Sunday, March 23, 2008

Iran's Parliamentary Elections

“Once again, the people of Iran entrusted the Parliament to the fundamentalists.” This was the headline of Keyhan, the government’s publication in Tehran. There was a change to Saturday’s headline, “Under the wondering gaze of the world, the nation’s vote broke the enemy’s back.” Keyhan’s headlines celebrated what appears laughable but, sadly, is true: “A man wrestled with himself and three of them came first,” a revision of a joke in Sepidaran, Ahmad Shirzad’s blog yesterday, reflecting the reality of our parliamentary election.

I was not surprised to read that, once again, the Islamic Republic performed its miracle, once again we made the whole world dumfounded, along with amazed, bewildered, crazed, astonished, shocked, startled, flabbergasted, and any other synonyms one can find in dictionary, although in reality it was only once that we truly shocked the world (and that only by a narrow definition of world): the presidential election of 1997 which brought Mohammad Khatami to power, and we received political plaudits in some quarters twice again, once for Khatami’s second term and again for the last Municipal election of city councils. However during the past two and half years, our president has announced an earthshaking discovery or innovation or astonishing achievement that either “pierced the eyes of enemies” or “punched them in the mouth” or “slapped them in the face” every single week. Given Keyhan’s headlines as such and Ahmadinejad’s proclamation, there should not be left any eyes, tooth, or cheeks undamaged in the world.

While inflation has been rising, unemployment is out of control, and fraud and corruption are skyrocketing (Sardar Zarei’i’s prostitution story certainly beats our Governor’s story though), and housing in at its worst, the government campaign was ticketed on the supreme leader’s aim that this election would “show our unity to our enemy by our participation in a glorious election.”

The Government and the ruling clerics have very clearly defined themselves as “principalist and fundamentalist” without any further qualifications. They never doubted their own legitimacy, tried to prove themselves, or bothered to appeal to any authority to win over this segment of the population whom they appeal to. Since the Islamic Revolution, fundamentalism has self-confidently strode into Iran’s political arena and marched backward to the dawn of Islam and successfully established all the institutions, as well as a suitable discourse, necessary for an Islamic system to function and survive.

If Parliament is used by this government’s leadership, who does not even believe in democracy, it does not surprise me. If Khamenei would craftily call on the people “to participate in election to beat the enemy,” I’m sure he has a proper audience in mind which could be brought into this. Principalists realistically targeted their potential constituency, those who believe in Ahmadinejad’s halo, the imminent ending of the Hidden Imam’s Occultation, and the location of his well, etc., and developed a core of supporters by establishing suitable institutions and discourse among them. Since the first day of his presidency, Ahmadinejad relentlessly has supplied his supporters with what they needed: the articles of superstition, witchcraft, magic, and miracles touched by superficial aspects of the faith which could be found in abundance in every religion. His campaign on this aim started right after his election and continues still. On Friday, March 14, they all returned the favor and cast their ballots for him.

Reformists, in the other hand, like an army full of generals without soldiers, walked onto the battlefield expecting miracles.

When embarrassed, they accused the pricipalists of departing from the Imam’s wishes and ideas.

When defeated, they claim the victory for having 60% of the 104 seats, according to Mohammad Ali Abtahi's blog of March 17.

While 60% did not participate in the elections in Tehran, the stronghold of the reformists, they claimed they are the legitimate heirs to people’s trust.

While the majority of the people are inherently pro-reform, the reform movement failed to reach them and therefore to receive their support.

While there is a vast reservoir of potential supporters in a country of 75 millions, over half of which is younger than 35, the reformists are still awaiting for the birth of a constituency.

While non-fundamentalists and secular Iranians, who could have been absorbed by the reformists, are finding their own language and establishing their own institutions, the reformists still resort to the same language used by the fundamentalists and emulate their institutions, only a bit fancier.

For months, in meeting after meeting, the best they could come up with was President Khatami’s double-talk, like declaration, “Let us participate in election long-sufferingly, yet cheerfully.” I read this statement a few times back and forth trying to make a sense of it. Still it is unclear to me and many whom they addressed this message to and what it meant. Really, who was supposed to vote? Who wants to sent Zahra and Hasan Eshraghi to the Parliament? What for? What sort of reform they will bring to us? Who are they anyhow? The Imam’s dynasty? Turn back another thirty years?

