Monday, February 28, 2005

Where is it?

Lorca can so set the short on fire:

When the Angel sees death on the way, he flies in slow circles and weaves with tears of narcissus and ice the elegy we see trembling in the hands of Keats and Villasandino and Herrera and Becquer and Juan Ramón Jiménez. But imagine the terror of the Angel, should it feel a spider - even the tiniest - on its tender and roseate flesh!

The Duende, on the other hand, will not approach at all if he does not see the possibility of death, if he is not convinced he will circle death's house, if there is not every assurance he can rustle the branches borne aloft by us all, that neither have, nor may ever have, the power to console.

Read The Duande: Theory and Divertissement.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Homeland, enemy

I noticed a while back the many links I have going to (Iranian) American blogs. So I have been thinking: if and when there is a sharp escalation of hostilities between the Islamic Iran and Bush's America, aside from the personnel of the Armed Forces of both countries and those Iranians living close to various military instillations, the Iranian-American communities would also be adversely affected once called upon to play (expected) roles.

In an age when buffoonish conventions and those impulsive vilifying chatters masquerade as serious political commitment; with State power chiefly interested in reproducing cheerleaders or extras in passion plays instead of citizens with solid sense of civic responsibility and duty, it is unlikely to have many people in either country easily persuaded to see the joys and tribulations of coetaneous affections instead of dual loyalties.

Subsequently, there'll be rattles about the fifth columns, sleeper cells and enemy spies in the homeland as well as ceaseless accusations of betrayal and treachery and acts perceived as "objectively" aiding and abetting the enemy. There'll be loud nationalist clamor and chauvinism galore.

Such is life, I suppose. They've made their beds freely. No sense avoiding it for the fear of bedbugs. Blame it all, if you must, on globalization and the massive movement of people on an unprecedented scale all over the planet.

Ever the sucker for empathy though, I thought it proper--in order to sooth their woes, to direct attention to the insights that may be gained by an examination of our ancient heritage hidden in the contemporary Farsi terms for homeland and enemy.

There are two widely used terms for homeland nowadays. One is VATAN. If you've been reading my blog, you have probably noticed how consistently I get my articles wrong. That's because there are none in Persian. And I abhor articles almost as much as hoods, leashes and torture.

This term for homeland you've probably seen in its Arabic form, Al-Watan. The equivalent Arabic W sound becomes V in Farsi. We'll ignore this one.

The second widely used term is MEAHAN. (Mihan). You see, we hardly ever do etymologies when studying languages. Even our own. And not many people venture to gain (even elementary) exposure to our dead languages these days.

In a world dominated by Mammon, fundamentalists, reformists, and Fiskers, Moore, Britney Spears or a Foucault, who'd give a damn about some outdated wisdom in some long forgotten book, right? Sadly then, we don't normally notice how so very evocative and ancient some of the terms we take for granted really are.

One of the first appearances of the term Meahan in a slightly different form is in the oldest section of the Zoroastrian scripture. From Avesta Yasna 1.16

I announce (and) carry out (this Yasna) for these places and these lands, and for these pastures, and these abodes with their springs of water(?)2, and for the waters, land, and plants, and for this earth and for yon heaven, and for the Asha-sanctified wind, and for the stars, moon, and sun, and for the eternal stars without beginning, and self-disposing, and for all the Asha-sanctified creatures of Spenta Mainyu, male and female, the regulators of Asha.

Don't let yourselves be intimidated by the seeming alien surface. Most of the key concepts are very familiar to all of you. Give it a read loudly and hear how it might sound (note the aspirants and pronounce c like ch):

nivaêdhayemi hañkârayemi ånghãm asanghãmca shôithranãmca gaoyaoitinãmca maêthananãmca avô

Mainyu is our mediating link to enemy. Again, Avesta Yasna 57.25-26

O Sraosha (Obedience), thou blessed one, and stately! protect us for the lives; yea, for both, (for that) of this world which is corporeal, and for the world of mind, against unhappy death, and the remorseless Wrath of rapine, against the hosts with ill-intent, who lift their bloody spears against us; yea, against their assaults whom the Wrath-demon will set on, and Vidhatu, demon-made. 26. Therefore may'st thou, O Sraosha, the blessed and the stately! grant swiftness to our teams, soundness to our bodies, and abundant observation of our foes,[ dushmainyunãm]

Mainyu is a derivative of the Indo-European root, *Men- to think. Many different terms we routinely employ are derived from this--namely, Eumenides from menos, reminisce, mania, amnesia and even monster or money. Dush is the equivalent of the English dis-.

In modern Farsi usage, the term for enemy then becomes Doshman, or quite literally bad (evil) think-er/ing.

Notice how the significance of one's abode, the surrounding places, land, and the pastures are assumed in their relation to the Spenta-Mainyu--the Holy/Good Spirit/Thought (and deeds). Nothing much implied about borders or the physical constitution of one's antagonists.

True, a reflection of nomadic lifestyle. But aren't we all nomads anyway? Meanings are constituted via the encounters of the "regulators of Asha."

Asha is significant here. The equivalent of Sanskrit Rta., it connotes Order (characterized by) Righteousness, Truth. And note also the crucial role the demon of Wrath--Aêshma--plays in all this which is always associated with Chaos.

In modern Persian, it becomes Xasm and Xashm (anger) also familiar to all of you possibly by way of that "brooding" entity hovering over "darkness" "the face of deep" in the Book of Genesis. (Don't quote me on this, but I think I have this right if memory serves.)

And there you have it. Both Xasm and Doshman as the Farsi equivalents for enemy.

Draw your own conclusions as you see fit. The irony for me in all this is two folds.

You can now, I am hoping, surmise how introspections and Socratic questioning should come naturally to Persians. How else would we guard against the foe? Or attack the enemies? Some of the most exciting moments of our ancient thought are expressed via questions and questionings. I'll do a post on this some other time.

Isn't it tragic, though, that curiosity, inquiry and questionings are now punishable crimes?

More importantly, how is it that a civilization so sensitive to Wrath and so heedful of the need for Order characterized by Truth, has come to settle for such a state of Chaos? How did we end up so incapacitated by Lies with dispositions expressed through projections and by lashing out instead of introspections and by way of looking in?

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Naming names

If the infuriating account Nikki provides of the role played by the US sponsored Radio Farda in the 14 year jail sentence handed to Iranian Blogger Arash proves accurate-- and I personally have every confidence in Nikki's veracity, then I want to see those responsible for this gross negligence held accountable and dealt with.

The callousness is simply inexcusable.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Curse

I will do the homeland, enemy post next. Today, I am going to tell you about a fight that got me thinking about an absolutely irritating Iranian curse that has to do with long term memory. This is about torture and Andrew Sullivan.

As I was grocery shopping, there was a commotion nearby which almost got out of hand. Luckily, our ever meddlesome nature did some good for a change and prevented a fist fight. What got me thinking though was the absolute last thing one of young men in his twenties shouted at the other in anger...roughly, "I told you 3 times in the (middle) school, and I am telling you again today, Don't you ever…"

Walking home, I am thinking what kind of an idiot holds a grudge for so long, and then I suddenly said to myself, "me, me, me, and millions of other Iranians." And then a very loud uncontrollable laughter.

In the past few months Sullivan has done much fine writing trying to focus attention on the ongoing saga of those vile torture practices. But deep down, I have been so angry with him that I often haven't been able to think straight. And I was asking myself today, why is it that I just can't let it drop. What can cause some grudges to last for ever?

I think it all goes back to when Abu Ghuraib images first became public, and of course what I take as his contributions to the emerging frenzy that had lead to it all. Sullivan's initial reaction when the scandal broke was to talk about "fake torture" photos. But that's the nature of blogging, I am thinking. Events happen fast and so we do our best to respond.

