Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Uncertain Freedom

All I wanted to do was sleep; but there are only so many jumping camels to count before giving up. Lucky me, an enchanting surprise in the mailbox. A friend had been gracious enough to send quite a few hard to find poems.

Zbignew Herbert is always a joy. One of his more poignant works in particular got me thinking about our present predicament. Read carefully.

Report from a Besieged City (1982)

Too old to carry arms and fight like the others –

they graciously gave me the inferior role of chroniclerI record –
I don't know for whom – the history of the siege

I am supposed to be exact but I don't know when the invasion began
two hundred years ago in December in September perhaps yesterday

at dawn
everyone here suffers from a loss of the sense of time

all we have left is the place the attachment to the place
we still rule over the ruins of temples spectres of gardens and houses
if we lose the ruins nothing will be left

I write as I can in the rhythm of interminable weeks
monday: empty storehouses a rat became the unit of currency
tuesday: the mayor murdered by unknown assailants
wednesday: negotiations for a cease-fire the enemy has imprisoned

our messengers
we don't know where they are held that is the place of torture
thursday: after a stormy meeting a majority of voices rejected
the motion of the spice merchants for unconditional surrender
friday: the beginning of the plague saturday: our invincible defender
N.N. committed suicide sunday: no more water we drove back
an attack at the eastern gate called the Gate of the Alliance

all of this is monotonous I know it can't move anyone

I avoid any commentary I keep a tight hold on my emotions I write

about the facts
only they it seems are appreciated in foreign markets
yet with a certain pride I would like to inform the world
that thanks to the war we have raised a new species of children
our children don’t like fairy tales they play at killing
awake and asleep they dream of soup of bread and bones
just like dogs and cats

in the evening I like to wander near the outposts of the City
along the frontier of our uncertain freedom
I look at the swarms of soldiers below their lights
I listen to the noise of drums barbarian shrieks
truly it is inconceivable the City is still defending itself
the siege has lasted a long time the enemies must take turns
nothing unites them except the desire for our extermination
Goths the Tartars Swedes troops of the Emperor regiments of the

who can count them
the colors of their banners change like the forest on the horizon
from delicate bird's yellow in spring through green through red to
winter's black

and so in the evening released from facts I can think
about distant ancient matters for example our
friends beyond the sea I know they sincerely sympathize
they send us flour lard sacks of comfort and good advice
they don’t even know their fathers betrayed us
our former allies at the time of the second Apocalypse
their sons are blameless they deserve our gratitude therefore we are

they have not experienced a siege as long as eternity
those struck by misfortune are always alone
the defenders of the Dalai Lama the Kurds the Afghan mountaineers

now as I write these words the advocates of conciliation
have won the upper hand over the party of inflexibles
a normal hesitation of moods fate still hangs in the balance

cemeteries grow larger the number of defenders is smaller
yet the defense continues it will continue to the end
and if the City falls but a single man escape
she will carry the City within himself on the roads of exile
he will be the Citywe look in the face of hunger the face of fire face of death
worst of all – the face of betrayal

and only our dreams have not been humiliated

Credit: Excerpted from Report from The Besieged City and Other Poems. Translated by John Carpenter and Bogdona Carpenter. Ecco Press

Herbert’s City can be anywhere anytime. Take your pick. The spice merchants and their intellectual advisors, if outside the gates, inevitably counsel ferocity, brutality and more humiliation. If on the inside, however, their counsel is often compromise, and always the easy out.

In the long run, they might have done more to revolutionize life in and around the city. But during intervals of upheaval and turmoil, they are useless. Spice merchants make poor Saviors. And even more atrocious revolutionaries. And there are good reasons for that.

Hence the real paradox of American Mesopotamian expedition. And the dilemma of a large segment of the Iranian opposition. One and the same really.

No Romance.

“Join us,” and “help humiliate others unflinchingly.” The Battle cry in Iraq. They even do slums now. I thought even in the Homeland ghettos were off limits. Oh right, 911 changed everything.

In Iran, the shoe is in the other foot. The prospect of a more attractive life has a lure, yes, but only if the ones doing the humiliating can be forced to relinquish their hold on power.

But the same desires animating some of the most disgruntled, and loudest opponents of this Regime—the ones reading assorted American manuals on “How To Avoid Life In Two & One-half Easy Steps,” while hoping for quick and painless “liberation” via declarations of Messrs. Pahlavi ,Yazdi, et al.—those desires also preclude actively engaging others in order to achieve expected goals.

Some of those people can yell as loudly as they can how our “Iranian daughters and sisters” are being sold to those “lascivious” Arabs outside of our borders (a constant theme) but everyone inside has a clear view of who exactly (and of what nationality) roams the streets in big shiny cars looking for “action” everyday and in what neighborhoods.

I am not in the mood to translate any of our moving Persian exhortations. So we are going to have to settle for some of the more famous ones (hopefully) familiar to most. You recall hearing any of this anywhere?

Give me a shiny BMW or give me death!

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with legally purchased vodka tonic!

It is better to torment and humiliate the helpless and the vulnerable on your feet than live a lifetime on your knee!

Like I said…simply no romance!

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

The House of Rumor!

On my way home tonight after having mingled and chatted with a number of different people, I got to thinking about Ovid. He has a magnificent passage I’ll tell you about. But first, a friend’s acute observations about my previous post:

I had to look at Mr. Yazdi's background, and wanted to make a few comments.

1- October 1st is around the corner, and the populace has experienced enough disillusionments, and I believe that it is best not to get their hopes too high. It is typically to the advantage of the circles of power to have a disillusioned populace.

2- Mr. Yazdi's background has one constant theme: He has been surprisingly opportunistic when it comes to his investments' history! Almost invariably, the investments have happened after a crisis in a country (e.g. Iran after khordad 42, Russia after collapse ofthe Soviet Union, Iraq after the collapse of theregime, etc.) and/or after some major changes in Tax laws (Florida and CA. after major tax breaks to Aviation companies, Belgium after contracts betweenPahlavis and them, etc.)

3- Finally, it is difficult to believe that such investments could have been successful (during the time frames mentioned in Mr. Yazdi's background), unless there were major connections (party) to people of influence (primarily in the governmental securityagencies and may be even corrupt politicians.)

The above comments, by no means, are intended to belittle the professional success of Mr. Yazdi. However, much remains to be proven as to how he has managed to get major companies (started and operated)during such turbulent times. We should take a look at Iraq, and find only one example of a company that is not connected to the circles of power (e.g. securityagencies), and able to operate a business in Iraq!

Your comments are correct in saying that we should not consider them idiots, …[but] take a look at the background in CONTEXT. He must be a shrewd business person with a lot of connections to have been able to do what he is claiming. I'd like to find out more about the details (where the devil resides.)

Tehran is abuzz with excited whispers. You can’t avoid feeling that a wave has started. Of course, we all know our dear rulers are not going to disappear simply because Mr. Yazdi has decided to grace us with his presence. And this gets me even more irritated with the proverbial Toms and Daisies of this world.

Fitzgerald had them pegged. Aren’t they really the callous ones who don’t even show up for the funerals? You don’t start something if there are no viable plans in works to see it successfully to the end. Which makes me even more suspicious of an October surprise in the making. No matter though; a bold initiative nonetheless. Such is life. One has to start from somewhere!

We’ll see what happens. Can’t trust much of anything these days. Somehow, I am becoming convinced that I live too terribly close to Ovid’s “House of Rumour,”

There is a place at the centre of the World, between the zones of earth, sea, and sky, at the boundary of the three worlds. From here, whatever exists is seen, however far away, and every voice reaches listening ears. Rumour lives there, choosing a house for herself on a high mountain summit, adding innumerable entrances, a thousand openings, and no doors to bar the threshold. It is open night and day: and is all of sounding bronze. All rustles with noise, echoes voices, and repeats what is heard. There is no peace within: no silence anywhere. Yet there is no clamour, only the subdued murmur of voices, like the waves of the sea, if you hear them far off, or like the sound of distant thunder when Jupiter makes the dark clouds rumble.

Crowds fill the hallways: a fickle populace comes and goes, and, mingling truth randomly with fiction, a thousand rumours wander, and confused words circulate. Of these, some fill idle ears with chatter, others carry tales, and the author adds something new to what is heard. Here is Credulity, here is rash Error, empty Delight, and alarming Fear, sudden Sedition, and Murmurings of doubtful origin. Rumour herself sees everything that happens in the heavens, throughout the ocean, and on land, and inquires about everything on earth.

Monday, September 27, 2004

LaLa Land: the exuberance!

There were above average number of white attires in our city yesterday and relatively decent size gatherings and small protests last night in front of the University of Tehran, and “24 Esfand” street with (tame) disturbances and scuffles along the way involving the Basijis, and various other elements of our security apparatus. BBC had a report on the events. (Farsi) And this in Iranmania among some of the few other outlets which covered the events. I don’t think the medias have accurately reflected the general mood of euphoria, excitement and trepidations evident in our city.

The exuberance has everything to do with one Mr. Ahura Yazdi, a man who seems to have popped out of nowhere. With a promise of swift return on the 1st of October (some backpedaling for now!) and a quick, peaceful and painless end to the reign of our ruling clergy, Mr. Yazdi has managed to capture the imagination of a relatively large segment of our population, considering the short span of his activism.

Of course, so too has he managed to become the object of wrath, scorn, derision and laughter among an even larger segment of our public.

I think the Yazdi phenomena and some of the different reactions evident among Iranians might offer observers a sense for some of the cultural limitations which facilitated the establishment over 25 years ago of the Islamic Regime and the continuation of its rule since.

To get a sense for the issues I try to get at, I would like to highlight the reactions of a few bloggers I read frequently. Indulge me please, and forgive my sweeping generalizations and the caricatures. Yes, I know better, but I would like to make a point.

Note first the attitude of an outsider, Diane Warth of Karmalised as a frame of reference. I choose Diane because she basically has the same relation with her own society as we do with ours. She is disenchanted with US government policies-- both internal and foreign, and exudes a profound sense of anger and disappointment. Her general misgivings about the present direction of American society is something we intuitively understand. She is not all that happy with her fellow citizens either and just like Iranians, she too knows how to use invectives effectively.

So Diane comes to confront one Mr. Ahura Yazdi. But what does she do?

She starts digging. She establishes connections. Asks myriad why questions. Wants to know the significance of dates. And so she goes on and on much like the famed energizer bunny.

