Thursday, January 29, 2004

For there is no remembrance of the wise…

more than of the fool for ever; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten. And how dieth the wise man? as the fool.” This from the Ecclesiastics 2-16. It is a wonderfully moving text.

Since I don’t read Hebrew, I can’t be clear about what the use of remembrance here is intended to evoke. But the root meaning for remembering is Indo-European, and inexplicably bound up with mourning. And while, various structures of power pursue objectives with catastrophic consequences, the alibi being a declaration of uniqueness and permanence, a glimpse of the past—a past not yet forgotten-- leaves one wondering if the price in blood, treasure and tears might not be too terribly much.

That is why the study of history can be both exhilarating and enervating. Power cannot be separated from its public faces—the individual men and women who make the recklessly disastrous choices, their ambitions, and their frailties. Why is power so seductive for some? And why is it that those who revel in it are so persistently adamant about resorting to their gods to justify their conduct?

I am thinking here of Lynne Cheney’s Christmas card which I came across while purging my computer. The card includes the following quotation from Benjamin Franklin:

If a sparrow can not fall
to the ground without His notice,
is it probable that an Empire
can rise without His aid?

Lynne is an interesting warrior, but a bit too narrow-minded in her educational proclivities-- for my taste, that is. She has the audacity of a Kuyuk Khan, although she is not quite as forthright about the punch line as our other illustrious luminary. The following is from the inscription on the Khan’s seal:

In the power of the eternal heaven, the order of the oceanic khan of the people of
the Great Mongols, the conquered people must respect it and fear them

Sunday, January 25, 2004

The Young Woman and a Raincoat

I was planning a rant about the sit-ins today. It has been thirteen days and I figured it might be as a good a time as any. But then, on my way home there was a majestic sight to behold: a young lady, with a child and oodles of groceries in tow, looking in passing at a raincoat. Neither the women nor the raincoat, would strike you initially as out of the ordinary or odd. What caught my attention, though, was the astonishing nature of her gaze. There was a dreamy, longing quality about the way she just glanced at that raincoat—with an indescribable awe and an enchanted smile—the sort that melts your heart away. It was as if for one fleeting moment she lived out a lifetime of sublimated desires.

To understand why I react with amazement, you should visit this place for a week. There is something surreal about life in Tehran. Think fever to get a small opening into our universe. Try to recall how fever amplifies, rather negatively, all of one’s sensory perception--disconcerting blurred vision, maddening sound of one’s own rapid heartbeat, flustering colors and contours, and a miasmic atmosphere. Add to these a sense of nausea and a feel of suffocation that come from breathing the horrendously polluted air. Then you get a sense for life in Tehran.

The impulses and trends dominant in our society are not different from those in the lives of others you might encounter in cities your travel to. But there is a certain grotesqueness about life here. There is intensity about the way these impulses animate people into action and the way we come to perceive other people’s conducts. A lot of women, for example, might dress modestly elsewhere, but in Iran, we have an ocean of blackness—waves and waves of chador clad women in movement. Conversely, multitude of women might choose to liven up a bit with a touch of makeup. But not here. We have a throng with exaggerated foundations and colorful shadows—the kind adorning an old harlot planning seduction of a horde of drunken sailors on a desolate island.

Men in other places might put a bit of gel in their hair. But here, the hair simply gushes goop. You either have people who don’t play music in their cars, or play it very loudly as they pass you by. People are nasty, rude and brutish or feel the need to prostrate submissively before others. And so it goes on and on. A subset of our much vaunted “burnt generation” has got to have its mobile phones at a million Toomans a piece, no matter that they are unemployed and their parents at the end of their ropes. And then there are chat-rooms with obscenity galore, and jewelry-- gold, rubies and diamonds, and clothing, and furniture, rugs, drugs, alcohol and food-- lots and lots of food.

Again, no different from other places, mind you, but our expressions betray our unique frenzy. You never know why we so immediately want everything we see. Most kids cry for them, majority of men deceive and lie for them, and some women marry or prostitute for them. What is so urgent, I always wonder, about having the latest colorful manteaux, a cell phone or a shoe that would justify loss of our dignity, and the inevitable threat to our long term family stability, or to our sanity?!

And our glances-- they are the lascivious sort, or the dispassionate, aloof sort, the kind that would help communicate a sense of false disinterest just so we can haggle successfully over the price. The paradox, of course, is that most of us have no real immediate, unmediated relation with the objects of our passions. We quickly get bored with them, for we really wanted them in the first place since they were either the latest fad, or that, our neighbors or friends hadn’t yet managed to acquire them. And so here we are, the unique one beating the rest of the herd.