Then in one of his later posts he had the following to say (around 2nd of May 2004 I think):

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.

And that of course sent me through the roof and lead to the grudge I am discussing here today. There was nothing about Right and Wrong, you see. What he said of course certainly wasn't original or unique to him.

Remember, everything had the feel of frenzy then with quite the fever pitch. It some ways, certain circles continue to send the same vibes today. All sorts of different people wanted to see pain, torment and humiliation. If you do a search, I think there is even an item titled, "More humiliation please" in one highly "respectable" Daily.

There were talks of widespread ritual sexual abuse of children among Arabs that naturally lead to preferences for terrorist tactics, and also those chatters about our "domineering mothers" or more generally, quite the diverse set of arguments that would warrant and justify " made to order" torture practices explicitly aimed at those of us living in the Middle East given our "adolescent obsession" with honor and shame.

Krauthammer has been making a living peddling the kind of stuff Sullivan articulated at the time.

But Sullivan has done much to redeem himself since.

I must admit, I flipped and unleashed some of my fury -- with plenty more left inside, I am guessing.

From a post last May:

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 this supposed heightened negative perception amongst us the uncouth really an indication of that “enormous gulf” 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?

Thus the set of questions I have been brooding about today: how do any of us--regardless of our perspectives, come to overlook what we understand as some past impropriety? How do we come to terms with what we perceive as transgressions? What can we do to redeem ourselves in the eyes of others?

Just what exactly might be a sensible "expiration date" on a grudge?

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The captivating names

Farsi is an eclectic language and so unbelievably stunning and evocative. This post lead to this blog and then this story which got me thinking about two of our most enchanting, arresting names today-- Arash and Mojtaba.

Mojtaba means preferred, esteemed or the Chosen. Rooted in Arabic, Mojtaba is one of the epithets used for Hassan-ibn-Ali, the second Shi'ia Imam. At least in one famous poem, Mojtaba is employed in association with Christ. (Adami Mojtaba o Eisa Yar)

Blameless is really what it might connote.

Arash, on the other hand, reflects our Indo-European heritage. It means brilliant and shining. One of the most renowned heroes of our ancient legends is named Arash the Archer.

As rendered by our epic poet Ferodwsi, our legendary foes the Turanian, having defeated the Iranian armies in battle--in order to further humiliate Iranians into submission--offer to establish the new boundaries by the limit of an archer's arrow.

In times of our greatest need, Arash steps in to climb the mount Damavand. Arash then puts all his strength in the bow and his soul in the arrow which consequently flies for two days and nights.

Arash, through his sacrifice, establishes the boundaries of our Homeland and separates friend from foe. In the next post, I'll tell you about the magnificent ancient wisdom that is hidden in the Farsi terms for "homeland" and "enemy."

All I want to do on this Tuesday, February 22 of 2005 is to think about those names, Mojtaba and Arash.

You should do the same.

And what is there to say again about the dead, bruised and the orphaned?

Yes, I am fully aware that unlike dissent and the possibilities of speech free of fear, quakes can never be outlawed. But, would we ever see a day when quakes shake this country without destroying houses and villages?

Would we ever grow to react to quakes much in the same concerned, though, relaxed sort of way we respond to a burned light bulb?

How difficult could it be, really? Must our citizens die each and every time? Shouldn't we all be sick and tired –disgusted really, with all the needless mayhem and tears?

How many more?

Monday, February 21, 2005

Daydreaming happily!

Mr. Hanson's latest column of Feb 18 in the NR has the following which got me thinking (tangentially) happy thoughts:

Finally, the United States at last is beginning to cut loose from an octopus whose petroleum tentacles have wrapped deeply around banks, lobbyists, defense contractors, and lawyers in Washington and New York, both Republicans and Democrats, oilmen and multiculturalists alike.

Curious inclusion here of the term "multiculturalists"! By that, I am thinking, the Gentleman means someone who deviates from the curriculum sanctioned by the cultural conservatives in the States and so really those who are deemed responsible in/for the (re)production of the cultural/educational milieu out of which emerges the sort of intellectuals who recently founded No War on Iran.

The sort of intellectuals who employ (politics aside for the moment) a certain academically fashionable vocabulary which might not be all that popular with quite a large number of people on the outside and epitomized in the penultimate paragraph of the Mission Statement:

It is clear to us that the post 9/11 crusade of the United States relies on a Manichean and colonial logic that situates "Western freedom and democracy" in opposition to "Islamic backwardness and tyranny." We resist such discursive binary constructions that reproduce colonial legacies, and instead locate these forms of knowledge-production within the gendered and raced global capitalist relations. We question the taken-for-granted notions of terror, freedom, democracy, and fundamentalism, by pointing to the contradictions that mark hegemonic usage of such tropes.

Given the fragmented, contentious nature of our lives today, and our general tendency to only read what might validate our own assumptions, the shared cultural narrative might not be initially that obvious. But let's pause a bit longer and think about certain non hegemonic tropes in a founding member's post. Our learned, bright and erudite Akhavan:

I will be the last person who would argue that the ruling regime in Iran—or any other place for that matter—can be conflated with the people of the country. But to radically de-link the people of Iran from their government in contexts such as the above is both disingenuous and dangerous. No matter how many photos we are shown of Iraqis under occupation stuffing ballot boxes with checks next to un-named candidates, or how often we see the stylish Karzai playing the role of the sovereign statesman, Bush's forays into Iraq and Afghanistan have reminded us of the obvious: though we may be able to tell the differences between people and states, bombs cannot.

Now back to Mr. Hanson of May 14, 2004 for his honest take about the dangers—by any other name-- of radical de-linking:

Yet the much-deferred-to "Iraqi people" were not quite enemies or friends. They were victims of Saddam's mass murder, of course, but also once upon a time in Kuwait they were happy to loot, rape, and kill themselves. Someone besides Saddam Hussein, after all, killed a million of their own. They wanted liberation from on high, but not necessarily by the U.S., the infidel supporter of Israel and a devastatingly lethal enemy that had wrought havoc on their conscript armies in 1991 and 1999…Have we forgotten that millions in the neighborhood -- from the Palestinians to the Gulf sheikdoms -- were delighted about news of September 11.

We are going to overlook the simple fact that imbecility is not in the exclusive monopoly of the "Arab streets." Remember that every time there is death and torment, quite a large number of Americans cheer loudly as well.

The point here for now: do you not see how they almost say the same thing even when literally worlds apart and drawing diametrically opposed conclusions using distinctive vocabularies?
Now suppose you are sitting in Tehran. You even have a BA from one of the finest universities here. You have access to all sorts of different translations and many texts with the latest "hip," "fashionable," "academically cool," lingo. You might be either a devout Moslem supporter of this regime, or a non-believer in opposition.

How would any of this translate for you?

How would you ever think about all the assumptions and the competing propositions and claims if you have gone through college not having read a single page of original thinking, really? How will you come to think about any form of a discussion if all you've had are lectures, regurgitations, tests, easy answers and quick synopses!

What if instead of having read Plato, Schopenhauer, Hume or a Kierkegaard, you have spent four years at best reading Durant, or Copeltson talk about what these figures might have thought about?

What if instead of having read Ibn-Khaldun, Al- Biruni, Al-Razi, or Al-Farabi, you have at best read a Bernard Lewis (yes, it might surprise some of you, but he is included in the Ministry of Education's core-curriculum for the Humanities students) or possibly even a Said? (Who is not!)

Or at best some Iranian instructor's superficial rendering of the "highlights" of their "essential" contributions?

What if you have gone from one fashionably cool secondary source to another without ever even having had to pause and read what little fragments are left of the Manichean opus? Will you ever pause to think whether the sort of usage about them in the Manifesto and elsewhere does them justice? Or even fairly characterize Mani's contributions to our shared heritage?

