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 Iranian.com and how people were trying to justify what this man has done. But that is Iranian.com, and it hosts all kinds of crazed regulars. But it was surprising to see similar responses as those found on Iranian.com 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: