Last sunday at 3:20 am , there was a nationwide blackout in Italy due to a disconnection in the powerline that imports electricity from France. A blackout at night might seem strange especially when the consumption of electricity during nights is half of the total national electricity production. In fact at that time most of Italian power planet were shut down because Italy prefers to import electricity instead of producing it, due to economical reasons. It was not clear to me, why they import electricity at all? Can't they build a nuclear power plant and produce cheap electricity?
The answer to these questions goes back to 16 years ago. Italy used to be the third most developed country in terms of nuclear energy in the 1960s, after the US and the UK. In 1987 Italy had four fully functional nuclear power plants plus many more under construction. Also they had all related necessary organizations including training centers, research institutes such as INFN and companies like Ansaldo to produce nuclear devices and instruments. Therefore, they were almost independent. After the Chernobyl disaster, people voted to shut down all nuclear power plants because of their high level of risk. Now Italy is the only G8 country that does not have any nuclear plant and has to import electricity from French nuclear plants that are near the Italian border. This is the way Italian people think about the nuclear energy.
It was early August and I was in northern California visiting a friend and catching up with some friends from college. It was a sunny Saturday morning and we decided to head out to a French restaurant for lunch.
There was me, a bunch of old friends and a young Iranian couple who I met there for the first time. The guy was wearing a beard and the girl was wearing a headscarf. On the way to the restaurant I was told that that day was the young lady's birthday and people were thinking of a way of surprising her on her birthday. We had lunch, talked and talked and talked and had a very good time at a sunny Californian Saturday noon. So far so good.
After paying the bill, we stepped out of the restaurant and continued talking on the sidewalk and as the young couple was leaving in a different car and to a different destination, people were wrapping up the conversations to say goodbye to them. I thought to myself: "Hey! They're about to leave and nobody said anything about the birthday. Someone has to do something; at least say something. Tomorrow will be too late to say happy birthday to her." I whispered to a friend about the birthday and he shrugged off. So I decided to take action and in a friendly tone I said "Happy birthday!"
The girl looked down, staring at her shoes and there was a long and awkward moment of silence. After a while her husband said "Thank you!" The girl didn't say a word.
I was bothered. I didn't expect that. I didn't think an educated girl, although wearing a headscarf and apparently being religious, would stare at her shoes not to look me in the eye, and her soon to be a doctor husband would intervene to talk "for" her, to represent her.
Once again, one incident lent itself to substantiate a sad stereotype. Well I guess that's how stereotypes are formed; that's why the word exists in the dictionary. But still, I am entitled to my hopes and wishes. I wish life proved all stereotypes to be wrong and made-up. I wish it was different.
I am studying in Canada. My citizenship is Iranian; I have to get a visa and a study permit to enter and study in Canada, like many other international students. I'll need a visa to return to Canada everytime I leave say for a conference or for a visit back home in Iran but I can usually get that visa. It will normally take no more than a month [I once had to wait for three months, but then they had lost my medical file].
If you are an international student studying in the United States, the procedure is very similar to the above, except that if you are from one of those trouble-making countries, including Iran.
Before Sept. 11th, the normal process for citizens of these "rogue" [a pre "axis of evil" term] countries included a one month background check and an a tough interview in which normally the visa applicants would have to prove that they had no intention of staying in the US beyond their intended study period. Iranian students who were planning to study in the US would thus be prepared for these interviews and would [with many difficulties still] have had a decent hope of getting their visas in time.
After Sept. 11th the procedure changed: The background check period increased dramatically and indefinitely. Many studenets were stranded and missed their research/course/teaching responsibilities and uncounted months of their time was wasted. The treatment of these students became that of common criminals and petty thieves instead of academics. In effect the new visa procedures have reduced the number of incoming graduate students (form all countries, actually) and reserach staff in American universities, up to a point that even some tutorial classes have been cancelled [Look at here and here, you can find more on their website on this issue]
I will not add my personal feelings and thoughts on this issue which has affected many of my friends but instead I invite everyone to have a look at this petition and add their words on this to be shared [Thanks to Pedram Mo'alemian][I just did some editing on this post].
With the IAEA's Governing Board 40-day ultimatum to Iran in its September-12th resolution, Iran's nuclear ambitions seem to have plunged into a serious crisis. The IAEA demands that Iran sign the additional protocol of the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which includes authorizing IAEA snap inspection requests with a 24-hour notice to replace the current one-week requirement. The course of events that led to the ultimatum showed, once again, how immature and impractical Islamic Republic's foreign policy can get. Most importantly is the fact that Europe, which usually takes a more lenient stance on issues related to Iran and has traditionally had extensive trade relations with the Islamic government, took full part in making the decision.
The European alignemnt with the ultimatum came about after the Islamic Republic (IR) refused the terms of a letter by Britain, Germany and France that promised technological aids if Iran signed the NPT additional protocol. The IR essentially passed up its last chance to benefit from the only powerful enough player on the international politics game board they had left for themselves. Now, if Iran fails to act favourably by the October-31st deadline, the IAEA may refer the issue to the UN security council for further action on charges of material breach of its resolutions. The US has already threatened to implement sanctions on Iran's oil sales that could have catastrophic consequences for the country's oil-based economy.
The IR officials' response to the ultimatum resolution has been so far confused. On the one hand, Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran's representative in the IAEA, walked out of the session that approved the resolution and later implied, in an interview reported by the hardline Tehran daily Kayhan and hardliner-controlled National TV, that while Iran would continue to work with the IAEA, it may reduce its level of cooperation with the agency. [Persian: Kayhan, English: Reuters; Al-Jazeera] On the other hand, the Foriegn Minister Kamal Kharrazi insisted that Iran is going to fully cooperate with the IAEA. Mr. Salehi had to take back his comments, saying that they were misinterpreted. The confusion shows in part that the IR apparantly did not expect the deadline and is bewildered by the decision. However, it might as well be a tactical play, to underline any future compliance with the resolution.
