The Corner

More On Why So Many Iranians Died

Amir Taheri:

The ancient city of Bam, the epicenter of the quake, has a long history of destruction. It was first destroyed in an earthquake almost 1,900 years ago. But such is the unexplainable magnetism of Bam that, almost eight centuries later, it had become an important trading center with a cosmopolitan population of Muslims, Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians.

The city was again almost totally razed by an earthquake in 1911. But by the 1930s it had reemerged as a trading center and a producer of dates and pistachios. Then came other earthquakes in 1950 and 1966.

By the early 1970s, the government had decided not to allow people to build new houses in Bam itself. The city’s ancient monuments were declared part of the heritage of mankind under UNESCO and no new buildings permits were issued for almost six years.

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.

Thus, more than half of those who died in the earthquake could be regarded as victims of a racket ran by mullahs and their associates with the help of religious prejudice and superstition.