The reason I am writing this, is very simple: I am afraid. I am Iranian, true! But almost like everybody I feel something for lives in the capital. Yes, I am afraid of an earthquake in Tehran. OK! Let's forget the ones I love. Just think about numbers. Everybody who has lived in Tehran can easily feel my fear. What would be the death toll? 100K? 200K? 500K? I can not say. Who can? I am afraid. Who isn't?
For the last couple of days, Bam was on top of the news, everywhere. This won't last long, neither in foreign news agencies, nor in Iran media. Life goes on; there is nothing else it can do. Time will pass. It will be 2009 soon. It will be another breaking news:
"Minutes ago, an earthquake hit Tehran. There will be updates here on BBC as soon as we get them…. Hours ago a 6.7 earthquake hit Iran's capital, there are no official figures released yet but reporters believe it could be the highest death toll ever caused by a natural disaster…."
How fictitious do you find these? Honestly! Am I paranoid? Aren't you afraid of hearing similar things five years from now? I am not sure if it is the right place to write this, but I know nowhere else. Is there anything we can do? I don't know. But if there is, this is the best time to try. Whatever we do, will have impact on Iranian media. We should ask for tighter building regulations in Tehran. We can write letters or sign petitions. If anybody is good at writing such thing please do it. I was in Tehran when the letter in support of the two imprisoned students, which many of you signed, was published, and I saw its impact. We are important; at least we've got the prestige. Believe me. It would be in the newspapers the next day. Maybe a serious debate will be shaped. Maybe we can push something, maybe we cannot; but at least we can try. At least we can say we are afraid; that it is not a joke. An earthquake in capital may ruin the whole country.
Just imagine the pictures… the numbers… and the devastation… I am afraid. Aren't you?
A devastating earthquake hit the city of Bam and killed several thousands people. Much of the historic city of Bam was destroyed. Please feel free to share your feelings and thoughts on this tragic event in the comment section.
Big earthquakes have not been uncommon in Iran. Pretty much in every decade, there has been a severe earthquake. Unfortunately, Iran is located on one of the most earthquake-frequent regions of Earth. And the city of Bam, near Kerman, is located in one of the worst places in Iran in terms of seismic activity. Is there anything we can do about it? (see the update)
Recommended: Visit website of International Institute of Earthquake in Iran . They have a lot of maps and data on their site. Also you can watch the movies "Through the Olive Trees" or "Life and Nothing More" directed by Abbas Kiarostami to see what goes on after a devastating earthquake.
Update: To help the victims of this tragedy, National Iranian American Council has listed several ways for sending donations. Among them, Mercy Corps sounds the easiest. You can follow this link to make your donations.
Update II: Pedram at Eyeranian also is recommending Mercy Corps for donations because they have a team on the ground and transfer donations directly to the victims. Also, I found out that Nema Milanina at Iranian Truth is provinding continous updates on the situation (through Jeff Jarvis).
Update III: Ben Wisner in his opinion piece wonders why so many people should die when the knowledge of preventing earthquake exists. This article once again reminds us that the long term solution is changing basic practices in building houses. I am also upset why so many people died in Caspian Sea region in 1990 earthquake and no action was taken afterward to prevent future massive loss of human lives. Just look at the map, Bam/Kerman is in the middle of high seismic activity region. The other points with high seismic activities are Tabas and Rudbar/Manjil, which both had terrible earthquakes in past decades. I do not know much geology, but I have heard and read that you might not be able to say exactly when but you can say where earthquakes are going to happen. Now, experts have been warning about about a massive earthquake in Tehran for several years but neither government nor people care. Solving this needs a prolonged campaign in order to start a crusade (jihad) for protecting lives against earthquakes.
After thinking about this, I also remembered why I am sometimes hesitant to encourage people to donate money: I am afraid this will distract them from paying attention to the systematic solutions. I still donate money myself because I think it has many personal and social benefits but not because I have any illusion that donating is a real solution.
Update IV: Iranian Shargh newspaper reports that 600 foreign rescuers have come to Bam. Americans with 146, Turks with 130, Austrians with 122 and Russians with 120 people are the biggest teams.
It was in mid-September that I noticed a poster of a conference in Gooya news. The conference was called the "Scientific Seminar On The Discourse of Overseas Iranian Youth" to be held in Tehran on 23rd and 24th of December. The organizer was the Department of Social Affair and Overseas Iranians, which is part of the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization.
In the poster, it was vaguely written that 20 people of those whose papers get accepted will be provided with free flight tickets to Iran. The conference was for the youth and among its five topics one was about Iran's brain drain. I had no reason not to submit a paper to this conference. Brain drain is my favourite topic and I have had several researches on that. I even thought this would be a great opportunity for me to promote my proposal for NIAA. There was one funny thing: that they also asked for author's resumé in addition to the article. I was okay with that, thinking that my resumé would be even a positive factor.
The deadline for submission was Nov. 6th. In the poster there was nothing written about how long the abstract should be. At the end of the poster there were two e-mail addresses of the organizers, a yahoo account and another one. I thought it would be a good idea to test them by just sending them an e-mail. So I did, asking them about the size of the abstract. The non-yahoo e-mail bounced and I received no reply from the yahoo one for two weeks. One day, I was going through my e-mailbox deleting spams when I reached to an unfamiliar e-mail which I was about to delete. The subject of the e-mail said "Javab" meaning "Reply" in English, however when I opened it I noticed there was nothing in it except an attached picture which you can see on the side. The picture was a formal letter from the conference which was scanned in the form of a .jpg file. The letter was written in Persian and even had an official registered number. In the first paragraph of the letter, they said that what mattered to the conference was the quality and not the quantity! In the second paragraph, they finally mentioned that for easier processing of the articles they recommended a 2-page abstract.
