Sunday, September 30, 2007

"I Hate all Iranians"

Debra Cagan, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Coalition Affairs to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, told a group of British Parliamentarians visiting the Pentagon:

"In any case, I hate all Iranians."

Debra Cagan is quite possibly the only Bush administration official who has had a moment of public honesty in the years that Bush has been in office.

When the Columbia Dispatch carried a cartoon showing all of Iran as a sewer from which cockroaches were pouring into neighboring countries, a few vocal Iranians echoed the claims of the paper's editor and defended it by saying: "oh, no, calm down, the cartoon is not saying that all Iranians are cockroaches, it is just saying that some Iranians are cockroaches."

I wonder how those types will try to justify a high ranking official's open expression of categorical hatred for all Iranians?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Another Iranian Leader at Columbia

Two years after a CIA coup overthrew Iran's democratically elected Mossadegh, the newly reinstalled dictator of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, received an honorary degree (in Law of all things!) at Columbia University:

Now fast forward 50+ years and we have Bollinger, who also received his Law degree from Columbia, fawning over current US supported dictators such as Pakistani Parviz Musharraf.

The more I learn about Bollinger and the behind the scenes string pullers at Columbia, the more sympathy I have for the handful of great scholars and activists who are doing great work on that campus in spite of it all.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Ten Questions for Bully-inger

Leave it to the US "free media" and "free speech" advocates to make Mahmoud Ahmadinejad look like a sympathetic figure.

First Ahmadinejad submitted to a hostile and belligerent 60 Minutes interview, during which CBS "journalist" Scott Pelley merely repeated the Bush administrations accusations about Iran, often rudely interrupting Ahmadinejad when he attempted to answer his questions.

And then there was Columbia President Lee Bollinger's demeaning and inappropriate introduction to Ahmadinejad, an invited guest on their campus. Bollinger's speech, "My Questions for President Ahmadinejad," deserves to be carefully dissected and analyzed, and this blog is not the forum in which I would like to do so.

In response to Bollinger's ten questions for Ahmadinejad, eight Tehran-based academics addressed a letter to the president of Columbia entitled "Ten Questions for Bollinger from the Directors of Universities and Research Centers in Tehran."

The full text of the letter can be found in Persian here, but the questions themselves, available in translation from IRNA, are as follows (I've edited their translation a bit for the sake of clarity):

1. Why did the US media put so much pressure on you to cancel President Ahmadinejad's lecture at Columbia University? Why did the US TV networks broadcast programs for several days against the Iranian president and did not allow him to respond to the allegations? Does this not run counter to the freedom of expression?

2. Why did the US come to the help of the Iranian dictator (deposed Shah) in 1953 and launched a military coup against then prime minister Mohammad Mossadeq?

3. Why did the US back the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to invade Iran in 1980 and supplied him with the chemical weapons to attack both the Iraqi people and Iranian soldiers?

4. Why doesn't the US administration recognize the democratically elected government of Palestine in Gaza and why does it put them under pressure? Why does it oppose the Iranian proposal to hold referendum in Palestine to end the 60-year old problem?

5. Why has the US Army and its advanced technologies not been able to capture Ben Laden? How do you respond to the longstanding family friendship of President George W. Bush and Ben Laden and the oil deals with Bush? How to you interpret Bush's sabotage of the process of inquiry of September 11?

6. Why does the US administration support the terrorist Mujahideen Khalq Organization (MKO) despite that fact that they have officially and openly accepted responsibility for carrying out terrorist operations in civilian areas in Iran since 1981 and for killing the people of Iran and Iraq? Why doesn't the US government allow the current Iraqi government to close down the MKOs current terrorist camps in Iraq?

7. Was there an international consensus when the US invaded Iraq in 2003? What was the real purpose in occupying Iraq, an occupation that has killed several thousand Iraqis? Where are the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) for which the US unleashed the war?

8. Why are the Middle East's most intensely undemocratic governments and monarchy regimes the US's closest friends?

9. Why did the US administration vote against the resolution of the IAEA general conference calling for making the Middle East free from weapons of mass destruction, a resolution which all countries in the Middle East with the exception of Israel support?

10. Why is the US administration dissatisfied with Iran-IAEA agreement to resolve the outstanding issues about Iranian nuclear program?

Ok, so they cheated, and most of their "10 questions" had multiple parts, so it was more like "30 questions." Nonetheless, every single one of them raises important issues which deserve serious answers.

