Thursday, April 29, 2004

Year 1185, Gun ships and the Messiah

Some bells tolled today in our schools for the Valiye-Asr (the Guardian of Epoch.) That is the Shi’a version of the long awaited Messiah, Mohammad al Mahdi. It has been roughly 1,185 years since the occultation of the hidden Imam and the believers patiently await his return.

In a gesture, the significance of which was not lost on many of us, the Helicopter Gun ships of the Islamic Regime were used to throw thousands of flowers on a few streets in Downtown Tehran, and on the resting place of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Regime.

So, while some of these monsters are used in “targeted killings” close by, or in hunting Iraqi insurgents; as it turns out, a regime with no cogent claim to civility, democracy or human rights won a subtle round contra its competing models of occupation in this rough neighborhood …isn’t that a hoot?

Sort of makes you wonder what the defenders of Civilization might be thinking right about now. But not to worry, other rulers winning “hearts and minds” appear quite as brutal and as self absorbed as those in power here, and just as clueless. I sort of wished they simply could have just collectively left us alone. They get to keep what’s left of their hearts, and we’ll make do with what’s left of our minds. A bargain wouldn’t you think?

I know we Persians have a tendency to take credit for a lot of things, so, I wouldn’t hold it against you if you were to disbelieve me. But when it comes to the Messiah, we are really responsible. And lest you begin to get holier than thou with me about the idiosyncrasies of our zealous, religious, and backward culture, then have a look at your own backyard: the rapture excited contingent in their millions.

The Catholics, of course have managed to keep a sane perspective on the whole thing. And the Jewish version has an interesting history of its own, which gets intriguing after the Babylonian exile and increasing contacts with the ancient Persians. Our ancestors, of course, appear to bear the brunt of the responsibility for the battle of the Messiahs which promises to make our lives a living hell in the years to come.

Let us offer our gratitude to the ancient Zoroastrian community for their gift of Saoshyant.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Shibboleth II

The question posed in the first installment was why the Islamic Regime has been so successful in stifling organized dissent. The assumption, of course, was that brutality, though effective in suppressing dissent, cannot be the sole factor at work here. We do have, as it turns out, political prisoners after all, and they are treated rather harshly. People do disappear, are tortured and killed for their beliefs and their anti-Regime activities. But the profile of our social life is far from that constituted by docile subjects trembling helplessly in the face of the omnipotent Authority.

As Authoritarian societies go, ours is one of the most fearless, and lawless. There is a vast network that smuggles almost everything--music, movies, computer programs and games, cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, steroids, women, stolen cars, ancient artifacts, etc, and it involves almost all of us. The American sanctions have ensured that these myriad networks have enhanced their reach to facilitate trade in commodities needed in Iran. Strictly speaking, we are all lawbreakers, and criminals-- contesting and undermining official expectations—domestic and international-- almost daily. The dress code alone guarantees that a vast majority of women are de facto delinquents.

And that, of course, is the real paradox of an authoritarian regime which attempts to regulate conduct on one too many fronts. By overreaching, it undermines respect for all forms of authority and codes of conduct. Nice and dandy for the anarchist within really. Isn’t this what social life is all about? Isn’t this the real stuff of anthropological research and of exciting postmodern treatise? Unfortunately however, academic excitement aside, life becomes almost unbearable in many tangible, unexpected manners one could never have dreamed about.

If you’re habituated into pushing the limits, why should you wait your turn in a bank, or a grocery store really? Pay attention to traffic signals? Or do your homework on your own? Or not pick someone’s pocket? Even a relative’s? Or not pay someone to write your college thesis for you for 15,000 Tomans ($20)? Or not have sex for a pretty pink manteau even if you have enough money and don’t really like your would be lover? Or not be late to work? Or not lie to get out of work? Or do your work when you’re at work? Or not batter some one simply because you can and expect to get away with it? Or not cheat on a spouse if no one may find out? Or not abuse a minor if you can? Or not play your music loudly at 2 in the morning? Aren’t you brave and audacious? Gel crowned embodiment of valor? Pretty, revolutionary bitch in pink?