And incidently, how could you even think you are doing your students a service by having them read perhaps Augustine only at best if you're a "cultural conservative," and not have them encounter a single Manichean text because…well, that would naturally sort of be multiculturalist," wouldn't it? God forbid, being ultimately forced to include some Zoroastrian text in the cannons to better understand Manichaeism or the Messiah.

Nasty creatures those multiculturalists, aren't they? Right next to the oilmen, and the bankers, and the defense contractors, lobbyists and by the time you have finished reading the entirety of Mr. Hanson's article, even Saddam and Abu Nidal and the rest of those Jew haters!

So then I began to daydream about a vast network of old fashioned institutions of higher learning in Iran. And four years of genuinely multicultural explorations of diverse texts.
Four years of sustained, exciting encounters with memorable Persian, Greek, European, Hebrew, Hindu, Chinese, Arab, and Japanese thinkers, among others. With quite a rigorous program of language acquisition to boot.

Wouldn't that be simply the most provocative, radical four years of bliss-- filled with conversations and discussions and non-stop soul searching? With instructors disinterested in belittling and humiliating their students and unwilling to treat them like cattle and the sort of students so engrossed in the subject matter that they refrain from hustling their guides for absolutely meaningless grades and simply unwilling to terrorize each other in order to carry favor with some authority figure.

A genuinely nurturing collaborative project.

It could all start in one small college in some cheaply acquired land in a terribly remote area with few buildings and some computers, books and a dormitory and a canteen. With some prestigious, respectable foreign university lending blessing, support and advice.

How much money, do you think, would this entire enterprise come to cost? And the return on this meager expenditure long term in contrast to the billions spent annually to butcher and torture or generally annihilating gradually the creative impulses of some of our best and the brightest?

And all this in the abode of one of the most ancient civilizations which has consistently produced truly cosmopolitan, multicultralist thinkers, and nonetheless, a civilization that is having a bit of trouble finding her moral compass and her creative original voices nowadays.

I am daydreaming of course yes, but terribly joyous dreams.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

The mourning rituals

Mourning Hussein Posted by Hello

Repost from last year.

Who Is My Street?

Ashura is an attempt to commemorate what to the Shi’ias is the epic Battle of Karbala. It is best to think of it as a Manifesto which articulates a worldview, just as much tragic as it is redemptive.

I have been roaming around for two days trying to experience this event as the participants do. No different from reading a book, really. You simply have to read closely enough to let the book speak to you--if only to get a sense for what you are up against. This was the first for me Call it a much needed cultural revolution on my part.

We Iranians, as a general rule, tend to see what we need to; always ready to dismiss what offends us simply as silly or as yet another example of the myriad superstitions of the unwashed. There are all kinds of rituals in this world. Some survive, some don’t. There are all types of religions in the world. Some thrive, some don’t.

What is it about these events which so compel such a large number of Iranians to participate year after year? What is it about Shiism that makes it so potent?An amazing experience—in an odd sort of way.

Activities are multifaceted. There is an intense feel of community--something distinctly missing in Tehran these days. There were street theaters known as Taziyeh or passion plays. Groups of Men, young and old were beating their chests rhythmically and self-flagellating with chains. Others were beating drums, and lamenting loudly.

They have been at it for a couple of weeks, I presume, trying to prepare for the activities. There were genuine weeping and tears. In a different time, we would have called this catharsis.

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

The ones I visited were quite full.Mothers, wives, and sisters were walking around their men, watching them and occasionally participating in by quietly beating their own chests. Children were dressed for the occasion and participating playfully. Quite a number of houses were busy preparing food for large number of people-- giving them to the neighbors or anyone who decided to queue up to receive a meal.

Amazingly, the poor neighborhoods were more generous in giving than the more affluent. Everything is distributed free of charge and their consumption is generally considered a blessing. (Barakat) Some houses had a picture of lost loved ones--who were most often killed during the War.

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

I walked uptown stopping to look at a poster close to my home this evening. There were pictures and names. All dead in the war--“neighborhood martyrs” in the vernacular. I looked very closely –pictures, names and pictures. They all appeared so young and innocent.

I now have a vivid and painful picture for all the streets, and the intersections I roam around everyday. Each one of my streets is named after one of my neighborhood fallen--the casualties of the longest trench war-fare of the Twentieth Century.

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

My streets feel different tonight.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Conspiracies, "Great Satan"& "Elderly Dragon"

When we have finally turned the page on this particularly blood-soaked chapter of Iranian history successfully serving (domestic) justice, some of our friends too on the outside are going to have to answer for their deeds. This I think mostly due to 9/11.

What 9/11 did for me personally was to deliver a swift kick in the derriere awakening me from my slumber. No excuses for complacency. I think Americans justified in not wanting to witness another brutally devastating day. No one deserved deaths such that befell that day.

And "Nous sommes tous Americaines", no?

Hence, no matter what Iranians responsible for or how ignominious our ruling regime, not a single one of those tens of thousands gassed to death and not one of the remaining tens of thousands still suffering dolefully deserved their fate--the burned lungs, the scabs sores and boils on the body and the respirators and the misery.

This goes doubly for the Kurds in Halabja.

And so the European powers partially responsible and those American policymakers behind the move to subsidize Mr. Saddam "the Hitler" Hussein's adventures and chemical warfare against Iranians and the Kurds are going to have to be held accountable.

If we had a fraction of the self-respect we think we have, this rotten scaffolding presided over by the murderous miscreants who dragged that war on and on callously decimating our noblest and most gallant would not have been standing in place today.

At the same time, no self respecting European or American politician with an ounce of integrity would have ventured to lecture us about the demons in our midst or the dangers WMDs pose without first blushing at least once.

But that is the saddest part about being Iranian you see. Our obscene expectations and our maximalist bubble only mask our minimalism and our tendency always in settling for the grotesque.

All this brings us back to conspiracies and to conspiracy theories. In one sense no escaping them ever either in democracies or autocracies. But the fundamental problem for me with those who peddle them is that they enable avoidance of responsibility and accountability.

If indeed there is that invisible omnipresent hand of the British and others behind every one of the many significant historical events and our misfortunes, then naturally there'll be no sense wanting to examine the concrete policies, their exact scope or their consequences. More generally, no sense either determining the real causes or the actual forces in action in order to better deal with or to counter them.

Obviously too, it'll be a moot point trying to find the identity of the ones who list these very same consequences as accomplishments on their CVs.

The very same ones, mind you, who go on to teach, consult or ultimately work on some board or other while reminiscing fondly about the good "old days of adventure" over drinks at some bar or a country club. Or those who, as fashionable of late, make a killing on royalties from the sales of memoirs about their masterstrokes some years down the road.

But once we've gotten to this point in discussion, the context makes things notoriously difficult to navigate further. Even the most banal aspects of what constitute East-West encounters become thorny.

In thinking through these encounters, a signpost for me has always been Homer's Odyssey --particularly the confrontation between our wily Odysseus and the Cyclops.

Odysseus is considered by some as the archetypal Western man. Think about his curious nature; his craftiness and his disposition that accounts for his wanderings and wonder and naturally also his expectations of gifts--all very admirable, I suppose, but also quite problematic.

Doesn't he go on to blind and torment another being-- no matter how little sympathy any of us might actually feel for creatures such as Cyclops Polyphemus, pretending to be "Noman." (Nobody)

The following excerpts from a translation of Book IX:

when I saw that the wine had got into his head, I said to him as plausibly as I could: 'Cyclops, you ask my name and I will tell it you; give me, therefore, the present you promised me; my name is Noman; this is what my father and mother and my friends have always called me.' […]

We drove the sharp end of the beam into the monster's eye, and bearing upon it with all my weight I kept turning it round and round as though I were boring a hole in a ship's plank with an auger, which two men with a wheel and strap can keep on turning as long as they choose.