So how about it, President Bollinger?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

"Traitors" and Saviors

Twice in the same day, I was asked about "My Life as a Traitor," a title I had heard about, but hadn't paid much attention to. Clearly, it is being well-promoted, so I decided to see what I could find out. The book purports to narrate the experiences of Zarah Ghahramani, an Iranian woman who was imprisoned in 2001 as a result of her participation in student protests.

If there was ever a shred of doubt that the boom in Iranian women's memoirs are a part of broader political agendas, the following claim from Robert Hillman, the "co-writer" of this book, should put it to rest:

What happened to Zarah and tens of thousands like her should make us anxious about a nuclear-armed Iran.

The governments of other nations in the nuclear club sanction summary detention and torture as a means of silencing their political opponents.

But another nuclear-armed nation, with the disdain for the most basic human rights shown by Iran, is one more nation too many

Come again?

Now let's say that everything recorded about Gharamani's experience is correct, what does that have to do with the manufactured Iranian nuclear "crisis"? Hillman states at the outset of his piece that"the prospect of Iran developing nuclear weapons entitles us to speculate on what sort of nuclear custodian Iran might make."

The word "entitlement" is a good choice, Bobby, since there are a whole lot of people like yourself (99% of whom are in "the west") who feel entitled to stick their nose into the business of others, even in cases when the terms of that business have been guaranteed by international treaties such as the NPT.

Unless Hillman knows something that over 20,000 hours of IAEA inspections weren't able to find, Iran's nuclear facilities are for a civilian program. If the IAEA is allowed to do its work and the US/Israel stop their various threats against Iran, the program will hopefully always remain a civilian one.

In any case, the development of a nuclear weapons program would not negatively impact the situation of activists in Iran. Indeed, it might improve it since the government could no longer use the fact that it is being threatened with imminent destruction as an excuse to put pressure on those who object to its policies.

Of course, I am the last person to advocate for the development of weapons, nuclear or otherwise, but I just wanted to work for a moment within the framework that Hillman himself has set up to show how flawed it is.

"My Life as Traitor" is slated for a December 2007 release. Until then, here is some related reading material to satiate your curiosity: Robert Hillman living out his rescue/hero fantasy, in his own words.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Despite persistent, unequivocal declarations from analysts and Iran-based activists who say outside interference in Iran's domestic affairs undermines all local efforts at change, Joe Lieberman and a handful of "regime change" lunatics who know frighteningly little about Iran have passed the Lieberman Amendment to Restore Funding for Iran Democracy Promotion:

"there is work in the State Department -- working through third-party organizations, not directly from the federal government -- to support student groups, women's groups, the whole array of civil society, to give some hope to the people of Iran."

Putting millions of dollars at the disposal of unnamed "third party organizations" who pocket most of the funds and distribute the rest to also unnamed "grantees" sounds like a recipe for disaster. How and to whom will those receiving funds be held accountable, both financially and morally?

In addition, these funding acts inevitably taint anyone who is doing any Iran-related work, whether they are based inside or outside Iran.

Take for example this ad posted on They are looking for an English to Persian translator who can help them with a project involving the translation of a number of books on Non-violent struggle. A little research shows that the organization behind the project is Non-Violence International, founded by Palestinian activist Mubarak Awad in 1989, a year after Israel expelled him for his non-violent campaigns against the occupation.

I heard Awad speak a number of years ago about his efforts in occupied Palestine. He was charismatic, friendly, and a great story-teller. And while I am also a big fan of translation, Persian to English or vice-versa, the current climate prompts me to be wary of all such projects. Seventeen years after its establishment, why has Non-Violence International suddenly taken an interest in providing its materials to a Persian speaking audience, and with which funds is it able to sponsor a enormous project involving over 600 pages of material?

These are questions that will be--indeed must be--asked of all Iran-related projects that are sure to spring up in the wake of this latest funding measure. The road to hell, as the saying goes, is paved with good intentions. While the intentions of Lieberman and Brownback are certainly aimed at increasing the likelihood of an attack on Iran, there may be others who accept such funds out of a combination of ignorance and compassion, not knowing (or not wanting to know) that they will be complicit in the march towards war.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

1. Guess who else has extensive spying operations inside Iran? Norway. Yes, Norway. Who would have guessed? And it case you think this is some kind of Iranian paranoid conspiracy theory, I'll have you know that the Chief of the Norwegian Intelligence Service, Torgeir Hagen, has confirmed it to be true.

2. As anyone who has taken a history 101 of Iran probably knows, the common wisdom about Iran officially adopting Shi'ism on a national scale in the 16th century under the rule of the Safavids is that it provided Iran with a built-in defense against the Ottomans. But Iran under the Safavids also had to contend with European colonialism, specifically the Portuguese presence in the Persian Gulf. All history books I have read about the Safavids have emphasized the development and establishment of Twelver Shi'ism under the Safavids and the role it played in promoting and preserving a national unity against the encroaching Ottomans. The Portuguese presence was only noted largely in passing. It turns out that there is an entire conference devoted to the topic, and I think I may have missed it. If anyone has further information on the topic or has a list of suggested readings, please leave me a note.

