Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Green Movement: Rebirth of Idealism

Sometimes I try to imagine what our old heroes would say if they were to see millions of young men and women dressed in the latest fashion, equipped with top-of-the-line cell phones and cameras, march and chant in streets of Iran knowing that the brutal police and Basij forces, not impressed with their fancy outfits or even their fancy demands of “human rights,” would crush them pitilessly.


They would very likely be as puzzled as many of us are today. Our analysts, being used to complex classical formulas for social movements, have a hard time fitting this particular one into any pattern known to them. Class struggle is missing; economic incentive is missing; and so is even any ideological motif. One can add as the main source of the problem the absence of any category of virtues packed together and often used interchangeably as rationality, practicality, objectivity, pragmatism, or finally, realism as opposed to idealism which is associated with impracticality and irrationality.

I do not intend to discuss the validity of such categories. Nor, would I even want to challenge those who equate idealism with irrationality, since they are simply wrong.

Surely it is not hard to notice that practicality is missing in the movement. No one can foresee that one day the Islamic Republic would give in to opposition forces who do not even posses regular conventional arms, and even if they are given any, not only are they incapable of using them, but they are ideologically, philosophically, socially and morally all vehemently against such practices. Moreover, how could anyone think that it is practical to win over the army of millions just by walking in the streets with fingers signaling V for victory? I assume that no victory was ever achieved in this fashion for Iran to follow.

Consequently, pragmatism is missing as well as rationality, of course by a narrow definition given by economical science, meaning choosing the easiest and the most accessible way to reach the desired end. Of course in this case, the goal itself seems to fluctuate as the event progresses, and the participants seem to enjoy their “participation” more than what it actually accomplishes.

Obviously the movement does not enjoy the support of history either. Not only has no similar pattern ever existed, but historical explanation has not yet come up with any theory to explain such a movement. Class struggle, more than anything else fails in this regard. I’m sure at this point our leftist friends are racking their brains to squeeze our Green friends into one of the classes allowed by their gurus, though so far nothing has come of it.

However, as we all have noticed, our young friends in the streets of Iran are marching with such a high spirit and such determination, with their happy and hopeful faces, that even the officials of the Islamic Republic do not know what to make of it. And even the police’s brutal suppression not only has been unable to douse their enthusiasm, but it has made them even more unwavering in their demands. Moreover, the movement is progressing at such an unexpected rate that analysts are wondering to what they should attribute such success. Even five months ago we could not imagine being where we are right now.

The success of the movement which earns the applaud of friends and foes alike, coupled with the feeling of “naiveté” associated with it tends to create a paradox, like most of Iranian political life. When few months ago, in reaction to one of the most violent scenes in street of Tehran, I commented “What should we do with these savages?” my friend, Alireza Darvish, responded “We should tame them.” And during the hunger strike in New York City, Shahrnoosh Parsipoor, the acclaimed Iranian writer, criticized the slogan “death to….” and said “Is it not enough to say shame on…” instead? Obviously it is only a poet who thinks of taming the savage and it is another one to object to violence, even figuratively speaking.

Oddly enough, the above-mentioned reactions are not just unique to these two who happened to be artists. This is a general mood in the country, which has lent its spirit to a movement with a non-violent and peaceful character. Of course, this degree of non-violence in a movement is not expected from a country that is sandwiched between neighboring countries that have harbored all sorts of terrorist groups, and has been run for three decade by a regime that is itself a strong supporter of terrorism.

Indeed, it is not only our young combatants, armed with their mobiles, cameras and green wrist bands wrestling with the armed forces of Islamic Republic, who appear naïve; the same could be said about our ex-patriots abroad who want to take the Islamic Republic to the International Court of Hague knowing full well that Iran has not signed the treaties with the Court in that regard.

But with a little attention, we would notice that only those obsessed with what we call reality see naiveté in this movement, those that are seeing only what exists and are oblivious to what does not exist, unaware of its forces, and unimpressed by its attractions. It is only the adherence to a brute pragmatism that does not hear the impatient cry of what has to come, and what ought to be created, and even worse the magic of the desired one. And here are the lovers of ideal who seek the the coming of those perfect beings that are like nothing on earth, pure beauty, and pure goodness, an end in themselves even if their like has never existed, even if they are formed only in minds and the hearts of those who seek them, something like freedom.

At the dawn of Islam, when the realism, rationalism, pragmatism of Islam were hatching in proximity of our land, the voice of Mansour Hallaj echoed in the market place of Baghdad running out (more likely nude) from bath and screaming “I’m God, I’m God.” Centuries later, when Islam saturated Iranian life and its reality became almost undeniable, another Sufi master wrote, “Let’s cut through the sky and design a new world there.” I do not know if any of these two Sufi masters were worried about reality, rationality, and pragmatism.

Crazy as it may sound, today after fourteen centuries passed, many rulers have come and gone, all equipped with tangible tools, power, foresight, and every possible means to implement what they thought as doable and workable, only very few of them left an impression in our minds. But we still treasure every single one of those who outraged many by their fanciful idealistic world of looking into vacuum and nothingness in search of some unreality they thought ought to exits somewhere.

Centuries later, our youth, with eyes open, fed up and bored by the brutal reality around them, by all those repetitive facts and figures which have imposed their unwanted existence on them, want to take refuge in the infinite, unlimited, perfect and beautiful world of the ideal which they can form to their hearts’ desire. They are fed up by the cold reality of chains, locks and prisons, by the unbearable lightness of what is just there. They are seeking the beauty of what ought to be there, the ideal that is waiting to be born. They are ready to draw a new design in the vast sky, smiling, shining, bright and promising. They are seeking an ideal they have no experience of, something that may not even have existed anywhere in the world, but so much the better, then it is guaranteed that it is perfect, just unique to itself. So far, they have called it democracy and who knows, they may even want to change it to something else. After all, it is the world of the ideal; and they are the artists and artisan, and the sky is their limit.





To read the rest, click here.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Woe to Life When Friend Dreads Friend. Subtitle by: Mina Zand Siegel

To read the rest, click here.

Listen to the Silence by Diane Babayan

Listen to the Silence
Diane Babayan
translation: Mina Zand Siegel

Listen to silence

It is there, all aound

Away from your sight

It is in full bursting

Conceived to give life

Like an egg to be hatched

Transparent and fragile

But strong for its form,

A perfect curve

That repeats itself,

For eternity.

Listen to silence,

That will talk to you

If you lend it your ears

It will retell you your life

What has happened

In the course of time

Without ever stopping

But it will sow its story

From the time past 

To the future

Over the path of your memory

Listen to silence

And you will hear the life

Of yours
And of others

Those buried treasures

Under the mountain of noise

The wastes of wars

Of lies and deceptions

Listen to silence

And you would be able to save the life

Yours 
And others’

Who hear nothing but the noise

These sounds that imprison 

The silence of life.

By Diane Babayan

Toronto, April, 30 2004

Translated: Mina Zand Siegel To read the rest, click here.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Postcards addressed to the United Nations: An Interview byPantea Bahrami

Postcards addressed to the United Nations


Pantea Bahrami

Translated from a posting in Radio Zamaaneh.



It is a 9’ X 9’painting, a tapestry whose texture consists of human beings, falling and rising yet again, with women whose bodies testify to decades of toil, suffering, struggle, humiliation, and strength, and finally, relief and freedom.


There are circles in swirling motion. These are the cycles of life, with no gap between them, in continual, ceaseless motion.


There are tens of colorful pencils, the symbols of the age-old history of human struggle for freedom, with the dazzling rainbow of their diversity, beyond their ethnicity, religion and gender; and there are ropes which have bound humanity for ages, and on-going efforts by men and women, day and night, to untie and free themselves from them.


Truly, human being must have been very tolerant to have survived so long against such hardships. Moreover, they must have had a love for and faith in something well beyond tolerance that made them continue their struggle, a belief and faith in protest and a hope for change. It is this desire and hope for change of the unacceptable and undesirable that made them to survive so far.


This is the description of the painting by Alireza Darvish, the painter and the filmmaker who lives in Koln, Germany. He says:



This painting does not refer to any specific geographical location, but has a universal and general objective. We live in a global village; we can neither isolate ourselves artificially from others nor avoid responding to events happening in it, regardless of our immediate location or interests.


At a cursory glance, the painting may appear to be a mere reflection of current events in Iran, but this is certainly not its point.


There are two different aspects to this painting, the inner circle and outward motion. The outer view regards human involvement and reaction to the events, and the crises of life, and inner view regards the artist’s inner personal reflections as well as reactions to these events and crises.


But this work does not have any specific emphasis on Iran today. Indeed, it has a much broader issue in its content.




This painting is published on post cards in the United States to echo the voice of millions of people and to make an ocean of protests from them.


“In condemnation of Coup Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s crimes against humanity,” is written on the back of the cards.


Mina Siegel, the cards’ producer, explains:


The main impetus was, of course, the events which arose after the elections and the crimes which were revealed—the murders, rapes, tortures and forced confessions. They were all terrifying events, but what I have in mind when I say “crime against humanity” is way beyond those events. By “crime,” I mean the kind of crime which happened and victimized a vast majority of the people, something that we have got used to and thought of as not so important since it is so common that it has become a matter of fact, ordinary.


