Sunday, May 30, 2004

About an exhortation to reclaim souls!

An earthquake once again exacts a heavy toll on this ancient nation of ours. It affected a vast terrain violently shaking 10 states causing damages in about 4000 houses, killing 40, and injuring 270. The sudden, unexpected disasters and the prospect of violent death have a way of shaking (what little) confidence (there is) in the future. Most people have been edgy and fearful. Rumors are circulating in abundance. Some spent the night outside in the parks or in their cars.

Just as we have come to expect natural disasters and man made catastrophes to wreak havoc on our existence, so too have we come to count on the gloating of some in the English speaking world of the Americas. It doesn’t really matter what does the killing--tornado, flood, or a quake. Just so long as there is devastation and death, there are those ready to make ghoulish, callous, hurtful, bigoted remarks. To interpret the expressed emotions as schadenfreude is to assume a gravitas these morons sorely lack.

I was thinking about our future as I confronted the recently released Amnesty International Report 2004. The content could have been inferred on the basis of all that has transpired lately. The reaction of the much obsessed about nebulous “streets,” be they Arab, American, or Iranian is going to be predictable enough. These main streets normally articulate what we find aplenty on the information superhighway: hot air and venom.

An Abu Ghuraib, or lest we forget our very own Evin prison, might indeed at some point be demolished. I would prefer to see them preserved as reminders of our collective brutalities. Societies not vigilant in defense of Rights—their own or those of others—quickly degenerate into a fellowship of beings who live immured within an Abu Ghuraib of imagination. You only need a week or so living here to get a better sense for what I am talking about. But again, where you presently live might actually do the trick.

Read the segment of the report dealing with the Iranian abuses here. Expect the usual stuff: arbitrary detentions, harassments of dissenters’ families, executions, beatings, flogging, amputations, and yes, even 4 cases of stoning. Only tip of the iceberg.

Different modalities of power do what they must to preserve their hold on life absent our persistent, successful interventions. Unfortunately, I think, their best allies are normally those amongst us who insist on treating each instance of abuse as an occasion to revel in the perceived “hypocrisy” of their imagined interlocutors.

These shortsighted persons forget what the likes of La Rochefoucauld tried to teach us long ago: “L’hypocrisie est un hommage que le vice rend à la vertu.” Their enterprise, by undermining our confidence in virtues in toto, weakens our collective defenses against indecencies-- thus destroying our best hope for forging a better future. They play their part in ensuring that inertia and cynicism contribute to perpetuating our grief.

I have in mind the issues that arise from the rhetoric of those who choose to hide behind the babble of “moral equivalency.” The notion has always struck me as particularly noxious. I am concerned in particular with a recently published exhortation to “Arabs and Muslims” to “reclaim their souls.”

Meyrav Wurmser, a senior fellow and director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the Hudson Institute, writes with much intensity about our pathetic state of affairs around these parts. In one sense, it is hard to argue with her acute observations. At a more fundamental level and in the long run, however, I think the myopia evident in this particular piece published in National Review might do more damage to the prospect of a more civil future than what the murderous Usama and his thugs can accomplish through brutality and fanaticism.

Dr. Wurmser writes:

It now has become clear that we are confronted with a deep malady. So many years of corruption, despotism, and tyranny — not just a century of Arab ideologies, but also centuries of Ottoman imperial rule and centuries of Arab tyrannies before that — have distorted, even sickened, Arab societies.

By choosing to frame what is in actuality a multifaceted conflict of political nature in terms of “sickness” and “malady,” Wurmser is pathologizing political adversaries. This is no simple matter of demonizing an enemy which we may have come to expect in times of strife. This is far too pernicious. She should know better.

If the history of Ottoman imperialism and Arab tyrannies is a fair context for the discussion, then we should naturally remind ourselves as well of the history of the particularly odious rhetoric of sickness/health of the political body. Political conflicts have solutions. Sick bodies have treatments—occasionally of the type some have been dispassionately debating of late.

To pose the question in terms of the “sickness” of Arab and Muslim societies obviously brings to mind also those moments of “virile” responses in restoring “health” –you know, the one too many embarrassing moments western civilization has had to contend with. Need I remind anyone of the rough geography of say Mussolini’s movement, the Stalinist Gulags and Psychiatry wards, as well as Auschwitz and Dachau? The Armenian genocide would be, I suppose, what we should never lose sight of. Now that is more within our geography proper.
Dr. Wurmser of this peculiar piece is simply flabbergasting to me:

This is now more than a struggle for Arab and Muslim freedom; it is a struggle for Arabs and Muslims to reclaim their souls, and it can only be decided within their own societies. It is up to the Arabs and the Muslims of the Middle East to decide not whether they want to be a part of modern, Western society, but whether they want to be a part of the civilized world. Now is their moment of truth.

Wurmser’s “moment of truth” is an old, tired and painful one. Doesn’t Wurmser realize that—even with the occasional half hearted, unpersuasive qualification in form of a “Middle East” added here, or a “silent minority” inserted there—if one billion, some odd million “Arabs and Muslims” were to need to collectively reclaim their souls given their bewildering heterogeneity—cultural, ethnic, religious, and individual, what basis would there be for a critique of the position of those who peddle the notion of a conspiracy of 12 million? What hope is there of questioning the shameful views held in Iran, for instance, about our Afghan refugees of about one and a half million?

Frankly, I am not in the position to judge the needs of a Wurmser soul. All I can tell her is that her soul’s chariot isn’t exactly heading in the right direction.

Dr. Wurmser may find, I trust, the companions she is to encounter on this particular journey utterly loathsome.

Friday, May 28, 2004

The Earthquake!

There was a huge quake a few minutes ago in Tehran. We can’t decide the magnitude yet…a whole lot a shaking, as if a powerful bomb exploded. People are roaming around the streets, chatting, and airing concerns.

We have all been expecting one in Tehran for some time now. This past year alone, we’ve felt as if this nation has been in a constant game of the musical chair, with different folks in various cities having been left without a place.

The most distressing one was obviously in Bam, remember? A strong quake of some duration will cause much damage in Tehran--a disaster of monumental proportions. Such is life, I suppose. Live and learn…or not.

Update: Epicenter around Baladeh/Yoosh in the northern State of Mazandaran—69 kilometers from Tehran. About 2 hours ago. The experts can’t settle on the exact magnitude; some say 5.5 others 6.2. Many cities and regions have been affected from Tabriz to Qum, Tehran, Gazvin, and elsewhere. The damage so far has been slight. Minor disruptions in the phone network immediately afterwards. Reports of one fatality and about a dozen injuries so far and damage to some roads in the Chaloos region. As quakes go, this one was not too terribly destructive. We’ll see what happens next. Aftershocks are always a thrill!

UpdateII- 3 hours later: Expert are settling on 6.2; shallow and wide. Reports of up to 8 fatalities with 2 dozen injuries. A few houses reported damaged or destroyed in some villages up North. S&R teams have been dispatched. Medical teams on full alert for possible other quakes to follow. People anxious, but relatively orderly, as the nervous Iranians go anyway.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Ledeen, ledeen and us

If I weren’t so depressed, I would’ve laughed myself to tears, sobs and even perhaps then lamentations. Honestly, nothing in a rational universe could possibly help explain the predicaments: the plenipotentiary satraps of a vengeful Allah as rulers; the jihadis and the crude country bumpkin sadists on the loose all around. So now we even have to tolerate new saviors on who knows what mission from where! There is simply no end to our woes.

As if one Ledeen and his ventures weren’t enough for a few generations to come, now we hear his daughter has been unleashed on the unfortunate Iraqis. What have we done to deserve them? Now really, is there a God with any sense of justice anywhere? Is the Almighty malicious or, as Woody Allen would have, just an underachiever? Or has He never awakened from the long slumber of the decades past?

Take this infuriating Washington Post article (link via about a bunch of young, ambitious hands working for the CPA in Iraq:

They had been hired to perform a low-level task: collecting and organizing statistics, surveys and wish lists from the Iraqi ministries for a report that would be presented to potential donors at the end of the month. But as suicide bombs and rocket attacks became almost daily occurrences, more and more senior staffers defected. In short order, six of the new young hires found themselves managing the country's $13 billion budget, making decisions affecting millions of Iraqis.