And what do we do? We immediately start belittling the fellow, wanting to find signs of his mental disabilities and personal shortcomings. The older, more renowned writer picks a rambling speech of Mr. Yazdi, to prove his case. The younger one picks a series of “stupid” one liners to prove hers. The more noteworthy expat activist professional translates the ramblings, further painting a portrait of a mentally unstable idiot in action. And a thoughtful one with a more nuanced approach still manages to find the man borderline nutcase, and a further proof of our cultural backwardness.

I spent a couple of days recently in front of the Satellite TV in a friend’s house closely watching Mr. Yazdi and listening to some of the discussions. I too noted all the rude insults, the sheepish praises, the expressed hopes and false hopes, but came away with a rather different set of impressions. For the record, Mr. Yazdi struck me as a classic “foreign” businessman, single minded, nuanced, pushing some right buttons, avoiding dangerous ones , and generally as sane as any of us come in these unsettling times.

He is a royalist, yes. And you know by know that I have no use for kings and queens (well Queen Tomyris excepted!) But he strikes me as someone with a very well considered plan (as well considered as any foreign PsyOp destabilization operation ever gets!) with quite an improvisational, dynamic approach in the classic (American) sense. (I am willing to be proved wrong on this. But just an educated guess for now)

But an idiot he is not. I don’t think so any way. So why are so many people ready to think about him in such way?

In one sense, the reaction has been the hallmark of “modernity,” in Iran. Ever since Iranian chattering classes came to notice the Order, the industrial and technological advances and the political freedoms we have come to associate with the West, they began to pose the question in terms of “why aren't we more like them?”

A perpetual tug of war follows; an enduring love-hate relation. Yet, the answer in some ways has always had a large doze of “because most everyone here is an idiot,” component. And the political discourse has frozen in the mold since.

The peasants are superstitious and idiotic. The rulers have been idiots. Those fighting for change are idiots. Those who resist change are idiots. Religious folk are idiots. The secularists are idiots. The rich and powerful are idiots. The poor and disposed are idiots. In short any one who is not like me, doesn’t think, walk or talk like me—that person too is an idiot, a liar, and probably a charlatan and a hoax. Can you imagine, 25 different networks for a small community of expats. Dot the i's.

Massive social engineering and near universal individual metamorphoses have been on the agenda of practically everyone in our “society of idiots” since the Constitutional revolution. The pitch is: think big, dream big, change big. Or you risk succumbing to the lure of the idiot within.

In short, a tendency to think ideal and avoid the real. The dreamers of beautiful Dreams, who dismiss all else as ugly, belittling everything only to settle for the grotesque. The inhabitants of an insane sort of maximalist bubble who end up almost always settling for the minimal. The hypercritical perfectionists who destroy well but build very little.

Truth to tell, I too struggle constantly with this charming disposition.

Look, sometime it is difficult to have satisfactory answers. IWe all know what it is to be angry, disillusioned, and disenchanted with less than stellar record in our achievements. But so long as we struggle with the “right,” questions, at least there might be a chance of beginning to come up with some alternative solution to our present predicament.

Yes, a few thousands saw the picture of Mr. Khomeini on the moon a few years back, overzealous to believe in the promises of a Savior. I was there when the folk were looking towards the sky. I have vivid memories of the episode. I didn’t see anything then. But in my first astronomy class a few years later I did chuckle briefly when I encountered the cartoon of that face on the moon people have been seeing for centuries. Look up any standard textbook and see for yourselves.

But isn’t it too easy to always see “naiveté,” and “cluelessness?” Isn’t it too easy to always go for the assumption of baser instincts? To be the perpetual explorer of defects? The seeker of personal weaknesses? To always reach for the charge of “abnormal?”

Take a look at this resume and the background. Must one see only an idiot here to disagree with the fellow? Isn’t it possible to engage an adversary without simplemindedness and coarseness of spirit? A tendency to both always underestimate one’s interlocutors, while also exaggerating the powers of enemies…no rhyme or reason.

In the next post, I will attempt to articulate a series of cultural obsessions that we--both the opponents as well as the supporters of Mr. Yazdi-- share. The same obsessions, mind you, that find slightly different manifestations in various forms. The sort of obsessions which continue to cause irreparable damage to the prospect of change here while wreaking havoc on all prospects for saner, more civil life even under this Islamic Regime.

Thursday, September 23, 2004


A wise friend and a perpetual loyal thorn in the side on all matters relating to our favorite women both real and mythological has sent a note. He now claims to have been in some way-- too bawdy and inconceivable to utter in present company –involved with our beloved Queen Tomyris in some past life. But more importantly, he thought us remiss in having excluded Timon of Athens from the previous post. And right he is.

I think some of my gentle readers would have opted for the last two appearances of Alcibiades in the final scene or perhaps even that of Flavius. My choice today, though, is the furious Timon of Act 4, Scene 3. Be an active reader and imagine the following incorporated as you see fit:

[Woods and cave, near the seashore.]

[Enter TIMON, from the cave]

O blessed breeding sun, draw from the earth
Rotten humidity; below thy sister's orb
Infect the air! Twinn'd brothers of one womb,
Whose procreation, residence, and birth,
Scarce is dividant, touch them with several fortunes;
The greater scorns the lesser: not nature,
To whom all sores lay siege, can bear great fortune,
But by contempt of nature.
Raise me this beggar, and deny 't that lord;
The senator shall bear contempt hereditary,
The beggar native honour.
It is the pasture lards the rother's sides,
The want that makes him lean. Who dares, who dares,
In purity of manhood stand upright,
And say 'This man's a flatterer?' if one be,
So are they all; for every grise of fortune
Is smooth'd by that below: the learned pate
Ducks to the golden fool: all is oblique;
There's nothing level in our cursed natures,
But direct villany. Therefore, be abhorr'd
All feasts, societies, and throngs of men!
His semblable, yea, himself, Timon disdains:
Destruction fang mankind! Earth, yield me roots!