These last thirty years, I have come across Iranians, many of them my teachers, writers, playwrights, scholars, and artists, whose lives have been devoted to Iranian art and culture, whose identities were profoundly intertwined with the Persian language and culture. They had no existence beyond that and now they have no options.


These were the most frightening things I have ever faced in my life. I thought we should do something, we should raise our voices.


In fact, those she has in mind are greater in number than those experts who, after leaving the country, were not able to function without their mother tongue and become creative and survive. What she refers to are those who are stripped of their identity an therefore their dignity, those who have to step down just in order to make living, namely a vast majority of Iranian in exile.


Mina Siegel continues:



Our pressure on the UN to condemn the Islamic Republic for all the crimes against humanity is quite symbolic. This is crime against humanity that is happening all over the world and not only in Iran. Our country is just a small spot in the world; we won’t live in peace if the world is not in peace, and the world is not going to be a better place if each of its small members won’t live in humane condition. We do not get any better if we keep silent. We are the only ones who can possibly solve our problems.



These cards are addressed to the Secretary General of the United Nations. Mina Siegel talks about the quantity of these cards and the way she expect to become global:



Under these circumstances I unfortunately had to publish these cards with my private funds. Due to my limitations, I have published only ten thousand and another ten thousand are in the process of being printed. Hopefully we can increase their volume as we go along.


I have no intention of limiting these to Iran or Iranians. I hope this will become a global movement. In the United States I have counted on university students, young people and all those who are concerned about the future of the world we live in.



The stamps or the post cards that are published so far in Europe and elsewhere about the green movement have been very straightforward and the viewer will notice the message at the first glance. This is exactly what distinguishes these cards from others. In this regard, Alireza Darvish believes:



We should not expect to impress our audience with simple polemics alone. A work of art can sometimes be more impressive by its implications.


I have used the colors very consciously. I have filled the gray colors that surrounded the atmosphere with sharp and vivid colors, and by so doing I have expressed my own hope in that particular moment.


I think the events unfolding in Iran involve everyone in the world. Though the people in Iran have experienced them in their flesh and bones, we all, wherever we are in the world, have experienced its pain, their pain, as well. We all carry it in our minds and hearts wherever we are.



I asked Mina Siegel what would be achieved if 30,000 or even 50,000 of these cards would be sent to the UN? To that she responds:



Our main goal is to take the Islamic Republic to an International Court and put it in trial. This is a petition for the Secretary General to deliver the Iranian case to the Security Council in order for it to deliver it to the International Court of Hague. This is in accordance with existing protocols; the Iranian case cannot be filed directly with Hague.


Truly, the green movement, with its bold and sound actions of the last few months, gave me the encouragement to embark on this project, to raise our voices in support of this legal suit.



How could one obtain these cards? Mina Siegel explained,



We can send these cards to Europe with no difficulty, and those in Iran could ask their friends in Europe, Canada or US to fill some up on their behalf and mail them to the UN.


Our email address is : un4iran@gmail.com and our website is un4iran.blogspot.com


To read the rest, click here.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Pedal 4 Green: Ambassadors of Hope


Hassan Alizadeh and Amir Hossein Ahmadi were not unfamiliar names to us. I met Mr. Alizadeh at the Brooklyn Film Festival in 2005. I think it was his demeanor and athletic comportment which impressed so many of us and compelled us to put aside our competitiveness and wish that their documentary, made about their four-year trip around the world, would win the grand prize. Unfortunately, well-wishers were not the jurors in the festival. But the features of these two champions won the prize of our hearts and minds. My husband and I had no difficulty recognizing them as they walked into our home. “Yes, that’s them!” I uttered as I led them into our sitting room. Indeed, the entire documentary came back to me.
While staying with us, Hassan and Amir Hossein created another documentary worthy of another prize. This time, the documentary was a live narrative of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s downfall and the grand jury consisted of my family of five, plus my two dogs. They won the prize unanimously with six votes. (One of the dogs, Omar Khayyam, nicknamed “Mojtaba,” abstained.)

“When did you leave Iran?” I asked.
“Yesterday,” one of them answered.
I rubbed my eyes to make sure I was not dreaming. “Just 24 hours away from the news? First hand news?” I could not believe it.
“How was everything? Do people know about the news? Is everything kept away from them? Do they hear from us? Is what we are doing here important? Do they hear us at all? Do they have any expectation from us?” I could not wait for an answer before launching into another question.
“Oh, by the way, are you hungry? Do you want something to drink? Are you tired? Do you want to take a nap until dinner time?” And again, here I was with another series of motherly questions, not giving them a chance to answer. Finally one of them, I think it was Amir Hossein, replied: “No thank you. We are fine.”
Serioja, (nick named “mini-Mojtaba”), our little dog, ran downstairs and sheepishly crawled over Amir Hossein’s shoos and grabbed the string of his shoes which led him to discover the edges of his socks and then the rims of his pants and here we lost both our dog and our guest together. They were running from room to room playing hide and seek with each other with a mixture of laughter and barks.
The round of telephone calls started. Friends wanted to know what we all wanted to know. BBC, VOA, and few others called back. The press along with the rest of us wanted to know not so much about them but about the life in streets of Tehran, “Allaho akbar!” on the rooftops, injured patients in the hospitals, prisoners in Evin, journalists cooped up in the offices of the closed newspapers and finally the young defenseless people in the street meeting danger and even ready to die. In response to every question these trubador-champions unveiled with ease the mystery of this phenomenal courage. Well-informed and fully aware, balanced, devoid of bitterness or anger, very humbly with their answers, they created another puzzle, they themselves turned into the object of curiosity.
Passing by them, on my way to kitchen while they were on the phone, I could not help but overhearing their conversations with their wives, friends and a few interviews they gave. I do not make any apology for hearing them, nor for repeating them. Explaining their mission, knowing that they would very likely wind up in Evin Prison upon their return, I would hear them saying over and over, “The movement belongs to the people, it does not belong to Mousavi or Karoubi for that matter, though I voted for Karoubi myself. But they are far behind the people. We pedal for the movement; we want to bring the movement to the United States more than any other place,” without any boasting or reproach or even defensiveness.
“But your wives?” almost everyone seemed to asked them. “They knew whom they married, and still, they are no better or worse than all those women in prisons. They would have done exactly the same as we are if they were in our position” They said this not only with certainty, but with respect and love. I could envision their wives as lovely, caring, independent women whose trust and confidence in their husbands had encouraged them to such an undertaking.
They were not anxious, not even when the bicycle store called and made lousy excuses for delaying the delivery of their bicycles and helmets and other accessories. They were not annoyed when the activists who were supposed to welcome them in New York were too busy to see them. And they never lost their temper when they were repeatedly checkmate by my brother. However, if I could attribute their mental balance and their acceptance of failure and loss to their general athletic training, I was most puzzled by a very unique character which sports alone could not possibly explain: their air of freedom.
The champions carried with them an aura of freedom unique to themselves. Surely it won’t match the one in Islam’s encyclopedia or Ahmadinejad’s. It was not lawlessness which some erroneously takes for freedom. Not of the kind in which one allows ones self to indulge in bars. It was not one which carries guilt, either, or, for that matter, not one that prevents others from pursuing their happiness. And above all, it was not the kind for which one needs permission. Their freedom was part of their being, something they were born with, a guilt-free freedom, the kind of freedom which allows one to live the life s/he wants to live responsibly, with a clear mind, without force and without any pressure from inside or outside.
I think it was it was this sense of freedom which they shared with our other youth in Iran. Here we were fortunate to see in person the full and live image of what we have seen these last few months, in disbelief, on TV or online, the kind of freedom we observed in the face of all those determined youth who faced brutality with courage, the one we saw sadly in Neda’s last look, in the innocent face of Sohrab, in the courageous departure of Rouholamini, in Kianoush Mehrassa; It is the same we saw in brilliant actions of Iranian women during last thirty years, and our youth during the last two decades, a kind of freedom that is given to us directly by God when He created us, the most beautiful gift from our Creator that we all would make sacrifices to hold on to it as long as we live.
Being a host to these two young athletes, I learned that we Iranians have finally come up with our own definition of freedom, thanks to our young generation who defined it for us. It seems that Iranians have finally departed from the classical-mystic definition of the term, and have defined it in terms of taking the initiative to stay in charge and accept responsibility for their lives, political or otherwise.
For twelve days and half I saw only two, but heard and envisioned millions of young, handsome, healthy, happy, cheerful, responsible, intelligent, well-informed, and clear-headed Iranians going forward without doubt, but carefully; knowingly, but not arrogantly; steadfast and determined, but not aggressive to where they want to live: somewhere in a land of light, freedom and equality. They were going to spread the message of Iranian youth wherever it is appreciated.
We took them to the Brooklyn Bridge to depart, the bridge which brought so much excitement as when a poet-writer, Stephen Crane named one of his collections to the occasion “The Brooklyn Bridge” as a symbol of connection. The choice was as deliberate as our champions were here for a mission: to connect.
We bade farewell to them, but yet we did not. We just said something very vague, something like when one doesn’t know what to say, like mumbling, like whispering. I don’t know if we said “take care” or “comeback soon” or “have a safe trip.” I do not know what we said, but somehow I heard a voice, “Yes, that was it,” though I don’t know who said it, which one of us said it, I think it came from over the bridge as they pedaled away from us, turned back, and waved to us, before disappearing into the traffic of by passers over the bridge. The voice was still heard; it was not one or two , it was like a wave, like a chorus, a huge chorus of some millions of voices. I kept hearing it, it got stronger and stronger: “We are not going away, we are just gathering, we are just getting together, we are growing, we hold hands, and we raise our voices. We stay together, we stay together, we would never say good-bye, never say good-bye, never say good-bye…..”

