Friday, November 18, 2011
Posted by Mina at 8:26 PM
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
But who is that on the other side of you?
Posted by Mina at 12:13 PM
Saturday, October 01, 2011
Posted by Mina at 5:39 PM
Thursday, September 29, 2011
I finished the ayatollah’s costume and rushed to see the Mojahedin when I remembered I had left my camera behind. To tell the truth, I simply had not thought about it. I’m not in the habit of taking photographs. Indeed, with all the Iranian journalists around, who needs my photographs? Anyhow, I walked across the fence that had separated the demonstrators from the passers by. I saw the faces that did not have that familiar Iranian look in them. With whole range of light black, brown, and white, some with some trace of Latino-Oriental in them, it was much harder to guess their ethnicity. (Last year it was less confusing, with some 98% black, a majority of whom were kids from elementary school to junior high, plenty of elderly men and women who appeared like homeless people right from the shelter, and lots of anti-abortions signs on their chest, sleeves, and backpacks, one could easily locate their Catholic Philadelphia or Baltimore base.) A huge man wearing yellow jacket with a big laminated placard hanging over his bulging big belly was walking outside the main crowd as if guarding them from outsiders. Shyly I tried to see what was on the placard besides Maryam and Massoud and that famous while liberty bird, without appearing to look at his big belly, when with a thick Spanish accent he asked: “Where are you from”
“From the moon. Where are you from?” I answered gravely.
“I’m from Nicaragua,” he said
“Did you come from Nicaragua for this demonstration?“
“No, I came from Atlanta, Georgia, but I’m Nicaraguan.”
“Then what are you doing here?”
He turned the placard to show me the other side, which had a picture of Daniel Ortega with a ban sign over it, and said, “Do you know him?”
“Yes I do. Daniel Ortega! What about him?”
“He is the worse! I hate him. I’m against him,” he declared furiously
“But what are you doing here?” I asked again not knowing what the relevance was.
“I’m against all of them, Sandinistas, Communists, they all are fascists,” he said, with a few Spanish words and turned the placard back to its original position where I could see Maryam and Massoud triumphantly gazing back into eternity.
All the benches on the two sides of the street were occupied by rows of elderly men and women wearing yellow jackets and carrying the same laminated placards. None of them was Iranian, though. The main body of the crowd, in the middle of street, were mostly younger and middle aged, with the same sort of outfit, waving a huge yellow flags towards the screen that showed John Bolton talking.
A little further away, Ahmad Batebi was standing and talking with few people. I patted him on the back and asked him if he took any photos of these Nicaraguan friends. He said he takes photographs of everyone. Then he said that he is just a journalist and takes photographs from all, just making sure that I knew he is a journalist and takes photographs of all. And that I did; of course I knew that he is a journalist and should take photos of all. I also know that once he was a student courageously waving the bloody shirt of his friend at the camera, and placed his life in danger and made himself so famous. Yes indeed, he is a journalist, and I bet a good one, and doing his job just fine.
Late at night, I rushed to the TV news, VOA and BBC Persian to see the coverage, to see my Nicaraguan friend protesting against Sandinistas, and fascist, and for the Mojahedin, cheering for Massoud and Maryam Rajavi. Alas, there was nothing of the sort. All the comments indeed mentioned that they are the most organized, the most established opposition group. I have no idea what they meant by being organized or established. If it means busing a few hundred people to one place under false pretenses, yes they are the most organized opposition group, otherwise they are hardly any opposition, let alone well established or organized.
This quasi-political masquerade happens every so often with a display of color matched vest, shirts and scarves, recently supplemented by hats and other flashy apparel, chanting slogans and waving flags, balloons, and streamers, and throwing confetti. A few bankrupt politicians, such as Giuliani, John McCain, Patrick Kennedy, and John Bolton, practically nobodies, give reactionary speeches to an organization that is placed on the terrorist list by presidents from their own parties. Well, how organized are they? What do they do? What they have achieved so far? What advantages they have gained by these colorful rallies? And what is their goal anyhow? Their base supporters change from one rally to another, and from one year to other. How could a group with fluctuating participants as such be organized?