All the shattered bones, dismembered bodies, incinerated flesh, tortured souls and ruined lives and this? A handful of interning weasels gaining experience managing 13 billion? And how did they land the jobs? How did they navigate the arduous interview process and the crippling backlog of the tens and tens of thousands waiting for their security clearances?

Ledeen's journey to Baghdad began two weeks earlier when she received an e-mail out of the blue from the Pentagon's White House liaison office.[…]
For Ledeen, the offer seemed like fate. One of her family friends had been killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and it had affected her family deeply. Without hesitation, she responded "Sure" to the e-mail and waited -- for an interview, a background check or some other follow-up. Apparently none was necessary. A week later, she got a second e-mail telling her to look for a packet in the mail regarding her move to Baghdad.

Some fate! We know a thing or two about fate when it comes to jobs, business and politics in this Islamic State. There is a name here for the act of circumnavigating established, documented processes. It happens all the time. What do they call it nowadays in the Bush country? Business as usual?

No matter though, let’s look at the compensation:

The pay turned out to be good. Ledeen and her co-workers had agreed to come to Iraq without knowing their salaries. They ended up with standard government base salaries in the range of $30,000 to $75,000 a year, plus a 25 percent foreign differential, another 25 percent for a workplace "in imminent danger," and overtime pay. In the end, almost everyone was making the equivalent of six-figure salaries.

How many courageous members of this organization trying to create civil society against a background of violence and terror could have made a go of it on a Ledeen salary?

Don’t get me wrong now. I am all for on the job trainings. I don’t believe in the cult of expertise. But seriously, shouldn’t the family team so intent on saving all of us be able to at least speak some Arabic or Persian? Especially when formulating or promoting tendentious policies affecting millions? Aren’t they in the least bit curious? For goodness sake, even Jane Goodall managed to communicate with the creatures she intended to save in a language other than English.

Undoubtedly, Ms. Ledeen is talented and adroit. And we know Mr. Ledeen is one sharp, savvy thinker and a shrewd political operator. But can any claim a new century or two on characters of this caliber? Think about it: are they even a pale shadow of a Sir William Jones, for instance?

It must be a sign of times we live in. Even bigotry isn’t what it used to be. Compare the silly, mean-spirited taraddidle of a Daniel Pipes, for instance, with any thing a Comte de Gobineau has to say.

Hasn’t anyone seriously considered that nothing good can ever come of assuming the burden of civilizing us--the uncouth denizens of this accursed region, if everything is planned and executed by a ragtag group of dwarfs, weasels and sadists? Mongols tried it, you know, fear, intimidation, brutality—with a mastery which they too claimed was sanctioned by Heaven, and yes there were even body pyramids then too!

Now give us a few like Sir William Jones or de Gobineau and I for one will indulge a new Mistress till eternity.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

War Spirit

Paul Goodman is still a joy. His short essay here in full. Teaser for you:

“Because of the threat of poisoning and fire, public policy has come into an obvious clash with elementary biological safety. Yet it is impossible to change the public policy, and get rid of the industrial-military complex, for the war is wished for, and the identification with the Powerful is necessary for each powerless individual's conceit….

Of course, it is people themselves who are imprisoning themselves; they could release themselves if it were not for the totality of their fearfulness and ineffectuality. That is to say, they cannot release themselves. Instead, they feel that release must come from outside agents or events. More healthily, this is felt as excitement in destruction and danger; in the lure of daring and dangerous sports; in the innocent joy in watching a house burn down and living through hurricanes and earthquakes (and discussing them endlessly.) And characteristically of poor mankind, once they’ve been given the cosmical permission of Necessity, people act with the community and heroism that is in them from the beginning.”

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Is it ‘a cultural thing’?--II

Disclaimer: tentative with so supporting links. Might revise!!

So we start here again with that same riddle Aaronovitch employs to close his piece. If true that everything is indeed “a cultural thing,” he taunts, “then what the hell is it all for?” The manner he poses the issue does indeed open the possibility of a qualified yes to the culture question. But it need not necessarily lead to the tragic consequences he fears.

Notice, for instance, that he has chosen to ask here a “What” question and by this he immediately reveals a certain cultural orientation. The “What” question is characteristic of the Ancient Greek thought! (“What is justice?”) The Persians on the other hand tended to personify abstract concepts and ask the “Who” questions. (Who is Contract? Why, Mithra, of course!)

The Buddha’s “Dependent Origination,” I think, might lead to a “Which” question (set of conditions) and as for the Ancient Chinese Taoists, all questions and indeed discourses generally, become indistinguishable from the “chirps of hatchlings.” Fasting, emptying of the mind and stillness are the bread and butter of Confucius of the Taoist texts—however enigmatic they might first appear to the provincial glance.

Now all of us may decide to repeat after Hegel and dismiss the Oriental wisdom as “Childish.” Hegel is good at that kind of a language. For him China, for instance, is the land of the “most prosaic understanding,” and the Chinese he thinks only manage to “perpetuate a natural vegetative existence.” But Hegel, you see, has a way of knowing the ins and outs of the concrete universal from which, he thinks, the Orient has divorced itself ---a luxury neither Aaronovitch nor the rest of us mere mortals should feel we can still afford today.

Lacking the broad reach of a Hegelian intellect, and his certainty, I am a little more self conscious when it comes to thinking about cultural issues. Remember this whole line of inquiry started when I began to wonder why Modern Persian lacked dual pronouns. The question wouldn’t have occurred to me without my having spent time learning foreign languages, yes, but it also means a lot more.

To want to learn another language I presuppose a sense for the limits of my own culture and a curiosity about culture of others. Postulating centrality of culture, however, does not release any of us from the burden of myriad “I” questions.

Let’s visit a language class for now. You learn a few things in any language class you attend. The first thing you learn about is the concept of limits. Some students tower above others and immediately see through the rules, roots and connections as if they were genuinely transparent. I am not one of those students. I struggle.

You additionally learn that there are certain things you can control and others that you can not—not immediately any way. You will have to do the best with the hand that’s dealt you. And so you learn about the need for hard work, for cooperation, and for pooling resources together, and for negotiations. Sometimes you would want to even change the “rules of the game,” but that too often takes longer than you might suspect.

You also come to appreciate the need to make choices--sometimes very unpalatable ones. You learn that all personal choices come with a price; a cliché for sure, but no escaping the consequences. You come to learn about human frailties as well, and the need for being there.

Persians might indeed, as some claim, be good at being multi-lingual, but I struggle. Persian thought might indeed be cosmopolitan, but I have to work on my cosmopolitanism. Persian culture has great poetry, but I can’t rhyme. Persian literature is simply magnificent, but I am an atrocious writer. There are so many languages to choose from, but I choose these particular ones--why? What do my choices indicate about me? What holds true for me, quite naturally also holds true for others-- no matter where they are.

In other words, Our/Your/Their culture might indeed be superior, but I/you/s/he can still be complete imbeciles, Something, I suppose, we should all work on more diligently given the atrocious state of our planet these days. We humans are a bundle of visceral reactions --reactions we often do not fully control or understand.

Understanding, though, assumes self-introspection. This element [of introspection/ self doubt] is what I find missing in Aaronovitch and it makes me wonder… why? What is the cultural context of it?

Take the poignant tale of his conversation with an Iranian businessman in England. His Iranian interlocutor claims he had not heard from an Iranian lover for a while and when he finally managed to receive words after about a year

An aunt advised him to stop looking for the girl. 'She is dead,' the woman said. 'She was pregnant and they executed her. So don't ask any more.' And this, the Iranian man said with contempt, in the 21st century.
And this sends Aaronovitch scrambling to determine the exact scope of honor killings in the Islamic World. The story made me sick to the pit of my stomach--the sheer brutality, the callousness and the perniciousness of it all. That I live in a society that allows such travesty I deeply regret. That we have not been able to put these murderous thugs out of business of ruining lives I am profoundly ashamed of. But let us look more closely at the narrative.

Just so you don’t miss some of the central issues here: here is a man who tells us with a straight face that he impregnated a lover and then left her abandoned, choosing to settle instead in a free UK. The family and/or authorities then found out and executed the woman—his lover. Is there a hint of remorse? Does Aaronovitch engage him or us on that front? Why not? These omissions too have a cultural context.

Yes, the authorities should be held accountable, the Laws changed and some family dynamics altered. That said, let us also ask a series of “Which” (set of conditions) questions here. Would she have been dead without having encountered him? Would she have been dead without him impregnating her? Would she have been dead if they had married? Would she have been dead if he had stayed behind and helped her navigate the labyrinth? Would she have been dead without his help?

There are certain things beyond one’s immediate control. We all know that just as surely as we hate to admit it. It is often a difficult struggle, after all, controlling the behaviors of the 70 million Iranians, the military, the security forces, the judiciary and the ruling clergy.

Is it, however, just as hard controlling one’s own penis? Is it that difficult pulling on a condom? Is it really impossible to keep one’s commitments? To not abandon a lover you impregnate? To not surrender another being --who trusted you her body and soul --to the jaws of death?

Yes, there are certain things easier to control even living in hell. Culture is no alibi here. No one needs the rotten scaffolding of any culture in order to tell this man he is an accomplice to murder. But that Aaronovitch doesn’t even feel the need to broach the subject at all is a cultural problem.

There are always choices. All questions have contexts. Certain types of questions lead to loopholes and then to technicalities which unfortunately make one miss real possibilities—possibilities of the more humane set of alternatives.

That there are omissions of significance to me is a lot more interesting than the frenzy of the originally postulated false conditional. (If culture, then what the hell for?) This issue I will explore in the next installment.

Friday, May 21, 2004


And now he thinks he is Moses. “Let my people go,” he roars. Some just adore Chalabi here. (and his buddy Francis Brooke.) VIP treatment and all. What is it with those Chicago boys? I once ran into an old sticker that read, “Cold War is over and Chicago won”! No simple vanity, I suppose! But Moses? Who knows, though? We have all been wrong about identities/potentials in the past, haven’t we? .

Take that waiter, for instance, in the last restaurant you had a meal in. The one you refused to tip because you thought him clueless, dumb, and incompetent! Imagine the shock of seeing him as you are about to clinch a deal for a lucrative contract, and he just so happens to be the man in the position to make or break you. Far fetched you say? Take this amusing revelation in Cockburn’s exposé on Chalabi:

Finance minister Kamil Gailani, formerly a waiter in the Sinjan restaurant in downtown Amman, is viewed as another Chalabi acolyte, as is the head of the central bank and the bosses of the two leading commercial banks.

So do yourselves a favor and be nice to that "insignificant little peon" making life tolerable for you everyday. You never know how things might turn out.

This brings me to the little row over the new Airport and the politics of the Revolutionary Guards in Iran. The experts, true to form, can’t decide how to call what they see:

Given the opaque nature of Iran’s political system, it is difficult to determine the attitude of the country’s conservative religious hierarchy towards the guards’ rising political profile. Some observers suggest the guards’ efforts to become more politically active are simply a reflection of changing geopolitical conditions that have rewritten the rules governing domestic Iranian politics. Others believe the Revolutionary Guard commanders may be overplaying their hand, and thus could soon be subject to action designed to curb their political ambitions.

Leave it to the non-experts then: expect soon the news of the impending integration of the Army and the Guards...just a hunch.

And incase you were looking for something to do: find any Krzysztof Kieslowski movie and experience delight. Don’t fret the pronunciation. Our learned Polish Blogger was good enough to provide guidance:

"I just thought that it might be nice if I tell you how in Polish
we would pronounce Krzysztof Kielowski. As a matter of fact he
is not that vowel-less as he appears. In English transcription it
could be Kzhyshtof Kyeshlovsky. However, English transliteration
is probably one of the worst among the possible ones […] when it comes to Polish:

"rz" like "j" in French (but while speaking faster "rz" sounds
similar to "sz");

"y" sounds as Turkish "i", just like "ih" pronounced from the
throat, which makes it sound less soft;

"sz" is identical to "shin";

"ie" same as "ye";

"" is problematic; it is a very soft "sh", as in word "Shiva"
when uttered in Hindi way;

and "w" like "v".

I hope you will find this name pronounceable.
By the way, Kielowski was an excellent Game Boy player."

Wednesday, May 19, 2004


Huge protest today against the occupation next door as well as some disturbances in front of the British Embassy. I was off to Dad’s though for our favorite ritual. Someday I’ll tell you all about Tehran’s cemetery. You can get lost there reading a lot of poignant poems.

And here is Ledeen vs. NYT. He finally gets it right for once—sort of. But again it was no contest. Even in his sleep, he is far shrewder than Kristof will ever be. To imagine, mistaking hospitality for political insight.

It is hard to get enthused about much of anything these days. I just don’t get it. I mean, if blowing their bugle is their thing, more power to them. If being blinded by hate and humiliating others is what sets their shorts on fire, then that’s that.

Humanitarian considerations and the question of decency aside, is there no realization how important this country is for a brighter future in this region? Can’t they see what damage this whole endeavor and their asinine policies are having on the prospect of change here? Take Mr L’s astute reading:

Iranian jails are far more than detention centers; they are part of a vast system of intimidation. Iranian prisoners are released periodically, for periods ranging from 24 hours to several weeks. They are released so that their friends and families can see the horrible consequences of the tortures inflicted on them. The presence of these doomed people in the society at large is an open threat to the rest: If you challenge us, you will end up like this.

So now lets put things in perspective. All political regimes survive on a mixture of coercion and consensus. So on one side, a regime, with a support base of let’s say 10-15% (population 70 mil), security apparatus, army, money , privilege, status etc. On the other side, great many people who want those things, and have hopes of a better future. It is not only freedom of expression that animates people. It is money, exposing flesh, drinking in public, easier life, bigger cars, more beautiful houses, more furniture, stocks, private property galore, jobs, more security…you get the message. The simple fact is: the materialism and the fetish for accumulating “stuff” evident in Islamic Iran today might shame even some of the more entrepreneurial ex-executives of Enron

People always calculate. What might I gain ….possibly in the future with all the uncertainties it entailes in return for the what I risk in the present. People are survivors here…with street smarts. You would be too. So think occupation models.

Three of them in this region. Here and here for the latest on one model. The other model close by is being supported by people who actually want to see those celebrating and laughing incinerated, and from the looks of it, the guys on the ground are following the advice,however inadvertently.

None of us know how the future is going to turn out with any of the models. But do you seriously think with the fire engulfing the surroundings, any one here is seriously going to risk stability for that uncertain future now? The only people still excited are the caliber of people you wouldn’t trust to walk your dog for you, let alone to watch your back in a serious contumacia. Grim, Grim.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Is it ‘a cultural thing’?

Disclaimer: tentative with so supporting links. Might revise!!

I was thinking a post today about language. But then I came across David Aaronovitch, Culture is no excuse. And so a change of plans and I’ll tell you why. The occasion for the language post was a note from our learned Polish blogger about proper Polish pronunciations. I’ll post it later for those interested

Any how, I was looking at some Polish language sites and as it turns out, even adjectives, numerals and pronouns decline for case, gender and number, but luckily there are no articles. I hate articles. As I was wondering whether polish might have dual pronouns I got distracted and began to think about Victor Davis Hanson.

You see, we don’t have dual in Modern Persian. There is a great deal of Arabic influence in Persian, but Arabic does have dual and we don’t. Ancient Iranian languages and their Sanskrit sister do as well. Why not Persian? Who can claim to know why for sure?

Homeric Greek, for instance, appears to have had dual among other ancient Greek languages that do not. There are traces of the dual in the famous Embassy scene in the Iliad as I recall. In that particular scene, there is a great deal of activity in order to persuade Achilles to abandon his rage.

The “ambassadors” don’t succeed, of course, because our hero is smashingly mad and he is simply not going to be soothed by any words. So the question for those reading the book for the first time always becomes: what would it take for his rage to dissipate?

