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Monthly Archive: November 2003
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November 29, 2003

Social Freedoms: "Please sir, may I have some more?"
Kaveh Khodjasteh  [info|posts]

trends.jpg This post is a sad observation inspired by what I find to be excessive indulgence in predictory politics in the previous post in this weblog.

What really distinguishes this generation in all countries from earlier generations... is its determination to act, its joy in action, the assurance of being able to change things by one's own efforts.      - Hanna Arendt

A quick [and dirty] evaluation of the statesmanship of the Iranian government in the post Iran-Iraq war shows that, they have showed a definite competence on domestic and foreign issues. This is a credit they deserve to get, although I am sure there are masters of political interpolation among the readers of this weblog, that would definitely challenge this statement with comparisons with other possible courses of history. This is not my point though...

Now that I can refresh my memory from a distance, it is very interesting to remember the up and downs of personal freedoms, consumerism, and culture in Tehran, where I grew up. I remember times that watching movies at home was illegal and you could be prosecuted, then it was the distributors that could be prosecuted and then after the war [Iran-Iraq] was over suddenly you could buy VCR's in the stores and it took only a decade until the Iranian TV showed a double dose of "Lord of the Rings" and "Harry Potter" on a surprise presentation last year. The culture industry was reborn.

This seemingly impressive and noble trend [in dress code, visual arts, close-ups of women in movies, etc] has nothing to offer us when analyzed in more and more detail; It looks like a classic case of struggle for personal freedoms and culture. However when this trend is juxtaposed with the various national and international challenges that the leading factions of the Iranian politics have been facing throughout these years, it carries a clear and definite message. For example give me an important new legislation that was passed in the current reformist parliament: The only one I can name is this and it is basically about personal freedoms.

I sometimes think, not very freely but I try, about the "Iranian Dream". I think there is such a thing as the "Iranian Dream" and it has been imprinted on the historical memory of the [extra] politically conscious Iranians. This dream is not about prosperity. It is not about Women's right, although it includes it. It is not about religion. Can you tell me what it is about?

November 26, 2003

Can new-conservativism save Iran?
Hossein Derakhshan  [info|posts]


larijani.jpg My idealist part had previously suggested Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Peace Prize Winner, as the best presidential candidate next term. Now here is what my realistic part has to say.

Having read Spiegel's story on young generation of Iranian conservatives, I am fairly convinced that Javad Larijani (Laridjani), is going to run for president next term. Personally, I guess he has the highest chance of being elected among other possible conservative and new-conservative candidates such as Ataollah Mohajerani (former minister of culture), Hassan Rohani (head of National Security Council), Ali Akbar Velayati (former minister of foreign affairs), and his own brother, Ali Larijani (head of Iranain TV and Radio).

He is not only well-educated, open minded, experienced, and moderate but also very much trusted by the top leaders of the regime. Although because of his frank (or say, British) style of criticism, he is not popular enough among average Iranians—mainly because Iranians traditionally embrace irony and ambiguity. But since he is running one of Iran's most fruitful scientific research institute, The Institute for Studies in Theoretical Physics and Mathematics or IPM in the north of Tehran, he has become very popular among a large number of graduate students and professors from the best universities in Iran.

He is a man of controversies and conflicts. It was Javad Larijani who actually permitted the first Internet connections in his institute and handed it to major universities in Iran. In fact, most of us, who became familiar with the Net in the mid-'90s, first saw the Internet through text browsers such as Lynx, connecting to the 2,400-kb/s modems of IPM. From a man who was raised in a traditional family and is one of the closest allies of Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, the supreme leader of Iran, importing the revolutionary technology of Internet is far beyond expectations.

I am fairly confident that he can steal young people's hearts and minds in case of a presidential candidacy, and he only has to convince the radical Islamists that he is the best choice. His conflicted personality, which is in part deeply rationalized and in part strongly traditional, can attract a wide range of supporters, both among voters and influential politicians. Based on what I've heard from his colleagues in IPM or journalists who have met him, he is even more liberal than most of the reformists in terms of social freedom. For example, my nephew once told me that he was shocked to see that Mr. Larijani's secretaries were not obeying the strict Islamic dress code, and Larijani didn't even care about it. Also I personally know many non-religious people who are happily working at IPM and have great and friendly relations with their boss.

