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Monthly Archive: July 2003
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July 31, 2003

That Kind of Daddy!
Mehrad Vaezinejad  [info|posts]

daddy_hand.jpgWe will fight, outer goodies help and as mommy says we will sweep all the baddies who conserve and kick them in the bombom. Daddy says we will then build a new government but granny thinks we should wash the foot that met the conservative bombom first.

Anyways, we will build a new one very full of democracy. We will let everybody speak except the ultra-baddies that punch and beat. We will let everybody walk except the mid-baddies who stole our oil and pistachio. We will let everybody work except the less-baddies who wasted our votes and done nothing for my dearly family. And we will let everybody live except the others whom daddy may wish them not to.And something else: daddy says we will also hang that judge after his trial and as far as I got, daddy and grandpa would like to cut something of his.

You know! I some kind of don't like daddy's democracy although I like democracy itself. So, I am asking with this letter for somebody else's daddy's democracy which could be a little more democratic.

Iranian kid.

July 30, 2003

Dialogue between Civilizations
Kaveh Khodjasteh  [info|posts]

dialogue_shell.jpgI am transcribing this conversation of my friend who works at a public place in Toronto, Canada. Annotations are mine!

Man: Where are you from?
Z: Iran.
Man: Oh! I am from Pakistan. You know I am a Shi'ite.
Z: [Hmm]
Man: So, Are you following the news about this journalist who was killed?
Z: Oh yes.
Man: So, don't you think that they are just magnifying it in the media around here?
Z: Well, no! They killed a journalist and have to be accountable for that.
Man: Yes, but you know media is very biased in the West and you don't know the real truth about her.
Z: [yeah, whatever] Media in Canada isn't that biased compared to CNN and I somehow trust them. I also read Internet news sites from Iran and papers there and they all confirm it. In fact it seems that here media has played it down! There is real brutality going on there. I have witnessed it myself.
Man: [after an extended period of not speaking] When last were you there that you witnessed this?
Z: Two years ago.

Man: [after another period of not speaking] What do you think about Canada legalising gay marriages?
Z: Well. They're just a different kind of people. Let them do what they want.
Man: But you know, homosexuality has been condemned and rejected in all of Islam, Christianity and Judaism. In Islam it is punishable by death!
Z: What if someone does not belong to any of these religions?
Man: Are you a Muslim yourself?
Z: I was born one, but I don't practice it.
Man: Well...but you are one!
Z: Ok [for the sake of the argument].
Man:And there are all these other things that could happen if one made gay marriage legal; people would go after other things, say they would go out and kill each other? Is this kind of freedom legal too?
Z: Well, people have chosen their representatives in a more or less democratic way here and they haven't allowed that to happen.
Man: But there are differences that go beyond law. For example they have legalised topless people on the streets; so women can take off their shirt just like men.
Z: Aha?
Man: But men and women are not like each other?
Z: You know, women in many parts of Africa are always topless.
Man: But they are not educated!
Z: [furious] No. That's a cultural thing. And education is only a small part of life, it normally only helps us deal with technology, nothing else [thinking about the lynching a raped girl in Pakistan last year].
Man: [after yet another extended period of not speaking] It was nice talking to you. Bye.
Z: Bye.

July 29, 2003

People's Demands: Present
Babak Seradjeh  [info|posts]

an iranian student protesting the banning of reformist newspapers This is a follow-up to People's Demands: Retrospect.

The word `people' has been so much abused by those on Iran's political stage that it has no significance for me personally any more. But I'll have to bear it. Here I'll argue that people's demands in Iran are not clear even to themselves as a whole.

There are virtually no free polls in Iran today which could be used to gauge as well as give voice to people's demands as a consequence of drastic measures the conservatives, who control key power nodes, have taken to suppress the freedom of speech. The source for extracting information on the demands of the majority in Iran is thus restricted to occasional singular events that give the Islamic Republic a semi-democratic look: elections.

Two figures have drawn attentions in the past few years: participation rate and the percentage of votes reformists received. Take the last five elections held in Iran. The first one, on May 23, 1997 (2 Khordad), led to Khatami's first landslide win. The turnout was close to 90%, and Khatami gained about 70% of the votes. The next three, the city and the parliamentary elections in 2000, and the presidential elections in 2001 all witnessed huge participation rates, and a high percentage of votes going to reformists. The last one though, the city elections this past February was met with a very low turnout, reportedly 49% nation-wide and only 12% in the capital Tehran, where about one-sixth of the entire population lives. It resulted in the major defeat of the reformist candidates. In Tehran they lost 14 of the total 15 seats, all won by them in the previous election.

