In his latest video-taped message, Al Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden tried to lay the foundations for an alliance between radical Islamism and Western leftist "progressisim".

He quoted with admiration a number of American and European leftists, including Noam Chomsky, the polemicist-cum-linguist who believes that the United States is a "rogue state" and the source of all evil on earth.

The dream of an Islamist-Marxist alliance, however, is not confined to Bin Laden and Al Qaida. It also plays a part in the overall strategy of Iran.

It is in the name of "a global progressist front", Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez are sponsoring a number of projects to underline "the ideological kinship of the left and revolutionary Islam".

The theme, hammered in by Ahmadinejad during his recent visit to Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia, was the inspiration for a four-day seminar organised by his supporters at Tehran University last week. With the blessings of Chavez, who partly financed the event, and Ahmadinejad the hope was that the conference would produce a synthesis of Marxist and Khomeinist ideologies and highlight what the Iranian leader has labelled "the divine aspect of revolutionary war".

The conference was given the title of "Che Like Chamran", a play on words designed to emphasise "the common goals" of Marxism and Islamism.

Defence minister

Mustapha Chamran was a Khomeinist militant of Iranian origin who lived in California and became a US citizen in the 1960s before travelling to Lebanon where he founded the Shiite Amal militia. He entered Iran in 1979 and helped the mullahs seize power. In 1981, Khomeini appointed him defence minister. Chamran was killed in a car crash a few months later.

The Tehran conference was organised to honour Chamran on the 26th anniversary of his death, which coincided with the 40th anniversary of the death of the Cuban-Argentine guerrilla icon Guevara.

The conference had three guests of honour. One was Mahdi Chamran, a brother of the late Mustapha and an associate of Ahmadinejad. The two others were Guevara's children, daughter Aleida and son Camilo. Aleida, a middle-aged paediatrician who lives in Havana, Cuba, was wearing the mandatory Khomeinist hijab while her brother had grown designer stubble to please the hosts.

Also in attendance were an array of ageing European and Latin American "Guevarista" and cadres from the Lebanese branch of Hezbollah.

Initially, the conference was all plain sailing as participants agreed that the sole source of evil in the world was the US and its "earth-devouring ambitions."

The Khomeinists were pleased to hear their European and Latin American guests denounce "America's criminal plans to attack the Islamic revolution", and insist that Iran had every right to develop its nuclear capabilities. The ageing Guevarista were equally pleased as their Khomeinist hosts praised the dead T-shirt poster image boy as "a fighter for universal justice".

Mahdi Chamran claimed that Ahmadinejad, Chavez, and "the leaders of the revolution in Nicaragua and Bolivia" belong to the same family of "strugglers for universal justice".

Another Khomeinist speaker Mortaza Firuzabadi boasted that the banner of fighting America "everywhere and all the time" had now passed to Islamists.

"Our duty is to the whole of humanity," he said. "We seek unity with revolutionary movements everywhere. This is why we have invited the children of Che Guevara."

Claiming that the Khomeinists will win because they do not fear death while "Americans are scared of dying", Firuzabadi invited all anti-American forces to accept the leadership of Ahmadinejad's revolutionary regime.

Things went pear-shape when one of the keynote speakers Hajj Saeed Qassemi, whose title is "Coordinator of the Association of Volunteers for Suicide-Martyrdom," took the podium.

He praised the late "Che" as "a true revolutionary who made the American Great Satan tremble". Qassemi went on to claim he was in a position to reveal that the late Guevara had been "a truly religious man who believed in God and hated Communism and the Soviet Union".

"Today, Communism has been consigned to the garbage can of history as foreseen by Imam Khomeini," Qassemi said. "Thus progressists everywhere must accept the leadership of our religious, pro-justice movement."

He also claimed that the Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega had told his group during a visit to Tehran that the reason for the Sandinista's electoral defeats a decade ago had been their "failure to understand the importance of religion".

Waving a Persian-language book as "proof", Qassemi claimed that his assertion of Guevara's "deep religious beliefs" was based on the late Cuban guerrilla leader's writings.

Demanding the right to respond, Aleida Guevara, sitting at the podium told the conference that Qassemi's claim might be based on a wrong translation of her father's writings.

"My father never mentioned God," she said as the hall sighed in chagrined disbelief. "He never met God."

The remarks caused a commotion amid which Aleida and her brother were whisked away, led into a car and driven to their hotel under escort.

Qassemi returned to the podium to unleash an unscripted attack on "Godless Communists". He called on "the left in Latin America and elsewhere" to clarify its position.

He claimed that Guevara and his "Supreme Guide Fidel Castro" had decided to hide their religious beliefs in order to secure Soviet support.

"Both were men of God and never believed socialism or communism," Qassemi asserted. (The practice of hiding one's religious belief to achieve security or desperately needed help is known as taqiyah and recognised in Shiite Islam as legitimate.)

A few hours after the incident, the Guevara siblings attended another meeting, this time organised at Amir-Kabir University by a group called The Mobilisation of the Downtrodden Militia. Camilo Guevara confirmed his sister's earlier remarks but insisted that "progressists everywhere" focus on fighting America rather than probing each other's personal beliefs.

Forgot the Guevaras

By the end of the day, the two Guevaras had become non-persons. The state-controlled media that had given them VIP billing, suddenly forgot their existence. The anniversary of Guevara's death was mentioned in passing with no reference to his Marxism.

While all non-Khomeinist ideologies are banned in Iran, two are specifically punishable by imprisonment or death: socialism and liberal democracy.

The two Guevaras, who left Iran in some haste, managed to anger some Iranian progressists. The siblings refused to mention the mass arrest of workers' leaders throughout Iran in the past few months or condemn the current wave of repression against trade unions, women's organisations, teachers, and farm workers.

"These people don't give a damn about the toiling masses," says Parviz Jamshidi, a lawyer for imprisoned trade unionists. "To them workers represent nothing but an abstraction, an excuse for appearing left and chic. They don't see that the Khomeinist regime is at war against the poorest sections of our society."

Amir Taheri is an Iranian writer based in Europe.