As the question about the future in Iran shifts more and more to individual freedom and economic well-being instead of political freedom, I guess new-conservatives such as Larijani are more likely to become voters' favorites. They know that someone who is deeply trusted by the supreme leader and his close allies—not the current reformists—can bring the country out of its international isolation and change the current radical Islamic attitude of the government towards the people.

My personal understanding of Iranians' attitude towards the reformist camp is that they are neither perceived desirable nor capable of keeping their promises, even when they have enough power. The only thing they do best is to talk about the problems, not solving them. Consequently, someone like Javad Larijani has a great chance to bring major change into social and economic situation of Iran. He is socially and economically liberal, politically moderate and pragmatist. If he can only marginalize the radical Islamists who are around the supreme leader, he can more or less implement the model he had created in his scientific institute, where decisions are made based on rationality, and decision-makers are chosen by their knowledge and abilities.

Finally, Javad Larjinai, has talked about a Chinese model of political progress in his interview with the German magazine. Simply, it's a development model which favors economic growth and some degrees of social freedom over political development, in which people are not likely to expect too much from the government in terms of democracy and freedom of speech. However, in my opinion, despite all the new-conservatives' desires, the Chinese model cannot be successful in the long term in Iran, for numerous social and historical differences between Iran and China. But, in the short term, I believe it could be the least risky, and the most sustainable path towards an economically and internationally strong country, which, in a society like Iran, can eventually be translated to a democratic government, even if the conservatives don't want it.

November 23, 2003

Hijab as City Walls
Mehdi Yahyanejad  [info|posts]

shahrnush.jpg Last week on Saturday night, I went to Khane Iran in Boston to listen to Shahrnush Parsipour, a well-known Iranian female author as well as a prison celebrity, due to her experiences in prison both before and after the Revolution.

Her talk was not about literature but was about Hijab. She narrated a segment of Gilgamesh, which is an important 5000-year-old epic from Mesopotamia to point out that the concept of covering women's hair existed a very long time ago. I found the reference in Gilgamesh in Tablet X:

The tavern-keeper Siduri who lives by the seashore, she lives... the pot-stand was made for her, the golden fermenting vat was made for her. She is covered with a veil ...

Parsipour tried to relate the name of the girl, Siduri, to the word "Shahr", meaning "city" in Persian, which was not covincing. She wanted to say that Siduri is like a city and covering her acts as a wall around the city. She expanded a bit more on her theory by saying that since the Middle East is geographically located in an area that is constantly under attack from all diffent sides, people started to protect women, who were physically weaker, with Hijab.

In the Q&A, a few people took issues with her theory for the origin of covering women. A friend sitting next to me pointed out that in Iran before Islam, the rich people had Hijab, which was made out of expensive material, while peasant women would go around bare headed. He also insisted that the Quran has only required Hijab for wives of the prophet, which is not quite true*. A woman criticized Parsipour by saying that this is a multifaceted issue and she can not narrow it down to only a geographical component. Another woman supported Parsipour by pointing out that women in Iraq are covering up because of the insecurity as a result of occupation. A gentleman questioned why we should care about the history of Hijab while in its new form, it is a political issue.

I bought her Prison Memoirs book at the talk and read it in the past few days. Now it is much more clear to me why the issue of Hijab is so important to her. Throughout her time in a women's prison (somewhere like this), Hijab was used as a tool to subjugate prisoners. She paid heavily for resisting it. This is why she is trying to find out what is behind the obsession of some to force head covering on others. She points out that it is not all about Islam, but that the roots of Hijab should be investigated in other places.

--------------
*There is no explicit reference to Hijab in Quran. The following verses are the important ones. It is clear that it includes all believers but it is not clear whether women have to cover their hair.

"O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters and the believing women to draw their outer garments around them (when they go out or are among men). That is better in order that they may be known (to be Muslims) and not annoyed..." (Quran 33:59)

"And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; and that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what must ordinarily appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands..." (Quran 24:31)

*Iranian Online magazine has a few features on Shahrnush Parsipour.

November 21, 2003

Iran versus HIV
Elnaz Alipour  [info|posts]

aids.jpg First day of December is the World AIDS Day.