In the absence of polls and their detailed capabilities, elections have served as probes of public opinion. This has imposed a severe obstacle in seeing through Iran's already foggy view: they are widely open to interpretation. For instance, while many, including reformists, interpreted the huge turnouts as a popular desire for reforms from within, some, mostly hard-liners, declared it as a sign of people's trust in the current system. (Take a look at this media report by BBC in the aftermath of the reformists' win in the parliamentary election. Read the actual quotes; I belive the reporter has a mistaken understanding: how could he call Kayhan a reformist newspaper? Kayhan is one of the harshest of all hardliner newspapers. The quotes should be read with this in mind.) Since there is no other effective way of verifying or falsifying either of these two statements based on the election results itself, the fate of the argument is left to the unchallenged share of power each of the parties enjoy and their political impudence.

Taking elections as means of probing public opinions suffers, in Iran, from yet another shortcoming: liquid political agendas. When it comes to matters of general political interest, candidates usually have no clear agenda that outlines their political goals. They usually use ambiguous terms like `democracy', `prosperity' or `construction'. Khatami's celebrated motto in his first campaign, as I remember, was `A better tomorrow for all Iranians.' With such undetailed, unprogrammed agendas it is really hard to figure out what real demands the people who voted for them have, except for better lives.

I believe that reformists' inability in dealing with this situation is the main reason the reform movement has come to a halt. Khatami knocked his reform programme dead as soon as he failed to take proper action against conservatives' bold moves to further infringe the freedom of speech by banning newspapers, jailing writers and journalists, calling off a reformist Parliament's motion to loosen the press law through direct interference of the Supreme Leader, and finally shutting down the polling institutes and imprisonment, on charges of espionage, of their managers who had reported a popular desire in restoring relationships with the US.

A concerted and firm effort to extend the freedom of speech and the press is the missing loop in Iran's reform movement. People have not gained any effective ways of expressing themselves, have no clear idea of what they want any more and thus have become hopeless. The voiceless popular movement is choking—has choked?—on itself.

July 28, 2003

What are the equations?
Yaser Kerachian  [info|posts]


Since Canada has recalled its ambassador from Tehran, I have been thinking of whether foreign pressure would help the democratization process in Iran or not. I talked to several people and thought about similar cases in the past in other countries and still I don’t have any solid answer. I also read Yashar’s post about how much conservatives in Iran could use violence and I don’t have a good answer to this question either. But why are these questions so difficult to answer?

Luckily, the answer to this question is not that difficult if we look back to our history. In the last twenty five years, two events have happened in Iran which have shocked the world. In 1979, a year after Jimmy Carter called Iran the Stable Island, the revolution took place. In 1996, Khatami won the presidential election in a 90% turnout. Neither of these two had been predicted earlier. Why?

In order to know how a system evolves in time, first we have to know what are different parts of the system, and then the equations which govern them. Considering the system to be our country, first we should know about the people and their demands, then how they try to achieve them and how they respond to the environment. Though I agree with Babak’s post that people’s demands are not clear, I believe the main problem relies on the second part. We do not fully understand how people in Iran react to things that happen around them. They seem to have their own unique way of political and social behavior which does not necessarily follow any particular rule. They may on one day decide to participate largely in an election, as in 1996, and the other day fully boycott it, as in 2003. In both cases you couldn’t have predicted it untill the very last moments. Moreover, Iranian people sometimes change their minds during the time faster than the analysts could trace. This complexity also shows itself in different parts of our government. When reformists can’t have any idea of how conservatives respond to the them in a certain case, then it would be very difficult for them to decide what should be the next step. This is when all the models also fail. We cannot even use the experience of eastern European countries against communism in the late 90’s and apply it to Iran for the reform movement.

Worst Case Scenario
Kaveh Khodjasteh  [info|posts]

puzzle.gifThis is partly in reply to Vahid's comment on The Art of Brinksmanship:

A civil war does not loom on the horizon of the Iranian politics. In fact a civil war needs two (or more) armed adversaries in the country to fight it. I think after the demise of the MKO in Iraq and considering the (already waning) influence that the Iranian military and paramilitary forces enjoy currently in Afghanistan, Kurdistan and maybe the Persian Gulf, the second adversary has to be created from scratch.

However I can think of a worst case scenario in which the centre-right elements in the political tree of the Iranian government strike a "new deal" with the less conservative elements in the US administration and after some diplomatic bargain start a new centrist and politically de-motivated government. This would further postpone a "democracy from within" in Iran for another decade or so. As you can see with the arrangement and diversity of the players in the Iranian politics even this seems too remote a possibility to happen. Even if come true, the outcome of this scenario, many will argue, is not that sever after all. Now who wants to care about politics?

The above lines have many other instances in Iranian Politics and open my eyes to an existential tragedy: The most severe thing about politics in Iran is that it is not severe.

July 25, 2003

Iranian Conservatives: How Powerful?
Yashar Ahmadian  [info|posts]

How much power, to use violence, do the conservatives in Iran enjoy today?
Some people believe, the fear of that power and the willingness of hardliners to use it in any brutal way is what keeps reformists, and Khatami in particular, from confronting them in any effective way. Some still use this argument to justify Khatami's actions (inactions rather!)

I prefer Akbar Ganji's opinion on this matter. He believes many in Iran, particularly government reformists, overestimate the power of the conservatives to use violence to thoroughly oppress the reform movement or any popular resistance, or to drag the country into a full scale civil war.

I think this view is supported by the events of recent years, particularly — you might be surprised — the hardliners' show of power in cracking down on student protests. In all the past 5-6 years, in the few instances that Khatami was resolute enough to press for a demand, he could make the hardliners back down and give in to it (like in the case of serial murders of dissidents). On the other hand, the conservatives always lacked a real determination to thoroughly crack down on government reformists even in the most opportune moments (like in their triumphant comeback after the protests following the 18th of Tir 1999*). Sure, they got bolder as Khatami kept losing his popularity, but even now that Khatami has squandered all his vast popularity, they are not so eager to let him resign. To me, it seems that this argument was more of an excuse used by Khatami to justify his lack of determination to bring about any genuine change to the power structure in the Islamic Republic than a real reason behind his inaction. For the conservatives, the threat of naked violence against the Reform was like their A-Bomb (in reality maybe just a regular bomb) that they used in their rhetoric to suppress dissent.

The fate of the Reform today is a result of Khatami's unwillingness to mobilise his popular support and engage in a struggle for change with the conservatives, more than an inevitable outcome of a disproportionate balance of power between the reformists and the conservatives. Today the conservatives no longer enjoy the popularity and legitimacy that they could once use (with violence unrivaled in Iranian history) to suffocate all political dissent in the 80's. The current deadlock in Iran is not caused by conservatives' insurmountable power but by the major reformists' lack of determination and the opposition's lack of any organization that can mobilise the population eager for change. Khatami has tried to convince us that we can only choose between violent change or his way. It seems like more and more of his (former?) supporters, from students like us to Dr. Soroush, refuse to buy into that claim.

It might be too late now, but maybe still, Khatami can seize one last opportunity to truly face the conservatives and start pushing for real reform, and to reclaim his lost popularity. Unfortunately, the evidence of recent years makes that seem like a highly optimistic expectation to me.

Finally, I have no doubt that, as Vahid suggested in a comment, conservatives are willing to pay any price they could, to stay in power — but only if they could!

* On July 9th 1999 (18th of Tir in the Persian calendar), the right wing militia Ansar-e-Hezbollah, assisted by official police forces, stormed a student dormitory in Tehran, violently beating and injuring the students, resulting in one official casualty. The following days witnessed huge student demonstrations unprecedented after the 1979 Revolution, in protest to the violent crackdown.

Hamid Ahmadi  [info|posts]

My great uncle is one of the many Iranians disappointed by the outcome of the revolution and its takeover by the clerics, the ones that Babak talked about in his post.

The only thing that the revolution did, he would tell me years later, was to wipe the shame of foreign dependence off of our foreheads, and in this respect, he would swipe his fingers across his forehead to show me how.

He was a military man, a colonel, who came from a long line of military men on my mother's side of the family. And he would have been executed much like the others if not for a young medical soldier named Mostafa Akhtari.

In 1974, 5 years before the Revolution, my uncle was assigned to a court-martial case against this young soldier, who'd allegedly committed a horrific crime against the Iranian people by campaigning against the Shah. The powers behind the scenes were pushing my uncle, the judge, for a cold, guilty verdict and wanted nothing but to see Mostafa Akhtari on death row.

My uncle, being a man of principle, who had served most of his duty at the Iran-Afghanistan border fighting drugs and drug traffickers, was not accustomed to the inner politics of the judicial system and after a long deliberation, weighing his options, and much to the dismay of many decided to set Mr. Akhtari free. My uncle's superiors were not pleased by this decision and finally forced him into an early retirement just a couple of years before the revolution of '79.