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Sunday, September 06, 2009

"Islamic Republic, Nothing More, Nothing Less"

“Islamic Republic, not a single word less and not a single word more.”
At two in the morning, I anxiously went to the computer room and clicked on Facebook. Masih Alinejad was online with people in Tehran who were giving a minute by minute report from the “tahlif” ceremony, an Islamic term for inauguration.
At 4:30 I fell sleep after I was certain that Ahmadinejad would be our next president, if not by our vote then just by the measure of the Supreme Leader and his cronies’ chutzpah. Later on, when I woke up, I roamed around to find something comforting. Roozbeh Mirebrahimi had a wonderful article on Gooya News. Balanced and professional as always, he wrote about the slogans and goals of the green movement and Mousavi’s controversial statement in response to the current slogan chanted by people, “Esteqlal, Azadi, Jomhuri Irani”—Independence, Freedom, Iranian Republic.

He denounced the slogan and dissociated himself as well his office from it. He very adamantly repeated Khomeini’s statements early in the revolution that “Jomhuri Islami, not a single word less and not a single word more.”


While Mousavi leaves himself open to some criticism, particularly from those abroad, still, he wins some support as well. Roozbeh Mirebrahimi defends him, even finding his conservative view advantageous. He believes that Mousavi, a legitimate child of Khomeini’s revolution, sincerely brings about those promised ideals which had never been achieved and makes a commitment to reviving them as part of his agenda. However, while admitting that slogans evolve as the movement progresses, he leaves aside the necessity of the natural emergence of this particular slogan (Islamic Republic, not a single, etc.) and emphasizes the necessity of unity among the protesters for the sake of attaining their goal, a democratic government and the rule of law. I assume, by combining these two arguments, he is trying to convince us to ignore the phrase “Islamic Republic, not a single, etc.”

The Green movement’s slogan, “Where is our vote” changed to “Mousavi, Mousavi retrieve our votes” when faced with resistance, and then to “Death to dictator” and “My dear martyr, I retrieve the blood you shed, I retrieve your vote” when they were confronted with bullets. Obviously it was the situation which changed the slogans and not the other way around. The changes of icons in our Facebook took place in the same fashion. Early days “Where is my vote” with green background was turned into bloody hands over a green background when the police turned to violence and murdered the people, then changed to a green sign reading “I confess” after the wave of forced confession aroused sympathy and compassion in us. However, the slogan of “Jomhuriye Eslami” being replaced with
Jomhuriye Irani did not resulted from any evolutionary change of events, but is the outcome of an historical process and political maturity. It is not only the change of situation which calls for chanting such a daring slogans, but an awareness of a fundamental question which should have come much sooner.

The rise of the Islamic Republic was so rapid and unexpected that none of us found it suitable to question the fundamental principals or the justification for the institutes established by its founders. Even the referendum took place without people knowing what they were really voting for or why. As I recall, it just gave the people the chance to confirm the Islamic Republic even before the constitution of Islamic Republic was composed. The result was thirty years of chaos, murder, imprisonment, imposition and backwardness. (To be fair, it also meant lots of pretty highways, and universities on every corner, though many of them do not have enough faculty and staff.) One might also, sadly and embarrassingly, add the ignorance and political immaturity of our generation as one of the major contributors. So the Islamic Republic’s founder, Khomeini, was left unchallenged as to what he meant by Islamic Republic and its governance, or the legitimacy of Islamic rules for a country with such a secular history.

To question the legitimacy of a regime or even the foundation of the governmental system is not the domain of elites or scholars. Any responsible citizen has a right to question the legitimacy of its government. They have a right to ask any amount of words they like, Why shouldn’t they ask for nothing more or nothing else but the Islamic Republic? Really, why not? What is so virtuous in an Islamic Regime? Didn’t it kill? Didn’t it rape? Didn’t it torture? Didn’t it cheat? Didn’t it lie? Didn’t it strip people of their dignity? Didn’t it violate people’s basic rights? Didn’t it demolish all civil foundations? Didn’t it abolish whatever was left of something called “law”? Didn’t it ignore the Constitutions? Didn’t it violate all humane norms? And didn’t it do all this according to the laws of the sharia? Really, what else didn’t it do? What else should it do for us to question its legitimacy, or even desirability?

“Real Islam…” is the usual cliché which has been used again and again during the last thirty years to cover up all the abuses. The reformist clerics and laymen have used it equally as if it is another denomination of Islam. But we are still wondering as to its actuality and its virtue. Where was that real Islam to save all these cleric and ayatollahs from free fall? Why could it not stop the pious from walking to hell? What is good about a religious system if its “real version” would become mixed up with its “false version” so easily, even being indistinguishable to the experts? And what guarantees that the one which is called “real” today won’t turn out even more “false” tomorrow? Is human instinct for corruption so strong? Is the seat of power in this earthly life dearest too? If yes, then why bother? Why should we bear such an imposition? Why should we follow those rules which could not save those who are supposed to be immune from fall, those who are the God’s emissaries?

Unfortunately such embarrassing statements, coming from the man who is supposed to be our legitimate president, won’t help the movements at all. Mousavi could have ignored the slogan and just maintain his individual right as to take his distance from it. He should have known that he is not the leader of this movement, but just an elected president. And he should have known that he has no role as to what people in street will chant, the chants are the direct result of people’s “experience” which translates into one word: Democracy, not a word more and not a word less. People did not stumble on this word and did not receive an instruction from anybody, foreign or native, and won’t alter it on anybody’s advice. They have learned that the Islamic regime won’t bring them even close to what they call democracy.

However it is so fortunate that our third generation, moje sevomi ha, know what Mousavi doesn’t. It is so fortunate that they are wiser than we were some thirty years ago. It is so fortunate that they are bolder. It is so fortunate that they are more liberated. It is so fortunate that they have more self-confidence. It is so fortunate that they know for sure what they want. It is so fortunate that they are not willing to settle for anything less than what they want. It is so fortunate that they want democracy. It is so fortunate that during the last thirty years they have learned that Islam won’t bring them democracy. It is so fortunate that they, willingly, would let Mousavi go if Mousavi does not want to follow them. And finally, it is so fortunate that Khatami is a witness to all these, and can tell Mousavi “listen kiddo, these are not those naïve kids of thirty years ago. They are tough. I know what I’m talking about. I trained them. It is true you are the legitimate son of Khomeini’s revolution, but these are the legitimate kids of the Khatami School of Reform and Liberation.”

To read the rest, click here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Mahbod Seraji, The Rooftops of Tehran

In chaotic atmosphere leading up to the election, or worse, the election’s aftermath, when all the human codes of decency have been ignored, and when my countrymen and women have been striped from their last thread of dignity, I felt it is so untimely to remind myself and my readers of what we were once upon a time. It was in that spirit that I delayed my review of The Rooftops of Tehran. I hesitated, too, fearing that few, besides ourselves, would believe the gentility, peace and wisdom displayed in this novel to be the genuine and true textures of Iranian culture. I wanted to leave my review for a better time to come to, the wonderful day that I can envisage coming soon. On the other hand, the similarity of the situations, hammering on my mind, urged me to write. I could resist no more.



The story is happening as during the last days of Pahlavis when the people’s dissatisfaction merged with their fearlessness and lead them to street protests. Mahbod Seraji, a teenager at the time, I guess, recorded his own account of the event as a witness to history. Oddly enough, his testimony comes exactly when our younger generation is protesting against the very same regime whose foundation Seraji’s characters paved the way for. Very likely, most of our young protesters today are under the impression that their predecessors were responsible for all they pay for with their lives. I think this book stands by the truth, tells us things as they happened, and shows the way we were!


Seraji’s account of the last days prior to the revolution is more colorful than the black and white pictures fed us for the last thirty years by media, analysts, academics, political scientists and even by few writers who tried to gives us a taste of those days through their memoirs. What distinguishes his narrative from the others is that the narrator, who appears not to be so courageous, takes refuge in the rooftop of his home. In the safety of that elevated enclave, where the entire community becomes a big family under the sky, where only an unguarded short wall sets the moral, ethical and physical limit for each, and where unspoken laws guarantees everybody’s privacy and security, he observes from a distance what those who courageously fight in the streets could not see themselves. Protected with the love, compassion, and friendship he enjoys within his family, friends and community, wrapped in wit and humor, he feels secure enough to observe life as it was. Dicken’s “it was the best of times, it was the worse of times,” echoes all through his narrative.


From the rooftops of Tehran, we hear a harmonious chorus of young Pasha, Zari, Ahmad, Fahimeh, Masked Angel, Doctor, and their parents singing a melodious song that is not so unfamiliar to our ears. Love, compassion, friendship, trust, and respect echoes into each other to provide a safe haven for our youth to grow to amazing individuals who are willing to give unhesitatingly and as graciously to receive.


