up with these clerics? I know it must be hard but numbers mean power the more that hit the streets the less these prima donnas will control their every move.

    June 27, 2009 at 12:33 pm |
  25. Howard

    It really doesn't make much difference what religion it is, being a cleric is about power, power over people, the power to dictate how they live their lives. The problem isn't people believing in God. The problem is when certain people tell a lot of other people how they should believe in God. Power corrupts, regardless of who wields it.

    June 27, 2009 at 12:32 pm |
  26. Justin P

    This regime has perverted Islam, twisting a peaceful religion however it sees fit in an attempt to justify their brutality. We can only hope the people of Iran keep their strength and solidarity, and have another revolution which will free their people.

    June 27, 2009 at 12:32 pm |
  27. Shawn Fleming

    I as every one want to see Michael one more time and pay respect. By supporting his music, concerts, and him with cheers we gave him love. When MJ said "know I love you with all my heart" he would have pulled those concerts off even in pain to thank the fans for loving and supporting the creatively of his talent for he was in paradise when on the stage. I say to the Jackson Family, to now let Michael finally rest and have a private service and public memorial. The Mayor in Gary is a fool! It may be worth considering placing his remains, because HIs spirit is with God now, in Neverland and like Elvis at Graceland, the proceeds must all go to his children. For once let the legal system do the right thing concerning MJ. At neverland Michael belonged to a world of never ending love and peace. Thank you Lisa Presley for finally saying the truth about the divorce. I have been through much death, but I cannot gather what the Jackson are going through losing Michael. just take a minute, don't argue, do the right thing in your hearts and in Gods way, think of Michael. I am so sorry for your pain. The world has lost something so un replaceable.

    June 27, 2009 at 12:32 pm |
  28. Robert Pratt

    I believe we are witnessing the beginning of the fall of the reign of the Mullahs.

    June 27, 2009 at 12:28 pm |
  29. melissa aradanas

    i just would like to react on your news feature made by a certain ivan mentioning that the iranian protesters shouted protest chants "Allahuakbar"....i dont think "Allahuakbar" is a protest chant per se....it means "God is the Greatest"....chanting God is the Greatest is not a form of protest, right?....so please make the necessary corrections.....please inform Mr. Ivan.....

    June 27, 2009 at 12:28 pm |

    My father left NAZI GERMANY when a youth of 21 years as he didn't want to be impressed into the "BROWN SHIRTS". They wear WHITE SHIRTS in IRAN,but I don't see anything else to differentiate between that horrible stain in Germany's History & IRAN'S Fanatic REGIME.

    June 27, 2009 at 12:27 pm |
  31. SunFlower

    I feel so sad for the Iran.... I think they should fight for freedom and we should help them....
    Its time for a change there that's for sure...

    June 27, 2009 at 12:25 pm |
  32. Joe Blonski

    Actually, based upon history, this IS Islam. Would any of the Caliphs have acted any differently?

    June 27, 2009 at 12:20 pm |
  33. Scholar

    Nice take on this. It sickens me. I am sure he justifies in some way in his mind, for example maybe there are verses in Quran that say that if you disobey Allah you should be punished. I do not agree with this, and I think he twists things to fit his violent views... But I guess this is the problem with many fundamentalists Muslims... They can twist religion to meet their needs. (As can Christians). Religions fall is imminent.

    June 27, 2009 at 12:18 pm |
  34. John Fullerton

    This brand of Isalm is Islam. When The West wakes up and realizes that Islam is a religion built of hatred, death and no repect for human life the better if will be for all.

    There is no sense in talking to people that love to die and send their kids tobe suicide bombers.

    June 27, 2009 at 12:18 pm |
  35. Wael Doukmak

    Well said, Octavia. True Islam has never been and never should be about "mercilessness". In fact, to the contrary, one of Islam's main themes in regulating human relations is based on verse number 199 in chapter 7, which calls on believers to, "Hold to forgiveness; command what is right; But turn away from the ignorant.". I wonder if the advocates of "Annihilating the rioters" are reading from the same Quran more than a billion peaceful Muslims are reading from.
    Thank you for pointing out that such calls of violence are in stark contradiction with the true message of Islam.

    June 27, 2009 at 12:11 pm |
  36. PB

    Can we sneak in infrared cameras..... and fly in insect .technologies? ...I just hate to see people being brutalized. Can we stop it?
    We are a democracy....and we should support other democracies. The people of Iran have spoken and are being oppressed..

    June 27, 2009 at 12:05 pm |
  37. Bunny

    Thanks for the excellent posting, Octavia. Why do you think the free countries of the world will not unite and demand an end to these horrific abuses by the government? What will it take?

    With our Independence Day coming up, I feel almost guilty to celebrate our freedoms while the world sits by and watches this hateful regime destroy any of its citizens who would dare whisper a word the least bit contrary to that hateful religious zealot's so-called "god-given" authority.

    I am afraid the rest of the world will not step up and help because no country wants to offend or risk the wrath of other Mideast countries and damage their own standing with them. It's a huge can of worms, for sure; but when so many people are struggling so desperately for just a little taste of what we have, we have to do the right thing and HELP THEM.

    June 27, 2009 at 12:02 pm |
  38. Shirin


    Exactly their aim.

    Meanwhile this dictatorship in Iran gets away with severe bashings, disappearing people, and murder. Why? It's always about money and power. Explore the wealth and allegiances in the west of those in power in Iran and you'll see. It's not as if they don't have enough to retire on for the next several generations.

    Show me a humble, kind and compassionate man of the cloth and you'll see what is supposed to be. Shame on these dictators!!! I know enough to know this behavior has nothing whatsoever to do with the Islamic religion... or any religion for that matter!!

    June 27, 2009 at 12:01 pm |
  39. Tina

    What I see happening w/ the ruling body of Iran is a bunch of old men who refuse to "surrender" to God as their own faith tells them to do

    June 27, 2009 at 11:56 am |
  40. Dariush

    Hi thanks for your support but i would like to ask you way CNN are scrambeld in Hotbird For Iranian

    June 27, 2009 at 11:43 am |
  41. Nur Adhani

    It saddened me to read that the suggestion of annihilatin humans was uttered during Friday prayers. I agree with the article that Islam is about compassionate and mercy. I am a Moslem myself, and I have been one my whole life and I was thought that bloodshed is never the answer and will only resolute to more bloodshed. I'm sure that all religions have the same basic pincipals. I trully hope that those fundamentalist clerics were not speaking on behalf of Islam, but on behalf of themselves. Because that is not Islam.

    June 27, 2009 at 11:41 am |
  42. Gloria

    Hello Anderson and team – the Michael Jackson that I loved and respected died years ago; this beautiful, talented child and adult male entertainer went through a metamorphosis, which in my opinion, had nothing to do with drug addicitons. What does barely having a nose on your face have to do with drug addition? For whatever reasons, Michael wanted out of his natural given skin and body; although I do believe that he had the skin disorder, vitaligo, he wanted to be rid of the very body the made him famous. However, I knew Michael was very ill when he showed up at a court hearing in pajamas. The public felt that this was a publicity ploy – maybe- but his demeanor showed much more than that. Michael's family and friends missed his cries for help a long time ago. Michael Jackson did not die on Thursday, his true spirit died, as a kid, before he left his parents home. That's that Michael Jackson I remember and connected with.

    Thank you.

    June 27, 2009 at 11:38 am |
  43. Vaughn

    This is not Islam at all. sometime people just take there own interpretations of things too far.

    June 27, 2009 at 11:31 am |
  44. Elisha, Male' Maldives

    Answering the heading question.. That is not what Islam states!
    One cannot judge a religion by the actions of those who practice it. Religion can be twisted by those who follow it, but that doesn't mean that its what the religion asks us to do.
    There is no political punishment in Islam! A person maybe punished only if they violate another human's rights [ that's the body, money, pride and many more ] and stuff like that..
    But one thing is for sure! What ever he is doing by asking to punish them, just coz they oppositions.. its very very wrong! Being a Muslim, he is embarrassing the religion!

    June 27, 2009 at 11:25 am |
  45. Wally

    I hope God have mercy on them and on us. Should we have another God messenger to teach us what if good and evil? Oh my!

    June 27, 2009 at 11:25 am |
  46. Todd A. Ludwig

    I enjoyed this blog very much. You have written it with both passion and precision. I do disagree on your final comment though. We all can still be witness to this historic moment. We can all play an active role in this outcome while not interfering. We just need to keep paying attention to what these brave Iranians are willing to endure in an attempt to have their voices heard.
    While the death of Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson is sad and tragic, it should not dominate the media coverage like it did. What is happening in Iran could shape history for the rest of this century. I believe it is the responsibility of journalists to keep our attention focused on the Iran story. The death of Neda and her fellow Iranians for the rite to have their voices heard is the true tragedy.
    Keep up the outstanding work!

    June 27, 2009 at 11:20 am |
  47. Denise Michaels

    I'm appalled by the sheer brutality and wanton disregard for the will of the Iranian people. I've been on Twitter more than I'd like to admit the last few days and what I've witnessed are kind, gracious, smart Iranian people who are proud of their country and who don't deserve this. I'm curious in the coming months how many of the protesters will seek political asylum in the US and other countries.

    June 27, 2009 at 11:05 am |
  48. Sharon

    Its been said before and unfortunately will be said again "has the world gone mad?". Where is the humanity, respect, love, compassion and mercy that all religions pontificate? The cowards way is to point the finger at someone else – in this case God as the dictator of what should be. Shame is too simple a word here.

    My prayers to those who will no doubt become victims of these vicious, power hunger wolves cloaked as sheep.

    June 27, 2009 at 10:58 am |
  49. earle,florida

    Please,don't cry for me Islam,I am (Iranian People) fine! One year ago the Bush Administration initiated,and started a covert (anothert puppet regime for uncle sam) agenda for the sole pupose of a regime change in Iran,and put their money on the more-moderate pro-western Moussavi,period,end of story,writing on the wall,so blatantly obvious to the rest of the world,and middle-east! This guy comes out of no where,and was no better for the poor,and indigenous people,than he was tweny-yeras ago,and is causing riots in the streets. They should treat Moussavi as a criminal in which he is for not coming to terms with Iranian Theocracy Dogma's towards democracy. Even if the vote wasn't fully counted it's the people of Iran's problem not the United States! For God's sake Nasr,go cry on the United Nations,or the British,and Europe,and to your brothers in the middle-east,just stop laying your old-baggage at the United States doorstep,or you will unknowingly pay a steep price,for your mind's eyes are blinded,thus sheilding you from your predjudiced ignorance,...? PS America has problems of her own,regarding our own democracy!

    June 27, 2009 at 9:57 am |
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