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January 20, 2004

Why aren't we writing?
Mehdi Yahyanejad  [info|posts]

persian_handwriting.JPGThere are around 50 volunteers who are already a part of the Free Thoughts on Iran "project", but as you see this site is not updated every day. The immediate reason is that of 50 people, only a handful write regularly. Okay, many of us are busy graduate students and we have to take care of our studies, but still writing an article, which just takes half a day, sounds not so time consuming. If each one of us just writes one article every two months, there will be enough articles to update the site daily. Now why can't we just do that?

The answer is simple: we can't write because we don't know how to write.

Why we don’t know how to write is a complicated issue. Many of us have problems writing in English. Using Microsoft Word to correct grammar and spelling or looking up idioms by searching for phrases on Google are limited remedies. Nonetheless, many of us know enough English to write our scientific papers, which should be enough for transferring most of our ideas. So what is missing?

All of us missed the writing classes that English speaking kids get in their schools. Instead, we had a stupid class called en-shâ ["Composition"]. It usually meant writing one article per semester, and some of us would get a chance to read it aloud for the class. Our papers were graded but we received absolutely no other feedback. There was also no teaching on how to structure an article. Now that I think about it, it sounds shocking. Even after 12 years of education, many of those graduates can not write an article stating what they believe or want. If you want proof, go and read the Gooya website. It is the most popular Iranian political website. It has tens of thousands of visitors everyday. But if you read the articles, they are usually just long with no clear theme. Most of the articles start from concept X and end with Y, while what was meant was Z.

Once we overcome the problem of the second language barrier and the lack of compositional abilities, we still have to create an opinion to write. This is no a simple issue and is specifically difficult for Iranians.

Iranians have a unique life experience. They lived or live in the only theocratic country of the world. They have gone through a revolution that shook their systems of belief. They went though a prolonged war. They saw the raise of religious and national emotions where thousands of youths went to the war front dreaming of martyrdom. They saw severe social repression in the name of Islam, the religion that they believed and respected. Even though many of them are deeply troubled by the politics of Western powers, they love and dream of the rule of law and liberalism practiced by them. Iranians believe that they inherited a great civilization, which has largely been left unappreciated.

Ironically, this unique life experience makes it difficult to write. We often have too much to say in a way that we give up all together because we think there will be no way that we can describe it to our listeners. Moreover, the uniqueness of our experiment makes it difficult to use a discourse developed by others. We have to develop our own.

The problem of writing should not be taken lightly. People who have never written in their life cannot read properly either; consequently they cannot read and grasp arguments precisely. This is why the politics of Iran is always stuck in generalities. Everything is done through slogans. This is unfortunately true both for the Iranian government and the opposition groups. There is no tradition of writing proper columns. The only exception came when the reform movement in Iran tried to change this trend during 1998-2000. Unfortunately, after many newspapers were shut down in 2000, that process came to a halt. Special credit should be given to the reform movement because it showed us how proper writing and exchange of ideas are important even though the reform movement itself failed to appreciate its importance and was unable to protect it.

Writing or not writing properly can affect the fate of Iranians immensely. That is why I invite the authors of FToI to be more active in writing and to take this enterprise more seriously. To get more encouragment read Hossein Derakhshan's article in Persian or Pedram Moallemian's article. The well-known English columnists and bloggers such as David Weiberger ,Jeff Jarvis ,Andrew Sullivan are putting pieces together and creating new ideas and perspectives. An active effort by Iranians to write can do the same.

Write, learn to write, and write more.

Comments
Señor Græd at January 20, 2004 01:46 PM [permalink]:

Two points before I finish reading your post:

1. The composition class in Iranian schools could have been used much more effectively, had our teachers had gone through the proper training. Like most non-science courses, however, writing and in general anything that has to do with Humanities, were deemed un-serious stuff in our schools. (The untranslatable word SAMBAL [etymology?!] comes to mind!)

Weaker students were expected to choose Humanities, while more talented ones would choose science-related majors, which would eventaully lead them to better, that is to say, more financially secure futures.