Inside the country too, there has been a spectrum of responses, with reformists being more inclined towards accepting the resolution and conservatives towards refusing it. An important question that would most likely remain unanswered is, of course, what the reaction of the ordinary people is to the resolution and the way the IR has handled the whole situation.
From the outset, however, the development has been a big step backward for the IR foreign diplomacy, as they seem to have lost their position in their courtship relationship with the EU. The cost the IR might be paying as a result is not only limited to the seemingly undisputable fact that their nuclear ambitions seem farther from being realised than any time before, but that the whole power structure of the Islamic regime might shake in the months to come. To whose benefit all this will turn out to be is for time to show, and for us to decide.
IAEA: IAEA & Iran
Economist: It's all gone dreadfully wrong
Mohamed El Baradei: on The Connection show of National Public Radio in the U.S.
Last week, there was a documentary about John Lennon on a UK television channel. (Channel Four, I suppose). I'm not and have never been, to say, a fan of John Lennon although I appreciate his level of creativity in many of his songs.
Here, I do not tend to talk about John Lennon's private life or to criticise his artistic achievements. For me, a sentence, (one of his last) has become a serious concern in recent nights and thus made me to cite it as a post.
“Imagine Peace!” is that sentence, quoted by Lennon in New York on December 8, 1980 from one of his own songs, “Imagine” (released in 1971). It was eventually his last speech (or an interview, that’s not my case!). Thereafter, he came out from the hall and was shot dead by gunfire on the same night he was addressing to peace.
His word is short, simple and straight to the point. Imagine Peace! No manslaughter, no mankind extermination! A total peace, dominant throughout a world in which human beings simply do not kill each other.
It does sound utopian; actually it is utopian. And you’re right; I should’ve gone out of my mind to post something like this. Thinking optimistically, it would be one of those activists’ slogans found in many of their websites. You know, I mean it’s not quite … (what do you call it?)… ha! It’s not quite scientific. Only lunatics might think of something like this, but why? Why is it so far even from a dream?
It might seem foolish, but I couldn’t find an answer, not even some sort of unrealistic justification as of those who believe in determinism, for that question. I believe this pale, tasteless modern democracy is way behind what it should be, or had to be, I don’t know. (Ask me and it is not even at the same step where it had been started in Athens or Persepolis.)
I do not think all these atrocities are spontaneous. I cannot accept that a war is mainly created due to humans’ nature – as Hobbes somehow suggests- and that it had been and will be like this throughout history.
I am neither defending, nor offending butchers and butcheries. I do not even know if it’s their fault. My question is not about rights or wrongs anymore..... Morality sucks!
I’m just saying, just feeling, that it shouldn’t have been like this. I’m just asking whether it could’ve been not like this. And if not real, it was at least possible for us now, just to “Imagine Peace”.
16 years ago, on this day, the Iraqi warplanes marked the beginning of the 8-year war by flying over the Tehran airport. The Iran-Iraq war not only ended up with hundreds of thousand casulties and devastated the economy of both Iran and Iraq but also had a great impact on the way Iran was proceeding toward its goals.
When the war started, it brought by itself its own culture, which was heavily promoted by the government. After the first major victory of Iran, the liberation of the city of Khoramshahr, a new stage in Iran's history began; Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, said his famous quote: "God freed Khoramshahr".
From that time, it was promoted everywhere that God is with us and has promised us the victory. The West and the East will be defeated soon, thanks to God's help. We just need to praise him and make sure that we do everything for his sake. It may sound very insane today, but it is a fact that God and his promise became the main slogan of the government. I remember, when I was a kid, I was never worried about the war and Iran's frequent loss since I was very confident that we would eventually win.
However, the war ended very differently from what Ayatollah Khomeini, his followers, and I expected. The destroyed economy, extensive use of chemical weapon by Iraq and the role of Ayatalloh Montazeri forced Ayatoallah Khomeini to finally accept the UN resolution 598. Khomeini compared the humiliating acceptance of the ceasefire in his letter to the nation with drinking "a cup of poison hemlock". He basically admitted that God was no longer on our side!
In my opinion, the whole idea of Islamic Revolution was about the God's role in the society. This idea fully died by the end of the war. After the ceasefire, the government came to the conclusion (even if they pretend otherwise) that they'd better take care of everyday's life of the people rather than their ideals such as freeing Jerusalem.
The Gulf War II started with "shock and awe" on March 20, 2003. Within a few weeks the US military forces crushed the Iraqi's resistance, toppled Saddam's statue and declared an initial victory on May 2, 2003.
The result of the military campaign wasn't a main issue in this war, as there was little doubt that the multibillion-dollar US military would crush any defense swiftly. The outcome of the battle was even more predictable when Iraq was forced to reveal its military intelligence and let the US spy-planes fly freely over the country. Considering the real targets and challenges of this war, however, it was a complete defeat for America.
From the international standpoint, the main concerns of the war have been (1) the justification of the war according to the international principles, and (2) whether or not military action could deliver stability and democracy to Iraq as promised by the US. On the other hand, according to Americans the main targets of the war were (1) to prevent the imminent threat of Iraq weapons of mass destruction, and (2) regime change (possibly to substitute a puppet government in Iraq and hence having more influence in the middle east and the OPEC).
The US failed at the first point in convincing the world, particularly the United Nations, to endorse or support the war. Americans started the war unilaterally (with symbolic support of some allies), claiming that it would deliver the American and international demands by little cost and time. But the second failure happened shortly after the occupation. There were no weapons of mass destruction, thus no imminent threat!