This all brings me to Mr. Hanson. Now I must admit he almost always infuriates me, but I go on to read him religiously. I look forward to reading him every week, because political disagreements aside, he is an educator after all. If he should fail to elicit a response, then he could not have been any good at what he has chosen as a vocation in life. I have intense disagreements with him yes, but I do respect him nonetheless.

In my less generous, more indignant moods, I think him a demagogue. But anger too passes and I then begin to feel that he should know better, (and I think deep down he does.) Today, I began to think that his writings reminded me of Achilles of the Embassy scene, and quite justifiably so (the rage I mean). 911 was a brutal day, and he has responded with all the ancillary self righteous anger.

He is wrathful and one wonders what it might take for him to respond to some form of supplication. But in fairness, one must acknowledge that he does not shrug off responsibilities. He is serious about the undertaking he promotes and the consequences that might ensue. Political machinations aside, he appears a decent man, and is a classicist and so one may always hope that his is a variety of a more sensible conservatism -- the sort of conservatism that may be persuaded through a series of measures to cease lashing out.

In essence, one can almost detect in him an honest, transparent sort of conservatism rooted in the Iliad—gory battle scenes, war cries, dismembered bodies, severed necks and all-- absent its magnanimous generosity of the spirit.

Now, gory battle scenes and war cries are what you get a lot in old epic tales, more or less. Most cultures have them. And they can tell you some things about cultural proclivities in whatever limited sense they might be understood.

In the Iranian tradition, you don’t see too many severed heads and bloody details because our epic is generally a tale of the battle between the old and the young warriors. They counsel each other ceaselessly to be wise and to go on with their lives.

The background to some of the more memorable episodes is that of a young man trying to introduce a more just order and some father or father figure, faithful to the directives of the corrupt monarchs, ends up killing him. Either that or that the fearful fathers send their sons off to die in an impossible undertaking, but soon after begin to regret their decisions. As the sons lie prostrate and dying, they almost always inevitably try to sooth their aging fathers and send farewell messages to their mothers-- up to their last gasps.

So in the Iranian tradition, since so much hinges on the last minute exchanges, we don’t get too many severed heads because that would naturally also mean dysfunctional tongues. We just can’t have dysfunctional tongues now, can we?

The Indian warriors, on the other hand, can’t afford to show emotions since they should be dispassionate about their conducts. Killings can not be an expression of anger, and should neither elicit happiness nor sadness. Hence, they actually get to cross swords while boasting an aloof sort of a smirk. As for the war cries, they rely on some god or other to do that for them.

The Japanese though are the weepers. Their sleeves are always wet and dripping with tears as they kill off their enemies. Our Japanese of the ancient tales are sensitive kind of butchers especially since they have a profound appreciation for the uniqueness of each moment and hence the utter irreplaceability of each individual life being taken away.

Naturally of course, there is that perennial Japanese sadness, with good reason, and yet they still manage to chop off heads --sometimes even mounting them on swords for good measure—as well as lots and lots of wailing and tears.

And then there is that pernicious universe of our hero Odysseus. He has a reputation for being the archetypal Western man and quite a few people actually like him. But, I am not that impressed by him, nor by his universe. It is sort of an inscrutable universe for me, too cunning, too many unknowns about the actual identities of characters we get to meet and too many folks—both the winners and the losers-- generally adrift in the aftermath of a ferocious war.

Odysseus is a rational man yes, but he also always manages to get away on technicalities. Even in the Iliad. There is a memorable night expedition in which a man Dolon gets killed after a promise of safety that does not exactly mean what it was supposed to communicate. Quite a few people get butchered that night while asleep, the alibis being a “measured” use of the language, sanction of one of the myriad deities, and the “honor” being bestowed ultimately for settling the bloody affair on someone else.

We come to expect much posturing and falsehoods from Odysseus. He is the one, after all, who can go on to blind and torment another being, however little sympathy the infamous Cyclops may have elicited from us the readers, pretending to be actually a “nobody.”

Now this universe is the universe of liberals such as Mr. Aaronovitch. A lot hinges on the cunning use of the language; they have come to expect largely to get away on technicalities.

They either suddenly transform into a “nobody” while doing the blinding, or they ride the wave of our apathy or antipathy to shift the burden away from themselves and onto others
Theirs is an implacable sort of an ire coupled with self righteousness and alibis.

Alibis are dime a dozen in this day and age though. For those of us with little appreciation for the shenanigans of the master—the wily Odysseus himself -- there can’t be much of a luster to the deeds of the apprentices either.

Aaronovich does raise a number of interesting questions and one significant riddle: If everything is indeed a cultural thing, he asks caustically, “What the hell is it all for?”

This question, along with the alibis, I will explore in the next installment

Friday, May 14, 2004

Gratitude, links and connections

To think I would have gone through life only occasionally having wondered how to pronounce a name with such minimal number of vowels, Krzysztof Kieslowski, without actually tasting the sapid offerings of a dazzling director. But then, lucky for me, there was this intriguing Polish Blogger.

On her blog one day, she had a beautiful picture-- in effusive red, of the lovely Irene Jacobs whose expressions brought back memories of an old lover and so the curious, nostalgic I rushed out to find the movie in a land where despite censorship and authoritarianism, almost anything can be found at a price. And so I finally succeeded.

I here by acknowledge my debt of gratitude: thank you! And triple cheers for her since she, in addition to providing enlightenment about the Polish Culture, also managed to direct my attention to this audacious and fascinating writer whose wit is as enchanting as it is wicked.

Corinna’s writing left me misty eyed and breathless after the first encounter. Too bad I can’t find any of her books here, but hey, once I have a passport, perhaps then I’ll get to buy one at the first bookstore I visit….wherever that might be. And we should thank our lucky stars for the gift of her life and talent.

Speaking of talent or more precisely the lack there of: I write with no illusions about being any good at it. Writing has become therapeutic for me, offering a chance to clarify attitudes and beliefs that leave me seething and brooding restlessly. I also enjoy connecting with others; although, I must admit I hardly ever agree with what I read.

Hell, I don’t even agree with what I think—at any subsequent moment that is, which is why I so adore Paris in May. Those beautiful Parisians—and make no mistakes, they are mostly attractive, charming and graceful—can be found either in a passionate embrace, kissing so oblivious to time, place, and propriety or are engaged in an animated bitter argument contra their own peeved hearts.

The day after I first arrived in Paris in mid-May some years ago, I went to the nearest park early in the morning for a walk and right in front of me was a woman—hair disheveled, make-up smeared, and in high heals--obviously wrangled about the merits of the previous nights’ sexual escapades. She was loudly bickering with her soul. And I, right behind her, arguing an entirely different matter against mine.

That is another thing so disturbing to me about life in Tehran these days. People hardly ever talk to themselves in public. I always get that odd, condescending look of an obvious mad man roaming “their” streets. And so, at home I get to revel in madness by reading and loudly quarrelling with various authors in their absence. I almost always find myself gravitating towards those whose spirits communicate what I find missing in my daily life.

I have thus linked to Ihath because I find her sarcasm refreshing. Her stories reflect a humor that is biting as well as self-deprecating. This latter quality is practically non-existent in Iran these days. Sure, there are false pieties of all shades and hues. Yet, self-deprecating sarcasm must best be viewed as a monster on the verge of extinction: my fellow citizens, in their quest for social respectability, have almost succeeded in quashing it to death.

Fred is an entirely different story. His columns always bring a smile to my face. He is a profoundly learned man, I think, without being bookish. But it is actually his natural intelligence and common sense that I find, while jarring at times, the most compelling. He is a wanderer--wandering being the quality we share--who intuitively understands (or his experiences might have taught him) that some of the more unique, exciting minds and intriguing personalities are not to be found in academia, or in any “respectable” circle.

Often, some of the most engaging men and women are those found around the mosquito infested riverbanks of Alabama, small towns of rural Mexico or in some bar or perhaps even a whorehouse in Thailand (to name but a few!) Their companionship, however, can become taxing and tedious which is why, I suspect, Fred actually writes and feels the need for other more cerebral, sophisticated friends.