What I liked the most about the story was that author traced the last vestiges of men and women in our pre revolution history whose action and whose behavior was not dictated by the books, slogans, and fashionable political ideology but from their youthful experiences, seasoned by their old culture. The story opens up with our fellow narrator, Pasha, teases his mother for her homeopathic remedies and concoctions she makes for his mental and physical stability, and grouches against his father who made him and Ahmad to abide with the unwritten codes of fraternity of athletes which forbids fighting with those who are weaker than oneself, the rules of a non existing society!


As the story progresses, the narrator moves slowly away from his mother’s homeopathic pantry and his father’s non-existing fraternity athletic society, to the periphery of the neighborhood beyond their alley where there is something called authority, force, police, security, batons, guns, arrests, prison, torture and murder. Oddly enough, his high school is where he received his first taste of each. His math teacher, the embodiment of the whole system, forced him to decide the road to his future. That is where he chose his father’s way of life, maturity, wisdom, justice, and freedom. He never regretted it to the end.


Along with other characters in the book, he learns to defy the injustice and to fight for his rights not through ideological training or the fashionable theories dictated to him, not even through what was generally believed, the militant or revolutionary religious teachings, but through following numerous national elites. The ideal society of The Rooftops of Tehran is not formed or modeled by the Communist nations aiming to achieve a proletarian government, nor to create a model of religious Medina. Love for democracy is the heartbeat of pre-revolution Iran.


Indeed this novel is so unique, even iconoclastic, as a literary piece. No clash between the characters, no clash between the classes, no clash between generations and no clash between genders. No opposite forces, no personal conflicts, inner or outer. What we have studied in the development of the story fails us right from the start. The favorable response of Zari, Doctor’s fiancé, to Pasha’s love and their warm innocent, guiltless love for each other might even surprise our Western readers. Zari’s parents’ recognition and acknowledgment of their relationship is unexpected, even though they knew that there is a very strong emotional bond between them. The freedom these young people enjoyed and the respect their parents showed their choice and decision counters all the stereotyping in the region’s culture. Fahimeh’s courageous and liberated decision to reject the suitor her parents had chosen for her and her steady relationship with Ahmad, for example, are not exactly classical tools in writing a love story. The absence of love pain and love sickness, family or gender abuse, emotional cruelty within the family and friends that in normal sense is a receipt for failure, makes the story even more attractive. None of the above detracts from the charm and sweetness of this work, nor does it diminish the reader’s urge to read further. The curiosity it arouses in the reader is not due to an artificial or cliché conflict, but to a genuine excitement of watching a skillful performance. Indeed, these groups of kids with an awesome maturity, half intuitively and half thoughtfully, go through a life full of turbulence and emerge magnificently. The characters in this story enjoy a kind of freedom provided to them by Seraji’s generosity more likely to compensate for what they lacked in their real life and what was denied them politically and socially.



In his review Thomas Vincent mildly objects to so many heroes, almost everyone, in one novel. “It is too good to be true,” he says. I felt a bit flattered by this objection and I think any Iranian, including Mahbod Seraji, would feel the same. I would like to reassure the critic that by no means is it fanciful to have all these heroes in one story. Thank Heavens we have live witnesses on our side. These last two months, Iranians by the millions have displayed such an amazing show of gentility, humanity, and culture that no one should be surprised to see a book full of heroes. Seraji could have written a novel with hundreds of heroes if it were technically possible. Yes, “too good to be true,” but hey! That is who we are: exactly, too good to be true!



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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Mani's Conversion

I rushed to the kitchen to prepare food, sabzi polaw and fish, my usual fast food! My guests very graciously had let me neglect my duty as a host for few days, so I wanted to make it up to them in their last night’s stay in New York on Friday. Food was simple but the table was elaborate, with all my sets of green china and glasses to match not only my green dinning room but our Green Movement and our Green Youth and hopefully our Green Victory.


After dinner, my guests started to pack. Elahe has promised Darya, her granddaughter, to be in Montreal before 4 pm on Saturday. However Mani, my friend’s son did not want to go back on Saturday. I felt something very emotional was happening since Mani switched to French, the language that he is more fluent in, when he said grumpily, “I should stay for tomorrow and leave the following day by bus.”

“We all came together and we should all leave together,” His mother declared authoritatively.

“It is all my fault. I said I can go alone by bus and you all can come whenever you feel like coming,” Darya said with tears in her eyes.

“No Darya jan, your grandma won’t let you go alone. They feel responsible to take you back home as they promised to your parents,” Mani’s mother said.

“I can go by bus on Sunday. I know how to get the bus. I should stay here for tomorrow’s march,” Mani said, as if knowing he was crossing a narrow line.

“But we all should go back tomorrow, you knew it, and you agreed, didn’t you?” his mother said.

“Oh, please, we are not in court and we are not putting a kid on trial,” I wanted to tell his mother but I kept quiet.

“Ya, I did, but that was three days ago; do you understand? Three days is a long time, Mom! Something has awakened in me during last three days. I feel something now that I didn’t feel before; something that I did not even know existed. Tomorrow, everybody is marching, people from all over the world march for us, from South America, from Europe, form Africa, from Australia, they all march for us when I, who should be there, sit in the back of the car and drive to Canada to go the a party! No, I can’t do that, I must be here.” The words were pouring out of Mani’s mouth as if he had no control over them, as if he did not need to think about them.

“It’s entirely my fault, I should not have come, I know it is my fault, I ruined everything for all of you. What if I go tomorrow by myself and you can come after the march.” Darya said, almost crying.

Mani went toward her and gently patted her on the back and said, “No dear, it is not your fault. You did not do anything wrong. It is me who is changing his mind and can’t help it. You did nothing wrong, otherwise I would not talk to you.”
“But listen! Don’t be so childish …” his mother started to say but stopped suddenly and just stared at him as if in disbelief.

I felt an urge to jump in and give my unsolicited advice to his mother. I felt an urge to scream at his mother and tell her “the hell with the stupid party you want to go. Remember your own youth and your own rebellion. Remember when your father brought you from Tabriz, to Tehran to go to law school. And remember the promises you made to your father about staying away from the line of opposition to the Shah, and remember how you broke them all and did what your heart told you to do. Remember that you never regretted any of them. Remember that was some forty years ago, and you were a little provincial girl and not a young person grown up and educated in cosmopolitan cities such as Paris and Montreal, and remember that by breaking your promise you did not fall into disgrace. Remember that nothing happened. Remember that for years in law school, in spite of everything, again and again, you have used promise-braking as a paradigm for the most unethical behavior!" Yes, I wanted to tell her she broke her agreements with her father on such an important issue and she still became such a dignified lawyer. I wanted to tell her that a little contradiction and deviation of this sort seems inevitable at certain age. I wanted to tell her…

I had the urge to say even more. But I did not. I just felt the futility of it all. Not that she won’t recall what I wanted her to; very likely she would. But the futility of urging someone to do something that she is not willing to do. I felt it is irrelevant if Mani comes to the march on Saturday or not, or even if by some miracle everyone decides to stay for the march on Saturday, or simply letting him stay with my responsibility to arrange his trip back the following day. What was most significance was Mani’s spontaneity and his eagerness to grasp the new breath of his experience. Sitting in a rocking chair and swinging back and forth, he looked more like a mother nursing her baby with passion. Indeed, he was nursing a new born, a precious little feeling. It seems the last three days he was transported to another life and was returned with an adopted child which he did not want to let go of. “Yes, I must stay here,” echoed vehemently, though, it was uttered gently as a whisper. I felt the young man sitting a few feet away from me was miles away from the little boy I saw in 2000 with all the characteristic of a twelve year old so absorbed with his personal needs. Responsibility, compassion, sympathy, love, and connectedness towards millions unknown has found a venue for display, and he was wise enough not to loose the opportunity.

I felt no need for my interference. I felt what was supposed to be achieved had been achieved already. Mani in French expressed what his new friends, who were unknown to him up a few days before, would have expressed in Farsi on the streets of Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz or Mashhad. I had no doubt that he would have marched with his friends in Iran somewhere without fear, without hesitation had he been there. He had truly become one with those millions in Iran.

It was three a.m. when I left mother and son to decide the way they usually make other decisions in life. A few hours later when I woke up they were loading their belongings into the car. Mani was going as well. He gave me a warm hug and said “Khaleh Mina, I’ll be back soon.” I responded with a much warmer squeeze and wished him well. I stayed on the road with a pitcher of water to splash at the back wheels of their car for a safe trip and watched until they disappear into the traffic.

I have no doubt that Mani gave in so easily because in reality he did not give in. I’m convinced he thought the way I thought. I’m convinced in his heart he felt it does not matter if he would march with us in New York City or ride in car to Montreal. In the reality of his heart, he had made a bond with his fellow Iranians that he felt no need to display.