There are lots of people in the world dying everyday from this plague of the 21st century. It doesn't discriminate against poor or rich. It's everywhere, from the richest neighborhoods in Europe to poorest slums of South Africa. It's such a strange and frightening disease that sometimes people stop thinking about it as a disease and start to wrap it in different layers of mystery.

Some statesmen have even denied the very basic scientific facts about it, perhaps to prevent public panic. The most notorious of these claims came from South African president, Mr. Mbeki, who publicly denied any relation between HIV virus and AIDS. He has openly declared that in his opinion the real cause of AIDS is malnutrition and that the pharmaceutical companies are trying to trick Africans to buy their antiretrovirals , the family of drugs that are the main weapons in helping the patients cope with their presently incurable disease, merely to gain money. As a result of his beliefs more and more South Africans are getting infected everyday*.

This brings the question to mind: Where does Iran stand in this world-wide epidemy? What are the policies against the spread of HIV? How many people have died of it and how many are getting infected every year?

Nobody really knows the exact answer to these questions. There are no real statistics on this, except for the people with special blood disorders like Hemophilia, that have used imported infected blood products** . The reported number is around 4000 and the official estimate is around 20,000, which seems far too optimistic.

With no real information and no prevention policy (although it should be mentioned that now the Blood Transfusion Center does perform the normal test on blood products, the very reason for the first cases), the future doesn’t look that bright. It looks even gloomier when you remember that there are certain issues that nobody is talking about and they are the most important factors in spreading the deadly disease.

Everybody knows that sex is one of the few different channels of getting infected (apart from blood and some other bodily fluids), but speaking about sex is a taboo in Iran. There is no such thing as sexual education in a country with a baby-boomer generation that is now in their twenties. Prostitution is becoming a bigger problem than ever. (Based on official figures, there are some 300,000 women who work as prostitutes in Iran).

Iran is not South Africa, but if their government is denying the disease and lying about it, ours is withholding the truth. The result is the same. People would lose lives.

--------------------
* The New Yorker magazine published a very intersting detailed article about South Africa's struggle with HIV/AIDS on it's May 19, 2003 issue.

** Iranian Hemophilia Society, IHS, has been very active in trying to get some comensation for the victims losses. They even tried to take the people responsible for importing the infected blood products to court, but the influence of some of the people at risk (According to the rumors Dr. Marandi the former minister of Health was among the suspects) stopped the further investigations. But the IHS used the publicity they gained and their victim status to become one of the strongest institutions to defend HIV patients rights.

*** For some more information, see BBC Persian's report on AIDS and Iran.

November 19, 2003

 Life 
Sleep well, the U.S. is safer now!**
Hazhir Rahmandad  [info|posts]

registration.gif The JFK Federal building in Boston is a 24-floor high-rise which handles most of the federal issues in Massachusetts, from immigration to war veterans' affairs. When I arrived at the building at 9:10 this morning, the first thing I noticed was the long line of people waiting for security check so that they can get in. There were over 130 people in front of me, yet I decided to stay in the line; after all I was there for my annual special registration and with a short window of 10 days, I preferred to get done with it today. The single security guard and monitoring system took half a minute, while 130 were waiting, to let one person in, so I finally got into the building at 10:15, wondering why they have not removed this obvious bottleneck since my last year visit!

Special registration started last October, when the U.S. government decided to register and track any male individual over 16 years old born in 11 countries, to make sure they don't create any security threat inside the U.S. Later on, the number of countries on the list expanded to over 30, mainly Muslim countries.

The process includes a registration interview starting in a specific period (for Iranians it was last November-December), or upon your arrival into the U.S., followed by annual re-registration interviews which should be in a 10 day period following the anniversary of initial registration. Each individual is expected to show up at the registration office in the given period with their complete travel/visa/residence documents and report to the authorities about who they are, what they do, their contacts, etc. Each person is also pictured and fingerprinted and the data is added to a central database.

The designated room for special registration on the 17th floor had a waiting area with four chairs of which I took the last empty one. Two guys, whom later I discovered to be Iranian, and a lady were also waiting in the room. A few minutes later somebody came out of the room, sighed on my sight, and took my passport in. The lady sitting next to me said that she is a lawyer and asked the guy for some information about her client. I couldn't follow her words exactly when she moved to the adjacent room, but it seemed that her client, an Iranian guy, had missed his registration deadline after entrance into the U.S., and therefore had been arrested upon showing up for registration later! This was a sad and familiar scenario that repeated for hundreds of people in California last year.