We ran away in a fright, but he plucked the beam all besmirched
with gore from his eye, and hurled it from him in a frenzy of rage and pain, shouting as he did so to the other Cyclopes who lived on the bleak headlands near him; so they gathered from all quarters round his cave when they heard him crying, and asked what was the matter with him.

"'What ails you, Polyphemus,' said they, 'that you make such a noise, breaking the stillness of the night, and preventing us from being able to sleep? Surely no man is carrying off your sheep? Surely no man is trying to kill you either by fraud or by force?

"But Polyphemus shouted to them from inside the cave, 'Noman is killing me by fraud! Noman is killing me by force!' "'Then,' said they, 'if no man is attacking you, you must be ill; when Jove makes people ill, there is no help[wise] for it, and you had better pray to your father Neptune.'
When we had got twice as far as we were before, I was for jeering
at the Cyclops again, but the men begged and prayed of me to hold my tongue. "'Do not,' they exclaimed, 'be mad enough to provoke this savage creature further;

[…] "But I would not listen to them, and shouted out to him in my rage, 'Cyclops, if any one asks you who it was that put your eye out and spoiled your beauty, say it was the valiant warrior Ulysses, son of Laertes, who lives in Ithaca.'

My Greek tutor directed my attention some years ago to the word play in the original Greek text between Outis (Nobody, Noman), outis (no one, nobody), and Metis/me tis (no anyone, anything, someone, something) also faculty of (particular kind of) wisdom, craft or cunning.

It all becomes so contemporary when you consider all the other words such as ODIS: travails, pain; NOSOS: sickness, disease, and OIOS, lonely. Over the past many centuries “Nobodies” have blinded countless people. But a few things have changed as well since.

For one, a more sophisticated band of Cyclops has composed the perfect repartee to Odysseus. The nebulous “Great Satan,” and "Elderly Dragon," (Britain) is the omnipresent absence that serves to counter the absent presence of the elusive Nobodies.

These bands of Cyclops kill, maim, torture, and gorge on the young while sadly they are not even as gentle or competent shepherds as the originals.

And those who think themselves entitled to stake claim to the legacy of the Odysseus too are suffering from their own regression. Or is it that they've learned a lesson?

Some have become too much the weasel, as far as I am concerned, to publicly sing of their own "valiance." They hide behind their tribe or the entirety of their cities in order to avoid reckoning. This incidentally is what annoys me most about those who cloak behind the prophylactic of "visceral anti Americanism."

Simply put, I doubt anyone would ever say in a job interview that "Yes, yes, give me this post because America gradated from high school in 1948, and then America went onto get his PhD at Harvard; America thus came to focus all his steep learning which translated into the recommendations of the team that originally crafted the policy of sending guns and cakes to the Ayatollahs at the same time as subsidizing to the tune of billions Saddam's chemical warfare against the Iranians while also financing and arming the Salafists and other Islamist killers like Usama."

And as a corollary, I simply don't understand either the rational behind that sense of entitlement manifest in the gibberish (again) so fashionable in certain circles.

Bluntly put, if some happen to have developed a certain craft or skill, how is it exactly that they come to feel they can claim the household too? If some have mastered the craft of plumbing, why is it exactly that they feel entitled to direct everyone's affairs and also own the faucets and the wells? And why is it exactly that they feel the urge to determine who is to be in charge of anything?

If some come with the skills of an Archeologist, why should they feel entitled to leave with most of the artifacts? And if some come with medical skills and penicillin, why should they feel entitled to canoodle on the posterior?

And why is it exactly that a "No" to any of these propositions comes to warrant accusations of "ingratitude?"

Frankly, even if there is disgust for the Cyclops, the shenanigans of the diciples of Odessues are just way too predictable nowadays and mostly a yawner. Not much of a surprise then when we the sheep no longer feel compelled to offer free rides to certain caliber of men.

But there is still that vexing question of why there is a need to believe in conspiracies; especially in their prevalent Iranian variation. ('The made in Britain Mullahs') We'll explore more in the next installment.

Monday, February 14, 2005

This dreadful day again!

Before leaving town, I thought I'd have enough time for one more whine. I am big enough to admit it. The realization is beginning to sink in finally that aside from natural disasters and wars, the only other constant in the universe is my love life. So here you go, with few revisions, my post from the same day last year.

Loving Cross-Eyed Serendipity

St. Valentine’s Day is up on us yet again and I find myself brooding about Love. What is it about a fleeting moment when two lives come together which suddenly and so magically transforms a dreary, bleak, and comfortless shadow of existence into one animated by hope, tenderness and beauty?

It is almost as if in a curious sort of way Love engenders that instant flash of lightening which allows for the differentiation of a world enveloped by the darkness of night.Our experiences of the erotic dimension of life in Iran, as you probably suspect, are rather odd. Think Old Testament. Recall that the Almighty’s invisible presence becomes visible to us only through various ways he issues threats and alters and mutilates our bodies for any old transgression.

Then, out of nowhere, so and so gets to “know” such and such and they beget this and that. Yahweh’s partner Allah and his acolytes in our midst have left their indelible mark on our existence. Rarely is there a reference to the ecstasy of touching a flower, a fabric or, for that matter. the delight of touching a lover’s hair, or the bliss of feeling the warmth of another’s body. There is a long list of “Thou shalt not or else,” accompanied by incessant gibberish about orifices and posteriors, money, property, and/or modesty and decent upbringings.

Then one day there is a lavish wedding and brats are born shortly afterwards.

And no, I don’t think the less than open interaction between the sexes is the determining factor in the way this absurdity is being perpetuated.Even a closed society could allow for the enchanting possibilities of the erotic experience. Think a universe in which one becomes aware of the presence of others through one’s senses--the perfumed body, the graceful walk, and the coquettish movement of the arms, the flirtatious signals of expressive brows and the suggestive glances of amorous eyes—eyes that astound.

Think the enchanting sounds of recited poetry.

Think a universe in which, given the mediated presence of others, the erotic moment may be conceived in terms of the creative act of thinking a story through which these various disjointed elements of sense data are integrated into a unified whole, thus allowing for a permanent incorporation of another into one’s universe.

Consider the following narrative to get a better sense for what I mean.Suppose two people come to interact with one another over a long period of time in a setting that does not immediately avail itself to the development of amorous intentions. For our purposes, each might very much be unaware of the other as possible subject of desire.

Now one of these--let us say, Serendipity--is charming and intelligent, though harboring a dislike for her own mildly crossed eyes, which in her more fragile moments, she considers to be ugly.

Suppose that at some point in time, for whatever reason, the initial aloofness withers away and one becomes smitten with Serendipity precisely because of the beauty of those eyes. Suppose that the gentility of her spirit and the grace of her presence send one scrambling to find words that may do justice to the splendor of her being. Then one day by accident one encounters the story of Adelgunda:

Many hundreds of years ago there lived a young maiden who was famous in several kingdoms. Adelgunda was indeed a remarkable young woman. She was slight, delicate and pale as a lily, but it was not so much her beauty that people spoke of. Nor was it her good sense, though one and all could see intelligence shining on her brow. No, what Adelgunda was renowned for were her two wonderful eyes, which could speak much more plainly than her lips. Her eyes could also see better than anyone else's; they saw what people were thinking and things that lay hidden deep in their souls. Yet no one was afraid of Adelgunda's eyes which saw and expressed so much; rather, anyone who looked at them was glad. Adelgunda's gaze rested long on good and beautiful things, and when her eyes saw something ugly and evil, they said so, not with hatred and contempt but with sorrow and compassion. Adelgunda's eyes spoke a language that everyone understood

Serendipity’s eyes are now Adelgunda’s. Adelgunda’s eyes then become indistinguishable from those of Serendipity. Here is when erotic creation becomes artistic. We may get a better sense for this creative process by delineating three distinct moments.

