Wednesday, August 31, 2005


There is an ancient quarrel that finds echoes in the mind-- and this, especially after each newest recurrence of devastation and carnage. There are many different variations. But for me there are now basically only two voices left—clamorous, ferocious. One is Job's interrogator:

3: Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me.
4: Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.
5: Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?
6: Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof;
7: When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
8: Or who shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb?
9: When I made the cloud the garment thereof, and thick darkness a swaddlingband for it,
10: And brake up for it my decreed place, and set bars and doors,
11: And said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further: and here shall thy proud waves be stayed?

With, I suppose, the punch line here:

9: Hast thou an arm like God? or canst thou thunder with a voice like him?

The other is what we encounter in Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching:

Heaven and earth do not act from (the impulse of) any wish to be
benevolent; they deal with all things as the dogs of grass are dealt

That said, with each passing year, I find myself siding more with Chuang Tzu when it comes to the practical consequences:

3. Zhui Khü 2 asked Lâo Tan, saying, 'If you do not govern the world, how can you make men's minds good?' The reply was, 'Take care how you meddle with and disturb men's minds. The mind, if pushed about, gets depressed; if helped forward, it gets exalted. Now exalted, now depressed, here it appears as a prisoner, and there as a wrathful fury. (At one time) it becomes pliable and soft, yielding to what is hard and strong; (at another), it is sharp as the sharpest corner, fit to carve or chisel (stone or jade). Now it is hot as a scorching fire, and anon it is cold as ice. It is so swift that while one is bending down and lifting up his head, it shall twice

And this version is more to my liking (pdf):

Tsui Chi asked Lao Tan [Lao Tzu], saying," If the empire is not to be governed, how are men's hearts to be kept good?"

"Be careful," replied Lao Tan, "not to interfere with the natural goodness of the heart of man. Man's heart may be forced down or stirred up. In each case the issue is fatal. By gentleness, the hardest heart may be softened. But try to cut and polish it, and it will glow like fire or freeze like ice. In the twinkling of an eye it will pass beyond the limits of the Four seas. In repose, it is profoundly still; in motion, it flies up to the sky. Like an unruly horse, it cannot be held in check. Such is the human heart.

My way of saying, it is only natural that all of us come to need a bit of help sometimes. Please give as generously as you can.

The American Red Cross

The Mercy Corp.

Monday, August 22, 2005

A (naïve) case for (modicum of) Irano-Israeli rapprochement

I am still puzzled by the curious silence which shrouds Mr. Katsav's recent personal peace appeal to Iran. I think we might have a real opportunity here to win some much needed time and breathing space to set our houses in order. I know this is a thorny issue. But I am going to make a case for having the Europeans find a way of linking the future of Iranian nuclear aspirations to some degree of direct engagement between Iran and Israel.

The relations between these two nations have ancient roots. I know the affairs have been a tad more complicated in recent past, with revisionists on both sides hard at work projecting the present animosities backward in time in order to provide even more justification for the ongoing campaigns of hate and venom.

Yet, the fact remains that some ancient nations are tied at the proverbial umbilical cord. There have been positive interactions and mutual influences over countless centuries as attested to by what little scholarly work exists that map out the history. Much work remains to be done, of course, given the vast quantities of material available still that has remained unexplored by the broader academic community.

As an aside, I have noted once before what a magnificent tradition of Judeo-Persian literature exists which is simply astounding and that you should get familiar with it if you are not already. And in one recent work (I have yet to examine) we get a glimpse into the life of our Jewish compatriots over the years. Some pictures here.

I know full well that all must not have been easy. But really, whose life has? Where there are shared memories, there are nursed grievances. The Iranian plateau is an enchanting landscape, and yet, all the many different ethnic groups inhabiting it have suffered more than their fair share of wars, misery, oppression and massacres. Their full litanies of anguish are always poignant and deserve to be acknowledged. Life, however, must go on and should be lived forward.

Besides, there is that matter of the investment made of our ancestors' tax money-- the Persian funds used to rebuild the Temple. The interest alone accrued on that loan should be enough to finance many more nuclear power plants like the one being built in Bushehr that our old friends have been threatening to destroy.

[My earlier reading of the contours of stand off and my personal opposition to Iran's harnessing of nuclear energy.]

I think the Europeans are in a position to play a decisively constructive role here, as are the Americans. Boldness is not always best measured by the yardstick of one, two many flattened cities. Occasionally, all that is required is working from a different angle with those matters subject to most intense disputes.

Let's start first with some of the easier difficulties.

If the assassins of the reigning imbecility from the heartland of evil are reluctant-- despite common grounds, most notably their intense loathing for Liberalism-- to negotiate with the bullies of the Great Satan, there is no reason why they shouldn't be pressured into opening a dialogue with the emissaries of the Zionist Entity. Perhaps, even Mr. Blair of the Elderly Dragon can get involved, I suppose. That is one of his passions, isn't it?

After all, what could some of the more obvious objections be?

