Janet Tavakoli is a bona fide expert in structured finance and credit derivatives, and her command of this arcane field is matched by her outspokenness on the moral implications of the conflicted or exploitative behavior of large financial institutions.
She referred to one former SEC chair as “the antichrist of investor advocacy,” to cite one colorful example, and in the aftermath of the financial crisis has railed with similar candor against financial executives she has blamed for attempts to privatize gains while socializing losses.
The Chicago-based consultant has followed the money trails connected to MF Global’s Jon Corzine or JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon and exposed them; she has examined the Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank acts and lambasted them.
Now Tavakoli has focused her scrutiny on the subject of fundamentalist Islam and terrorism in a new book born of her personal experience living in Iran immediately before and after the start of the 1979 Revolution that replaced the Shah of Iran’s regime with one espousing Islamic principles. It was there that she left her Iranian husband behind and launched her career as a financial derivatives expert.
The book is titled “Unveiled Threat” because, says the self-described “lapsed Catholic” in an interview with ThinkAdvisor, a woman who refuses to submit in the world of fundamentalist Islam “is an unveiled threat, especially if she knows how to follow the money.”
Specifically, what prompted you to leave Iran?
The Islamic Republic. Fundamentalism is inextricably bound with government in any Islamic republic.
Here are just two mainstream examples familiar to U.S. citizens. In Iran, a non-Arab country, Shias (around 15% of all Muslims are Shia, but most Iranians are Shia) have their version of an Islamic republic. In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Sunnis (including Wahhabis and Salafis) have another version. Take a look at the flag of Saudi Arabia. Green is the color of Islam. The calligraphy is the profession of the faith, and it is underscored by a sword. I should add that Sunnis and Shias don’t get along; it is no surprise that Muslims are killing each other; the battle has raged for centuries.
Radicalism is not a Muslim fringe movement; it is mainstream, contrary to politically expedient statements made by former President Bush and President Obama. According to the CIA World Factbook, less than 1% of U.S. citizens are Muslim, yet our presidents acted as apologists without giving proper context to the issues.
The Shah’s Iran was known to be a modernizing society. Did you feel social pressure to veil yourself, actually or virtually?
Upper-class women in the cities felt no such pressure under the Shah.
After the Islamic revolution, the compulsory veiling of women was an outward symbol of everyone’s rights disappearing; men’s rights disappeared, too. But on the topic of women’s rights, Iran rolled back the marriage age to nine (from sixteen with parental consent) before upping it to 13, and now there’s pressure to roll it back to nine. Fathers can marry adopted daughters. In Saudi Arabia, the marriage age is nine. The so-called justification is that Mohammed married a pre-pubescent child and had sex with her when she was just nine. (He was polygamous and had other wives who were adults.) There is nothing morally superior or modest about veiling. On the contrary, to me it symbolizes a very immodest stripping of human rights.
When it comes to adult men, if they aren’t connected with the fundamentalists, they are on shaky ground. The judiciary is a branch of the Ministry of Intelligence. The new ruling class used Sharia law as a cudgel against the former ruling class of males. Non-fundamentalist men felt enormous pressure. This is true today. Notice how some of ISIS’ captives converted in the vain hope of better treatment.
What was it like to be an American in a country with memories of the CIA’s role in ousting Mohammed Mossadegh?
Iranians viewed Mossadegh as a democratically elected secular leader overthrown by the U.S. and Britain. It came up in conversation frequently. Then look what happened. We helped the Shah, a despot, grab power, and he was replaced by an even worse despot who wrapped atrocities in a religious narrative.
What were you able to learn about fundamentalist Islam by following the money?