Thursday, April 26, 2007

Today, I would like to engage in a practice that seems to be quite prevalent in U.S. journalism: take the opinion of one person from a certain country and pretend that it is representative of an entire nation. Ok? Ok.

Yesterday I ended up on a train next to a guy who had just stepped off a direct flight from Istanbul to the United States. Despite a warning from the conductor that we were on the "quiet car", I still managed to talk to the man somewhat, and here are my sweeping conclusions about Turks, Turkey, and the rest of the region based on this one conversation:

1. Secular Turks are very cognizant of the fact that their republic faces danger from at least two sides: one is from the Americans and their interference in the region, second is the from the Islamists whose own rise can be explained as a result of the former.

2. It is common knowledge that Orhun Pamuk won the Nobel prize in literature for political reasons and as an attempt to take a dig at Turkey. According to my interlocuter, he got this prize only after Pamuk began critiquing Turkey in terms that echo those of the western establishment. So naturally, most people think there is some kind of conspiracy.

At this point, I assured him that there was indeed, some kind of a conspiracy. Some of Iran's best fiction writers, I noted, have been lured out of Iran with handsome prizes and fellowships at great universities (I am not talking about those who were forced into exile, by the way). And once they are here, they are pushed into participating in the kind of discourses whose rewards are too great to ignore. Of course, once they do that, they--like this fellow Pamuk--end up having to stay out of their own countries. It's a real shame, no matter which angle you look at it.

3. Things are going to get very ugly between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan. Very ugly, and very soon.

4. On why Turkey has friendly relations with Israel: "Israel is the son of America. If we want to be friends with the father, we have to be nice to the son."

If you ask me, this friendship is not going to last a whole lot longer. But I guess that all depends on what the U.S. will do when the Turks invade northern Iraq.

5. I dare say that Iran is the only country in the region where you can still run into a fair number of young, educated people who are totally oblivious about the implications of foreign interference in their country's internal affairs. The blame for this falls squarely on the shoulder's of the Iranian government, but of course the propaganda of state sponsored media such as Voice of America and Radio Farda have played no small role.

6. It is essential for Iranians to learn Turkish and Arabic in school. If I were the Minister of Education, I would decree it to be so. I know they teach Arabic now, but in a religious context that doesn't produce any viable Arabic speakers. I mean really teach Arabic and Turkish language and literature.

It's a shame that someone in Jordan or Turkey or Iran knows more about the U.S. than about their neighbors. When you don't know the language of your neighbors, someone from the outside can easily come in and convince you that you have been enemies all along. When you know the language of your five closest neighbors, you can form unions like the EU does instead of worrying about being cut apart into weak little ethnic enclaves.

If the late former dictator of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, ever got one thing right, it came in the form of his warning not to let Iran become Iranistan.

His warnings are more applicable today then they were at the time they were spoken. Those Iranians who still have their heads in the sand better get with it before it is too late.

Friday, April 20, 2007

1. When reporters asked if the joke was insensitive, McCain said: "Insensitive to what? The Iranians?"

No, dude, insensitive to Martians! Yes, of course to Iranians, and to anyone else who doesn't think that the mass murder of innocent people is funny.

But McCain and the freaks cheering for him in the crowd aren't the only ones who take great joy in the prospect of the total destruction of Iran.

Apparently there are even Iranians who feel overjoyed when they hear Iran threatened: watch this phony tell Richard Perle how he and his dad embraced and cried out of joy when they heard Bush's "Axis of Evil" speech.

By the way, I haven't seen it, but I hear that Raed is in this same documentary, and he's not afraid to tell Perle what's up. Anyone know whether the whole thing is online somewhere?

2. The Afghan blogger Sohrab Kabuli has officially outed himself on both his English and Persian blogs and has revealed his name to be Nasim Fekrat. So a big welcome to Nasim Fekrat. The more time passes, the less respect I have for people who blog anonymously, especially those who hide behind phony names and harass other people who have the courage to put their real names behind there thoughts.

3. And now, for a bit of entertainment, enjoy a random old clip, one of my recent finds on the magic that is Youtube. Here is a performance from the late Felmish Belgian singer Jacques Brel, unbelievable performer and poet, singing a song with one of the most memorable refrains ever: "The bourgeoisie are like pigs, the older they get, the stupider".