While the reform movements’ most important achievement was sort of establishing and legitimizing the “opposition” to the ruling hardliners in the regime, what is left of it today is just a “long-suffering voice”. There is no trace of opposition left in it.

This election in fact brought the two segments of the society, culturally, politically, nationally, and even religiously head to head. If this conflict manifested itself in the messages sent by their leaders, “let’s vote to beat the enemy” vs. “let’s vote to show we are long-suffering,” clearly the reformist message did not reflect the voice of its potential supporters. When Khatami, regretfully, issued the above-mentioned statements, the real voice of the majority would call for a real challenge to the supreme leader, saying, “No, the Parliament is not a sports gym where we show our muscles to our enemies, the enemies that you created for us; that it is not place for us to rally to display our unity. We are united but not in your fraudulent front. Parliament is our home for our representative to work on our behalf to secure our interest and well-being.”

Obviously there is a vast cultural division in the country that cannot be denied anymore. While the present government and leadership have found its constituency among the masses who are equally happy with having a parliament as wrestling pit and willing to participate in the match, the reformist leaders simply evade the issue and declare failure cheerfully and invited people to “loose with a smile.”

In fact, the Principlists celebrated not only their own victory, but the reformists’ defeat. A simple look at the voting results will give a clear picture. In Tehran, which is the stronghold of the reformists, only 40% of all eligible voters participated and the top candidate was Adel Hadad, rather than any of the reformists. No matter how discriminatory and unjust the voting process was, there is no justification for this failure. Those 60% in Tehran who did not participate in the election could have cast their votes for all the reformist candidates and they could have taken all the Tehran’s seats in a landslide had the reform movement asked them to. Unfortunately, our reformist friends never reached out to the millions of existing Iranian who could have been their strong supporters; rather they addressed some idealized members of their non-existing party.

The party which came to power with 22 million real votes, crying loud that, “We are with you Khatami, we support you Khatami,” was reduced to next to nothing by the policy of being long-suffering and complaining of “others” and those “absent entities.” I sometimes thought they spent most of their time and energy wishing for some exorcists to cast a spell over those “evil entities.” After twelve years they have not been able to establish any unique institutions or discourse of their own to define reform’s nature. It seems they shied away from average middle class secular Iranians, those big “S” people, those big snaky “S” people who constitute at least 60% of voters and stayed home on Friday, those who really would cherish reform but have no place in the reformists’ mind or heart.

Reformists did not even use what was offered them even to a fraction of its potential. The pledges of 250 young and popular actors and actresses could have brought a few million votes to the reformists. (In the last presidential election, in spite of the serious boycott by almost all, Baran Kossary’s campaign brought one million votes for Mustafa Mo’in!) Instead of a clear message with a clear goal and purpose, the reformists send fuzzy, confusing messages. The wide gap between the reform establishment and pro-reform people could be narrowed if the party would have been willing to define the movement in a way to include those millions, and to employ a discourse suitable for this majority, even at the cost of losing some for whom the movement currently appeals in manipulating religious symbols.

Knowing that there are reformists who know of these missing people, I wonder if we, the middle class secular Iranians, who are the backbone of Iranian society, definitely the backbone of civil society, are ever going to be included as part of the society that the reform movement envisions; if at some point the reform movement quits sticking to the paradox that is created, if at some point they admit there is something essentially wrong in Islamic Republic that needs to be reformed; and if it begins to hear us saying, “No, going back to thirty years ago is no good, there were problems then, there is problem now! We want real reform!”

At this point, we are so far from all this that sometimes I wonder if reform is only a nominal party which must exist just to fill up as an alibi, just in the case!

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Jumping over the Fire

`To the right, the family haft seen.

Every year, on the first day of Spring, Iranians throughout the world set up a table on which appear the seven esses, standing for the seven archangels (ameshspandan): sabzeh, or sprouts, samanu, a sort of wheat pudding which is very hard to make (and which is only present in spirit), seeb, or apple, senjed, the dried fruit of the lotus tree, seer or garlic, somaq, or sumac berries, and serqeh, or vinegar. A mirror, some coins (sekkeh), goldfish (also here in spirit), and a copy of the Iranian holy book, the Avesta, round out the display.