The language Fred speaks I find absent in Iran. Here practically everyone is obsessed with the government, thinking little of our own responsibilities in mangling things into such an asinine shape. Perhaps one day, I’ll translate one or two of his pieces to gauge what kind of reactions they elicit. Although, I can surmise that they won’t translate easily or well.

What of Roger you may wonder—the man behind the Limited-inc? Well, his is quite a story that I will have to censor for content. Our paths crossed all too briefly, and left the both of us reeling. We fought bitterly and destructively over a woman once, and naturally of course, we both lost.

You see, we share an almost identical taste in women. We tend to go wobbly facing the brilliant, spirited, eloquent, neurotic ones. But I must admit, a few other qualities I have since added to the list given how civilizing and liberating they can be. Being violent and sadistic is now a must for the woman of my dreams. Is there such thing as a brilliant, neurotic dominatrix in the military? If you know any, then be a darling and pass on my email address.

I’ve digressed. It was some years ago and yet; we still manage to keep in touch across different continents, time zones and cultures. Obviously, to this day I maintain that he should have known better, being the older, wiser one. But hey, desperation knows no bound. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!) He is one of the more unique thinkers I’ve encountered.

And all this brings me back to Kieslowski’s movie Red. It is an intricate, sophisticated movie about intimacy, chance, connection and much, much more. I suspect the need for bonds is one of the reasons you visit this site and I yours. The presence of others, their stories and their lives suffuses the colors that transform the potentially dreary tapestry of our existence into a more bewitching one. That is why I am so progressively more enraged by this war consuming everything around me.

The question for me is becoming a simple one. None of us will ever get a chance to meet the particular individual that was Nick Berg, and we are all less for the loss. He was not “something” to be used as a test of others’ hypocrisy. Nick was a living, breathing human being with desires, dreams and wants. We have now lost our chance to connect with him.

Neither would we now get the chance to find out what joy this little darling would have brought to our lives. I loath myself for not even knowing her name. What bright future could have awaited her? I wonder. Now this delicate being is only to be a delicacy for the worms.

The price is too high for me. I can’t bear the thought of any more severed connections. There is no sense of purpose and proportion anymore--if there ever was one. People are being incarcerated, brutalized, and killed for having a “wrong” name, or being in a “wrong” place and having the “wrong” religion and the “wrong” complexion. And it is going to get much, much worse.

And for what? Isn’t the ocean—the coveted warm waters—the Soviets and Americans fought so bitterly over still there? Whatever came of that war? Three million dead, countless disabled, refugees, Usama, and 911? Am I so wrong?

Our little angel, Nick Berg, and the countless others sharing their fate--they never stood a chance, did they? Their lives terminated before touching ours, and our lives today feel empty for want of theirs. How many more?

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Sudan, brutalities, Israel and Iran

Here is a report on the appalling catastrophe in Sudan. I haven’t read it fully, but it is grim. I am beginning to rely on this man to lead the way (interesting links) concerning items not much found in the news in Iran. What to do? What to do?

The whole world is going to hell in a hand basket. Everywhere you look, grotesque, inhuman barbarities, victimizing the defenseless and those few remaining good natured souls amongst us still managing not to hate--Nick Berg, only wanting to help. Frankly, I am at the end of my rope. If any of you have constructive ideas, I am perfectly willing to listen.

I don’t know why the atrocities in Sudan aren’t being covered in any detail in the Iranian press. I suspect it goes well beyond “conspiracy,” / censorship of the ruling clergy that so many are wont to believe.

Frankly, despite the amazing diversity in Iran, we tend to be a tad on the bigoted side, especially when it comes to the affairs of the “Dark Continent.” It might have something to do with all the despicable, delusional excess baggage of Persianness / the original Aryan Nation gobbledygook and all. Go figure.

For those interested, there is an Iranian writer, Minoo Southgate, who has done some work on the negative perception of Blacks (and women) among Iranians especially as reflected in the Medieval Persian Literature.

In recent times though, the turn has been towards, how shall we say, an “aesthetic” judgment which translates into preferences for “lighter complexions,” as well as apathy for the non-European/American affairs. A cultural silliness compounded by our tendency to do the exact opposite of the majority’s perception of what the regime is interested in doing. So, the more emphasis the Regime places in establishing ties with other countries in the world, the less interested Iranian citizens actually become.

On a lighter note, read this funny little item in Maarivintl today. (Via Leave it to a desperate, resourceful Iranian asylum seeker to walk all the way through Syria, and Lebanon to end up in an Israeli household one of whose members just happens to speak Farsi to boot. He wasn’t there to kill anyone…(happy sigh of relief!)… so he gets fed! He was simply running away from here. Can you imagine that?

This brings me to this other not so funny item. Tensions are up and up again, with Iran (again) “sternly” warning Israel against any ill conceived designs on the nuclear facilities being built. A touchy subject around these parts, as you might suspect.

There are a few “details” to consider when thinking about the Iranian Nuclear ambitions.
First, Iranians of all political persuasions tend to dream big. It is silly I know; nonetheless, for whatever reason however misguided, quite a formidable majority like the idea of nuclear power. I think it might have something to do with our tendency to have absolutely no clue whatsoever about conservation of any kind.

We tend to think we should/do have unlimited resources, and so the more electricity the merrier. Nuclear power, and the ensuing reduction in domestic consumption of natural gas to many translates into more export potential; hence more foreign currency, more imported commodities, more food, clothing, make up; more VCRs and DVDs, etc., more and for perpetuity.

Just remember Iranians use more fuel annually than China for instance and it is subsidized, and we still manage to feel cheated by the Clergy. It’s “our” oil fields you know, and deep down, we simply dream of having direct pipelines right into our houses, and perhaps even direct deposit of the funds into our accounts --our “fair” share of the money if you will. The whole thing started with the Shah, and it continues still today under the present regime, and most Iranians like it.

As for the unspoken quest for the Bomb: consider that as much as this Regime is loathed, this is a land that was bombed, and invaded, with the devastating war leaving hundreds of thousands dead and physically disabled. All of us have been affected one way or another. Aside from the Kurds, Iranians are the only people, to my knowledge, to have thousands still suffering due to the attempted slaughter by means of non-conventional weapons. I still run into some of the survivors, who suffer terribly. It is not a pretty sight.

Some of you are rightfully petrified by the prospect of chemical and biological attacks, but quite a few here have already lived it, courtesy of Saddam and your tax money. Not that any should lose much sleep over it all, mind you. I know quite a few people could care less if any here lives or dies.

I mean, since we are mostly so “contaminated” you know (two posts down) with our abusive relatives, and domineering mothers and all; why… it might be best to cleanse and exterminate the contaminants! .

Fortunately though, as delicious a thought as it might be for some out there, none of us here are that interested in perishing and being incinerated needlessly. We have our hands full with our own shepherds who “mean us well”  So just imagine how we view those with ill intentions.

So, belligerence, threats and chest beatings are not really that compelling. It might be best to insist that the entire region be a zone free from these nasty weapons, fair and square. The desire for safety and security are universal. In the meanwhile, a better tack to counter the Iranian desire for nuclear power might be a sustained campaign to ask some hard questions—persistently, loudly, and relentlessly, from citizens and officials alike. We should speak the issues in a language people understand and give folks time to digest them.

We should ask ourselves (and you should ask as well): Do we really want the unholy marriage of Russian technology and the legendary Iranian engineering prowess? Anyone who lives here is bound to have noticed that our Industrial, Mechanical, and Electrical Engineers work best when they improvise, even when they exist or decide to show up to work.

The work structure is a strictly hierarchically organized with little horizontal integration, and plagued by incompetence, nepotism, and corruption. Are they capable of maintaining smoothly operational processes and to troubleshoot potential breakdowns proactively? Are we willing to risk it? Even a single mistake?

We should ask if we trust our engineers to have the needed capability to properly monitor and control their processes to prevent accidents. Any one who has purchased anything made in Iran is bound to understand that quality control and safety, to our Engineers, might as well be the suburbs of Ouagadougou. Any one who walks the streets has certainly heard the loud, omnipresent leaks from gas pipes coming from practically every house. Are we going to trust the work in the nuclear sector? Another Chernobyl anyone?

