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.

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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,

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