On the evening before the last Wednesday of the year, it is customary for Iranians to jump over the fire, saying "Zardiye man az to, sorkhiye to az man," meaning, "My yellowness to you, your redness to me."

Last night jumping over the humble fire I made in my backyard accompanied by my faithful affectionate friend Omar Khayyam, who had reposed under the step next to my good neighbor Anda, watching the fire with a frightened eyes, I noticed in spite of the horror I went through last year, I do not have that much anger or so many grievances to cast away.

As has been my little ritual, I pack all the dissatisfactions and unkindnesses that, like many, I have had to bear in life and bundle them together to give away safely in the warm glow of the fire on Chaharshnbeh Souri. I let my heart become warmer to all, even toward those who have not opened their heart to me in past. I let the good scent of the burning twigs wipe away the memory of occasional unkindnesses and unpleasantnesses. I even let the smoke rising from the fire cover up those unwanted bitter realities.

This year, although I did not have much in that bundle to give away, I had a heavy bag of good wishes, hopes and prayers for all: for the health of my sister Mariam, my very dear friend Lili, my neighbor’s daughter Ingrid, my in-laws Eugene and June Siegel and, it goes without saying, for my husband Evan.

I bore some dear friends were especially in mind. Cyrus, my dear friend who had been with me through thick and through thin these last thirty-two years, was especially in my mind. He had lost his father just two weeks ago, a very special man, an old National Front combatant, a conscientious journalist, a devote religious man and highly spiritual. My heart is with him and his family in such a hard time. He and his family were certainly in my prayers.

Last year we lost two distinguished Iranian women. Though I was not personally related to them, I still had a memorial salutation (and not a prayer—they were atheist) to them. They both were from the Iranian communist Tudeh party, Jaleh Isfehani, a poetess, and Maryam Firouz, a cousin of our popular prime minister, Dr. Mosaddegh.

Among our other losses were our two goldfishes that had been with us for five years. I got especially attached to them since one of them had some digestive problems and off and on I had to massage its belly; when one cares, love follows. They both had a very sweet disposition which added to their attraction. We lost them this past summer within one week from each other. I could not bring myself to replace them with another one, so this year our Haft seen is without goldfishes.

It also goes without saying that our best wishes go to the entire family and friends and their families, and mine was no exception. They are in my nightly prayers always and I did not neglect them that holy night, either.

Of my bigger extended family, my country, my prayers were for the Iranian reformists. I prayed, and wished for their rebirth, I prayed for the emergence of a Michelangelo, someone with a little creativity, boldness, love, and truthfulness, to carve beauty out of that rock of Iranian political potential.

For my adopted country, the United States, I don’t know which is better or worse, Obama or Hillary. A few steps to the presidency, they are both sinking and dragging each other down. Well, my prayers to both of them. I hope one leaves the other alive, otherwise we will have to live with John “Bomb IranMcCain, who is not in my prayers, never!

Eliot Spitzer was in my mind since his crisis arose. I have quite a feel for him and his wife. I feel even the suffocating feeling of his desire to reach and grab the past and undo it. I hope with the wisdom he has demonstrated in his public life, and the love and care he must have had for his family, that he will be able to look into the situation, to evaluate his thoughts and feelings as to how he did it, if it was worth the suffering, and would he have done it if he would have given it a little thought. I wish him the blessing of the ever presence of Good Mind and Truthfulness, the sure protection against all malice.

Speaking of Eliot Spitzer, I could not stop thinking about these “love ladies”. I’m sure they all have their own stories and I’m sure in time, one way or the other, we understand them, as long as the person involved is not our husband. These love ladies, however, are all part of our society, those who sell love, those who beg love, those who solicit love, and those who offer it freely for a little of companionship, and those who may find a different name for it, all in all, they are doing something that they should not. I do not mean necessarily the business of the body and sex, I mean squeezing themselves into the corner of people’s lives where they do not belong, where they cannot find a proper and peaceful nesting for themselves, and sometimes ruin someone else’ nest as well as career, reputation, and life. I pray for them so they can find something worthwhile in their lives beyond their body to live on. I hope that our new governor will work towards legalizing prostitution, so at least as a profession, it would bring some security to these ladies, as well as open some doors to those who have nothing else to offer, thus reducing its ugliness and breaking its taboos, and hopefully it would not become such a weapon in the hands of a few to ruins people’s lives. It won’t make life prettier, but at least it will reduce much suffering.

