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.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Senator Hillary Clinton, speaking to ABC news: "I want the Iranians to know that if I'm the President, we will attack Iran."

Senator Barack Obama, speaking to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee: "Iran is a threat to all of us."

Senator John McCain, singing to supporters in South Carolina: "Bomb Bomb Bomb Bomb Iran."

How can anyone vote for these murderous clowns and still have a clear conscience?

Monday, April 21, 2008

1. I often wonder if the esteemed editors and writers for the Dutch government funded Iranian “news” website Roozonline are aware of a little something called the war on Iraq. These folks, along with their many other diasporic counterparts who write on a variety of other governmental or “n”go funded websites, seem to be blissfully unaware of the global context in which their statements are made.

They know neither the conditions of their own possibility (i.e. they don’t get why or how it is that suddenly the US and various EU countries are rushing to fund them in particular) nor what it means for them to say the things they do at this particular moment in time.

I deliberately abstain from citing specific problems because I don’t want to link to them and I do not want to reproduce their language, even if I am critical of it.

Suffice it to say, this press is beginning to use certain words and descriptions to draw attention to ethnic and religious distinctions among Iranians.

Also, anyone out there in the diaspora still calling themselves “Persian,” please get your head examined.

2. Surprise, surprise, the Pentagon was planting its “analysts” on the major US networks to sell the administration’s war on the world. As Gareth Porter notes, David Barstow’s lengthy and well-documented article should get people riled up to demand reform of what he calls the “massively corrupt network system of covering military affairs.”

Can someone please please translate Barstow’s article into Persian? Or better yet, can someone please please fund an NGO—or heck, even an “n”go—dedicated to gathering important articles, audio, and video and translating them to Persian?

Someone has to counter the massively funded projects aimed at shaping and skewing the material that is available to Persian-only speaking audiences.

3. I saw the Panama Deception in the fall of 2001 and was shocked to see the same rhetoric and many of the same cast of characters as those involved in the impending war on Afghanistan. I watched it again last night, and now, post the Iraq invasion, the similarities are even more eerie, especially given the parallels between the situation of Saddam and Noriega as well as what the US did to the armies of Iraq and Panama. If the film had not been made in 1992—long before the disasters of Afghanistan or Iraq--maybe some people would try to claim that the filmmaker tried to force a comparison among the situations.

The full documentary is available for free online, I highly recommend it.

This film, by the way, is a good candidate to be translated and subtitled into Persian and made available online. Now if only we had a generous funder, I would drop everything and get to work!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Sometime ago I heard about a mini-fight breaking out among fringe activists over starting an anti-war march at the Gandhi statue in Washington, DC. One of the women went nuts over the idea because according to her, "Gandhi was a wife beater." This came as a big shock to me not because Gandhi has wrongly been made synonymous with some sort of passive non-violence. I know that these types of icons are often hypocrites in their personal lives. I was just surprised since Gandhi was such a skinny little dude.

I ran this idea of a wife-abusing Gandhi by Nazli of Sibil Tala fame, and while she didn't know anything about any beatings, she told me that the guy decided at some point that he was going to go celibate, and therefore denied his wife any form of a sexual relations, which counts as a form of abuse, I suppose, since apparently Mrs. Gandhi had no say in this decision.

It turns out that Gandhi did go celibate at around aged 40, and he used to "test" himself, he used to sleep naked with nubile Indian women. But that is neither here nor there.

I bring up Gandhi and the allegations of wife abuse because lately I've been hearing about many renowned men who are world class jerks in the private realm.

In general, when I have critiques of such men (and women), I try to keep my focus on their ideas, works, and professional activities, rather than getting into their personal life. However, I would be lying if I didn't admit taking a certain amount of guilty pleasure when I find out that someone with bad politics is also horrible as a person (though sadly, I'm just as often disappointed to hear that someone whose work and ideas I admire is also a complete jerk as a person).

But today, let's stick to cases of the former, that is, terrible people who have equally terrible ideas. I found out this week that V.S. Naipul, whose writings are troubling in many respects, was in real life arrogant, racist, and abusive not only to his wives but his mistresses as well. I'm looking forward to reading the biography that lays it all out.

Finally, the wife-abuser I really want to talk about, I can't, since all I have are rumors and speculations. But I will give you a hint: he is Iranian, he is one of those 79-revolutionaries turned frequent US visitor/resident/employee, and he is a scholar (a real one, not one of the dime a doze who work for the US "think" tanks and claim degrees and expertise that they don't have). Apparently when this guy started falling out with the powers that be, his political rivals arranged the leak of documents from doctors who had treated his wives after what appeared to be incidents of domestic violence. I can't say much more than this, but the last characteristic I mentioned--the fact that this guy is smart and knows things-- eliminates a whole lot of people, so feel free to take a guess!

Sunday, April 06, 2008


1. A well-placed person in DC said the other day that Reza Pahlavi, the pretender to the Pahlavi throne, lives off the billions of dollars of Iran's assets that the US "froze" in 1979 as result of the hostage crisis. This person, I should add, was not Iranian and not at all critical of the fact that Reza P has been siphoning off from what rightfully belongs to the Iranian people. In fact, he was supportive since it is a loophole that lets the US government to pay for RP without actually paying for RP. It is this money from Iran's assets that allows RP, for example, to pay some 60,000 dollars to publish a letter in theWashington Post, make no mention of the fact that his letter is a paid ad, and basically pass it off as an op-ed piece. Just look at Pahlavi's post on his official website, if you don't want to take my word for it. Many people, including myself, thought that the Washington Post had published his letter, but the fact that it was a paid ad explains why a search of the regular features of the newspaper comes out blank.