Who seeks for better of thee, sauce his palate
With thy most operant poison! What is here?
Gold? yellow, glittering, precious gold? No, gods,
I am no idle votarist: roots, you clear heavens!
Thus much of this will make black white, foul fair,
Wrong right, base noble, old young, coward valiant.
Ha, you gods! why this? what this, you gods? Why, this
Will lug your priests and servants from your sides,
Pluck stout men's pillows from below their heads:
This yellow slave
Will knit and break religions, bless the accursed,
Make the hoar leprosy adored, place thieves
And give them title, knee and approbation
With senators on the bench: this is it
That makes the wappen'd widow wed again;
She, whom the spital-house and ulcerous sores
Would cast the gorge at, this embalms and spices
To the April day again. Come, damned earth,
Thou common whore of mankind, that put'st odds
Among the route of nations, I will make thee
Do thy right nature.

And do read Mr. Hanson’s article here and consider carefully the Periclean distinction he highlights between citizens and individuals. Think about various ways our societies normally benefit from acknowledging this crucial difference. I’ll tell you why I think this important as I continue speculating in my next post about Mr. Ahura Yazdi’s reception in our marvel of a LaLa Land.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Oracles & Happiness

I have been wondering how it is that certain men always manage to misinterpret oracles and/or come to ignore sound advice. The reason for my preoccupation has been a few exchanges of late with my little sister about happiness. Why is it so difficult, these days, to be happy? Has happiness always been this elusive?

Mammon or Socrates?

Take Croesus of Lydia, as an example. Yes, that “rich as Croesus” one.

His defeat at the hand of Cyrus the Great is one of the more infamous recorded instances of the consequences of having misinterpreted an oracle.

“If you attack, you will destroy a mighty kingdom,” the oracle of Delphi had diplomatically cautioned.

Did he listen? Oops! The wrong kingdom!

One can’t be sure about his fate. But at least in one version of events narrated by Herodotus, he is reported to have cautioned Cyrus about attacking the lovely Queen Tomyris of Massageti. Does Cyrus listen?

Tomyris sends a message to Cyrus:

"King of the Medes, cease to press this enterprise, for you cannot know if what you are doing will be of real advantage to you. Be content to rule in peace your own kingdom, and bear to see us reign over the countries that are ours to govern. As, however, I know you will not choose to hearken to this counsel, since there is nothing you less desirest than peace and quietness, come now, if you are so mightily desirous of meeting the Massagetai in arms, leave your useless toil of bridge-making; let us retire three days' march from the river bank, and do you come across with your soldiers; or, if you like better to give us battle on your side the stream, retire yourself an equal distance."

The Persian chiefs, as is often the case in these matters, are gung-ho. Croesus, however, is a different matter,

"Oh! my king! I promised you long since, that, as Zeus had given me into your hands, I would, to the best of my power, avert impending danger from your house. Alas! my own sufferings, by their very bitterness, have taught me to be keen-sighted of dangers. If you deem yourself an immortal, and your army an army of immortals, my counsel will doubtless be thrown away upon you. But if you feel yourself to be a man, and a ruler of men, lay this first to heart, that there is a wheel on which the affairs of men revolve, and that its movement forbids the same man to be always fortunate.”

The actual debate-- again normal-- is over whether to let the queen cross to the Persian side, or to advance to the other side. Cyrus settles for the attack option--a combination of cunning and brutality.

Illusions of immortality are difficult to dispel, aren’t they?

At first, great success for the Persian. Persians under Cyrus “slaughtered great multitude” capturing “a large number of prisoners,” including Tomyris’ son. She sends another messenger,

You bloodthirsty Cyrus, pride not yourself on this poor success: it was the grape-juice---which, when you drink it, makes you so mad, and as you swallow it down brings up to your lips such bold and wicked words---it was this poison by which you ensnared my child, and so overcame him, not in fair open fight. Now hear what I advise, and be sure I advise you for your good. Restore my son to me and get you from the land unharmed, triumphant over a third part of the host of the Massagetai. Refuse, and I swear by the sun, the sovereign lord of the Massagetai, bloodthirsty as you are, I will give you your fill of blood."

The rest, as they say, is history. Let’s hear the account Herodotus offers about the aftermath of the battle:

The greater part of the army of the Persians was destroyed and Cyrus himself fell, after reigning nine and twenty years. Search was made among the slain by order of the queen for the body of Cyrus, and when it was found she took a skin, and, filling it full of human blood, she dipped the head of Cyrus in the gore, saying, as she thus insulted the corpse, "I live and have conquered you in fight, and yet by you am I ruined, for you took my son with guile; but thus I make good my threat, and give you your fill of blood."

Plutarch also reports a fascinating exchange between Solon and Croesus about happiness. A Coesus, mind you, who is “decked with every possible rarity and curiosity, in ornaments of jewels, purple, and gold, that could make a grand and gorgeous spectacle of him,” in a court with “great many nobles richly dressed, and proudly attended with a multitude of guards and footboys.” Croesus wants Solon to tell him “if ever he had known a happier man than he.”