Mostafa Akhtari, who was also dishonorably discharged from the army, became a very close friend of my family's. Participated in the revolution as he'd hoped. Witnessed my mom and dad's marriage and delivered yours truly into this world. He moved to France 15 years ago.

My uncle is now 65 years old. He has 3 daughters, 3 son-in-laws with 3 grandkids, and 3 million cancerous cells in his lungs.

The Art of Brinksmanship
Mehdi Yahyanejad  [info|posts]

On October 28, 1962, President Kennedy went on television to inform the American people that the Soviet Union was deploying medium ballistic missiles in Cuba. President Kennedy warned that this was not going to be accepted. He ordered a naval blockade of Cuba and demanded from Soviet Chairman Khrushchev the removal of all ballistic missile capability from Cuba under U.N. supervision. Kennedy was openly calling for confrontation if his wishes were not fulfilled. Khrushchev, shocked by Kennedy's boldness, accused Kennedy of pushing the humankind "to the abyss of a world missile-nuclear war." Nevertheless, he backed down and ordered cancellation of missile deployment in return for an American promise not to invade Cuba. A week earlier, when Kennedy had received the intelligence about the missile deployment, he knew well that he was not going to accept this new advance of the Soviets, which could have immensely damaged American prestige. This left him with two choices: one was a direct attack on Cuba, which could have escalated to a full confrontation between the superpowers; the other was using rhetoric to show his opponent how dire the consequence of their actions could be if they didn't back down. He chose the second option. He was an orator; he skillfully used rhetoric to make his opponent understand that their chosen path could result in the destruction of both parties. Kennedy stood firm, pushed for confrontation, used strong rhetoric, and ultimately won.

On March 12, 2000, the hardliners in Iran created for Khatami his most challenging moment by assassinating Saeed Hajjarian, Khatami’s political advisor and a reform strategist. People were shocked and angry. It was a time when they were quite hopeful about Khatami's reform and were waiting for the result of Tehran's parliamentary elections, which were overhwelmingly won by the reformists. Khatami faced a serious challenge. Khatami had the option of mobilizing people in streets, as well as calling all ministries to shut down until the individuals behind this heinous act were brought to justice. Khatami rightfully decided not to exercise any of these options. There was no guarantee that violence could be prevented and that vigilantes would not attack people.

But there was no need for such confrontational actions to win. Khatami could have resorted to rhetoric and brinksmanship. He could have made hardliners understand that if they would not back down, a full-scale confrontation could result in their destruction. He could have asked for something specific such as proper prosecution of the guilty and a roundup of vigilantes. Also, he could have backed up his rhetoric with non-confrontational acts such as asking people to hold candlelight vigils in the doorsteps of their houses and pray for the badly injured Hajjarian.

Khatami failed to act. Once again, he resorted to conflicted statements without much concrete substance, and he failed to push back the conservatives’ advance. The outcome of this failure was grim. Not only was Khatami unable to prosecute the assassins, he also became unable to pursue his own reforms. This event marked the start of the defeat of the reform movement. The conservatives became bolder day by day. They shut down 80 newspapers in less than three months. In the years after, scores of journalists and students were jailed. Khatami's close political allies were not left immune either.

Khatami's days of popularity have gone. Now, neither threatening to resign nor threatening to speak out more boldly can scare the conservatives. Using rhetoric is not an option anymore, since hardliners are well aware that Khatami has lost the popularity and the power to mobilize people. Khatami has been pushed back by the conservatives’ plans. The policy of the conservatives in the past six years is best captured by Massoud Dehnamaki, head of the Ansar Hezbollah vigilante group, when he said that they-- the extremists-- and the rest of the nation are all in a bus, and that hardliners can threaten others by proving that they have the guts to remove and throw the steering wheel out of the window. Conservatives, who get richer day by day, are not going to allow any one of their Ansar Hezbollah subordinates to throw the steering wheel out of the window, but at least they have the guts to use this rhetoric.

July 23, 2003

People's Demands: Retrospect
Babak Seradjeh  [info|posts]

striking TV workers just before the fall of monarchy in Tehran, 1979. A real plague that confronts us as a result of the lack of freedom of speech in Iran is an irritating vacancy of independent (objective) and reliable means of gauging people's demands and opinions. This is at the core of the continuing suppression of the press and polling institutes happening now and almost without exception throughout different eras of Iran's recent history. This is what allows many to act as the self-proclaimed voice of the people, which is not only commonplace among many government officials, especially hard-liners, but is also ubiquitous in ordinary people's commentaries on events, so much that it appears to me, in my bitter moments, as a collective trait of Iranians in general.