First, one has become slightly more than he was by tapping into the emotions one did not suspect existed in order to appropriate a narrative that allows incorporating Serendipity into one's cosmos. One thus grows to find adorable precisely that which is considered by many to be Serendipity’s “weakness.” It is those eyes that can now be regarded as the incomparable attribute of our beloved Serendipity.

In doing so, one has become aware of the beauty that envelops simply by virtue of having become open to perceiving the (hidden) beauty of Serendipity’s eyes. From this moment on, despite the fact that one might very well encounter an infinite number of other awe-inspiringly captivating eyes, none will have the radiance of Serendipity’s because one is unwilling to think stories about them. One, through the moment of connection with Serendipity, has become more whole than when he started.

Second: Serendipity, if she were to have any sense at all, would find herself slightly more attuned to the nature of her gift and the possible transformational affect on the lives of others. By encountering a reflection of herself in the gaze and the story of her admirer, Serendipity becomes slightly more than she had been when she felt awkward about her eyes.

Third, both our characters, through their bond via the story--and by having become part of each other’s lives-- experience an endearing expansion of being that needs to be continuously nurtured and reproduced through tenderness, playfulness, fidelity, commitment and discernment.

But now we are presupposing the sort of abilities Nietzsche expounds upon in his Philosophy and Truth:

There exist within us a power which permits the major features
of the mirror image to be perceived with greater intensity, and
again there is a power which emphasizes rhythmic similarity
beyond the actual inexactitude. This must be an artistic power,
because it is creative. Its chief creative means are omitting,
overlooking, and ignoring. It is therefore an anti-scientific
power, because it does not have the same degree of interest
in every thing that it perceives.

What does Nietzsche know, right? And so, it just so happens that in the less than ideal universe --that is, any where outside of the pages of some fine fairy tale--Serendipity will move on with a new sense of confidence to fall for some reputed Prince Charming who ends up being a cold-hearted insensitive jack ass and all three will live miserably ever after.

Or, alternately, our would be lover becomes so enamored of his new found appreciation for beauty that he will lose all sense of proportion and moves on to create many new stories thus losing his chance of finding true happiness.

This incidentally, I suspect, is how our planet became populated by so many desperate and lonely people obsessing about making such a dreadful production out of a silly day that remains just like any other.

And so we continue with our nauseating, meaningless ritualized gestures, and our relentless, ostentatious shopping, and the gluttonous consumption of dead, charcoaled flesh and alcohol year after year.

Sunday, February 13, 2005


It has been freezing here with close to 1 meter of snow around Tehran in the past week. Up north near the Caspian, 2 meters and counting. Unexpected holidays. I stepped out of town to play and then months of insomnia caught up with me. Days of sleep-- nonstop.

I have added a couple of new links to the sidebar. If you read German, have a go at this Spigel article about Iran that a couple of friends were good enough to email. And light blogging will have to continue for a few more days.

The pictures below from IMCTT-CW

Actual Iranian victim of non-imaginary WMDs curtsey of Saddam
"the Hitler" Hussein and his Western enablers.
 Posted by Hello

Tens of thousands still in agony in part due to
the last foreign campaign to promote democracy here  Posted by Hello

Monday, February 07, 2005

I'll just shut up now

Although I could never have even hoped to succeed in blossoming to become as witty or quite as imbecilic as Jonah Goldberg, having carefully examined Mr. Cole's response to him, I have decided to give up and simply stop blogging

Please ignore every one of the posts below this one. Whom have I been trying to kid? I have never been to ancient Persia, Greece or Rome. No real Shakespeare experts around to guide my reading of Timon of Athens.

My language skills are rudimentary. Most of my posts are riddled with grammatical/typographical errors anyways. I'll even admit, I have a very superficial understanding of so many significant geopolitical riddles that affect my life.

Just why did I expect any one to want to read anything I have to say?

And I really can't recall having picked a gun or a water balloon for that matter and attacking the torturers and the censors that are making life a living hell.

Come to think of it, I really can't possibly know Iranian history, the Koran or any other Islamic text better than our famed Guardian Council members.

What on earth have I been talking about here?

Yup, experts know best. I'll just shut up now and go about my daily life and from here on I'll promise to unquestionably defer to those who naturally know what's best for me, my life and for my city.

In the meanwhile, I'll be on the look out for the next round of debates on torture, just in case the pro-pain pundits come up on top in which case I'll make sure to report myself as quickly as possible to the Ministry of Justice

I feel such relief finally. Genuine liberation at last.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Another Link

I have added No War On Iran to the sidebar. Some smart people are the primary movers behind this--yet another--collaborative project. We can disagree all we want about a broad range of different topics, but the curious are well advised to listen carefully to the myriad voices of Iranian communities.

It always amuses me how those loudest in insisting that others alter their ways of life, outlook or religion can be most fussy about even wanting to hear what may ruffle their feathers.

To each his own, I suppose. But the attitude may ultimately nib some in the butt in times of crises.

I think some form of escalation is a very real possibility for this ever expanding conflict. And Iran is a diverse country. You are bound to find those that will echo calls for a military campaign. And we know how ducks like quacks!

Some will amplify these voices. And then soon enough, others begin to think the voices representative. In one sense it is the nature of the beast. Politics is global and there are alliances in all different senses of the word and some curious convergences of interests and similarities of outlooks.

And yet when you get to Iran, you will find some baffling features. Farsi is by nature both poetic and exaggerated, as languages go. And then our perceptions too are a bit distorted. In fact, hyperbole is our middle name. Nothing unusual in the world of today though, just a bit more pronounced.

It has gotten to the point that if I am told "rain," I will have to stick my head out and get wet to believe. And even then I often do not trust my own perceptions. I wish I could have really communicated more clearly what it is like living here day to day. I did the best I could in the creative destruction post

That said, if and when there is an armed conflict, the eventual outcome is a forgone conclusion as far as I am concerned. Let's not mince words here. All you need to do is to compare Iran's annual military budget, or for that matter, the entirety of Iran's national budget with what America spends annually to fight STDs or to facilitate abortions.

And yet, there won't be a disastrous disruption of life in Iran. There will not be mass exodus. There will not be a famine. There will not even be a flood. As much as I nag about Iranians all the time, I find the people awfully good at dealing with--putting up with, really—events out of the ordinary.

It's merely the "normal" life that sucks.

So most Iranian families will come together and the neighbors too and people will quickly pool resources and take care of each other. In one sense, I think, everyone will come to enjoy that.

Life has changed drastically here over the past two decades and no one is happy about it. There is no sense of community anymore. Selfishness reigns and the solipsists and the self absorbed are having their moment under the sun. No heroism, heroic deeds nor heroes left in the traditional Iranian sense of the word.

Not entirely tragic, though.

A nation of thieves, addicts, abusers, prevaricators, hypocrites, pimps and prostitutes is what Iran has turned into, or at least this is the most commonly held belief among Iranians. (See what I mean about hyperboles!) And yet, this may offer a historic opportunity for a truly new beginning as far as I am concerned. These are exactly some of the features that will give Iran an opening into a new century.

Weren't they the sort who won the West? And so we are ready for the take off. And a war will destroy this golden opportunity.

Look, Iran's demographics alone are a frightening nightmare. And I could just imagine how excited some may be here for war as a heavenly Malthusian solution to the population problem.

Some think that if there were an opening to the West, there would be jobs galore and problems solved. But what a lot of people here overlook is that by the standards of the competitive global economy today, the young here come with the sort of grand expectations that are not commensurate with what they have to offer.