I finished writing my article by Nov. 6th. Though from other sources I realized that they had extended the deadline to Nov. 21st, I still submitted my article and resumé by an e-mail. At the same time, considering how difficult it would be to find a flight ticket near Christmas holidays, I booked a ticket. In an e-mail to them, I asked if they could tell me as soon as they could whether my paper was accepted or not, since I could not put a hold on my reservation forever and soon I had to pay for it.
Two weeks passed and I received no reply, even no confirmation letter. I decided to call the conference office in Iran. I phoned them and managed to talk to someone who told me that I did't have to worry about the flight ticket since if they accepted my paper they would send me the ticket. He told me that they would announce the results in two weeks. This was already the last week of November! A few days later I finally got an e-mail response, again in the form of a .jpg attachment, saying similar things. So I cancelled my reservation!
During those days, I received another e-mail from them which was not about the conference this time. They congratulated me the end of Ramadan; my name was added to their address book!
On Dec. 1st I got another e-mail from them, again in the familiar format but this time with an English translation as well, as you can see on the right. The funny thing is the English translation; just count the number of grammar and spelling errors in these few lines and imagine that this is a letter from a Department related to Iranians overseas. They asked for some more information including my picture, my date and place of birth, my father's name and how much I was familiar with the Persian language since they had decided to hold the conference in Persian. Regardless of how stupid some of their demands were, I became relatively happy to receive the e-mail even though it was mentioned that asking for these information didn't mean that my paper had been accepted. They claimed to announce the results by the end of the week! I sent them all the information they wanted. The week ended and I received no reply. I was getting mad at them since by the first week of December I still had no clue if I would be in Iran for Christmas or not and I had to know my schedule for some work-related issue. I phoned them again. This time they asked me to wait for another day. I did and finally they replied on Dec. 7th. They had rejected my paper since the content didn't satisfy their review committee. Then they offered me to pay for my expenses in Iran if I am willing to pay for my air ticket. They said that if I came to Iran I could have the opportunity to spend my time in Iran with young talented Iranians such as those who were honoured in scientific olympiads. Ummm! They asked me for my quick response!
Semi-literal translation of the e-mail:
Thanks for your very kind and polite letter.
We are very grateful for all the hardship you accepted to take part in the Scientific Seminar On The Discourse of Overseas Talented Iranian Youth. Unfortunately, the previous letter was the result of a mistake by one of our colleagues as (he/she) did not notice the note beside your Dec. 5th 2003 e-mail.
Anyway, we thank you again for your kind attention.
The story ended here for me but continued for one of my friends. She sent her article in around the time of the deadline. Two weeks later, she realized that they hadn't received it. She resent it and got a confirmation by calling them. They eventually rejected her paper as well. However, two days after her paper was rejected, she received an e-mail from the conference asking her if she could send her article again since they had not been able to open her files! She forwarded this funny e-mail to her friends, adding a comment on how stupid these people were. However, she mistakenly forwarded it to the conference people as well. A day after, she received an e-mail written in Pinglish (Persian using English scripts) which tried to justify what had happened. The funny thing was the highlighted part of the e-mail as you can see below! When mentioning the name of the conference in the e-mail, the word "talented" was highlighted, probably meaning: "Hey, you are not talented!". I could never imagine such a childish e-mail from the organizers of a conference in Iran.
Honestly, they ruined my holidays. I would have been quite happy if I had known in the beginning that my paper would be rejected, not on Dec. 7th for a conference on Dec. 23rd on the other side of the planet. If it ever happens that I talk for these guys about brain drain I would say something different from what I had originally planned. I would say that if they ever wonder why brains escape from Iran, they'd better know that they are the very exact reason!
This is a follow up to A proposal for the "Network of Iranian Academics Abroad" (part 1).
In the previous post, I explained that one of the most effective ways to reduce the adverse effects of brain drain from Iran is to establish scientific cooperation with Iranian scientists living abroad. For this purpose, I am now proposing the establishment of a Network of Iranian Academics Abroad (NIAA). Although the network can in principle include people from a wide range of areas, from sociology to engineering, NIAA's main focus is on the science. It is very important that any proposal has to be first practical. Nice and ambitious ideas which could never come to practice are not useful. In this proposal, the establishment of the network is done by the new generation of Iranians who have left the country in the last decade or so and are currently graduate students or faculty members in the universities abroad. The primary objective of NIAA is to help the development of science in Iran and not networking among Iranian diaspora as opposed to many existing Iranian associations outside Iran.
NIAA will have an executive committee consisting of two main groups, inside and outside Iran. These two groups will be the graduate students and new university professors at universities inside and outside Iran. At the beginning, NIAA should be based on volunteerism, however to guarantee its continuation, it has to gradually set a funding system and pay some of its staff. NIAA should also try to keep a strong relationship with the governmental offices in Iran so as to facilitate its activities inside Iran. I believe this kind of relationship is a necessity for a scientific network such as NIAA and has to be considered regardless of the government's political agenda. There will also be an NIAA's advisory board of respected Iranian scientists from around the world. This would help the network to keep ties with an older generation of scientists in order to use their experience.
An easy and practical start would be to systematize the visits by Iranian scientists to their home. Every year, in the summer and Christmas holidays, many of the Iranian graduate students or professors go back to Iran for a short visit. NIAA should take advantage of this opportunity and organize different seminars and workshops by these people as a way of transferring knowledge to Iran. The NIAA committee inside Iran will do the logistic works for these activities where the committee outside Iran would arrange the trips and plans the seminars. For this reason, it is essential that the committee members should be dispersed in different universities and different areas of science.
What we have to do first is to develop a web site which contains a database. This database should include the information about the Iranian scientists outside Iran, the conferences and workshops in Iran, the universities and research centers in Iran and Iranian scientific and technical societies located outside Iran.