Here I essentially want to put forward a question as to what people's demands are, and make a few comments on that, but let me start with what people's demands were 25 years ago when they rose up against the monarchy.

Yasser commented on a previous post of mine by saying that a desire for the rule of Islamic laws was one of the main reasons people participated in the revolution of 1979. That is an opinion that I am personally not opposed to. Nevertheless, I have talked to many a revolutionary as well as ordinary people involved in the protests, who either did not have such a reason, or were disappointed by the take-over of the government by the clerics in the few years that followed the 1979 events. Many of them fled Iran in hundreds of thousands (if not millions), and I think that should only be a fraction of the real number of such people, most of whom probably could not or would not flee their homeland. The point here is that their side of the story was crossed out, never really documented, and it's not quite clear how big this group was.

Like any one of us, I have my own personal collection of second-hand accounts of the story. As such, I don't give this collection much credibility when it comes to objective reasoning of people's demands and movement. So the question remains: what did really happen and what did people really demand? Unfortunately independent sources on which answers to these qestions could be based are scarce, since the mainstream account of the history is of course written by one of the involved parties, leaving out—and crossing out—many details deemed undesirable or sometimes merely unimportant. For instance I have never read anywhere, but only heard, that the national TV building was first conquered by one leftist guerilla group who lost their commander in the operation.

The only sort of independent sources I can think of now are:

  1. unbiased outsiders, like Michel Foucault,

  2. the slogans (as a whole) that people used in their protests and demonstrations,

  3. the photos of the events.

I have especially chosen Foucault since he is a well-known philosopher and was particularly in favour of the religious theme of the revolution; he drew conclusions about the outcome and the nature of the revolution based on his observations, which he had to later change (read André Gluckmann's answer to the first question). His observations thus appear to me not to be biased by opposition to religion, or involvement in the events that are the common causes of bias regarding the 1979 revolution. His opinions could be found in his two books published in Persian in recent years, `What dreams do Iranians have in mind' (Hermes Press) and `Iranians, the wandering spirit' (Nei Press), and in English in his book Power: Essential Works of Foucault, Vol III.

`What's passed is past,' some may say, `let's be concerned with now and the future.' As much as I agree with the last part, I can't help worrying about the first part: not knowing what went wrong in our (recent) past may cause us to stumble on a trap, or go in one of the vicious loops of history, and be ourselves passed in the future's past.

Gauging people's demands in conditions like those of Iran, especially today, is one paradoxical dilemma, whose solution can open the way to a better understanding of events, and ultimately to preventing one group from casting out others in Iran's political scene.

Should he resign?
Mona Vajihollahi  [info|posts]

-- I’m thinking: Khatami should resign.
-- I read Behnoud’s latest article (in Persian). Once more I appreciate him giving hope to everyone and encouraging us to be patient… Should Khatami really resign?
-- Then I check the news (in Persian):
    o Tehran’s District Attorney, Saeed Mortazavi, who is accused to be involved in Zahra Kazemi’s death, has been appointed to prosecute the perpetrators!
    o The students who have been imprisoned recently are being tortured in most inhumane ways possible. Reminding us of medieval tortures, they are physically beaten, hot water is poured in their ears to keep them awake, they are threatened to be sexually harassed and they are even banned from drinking water.
-- Khatami should resign, I think.

I must admit that I was never in favor of Khatami’s resignation before, mainly because I was afraid of its consequences, specifically probable rebels and slaughters. I was always hoping that he would react more courageously and with our patience everything will be fixed step by step.
But now… It’s very hard for me to find any reason for his stay. Everyday when I read the news about arresting another journalist or student, I ask myself what we should do now. Maybe petitions help… Maybe the letter to Khatami (in Persian) will set our friends in Sharif University free, but what about the rest? What about these people who are being tortured? It’s somebody’s life for god’s sake. It’s the best period of their lives, their youths. How long should we wait?
I believe in what Behnoud mentions in his article. The most important result of Khatami’s presidency was that the players showed their hands. No more people are killed and tortured in the silence. Now everyone knows how they take advantage of the religion and no more anyone believes in their version of religion. So, I agree that Khatami’s era brought pretty important gifts for us, but now it seems he can not go any further. He, himself, said that the president does not have enough power to stay by his pledges and act upon the responsibilities stated in the constitutional law. The regime is obviously not willing to give him such kind of power.

Maybe his resignation would not fix anything in the first place, but at least I believe the regime’s legitimacy will be challenged by the world. Khatami has become an international personality, and he has gained much respect among intellectuals all over the world. I even remember one Canadian once told me that he envies us because our president is a great man and a real philosopher. I think he should use this kind of global publicity, if he does not have the local power to defend people’s right. He can make his appraisers see what’s really happening in Iran. If everything is stuck inside Iran, maybe we need a pressure from outside.

I believe this kind of public pressure is necessary to achieve our freedom. I always think about a comment Behnoud made in one of his articles (in Persian): “According to the history, the substantial changes that have happened in Iran during 20th century were never carried out by Iranian people solely, but were mainly influenced by foreign powers and their interference.” For me it confirms that people’s will is not always enough, we certainly need world’s attention and awareness.

July 21, 2003

To stay or not to stay
Yaser Kerachian  [info|posts]

There were tears in my eyes when I was typing the names of the signatories of the letter to Khatami. I was remembering all my friends who are now spread all around the world. It hit me hard when it again reminded me of the key question of whether I should stay here the rest of my life or not.

In summer 1999, when I left Iran for Canada, I was quite sure that I would go back when I finished my studies. I felt responsible to my homeland and my countrymen. Now, in summer 2003, I think more globally. No longer can I differentiate between people of Iran and people of Canada, or even Suriname. The borders that separate Iran and other countries are not more than a bunch of lines that some guys—most likely all stupid—once agreed upon. This is besides the fact that responsiblity now has a different meaning than it used to have in my mind.

Don't get me wrong. I am still quite sure that I will go back to Iran. But not because I feel responsible, just because I would like to!

Khatami's Labour Movement?
Kaveh Khodjasteh  [info|posts]

khatami.jpg For the first time after Islamic revolution (without many examples before that) we are noticing sporadic labour movements across Iran in the past 3 years. This is in contrast to the mainstream opinion that in Iran dissent only comes from the students and the elite intellectuals. I am sure those of you who followed the domestic news in Iran, remember the fights and strikes that sputtered across Iran. There are many clues that justify this observation, that I'd like to enumerate:

Power in Numbers Obviously there are more workers in Iran (industry I mean) and this number seems to have passed a certain threshold needed for collective behavior. Also unions are assuming more and more power; Unions that are less and less dominated by hardline-right wing supporters of the government.

Enlightenment The workers (and their spouses for that matter) are getting more education than they used to. This is of course a national trend but has interesting consequences among this social group. Most of them have LEARNED that they have a right to strike.

Poverty Line Although our group's social standing makes it hard to see through the high-rise buildings, new cars and other luxuries that have stained cities like Tehran, there are more people under the poverty line everyday, in fact they exceed what is expected from the overall population growth. Qualitatively (like in the US in the Reagan era) the middle class seems to have vanished! The class-conflict MIGHT become a reality and there seem to be many grounds for it from a Marxist perspective.

Social Freedom Although the intellectuals seem to be missing their freedom of speech, the average man on the street has never found that challenged. In fact you can more easily criticise Khamenei or Rafsanjani than you would criticise Shah before the revolution. This also goes for the workers with respect to their employer, which is mainly the State. Iranian workers no longer trust their official spokespersons (?) such as Basij-e-Kargari or even Khane-ye-Kargar and want to have alternatives in this respect too.

Another important "social class" are the women, which we should discuss at a later time.

July 20, 2003

There are triggers to revisiting old feelings
Iman Aghilian  [info|posts]


I spent the 4th of July weekend at a friend's house and that's where I first saw this book. I read it there and then and it took me more than a week to get over the flow of hard feelings coming out of me that I had bottled up over the years. If you ever wonder about my grudge and animosity toward the ones who made unrepairable damages to me, my folks and my country, this book may give you a clue.

Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis has it all. My fondness of comic books, minimalism and savvy meticulousness leads to a deep appreciation for her work. In this book she tells the story of her childhood in Iran through 1970's and early 1980's and the toll of political turmoil on her personal life through black and white cartoons. It's a good one.

July 19, 2003

Inevitable Democracy, But What Kind?
Mehdi Yahyanejad  [info|posts]

democracy.jpg Establishment of a democratic system in Iran is inevitable; it is only a matter of time. All different ideologies from Marxism to Islam have failed in practice, and desire for democracy has become the common ground for most people. People are highly frustrated with the current system, and all the demographic indicators point out that this frustration is going to increase, not decrease. There will be more jobless youth. There will be more educated women outraged with the systematic discrimination. The countdown has already started.