We should ask if the clandestine nature of the program as well as the global sanctions has allowed our planners and purchasing managers the flexibility to procure standard components. Do we feel safe with all the possible second hand junk and the critical components which have not been rigorously tested for proper reliability? I can go on but I will stop.

On the plus side, without worrying about mushroom clouds, and radiation poisoning, we can all then simply focus on methodically, gradually and indefinitely killing and tormenting one another using simple sticks, stones, swords, knives, jets, gun ships and other conventional weapons, and bombs

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Quest for graceful exits!

Shortly after my last post, I received a gentle admonition about my use of the word irony, to which I replied in kind. Then I began to think, as Shikibu would say, about the evanescence of things. Perhaps long after most of us are dead, buried and forgotten--along with our bruised egos, bigotry, solipsism, and our collective pettiness of spirits, some of our progenies will have been lucky enough to have encountered authors whose words capture the essence of the Human Condition.

Such authors are not rare. All cultures have their sages. But the problem lies in discovering them anew. That is one of the problems with wars, civil wars, insurgencies and such, and the dehumanization of the enemy which must inevitably chaperone them.

We define “us and them,” myopically and even more sadly, we then project backward in time. We end up in boxes, forcing others as well to retreat into their safe, defensible corners. Consequently, we come to think ourselves uniquely virtuous due to our own insular history and our enemies become savagely monstrous. We lose sight of our common grief, and our interchangeability.

We may be forced to do what needs to be done after all. Sometimes, there is no escaping the inevitable. But we must at least acknowledge the serenity with which all of us—honest, upright citizens of decent upbringing no doubt, go on to acquire a fondness for blood. The veneer of our civility, as an acquaintance was fond of saying, runs terribly thin.

I live with our problems in this rough neighborhood everyday and have not been blessed with the requisite self deception to be blinded to their consequences. Often though, I become despondent feeling there are no graceful exits possible.

Then I retreat into my cocoon and read some wise, long-dead Indian, Chinese, Hebrew, Persian or Arab thinkers. My ultimate escape, though, are the Greeks.

They have a way with things, those Greeks. I can never figure out how they managed to be so elegant. So, give the following piece a read and if you are not moved by the apparent humanity, and the proficiency in defying time and space, then I suggest therapy. Think about the consequences of “convulsions” as you read.

Here you go: one of my favorite sections of Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian War; an excerpt from his discussion of the Corcyrean Civil War:

10.29 The Corcyraeans, made aware of the approach of the Athenian fleet and of the departure of the enemy . . . slew such of their enemies as they laid hands on, dispatching afterwards, as they landed them, those whom they had persuaded to go on board the ships. Next they went to the sanctuary of Hera and persuaded about fifty men to take their trial, and condemned them all to death. The mass of the suppliants, who had refused to do so, on seeing what was taking place, slew each other there in the consecrated ground; while some hanged themselves upon the trees, and others destroyed themselves as they were severally able. During seven days. . . the Corcyraeans were engaged in butchering those of their fellow citizens whom they regarded as their enemies: and although the crime imputed was that of attempting to put down the democracy, some were slain also for private hatred, others by their debtors because of the moneys owed to them.

10.30 Death thus raged in every shape; and, as usually happens at such times, there was no length to which violence did not go; sons were killed by their fathers, and suppliants dragged from the altar or slain upon it; while some were even walled up in the temple of Dionysus and died there.

10.31 So bloody was the march of the revolution, and the impression which it made was the greater as it was one of the first to occur. Later on, one may say, the whole Hellenic world was convulsed; struggles being everywhere made by the popular chiefs to bring in the Athenians, and by the oligarchs to introduce the Spartans. In peace there would have been neither the pretext nor the wish to make such an invitation; but in war, with an alliance always at the command of either faction for the hurt of their adversaries and their own corresponding advantage, opportunities for bringing in the foreigner were never wanting to the revolutionary parties.

10.32 The sufferings which revolution entailed upon the cities were many and terrible, such as have occurred and always will occur, as long as the nature of mankind remains the same; though in a severer or milder form, and varying in their symptoms, according to the variety of the particular cases. In peace and prosperity, states and individuals have better sentiments, because they do not find themselves suddenly confronted with imperious necessities; but war takes away the easy supply of daily wants, and so proves a rough master, that brings most men's characters to a level with their fortunes.

10.33 Revolution thus ran its course from city to city, and the places which it arrived at last, from having heard what had been done before, carried to a still greater excess the refinement of their inventions, as manifested in the cunning of their enterprises and the atrocity of their reprisals. Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them. Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal ally; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question, inaptness to act on any. Frantic violence became the attribute of manliness; cautious plotting, a justifiable means of self-defense.

10.34 The advocate of extreme measures was always trustworthy; his opponent a man to be suspected. To succeed in a plot was to have a shrewd head, to divine a plot a still shrewder; but to try to provide against having to do either was to break up your party and to be afraid of your adversaries. In fine, to forestall an intending criminal, or to suggest the idea of a crime where it was wanting, was equally commended until even blood became a weaker tie than party, from the superior readiness of those united by the latter to dare everything without reserve; for such associations had not in view the blessings derivable from established institutions but were formed by ambition for their overthrow; and the confidence of their members in each other rested less on any religious sanction than upon complicity in crime. The fair proposals of an adversary were met with jealous precautions by the stronger of the two, and not with a generous confidence. Revenge also was held of more account than self-preservation.

10.35 Oaths of reconciliation, being only proffered on either side to meet an immediate difficulty, only held good so long as no other weapon was at hand; but when opportunity offered, he who first ventured to seize it and to take his enemy off his guard, thought this perfidious vengeance sweeter than an open one, since, considerations of safety apart, success by treachery won him the palm of superior intelligence. Indeed it is generally the case that men are readier to call rogues clever than simpletons honest, and are as ashamed of being the second as they are proud of being the first.

10.36 The cause of all these evils was the lust for power arising from greed and ambition; and from these passions proceeded the violence of parties once engaged in contention. The leaders in the cities, each provided with the fairest professions, on the one side with the cry of political equality of the people, on the other of a moderate aristocracy, sought prizes for themselves in those public interests which they pretended to cherish, and, recoiling from no means in their struggles for ascendancy engaged in the direst excesses; in their acts of vengeance they went to even greater lengths, not stopping at what justice or the good of the state demanded, but making the party caprice of the moment their only standard, and invoking with equal readiness the condemnation of an unjust verdict or the authority of the strong arm to glut the animosities of the hour. Thus religion was in honour with neither party; but the use of fair phrases to arrive at guilty ends was in high reputation. Meanwhile the moderate part of the citizens perished between the two, either for not joining in the quarrel, or because envy would not suffer them to escape.

10.37 Thus every form of iniquity took root in the Hellenic countries by reason of the troubles. The ancient simplicity into which honour so largely entered was laughed down and disappeared; and society became divided into camps in which no man trusted his fellow. To put an end to this, there was neither promise to be depended upon, nor oath that could command respect; but all parties dwelling rather in their calculation upon the hopelessness of a permanent state of things, were more intent upon self-defence than capable of confidence. In this contest the blunter wits were most successful. Apprehensive of their own deficiencies and of the cleverness of their antagonists, they feared to be worsted in debate and to be surprised by the combinations of their more versatile opponents, and so at once boldly had recourse to action: while their adversaries, arrogantly thinking that they should know in time, and that it was unnecessary to secure by action what policy afforded, often fell victims to their want of precaution.

10.38 Meanwhile Corcyra gave the first example of most of the crimes alluded to; of the reprisals exacted by the governed who had never experienced equitable treatment or indeed aught but insolence from their rulers--when their hour came; of the iniquitous resolves of those who desired to get rid of their accustomed poverty, and ardently coveted their neighbours' goods; and lastly, of the savage and pitiless excesses into which men who had begun the struggle, not in a class but in a party spirit, were hurried by their ungovernable passions. In the confusion into which life was now thrown in the cities, human nature, always rebelling against the law and now its master, gladly showed itself ungoverned in passion, above respect for justice, and the enemy of all superiority; since revenge would not have been set above religion, and gain above justice, had it not been for the fatal power of envy. Indeed men too often take upon themselves in the prosecution of their revenge to set the example of doing away with those general laws to which all alike can look for salvation in adversity, instead of allowing them to subsist against the day of danger when their aid may be required.