Now here are my questions: Has anyone else heard this, that the surviving Pahlavis in the US are living off Iran's national wealth? I am not talking about what they brought with them from Iran or money they had stashed outside of Iran before the revolution. I am talking about the frozen assets specifically. This sounds like a great project for an investigative journalist in the US (do they still exist?) to follow, or at least to provide Iranian nationals with some hints about how one might begin to check out this story.

2. Charlton Heston died today. Did they have to pry a gun from his "cold, dead hands"?

3. Any recommendations for a good software (freeware, I don't want to pay for it) for tracking bibliographies and generating footnotes and endnotes?

Friday, April 04, 2008

Absoluto (Boycott IKEA?)

Too bad we no longer watch American television, I would love to see the Fox pundits going crazy over this. This Swedish ad campaign may turn out to be the Danish Mohammad cartoons of the US!

If you have some time to kill, look at the Americans going crazy in the comments sections here, here, and here. The comments section of The Dallas Daily News' story on the issue is particularly good.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

I'm going to miss George W. Bush, I really am. A McCain presidency will mean all the same terror, but without the constant comic relief that Bush has offered. I don't expect a democratic presidency to be much different either, the democrats are not particularly distinguishable from their republican counterparts when it comes to foreign policy, and you can forget about getting any laughs. There must be folks who are more humorless than democrats, though I'm not sure who they might be.

Of course laughing at Bush's buffoonery is never without bitterness since we know the cost of his reckless stupidity for the people of the United States and the world.

I know that Thomas Young, 25, paralyzed from the chest down because of a bullet wound through the spine, is one of Bush's victims who doesn't find his antics one bit funny. Thomas is the main character in the documentary Body of War, which shows Thomas' personal tragedy against the backdrop of the rush to war.

The film is produced by Phil Donahue, who I am pretty sure pioneered the afternoon talk show before that genre spiraled out of control. The last time Donahue had a show, it was on MSNBC, where he was the only person in mainstream media who was skeptical about the 'evidence" for war and questioned the motives behind it. Of course, the "free" US media couldn't deal with that and canceled the popular show because it presented "a difficult public face for NBC in a time of war."

But anyway, back to the film. In addition to Thomas Young, the other hero of the film is Senator Byrd of West Virginia, who made a valiant effort to convince his colleagues in the congress to slow down the rush to war. And boy, if you thought the 90 plus senator is a character based on what you've seen about him on CSPAN--like footage of him kicking out code pink protesters or taking a stand against the Bush administration's notion of preemptive war--wait until you see the guy in person.

I was at a special screening of the film last night, and Senator Byrd, Thomas Young, and Phil Donahue were in attendance. Every now and again, one member of the audience would make loud sounds, not exactly words, in enthusiastic support of something on the screen. I'm pretty sure it was Senator Byrd who was doing the yelling.

Here is the trailor, have a look and watch the film if you like (and the soundtrack is quite good as well.)

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

1. I spent a good two hours feeling lousy this morning for giving a woman the wrong directions and realizing it too late to let her know. DC is supposed to be among the world's easiest cities to navigate, with a grid system that is so straight forward that in most cases you can figure out the intersection based on the number of the address alone. And yet, after a year and half of living here, I can't even manage to remember that the streets called after numbers intersect with streets that are named after letters. I told some poor woman to go down T street to get to K. For god's sake they are parallel, and anyone who has been in DC five minutes should know that. So I'm sorry, unknown woman in the van, I usually decline to give directions, but somehow I was feeling so confident this morning, I hope you found your way before too long.

2. More bad news, the Russian News and Information Agency, Novosti, about which I know very little, is reporting that Russian intelligence has detected US troop buildup on the Iranian border. Canada based Global Research has this headline: The Saudis Prepare for "Sudden Nuclear Hazards" After Cheney Visit.

3. In a senseless act of violence, Manuchehr Farhangi, an Iranian millionaire I hadn't heard of until I saw this news, was stabbed to death by a woman who assailed him at his home in a suburb of Madrid. Sadly, the Iranian "opposition" (who else?) were already spreading rumors blaming the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and planting some story that he had gotten in an argument with a woman putting up pro- Iranian government posters up and implying that she had later hunted him down and killed him! Even the usually not-that-crappy Radio Zamaneh was repeating these claims. Well, Spanish police have since caught the culprit, a 24 year old woman who tried to stab a second man in the same area. I'm very sorry he was killed, and I'm very sorry that the Iranian "opposition" tries to score off of every tragedy, no matter where it occurs or under what circumstances.

4. Imagine how horrible this new film by that Dutch Islamo-phobic Fascist must be, that it has stirred so-called international bodies out of their usual slumber. I know that at least the following have issued statements condemning the film, its racism, and its naked provocation to hatred: The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, the EU parliament, the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Doudou Diene; the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Asma Jahangir; and the Special Rapporteur for the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Ambeyi Ligabo, and my god, even the insipid Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon.