Tuesday, March 30, 2004


Normally I think it best to ignore hate mail. But this one, as unimaginative as it is, needs public airing:

You moslems will pay down the line for all your obnoxiousnes.[sic] I believe the Russians have a good method: they feed the genitals of moslems to pigs and let them see it before they die. loveit! See you, chump! (my apologies to monkeys).

Ignoring the collective “you” for starters, I don’t know if this is truly just another one of those urban legends that has caught the attention of a particularly choleric segment of the Anglo-American Blogosphere. But it has been there-- much more openly-- in one form or another, since the day after 9/11. Enough informal exchanges to have warranted an article by one of my favorite desktop warriors at the Freedom Fries Contingent.
Don’t believe me? Do a simple search: terrorists, bodies, pigs.

The perennial desire to defile bodies has been rhapsodized about since the first accounts of wars. Who amongst us can forget Homer’s sublime narratives of the battle over the bodies of the fallen in the Iliad? Or the angry (mis)treatment of Hector’s corpse at the hand of the swift footed Achilleus?

Incidentally, I think one of the reasons why the ancient Greeks were so obsessed with the Persians (more so than the other way around judged by the cursory references to the invasion from the Persian point of view) is that all of a sudden, the Greeks find themselves in battle against a foe that feed its corpses to the dogs and vultures. How would the angry Greek Warrior vent now? How to defile bodies confronting a foe that finds the prospect of funeral pyres equally repulsive?

Personally, I not only like pigs, but also think once I am dead; it makes no difference whether the worms have a go at my body or the pigs. It all evens out one way or another. There is symmetry in nature. There are two aspects to this, nonetheless, that are troubling.

First, those who profess to defend Civilization are exhibiting symptoms of the malaise of the imagination. Silly clichés galore: the 72 virgins, using pigs, and countless other some such nonsense.

Does anyone seriously think that centuries old religious imagination and its multiple official apparatuses--well versed in all manners of the outrageous hairsplitting-- is going to be paralyzed by a pig? Think about it really… really?

Secondly, I do think preserving certain principles is important to all of us-in war and in peace. I do think it important to treat the bodies of the dead respectfully, something about respecting the solemnity of death itself. It goes to the heart of how we define humanity.

When I visit a new city or a country, if I can manage, I pay a visit to the local cemetery. I think you can discern a lot about various societies by the way her citizens interact with their dead. Respect for the living does not inhere in respect for the dead, mind you. That much even I have figured…but one can only hope.

That said, something about the mistreatment of corpses irks me. I am still livid with the Islamic Regime for the way it chose to bury the many victims of the post revolutionary butchery in unmarked plots collectively named La’anat Abad (“Precinct of the Damned”). They had the audacity to even charge the families for the bullets used to execute. I was furious as well when the Somalia’s thugs dragged the corpse of the American Serviceman in the streets.

So it doesn’t matter to me who does this, Iranians, Israelis, Americans, Russians or the Somalis; what you choose to do, defines you who you are for me. I am not much of an essentialist. Even Forest Gump figured out that “stupid is as stupid does”, and let “moral equivalency” be damned.

And this is why I worry also about the outcome of this war on terror. Strictly speaking, there is no doubt in my mind that Political Islam as a movement represented by the likes of Usama cannot “win” in any meaningful way. But I fear in losing, they will have succeeded in undermining all that I find decent about civilized life. And for this, they are not solely to blame.

Sometimes I wonder if this is really a war at all. It is more like a turkey shoot on both sides. Everywhere you look, there is a depressing landscape of the butchered, helpless innocent victims, perambulatory bags, baser instincts, and ever diminishing respect for rights and laws.

The Cru-sadists utter an occasional Oops, where as the Jihadists are more transparently grotesque.

The alternative offered us appears to me more like one of Barbarism, occasional Oops and Strip-joints or Barbarism, archaic Oh-s and veils. Must we choose sides really?

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Otherness and Wonder

A long, fantastic trip to the beautiful Northern Seashores and the land of the Turkmen. Felt like a liberated zone. Much more later. Here is another piece I finished before leaving in response to this. A couple of excerpts:

To insist on the "discursive production of reality", she correctly insists, is not to "deny its materiality." At issue is how one understands the fragmentation and diffusion of power--a power that in subtle or blatant ways exerts violence on "gendered, sexualized, and racialized bodies." Politics for her is "coming to terms with fragmentation."

She and I use a different language, but the problem as always remains with the assumptions. The danger in an obsession with the discourse of "Otherness" is the risk one incurs in underestimating the callous "I" and the marvelous "This." What may appear as the crudeness of a binary inside/outside paradigm is in fact the mediating link between "I-ness" and "This-ness." At issue is what the ancients called "Wonder."

Monday, March 15, 2004

Festivities, firecrackers, war on terror

With the Persian New Year approaching, there are quite a few firecrackers going off all around everyday. Everyone is in frenzy. Chahar-Shambe-Souri is a ritual rooted in our Zoroastrian past—with festivities normally held in the evening preceding the last Wednesday of the year. A day we congregate to jump over fire, (now that there are not too many functioning fire temples left thank to Islam) mingle, mutter nonsense and consume loads of food and dried fruits.

In anticipation, we have had to endure almost a month of loud, indiscriminate explosions—luckily only fire crackers. Sometimes, men on motorcycles use quite a large bundle as they pass crowded streets which they then time (or rather throw) to go off as some women pass by. On one occasion, a young girl simply passed out close by. Quite infuriating and also a raucous.

Can’t be quite certain as to why so many--the much vaunted “burnt generation,” so “westernized,” “freedom loving,” and forever lamenting the reign of terror of our ruling clergy--can’t quite bring themselves to comprehend the banality of frightening unsuspecting pedestrians.

You see it happening everyday as kids walk back from schools. Some nice girl passes by, a few boys and then a loud boom. Think about it, here you are walking home. Of all the things you could be doing—smiling, winking, flirting, passing phone numbers, seeking a date, complementing a nice eye, having an ice cream—what do you do? You throw a fire cracker to scare the living daylight out of some unfortunate soul…go figure!

So yesterday, having endured 3 hours of loud explosions every 10 to 15 minutes, I simply marched to a neighbor’s yard, cigarette in hand, to have a chat with some 8 year olds. They of course denied responsibility. (But it stopped) And on my way back, in the street I ran into a couple of middle aged men --business men, pious, conservative, with military background and connections.

They immediately went on the offensive, as we Persians are wont to do, to scold me asserting that while they agreed I had every right to be annoyed, I should simply also stop smoking while I am at it. Then they proceeded to lecture me for 10 minutes, boasting of how they turned down a lucrative contract with a foreign firm because a representative had smoked in their office.

I calmly listened, expressed my appreciation for their concern, and respectfully pointed out the difference between controlling the consequences of habits that adversely affect other individuals and their private spaces, and controlling the habits themselves which quite literally might be none of their business. And that if my explanation weren’t good enough, there are a few towns abroad I knew of which might be more suitable for them and that they should simply just emigrate.

Turning away, I immediately noticed my face stiffening to form a smirk. You know the type when you realize you have done something mischievous and fundamentally improper, yet utterly soothing. I thought to myself “how American of us.” Both what they said (stop smoking if the sound of fire crackers annoy you) and what I said (take a hike) sounded familiar. No wonder Iranians are the only people beside the Israelis in the Middle East who are so enamored of the U.S.

Then I got to thinking about some middle aged American men, business minded, pious, and conservative with military background and connections, as well as their notions of this war on terror

Sunday, March 14, 2004


Some pictures of a recent protest in one of our cities. Go here as well for a few stunning pictures from Iraq by an award winning photographer. Don’t forget to thank this fellow for the link.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Spain weeps

And I sob with her. Those brave and anguished Spaniards, we are told, have poured out en masse in drizzling cold throughout Barcelona, Seville, Valencia and as far away as Canary Islands. In Madrid, a sea of umbrellas in reported to have formed over the rain swept streets as millions marched to pay homage to the dead and to protest these murderous acts. A young man reminds the reporters, “It is not rain, sky is crying.”

And the same words appear over and over again, “We were all in those trains.” Somehow we have come to expect them. Yes, we recollect how we have recently all been American, and Iraqi; Serb, Afghan and Bosnian; Palestinian, Tutsi, and Australian, and… Israeli.

We instinctively expect more. A pathetically false and morbid cosmopolitanism! A death pact! It has become our favorite cliché….the almost annihilation of our imagination--just another one of those “things” heading for extinction.

My tears though are partially of shame. I had to pause, to read, to reflect, and to establish distance in order to begin to sense the magnitude of their agony and to begin to empathize. Life has a way of imposing a coarseness of spirit—a creeping numbness. How could that have happened? And happen to me?

It has become a number’s game. Add, subtract, multiply, divide, and compare. 50,000 or so Iranians overnight in Bam; 550 Americans and counting, give and take a few, in Iraq. 10,000 Iraqis multiplied by 2 or 10 depending on your preference, plus those 500,000 children, or were they merely 50,000? Or only 50? Depending on politics of division. 10,000 French during the summer heat, 3,000 plus or minus 112 in N.Y., and in Afghanistan? Well, who knows for sure, 3,000, 30,000, or 3,000,000? Who cares, really? What’s in a zero anyway? Whom did I leave out? Why shouldn’t I have? Hard to remember anymore.

So here we have in Spain 198 dead and 15, 00 wounded; well almost 15, 00 give and take a few. Names? Ages? Stories? Passions? Hobbies? Fears? Frailties? Quirks? Impulses? Likes? Dislikes? Favorite movies? Favorite sexual positions? Favorite flowers? Dreams? Desires? Aspirations? Hopes?

All squashed in an instant.

Think the beauty that is life and the beings who engage it. Think the ephemerality of what is given to us through sensory impressions, and the evanescence of those who take in all the imprints appreciatively.

Nowhere in the vast space of any universe, no moment in the infinite horizon of any time, offers us such an instant of convergence. Moments, in their constitution, are unique and we can not help but marvel at the magnitude of the loss after each particular individual explodes into nothingness.

The Japanese sensitivity and wisdom allows them to compare the plight of passing beings to that of “dew even now being shaken from the tossing branches.” And they mourn, lamenting every single one.

But our lives go on, no?

So do yourselves a favor and yell out loudly…. we were NOT all on those trains!

Others were: the individuals who are no longer able to tell enchanting stories; their particular faces no longer visible--never to be touched, smelled or kissed again. They were the real victims.

The rest of us remain still mostly petrified of dying, and sadly, even more terrified by living.

And so it goes on, my friends, as it has always: life.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Gays, otherness bogyman, the British

Just finished another piece, disgruntled impressions, for Iranian.com; a critique of the strange world of a Harvard scholar. This rhetoric of the other/otherness just gets under my skin. But such is life. The prudish among you is encouraged to skip over the penultimate paragraph. Bawdiness galore. I just couldn’t resist the mischievous impulse. Since I live in the land of the conspiracy minded, I’ll simply blame it on the British. We all know how they are secretly pulling all the stings around here. [Hint: sarcasm]

What I like to point out though is a well written article on Khatami, A tragedy in his time by Matthew Drinkwater. UK’s ak13 is wonderful and provocative online publication. The editors promise “vivid, lucid and penetrating reportage, commentary and satire from the hidden corners of contemporary culture.” I think they deliver.

Monday, March 08, 2004

On women

It is the International Women’s Day and a committee formed ad hoc plans activities to raise awareness of the continuing violence against women later this evening. Hence the early post.

Despite the best efforts of the Iranian Regime, Iranian women have made much progress thanks chiefly to their audacity, and their indomitable spirits. Patsy they are not. Much legal impediments remain of course. But we would be fooling ourselves to blame all on the Regime or to want to exclusively focus on the Legal. Iranian men can be very pigheaded, selfish, insecure and suffocating. Witness the increasing reports of rape, domestic abuse, prostitution, battery and murder. That said when it comes to positive changes in the sex roles in Iran, one gets the sense that-- our posturing and gobbledygook not withstanding-- there is no turning back now.

I guess what makes the experience of life in Iran so jarring is the striking difference between the social and the private spheres. Let’s start with the basics. Like it or not, women continue to shoulder the greatest share of burden for the household management. Regardless of the wealth, social position, income, or education, the Iranian household can be a paragon of efficiency and cleanliness. I am not claiming here that we don’t have our fair share of problems. But one must acknowledge: it is no easy task to feed a large family like clockwork three times a day and also manage to keep everything shiny and the fridge well stocked. You pass any house during lunch or dinner, and you’ll go absolutely crazy for the aroma. Iranians love their food and cooking is quite a production. Iranian women grow to develop administrative skills which is mostly lacking in their male counterparts. Any one with minimal contact with Iranian men can attest to our superior time management skills among others!

Now any one with any sense will recognize that most women have better things to do with their lives than solely feeding and caring for a bunch of lazy household members who don’t help much. Nonetheless, they do so everyday with attention and exemplary care, something you don’t often see once you step out of the house. Everywhere you go, the incompetence, the lack of attention to detail, the disorganized, chaotic work environment, the dirtiness, the absolute inattentiveness to time, or punctuality, (and the incessantly endless whining) can be infuriating. As if the Iranian men are the only ones on the planet who don’t get paid as much as they think they deserve or dislike their jobs or have to be discriminating in verbalization of their thoughts. As a general rule, the women take more pride in whatever it is they do than their male counterparts, and it shows

You also get a sense that there is a greater cooperation amongst women than men. If only we (the men) could be persuaded to cooperate more, and to listen. But I guess much remains to be negotiated. All the same, there is a different hum to the activities lead by/of women.

And so, it is not surprising that when women step outside of the traditional roles, they mostly excel in whatever they set their sights on. Now days, it is difficult to do anything and not run in to woman in positions of power: an educator, doctors, engineers, nurses, and so on. About sixty percent of those who pass the competitive university entrance exam are also women. Convergence of hard work, persistence, perseverance and natural intelligence (not to mention stunning eyes and enchanting faces) makes for an explosively winning combination

It might not seem like it now, but Iranian woman are poised to take the helm of this nation in a dazzling sort of way. I often wonder what Iran will look like in twenty or thirty years , when the present ongoing experiment in madness finally comes to an end and when our ancient nation continues-- in a saner, more sober and civil manner-- its struggles to build a society that allows all citizens maximum opportunities for self-actualization.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Translate Poems!

Visit CIRCUMFERENCE, a journal of poetry in translation. In protest of the recent U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control’s decision to prohibit publishers from editing works authored in nations under trade embargoes, the editors plan to dedicate an issue to the poetry in translation from Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Libya and Cuba. Here is their letter which was forwarded to me by a friend:

Subject: Circumference Responds to recent headlines

Dear Friends,

As many of you know ³The U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign

Assets Control recently declared that American publishers cannot edit works

authored in nations under trade embargoes which include Iran, Iraq, Sudan,

Libya and Cuba.²

As the editors of CIRCUMFERENCE, a journal of poetry in translation founded

on principles of free and open exchange, we want to respond to this issue

in the most direct way that we can. We would like to dedicate a substantial

section of our next issue to poetry from these countries.

We are firm in our belief that not only do we have the right to do this,

but that translators working from the languages of these countries are

providing an incomparable and necessary service to audiences in this

country. Cross-cultural exchange through poetry and translation is a force

to be reckoned with.