Still some hope remained for the Bush administration: to complete the regime change. By quickly stabilizing the occupied country the US could demonstrate the efficiency of its approach to replace corrupt governments using military power. However six months have passed from then, many more have been killed, and the occupied country is less stable than ever. Apparently, the US approach was unsuccessful on this aspect too.
In brief, the US has failed to deliver any of the American or international demands through this war. Return of Collin Powell to the (once called obsolete and redundant) United Nation to request international aid, was the declaration of this defeat. So far the position of the Security Council suggests that any international participation requires international management of Iraq situation. That means the US will have less influence in Iraq's future, in spite of investing many lives and billions of dollars.
Condoleeza Rice, the National Security Advisor of the United States, assured that the US policy would be to "forgive Russia, ignore Germany and punish France" for their antiwar stances. Now having the US in trap, it is up to the world to choose whether to forgive, ignore or punish America.
On September 13, Ramin Jahaanbegloo, an Iranian intelectual, gave a lecture at the University of Toronto (read his similar speech in Washington). After the lecture we gathered in a nearby coffee shop and had a discussion about Iran considering the fact that the current reformist movement has virtually come to a dead end. We talked about three possible scenarios for the near future.
A break up and overthrowing of the current government is one scenario. It has been getting more possibility recently as the Iranian government shows less potential for any reform. This scenario could be triggered by street uprisings similar to those happened in recent years in Eslamshahr or even among the university students. However it requires participation of the people, better organization, and an established opposition group/party; None of which exist now.
The second scenario is a military coup d'etat by the hardliners. In case of any instability the chance of this scenario increases to prevent the first one! Although the hardliners have lost their positions to some extent, there is little doubt that they still have enough power to change the equations suddenly.
The third possible scenario and the most probable one in my opinion is a transfer of power to the centrists, i.e. the pragmatic politicians/clerics under the leadership of Hashemi Rafsanjani. There are indications that the centrists are getting more hope and power every day as the left-wing reformists fail to deliver their promises and the right-wing conservatives continue to loose their public support.
How likely is the third scenario, after the much publicized defeat of Hashemi and his allies at the parliamentary election? The Economist magazine believes it to be very likely! "Pragmatism, the flavour of the day" [available to subscribers only] is an article describing the desire of Iran to move toward more pragmatic approaches.
Iranian authorities have been given 45 days to prove they have got no Evil intention even deep in their minds. Their decision whether to fully cooperate with the UN watchdogs or not might have considerable effects on the lives of millions of people, both in Iran and other countries in the region.
Before giving comments on how our politicians—or even ourselves—should react to the recent IAEA resolution in Vienna, I think we should have a glance to see what this agenda is all about.
What are the essentials to make a bomb? Does Iran have them?
In simple words (and up to my limited knowledge of physics), a few things are needed for both civilian and military nuclear programs, known as "dual use" facilities:
Fissile material, mainly Uranium and Plutonium, is perhaps the first thing one—a government seeking bomb!—should think about. Due to official Iranian statistics, there are three Uranium mines in central Iran with combined reserves of 800m tonnes that makes the country independent at least in its raw material needs.
Enrichment is the next step. For every 1000 tonnes of Uranium ore, only 2 tonnes of metal is produced of which less than 1% is fissile Uranium. In power plants, normally, Uranium should contain about 20% of this fissile one, while in bombs the ratio must reach a higher level of 80-90%. One way of "enriching" (up to this level) is "gas centrifuge." A group of IAEA scientists visiting Natanz in February 2003 reported "a series of gas centrifuges in an underground complex that may be a pilot plant for a much bigger system..."
Finally, many other industries must be there to fulfill a sophisticated atomic program. Heavy-water, for example, could be used for soaking up the excess neutrons and thus, a heavy-water plant may indicate a weapons-grade enrichment. The Arak heavy-water plant is another area of concern for the UN watchdogs.
What about Bushehr plant?
According to the US officials, satellite pictures show continued development of a nuclear reactor at Bushehr. The reactors at Bushehr were originally commissioned by the Shah in 1974 from a German company. The project was suspended due to the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and was resurrected with Russians' help after the end of Iran-Iraq war. While the light-water reactor will be completed by 2004, the Russians keep claiming that these reactors cannot produce weapons-grade Plutonium. This of course cannot relax the US authorities who are hardly satisfied with their previous policies in supplying the same reactors to North Korea. The US opposes the project on the grounds that Iran already has five small nuclear reactors, which they believe is more than adequate for its needs.
And what aggravated the situation?
In the last series of visits made by UN inspectors last month, they reported signs of highly enriched Uranium in Natanz. They believe that the pilot plant could end as an extended site with thousands of centrifuges by 2004. Iranian officials keep repeating that the samples taken by IAEA come from nuclear equipment that was contaminated when it was bought a decade ago for civilian purposes but they do not say who sold it, only that the whole thing was through an intermediary company. After the report, despite lobbying by Russia and EU, Iran refused to sign the additional protocol to the non-proliferation treaty until Mohammed El Baradei voiced exasperation with Iran last week and condemned its attempts to obstruct UN inspections. The speech made by El Beradei initiated a new series of attacks by the US which made the worsening international crisis escalate and led to the ultimatum by IAEA Board of Governors.
Anyway, UN (or the US?) has ruled. Delighted or depressed, angry or calm, this is the fact we should face and try not to confront with the whole universe. But there exists a final question, at least for me: How far shall we* keep on compromising?
* Would it be an ultra-pessimistic way of thinking if by this "we", I mean every nation but the United States??
Neither East nor West: One Woman's Journey through the Islamic Republic of Iran by Christiane Bird.
I really enjoy looking at myself through someone else's eye specially if that person is coming from another culture with a different background but tries to see everything without prejudice. When I was reading this book sometimes I was annoyed by the question “why doesn't she get to see this aspect of Iran or that person?” But the fact is that she has already done a great job of meeting so many people and places that I, as an Iranian, never got to do or simply ignored. She even goes to a public bath, hamam omoomi, to meet women in Masuleh and also goes to a zourkhaneh (house of strength, traditional wrestling gym for men). I leave you with some quotes from the book.
Page 40, Tehran:
[...] the older one was an actress as well as student, and the girlfriend of the young man. He put his hand around her, and I nearly lurched to a stop.
“aren't you afraid to do that?” I said.
“do what?” He gave me a mocking grin.
“putting your arm around her. The komiteh—”
“Oh the komiteh. we don't care about the komiteh! When we see the guards, we run away.”
The actress looked down her nose at me—she seemed jealous of the attention that her boyfriend was paying to me—while her younger sister took my arm. Both women were wearing far more makeup than was I.
“of course we worry about the komiteh,” the younger sister said. &ldquoAfshin is just a little wild. And we're probably safe here, at this time. The streets are very crowded. Everyone is going home after work.”
“Tell me what you like to drink,” Afshin said abruptly, “whiskey, vodka, bourbon?”
[...] I already knew that although alcohol is forbidden for Muslims in Islamic Republic, it's widely available on the black market and very popular among the middle class.
page 125, Friday prayers at the university of Tehran:
No one else seemed to be listening to the Ayatollah's speech too closely, either, and after about a half an hour, I got up to speak with a trio of young women in white chadors who were staring at me. [...] Seven or eight other women crowded around us. One gave me a commemorative Rial bill, inscribed with the golden outline of a mosque, and another gave me an apple. Everyone wanted my autograph. As I wrote down my name over and over again, feeling both touched and foolish, the women suddenly raised their fists in the air, “Marg bar Amrika, Marg bar Israel” half-heartedly droned in a chant led by Ayatollah—Death to America, Death to Israel. I froze. The women looked at me apologetically.
“We don't mean you! Or the American people!” they said. “We mean the American Government.”
An older woman clasped my arm. “President Khatami says we should stop this ‘Death to America, Death to Israel,’“ she said. “And he is right. It isn't good. It doesn't help anything.“
page 148, Tehran, on the phone to someone in the US:
“In fact, things are more than all right. This is an amazing country.”
“But donít you have to wear that outfit?”—his word for the hejab. “Isnít it hot?”
“Yes,” I said. “But ... itís hard to explain. That doesn't really matter as much as I thought.” I barely even noticed my hejab anymore. “In fact a lot of women here are really strong. They work or they're in school, and they talk back all the time—“
“But you said before that guards can stop women whenever they want—”
“I know, I know,” I said, trying to crystallize my complex thoughts. “And there is a lot of repression here. People are tense—but that's not really what this place is about. There is so much else going on.”
It was as if, I thought later, pondering Americans' view of Iran, all that an outsider knew about the United States was its horrendous racial history, its violence, its drug abuse, its divorce rates, and the obscene wealth of some citizens compared to the dire poverty of others. All those things would be true, but the outsider would still be missing—and by the wide, wide margin—what united states is about. Politics and related issues are only one part of any country.
Page 253, Kordestan:
Rojeen and I sat down on a bench for a moment to take in the view.
“No, I never talk to boys,” she said in answer to my question. “If you talk to boys here, the neghbours think you are bad. I don't want to be friends with boys anyway—I just want to know one, talk to him about a year, get married, and go to west. I hate Iran.”
[...] “I don't want to get fat—I want to be thin like you and all the other American women, Iranian women are fat.”
“lots of American women are fat, too” I said. “fatter than here.”
“no,” she said “not like here”
“you'd be surprise.”
“No! I see the magazines. I know the American women are very thin and the American children are very beautiful.”
Did 9/11 resurrect God from the dead? Will we ever be allowed to think rationally on how we think? Will philosophy (like poetry after Auschwitz) be called barbaric after 9/11? Is photography still an art after those photos that captured "the jumpers"? Will America be remembered as the land of the free? What is to be free?
Questions like this will be circulating in our minds for a while, if we believe to be conscious of our status in the world and tend to react to what we see, hear, and feel. We are shaken by the word "responsibility"; We are shaken even more by the word "doubt".
More questions then immediately follow: What is going on in my mind? What is going on in the mind of all those others? Why do we see different people as aliens? What is "difference"? Can it be quantified? Is it real? Is it diversity? Is it me and you and him? Is it the way we talk? Is it our God? Is it your God?
Then what is God? What is Good? What is evil? Who is the angel if "bin Ladan" is the demon? Do we need good and evil?
Can the answer be found in a book? Or books? Or computers? Can computers ever think? Can we ever think?
Where is the asymmetry coming from? The slave and the lord. The pious and the infidel. The rich and the poor. The wise and the ignorant. The Celebrities and the masses. The Cruise Missiles and the Taliban. The clean and the obscene. The man and the woman. Is there a common ground, that a new order could be built upon?
Is this a dream? Is anything left of this dream?
I remember four years ago when I joined my research group here in Canada, for the first time, I got a chance to interact with the people who had come from different countries and backgrounds. Most of the time, we had lunch together and while eating we would chat about different issues. However the sad thing for me was that I had nothing to contribute when my friends were talking about subjects such as music, movie, novel and travel! The only music I knew was Iranian music and the only movies were Iranian movies. I had no opinions about the movie they had all watched or the novels they had read. In Iran, I had grown up amongst friends and family whose interests were relevant only to my home country, not to the rest of the world.
