Saturday, June 30, 2007

AliReza Darvish: Three Animations

The first animation of Alireza Darvish, three minutes in length, titled Life Is Short, reminded me of my childhood thirst for whatever was written. It was about a very simple matter of fact issue: creation. In less than two minutes, he blended the biblical story of Adam and Eve and their offspring with the Darwinian evolutionary version of creation. Oddly enough neither Adam nor Eve had a problem with this union, nor did God. Those of us with religious feelings who saw the film were particularly delighted at the blend. However Alireza himself was not content with the merging of the two. He believed that the creation in either sense or even together is incomplete. Adam and Eve, biblical or Darwinian, go through a cultural evolution. It is this third stage which highlights his animation. Adam and Eve sail through the river and walk out from the Garden of Eden with the most delightful gift for their future offspring, their books.

In the Foot step of Water, the children of Adam and Eve are freed from their two conflicting heritages and they define themselves only with their third essence: culture. As they pass through life, they create, they form, they record, and they liberate . They pass through fire, fly over the sky, swim through rivers day and night, war and peace; All the way, they live by their pen.  Their pen is taken away from them, is broken, is thrown out, their texts are crumbled and discarded, but they do not give up. This is a tale of perseverance, exertion and force, it is striving and succeeding, it is victory and freedom. It is the story of all the little drops which make the ocean, all the little words which make the sea of letters. A magnificent sea of knowledge is painted masterfully by the hands of this talented artist into a six minute animation. Darvish paints our lives, our generation, probably the last generation, which appreciates the written text, and books as the building blocks of life. The children of Adam and Eve have “seen the garden and have picked the apples from that untouchable branch.” They pick up their pen, gather the words, and blend them together; the words evolve into fish which carry the letters of the discarded written words and print them on the water of the ocean, to be carried all over. This film won the Jury Prize in Milan.

Alireza Darvish’s third animation, What If Spring Does Not Come,

is another tale of struggles in life, of the struggle for liberation and freedom. It is a woman’s tale of struggle and perseverance. It is a tale of life, presumably a real life, probably a sweet memoir of Alireza’s mother. Its subject is a woman for whom the very same sea in which men could swim turns into hot desert sand when she approaches it innocently with a flower of hope. She bumps into desert sand where she hopes to swim in water. But she does not give up, but goes with the hope, and seeks and finds fulfillment in culture, in books, in the written word, where there is salvation and freedom, and where she finds the way to the water, over which she sails on a book.
In all his paintings and animations, Alireza enshrines the book as no one else has done before. His passion for the keeping this dying and fading artifact of human life is worth at least three cheers, three bravos, and millions of thanks.
This animation very timely, as the campaign for a million signatures has terrified the Islamic Republic of Iran and caused it to curb women’s activity in the harshest degree. It was shown at the Brooklyn Film Festival as one of the two Iranian movies participants. Like his previous animations and his paintings, it is deeply occupied with the subject of culture and life, with women as the carrier of culture. This eight minute animation was presented in one of the most popular times of the festival and was received very well by the audience, even though the genre of symbolism has never been a popular form of artistic expression in the United States. Alireza’s animation particularly stands out for its technical mastery.

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Persian Garden Party for John Edwards

As a registered member of the Democratic Party, I feel it my duty and responsibility to participate fully in all elections, down to those for school board (even though we do not have any children). I very strongly believe that participation is an answer to all our problems, from health insurance to torture and war. If I understand the word democracy correctly, participation is its essence.

I decided to answer the call for throwing a fund raising party for John Edwards due to my sheer belief that he is the most eligible candidate and the one with the most potential to be elected president. My husband, Evan, with unusual patience designed the flyer. With the help of our good friend, the artist Alireza Darvish, he gave the Persian prince a transplant of John Edwards’ head and had him hunting a Republican elephant. I received plenty of comments regarding the party, flyer, Edwards, and so on. They were all very well taken, particularly those who complimented us and those who graciously accepted the invitation, although many of them could not attend due to long distance we were from France, Germany, California, Texas, and Canada, and many were deterred by an unusual rain storm and the resulting disastrous traffic.

Among these comments was one concerning Edwards’ position on Iran. Apparently in an speech at the Herzliya, in Israel, Edwards said regarding Iran “all the options remain on the table,” meaning the possibility of attack on Iran is still an option. Well, I also heard the news; however it neither excites me nor surprises me. I have lived through the presidencies of six presidents to know that American foreign policy won’t alter very much by the president or even the party which takes over the White House or even the Senate or the House of Representatives. The policy of having hegemony on global oil supplies has never changed with a change of presidents. This is all the more true at this stage of the game, when the candidates are trying to get themselves nominated for the election and their attentions is entirely directed towards the American electorate. And we all know America’s friendship with any country won’t override their interest. We all have seen what happened to the so-call friends when they are no longer useful.

Our dear friend wrote:

Forgive me, but were Ms. Siegel strolling out in the 'Persian Garden' when Mr. Edwards (see delivered his speech via satellite at a Jan '07 security conference in Herzliya, Israel?