Of course no one expects clarity and transparency from such dubious shady characters and groups. However, it is reasonable to expect the media, VOA or BBC Persian, would provide some information about these rallies and their purpose. Even considering their positions as American and British governments sponsored media, we still expect them to act as media should, provide some information to the audience. Am I the only one who ever notices the presence of hired participants at these rallies? Is that not interesting at all to the media that this so called “most organized opposition” operates this way? What is the meaning of such rallies when the participants are totally irrelevant to the cause that the demonstrations are about?
But the worse is the absence of our own independent journalists even here in the United States or in Europe. We never hear from these demonstrations and their constituency. We hear the numbers, mostly inaccurate though, but never the breakdown of the groups. And how hard could it be if a reporter attends one of the rallies and interviews the participants as who they are, and what they stand for, and why they are attending any particular demonstration? Should not we know what each individual raising his/her voice for?
As far as I’m concerned, political groups are free to bring thousands of Martians to their rallies if they can afford to. However it is our rights as citizens to know why and how Martians became interested in our cause. While we appreciate the sense of orderliness and organizations of our Martian comrades, we would like to know how we are supposed to pay them back. Does an air or a bus ticket and a tour in the capitals of the world suffice their labor?
But seriously, what is the purpose of these fake demonstrations, fake opposition, and ultimately fake government and fake democracy? What about those seventy five million real people back at home? Shouldn’t we break the news to them?
To read the rest, click here.
Posted by Mina at 8:20 PM
Sunday, August 14, 2011
The following is a review published in The Dawn, Pakistan's leading English-language daily of a book by my dear friend Nafisa Hoodbhoy. Ms. Hoodbhoy was a journalist in Pakistan for about a decade, where she fearlessly pursued the wealthy patriarchal powers in the country, often at great risk to life and limb.
PAKISTAN has been described as a dangerous country for journalists. Since January 2010, 15 journalists have lost their lives here. But more than that, it is not a country easy to write about. So riddled is it with contradictions and so strong are the emotions it evokes that a writer must have superhuman capacity to be dispassionate and write without social, political and ethnic biases.
Aboard the Democracy Train — a title borrowed from Benazir Bhutto’s campaign by train for the 1988 election — is an
account of politics in Pakistan through the experiences of a female reporter, Nafisa Hoodbhoy, working in a predominantly male environment. As a Dawn staffer from 1984 to 2000, she had access to people and places which gave her a ringside view of politics in Pakistan. It goes to her credit that she put her knowledge to good use. What has emerged is a remarkably readable and anecdotal account of events in Pakistan.
For the author’s contemporaries, the book is a journey down memory lane. By skilfully weaving in the story of her own life in journalism — the society she grew up in, her westernised upbringing in an elite and privileged family, her English medium school education and her disconnect from her Sindhi linguistic antecedents — Hoodbhoy provides an excellent perspective to a foreign reader of life in Pakistan when, in spite of many dichotomies and contradictions, people co-existed in relative harmony.
Hoodbhoy puts forth her opinion on why Pakistan failed to develop as a stable democracy: “the over-indulged state had, since the creation of the nation, taught political leaders one simple lesson: when they fell out with the military, they could be shaken down like dates from a palm tree.” The period covered in the book was a unique era of transition from press controls to relative freedom that came with the abolition of the hated Press and Publications Ordinance.
Those too were not easy times for journalists who faced the hazards of physical violence. The focus shifted from institutional control to a system that tried to keep individuals on leash. Hoodbhoy gives a thrilling account of how she narrowly missed being attacked twice when her reporting angered the wrong people. On one occasion she had to leave Karachi for a few weeks to allow tempers to cool. In the section “News is what the rulers want to hide” she gives a graphic account of the intimidation of the press and its members.
The forte of Aboard the Democracy Train is its rich repertoire of anecdotes and quotable quotes. The author is strikingly objective when reporting the politics of Pakistan’s first female prime minister. There is no attempt to idealise Bhutto or gloss over her weaknesses.