Of course, like many of Brel's lyrics, the song has a twist: the same young men who critique the insipidity of the bourgeoisie turn by the end of the song into what they used to deplore. Anyway, enjoy:

Friday, April 13, 2007

1. I'm glad that finally Imus is being held accountable for his vile mouth, though i think it should have happened a long time ago.

I first heard of Imus in early 2004 following a crash of an airplane in the Persian Gulf that killed a number of Iranians. Imus covered the news in his show and remarked: "When I hear stories like that, I think who cares". His only regret, he said, was that they weren't Saudi Arabians!

Later that same year on November 12, 2004 Imus outdid himself, this time in regard to the Palestinians:

DON IMUS, host: They're [Palestinians] eating dirt and that fat pig wife [Suha Arafat] of his is living in Paris.

ROSENBERG: They're all brainwashed, though. That's what it is. And they're stupid to begin with, but they're brainwashed now. Stinking animals. They ought to drop the bomb right there, kill 'em all right now.

BERNARD MCGUIRK, producer: You can just imagine standing there.

ROSENBERG: Oh, the stench.

IMUS: Well, the problem is that we have Andrea [Mitchell, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent] there. We don't want anything to happen to her.

ROSENBERG: Oh, she's got to get out. Just warn Andrea, get out, and then drop the bomb, kill everybody.

MCGUIRK: It's like the worst Woodstock.

ROSENBERG: Look at this. Look at these animals. Animals

Imagine if this vile language and murderous venom was spewed about any other, non-Arab and/or non-Muslim group, would Imus have continued on air for three more years? Substitute any other ethnic or religious group in the above conversation and imagine what would have ensued.

I'm sure Imus will soon find a home elsewhere within the cesspool of hate-radio, where he will have even more room for "entertaining" his audience with racist and sexist commentary.

2. While few were bothered by Imus and company's calls for the mass murder of Palestinians, a whole lot of people seem to have been irked by Norman Finkelstein's consistent calls for the fair treatemet of Palestinians.

Finkelstein, the son of holocaust survivors, is an articulate, smart, and handsome (not that that is relevant)scholar who has bravely taken on the number one taboo in U.S. discourses: Israel.

Universities are one of the few remaining spaces in the U.S. where one can attempt to carry out truly independent research and broach topics that are forbidden anywhere else. And now, a few thugs are trying to even take this away.

To read the whole story of how Professor Finkesltein's tenure has been denied as a result of external pressures, please go here. You can also read the Chronicle of Higher Education's piece on the issue.

Professor Finkelstei received favorable votes on two levels of faculty reviews before the Dean over-rode their decisions on inappropriate and purely political grounds.

But all is not yet lost, and if we put enough pressure on the University and demand that the accepted standards of tenure be applied fairly, Professor Finkelstein can put this whole thing behind him and continue with his important, and much needed, scholarship and activism.

3. Stay tuned for an upcoming post comparing prevailing practices of torture: the Mr. Bean Method vs. Drill Holes in Their Feet.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A while back, when my grandmother and granfather were visiting from Iran, I went around and made the entire house grandparent-proof to ensure their safety and comfort. I tucked away loose wires, pinned down the fraying edges of rugs, made sure sharp corners of the furniture were not exposed, put nightlights in the hallway, and placed everything they would need in the morning for breakfast within immediate reach. I even put a few reminder notes around the house to make sure all the bases were covered.

When there are young children or elderly folks around, the whole landscape of a place changes. You start to look at seemingly harmless spaces as dangerous obstacle courses where ordinary objects can cause large scale disasters, which brings me, oddly enough, to why I haven't been blogging for a while.

I've been buried in deadlines, it's true, but that is not the whole story. The problem is a broader one having to do with how in the context of dominant discourses in the U.S., discussion of the most basic issues can get you twisted in a huge mess of accusations, harassement, and a whole lot of other troubles.

In other parts of the world, in the lands of the "unfree", people know exactly what the red lines are: they speak around them or develop sophisticated languages for addressing the very things they are not supposed to be talking about. Most importantly, no one has any illusions about the limits imposed on their speech and actions, and so they are more clear-headed about how to strategize towards their goals.

It gets exhausting when you feel like broaching the most simple topics can land you in a minefield. I just needed some time to recover from that fatigue, I guess. I will try to write more, if not here, then in the few remaining outlets where one can get away with relatively little self-censorship.