Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Another Propaganda Outlet

In the middle of all the troubling news coming from everywhere, this is not a priority topic, but I still think the issue is worth a quick mention. Yesterday, a friend of mine alerted me to this interview with Israeli analyst Meir Javedanfar on the Dutch government funded Radio Zamaneh. Apparently a number of journalists had vociferously objected to the piece, which just crudely repeats official Israeli propaganda about what is happening in Gaza, but the new Zamaneh management/editorial crew, decided to run the piece anyway. (It is very telling that the book that is advertised on the right hand column of the interview is that of Mehdi Khalaji, who works for the Israeli lobby think tank, Washington Institute for Near East policy).

Although I am in principle against foreign government funded outlets aimed at Iranian audiences, I know a lot of bright and talented journalists (many of whom have since quit) who worked with Zamaneh and produced some impressive content. Unfortunately, since such media are by definition agenda-driven--their lofty claims about democracy and free and fair journalism notwithstanding--it was only a matter of time before Zamaneh went the way of US State Department funded Radio Farda and Voice of America.

There is much more that I want to say about Zamaneh and its predecessors, but for now, I just wanted to express my frustration about both the interview with Javednafar and the censorship of the moderator who refused to put my comment, despite the fact that I was polite and merely expressed my disappointment in what is happening to the site. If you look at the site now, the negative comments far outnumber the supportive ones, but I suppose they still wanted to somewhat save face and not show how much they have angered their soon-to-be-former audience.

That's all for now, Happy 2009.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

I was carrying a sign, and walking my bike, and I'm not the tallest person in the world, so I have plenty of excuses for not taking fabulous photos from today's protests and march from the State Department to the White House and beyond. But I'll share the pictures with you anyway. The turn out was quite big (I would say in the thousands), and considering it is holiday season and DC usually empties out during this time, it was a remarkable turnout. There will be more protests and marches throughout the week, I'll try to attend and to capture better pictures.

Meanwhile, here are snapshots showing the diversity of those who had gathered--people from various ethnic backgrounds, a range of ages, and even differing political ideologies, all speaking out against the horrors in Gaza.

For other, and slightly better pictures, please go here.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Shoes not Bombs II

Thanks to the generosity and talents of Mehrdad Aref-Adib, I now have a logo inspired by Food not Bombs. This could be the start of a movement!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Petition for Hoder

I, along with a number of other bloggers, have put our names on the following petition (available in English and Persian) expressing concern for Hossein Derakhshan and calling for his release. Needless to say, I have several reservations about the whole thing, not the least of which is that the text is in English. If it were up to me, the text would only be in Persian: it is a letter by Iranian bloggers, addressed to the Iranian authorities, about another fellow Iranian blogger. Why does it need to be in English? Furthermore, portions of what the text says and implies--about what a wonderful role bloggers have, how this arrest is being viewed (by whom?), how great we are for signing this petition--are the kinds of statements that are likely to come under scrutiny, and for good reason. Nonetheless, I think the arguments for signing the petition outweigh my reservations in this case, and I hope that it does more good than harm in resolving the situation. Thanks to all of the people who signed the petition and who took time to iron-out some of their differences. If you would like to sign-on to the petition, please go ahead and do so and republish the statement on your own blogs. Please also leave a comment for any of the original signatories that you have also added your signature. I think we will eventually need a more systematic way to figure out how to aggregate all of the signatories, but I suppose this is a good start for now.

Now here is the actual petition:

We, the undersigned, view the circumstances surrounding the Iranian authorities' arrest of Hossein Derakhshan (, one of the most prominent Iranian bloggers, as extremely worrying. Derakhshan's disappearance, detention at an unknown location, lack of access to his family and attorneys, and the authorities' failure to provide clear information about his potential charges is a source of concern for us.

The Iranian blogging community is one of the largest and most vibrant in the world. From ordinary citizens to the President, a diverse and large number of Iranians are engaged in blogging. These bloggers encompass a wide spectrum of views and perspectives, and they play a vital role in open discussions of social, cultural and political affairs.

Unfortunately, in recent years, numerous websites and blogs have been routinely blocked by the authorities, and some bloggers have been harassed or detained. Derakhshan's detention is but the latest episode in this ongoing saga and is being viewed as an attempt to silence and intimidate the blogging community as a whole.

Derakhshan's own position regarding a number of prisoners of conscience in Iran has been a source of contention among the blogging community and has caused many to distance themselves from him. This, however, doesn't change the fact that the freedom of expression is sacred for all not just the ones with whom we agree.

We therefore categorically condemn the circumstances surrounding Derakhshan's arrest and detention and demand his immediate release.

ما امضا کنندگان ذیل، شرایط دستگیری حسین درخشان، یکی از سرشناس ترین بلاگرهای ایرانی، توسط مقامات ایران را به شدت نگران کننده می دانیم. ناپدید شدن، حبس در مکانی مجهول، عدم دسترسی به اعضای خانواده و وکلای مدافع، و اعلام نکردن اطلاعات شفاف در خصوص موارد اتهام احتمالی نامبرده همگی باعث نگرانی ما ست.

جامعه وبلاگ نویسان ایران یکی از فعال ترین و بزرگترین جوامع اینترنتی جهان است. از شهروندان معمولی تا رییس جمهور ایران، بسیاری به امر نوشتن در وبلاگهای مختلف مشغول اند. این وبلاگ نویسان دارای طیف وسیعی از عقاید و آرا هستند و نقش مهمی در مباحث اجتماعی، فرهنگی، و سیاسی ایفا می کنند.

متاسفانه ظرف سالهای اخیر، وبسایت ها و وبلاگهای متعددی به صورت منظم توسط مقامات ایران فیلتر شده و شماری از وبلاگ نویسان با آزار و حبس روبرو شده اند. بازداشت حسین درخشان تنها آخرین نمونه از این نوع برخوردها ست و به نظر می آید این اقدام در راستای ایجاد رعب و واداشتن وبلاگ نویسان به سکوت طراحی شده است.

مواضع حسین درخشان در خصوص تعدادی از کسانی که بدلیل عقایدشان زندانی شده اند باعث رنجش جامعه وبلاگ نویسان ایرانی بوده و همین موجب شده بسیاری از آنان از وی دوری بجویند. با اینهمه، این موضوع این حقیقت را نفی نمی کند که آزادی بیان حقی مقدس است و باید برای همه در نظر گرفته شود، نه فقط کسانی که با آنها موافقیم.

بنابرین، ما از این منظر، به طور اصولی شرایط دستگیری و بازداشت حسین درخشان را محکوم می کنیم و خواهان آزادی فوری او هستیم.

Arash Abadpour

Niki Akhavan

Hossein Bagher Zadeh

Sanam Dolatshahi

Mehdi Jami

Jahanshah Javid

Abdee Kalantari

Sheema Kalbasi

Nazli Kamvari

Nazy Kaviani

Peyvand Khorsandi

Nikahang Kowsar

Omid Memarian

Pedram Moallemian

Ali Moayedian

Ebrahim Nabavi

Masoome Naseri

Khodadad Rezakhani

Leva Zand

Monday, December 15, 2008

Shoes not Bombs

If I had any sketching talent, I would make a Shoes not Bombs sign using the following Food not Bombs logo as inspiration:

Side note: As much as I admire the work of the Food not Bombs folks, from what I remember, their food kind of tastes like shoes anyway, so it is even more appropriate that they would inspire my imaginary logo.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Journalists Who Throw Shoes, and Those Who Kiss Them

As soon as I heard the news about the shoe throwing incident in Baghdad, I sent the link to everyone I saw online, including Roozbeh Mirebrahimi, who immediately wrote a blog asking whether it was "becoming of a journalist" to do such a thing. I asked myself a similar question a couple of days ago when I read that Iranian journalist and blogger, Arash Sigarchi, had accepted an invitation to meet George Bush because according to Sigarchi, it would not be "right" if he did not accept. In fact, not only did Mr. Sigarchi attend the event, he repeated to Bush the kinds of accusations that that US administration routinely uses to threaten Iran with war and more sanctions.

Now Montazer Al-Zeidy, on the other hand, also had access to a meeting with Bush, and he too, decided to attend, and the rest is history. In fact, one of the best moments in history, ever.

And so I wonder, what is more befitting for a journalist: the one who throws shoes at the man who destroys his country, or the one who kisses those shoes?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Hoder's Arrest Confirmed By Family

1. All those "human rights" activists and political "analysts" who have been playing dumb for over a month, justifying why they have not spoken out against Hossein Derakhshan's arrest on the basis of not having confirmation or those who have spread the most vicious lies speculating on where Hossein really is, no longer have many excuses left. Hossein's family has confirmed his arrest and detention at Eshratabad, where he is at the mercy of Saeed Mortazavi. Someone has put together a Persian language website to follow developments in the case and to call for his release, it would be cool if someone could put together an English site as well.