Solon, of course being Solon, doesn’t respond in the expected manner, much to the chagrin of Croesus.

"What," said Croesus, angrily, "and dost not thou reckon us amongst the happy men at all?" Solon, unwilling either to flatter or exasperate him more, replied, "The gods, O king, have given the Greeks all other gifts in moderate degree; and so our wisdom, too, is a cheerful and a homely, not a noble and kingly wisdom; and this, observing the numerous misfortunes that attend all conditions, forbids us to grow insolent upon our present enjoyments, or to admire any man's happiness that may yet, in course of time, suffer change. For the uncertain future has yet to come, with every possible variety of fortune; and him only to whom the divinity has continued happiness unto the end we call happy; to salute as happy one that is still in the midst of life and hazard, we think as little safe and conclusive as to crown and proclaim as victorious the wrestler that is yet in the ring." After this, he was dismissed, having given Croesus some pain, but no instruction.

The wiser ones among the ancient Persians seem, in retrospect, to have concurred with Solon.

Zarathushtra asked Ahura Mazda: 'O Ahura Mazda, most beneficent Spirit, Maker of the material world, thou Holy One!'When one of the faithful departs this life, where does his soul abide on that night?'Ahura Mazda answered:It takes its seat near the head, singing the Ushtavaiti Gatha and proclaiming happiness: "Happy is he, happy the man, whoever he be, to whom Ahura Mazda gives the full accomplishment of his wishes!"

What should our wishes be? Who are we to be? Who are we, really?

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Les Femmes Iraniennes!

Some background information about Marjane Satrapi thanks to our Francophone bloggers, Vahid and Kaveh, and ultimately Pedram for the initial nudge in their direction. And, of course, tidbits of Satrapi wits:

« En fait, nous les femmes iraniennes, on n’est pas des mauviettes: la femme de ménage de ma mère est loin d’être opprimée: elle a mis son mari à la porte. Et moi-même, combien d’hommes j’ai giflé dans la rue après m’être fait insulter...

Il y a un autre point que je voulais souligner: tant de gens en Europe ont une véritable vénération pour le Chah. Pour moi le Chah était un salaud »

Salaud, salad, bastard; le Chah, le Chat, what’s the difference?

Monday, September 20, 2004

Esther’s Legacy

Via, the news of the publication of the much anticipated and long overdue, Esther’s Children: A Portrait of Iranian Jews. With Rosh Hashanah just behind us, this book makes for a potentially wonderful belated gift for the procrastinators everywhere.

Some photographs here.

One of the oldest communities in this Plateau with a rich history and considerable contribution to our civilization. Unfortunately, a community that, akin to the other ancient inhabitants of this land-- the beloved and highly respected Zoroastrians, has been dwindling in number for years.

Their history goes back to the 6th century B.C.E. Life hasn’t always been all that easy. Along with the usual joys; there have been the customary shares of sorrows, pogroms, forced conversions and such. Still worth to remember: the largest community in this area outside of Israel.

There is a magnificent tradition of Judeo Persian literature which has been much neglected. The English speakers can get a sense for the rich heritage through another recently published book (2000), In Queen Esther’s Garden: An Anthology of Judeo-Persian Literature

Some years ago, there was an attempt to explore the considerable mutual influence between the larger Jewish and Persian communities. We had some remarkably valuable scholarship published in the first volume of Irano-Judaica: Studies Relating to the Jewish Contacts with Persian Culture throughout the Ages.

Then a period of unabashed antipathy and mistrust along with far less flattering scholarship with each volume, I suppose. (I have only examined the first volume in any detail. There are now four I think) Much work remains to be done, both in defusing the tensions, re-establishing trust/ties and continuing the line of inquiry into the heritage of Persian Jews which would enrich our understanding of the past considerably.

In the meanwhile, it remains a puzzle why despite the existence of so many manuscripts, records, and texts, this area of considerable importance continues to remain unexplored and neglected by the broader academic community.

Sunday, September 19, 2004


A simple experimental short story for you, The Last Goal just out in the multi-lingual on-line magazine CafeDiverso. (the Spanish version "El último gol")

The Spain based CaféDiverso strives to bring readers real life stories from all over the world “to explore cultural differences.” The aim is “to promote awareness, empathy, understanding and interaction between people of different cultures, to bridge the cultural gaps between very different societies.”

Be sure to visit CafeDiverso regularly and expect great many interesting stories from all the little corners of our burning planet.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

What Mystery?

The folk at published a piece from NewStandard, Motive for Baghdad Helicopter Massacre a Mystery by Brian Dominick. And here is the Independent’s piece on the contradictory reactions from the U.S.G. to shooting into a crowd and killing a journalist among others.

Not much of a “mystery,” of course, if we look hard enough.

Here is William Kristol’s recommendations on how to win the war in Iraq published in his article, Of Mice and Men on May 24,2004. Such a massacre is exactly what he wanted to see and apparently the pilot has obliged him:

(3) The president orders combatant commanders to move aggressively to see to it that killers of Americans are killed, that those who aid those killers are held responsible, and that the insurgents are crushed. He might add that any site where Americans are attacked will be regarded as a combat zone, and anyone who chooses to go there to celebrate will be subject to attack.

