Saturday, December 20, 2008

Ayatollahs and the Hurling Shoes

Yesterday Ayatollah Jennati, on his Friday prayer sermon, praised the Iraqi journalist who had thrown his shoes at President Bush and said, “Those shoes should be retrieved and be placed in a museum.”

In my life time, I recall many political leaders who were not popular with their own people, leaders who were in power and then left office in disgrace. Some were overthrown by military coup, some by popular revolution, some were put on trial in an international tribunal, some were assassinated, some were even voted out of office, some were forced to resign, and some lasted until their term was over. Each of these leaders met their ends with a degree of disgrace, though most of them gradually found a way to live in peace in oblivion.

Among all the these unpopular leaders, President Bush stands out because he is the president of the largest democracy on earth (next to India) and because many events happened during his two terms of presidency which affected the world immensely. When in our recent election he was not even invited to address the crowed in the nomination of his own party, when he did not dare to appear in public to endorse his own party’s standard bearer, when his popularity was ranked the lowest in history and when he was comforted that maybe in the future history would judge him more favorably than his contemporaries (of course if the historian happened to be a neo-con!), still I thought he did not receive what he deserved, until that memorable night when the journalist threw his shoes at him. Honestly, my first reaction was, “I wish he would have thrown his socks.” My sister disagreed, “They would not have reached him.” “They would if they were heavy socks smeared with a little oil or tar or mud.” I was worried that my joy would be ruined if the journalist had to pay a high price for his creativity. I would have felt better if they had been ballet shoes.

What was the intention of the journalist? No one even asked. The motive was crystal clear. Frustration, anger, dismay, and hopelessness were all fit into that famous pair of shoes. Oddly enough, none of us (at least those I talked to, and those people around me) saw any violence in the action and we were all happy that the shoes did not hit the president, and were relieved to find him agile enough to dodge well, and more so that he managed to keep his sense of humor afterward. He placed the action in the category of freedom of expression!

Soon we heard that someone from Saudi Arabia offered ten million dollars for that pair of shoes, and Ayatollah Jennati appraised it as a museum quality piece. I happen to agree with both verdicts though I keep myself arms and legs apart from both of them. I think the Ayatollah would have made the same verdict if the journalist would have thrown a hand grenade, a knife, or a rock at the president; he would have made the same verdict if he would have hurt the president. Obviously the assault charge was not his concern at all, and this kind of violence is immaterial to him and his other fellow-ayatollahs so far as it served their political agenda.

However, my excitement over the shoes was different. I admired the act’s creativity and spontaneity. It was very new and refreshing. When leaders throw garbage at us, I think they deserve to receive something in return.

I also liked the universality of the expression. Though throwing shoes at the president of the United States was something innovative, still throwing something as a mode of expression is very universal, something we all do when we are angry, frustrated, or abused, when we find ourselves in a hopeless situation. However very rarely one receives such an overwhelming positive response by expressing his- or herself in such fashion. Most of the time we are shunned in response.

It was obviously not just a simple universal expression of anger or frustration or disappointment, it was not even the creativity of it, and it was not even the courage which cause so much of ado. There must have been something hidden in this extraction, something else was spat out from the shoes, some wit, some humor or something else. Indeed it was that “something else” which was neither rage nor hate nor despair, wit, humor or any combination thereof which excited so many of us in spite of the hint of violence and rudeness. It was that “something else” which made even the politest, most genteel, most educated, most fair-minded applaud. Really, what was that ‘something else”?

Years ago in an exhibit, along with an ex-boyfriend who had no talent or eyes for the arts, I was dazzled at the famous painting of Chagall’s I and My Village. As it was his habit of challenging me, my ex called it crazy. “Any child can paint like this. What is this green face? Why not all yellow or blue? ” he added. “True," I countered, "Now this is done, anyone could do it as well. But in reality, only one person could have done it, and that was Chagall. He was the only one who did it. As for the color, I’m afraid it cannot be any other color but the one that is there, because he did so. Yes, it could have been yellow or blue if and, only if, he would have made it yellow or blue. The truth of the matter is he made it green.”

Luckily the world is constituted in such a way that our disagreements and our agreements amount to nothing when it comes to the truth. Chagall’s I and My Village withstands the challenges even if the whole world is united against it. His face would stay green and the piece would stay in a museum since it belongs to the museum. It is such an undeniable reality and expresses such truth that no one can dispute it.

The complex phenomenon of “hurling shoes”, unidentified as it is yet, stands as the “intellectual property” of its creator, quite unique to itself. The clip of film is viewed thousands of times all over the world. The president of the United States, dodging twice to avoid the hit, with disbelief in his face, wondering what to make of it all, probably thinking about the bouquet of flowers promised to him by Kanaan Makiya, will go down in history. If the journalist had a weapon and would have assaulted the president, if the journalist have had a chance to ask the most significant question or to make the most disturbing comments, it would not have had that effect of tossing his shoes at him. And, even if in a most democratic fashion the entire people of Iraq would have condemned President Bush for all the destruction he brought to the people of Iraq, it would not have had such an effect. As a matter of fact, those shoes thrown at the President Bush at this stage of the game, when he was leaving office in such disgrace, was such an indispensable closing statement to his presidency that nothing else could have taken its place. The journalist in question could not possibly have done it otherwise, he could not have written more dramatically with his pen, or taken a more dazzling picture with his camera, or have spoken more eloquently into his microphone. That “something else” was there in his shoes, the lowest part of his body, full of dust and dirt, smeared with others’ dirt, covered with the worthless of the worthless, that was the real true color of his feelings, that was the color he chose to paint his canvas; there could not have been any other color, but the color of “hurling shoes.”

And yes it belongs to a museum, just next to I and My Village, if I may dare to suggest. It was as unique, though not as attractive.

P.S. As for Ayatollah Jennati and his generous appraisal, he does not need to trouble himself to retrieve the shoes. Very soon the whole phenomenon, like most of the masterpieces in the world, will be reproduced and fill the markets; he and other ayatollahs, if they wait patiently, will receive their share of “hurling shoes.” Though none will make it into a museum since neither of them is original, the shoes or their targets. Forgeries do not impress anyone.

To read the rest, click here.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Obama and the Mash Hassan’s Cows

Just two days ago my dear domestic help, Nancy, while complaining about the hard condition of life and bad economic situation, said:

“Hopefully your Obama will take care of the economy soon.”

“He is not my Obama, he is the

president-elect, and is elected by an overwhelming majority of people,” I responded.

“But I do not trust him.”

“Why not, if I may ask?”

“I don’t know, I just do not trust him. I mean I don’t like him”

Nancy is from Ecuador, a medical school dropout and a poet. The economy has driven her to the United States. But paying for a mortgage and taking care of three generations of single mothers, she really needs a better economy than this.

Being a poet, Nancy seems justified in taking her feelings into account on every issue, including when she goes to the voting booth. It also seems to me her poetic sensibilities would allow her to build her trust upon her likes or dislikes. But I think I have heard enough of this cliché, “I don’t trust him” from people who did not have the slightest poetic sense, to learn that the phrase is used as a euphemism for politically incorrect statements that they could never utter openly.

But the negative reaction to Obama among some Iranians is not racial, at least for many of them. I’m one of those who believe very strongly that Iranians are not racists. (I may sound a little biased, and as a matter of fact, when it comes to Iran and Iranians, I’m nothing but biased!) I do not have such a great argument in that regard beyond the general definition of racism, our history, and my extensive life experience and, for what it’s worth, my feelings.

Among all the articles on Obama, the most interesting was a very funny satirical poem by Hadi Khorsandi, which to do justice and not ruin his nice work I refrain from translating and

merely summarize.

Mash Hassan comes home after grazing his two cows in the pastor in a jubilant mood, demanding a feast of chicken, rice and eggplant from his wife. He is happy that Obama ‘has come’, meaning he has become elected. His wife jokes, “What does it got to do with you? First he has not ‘come here’, but is in the U.S.A. and second, what he is going to do for us? Does he make our cows give more milk or will his coming bless our bull with milk? Indeed, the situation would stay the same: ‘The same old door but with a new hinge.’” She goes even further, saying “He is not working for us, as you naively think. He has come to serve those who helped him to come. Don’t get so excited. This black man is not the same black man we knew in tales and legends; he is a black who has come to power with the white’s money, and give him a chance to see how well he will loot and rob. He is another Bush only with a fresh breath! He would add to the grief and mourning of Iraqis and Afghans! And all this Obamania? It is just the Khatami bacteria which has spread.” Poor Mash Hassan, convinced, takes his two cows and returns to the pasture.