10.39 While the revolutionary passions thus for the first time displayed themselves in the factions of Corcyra, Eurymedon and the Athenian fleet sailed away; after which some five hundred Corcyraean exiles who had succeeded in escaping, took some forts on the mainland, and becoming masters of the Corcyraean territory over the water, made this their base to plunder their countrymen in the island, and did so much damage as to cause a severe famine in the town. They also sent envoys to Sparta and Corinth to negotiate their restoration; but meeting with no success, afterwards got together boats and mercenaries and crossed over to the island, being about six hundred in all; and burning their boats so as to have no hope except in becoming masters of the country, went up to Mount Istone, and fortifying themselves there, began to annoy those in the city and obtained command of the country.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Mothers, blushing and the gasp for air!

I tried to get away and escape for a few days—a black out period of sort-- from the news, the pictures, and some of the more difficult inanities I had read; an opportunity to catch up with friends and relatives as well.

I had a chance to converse with different women--some older, practicing and pious, a few coquettish divorcees, as well as the happy/unhappy married ones. Our moms were central to all our discussions as well as men. There were thoughtful moments, punctuated by the occasional loud, jovial chatter, and instants of subtle exchanges, discreet glances and even a few inevitable blushes.

Each night though the recurrent nightmares. A lot of that is going around lately. Mine involve hoods, leashes and this angel. Though not much of a connoisseur of religious icons, there are a couple of interesting juxtapositions of one of the more infamous photos here and here. I find this one in particular stunning. (link via this site) Feminization of a different order, you might say.

I don’t know about you, but I blush a lot. As a kid, it was a constant affair, though as I’ve grown older, it has become much more controlled. Blushes are interesting, don’t you think? There are a few famous ones I’ve read about.

Thrasymachus blushes in the first book of the Republic. Socrates makes him blush. Our wisest Athenian had a knack for that. Even the ambitious Alcibiades, I remember reading somewhere, credits Socrates for having been the only man to have made him blush. It might truly have been Socrates; though I suspect perhaps that the ancients had not forgotten how to blush.

I trust our good Classics Professor can enlighten us as to why! To do so, though, he would first have to know himself far better than he claims to know the ancients—Cleon excepted.

Hanson counsels the Bush administration to “apologize sincerely and forcefully once-- not gratuitously and zillions of times — for the rare transgression.”

But why? I wonder. Here is the real problem as he sees it:

We are confronted with the paradox that our new military's short wars rarely inflict enough damage on the fabric of a country to establish a sense of general defeat — or the humiliation often necessary for a change of heart and acceptance of change.

What am I missing? Is he not proposing one apology only for not having adequately humiliated the (not so) vanquished Iraqis since the efficient military machine worked too fast in the first place?

Under what circumstances would Victor Davis Hanson blush?

Or take this gem from sisu’s corner.

Arrested development
"From a psychological and anthropological point of view, what kind of culture produces human bombs, glorifies mass murderers, and supports humiliation-based revenge?" asks Phyllis Chesler in a FrontPage article. We would suggest it is a culture of arrested development. Writes Chesler:
According to Minnesota-based psychoanalyst and Arabist Dr. Nancy Kobrin, it is a culture in which shame and honor play decisive roles and in which the debasement of women is paramount.
While the search for honor and avoidance of shame are fundamental to being human, as we blogged here recently citing Dr. Peter F. Rowbotham's 1992 essay "The Importance of Being Noticed," being obsessed with honor and shame is associated with the psychological immaturity of adolescence. Chesler continues:
In an utterly fascinating and as-yet unpublished book, which I will be introducing, The Sheik's New Clothes: the Psychoanalytic Roots of Islamic Suicide Terrorism, Kobrin, and her Israeli co-author, counter-terrorism expert Yoram Schweitzer, describe barbarous family and clan dynamics in which children, both boys and girls, are routinely orally and anally raped by male relatives; infant males are sometimes sadistically over-stimulated by being masturbated; boys between the ages of 7 and 12 are publicly and traumatically circumcised; many girls are clitoridectomized; and women are seen as the source of all shame and dishonor and treated accordingly: very, very badly.
According to Dr. Kobrin, "The little girl lives her life under a communal death threat -- the honor killing." Both male and female infants and children are brought up by mothers [who are debased and traumatized women]. As such, all children are forever psychologically "contaminated" by the humiliated yet all-powerful mother. Arab and Muslim boys must disassociate themselves from her in spectacularly savage ways . . . In Kobrin’s view, the Israeli Jews may actually function as substitutes or scapegoats for an even more primal, hated/loved enemy: Woman.
We keep coming back to the same question: Is that all it really comes down to? An insecure man's fear of his own feelings towards women?

So aside from irony not being one sisu’s strong suit , am I to understand also that the war raging all around me --the political demands, territorial disputes, clashes of interests, conflicts over resources, etc,. all really come down to our loathing for our dominant mothers and our culture of honor and shame?!

What do you think? Does Sissy ever blush?

But I am still left with that vexing question: is this culture the reason most of the humiliating torture practices also involved forced feminization? Was it only a civilizing, selfless gesture to make the Arab Chauvinists learn what it feels like to be a woman? At least this writer (link via Instapundit) might think so:

I think men should know how women feel. If you look out on your own society and conclude it's a terrible thing to feel like a woman, you ought to do something to improve the lot of women.

I must say here that I do not think she is promoting torture to disabuse us of our misogyny; at least I would like to think not. She is toying with a theme that is addressed and developed at some length by Andrew Sullivan because of something an Arab man says in an interview quoted here and here. Sullivan writes:

But it's worth realizing that the nakedness and the sexual humiliation might be far more potent in a sexist, homophobic and patriarchal culture than in less sexually repressed societies. One of the most important things to remember about today's Muslim extremism is that it has taken what is the submission of women under Islam and turned it into a political pathology. Like most variants of fascism, it is deeply troubled by women's equality and by homosexuality. Hence the impact of these images could be psychologically devastating to many Iraqis - and far worse to those in countries where Islamism has made even deeper inroads. This was not simply a p.r. debacle; it was a p.r. catastrophe. And that in itself shows the enormous cultural gulf between where the West is now headed and where Islamism wants to take the Middle East.

So, the pictures of sexual humiliation and torture—that is, forced nudity, piling naked bodies on top of each other, sodomizing the defenseless, raping prisoners, hooding, parading, and leading naked bodies around on a dog leash—these all appear “more potent” to me because of my “sexism, homophobia and patriarchal culture” and of course also because of my “sexual repression?” Is that it?

Is that the official position of the best and the brightest nowadays? Does that work for women as well? Would the women of Okinawa really have an easier time of it had they been Germans? Or Americans?

Is this supposed heightened negative perception amongst us the uncouth really an indication of that “enormous gap” between our cultures that some of you should be proud of? Is torture involving sexual brutalities really more tolerable to you since some of you go skinny dipping and occasionally relax in a Sauna in the nudes? Are you really more accepting of these sadistic practices because some of you might have had a few more one night stands than the rest of us here?

What exactly, I wonder, might make Andrew Sullivan blush?

So, here I am, a man in a repressed, sexist and homophobic culture. And yes, in case you are wondering, I too have an overbearing mother I adore. Is that why I feel so depressed and repulsed these days? Really?

I do live in a closed society yes, but I am also asthmatic and occasionally find myself gasping for air. It sounds a lot like the sort of panting you hear from a dog next to the pavement, right at the moment when the inquisitive pooch insists on exploring and sniffing as the inattentive, impatient owner violently pulls on the leash to change pace and direction. The sound of that dog’s breathing always infuriates me.

I hate the feel of suffocation. I detest the struggle-- that helpless gasping for air. I despise the hood. I hate the leash. Might this have something to do with my empathy for the prisoners? Or the fact that quite possibly torture looms in the horizon for a lot of us? Must it really come down to your brilliant understanding of our cultures almost always determining the meaning of every one of my emotional reactions for you?