2. The other day I stopped by a bookstore and browsed the New Non-fiction Paperback desk. There I saw two books by Iranian writers: "Reading Lolita in Tehran" and "Funny in Farsi". Although I endorse none of these books, I felt a spark of joy in my heart by seeing these two books having made it to paperback so fast. :-)

You may also want to read this before I come back: http://www.iranian.com/Books/2004/January/FD/index.html

Arash Jalali at January 20, 2004 02:28 PM [permalink]:

Personally, I find writing on FTOI a non-trivial task because I feel obligated to write about something much more thought-over than usual; definitely more so than my mere personal feelings, or impressions. That by itself means it takes way more than half an hour for me to compose an article, provided of course, that I would want to post something that does not undermine or insult the majority of FTOI readers' and commenters' well-above-average intelligence. Nonetheless, I admit I personally could have done much better than this productivity-wise.

Señor Græd at January 20, 2004 04:23 PM [permalink]:

Alright, I'm back. And I finished reading Mehdi's post and read Arash's comment too. Here's some more commenty stuff:

Although I appreciate Mehdi's prodding the FToI people to write more, and I by no means dispute the importance of writing, like Arash Jalali, I also believe what matters more is quality, not quantity. I also think one post a day is more than FToI needs! Let me explain a little bit.

Even at the current pace of appearance of posts in FToI I find it hard to keep up with the posts (and by the way, I haven't yet received an email in my mailbox informing me about Mehdi's post! I registered a few days ago and I received one when Hazhir's latest post appeared--a post I haven't yet got a chance to read; neither have I read some previous posts. See my point?), perhaps because I'm not satisfied with merely reading the posts: I'd rather "process" what I read here, and share ideas that cross my mind that I think may be, just may be, worth sharing. (Sometimes the posts are about the stuff I've already mulled over, in which case I don't hesitate to leave a comment!)

I think FToI's main function, or mission, should not be producing A LOT of articles, or competing with other media, but rather, providing a milieu where thoughtful (I use this word with some hesitation, because I predict someone is going to shout from the far end of the room: And you consider yourself "thoughtful"?) individuals can contribute, exchange, and propagate ideas that ideally would shed light on issues that otherwise remained unexplored, undiscussed, undebated and un-criticized and therefore rough, unpolished, and inconclusive.

That is why I (like to) consider the comments part *at least* as important as the mein entry, while I give post-writers credit for sharing with the rest of us what they find important, relevant, or interesting and thus igniting what we need most: unrelentling mutual and self- criticism.

hazhir at January 20, 2004 04:59 PM [permalink]:

Just a data point about learning curve in writing for FTOI that I experienced: My first article took about 6 hours from the very beginning to the time it was posted. The one before last took about 2.5 hours. This is about 10% faster for every article one writes (of course the process saturates at some level... probably 1.5 hours per article or so for me). But the main point is that experience helps a lot, so if you haven't started writting, do so, and you will increasingly feel more comfortable!

Vahid at January 20, 2004 06:23 PM [permalink]:

In the last few years we also had "Methods of writing" (Aeen negaaresh) in the back of our Farsi textbooks, which was not taken very seriously, but could actually be very useful. I have not written much, but I do not think it is entirely due to lack of confidence in my writing. Laziness is a factor. But I think my main issue is something a bit more fundamental. I certainly have my personal views on different things, but I do not think it is my final word on the topic. I am learning everyday, and the new expreinces change me and my view of the world. So I feel a bit reluctant to share my views with others, since I do not believe I am an expert on the issues. I prefer to listen more, and talk less. I can't beleive how much I have changed over the last few years. It could happen over the next few years too. So why should I write for others, I am just a student myself.
I know that what I am saying is not very practical, you should make choices at any time in your life using your current view and belief. But I just don't dare to advertise what I believe right now, since they could well be wrong.
A lot of today's reformists in Iran are the reveloutionaries of 20 years ago. I am sure some of them regret what they have done, back then. If they had some second thought on what they thought it was right, they would have prevented a lot of wrongs that they did.
I am not saying that I do not write. I'll try to do so, because as Mehdi said in his post, it is very important to let the world know what we think. But I will be conservative in writing.

