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Monthly Archive: December 2005
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December 31, 2005

Plan of Attack?
Guest Auhtor: Omid Paydar

Irantarget.jpg According to an article in Der Spiegel, the U.S. government may be planning to conduct military strikes on Iranian nuclear sites sometime early 2006. Based on the article, the Turkish government and America's other NATO allies have been told that such an attack may take place. Apparently, the governments of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Oman and Pakistan have been informed in recent weeks of Washington's military plans. The countries, apparently, were told that air strikes were a "possible option," but they were given no specific timeframe for the operations.

Whether or not these rumors prove to be true, what seems to emerge from the nature of discussions, particularly after the recent vile remarks by Mr. Ahmadinejad with regards to Israel and the Holocaust, is that Washington is coming more and more to the conclusion that a soft diplomatic track may not be an option with the new government in Iran. The leaking of such reports to the media may be part of a strategy to show Iran that the U.S. is serious, and that the Russian proposal or some sort of guarantee acceptable to the U.S. indicating that Iran will not be pursuing a weapons program has to be taken seriously. The U.S. might be indicating that this is indeed Iran's last chance, and that they will not allow the Iranian government to buy time.

From a strategic perspective a military attack on Iran's nuclear site may not prove to be effective in deterring Iran's nuclear ambitions and most analysts believe that this might at best strengthen the hand of Mr. Ahmadinejad's hardliners in Iran in the long-term, and at worst create extensive regional instability. Of course there is also the impact on oil prices and the domestic political fallout for Mr. Bush.

But the question is, does the Bush administration think that it would have to pay even a higher price if Iran does get to nuclear weapons capability? Given that all the options the Bush administration has with regards to Iran will result in some sort of loss for the U.S, what do they see as a policy that minimizes the loss over a longer period of time? Or does the U.S. even have an Iran policy? Will one emerge with events unfolding or has one been in the process for sometime now? I do not have the answers to these questions, but believe they will determine the U.S. response to the current crisis.

What is clear to me is that in the current grand game the Iranian people will suffer the most, as they have in the past. They are a disposable commodity, both in the eyes of their own regime and the eyes of the United States and their allies. When we cannot shape our own destiny as a people, others will shape it for us. Apathy is a choice. A choice with deadly consequences.

Omid Paydar is an Iranian freelance researcher on Iranian and Middle Eastern affairs.

December 24, 2005

Transit Workers Strike: Tehran and New York
Babak Seradjeh  [info|posts]

sandicavahed.jpg The syndicate of the public bus workers in Tehran have called for a public strike. Two days ago, some of their leaders and representatives were simaltanously and separately arrested in their homes on orders of Tehran's prosecutor, while they were waiting for a reply to their lawsuit against those (rumored to have had government's tacit support) who had beaten and injurred some of them in their office a few weeks ago. The call for a strike is the union's basic instrument in playing an important political role, i.e. the protection of the basic freedoms of their members. Such freedoms must be protected, and once they are violated, the violations must be protested. This vital political role of a union is one that is greatly needed both in a civil society, and also in the struggle to reach it.

However, unions also try to play other roles, most importantly in economic decision makings through their political means and pressure instruments such as threatening or staging a strike. These economic roles become stronger compared to the political roles of the union once the society as a whole passes from a state of precarious basic freedoms to a state of predominant and protected freedoms. An example is provided by the recent New York Transit Worker Union's strike to achieve higher wages and a more comprehensive pension plan from their government boss, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Although the strike was pronounced illegal by the state court, and fines of $1,000,000 a day charged the union and a two-day worth of wages individual workers, the basic freedoms being protected meant that the union members had the right both to discuss the strike before it happened, eventually go on strike, and only when their leaders were declared in contempt of the court, they would face the consequences of their breach of the court terms. This is of course in sharp contrast to the situation encountered in Tehran, where the union members are arrested without prior notice, for unknown and untold charges, in inhumane ways. On the economic side, as I have written elsewhere, the consequences of the TWU strike, and in fact the whole way of running an economic activity through the political channels of a government-controlled authority versus a workers union, yields disastrous consequences.

The political role of the unions in the struggle towards securing the most basic freedoms of their members in particular and the members of the society in general, and their continuing role in protecting those freedoms is hardly debatable. On the other hand, when the unions take it on themselves to do business and affect economic decision makings in an otherwise free market, and the government takes it on itself to perform economic tasks that could be performed by free markets and through voluntary transactions, the consequences are hardly desirable. Politics is the worst way of doing business: It constrains a non-zero-sum game (economy) with zero-sum conditions (politics), resulting in an overall loss for the system as a whole. A liberal mind who understands the importance of the principle of freedom in the well-being of the human society, and the effective allocation of its scarce resources, will support the former, but not the latter.

December 19, 2005

The Fallacy of Politics
Babak Seradjeh  [info|posts]

thinker.jpg It is a well-established fact that most issues in the Iranian society are politicized in one way or another. That is, it is virtually impossible to get involved with most issues in practice without having to either directly work through government offices or, relatively indirectly, deal with government officials. This has made virtually all talk and business, from matters of economy to sports to religion and daily personal affairs, political issues. It has also made the political venue the major and most often the only venue for doing things in the country. What has caused this state of affair is a tedious subject for historians and sociologists, but what consequences this has for the well-being of the Iranian society is of utmost importance to the lives of even those who wish to lead a most ordinary life.

Politics is an institution whose major purpose is to allocate social powers. This it does according to some framework, which would shape its character to be anything from dictatorial or totalitarian to democratic. But the most important feratures of this institution versus other instiutions of the society, such as economy and business, when it comes to doing things on the scale of a society are not its framework or its character. The most important common features of all political institutions of various frameworks and chatacters are:

(1) They are categorical; that is, things are done not through incremental processes, which for instance underlie a marketplace, but through categorical rulings of one kind or another. This is as true of a democracy as it is true of a dicatorship.

(2) They constitute almost always a zero-sum game; that is, political powers are acquired by some at the expense of others who lose those powers. Again this is true in a democracy as well as in a dictatorship. The difference between the two frameworks is just in how much anyone loses or gains. This is also in sharp contrast to the economical processes, in which it is possible for everyone to lose or gain overall. In other words, the political powers of the members of a society are always relative to each other, while their economic powers can be given an absolute sense with regards to, say, the conditions and the environment they live in.

These two features make the political institution the worst possible venue for doing many things in any society with any framework of politics, especially if those things are economic in nature or the private business of the members of the society.

Unfortunately the Iranian society not only has fallen in the trap of an all-dominating politics, but also it has done little to enable itslef to get out of this trap. To do so, any society will need enough people with reasonable training in social sciences, and most importantly economics, business, and law to show the way out. It is another well-established fact that the Iranian society severly lacks such trained economists, businessmen, and lawyers. A look at the list of authors of this weblog, for example, shows that most of them are pursuing their studies in, or have studied, hard sciences even though their presence here is testament to an inherent interest in issues commonly discussed in humanites and social sciences. Another look at the category archives of this weblog shows the huge imbalance towards political subjects.

To make matters worse the general education that the most brilliant minds of the Iranian society receive has almost nothing in way of economic training or legal and social systems. Most such minds are led by public and family opinions and the miserably low quality of concentrations and majors in humanities in high schools and universities towards math and natural sciences and engineering. They look down on courses on humanities (and for good reason, since they contain almost no useful and real information) and shun their peers who choose such concentrations and majors.

I do not know how we can invert this trend, but I do know that it will never get us to a better future. The Iranian society is in urgent need of developing a mass of people educated in social sciences and, in my opinion, most importantly economists, businessmen, and lawyers. When a critical mass of such people is developed, it will have a chance at a better future when the first venue that comes to mind for doing something and achieveing a goal is not through the categorical and lose-win venues of an all-too-often disastrous politics.

December 08, 2005

Public Display of Evil
Babak Seradjeh  [info|posts]

Holocaust_Memorial_Miami.JPG BBC reports:

"If European countries claim that they have killed Jews in World War II...why don't they provide the Zionist regime with a piece of Europe," Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Iranian television.
Is that a real question, I asked myself. I wodnered why Mr. Ahmanedinejad doesn't provide the Palestinians with a piece of Iran. Reading the piece again, and seeing that the Holocaust is reduced to a "claim" (by those who did it, surprisingly), I got curious to see if this implied doubt was accurate. Unfortunately, BBC is consistently brief on such aspects. But sure enough, a simple google search returned this Reuters news piece, Iran's Ahmadinejad casts doubt on Holocaust:
Ahmadinejad was quoted by IRNA [from a news conference he gave in the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca] as saying: "Some European countries insist on saying that Hitler killed millions of innocent Jews in furnaces and they insist on it to the extent that if anyone proves something contrary to that they condemn that person and throw them in jail ... Although we don't accept this claim, if we suppose it is true, our question for the Europeans is: is the killing of innocent Jewish people by Hitler the reason for their support to the occupiers of Jerusalem?" he said. "If the Europeans are honest they should give some of their provinces in Europe -- like in Germany, Austria or other countries -- to the Zionists and the Zionists can establish their state in Europe. You offer part of Europe and we will support it."