The good news is that once Iran achieves a representative democracy, it has the minimum qualifications to sustain it. Iranians are relatively well educated. Iran is a less religious and nationalistic country than at any time before, which means that waves of religious fervor or nationalism can not threaten an Iranian democratic system in the near future. Moreover, Iran is not such a poor country. It has enough money to fund a stable government; in fact this has never been an issue in Iran since the discovery of oil. (visit Human Development Report for Iran's status .)

But the challenging question is what type of democracy will be established in Iran. I am not talking about choosing between a constitutional republic and a parliamentary democracy. The question is whether we will have a functional democracy or a dysfunctional one. The number of countries with democratic systems increased by almost fifty percent during the 1990s, but how many of those are true democracies that can bring prosperity, the rule of law, and freedom of expression for all? Let's look at the northern neighbor of Iran, Russia. Although Russia has elections, a mixture of former KGBs, corrupt businessmen, and army officers are in charge of everything. And, they punish who disagrees with them. (who's behind media mogul's arrest? ). There are other dysfunctional democracies as well: Indian democracy lacks prosperity, Italian democracy has unstable alliances between parties, and Israeli democracy is crippled by unresolved religious and national identity.

Iranian intellectuals need to put more effort into answering the challenges of an infant Iranian democracy. The beginning years, when norms are established, will be crucial for making it a functional democracy. There are lots of potential traps for Iranian democracy: bribery and corruption, divisions between parties along religious issues, an ethnocentric party system, and a national identity crisis. It needs vast preparations.

Letter to Khatami
Vahid Shahrezaei  [info|posts]

As you may have seen the daily "Yaase-e no" published the letter to Khatami in its first page yesterday with the full name and details of all the 150 sharif students who signed it. I am not sure if everyone was looking for such a publicity, but we have got it anyway! First of all, I think it will have a better impact having it published in a iranian newspaper, rather than just in iranian websites. Hopefully this kind of pressure make them rethink what they are doing, and set free the students. I was talking about this with some freinds last night. Some of them have doubt in the role that this kind of letters or petitions can have in causing any change, other than causing problems for the people who sign. But I do not think so, I think it is important to allow to be heard by others. Keeping scilent does not solve anything, and may even be some sort of approval on what is going on. Khatami said recently if people want, he will resign. Looks like he is having problem, hearing what people have to say. So I think writing open letters, is important, to make ourselves clear, and it is the least we can do.
The other interesting thing that took my attention, is the fact that this particular letter, has got more publicity than similar letters, that have been written recently. It could well owe this to the sharif university credit, and the fact that almost all the singnatures belonged to students that are doing higher education abroad. People that are called in Iran "genius people" (Nokhbegan). Iranian people tend to treat "nokhbegan", e.g. winners of Olympiad medals and high rankers of university enterance exam (Konkour {from french: concours}), as celebrities. That could be why the "Yaas-e no" journalists decide to publish the letter in its first page, second important news of the day! I admit this whole thing looks a bit cheesy, but it is a fact. I think we as a community should not be ashamed of this, but use it properly. We have the potential to be heard better, so we should take advantage of this.

They Fooled Themselves?
Babak Seradjeh  [info|posts]

Yesterday there was a one-hour programme on the biography channel about Khomeini. It had commentaries of different people on the life of the Ayatollah, among them Mansour Farhang, the ambassador of the revolution's interm government to the UN. He said, Khomeini's book, `Islamic Government,' was out before but we didn't think it was that importnat to read it carefully.

So, when someone who was part of the government of revolution says he didn't expect what happened, did ordinary people expect what happened? When Mr. Farhang had not read Khomeini's book, had ordinary people? I remember there was a book named `Velayat-e Faqih' by Ayatollah Dastqeib at our home. I once sorted the books in our library by their size (in one of my childhood plays) and it was thenafter at the far left of its row where one could clearly see the cover. I used to sit at the side of this bookshelf for hours and play or read or do homeworks, and each time I stared up I would see this book. I would have to immediately turn my face, according to the principle of the least nonesense that I have always practiced. So finally I had to replace the book. It was just then that I paged the book for a few seconds. In brief, I never read it. I wonder if so many intellectuals and the people who were well-versed in leftist literature simply missed the written documents of the clerics who took the power afterwards in much the same way.

July 18, 2003

Fanaticism or Identity? Take Your Pick!
Kaveh Khodjasteh  [info|posts]

This is a more thorough response to Eric who commented on the conversation reported by Babak yesterday. I would like to add a few points and I'm sure many of my ideas might seem incorrect to you, but have your say too:

.....Iranians are not muslims? what exactly is a muslim and whats the difference between that and islam?

Iranians are mostly (90%?) Muslims, that is they believe in The One God (Allah, literally) and his last prophet Mohammad and the life after death. However the Iranian identity is a complex mixture of pre-Islamic/Islamic/post-Islamic traits. This is why nowadays most of the young people in Iran do not care if US has occupied Afghanistan/Iraq, and they also think they have nothing to do with Palestinian uprisings. This is to be contrasted to the young people in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Pacific Muslim countries and Arab countries that think otherwise. This shows just the tip of the iceberg of the Iranian dilemma. Iranian people have many problems and fanaticism is also one of them, but not a main one in my opinion.

what they should be doing with all that terrorist money, is feed the starving children in palestine...instead of trying to kill with it. wouldnt that end suffering? their stated goal?

Yes! It will definitely be more humane and ethically correct but we are talking about all these people who are simply lazy to think for themselves and would listen to this fanatic talking in the corner of a musque who is calling everyone to arms because he can easily define good and bad for these people. Fanaticism is really bred by people who are too lazy to think.

I also wanted to add soemthing about the environment and what overdeveloped countries are doing with it, but I think I can leave it for some other occasion.

July 17, 2003

Holding them responsible
Babak Seradjeh  [info|posts]

I was watching a TV programme called `Struggle for Democracy' on The i Channel. It was an old one, I guess made in the late 80's, and was mostly about the state of democracy in Zimbabwe. In particular it had a clip of Robert Mugabe, where he was saying he envisioned a democracy in which people were free. Zimbabwe has a one-party system with Mugabe at its head under various names and titles for the past 23 years. It very much resembled the promises made before the end of monarchy on 11 February 1979 and early after by Ayatollah Khomeini of a democratic state `just like what [the french] have in France.' In Zimbabwe, Mugabe evaded the responsibility by creating a single-party rule. I wonder how they managed to evade the promises in Iran. The constituion allows for a multitude of parties, but then makes it hardly ever so important or effective by putting in other unelected councils and persons holding on the power so much that it loses all applicability. How did this come about without anyone being held responsible? At the moment, it seems to me that it was simply not meant from the beginning to attain the promised French-like democracy and everyone knew it, too.

more than a million martyrs
Babak Farzad  [info|posts]

[After more than an hour serious dialogue]

BF: so, what if the majority of Iranians do not want this political system? Don't you think that the government (both elected and selected parts) should step down?

KH: This is not true. All Iranians, except for a very few of them, are devoted to this system.

BF: It is just an assumption.

KH: This is a wrong assumption. They have given more than a million
martyrs for this system [Comment: How many martyrs Did the National
Socialist German Workers' Party take under Adolf Hitler?]

BF: Ok! It may never happen but for the sake of argument, assume that
people say no "velayat-e faghih", in a, let's say, referendum.

KH: In that case, it is like a child who tells his mother "I do not like you" just because his mother has not bought him a chocolate, for his very own sake. The child is just nagging but the mother may not leave him alone.

BF: Ok! I got it.

Network Project on Persian Weblogs
Mehdi Yahyanejad  [info|posts]

network.jpeg I have been interested in networks of all sorts: biological, social, physical, etc. A good example of social networks are weblogs, including Persian weblogs. In this case, each weblog is a node and each url link is a directional connection between two nodes. By studying this network, we can know about: the main people who propagate ideas in this network, whether there are clusters of people who talk between themselves without much connection to outside, or whether these clusters are centered around coherent ideas for example politics, erotica, etc. For the interest of physicists, we can also see if the number of links per node obeys a power law distribution, which then would be called a "scale free distribution."

For this purpose, I took the first step and wrote a perl script to find all the links between a given set of weblogs. My script searches through all the archives of old messages of each weblog as well. Unfortunately, this script does not work for weblogs on or sites, which are host to a considerable number of persian websites. Once I get around this problem, I will be able to obtain the network of Persian weblogs.

Please let me know your suggestions.

Kaveh Khodjasteh  [info|posts]

The title of this weblog is funny. Are these thoughts really free? How can a thought be free? Thoughts cannot have liberty, but maybe we mean they are free of charge? But even that makes little sense. Maybe these are thoughts of free people? But who can call him/herslef free? After all maybe free thoughts are more actual than free people. Maybe these are only semantics of a new kind of egoism? It is for you and me and all of us to decide.

First Entry
Kaveh Khodjasteh  [info|posts]

This is the first entry. It will be used as testing purposes only. Please ignore any meanings associated with it and remember that you are watched at every step of your life by your own eyes.