This is what millions wanted and still support. Stop playing dumb. Live with it or put a stop to it.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

About Beslan

What is it about Beslan? It haunts, and infuriates, leaving us dazed or baffled although practically every one of the impulses, deliberations and miscalculations resulting in this calamity can be accounted for. I have been trying to avoid discussing Beslan for fear of sounding like an absolute lunatic.

Is it Islam? Of course it is. At least a particularly odious strand of Islam even when overtly generous! “Who are we trying to kid?” I am thinking. The Beslan barbarity is a reminder of the sort of dystopia awaiting us if the Islamists succeed. The stakes are high indeed.

And then there was a child crying under my window this evening, shouting at the top of his lungs: “Divaneh, divaneh, nazan mano.” Or roughly translated, “maniac, don’t hit me.” A child of no more than 5 or 6 profoundly perturbed about being battered. Children have been growing on me slowly for some time now. Shortly after my sister’s first born.

There is a 4th grader who has been my “advisor” on children’s affairs. The first time I saw her couple of years ago, I was astounded by her language proficiency and logic. When she first entered my house shortly afterward, as I was busy greeting her parents, she got busy sifting through the books stacked on my desk--later wanting to know how the little prince sounded in French, and what to make of those “weird” Greek Alphabet, or trying to mimic “correctly” Arabic pronunciation and asking whether I had any more stories like the one about the boa in the hat she could read.

She memorizes anything she looks at and absorbs absolutely everything, words and images. She is temperamental with an almost innate sense of fairness and right or wrong.

She is astute about differentiating friend from foe and how to win over the neutrals. And although quite good at masking her intentions, she inevitably always “confesses” to why really she is being a pout. It is uncanny.

Her favorite game with me is being an airplane. She lies stomach down on the couch, hands spread, and legs tightly together and after we make the customary “safety” checks—shirt being sufficiently sturdy / soft on her delicate bones and my grip on the seed of her pants behind her knees sufficiently comfortable—we go for a cruise. When properly mischievous, she insists on being a fighter bomber.

With a couple of apples, oranges or other fruits of the season in two hands, we go on a “bombing run,” around the position of his brother’s toys or sometimes even his brother. All this, even though she throws up and cries herself to sleep the night before every one of her father’s frequent flights on business.

I talk about her because of yesterday. She loves learning. She adores school. But last night she was telling me that if I were a true friend I would break something over her head so she doesn’t have to start school this year. I looked at her huge, beautiful eyes and her delicate body hunched and simply knew what this was all about. She too had been touched by Beslan.

When I used “daze” and “baffle” at the beginning, I wasn’t playing clueless. Look, it is easy to be sanctimonious about such a brutality. But, at the end of the day, isn’t it really all about inhibitions? And apathy, coarseness of spirit, carelessness and helplessness?

Why is it that I didn’t rush down to beat the living daylight out of the bastard who made the young boy cry in agony under my window? Why is it that everyday I pass by all the pathetic, poverty stricken street children peddling in this land of obscene expenditures only to occasionally hand them money when “touched” by “something extraordinary?” Why is it that we tolerate child abuse, child prostitution, widespread hunger, and systematic killing of children everyday?

The World Food program ran an advert on BBC the other day. Hunger kills 776 children every hour on the hour, every day. Do the math. Seven Hundred Seventy Six.

Sometimes, silly stupid questions become an obsession with me. Look at the conflict that the majority of us tend to focus on compulsively because it might be “closer” to home-- the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Why is it that children in buses and pizza parlors are blown to bits, incinerated and dismembered while it is not “O.K” to serve their soulless bodies in a deep dish pizza? We eat almost every thing else that moves, don’t we?

Why is it that some get vasculitis when a cartoon of Sharon drinking the blood of children shows up in print somewhere, but the same people can stomach hearing or watching children’s blood being spilled practically everyday on the streets of the occupied territories? And they always insist on a “firmer” policy, don’t they? It is in the news everywhere, isn’t it?

I have been avoiding Chechnya for years. I don’t understand it. I was terribly disgruntled with various “national liberation” movements to begin with. But they are not going to go away simply because I don’t wish to deal with the questions We have the basic facts in front of us and we can all do the math. Prior to Beslan, the “score” stood at 80,000 Chechens to 4000 Russians. Can you count that? 80,000 out of a population of a little over a million, I think.

That is roughly equivalent of 5.6 million Iranians, 18 million Americans, or 80 million Indians. How many of those 80,000-- are you willing to wager--were children? Had you heard of the “black widows” some 10 years ago, before crozny, when the same Jihadists were running around being the same murderous miscreants they have always been?

But then I think about “us” again. Of all the many years that we—the Persians—have abused our own various national minorities and in particular the Kurds—and I use abuse here to encompass all of our various shameful deeds, withholding oil money for regional development, preventing them from studying their own beautiful, ancient language in schools and universities, putting their children to work in backbreaking construction jobs, the occasional de facto economic blockades, as well bombing their houses and cities , tormenting their families, and torturing their activists, never once, to my knowledge, have they ventured to seek us in “our” cities or schools in order to kill and to avenge their mistreatment.

Why not? What is it that holds them back? They are both Muslims and an abused national minority, aren’t they? What causes the inhibitions? How long will it last?

I know the Chechens have been brutalized, but what kind of a society will they create even if “liberated” from the brutal yoke of the Russians? What did the poor Ossetians ever do to deserve this? What control do these wretched Ossetians ever have over the decisions of the “reformed” KGB strongman? Or those of an ex-Communist Party apparatchik, Yeltsin? Did they help Stalin forcibly exile to Serbia all those Chechens years ago? Did they exert any kind of an influence on the Tsars before that?

Why is it that it is O.K. to take children hostages, to torment them, to force nudity upon them, to imprison them in a hot gym, to starve and dehydrate them, to shoot them in the back, give them urine-soaked cloths to suck on, to scar them permanently for life, and yet it wasn’t “acceptable” to feed them some barbequed teacher?

What held them back?

Regardless of the “tribal” idiosyncrasies involved, the various Jihadists have a very particular notion of a dystopia they try to impose on the majority as well as specific means in mind to get them there.. Every one of their deeds is a harbinger of what they wish to bring us. And they must be resisted, and methodically defeated, their ideas discredited and their methods repudiated.

Here in Iran, for instance, the first sign of their activism was spraying acid on the faces of women deemed improperly dressed according to their understanding of the Islamic etiquette. They are doing their best to derive women out of public spheres in Iraq, and we know how they forced women to retreat inside imprisoning them in various Afghan homes, and denying them education. And well Saudi Arabia has always been Saudi Arabia. So now they ride the wave of the agonizing misery of some Chechen women to open a new front in their tribal war of hate, and ruin.

The fight involving women and children is a central battle front. Women are the primary educators of children. Aside from suffocating their teachers and caretakers or killing and imprisoning them, what else do they promise children?

Whether it is by killing them in a school in Beslan, or brainwashing them and destroying their humanity in various religious madresas in Pakistan or in other intellectually stifling places like Saudi Arabia and Iran or by distracting them from learning in France, or by killing the joys of learning through fear in the likes of my little friend in Tehran thousand of kilometer away from Beslan, they have very specific objectives in mind.

What do they really want?

A new vicious tribalism, widespread fear, pacifism and inaction, I think. And in this goal they are united with those authoritarians who acknowledge “weakness” only to distract from the issues of right and wrong. The authoritarians whose weak case is being bolstered further by natural allies who never tire of talking “Carthaginian” tactics hint, hint, “Jacksonian Economy of Force” nudge, nudge, and nuclear weapons as means of forcing “cultural adjustment” on Arab lands, wink, wink!

Both groups feed on each other’s energy while complementing the other’s activity. They must know that not all of us have the desire or the stomach for collective retribution and widespread murder and mayhem. They want the majority of us out of the way so they can do what they want. And they must be resisted, and forced to retreat.

A lot easier said than done, though.

At the end of the day I think YES, in a sense, it has everything to do with Islam. I was wracking my brain trying to think “devouring of children” theme in mythology.

I stopped reading Russia related material years ago. So much to read and so little time. I couldn’t think of anything on that front. But there was all the usual Greek stuff about Kronus, and the various child eating dragons in the Japanese and Chinese literature as well as the Indian Demon which I think Krishna slays. But what about us?

Isn’t it true that we live in region whose one of the very central formative “myths” is the ten plagues? Isn’t it true that our shared heritage postulates an omnipotent deity who repeatedly “heardens the Phraoh’s heart,” (Exudus 9:12; 10:20; 14:10) only to do this:

At midnight the LORD smote all the first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the first-born of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the first-born of the cattle. 12:29

Perhaps so long as we continue to celebrate our heritage mindlessly—our sanctimonious prattle notwithstanding--- we don’t really get to have much of an inhibition when it comes to killing children.

Then perhaps, the first thing we should think about doing is to let go of whosoever insists on not being under our yoke before we all end up losing a lot more than our first born.

That and bolstering our inhibitions when it comes to assorted barbarities. Something a lot akin, I suppose, to tapping whatever it is that accounts for our dislike for munching on a barbequed human hand or a thigh.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

The summer of 88

“He thinks of his parents and the friends he never sees.

He dreams of his beautiful country with its high mountains, forests, rivers and deserts.

Most of the time, he prefers not to think, not to dream.

"I cannot continue on living if I remember," he explains. "But, if I do, I want it to be useful, I need to bear witness for those who have died.

"This is my second life — a life I shouldn't have. I feel I was given this second life to tell the whole world what happened in Iran in the summer of 1988."”

Read the rest of Veronique Mistiaen’s chilling tale of what happened in Iranian jails as witnessed by Payam. (Link via

And for those of us inclined to think nothing of this because of the victims’ political views, it helps to remember the “surreal”—if, in retrospect, somewhat natural— alliances of those years.

Some were busy being supportive of the Iranian regime’s intransigent continuation of its war efforts disguised as a defense of God, Islam and Country.

Others were Saddam’s best friends having made a killing from the sale of so many types of chemicals and other conventions weapons while also content to “promote Democracy” by strengthening all the Arab “Freedom Fighters!”

The other great political divides back then in Iran were the issues of the rights of national minorities-- in particular the riddle of the “Kurdish question”; civil liberties; the rights (if any) of women, students, workers and prisoners, and the relationship between religion and the state. These questions determined how anyone would be categorized.

“You just don’t get it, do you?” was the retort of choice that summer. That and the omnipresent charges of “naiveté,” and “idealism.”

Saturday, September 04, 2004

The LaLa Land

There are times I get this intense desire to locate the impressionable monarchists whose enthusiastic reverence for the Likudnik “successes” has been responsible for the introduction of the imaginative category, “self-hating Iranian,” into our political lexicon and to kiss them.