In the long term, this network can make some ties with organizations such as the United Nation Volunteers (UNV). There is a program called TOKTEN (Transfer of Knowledge Through Expatriate Nationals) which is now done by around 25 developing countries under the umbrella of UNV. In this program, which first started in Turkey in 1976, qualified expatriate professionals from developing countries return to their countries of origin for short periods of time to share the skills they have gained during their residence in developed countries. To my knowledge, TOKTEN has only very weak connection with Ministry of Science, Research and Technology of Iran through Iranian Scholars' Scientific Information Network Office (ISSINO). Such a collaboration with UNV and other similar organizations could be a great financial help as well as an important factor in strengthening the network.
At first glance, NIAA may not seem to be very useful for the current situation of Iran. One may argue that having few seminars more every year doesn't do too much regardless of whether scientific development should be any concern at all. I would like to emphasize this proposal is just a practical start. We could hope that this network grow in future and expand its activities to other fields and much more than seminars. Just as an example of what such a network of diaspora can do, we can look at the rapid development of information technology (IT) in India which owes a lot to the contribution from Indian IT professionals living outside India, some of whom have gathered in Silicon Valley Indian Professionals Association (SIPA).
For me, one of the surprising observations in the U.S. has been the extent to which personal life is pushed back by the work life. There are several dimensions to this observation, but the one I want to discuss here is the effect of job mobility on marriages and intimate relationships, specially as perceived by Iranian students coming to the west.
The core of the issue is that for an intimate relationship to work, the two people need to live at the same geographical location, at least in long-term. However, the modern job market, specially in the U.S., requires a lot of flexibility on the part of job seeking individual on the question of where to live. Therefore, when both sides of the relationship/marriage are working individuals, they will have a hard time finding a feasible solution to the work-love balance and these two spheres of life frequently come to a head to head collision!
This dilemma is not known to most of students coming from Iran, but can become a major concern as they proceed in their educational path. For example, the normal path for an individual pursuing a Ph.D. in science includes two or three post docs following the Ph.D., each taking about two years, before one can apply for a tenure track position or decides to drop out of the academia! However, in getting each of these post docs the individual has little choice in where she will finally get the job. This is because she should apply to a dozen different places, usually in different states (if not different countries) and be lucky to get one or two job offers.
Now if this individual is married, or is engaged in an intimate relationship, there is no guarantee that her spouse/partner can follow her in this uncertain job hunting. In fact, if the other side of the relationship is also a highly educated working individual, as is usually the case, he will also face the same set of constraints. As a result, the couple will be left with a few disturbing choices: Break up the relationship, follow their own career path but try to keep the relationship alive from long distance, or significantly compromise their career aspirations by one individual following the other.
In fact, an important result of this dilemma is that many individuals, foreseeing the future challenges, shy away from getting involved in an intimate relationship for a long time. Others choose to avoid the problem differently. For example some guys prefer to bring their bride from Iran, a girl who hopefully does not have the same demanding job aspirations and therefore can follow the guy in his winding career path. Finally, some others adopt a policy of engaging in short-term relationships, until they settle down with a more permanent job and can think about more serious relationships. It is important to notice that the last two options are culturally much harder for girls to follow, leaving them with even more limited options.
To my experience few people completely forget about their career aspirations and follow their spouse, after over twenty years of attending schools. Therefore, the final compromise usually pushes back the boundaries of personal life in favor of work life. Nevertheless several important questions remain open, that people with different backgrounds and experiences can shed light into with their comments: how satisfactory different ways of dealing with this challenge are? Are there better alternatives to avoid some of the tradeoffs? What are the cultural implications of these pressures? How Americans deal with these challenges? How is the experience of girls different from that of guys? I think discussing these issues not only are beneficial for young Iranian immigrants in the west, but also can benefit our younger colleagues who are planning to leave Iran and come to the land of opportunities.
Saddam's arrest and seeing his humiliation on the TV screen brought back a lot of memories from the years of Saddam's invasion of Iran. I remembered a lot of slogans against Saddam and a lot of other propaganda produced by the Iranian government to mobilize Iranians to go and defend the country against the invasion. I remembered how Saddam was often called "American Saddam" ("Saddam-e Amrikaayee" in Persian) and "Mercenary" ("Saddam-e Mozdour" in Persian) by the Iranian government controlled media.
It was not just the Iranian government who believed Saddam was a puppet but also a significant portion of Iranians believed so. However, they were less clear in spelling out whom he was a puppet of. Sometimes they would call him a puppet of America and other times of the Soviet Union. None of them wondered how someone could be a puppet of opposite forces in the Cold War.
The pictures of Saddam as homeless were so powerful that no one in their right mind can think that this was part of a script written by Americans for Saddam to act. Saddam has been humiliated, has lost his children, and has been homeless for a while. These pictures should dispel the myth that Saddam was an American agent.
It was Saddam himself who decided to invade Iran and Kuwait. If other countries helped him, it was because of their strategic interest at that moment, not because Saddam was their puppet. In fact, many countries sold weapons to both sides of the conflict.
The example of Saddam is not the only example. Iranians believed the Shah was an American puppet. However, they never wondered why a puppet should be insisting to buy more advanced weapons from its master while the puppet masters (notably JFK and president Lyndon Johnson) were reluctant to sell him those weapons. Other people in the region believe the Saudi king is a puppet. What kind of puppet is he when he has to spend millions on public relation firms to improve its image in Washington to keep himself a puppet?
The truth is that none of these dictators are puppets. They have lots of freedom in how to treat their people or what countries they trade with. They often choose whom to ally themselves with, and they can switch if they are not satisfied. For example, Aliyev of Azerbaijan shifted from a communist to a pro-American politician in his lifetime, and Saddam had an on-and-off relationship with America. At best, their relationship with the superpowers can be described as "partnership" or "temporary alliance". In most cases this partnership is highly in the interest of the superpowers and to some extent that dictator but not in the interest of the people who are ruled by that dictator.
It is true that there are areas of significant importance for superpowers such as flow of oil or strategic places such as Panama canal. If these dictators attempt to step on the feet of the superpowers in these cases, they get severly punished. But still there are a lot of things they can do without stepping on the feet of the big guys.