Getting back to my little nest and family, I hope we find a job somewhere in Asia or North Africa or South America or even Quebec if McCain becomes president. It is very painful to be in constant fear of violation, stupid talk, meaningless political jargon, hypocrisy, and chants of “We’re Number One!” and even worse, the shame, the shame of being so shameless.

I prayed for Omar Khayyam, and jumped over the fire for him, since he

Iran Writes, Nancy, and Hakim

was afraid to do it himself. I wished him the best of health and prayed particularly that his hearth would become warmer towards our guests, mailmen, Nancy, and Hakim, my domestic helpers, for whose safety, among my friends, I prayed specially.

And finally I wished and called for the Farahvashis to see the glow of my fire, and find their way into our home, and not forget me here in Brooklyn, where there are but very few Iranians, and much less Parsis. I wish, if they do not want to trouble themselves to check in personally, not to forget to bless us for a life full of health, prosperity, good spirit, vitality, humility, and light, and protect us all from Evil.

With my warm wishes for a happy No Rooz to all.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Iran Writes on Press TV

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Saturday, March 08, 2008

Thus Spake Imam Khomeini

February, the anniversary of Revolution is a good market for those who are still alive and shared the flight with Khomeini to Tehran, or were present in the Alavi School and participated in the firing squad show on its roof, to bring us anecdotes and present them like antiques to customers like me browsing and surfing online for something interesting.

This year, in addition to the general and generic words of the Imam’s wisdom on freedom, human rights, democracy, independence, plenty of special anecdotes or stories appeared in the memoirs of his friends, all related to the problems at hand: election and government turning to the military and security forces. Oddly enough, most of these anecdotes were narrated by the reformists, and not a single one by fundamentalists.

Among the anecdotes there was one from Ayatollah Nateq Nuri’s memoir:

“In the early days of the revolution, there was a rush of women to come to visit Imam. They all wore black chadors, head to toe covered; and many of them, in order not to get lost, tied their chadors together. They would go into a frenzy and emotional crying and sometimes fainted. We were very worried for safety and security; it would have been very easy for a bomb to be carried under them. But we knew that if we had told the Imam to bar women for that reason, he would not agree. We were also concerned about the lack of female paramedics to help in case of an emergency. Sometimes the Imam would go to the second floor to rest, and when these women arrived he had to come downstairs. So one day I told the Imam that these coming and going up and down tired him, but the Imam noticed my real concern and said, 'Do you think that the revolution happened because of my tapes or because of you? No it happened because of them.'”

I like this anecdote. If I were in the Imam’s position I would have said the same. As a matter of fact, most of the sayings attributed to him are simple, sensible, true, and almost the best, and many of them, as Iranians say, are “tooth-shattering.” Even the timing should not be objected to; today is as good as any other day. Even instrumental usage of these sayings, to corner the fundamentalist as a devoted followers of Imam, is justifiable up to a point, although it has been proven ineffective. But the important question remains as to how long we should use a failing method. I never expected of Ayatollah Nateq Nuri to ask Imam, “Well sir, if these people made the revolution and not me or your tapes, then why is it that there is no place for them in the government?” It never occurred to me that he would be able to ask these questions since this kind of dialog has never been the part of that generation’s discourse. However, thirty years later I do expect that young journalists and thinkers or even younger clerics, who constitute the bulk of the reformists, would take a critical approach, and substitute a dialectical or analytical discourse for the kind of discourse once fashionable in Najaf and Qom's seminaries.