Señor Græd at January 20, 2004 06:45 PM [permalink]:

"I certainly have my personal views on different things, but I do not think it is my final word on the topic."

Guess what, Vahid! Nobody, I mean NO SOUL, should ever believe that s/he has the final word. That in fact might be the whole point of writing, ESPECIALLY in a forum where there are eager combatants lurking around, ready to give you a piece of their mind. :-)

Changing is indeed a blessing (Shams of Tabriz said: "When the word stays in me, it changes me", or something to that effect.) but the change may be accelarated by putting your ideas on the table and subjecting yourself to criticism...

Señor Græd at January 20, 2004 07:06 PM [permalink]:

I suddently had to go and leave the previous comment unfinished. Here's more: The good thing, or one good thing, about many, or some of FToI entries is they do not actually pretend about being the "final word". I remember, for example, Hazhir's post on what he called "the love-work dilemma", posed more questions at the end than provided answers, hence causing quite a stir.

As the cliché goes: "Asking the right question..." (I don't recall the rest of this saying!)

Elnaz at January 20, 2004 07:43 PM [permalink]:

Mehdi,
you're right. We are not accustomed to writing that often. Part of it comes from our habbit of self-censoring. We've been censored and intimidated for so long (and in such tender ages)that it's really hard to break the habbit.
And although I know that the editors have really tried to build this weblog otherwise, noticing that innocent articles like Hossein's "I'm Persian" gets beaten up, people don't exactly feel encouraged.
I hope the authors can overcome these feelings but I also understand our relative slow start.

AmreicanWoman at January 20, 2004 08:59 PM [permalink]:

Well, I like to read the articles. Nothing is better than to carry a few new ideas through the day, bringing them out from time to time, to turn and reflect upon. I do beg pardon for any offense caused by my own occasional comments. Its what comes of writing quickly off the top of my head, or maybe just inherent rudeness! But dialogue is like tennis, isn't it? You have to play to improve. I encourage the thoughtful sharing of ideas, and especially appreciated are those of Ms. Gazeh, and Arash Jalali. -- And of course the ubiquitous El Senor, who keeps the ball rolling. By the way, the Birthday Lady was hilarious, even though everyone got mad and the whole thing was shut down. I was laughing out loud when the characters from the anecdote started blogging in to complain and protest. Coming here is like dropping into a really good coffee shop.

Joe at January 20, 2004 09:17 PM [permalink]:

There was also no teaching on how to structure an article. Now that I think about it, it sounds shocking.

Not at all. In fact, you're no different from most people I know who went to school right here - they were never taught that, either.

I know this first hand, because I had a computer at university 10 years ago and many of my floor-mates used it to write their essays. Trust me when I say that the structure and quality here is significantly better than many of the essays I read.

Arash Jalali at January 21, 2004 01:54 AM [permalink]:

Thank you AmericanWoman for your kind and encouraging remarks, and I do urge you not to be deterred by the thought of posting comments that might not be liked by someone. This is a forum for sharing ideas, and in any kind of serious and thoughtful discussion, there is bound to be some robust words of criticism exchanged, and as long as they reflect a relatively well-thought-over and/or scholarly mentality on the part of the person who posts them, I personally do not see any reason why anyone should be offended by them, and even if one does not exactly observe the modest norms that the editors of FTOI have set for comments as well as the postings, the worst thing that can happen to one's comments is for them for end up in a special place like here, which I for one think is not bad at all!