But why did this poem generate such excitement? Is it really a realistic analysis, as some believed? Does our harsh social and political critic, really think that Mash Hassan (standing in for the Obamaniacs) is so naïve as to expect more milk from his cows after the election? Or do we expect a miracle, such as a lactating bull? Or it is his wife who is so stupid as to not understand that Mash Hassan, with all his simplicity and naïveté, might worry about global warming and other environmental hazards, genetically modified food, offshore drilling, nuclear waste, and the effect of them all on his cows. He might be worried that very soon, not only he has to feed them with chemical formulas, but he will have to play a video of a meadow for his cows not forget green and greenery. Limited as his life might be to his cows’ milk, he might, just might, be concerned about its quality rather than its quantity. Limited as his vision might be to the view of the pasture on which he let his cattle go to graze, he might very well be concerned about its revival and continuation to the next generation of cattle. Mash Hassan might very well be interested in uprooting the entire economic system. He might very well be interested in some changes in the system of social justice, he might even be more interested in a new revolution; but he might, just might, think that the ballot box is not such a good place for all of them, not even a good place to start the revolt.

I really feel sorry for Mash Hassan’s wife’s cynicism. Not only will the bulls not yield milk, but even her cows won’t be helped by Obama to increase their yield!

I am so happy that Mash Hassan and his wife do not constitute the bulk of the citizens in the United States, otherwise Obama would have had a hard time getting elected. (Could you imagine McCain/Palin in the White House? Complete with all the hair styling and accessories?)

But for the Heaven’s sake, why does his wife, in the spirit of modern feminism, not give him a chance to talk? He might say “No dear, Obama is not Bush, he did nothing and said nothing so far to indicate he is like Bush, but he gave the people of the world a hope, just a hope, that they can change the situation if they want to; that if things have been very bad so far, it doesn’t need to stay that way forever. A little hope of ‘Yes we can’ deserves a little happiness.”

I think Mash Hassan, knowing his wife better, is not convinced but is simply resigned. He knows, as the French say, she is a “jamais contente.” He knows she shows her cleverness by finding faults in everything. He knows that it is her way of being avant guard, to be opposed to the general consent, and disagree with whatever every one else, Mash Hassan in particular, finds agreeable. It is a bad habit that she has picked up, from God knows where, to see everything in black and white and not a gray spot to be found. And he knows above all that his wife talks irresponsibly without thinking about the consequences, without thinking about their implications.

I think It was very wise of Mash Hassan to pick up his cows and return to the pasture. I pray for him that in his way up there he finds some mushrooms to eat, instead of the feast he expected from his wife, and I hope he does not forget to keep his reed with him. I hope he finds a fountain somewhere, with a soft mossy rock next to it under a shady tree, a willow tree maybe, so he can sit, gaze at the pure water, and play his heart to his reed, softly and smoothly, and let his wife stay home alone and grump to her heart's content,

To read the rest, click here.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Obama's Call

Just few days left to the election’s D-Day and most likely, almost definitely, Barak Obama will be in the White House in January 2008.

What makes this election an historical event in the United States is not only the contrast in the president’s color with that of his place of residence, but the contrast in tone and climate that this man of color would cast with those of his predecessors in the recent American history.

What heightens this contrast is the exceptional exhibition of vulgarity, superficiality, manipulation, accusation, and lies employed by the Republicans in this race. Joe the Plumber became the symbol of the average American; Joe Six Pack sets the standard for working class Middle America; a hockey mom with a pregnant teenager daughter has become the symbol for the average American women; a vice presidential candidate who acknowledges that her $150,000 wardrobe is just “like lighting and stage props” serves as décor in this race, defining the role of women in politics; chatty talk show hosts and gossip columnists become advisors and consultant to the candidate; and actresses with fancy cloths and make up appear to judge the credentials of a Harvard graduate.

The Republican Party’s defeat is not a mere political defeat or a strategic defeat. It is a cultural change, if I dare say, a cultural revolution. I think it should be a source of pride for all of us that most of us, although not all of us, have reached a level of maturity and wisdom. The defeat of McCain/Palin is the defeat of vulgarity misapprehended as the simplicity of middle America, displayed by Joe Six Pack, the hockey mom, and the Joe the Plumber who joined the bandwagon in last days of campaign, all heading to the graveyard of history, thanks to their ringleader, John McCain.

The coincidence of the economic crisis with the election has brought about many discussions as if we are in the end of some era. If this is the end of Capitalism, Colonialism, American Imperialism, or any other -ism, I do not know. Heaven know it might be the beginning of something called “hegemonyism”. It might be, as one Iranian journalist said a few days ago, a new wave of right-wing populism as opposed to a new emerging wave of leftist populism forming in Third World countries. But I’m sure no one will ever again dare to come forth to run for the presidency of the United States claiming he/she receives his/her mandate from the Joe Six Pack or hockey moms, or establishes his/her policy based on Joe the Plumber’s dreams and demands. These average-simpleton-representatives do not exist any more, or if they exist, they are in the minority and on their way to extinction.

I’m not so sure as how green the future landscape of the country will be, but I’m sure that it is definitely fading where the workers are sitting in front of their TVs drinking six packs, women are always pregnant housewives, teen age girls attending high schools are getting pregnant, $118,000 tax offenders serve as spokesmen of working class people. Instead, I see more colors coming to the picture, brighter shiny eyes, more young energetic people with lots of hope, less fear, and abundant determination, and lots of older men and women adorned by wisdom rather than just the accumulation of years.

I’m sure it won’t be the end of greed; I’m sure there will be many people who want to make millions of dollars overnight; and I’m certain there will be enough people who think the road to riches is the road to happiness. Indeed I’m not equipped to challenge any of them. However, the praise for these ideas, the glamorous portrayal of “rich and happy” would be off the screen for a while. Vulgarity is not going to be pampered, and wisdom will not be displaced with simple repetition.

I’m not sure it won’t be the end of racial hatred, or the religious fanaticism, or monopolizing the God; but for sure we all would find a chance to trust “others” who appear different than us. It would be an opportunity to find out “others” are just the other side of “ourselves.” And it would be a great chance for God as well. He would be given a chance to enjoy democracy, to look upon all of us equally, as He promised us all!

I’m sure we are all going to speak English. Once again the rules of grammar will be in effect. The dictionary will come into use, words will be chosen with care and used according to their agreed upon meanings, and above all, they will be used to heal, to comfort, to sooth, to explain, to clarify, to lead one to the truth, rather than to deceive and misguide, hurt or abuse. The rules of logic, deduction and induction will be brought back into our discourse; manipulation will be left to mothers who want to keep their children out of trouble. Statements coming from the leadership will reveal some ideas, aimed at achieving some purpose, rather than meaningless statements thrown about randomly as darts. Heaven knows our youngsters might be delighted to find out that the president of the country thinks first, evaluates his thought next, appraises them to see if they are doable, and if so by what cost and if the cost worth it, and then comes forth to propose his plan. He might become a model for many.

After eight years of the promotion of illiteracy in the White House, the leaderships of the country will be handed to literate and educated people who speak good English. Both the President and the First Lady will be Harvard graduates and neither of them got there by using his parents and grandparents’ alumni ticket, but through meritorious scholarship. They can deliver speeches with beginning, middle and end with some meaning and significance, rather than a jumble of words, the English version of Ahmadinejad’s speeches. They are able to gather needed information, to argue and to discuss; attend press conferences. They do not need to be reminded through a script written for them before hand, but can listen, think and answer. And astrologers will certainly not decide on the issues in Camp David, and those who make the decisions will be more precise in their aims and reaching their goals than Dick Chaney when shooting birds on his ranch.

I’m sure it is not going to be the end of warmongers in the world, but we are not going to be grist in their mill. (Obama announced that already.) He would leave the bellicose talks of Ahmadinejad as a gift unreturned, rather than paying him in his own coin of war and bombing, a discourse he needs to survive. Serious, determined and confident, he would call for dialogue. It is the Islamic Republic now which is loosing sleep as to what to do. Obama will certainly leave many like Ahmadinejad out of job.

Barring misfortune, pride would replace the embarrassments and humiliation when our president speaks or appears in public. Who was not delighted by his speech in Berlin? Could we imagine a few like that every year? Could we imagine that the president talks to us as if we are not retarded? Could we imagine being treated as if we know where Pakistan is and where Iraq is? Could we imagine not being children, deceived by few empty words? Could we imagine that we are talked to as if we are able to think and decide? How wonderful life would be not to hear McCain’s and Palin’s infantile talks and arguments?

And finally, for four years, hopefully, we are going to be free of belligerent messages to the other nations, we are not going to be a breed apart, but one among many. We might hear the old-fashion talk of peace, since we heard already a call for unity and equality. I hear already a delightful melody coming from not such far distance. Let’s listen, let’s have hope, let’s pray. It looks like our golden opportunity.

To read the rest, click here.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Attonement: Keeping Our Agreement

It was, Kol Nidre, the eve of Yom Kippur 1990. I knew it was a fasting day and the time for atonement. I had never fasted in my life and did not believe in it, but had decided to keep my husband company and minimize my eating to a cup of coffee and toast in the morning. However, there were other problems, such as staying a whole day in synagogue listening to and reading in a language I did not know and listening to alien creeds and prayers to a God who likes some of His children more than others, somehow different from the God I knew, and worst of all repenting from the sins of which I had no idea. Above all, where I was coming from one could not possibly commit sin a whole year around and then repents in one day.

Anyhow, sitting on the pew on the second floor mezzanine, immersed in my thoughts, wondering which one of the my deeds or thoughts or words could have been a sin, and gazing at the 600 pages book which we supposedly had to finish reading by the end of the next day, and thinking about the boredom of the day ahead, I indulged in memory of things passed, and my childhood, and school days, and the feverish hours of Persian language class with occasional charming anecdotes and tales from Saadi’s Golestan or Bustan, or Mowlana’s Masnavi.

Once Moses dreamed of a shepherd who was wandering and, as if talking to himself, addressed God very casually: “Where are you God, so I can sacrifice myself for your sake, where are you that I can put socks on you and comb your hair, at night I could prepare your bed, kiss your hand and rub your feet?” Moses, offended, reminded the shepherd of the glory and supremacy of God; and forbade him from conversing with God in such a casual way. Then it is God’s turn to scold Moses. A famous line of this narrative poetry, “You are there to connect people to us, not to disconnect them,” was used commonly to scold those who create distances and draw a line to separate people form each other.

The soft voice of Rabbi Sammy Barth brought me to myself. No, I was not day dreaming and this was not the anecdote from the Masnavi I knew. It was the Rabbi who was narrating this charming tale from a Jewish text. I extended my hand to squeeze my husband’s, which simultaneously moved towards mine. He saw the joy in my heart in my running tears, through his running tears. This anecdote, even with a very explicit reference to Moses, has gone much beyond its ethnicity and became a general tale of Iranian culture.

That night, walking home, we talked about this little shared virtue. Still worried for the list of my sins, I thought I might borrow some of my husband’s.

The day after, I joined him in the synagogue a little later. The synagogue was packed; I had to squeeze myself where ever I could find a seat. My husband was not around to guide me through the Hebrew text and show me what page or line is related to the hymns or prayers. However, I felt less awkward. I knew I was not among strangers; we shared some wisdom, if not the “sins” which was still bothering me.

Nevertheless, it was tedious and difficult to sustain a whole day. When the afternoon session started after a short break, I decided stop staring at the Hebrew text and just read the English translations of meditations. Little by little, the boredom vanished and the feeling of the previous night returned. The ethics and creeds were not much different than what I had learned; it was all the same and to the same points, towards a humane society, towards goodness, towards peace. Not cheating, not harming, not stealing and not killing, no adultery, not bearing the false witness against your neighbor, respecting our parents, worshiping God and avoid idolatry, keeping the Sabbath holy (we all keep some sort of Sabbath) were all what we human beings cherished and valued. (Yes, lying in general seems missing!)

It was towards the end of the evening, when the Rabbi gave his final talk that my worries gave way to an ease. It was then I noticed I’m a sinner just as everyone else. The Rabbi defined “sin” in terms of “breaking commitments”, any commitments including those we make to ourselves without uttering a single word.

It was a relief; I found what I was looking for. No more gaps between us, my husband and I, “we” and “them”; Jews and non-Jews. I won’t be one of the “others” and my husband won’t be thankful not to have been created like me as an “others”. I was so glad to be sinful, at least virtually. Though I was still puzzled as to why one should repent his/her sins every year and turn to commit them again. To find the answer, I tried to look into the neighboring culture to Judaism, the Iranian’s. Our Mehregan, always in the corner, in October 2nd or 3rd, coinciding with Yom Kippur every few years, might come to some help.

Like almost all Iranian holidays, it has a purely cosmological foundation, it is just the position of the earth to that of the sun. Iranians decided to dedicate this unique cosmological position to an old Yazata Mithra pastoral god who governed agreements and the contracts sealed between the nomads as to the use of pastoral land to graze their cattle’s.

In a nomadic culture when the only resource was the shared pasture, to stay within the boundaries was not only ethical but vital. To break the agreement, thus, was not only unethical but threatened the survival of others, a great violation, and in the language of the time, it was interpreted as a declaration of war.

Mithra, the pastoral god, was the declared guardian and protector of the agreed contracts. Therefore he became the presiding judge over those who broke the contract, and thus the protector of warriors who defend these agreements and fought with those who broke them, and therefore the protector of those who seek and maintain peace, and therefore love and friendship. (I hope this quick chain of title and position would take care of the information we need for the time being. For more information Mithraism by Franz Cumont is useful.)

I found it interesting that our holidays coincide with each other not only time wise, but philosophically as well, both with a great emphasis on commitment and honoring the agreements we make with ourselves and others. They both indeed happen at the beginning of wintertime, just at the threshold of the uncertainty and hazards of the cold season in which any indication of assurance would be appreciated double. It is quite significant that both holidays remind us of any neglected responsibilities and our commitments.

As to the celebration of Mehregan, the religious significance of the holiday has given way to a festivity and celebration. Even with Zoroastrians the celebratory aspect of this holiday overrides its religious aspect overwhelmingly. And equally Yom Kippur, though the religious ritual remains intact, the religious intents and ideas have become less and less paramount and more and more peripheral. I have witnessed Zoroastrians being surprised when learning of the dominant attribute of Mithra as the guardianship of oaths and agreements, and the guardianship of love and friendship has come to him only through the chain of connections. The same surprise appeared in the face of my husband when he heard superficiality and irresponsibility is a sin as well as light headedness, and many of this sort.

It might have been the way of life and the virtues we find in secular life which has transformed all the religious rituals into a mere celebration or some practices devoid of real meaning. But nevertheless, it is the deep concept to these holidays which has kept them alive up to this time, even nominally.

It has been years since that memorable Yom Kippur. Many events have happened in our life as well as in the world. As the two of us lived together in life's ups and downs, there is no need for sin to come between to make us closer to each other. There is a deeper sense of life, its meaning and its ideas as a shared treasure which connects us together. And Heaven knows how much of it has come through our reading and discussing together the literature of our cultures and faiths, and the celebration and observances of our holidays together.

Last week at the end of a long fasting day, when he seemed cleaned of all the sins he had committed, I asked him teasingly when he is going to collect new sins. With his usual humor he told me “I can’t even if I wanted to.”

“How come?” I asked

“Our sage Maimonides teaches that it is like immersing in the water to clean myself while holding an unclean animal.”

“Wow! Where did you learn that?”

“Shul,” He said.

“That means the books won’t be splashed all over. The shoes and socks won’t be all over, and dogs won’t lick all our utensils?” I asked.

“That means I keep my agreements and guard it with the price of my life.”

I squeezed his hand and I’m sure he heard the whisper of joy in my heart.

(Dedicated to Rabbi Sammy Barth.)

To read the rest, click here.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Why Khatami Should Not Run

Nay Khatami, Nay!

The recently-activated site Pouyesh is set to campaign for Khatami as president. Almost everyone affiliated with the reform movement has used a wide range of appeals, begging, advising, demanding, mandating, and appealing to duty and responsibility, ethics and morality, national crisis, the safety and security of the Islamic system, and everything possible on earth, to urge him to run.

It seems there is a general consensus in the leadership of the reform movement that Khatami is the most popular of their party in the country and the most qualified for the office of presidency. The reformists assume that his two terms of presidency have made him immune to further scrutiny from the Guardian Council. “To disqualify him would cost the regime too much,” they reason.