He said that "Iran threatens the security of Israel and the entire world" strongly hinting at the need for possible US military action by repeating the familiar line "To ensure Iran never gets nuclear weapons, we need to keep ALL options on the table", and in case the audience were not paying attention he went on to emphasize his point "Let me reiterate" ALL options must remain on the table."

Unfortunately that is the same kind of 'reckless' war-mongering rhetoric and threatening posture we've seen too much from every other Israel-first, Zionist supported American politician in the last 6 years.

Yes, Mr. Edwards is an intelligent politician with some good plans to face the health care, poverty, and global warming issues. Perhaps even a defender women's rights, but make no mistake friends; he is no friend of Iran or Iranians.

I say to him, no, I was not strolling in a Persian garden when Edwards gave his speech. I simply paid it no mind. It is not Edwards’ position, but America’s position towards Iran, and not only do I not like it, but I abhor it. However, if the course of politics needs to be changed it has to be through grass roots activity and awareness, and that won’t be possible without getting involved. Is John Edwards perfect? Not at all. It is not just his position on Iran I disagree with, but I even have severe misgivings about many of his domestic policies. Do any of us like this shamble of health insurances? Does anybody in his right mind possibly think that he will do any thing about health insurance as long as “health” is a giant business in the United States? However, do any of us expect any candidate at this stage candidly to declare this? Do you think he will fight to free people’s health from the dominance and control of greedy entrepreneurs?

Well, I do not expect the impossible from any of them regarding Iran or any other country. I’m afraid it won’t be my generation to see any substantial change in American foreign policy. My only hope is by having a Democrat as a president who sticks strongly to the essential core of the Democratic Party, we will have a better ground for the growth of awareness and better education for the mass of Americans, with the hope that they will someday come to understand that the worlds need to be changed.

I know I sound very naïve, but it is no more naïve that my strong belief that one day Good will overcomes Evil.

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Ahmadinezad: Our Man in Saadabad

On the day of the 2005 elections, worried, angry and disappointed, my sister-in-law and I walked down one of the narrow winding streets of northern Tehran towards Ghaytariyya Park to distract ourselves. We knew that we did not have much of a chance of winning. Since early in the morning, we, along with my brother and brother-in-law, had checked almost all the more than fifty polling places in northern Tehran. They all were embarrassingly empty.

Just few yards passed our house we ran into Haj Shahrokh, our neighborhood’s sweet old grocery and bakery owner. I asked if he had voted.

“Yes of course.”

“For whom, if I may ask?”

Very shyly he said, “Ahmadinejad.”

My brother had been campaigning for Rafsanjani, though he could not convince his own family to vote for him in the first run. I laughed and told him not worry, I won’t tell my brother. My sister-in-law asked him, “Why Ahmadinejad?”

“Rafsanjani has been president and had been in the Parliament and has been the head of the Expediency Council. In short, he has had enough chance to do whatever he wanted to and now is time for younger people to be given a chance. Furthermore, I felt bad for him since no one was supporting him and I thought it is good to vote for him.”

I think it was this second reason which softened my heart. I got the feeling that he went to the voting booth with a fatherly attitude with his late son, who had died the previous year of stroke, in mind. I could forgive him for betraying my brother, I could understand him very well; we all are entitled to listen to our hearts and even value it more than our minds even in political matters. This is one aspect of Iranian life which we cannot ignore. If King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom abdicated because he cannot take his heart with him to the palace, we can surely accept the grocer’s heart in the voting booth. The night when Ayatollah Khamenei appeared to vote and the cameraman moved close enough to show his hand moving so that it was clear that he was voting for Hojjatoleslam Rafsanjani, I was even more certain that Ahmadinejad will be our ninth president. ( Aristotelian syllogism does not permit it but the Iranian politics does.)

Our ninth president happens to be the most controversial man in Iranian politics. Though Ahmadinejad has a doctorate, he does not speak any foreign languages, his Persian is only suitable for talking to peasants. His statements on various subjects, from soccer to nuclear energy, from economics to religion, are so naïve and ignorant that it is surprising that he has a driving license.

I met Ahmadinejad just few months after he had been elected, in the New York Hilton Hotel. His speech was as shallow as any of the other speeches he would later give, and devoid of any content. Basically, he said how good and kind Iranians are. I’m sure he was very sincere about this. Indeed, we all know how good and kind we are. However, his premise for that conclusion was not valid: His declaration, “What nation do you know which has Naser Khosrow or Baba Taher Oryan,” even when coupled with his statement that Iranian mothers are the best in the world could hardly lead to it. And his piety? I shook hands with him without any gloves on, nor was my head covered either. And believe it or not his head, was not covered either by a light nimbus.

Then all the gaffs began, one after the other. From wanting to wipe the Israel off the map to his latest, that America was looking to find the home of our Imam of the Age (عج) to attack him directly; they were all met with uproars, cheers and jeers, many being shocked and embarrassed.