While we are at it: I value sight as well. I depend on my eyes. To live is to see. It is mostly what I see that makes me blush. But since some of you think you live in civilized societies, so beyond misogyny, patriarchy, homophobia, honor and shame, then by all means, share your secrets: What is it exactly that might make you blush?

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Rights, present, and future!

The global revulsion over the pictures of the abused Iraqis might offer an opportunity to
vigorously campaign to tackle the issue of torture in a host of countries with nasty track records. Let’s start with Iran for now. Neema does a wonderful job of starting it today. Quite a few people are rather disgusted with the UNHRC for not forcing the issue publicly of the treatment of Iranian dissidents, and our political prisoners. (the latest release also of Reporters without Borders.)

It is often quite disheartening to witness torture approached as simply just another form of competitive sport. One only boos the “opponent” reflexively and when one’s own team is caught red handed, then the usual unimaginative platitude, “hooray for our press, hooray for our chain of command, hooray for our religion, hooray for our lifestyle, hooray for our superiority,” and obviously hooray as well for our half sleepy conscious.

It doesn’t have to be so, but this sad approach always exacts a toll-- not always in the obvious ways you might think. There is a discreet way the rot seeps over the soul and the social life. I only wished some of you could live in Iran for a few weeks.

I hardly ever hear words such as curious, wonder, puzzle, amaze, baffle, delight, astonish, and awe used by anyone of us—not in the least positively, and it isn’t as if Persian lacks the concepts. There is collective amnesia of sorts, I suppose. It is as if the Spirit allowing us to have such an orientation in life no longer permeates our culture.

This has become a land of the cynics--the habitat of the know-it-alls: people unwilling to speak the truth, too numb to care, too dazed to ask, and as an old cantankerous professor used to say “unable to appear naked in public.” Not the forced kind of nudity of the molested Iraqis, mind you, but the sort of nakedness that exemplifies audacity in engaging others.

Not belligerence either for this is the one quality we all have in abundance here. What I am trying to communicate is the sort of nakedness which evinces the inner strength to declare one’s own weaknesses loudly and publicly, and then to go on to acknowledge the strengths of others. Those, after all, are the kind of attributes which allow us to engage positively with life, and to live it, reveling in pursuit of excellence—yes excellence, yet another one of those words one hardly ever hears in Iran these days.

Take the case of Professor Hashem Aghajari: He is languishing in jail and sentenced (again) to die. What was his crime? I don’t share his politics, or his beliefs. But it is worth asking: was he not supposed to be the best professor he could be? So he shared his best judgment with his pupils in that capacity. And for his efforts, he is jailed, tortured, and sentenced to die.

Or take Ahmad Batebi. He had been sentenced to death which was later commuted to 15 years; tortured, and in solitary confinement. Why? He was moved by the sense of decency and personal outrage over injuries sustained by a friend to hold up a bloody T-shirt. When the bounds of affection and personal loyalty become a crime punishable by death, would it then be a shock to have a society in which, Coldness, Cruelty, and Mammon, become the dominant deities?. (Petition for his release here.)

And there are many others like them. Why shouldn’t people want to be loud about expressing their disgust? Afraid of the consequences? Not wanting to rock the boat? Not wanting to give the “other side” ammunition? Not wanting to get in the way of the “inevitable march of history,” however that may be understood? Not wanting a perceived “lack of unity,” in the country of one’s birth, choice or affection to cause undue embarrassment? Or not to embolden the enemy (of day!)? Not wanting the religion of one’s choice to be seen deficient? Not wanting to get in the way of a “grand experiment,”—the quest to revive that ancient “Golden Age” of something or other? Or quite simply not wanting to pass on the opportunity to claim a new century or two?

The price though becomes atrociously high. Playing competitive sports with our cherished Rights creates a land with no discernable principles. The desire to cut the other side down to size creates a land of the midgets. The desire to always defend “one’s” own creates nothing worth defending. Our present, judging by some of the reactions in the blogosphere to the brutalities in Iraq, could be the dreadful future lurking for many outside this heartland of evil.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Vileness of Abu Ghuraib

We have all seen the pictures. Despicable and loathsome yes, but not too terribly shocking. Our Spirited Lady in Baghdad is justifiably in rage and her dentist fellow citizen as always clueless. Something about working constantly with disease, dirt and decay which might sadly have caused his expectations to sink to the level of his circumstances!

Most reassuringly, the unequivocal expression of outrage by a man in uniform surpasses in decency the pretentious prattle of our influential ideologue, Andrew Sullivan--the foremost expert in “Fisking,” (intentionally evocative, I suppose, though certainly not to be confused with that other despicable practice of fisting.) Sullivan glibly chooses to see in those infuriating pictures “mock torturing.” Go figure.

To Mr. Sullivan: come the next round of open battles for Human Rights and Dignity in Iran shortly, this is one man who will ignore your expressions of concern and of sympathy. Allies like you, unable to tell torture even when it smacks them square in the eyes, we do not need here.

Why I am not surprised? Well, how wars are waged do not come about in a vacuum. Just as the Jihadists choose strategies and tactics that are natural to their cultural milieu, and conduct themselves accordingly, the Cru-sadists too are, for lack of a better word, “culturally determined.”

Foreign policy and wars abroad, as the old cliché goes, are extension of domestic policy. There is a cultural background to the policies that are pursued in the Middle East, and to the way men and women conduct themselves outside American borders. Yes, America is incredibly diverse and its myriad subcultures a source of its vibrancy. But there is also symmetry to their affairs.

Why be surprised to see thousands incarcerated without due process and abused in the midst of a brutal war in Iraq, when in fact, millions continue to languish in jails in a prosperous America? Why should it be a shock to have some American guards abuse their Iraqi prisoners when in fact American citizens are not immune from abuse at the hands of their keepers?

That the guards are dumb enough to take pictures of their despicable behavior and pass it around proudly before some decent soldier, I presume, blew the whistle on them can only make sense within the context of a huge exhibitionist/voyeuristic sub-culture which comprises the animating force behind the ever flourishing porn industry in the States.

Whereas these soldiers could have had the opportunity to play out their fantasies in consensual ways, and in the privacy and safety of their own homes absent this war, now they get to roam around, lawlessly and lasciviously abusing the natives, hurting and humiliating men and women whose guilt or innocence has yet to be determined in a court of law.

That there is such a strong sexual element to this torture is natural in the context of a war a determining feature of which has always been sexual in nature. The pitch from the very beginning has been not only a battle between Good and Evil, but also a conflict between the Virile West vs. the Impotent East.

The conduct is natural for a culture whose law enforcement officials, before this war on terror, were petrified of the prospect of sexual, ritual cannibalism

Take a look at this Ledeen’s article, as an example. He is the one most transparent on the sexual dimension of this war. That some middle aged American can write such drivel is only logical in the context of a society which spends more on its bot-bellied, bald, and impotent citizens than on many others.

The joys of feeling entitled, don’t you think? The self indulgence and the delusion of the power to decide and declare appropriate use of resources, characters of life, modes of being, manners of commerce, conventions of exchange, and ways of thinking? And then the audacity and the scam to hide behind an entire nation. All verbal attacks on their despicable ways is an attack on America. To question their self serving myopia is to be Anti-American. What outrageous insolence!

The whole world is their oyster, but not all is well. Behind the façade of solid, happy citizens and normal lives, there exist some fundamental insecurities and fantasies manifest in fetishes involving dark skins.

So, why shouldn’t the picture of some woman with a cigarette in mouth, laughing at the limp dick, bound, hooded, and abused brown Iraqis , simulating homosexual sex be reassuring? Terribly comforting, don’t you think? Wasn’t this a part and parcel of this war from the very beginning?

No, without their war, none of this would have happened. Regardless of what the American Military chooses to do (or not) with those involved, this is the straw for me. I am becoming more convinced everyday that what passes as a war of Civilization and Barbarism is in fact nothing but a multi-pronged assault of old allies--the Cru-sadists, and the Jihadists--on everything I find decent about civilized life. The sooner the shadow of their murderous deeds is removed from our lives, the happier I become.