And who can blame the young really for the delusions. Living in an authoritarian society, they are being suffocated. Everyone breaths down their backs in schools, universities, at home, and streets and parties and in life generally. But that's not going to change the unforgiving facts of life.

They are dying young which is to say they live idle dreams mostly because the real is unbearable.

I am sorry to have to say this, but what we have here, especially among some the least satisfied and most boisterous, are a bunch—shallow, spoiled, entitled, impressionable, inflexible and untrained to think-- who live under the illusion that they can hustle their way out of life each and every time.

And yet somehow they must land a most esteemed social status and get top pay for it and have the respect they think due them. A bunch, prestige obsessed, with no sense of reciprocity towards the larger society or each other. Really talented men and women who, unable to find possibilities for actualization, have turned their backs on decency.

That is what a game of cat and mouse with the authorities trying to regulate all aspects of life has produced here. Life as lark really, subject to the myopia of how much one can get away with and how often given minimal exertion and effort and with the loudest of bugles.

And the parents too.

The first couple of companies foolish enough to start large scale ventures here will either suffer huge losses or will have to abandon the project all together.

And this is why there has not been a revolt around here, really. Fear is a part but not the entire story. You will be amazed at the sort of thoughtless and callous--truly brainless -- manifestations of "audacity," you'll encounter on any given day in Iran.

But after years of blaming all misfortunes on the Shah, the West, the British, Saddam, and ultimately this Regime, people have begun to finally suspect--deep down at least, and some even confess openly, that it has always been us all along.

And our friends too and our relatives, coworkers and bosses. And that there might be remedies.

But the political language has frozen in a particularly banal mold for years. I give you an example. I detest drugs, particularly opium. It smells like burnt flesh. But drugs are inescapable and I do occasionally find myself in gatherings where this scrooge is the centerpiece of the "nightlife."

So at first the usual babble. Then what we call "ta'arof," or that habitual invitation for you to join in. Then testimonials about how good it is for your health and heart, and how you can't really tolerate life without it, and simply ceaseless insistence for you to try smoking it at least once.

And when the conversation turns political, as it does always, the first thing they do is to blame the regime for "having made" people into drug addicts.

And I just look into their eyes even occasionally asking them if they are a Regime operative in disguise. And then laughter and a change of conversation.

And so it is with almost any other feature of life here. People go on to talk about prostitution forgetting that marriage itself these days has become for most partners a particularly venal form of trade in human flesh.

People are bartering all the time about dowries and stuff and marrying for a house, easy jobs, emigrant visas, some gold coins and foreign trips and cars and mobile phones. People will sleep with each other for gifts or meals in fancy restaurants or leads and connections and even some minor role in a movie.

Always what might strike initially as the easiest and the cheapest route!.

Did you really think the explosion of Iranian cinema staffed almost entirely with ordinary people an accident? Or simply the unfolding of some newly discovered creative genius?

The truly sad part, of course, is that no one actually enjoys what s/he does. Incessant nags and perpetual unhappiness because there are voices that never shut up—the sort of confused/confusing intolerant voices both outside and inside our heads which offer no room for the ease of mind.

And so we are not at ease in our own skins and thus tend to lash out in desperation at those closest to us or alternately come to blame everything, as always, on the Islamic Regime.

And yes, this Regime is responsible for a good deal of the misery. But even within the limited range available for maneuvers, we unreflectively choose what makes us the most unhappy and uncomfortable.

Nothing unique to us, I suppose. Just a matter of degrees, expectations and those intolerant spiteful voices that never hush.

So you see, with the caveat I stipulated earlier i.e. taking everything an Iranian utters with a grain of salt, it is my belief that people are unwilling to take a risk because they don't trust one another.

After all, everyday we prevaricate about all matters, school work, work, money, our whereabouts and our love lives, how we have purchased our latest phone or computer or clothing or household appliances, where or how much and what we drink or smoke and what we have or should have inherited.

Imagine living in a country where the same people most eloquently critical of the unethical business practices of this regime and the inadequate wages and the heart wrenching poverty will go on to get what in effect are post dated checks signed by future employees before hiring them (a routine practice) and then instead of paying them what the law stipulates, will go on to deduce in some cases up to 30 percent (again routine) from the paychecks.

Or not pay employees at all for months. Just because they can.

How could you trust someone to watch your back in case of an upheaval?

And so even though practically everyone is dissatisfied, unhappy and furious really, most fully understand that if there ever were (more of a) breakdown in Law and Order here, it'll be an absolute pandemonium.

For an approximation of the tamest possibility think Euripides and the Bacchantes.

Another war, though, might very well be the quickest way to redirect anger and forge a sense of community again.

A Short term gain for the fomenters on both side and along term disaster for all.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Adding to the Story

A German friend commented a while back that she finds Americans "bubbly." And what a bubbly spectacle that chamber was today. I watched the President give his State of the Union address and I murmured that surely this congress should be able to bring itself --just once a year-- to exhibit a measure of gravitas when required.

I mean, such torturous burden must be the business of spreading Liberty and Freedom and the ever expansive toll in blood tear and treasure! The notable exception to the antics of the buffoonish bubble, of course, the profoundly poignant interaction between the fallen soldier's mother and that terrorized father-less Iraqi.

And the ghoulish pledge to "add to the story" even while promising happy retirement and health.

Here is an idea from our outpost of tyranny. If, as the argument goes, what's left of the Western Civilization faces such urgent existential threat that truly necessitate myriad sustained, massive military expeditions in lands so far away plus unprecedented social engineering schemes in alien cultures, why not enlist millions of citizens to help counter the threat at home as part timers and then give them all health insurance charged to the Homeland Security accounts.

Beats all the effort to pass a constitutional amendment to protect the "sanctity of marriage," which, as some claim, might in due time translate into the "evangelical prayers for a healthier nation that requires no medical treatment for the uninsured."

That's what is being done here, you see. The civil defense volunteers are to be fully covered by the social security services. Details to be worked out.

Always symmetry in enmity.

The part about Egypt leading the charge brigade and the Saudis allowing more breathing room for citizens, I thought, shrewd repositioning. I have never been one to critique the Bush team for the hypocrisy exhibited in their approach to freedom with all the free passes and all allocated to the dumb tyrants.

It is important, I think, to uphold the values themselves however inadequate the actual policies are in their implementation or however, for that matter, inconsistent.

I do hope though that at some point the speechwriters could sit down and evaluate the fiddle faddle about Iraq and Afghanistan inspiring us in Tehran and Damascus.

Seriously when you think about it, if the experience of South East Asia, Europe, Eastern Europe, America, Latin America, South America, etc., haven't resulted in consequential changes, what makes anyone think that the blood drenched experiences of our neighbors would have an impact?

Or should we understand the following message implied: "they" are nothing like
"us" let's give them something "they" can wrap their minds around. Since obviously "we" are simply too especially exceptional to grasp! (the Jocular Cheese argument)

The ultimate question for me, the real puzzle of the Mesopotamian Expedition, remains what goes on in the "home front."

Why, why, why, I have repeatedly asked myself for three years now, are Americans not being asked to alter their routine if this threat is deemed so exigent? Why aren't Americans asked to participate in forms more engaged than offering their unswerving loyalty to what the President and his team decide to say or do on any given day?
Why only insist on transforming citizens into simple cheerleaders for the executive branch while the brunt of the sacrifices fall on the men and women in uniform along with those unfortunate souls in any presidentially anointed enemy state?

Aren't we all, supposedly, in this together?

From the very beginning, the pitch has been: this threat is so serious that it requires suspending most of the traditional checks and balances on the presidential powers, suspending the domestic civil liberties to an unprecedented degree; establishing secret mobile gulags and torturing shamelessly, demanding preposterous sacrifices from the part time soldiers of the Guards unit; and naturally, tolerating all the murder, mayhem, pain and sufferings expected from the wretchedly oppressed and yet, the majority of the U.S. citizens are expected to simply go on with their lives driving gas guzzlers to the nearest mall and shopping till they drop or else the " terrorists will have won."