While his friends are absolutely right on their first assumption, on their second assumption they are either too naïve or do not know the Guardian Council. The Guardian Council can disqualify God Himself if they want to, without being accountable to any. Shariatmadari in Keyhan (the official voice of the regime) has already declared him disqualified on the basis of various charges including treason, and called him an American agent, all with its famed thuggish and vulgar language which it seems is very popular in the government higher circles. He even boasted bluntly that “many with much lesser and more trivial charges have been disqualified as candidate.” And Shariatmadari is only one of a dozen representatives of the Supreme Leader’s representative!

Recently, Hojjatoleslam Mojtaba Zolnuri, a cleric and the Supreme Leader’s representative in the Revolutionary Guard, in a similar tone, worthy of lowest of low, reduced Khatami to a nothing in his speech at a meeting of Ansar-e Hezbollah. Sadly, Khatami’s friends responded as if they aim to gain seats in heaven as martyrs rather than the office of presidency. Though once more the bitter truth of the Islamic Republic comes to surface; plain and simple, without heart, mind and wisdom, they have successfully reached the realm of, what we call it here, ‘beyond chutzpah!’

As for his popularity, yes, he is the most popular person in the country (of course next to Afshin Ghotbi, if I may say). Of this, there is no doubt, nor is there any need to prove it. But is that enough? If I understand Khatami, the public figure we know, he is the first one to be against anyone running for the office on the popularity ticket. His two terms as president stand as a witness: Not only did he never try to be a populist; he never harbored the idea of becoming a hero or savior either. We all remember him quoting from Bertolt Brecht that when Galileo gave in to the Inquisition court and denounced his theory to save his life, his disappointed followers lamented, “Pity us, now we have no hero” and Galileo responded, “Pity you to need a hero.” If nothing else, he was notorious for urging friend and foe alike to take a lead in their lives and not to sit idly, waiting for someone to come.

Many of Khatami’s friends argue that he is the only one who can unify all factions of reformists the way that no other candidate would. Though this might appear as a good reason for his friends to urge him to run, Khatami would be, also, the first person to go against it as well. If we all understand him correctly, his commitment to democracy, even though it takes a back seat to his commitment to Islam, is nothing to remain unnoticed. It is his steadfastness in this regard that reassures me he would not submit to the static and absolute ideas that his followers hold regarding the various institutions of democracy. I think he is wise enough not to believe that the qualities attributed to him, even if proven true, would necessarily be positive or helpful for the advancement of democracy in Iran. In a democratic system the candidate, even sometimes unknown to many, comes into an open competition, with competing ideas and plans, to advocate certain causes. It is in the process of challenge and confrontation and disagreement that the fittest survives and not vice versa. Deciding beforehand that Khatami is the best only brings us closer to the democracy of a “life time” presidency rather than the one we are hopeful to have.

And no, I do not have any problem with Khatami getting reelected for a third or even four term, provided that he runs for an election and competes with his opponent regardless of who he might be.

We do not need to have precedents, with or without a lapse, to justify his running for a third term. It is true that Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Margaret Thacher, and François Mitterand are among the examples given, but they were all elected for the third time only after they managed to compete with their opponents and their victory over their opponents was the only factor that gave their term legitimacy. Their third term campaigns were as fresh as their first. None of them won the election on the basis of their past record and their past term’s popularity. Let Khatami run a fair election, let him express his new ideas and his new plans, let him be challenged by his opponents, whomever they may be, and let him win. As it stands, we do not know what to expect from him yet.

Finally, it is the risk factor which is in the mind of his friends. His friends are more likely right to consider him the best qualified candidate and the least risky one among all, though what would we achieve by having our best candidate amongst the army of thugs?

Is Khatami a different person? Is he better equipped now to deal with those “third persons” who were “thorns in his way” during those two terms of his presidency? Is he able to run a country whose police, military forces, judiciary, national security, and, to a large extent, its foreign and interior affairs are all controlled by some other authorities? Is he able to run a country within a system which does not believe in representative government though it calls itself a republic? Is the Guardian Council more cordial? Is the Revolutionary Guard more polite? Are the fundamentalists more civilized? Reading article after article all urging him to run for office, I wonder if his friends are even concerned about why he should run at all. In none of those articles is there any indication as what is expected from him if he becomes president again. Within a corrupt, chaotic, primitive, unaccountable, demagogue, autocratic system, what can a person like Khatami possibly be able to do?

Undoubtedly he is popular enough to win by a reasonable margin if he runs against almost anyone at present time. But emphasizing on winning or losing is just evading the question. The presidency is not just occupying the office. It is about planning, organizing, establishing, producing, achieving, reaching, gathering, forming, and ultimately doing something. Is Khatami able to do anything? I mean, besides talking. (And please do not get me wrong. Talking is very important and Khatami is really good at it, both in style and in content, though at this point that particular skill won’t do us very good, particularly those of us living in Iran, some seventy millions of us.)

I’m sure Khatami’s friends are well aware of his limitations in dealing with those that, for better or worse, he is much closer to, by marriage, by his uniform, and by his faith to go against them; and too distance from them by his politeness, sweetness, civilized nature, and wisdom to be able to cope with them. Eight years was enough time to tell us that what we expected from him won’t ever happen. With all his differences from these people, he won’t turn his back on them as he turned his back to us. Yet, he is obliged to do precisely the opposite if he wants to be an effective president this term, and this is the choice that he will never make.

Truly if Khatami runs for the election, I will vote for him and so will many who believe in voting even if it is not a healthy election, despite my wish that he not run.

My ultimate hope and my wild dream is that Khatami announces that due to the corruption and lack of security and the absence of any guaranty for a fair election, he would refuse to accept the nomination. Also, consistent with all his teachings, I wish he would announce that due to his commitment to democracy, as it is in the nature of democracy, he prefers to pass the torch to another person whom he trusts and he endorses like many other presidents in other democratic countries. The fact that Khatami is popular is not a good justification for asking him to stay in office until he looses his popularity. People’s love and trust for him should be guided into helping the democratic process of the election and to strengthen other democratic institutions. A strong, systematic, healthy and responsible election process is far more essential than occupying the office of the presidency. Let’s give him that high place of the leadership and guidance, let’s make use of his virtues to our advantage rather than wasting it in the presidential office.

To read the rest, click here.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Iranians for Obama!

Let's organize Iranians for Obama!

Here's our logo, designed by the incomparable Ali Darvish.

To read the rest, click here.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Hooman Majd, The Ayatollah Begs To Differ

“This stylish, witty, and enlightening portrait of contemporary Iran brilliantly captures the too-often-misunderstood character of the people and their complex, paradoxical, and changing nation.” So says one of the book’s blurbs.

Hooman Majd introduces the book to us as a result of his personal experience. “In 2004 and 2005 I spent several weeks in Iran as a journalist, and in 2007 I spent almost two months in Tehran, working on what was to become the manuscript.” He, of course, has been in touch with whatever and whomever is marked “Iranian” to make sure he is as informative and as accurate and as objective as possible. In his book, and also a letter to his publisher (I have used the editor's copy of the book issued prior to its publication), he writes that his friends consider him 100% Iranian and 100% American which puts him in a unique position.

Being the son of a diplomat and the grandson of an enlightened ayatollah, Hooman seems pretty well connected to all sides, secular and religious, Western and Eastern, modern and traditional, all in one package. Knowing a little of his family, I’m sure that, if it would have been necessary or relevant, he could have pulled a few more social connections, in England for instance, in additions to one with president Khatami.

I liked the preface of the book. It was witty; it was concise; it was diverse; and all together interesting. But, either I was too taken by visualizing a young Iranian man, half aristocratic, standing at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, shouting until his voice was hoarse, the song of his liberation with his British accent, through an Islamic Revolution, or I missed the clue when his Jewish friend admired Ahmadinejad’s sincerity and patriotism. His encounter with the “Egyptian vendor in the vicinity of Ground Zero, full of admiration for Iran as the only country standing up for the Islam and Muslims, as well as the United States, which, by the way, is a dream land of his earthly opportunities,” did not alter what the title of the book suggested, that modern life is paradoxical and Iran is no exception.

Neither was I alarmed when, on page 12, he wrote on the subject of hijab:

“Let me tell you a story about hijab. ….Reza Shah made the chador for women and turban for man illegal in mid 1930s; he wanted, fascist as he was, to emulate turkey’s Kemal Ataturk, who not only had banned the fez and the veil but had even changed the Turkish script from Arabic to Latin, rendering the vast majority of Turks illiterate overnight to force his people into a modern, which he saw as European, would.”

“…during the early days of Islamic Revolution women were harassed and sometimes beaten and imprisoned for not wearing proper hijab, but the exact same things, for opposite reasons, occurred on the streets of Tehran less than fifty years earlier. In 1930s women had their chador forcibly removed from their heads…”

Was it my poor reflexes or the lack of a conspiratorial mind which did not allow me to go beyond the book's face value? When the author said, 

“I refer to some of these failures whether they be the imprisonment of student protesters or feminist activities or the crackdown on civil liberties, but this book is not about the injustices of Iran’s political system or, more important, the sometimes outrageous abuses in that system which many courageous Iranians such as lawyers, journalists, and activists living in Iran, fight against every day. Rather, my hope is that this book, through a combination of stories, history, and personal reflection will provide the reader a glimpse of Iran and Iranians, often secretive and suspicious of revealing themselves, that he or she may ordinarily have the opportunity to see.” 

I did believe him. It took me days to think why he omitted the mass executions, mass murders, chain murders, murder of prisoners, long jail sentences without any specific charges, from the list of these "failures"? Or why he used the word "failure" rather than "crime"? It took me even longer to think why talking about the hijab he has to bring about the names of two dictators (Reza Shah and Ataturk), twice repeating the word "fascist", and his choice of words such as"forcefully", "beaten", "rendering the population illiterate overnight"? (By the way, for Hooman’s information, it was by Ataturk’s forcefulness that the primary education became mandatory in Turkey, just as in Iran in Reza Shah’s time. Prior to that, the people were in fact illiterate. Illiteracy did not happen overnight with the change of script from Arabic to Latin. Indeed, the people were illiterate.) It was almost towards the end of the book that I figured out the answer to most of my bewilderment, though many remained still unanswered.

Hooman Majd is adamant that there is misunderstanding of Iran and Iranians which needs to be explained, and that he is uniquely qualified to do so. (These two words "understanding" and "misunderstanding" always send a shiver down my spine since the time President Carter tried to "understand" us.) Of course what needs to be understood is always the weird, antisocial, and irrational behavior of our beloved regime which does not translate to any social codes accepted by the international community.

He defined Iran as a “Muslim country, a Shia country and significantly a Persian country.” As Shiites, Iranians are marked with an inferiority complex, and are devoted to protect their rights (haqq). Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, who was killed by Yazid, has become the embodiment of haqq for Iranians and his death is still mourned by men and women in commemoration of his anniversary at Tashu`a and Ashura.

It is through the revival of this monumental wrong that Iranian will celebrate the Shia’s creed of crying for haqq. According to Majd, the understanding of this little word haqq is the key to understanding Iran's puzzles and paradoxes, from the emergence of the Islamic Revolution in the most secular nation in the region to the implementing the laws of the Sharia, designed for an uncivilized nation centuries ago, in the country which has a claim over to culture and civilization.

Majd argues further that even the nuclear issue is a misunderstanding of Iran’s obsession with its rights or haqq, the centerpiece of Shia dogma. For him, what appears as a confrontation with the international community is nothing but Shiism's pursuit of haqq and its persistence in not letting its rights to be violated.

The notion of pursuing haqq to the point of death, symbolized by Imam Hussein's martyrdom, is so embedded in Shiite Iran that it has become a model of conduct as well as part of the nation's language and thinking. Colloquial Iranian expressions such as “haqqam khordeh shodeh” (meaning ‘my rights are eaten’) and also khak bar sar kardan (meaning putting dust over the head) are taken as testimony.

However, his arguments are shorn of any merit. His examples of Ali the American who believes his rights had been taken away because he had not been born in the United States might be witty and humorous, but far from proving any point; and his example of dust and mud  being heaped over the heads of the mourners in Tasu`a and Ashura suffers from misinterpretation of expression linked to it.  The expression khak bar sar is used when some intense grief has befallen someone or when grief is wished upon someone against whom one has hard feelings. Placing mud or dust over the head is just a very old mourning sign, (it appears in the Hebrew Bible) and stems from a belief that soil-dust would cut off the emotional attachments one has towards a departed loved one. In burial sites, a pinch of dust is poured over the head of the mourners to relieve them. (The expression of khak bar sar indicates a wish for an intense grief as of a mourning for a dead one.)

I wish he would have clicked on Youtube for Shia’s mourning and seen for himself the kids, with drums and dafs and sometimes with other instruments doing raps for Imam Hussein,  who do not appear to have any intention as of dying for anybody. They are simply participating in a ritual, nothing more and nothing less.

I do not know when and where this genre of writing became so fashionable among the Iranians. This is the second book (the first being Jasmine and Stars) of this nature in which the author tries to cherry pick the evidence to prove his/her point and ignore whatever does not suit his or her purposes, or to connect points without any causal relations between them, or reduce and minimize evidence to the contrary to almost null, or divert the real problem to a banality and then defend it, or, in short doing whatever makes an argument fallacious and delivering as if it is sound. I found Majd a smart, talented and educated enough to be able to avoid all these errors if he wanted so. But unfortunately he chose not to avoid them, if I dare say, quite intentionally and purposefully. Though it might be the political subject matter of these books that legitimizes the use of manipulations, or just that author's relying on and praying for the carelessness of the readers, or the book has different function unknown to me.

Hooman Majd, unfortunately, did not live in Iran long enough to notice that there is a vast majority, at least seventy percent of the people, who are only nominally Muslim. They are the vast majority of people who do not even perform their daily prayers (noticed by almost all journalists and observers who traveled to Iran.) He tries to maneuver his way in response to such obvious omissions by attributing them to the flexibility of prayer times in Shia Islam. As a matter of fact, Iranians are notorious in being more lax in their religious rituals than any other Muslim nation in the world. “Do you mean there is prayer in this religion?” is a joke among Iraqi Shiites referring to this laxity. Had he stayed a few more years in Iran, not only would he not give that much weight to Iranian piety but he would have written his book differently.

The other enigma which has puzzled the world as well as many of us Iranians is the Islamic Republic's endurance despite its apparent extreme unpopularity owing to its abuse of its citizens' rights, returning to the Sharia (stoning, public lashing, execution without the trial), and setting the clock back at least to the nineteen century if not fourteen. Majd sees the magical factor in the perseverance of the Islamic Republic its ‘respect for privacy’!

Since the Islamic Revolution, the ruling clerics have been under attack both by foreign journalists and observers as well as Iranians for creating a double life for their citizens. Iranians were among the first to express their dissatisfaction over this dual existence, forcing them to tell lies to their children and behave differently in private than in public. Majd very cleverly turns the table around to the advantage of the Islamic Republic. He argues that Iranians were the first one who built walls around their gardens so they could separate the outside from their private domains. Through a labyrinth of name changing to indoor gardens to paradise, Iran to Persia, Reza Shah's fascism, to Hitler's Third Reich and many more, he concludes that it is only in this private domain and inside this wall that Iranians need to be free and that the Islamic Republic is clever enough to respect this wall around the privacy of people and does not cross it as the Shah had. (I do not know why I have such an urge to say Jall al-Khaleq!) Numerous example are given from the parties in resorts of Shemshak’s ski ramps to those of northern Tehran, where people are free to have booze, music and dance,  where people can express their ideas freely to each other without being worried that they are being spied on. Even president Khatami and Ambassador Javad Zarif and some other ambassadors (no names given, just in the case!) could sit in Zarif’s apartment and laugh at the fanaticism of those mullahs in Iran without being worried that anybody would spy on them while all these are taking place in their respected privacy! (another Jall al-Khaleq!)

Missing in this book is Iranian humanity. Majd’s view of Iran is devoid of any humanity, as if the country is populated by robots that just perform the way they are programmed to work. Two days holidays in a calendar, for centuries, would create a whole dictionary of meanings and associations around it which sometimes has nothing to do with the original intent of the holiday. Tasu`a and Ashoura are no exceptions. They are mixed with fourteen centuries of millions of people practicing it, adding to it bits of their compassion and modifying it to fit into their sensibilities and the surrounding norms. (I’m surprised he did not refer to the celebration of this occasion in New York City.) Today, the ritual is simply a commemoration of a religious rite like any other rites observed and celebrated by other religions. Easter, Shavuos, Simchas Torah, Lag B'Omer, and various Saints Days such as St. Patrick’s Day and St. Francis' Day are just a few that brings people together in commemoration of a cause and ideas attached to each, and with people things does not stay static, never!

Shocking, however, is the degree of detachment that author exhibits not only from Iranian culture but from the people. Among dozens of books written on Iran, this book was unique as how the author perceive himself as a breed apart and how unimpressed he was by the life around him. I recall reading books, even highly critical of the regime or even the people, mostly by journalists yet one still felt how at one the author was with the people, if only for a time. I recall reading books in which at least once or twice the author refers to the Iranian people's humanity which surpasses all mundane calculations, where the author bends his/her self to the  love, compassion and humanity of the Iranians which goes way beyond political necessity or social pretence, when the author sees people with souls within them that sometimes react freely without any attention to what is required of them. I recall time and again reading simple pages of these books and being touched.  Oddly enough, there was none of this in Majd’s book. Iranians in this book were a bunch of Islamic rational beings who responded to life exactly as the ayatollahs expected them to do, and as is convenient for Majd to summarize them.

However, my objections all lose their validity if we look at the book from a different angle, if we see it as a cover resume in an application for a position as consultant to the State Department or a liaison between the Islamic Republic and the United States. Majd, with his grandiose invitation, “Give it to me whatever mess you have, I’ll fix it the way you can not believe it was any mess at all,” pictures himself as magician who can put his hands in a hat and bring pulling out doves of peace. And, gee, he is a magician. In some 265 pages there is not a single mess, horror, shortcoming, abuse or mismanagement which is not somehow justified, evaded, or dismissed deftly. Well, hats off man, hats off!

Dear reader, I still recommend the book, though I call your attention to the usage of every anecdote. And I beg your opinion as if I’m wrong or somehow hyper-sensitive.

To those of my readers who are not very patient, I recommend they not miss the last two chapters of the book, The Ayatollah Begs to Differ and Fear of Black Turban. And be patient, be patient. It is just a book, just one person’s ideas. It is about just one person looking through a looking glass sorting out the jumble of masses entangled together and trying to put them into some order. It just happens that he looks for legitimacy and stability of a very shaky and illegitimate system which has nothing to do with us Iranians, as we know ourselves. The good news is that he is not the only one with a looking glass. We each have one too.

To read the rest, click here.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Polygamy and Politics

The family protection bill sent to the parliament by the government has been the subject of heated discussion in Iran these past few weeks. The latest news is that the parliament ignored the judiciary’s order to stop the process and approve the bill sent by the government and return it to the pre-reformist law.

The bill, sent by government, of course, had nothing to do with protecting families. It would only have made it easier for those who wanted to have a few wives (Article 23) in that they would not need the permission of their previous wives anymore. All they need is to supply the court with their check stub to receive the marriage certificate.

No, I did not like it either and like many of women, I had an urge to scream. However my better half, Evan, invited me to calm down and reminded me that I should give the government and the parliament the benefit of doubt. “Good point.” I admitted. It was just two weeks after I performed my jury duty and I gave in easily. I should make sure the “guilty” verdict has passed the criteria of “beyond reasonable doubt.”

No one still knows why the government made the effort to change the laws from bad to worse and why the judiciary decided to stop it and why parliament ignored it. The fact of the matter is that one way or the other it does not make that much difference. What difference does it make to separate a child from her or his mother at the age of seven or one or two. (I personally think younger the better. The child would adjust better when she/he is younger.) Or what difference does it make if a husband tells his wife that he will marry tomorrow or that he married yesterday? However, it tells a lot about a culture that its law books contain laws for cruelty and its law makers are so callous to the most basic human needs. It says a lot about the people who think in this day and age that despicable behavior such as this is such an accepted norm that we need to make a law to facilitate it. It says a lot about a government that claims it has the good of its citizens in mind.

Fidel once said, “If there is a desire, there is a need.” Does a desire for a few wives presuppose a need for it? I wonder if the old caudillo would still believe the connection held if the desire was having several wives?

I tried to imagine the various cases that one feels the need for several families. It should not be difficult since I’m from a generation in which second wives were not a rare species. As a matter of fact, I’m from one of those bi-families, and a good one, at that! All were the remnant of the socio-economic conditions of the nineteen century which, thanks Heavens, do not exist any more. But really, what might urge a man towards such a backward and weird practice?

To tell the truth, the emotional calamity brought to a woman who finds her husband married to another woman and the one who finds out her husband is in a relationship with another, remains the same; both are equally painful. For the last several years I have come to sympathize more with the women in the United States whose husbands were caught in irreversible relationships with women, than those who found out their husbands took a second wife in the Islamic Republic. I cannot forget the horror I felt when one morning, on the front pages of all the newspapers was the picture of a young woman with a new born baby facing the other half of the page with a big portrait of our beloved Rev. Jesse Jackson “apologizing to his family.” I do not know how his wife took it but I would have picked up the heaviest frying pan and banged it on his head, not because of the woman and the baby but for his senseless apology. Of course, that put an end to Jesse Jackson; not my frying pan, but public opinion. He never appeared in public again and he sure deserved it, the idiot!

There have been  similar cases with one Iranian activist which brought such a horror to us all when we heard the news while celebrating Yalda with family and friends at our home. No, I did not pick up my frying pan, but my brother-in-law, with his sense of humor, rescued his old combatant hero and said very naively “there is nothing wrong with young women, they are as good as any other women. What do you have against them, constantly keeping tabs on who left his wife for a younger women?” God bless his humor, at least we could finish our dinner.

Here I’m not concerned about the advantages or disadvantages of polygamy. In my lifetime I have seen enough cases of reasonably happy polygamies and unhappy monogamies. I can also find countless advantages in polygamy if I want to. (I have no such intention, since it is barbaric.) As for unhappy monogamous relationships, we do not even need to look for it in odd places. We can just pick couples at random and find disaster easily.

I am, however, concerned with those who might possibly need to be polygamous. The divorce law made it so easy for men to nullify their former marriages and the laws of temporary marriage (sighe) made it easy to have extramarital relationship without the headache of second or third family responsibilities. I cannot come with any other than a handful of wealthy oversexed illiterates, social misfits, idiots, and the stupidest weirdoes who do not understand the meaning and the purpose of marriage or family.

Since there is not even a single public figure, including the clerics, who have more than one wife (even Mr. Gholamhossein Elham, with such a perfect wife as Mrs. Fatemeh Rajabi, whom everyone desires at least one of for a wive, remains monogamous!), I cannot conclude that this bill is motivated by some self-interest. Nor would it gain the support of some tangible majority in the upcoming election; quite the opposite—educated, and even not so educated, Iranian men find this idea so abhorrent that I do not think they would ever want to indulge in this practice even if they met the qualifications. And the poor people won’t be eligible even if they desire such idiocy. Then I’m left with the question of why and why and why?

My husband came with his voice of conscience again: Give it the benefit of the doubt! Maybe in some weird way the government is trying to protect women by this law. Aha! That is it! Women should know that it might happen to them easily, and therefore should protect themselves against it by setting the condition beforehand when they are getting married. They should have the right to divorce, and also a heavy mehriye. Will that do it? Yes? No, it would not. Article 25 of the same bill repealed taxes on “unreasonable” mehriye. Very clever, indeed very clever. (Here sharia becomes irrelevant!)

The truth of the matter is that our beloved government is not thinking of anybody’s interest at all. This law has nothing to do with protection, securing interests, promoting values, advocating principals—in short, it is not even concerned with gaining any popularity among the idiots. This law is simply about domination.

Humiliation is the foremost tactic used by the occupier. All colonial powers used it in a variety of way and the “Great Satan” the United States still using it as well. Invaders usually make a show of domination first by humiliating the defeated and by violating them. The destruction of cultural institutions and putting down of whatever is considered a source of national pride are among the most common tactics. It is not a mere accident that the invaders first set fire to the conquered people’s libraries and burnt their artifacts. The occupiers were willing to sacrifice the wealth to assert their domination. Public killings, tortures, insults, and rapes would follow to humiliate and damage the pride and honor of the defeated nation.

The fact that the Islamic Republic is enforcing these laws of sharia so gradually indicates how the implementation of religiosity is the last thing which interests them. If these laws are of any religious significance, they should have been imposed immediately after the Islamic Revolution, or within the few years while Imam Khomeini was still alive. Why wait thirty years to taste their fruit?

Progress in any culture is measured by the existence of various institutions. The position of women in society and their place in the culture of that nation is one of the foremost standard criteria measuring the degree of their advancement. Iranian history stands high in that regard among the civilizations up to the advent of Islam. The best testimony to this claim is medieval literature. (Compare the Camelot legends and their spin-offs (like Tristan und Isolde) with Vis o Ramin or Haft Peikar.)