3. People with arrogant and dictatorial personalities, especially leaders ruling with an iron fist, are loathe to appear mortal. That's why men like Saddam (while still in power) and Egypt's Hosni Mobarak (who is dead according to persistent rumors/jokes) always kept their hair jet black. Salafist fundamentalists, on the other hand, are not known to engage in such open displays of vanity. However, some graying fundamentalists do make use of red henna since the prophet Mohammad was said to dye his hair and beard with it. Thus, if Osama Bin Laden had appeared in his latest video looking like this guy on the right, it would have made a lot of sense. But Osama looking like he could have just stepped out from a Just for Men commercial is not so believable. And that's not all that is fishy about the latest Bin Laden video, and I think that this latest tape, as well as the Qaeda phenomenon as a whole, should be closely re-examined.

Friday, September 07, 2007

1. Iran has a new hit t.v. show, shot on location in Budapest and Paris, which depicts the plight of Jews in Europe before and during WWII. The show's creator, Hassan Fatthi says he was inspired by the life story of Abdol Hussein Sardari, who worked at the Iranian embassy in Paris and apparently saved the lives of thousands of European Jews by forging Iranian passports for them.

The aim of the show, according to many inside and outside the country, is to draw a clear distinction between the government's views about Judaism -- which is accepted across Iranian society -- and its stance on Israel -- which the leadership denounces every chance it gets.

"Iranians have always differentiated between ordinary Jews and a minority of Zionists," says Hassan Fatthi, the show's writer and director. "The murder of innocent Jews during World War II is just as despicable, sad and shocking as the killing of innocent Palestinian women and children by racist Zionist soldiers," he says.

This is the official website of the show if you are interested in checking it out.

2. Thankfully, no one takes this guy seriously anymore (if they ever did), but you have to admit he is still good for a laugh: "Bush and I were both born on July 6, within the same hour...many Iranians would actually welcome a military strike by the U.S.".

The independent weekly City Paper sometimes teases the Washington Post for articles that attempt (and fail) to be poetic or "writerly", and I would like to nominate the following lines from Amar C. Bakshi's above noted story on Fakhravar and Bush:

"He [Fakhravar] has the fierce green eyes of a panther, and an eerie confidence that makes you wonder if he sees something you can't."

What's that line from the Morrissey song? "Love at first sight may sound trite, but it's true you know..."

3. A couple of weeks ago, Bush shocked a lot of folks by suggesting that the problem with the Vietnam war was not that it was started, but that it had ended!

When pressed by South Korean president and staunch ally about when the U.S. was planning to formally end the U.S. war with Korea, Bush was peeved:

"Bush, now looking irritated, replied: "I can't make it any more clear, Mr. President. We look forward to the day when we can end the Korean War. That will end—will happen when Kim verifiably gets rid of his weapons programs and his weapons."

I guess the guy never met a war he didn't like.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Iranians as Cockroaches and Editor Justifies His Paper's Racism

Incitement to hatred, anyone?

Imagine the hell that would ensue if a US paper carried a cartoon depicting Israel as a sewer with cockroaches creeping all over the Occupied Palestinian Territories and elsewhere in the region.

I've received an email that says letters of objection may be sent to the following: and

If anyone knows of others who should be contacted in this regard, please leave a comment with your suggestions and please make sure to write a note to the editors who chose to run this disgusting image.


I wrote the editor of the paper of my own volition, not because CAIR or anyone else prompted me to, and look at the canned response he gave trying to justify their overt and revoltingly racist cartoon. Have a look for yourself (my response to him is below his letter):

Dear sir or madame:

Thank you for writing to The Dispatch.

You apparently are responding to a call from the Council of American-Islamic relations to write to me and to cartoonist Michael Ramirez to complain about a cartoon about the Iraqi regime’s support of violent extremists and terrorists throughout the Middle East.

CAIR claims the cartoon demeans all Iranians as cockroaches. But since the drain cover depicted in the cartoon is clearly labeled with “Iran” and “extremism” it is clear that the cartoon refers only to those elements of the Iranian regime who support extremism. In other words, it doesn’t come close to labeling all Iranians as cockroaches.