Since the revolution, the Imam’s words have become a kind of syllogism by itself. Being dealt with as the absolute, they have been legitimized and accepted by all as ultimate truths that do not need any further proof or arguments. “The people’s vote is the ultimate criterion,” “Our politics is the same as our religiosity,” “Islam should come for the strength and survival of the Islamic Republic and not vice versa,” are all from this category. They all sound good, some of them are even self-evident, and some are universally accepted. It is quite irrelevant to discuss the content of the Imam’s words of wisdom which, like many of their kinds should be cherished by those who have a taste for them. Though, the troubling is the usage of his statements as documents and manifestos, as substitutes for law, as ultimate guidelines as how to run the country and how society ought to conduct itself. How long should a country rely for its basics and fundamentals on the saying of a man who considered himself very ordinary and who made a massive mistake in appointing incompetents to be in charge of the peoples’ life remains a question.

Not only are older clerics, who shared the Imam’s beliefs and ideas, but even young lay journalists and analysts still wrap their pleas for justice in the Imam’s words and appeal to his ideas to salvage the last vestiges of what is called the Islamic Republic before it completely turns into a military-security state or explodes into chaos.

All these cries for justice have fallen on deaf ears, with flat denials of the leadership’s spokesman, Hosein Shariatmadari of Keyhan who refuses every argument given by reformist by misquotes from the Imam or anyone else who might be of any help, and with a simple clear bold answer of Mesbah Yazdi who once said: “All this talk about the people’s vote and people’s rights are nothing but a marionettes show. We are doing our duty and nothing could or should keep us from our duty.” His callousness aside, there is a bitter truth in what he is saying. These men in the Guardian Council are given a nonnegotiable right to do what they are doing. Indeed, the reformists are fighting an unbalance and unequal war, armed only with the Imam’s words whispered in someone ears, against those who are given the master key to all the Imam’s army and treasure.

All this came to a head just days ago when Ayatollah Tavasoli, rest in peace, in a formal session of the Expediency Council, of which he was a member, during his emotional opening speech passed away due to heart attack. It was indeed a great lose to the reform movement to loose one of its main bodies in a high place. The speech that caused his emotional outburst was none other than the same old routine, nothing worth dying for. The story of the couple who claimed they had met the Twelfth Imam and were rejected by the Imam as “crooks” had been told last year by Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. Also the account of the Imam’s will barring military interfering in politics and taking sides with either party was the topic of Akbar Ganji’s article in Rooz Online several weeks ago. To argue against the militarization of government, Ganji, in his recent article The Government of Ahmadinejad and Ruling of Sultan, has invoked Imam Khomeini’s will “… the military should keep away from all the political parties, even the most Islamic one, and stay away form all the other branches of government. It is the only way that military could be trusted to defend the country.” (Ganji forgets that the main reason for the formation of the Revolutionary Guards was to protect the government internally against the possible internal opposition.) His invocation of the Imam was indeed very surprising from the man who boasts that he is a champion of a critical approach and defines himself as “dissatisfied intellectual,” one who would remain critical even if we would have the most democratic system.

As why should Rafsanjani wait so long to reveal his document, his correspondence, and his anecdotes about the Imam now or gradually as they are needed? I’m not surprised at all. That is our pragmatic Rafsanjani! But one wonders how a person like Ganji should wait so long to address such an important issue as the role of the military, and in this context, and in this fashion. That military should not get involved in the affair of government is accepted by many constitutions including ours; it is argued for, it is challenged, and it is proven as fair and just. While we all may accept and respect this principal, we are only bounded by it since it is an article of our constitution. If the Imam is especially emphasized it, that is his privilege; otherwise, it does not and should not have any substantial effect in its significance or its being honored. Making the case for this on the basis of its having been mentioned in the Imam’s will, in fact not only does not add to its value and its importance, but only reduces it to the triviality of whatever goes in one’s will. Indeed, as is the case with the laws governing wills, they are always subject to more scrutiny and further objections of the beneficiaries. It is a disgrace for documents of such importance to be safeguarded in one’s will. Indeed, the Imam’s emissaries do not do him any favors, either, by turning him into such an irresponsible role model of statesmanship for those who want to follow his footsteps.