I waited for what I thought was a long time before the door opened and two people who had registered came out. But this was just the beginning of a two-and-half-hour waiting before two fellow Iranian guys were done with their re-registration, and then it was my turn! In the meantime, I was soon bored with the book I was reading, so I took some time chatting with an Egyptian guy and his American fiancée who was behind me in the line for the registration. The guy insisted that as a Muslim I had to learn Arabic well and read Quran in Arabic, reminding me of a phrase on importance of learning Arabic from the Iranian constitution, which was on the cover of our highschool learning basic Arabic books! Though amused, I didn't continue the futile argument with the guy, especially seeing his girlfriend rolling her eyes on his remarks. Another Iranian guy who had entered the room by then was surprised by hearing these remarks.

Anyway, by 12:50, it was my time to enter the room. I had already removed all my credit cards, club memberships, and business cards out of my wallet, to avoid the experience of the last year when the officer went through all of them one by one and entered any number found into their database! But this time since they already had those data on the database, the guy skipped most of the questions and just confirmed my old answers. In fact the only reason for very long registration times appeared to be the negative learning curve of the INS personnel: this time the guy not only didn't know the software he was working with, but also was typing by single fingers! Nevertheless, we collaborated together to make the process as fast as possible: I anticipated his questions and told him that all the answers remain the same. Hungry, tired, and de-motivated, he forgot putting me on the oath at the beginning of the interview! Finally, I got off by 1:20, soon enough to inform my friends that I am back before the deadline I had set (I had told them to contact an attorney if I am not back by 2p.m.); the officer took off to have a quick lunch, and America got safer than ever! Amen.

* For more information on special registration, look at the NIAC's recent advisory. Anybody born in Iran who is not a U.S. citizen or a greencard holder, may be subject to special registration and failing to do it on time can potentially result in his deportation.

** On December 2nd the special registration was suspended, as undersecretary of border security describes, to "[It] will allow us to focus our efforts on the implementation of US-VISIT while preserving our ability to interview some visitors when necessary.” see more details at: http://www.niacouncil.org/pressreleases/press138.asp

November 18, 2003

Terrorism and Counter-terrorism: the Issue of the Day
Arash Bateni  [info|posts]

terrorism.jpg On September 26, 2002, Maher Arar, a Canadian Citizen, was traveling back from Tunis to Montreal via New York, where he was fingerprinted, insulted, arrested, and imprisoned by the US officials. He was accused of suspected link to al-Qaeda. After 12 days he was deported, not to his home in Canada, but surprisingly to Syria, his country of birth. In Syria once again he was imprisoned and severely tortured to confess to his cooperation with terrorist groups: an allegation made by Americans!

Almost a year later Arar was released without any explanation and returned to his family in Canada. US officials never apologized nor provided any evidence to explain their "extra-legal" action. Instead they repeated the familiar argument that such precautions are inevitable to stop terrorism. There are still many mysteries about Arar's story that the Canadian public and media are trying to solve. However it is now fairly clear that Arar was not a terrorist, he was not a member of al-Qaeda and he did not know any one who belonged to this group. Arar was a victim of the new security policy in North America.

Unfortunately, Arar is not the only victim of the new policy. Many in the United States (and Canada) have been harassed, arrested and/or imprisoned by authorities, without any solid accusation. In most cases they are suspects merely because of their religion, colour of skin, or country of birth. In other words, the authorities terrorize the citizens and violate their basic rights for the sake of security or as a counter-terrorism action.

The problem is even more alarming at the international level where the governments are less accountable for their actions. The case of Iraq shows how the western governments feel free to gamble on the destiny of a nation in the name of "war on terrorism." They began the war with the claim of suspected weapons of mass destruction and links to 9-11 attacks, none of which proven to exist. Iraqis who every day watch the deepening mess in their country are victims of the new policy too.

Today it is amazingly difficult to distinguish between terrorism and counter-terrorism. Israel calls the assassination of Islamic militants "war on terrorism," no matter how many civilians are being killed in the process. The US, the pioneer of war against terrorism, is now considered as the terrorist state, not only in the Muslim world, but also by many scholars like Noam Chomsky and influential figures like George Soros. The Economist, an influential and ideological supporter of the aggressive counter-terrorism policy, now admits that post 9-11 approaches ”not only widened the differences between America and the rest of the world, but have also deepened divisions within the country itself”.A global opinion survey shows a steep plunge in the world's favourable view towards the US after the beginning of its so-called war on terrorism. Europeans, who after 9-11 showed a massive solidarity and support towards America, now consider the US as the second largest thread to the world peace (after Israel and in a tie with Iran and North Korea).

In brief, it is apparent that the current counter-terrorism approach, led by the United States, shares many similarities with the terrorism itself, and in some cases it is even indistinguishable. The terrorism is a problem that shouldn't be fought with having more violence. It has its motives and roots, which should be understood and resolved. I remember a placard held by an old lady in an antiwar demonstration in Toronto: WAR FEEDS TERRORISM, JUSTICE STARVES IT.

November 14, 2003

Two-Tier Citizenship
Shahriar Zayyani  [info|posts]

double.jpg The death of Zahra Kazemi, unfortunate and unjust as it was, shed much light on issues that previously were in the dark, and raised many more issues which until then had not been considered matters needing to be dealt with.

Besides the fact that her death was unjust, and the reality that it brought to the international forefront about the corruption in the Islamic Republic and the internal strife within the government of Iran, it also showed us a bit about the character of the Canadian government.

Yes, the Canadian government did recall their ambassador to Tehran, and they did ask for justice on the international front, but their follow-through of the events showed (at least in my eyes) that most of their reaction are for show and superficial. The reasons are surely many and varied. Perhaps the economic and trade ties between Iran and Canada were too important to risk, perhaps they were worried about retaliatory terrorism if they pressed the matter, or maybe they just didn't deem the issue important enough to take a much more active pursuit in.

Whatever the reasons, the Canadina government's actions (or the lack thereof) regarding this matter send a message to all Canadian citizens, since I conjecture that if instead of Zahra Kazemi, the victim had been a woman of Anglo-Canadian descent, whose family had been Canadian residents for many generations, and the colour of her hair and skin had been of a different shade, and she had had an English name, there would have been no way that the Canadian government would have acted so apathetically and with such aloofness.

The message is: that the Canadian citizenship is perhaps a two-tier system; that despite what we've been told, not all citizens are equal in the eyes of the government of Canada; that perhaps if you are born in a different country, such as Iran, and you choose to emigrate to Canada and become a Canadian citizen, you will not stand on equal footing with a fellow citizen who was born and raised here, who is of a different descent; that you are a second-level citizen.

There is no problem with this scenario in itself, if they let you know of it when you become a citizen, when you take an oath to Canada and Canada takes an oath to you. If I know that I am not on the same level as another fellow Canadian citizen, and that Canada will not look after me with the same vigilance as her other citizens, then I will behave differently and look after myself more carefully, both here and abroad.

Perhaps if Zahra Kazemi had known this, she would have been alive today. But, let us hope that this is not the case.

November 11, 2003

Hachemi vs. Ebadi: Justice in the Islamic Republic
Babak Seradjeh  [info|posts]

inversedjustice.jpg Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist, died four months ago on July 11 after being more than two weeks in a coma caused by lethal blows to her head during interrogations that followed her arrest while taking photos in front of Tehran's main prison, Evin. All that went wrong in those deadly events, from Kazemi's detention on an order by Tehran's General Prosecuter, Judge Saeed Mortazavi [in google news], to his later attempts at concealing the cause of death by either tampering with the outgoing news (he announced a brain stroke as the cause of death in the beginning) or directly threatening other officials or journalists, is inseparably attached to the Islamic Repulic judiciary system, the very entity responsible for bringing the agents of the crime to justice—so far.

Shortly after Shirin Ebadi was selected as 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner, word was spread that she had been contacted by Kazemi's family to advocate their case in court, and a few days later she officially accepted to do so. However, Stephan Hachemi, the son of Zahra Kazemi, who lives in Montreal, Canada, quickly rejected Ebadi's representation, saying he was not going to "recognize the legitimacy of their [Iranian government] justice."