And so, this woman with her dreamy eyes stood out to me because her gaze revealed a unique undisguised affection-- she genuinely adored that raincoat and simply wanted it, for its own sake. She seemed resigned to the fact that having this raincoat was just not a priority in her life and so she embodied restraint and discipline-- she courageously just marched past without so much as a pause—something most of us can’t fathom. To me she epitomized all that is decent about this nation, and the enigma of its future.

Here is my funny feeling of the day: there are those here who carry such burden as no one should have to bear in a civilized society. They do so quietly, invisibly, stoically, with dignity and self-restraint. And then there is the loud, boisterous crowd, with a sense of entitlement, and a long list of the multiple ways they are being victimized daily. The latter group is living it up, mired in its delusion of grandeur, in its sense of superiority, with false hopes, obscene avarice, and silly expectations. Most are timid though, and paralyzed due to a lack of appetite for real risk and hard work.

I would watch out though for the pivotal moment this young woman decides she has had enough of merely dreaming about that raincoat and all it symbolizes. The fire of her desires will burn this rotten scaffolding to the ground long before the rest of us could settle on what to do.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Voices from the Past

Edward G. Brown has been charming me for the past couple of days with his impressions of life in Iran circa 1890. He is an agreeable fellow, with a gentle and generous soul. He was educated at Cambridge and has some interesting approaches to the study of foreign languages.

A Mindless memorization of grammar rules, he views about as useful as knowing the number of stones used in building the pyramids. Pick a text, he suggests, a dictionary, and someone to help you read… go at it and see what happens. This I like a lot.

And then I reached for my Homer in French and poof, much joy and a couple of hours of excitement in a blink! Ancient Greeks sound enthralling in French. Have a look: here is Sarpedon’s speech in Book XII of the Iliad (paragraph13 of this English translation):

Glaucos, pourquoi nous donne-t-on tant de privilèges en Lycie, places d’honneur, et viandes, et coupes pleines ? pourquoi nous contemplent-ils tous,là-bas,comme des dieux ?pourquoi jouissons-nous,sur les rives du Xanthe,d’un immense domaine, un beau domaine aussi propre aux vergers qu’aux terres a blé ? Notre devoir des lors n’est-il pas aujourd’hui de nous tenir, comme de juste, au premier rang des Lyciens, pour répondre a l’appel de la bataille ardente ? Chacun des Lyciens a la forte cuirasse ainsi pourra dire : « Ils ne sont pas sans gloire, les rois qui commandent dans notre Lycie, mangeant de gras moutons et buvant un doux vin de choix. Ils ont aussi, parait-il, la vigueur qui sied a des braves, puisqu’ils se battent au premier rang des Lyciens ! »Ah !doux ami ! si échapper a cette guerre nous permettait de vivre ensuite éternellement, sans que nous touchent ni l’age ni la mort, ce n’est t’expédierais vers la bataille ou l’homme acquiert la gloire. Mais, puisqu’en fait et quoi qu’on fasse, les déesses du trépas sont la embusquées, innombrables,et qu’aucun mortel ne peut ni les fuir ni leur échapper,allons voir si nous noverons la gloire a un autre, ou bien si c’est un autre qui nous la donnera,a nous. »

Since I live in the land of the cynics, I couldn’t resist the temptation of offering this poetic parody as well. Pope can be witty. But if you want a profound renunciation of all that might have struck you as decent in Sarpedon, do read this cantankerous, petty spirited, monotone written by someone who never tires of lecturing us about the wisdom of the ancients. Who, I wonder, is supposed to educate the educators?

Sunday, January 18, 2004


Remembering the past can be quite taxing and somewhat insidious. Hard as we try to have a balanced perspective, our memories unexpectedly bedazzle, wreaking havoc even on our best and most sincere efforts to cast judgment on the events that nurtured the roots of our present predicament.

One needs look no further than one’s last relationship to get a sense for how treacherous the business of putting a former time in its true context can be. For, depending on one’s moods, and the allure or the repugnance of the present, one’s notions of the past also alters. If only more of us could have attained the pensive, gentle spirit evinced by Shakespeare sonnet XXX! But hey, even I know better!

So, it has been 25 years today since the last king left our country. With his departure, came the end to an era and the vanishing of an institution dating back to more than 2500 years. In just a few short weeks, this nation will celebrate a quarter of a century of Republicanism, albeit of a particularly peculiar variety.

Hard as it is to even pretend to be able to characterize the dominant predispositions of a nation of 70 million, I am, nonetheless, going to venture to do exactly that. I often think us a nation of Nestors. He is an interesting old man in Homer’s Iliad, and just as wise-- in a foolish sort of way, as he is boastful.