The novelty of Ayatollah Tavasoli’s speech was in Hasan Khomeini’s recurring dream of his grandfather’s appearance in them. However, the reformists, using their last arrow in their quiver, not only exposed their despair but somehow acknowledged their defeat as well. Judging from the front pages of the newspapers, even the reformists’ press, this news could not arouse any sensation among the people, or breathe any fresh breath into the lifeless body of the reformists. It was business as usual. Khamenehi went public in Azerbaijan, his native Azeri-speaking and zealous Muslim providence, to urge Azeris to vote. He harped on the necessity of participating in the elections. It is interesting that he abandoned the commonly-used term “religious duty” as well as the call for “splendid participation” which detracts from the solemnity of the act of participating in election, and does not have any alarming ring to it; instead, he used the uncommon term mojahedat, endeavor or fighting for Islamic principals. (The close relationship between the term mojahedat and jihad, holy war, was probably meant to send a double message to the people as well as to the reformists.) It seems that while our reformists have lost even their last arrow for nothing, the fundamentalists are ready to take over new equipments.

I can not believe that it happened so quickly and so easily, as if it had been rehearsed a hundred times. Reading the newspapers online these last several nights, the mute reaction of the public to all the recent events, the blunt answer of Keyhan (the spokesman of the Vali Faqih) to Ali-Akbar Mohtashami-pur’s speech in the memorial service held for late Ayatollah Tavasoli, and calling the content of his speech as lie and fabrication; more crying and complaining by the reformists; the already semi-retirement of Mehdi Karrubi and his wife (at least according to the state radio, TV and Press), and finally the last-minute agreement of the reformists to participate in the elections in spite of all the humiliation brought upon them, Sayyed Mohammad Khatami’s embarrassing speech which was uncharacteristic of his usual profound talks calling on the people to participate in the elections as “cheerful victims” to foil their plot (!), I feel that the parliamentary elections would not have a better fate than the last presidential elections. I feel that one more time we have to accept the humiliation of being defeated unfairly, once more we are defeated and crushed by a coup rather by a fair competition, once more those who appear to be with us are turned against us, once more our generals naively picked up fake and rusted weapons in a serious decisive battle. And once more our leader surrendered with a fake smile.

Hey Mssrs. Reformists, get real! It is our destiny you are compromising. It is time for alertness and awareness. It is not the time for exchanging niceties. It is not a good time to take a nap; didn't you learn that from the last presidential election? It is not the time for day dreaming either. I hope and I pray to God that the inventory of the Imam’s words and tales soon runs out, I hope he appears in everyone’s dream every night and instructs them and then finish with that as well. Then we would both feel free. He would feel free of us hanging to his shroud and will rest in peace, and we would be free, knowing that the legacy he left behind is not the windmills of Cervantes and we can’t fight with them like Don Quixote. Indeed what he left behind is monstrous and dangerous as hell. We need something more substantial to fall back upon, like a good constitution with plenty room for amendments.

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Friday, March 07, 2008

Pomegranates and Iranian Identity

Having a memoir, a novel and a collection of short stories and poems by young Iranian writes, all sharing pomegranate in their title, on my desk, I’m thinking, is there anything else we Iranian in the Diaspora could identify with? What is in this semi-exotic fruit which makes it so appealing to Iranians to uphold it as their national symbol? Is it just because its point of origin, Heaven, that we Iranian should be its sole owner? Is it its birthplace on earth, Babylon, though we were there as simple occupiers? Is it its red ruby color which is the color associated with light, the most prominent attribute of Ahuramazda? Or is it just being new in this part of the world which makes the pomegranate welcome wherever novelty is welcome? But pomegranate is not such a novelty and is not so unique to our Iranian culture; and using it as such an icon seems odd to me.

The fruit is indeed very new in the United States. I was here when it arrived some thirty years ago and I witnessed its growth to a full fledged fruit just less than five years ago. Now it is one of the most popular fruits used on Rosh Hashana, when eating something new is recommended. Yet, just few years ago my good friend, Deborah brought a few soup spoons to the table with a few pomegranates and looked at us wondering what to do with them. I suggested it should be eaten without a spoon.