CAIR also likens the cartoon to Nazi propaganda. This is a remarkable display of intellectual gymnastics. Iranian President Ahmadinejad has called for the destruction of the Jewish state and questions the Holocaust, while his regime tries to develop nuclear weapons. If CAIR is truly concerned about the promotion of Nazi ideas and the use of Nazi methods, it should direct its attention to Tehran.

CAIR’s claims that its mission is to promote understanding of Islam and combat anti-Islamic information and anti-Islamic attitudes. That’s an honorable mission when it is directed at legitimate grievances.

In this case, CAIR has misrepresented this cartoon and missed the mark by fabricating a false grievance.

All the best,

Glenn Sheller
Editorial Page Editor
The Columbus Dispatch

Dear Glenn Sheller-

I did not write to you because CAIR or anyone else prompted me to do so. In any case, CAIR has not "misrepresented" your cartoon; it's overt racism will be apparent to everyone who is not blinded by the kind of propaganda your paper seems to relish in producing.

With or without CAIR, this cartoon will be widely disseminated among Iranians and Muslims worldwide who will be disgusted by it no matter what their political or social inclinations may be. Your canned justification for the irresponsible decision to run this cartoon further discredits you.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Week in Racial Profiling (or: Being an Iranian or Iraqi in the USA today)

Kambiz Fattahi is a BBC reporter and grad student at Georgetown University. I met him once in passing at an Iran-related event. He seemed nice and friendly, and unlike many reporters, he was not at all pushy.

Apparently, some racist attendees at a Georgetown University event and two fat--or as Kambiz calls them, "portly"--security guards did not share my impressions. While sitting at the graduation ceremony for a friend and listening, ironically enough, to a self-congratulatory speech about the "tradition of freedom" in the United States, Kambiz was pulled away by security guards who told him that he was "making some people here nervous."

The guards then inquired about his national origin:

I told him I was a US citizen. After showing forms of identification, including my card from the BBC Persian Service, he commented: "So, you're from Persia. Aren't Babylon and the Tigris River in Persia?"

I hope that Kambiz told them "no, you fool, Bablyon and the Tigris are in Iraq, you know, the country you've been occupying for the last four years." But I doubt he made fun of their glaring stupidity. Like I said, he seems like a nice guy.

Leigh Robbins of Richmond Virginia probably has a thing or two in common with these security guards and the individuals who prompted them to harass Kambiz. About to take off on a flight from San Diego to Chicago on September 1, she was so freaked out by seven Iraqi men that she demanded that American Airlines let her and her kids get off of the plane:

Robbins said she was sitting in the back of the plane with her children, awaiting the departure from the gate, when one of the Iraqis walked by to use the restroom.

She heard him “clunking around” inside the bathroom. When he came out, he had a suspicious look on his face, she said.

“He looked so mean, the way he was looking at everyone,” Robbins said. “It was very frightening, like something out of a movie.”

The best part of the story is that the seven Iraqis were defense contractors (read: mercenaries) working with the U.S. marines. The press has covered the men's occupation as though it is proof that they were "good" guys. To the more perceptive reader, this part of the story constitutes a bit of poetic justice.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Fighting off Allies and Foes

In the last few days, I’ve received a number of harried emails about an imminent attack on Iran.

Here are a sampling of the news stories and analysis that have been flooding my mailbox:

Pentagon 'three-day blitz plan for Iran'
Do We Have the Courage to Stop War with Iran?

The Next Quagmire
US Preparing “Massive” Military Attack Against Iran

These terrifying revelations about an impending war were not unexpected, but I am surprised at some of the people who are forwarding this material to listservs I am on.

The “well meaning, left-leaning” folks who usually distribute dire—and often ill-contexualized and uninformed—pronouncements about Iran’s internal affairs are suddenly worried about a devastating attack on Iran. And yet they too are responsible for building an environment where a war on Iran has become possible, if not inevitable.

It may seem unfair to speak about “well meaning, left-leaning” activists in the same breath as one addresses warmongers and mercenaries, but the sad fact of the matter is that they share a number of disturbing parallels, the most important of which is that both of them go down the path of paternalistic intervention.

Ironically, the biggest challenge for anyone who is working towards preventing war and ending punitive sanctions on Iran may not come only from the belligerent right-wingers and neo-cons who are willing to go to any lengths to start another war; it also comes from our “allies” who think that it is their “responsibility” to supervise and help their little brown brothers and sisters in their various quests for social and political change.

This is a hard subject to tackle for a number of reasons, mostly because it is bound to anger many who consider themselves the friends and allies of the "Iranian people." But unless these issues are confronted head on, Iran-related activism will continue to be caught in the uncomfortable space between the military backed impositions of the right and the condescending "humanitarian" interferences of the left.