Though he has been under attack from various sides, including the members of his own government, and was criticized harshly for his mismanagement and ignorance and inexperience, his incompetent ministers, his hasty decisions which, after some waste of money, are either abandoned or are undone cost overruns, and for his various orders and plans which are either done on a whim or without sufficient preparation and consideration, he still goes forward and keeps doing whatever he was doing. He arrests the British Navy crew and releases them with newly tailored suits, reduces the interest rate without considering the consequences, says women can go to the stadium to watch soccer and then says not yet. He says women’s hair is not our concern and then he says it is our concern indeed. He is against wasting money, yet he has wasted more money than any other government. The economy is sinking and inflation is soaring. His friends and cliques applaud and regard him with awe, while the opposition criticizes him and some pretend that they are surprised.

I’m neither his fan nor his enemy. Indeed I’m not even surprised that he is the way he is. He is simply campaigning! Odd? Yes. Everywhere else one campaigns and then gets elected. But in his case he got elected first and then he was smart enough to figure out he needed an agenda to gather a constituency. The front pages of newspapers and few staged trips to the universities and, probably, all the jokes and cartoons gave him the message: “Sir you don’t have any base in today’s Iran. You had better move and reach out.” That he did. Well he knew very well that his constituency, the basijis and the Haj Shahrokhs, wouldn’t last till the end of his presidency and that he had better build a more reliable one.

Ahmadinejad’s election was a coup, a coup de chance! (No wonder he claimed the Imam of the Age was behind it all! It was truly miraculous!). In the absence of credible statistics, it is legitimate to assume that Ahmadinejad was elected simply with the votes of the basijis and a few Haj Shahrokhs, the party of pure fleeting luck, and he knew that he could not rely on it. He was smart enough to know that he could not rely on the basijis; in a couple of years their kids would enter political life and would not be like their fathers, they would not be basijis or Revolutionary Guards, but would go through a rapid political development. And the Haj Shahrokhs? They don’t grow, they just shrink even faster. Ahmadinejad knows how fast Behesht Zahra Cemetery is growing. He knows that in the next elections he won’t have the benefit of a boycott either. He also knows that in the next election, the women’s vote alone will make it impossible for any conservative or fundamentalist to get elected to any office. The last City Councils elections and the election of Mohsen Rezai Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf as the mayor of Tehran by the City Council just to spite him confirm how politically shrewd the people have become. It also confirms that the generation that helped him before, the generation who believes in predestined politics, is not there any more. Within a mere two years that little constituency of Ahmadinejad and the fundamentalists has already been reduced to a very dangerous low. He realized soon after the election that he had to do something.

Ahmadinejad started by defining himself as a protégé of the Imam of the Age. He is not shy when it comes to his relationship with the Twelve Imam. Right before his election, he allegedly invited a group of clerics from the holy city of Qom to determine from what direction the Imam of the Age will enter Tehran so he could make an appropriate highway to welcome him. (Does not his virtue lie in his absence?) His halo in the UN was another example of his relationship with the higher worlds. He has used such hidden links to the Twelve Imam in most of speeches, particularly in the countryside.

Moreover, when the basijis recently gathered in Isfahan, he compared himself to Ayatollah Modarres who single-handedly faced down the hoodlums (arazel and obashes) just as he wanted to face down the current hoodlums who oppose him. (Incidentally, all are his own people are criticizing him now.) I do not know Modarres well enough to be of any judge in this regard, but I do know Iranian well enough to wonder whom he meant by hoodlums.

It was so interesting that when he gave his famous anti-Israel and Holocaust denial speeches, it was Kofi Annan who advised the international community not to get excited since they were are all for domestic use. The outrageous messages and letters he sends to various heads of state are all sent with the same intention. He is reaching to some twenty million Iranians who had never bothered about politics before.

Unfortunately there are people in many remote parts of the country who have never entered into the political life in Iran, either due to their isolated existence, the brutal and hard condition of their lives, or their lack of education, and politics has no place in their lives. Ahmadinejad is giving them a very new concept of politics, though it is a little closer to witchcraft. Just as Imam Khomeini managed to engage many people whom the leftists and the nationalists could not, Ahmadinejad is reaching out to those who have not yet been engaged, people who understand better messages from the Imam of the Age, those who are wise enough to believe in His protection and blessing, rather than United Nations and other Human Rights organizations. The cult of the Twelve Imam is a safe and assured party to be established, and sure enough there are many people who are truly awaiting his physical appearance and see only the practical value in his advent. And Ahmadinejad is taking a lead on that front. I doubt that he can gather as many to help him in any coming election, but he might be saved from deadly embarrassments. Let’s see whose list for the next parliamentary election would be signed by the Imam. Let’s see what else would appear in Ahmadinejad’s speeches. Let’s see if he will act as a president after all. Let’s see if he finally agrees that the best way to draw the people to his side is to help to improve their lives. Let’s see if he finally, as a man of science, recognizes that the age of taking advantage of people’s religious beliefs is over and that one cannot substitute a program which can satisfy the people’s basic necessities with demagoguery.

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