I went to the march thinking all the way about Mani and his excitement. A memory came back to me. I recalled when some seven years ago I obtained my Iranian passport after twenty five years with a not-so-flattering photo of mine, wearing a black scarf, attached to its first page, along with usual personal information. I read that few lines of information at least hundred times a day for a while. The passport was placed on the night table next to the books I read at night. For months it was the last thing I would look at before sleeping and the first I would look at on opening my eyes. I even thought that photo was the prettiest I ever had. Even to this day I have never cherished anything more than that sudden sense of belonging given to me by touching that little red booklet or reading its content. I can never forget the sensation of reading my name and my family name, most significantly, the place of birth! I would never forget the pleasure and a sense of security I found within that little booklet. I felt I had found a place to live safely, among a clan who would give me refuge with love and compassion if it is needed. I felt I’m not lonely anymore, I felt I’m together with many, with so many. I felt “fear no more.”

I was marching and thinking of Mani in the back seat of the car, secure and safe, knowing he is not alone, knowing he is with many, and would “fear no more,” listening to his favorite musician, Alizadeh. (Mani is student in a music academy.) I thought he is as excited as I was with my Iranian passport. I wished I could have taken a photo of Mani’s feeling, I wished I would have been a painter and draw that sense of belonging, that sense of awakening, and then I would frame it, frame it with pure gold and place it in a high place somewhere, very high, close to God maybe, on a prayer mat, above the piano he plays, over the fireplace he gazes, at or simply next to his bed, to look at it every morning and every night, the first and the last.

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Four Glorious Days for Iran

Three days of hunger strike ended with a most beautiful day of solidarity

rallies all over the world, including our city of New York. Words said, pictures taken, interviews done, speeches made to condemn the fraudulent election and violations of human rights, and pleas made for peace, and encouragement given to the world not to forget us on our way to democracy.


I have so little to say about who said and did what. Yes, we all had the green wristbands, we all participated, some few thousands of us in New York alone. Lots of people came from Canada, Washington State, Virginia, Washington DC, Pennsylvania, Florida North Carolina, etc., many with their family, many even with their dogs. And many missed the occasion as well, most likely because they were busy, though, I should say they missed so much.

Among those who did not come, I regret the young children of my friends who had gone to the movies or to the beach. Not that the movement was damaged by their absence, but they missed one of the most precious experiences in life: being a very genuinely proud Iranian, and something more even: to be a witness to a golden page of history.

For three decades we Iranian were imposed upon by a government of abnormity, a government of innovation created out of a vacuum of statesmanship as well as wisdom and foresight. For three decades those bearded clerics sprang out of nowhere, ruled according to their will and ignored whatever Iranian culture or international norms prescribed. The abuse of power had never been reached to such degree in Iranian history even during reign of Arab Muslims, Mongols or Timorids.

Most intolerable is the deceitfulness involved in their ruling. The ruling clerics not only violated all norms in the name of Islam, (I should admit that I can’t possibly care less about this) but our name, Iranians, as well. Not only have they represented themselves as the emissaries of God and His appointees on earth, but as our delegates. The world around us, being preoccupied with its own problem, sluggishly and carelessly embraced the idea. We all were portrayed as friends of Hamas and Hezbollah and were tagged as terrorists within a short period of time, a picture that we all resented in every way.

On Saturday in front of the UN, excited and energized even after four days of walking and talking and fasting and after a long walk from Times Square to the UN with quite a bit of zigzagging, from the South African Embassy to the Office of Iran’s Delegation to the UN, I ran to some old friends from our student days, all happy and smiling, proud and content at have come back together for a glorious conclusion. Lots of kisses and hugs, “Isn’t this elegant?” I asked rhetorically. “Yes very elegant, exactly the kind of revolution you like,” one of my friend teased. “Why not?” I thought without making any apology for my taste. Indeed I do not take the word elegant so lightly. Isn’t it always coupled with orderly, cultured and civilized?

Indeed, how else we could describe the movement? How many nations reacted, in defiance, like us to a military coup? Half dizzy and half excited, I look around in order to find something to concentrate on. Though I could not decide where to focus, I finally managed to fix my attention when Faramarz started to play his sitar and sing, accompanied by a saxophone and daft. In one corner, a lady with her beautiful Papillion in her arm was singing with the crowd, another man with his pooch, name Apple, lying on the ground in fatigue, standing there attentively. (Thanks to all those pooches who came to rally with a green band around their necks, not only to show their support but to restore our reputation: Iranian do not hate dogs!) Across the fence separating the demonstration from First Avenue’s by passers, one could not miss the admiring look of the people who were watching us. Puzzled by what they were looking at, more likely they would have thought us as holding a celebration if a few signs of “Free All Political Prisoners” had not betrayed us.

Later on, looking at the gallery of the photos from the event, I was so pleased to see indeed we looked very elegant. Noam Chomsky looked very cheerful. Gee, he was even smiling! Reza Bareheni, though looked much older, appeared quite content, very likely since someone remembered his theory of Masculine History. Ganji looked as if he had never heard the word fatigue in his life; Masoumeh Shafii, smiling at someone very shyly. I think she was explaining that she is not Fatemeh Haghihgatjoo ; Nayereh Tohidi, gallant and dignified as always, seemed to be offering her seat to someone else. Does she ever loose her attentiveness? I wondered. Kazem Alamdarian looked as fresh and happy in all the pictures taken from day one to the last. And oh, yes, my beloved husband who fasted all three days and left his computer behind for four consecutive days, was almost on all the gallery photos. I do not know how he did it, I mean leaving the computer at home!


And finally those kids! Sadra and Company with their yellow shirts, warm, pleasant, proud, and happy. They did not need to be in any photos, they would stay in our heart forever for all their composure, style, management, and smiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiles! Oh yes, fear no more!
Food was brought for those who had fasted. I ran after my husband, preventing him form eating much, but it was too late; he already had got to desert, sholezard. Well, I had to be a little generous; he really did not eat for all three days. I had just a date which with my luck was not sweet.

The program ended like usual Iranian gatherings: no one wanted to leave. “We should get together again,” “Lets not to wait for the next crisis,” “We really should not let go of this momentum,” “Call me and let’s get together,” “We really….”, and more hugs and more kisses, and handshake, again and again.
It was six o’clock that it was announced that we should leave. In fact, we should have left some half an hour earlier. And again the traffic of invitations and promises for the next time and again lots of “We should really….” We were the last one leaving, followed by janitors with brooms and garbage bags sweeping after us.

“Did they ever see such a jolly adult demonstration against brutality and violence?” I thought to myself when leaving.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Look at my husband's blog!

Dear friends,
VOA accidently posted the address of my blog instead of my husbands! You're welcome to visit here, but please also visit his blog, at http://www.qlineorientalist.com/IranRises
Thanks!
And here is the rest of it. To read the rest, click here.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Lessons of Revolutions Past

The presidential elections in Iran started with huge excitement, followed by grief, followed by disappointment, followed by shock, followed by devastation by the shameless brutality of men who came to spread peace and justice to all, and finally, came to a standstill. We Iranians of the older generation sadly remember the uprising of 1979, and some even the 1953 coup, and wonder what to expect next.


Although there are none among us to remember the constitutional movement of 1906 which put an end to the absolute monarchy and started a new page in Iranian history, many of us, the students of history, are delighted to detect the lessons learned from those golden era are being faithfully implemented by our younger generation today.

In 1979, as a student in the United States, I was glued to the television when Ayatollah Khomeini emerged from obscurity to fame and from exile to leadership, thanks to the media. Passing from anger to amazement to despair to rage and back to resignation in a heartbeat, I came to understand a page of our history which I had missed as a child then, the 1953 CIA coup that toppled our democratically-elected government of Dr. Mossadegh and returned the Shah to power. In those days, the excitement of revolution did not let us see the similarity of the events, which would have prevented us from going astray, and so we did go astray. But today it seems the youngers are much too wise and better equipped (thanks to the internet) to commit the same mistake we did.

Witnessing these two uprising with the same intense interest, from the same standpoint physically, emotionally, and intellectually, I’m amazed not only at the emergence of more and more fundamental difference between the two recent events, but the degree to which the traits of the Constitutional Revolution can be observed in the recent uprising.

The sectarian nature of 1979 revolution naturally did not embrace us all. Not only the minorities, but the secular Iranian had to force themselves and hide their disappointment under a fake veil of “after all we are Muslims.” When the leftists came to the game with their artificially-induced “class struggle”, I felt the last nail was hammered into the coffin by the Islamic Republic as an Islamic coup against the Iranians’ legitimate demands for democracy.

It happened that it took us some thirty years for the shock to wear off and for us to accept our failure and, more so, to accept responsibility for our mistakes and the price we ought to pay for it. Though it happened that those of us who made the mistake are living in the safety of “old age”, well-respected by Iranians, the price to pay is left to our offspring!

It took us some thirty years to learn that there is no “class struggle” in Iran, but cultural struggle, and that neither of the preceding movements was anything but a demand for democracy and the establishment of democratic institutions such as a constitution and a parliament. That the participants in those uprising crossed over the divisions set by class, gender, or ethnicity, and their demands were more in the nature of cultural change (as much as I try to avoid the terminology for fear of being identified with Maoism) than political.

It took us thirty years to find out that we did not need to have any leaders, charismatic or otherwise, with beards or without, with a halo or a ring, to shepherd us. If there were a few who appeared as leaders in Constitutional Movement, they were in fact just like a placard and banner whose function is to carry on the message written on them by others; and Dr. Mossadegh always considered himself a representative rather than a leader. It seems that where there is no such hierarchy of the leadership, the movements have a better fate in our society (i.e. recent Campaign for One Million Signatures, and various minor revolts in sport arenas, such as the setback of government in dispute over the TV program of 90.)