Shirin Ebadi is a legal activist, a lawyer who believes genuinely in the rule of law. She wears hijab in Iran since it is by law mandatory, but gives interviews bare-headed while abroad. Her form of activism is in line with the reformists' political agenda who won the presidential elections in 1997: exhausting all the possibilites of the existing laws in a struggle to provide them with a more inclusive range and a more tolerant language and practice. The practical outcome has been, so far, minimal. The same Judge Mortazavi who would, as a special press judge, bluntly close down tens of reformist newspapers overnight now, as a general prosecutor, literally dictates the few existing ones what to typeset as their first titles. He was even chosen by the head of the judiciary system to preside over Kazemi's case, in which he was himself a natural suspect, before handing it over to another judge under extreme pressure. However, Ms. Ebadi's methods seem to be the only non-violent way towards more freedoms, or at least less coercion.

Stephan Hachemi, on the other hand, is an ordinary Canadian citizen, who has lost a mother and been denied entry by the Iranian government to her mother's homeland for a last farewell as such. He has demanded two simple demands all along: the return of his mother's body to Canada and a fair mutilateral trial. His resources are limited to the Canadian government's and international commuintie's political pressure on Iran. Although Canada recalled her ambassador to Tehran in protest shortly after Kazemi's death, but the ambassador's eventual return, "to continue to exert pressure on Tehran," and a relative quiet in the media have made it hard to believe that there is enough pressure on Tehran, or enough momentum in the Canadian administration to pursue the case.

Thus, the question remains as to which is the right path: Ms. Ebadi's wrestling with the prudent, over-powerful judiciary system of the Islamic Republic, or Mr. Hachemi's principal stance for an internationally acceptable trial? Which one, ultimately, will do justice to Ms. Kazemi's lost life and her son's shattered hopes, as well as those of all other victims of a self-revering just-ice system?

November 10, 2003

No Husband?... Let's Go to School!
Hazhir Rahmandad  [info|posts]

iran-girls.jpg
Twenty-four years ago, after Ayatollah Khomeini headed the Iranian revolution to form a new Islamic government, he endorsed the growth, rather than control of the population. Therefore, the new government stopped the distribution and promotion of contraceptive devices and encouraged people to have more children. Consequently, in a couple of years, the population growth rate of Iran soared to a record high of 3.4 percent per year.

The unintended consequences of this baby-boom are now surfacing in Iranian society. For one thing, after over twenty years, the girls born in the early 1980's are getting to the age of marriage. Following the traditional norms, these girls should find a match with older boys, who were born before the 1980’s baby-boom. However, the numbers do not match: there are now about 1.5 million more girls in the traditional age of marriage than there are boys. In fact this imbalance puts a lot of pressure on young girls who traditionally should find a husband after high-school if they cannot enter the university.

composition.JPG

The percentage of girls vs. boys admitted to public universities for the period 1997-2002. The 2002 statistics are not on the SCI website, the reported number for 2002 is based on some news I heard last year and therefore may include both public and private universities. Source: Statistical Center of Iran.

It seems unlikely that the Iranian government can find any solution for this massive social problem, however, the Iranian girls are finding their own ways to deal with the challenge. One of the most interesting self-regulating processes is that girls are increasingly determined to continue their education after high-school; indeed, in this academic year, girls constituted over 63 percent of new university entrants! They are also opening their way into the male-dominated job market and are increasingly gaining financial independence. Finally, girls tend to delay marriage, resulting in an increasing age of marriage.

The imbalance in the number of girls and boys of marriageable age is not the only cause of these social changes, and it will not persist for long. In fact, in a few years, the trend may even reverse: boys who are born in the baby-boom should match the girls born in the early 90's, when the population growth was significantly reduced. Nevertheless, the large number of well-educated women and their participation in the job market, which have followed the current demographic and economic dynamics, will have persisting effects on the Iranian culture and society.

As these trends are challenging the foundations of traditional, male-dominated society, they have created some backlash among conservative policy makers. In fact there have recently been discussions about setting limits to the number of girls admitted to some university programs. It is an irony that this policy, by blocking the natural regulatory process that society is depending on to relieve the imbalance pressure, can create even worse problems. Unfortunately policy makers hardly learn from the backlash of their own messing up with complicated social issues.