Why am I so concerned about saying that the right word to use is "partnership" (or unfair partnership) not "master-puppet relationship"? It is because believing that they are puppets has created a sense of invinciblity surrounding them that protects them from being removed by their people. People feel that to remove these dictators they have to go and fight with their masters (in many case it means America). While if they believe this is a partnership, they would limit their approach to the more practical solution of removing their dictators by directly fighting them and convincing the superpower that they (people) can continue the partnership as it is. In the long term, they can change the partnership to a fairer partnership.
-Mossadegh's mistake was that he was trying to remove an unfair partnership and a dictator at the same time.
What is the engine of democracy? What make it stable? Why some countries start with democracy but end with dictatorship?I have been asking myself and I could not find any answer in scientific manner, which is irreducible, simple and general. In this post I would like to have a look at the simplest process that leads to democracy with minimal assumptions and in the worst case. There is no law and every one is evil. I believe no more assumptions are nessesary to construct a democracy.
Democracy is just a side-effect of a very simple process, the only real rule of nature, the rule of primitive jungles: survival of the fittest. This is reality. It is enough to look around and see democratic states and their leaders. If they are not evils, they are not saints either. They use any possibility to go
above the law to gain more fitness.
How a paradise-like society could be established by politicians who take care only of their own personal interests?
Suppose there is not something like religion, as it is assumed in secular states. Therefore, there is not any measure to show what is good and what is bad. Thus, for an individual, good will be something toward his/her personal interest and bad will be something against it.
Assume there is a very strong group in a country, against whom no one can resist. The results is obvious: they will take control. When it is against their interest, They won't respect any laws and rights, like all dictators in the world. It doesn't matter who they are and how they take the power. In fact even a president who has 90 percent of the votes is a potentioal dictator.
Now let us think about when two strong groups coexist. In this case the situation is a little different. If they have the same amount of power, it won't be a wise idea if they try to eliminate each other, thus, the best way is just try to live peacefully. They can either flip a coin or refer to public opinions to chsose a ruler.
When it comes to public opinions and elections, both sides have to respect the voters' rights, because they need their votes and any betrayal to the voters' rights will give the advantage to the opponent.
That is the way things work in the world. Therefore, to have a democratic government, which respect the citizens' rights, we need at least two parties with almost equal power. In fact, the existence of a strong minority is a key factor of a stable democracy. Without the presence of such a minority, any sort of governments and rulers will lead to dictatorships.
I would like to finish this post with a question: What can we tell about Iran within this analogy?
The following is part 2 and conclusion to the interview. (You can read part 1 here.)
If I can ask, how do you handle the flag problem? Both the allah and the lion and the sword carry heavy baggage. Is there an effective alternative or do some of us have to settle for the plain?
I proudly own several Lion and Sword flags and have one on display by my computer as I write my blog. That flag pre-dates the Pahlavis and in fact was first recognized as the official flag for Iran by the first parliament after the constitutional revolution of early 1900's...
That's the Majlis that was fired upon by Russian artillery brigades, on the way to bringing our first flirtation with democracy to an end. The Allah flag is religious in nature and as someone who believes in restrict separation of mosque and government, I don't believe it matches our aspirations, not to mention its exclusion of non-Muslim Iranians.
Do you ever get hate mail for some of the things your write on your blog? If so, can you tell us about some of them?
I've been getting hate mail and worst for so long, it has become a part of my everyday life. The ones that concern you are those that just reek of violence. You can write and say something like you are stupid, you should be thrown out of the country, we will destroy our enemies and send you back to Usama, all of which I have heard, and just know that it is coming from utter ignorance and a sever shortage of good judgment. But when you get someone threatening you life and safety, or that of your family, then you can't be sure if you are dealing with just an empty threat or is this person nuts enough to actually want to end someone's life because he or she doesn't like their opinion. I am glad to say that lately, there has not been many of the latter types and in fact those were more normal before 9/11 and when I'd speak against radical and fundamentalist version of Islam.
What was your model for Eyeranian when it was first conceived on blogspot? Has that model changed since then?
Yes. The original blog was designed for a few friends. These were people who knew me personally and would often ask why I don't write anymore or wanted to have my perspective on some issues. Fortunately or unfortunately, it was soon discovered by others and suddenly thousands were reading it and I did not think the original format was very fitting of a broader audience. That's why I moved, renamed and changed it to give it a distinctive identity and make it more user-friendly and also include links and other features that are hopefully of use by the visitors.
This is also where the idea of a magazine came about, as I thought it is a horrendous waste if a wide audience gets to read my material, but is never exposed to anyone else' great work. I thoroughly believe in the idea that none of us owns 100% of the truth and it is only when we get exposed to a broad spectrum of ideas and beliefs, that we are able to form our own opinions based on all the facts and varying points of view.
Lately I've noticed that you are posting a little more about your personal life. How do you balance your personal life with your political one? Are they connected at all, or is it like juggling two different worlds?
If you are implying that the content has changed, I disagree with you. My blog is a reflection of my own personal pre-occupations at any particular time. For example, when I first moved to eyeranian.net and over the first few months, the invasion of Iraq and the implications it had on Iran was the hottest topic both in media as well as in my own mind. So the posts reflect that. As we have moved on from there, other issues are presented and those include discussing more of my own personal life, the way I had it on blogspot. I suspect this will be a natural tendency for as long as the blog is still alive.
But to answer your question, I don't balance those two very well. This has always been a struggle for me. One of the reasons I moved from Canada was just that; my public life had stretched so wide, it had left no room for my personal one. I needed to get out of that. At the moment, I live two completely different and separate lives. Most of the people in my personal life, work or social interactions, don't even know about my other side and vice versa. This is the only way I have been able to maintain both and I don't think that situation is very unique to me either. Unfortunately, we live in a world where we can't always live by just doing what we enjoy most and are probably best at. So many artists, activists and others are forced to live dual lives. Our best painters may be serving coffee 18 hours a day and our brightest poets drive a cab. Only very few are lucky enough to combine the two successfully.