And finally, it took us just thirty years to tell God’s emissaries that we do not need their God. We Iranian know our God very well. Our God respects freedom; our God has created us all equal; our God has created each of us to be his emissary on earth; our God has appointed us directly to be the guardian of good; our God has given each of us a mandate to fight with evil, liars, scoundrels, murderers, thieves and those who turn the lights off to cover their crimes.

It took us thirty years of daily practice to realize that we value culture over the empty rituals and appearance of culture and so-called ideology, be it religious or otherwise. We proved that we would guard our humanity as it is passed to us for centuries through our literature and our customs. We showed in practice that we prefer death to life in disgrace.

And finally, we all came to realize that what unites all Iranian is just a simple voice, a Neda, which no matter from how far it emerges, it will always be heard by all those who consider themselves Iranian.

It is odd that a century ago the king Mozaffar od-Din Shah, signed the constitution which limited his very own power. Unhappy as he was, he had enough Iranian blood in his body and love of the county in his soul that he preferred to step down from his throne but not to detach himself from those opposed to his absolute power. Even the last Shah of that dynasty was wise enough to abdicate. And oddly enough Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, for all the wrong he did to the people and the country, has enough love in his heart and wisdom in his mind to leave when he faced the choice of being with people and leaving or to stay and remain as opposed to Iranians.

Two weeks ago in a conference in Columbia University on the current issue in Iran, I asked two of the participants, Dr. Fatemeh Haghightjoo and Hojjat ol-Islam Mohsen Kadivar, if it is realistic at all to expect a peaceful solution to our present crisis in Iran, or if either of them could foresee the possibility that one day anyone could get into dialogue with the Islamic Republic and make them hear the voice of reason. I think my question was out of the norm, but still I received a warm smile from Kadivar, which I took as an acknowledgement, and a good response from Haghighatjoo: “Lets hope, after all, that is all we have, that is all left for humanity.” A simple and wise a response, as was expected from her.

Yes, “hope” is the torch we Iranians carried faithfully through history and passed on to the new generation. It took us through the bleak days of our failure and defeats, it took us to the street to demand our rights, it made us to reclaim what was ours, and it gives us the sweet promise of a joyful future. That is all we have, and that was all we ever had. But something more, it worked in the past and it will for sure do so in the future. Let’s pray it will stay alive in our hearts. It is our only ally for the days to come.

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Brave Iranian Majlis Member Stands up to the Reactionary Majority

You can see Masud Pezeshkian, representative from Tabriz, a former basiji, a former Minister of Health, standing up to the reactionary majority in the Majlis.
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Shiraz Kids Ridicule Ahmadinejad




Click link below to read the explanations about this song.

The translations in the subtitles are by Mina. Warm thanks.

Some of the references are a bit obscure.

Gordon should read "Kordan", referring to Ali Kordan, who was Minister of the Interior in one of Ahmadinejad's cabinets. He was forced to resign when it was found that his "doctorate" from Oxford was a blatant forgery.

The reference to oil money is to how oil prices under Ahmadinejad did not translate into support for social services. "Election slogans promising to place oil money on people's dinner tables," according to one article.

The reference to Ardebil is to how Ahmadinejad, to how Ahmadinejad used his power as governor there to make one of his buddies in the military brass, Sadeq Mahsuli, extremely wealthy.

The reference to the bank is to his effort to get the Central Bank to give a crony of his a $700 million loan. The director of the bank balked, saying that he would have to get this order countersigned by the Majlis or the Leader. This led to Ahmadinejad getting into a struggle with the bank director and his evicting him from his position. (This was alluded to during the candidates debate and fleshed out further on a campaign stop in Tabriz.)

The halo reference is to a conversation Ahmadinejad had had after his speech at the UN, where he told a group of clerics of various miracles he performed while he was speaking, including the appearance of a halo around his head.

Ahmadinejad passed famously passed out potatoes before the election.
--From IranRises

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Mousavi: The Triumph of Ordinariness

What came as a relief when Sayyed Mohammad Khatami announced “either [Mir-Hosein] Mousavi or me” soon led to further distress. Mousavi's candidacy, a hybrid of reform and fundamentalism, became a sore subject for many reformists, not only for his ill-timed response to Khatami's call, but by his becoming more and more the candidate of nothingness.


One of Mousavi's supporters summarized his political strategy as “breaking the artificial division and artificial contrasts between his rivals. While he commits himself to the most democratic fundamentals of reformism, he makes it clear that reform is never in opposition to the fundamentals of the religion. He also believes that true fundamentalism needs to take some reformist view and action in order to make the religion dynamic.”

It is very difficult to know what exactly the above statement means, as it is difficult to know if it is intended to say anything meaningful at all. However ambiguous as it might sound, it says something about Mousavi's approach to politics and his system of management which his supporters claims to be his strong asset.

Mousavi, with his noncommittal, wordy , redundant, and empty talk, promising the obvious, the unavoidable, and even the trivial, reconfirms what is said about his policy and his ideas in the above statement.

In one of his meetings with university students to launch his campaign, Mousavi was advised by a student to be frank and forward in his talks, and by another, to refrain from the use of so many clichés when he travels to various regions or in his meetings with ethnic groups. The student was referring to his use of adjectives zealous (ghayoor)” and gallant warrior (salahshoor) when he was in Ilam-Bakhtiari. Mousavi responded “I'm very forward and candid,” and “Why should we give up good words such as ghayoor and salahshoor? They are indeed good words.” Another student asked him why there is no street named after Dr. Mosaddegh while we have street called Khaled Eslamboli (Anwar Sadat's assassin.) To that he answered, “When in a country people do not acknowledge their great men, it indicates that country has a problem.”

Though one can justify the desperate attempt of the reform leadership to highlight Mousavi's competence, one can be only more confused and puzzled by the journalists' soft and accommodating tone. Journalists who are supposed to be demanding and questioning, those who have to give a hard time to the candidates to help them clarify and explain their views and their positions to the public, seem have become foot troops of one of the candidates rather than the guardian of democracy, as the Constitution demands. Our pro-Mousavi journalists have generally forgotten their responsibilities, are stuck in the heavy traffic of politeness, confused in how to distinguish between respectfulness and silence, or, on pretext of “not weakening the candidates,” avoid any tough questions which might expose a bitter truth.

Oddly enough, our leading candidate has not received any real endorsement so far. Even those who remember Mousavi since the old days are at a loss as to how to give him a meaningful endorsement. Attaollah Mohajerani recalls an anecdote about him. During the Iran-Iraq war, then Prime Minister Mousavi called the mayor of Kermanshah, Mr. Nikou'i, at home late at night to find out if the government had found a proper place for a Crazy Hasan, who was living in the middle of some ruins somewhere. Mr. Nikou'i, not knowing who Crazy Hasan was, reassures the Prime Minister that he would get in touch with the governor on this matter and would inform him as soon as possible. He immediately called the governor and governor took care of Crazy Hasan. Since by then it was past midnight, he postponed calling Mr. Mousavi to the next day. However the Prime Minister did not wait, and very humbly called back at one thirty in the morning just to make sure. He told him the governor had already taken care of Crazy Hasan and that he could sleep peacefully since Hasan was sleeping peacefully in his bed somewhere thanks to the Prime Minister's attention.

Gholm Ali Raja'i, has outdone everyone else by far. He compared Mousavi to Imam Ali who, after twenty five years of solitude, reemerged as caliph fresh, as if all those years had not passed! (Mousavi had five more years to wait and I don't know why he was in such rush!)

Mostafa Tajzadeh recalls when he was the deputy to Khatami in the Ministry of Islamic Guidance in Mousavi's cabinet, he once received a call from Prime Minister Mousavi at home late at night to tell him that he liked the outcome of the project that he has been in charge of. This had been done against protocol, which calls for his sending the message of thanks to the minister in charge, Sayyed Mohammad Khatami.

In reality, the endorsement as such might qualify Mousavi for a mayor of a provincial town , but not for president of a country which is in the middle of an international as well as domestic crisis. While his friends and supporters try to highlight his kindness or compassion, they seem to forget that running a country of seventy-five million takes a little more than a charitable heart. The success of those in the leadership of a country is judged by the success of the institutions, causes, and systematic achievements they leave behind, not by anecdotes about their charity or courtesy, no matter how grand its scale.

Worse than friendly endorsements are those statements which his supporters express here and there to make up for lack of any outstanding feature in Mousavi's record, like, “He is the only one who can save the country,” without thinking why the country should be in such a condition that only Mousavi can save it. Or when they emphasis on his war time management record, without thinking that somewhere people can find out that his record was not so brilliant.

In the absence of any meaningful way to answer hundreds of questions raised by citizens about his candidacy, Mousavi's supporters tend to silence the public and invite them to “be quiet and just vote, we will settle it after the election,” or even appeal to intimidation when they consider a question as being “unappreciative” or “ruining the candidates.” They suffice it to emphasis his only alleged asset, his management skills.