Just so long as no one gets on the way or asks annoying questions.

The reaction the Dutch affair elicited in America did much to clarify the issues for
me. The answer to the riddle appears not so much through Strauss as Carl Schmitt. Could you imagine pursuing such ambitiously grand geopolitical objectives without in someway taming the hair curling murderous impulses of the Jacksonian America?

Thus, I think Bush team inordinately prudent in ornamenting its rhetoric with melodramatic embellishments although few outside the U.S. appear persuaded. To do otherwise would run the risk of having the sort of clamor that might leave nothing worth designating a new American century.

And so the song and dance promises more drama. The Pax Americana vs. Pox Shi'iana next. The riddle: whether or not enough Iranians can be persuaded to kiss the posterior attached, via gut and midriff, to the hand that promises that penicillin of the innumerable side effects.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

New Link

Our friend Praktike was good enough to direct my attention to a new website, Iranians for Peace, which I have now added to the sidebar.

The site is a place--a collaborative project really— for Iranians to voice their reasons for opposing military campaigns in their country.

The men and women behind the site, whoever they are, appear explicit in their approach:

We believe that no war can contribute to the establishment of liberty and democracy in our country. "Iranians for Peace" welcomes the opinions of Iranian people around the globe who are in opposition to war. Please send your articles to

Tuesday, February 01, 2005


And more conversation.

A note from our rising star--the prolific Praktike, his own very self:

[…] it appears that the Sy Hersh article mayhave been wrong in some parts.
Notably, the MEK partthat you so ably mocked. As such, the article may well
have been of a piece with the Bush team's ineptattempts to pressure the Iranian
government, apreemptive strike by opponents of using the MEK, a CIA-Pentagon
turf battle ... or I suppose it couldhave been the Gospel truth. In any case,
I think that the cards all lie now with Iran, which has succeeded in isolating the Bush administration diplomatically rather than the other way 'round.

That's to be expected, as all the Bush team understands is force, you see ... our
national dialogue here is so debased it's shameful. 911 really fired the lizard brains ofmany of my countrymen.

Do keep an eye on the Iranian "pro-democracy" groups that are bound to spring up out of nowhere in the next few weeks and months.

Anyway, here's Bob Novak (conservative columnist):

"We are not going to war against Iran,'' a senior Bush administration official told me this week. This declarative statement came from an official who is not known for rash declarations and is inclined to guard his comments. It followed heavy static in Washington about U.S. intentions toward Iran set off by President Bush's second inaugural address.

If Iranian intelligence were monitoring American''chatter'' the way the United States listens to its adversaries, Tehran might well think something was up. A famous investigative reporter claims commandos areworking behind the lines in Iran. The president's address seems to proclaim a global crusade for democracy, with Iran a probable target. The vice president goes on an off beat radio talk show and speculates about Israel attacking Iran.

Yet, as the senior official confirmed, U.S. military action against the Iranians is not a realistic option.Pentagon and State Department sources say a single blow could not eliminate Iran's nuclear capability, and an attempted change of regime in Tehran would entail a military effort the United States cannot undertake. The problem of Iran deepens for the world's only superpower when rhetoric outstrips reality.

After Bush's 2002 State of the Union address linked Iran with Iraq in the ''axis of evil,'' Secretary of State Colin Powell behind the scenes warned how difficult it would be to attack Iran. Powell told of Pentagon planning during the early 1990s when he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Iran, with four times the land area and three times the population of Iraq, posed a massive challenge to a U.S.-led army.

Moreover, public support for the Iranian theocracyappears much greater than the popular backing for Saddam Hussein's secular dictatorship. Indeed, U.S. intelligence shows opposition to the rule of the mullahs has declined from a high level just six months ago. Change of regime from within seems most unlikely. The sense of being threatened by the West may have strengthened theocratic rule.

That threat was heightened by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh's article in The New Yorker indicating U.S. Special Forces operatives are behind the lines in Iran, preparing for possible air strikes against nuclear facilities. Sources have told me highly secret units operate inside Afghanistan and perhaps elsewhere, but not in Iran. Any such information could be gathered more easily inside Iran by Kurdish rebels who often cooperate with U.S. intelligence.

That set the stage for Vice President Dick Cheney' sun expected appearance Inauguration Day on the nationally syndicated ''Imus in the Morning'' radio talk show, known for ribald and outrageous materialand often engaged in Bush-bashing and Cheney-bashing. Don Imus asked Cheney to comment on the Hersh article's suggestion ''that you all are up to something in Iran.'' Cheney did not specifically address Hersh's contentions but asserted that ''Iranis right at the top of the list'' among the world's''potential trouble spots.''

''Why don't we make Israel do it?'' asked Imus. Instead of laughing that off, Cheney replied that''one of the concerns people have is that Israel mightdo it without being asked.'' He said ''the Israelis might well decide to act first and let the rest of the world worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterwards.''

Had Cheney used a more respectable venue for speculation, it would have received more attention. Checking with sources at State and Defense, I was surprised that many were not aware of exactly what the vice president said. They told me there was no intelligence to predict an Israeli strike. One official who is on top of the details said Iranian nuclear development is so dispersed around the country that the threat could not possibly be eliminated by a single bombing stroke, as Israel did on June 7, 1981,when its bombers took out Iraq's only nuclear reactor.

Apparently, Cheney next thought better of his Israeli prediction and said of the Iranian problem that itwould be best ''if we could deal with itdiplomatically.'' That is precisely what Powell preached the last four years and what is dictated by military realities. The vision of spreading democracy gives way to the less dramatic goal of negotiatingwith Iran over nuclear arms.

And our British visitor has this to say:

[…]I'll start with the easy stuff. My persian teacher over here - I did write 'Farsi' but have recently seent hat this is regarded as incorrect. (??) He would express sharmandeh [Shamed,expression of regret] whenever he had to teach me a word with an Arab origin. So many Iranians were at pains to inform me that they were not Arabs, and the emphasis on the Iranians' Aryan origins culminated one bizarre evening in a discussion of the Swastika, which I had seen on someone's architectural drawing.

'The nazis only targeted the Jews. You killed anyone who got in your way.' Or words to that effect. I have to say that rocked my cosy liberal world.

Of course, Khuzestan has a huge Arab population, and I only realized after I came back and started to research thearea more thoroughly that the Arabs there feel they are discriminated against. Certainly I saw a kind of condescending tolerance towards this sizeable minority. But interestingly, I read that Saddam thought the Arab population in Khuzestan would rise up against the Iranians during the war, and was confounded in this expectation. Naively, and probably romantically, I didn't expect to see an 'oppressed' country having ethnic stand-offs. Surely, I thought, with all those big beasts out for their blood, the Iranians would be standing shoulder to shoulder, regardless of ethnic origins. But you are, as you so lucidly pointed out, a very big country with a very long history, and ethnicity, language, a sense of nationhood is very fluid.

You may have heard that one of our Conservative politicians in the eighties posed' the Cricket Question.' When the Pakistan team comesto play over here, (or the Indians, West Indies etc)who does the British Pakistani, Indian etc support? Being an unreconstructed cricket lover, I found this question utterly reductive - it never worried me thata first or second or even third generation Indianmight support India. It added to the gaity of nations. Perhaps, though, a test of a country's evolutionary development is found in the way it treats its ethnic minorities. A brief addenda - MIS has a tiny Catholic chapel, with a cool, tree filled garden. My mother, a lapsed Catholic, occasionally took us there. One of the most melancholy sights this time was to see the church forbiddingly fenced off with the ever-popular corrugated iron, and a corrugated irondoor padlocked twice. What does that all mean? That the authorities are protecting a target that could betrashed? That they are putting it out of sight, out of mind? Of course, I never found the keeper of the key, who may well have let me look around.