Yes, I am that close to officially declaring myself unabashedly one SELF HATING IRANIAN, and then leaving this country never to look back again, tearing my passport, joining a monastery and forgetting the day I ever encountered this rotten planet of ours.

More power to all forms of self-loathing, I say. Judged by this murderous chaos and global pandemonium, “pride” in “one’s own,” and “self-esteem” are way too overrated.

One of the causes of my tantrum of course is Mr. Ahura F.K.Yazdi; well not exactly him personally. But the social reaction I have been sensing. You might have probably heard of him. Goodness knows I have received quite a few frantic phone calls lately wanting to know what I think of the fellow. He is the latest craze around our enchanting LaLa land. Just like the super secret Book of Street Slang a few months back and the get-rich-quick mobile phone phenomenon before that! Similar, of course, to the commotion over our ever smiling President Khatami some years prior to all that. In essence, no different from what the rest of you have to face elsewhere, I suppose.

For those of you interested, Diane has been doing some digging. Just follow her trail.

Don’t get me wrong now. I don’t want to take anything away from the man. I appreciate his language skills. And I admire him for his hard work and achievements. I’ve always adored audacious individuals with courage of conviction. Some of you have come to know my feelings by now, I am hoping. Anything is preferable to the reigning bozos as far as I am concerned… well almost anything! The Iraqi and Chechen models are definitely not up for consideration.

But honestly, I am truly amazed at the savvy, competent American/Western team working with him. An impressive initiative. Those of you, who have been giving the hard working self made career professional analysts of the U.S.G a difficult time, heed and feel proud.

These exceptionally shrewd men and women responsible are truly an impressive bunch. My hat off to them for this coup. They appear to have finally grasped some very significant aspects of the dominant Iranian psyche.

But they have got to work on this 1st of October date. This is bigger than the ambitions of a couple of make believe fighter pilot king wannabes. I am genuinely impressed by the creative multi Millionaire-Polyglot-Squeaky-Clean-Zoroastrian-Dr. Savior from no where- Routine. It is infinitely preferable to the Chalabi carpet bagger shtick. But come on, October 1st?

Please, listen for just once. Don’t rush things on account of the political appointees. You’ve been doing well so far. Wait till after November 5. You’ll get A plus for effort. Here is a calendar with other Zoroastrian dates of interest. No more surprises, please.

Remember, Iranians are a conspiracy minded lot yes, but years of practice having had to deal with a Regime whose officials routinely mask every one of their petty ambitions by invoking the Almighty has had quite an impact. Not as much as some had hoped, mind you, but hey every little bit counts.

We Iranians are the kings and queens of false hope. Don’t pander to it. Don’t fan it. It will not pay.

Besides, first of October is riddled with restoration symbolism. The Azhi-Dahak and King Fereydoun redux is cute but probably too clever by half. Is this something you really want to do? Another George and Reza show? The overweening, entitled Jr. Jr. Team? Might not get you far you know! Try November 24, or July 1.

The Fire/Purity/Truth/Honor/ Cleansing symbolism might appeal even more broadly.

And remember, you are dealing with the Shi’ia scholars in power. The closest thing there is to cunning Philosopher Kings. Don’t underestimate them. Don’t underestimate their understanding of mythology and passions. Don’t underestimate their rationalism. They have written quite a few books on those subjects. They have a finger on the pulse of this nation.

They have elevated dissimulation to an art form. Some of you can probably connect with them easily on that front and compare notes. Don’t fall victim to your own public rhetoric.

They are neither dumb nor crazy.

Some of them simply don’t want to go back to being poverty stricken isolated sages anytime soon. A compelling motive you know. Just ask any one of the many Humanities lecturers in the ranks. Or any incumbent fighting for votes. Think Tanks haven’t quite caught on here yet.

I invite my gentle readers to explore a little in anticipation of the future excitement. I know multi-culturalism has been a dirty word in certain circles. But ask yourselves… where would any of us be if we were all intransigent about remaining allergic to the orientation? Go here and play. A nice place to start, with loads of interesting stuff about Zoroastrianism.

Who knows, the rare curious bird among you might even finally figure out the real reasons behind Xerexes’ decision to lash the Hellespont. The Greeks and Dante might have had an excuse repeating the hubris charge. But can any claim the same after so many centuries?

Here is a tip at no charge: think saltwater spirits and piety.

You might even subsequently recognize why some of us have been biting our tongues each time the phrase “Manichean foreign policy” appears in print.

Even Saoshyant might help you better deal with the evolving eschatological and messianic issues some have been concerned about. Paradise, whose present understanding has been in the making for centuries through a process known as “melioration,” is rooted in ancient Iranian loan words. Well don’t just take my word for it, look it up!

Any how, I am no fortune teller. But I’ll try to share some of my reflections about this Yazdi phenomenon, its cultural significance as well as my best hunches about some of the possible future scenarios as time permits.

On a different though related note: Nema links to a few interesting scholarly pieces about nuclear proliferation. Interesting reads.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Children & Cooks

“If ever you have looked on better days,
If ever been where bells have knolled to church,
If ever sat at any good man's feast,
If ever from your eyelids wiped a tear,
And know what 'tis to pity and be pitied,
Let gentleness my strong enforcement be:
In the which hope I blush, and hide my sword.”