Such evil remarks in blatant disregard of documented history is nothing new of course coming from the kind of people that Mr. Ahmadinejad represents. Denying the Holocaust, calling to wipe a country off the map, or to move it, are all the stuff of my generation's childhood, in school, on the radio and on TV, in the bold and thick slogans on the walls, the streamlined propaganda that aimed to penetrate all the space it could find in our brains.

And it is not just the incomprehensible attachment that Mr. Ahmadinejad and his constituents feel to the issue of Israel while there are so much to be done about the people of Iran that makes this issue important. The importance is in that it is a showcase of all that is wrong with these people's ideals and methods: ignorance, impudence, total disrespect for human lives (which was once again brutallly demonstrated by the latest plane crash in which more than a 100 people died while reportedly the plane was so out of shape that the original pilot did not accept to fly it), and most importantly, a burning desire to force one's flawed view on the rest of the people. Their persistent quest for acquiring nuclear power only finds its true meaning in this context.

That it is now on an international display, plain and simple, for everyone to see is another matter though. It is a rare opprtunity to see the evil for what it is. Only the leaders of the world need to address it in more meaningful actions than words of disblief or condemnation.

December 03, 2005

Sanctioning of Iran by Iranians
Guest Auhtor: Golbarg Bashi

children.jpg Not giving platform, sharing resources and the little knowledge we have with socially committed people who operate inside Iran, albeit all their limitations and/or flaws (both intellectually and politically) is sanctioning the innocent people of Iran who have no part in their regime's affairs.

In the context of the Iranian women's movement, I believe that if we do not support and nourish our fellow secular and religious women inside Iran, there won't be anyone left who will care and fight for the rights of the most dispossessed in Iran. In review of a recent gruesome report (Farsi) of widespread child abuse in Iran, I wonder who is going to fight for the rights of these innocent wronged children? Who's going to challenge the Iranian authorities and set up NGOs for sheltering these children? Should secular and progressive religious female lawyers abandon the Iranian courts just because the judge is an authoritarian misogynist cleric and they have to read and use fundamentally unfair Islamic legal passages to convict paedophiles and men who commit domestic violence?

I am of this conviction that dismissing religious and censored secular women from Iran is like sanctioning the very people of Iran. It is how the US sanctioned the Iraqi people because of Saddam's regime.

The international community punished the Iraqi people and innocent children for years, while its tyrannical regime was intact. It even went over there and bombed schools and hospitals in the name of 'freeing' them. I hate seeing it metaphorically inflicted upon Iranians, by Iranians.

I spent 3 months in Iran for my doctoral research in 2003. During this time, I saw equal number of heroic, democratic, empowering tendencies as I saw heart-shattering and demoralizing ones. I have seen street-children in Tehran, 4-5 year olds on their own in cold winter's nights at Vali Asr Avenue, totally dispossessed starved looking people and babies in urban Iran's choking pollution, old men with white hair just like my own Dad pulling heavy trolleys in the streets (with no protection or pension), Iranian youth who are politically apathetic and many who are not only misogynist but they are racist and anti-Arab (seriously call themselves 'Aryans') and see as their sole goal to leave Iran for a better future abroad, was a eye-witness to a physical fight between an Islamist and secular woman at a female lawyers gathering in Tehran (started by the Islamist woman), and sat 1 meter away from bruised and tearful women in Police's Forensic Clinic (Pezeshk-e Ghanooni) which I visited in Shiraz, battered women who were told to go back 'home' to their violators by female doctors, doctors who have no idea on how to counsel victims of violence and cannot give out any leaflets or telephone numbers of women's shelters or NGOs (because there are no women's shelters or NGOs in Shiraz, Iran's third largest city), the very doctors who also conducted totally deplorable and heart-shattering 'virginity' tests on young women and girls upon requests by a court or a family member.

Seeing those bruised women that day in Shiraz (my mother's hometown), who looked at me with a glimmer of hope, shattered my solid none-conformist secular dogma, it broke my heart, thinking of it even 2 years on makes me sob uncontrollably and crushes my soul. It was in the tears of those innocent women, in their heart-rending pleas in my own mother's Shirazi accent that I re-realised that comforting, bandaging and saving these women, women who cannot immigrate to Canada or Sweden, even if I have to do it by operating in a gender-apartheid is worth it all. Of course we can do more, and we are doing more, in almost every field and outside the realm of religion too. How wonderful would it not be if we could unite in solidarity and strengthen our joint-efforts to help our fellow sisters?

