Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Disappearance of Farhad Faraji

In Iraq with valid visa papers and documents to complete filming the documentary film In Search of Cyrus the Great, the Iranian camerman Farhad Faraji was arrested by U.S. military without explanation and nothing has been released about his whereabouts.

To learn more about the alarming disappearance of Farhad Faraji and what you can do to help, please see Where is Farhad Faraji

Friday, June 24, 2005


What was unthinkable (to me) a mere week ago, seems all but certain now: Ahmadinejhad is ahead in the preliminary counts, and ISNA has already declared that he has gained the majority of the vote.

Maybe i'll wakeup tomorrow morning and the news will be different. but i doubt it.

Meanwhile a big thanks to those who called for a boycott of the election; I assume those of you living outside of Iran will be returning to enjoy the fruits of your efforts?

Waiting for Results

Ever since I came back from voting I've been glued to the IRI T.V. stations, waiting for some preliminary announcement about the results. TBut they are airing so many self-glorifying speeches, hyper-nationlist songs and poetry, that you'd think a revolution had just occurred, not an election.

Right now they are interviewing a pair of teenage boys, on of whom is wearing a NY yankees baseball cap of all things, and the one without the hat is saying that one of the motivations for him voting is to show the world and those who want to interfere in our affairs that Iranians will decide their own fate, just like they did when they voted for an Islamic Republic in a national referendum after the revolution. The gum-chewing, Yankee baseball cap boy is nodding enthusiastically at this part about the referendum.

The fact that I grudgingly voted for Rafsanjani and that I have been watching to this non-stop flag waiving "my iran this" and "my iran that" on the TV is making me feel pretty pukey, but it is really interesting to see the Iranians at the various polling stations all over iran and around the world. They are going to all the provinces, so you get to hear all the great local accents and languages and really see the diversity of the Iranian population. They even made a point of showing and interviewing some conspicuously sunni iranians in line to vote, I couldn't really pinpoint the accent but I think they were Baluch. And now they have moved on to the province of Western Azarbaijan where they are talking to a priest in Oromieh . The Azari music is really nice, especially since I can't understand all the nationalist self-celebration (except of course the part where they are saying "iran, iran", the chorus in every song they've played no matter what the local language).

The other cool thing is that they are covering the international polling stations set up to serve iranian ex-pats. In the U.S. alone there are 35 polling places, but who knew that there would be 5 stations in Malaysia, for example. So far, I've seen interviews and scenes from polls in Germany, Turkey, Malaysia, India, UK, Pakistan, and some other places which seemed European but I'm not sure.

I asked at my polling station today what their stats were from the first round. The man in charge told me that Rafsanjani had been first, Moeen second, and Ahmadinejhad third. I have my own theories on why the results turned out as such in this particular area, but I'll spare you.

Meanwhile I am still waiting to hear anything, even speculation, about the outcome of the elections. Z8un is reporting some disturbing news about her personal interactions with lots of unlikely people who were intent on voting for Ahmadinejhad. They seemed to have seen a few interviews with him and have become convinced that he is a good man against whom those in power have conducted a smear campaign. They were impressed, for example, that he refuses to take a salary for his job as a mayor (he still teaches at the university and lives off that), that he lives in a modest home, and acts in a humble way.

Frankly, and as I was insinuating yesterday, I was starting to fall for it as well. But even if i were as sure of Ahmadinejhad being an honest man as i am that Rafsanjani is a dishonest one, I don't think my vote would have changed.

This is the sad and ugly reality of the maddening choices you have to make as an Iranian today.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Open Letter to Ahmadinejhad

In the last couple of days, i've been reading all i can find on Ahmadinejhad that has anything remotely substantive to say about him. I found quite a bit, including an 11 page interview with Fars News in which--and I hate to admit this-- he came off quite well. I'd meant to translate and post some selections here, but I didn't have the time. I may do so in the next couple of days, depending on who wins tomorrow's elections.

Then today I came across the acclaimed director Abbas Kiarostami's open letter to Ahmadinejhad published originally in Shargh Newspaper and found here on the site Khabgard.

Below is my quick translation of the full text of the letter, which I find to be of much interest for more reasons than that it is written by one of my favorite directors.

Once when my son was 5 years old and eating a cookie, both my friend and I asked him to give us one of his cookies. But Bahman only had one cookie left. Caught in between, he stared at us wondering who he should give the cookie to. My friend simplified the problem and told him: "Give the cookie to the person you like the most". Bahman looked us both over and told me: "Baba, I like you the most but I want to give my cookie to your friend".

Now, some twenty odd years after that day, I still can't figure out what went through the mind of my five year old son, who gave his cookie to the other person that he liked less than me. But I have my reasons for why I will give my vote to the other.

Mr. Ahmadinejhad, I have some simple reasons why I like you more than the other. For me, you are a reminder of 1979. In those days, the selfless ethics and ideals of improving the lives of others were not mere abstractions, they were natural and living parts of the mind and actions of millions of believing, honest youth who wanted to use the opportunity the revolution provided in order to better the lives of the dispossessed classes. After twenty some years when I look at the clarity of those protests I understand your inner melancholy.