Again, none of these are unique to the life in Iran really. But, all the trends assume the grotesqueness of a nasty caricature here. All the “thou shalt nots’ that once tempered our conduct have now been discarded since they were/are so intricately bound with the authority of the Regime. Hence, the almost universal loathing for the regime has resulted in the vanishing of respect for the rules in their entirety, with nothing yet to have emerged to help us navigate the ethical challenges of the prosaic, humdrum routines of the daily life.

The ruling clergy and the officials of this regime are incessantly insulted in private and in public spaces. People are generally open towards expressing their disgust with the state of the nation. Not a day goes by that I don’t witness a fight, verbal and physical between some official of the Regime (police, basiji, etc.,) and some angry citizen.

So given this general state of lawlessness and anger, how does the Regime continue its rule? Again, read and think about the Judges 12:2-12:7. This conjecture continues…

Monday, April 26, 2004

The amazing, wondrous enigma

The ancient civilization of ours occupies a region that is simply stunning in its diversity.
With the largest lake—the Caspian to the North—lush jungles, and colorful pastures, and the Gulf to the South, and an amazing number of rivers, water falls, and its expansive Marsh lands, Iran can be quite wondrous.

Whether you watch a sunrise in a high place of your choosing atop the vast Mountain chain of Zagros, or gaze at the midnight sky in a location close to one of our two large Deserts, the experience is bound to leave an indelible mark. You will sense it almost possible to touch the stars, the moon or the sun.

Counting the shooting stars can become addictive, you know. Besides, climbing mountains, or exploring caves and watching endless rows of date trees, palms or pines and violet orchards can be infinitely more preferable to dealing with nasty, obnoxious, money obsessed folks in this purported spiritual land.

The Iranian Plateau is visually sublime. Our ancestors had a knack for choosing beautiful peaks, valleys, and meadows to settle in. Unfortunately, in recent times, we have not been as discerning in our entanglements with Nature.

So, the cities that masquerade as the official faces of our culture are either devoid of character altogether or just a nasty collection of architectural kitsch. The ostentatious abodes of the nouveau riche can be quite taxing at times-- especially since they are mostly built after what is left of our shrinking jungles are cleared to make room for the occasional weekend getaways.

Our national heritage, it seems, is being systematically devastated by looters as well. Go here and use the search engine to see what happened at Jeraft. There is a vast network of smugglers slowly stealing artifacts and selling them abroad. Every once in a while someone gets caught, but I must admit, I had no clue this was such a systematic effort, so well organized, financed and armed.

What the future may hold is more of an enigma for me today than in the years past. I am becoming more convinced everyday that what we need here is freedom, freedom, freedom, and more freedom. It will get terribly nasty and our society may not really recover for a long time. It is a gamble for sure. For an authoritarian and religious society, ours is one of the most lawless and appetite driven already. People have a fetish for things and don’t mind doing whatever it takes to get what they want.

Ours is the land of the silly expectations and so I often wonder if any regime can really deliver to what we think we deserve. That said, I am convincing myself that there is no escaping the inevitable remedy. A regime whose scruffy reach is limited to bare essentials might disappoint a majority of our entitled population, but it will offer us a chance to pause, to breathe, to learn to cooperate, and to rediscover inquisitiveness, and the joys of wonder and of discovery again.

Perhaps then, we will begin to understand that life offers great many more possibilities beyond the chance to babble incessantly, smoke opium, abuse others, and crave inane accumulation of things at whatever cost

Monday, April 12, 2004

To tame/apprivoiser

A dear friend sent me this NYT editorial. It seems that our wise French man, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, has finally landed. The Little Prince, I think, should be a mandatory read for all ambitious ideologues and unimaginative apparatchiks who dream of claiming a new century on nothing but blood lust and hot air. I only had my French copy, so here you go, one of my favorite passages. English translation at the bottom is taken from this site:

Qu’est-ce que signifie « apprivoiser » ?

---C’est une chose trop oubliée, dit le renard. Ca
signifie « créer des liens… »

---Créer des liens ?