Take this passage for instance: “I had misgivings about Benazir’s ability to lead. Watching her make small talk, with her manicured nails and matching make-up, I couldn’t help but wonder whether she would be no different from the westernised elites who live in a cocoon in this deeply class-divided country.”
Although the realities of the power structure in Pakistan are pretty well known — the army has wielded power even when a civilian and seemingly constitutional government has been in office — told in Hoodbhoy’s racy style, politics assumes an exciting dimension.
Two chapters — “Where Have All the Women Gone?” and “Uncovering a Murder” — should initiate the uninitiated into the
dismal status of women in Pakistan. They clearly establish how doubly disadvantaged women from the economically depressed classes can be and how winning justice is more difficult for a woman in Pakistan than a man.
The book also discusses Sindh’s ethnic politics which shocked the author. She describes the Hyderabad massacre of September 1988 that led to the murder of hundreds of Mohajirs, an “audacious attack” reeking of conspiracy. The retaliatory killing of innocent Sindhis in Karachi touched “a raw nerve,” says Hoodbhoy.
But she appears to have difficulty in getting to the roots of the ethnic problem. For instance, the impression conveyed is that the MQM was a party of the Mohajirs with which the entire community identified itself. Her account also hints at a degree of polarisation between her Sindhi-speaking and Urdu-speaking colleagues in Dawn which is far from true. The fact is that the MQM did not draw all Mohajirs in its fold. Many intellectuals as well as politically astute Mohajirs chose not to throw their loyalties with the party. The book fails to take note of how two Urdu-speaking journalists from the Dawn media group came under attack, allegedly by MQM supporters, in 1991. And in one case, the party blocked the distribution of the paper for three days.
Hoodbhoy left Dawn in 2000 when she moved to the US. The tone of the last two chapters dealing with post-9/11 years is different from the rest of the book. Hoodbhoy’s account of the ‘war on terror’ and politics of the Musharraf years lack the intimacy and personal narration of her earlier writing. Many journalists have covered this period from closer quarters. But for a reader not knowledgeable about Pakistan, these chapters should be educative.
The reviewer is a former Dawn staffer
Aboard the Democracy Train:
A Journey through Pakistan’s
Last Decade of Democracy
By Nafisa Hoodbhoy
Anthem Press, London
To read the rest, click here.
Posted by Mina at 12:37 PM
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
As an Iranian growing up in a culture that is rooted strongly in cosmological dualism, I always took polarization as a given. It came quite natural that pop music stands opposed to classical music, new wave poetry to classical, the Theater of the Absurd to classical acting, and abstract painting to realist painting. Dualism was carried on to all aspects of life where the modern was counterposed to the traditional. It was quite natural when we placed two individuals in opposition to each other, no matter how fundamentally similar they were. However, our undemocratic political arena did not provide with grounds for such polarization of the political characters. We never had political figures to stand up against each other. We had one Dr. Mosaddeq standing alone by himself who was pushed back to exile by the Shah without finding a chance to compete with any real opposition. (If only the Shah had known this little, he would not have need the CIA’s help!)
If this trend went into hibernation during the first two decades of the Islamic Republic, it emerged fully in its third decade, though in a different guise and domain. It was when a popular personality such as Khatami emerged who charmed 22 million fans while some millions called him traitor, liar, etc. This duality of character was soon carried over to the reformists in general, and then to the reform movement itself. A movement that appeared to many to be the way to salvation was considered an intentional device to perpetuate the Islamic Republic’s tyranny.
Mousavi, an old-timer politician, reentered the political arena as a reformist candidate. Once the fundamentalist prime minister of the reign of terror, when Islamic Republic sought its survival in war, mass executions, and serial murders, boasting about supporting terrorists, suicide bombers, murderers and extremists, suddenly emerged a born again peace lover and supporter of human rights and became the candidate of reform movement, and, later a central figure in the leadership of the Green Movement.
His first speech upon his nomination stunned many of us. He said a fundamentalist in essence is nothing but a reformist and a reformist in essence must be a fundamentalist. This speech should have given us a clue as what to expect; instead it made some of us giggle, while his staunch supporters thought of it as genius.
