Left Justified: Iran’s new political currency

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-117571437511969.jpg’, ”, ‘This new Iranian 50,000 rial note ($5 value) carries the nuclear symbol with the inscription “If the science exists in this constellation, men from Persia will reach it.” ‘);

Many of you know that I’ve been to Iran. I went in May of last year with a national group of peace activists. We wanted our U.S. government to talk to the Iranian government (they’d not spoken since the Shah was overthrown, when our embassy was occupied). I wrote an article about the experience for TRRT, and have given more than 30 programs throughout the area (I am still available, call 815-964-7111).

Little-known fact: I collect foreign currency. I have quite a selection of money, mainly from places that I visited. I like to compare the quality of the currency with our own, and explore the subtle political nuances of the images on the paper.

Anyway, the point of this article is to expound on Iran’s new currency: a high-denomination banknote touting the country’s achievements in nuclear technology. This comes at a time of mounting tension with the West over its atomic program. None too subtle!

The new 50,000 rial note (exchange rate makes it worth around $5, which is more than twice the value of any other Iranian note in circulation) sports a picture of the standard nuclear insignia of electrons in orbit around an atom. This is imposed over a map of Iran. It is quite colorful, and the atomic symbol is very light. But it is in red and can be clearly seen.

But the inscription on the note is a very pointed statement, more so than on any recent currency: “If the science exists in this constellation, men from Persia will reach it,” says the calligraphic legend beside the atomic symbol, quoting a saying (a Hadith) from the Prophet Mohammed. This is a huge political statement put on their newest, largest denomination bill.

In your face, George W. Bush. And our president’s success rate has been perfect. A perfect zero. He can’t stop third-rate dictators, much less modern Islamic oil-rich states, from acquiring nuclear technology. And now they are bragging about it.

The front of the Iranian note pictures the standard portrait of the Islamic republic’s founder, the late Ayatollah Khomeini, which by law must be on all Iranian currency.

Iran has pressed on with its atomic program. It’s a source of national pride, as I discovered on my visit. Our group of 23 peace activists also had opposed nukes in our homeland. When asked, “What do you think of our (Iran’s) nuclear power program?” we’d say, “We oppose it in our own country. We find it expensive, dangerous, leaky, and what are you gonna do with the waste?” Stunned silence was their usual response.

The head of the Islamic republic’s central bank denied there was any link between the issuing of the note and rising prices of basic foodstuffs in Iran. Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (recent holocaust denier) has been criticized for his economic policies that fuel inflation. He won election because he was going to “throw out the thieves,” but he is putting his own villains in. Prices of poultry, red meat and vegetables have risen in recent months, which is the real gauge of the president’s popularity (unless he can start a war).

The official rate of inflation is around 13 percent, although unofficial rates put the figure much higher. When I was there, with only 20,000 rial notes to work with (equal to $2), street peddlers spent most of their time counting out change. Now, they can count it out quicker while touting their country’s nuclear prowess. And a big no nukes to you, too. We should have frozen nuclear production back in the early 1980s, or 1990s, when we had the chance. The U.S. should lead the way in abolishing atom bombs from the earth.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

from the April 4-10, 2007, issue

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