2. I wanted to only write about Hossein quickly, but now that I am here, what is up with the European legislators and courts these days? First, the British parliament invites the likes of Amir-Abbas Fakhravar and others to speak on behalf of Iranian students, and today, Rahman Haj-Ahmadi, a leader of violent Kurdish separatist group PEJAK is scheduled for an event. And last week, an EU court took steps to remove the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO) from the terror list. In fairness, the MKO are not violent separatists, they've just been accused of supporting such groups and given their long history of fighting against Iran during the Iran-Iraq war and acting as Saddam's henchmen during various periods, I am sure they have been guilty of much more that may never come to light.

Monday, November 24, 2008

When I first heard that Iranian businessman, Harvard graduate, and former Chief Executive of the Iran Heritage Foundation, Farhad Hakimzadeh had taken a knife to 150 books in the British library, I had a whole jumble of reactions. They were, in no particular order, as follows:

1. What kind of an animal would destroy books? (that was the nerdy part of me)

2. Great, another shameful blot on the record of Iran and Iranians (that was the nationlistic part of me that I try to suppress and pretend doesn't exist)

3. The Iran Heritage Foundation, it figures. (that was the part of me that is suspicious of all Iranian diaspora cultural and political activities).

4. The rich bastard, couldn't he just buy himself some stolen treasures instead? (this is the Marx-101 part of me that romanticizes the working class and believes that only the rich are capable of evil).

I'm still not sure what to make of the whole thing, though what was of interest to me was the reactions to the story as covered by the Chronicle of Higher Education. I saw that Khashayar had already mentioned the reactions on and how people were trying to justify what this man has done. But that is, and it hosts all kinds of crazed regulars. But it was surprising to see similar responses as those found on in the Chronicle, which as far as I know is usually only read by geeky academics. For example, in response to a commenter who had said that "Perhaps they will re-think their opposition to capital punishment," another reader had angrily responded that You mean capital punishment for tearing out a few pages from a place that was not even a real country till a few centuries back, or for shamelessly stealing monuments from a several-thousand year old civilization, such as the first monument of Human Rights by Cyrus the Great, now at the British museum, or all priceless Indian treasures?"

And you know, yes, granted, the Brits have most of that stuff because they outright stole it, but would one justify, say, the smashing to bits of the Kooh-e Noor using the same logic? I find the whole thing sad, but I am quite morbidly interested in uncovering what made the guy do it.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Free Hossein, You Unjust Bastards

[editor's note: The following is a translation of Nazli Kamvari's Persian post on the arrest of Hossein Derakhshan. I have taken some liberties as the translator, for example, using "unjust bastards" for bi-ensaf because "unjust" or "unfair" alone wouldn't carry the weight of the original Persian's connotation. I don't want to be in collusion with those who have either delighted in Hossein's arrest, justified their silence (through wordy treatises on why they are being silent), or those who are spreading outright lies about him. But since I don't have time now to think through a proper piece of my own, I am just translating Nazli's piece, since she consistently surpasses everyone in having courage and a conscience.]

They have arrested Hossein, I have no doubt about it. All of the people who email me these days, writing a bunch of bologna and taking their political revenge don't understand that Hossein, given all of his idiocy and given all of the troubles that he single-handedly created for the women's movement, is now in a very bad situation. It is the story of the boy who cried wolf, I know. I am worried about my former friend, Hossein. A lot of papers have written,all of them with suspicion, that this is Hossein's own doing. Or that it is some game by the security apparatus. All of you no good bastards who are giving false information to these papers, how do you know and how can you be so sure? Why do you play with the life of someone whose whereabouts are unknown and who cannot defend himself.

People, lawyers, human rights defenders, are writing all kinds of crap in the Toronto email lists: posing in the name of rights and rightfulness, they feed others with the news that Hossein is not arrested and is collaborating. He has not been arrested? How do you know? How is it that you know and I don't know? What is this collaborating that Hossein is doing and therefore deserves to be detained? Whatever he has done to others, and all of you who hate him, are you happy if they beat him? If they cause hell for him? Well, you are crazy after all. All of what Hossein has said, all of the violence that he has enacted on us, it was all within the boundaries of his text. He didn't pick up a gun and shoot anyone. Now he has been arrested and you are all celebrating? There isn't enough reliable information? How come for everyone else before him who has been detained, the information has always been enough? Because he said don't write? How come when they arrested Sina, you didn't listen! Will you be satisfied that if a person is completely destroyed over one huge mistake?

I don't know what is going on. But I am worried for Hossein since Jahan News says that he has confessed to spying for Israel. This worries me. I am worried they will sacrifice him. It would be a shame if he were sacrificed. Have a little sense of justness.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Support NIAC event on Iran

Despite my critical post below, I have to say that NIAC still deserves kudos for taking on some of the scariest people who have been working for war and tougher sanctions on Iran. Monarchists and Mojahedin-e Khalq groups, those ever strange bed fellows, do in fact share some commonalities besides wanting war and sanctions on Iran: they are fossilized, dogmatic, cultish, and have variously milked foreign governments (be it Iraq, the US, or Sweden)for funds in exchange for "intelligence" or other mercenary services.

If you see how Kenneth Timmerman's group is freaking out, you get a sense that maybe NIAC is doing something right after all.

So, at the end of the day, while I have strong reservations about some of the tactics and positions of NIAC and its president, I wish them luck at tomorrow's event on the hill. If you are US taxpayer or citizen, please call your representative or senator in support of holding this event, apparently the monarchist-MKO block has been trying to stop it.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

1. Does NIAC stand for National Iranian American Council or National Israeli American Council? Why does NIAC promote and disseminate articles with the title Why US-Iran Talks Are Good for Israel? I suggest that NIAC either leave it to Israel to worry about what is and isn't good for it or take the "iranian" out of its name all together. After all, virtually every statement regarding US-Iran relations that comes from NIAC or its President Trita Parsi frames issues in terms of US or Israeli interests. The former, of course, at least makes sense (though I don't find it particularly ethically justifiable) given that the organization is US based and it is trying to appeal to US policy makers.

Anyway, this article argues that the US should not oppose European gas purchases from Iran. Why? Not because the article calls on any legal or ethical principles, no, not all; rather, the author sums up his claims by saying that standing in the way of such purchases will "give Russia further opportunity to exploit European-American differences, and do nothing to moderate Iranian behavior toward Israel."

It appears that in the world of the National Iranian American Council, policy is primarily assessed in terms of what is bad for Russia and good for Israel. How cold-war of them.

2. I finally saw Caveh Zahedi's I'm A Sex Addict, and surprisingly I liked it very much. I even cried in the last scene. Zahedi's I Don't Hate Las Vegas Anymore aggravated me, and I thought that he came through as highly self-indulgent both as a person and a director. There were elements of this self-indulgence in this film as well, but it somehow worked, and I found myself cheer-leading for him in the end. There was also the added bonus of spotting the cameo of my friend's husband, who is an accomplished artist in his own right. Anyway, if you are in the mood for a different kind of film, check it out.

3. This item was announced at least half a day ago, old news in other words. Still, in case you missed it, Obama appointed Madeleine "we think the price is worth it" Alright as his representative at the global economic forum this weekend.

4. Judith Butler is quite readable when she is writing for a general audience. Her article Uncritical Exuberance?, raises a number of great points, though predictably, it is annoying die-hard Obamaniacs who get a hernia if one dares to even hint at a criticism of the man.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

1. My friend Mink mentioned in a comment on a previous post about Rahm Emanuel that "it is unfair to point of his father's past without mentioning his mother - according to wikipedia, a Chicago civil rights acticivist. Theoretically both are as valid as sources of inspiration." I didn't know about his mom, so I want to thank Mink for pointing out her background. And I certainly hope that she was more of a source of inspiration for Rahm Emmanuel, especially since his father was quoted this week as saying "Obviously he will influence the president to be pro-Israel. Why wouldn't he be? What is he, an Arab? He's not going to clean the floors of the White House."

2. I don't know what the deal is with Obama appointing folks with problem parents (there may be room for some psychoanalytic conclusions here), but apparently transition team member Sonal Shah has family ties to right-wing Hindu parties and organizations linked to the murder of Muslims and Christians in Gujarat. Shah denies her own links to such groups, though as far as I know she hasn't specifically addressed her family's connections to them. Anyway, I've been promised some insider information on Sonal Shah, so expect updates if I am able to share.

3. That mysterious stolen laptop is raising questions again; Gareth Porter reports that the IAEA "has obtained evidence suggesting that documents which have been described as technical studies for a secret Iranian nuclear weapons-related research program may have been fabricated."