His double messages soon multiplied. His constant deference to Imam Khomeini, the sublimity of the Revolution’s unfulfilled goals, and his commitment to the regime, the Supreme Leader, and the Islamic Regime’s ideals alarmed many of us. But for a variety of reasons, chief of which being President Khatami’s backing, he stayed immune from the scrutiny of potential voters and so came ahead of Karoubi in the polls taken during the campaign and later on in election.
It was only after the fraudulent election that he found himself in the spotlight in need of something more significant to say besides those election attacks or appeals to his wartime government record, which little by little turned into a liability for him. He was criticized more and more as the upheaval continued. Above all, the mass executions of 1988 turned out to be his Achilles’ heel.
However, the most serious damage done to Mousavi did not result from his unprovable involvement in the Islamic Republic’s crimes during his term as president, but from the most certain and widely-witnessed matter, namely his speeches, written and recorded. It was in this domain that he became most vulnerable.
His ambiguity, imprecision, sweeping generalizations, contradictory statements, false assumptions, taking stands on behalf of the people whom he very openly admits are not subject to his leadership, and finally flip-flopping and twisting statements became his trademark. These problems appeared in his messages to the people or the authorities, causing them to require as much interpretation as the oracles of the sibyls of Delphi. Oddly enough, those who had come to his help, mostly his journalist and blogger friends, not only failed to clarify his words, but added to their ambiguity and therefore to people’s frustration by declaring them to be pearls of wisdom.
Pages in Facebook are crowded with comments referring to Mousavi as Gandhi, a hero, a genius, a phenomenal politician, a superb manager of the wartime economy, and a political savior. He is also referred to as a murderer, a traitor, a terrorist, pawn of the regime, a liar, a cheat, and an incompetent. Although, it is not too difficult to make a bridge between savior and a murderer (as in To Kill a Mockingbird), but seeing all these contradictory characters in one person is a little incongruous to many Iranians. Sometimes I think Mousavi, being the collection of opposites, is either a bad book that is not worth a read, or is like a laboratory culture that has everything in it from extreme good to extreme evil and is therefore a good breeding ground for whatever we wish to cultivate, one of which might be democracy. Sometimes I think the man who has passed through horror very likely knows how to survival better than those who have no such experience. After all, the Islamic Republic’s style of repression is so unique to itself that only its architects know how to access its facilities. But, sometimes I think, more likely, he is a religious man who simply modeled himself after a monotheistic God who is capable of good and evil simultaneously as the situation requires, a God who punishes severely and rewards generously in this little earthly life with impatience, as if there is no after life as He has promised in the Holy Book.
Mousavi has repeatedly issued statements of his unshaken loyalty to Khomeini (who has long lost his esteemed aura among Iranians), his idealization of his premiership (based on his eight years of office in wartime), his commitment to combining theocracy with democracy, and his definition of freedom based on Khomeini’s “the people’s vote is the criteria”, as well as his constant references to “the regime’s interest.” Oddly enough, none of these, with their contradiction to his promises of reform, has become a serious topic of discussion within his camp, as if they all are political and social norms. The absence of analysis, explanation or any sort of dialogue regarding these issues has added to the fog and mist of ambiguity around him. We are all awaiting that miracle to come and clear it up.
Being ambiguous might have been part of Mousavi’s nature. It may be part of his style to be so mysterious, as many artists like to be. It may be the political nature of our country that calls for his statesmen to not be so revealing. It may very well be his way of being clever. It may be an old-fashion style of leadership modeled after Khomeini, who did not believe in dialogue or criticism. He might be a bit more modern than his model in his communications, but only in technological terms. After all, Khomeini’s idea of communicating with his followers was through a one-sided flow of cassettes from him to them. Mousavi may even think of himself as a Khomeini’s legitimate heir, in spite of his humble mode of speech. He may not even believe in being challenged. He may even be the very simple pious man he appears to be. Or, he may be an old-fashioned politician on the verge of an early retirement who was enticed to return to politics and did not refuse out of politeness.