His notion of the past is slightly over exaggerated and glamorized. And so it is with us that it doesn’t really matter where in the spectrum of the political persuasions we may find ourselves as Iranians. The result is practically always the same. The same fear of the truth is manifest in the delusional attempt to find the ravishing in an invented fiction.
Our ancestors were always larger and stronger, and the tasks more daunting, achievements more gargantuan and failures more insubstantial.

Our epic is stunning evocation of the golden past. Our rulers console us our present misery by incessantly harping on the purported Golden Age of Islam. Even our few remaining communists are still out there ready to reduplicate the Golden Age of the Soviet Revolution. And thus I am not at all surprised when I encounter an increasing number of people who reminisce fondly about our good, omniscient, and omnipresent gentle father-- the one who preceded the last know it all, who himself in turn, was naturally succeeded by the Almighty’s latest plenipotentiary satrap guarding over our myriad desires.

We are a nation adrift as we oscillate between understanding the past in its own terms or in terms of present. We fear to admit the worst about ourselves and are thus unable to find our strengths. We flutter between cunning prudence, and reckless audacity. We boast of our past, lamenting its loss while rushing to abandon anything that smacks of tradition just as soon as we encounter the latest fashionable, “progressive,” in thing to emulate. Our paralysis is one rooted in cynicism, our timidity in false hope, and our brutality is ultimately due to our appetites run amok. But you tell me: what else is new?

What can I expect? Obviously I have the same set of hopes about the future that any other reasonably insane character may have in these unsettling times. But the real distress for me comes with the realization that I am having an increasing visceral appreciation for Burke’s axiom that, “when ancient opinions and rules of life are taken away, the loss cannot possibly be estimated. From that moment we have no compass to govern us.” A possible boon? Only Zurvan (father time) can tell!

Saturday, January 17, 2004


No avoiding the fever that is our good old-fashioned election posturing. We all have heard the stories before-- the usual stuff, the politicians locking horns, with some sitting to promote their agenda, while others try to find faults with whatever it is their opponents do as they sit. Isn’t it odd that Iran can be one of the very few places on our messy planet where a group of politicians can attack another for laughter? Go figure.
In the meanwhile, the electorate continues to debate what to expect, and hope for, both in terms of their own futures and the future of the regime and the country. The fate of this latter, as always, continues to hang in balance. The discussions, as is normally the case with us Iranians, assume cosmic dimensions. Political passions become slightly more agitated and our lives slightly more agitating. So what else is new? It was time to skip town.
There is absolutely nothing as rejuvenating as leaving Tehran. One gets a better sense for how blue the sky can be, and how exciting some fresh winter air. The snow covered mountains around Tehran are just sublime.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Bliss in Chile

The Chileans in this story are a tad too exhibitionist for my taste, but they got me thinking about lilies and about Chekhov—which is more than I can say about my own compatriots.

Regrettably, here is another thing you hardly ever hear Iranians talk about anymore: one of this can dramatically reconstitute one’s perception of the universe and who knows what else. Instead, relentless twaddle about the latest conquests and beaucoup d’argent—that is all there is.

And yes, you guessed right: we can blame this too on the regime --anything to avoid a reckoning. Frankly, when all is said and done, no god, no religion, no regime, no law, and no socially imposed boundary has the real power to deny us any such delicious, unadulterated joy. Only we do!

Monday, January 12, 2004

Hillary,Tarot, Britney and Strauss

There is an eerie silence in Tehran. It has been like this for a few days. Traffic is lighter, the restaurants less crowded and the folks less bumptious. The joke is, people are either busy planning to buy property elsewhere in case there is a quake in Tehran, or most have headed out to Semnan or Isfahan to scout for opportunities to profit just in case the authorities are serious about moving the capital.

Yup, for a spiritual Islamic Republic, we the citizens are sure some of the most mean-spirited and greedy you will ever encounter—short term outpouring of concern and empathy notwithstanding. So, it has been an interesting experience bookstore hopping lately. Books are, as you might expect, in bondage here. Not that the Government might have something to do with that, I suppose, with the censorship and all. But the crucial factor, I think, is the overpriced real state market in Tehran.

The books are kept mostly out of reach and stacked on top of each other in small spaces and you will have to ask to see them. So you can’t just really walk in to enjoy the experience of picking them one by one, sifting through the pages and having the musty, old smell make you oblivious of the problems of pollution and the general nastiness in the city.

There are, of course, some trendy ones with enough space and accessible books in the northern, more affluent part of the city. But most of the really good ones are closer to the University of Tehran. And they can be terribly crowded.

