International

Unnatural Disaster

Amir Taheri comments on the Iranian earthquake.

He exposes the role played by money, corruption and superstition in the death of tens of thousands of his compatriots.

The revolutionary turmoil of 1978-79 provided racketeers with an opportunity to seize large chunks of land in Bam and use it for poorly designed and badly constructed houses and shops. The racket was backed by a group of powerful mullahs who, in exchange for a cut in the proceeds, issued fatwas (religious opinions) that canceled government orders that banned house-building in the city.

The mullahs claimed that the shah had wished to keep Bam empty because of a secret plan under which the city would be turned into a Zoroastrian center. They also dismissed warnings from the National Seismological Center in Tehran that opposed the repopulation of Bam. The mullahs claimed that the Hidden Imam would protect the new inhabitants of the city against all disasters.

It is instructive to remember that a similar-sized and similarly-timed earthquake in California killed a handful people rather than the uncountable tens of thousands in Iran.

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