With my personal experience, it came as no surprise to me when I read in a A.T. Kearney/FOREIGN POLICY Magazine Globalization Index that, for the third year in a row, Iran ranked as the least global nation among the 62 countries which were studied. On the one hand, it is our government which is very isolated, especially politically. In Iran, the economic laws and regulations are also not compatible with other countries and the communication infrastucture is very poor. However the more important isolation comes from the society and the people who have very little connection to the outside world. In our schools and public media, there is not much discussion about other cultures and lifestyles. Living in Iran, you may never get a chance to know the taste of Chinese food, the beauty of Irish dance (of course!) or the harmony of French music.
The idea of this post came to my mind when the first issue of Shargh daily was published two weeks ago. Shargh is a Persian newspaper recently started in Iran by a group of journalists who used to work for the reformist papers. Shargh is not as political as those newspapers, instead it has color pages full of articles about world music, literature, politics and technology. What is fascinating about Shargh is not its high quality of journalism but its coverage on the world culture. In brief, it makes its readers more global and this is what our country desperately needs.
In the long run, Shargh is the most threatening paper against conservative's backward agendas. When Iran becomes more integrated with the rest of the world, people would not only get to know the delicious taste of Italian Spaghetti but also the freedom and democracy which have brought them that food. If the judiciary sytem was smart enough (let's hope they aren't), they would have shut it down from the very beginning.
So many stories have been told and written about the horrendous events of Sept. 11, 2001. Like any other significant event, its coverage and analysis spanned over a very wide spectrum of thoughts and viewpoints. The war mongers' in the White House and their supporters linked it all to the (axis of?) evils who want nothing more than the demise of freedom and "freedom loving nations", the religious fanatics branded it as the next wave of the Crusade, some went to such great lengths to link it to the Jews, some put it in the same category as the assassination of president Kennedy, and yet some even tried to flatly deny that it ever happened.
I do not intend to add any more to the above list of theories, although I suppose I do lie somewhere in that spectrum myself. In this posting, I shall discuss the ways I think the world changed after 9/11, and whether in my view those changes were for the better or for worse.
Safety and Security
After 9/11/2001, the U.S. government set up a new department for homeland security. Many countries, especially western countries stepped up their security measures to "protect the safety of their citizens" and they generally became more security-conscious than before, but is the world really a safer place now?
There have been two wars since 9/11, more deadly terrorist incidents such as those in Russia and Indonesia. Lives are still being lost every day in Iraq. The situation in the Middle East has gone to the verge of total collapse several times and both sides of the conflict have taken unprecedentedly extreme actions against each other. Far too many countries are known to have started or resumed their nuclear weapons program ever since. U.S. is planning to develop a new generation of nuclear bombs. It is indeed becoming a more dangerous world to live in every day.
I here take freedom to mean the civil liberties in the west where freedoms are usually taken for granted. Many of the events that took place after 9/11 were somehow linked to or interpreted as measures taken to protect (or eradicate) western style of freedom. President Bush kept telling his people that the terrorists want them to give up their way of living as a free nation and urged them to continue to live (spend ?) like before. Ironically, his administration proposed several bills that further restrict civil liberties. A radio broadcast corporation in the U.S. was actually accused of making a list of "banned songs" including John Lennon's song "Imagine". The songs of a group of Texan singers were taken off the air by some radio stations with the excuse that their criticism of President George Bush for invading Iraq hurt their audience's patriotic feelings.
Racial and Ethnic Hatred
Imagine a person being kicked out of a plane before takeoff simply because he looks Middle Eastern and that other passengers do not feel comfortable flying with him. Three years ago, this would have guaranteed a huge fury among civil rights activists not to mention a multi-million dollar law-suit. Not quite so after 9/11. It is now OK to treat every one with suspicion based on their looks. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty unless you don't look right.
Respect and Tolerance
Through the many encounters that I have personally had with ordinary people from western countries, I had this feeling they are not as well informed about Iran as I expected, given the fact that many knew it only by reputation, as a state that harbors terrorism. Some didn't pronounce the name "Iran" correctly. Some didn't exactly know where it is, or had very wrong perceptions about life in Iran, nonetheless they were invariably polite and respectful. They were almost always able to draw a line between the government and the people. The culture has somehow changed. Terms like "freedom fries", "freedom kiss", and "Trashganistan" are just examples of how intolerant and disrespectful attitudes have become. This lack of respect and the inability to make a distinction between the people and the governments has left many people of the world hating each other. Americans are as much the victim of this hatred as any other nation and this I believe has been one of the aftermaths of 9/11.
I think the world has changed a lot since 9/11 and I think it has unfortunately been for worse.
There are a few negative stereotypes that have made the rounds over the years in our community of Iranian-Americans. "Iranians are always late," that's a famous one, usually followed by "adjust your watched to the IST, the Iranian Standard Time." "Iranians are vein," "Iranians are disloyal," etc. "Don't ever do business with another Iranian" is certainly popular.
Out of all these stereotypes I've always had the hardest time accepting the last one. The one about not working or doing business with any other Iranian. It's always been a source of confusion for me. This stereotype, of course, has no place back home. Who else is there to do business with if not Iranians in Iran? It's only when you move, and when you start mingling with countrymen in foreign countries that this stereotype applies itself.
To me this stereotype, like many, if not all stereotypes, was nothing but a self-fulfilling prophecy. That is until I started working with an Iranian myself.
I have this music instructor, who's teaching me a few Persian instruments and in return I am building and developing this website, his web presence. There is no cash involved. The only transaction is the transaction of time. I am supposed to put in an hour on his website for every hour that he puts in to teach me the Tanbour. This is how we agreed to proceed when we first met about a year ago, and this is how we operate today. But along the way there have been some serious issues, the sort of issues that stereotypes like to address, which could have ended the relationship.
For one thing the nature of the relationship was astonishingly vague. Americans and Iranians have different ways of asserting themselves in a business relationship. And it's always a confusion which model you and your Iranian client are going to choose. With my and my client, it started out as a professional relationship, or at least I think it did. But soon, as the acquaintance grew, the relationship became more of a friendship. I was really excited about his website. It was something that I created and it was something that I put in a lot of hours for. More hours than I got back. The other thing was my respect for him as an elder and my respect for him as a musician, which lowered the time transactions to a chaotic mess. The sand-clocks thrown against the wall.
It was all good though, at the time. As I said I was excited. For every hour that he put in, I put in 3. After a while he started asking me for all sorts of favors, like to put his chairs on ebay, or scan some book for him, or take some pictures at his concerts, and it was hard for me to say no. I considered him a friend and in Iran you don't say no to your friends. You don't ever say no to your family. You don't stand up to your parents or anyone older than you. It's all very non-confrontational and defensive. All disagreements are made very discreetly using subtle hints and sometimes even white lies.
So I pretty much did most of the things he asked me to and lied myself out of the rest. This, of course, was accompanied by me feeling used and unappreciated which led to me not honoring his time as much and being late for our sessions. The whole thing blew over after a while and we had an argument over the phone. He saw the relationship as a professional relationship and thought I liked doing favors for him and that I didn't mind. "How convenient!" I though and gave him a piece of my mind. For once I was straight and upfront with him about the hours outside of our original contract. And we worked it out somehow, and continue to work together.
Fortunately this little transaction worked itself out, in the end. But I can well understand why Iranians want to stay away from each other. There are different marriage models, father-son, sibling, neighbor models that are different in Iran from the ones that are often experienced here in America, or in any other foreign country for that matter. Whether it is a love relationship, a friendship, two neighbors, business partners, etc. it's critical to understand and to address the problem at the beginning of the relationship, if you too want to make it last.
"I'm not Arab, I'm Persian! It's so obvious! You can tell the difference!"—Nasim in the new NBC sitcom Whoopi.
Last night NBC premiered a new sitcom called "Whoopi", starring Whoopi Goldberg as a three-star hotel owner in New York City, Mavis.
One of the characters of the show, the so-called handyman, is an Iranian guy played by the British comedian Omid Djalali (he is originally Iranian as you can tell by the name). He has previously played some roles in the movies "The Gladiator" and "The Mummy" and is quite famous in Britain for his ethnic comedy and has also won some awards.
This is the first time that a Middle Eastern character has an important role in an American network sitcom. The Iranian origin of Mr. Djalali has added a lot to the character of Nasim (a girl name?). He is somehow anti-Arab (he loses his temper and starts a fight when anybody calls him an Arab) and not really used to diversity. One time he is telling Mavis how overwhelming he finds the diversity in the US and complains that Portuguese are all over the place! He ends: "the problem with this country is that you don't know who your neighbor is!" In the next episode he'll express his fear of Chinese people because of SARS!
I found it quite amusing to see a typical Iranian guy in a sitcom on TV. Not that I'm proud of these characteristics or I think all Iranians are like that, but firstly, I think a social satire should be like that: you are criticizing people for their bad social habits and quite frankly I've seen lots—and heard even more—of Iranians expressing feelings that border a strange "Iranian-ized" racism, which I'm not going to discuss here, since it deserves another post. Secondly, I even believe that Mr. Djalali's character is loveable for normal viewers which would give us a nice little break.
We have to wait and see how Nasim's interactions with diverse New York culture and Mavis's brother, a conservative Republican lawyer, will go.
The idea of Islamic reformation has entertained many intellectuals in Iran recently. After 25 years of Islamic rule over an essentially Muslim country, there seems to be a need for change, and to many the aim of this change is not the government, nor is it the people nor even the economic system, but the religion as a whole.
Reformation and revision have been with Islam since the very beginning; In fact reform has accompanied every religion and in all cases has always mirrored political and cultural environment more or less closely. As a motivation for a discussion on religious reformation, allow me to present a short (and possibly shortcoming) review of reformation in Islam, based on my own perception of it of course.
Even in the early days of Islam, when everything could be blessed with God's direct verdict (through his prophet Mohammad), the details of Islam were subject to change even on a daily basis. This has been recorded in Qur'an in many places, such as the laws against alcohol, the direction of qibleh*, the definition of "infidels" or cases for war against them. After interruption of their source of divine inspiration, Muslims in general revised and modified many parts of Islam; They mostly added to it but also changed parts of it. They also created their own interpretations of it. This includes schisms such as Shi'ite and Sunni, or those within them. This basically reflects the fact that different people had different view of things that were not so explicitly scripted in Qur'an, and they had enough influence (read "power") to embed their views in a new version (read "reading") of Islam.
The differences were not all on theological ideas (as Islam is not only about theology) but on moral and political ideas as well. In fact, muslims started discussions of morality and politics based on their religion as early as the Prophet left them. The literature on these subjects is so rich that even in the period of its first 300 years it has provided more than half of what is now being taught as Islamic Theology in seminaries and universities in the Muslim world. Islam was the religion of change and evolution for 700 years.
After the Mongol invasion and the fall of the Abassid Empire, the unity of the Muslim world collapsed to the emergence of nation states like Ottoman Empire and Muslim Persia. This was also the end of a glorious period of dialogue and reform among different sects and schools; After that everyone simply took their own version of Islam home with them and the interactions stopped. In the meantime Islamic schools shrunk their window to dissent and modern science and alternative philosophies, and then they froze completely...
This held until the beginning of the 20th century and the decline of the European colonization of Asia when nations seeking independence started to use their religious identity as means of resistance and change in their struggles for progress. This was the beginning of a new reform era. A reform movement that after surviving the amazing and numerous turns of the twentieth century is still lively and demanding.
The nature of this reform and the need and justification for it (if at all) will be the topic of a series of post and discussions on the subject of religious reformation that I hope to continue.
Last night, I spent more than three hours talking to an old friend who happens to be a cleric (molla). The subject was if, in principle, democracy can be consistent with Islam or not. He had earlier pointed out a verse in Quran which says:
"...and whoever did not judge by what Allah revealed, those are they that are the transgressors." 5:47, Shakir's Translation
as well as other verses which say God is the only one fit to judge ( ... enel hokm ella lellah ...). So does this make democracy, which replaces the rule of God by the rule of People, un-Islamic? ... when my calling card alerted the last minute, I was starting to wonder if it is ever possible to convince the powerful self-righteous.
Don't get me wrong. My friend is not a government official or a powerful ayatollah. He is a simple university instructor who probably earns less than most of us. But, still, he belongs to the the powerful class, the class whose ideology rules the society, the class that, unlike others, does not need to hide its beliefs to stay safe.
In a closed society, the praise of this class is exaggerated, up to the only ones who deserve to rule, while the criticisms are either banned or branded as heresy or foreign imperial influence. They have answers to every question and of course your objection is always seen by them as your ignorance. So, can we ever convince the self-righteous?
I have always been fascinated by the fact that how dress codes are such an important part of our life in Iran. We make so many different statements with them sometimes without even knowing it. We get arrested for them, get promoted because of them, get warnings, attract or repel people with them.
I remember back in high school when I had to write an essay for my Persian literature class on the subject of "shoes talk to us" and basically back then what I could come up with was, "well they can tell us certain psychological and social characteristics of the person who is wearing them, if the person is very rich or poor economically or if he or she prioritizes convenience or fashion and beauty. It can also say if s/he walks a lot ...", but at the same time I remember how even I was using dress codes as ways of measuring the ideological opinions.
In my experience, in Iranian society people get divided more or less according to their ideologies and although dress codes can still be representative of the social classes of people, this role has become secondary to their role as an ideological measure. The funny thing is that if you are wearing a sort of hijab that is not on either extreme sides, like a manteau* and maghnae people may make a lot of wrong assumptions about you.
I remember, for example, that the kind of Maghnaes that could cover the chin (and were used only by more religious people before that) became the number one in fashion rankings so if you were a very up-to-fashion girl, you would wear them while your hair was showing, but if you were more religious you would cover your forehead. That year they were so fashionable that I could not find any other type to buy. Despite that, in school, the principal started to give warnings to me that I either had to get rid of the chin cover or I had to cover my forehead as well! In fact, this was a regular and frustrating game they liked to play with me every year. They would find something wrong with my outfit from my shoes and socks to my manteau and maghnae and then would blame me and threaten me until I would find a way to change it. So, that year, I decided to put a headband underneath the top part of the Maghnae so that it would cover my forehead and would satisfy the principal. Then I realized some of the students had become suspicious and even afraid of me and later one of them asked me why all of a sudden I had become such an extremist?!
Another time, I woke up very late in the morning and ran to school, forgetting to change my pajama pants which I thought would not be important anyway, as my manteau was really long and my pants couldn't be easily seen . Then a friend noticed it while I was sitting in the classroom and told me: "Isn't it better to be a simple good girl and wear simple pants rather than caring so much about fashion and wearing such pants? What is it that you are trying to prove?"
I thought it was wise to be part of the quiet crowd who didn't play the game open-handed, those who didn't have to pay a higher price for being outsiders to either the people or the government. One of the irritating memories I have is the story of a friend whose parents were both killed during the hajj in 1987 when Saudi security forces killed about 400 Iranians during a rally because "it was illegal and they had chanted anti-American slogans", a secret (being a child of a martyr) that she actually tried to hide in the beginning but was revealed later by the school principal. As if this tragedy by itself was not enough to break a 10-year-old girl, she had to struggle for the next 7 years with many other social issues. Her older sister had to give up both medical school and getting married, in order to take care of her younger brothers and sisters, while our dear government and their representatives like our school authorities, instead of helping them with their problems and taking care of them, would push her to their own definition of a "child of a martyr" and also would violate other students' rights to do her a favor which would actually exclude her even more from most of the students, who with or without hijab were both scared of and mad at her. When we went to Tehran to university she left her Chador in Esfahan, I guess to bury all those memories, but unfortunately the curse wasnít the Chador and it wasnít over... .
Something that I noticed after moving from Esfahan to Tehran was that the dress classification was a more dominant feature of peopleís life in Tehran and more effective in dividing people. I concluded that it is probably due to the fact that chador and in general hijab is still more of a tradition in Esfahan and also social bonds among people and traditional family structures in Esfahan are still stronger, while in Tehran hijab is more of a political statement and also that the social bonds between people are weaker. I also found out that as the city and its population had grown, each division had developed a lot of subgroups, which of course seemed like a natural phenomenon but for me it was really confusing as there wasn't any simple prescription to follow. For example there were girls who would wear a lot of makeup and their hair was done very well, sticking out of their scarves all the time and even had boyfriends but still actually believed in hijab and would wear a scarf in front of "stranger" men even in their own homes, something that I had never seen in Esfahan.
In Esfahan, I could divide people into three or four main groups according to their political, traditional and religious tendencies and each group had its own social rules. After living there for almost 18 years I could more or less recognize the classes and it was actually possible to get along with everyone. I had been to weddings where some Pasdars (revolutionary guards) and women with chadors were sitting in one corner and women wearing mini skirts and men drinking alcohol were dancing together in the other corner. I don't want to say that there was more freedom in Esfahan or people respected each other more. In fact, streets and traditions were much stricter but there was much more trust and respect among the people with whom you had some bonds. For example If your friend is getting married and you are a person who observes hijab, you would still go to her wedding even if it is a mixed party. It didn't seem to be such a problem but most of my friends in Tehran wouldn't even consider such an act. I also saw the same Esfahani pattern among my friends from Mashhad or Qazvin and other cities of Iran.
Over the years I could make a lot of good friends from either side of this spectrum of dress codes and I would have really regretted it if I had missed any single of them just because of the way they were dressing.
I had the opportunity to have friends from so many different backgrounds and with different views. I had a friend who would wear a rousari even in the restroom and also a friend who couldnít keep dating the same guy for more than a month, both actually being good students at Sharif University and coming from a high school for talented students. To be honest, I did find such behaviors strange and even teased them because of it but I didnít find any of them stupid and indeed my friends would find many of my own behaviors strange too.
I think dress can tell us something relevant about people but Iranian women have so many complex aspects that I have come to believe I'd better not count on this method very seriously, as a measuring device!
*Let me explain to those readers who are not familiar with Iranian temporary life what the existing elements for hijab are. Since according to the law in Iran, we should cover the whole body in public except hands and the face in a non-exotic way, Iranians have come up with these measures:
In response to a recent posting which invited the writers of this weblog to write about their real concerns we had a posting by Kaveh Khojasteh, reflecting some of the concerns and issues from the perspective of those living abroad.
I am affraid I failed to be as elegant and as brief as Kaveh. I do not dare to claim to represent the "inside" view either. This was just me until about a month ago. My daily routine might have changed a bit ever since, but the thoughts and concerns are still there.
As I pass by the newsstand, I quickly read the headlines:
Khatami Expresses Regrets Over [...]
[...] Has Been Arrested
The Canadian Ambassador left Iran ...
People read about all this havoc and then go on probably thinking that there's someone out there who takes care of these, that there're people who will run the show.
|7:05||I'm finally on a bus and I've got a seat of my own. It's got to be cleaned though. People are grumbling about the dirty seats. Some old man goes to the driver and complains about the seats. The driver says: "Don't tell me. I ain't running the show!".|
|7:40||I'm at the place of service. People there love titles. Most people there call me "Engineer". I don't like it but I fake politeness. I'm with different people but they're somehow all like me, looking forward to the end of the day. They all think someone else is running the show. But no one is. I wonder how the country is still on its feet. Everyone's waiting to call it a day. Everyone thinks the show is being run by someone else.|
|14:30||I'm at my place of work. There, people don't call me "Engineer". They call me "Mr. Engineer". People there too think the show's being run by someone else. I know it's not. I try to be different there. I try to take responsibility. I suddenly find myself being reached out to by almost everyone. They think I'm running the show. I'm not.|
|20:45||I'm signing out and leaving for home. Another last-minute request from the boss. He thinks his personnel are running the show.|
|21:00||I'm on a taxi. The radio's on. Someone has implied in a speech that we need nukes to defend the people of Palestine. I wonder if he knows what he's talking about. Maybe he too thinks someone else will take care of it; will run the show.|
I'm home watching some TV. Someone switches to one of "those" channels:
|23:40||Going to sleep. Thoughts have come to haunt me againÖ|
Why does everyone think someone else is running the show?
Why do we need someone else to solve our problems?
Why is everyone (including myself) leaving?
What if all 60 million of us leave? Who will "run the show" then?
What the heck is wrong with us? Is it the culture? Maybe someone ought to "change" it. But who? And how?
What if we get into a war too? What will I do? What should I believe? Should I defend "my country"? Should I hide and save my butt because someone will run the show with or without me? Whom will I be defending? Whom will I be fighting? Who is running the show?
This weekend, Pedram Mo'alemian from Eyeranian was visiting us in our Iranian club at University of Toronto and he talked about some aspects of politics in Canada. He kept his talk short but gave enlightening answers to questions that were raised afterwards. He inspired me to ask some questions about the nature of political processes in Iran in this place.
In one point in his talk he told us that the debates in politics in the West are not about basic principles, but about down-to-earth and everyday aspects of life and the economic system; This can be seen in municipal, provincial and national levels, especially in Canada. Basically the most important political agendas here have to do with (1) welfare, (2) wealth and (3) security.
It is interesting to contrast the above three concepts with the main political agendas in Iran or many non-West countries: (1) freedom, (2) education and (3) employment. Let me quickly add that this distinction is more or less arbitrary, and we get to hear about all of these concepts and many other things in the political debates all over the world, but these seem to me, to be the most notable trends in politics.
The fundamental distinction between political discussions in the different countries is nonetheless visible. Let me now ask, do we have to debate over freedom before talking about welfare, or is it the other way round? What is the sequence and what keeps it in a sequence? Is there a cause and effect sequence?
The sequence for most of European countries, in terms of realization/negotiation of these concepts is something like this: wealth, employment, education, freedom, welfare, security. In the US the sequence would look more like this: freedom, wealth, employment, security, education, welfare. [The above is my version, yours might be different, we can talk, outside of the class!]
How would this sequence look like for Iran? Iranian history and that of many countries that were under the influence of the West for a long time, do not seem to offer a similar sequence. We found many of these and then lost them again in the process; A process that never actually was. We had freedom and lost it; We still have a good education but it is not a base for anything; We never had security and I am not sure Iranians would have it for a long time to come. We had good employment for masses at some period but we lost it ...
This brings me to my final question: Who is supposed to remember the outcomes of all these debates? Who will remind us of them when they are at stake? One simple answer is political parties. I am not sure if this answer is enough ... A bookkeeper is needed in every successful political system.