Unfortunately, what is not achieved so far is the enthusiasm and excitement expected in presidential elections. Even the recent speech of Khatami, clarifying that there is no disagreement between him and Mousavi, and his exit from the race has nothing to do with Mousavi, or that there is no one pulling the string in this campaigns, could not help to lift up the general mood of a mild resignation.

The failure to galvanize the public around Mousavi owes itself to a simple miscalculation on the part of the key decision makers of the reform movements. The reformist' goal to achieve an artificial excitement, hope, and optimism around their candidates, and election in general, is too far-fetched and is so devoid of any real rationale that it sounds more like a farce than reality. Abtahi in his blog writes very frequently that “we should take the election among the public.” This is a brave admission on his part that the election has nothing to do with the public. “We have to take it to them, it is not enough to campaign and send text messages among ourselves,” is his unconsciously honest description of the political situation in Iran in this election.

Lack of credentials is also a problem for Mousavi. He is not charismatic. His calculating personality, the way he considers himself as an outsider despite his involvement, indeed, in key positions such as the advisor to the president and member of the Expediency Council, and the unexplained unofficial silence during all these twenty years, and his official silence during all those years that he has been prime minister, do not make him look the way his supporter try to make him out. Though the reformists try to enhance his features by attributing to him qualities he does not possess or exaggerate his record and leave out those which might tarnish his characters, he still does not seem to excite anyone.

However, Mousavi's only asset has remained unmentioned, and that is his ordinariness. His supporters should not trouble themselves to make something out of him that he is not. Indeed, it might be a great opportunity for all of us to take advantage of this current political situation, in which none of the candidates has any worthwhile credentials, and free ourselves from the habit of expecting too much of a candidate, and of elections in general. It is also a great chance to stop expecting sudden changes, which is neither rational nor sensible, from one election. In a recent speech, Zahra Rahnavard, Mousavi's wife, who is even more unpopular than her husband, said “God willing, we won't have any political prisoners any more.” I have no idea if she meant to be taken seriously (Nabavi joked,“Which country does Mousavi wants to be the president of? Finland?) or if she wanted to mean anything at all. God bless her, she is a Ph.D. and she should know that such statements should have meaning, that not having political prisoners is not determined by God's will, that God has nothing to do with it. The constitution, the judiciary, SAVAMA, the office of the Supreme Leader and dozens of other institutions who are active in running the country officially and unofficially have more say in that regard than God. Also, God is not running for president, Mousavi is.

In spite of all these blunders, Mousavi is a front runner among the reformists, and the reformists' poll shows him much ahead of Ahmadinejad. Given the circumstances, there is a chance that Mousavi will emerge as a winner in this election. But if that happens at all, fear of four more years of Ahmadinejad aside, it owes itself to the political maturity and wisdom of Iranians, the growth of their political consciousness, and the lessons learned from past experience, and not the flaky campaign of candidate who has not reached even a proximity of anything original. Mousavi's supporters should keep their congratulating cards for a while and rewrite them, addressing them to the Iranian people instead. This election is not Mousavi's, and it has never been. This is our election and our victory, a triumph over the tyranny of the rotten idea of seeking a great man to come as our savior. Surely such a victory deserves a big celebration. Liberation always deserve one.
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What came as a relief when Sayyed Mohammad Khatami announced “either Mousavi or me” soon led to further distress. Mousavi's candidacy, a hybrid of reform and fundamentalism, became a sore subject for many reformists, not only for his untimely response to Khatami's call, but by his becoming more and more the candidate of nothingness.


One of the Mousavi's supporter summarized his political strategy as “breaking the artificial division and artificial contrasts between his rivals. While he commits himself to the most democratic fundamentals of reformism, he makes it clear that reform is never in opposition to the fundamentals of the religion. He also believes that true fundamentalism needs to take some reformist view and action in order to make the religion dynamic.”

It is very difficult to know what exactly the above statement means, as it is difficult to know if it is intended to say anything meaningful at all. However ambiguous as it might sound, it says something about Mousavi's approach to politics and his system of management which his supporters claims to be his strong asset.

Mousavi, with his noncommittal, wordy , redundant, and empty talks, promising the obvious, the unavoidable, and even the trivial, reconfirms what is said about his policy and his ideas in the above statement.

In one his meeting with university students to launch his campaign, Mousavi was asked or advised by a student to be frank and forward in his talks, and by another, to refrain from the use of so many clichés when he travels to various regions or in his meetings with ethnic groups. The student was referring to his use of adjectives zealous (ghayoor)” and gallant warrior (salahshoor) when he was in Ilam-Bakhtiari. Mousavi responded “I'm very forward and candid,” and “Why should we give up good words such as ghayoor and salahshoor? They are indeed good words.” Another student asked him why there is no street named after Dr. Mosaddegh while we have street called Estambolchi (Anwar Sadat's assassin.) To that he answered, “When in a country people do not acknowledge their great men, it indicates that country has a problem.”

Though one can justify the desperate attempt of the reform leadership to highlight Mousavi's competence, one can be only more confused and puzzled by the journalists' soft and accommodating tone. Journalists who are supposed to be demanding and questioning, those who have to give a hard time to the candidates to help them clarify and explain their views and their positions to the public, seem have become foot troops of one of the candidates rather than the guardian of democracy, as the Constitution demands. Our pro-Mousavi journalists have generally forgotten their responsibilities, are stuck in the heavy traffic of politeness, confused in how to distinguish between respectfulness and silence, or, on pretext of “not weakening the candidates,” avoiding any tough questions which might expose a bitter truth.

Oddly enough, our leading candidate has not received any real endorsement so far. Even those who remember Mousavi since the old days are at a loss as to how to give him a meaningful endorsement. Attaollah Mohajerani recalls an anecdote about him. During the Iran-Iraq war, then Prime Minister Mousavi called the mayor of Kermanshah, Mr. Nikou'i, at home late at night to find out if the government had found a proper place for a Crazy Hasan, who was living in the middle of some ruins somewhere. Mr. Nikou'i, not knowing who Crazy Hasan was, reassures the Prime Minister that he would get in touch with the governor on this matter and would inform him as soon as possible. He immediately called the governor and governor took care of Crazy Hasan. Since by then it was past midnight, he postponed calling Mr. Mousavi to the next day. However the Prime Minister did not wait, and very humbly called back at one thirty in the morning just to make sure. He told him the governor had already taken care of Crazy Hasan and that he could sleep peacefully since Hasan was sleeping peacefully in his bed somewhere thanks to the Prime Minister's attention.

Gholmali Raja'i, has outdone everyone else by far. He compared Mousavi to Imam Ali who, after twenty five years of solitude, reemerged as caliph fresh, as if all those years had not passed! (Mousavi had five more years to wait and I don't know why he was in such rush!)

Mostafa Tajzadeh recalls when he was the deputy to Khatami in the Ministry of Islamic Guidance in Mousavi's cabinet, he once received a call from Prime Minister Mousavi at home late at night to tell him that he liked the outcome of the project that he has been in charge of. This had been done against protocol, which calls for his sending the message of thanks to the minister in charge, Sayyed Mohammad Khatami.

In reality, the endorsement as such might qualify Mousavi for a mayor of a provincial town , but not for president of a country which is in the middle of an international as well as domestic crisis. While his friends and supporters try to highlight his kindness or compassion, they seem to forget that running a country of seventy-five million takes a little more than a charitable heart. The success of those in the leadership of a country is judged by the success of the institutions, causes, and systematic achievements they leave behind, not by anecdotes about their charity or courtesy, no matter how grand its scale.

Worse than friendly endorsements are those statements which his supporters express here and there to make up for lack of any outstanding feature in Mousavi's record, like, “He is the only one who can save the country,” without thinking why the country should be in such a condition that only Mousavi can save it. Or when they emphasis on his war time management record, without thinking that somewhere people can find out that his record was not so brilliant.

In the absence of any meaningful way to answer hundreds of questions raised by citizens about his candidacy, they tend to silence the public and invite them to “be quiet and just vote, we will settle it after the election,” or even appeal to intimidation when they consider a question as being “unappreciative” or “ruining the candidates.” They suffice it to emphasis his only alleged asset, his management skills.

Unfortunately, what is not achieved so far is the enthusiasm and excitement expected in presidential elections. Even the recent speech of Khatami, clarifying that there is no disagreement between him and Mousavi, and his exit from the race has nothing to do with Mousavi, or that there is no one pulling the string in this campaigns, could not help to lift up the general mood of a mild resignation.

The failure to galvanize the public around Mousavi owes itself to a simple miscalculation on the part of the key decision makers of the reform movements. Reformist' goal to achieve an artificial excitement, hope, and optimism around their candidates, and election in general, is too far fetched and is so devoid of any real rationale that sounds more like a farce than reality. Abtahi, in his blog writes very frequently that “we should take the election among the public.” this is a brave admittance on his part that the election has nothing to do with the public. “We have to take it to them, it is not enough to campaign and send text messages among ourselves,” is his unconscious honest description of the political situation in Iran in this election.

Lack of credentials is also a problem for Mousavi. He is not a charismatic person. His calculating personality, the way he considers himself as an outsider despite his involvement and, indeed, leadership in key positions such as the advisor to the president and member of the Expediency Council, and the unexplained unofficial silence during all these twenty years, and his official silence during all those years that he has been prime minister, do not make him look the way his supporter try to make him out. Though the reformists try to enhance his features by attributing to him qualities he does not possess, or exaggerate his record and leave out those which might tarnish his characters, he still does not seem to excite anyone.