4. And finally, some good news, Cal State student and activist Esha Momeni has been released on bail. I feel like there was not so much attention paid to her case, and I blame that only partly on the elections. I have some theories on why this has been the case, but I want to think about it a bit more before I write about it. For now, I'm glad she is out and hope that she is ok.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Ahmadinejad Rejects Panoptic Surveillance

From my good friend Alireza Doostdar sent this note from Tehran:

This is interesting for a number of reasons. First, it's the second time (as far as i know) that ahmadinejad's government has opposed a disciplinary police move like this. The first time it was in response to the so-called "social security project" that has seen male and female police officers stationed in different parts of town and confronting men and women who are dressed "improperly" (or men who have "unconventional" hairstyles). The government spokesman announced back then that the government was against this plan and had no role in its design, but then the police retorted that the government had known about it all along and was in agreement with its basics. It ended up being implemented and it has been fairly controversial, with horror stories told every now and then (one interesting case i heard about recently was from a friend who personally saw a girl face down police officers who wanted to force her into their van, up to the point where a female officer grabs her to push her in, she resists and falls down, then the people who were watching step forward a few steps, the girl gets up and curses at the cops at the top of her lungs, and the police get into their car and drive off, leaving people clapping and booing and whistling). I haven't seen anything like this myself during the past five months: I've only seen two police cars from the "social security" unit in all of Tehran, and they have been tucked away into inconspicuous corners (I've seen one in Tajrish and one near the Mirdamad subway station). And the project doesn't seem to me to have
had much of an effect on men's hairstyles or women's hijab.

The second interesting thing about this is that Ahmadinejad doesn't really control the police. Their commander is appointed by the Supreme Leader and I believe they only report to him, except in cases where the interior minister is delegated this authority (which hasn't happened in a long long time, since before Khatami I believe). So I don't know what sort of power Ahmadinejad really wields in this case,
although he seems pretty sure of himself in the letter.

The third thing is that police have, for a few years now, been focusing on a discourse of "science" and "rationalization," up to the point where they would distribute reports about the scientific reasons for bad hejab (some girls have run away from home, some are exhibitionists, some are depressed, and other nonsense like this), and talk about all sorts of scientific foundations for their projects.
This camera things seems to me to be along the same lines, adopting the measures of "advanced" societies in controlling their citizens (this is actually pointed out by a few people in the comments section of this news item. people say if the UK does it, why not us?). I think that if it hadn't happened in the context of years of police intrusions into people's privacy, it probably wouldn't have been seen
as particularly controversial (although ahmadinejad is the only person I've heard of on this so far!!!).

President Orders that Camera Installations in Thoroughfares be Canceled

Translation of Article:

The President has written a letter to the Commander of Police in response to published reports that cameras will be installed in some areas. Ordering that such measures be stopped and canceled, he commented that "this measure is against [the country's] interests, it would be a step in the direction of policification of the peaceful and secure atmosphere of the country, pitting police against the majority
of the people and purging trust and mental security from society."

The full letter of Dr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Commander Brigadier General Ismail Ahmadi Moqaddam is as follows:

"Based on published reports, the Police Force of the Islamic Republic of Iran is to install cameras in some areas in order to control individuals. Notwithstanding the fact that neither the National Security Council nor any other decision-making body in the country has ratified any such measure, this measure would be against [the
country's] interests, it would be a step in the direction of policification of the peaceful and secure atmosphere of the country, pitting police against the majority of the people and purging trust and mental security from society.

The criminals and offenders in our country are very few compared to the population. Rather than using methods that would stoke suspicions that police is out for a general confrontation with the people, it can employ advanced and proper intelligence methods to confront offenders and protect the public's rights.

I repeat that police has to be beside the people and avoid implementing projects that show its distrust of people, that pits the police force against them, and that lacks legitimacy and necessity. It is necessary that you stop and cancel these decisions and report the results [to me].

I ask Almighty God for the increased success of the dutiful police.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

I shared the joy of the young, diverse crowds that celebrated on Tuesday night, not because I like Obama, but because I saw in them the potentials that can be unleashed to make real change in the US and the world. In the historic U Street corridor of Washington DC, which burned to the ground during the 1968 riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King, young black men and women danced in the middle of intersections, defying the police who hound them any other night. The crowds reflected spontaneous, unrestrained joy, and it was a pleasure to see the happiness all around.

When Obama was campaigning and saying one terrible thing after another, his supporters kept telling us, "no, no, he is just saying those things; if he didn't he wouldn't get elected." On election night, in the midst of the celebrations in which I joined, I thought to myself: "Let's hope that the Obama supporters were right that he was lying to us all along."

But no, that doesn't seem to be the case. Obama backers who took the immoral and unjustifiable position that it is ok to promote a candidate who lies because he "has to" now have to face the fact that their man actually meant the horrible things he said. The presidential candidate who made the unprecedented move of promising Jerusalem to Israel has picked a citizen of that country and a former "volunteer" with its army as the first member of his cabinet. His father a member of the Zionist militia Irgun, soon to be chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel served with the Israeli army during the First Gulf War and distinguished himself as the only member of the Illinois Congressional delegation to vote for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

And so it appears, Obama was not lying about the terrible things he said, but he was, in fact, may have been lying about the few good things he promised. With the selection of Emanuel, it is clear that Obama will not be open to unconditional negotiations with Iran any time soon. And since Obama wont be listening to them, you might want to hear the message of "the man on the street" in Iran to president-elect Obama:

Friday, October 24, 2008

Just a few links for Friday reading, in case you don't feel like doing what you really should be doing:

-Retired Colonel Sam Gardner on US covert operations in Iran

-Yours truly on the interventionism of both major party presidential tickets

-Eric Hobsbawm on the current economic crisis (this is actually a 15 minute audio file)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Endangering Lives for Political Gain

It's been a while since I've done one of my "expose" style posts on one of the seemingly countless members of the Iranian "opposition" in diaspora who are willing to lie, cheat, steal, and god knows what else just to get a paycheck and a little praise. Frankly, there are too many of them, and despite the millions of dollars being thrown around, they are mostly useless and pathetic, eventually fading away, as they claw at each other for a little piece of the pie.

But every once in a while, someone acts so unethically, with such brazen disregard for the safety and livelihood of others, that it becomes imperative to address the issue.

Amir Farshad Ebrahimi, whose seemingly prurient interest in other people's private sexual conduct was evident when he gleefully publicized an intimate moment featuring well-known Iranian devotional singer Abdolreza Helali, is now doing the same with a sex tape (one which was clearly filmed by a hidden camera) involving who he says is a cleric and a married woman.

It would be bad enough if Amir Farshad Ebrahimi were merely guilty of being disgusting enough to violate the privacy and dignity of the two people filmed. Extramarital sex between two individuals who are already married to other people can carry a death sentence, a fact that Amir Farshad Ebrahimi knows very well. Indeed, he concludes his shameful post with a taunt wondering about the fate of the man pictured, since according to him, others have been executed for much less.

So Mr. Amir Farshad Ebrahimi, the self designated human rights activist, I have some questions for you:

- How do you justify violating the privacy of two consenting adults (two adults, by the way, who seem to very much enjoy each others, ahem, company)?

-How do you justify endangering the lives of these people? Not their reputation, their dignity, their livelihoods, their families, their jobs, which you endangered as well, but their lives?

-How did these sex tapes, clearly filmed secretly and likely without the knowledge of at least one of the people involved, end up in your hands?

Oh, by the way, Mr. Amir Farshad Ebrahimi, this is only the beginning of the inquiries that will be sent your way. If you think that your maneuverings aroundRadio Zamaneh, your tall tales about what happened in Turkey last summer, or your overall thuggish ways will go unchallenged, you have another thing coming.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Looking Presidential

Compared to the last two--which had vacillated between completely boring and infuriating me--the final "debate" between Obama and McCain was actually kind of interesting.

The best moment of the night, however, was when McCain, true to form, wandered about stage as though he didn't know where he is going:

And here I was worried that with the imminent departure of Bush, we would be deprived of such great photos, like this one capturing a moment of love between President Bush and Prime Minister Berlusconi:

Oh, and here is a blast from the past, former president Khatami, aloof as someone kisses his hand:

I wonder how the supporters of Khatami and other so-called "reformists" feel when they see how Ahmadinejad treats his supporters? I bet they get really really mad when they see pictures likes this:

Photo credits:

-McCain looking presidential is Reuters and can be found here)

-Heads of state lovingly touching heads is also Reuters, but I lost the original link.

-Khatami getting has hand kissed, obviously a Magnum Photo as you can tell from the stamp on the photo, link from here.

-Ahmadinejad kissing hand of a fan is a Fars News Photo and can be found here

Thursday, September 18, 2008

1. A couple of friends invited me to go to an Iranian mosque for Iftar tonight, but I declined. Since I'm not fasting, I felt like I'd be a hypocrite if I went. I've enjoyed and even hosted Iftars even though I don't fast, but going into a mosque somehow takes it to a diffierent level. Besides, I had some work I needed to finish up.

But I happened to finish my work five minutes after I was supposed to have been picked up to go to the mosque, and my stomach started to growl at the thought of all the delicious Iranian food that I would be missing.

And that is when it hit me: hypocrites rarely go hungry.

2. Speaking of hypocrites, do you all remember when Ahmandinejad's VP, Esfandyar Rahim Mashaee, said that "Today Iran is the friend of the people of the United States and Israel and no nation in the world is our enemy." Despite the furor his comments caused inside Iran among hardliners who vociferously called for his resignation, Ahmadienjad has resisted and today he again defended his embattered VP, going so far as to say that "Mashahee's views represent the administration's views."

So, where are the ogres who have been milking a mistranslated and out of context phrase to scaremonger the world about Iran wanting to "wipe Israel off the map"?

Their silence, of course, is not surprising. The hypocrites whose visa status or jobs at the Washington Institute or Voice of America depends on building a monstrous image of Iran have reason to fear any reconcilations among, well, just about anybody.

3. Today, a British friend asked for my thoughts on a piece that claimed, among other things, that "an Obama victory would bolster reformists in Iran."

What I told him was that I am no fan of these so-called reformists, and that I find them very much similar to the US Democratic party: no principles and no spine.

Moreover, I don't see that Obama would be all that much better for Iran; his rhetoric may be less scary, but when it comes to action, I very much doubt he will take the US in a productive direction vis-a-vis Iran: just look at his foreign policy advisors and the type of lobbyists he prostrates himself before.

4. I find it somehow odd that Oscar Wilde's only great-granchild is a computer programmer, at least that is what wiki says. More importantly, why did it take me so long to discover his writings? I mean I always knew about him, particularly in relation to dandyism and all of that, but to actually read his work, it was long overdue.

5. My friend Sima writes lots of great emails when she has looming writing deadlines; I write blogs, and I'll leave it up to you decide if they are any good.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

مار در باغ

چند ماه پیش هنگام پیاده روی در پارک زیبای «مانوا فالز» از کناریک زوج جوان و دو دوستشان رد شدیم که به نظر میامد توریست و از اهالی آسیای شرقی بودند . همه دم پایی پوشیده بودند و من و رائد به هم گفتیم که عجب جراتی دارند که با دم پایی دارند از کوه لیز باران خورده بالا می روند. ما که کفش های مناسب به پا داشتیم و از نی خیزران برای خود عصا هم درست کرده بودیم زود از آنها جلو زدیم و رسیدیم به آبشار بالای کوه . بعد از کمی استراحت تصمیم گرفتیم که دیگر بالاتر از جایی که بودیم نرویم و برگشتیم به سمت پایین. چندی نرفته بودیم که دوباره بر خوردیم به گروه توریست های آسیایی. سه دختر گروه از شیب کوه به دره نگاه میکردند و هیجان زده به زبانشان صحبت میکردند. من ذوق کردم که شاید آنها ببری یا خرسی یا همچین چیزی دیده باشند و فوری پرسیدم « آیا در دره حیوانی پیدا کردید؟» و رفتم کنارشان ایستادم تا ببینم دارند به چه نگاه می کنند.

متاسفانه حیوان شگفت انگیزی در کار نبود. دوست آنها، تنها پسر گروه، لیز خورده بود و ته دره پرت شده بود. به دوست دخترش گفتیم که به اورژانس- همین 911 معروف- زنگ بزند و درخواست کمک فوری بکند.

آن چه بعد گذشت مثل یک طنز تلخ بود:

دوست دختر پسر پرتاب شده (که به سختی انگلیسی صحبت می کند): از من آدرس می خواد.
رائد: بهش بگو ما در مانوا فالز هستیم.
دوست دختر پسر پرتاب شده: میگه آدرس دقیق می خواد.
من (عصبانی): یعنی چی آدرس دقیق؟ بگو وسط جنگل.
رائد: بگو در مانوا فالز هستیم، یک سوم راه مونده به آبشار.

دوست دختر پسر پرتاب شده: می پرسه حال دوستم چطوره؟
من ( دوباره عصبانی): یعنی چی حالش چطوره؟ از 100 متر پرت شده ته دره. انتظار داره چه حالی داشته باشه؟ چرا یارو داره وقت تلف می کنه؟ ما زنگ زدیم که اینا بیان ببینند که چه بلای سره این بد بخت آمده.

دوست دختر پسر پرتاب شده سرش را به سوی دره دراز می کند و چند سوال می کند. صدای خفیفی از پایین پاسخ می دهد.

دوست دختر پسر پرتاب شده کمی بیشتر با مرد پشت خط صحبت می کند. ما سعی می کنیم که پسر پرتاب شده را از بالا ببینیم و دلداریش بدهیم. پسر اصلا انگلیسی بلد نیست و دو دختر دیگر برای ما ترجمه می کنند. اول متوجه نمی شویم که دوست دختر پسر پرتاب شده دیگر تلفن را قطع کرده است .

من: خب کی می رسن؟
دوست دختر پسر پرتاب شده: میگه نمیان.
من و رائد: چی؟!؟ چرا؟
دوست دختر پسر پرتاب شده: میگه چون اون جاییش نشکسته و داره با ما صحبت می کنه لزومی نیست که بیان.
رائد: یعنی اگر ما پنج دقیقه دیگه زنگ بزنیم و بگیم که دیگه صداش نمیاد اون وقت پا می شن میان؟ می خوان
مطمئن بشن طرف مرده بعد بیان؟
من (دوباره عصبانی):این اورژانسشون برا مرده هاس یا زنده ها؟
دوست دختر پسر پرتاب شده: گفت اگه جاییش نشکسته می تونه از کنار کوه بیاد بالا.
من ( خیلی عصبانی): آخه در حالت عادی کسی نمی تونه از کنار این کوه گلی بیاد بالا چه برسه به کسی که پنج دقیقه پیش پرت شده به ته دره. تازه از کجا معلومه که سرش ضربه نخورده باشه؟ شاید حرکت براش خطرناک باشه. شاید هم یجاش شکسته اما چون شکه شده حالیش نیست.
رائد: خب چاره ای نداریم. باید خودمون یه جوری کمکش کنیم.

و بالاخره خودمان هم کمکش کردیم با هزار زحمت. از بالا او را هدایت کردیم تا یواش یواش تو دره راه برود تا برسد به جایی که بتواند از سخره با درختی بالا برود. از چند جا بالا رفت و موفق نشد. لیز می خورد به پایین و ما هر دفعه نفس در سینه نگر می داشتیم که نکند این دفعه حسابش رسیده باشد. آخر سر به جایی رسید که توانست تا نصف کوه بالا بیاید. دیگر از آن بیشتر نمی توانست بالاتر بیاید ولی حداقل دوباره پرت نشد. رائد توانست به زور او را با یک دست بکشد بالا. همه دست به دست هم دادیم که نکند رائد هم پرت شود. ولی با این حال رائد کلی زخمی شد. بیچاره پسر پرتاب شده هم سر تا پا گلی بود و در هوای گرم شرجی می لرزید.

این یکی از آن تجربه ها است که همیشه با ما خواهد ماند. نه سرویس 911 و نه هیچ یک از آمریکای های سفیدی که ازکنار ما رد شدند کمکی به ما نکردند. فقط یک پسر جوان همان اول نگاهی و نصیحتی کرد و بعد با دوست دخترش رفتند به طرف آبشار.

چرا من این جریان را حالا می نویسم؟ چون دیروز در وبلاگ نویسنده محترمی که خود کمتر از دو سال است که به آمریکا آمده است این را خواندم:

دیروز زنگ زدم ایران. خواهرم گفت: «توی خانه‌امان چهار تا مار پیدا شده که با بدبختی آنها را کشته‌ایم.»
گفتم: «به آتش‌نشانی زنگ نزدید؟»
گفت: «چرا اما آنها گفتند:چون مارها را کشته‌اید دیگر نیازی نیست که ما بیائیم.»
پسرم گفت: «واقعاً آتش‌نشانی نرفته...»
بابک گفت: «این‌جا هم که می‌آيند پول می‌گیرند. آنجا به فکر جیب آدم‌ها هستند.»
پسرم گفت: «بابا اینجا به فکر جان آدم‌ها هستند...» پسرم اشاره می‌کرد به مارهايی که در خانه خاله‌اش در ساکرمنتو پیدا شده بود و بعد از چهار دقیقه آتش‌نشانی آمده بود و باغ و خانه را برای پیداکردن مارهای دیگر زیر و رو کرده بود...

با توجه به ماجرایی که برایتان تعریف کردم از این جمله پسر خانم نویسنده که ایشان هم با تکرارش تایید می کنند هم خنده ام گرفت و هم سخت عصبی شدم: ««بابا اینجا به فکر جان آدم‌ها هستند..»