You can find just about everything here, a lot in translation. Most of the classics are present. The Indians, the Chinese, and especially the Americans and the Post-Modernists-- the latest craze, are here in force. Hell, even Hillary is here, displayed prominently in some bookstores. And of course my all time favorite, the translation of the immortal, timeless and profound lyrics of the lovely Britney Spears—her “Collected Work,” if you will. Marx, Lenin, Lewis (Bernard and Carol), Strauss (Leo and Levi), you name it, we have it. Before I forget lots of novels, as well as gzillion titles on dream interpretation, tarot cards, palm readings, astrology, role of the sexes, illnesses, child rearing, and how to manuals even about conversing with the ghosts.

Iranians are a fashion conscious lot—even in reading. Not too different from readers elsewhere, I suppose. But terribly audacious. It is not rare to see some men or women walk in, buy an introductory English text book, a dictionary and then ask for Shakespeare’s Hamlet, or Lady Macbeth—in English that is. They might be in a class learning to become an actor. But I think it might have something to do with the university setup here and the central curriculum approved by the Ministry of Education. Did you know you can go through 4 years of College never having to read a single primary text here? Well, perhaps only the poets who are a class of their own.

The process emphasizes exams and short term memorization, and the reliance on the secondary literature and the ever present text books has habituated people into not being satisfied with anything less than a grand, complete and total “knowledge,” in just one sitting of an hour or less. No real exposure to the joys of the creative process here. Naturally, of course, everyone is an expert on almost everything and that which we have not encountered before or we do not understand, we almost always immediately ridicule.

If you grew up reading Will Durant and had him spoon-feed you the highlights of the Enlightenment, for example, in one short, concise and oh so comprehensive synopsis, would you ever be satisfied confronted with the prosaic task of working out a problem on your own, or figuring out how an arguments unfolds in a text, or thinking through a stand, or allowing a position to touch your outlook in a nuanced way, or affecting how you grapple with the ethics of the decisions and the choices you are forced to make in your daily life.

Nah, Hamlet we are not here in Iran. Neither hesitation nor self doubt !None, zilch, zero, sefr! Why people don’t converse with their books is beyond me. The intriguing, obvious fact about our reading habits is that the only group of people who engage with their books in the old fashion way are the mullahs who rule us. That to me says a lot about us, the mullahs, and the way books should be read!

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Suffering a Modifier

A Harlot’s soliloquies on the virtues of celibacy and a harlequin’s on the merits of sobriety are enough to make one wonder whether time might not be fundamentally out of joint. That is the sense I get living on our messy planet nowadays. An enchanting repertoire of phrases is being exploited by an unlikely cast of characters to create the sort of rhapsodies that make my hair bristle.

Take the beautifully evocative adjectival phrase “long suffering,” as an example. It sounds like something you might encounter in an epic poem. I must admit, I simply adore a good epic. I grew up on the nightly episodes narrated by my Dad—a manly kind of a man, and a soldier, who habituated me into appreciating the spirit of the epic heroes.

We have, as you might expect, quite an interesting epic tradition in Iran. Shahnameh, the masterpiece of our bard extraordinaire Ferdowsi, is what we all love and adore here in this heartland of evil (well, almost all of us!)

So do our eastern neighbors in India. Theirs is a lot more fantastic than ours, as well as more complex and voluminous. It comes alive with so many engrossing concepts such as Brahman, Avatars, Maya, Dharma, and Karma, along with myriad seekers and a host of the duty-bound with exotic names such as Brahamacharya, Grihastham, and Vanaprastham. Don’t just wonder about these if you don’t already suspect what they are. Do yourself a favor and read the Mahabharata.

And our western neighbors have a fascinating, enduring tradition of their own which, as some argue, is so influential as to make Greek a variety of the Near Eastern literature. But I digress. You should know I have a special weakness for those wacky Greeks. A pity they caused my ancestors to rebel and to expel them. I would have been a lot happier knowing more of their beautiful ancient languages.

But that is the thing about all invaders, you see. They almost always pack up and leave--sooner or later. Why they just refuse to come in peace in the first place, or to leave when asked-- before the ensuing devastation and aguish, and the needless murder and mayhem-- these questions are always a puzzle.

All epic traditions rely on the vital technique of repetition. It makes the job of a poet easier and, of course, singing becomes a lot more fun--especially after a few drinks. Not only long lines, but phrases get repeated…phrases like the strong armed, the long haired, the swift footed, and so on. These are called epithets. And so, every time I notice repetition of a certain formula-- especially in an age when the readers of the epics are scant, with bile permeating the spirit of many of the remaining few who actually do read—then I get seriously worried.

I become anxious and agitated these days noticing the omnipresence of the epithet “long suffering” in print. I suspect it must come from the Greeks. Homer of course calls folks “wretched,” and “longsuffering.” And naturally with Homer, we hear the agonizing sounds of “men killing and men being killed.” It is also an epithet which brings to mind the wanderings of that Polypemon and Polymetis fellow—the cunning, and resourceful Odysseus. His name, incidentally, is related to the Greek verb odussomai-“to cause pain.” And he sure causes a lot of pain for the lovely Penelope and many, many others. She too can be a long suffering protagonist, as well as longsuffering.

And who amongst us can forget the tribulations of the great “weeping prophet,” Jeremiah. He so poignantly speaks of his own sufferings, and of course, also of long suffering. What follow, curiously enough, are national captivity, assassinations, chaos, and exile. In Odyssey too we witness chaos, murder and carnage, though the outcome is ultimately an order sanctioned by the gods. A coincident or not, there is a certain unsettling something about this simple formula! I occasionally just shudder when I encounter it.

Why, you ask? Simply because, first there were the long suffering Afghans. Then came the long suffering Iraqis. And now, the resulting number exhibited by the Google Search Engine keeps on surging when I enter the phrase “long suffering Iranians”! Oh, the joys and the wonders of paranoia!

Friday, January 09, 2004

Bam Casualty Figures and National Security

The State’s obsession with national security matters is nowadays one of the most central impediments-- using one of those way too worn out clichés--to the “march of liberty.” Freud, blasé as his thought might have become in certain circles, is nonetheless right in pointing out aggression as an indication of vulnerability and insecurity.

Behind the solid, secure façade of the central State, lies a decrepit, trembling scaffolding just begging to come down with a loud thump were it not for the constant propping ups it receives by the constant intrusions into the private sphere—intrusion caused by its (justified) anxiety and its (real) fears, apparent in the often (silly) preoccupations with the supposed “matters of internal security.” After all, how is it possible for the apparatchiks to know where to draw the line? Where does the “harmless” dissent end and real threats begin? It must be difficult to be discriminating when there is not much to hold on to!

Take the story of Sina Motallebi, who was incarcerated, abused, and ultimately forced into exile, all ostensibly because of a few entries he made on his weblog deemed a “threat” to—and yes you guessed it-- to the national security. I should add here parenthetically that thanks to Pedram’s blog which alerted me to this interview, I was also introduced to this interesting new blogger, as well as this sharp, savvy commentator who happens to write in Farsi.

Sina points out that the authorities intended to make an example of him. So, I get to thinking: who am I to really not take the authorities seriously! Indulge me if you will please: suppose that by some accident of fate, I happen to chance upon some reliable information. Understand that being Iranian, I have grown nauseated by our penchant for conspiracy theories and rumor mongering. So I have become somewhat skeptical of most things that pass as news about the way the Iranian Government conducts its affair.

But now, suppose that I somehow chanced upon the content of the latest memo released on Thursday by a certain Ministry that by appellation deals with information, but quite naturally is in the security business-- if you know what I mean. Can I write here that the actual casualty figure the said Ministry put forth for the Quake in Bam is about 75,000 dead and around 25-30000 missing—thus putting the official toll roughly at 105000.

Will there be anyone more connected able to pursue the matter and authenticate this figure? Why would the release of this item be against our national security and not something the public at large should know about? Why would a government be threatened by Sina and not the hundreds or thousands who failed to acknowledge warning signs of a looming earthquake? Or the countless who ignored the building codes? Why not be threatened by the multitude of the negligent and the criminal—those callous individuals responsible for the agonizing death of thousands of our fellow citizens who perished in just a few seconds much like the falling autumn leaves?

Why would the considerations of national security prevent the officials of this government from publicly admitting what the Public Safety Officers told the participants in a Tehran Mayor’s office meeting this week: that there were so many cases of Bam aids trucks being diverted to profiteers elsewhere that there are now armed escorts accompanying the trucks? Why would the news of the robbery of jewelry and other personal items off the bodies of the victims not be widely circulated on the account of national security?
Is this nation not threatened more by the deterioration of the character so easily observable by anyone who so much as passes around here for a fortnight? What sort of a society has citizens on the one hand who pour en masse to offer prayer, personal items, money and their blood to aid victims of a nasty quake, while on the other hand, countless thugs simply wait for a disaster to steel, to rob, and to defile the bodies of the fallen-- raping the woman, stealing the children, and profiting from the misfortune of others? I ask you: is not the character of our nation the ultimate source of its security?

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

And then there was the Ministry of Justice!

Visiting the Ministry of Justice in Iran is roughly akin to visiting the Ministry of Inter-Planetary Explorations in the Burkina-Faso, with the difference that I bet Ouagadougou would evoke more exotic images than the polluted, overcrowded Tehran. And so I wonder, always wonder how we have come to create such a monstrosity.

I tell myself in my more exuberant moments that if the Government were to limit its reach, if it were to somehow stop its extra-judicial activities, and if it were to lighten up and to re-evaluate the efficacy of its (failing) efforts to regulate what people can drink, wear, say or do, and with whom they may or may not associate and for what purpose, then perhaps, in due time, people would reciprocate by developing more of a respect for the laws and maybe, just maybe, we would then be persuaded to occasionally observe them.

In a more open and tolerant milieu, I tell myself, it might be possible to set about seriously debating the nature of the laws and of justice, and then perhaps, we might succeed in reframing them in a manner that would make our own Ministry of Justice less of an oxymoron.

But, even then, I can’t be all that optimistic. After all, rules, principles, procedures, customs and authority –these are always contestable and contested, as they should be. There would be no social progress otherwise. But it is one thing to agree to the need to follow them while attempting to institute change—regardless of how loudly, acrimoniously, and disorderedly we set about our task, and it is quite another to never like or follow that which remotely resembles a “rule.”

And that, my friends, is the paradox of living in a society that attempts to regulate conduct on way too many fronts. It creates the illusion that an individual is right and courageous every time he decides to break the laws and to defy the authorities. Is there a single traffic ordinance that is not broken a million times a day here? And I suppose, traffic laws too are corrupt and corrupting!

And more sadly, such a society-- a society that tries to subsume what should by all accounts be simple private moments-- creates the fantasy that one is gallant putting a handful of goop in his hair, or that he is audacity embodied playing the latest techno song loudly, and obnoxiously in his car as he drives passed other people’s houses way after midnight.

An authoritarian society allows us to play “revolutionary” by ignoring regulations and by cheating “the central power” each time we encounter a code of conduct not to our liking, and it permits us to ultimately bribe, and to corrupt the enforcers of the codes—be they municipal workers, police officers, judges or teachers-- the irony being we conduct our affairs consistently pretending to be the aggrieved party without so much as a blink.

Ultimately though, our closed society allows us to always, always feel self-righteous in the pursuit of all insignificant, petty desires and wants without the slightest degree of self-reflection and with no consideration whatsoever for any of the social obligations and duties inherent in the concept citizenship.

Monday, January 05, 2004

About an interview on Fox

Horace’s famous Persicos odi, puer, apparatus, flashes before my eyes in glowing colors each time I read a transcript of one of the frequent interviews our aspiring Monarch gives on the Fox channel. At the end of the day, I do think character counts for an awful lot.

One can justifiably claim that the institution of Monarchy in this land has ancient roots. So, how does one account for the dearth of personalities like this wonderfully fascinating Dane?

No one can be certain about the future, but can we ever count on anyone as noble, and decent as Margarethe? I doubt it, although, given a particularly macabre alignment of the moon and the stars, we might have to settle for a mediocre tergiversator. And that, of course, wouldn’t be the first time! You will always go bankrupt underestimating the unwise affection of Iranians for unworthy rulers.

I have no clue why the nexus between elevated social positions, the expected personal rewards, and the apprehension of the corresponding social obligations and public responsibilities become so distorted in this aged land of ours.

In his latest interview, Mr. Pahlavi tries to push all the right buttons-- on the alleged Al-Qaeda link, the murderous Usama, and, quite naturally WMD’s:

WALLACE: All right. Let's deal with some facts now, not some diplomacy. You are in contact with many people in Iran. Do you believe that there are senior members of Al Qaeda, either in custody or at large?
PAHLAVI: I think there has been tremendous amount of evidence gathered over the years that points to the direction that Al Qaeda members have been operating and active on Iranian soil, either been trained there or been financed by them or at least assisted directly or indirectly. It's been long established.
WALLACE: Do you believe that -- we hear reports that Osama bin Laden himself might be in Iran.
PAHLAVI: That I don't know for a fact. I've heard some rumors about it. I cannot tell you right now that I have a yes-or-no answer to that question. There are speculations.
WALLACE: And very briefly, if I might, sir, how close do you believe Iran is to getting a nuclear bomb?
PAHLAVI: I think that there is a lot of prediction that points to the direction that Iran is not too far from it, in terms of the level of approaching it

Spreading rumors and gossip is something we—Iranians-- are exceedingly good at. But hard facts? So, a few obvious questions follow: What are the practical implications of these rumors? Who is spreading them? Why spread them if one can’t be certain? Are there any connections between those who spread these? If so, what? For what purpose? Can one plausibly infer that Mr. Pahlavi Jr. has access to the identical sources as Mr. Ledeen? Can one then infer the reliability of Jr.’s assertions based on Ledeen’s? Let’s hear from him about the latest date of the supposed explosion of the bomb in Iran:

Khamenei had hoped to be able to test an atomic bomb by the third week in October, but his scientific advisers recently told him they could not make that deadline. They are now aiming for November 4 or 5, the anniversary of the seizure of the American embassy in Tehran during the revolution.

And then it was supposed to be on an anniversary date of some Imam or other’s birth, death or disappearance. Not much of a bang then either! Nonetheless, he speaks always with authority, and with so much confidence. Amir Taheri speaks in identical tone. They are connected through this agency! Do they advise Jr.? I don’t know for sure.

Could it be that they actively spread disinformation? Or is it that they repeatedly fall for the exaggerated and the alarmist utterances of their sources? I understand that Persian is by nature a flowery and ornamental language. So, it is conceivable that one can get away with uttering all manners of nonsense consistently. So to repeat, are these the same sources Jr. uses?

Let us take a close look at the one we know about: he is an arms dealer with quite a long history with Ledeen, Manouchehr Gorbanifar. He publicly claims that Usama is in Iran. To judge the veracity of his claims and that of his sources, consider this report:

Ghorbanifar says he told his U.S. interlocutors that ousting the mullahs would be a breakthrough in the war on terror because top Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden, are in Iran. ("You won't be surprised if you find that Saddam Hussein is on one of the Iranian islands.")… He also says he had advance info about Iranian nukes and a terrorist plot in Canada.

I can’t know whether or not some elements of the Iranian regime might have a working relation with some Al-Qaeda operatives. But I do know about two particularly savage exchanges between the security forces here and some of Al-Qaeda’s. One was in Tehran recently that left an Iranian armless, and jawless and the other in Eastern Iran where some out of control, angry Iranian brutalized the bodies of the dead terrorists by repeatedly shooting at their corpses. If their sources don’t know about these, then they are not particularly knowledgeable and if they do and choose not to publicize these “minor” detail to advance their objectives, then….?

The broader issue of the political background of the rise and the expanding influence of fundamentalism in this region is another matter perhaps better left for another post. To conclude then, why is Jr. spreading these rumors? Is he not aware of the consequence of his utterances? What are his objectives?

Of one thing I am certain. If this regime is still in power and if things come to blows at some point this year, or the next, I expect from him nothing less than getting off the fence. He is a trained fighter pilot. I want to see him either as the wingman of the first Squadron of the American Jets dropping bombs on our heads or else, here with us, in a basement somewhere, until the matter is settled. What he ultimately chooses to do can resolve the many questions about his character for a while.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

Dole to visit Iran: dotting the i's

I have been trying to get a sense for the reaction to the proposed Elizabeth Dole’s visit to Iran for a couple of days now. The trip, as you may recall, is to be held “in abeyance,” pending clarification of something or other at the insistence of the Iranian regime.

The report is sure to add flame to the fiery speculations of the conspiracy minded here. I don’t have a satellite dish, so I can’t be certain about what those expatriates in California are thinking right about now. And unfortunately, I have succeeded in annoying my conspiratorial acquaintances so I am all in the dark here.

But seeing how the fortunes of the third world’s elite can wax or wane depending on how one’s cards are played, I am naturally willing to try my hand at it. In this day and age, as anyone can see, integrity is triflingly cheap. Who knows what a few strategically timed utterances and photos can get you in terms of $$$ and access to power!

So, let’s start with what we know. Elizabeth Dole, is to pay a visit to our country located somewhere in the Middle East. Obvious question: why send someone of such high profile? Why not an apparatchik at the State Dept. or some executive of some aids agency?

Let us just pore over what we know about Elizabeth. We know she is a formidable Republican and a serious activist in her own right. But that can’t be it. Middle Easterners, obviously as anyone knows, have no respect for woman. None of us here have sisters, mothers, grandmothers, aunts, wives, intellectual companions, fellow artists, lawyers, political activists or any such kind of outstanding figures we look up to constantly! So that is going to go well over our heads! Hence we must look for patterns and commonalities elsewhere--something we can infer a message from.

So, let’s mull over the matter. She is married to the affable and wittier-by-day Senator Bob Dole, and this Gentleman has been involved in a crusade of sorts for some years now. Additionally, we know that as a Republican, she is bound to be affiliated with those intrepid desk top warriors at the premier Conservative Journal of our planet.