I assume that even the statements of “God’s satisfaction is resulted from Fatima’s satisfaction” attributed to Prophet Mohammad, PBUH, was meant to reconcile the Islamic misogynistic laws to that of the Iranian view of women.

The Islamic Republic from day one tried to humiliate Iranians by asserting its domination by crushing what was so dear to our hearts, starting with our national holidays rooted in pre-Islamic Iran, putting down those that we were so proud of, such as Ferdawsi, Dr. Mosaddeq, and all those who are more associated with Iranian heritage and playing up who did have any sort of Islamic affiliation though not such a good name, Sheikh Fazlollah Nuri. They purged or killed the nationalist activists, artists, poets, and intellectuals as much as they could, just to press us by eliminating the sources of our pride to make our submission faster and easier.

Amongst the sources of our pride was the women’s rights, unique in the Middle East, and number one among the Islamic nations. The advancement of women in various artistic, scientific, professional, and academic fields was so overwhelming that it took the Islamic Republic quite a while to lower it if not completely crush it. It should not have been difficult to predict what would befall us in that regard, though still I’m puzzled as what stopped us from seeing through it.

It did not last long for the first arrow to be shot, targeting the appearance of this institution, Islamic hejab. It was not difficult to suspect that it would not stop there and it did not. Marriage age and legal age were dropped to nine. (Yes nine! It is a wonderful age to run a family!) The Family Protection Law was returned to the Dawn of the Faith, child custody was given back to the father and the father’s side of the family (though modified a little, thanks to the Shirin Ebadi’s efforts, now of course is going back to its previous stage) and then the whispering about rationing the entrance to the university on the basis of gender (which I think will happen if Ahmadinejad is re-elected,) and last week the masterpiece of all was the new bill, or “polygamy made easy.”

Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of Iranians abide by Iranian culture which is deeply based on the fairness and balance, with family and women as its main vital core. The shariat had to wait for centuries to have a major effect in Iran, and that only if lucky, if the Hidden Imam really appears in person today with the laws in his hands!

I’m sure our concern is not geared to the actual effect of this law, nor towards those few women who are affected by it, since they should have many other worries living with such creature. These laws of the shariat, stoning, divorce, child custody, guardianship rights in marriage, demanding sexual submission, limited movement in life (requiring permission for work and education), inheritance (thanks to Khadija, PBUH that women could maintain the right to their own property still, the only right left to them after marriage), and many others all in favor of men, are so outdated and backward that they would never find their way into our life. Indeed, none of these laws, in comparison to our secular laws, or even our traditional customs, are considered progressive or even compatible with the world we live in. Focusing and fussing about one of them is just a futile effort to lead us to more disappointments. Either we have to resist it altogether or its sources or at least if we are to fight the details we should do it in order of their priority. In either case, we have to be well aware for what reasons we are fighting these laws:

  • Is it because they do not fit into Iranian tradition and culture? 
  • Or because they produce more pain to most of the people? 
  • Or, though they do not produce pain to so many, but if they become a norm and become a widespread practice, then they produce pain to a large majority? 
  • If they become a common practice, then the order of the society would be disturbed? 
  • Or that their concepts are so grotesque and weird that they are disturbing? 
  • Or that they would make daily life messed up if they were practiced beyond isolated cases?

A long list of these questions should have been asked by each and every one of us prior to voting for the Islamic Republic. But at least now we should answer some of these questions in order to be able to stand up and protest against it.

Of course we should not expect miracles. We should not expect anybody to listen to us since we all are irrelevant. Our efforts are just to clarify for ourselves why these laws are undesirable, just in case our children and our grand children one day would come to us ask our opinions.

To read the rest, click here.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

“Wild, Wild, West”: The Right Hemisphere of Islamic Republic.

Eye opening , if not shocking, Serge Barseghian’s interview with the producer of the controversial film The Execution of Pharaoh baffled me more than the even the news of Photoshopped photos of missile tests.

Barseghian introduced the producer as one of the so-called students who climbed the American Embassy’s wall and “fell on the right side of the Islamic Republic’s political arena.” Indeed it was a good analogy, this division of the Republic’s right and left side. But as to the nature of its “right side,” Barseghian, a highly professional journalist, skillfully gives the interviewee a chance to portray it better than any of us could imagine.

Thanks to Serge, the interview took me to the imaginary “Wild Wild West” (if anyone is old enough to recall that popular late sixties TV western serial) where I found myself in view of the Islamic Republic’s right hemisphere which, oddly enough, in spite of all its anti-American diatribes, is politically modeled America’s own neocons. The interview revived the memory of the early days of the Revolution when independent groups led by self-appointed sheriffs took the law in their own hands and, with their private armies, were about to rule the way they wanted. Many of those sheriffs survived and indeed have been promoted to high offices.

Foruz Raja’ifar, one of those promoted sheriffs, is the producer (compiler?) of the controversial series, The Execution of Pharaoh, a derogatory title for a film on assassination of Anwar Sadat, the late president of Egypt, who had given refuge to the Shah after the revolution, by an Islamicist named Eslamboli. Apparently a street in Tehran is named after “Shahid Eslamboli” either in simple appreciation of his religious bravery to kill Sadat or to get even with Egypt’s naming a street for Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi or purely as an act of provocation. The government of Egypt, after some deliberation, responded to the Iranian demand to change the name of the street and probably as a good will offering, changed it to something even worse in the eyes of Islamic Republic, Dr. Mosaddegh Street, and demanded the Islamic Republic reciprocate. The second city council, with an overwhelming fundamentalist majority, voted in favor of this, though it never took placed due to a strong protest from a staunch fundamentalist Islamic group, the Organization for Honoring the Martyr of the International Islamic Movement, headed by Foruz Raja’ifar, who generously offered, “One street named Eslamboli? All of Tehran is nothing but Eslamboli.”

As why a film with such an inflammatory title should be made in such sensitive times in Iran-Egypt relations, the country which apparently had been instrumental in Iran—American relations, without the permission of the government, was answered by Raja’ifar, “Making this film was publicly announced. As a civil organization we are not obliged to obtain permission from any governmental institutions. Indeed, the government agencies knew we were making the film and they should have pursued it, and if they needed some clarification, we would have answered if they would have asked.” And her reaction to the Iranian Foreign Ministry, which announced that the film does not represent the Iran’s official position? “Hearing this, I thought I was dreaming. Did not the Imam say that this Eid-e Ghorban is more holy and cheerful since Sadat has joined Pharaoh?”
Barseghian tries to argue that if the government, a fundamentalist, and not a reformist, tries to established relationship with Egypt, it must have had the support of the Supreme Leader, and the making of a film as such expresses the opposite of what she and her group advocate. It is more a display of conflict with the government they claim to support. To that, Raja’ifar is very blunt: “I need to hear it directly from the Supreme Leader. Then we would be the first to comply with his wishes” She continued, “We asked the government about the establishment of relations with Egypt and why it was happening. Has anything changed? Have we changed? Has Egypt changed? They have not responded yet, and we are still waiting.”

Raja’ifar seems to have a full autonomy in her own domain, with her own rules and laws. She questions the legitimacy not only of the institutions of the presidency or the foreign ministry, but those of the city council, Islam (Is opening a grave permissible in Islam?), the constitution, all the Iranian traditions, and human decency. She is still demanding the extradition of the Shah’s skeleton. (What does she want to do with few pounds of bones?) She had collected 60,000 signatures from the various protestors who were ready to get involved in “martyrdom operations” abroad. (The mission was never accomplished due to some considerations she prefers not to discuss!)

Perhaps this provocative film has been made with the knowledge of the government official. Otherwise, it is one of those secrets that we won’t discover any time soon, and probably not in my lifetime. But judging from the last thirty years of the Islamic Republic’s affairs, I’m not surprise at the emergence of these self-appointed guardians and spokesmen ever so conveniently exercising their right of freedom of expression. I’m not so sure as to the production of a film with such a scope in this stage of our history would be just a mere coincidence or the simple documentation of an historical event; but it certainly resembles many of the coordinated political events occurring in the Iran, as parts of an ongoing Islamic Republic political maneuver, and their way of sending a message and communicating their diplomacy with other nations.
If that is the way the Islamic Republic is managing its affairs, so be it. I can even desensitize myself to the emergence of these autonomous ringleaders, and their activity. But it is difficult to ignore their effect and its reflection on us all. A film as such portrays us, the Iranians, as Raja’ifar intents, as hateful, aggressive, wild, unbridled horsing around a lawless land. It is interesting that the government officials who are so sensitive towards “protecting the public order and social stability” turn a deaf ear to all this rowdiness.

Raja’ifar, in her interview not only takes us to that other side of the Islamic Republic, to the wilderness in which no one is accountable to any one else anymore, a primitive wilderness in which a chief rules by virtue of his power and nothing else. She asserts her chieftainship as well when she claims that it is the government that should respond to her regarding foreign policy! I wish we all had so many rights! Wow! Such a respect for democracy, for people, for law, for government! Such a distinguished model of citizenship!

Oddly enough, Raja’ifar is not alone. There are whole range of these wild ringleaders in the country who do whatever they want and say whatever comes to their mind, and all are under the umbrellas of the “revolutionary zeal” and “devotion to Imam Khomeini and the Supreme Leader,” while in reality they might very well provide a cover and shelter to the government to get away with many of his wrong doing by claiming, “Well, it is not our position and these are private citizens expressing their ideas!”

It is interesting that as the result of this film, which, even though it is not being distributed, has found its way to Sadat’s family, the relationship between the two countries has deteriorated; the soccer game they had been scheduled to play has been cancelled, the diplomats have been recalled, and still no one is questioning anybody regarding this film. In part of her interview she said that, “The Egyptians are not free in their country to say what they want and do not understand that in our country there is the freedom of speech and we can express ourselves freely.” Truly, I did not know that either. I bet lots of journalists and activists in jail do not know it either, but we all know it now. Yes, we have freedom of expression in our country, but just in the right the side, remember!

Still, there is something more to this interview. It legitimizes the use of pronouns “they, them, and you” not according to the rules of grammar, but as opposites to “us.” I confess that I have used the pronoun “you” and “they” here and there occasionally in my articles non-grammatically, and I should admit that drawing that line never came easy and it won’t be easy now either. However, the pain of being part of the wilderness and lawlessness is much too strong to stop me from continuing this practice.

Furthermore, a film as such, even if it is necessitated and sanctioned by the Islamic Republic’s diplomacy, still bears bitter results. A film, like a book, is an artifact which remains forever. For years to come, there will be “Iranians” making an insulting film about some other country’s leader, there will be “Iranians” who demand such a barbaric request as to extradite the skeleton of a man who died years ago and happened to be a dictator in his life time, oddly enough very much like the current regime but a little less murderous and a little more lawful.

But really, who are these people who dare to talk in our behalf? Who are these Raja’ifars who equate our cities to a terrorist? And who are these people who are so immersed in the pool of hatred and revenge as to demand the skeleton of a man who died thirty years ago? And who has given them that authority?

What sort of civilization do they represent? Is it that of Islamic civilization? Surely it is not Iranian. We all come to the world, live for a while, and go. Whatever our relationship with each other in this life and in this world, when we die our body is respected regardless of how sinful our souls and how malicious our relationships were. The body should be disposed of with respect, whether it be the Shah’s or anyone else’s. Raja’ifar and all her 60,000 signatories could portray themselves as evil as they want, but they should leave our nation out of it. We do not demand anybody’s body for better or worse. Not us, we do not wish to be included in this wild, wild world, although we are included if we do not separate ourselves, the last remedy left to us.

In the absence of any wisdom to remind these fellow “wild” and “free” citizens that every inch of Iran belongs to all Iranians, Moslem or otherwise, and Khaled Eslamboli has no right to any of it, we, the residents of the left hemisphere, have to remind them that at some point their reign is going to end, just as it did for all who invaded this great country of ours; and what would remain of them is what has remained of others, just a name. The only difference would be that there would be left more records of the Islamic Republic than that of the Mongols, or even Pahlavis for that matter, thanks to professional journalism and multimedia. If the past history is registered just with scattered references to terror and violence, the Youtube abundantly spices the Islamic Republic’s violence with a bitter and sad laughter and holds them all afresh and intact for ever. Though I’m not sure that the generations coming, long after we all are gone, will be able to have even a sad laughter at these dark pages of history.

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Just Stay Aside and Be A Viewer

[The following is a translation of an essay by Bijan Safsari.]

In his memoir, Bozorg Alavi, the famous Iranian writer, recalls:

Ostad Dehkhoda would come to visit us occasionally. During the summer, we would gather together in one of the cafés in Lalehzar Alley. The café was inside a large garden. There was a little path in this garden leading to a little pool. An assortment of geraniums planted in clay vases was placed all around this pool. One night, we were sitting together ten feet away form this scene and nagging. We thought we could straighten out the whole world. Ostad listened to our conversation, our criticism, or our fault-finding, and, realizing that we were all unhappy with the current situation, looked at the pool shimmering under the light cast from a lamp above, and said, “What’s the matter with you guys? Why you are so sad? Look at that scene under that light and see how it emits beauty and freshness. Just try to enjoy it. Why do you want to go closer? Each one of these mosquitoes and insects carries thousands of malaria, cholera, and hepatitis germs in them. Let them do their job and you sit aside and watch the beauty and charm.”

This anecdote is very similar to the story of some of our friends and colleagues who unnecessarily expose themselves to the dangerous and deadly mosquitoes of the world of politics without being aware of the political guile, with the hope of regaining lost opportunities. They may nurture a vague idea that if they succeeded, they would leave a good name behind and would be remembered as a savior and a hero in the struggle for freedom. What they are not aware of is that in this chaotic market of politics there is no commodity but lies, deception, and tricks, and what may appear as freedom and liberty in this desert is none but a mirage.

Many might criticize the writer of these pages and object, how could one gain freedom without struggle since it is an ancient proverb that “Rights must be taken” and in the entire history of struggle for justice among the nations, people had never gained any liberty, freedom, or independence by sitting idle. Iranians, too, have never done any different than this ancient wisdom.

In my humble opinion, while agreeing with these words of wisdom, we have to note that what we have all read and learned about struggling and fighting for freedom and justice belongs to the time which today is considered ancient history and old legends. Our time is not the same as our ancestors’, nor are we ourselves the same as our forefathers. There is an anecdote that once [Prince] Zell ol-Soltan visited one of the stables of one of the Bakhtiari tribe’s khans. After the khan showed all his horses one by one and bragged about their breeds, Zell ol-Soltan, nostalgically, said “Khan, what happened to horses like Rakhsh, Samandar, and Shabdiz? Why we do not have those breeds anymore? Where did they disappear to?” The khan answered, “Your highness, those horses where ridden by men like Rostam and Parviz and are gone with them.”

Now why are we neither like our ancestors nor our time like days gone by? I can see only two reasons for it.

First: Thirty years has past of what we mistakenly called a “revolution”, and we are still dreaming and longing for what seems to be impossible. Since a century ago, we, the people of this old country, have faced and borne the wounds of swords, daggers, and bullets in our chests in order to have a house of justice, a house of the people, but alas, no law and no justice obtained. After any change and movement in the system or even the governments in our old history, it took us at least half a century to live in injustice just to find out:

I expected to find a trace of the Kaaba
But found that all roads lead to Turkistan.

And that is while our ancestors were not as we are today. They never gave in to injustice, nor did they ever leave a day’s work for the day after. They were not delusional, waiting for a hero or savior.

Second: in our vernacular, this is the age of treachery, and as a matter of fact, this term connotes politics. What has passed to us these last thirty years is testimony to this claim. From the time that they witnessed the picture of the beloved in the moon to today, where they are wheeling and dealing behind closed doors, when every passing day by revealing some crime, the foundation of the nation’s trust is shattered so badly that it has become difficult to differentiate between friend and foe. For instance, have a look at the figures indicating that American exports to Iran has grown by a factor of ten after they labeled us “terrorist,” and this while the whole world, on America’s insistence, is barred from having any economic or commercial relationship with Iran. In addition, our statesmen, in spite of calling the United States an enemy of Iran for the last thirty years, have make a deal with this “Great Satan” behind the scenes. During the last few days on Saturday, July 12, in the Voice of America which has become a major source of news for many Iranians in Iran, in an interview with a retired official of the United States State Department, the secret meetings (as well as some open ones) between the Iranian and American high officials were revealed. Though, it may have been a political trick to embarrass and discredit its rival; still the quick and easy shut down of the opposition’s broadcasts and agreement reached regarding the final part of the program, lead us to put aside our optimism and believe our statesmen’s claim that the possibility of the US attack should not be taken so seriously.

Now, given it all, shouldn’t we take Ostad Dehkhoda’s advice and just sit aside and be a spectator?

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