شاید بگویید اتفاقی که برای ما در مانوا فالز افتاد استثنایی بود( که می دانم نیست). ولی می خواهم بدانم که آیا خانم نویسنده محترم و پسرشان خبر دارند که سرعت رسیدن و یا اینکه پلیس یا آتش نشانی «اینجا» اصلا تشریف میارند بستگی به مقصد دارد؟ برای نمونه این را ملاحظه کنید. آیا خانم نویسنده محترم و پسرشان می دانند که در«اینجا» بعضی از بیمارستان های عمومی به جای درمان مریض های بی خا نمان آنها را با آمبولانس به پس کوچه ها می برند و ول می کنند؟ این کار آنقدر شایع است که حتی در ویکیپیدیا صفحه اختصاصی خود را دارد.

جسارتا به خانم نویسنده محترم و پسرشان پیشنهاد می کنم که کمی بیشتر با جامعه ای که در آن زندگی می کنند آشنا بشوند و کمتر با ساختن تصویری غیرواقعی دل آنهایی را که «آنجا» هستند را به حسرت «اینجا» بسوزانند.

البته شاید بد نباشد که آن آتش‌نشانی را که در طی چهار دقیقه خود را به خانه خاله رساند را بفرستید به ناحیه وانشگتن؛ یعنی ناحیه پایتخت «اینجا» . چند وقتی است که پارک ها پر از مار شده اند ولی علی رغم تماس های متعدد مسئلولین شکایت های مردم را جدی نگرفته اند.


Long before I discovered bobo drinks, there was Sharbat-e Tokhm Sharbati:

Nothing hits the spot more on a hot day!

Directions for making around 4 cups:

1. Get yourself to an Iranian store and buy a pack of Tokhme Sharbati (these are the seeds of a particular kind of basil known sometimes as Mountain Basil in Iran)

2. Measure two heaping spoonfuls of the seeds and soak in enough water to cover the seeds by about 2 inches (you may want to first rinse the seeds in a fine colander in case there is any dust on the seeds; also I tend to way over do it with the seeds, you may want to adjust depending on how much seeds you like in the drink).

3. Let the seeds soak for 2-3 hours at room temperature; when they are ready, the seeds will plump up and look fuzzy, like they have a white furry halo around them.

4. Add four cups of water and sweeten with sugar and rosewater to taste. Chill in the refrigerator four a few hours, and then drink up.

In addition to being delicious, the seeds apparently have health benefits for one's heart and nerves. Enjoy!

Friday, September 12, 2008

1. Dear US voters, if there is a presidential candidate that you actually respect and want to vote for but fear facing the wrath of annoying people who sing the praises of US democracy but attack anyone who would like to exercise that right by voting for a third party, there is a solution for you: the vote pact.

The details are on the website, but the basic idea goes something like this: two people whose votes may otherwise cancel each other out (i.e. someone voting for McCain and someone voting for Obama) pair up and vote for whatever third party candidate they really want to vote for. This would ensure that the overall balance of votes between Obama and McCain is not impacted and the third party candidates get the votes that more accurately reflect the support they really have. Of course, this means that people from opposite sides of the political spectrum have a conversation together (yikes!), and trust each other enough to keep their side of the pact.

2. How come Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the current president of Estonia, speaks English with an American accent? Anyone know if his Estonian sounds as native of his English?

Fun facts about Mr. Ilves: not only was he himself a journalist with US State media Radio Free Europe, but his brother headed that radio's Prague based Afghanistan Bureau (the brother currently heads the Persian and Pashto world services of the BBC).

3. Is it a coincidence that more than thirty five years after his release, new video showing footage of McCain's release from Vietnamese POW camps is emerging less than 60 days before the US election? Perhaps, but I somehow doubt it. McCain sure was handsome back then, and I bet he would get a lot more votes if he still looked even remotely like the man seen in this video.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Last night, I went to an event where Javier Bardem was supposed to lead a panel discussion and then screen his newly released documentary, The Invisibles. But Bardem was a no show, and the documentary was quite bad. Most folks, including myself, didn't make it through the screening.

I think most people had come to see Bardem anyway, and they were probably itching to leave since the moment they found out he wasn't coming. Many of the women sitting around me got very excited when a tall, shaggy haired guy approached the stage early on, but they were disappointed to see that it was John Prendergast. Prendergast had a good sense of humor about it though. He joked that while he had considered trying to cut his hair to look like Bardem, any such cosmetic attempts on his part would be like "putting lipstick on a pig."

To fill in the celebrity gap, the organizers had managed to invite the beautiful and likable Robin Wright Penn, but lovely as she is, she is just not as cool as, you know, Javier Bardem.

Anyway, the event was all about typical "left" interventionism. While the right-wingers have gatherings where they talk about how to intervene in other countries by bombing, proselytizing, and what ever else it is that they do, the folks ostensibly on the left of that spectrum get together to talk about how they can stick their nose in other people's business by sending in their (often state-connected) NGOs and various other components of their "soft power" machinery.

During the question and answer period, one guy politely intervened in the love-fest of how "we" must act to lobby the US government to fix the problems in Congo to ask what the panel made of the fact that the US has channeled millions and millions of dollars to fund six different sides in the Congo.

The only person to respond-- if you can even call it a response since was a total evasion of the main point-- was Prendergast, who said: "Well, that just goes to show you how much influence the US can have."

Say what?

One of the panelists, whose name I can't recall since he was also late addition and his name doesn't appear on the program, is an American author who has written about the situation in Congo, particularly about the rape as a tactic of war, said at one point that the solution to Congo's ills would come when all those who had entered the country from elsewhere went back to where they came from: if left alone, the fighting would stop and the Congolese could heal their own wounds.

His point was clear, made perfect sense, and should have been taken to heart by the rest of the panel and the attendees. But this type of audience, which always takes itself as an exception, certainly didn't get it; the sense of entitlement to interfere in the business of the world over is just too deep-seated.

And finally, I think the sudden boom of interest in Africa related affairs is clearly rooted in broader political concerns that have nothing to do with the sufferings of the people Africa whatsoever. It will take many more posts to further explore this, but what is issue can for the time being be summed up in one single word: China.

I hope people expose these links, rather than falling for yet another "humanitarian" cover for expanding the powers that be.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

A little immature humor doesn't hurt anyone, does it? Good, because I've been dying to poke fun at something for a few days, but I was restraining myself to be nice.

There is a Persian language blog that has the English title "Iranian USA." I'm not exactly sure what the author means by this, perhaps he means that he is an Iranian in the USA, or a USA that is becoming Iranian. Who can tell from this construction? But the best part is the URL of the blog which is Now, I'm sure the guy meant it to be read as Iranian US, but my friends, it is clear to me that the URL also reads Irani Anus.

Normally, I would just feel sorry for the person who made this mistake and perhaps have a quite little laugh. But then I took a closer look at the blog and thought that there was some poetic justice at play, and perhaps we are indeed dealing here with an Irani Anus.

Look, for example, at the post where he gleefully points out a tear in Ahmadinejad's jacket, while gratuitously and awkwardly photo-shopping a photo of a monkey nearby.

On the day when Evo Morales--the first indigenous president of gas-rich Bolivia--meets with the President of oil rich Iran, I did not see on a single analysis about the symbolic or material importance of the meeting on any diaspora or opposition sites. Different zoom-ins on the tear from various angles, on the other hand, there were plenty of those.

One day, maybe the self-designated Iranian elites and intellectuals will finally stop their classist jibes at Ahmadinejad, and maybe then they will understand that the very features they deride--like Ahamdinejad's scruffy look and worn out clothes- are what endear him to his sizeable domestic and international supporters.

But it looks like these folks would like to keep their head where the sun don't shine (or name themselves after such places), and the more they stay in the dark and entertain themselves with silly jokes about Ahmadinejad, the higher the chances of another Ahmadinejad landslide in June 2009.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Police Violence at DNC

I'm not a fan of Codepink, but I was very disturbed to see this policeman take a baton to a peaceful Codepink protester for no apparent reason. These security forces should be held accountable for using excessive force, who knows what else they've done that wasn't caught on tape.

You can see the full uncut video and narration from the point of view of the photojournalist who documented the whole thing (you can also see the police tackle and arrest some other random peaceful protester) at this link.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

1. Garfield is not at all funny, but Garfield Minus Garfield, now that is pretty hilarious. See yesterday's strip, for example, I just can't stop laughing! (A big thanks to Mana and Seth for introducing me to strip, the newest weapon in my procrastination arsenal)

2. US and Euro press love to cover stories about Iran's "modesty squads" and whatever admittedly annoying activities they take on. But who knew that Israel has some pretty robust "modesty squads" of its own? How many of you heard about the 7 Israeli men who broke into the apartment of a woman and violently assaulted her because they thought she had carried on an "improper" relationship with some guy? If the perpetrators in this case were Iranian or some vigilante group in Iraq or Palestine or some other Muslim-identified group, we would have been bombarded with news stories and emails on listservs. Seriously, if this was a case in Iran or Palestine, some nerdy guy in Canada would have posted it to Balatarin at least a dozen times, and then he would have come back with a dozen of his other usernames to leave snarky comments about how backwards muslims are, how they just need to learn to practice democracy, etc. etc.