However, Mousavi's only asset has remained unmentioned, and that is his ordinariness. His supporters should not trouble themselves to make something out of him that he is not. Indeed, it might be a great opportunity for all of us to take advantage of this current political situation, in which none of the candidates has any worthwhile credentials, and free ourselves from the habit of expecting too much of a candidate, and of elections in general. It is also a great chance to stop expecting sudden changes, which is neither rational nor sensible, from one election. In a recent speech, Zahra Rahnavard, Mousavi's wife, who is even more unpopular than her husband, said “God willing, we won't have any political prisoners any more.” I have no idea if she meant to be taken seriously (Nabavi joked,“Which country does Mousavi wants to be the president of? Finland?) or if she wanted to mean anything at all. God bless her, she is a Ph.D. and she should know that such statements should have meaning, that not having political prisoners is not determined by God's will, that God has nothing to do with it. The constitution, the judiciary, SAVAMA, the office of the Supreme Leader and dozens of other institution who are active in running the country officially and unofficially have more say in that regard than God. Also, God is not running for president, Mousavi is.

In spite of all these blunders, Mousavi is a front runner among the reformists; and the reformists' poll shows him much ahead of Ahmadinejad. Given the circumstances, there is a chance that Mousavi will emerge as a winner in this election. But if that happens at all, fear of four more years of Ahmadinejad aside, it owes itself to the political maturity and wisdom of Iranians, the growth of their political consciousness, and the lessons learned from past experience, and not the flaky campaign of candidate who has not reached even a proximity of anything original. Mousavi's supporters should keep their congratulating cards for a while and rewrite them, addressing them to the Iranian people instead. This election is not Mousavi's, and it has never been. This is our election and our victory, a triumph over the tyranny of the rotten idea of seeking a great man to come as our savior. Surely such a victory deserves a big celebration. Liberation always deserve one.
To read the rest, click here.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Honeymoon in Tehran: Two Years Of Love And Danger In Iran

I keep reading to catch a glimpse of romance, or honeymoon! Oh, cruel Azadeh! Not even a line? But I keep reading. Then, I give up. Forget about the title, lets get to the subtitle “Two Years of Love and Danger in Iran.” Lets look for love first, modern love, it is nice, I'm sure it is somewhere in the Islamic republic. Islamic love?



No there is no trace of love there either, though there is an encounter with a young man, Arash, in Laleh Seddigh's stable. The author is there to “spend some time with” (not to interview!) the “race-car- driver.” Her friend, Nasrine, had invited Arash to meet the author. Well, one might think reading a tabloid about Paris Hilton or Britney Spears; but, no, it is about an experienced journalist from Time and a “race-car- driver” over a guy name Arash. The journalist, Azadeh is not even a columnist!
In her first step to this love story we find Laleh, an airheaded, superficial, spoiled rich, selfish, delinquent, self-centered, and ignorant woman who “thinks Nepal is a mountain”, in her way. But our journalist who is, as opposed to the “race-car-driver”, intelligent, deep, sincere, and not at all self-absorbed, manages to win him over. When Laleh appears on the scene in her “silver BMW with her pouty, collagen-enhanced lips and a nose job, better than the most, wearing a velvety hunting manteau,” it is easy to guess who is the winner in this rivalry.


Later on, based on the information from Wikipedia, I found that Laleh Seddigh, at the age of 28, is the 2006 champion of 1600 GT car racing, she has been awarded an International drivers license to qualify her to race on any circuit in the world. She is qualified for competing in 1800 GT for the coming year, and has a reputation for selecting very sophisticated and complex strategies. At the time of the interview, she was a Ph. D. student and is now a teacher at the Tehran Technical College.) I wonder why our young journalist insists on portraying her so differently? Professionalism aside, she makes the error of trivializing her opponent. What is such a big deal about winning a competition against an air-head?


Going back to the love that is promised in the title, it seems she has sent us on a wild goose chase. If there was any love affair in her real life, there is no trace of it in the book, no, no love, no honeymoon, and no romance. But Tehran is there and Iran too. And danger? Ah, no danger either. But there is something, lets call it fake danger, induced fear, and artificial suspense. Well, at least she does something in this book beyond making a collection of her articles written for Time from 2005 to 2007. Yes, really the book is a collection of previously-written and published articles. I do not intend to get involved in copyright issues, however the reader needs to know that this is not a romance book, and not a memoir per se. And those who review the book should take the trouble at least to check what they read.


In the Author's Note she writes, “I benefited tremendously from knowing in advance that these two years of my life would be transformed into story. I have reconstructed most of the dialogue and events from notes, some more detailed than others. To fill the lacunae in my journal, I have relied on the help and memory of those who shared the experiences with me.” Nowhere in the book is there any reference to the articles written by the author in Time, nor is there any mentioned of this in the bibliography.


Am I the first to notice how scattered this memoir is? Am I the only one to notice that almost all the articles, written for, and published by Time are glued together by some half gossip, and chit chat stories just to created a fake, pale imitation, and Iranian version of Murphy Brown?


Our young journalist employs whatever she can to create excitement, though she fails to arouse genuine curiosity or interest. The pregnancy out of wedlock, living together, and hassles over officiating her marriage, all seem artificial, and all equally without rhyme or reason, purpose or justification. If she wanted to get married, why didn't she do so six months earlier? Or if she wanted to get pregnant, why didn't she do so six months later? Do we know why she should get pregnant in such rush before getting married? Were there any obstacles? Did she not know how to prevent it? Did she not know that she is living in the Islamic Republic? Could she not read the Islamic penal code first to learn that stoning is not applicable in her situation? Or did she just want to do something exciting? More likely the latter, though the whole scheme does not even impress her minder, Mr. X.


The character Mr. X, if real, does not help either. It might excite a few teenagers in California who might think Iran is a month in the Islamic lunar calendar, but those who know Iran a little beyond the articles Azadeh sends to Time or writes in her book, know that there are plenty of Mr Xs in the Islamic Republic. Our dear journalist would not have been that much excited if she would have been in contact with any of the women activists to tell her it is merely routine to receive those intimidating calls and summonses from one of those minders summoning them to one of those spooky places at odd times like ten at night every so often. They would have advised her that she should simply ask for a rescheduling or tell them she should not go by herself.


There are a few other scattered stories, like two chapters on how to find an obstetrician, in the country which has the most sophisticated women-related medicals facilities in the Middle East; another chapter on how to find a pediatrician qualified to vaccinate her son; and another chapter devoted to vaccination, and the advantages of German vaccines over the Iranian ones, and how she brought vaccine from Germany to Iran so her son won't be affected with fever after vaccination. One chapter concerns the inadequacy of the hospitals with talkative nurses and wailing women in labor pain. And of course the repetitive subject of finding contradictions and paradoxes in Iran, which really becomes deadly boring.


Nagging is also extended to other hassles she has to go through. There is her mother's pressure to invite all her friends and family for the wedding reception, to which she responds by first eating ice cream for three consecutive nights at three a.m. and finally ends up with visiting a councelor. Finding someone to make a dress for her without referring to her five months' big belly is a hard chore, to which she finds a good convenient solution by flying to Europe to get one. Choosing the caterer takes another chapter. School programs - private as well as public-are a disaster and takes another chapter. Youth are not spared either. They are not rebellious enough. They are only “concerned with freedom in their immediate ten-foot radius.” However, women are spared; not even a single word about them except in connection to plastic surgery and their vanity in preferring C-Section to normal delivery. And journalists? None of the thousands of people in that field are even mentioned.


But this book is not even about any of these either. This book is about Azadeh Moaveni's view of life, her taste, her liking, her disliking, and her standards only in a short part of Azadeh Moaveni's chronicles. It seems that for every two years of her life she is determined to write a book.


I personally do not have anything against those who think too much of themselves and take their whims and likes and dislikes so seriously, particularly if they are women. Honestly if it were not for them, their obsessions and their self involvement, Edith Wharthon, George Eliot, Tolstoy, Flaubert, and many others would not created those fascinating masterpieces. But I'm not reading a novel and she is not a character in fiction. She is like a rowdy child who is spinning around herself, splashing everything, and getting out of control. And I'm like a mother who does not know what else to do and, knowing that eventually she would fall, prays for a safe landing.


She is at the airport, I'm holding my breath, what if something happens, what if she finds out that she is barred from leaving the country. I pray to God for Mr. X not to appear all of a sudden with the Revolutionary Guard to arrest her. I really wish her a good luck in leaving the country and take her dear son to a civilized country, somewhere that she can walk into a drugstore and buy any brand of dipper, shampoo, lotion and baby formula for him, otherwise in two years there will be another book tilted “Kids and Toiletry in the Islamic Republic of Iran.”


It seems God heard my prayer and answered it. She left the country without any surprises. Her book has been published by a no-nonsense publisher, Random House, she was interviewed on NPR for a full forty-five minutes. She talks here and there in her book reading, and she lectures on various aspects of her observations; however, I have no idea why she has to be so clueless and tone-deaf.





To read the rest, click here.