How long will I be able to live this dual life effectively is the big question mark. One I am not looking forward to finding the answer to just yet.
There were a couple of hot months before and during the July 9th demonstrations this past summer. Some American blogs were even writing about Iran related subjects everyday. What, in retrospect, do you think was really happening?
Most westerners, particularly those from U.S., the ones you called American, a term I try hard to avoid, live in a culture of sensationalism and the 30 second attention spans. This is what they are used to from their media and public life. As soon as a few hot button keywords like terrorist, dirty-bomb, pro-democracy, fundamentalists, etc. are used about Iran, their curiosity peaks and suddenly they are very interested. This sudden attention quickly fades and almost exclusively applies to negative events and never anything positive.
One of my biggest criticisms for the blogs you are referring to is just that. They follow the old traditions set out by the mainstream and biased media instead of creating a new format of spreading news and commentary. You can have a million stories about the wonderful work of Iranian activists inside Iran and abroad, success of our artists, the amazing grass-roots struggle towards democracy for over 100 years or anything else that is positive and you'd be hard pressed to find one or two posts on non-Iranian blogs about it. Yet, some obviously biased group may say they have found a secret nuclear plant or somebody is sentenced to the horrible fate of death by stoning, and suddenly they are all very interested. I am not suggesting those issues should not be addressed or covered, but some sort of a balance may be welcomed.
And how is the magazine coming along? I know it must be a hell of a thing to organize.
Like everything else, it has had a few ups and downs expected by any volunteer and no budget project. But we are past all of that now and I expect to have some very positive news on that front very soon. I'll use the opportunity to invite anyone who may be interested to work on this project to contact me directly, particularly writers, artists and others who believe a voice for a more progressive outlook by Iranians is missing in the international arena and the upcoming on-line magazine will hopefully be the start of much larger steps to get our voices out to those who matter.
Have you ever had that dream, where you are kicking G.W.Bush and his dog keeps barking behind you? By the way, what do you think his chances are in the next election?
No. It has taken me years to kick all violent tendencies, even if form of dreams. A family member recently became very impatient with me as I spent 20 minutes "guiding" a fly out of the window and refusing to kill it.
As for his chances? They are pretty good, I'm afraid. Just wait until they suddenly "find" Usama or Saddam on the eve of the election, or continue manufacturing good economical news as they did this past week. They are dealing with an electorate that is not particularly savvy in politics or ideological positions, and is therefore easy to manipulate with short-term hallucinations and misguided by deceit. It will be interesting to see if the Democrats have finally become sophisticated enough to not play the game with rules set-out by the extreme right and manage to offer a true alternative for a change. If that happens, or there's suddenly a major wrinkle in W's conduct between now and then, it could get very interesting.
Thank you for your time Mr. Moallemian and for the Monday Morning Motivationals which go so well with my own Monday morning hangovers, I thank you again.
I should thank you again for allowing me to share a few comments with your readers. FreeThoughts.org has certainly raised the bar in both style and content of what is available to read in Iranian blogs and I must congratulate all of the people involved to have been able to pull it off. It is certainly one of my regular stops in the blogestan and I look forward to discovering more bright and talented hamvatans through its pages.
Pedram Moallemian is an Iranian-Canadian political blogger who lives in Southern California. Unlike many political bloggers, Pedram talks from experience as his posts are a mix of idealogy and personal experience. In less than a year at eyeranian.net, he has managed to turn his blog into a river-bed of ideas. The following is part one of the interview/conversation I had with him via email.
To start can you tell us a little about yourself? Where you grew up, and when you moved to the states?
First, thanks for the opportunity. I was born and grew up in Tehran. Can't really figure out how or why, but I became political way before it was fashionable and earlier than any child should...
Following a couple of close calls and arrests after the revolution, I left Iran in 1983 and immigrated to Canada at 16 and on my own. It may sound a bit strange to move across the globe with no relatives or support system and little language skills at such an early age, but I grew up a bit differently and was running a business, teaching a couple of classes and plastering half of the city with leaflets and graffiti by the time I was 14. I lived mostly in Canada for the next 18 years and moved to U.S. three years ago. If you are adding it up, I'm about 37 now!
As you know the majority of Iran's population was either born after the revolution or has very little memory of it. What was it really like? How did it affect you?
I think for most people, the revolution itself happened just way too fast. I remember the day my dad came home to tell us how someone was parading around the main bazaar in Tehran with a picture of Ayatollah Khomeini and the infamous article Savak had planted in E'tela'at to insult him, while asking people to recite Salavat. Not many had even heard his name at that time. Within months an aunt called to say how scared they were as the sound of gunfire had not stopped around their home near Jaleh Square for hours. That turned out to be the Black Friday. Before we knew it, there were nightly marches, the big ones on special dates like A'shura-Ta'sua and we were learning how to make really loud firecrackers by using discarded TV antennas to scare the soldiers who spoiled our demonstrations. Soon enough it was time to rally to Tehran University to greet the released Ayatollah Taleghani and then Shah left to trigger a 24 hour street party. The reaction to Khomeini's return was much more restrained as I think many were expecting he'll be killed upon return, but he wasn't and we put aside our firecrackers to make Molotov Cocktails to greet the removal of monarchy from Iran forever.
What is perhaps more significant however, may be the brief period of about two years AFTER the revolution. I believe this period has perhaps had a larger influence on our outlook on life as a nation than any other recent periods. Most remember not having a police force or proper judiciary in place, yet almost no crime took place. People would get into car accidents, jump out, hug one another and walk away. This is where perhaps for the first time, we as a nation experienced freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and a free press. I don't think you can easily forget what you experience when you encounter freedom this way and for the first time. What you see today politically, be it the exiled opposition, so called "reformist" movement and others, are all coming from the generation that lived through that experience. This has deeply affected me and the generation before me, unfortunately the new majority you are referring to never got the chance to go through that.
Interesting. Though, I would somewhat characterize the two years after Khatami's landslide victory the same way. There was a sense of victory in the air. People were happier and somewhat hopeful. We thought we were going to take it all the way this time around. But I guess history repeats itself and so do our mistakes.
I was not in Iran for that interlude, but received a pretty good feel for it in regular interactions with those inside Iran. I suppose the main difference would be the diversity of what was presented and available. For example, in tose days and at Tehran University area, you would find hundreds of tables set up by every imaginable ideology and group you can think of. There were the Communists, the Maoists, Nationalists, Muslim leftists, Anarchists, and more. And not just one or two or five, you could find 20 or 30 Communist tables with a red flag, a poster of Che and a copy of Marx's Das Kapital, each belonging to a different organization or faction.
Another memory I have is traveling through Caspian coast, where each city was "owned" and controlled by one group or another, many of them literally don't exist anymore; one town was run by Sarbedaran, another by Peikar, next you'd drive into a larger city and they were typically controlled by either Mojahedin or Hezbollahis who were called Jonbeshi and Falanje or Chomaghdar respectively at the time, then you'd enter Rahe-Kargar territory, and soon after Fadaeian. It was a never ending experience and one would get exposed to all these different people and opinions. I don't believe the 2nd of khordad period was anything close, as it relates to diversity of ideas but you mentioned "hope" and I think that is the common factor between the two periods.
Since your migration to North America, you've been very politically active. Can you account for some of the groups and organizations you've been involved with?
There are too many for even me to remember, but I separate them into two categories of Iranian and non-Iranian entities. Not unlike many hamvatans abroad, I too have gone through periods of cutting off my own community and running away from my identity, in this case submerging myself with the non-Irani affiliations.
I have been the founder and volunteer director of Canadian Iranian Center for Liberty & Equality (CIRCLE), a human rights advocacy organization, started other efforts like Stop Deportation to Iran Campaign and briefly served as President of Iranian Community Association of Ontario.
On the other category, I've been part of various campaigns and efforts including acting as a delegate to a range of conventions and conferences on behalf of New Democratic Party of Canada (NDP) and was chosen by members of that party to run for a seat in Canada's Federal Parliament in 1997. Served as co-chair for election campaign for Mayor of Toronto, have worked with a number of trade-unions and labor groups, also acted on behalf of the wrongfully convicted and a few more efforts that I'm sure I am forgetting now.
How is the overall participation level among Iranians in these organizations?
Very little to non-existent. One of the reasons I ran for office was precisely because of that. I believe a large portion of our community abroad has never opened their luggage and is too pre-occupied with this real or fantasy possibility of running back home. We are so obsessed with what is going on in Iran, we never bother with the public life, politics and issues that shape our lives here, along with the lives of our current or future children.
I'm not suggesting we forget Iran or even that we will not go back, I think many of us will. But the truth is that many will not, due to life and family obligations here. Besides, it may be decades before the situation is to the point where we'd be even able to live there. Do we forget about our tax spending, education system and what our second-home is doing internationally to focus on our place of birth only? That would be insane. We need to get involved with issues of our current homes, get active in organizations and efforts here, while not forgetting our homeland too.
How as someone who reads your blog on a regular basis, it is obvious that you are a liberal (sometimes painfully so,) but what do you think is the motivation behind so many Iranian-Americans joining the GOP?
You must remember that unlike many other immigrant groups, we are not from similar backgrounds or social classes. Most Italians who immigrated to U.S. for example, came within a certain window and mostly as economical refugees from smaller cities and towns. They were attracted to jobs where their skills were needed and as such started groups and communities around industrial regions, their trade activities and the culture they all shared. Iranian immigrants on the other hand are from a very diverse set of circumstances and even varying sub-cultures. I don't expect the industrialist or major land owner who left the country with a certain financial situation to be very open to or be supportive of a socialist agenda, for example. There's very little in common between the goals or even the culture of a former royal army general and that of the university student who immigrated here a few years ago and was active in Khatami's campaign.
Furthermore, the crowd that is attracted to the policies and outlook of the Republican Party here, also holds positions of influence and money, so it is natural that you hear their side of the story much more often and with a good deal of noise. Going back to your question, do many Iranians in U.S. join or support the GOP? Yes, probably. But are they the majority or represent the views shared by most Iranians here? I highly doubt it.
I once wrote that in my view, most Iranians are socialists in nature and outlook, even if they don't identify themselves as such. Ideas of equality, respecting the environment, taking care of your neighbors and the disadvantaged and sharing the available wealth to better our communities together, are ideas most of us cherish as they are imbedded within our common culture. If you read any book attributed to the Shah, particularly ‘answer to history' or read Abbas Milani's great work on the life of Hoveyda, you will see that even these most recent symbols of right-wing capitalism and greed were infatuated with ideas that can at best be described as Social Democratic in nature more than anything else. Almost every political party and organization created in Iran over the last 100 years also shares certain economical and social programs that can be categorized as left-of-center. Some just barely on the left side of political spectrum, others all the way to the extremes. This is a reflection of the desires and positions most acceptable and favored by nearly all Iranians.
I don't believe this "survival of the fittest" and "everybody for their own" ideology of GOP and other right-wing parties appeal to many of us and even if we choose to support that party because we like the tax cut idea or blame Democrats for pushing Shah on human rights issues or any other reason, deep down we still have a different belief than what is fought for by ideologues of the right.
In the last two decades, the emigration of scientists and skilled workers, also known as brain drain, has become a crucial barrier against the rapid growth of Iran. Every year, a considerable number of Iranians who could participate significantly in the development of their home country leave Iran permanently for another country. The approach that the Iranian government has taken toward this issue is quite sad and disappointing. They neither have any estimate of how extensive the problem is, nor a clear understanding of the problem and its possible solutions.
Emigration of the elite is the consequence of many political, social and economical factors and is not specific to Iran. Every year, many scientists leave Canada and Europe for the United States. Emigration of scientists and skilled workers even happens within the US from one state to the other. It is important to note that in Iran and to some extent in other countries, this problem and its solutions are not really different from other problems of society. As in the case of our home country, unless the government of Iran becomes more democratic and life becomes easier in financial respects, there is not any real hope that every year, many Iranians won't immigrate to other countries. It would be a big mistake if we think that the brain drain problem can be solved without taking care of the other problems of the society.
Although no short-term comprehensive solution is ahead of us, there is still a lot that could be done. A few approaches to this problem have been tried in different countries in the last two decades. The first is called "Preventive Policy," which is the attempt to keep scientists inside the country, in some cases by making immigration difficult. This policy has failed drastically in all the countries that have tried it. What is wrong with this policy is the assumption that separates the value of a scientist from his or her environment. In fact it is the interaction between a scientist and his or her community that brings success. A talented person in a country which can not appreciate it will not be productive.
The second option is called "Return Policy" and is followed by some new industrialized countries such as South Korea and China. These countries let their people go to the more developed countries for periods of work or study. At the same time, they try to make a strong scientific infrastructure in order to encourage their scientists to return home and use the expertise and knowledge they have gained. However this option can only be implemented in relatively rich countries with large financial resources and strong management. Sadly, it is a bit optimistic that Iran could invest on this option.
The other strategy is called "Diaspora Option". This policy is based on the fact that many of the scientists do not go back to their home country anyway. However, for cultural and personal reasons they would like to help, in any way they can. The goal of this policy is to systematize the connection between the scientists abroad and their home. There are several advantages to this approach. Firstly, since the scientists stay in the developed countries, the concern is not valid anymore that they may not be productive. Moreover this policy gives the opportunity to the developing countries to take advantage of the scientific environment of the developed countries through the contact with their scientists.
In the second part of this post, I will discuss how "Diaspora Option" can be implemented for Iran by giving a proposal for a "Network of Iranian Academics Abroad".
Jean-Baptiste Meyer and Mercy Brown, Scientific Diasporas:A New Approach to the Brain Drain, World Conference on Science, Hungary, 1999.
This post may, in some ways, be similar to Hossein Derakhshan's "Let's start shaping...". Perhaps it could be viewed as an example:
The other night I was watching a semi-documentary on Channel 4 called "Iran Undercover". The program was made by a Canadian journalist who had been trying to show some of those realities that, as she believed, Zahra Kazemi had previously given her life to find out. For this, she had visited different (to say) oppositions in Iran, Germany, UK and the Netherlands. Despite all her efforts and all the risks she said she had been taking in the Islamic State, the program was not professionally well made: her resources did not seem quite credible and her story was very much biased. But most important for me was that unfortunately her focus was on recent student movements in Iran.
Back in Iran, and it is not a long time ago, I was relatively active or at least close to many of those who were active in the so called student movement. Honestly, watching her story, I was really shocked as I did not know any of those whom she mentioned as "leaders" of the movement. I do not have any intention to say she was faking, nor do I have the valid evidence to prove such a claim and after all, there actually was some measure of truth in her portrait of Iran. Simply, I just want to note that lack of independent literature on the recent Iranian socio-political situation by Iranians simply creates enough room for rather manipulated or poorly informed productions by foreign journalists. Just to have some idea of how far the images could be from the realities of Iran society, I mention an example:
At some stage of her analysis, she pointed to the local council elections and the very low level of turnout in large cities like Tehran. Then, while showing footage of an Iranian student movement leader (whom I never had heard of), she suggested that his letter being smuggled out of prison and his appeal to Iranians not to participate in a "sham" was the main reason for the masses not to take part in that election.
There is no doubt that anybody who knows Iran and its complex social situation would find such a deduction ridiculous. Yet despite her broad exaggerations (e.g. about intelligence service activities in Iran), one could still find some realities in her report, such as the corruption of judicial system or violence practiced by unofficial militias.
Having watched that feature, I felt the necessity of intellectual discourse and clarification of ambiguities about Iran more than ever. As an Iranian student living outside of Iran, as an Iranian citizen who thinks of himself as being concerned about his country, it was more than unbearable for me to watch somebody call himself a leader of the Iranian student movement, an ex-political-prisoner, and then shout to the camera: "I love Jennifer Lopez!"
The mainstream Western media has long forgotten Iran as a major factor of political change in the Middle East. They only remember Iran during the elections or if something nasty happens. They used to be more interested in Iranian internal issues when they were hoping that out of the entire reformist movement, something big would happen, but now it seems as if Iran has lost its importance, except for the nuclear issues. But part of the reason for this has been our own selves.
The sad reality is that Iranian intellectuals and writers figures have never been actively involved in shaping debates--or at least participating in them.
Aside from a few, mostly right-wing-backed columnists such as Amir Taheri have been writing op-ed pieces for major western newspapers.
There are numerous educated Iranians, especially from the younger generation, who are qualified and capable enough to raise important issues about Iran by writing articles, stories and opinion columns in the Western media. But it seems they suffer from two things: lack of confidence, and lack of journalistic connections.
I believe it's time to overcome these two barriers, especially while we have overcome the huge and strong barrier of language, which, in my opinion, has been the biggest cause of the problem for the last decades. Therefore we only need to find the confidence and the network we require to be able to shape important debates on Iranian issues.
The solution to both of these, I believe, lies within a favorite term of the recent years in Internet-savvy community: Peer-to-Peer networking.
All of us have different contacts in various publications in North America and in Europe. If we share them all with each other and create a network of these shared contacts, we would absolutely be able to produce a couple of insightful columns with fresh viewpoints every week in various newspapers and magazines. And if we can only keep it going for a while, it would not only help us gain the necessary confidence, but also grab the attention of the media even without much networking. Then, after a couple of years of hard work, it will be Western editors who desparately need Iranian columnists to write for them, not Iranians.