Well, it is good to reclaim whatever that belongs to us, by naming it, registering it or placing our flag over it, where ownership is such a big deal. When President Bush delivered his famous speech calling Iran, Iraq, and North Korea the Axis of Evil, I was very offended. Not so much to be called such names, but over turf. The fact that someone whose religion does not even acknowledge Evil, officially, comes forth and call us Evil really bothered me. Does he know Evil? Does he know how it looks like or what it does? Where its abode is? No, he does not know Evil, but he has heard there is something by that name. He usurped and took over something which was left without a proper ownership. And worse of all, he called us Evil. He did not even know that we discovered it. We ourselves know the fellow, inside and out. First, he is hideous like George Bush, second he is deceitful like George Bush and third he destroys like George Bush. If we would have moved first and had written an encyclopedia of Evil, instead of all those nonsense leftist and rightist pamphlets, he would know that that evil fellow is our own discovery and should know that “the Mosque is not a proper place for...” as Iranian would say.

This is one good thing about moving fast and claiming whatever is at hand. In fact, after the Evil business I got very worried about Heaven and Hell. Actually, more worried about Heaven than about Hell. If we Iranian do not move quickly and stick our flag or national anthem there, one of these conservative evangelists in a quick coup might claim it for American. Then we will all need an entry visa and affidavits of support and so on and so forth; and, then it would be very difficult to get there no matter how good we are, no matter how weighty our bag of good thoughts, goods words and good deeds.

Really, why not Heaven, i.e., Behesht I mean? Why don’t we identify with that majestic place that we were its architect? There is a painting in the Zoroastrian Fire Temple Darbe Mehr in Pamona, New Jersey, titled City of Lights, by someone named Shapiro. The painting is something between surreal and na├»ve, and the design of Heaven is magnificent. There are circles of lights here and there, and Faravashies are landing in the grass landscapes like weird helicopters (looking a bit like Las Vegas, though.) What does she know about our Heaven? Still I’m so grateful that there is no foreign element there. But what should we do if she would have placed a blue and red striped flag with fifty one stars there? Not even one like the United Nations! Any how, as Iranians say, could we secure our belongings and not make a thief of our neighbor. I just said that for the record.

And the other thing which is rightfully ours is “truth,” in any form and any shade and any color. It is very fashionable these days to attribute lying to Iranians, the chief witness being our “taarof.” There was even one lengthy article in Irandokht’s blog titled “Why we Iranians lie so much.” The writer considered our taarof and even our expressions of affection as some sort of lie, expressions such as ghorban-e-to (“May I be your sacrifice.”) or “ghadamat roye cheshmam” (“Walk over my eyes.”) were considered examples of this, as if we are the only nation using these words and expressions. Never mind “you look great,” “how wonderful,” “I love you,” and “amazing,” which are scattered all over like leaves.

Anyhow, I mean that truth is ours. We were the first ones who decided that the creation is based on truth and the first culture that cast out falsehood, among whom righteousness is the first word of Iranian’s holy book. Truth, with all it’s ramifications, is not such a bad identity, though it may not have the glamour and attraction of pomegranates.

I do admit that truth or its consequences may not seem appealing as a title, particularly with its mathematical and logical associations. However we can always come with some poetic amalgamation such as “the birds of truth.”

Tangible objects or places come easier. Let’s see if we can find any other icon for our identity. What about the harp? It was used by King David, true, but it is the oldest instrument we know in Iran. It appears in Iranian miniatures and we have artists associated with, I’m not sure which one, Barbad or Nakisa. The instrument is very good looking and fancy, with all its curves and strings look really elegant. It is uniquely women's instrument and I do not know exactly why. It might be just the position that it should be played, like a mother hugging a child or combing her hair, or kissing a lover.

The tar is another instrument which is becoming very fashionable and is popular among the women. It looks good and has a very warm and roundish pleasant shape which could be very sensual. (Just do not think about Khamanehi! I don’t know who placed it in the same category as tar. If I had the authority I would have de-tar this instrument. Any how it seems the Chinese had that instrument long before us.)

The daf, also, is very Iranian, but I think it is hard to be used as a symbol of identity. It does not stand up and does not have such a strong invigorating character, and by itself is not such an instrument. It does not posses enough independence which is such a necessity for today’s life, literary or else. So let's forget about it.