His words, spoken (very rarely) or written, could lead us to all the above. But ultimately, Mousavi remains as unknown to us as his fate is at this stage of the game. A man who came from a fog, brought with him a fog, continues living in fog and promises even more fog. If paradise is this foggy, he is surely an angel, but if what appears to us as fog is nothing but a thin smoke, I think he is the Prince of Darkness coming from Hell. I pray for him to be the former.
To read the rest, click here.
Posted by Mina at 2:41 PM
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
I recall a fading photograph of my mother in a 1930s fashion dress with a little pretty hat along with some thirty other women dressed more or less in the same fashion with heads high and eyes bright, proud as if looking forward to a splendid promised land ahead.
That photograph, attached to the front page of our family album, with so many women whom we did not know, seemed totally out of place. We never asked my mother about the relevance of that photo in the family album, not when we were little kids and not when we finished our college and university education in which each of us had accumulated a dozen such photographs each year, none of which ever found its way into the family album.
The women were posed in the same order as we did in our school photographs, in three rows, the front row being sitting on chairs and the two rows standing behind them, the tallest standing in the back row. My mother looked younger than the rest by some fifteen years. The white chiffon collar several of them wore gave me the impression that it was taken at some educational occasion.
There was a small box which my mother collected all her other photos in. It was like a treasure chest to me. There was a photo of her first classroom in an open-air school with some dozen students of all ages and classes sitting on some wooden benches in rows along two sides of a long table with their textbooks and notebooks, a tambourine and a violin lying in front of my half brother and half sister next to their note books. Apparently her classes were held quite casually. During the long breaks when my mother would attend to the kitchen across from the garden, my siblings would keep the students busy by their performances.
There were plenty of pictures of my mother with her students at the same open-air school and later on at a formal school she built with my father’s and some friends’ help. Then there were pictures of her visiting classes as a head mistress of the school and some more at the annual graduations, giving awards to the best students. There were plenty of pictures of my mother attending politicians’ funerals or marches celebrating some national holidays, or taken with some celebrities here and there whom I‘m sure she has just met them and more likely they did not know her from Eve.
There were also plenty of photos of my mother with a fawn, varieties of chickens, a few with goats, sheep, geese, and turkeys. Except the fawn which my father had bought for her when he married her and brought her home from her tribe, she had bred the rest of them. She always talked very proudly about each of them, how and when she matched various colors and breeds to produce the desired result. She always talked about them as if they were her children; sometimes she even remembered their birth. I’m not sure whether what I recall now is the photographs or the stories related about them, recounted again and again and are now imprinted in my memory.
Some of these photos were really remarkable. One showed my mother with a long snake. (She claimed it was about 18 feet long, a claim much evidence confirmed.) It showed her pulling the snake out of a room on the ground floor with a wooden pike. In that photo only part of the snake showed. It had formed a big V as she dragged it away from the door. This one was not one of my mother’s master hybrids. It was among the creatures left behind in a horrifying flood in the camp that had found its way to one of our grand floor rooms. My mother was courageous enough to catch it and kill it and bury the body.
One of the pictures was of a one legged frog. Of course in the photograph one could see something in my mother’s hand, but we had heard the story so many times that we would see it as real. Once, while strolling in her cherry orchard, she heard a noise as if something had fallen into water. She saw an snake has crept into the steam to grab a large frog there. My mother, very heavy in her last days of pregnancy, without thinking, bent and grabbed the frog, but the snake wouldn’t let go of one of the frog’s legs. In a forceful match between my mother and the snake, my mother won, but the poor frog lost a leg. Apparently, she took care of the frog and kept it like a pet somewhere in the back yard so she could watch after it until it died of old age. The story had become one of humorous legends among her circle of friends.
Her cherry orchard, which still yields the largest and the most delicious sour cherries and was dedicated to the coal miners working in the nearby coal mine when we left the camp, was a point of pride for her. Hundreds of photographs in all seasons, almost with every visitor in the camp, were taken in every part of it. She would talk about it with the same passion the Rothchilds do of their vineyards.