Arash Jalali at January 21, 2004 02:20 AM [permalink]:

In order to be fair to the education that I and many like me in Iran went through, I should point out to an undergraduate course, which to the best of my knowledge, is only offered to computer engineering and applied Maths majors. The course is called "Methods of Technical and Scientific Presentation". Again as far as I know, this course was incorporated into computing majors' curricula due to the efforts of quite a few fair-minded people like Mr.Rohani-Rankoohi of SBU who sometime in the past were in a scientific committee resposible for preparing a curriculum for undergraduate computing majors. He is also the author of the official textbook, and I personally had the priviledge of being his student in this course during my undergraduate years. I dare say that the things I learned in this course turned out to be far more useful to my education, as well as my career than any other course I took during those years as an undergraduate student. I still do not know why this course is not offered to other majors and why computing majors should take it at such a late stage (according to the official curriculum only third-year undergrad students can take this course).

Probably it has something to do with the fact that Mehdi himself poited out to. There is probably not enough well-trained people who could teach this course in a way that does not make it yet another "eassy-composition" class like the ones we had in highschool!

Rules of Excellent Writing/ at January 21, 2004 04:43 AM [permalink]:

Writing well in English is easy if you follow these, very simple rules:

1) Tell them what you are going to tell them. (Introduction)

2) Tell them. (Body)

3) Tell them what you told them. (Summary/conclusion.)

Papers written like this will get an "A" :-)

---

"you're right. We are not accustomed to writing that often. Part of it comes from our habbit of self-censoring. We've been censored and intimidated for so long (and in such tender ages)that it's really hard to break the habbit.

And although I know that the editors have really tried to build this weblog otherwise, noticing that innocent articles like Hossein's "I'm Persian" gets beaten up, people don't exactly feel encouraged.

I hope the authors can overcome these feelings but I also understand our relative slow start."

Interesting though, that the "Free" Thoughts editors see no conflict in censoring someone with whom they do not agree. Yet, they leave the clearly bigoted comments on a thread such as "I am Persian"— about "hating Arabs" or (once again) erroneously, calling people "racist."

It is a case of the abused becoming the abuser.

Now you can censor. Does it feel good? :-D

Wessie


Great Iranian Writing: at January 21, 2004 04:53 AM [permalink]:

Great Iranian Writing:

http://www.iranian.com/today.html

AmericanWoman at January 21, 2004 08:54 AM [permalink]:

Here is another model:
1) Taxos: Where are we going? (Topic)
2) Pathos: Why should we care (emotional hook)
3) Logos: Support data

I agree with Joe, though. The writing here is fine. There probably is self-censorship, which is why it seems like always the same 5 guys, but the endeavor is still worthy and the quality is fine. Also, can you really blame inertia on the poor old Iranian education system? We aren't in France, for God's sake, where form is the highest achievement. In the immortal words of Nike, "Damn the torpedos and Just Do It."

Payam at January 21, 2004 10:57 AM [permalink]:

“you're right. We are not accustomed to writing that often. Part of it comes from our habbit of self-censoring. We've been censored and intimidated for so long (and in such tender ages)that it's really hard to break the habbit.”

Lucky you! Who can always find someone to blame for her/his failures!
For your not feeling comfortable with English in writing and speaking, you blame your government! For not being treated like a royalty, you blame the Great Satan! Give me a break! You are one of those people who can always find a shoulder to put their responsibilities on!
And as for your self-censoring and then censoring others, I should say that I agree with Wessie ! This is a case of the abused becoming the abuser!

The Rights of Man at January 21, 2004 11:45 AM [permalink]:

Moved to Weslog: Entry.

Ara at January 21, 2004 12:12 PM [permalink]:

FToI is not a forum in its current form. The articles are articles really, not a few sentences sparking debates and threads. Typically forums on the internet do not start from long articles, but rather from someone posting a few links and short thoughts on something and the readers discuss it in long threads. The rigid article based format is rather hard to write, so we have less articles and less threads here. My $0.02.

Ara.

Payam at January 21, 2004 12:29 PM [permalink]:

You know what! You guys are so ridiculous!! I’m really ashamed of your behavior.

yahya at January 21, 2004 01:30 PM [permalink]:

Payam, what is wrong buddy? What exactly is making you so ashamed?

Lovebug at January 21, 2004 02:30 PM [permalink]:

Maybe because even if we do write, we don't know how to post an article here! Does anyone know the answer to my question?

The Wiseman at January 21, 2004 02:42 PM [permalink]:

"Maybe because even if we do write, we don't know how to post an article here! Does anyone know the answer to my question?"

Don't bother writing Lovebug! The content of your writing should be okayed by the board of "Editors"
so it has to appease them first!


Mehdi Y. at January 21, 2004 03:07 PM [permalink]:

Anyone interested in writing for the FToI may contact free_at_freethoughts_org

Payam at January 21, 2004 04:29 PM [permalink]:

yahya at January 21, 2004 01:30 PM:
Payam, what is wrong buddy? What exactly is making you so ashamed?

Yahya, are you part of the *board of censorship*?
then look at the mirror, that's what I'm ashamed of!
Shame On You!

Señor Græd at January 21, 2004 04:48 PM [permalink]:

Why do (some) Iranians so much enjoy being vague?

In our politics, our beloved authorities say: These "gentlemen" did this, those "gentlemen" did that. Who the hell *are* these gentlemen? They don't have names?

Avvali: "What are you shamed of, buddy?"

Dovvomi: "Look in the mirror!"

Sevvomi: "WHAT?"

Babak S at January 21, 2004 05:36 PM [permalink]:

Payam: why do you think there is censorship going on here, based on Wessie's case? Wessie was producing so many long and "unrelated" comments that there was no space left for anyone else to "discuss" anything. I am amazed at the attitude of the editors of this site, in fact, as they have given her a place of her own, where those of her comments that are so are kept, not removed, not deleted, not blocked. That's not censorship but accomodation. Any web site (and Free Thoughts on Iran is a web site, not an open forum) has a purpose of its own, and moderating the content of the posts and comments is common practice, not censorship. Just look around the web for plenty of examples.

Of course you haven't given your reasons as to why you think there is censorship going on here yet. I gave mine as to why I do not think so. I would be all ears to hear yours.

AmericanWoman at January 21, 2004 08:14 PM [permalink]:

This is how Free Speech is! If Wessie had just been deleted, which is pretty much the status quo on these things, then that would be that. Instead, in trying to live up to the "vision" of free speech, and possibly in response to the deadly accuracy of some of her more stinging accusations, an ingenious and innovative (from my POV)method of maintaining the integrity of the blog without violating its avowed ethic was put into play. I can't tell you how impressed and astounded I am with all this! So now, even amongst the fiercest of her critics, there is a slight, swelling of backlash, dissent, tentative extensions of solidarity. The fact that it is confusing, illogical, messy etc. is just the way it goes.

Richard Bean at January 22, 2004 07:10 AM [permalink]:

Señor, the issue is brilliantly captured in "Persepolis". It is actually on the page I just linked to. After a while people stop asking "who is ``they''?" when others say things like "they banned the newspaper", "they arrested the dancer", "they closed Apache"... there's a strong "us and them" theme in Iranian society, possibly linked to more dyadic personalities. (Plus the urge to find "someone to blame" as Payam put it.)

The threats to "name and shame" those behind satellite TV blocking, Zahra Kazemi's death, or other issues, always remain merely threats. On the one hand, they think of chess and realise that "the threat is stronger than the execution". But as you all can see, Iranian society cannot open up or progress if these threats to "name and shame" or the threats to resign are never carried out.

Now, you (SG) can answer your own question, why do most/all the people on this board have names like "Hot Chocolate", "Señor Græd", etc. What's the problem with real names?

Payam at January 22, 2004 10:23 AM [permalink]:

Babak S,

Could you identify yourself first? I mean, are you saying what you’re saying now, as a mere reader of the site or you are one of the editors?
After you answer my question, I’ll answer yours!

Response to Babak: Free Speech at January 22, 2004 12:34 PM [permalink]:

Moved to WessLog: Entry.

Mehdi Y. at January 22, 2004 12:53 PM [permalink]:

I am going to close my comment section since I am not receiving comments relevant to my post.