Anyway, onto notions of left and right. You are so exact in your analysis of these complicated positions. As someone who sometimes feels he sees the world from a leftish point of view - though I sometimes fear that age may be slowly ossifying buried prejudices, and allowing them to work their way to the surface, aswell as narrowing the range of flexibility that Istill, uncertainly, see as a strength, […]I suppose I would start by saying that, in the main, the left tend to have secular leanings. I would characterise myself as a creature of the Enlightenment. Despite a pretty good Christianconditioning - religious music still features heavilyin my eight choices for desert island discs! - I am now, to all intents and purposes, an atheist. If I'm honest, I find most religious expression distasteful. No, more than that - I find most religious discourse pernicious. In fact, this discourse creates in me arage that I sometimes feel is not that different fromthat of a fundamentalist religious believer. This rage is part of my confusion. The problem is, I knowI AM RIGHT! and all those poor benighted souls who blindly follow their higher authorities, as sanctionedby god, are WRONG! Recently an ardent Christian friend recounted how she had prayed, in an Indian village, for rain, which had been absent for three years. And lo! Her prayer was answered - within aminute rain came! I looked at her, mouth idiotically open, with amazement. And then I started, withc ontrolled but broiling rage, to try to shatter her illusions. I began with my own experience of returning to Iran.

I noticed, in retrospect, how powerful the sense of Sarnavesht [fate] had been during the journey - if I hadn't gone here, I wouldn't have met him, and if I hadn't met him, then that wouldn't have happened. Surely some higher force was leading me to that street, or that phone, or that hotel, or that taxi-driver. It was a very pleasant feeling, a sense that all was mapped out for me, that these chance encounters were meant to be. Of course, simultaneously, I knew that what I was doing was investing in my journey a particular and personal significance that was completely man-made. Whatever shape my journey took, it would still have resonated profoundly with me. But at least I think I had a glimpse of what comfort there is to be found in a sense of spiritual submission - someone up there is taking care of you.

Reading Richard Dawkins' book -Unweaving the Rainbow - I came across a section describing the behaviour of pigeons - in brief, a pigeon was alerted to food with a red light. It would then push a lever with its beak, and the food would appear. Next, the experimenters broke the chain, so food didn't appear when it was meant to. However, one day, Pedro the pigeon was waggling his head from sideto side when the food appeared. Ah, thought Pedro, ifI waggle my head, food will appear. So poor old Pedro started to waggle his head. Then, apparently, this wasn't enough to guarantee food, so he started to take a step to his left, step to his right, all the time waggling his head all about. Food came! It worked. By then, the dance routine was so firmly embedded inhis pigeonic brain that it simply didn't matter to him whether it worked all the time. As long as it worked some of the time it was enough. All this to the bemused Christian friend, who was looking at the storm in my face with some alarm. 'Tell me,' I said, 'what is the difference between the pigeon, the shaman who does a rain dance, and your prayer for rain? Do you really believe that your prayer brought on the rain? Or possibly sped it along? And, if there was a god,why would he answer your prayer, but not the millionsof prayers directed at stopping the genocide in Rwanda, for example?'

We are used to seeing righteous anger spewing from people of faith, but there is something embarrassing about seeing vitriol spilling from the mouth of an unbeliever. It is not in keeping with a liberal mindset. And it conflicts with our sense of provisionality, our celebration of difference, our much-vaunted tolerance of other worldviews.

A postscript to this encounter, which ended awkwardly. This woman and her friends took a sewing machine to this impoverished (untouchable) village. (There are people deemed untouchable???) Now THAT was a real godsend. By their deeds ye shall know them.
If shehad told me only of this, (and other good works she performed whilst there) I would have been only admiring. And, true, all religions encourage good deeds. But when the great audit in the sky is undertaken, I would bet my house that the harm religion has done would far outweigh the good. So, a secular, left-leaning Westerner, soaked, as you so rightly pointed out, in colonial, (wouldn't it be nice if it was only post-colonial?) guilt, encounters a country he loved as a child, unaware as he was then of this country's complex history, and the role his country has played in that history. What does he want to see?

A country proud of its independence, proud to have thrown off the shackles of its imperial oppressors, celebrating its extraordinary history, confident in its faith system, even if he finds the faith system insufferable. Vive la difference).
He's read about the murders, yes, the state oppression, but this must be taken with a pinch of salt, surely, sincethese are, after all, Western reporters. He arrives. And what does he actually see? A deeply unhappy country. In his limited experience of the world, the most unhappy country he has visited....(Enough of the 'he' stuff! Back to me.)

Before I left I heard Colin Powell characterising yourcountry as unhappy, longing for change. No, you rightwing neo-con (cuddlier version mark 2) don't say that, I thought, since I know this is yet another coded callfor yet another imperial adventure. But his informants were right - Iran is miserable. Its identity fractured. What are its touchstones? Its own imperial past? The arrival of Islam? What are its dreams? Are they American dreams? Western dreams? (Satellite dishes, thick make-up on mostyoung women, alcohol, drugs, casual sex, magazines with glossy models on shiny paper, rock music,FREEDOM!!!)

I remember sitting in a house and watching some rock channel showing lots of scantily clad rock chicks cavorting on Californian beaches -the two young men, and me, were transfixed. This is just one trivial example of what I came to see as a pervasive hypocrisy that permeated the country. Public and private space had no connection. You just needed to be careful enough not to get caught.

So, there I am, finding religion's analysis of human nature and society so very skewed, in an Islamic republic that seems to be loathed by most, even though most are good Muslims - a complex idea in itself (and one that I hope you will understand could equally apply to other faith systems, and an idea I can't bring myself to unravel here, except to say that these were decent people whose faith played an important, but not all-consuming part in their lives.) And all of this identity confusion, all this unhappiness and hypocrisy, all this oppression, seemed, when push came to shove (which one day may come to be characterised as Bush came to shove - sorry, I couldn't resist that) all of this seemed to be our fault.

Now, on this, I am open to persuasion. You only need to look next door to see the awful consequences of ouractions over the last 80 odd years. But Saddam was ghastly (except when he was our friend and bombing thehell out of MIS). So it goes perhaps like this - you created the mess, you sort it out.

Oh lord, here we go again, you've come in with your great big boots and bigger guns and made an even greater mess. 'You support the Mullahs, you could get rid of them.' But on the other hand, woe betide anyone who interferes in our country.

You are responsible, we need you, we hate you, we want you, go away. William Blake has agnomic line - 'the cut worm loves the plough.' It resonated in Iran for me. The abuser and the abused, a depressing dance, a kind of deathly, circling longing for the certainties of the abusive relationship. And how can someone with any compassionabandon the abused?

But what if you are the abuser? Shouldn't you just discipline yourself to get the hellout? Give the victim time to heal. But they need help. Not your kind of help, matey, you're part of the problem, not part of the cure.

My Persian teacher used to lament the coming of oil. And, perhaps a bit cutely and conveniently, in the book I have located the discovery of oil in MIS as thebeginning of a conflict that still has very powerful legs. Iran was not some prelapsarian paradise before the discovery of oil, as you know, nor was it insignificant in Britain's imperial landscape, but I know why he laments. It's a terrible story, and not many people emerge from it squeaky clean.

[...] I hope at least I've given you a littlefood for thought. […]

One final thing - your ability to locate a person'spolitical position within nano-seconds of hearingthem. I encountered this, but part of the analysis was sartorial. Nevertheless, I was amazed to see how quickly someone would say - 'be careful, he is one ofthem.'

I wonder if this identification is morepronounced than our class-system here?