Yes, she had photos of her grape yards as well, and of her herb gardens. Apparently she was a great talent in gardening and agriculture; but this talent came to her so naturally and effortlessly that we all took it for granted and did not notice how knowledgeable she was. As a result, not only was she left unacknowledged but we never felt how painful it must have been for her to leave them all behind and move to Tehran, to a totally different city life. So no one was even surprised at how quickly she adjusted to it all.
She never had a formal education. She was an orphan from a tribe in Luristan married to my father, who had traveled there on a disarmament mission, primarily to be sent away from her tribe, so the line of leadership of the tribe would not be transfered from her uncle, who, as her custodian, was the chief of the tribe, to her fiancé, who was her cousin. It seems my father had arrived just in time. No wonder her tribe was the only tribe that he could disarm them without a fight! He returned home with plenty of guns and a pretty young bride only two years older than his daughter from his first marriage.
In Parchin, the military camp we lived in, she noticed that she has entered a fantasy land, somewhere unknown to her, people whose language she did not even speak. With my father’s personal tutoring and another hired tutor, she was qualified to take the exam to become teacher within two years. And again with my father‘s help, she made the first school in the open air there. Later on, she established a full-fledged school up to nine grades, with a dozen teachers hired from neighboring areas. She taught there until we moved to Tehran, where she had five children of her own to take care of.
A healthy, cheerful, energetic, women; a wonderful capable mother; a devoted loving wife and an amazing friend and partner to my very difficult father; a great compassionate step mother, she was truly loved by all of us including my half brothers and sisters who considered her as their own biological mother. But for me,the greatest of all her talent was her exceptional wisdom in treating us; she taught us something, that still we have a hard time understanding how she did it. She taught us to live a life free of guilt and free of regret, to be free and yet voluntarily set restrictions on ourselves. She never forbade us from doing something she thought inappropriate and never forced us to do something that we did not want to do. However, I do not recall ever doing anything the she would not approve of or making any effort to do something against my will to please her. Heaven knows that her wisdom is still my guide.
Even her sudden untimely death was like nothing on earth. She died one afternoon, in the home of my older brother (whom she loved the best, of course with no apology) while performing her evening prayer. She finished her prayers and, when she performed her final prostrating (sojood), she died. When my brother, alarmed by her delay, approached her, saying, “How long does a sojood take, Mom?” and touched her, she rolled on his arm, as if she was gone already to Heaven, from the prayer mat to my brothers bosom, the places she loved the most.
All is gone now, my mother, the house we lived in, the school she built, the gardens and chickens and goats and ducks and all. What are left are only some pictures and some anecdotes, all printed and reprinted in the darkroom of my memory. The only souvenirs I have from her are her prayer mat, the clay disk she died prostrating herself on, and an antique copy of a poetry book of her favorite poet, Vahshi Bafghi. But here is something else from her in my mind that remains forever vivid, that fading picture of hers, among the strangers, in our family album. I think finally this year in the turmoil we all went through, in the beating of our hearts for our friends in prisons, those beaten up, those who lost their lives as a witness to this dark part of out history, and then suddenly March 8th reminded us that we exist and that we should celebrate our existence, I realized what that picture meant to her after all. Yes, on International Woman’s Day, that posture, that figure, that raised chin, that glamor, and that pride under that yellow dust all emerged as meaningful.
I think that photo (the date of that which must be shortly after 17, 10, 1314 [January 8, 1936]) was my mother’s birth certificate, a license to life and a permission to bring up the best in her. That was a key to her hidden treasures, the key to open up something that would have remained alien were it not for the removal of that shroud from her being. She found an identity on that night when she walked arm in arm with her husband, beautiful, majestic and radiant in public and enjoyed being seen and admired by everyone, also, when she looked at others with admiration and awe. She did not need to say how she felt free, that night, like a bird, like a tribal girl, free of all rules and artificial codes of piety and modesty; everything was there in that single photo. That was the day of her life, of my life and our lives; for that alone I can say God bless the great dictator, may he rest in peace and may God reward him in Heaven. To read the rest, click here.
Posted by Mina at 3:03 PM