We are writing in the hope that you will assist us in this effort in any

way you can: by helping us to gather work for the issue, by recommending

translators working on the poetry of these languages, by sending us your

own translations, and by spreading the word about this project.

The issue is projected to go to press in early summer. We will collect

translations through mid-April. CIRCUMFERENCE publishes all poems in the

original language alongside the English translation, so please ask

translators to send the original along as well. For more information about

CIRCUMFERENCE, visit our website at www.circumferencemag.com.

Thanks so much for your support and for any suggestions you might have.

With best wishes,

Stefania Heim & Jennifer Kronovet





P.O. Box 27

New York, NY


Translate a few poems yourself and spread the word. Help these principled editors put together an outstanding issue!

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Who Is My Street?

Ashura is an attempt to commemorate what to the Shi’ias is the epic Battle of Karbala. It is best to think of it as a Manifesto which articulates a worldview, just as much tragic as it is redemptive. I have been roaming around for two days trying to experience this event as the participants do. No different from reading a book, really. You simply have to read closely enough to let the book speak to you--if only to get a sense for what you are up against. This was the first for me Call it a much needed cultural revolution on my part.

We Iranians, as a general rule, tend to see what we need to; always ready to dismiss what offends us simply as silly or as yet another example of the myriad superstitions of the unwashed. There are all kinds of rituals in this world. Some survive, some don’t. There are all types of religions in the world. Some thrive, some don’t. What is it about these events which so compel such a large number of Iranians to participate year after year? What is it about Shiism that makes it so potent?

An amazing experience—in an odd sort of way. Activities are multifaceted. There is an intense feel of community—something distinctly missing in Tehran these days. There were street theaters known as Taziyeh or passion plays. Groups of Men, young and old were beating their chests rhythmically and self-flagellating with chains. Others were beating drums, and lamenting loudly. They have been at it for a couple of weeks, I presume, trying to prepare for the activities. There were genuine weeping and tears. In a different time, we would have called this catharsis.

No self mutilations with machetes this time around. I am sure you have seen pictures of this particularly gruesome spectacle. But this manner of mourning is now illegal in Iran. Those wishing to bleed are encouraged to visit one of the many Mobile Blood Donor Centers set up by the Government all around town for the duration of the rituals. There was a fatwa in order to encourage the believers to comply. The ones I visited were quite full.

Mothers, wives, and sisters were walking around their men, watching them and occasionally participating in by quietly beating their own chests. Children were dressed for the occasion and participating playfully. Quite a number of houses were busy preparing food for large number of people-- giving them to the neighbors or anyone who decided to queue up to receive a meal. Amazingly, the poor neighborhoods were more generous in giving than the more affluent. Everything is distributed free of charge and their consumption is generally considered a blessing. (Barakat) Some houses had a picture of lost loved ones—who were most often killed during the War. They were mourning their own dead just as much as the decapitated Imam.

The events also provided a venue for socializing. The neighbors who hardly see each other these days take the time to mingle and catch up. I also caught quite a few men and women respectfully flirting and possibly searching for potential friends or mates. An amazing sight since subtlety is a lost art in Iran. There is normally much posturing or simple crassness. It was nice to see sweetness, discernment, and discrimination. My relatives validated my impression arguing that this particular aspect of the ritual has become all the more pronounced in recent years.

I walked uptown stopping to look at a poster close to my home this evening. There were pictures and names. All dead in the war--“neighborhood martyrs” in the vernacular. I looked very closely –pictures, names and pictures. They all appeared so young and innocent. I now have a vivid and painful picture for all the streets, and the intersections I roam around everyday. Each one my streets is named after one of my neighborhood fallen—the casualties of the longest trench war-fare of the Twentieth Century.

I probably have been running into some of their relatives everyday—often being irritated by their brusque, uncivil manner. And I now wonder: have they ever healed? Do any of us—really ever? My streets feel different tonight.