* An earlier version of this article was posted in another weblog, which never took off!

November 05, 2003

Ethnic Minorities in Iran
Kaveh Khodjasteh  [info|posts]

diverse.jpg Although I do not come from a visible ethnic minority in Iran but the ethnic diversity of Iranians always fascinated me.

The Iranian plateau was home and battleground to many nations in the past. Since the invasion of the Indo-European tribes until the Armenian migrations and in fact up to now, Iran has always been the land of many ethnicities. Sadly many of these old ethnicities have lost most of their characteristics (language, looks and customs) as Iran has emerged as a modern nation state.

The above statement however should be contrasted with the fact that besides Israel, Iran is the most ethnically diverse country in the middle east and possibly among the most diverse in the world [The diversity index of Iran is estimated at 0.71, where index 0.0 refers to a uniform ethnic background and 1.0 refers to an equally mixed ethnic background, this index is 0.35 for the US]. Besides the official language of Farsi (Western Persian, the mother tongue of about 20-30 million or maybe less), the current spoken languages include Arabic (different dialects in Khuzestan and the Islands of the Persian Gulf), Kurdish, Luri, Armenian, Assyrian, Azeri (or Turkish), Baloochi, Gilaki, Mazendarani, Qashqa'i and Turkmen.

The genetic pool of the Iranian population is also very diverse in terms of races which is paralleled by the religious diversity. The list includes Shi'ite Islam (official), Sunni Islam, Christian, Baha'i, Zoroastrianism, and Judaism.

As refreshing as these facts might be about Iran, a disturbing fact is that for the last 50 years, almost nothing has been done to preserve the identities of these ethnicities. [In a manner similar to almost any country] speakers of different accents and dialects have been the usual victims of verbal jokes and their language and heritage is not treated as anything more than a disturbance in the sea of the glorious Persian-Shi'ite culture. The very idea that there is a Persian identity that supersedes all ethnic minorities in Iran, was once fashionable during the Pahlavi's but is probably no more with the current explosive situation among the ethnicities in the middle east.

What is somehow frightening is the systematic incoherent stances of the Iranian foreign policy in various regional ethnic conflicts: they prefer Turks to Kurds in Turkey and prefer Kurds to Arabs in Iraq; in Chechnya they prefer Russians to Muslim Chechens; they like Armenians against Azerbaijanis; in Afghanistan where they displayed a complete state of "don't know who they are" when the Pashtun Taliban came to power.

However difficult the thread of foreign policy of the Middle East might be to follow, the ethnic minorities in Iran still have a right to preserve their language and cultural heritage. The fact that the Persian language survived the invasion of Arabs 1400 years ago has much to do with the fact that Persian was transliterated into Arabic characters (the language of Qur’an and thus considered sacred at the time) and was saved because it could formally be taught.

An equal place for the ethnic minorities will be one of the bases of the Iranian civil society in future. In a way, ethnic and religious minorities, women, children and other traditionally repressed social categories should all find their place in such a civil society in which culture, freedom and self-rule of people shall flourish.

[Such a romantic and glorious conclusion... ]

November 02, 2003

Ebadi Reconsidered
Mehdi Yahyanejad  [info|posts]

ebadi_in_painting.jpgOn October 10th, Shirin Ebadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her struggle for basic human rights in Iran. Ebadi was chosen over 165 competing candidates, among them Pope John Paul II and former Czech president Vaclav Havel.

Peace is inherently a political issue, and the choice of Peace Prize winners often carries political statements. Winners are selected by the Norwegian Nobel Peace Committee, whose five members are appointed by the Norwegian Parliament and is distinct from the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences, which is in charge of the Nobel awards for science. Ebadi was cited for her work as a human rights activist and "conscious Muslim" who sees "no conflict between human rights and Islam" and "has consistently supported non-violence."