We understand that those intellectual gurus-- the sort of profound thinkers who have this bizarre belief in freedom as an attribute of the thing you dip in Ketchup --spearheading the campaign to liberate us from our misery at the point of a gun have a certain preoccupation with the … the… the ‘i’ word in this region. Frankly, I can’t quite say it out loud, but I’ll try one more time…O.K. you guessed it: it is an obsession with the dreadful “impotence” in this region. Things suddenly look clear as a daylight.

So you see, unlike what some pundits might be thinking, this is not a detent in the making at all. Chiefly because the Republicans and the Islamic Fundamentalists never make a deal with one another.

Quite the contrary, the visit, as is plain for everyone to see, is only intended to communicate a secret message to us, the “long-suffering” people of Iran. The visit is simply an attempt at exhorting us to act--to encourage us to change our collective lives, to improve our lot and to alter our condition. It is a message for us to become the sort of virile citizen our friends in the Western Democracies could be proud to embrace. Perhaps, this is why the initiative was so quickly rejected by those ever vigilant and crafty Mullahs.

And just in case you are thinking of a particularly unkind repartee, let me remind you that at best you might succeed in embarrassing me and many a wonderful things are known to have followed a timely blush

Saturday, January 03, 2004

French Tourists.

It has been snowing here all day, a rather beautiful day-- in a melancholy sort of way. A brisk walk can do wonders for the soul. I haven’t been able to get Albinoni’s melodies out of my head—he has been playing insanely for hours. A pity about those French tourists in Egypt. I often do wonder about the kind of people who can’t bring themselves to respect the solemnity of death, and I was particularly annoyed by the reactions of some Americans. Not typical, I know. But, always so eager to point fingers of blame at others, yet unable to see the ugliness within. We can only hope that the expressed sentiments are not representative of those other French bashers. Do visit a yahoo board and then get “holier than thou” with the Arabs

Friday, January 02, 2004

Fall out from the Quake

A couple of interesting articles here and here. Perhaps this is too early a time to focus on the lessons learned from this calamity. Perhaps we are still too emotional and grief stricken to deal with the fall out. How does one deal with the scope of this tragedy? And the extent of the destruction? What will become of the bruised, the tormented, the shocked, and the orphaned? How do we sooth those who have lost sons, daughters, parents, or siblings? When the passions cool, and we return—as we inevitably always do return—to our prosaic, humdrum routine, who will care for the abandoned?

Already, true to the spirit of the ancient Iranian bureaucratic mentality, there are calls for commissions of enquiry, for ways of enforcing building codes, for passing official resolutions that mandates prayers for the drills that could at some point facilitate a more smoothly organized relief effort – for the next time, always the next time, an earthquake strikes, killing multitudes.

And still yet, the gossip already started; it started on the day of the quake. “Don’t give to this organization,” we are told, “it is inefficient and corrupt.” “Those brand new foreign tents will be sold on this black market,” and “those newly arrived medicine on that,” “profiting” a list of the usual suspects—almost always some unnamed government official.”

I for one have had enough already! Just once- for once in our lives, I wish we could just shut up and stop our tarradiddle. Let’s pause and take a good look around. Sure this Government is part of the problem, but the bigger part is us. We are the problem. We--the Iranians-- with our delusions of grandeur, with an exaggerated sense of self confidence, with an absolutely false sense of our capabilities and competencies and our endless prattle.

Here is the problem as I see it. We think we have the education of the Swedes, the productivity and the natural resources of the Americans, the communal spirit of the Israelis, the dedication and the planning acumen of the Germans, the work ethos and the respect for the laws exhibited by the Japanese and the potential GDP per Capita of those lucky Luxembourgians—when in fact, we are simply your typical run-of-the-mill Iranian. And according to the latest human development report we are ranked number 106: 81 ranks below Cyprus, 70 below Seychelles, 44 below Mauritius, 29 below Surinam and only two ranks above the Moldova. It doesn’t have to be this way, you know. But, the sooner we come to grips with the reality of our situation, the higher the probability of us getting out of this mess.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

The New Year!

How do we emotionally recuperate from such a disaster? How do we stop mourning? Still feeling too raw to be excited about this New Year.
I am convinced our culture is rotten to the core. What to do? What to wish for? Can’t be quite sure yet. Although, for starters, perhaps some of the civilizing virtues exemplified by the temperance of this man and the generosity of spirit of this woman. (Bam Aid) she should be commended for publicly struggling with her conscious though. I wish more of us would learn from her.