It is in the backdrop of these experiences that I cannot understand why we cannot invite that unenlightened doctor (not due to her own fault) to tell us about her work in Iran's forensic medical system (under the control of the judiciary), so we can follow events in Iran and let that doctor come in contact with experts and fellow women, learn tons and go back to Shiraz with lots of new ideas and networks (where else is she going to have that chance if not with Farsi speaking emancipated Iranian feminists). But if that doctor came e.g. to the IWSF annual conferences, on her capacity as a employee of Iran's judiciary in her head-scarf and told us about her realities in Iran, she would get slaughtered in the present climate...but who's going to set up that women's shelter in Shiraz if not that doctor? What are battered women going to do until the day someone stages a revolution and overnight turns Iran into a democracy with a full functioning civil society? Where are the guarantees for her until that day? Don't we want our doctors to gain skills and knowledge about counselling victims of violence? What are battered women going to do in Shiraz in the meanwhile? What should doctors, lawyers, lecturers, social workers, journalists, teachers, students who want to help their people do inside Iran? Who's going to rebuild Iran, who is going to change Iran if not they with a bit of our support?

When I visited Zanan Magazine's hidden office in Tehran (they have been attacked continuously by conservative zealots), I saw with my own eyes how their journalists spent half their time giving legal advice to battered and wronged women who have no where else to turn to (in the capital of Iran). This is how acute the situation is in Iran.

I cannot understand why we who are outside Iran are laughed at when we want to project and analyse both the very *few* positive as well the *many* gruesome Iranian realities to the outside world and help raise awareness about it inside Iran? I repeat the many, the many gruesome and totally unacceptable realities, realities which make our hearts ache and our souls crushed.

No one's saying Iran is a rose garden, it is in fact the very opposite.

I don't understand why we can't lend a helping hand to people inside the hell-fires of a potential rose-garden who want to save the very dispossessed people I mentioned above (e.g. the journalists at Zanan or activists who work in NGOs, or lecturers and students)? Why do we punish religious women who care? Why do we ridicule secular women who see religious people (not torturers) as equal human beings with an inherent human dignity and wish to work with them?

Why should all we do is throw flowers on secular none-conformist heroes and stones on all things Islamic and inside Iran's borders? We must not sanction/discipline the Iranian people for the crimes their leaders have committed (see again comparison with the Iraq sanctions).

By this I do not mean we only look for empancipatory solutions in the realm of religion or in a gender-apartheid, on the very contrary we who live in democratic societies should peacefully transmit other alternatives, pacifist secular solutions. Definitely! That's what I personally do, my own framework is secular pacifist feminism, with CEDAW (UN's Convention Against All Types of Discrimination Against Women) as the very minimum.

I think it's time after 26 years of sanctions to cooperate with our fellow socially committed people who work and live within hell-fires. For instance, attending the IWSF conferences, has done wonders for me, it was there I met openly gay and proud Iranian women for the very first time and it is one of the happiest and most empowering experiences of my life, not mentioning allowing me to make friends with Iranian women who are amongst the most socially committed in the world, it has also taught me countless things I could have never learnt in a classroom. I would like to see more women having positive experiences from meetings and projects with fellow feminists, not just because they are secular or atheists, but because they have an egalitarian consciousness and care. We must truly see them as equal and reciprocate the respect and hope they have in us.

I will end this note with an anecdote, I interviewed a very senior woman in the Presidential Office for Women's Participation in Tehran about Iran's international obligations to human rights treaties, then right in the middle of the interview she winked at me to turn off my tape-recorder, and said "of course we don't want to have any reservations to CEDAW, this is what we are fighting for in Iran". She looked just like one of my ultra-religious Hezbollahi teachers who I used to dread at elementary school in Shiraz, but in the past 26 years these religious women have changed, and many of them (those who work outside their homes) want what we want now.

Hence, let's give women inside Iran (despite all their possible flaws) a fair chance to gain something from their meetings with us, and we from meeting with them (despite all our possible flaws). They are our fellow human beings, our sisters.

All human beings are in truth akin, all in creation share one origin...

When fate allots a member pangs and pains,
No ease for other members then remains...

If, unperturbed, another's grief canst scan, thou are not worthy of the name of human

Saadi Shirazi, 13th century AD Persian poet

In peace and solidarity.

Golbarg Bashi is a PhD student in Iranian Human Rights Studies at Bristol University in the UK. This is her second guest contribution to FToI. The first one may be found here.