---Bien sur, dit le renard. Tu n’es encore pour moi
qu’un petit garçon tout semblable a cent mille petite
garçons. Et je n’ai pas besoin de toi. Et tu n’as pas
besoin de moi non plus. Je ne suis pour toi qu’un
renard semblable a cent mille renards. Mais, si tu
m’apprivoises, nous aurons besoin l’un de l’autre.
Tu seras pour moi unique au monde. Je serai pur
Toi unique au monde….

….Mais le renard revint à son idée :
« Ma vie est monotone. Je chasse les poules, les hommes
me chassent. Toutes les poules se ressemblent, et tous les
hommes se ressemblent. Je m’ennuie donc un peu. Mais,
si tu m’apprivoises, ma vie sera comme ensoleillée. Je
connaîtrai un bruit de pas qui sera différent de tous les
autres. Les autres pas me font rentrer sous terre. Le tien
m’appellera hors du terrier, comme une musique. Et
puis regarde ! Tu vois, Là-bas, les champs de blé ? Je
ne mange pas de pain. Le blé pour moi est inutile. Les
champs de blé ne me rappellent rein. Et ça, c’est triste !
Mais tu as des cheveux couleur d’or. Alors ce sera
merveilleux quand tu m’auras apprivoise ! Le blé, qui
Est dore, me fera souvenir de toi. Et j’aimerai le bruit du
Vent dans le blé… »

… « S’il te plait…apprivoise-moi !dit il. »

---Je veux bien, répondit le petit prince, mais je n’ai
pas beaucoup de temps. J’ai des amis a découvrir
et beaucoup de choses a connaître.

---On ne connaît que les choses que l’on apprivoise, dit
le renard. Les hommes n’ont plus de temps de rien
connaître. Ils achètent des choses toutes faites chez les
marchands. Mais comme il n’existe point de marchands
d’amie, les hommes n’ont plus d’amis. Si tu veux un ami,
apprivoise-moi !

----Que faut-il faire ? dit le petit prince.

----Il faut être très patient, répondit le renard.

What does that mean---tame?"

"It is an act too often neglected," said the fox. "It means to establish ties."

"To establish ties?"

"Just that," said the fox.
"To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you.
And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes.
But if you tame me, then we shall need each other.
To me, you will be unique in all the world."
To you, I shall be unique in all the world. . ."
But he came back to his idea.
"My life is very monotonous," he said. "I hunt chickens; men hunt me. All chickens are just alike, and all the men are just alike. And in consequence, I am a little bored.
But if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others.
Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music out of my burrow.
And then look: you see the grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad.
But you have hair that is the color of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat. . ."
"Please---tame me!" he said
I want to, very much," the little prince replied. "But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand."

"One only understands the things that one tames," said the fox.
" Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me. . ."

"What must I do, to tame you? asked the Little Prince.

"You must be very patient," replied the fox

Friday, April 09, 2004


Stop shooting them! Stop bombing them! Stop bombing their places of worship! Stop destroying their homes and their cities! Stop incarcerating them without due process! Stop putting sandbags over their heads! Stop torturing them! Just bloody STOP!

Haven’t they suffered enough? Is this the face of the new Middle East we are promised? Is this the best you can offer? Am I supposed to tell people here to abandon their God, tradition, and the way of life for this Promised Land? Is this really what we need here—yet another tribe with its own blood lust roaming around in this god forsaken land?

Hoo-a, break more skulls! Hoo-a, kick some ass! Hoo-a, send more bloody signals! Hoo-a, assimilate, subdue, pacify, kill, kill, kill! Hoo-a! Flatten them, punish collectively.

How would you spell crude, vulgar “onanistic … Americanism” of the belligerent variety anyhow?

You can never be brutal enough, right? There is never a sufficient display of force, right? Never resolute enough , right? How many more mass graves does it take? No mass graves you say in a year since the invasion? What’s a mass grave any how? Bodies with no identity-- buried, forgotten, No?

How many Iraqis have been killed this past year alone? How many of you know names, ages, families, likes or dislikes? How many of you do care? Do they matter, at all? Are you not ashamed of yourselves? I certainly am…I too don’t know.