3. Michael Ledeen is so bad that even the notorious neo-con nest known as the American Enterprise Institute has rid themselves of him. Ledeen, you may remember, claimed in January 2007, that Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei had died and continued to hold on to the position for days thereafter, even in the face of various new evidence proving the contrary (he claimed it was all state propaganda or something)! Ledeen has now moved to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, apparently a clear demotion, but I think we should now keep a more alert eye on this Foundation and what they are up to.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

1. Iran's olympic athletes returned home today, and huge crowds came to greet them at the airport. I think they mostly came to see taekwondo champ Hadi Saei, the only gold medal winner for Iran. In the photo from ISNA pasted below, a group of little girls in colorful traditional dress present Saei with flowers, and in the background you can see the people who have packed into the airport to see him:

Iran fared pretty poorly at the olympics, other than Saeei's gold, I think they got a couple of other medals. A country of over 65 million which is relatively sports-positive and can afford to nurture its athlete should have done a lot better.

Of course, the usual suspects are wasting no time blaming the person of Ahmadinejad and his administration for the olympic shortcomings. I was reading the blog of a hard-core Ahmadinejad supporter the other day and saw that one of his readers had left a comment asking him to please write a post showing that there is no relationship between the failures at the olympics and the current administration. In answer to this request, the blogger had sarcastically responded: as far as I know, there is nothing on this earth that isn't related to the Ahmadinejad government.

And the guy has a point. The Ahmadinejad administration is to blame for a whole lot of stuff, but come on, the olympics? The website of the Dutch government funded online paper Roozonline is actually a good place for finding some of the far-out connections people make between Ahmadinejad and whatever is going wrong anywhere. Too bad their headlines are just in Persian, but I'll try to translate some every now and again, just for comic value.

Anyway, congratulations to Iran's olympians, here is to a better performance next time.

2. My culinary goals for the next months are to find recipes for and cook as many northern Iranian dishes as I can find the ingredients for. Yesterday, I cooked Morghe Torshe, which is a chicken dish from Mazandaran made with ground herbs and walnuts. Folks from the province of Gilan have a dish with the same name, but their version has weird things in it like split yellow lentils and eggs. Still, I'm up for trying their version as well. For Mazandarani dishes, I am for now relying on recipes from my dad and grandmother, but I need some good stuff from Gilan. Any suggestions of websites or books to look into?

3. My friend Joann is one of the greatest people you could ever hope to know. I've been trying to get her to blog for ages, but it took being stuck in Chicago to persuade her to actually do it. If you want to discover Chicago along with Joann, check out her blog.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Georgia on My Mind

1. I'm back from a trip to Canada where I presented at the Iranian Studies conference, and then we took a mini-road trip within Canada and throughout the US northeast. Canada is really great, at least from what I can tell. And it helped to be hosted by Nazli, who is generous, lovable, and real. She and the many other volunteers at the ISIS conference deserve to be publicly recognized and thanked for all of their hard work. Maybe I missed it, but it didn't seem like their contributions were adequately acknowledged during the conference.

2. Historically, Russia has not been a good neighbor to Iran. Its colonial interventions in Iran meant the loss of much territory and wealth as well as a whole lot of other immeasurable intangibles, like feelings of security or national pride. Even in contemporary times, Russia has continued its exploitation. Taking advantage of US sanctions that prevent Iran from having access to what is legally its right to have, the Russians have stepped in to sell Iran a bunch of technological equipment at exorbitant prices, with dubious quality, all the while extracting a whole lot of other concessions from Iran.

Despite all of this, Russia's reemergence as evidenced by the conflict with Georgia (which is only one example of the territories Iran lost to Russia), probably bodes well for Iran and the region as a whole.

It is best to have no bullies on the block, but having two bullies is better than having one.

The conflict between Georgia and Russia as well as its implications, which will be wide and far reaching, deserve careful consideration which I hope to expand on in the future. For now, it will suffice to say that a significant power shift has occurred, and we will be feeling its global consequences for a long time yet.

3. I just received the DVD for Iran (is Not the Problem), which I'm looking forward to watching later this week. Here is the trailer, if you want to take a look.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Last night we saw Norman Finkelstein speak, and as much as I respect and admire him, I couldn't quite reconcile the Norman we saw last night the Norman I've read and heard speak elsewhere.

Finkelstein, if you remember, was denied tenure for purely political reasons. In an attack on academic freedom, Depaul University dean Chuck Suchar ignored the positive 9-3 vote of Finkelstein's department and the 5-0 vote of his college and recommended that Finkelstein not be granted tenure. A key force influencing Suchar's decision, it seems, was Mr. Alan Dershowitz, a one time civil liberties buff turned enthusiast for torture, who interfered in what is supposed to be an internal decision process by turning in a 50 page dossier against Professor Finkelstein.

Dershowitz' spirited justification of torture and his campaigns to compromise the freedom and integrity of independent academic research has apparently made him irresistible to one Joel B. Pollak, who my friends in Harvard describe as an "aspiring Dershowitz." Mr. Pollak also happens to be the research assistant to Mr. Dershowitz.

On July 5, 2008, the Washington Post published an op-ed by Pollak in which he claimed that the book used for instruction in beginner's Arabic classes at Harvard is filled with the "stale prejudices and preoccupations of the pre-Sept. 11 Middle East."

Mr. Pollak's claims have been met with many objections, though I doubt that outfits like the Washington Post would give equal space to the critics of Dershowitz and mini-Dershowitz. For that reason, a friend suggested that bloggers may want to link to some of the responses that are otherwise likely to be ignored by mainstream media sources. Following his lead, here are the links:

-Elijah Zarwan's response to Joel Pollak

-Philip Weiss' response to Joel Pollak

-Will Youmans' response Joel Pollak

-Matthew Yglesias' response to Joel Pollak

If you know of anyone else who has written in response to Pollak's op-ed, let me know and I will try to remember to link them.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Until very recently, one stereotype about Iranians coming to North America was that they all eventually try to pass themselves off as pop singers. Nowadays, every Tom, Dick, and Harry, or rather, every Ali, Akbar, and Hassan claim to be a "human rights activist."

There is even an Iranian woman who is aspiring to do both, i.e. to be a famous singer and prominent human rights activist, so maybe she will spark a new trend. In fact, I was all set to share some funny stories about this person, but after reading a friend's post about the tendency of Iranians to randomly attack and counter attack one another, I decided to hold my tongue. But just a word of friendly advice to this lady and others in pursuit of becoming singer-human rights activists: if you are ever invited to speak about your human rights work, say at the UK parliament, it may not be such a good idea to play your music video because, you know, that's embarrassing and inappropriate.

But back to my main point, which is about this new tendency for nearly every Iranian political activist, writer, or public personality of any sort that arrives in North America to affix the label "human rights activist" to his or her name. While some who consider themselves as part of a "human rights movement" may consider this a good sign, I would urge caution, especially when it comes to the Iran context. Several months ago, a US State Department official, after listing familiar complaints about the factionalization and in-fighting among Iranian political groups, told me: "we believe that that human rights is the one thing that will unite all Iranians." Translation: "we will be using human rights instrumentally in whatever way we can to make sure we get our way with Iran."

And herein lies the biggest danger to human rights as a concept and as a mode of activism: rather than being used against those in power who abuse human rights, human rights are being used by those in power as a tool to punish their enemies without being held accountable for their own abuses.

With regards to Iran, its mechanisms are obvious, and I didn't need to hear it from the horse's mouth to know so. The state funded Voice of America Persian, for example, is now heavily focused on human rights in Iran, but in a disgustingly skewed and politicized manner. All sorts of websites have sprung up as well, clearly well-funded , but unfortunately not very reliable in terms of the information they provide. Of course, there are still a number of credible Iranian websites--almost all of them in Iran--which provide accurate information about human rights violations. But in a sea of lies and propaganda, it is difficult to discern the truth or to know who to trust.

Despite all of the Iranian "pop stars" who have cropped up in North America over the last three decades, most of us tend to think that a good singer should have the minimum qualities of a nice or strong voice and preferably some charisma or charm. If there are minimum qualifications for singers, shouldn't there be some for human rights activists?

Note: "I suffered a lot" or "my human rights were violated" is not a qualification. It may make one more sensitive to violations or inspire one to work for human rights, but it is not by itself a qualification. Similarly, if you say "I hate government X" or "I loathe president Y", that may make you an opponent or critic of said government or politician, but not a human rights activist specialized in that country. If hating a president or a government automatically made one somehow well qualified to be a human rights activist in relation to a particular country, then we could all likely claim that title vis-a-vis multiple countries.

I think it would be good for everybody if we treated every person who declares himself/herself an Iranian human rights activist with the same healthy skepticism we have when we hear of a new singer coming out of Los Angeles' Iranian quarters: Sure, let's give them a chance and encourage them if they are good, but let's have some minimum standards too.