Free Thoughts on Iran could be a great starting point for such a network. We can share our journalistic and academic contacts and begin to frequently send our writings to them. They surely can't ignore the quality pieces that Free Thoughts on Iran members and editors systematically produce. We can start from the local newspapers and magazines, and once we get enough credit, we can start pitching bigger and more famous publications.
Medi Yahyanejad, one of the founders of Free Thoughts, had previously written about this problem and I think this could be a good move to actually try to find a solution.
It's time for educated Iranian men and women to start shaping the public opinions of Western people and politicians by creating debates themselves, and not leaving it to not-necessarily knowledgeable Western journalists. The big heads in the Western press might resist it for a while, but not very long. Aren't we now strong enough not to be ignored?
The heated debate arising from the recent contribution of Hossein Derakhshan can be considered a wake-up call for those who still try to apply post-23 of May Frameworks to the realities of politics in Iran. The present inquiry would present that the controversy over Derakhshan's analysis is closely related to his "perception" of "reality" and his proposed way of "dealing with it". His vision to achieve a strong Iran is premised upon the inevitability of a conservative take-over of the Executive and Legislative branches. Accordingly, it is better to embrace "Neo-Conservatives" since inevitably "Some Conservatives" are posed to win anyways, and "hope" they, whom Derakhshan poorly define their new-conservative brand, will save Iran. That is why his question is: "Can Neo-Conservatives save Iran?" However, if the basic premise of a vision for a strong Iran would be based upon democratization and achievement of a responsible government, perhaps, the question would be presented differently: "How Iran can be saved?" rather than "Can Neo-Conservatives save Iran?"
The question of "How Iran can be saved?" is directly connected to two questions. How the dynamics of the Conservatives' hegemony preservation have worked and how such methods should be confronted?
Two major hegemony preservations strategies used throughout the past fifteen years are of note: development of "constantly adjusting survivalist patterns", and taking advantage of "renewing high-expectations and new-expectations promoting schemes".
From the second year of Khatami’s first administration, a new pattern of confrontation and control began to emerge. Keeping the leadership of the reform movement hostage, through the arrest of the major troublemakers, many of them former allies of the present leadership in the early stages of the Islamic Republic themselves, caused the reformist movement irretrievable damages in strategy development and mobilization.
Civil disobedience never became a strong and fundamental strategy of the reformists and they invested much of their hope in being able to reform the government through elections and capturing the seat of government. The grassroots' tier of the democratization, the student movement, was thus never used as a pressure tool to demand constitutional reforms. In fact, the reformists remained throughout hopeful that playing by the rules of the game will score them more popular support and the rationalization of the process will cause divisions in the ranks of the conservatives. They have been so far proven to be wrong on both counts.
First, as reforming the government received much resistance from the institutions controlled by the Conservatives, mainly the Judiciary and the Guardian Council, popular support for the reform plunged. People's frustration became quite evident as the low voter turnout won the Conservatives a landslide victory in the latest local municipality elections. Second, the resolve of the conservatives has been strengthened to put a more legitimate face on their politics by posing to win with a landslide, and perhaps a very low turnout, in the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections in the next two years.
The wheel of the reform is already being rolled back and this should be a cause for concern as corrupt patterns of administration, rentiering practices in governance, and legitimized repression will exponentially increase as each day passes, i.e. tightening the Conservatives' grip further and further.
Civil disobedience, active through demonstration or passive through boycotting is just one tactic in the grand scheme of a much needed strategy for resistance against an ever unfolding pattern of lack of peace, order, and good governance.
The flaw in Derakhshan’s analysis is that he attempts to keep his poorly defined "neo-conservative" politics variable constant from other conservatives. His analysis is at best a victim of wishful thinking for a change of heart amongst those who used to be regarded as hard-liners. If conservatives (or the new ones) were conservative enough according to the Western definitions, as opposed to adventurist and revolutionary, Iran had already started the path of development through, for example, establishing "full" diplomatic relationship with the US; a process that took the Communist China almost ten years to complete without needing to fundamentally change its power apparatus.
Here, the New-Conservative alternative, which can be either proposed by Laridjani or even possibly by the former Revolutionary Guard Commander Gen. Rezai, as possible Presidential candidates, accords with another survival scheme developed by the regime. This scheme is what I have alluded to in the above as Renewing High-Expectations/New-Expectations Promoting Schemes. People are encouraged to lend their hope to yet another "change of guard", this time however to no avail. After the bankruptcy of the Reform enterprise, it is highly unlikely that the New-Conservatives' promises can be substantial enough and/or have the capacity of being translatable to any further opening of the public space.
In fact, their agenda has been always the reverse. From the economic perspective, their most viable economic schemes may receive the blessing of those who once ran on a platform of "Development through Commerce" and have the latter introduced in a new disguise. The Neo-Conservatives will not be able to remain aloof to the pressures of the "supremely" supported hard-line vigilantes (Dehnamaki-AllahKaram faction). This group, supported by other hard-line factions, i.e. Askar Oladi Group inc., indeed would like to see further crackdown on the freedoms achieved under Khatami; the long list of issues that the vigilante hard liners would like to see restored to pre-23 May 1997 include: scaling up censorship on artistic endeavors in filmmaking and theatre, authorship and journalism, as well as private engagements such as mixed male-female wedding celebrations. The list also includes scaling up screening the process of selection of professionals for any position in governmental organizations. A new pattern of migration of the intellectuals, technocrats, artists, and educated youth is naturally expected to develop.
Viewed from such a perspective, the hope for a sustainable development scheme for Iran under the conservatives does not offer a picture that would be very different from the one they already presented in the pre-Khatami era. Now, the question is whether those who are committed to the realization of political freedoms, a transparent and accountable system of government for all Iranians (an inclusive concept as per all Iranians inside and outside Iran regardless of their political orientation), can form a united front for the salvation of the Iranian state.
The question now, is not just courage, which is necessary; the question is the existence of resolve for collective action.