With your honesty, you still rejuvenate "our" 1979. I like you because I cannot lie to myself that I don't know that what you say is the truth. It is a reality that in our current world the wealthiest claw at the steps of power, leaving no room for the growth of the people.

Amidst all of this, Mr. Ahmadinejhad, there is something that makes you an anomaly in the world of 2005. So now, it is a great misfortune that the only thing you can do in the face of this player's world with no ideals is to become melancholy, this world that had been built in the last 27 years and of which we are a part. The world has created a difficult situation for honest players, but those who are of this world are able to read one anothers' hands and...

My dear friend, I will say with simplicity that we can not keep ourselves in the world of 1979. Today those beliefs are far from reality, and given the current difficult equations, we are not the only decision-makers in today's game. You are more straight and more principled than to be able to play in the twisted games of the power-tainted politicians, so as Modaress said: "Now we need someone who has learned the rules of the game of this world".

For this reason I will give my vote to the person I like less than you but who is more able than you in understanding the realities of life today. All my hope is that he will at least learn this time--from the support you had-- that our dispossessed people are still awaiting help. I hope that at least he gives a bit of attention to the dispossessed and tries to cultivate the health of the society.

My dear friend, up to now I have voted twice, and both times I have regretted it. This time I will go the polling booth more prepared but I will give my vote to the other whom I don't like as much as you.

These are strange days, my brother.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

This was my plan: vote for moeen in the first round, switch to rafsanjani in the run-offs. I'd thought a lot about it and had many reasons for my decision, but its all moot now, isn't it?

i never thought moeen would be a hands-down winner, but fifth place? And the ultra-conservative Ahmadinejhad as the very close second runner up to Rafsanjani?

The losers--particularly Karroubi-- were quick with their claims of fraud and voter intimidation. And though i don't doubt either of these accusations, i can't quite believe that they account for Ahmadinejhad's strong showing on friday.

Maybe the sense of outrage and shock, my own included, should not simply be directed at the basiji's harassing voters and rigging the elections or at Bush's clumsy interferences. Maybe instead we should ask: how well do we really know ourselves anyway?

In the two weeks of campaigning preceding the elections the iranian blogosphere sparked with heated debates and queries:

should we vote pragmatist or reformist?
was the reform movement dead or rejuvenated?
would rafsanjani respect our personal freedoms more or qalibaf?
why was larijani's campaign so lackluster?
could Moeen deliver on any of his radical rhetoric?
should we even vote?

Amid these and the many other issues that filled our papers and blogs, what do you suppose dominated discussions about Ahmadinejhad and his campaign?

I'll tell you: people couldn't stop talking about how ugly he looks. Practically everyone seems to have taken a shot at his appearance if they could get away with it, including the satirist Ebrahim Nabavi, who can't seem to make enough quips about Ahmadinejhad face and has ridiculed him as a "symbol of Aryan beauty".

But maybe all of us who either ridiculed or dismissed ahmadinejhad should have taken a closer look at who he is and what he represents to his supporters. Maybe Raed is right when he pointed out during a discussion we were having about the outcome of the elections that people voted for ahmadinejhad because he is ugly.

Maybe Ahmadinejhad, with his raggedy appearance and willingness to sweep the streets alongside Tehran's garbage men, appeals to a constituency of people who don't see themselves reflected in any of the other candidates:

Not in the multi-millionaire Hashemi "the Shark" Rafsanjani
Not in the physician Moeen
Not in the handsome pilot Qalibaf
Not in the Philosophy PhD Larijani
Not in even in the reformist cleric Karroubi, who essentially tried to bribe people with campaign promises of a $62 per month stipend

It seems that hardly anyone--including many in the IR elite who were borne out of the revolution's rhetoric of the dowlat-e mostazafeen (The Government of the dispossessed)--remembered to address the needs, or to even acknowledge the existence, of that class of people who are both poor and religious and who still have faith in what the revolution promised them.

It is no wonder that Ahmadinejhad--who himself seems a relic from 1980--appeals to such groups.

Try asking one of the thousands of people living in the shanty-towns of Tehran whether freedom of speech for bloggers (which, say, moeen could maybe deliver)or a paved streets in city slums (which Ahmadinejhad will for sure deliver) is more important to her? As the well known photojournalist Nader Davoodi insinuates, if we had "botheredto go to south Tehran, then [we] would know Mahmoud Ahmadinejhad".

Now with the nightmarish prospect of an Ahmadinejhad presidency so close at hand, I hope we spend less time on the mean-spirited and all-too-easy attacks on his looks, and focus instead on what we can do to make sure that he doesn't come to power now or ever.

In the short term, the strategy is clear, though painful: hold your nose and vote for rafsanjani. A long term plan, of course, is not so simple, but as long as the most extremist elements in our society are the only ones who address and acknowlege the needs of the most disenfranchised Iranians, then the threat of a Ahmadinejhad will always loom.