Monday, July 14, 2008

In this month's Foreign Policy magazine, one of the resident Iran "experts" in Washington DC, has an interview in which he says about the prospects of war or reconciliation with Iran:

"That said, a U.S. military attack would be more carrot than stick for Ahmadinejad. There are two things that would really rehabilitate his presidency: One is a U.S. attack on Iran, and the second is a major U.S. diplomatic overture to Iran. I think the United States should not offer him either."

Mr. Sadjadpour is not the first policy buff to make the former argument. Even some self-described peace activists go around town telling lawmakers "don't bomb Iran, it will make the hardliners stronger."

A few months ago, a delegation of Iranian victims of chemical weapons from the Iran-Iraq war and the physicians caring for them were in the US for a mini-tour during which they also had a chance to meet with Mr. Sadjadpour. It did not go well. "why," they asked him, "do you frame your opposition to war in terms of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and not on the humanitarian grounds that war would devastate the people of Iran?"

For these folks who are still paying the price for a war that ended nearly twenty years ago, Sadjadpour's argument against war was both disturbing and incomprehensible.

And now, Mr. Sadjadpour goes even further to argue against any diplomatic overtures to Iran. Why? Because it might make Ahmadinejad and his faction stronger.

Can you imagine, a guy working with a well-known think tank in the heart of washington, dc, giving an interview to an influential foreign policy magazine at a moment when tensions between the US and Iran are explosive, and he is provided the chance to make a forceful argument against war (between his adopted and native countries, no less) and to diffuse the situation with an offer of a solution, and the best he comes up is this: don't start a war, but don't try to fix things either, because it may benefit one man!

If not war or diplomacy, then what? More sanctions, like the punishing set that is coming up before congress soon?

I hate to pick on Sadjadpour, when there are the likes of Mehdi Khalaji and his bosses at the the Washington Institute for Near East Policy running around selling sanctions as diplomacy and working to bring the fate of Iraq to Iran. But really how different is Sadjadpour's position from Khalaji, given that the latter has argued: "Negotiations between the United States and Iran under current circumstances run the risk of negatively affecting the U.S. image in Iran."

Doesn't it just come down to this small distinction: that Sadjadpour argues against diplomacy because it might make Ahmadinejad look good, whereas Khalaji argues against diplomacy because it might make the US look bad. Neither of their arguments are tenable, by the way, but that is a discussion for another time.

When the biggest difference between the Iran guy at Carnegie and the Iran guy at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy comes down to the fact that one has a full head of fluffy hair and the other looks like a hairless ape, you know that it is time for some diversity in Washington's thinking on Iran.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Go Archeologists!

Top archeologists have urged their colleagues to refuse any requests from US or other military to draw up a list of sites that should be avoided in the increasingly likely event of air strikes on Iran:

"Such advice would provide cultural credibility and respectability to the military action," said a resolution agreed by the World Archaeological Congress in Dublin, Ireland, last week.

They further recommend that archeologists should emphasize that any military attack would bring irreparable harm to the people and heritage of Iran.

A big thanks to these responsible archeologists and to New Scientist for covering their story. The science magazine I currently subscribe to, Scientific American, is filled with advertisements for big time defense contractors like Lockheed Martin, and I can't imagine them covering a story like this one. Now may be a good time to make the switch.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

These are some of the people who are known to refer to contemporary Iran and Iranians as "persia" or "Persians": Saddam Hossein, self-hating and/or clueless Iranians living in North America, supporters and participants in US backed operations aimed at splitting Iran into multiple ethnic enclaves, and most recently, the Saudi MBC Persia, whose owners also run the well-known mouthpiece of Israeli and US propaganda, the Al-Arabiya Channel (which incidentally also has a newly inaugurated Persian language site as well).

Despite my distaste for and suspicion of anyone who uses the word "Persian" to refer to anything other than the language (excepted also, of course, are those who use the term in a properly descriptive and/or historical sense), I am a huge fan of the Iranian-British rapper Reveal AKA Mehrak, and especially his song "Prince of Persia," which you can listen to on his myspace page.

Reveal is a totally legit rapper who won the British freestyle battle championships in 2000, when he was only 15 or 16 years old. As opposed to some commercial pseudo-rappers in Iran that specialize in silly and fun lyrics, for example, Rezaya and 2afm, who I will admit to liking as well, Reveal is politically aware and astute, and his lyrics show both a transnational grasp of world affairs as well as an understanding of the local nuances of Iranian and British societies. Perhaps most importantly, Reveal addresses class issues, something that is entirely absent from contemporary Iranian cultural productions. (You can learn more about Reveal in this interview).

And while the macho militarism is a bit too much for me, I highly recommend the song "Vatan Parast", which is a rap he did with the Hichkas, the self-dubbed (and I think maybe fairly so) father of Iranian rap. The song, which is rapped in both Persian and English, is an expression of anger and nationalistic bravado in response to the threats of war against Iran and the hypocrisy of those who work daily to lay the groundwork for it.

Someone took the song and put it against a backdrop of pictures from Iran's armed forces. Whomever did this also tacked on to the end of the rap a line from an Iran-Iraq war song. If you lived through the Iran-Iraq war like I did, you will know the original song very well. What is being sung here is apparently a new version.

In any case, the imagery and what has been added at the tail end give new layers of meaning to the whole thing, which I am including below for your listening/viewing pleasure:

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The US media has been keen to point out that Mugabe (the UK's #1 bogeyman) and Ahmadinejad (the US's #1 bogeyman) will be a huge distraction from what should really be the focus at the the UN Food Summit in Rome.

Of course, by harping on this during the news broadcasts and various programs (NPR I'm talking to you) the news media are the very ones deliberately creating this distraction and it is they rather than Mugabe or Ahmadinejad who are to be rightfully blamed for deflecting attention from the issues at hand.

While we are on the topic of unwelcome attendees of the event, US State funded Radio Farda reporter was apparently denied entry into the UN Food Summit in Rome yesterday.

Of course, the one and only available source about the incident is Radio Farda's parent organization Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Someone influential from the US government must have complained, so the decision has since been revoked. It was fun while it lasted though, listening to Rafat and RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin fuming about the incident and posturing about "independent" journalism.

If you don't know Rafat, you may have heard of his Italian "news" agency Adnkronos International, which is a regular source for misinformation and propaganda.

Whatever the details may be, the folks at the UN were probably justified in barring Rafat. A good friend of mine at an internationally respected organization has a policy of refusing to speak to certain self-proclaimed journalists or news organizations. He once flat out told Eli Lake of the tabloid NY Sun that he only gives interviews to "real papers."

Thursday, May 01, 2008

1. The World Public Opinion organization today released the findings of their poll on press and internet freedoms . They polled the following nations, the total populations of which represent 59% of the world: China, India, the United States, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Russia as well as Argentina, Azerbaijan, Britain, Egypt, France, Iran, Jordan, Mexico, Peru, Poland, South Korea, Turkey, Ukraine, and the Palestinian Territories.

The results of their polling on Iran was a surprise to me, I am copying some of their major points below:

-Only three countries express relative contentment with their press freedoms: Iran, US, and the UK. Majorities in Britain (59%) and the United States (52%) say that they have the right amount of freedom, as do 43 percent in Iran.

-Of the countries polled, the only two publics where majorities do not endorse full internet access are Jordan and Iran. In Jordan 63 percent support government regulation of the Internet as do 44 percent in Iran (32% favor unlimited access).

-On the question of whether the government should control potentially destabilizing information, a plurality in Iran (45%) supports government control under such circumstances (31% feel the media should be able to publish freely).

(for a country-by-country breakdown of the polls findings click here, the full report can be found here)

2. God knows how many friends and acquaintances I've alienated for refusing to worship the ground that Obama walks on, but now that I have gone this far, there is no sense in stopping now.

I was not surprised when Obama sold Palestinians and Muslims in general down the river, cow towing to AIPAC and fascist islamophobia. By the way, word around town is that AIPAC head honchos have reached a private consensus that should Obama win the nomination, they will back his rival. For all he did, it just wasn't enough (he didn't like, you know, threaten to obliterate Iran).

But while his betrayal of Palestinians and Muslims was to be expected, I did not think he would go the same lengths--indeed, even farther--with the black community in the United States. And I'm not just talking about the Reverend Wright stuff, as bad as it is. Too much of the wrong kind of attention has been paid to that saga. But what about Obama's refusal to go to Memphis to mark the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination? Or what about his strong condemnation of people who may protest the acquittal of policemen charged with shooting an unarmed black man 50 times without saying a word about police violence?

In an article I just read, an Obama supporter raising concern about Obama's positions on these issues pleads "Senator Obama, Please Come to Your Senses." I think my plea from now on will be "Obama supporters, please come to your senses"!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Football Fields and Poker Tables at Guantanamo

Kianoosh Sanjari, the latest Iranian activist to magically end up in the studios of the US State owned Voice of America, actually asserted in his April 28 interview with Bijan Farhoudi that inmates at Guantanamo Bay have themselves a merry old time.