Among the fruits, watermelon is more Iranian and more symbolic than pomegranate. It was the Manichian fruit, for its self-containment, its red color inside, its being so juicy, and its seeds. The Prophet Mani himself liked it very much and it is still a symbol for alertness and awakening. Years ago, Jackie Kennedy suggested a photograph of three inexpensive Indian silver plate tumblers—three rupees each, filled up with watermelon juice, to be used for the cover page of the Tiffany’s catalog. The tumblers were sold in an auction in Christie’s for eighteen thousand dollars when she died. I think the watermelon juice had something to do with it!

Quince is also a very Iranian fruit, though here they call it Chinese apple. Its change of color is more striking than that of apples, and if it is cooked properly, it can turn into a beautiful rich burgundy color, and its perfume is heavenly.

Talking of the burgundy color, grapes in its variety was one of the most famous fruits of Iran. Their story is lost in the mists of prehistory. The first historical reference to them goes back to the King Cyrus time, and indeed the vine itself is so majestic and the best device to make a harbor or to be used in porticos.

Wine, the magical product of grapes, is certainly an Iranian product. It was used both for its nutritious and medicinal value, as well as a sacrament. What makes it so divine is its process of fermentation, and its gradual change of its bitterness to sweetness.

Figs are ours. I assume Iranians had so much of it that when they designed Heaven, they planted it there. Adam and Eve used the leaf as there first to cover their privates. The fruit has quite a magical texture inside.

And finally, nothing is more Iranian than persimmons, with that undefinable color.

A whole range of flowers could supply us with the beautiful titles. Lilacs, roses, pansies, jasmines, violets, wisteria , and also trees, such as willows and olive trees.

Among the animals, there are few beauties which are wonderful identity symbols. One is the goat. They were in west part of Iran and in almost every museum in the world there is at least one goat head of gold, silver or bronze from Iran particularly from Luristan.

My most favorite is the deer, with their beautiful eyes, elegant bodies and their dance like movements that could enchant anyone. I cannot imagine a map of Iran without some deer running through it. (I cannot resist mentioning that when my father married my mother, a tribal women from Luristan, and brought her to Tehran, he bought her a deer, so she would not be homesick.)

Horses are my favorite. They are beautiful and elegant. If we believe Herodotus, the horse is one of the three specialities of Iranians. (The other one is the bow and arrow. They are a bit dangerous but could be used rightly and elegantly--not by Dick Chaney--they could be beautiful symbols too.)

Apparently the Prophet Mani was the first painter who painted on the canvas or leather. He was the first one to use paint panel, which is such a pleasant, good-looking object.

And finally, the best of all are the literary similes, metaphors, and allusions which very easily could be adopted from our beloved poets. I recommend Saadi, since nobody's language has ever been as rich as his. And of course, among the moderns, Sohrab Sepehri who was such a magician when it came to similes.

At the risk of being called biased and prejudiced and even chauvinist, I cannot resist quoting Najib Mahfouz on something else which is very Iranian:

“Adam tiptoed warily into the room… He followed the left hand wall… Soon he found the table, he passed … He opened the door, and there he was slipping into the secret place that no one but his father had ever been entered… To the right was an ornate table and on it rested the thick volume, fastened to the wall with an iron chain… He crossed to the table and gazed at the cover of the book with its gold lettering, then stretched out his hand and opened it. He composed his thoughts and overcame his confusion with difficulty, then read in the Persian script: ‘In the Name of God.'”

I do not know if anyone can use it as a title, but those who have read Mahfouz's Children of Gebelaawi, know the book referred to is the God’s will. It is safe to assume that by Persian script he means the Avestan script. Well, on top of everything, we posses that honor as well. True, God has chosen the Jews, but He wrote His will in a language that only we Iranians could read. We have the legitimate power of attorney of God, we are heir to his will and with that goes all those words derived from it, heritage, heritance, legacy and the ninety nine names of God all belong to us! Hay!

So please buy a paint panel, use any two or three of all these and their variations and derivations and mix them together and borrow a few conjunctions and disjunctions and splash some nice color or perfume over it and come up with a nice title for your next masterpiece, and leave pomegranate, saffron, and Shiraz to those who used them first. Let your work come with an Iranian flavor and taste rather than just a name.

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