Call it a personal resolution of mine: simply put, not to knowingly participate (if I can help it) in harming Iraqis. Responsible or not, guilty or not, first they were killed by us, Iranians-- bombed, tortured, imprisoned, and buried in their thousands. I know Saddam started it all, but Iraqis suffered, as millions of our citizens did as well.

Yes, some of us did the killing and the dying, but don’t you ever forget: we have not forgotten your smug, self-satisfied smirks thinking successful Dual Containment each time Iranians and Iraqis died in their thousands. And all those weapons, conventional and chemical sold here. Great investment! Some of the people in their thousands are still suffering with boils on their bodies and with burned lungs. A job well done! Have another beer or two! Watch more football.

Then the long nightmare of the sanctions, with children dying in their thousands and hordes of the young Iraqi men, and women killed by Saddam, Bush I, and now Bush II. They come in sequels here…. Bashirs, Sharons, Rafsanjanis, Bushes, Gadhafis… and on and on it goes. Hoo-a!

Your language we understand perfectly. Our Leaders speak it well. Mass murderers speak it even better. It is the old, familiar language of the abusers. It is at once personal and historical. Problems never have anything to do with you, or your policies right? Always outside conspiracies, right?

“Who moi?” “ Don’t make me hurt you!” “ Don’t talk to that bitch anymore…bad influence.” “Now, why did you have go do this stupid thing to make me throw you down those stairs?” “You are making me… you know I love you…right?” “I know what’s best for you.” “Trust me. Just lie back and enjoy.”

Discontent is never home grown, is it? Always those pesky outside agitators, you know? The Northern trouble makers, the Imperialist sympathizing Kulak dogs, the Great Satan’s youthful pawns? And now they are simply the Iranian agents/pilgrims in Iraq, are they?

How do you spell “onanistic …Americanism” of the murderous, jingoistic kind, anyways?

Wednesday, April 07, 2004


A few days of refreshing conversations with un ami étranger. Here is another national (in) security secret for you at no cost:

Some conversation elsewhere:

One: A, B, C
Another: hum, AB, AC, BC, D, F

Another: Pause, wow! H, HJ, HC

One: silence
Another: silence

One: HC, HJ? K, L, ZA
Another: ZA, ZHC and A’’!!

One: (aside) what interesting person!
Another: (aside) Quite a joy, and insightful.

Let’s do this again, soon! We must make time. Hugs, Bye.

Typical conversation here:

One: 1,2,3,4
Another: 6,7,8,9

One: 2,1,4,3
Another: 8,9,6,7

One: Have more fruit/food.
Another: I am stuffed. Great food/fruit.

One: 2, 1, 3, More tea?
Another: No thanks. 6, 7, 6

One: What an idiot.
Another: Stupid, and a liar.

Damn Regime, No time left for friends. Kisses. Bye.

Monday, April 05, 2004

At the Movies

My bobble offers me the opportunity for brisk walks, reading, mingling, people watching, and movies. You wouldn’t think it possible by the reportage on the social scene in Tehran, but as much as I roam around everyday, not once have I been offered drugs-- opium, heroin or grass; never have I been propositioned by harlots, though I know they are out there, and no one has ever asked me to buy an X rated movie, or a stiff drink; although these too are out there.

I have been stopped by the police, but they never asked for bribes, and I never offered. In other words, it is still possible to lead a relatively eventless life until you choose otherwise. And the interesting thing about it all is that we can always blame someone else for the choices we make here. Utterly liberating. You should try it sometimes in your country of choice.

No matter though, what is important is that I know where to get nice movies, uncensored and untouched. It is odd how silly censorship feels when you spend close to two hours watching murder and mayhem and suddenly a woman’s shoulder is pixeled out. You wonder what the authorities might be thinking…but such is life in this heartland of evil, I suppose.

So here is a list of some movies I have enjoyed watching in the past three months. At the very least, they are visual feasts, with lots of interesting conversations in most of them.

Dogville is an original, enchanting rendition of life in small town USA, with a strong cast and a marvelous narrator. Spun, can be visually entertaining, though not as complex as the Spanish Sex and Lucia. Erotic and cinematographically stunning, this movie stretches your ability to go back and forth in time. Once you get the hang of it though, you might enjoy the Divine Secrets of Ya Ya Sisterhood. I simply adore Southern accents and sensibilities, even the fake ones. I know it might not be for everyone, but if you like it, you might also enjoy watching Under the Tuscan Sun. The (Italian) scenery is just breathtaking.

Frida Kahlo, Queen Margo and Max, are a tad more challenging to watch, though provocative nonetheless. And just in case you have had it with civil wars there is a gem of an Argentine movie called Funny Little Dirty War, with generals, peasants and lots and lots of dirty tricks which twist—as is normally the case in these matters-- out of control. This movie is as poignant as it is hilarious.

Sort of makes you appreciate why Mr. Bush himself feels the need to laugh about the missing WMDs in Iraq.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Shibboleth I

What is it about the Islamic Regime, aside from its brutality, that has made it successful in stifling organized dissent? This question I have been thinking about for a couple of days as I hear an old friend is back in town after a long time.

I have known him for years and he, like the rest of us has gone through many phases, both in his thinking and his activism. And I worry. I asked a friend to advise him to be level headed and keep his big mouth under control until he gets a sense for what he is dealing with. But he declined wanting to know why our friend should not “create trouble.”

Was I promoting self-censorship? Or pacifism? Forgive my crude anthropology, but I really don’t think we (Iranians) are too terribly thorough and systematic. Now, admittedly, I haven’t seen how our security folks function on day to day basis, negotiating, meeting, mapping out daily chores, etc., but I doubt they’ll function too differently from the mean performance visible in all other branches of the organized culture.

At all levels, people are visibly winging it. They make up rules as they go along, with decisions mostly reflecting ecclesiastic myopia, focusing on supposed material advantages, obsessed always with finding opportunities to cut down and humiliate opponents and brownnose friends or superiors. Every thing else is secondary. They want something to show as an accomplishment to boast about needlessly if put on the spot, but the old heart isn’t really in anything they do in daily life.

So, for instance even the censorship on the net is half assed (thank Goodness). A few “unsavory” sites in each Google search page blocked, but others ( in pages 5 and on) mostly untouched. Popular sites blocked, and yet unpopular ones, even more dangerous with the exact information one seeks, not noticed.

And in almost every official organization, one is forced to deal mostly with information that is hand scribed in notebooks. Cross referencing is arduous and slow. More advanced places use Excel or at best some rudimentary Access program-- even in the Purchasing Sector of some of our best funded organizations (hint hint). Can you believe it?

I am going out on a limb here, but I doubt the Regime has nearly the impeccable and anal system of the notorious East German Stasi, or the Iraqi Mukhabarat for that matter. They do have a sophisticated network of snitches, mind you, a lot more elaborate than the Shah’s. This becomes obvious in the mornings at the entrance to one of their agencies. In the older time, I am told, shiny new cars, with tainted windshields would go through. Now days, all kind of cars with people from all walks of life, lining up to go deliver their daily reports, aside from those working there.

Assuredly, they have more of an appetite for bad news than the old regime. That much I am certain of. And they also cast wide nets, and don’t usually worry about the intricacies of separating the wheat from the chaff. What’s a life any ways? Or a few hundred innocents when the future of God’s will is at stake? And yes, they are terribly brutal. Political prisoners and dissenters have an atrociously rough time of it.

But remember, brutality alone doesn’t guarantee success? Besides, when was the last time you heard of one of our youth or a paraplegic killed by a missile fired from a helicopter in Iran? They hack them to death or shoot them at times, yes, but unless I missed something, the Islamic Regime hasn’t recently blown up any houses of the relatives of close to 4500 students reported to have been detained last year.

The key I think is in the Old Testament: in the Judges to be exact. The story is not so much a success story for this regime so much as a tale of our failings -- the citizens'.
Look up and think about the passages 12:2-12-7 while I put the rest of this conjecture together.