Sanjari claims that his prison cell mate was a former Guantanamo detainee who entered Iran with someone from the ICRC and then ended up in Evin Prison (yes, I know, the story makes a whole lot of sense already). While incarcerated together, the former Guantanamo detainee told Sanjari about what fun he had playing cards with his female warden (perhaps the female guard needed a break from smearing menstrual blood on the faces of detainees), participating in outdoor football games(I guess its all that fresh air and exercise that caused detainees like Salim Ahmed Hamdan to lose their sanity), and enjoying access to his lawyers and the greater outside world (never mind what you heard about US government efforts to limit lawyers access to detainees and denying them access to files they need to actually defend their clients)

If you want to hear Sanjari tell this moving story of the former detainee who was waxing nostalgic for his time at Guantanamo, click here, start listening at 51:41, when a polite guy from Tabriz calls in to raise the issue of US secret prisons and is promptly cut off.

Having newly arrived to DC just a few weeks ago, it is not clear if Mr. Sanjari will become the newest "fellow" at the American Enterprise Institute, the National Endowment for Democracy, Freedom House, or whether he will continue providing services at the US state owned Voice of America.

Either way, expect more assertions along the lines of Guantanamo-is-heaven and Iran-is-hell.

Who says the world is suffering from a shortage in fertilizer?

Monday, April 28, 2008

1. So Scott MacLeod, TIME's Cairo Bureau Chief for about a decade, goes to Tehran to write a piece on bloggers in Iran and he decides to interview a journalism student in Berkeley, California for thoughts on the topic. With all due respect to the subject of this interview, who happens to be my friend, MacCleod would have probably had more insightful information for his readers if he had just stepped out on the street and asked a random person if her or she has a blog. What is the point of going all the way to Iran if you are going to call a guy in California about blogging in Iran?

And have you ever noticed that "western" Iran observers--from journalists to policy analysts to Iran "experts" of various stripes--all talk to the same 8 Iranians? The reason you find so many cliches floating around on Iran is not just due to the intellectual laziness and general ineptitude of those who reproduce this stuff, it is also largely due to the fact that only about 8 people are the original source for the material.

2. Filmmaker Deepa Mehta, known for works such as Water and Earth, which have themselves been variously critiqued for being neo-Orientalist and lacking critical engagement with Indian history, is apparently in contract talks with Azar Nafisi to make a film about Nafisi's infamously crappy Reading Lolita in Tehran. Somehow I doubt that Deepa Mehta would be moved by one's pleas to refrain from giving this boring and severely problematic book any more publicity, but it may be worth a try. Deepa Mehta's website may have some leads on how to get in touch with her.

3. Three days ago, the National Endowment for Democracy issued a statement asserting that it "neither organized nor funded the March demonstrations inside Tibet." As we say in Iran, when you pick up a stick, the thieving cat starts to run.

After South and Central Americans, now East Asia has become aware of the intrusive and destructive role of NED and its sister organizations. The same is not yet true of Iran and the rest of West Asia, but much to the dismay of those on the payroll, word is slowly getting around.

I hear that one NED paid "activist" is so alarmed, she has taken to making threatening phone calls to those who publicly challenge her.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Gender and Criticism

Recently, a journalist writing in one of Iran's major newspapers created a lot of controversy by comparing the masses who eagerly greet Ahmadinejad in his visits to every little corner of the country with a certain (albeit cute) type of animals who dance hungrily for a piece of food from their trainer.

Iranians, like most people in the world, don't enjoy negative comparisons to non-human animals, so it is hard to believe the author when she pleads surprise at the angry responses she has gotten. What bothers me about the article is not whether or not she intended to insult millions of Iranians, but that she--like many of her colleagues who share parallels in their political outlooks--refuse to recognize the fact that Ahmadinejad has a large and enthusiastic constituency from all over Iran. It should be obvious that until that basic fact is acknowledged, analyzing why he has support or convincing his constituency to abandon him is an impossibility.

In short, I was annoyed by the article and am not particularly fond of the writer's work in general (she even writes for Roozonline, and I've made my feelings on that publication pretty clear). Nonetheless, I find the ferocity of her critics rather disturbing. It is the same furor one finds, for example, in assaults on the Iranian Feminist movement. It is also similar to the nasty attacks on Fatemeh Rajabi, the bold ultra right wing writer often referred to as the "wife of Elham" (the spokesperson for Ahmadinejad's government).

Male journalists and writers, as well members of male-dominated social and political movements of all stripes often come under attack in the lively press inside Iran and the zombie press in diaspora. Yet there seems to be substantive differences in the tone and nature of criticisms targeting women and women-identified movements and organizations. Documenting and detailing these differences is on my to-do list, but for now, I want to flag the phenomena, since it seems to be a persistent feature of Iranian discourses.

Of course, this issue is not unique to Iranian discourses. Compare the kind of comments routinely made about Hillary Clinton (her outfits, her hair, her wrinkles, etc.) with what what the US press says about John McCain. That man has a tumor the size of a basketball on his face but, how many of his critics bring up his deformed jaw in their analysis of his views? Yet Clinton's critics will talk about the highlights in her hair in the same breath as her health care plan. Clinton is routinely photographed from unflattering angles or close-up shots that emphasize her wrinkles. When was the last time you saw a McCain photo that enhanced the size of that thing in his jaw, his thinning hair, or the 600 deep wrinkles in his forehead?

Clinton may be loathsome, but so is the gendered double standard to which she is subjected, even by Democrat-identified magazines such as The New Republic. One might even feel a bit of sympathy for her as a result (imagine how bad it has to be to make you feel sympathy for that woman). Similarly, the Iranian journalist, despite her rude and shallow article, the Iranian feminist movement, despite some of their troubling stances, and Fatemeh Rajabi, despite her abrasiveness, deserve the same respect (as minimal as it may be) as what is accorded to their male counterparts.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

What is an “N”GO? Part I

An “N”GO, or “non”-governmental organization, is a institution that receives all or most of its funds from one or more governments and yet insists that it is NON-governmental organization. "N"GOs are not only in the business of surviving on governmental funds, they also specialize in sub-contracting funds to other organizations around the world who then claim: "No, we do not receive money from any governments, we receive them from "N"GOs!" The "N"GOs, therefore, are first and foremost supreme money launderers.

Take for example, the notorious NED, or National Endowment for Democracy, which has been the central topic of a number of bitter exchanges in the Iranian blogosphere. Anyone involved in Central and South American work, of course, has long known of the sinister role of NED in that region: starting with Panama soon after it was founded by Reagan and more recently in Venezuela, NED's disruptive interventionist role is no secret to Central and South American activists and intelligentsia. It seems that us Iranian are a bit of latecomers in discerning what is at work with such organizations, but it seems that many are slowly coming around.

Now NED receives nearly all of its funding via an annual appropriation from the US budget, i.e the US government. While some Iranian 'exiles'--not surprisingly themselves on the payroll of NED--have attempted logical acrobatics to obfuscate this by saying for example, that the funds come from congress are therefore bi-partisan (so?), the fact remains that institutions like NED are projects of the United States Government. They are, if you like, governmental non-governmental organizations.

I won't get into the good or bad of receiving governmental funding. Some people I like and respect maintain that it is not where you receive money, but what you do with it. I don't really accept this argument, particularly since usually the people making it are somehow a beneficiary of such funds, even if in indirect ways. But that is an argument for another time.

My focus here is to point out the lengths that these organizations go to in order to detract attention from the fundamentals of what they are.

A month or so ago, VOA Persian invited the president of NED, Carl Gershman, to talk about his organization. The smug VOA reporter, Bijan Farhoudi, said with a straight face that they were going to provide their audience with objective, factual information to counter the misinformation that has been spreading about NED and its intentions. In other words, the US government funded VOA gives a platform to the US government funded NED so that they can tell the Iranian audience "the truth" about what the US government is and is not doing.

One of the things that Carl Gershman was quick to point out was that NED is non-profit organization. What he didn't say, and what none of NED defenders who are also on the payroll will say to an Iranian audience, is that non-profit status is merely a technical legal category that indicates nothing about one's connections (or lack thereof)to any government, nor about one's political leanings. The National Rifle Organization, for example, is a non-profit, and so is the marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access.

Being a non-profit organization does not magically drain an institution from political positions or bias. Receiving funds from the congress, and therefore a "bi-partisan" source, is the same as getting money from the US government. Last time I checked, the US Congress was still a part of the US government! And finally, US government money that has been laundered between multiple organizations (sometimes going back and forth!), is still US government money.

The US government paid employees of NED, VOA, and other institutions receiving laundered and unlaundered monies should stop trying to confuse and pacify everyone with all of this wordplay and logical gymnastics. As we say in Persian, they are just trying to rub molasses on our heads.

But people are slowing starting to raise questions about these organizations and Gershman's appearance on VOA Persian looked like a desperate attempt to stop the inevitable tide of resistance.