Ebadi has a solid track record in defense of human rights. At age 27, she became one of the first female judges under the Pahlavi dynasty (She was not a supporter of that regime). She lost her job after the Revolution since female judges were not allowed under the newly enacted Islamic law. However, she was not discouraged. In the past twenty-five years, she has worked as a lawyer and university lecturer. She has actively promoted women and children's rights and founded the Society for Protecting the Rights of the Child (SPRC). In recent years, she has gotten more involved in political cases. She has defended famous authors such as Abbas Maroufi, editor of Gardoon magazine, and Faraj Sarkuhi, editor of Adineh magazine. She has also represented the family of Ezzat Ebrahim-Nejad, who was killed when Tehran University's student dormitories were stormed on July 9, 1999.

Ebadi strongly believes in reforming Islam from within. Instead of rejecting Islamic law, she tries to analyze its contradictions. For example in one of her articles, she points out that based on the Islamic law practiced in Iran, a father who helped his wife abort her unborn child could be jailed for up to six months. If a father killed his grownup child, however, he would not be jailed. (Payment of blood money is required in both cases.) By bringing up these obvious contradictions, Ebadi tries to convince others that Islamic laws need to be reformed based on the current needs of the society.

Even though many Iranians did not know of Ebadi, they reacted with pride and joy to the news of her selection. Although the prize implied the existence of gross human rights violations in Iran, many believed it to also be an indication of the vitality and dynamism of Iranian society. Women in particular were fascinated by the fact that one of them had become the most celebrated Iranian in the world.

Some people welcomed her selection with some restraint (check out the comment section of a post at Jeff Ooi's Screenshots). There are traditional Muslims who believe that Islam and "Western" human rights are not compatible and disagree with what Ebadi advocates. In addition, there are supporters of secularism who believe efforts by Ebadi to make Islamic shariah softer and more tolerable could only postpone the eventual secularization of Islamic societies. They also are shocked by Ebadi's claim that Islam and human rights are compatible and narrate passages from Quran to prove the contradiction between the two.

After receiving the award, Ebadi stated that she would continue her work in defense of human rights and would not become a politician. As a human rights activist, her direct impact remains limited by the political circumstances in Iran, but her symbolic influence does not recognize any boundary. She has already captured the imagination of women in Iran. Many share her belief that the path to democracy lies in improving human rights. Moreover, many Iranians share the Nobel Peace committee's hope that this award can be "an inspiration for all those who struggle for human rights and democracy" in Iran and in the Muslim world.

November 01, 2003

A one-dollar bill is on auction!
Hamed Seyed-allaei  [info|posts]

dice You have had enough of serious discussions, now let's play a game. The game is famous and is called Shubik's one dollar auction. Assume someone puts a one dollar bill on auction. Every thing is like an ordinary auction. There is however a single important difference: the second highest bidder has to pay his/her proposed price and receive nothing.

Once you have entered the game, you cannot stop bidding, because at the beginning you like to get the one dollar bill for almost nothing and at the end you bid, just to avoid being the second person who loses his/her money for nothing. Experiments show that people pay more than three dollars for the one dollar bill. This is a negative-sum game. In this game the winner loses, too.

This is a simple funny game which describes terrible situations like a war. When you gain victories you won't stop the war because you want more and when you lose, you won't stop it because you don't like to leave the war as a loser. Therefore, if both side are not wise enough to finish the war, it will continue until the termination of one side and the situation of the other side won't be much better.

Obviously, it is better to prevent entering such a game but sometimes we cannot avoid it because the other side starts the game. In that case, we should find an optimal strategy to leave the game. One solution is that a third person who is accepted by both sides, proposes a solution, which can satisfy both sides. This is similar to what the US wants to do for Palestine-Israel's game.

When such a third person is not available, a rational way to choose a policy is that we should know how much we will gain and lose if we play. Then we must estimate our power and how long we can stand against the opponent. We may use some randomness. Let's say we can choose a random number between zero and our maximum resistance time. Once we have chosen the length of resistance and the goals, we must play till then, neither more nor less. It does not matter if we will leave it victorious or not. This is a simple strategy, which works well; you can check it on Iran-Iraq war and see what would have happened if this strategy had been applied to the war. You can look at many cases from this point of view, US-Iran relation can be another example.

I also think the political battle in Iran is in this category. Both reformists and conservatives like to win and eliminate the other one. Both are wasting their power, credit and popularity plus our time and money in the game and both of them gain almost nothing. What is the solution, then? Is it possible to find a third person? Is there any proposal?