That the Israelis are oppressing fellow Muslims, the Palestinians? Well, the Russians, of course, have been butchering the Chechens by their thousands for years leaving hundreds of thousands of refugees and they still get lucrative contracts all over the place.

Or is it that the Lebanese Shi'ias might be offended? Just last year, I heard their famed leader, the always odious Sheikh Nasrallah speak in glowing terms about the Israelis since he thought them caring enough to want to have the corpses of their fallen back.

It always annoys me no end when enemies only choose to acknowledge mutual humanity in death. And what of the Palestinians, we may wonder?

They too, of course, negotiate with the Israelis all the time. And after the recent disengagement from Gaza, perhaps the PA and Mr. Abbas could be prevailed upon to ask the Iranian authorities--very publicly and loudly—to only express their concern in form of assistance rendered as funds—under some international supervision of course—to help build homes, farms, factories, hospitals, greenhouses or schools.(NO INPUT ON CURRICULUM)

After all, a few bombs or rifles would not really alter the existing disequilibrium of power in any meaningful way and the Palestinians appear able to get all the rocks they require from the unpaved roads or demolished houses whereas hope of better life and concrete tangible changes in the right direction might make it a lot easier for all parties involved.

What would the Israeli objections be?

That Iran is involved in activities that harm Israeli citizens? The Israeli regime is always prepared to negotiate to save lives. Why not open direct negotiations to avoid even more harm?

Or could it be that Israel does not deal with a regime which grants ethnic minorities like those Khuzestani Arabs the right to vote while treating them like second class citizens?

Or perhaps the more cogent objection could be that the ever so gentle sensibilities of the Likudniks are too offended by the Iranian regime's practice of gender apartheid?

Again, you will recall the rather cordial relations with the regime of South Africa at the height of Apartheid's obscenities with millions of dollars in trade even as multitude of Jewish activists were at the forefront of the global battles to put an end to the injustices in SA.

And here of course we have additionally both regimes' love affair with China while this latter continues to occupy Tibet. There has been an interesting history of Sino-Israeli relations which has been taking some intriguing turns of late and Iran's relation with China, as always, has been no secret to anyone.

And while we are at it, none of the rest of us-- even the most sanctimonious and self righteous (yours truly at the forefront) --have been making much noise about…oh, let's pick something in random, the sum of 206,970 workplace accidents resulting in the astonishing number of 30,597 deaths last year alone in China.

Almost 6000 miners among them vanishing in those underground death camps. When you seriously reflect on those numbers, it actually far exceeds the casualties both sides have suffered as a result of the last 5 years of that heart wrenching, tragic although progressively more tedious, perpetual little war in the contested promised land which continues to consume global life with partisans incessantly pulling our emotional strings.

Sometimes, I have to remind myself that there are almost 200 different countries on our planet with close to 6 billion inhabitants in total. And they all have problems requiring urgent attention.

Ultimately though, it might be argued that Ahmadi Nejad is way too disagreeable to have a dialogue with. True enough. But let's recall that Mr. Sharon himself has been no angel. Perhaps the two of them can accomplish together what many better natured souls always fall short trying. What is there to lose, really?

I think the Iranian authorities are acutely aware of Israeli intentions and their capabilities. And Israelis must fully know--and still should acknowledge and more realistically reassess-- the extent of the fundamental changes in the Iranian psyche in the last 26 years.

Even on our best days, I must admit, we Iranians were a belligerent lot. Though I think some of the observers of the Iranian scene have been slow to dot the i's when it comes to recognizing what havoc the post revolutionary civil strife and the Iran-Iraq war has wreaked.

Simply recall the extent to which Americans, at the height of prosperity and comfort, have been affected by those few spores of anthrax and the resulting changes in the average American's expectations from their representatives in government due in part to the continuous fear of further non-conventional terror assault.

Now, try to imagine a society that has lost hundreds of thousands with close to 90,000 victims of poison gas still suffering acutely. And that number excludes the tens of thousands who have already perished since the initial assaults.

That is CHEMICAL WARFARE, Ladies and Gentlemen, we are talking about here in case you are reluctant to hear me. Brought about in part, curtsy of the European and American involvement in Mr. Hussein's chemical warfare against Iranians on top of the memories of all the Scud missiles raining down their heads.

I think it is a horrendous miscalculation to underestimate the ferocity of Iranian regime's response to any Israeli attack on their pride and joy. And neither the country nor the region will recover from the fallouts of the breakout of more open hostilities between Iran and Israel for a long, long time to come.

I think it will serve the long term interests of those with hopes of a more sane future for the region to do what it takes to support a gradual de-escalation. That might give us more time to settle the score internally.

Again, the key, I think, might lie in some European attempt to tie any further progress on negotiating the future of Iranian nuclear aspiration to some formal—however limited—Iranian ties or at least direct dialogues with Israel.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

About Mr. Ganji (again)

We seem to have some positive developments. Apparently Mr. Ganji is doing slightly better and even the illustrious Anan has finally decided to step in to demand his release. Better late than never.

I have never told you why Mr. Ganji is important to me. I don't feel comfortable with this panegyric business. But I am going to work to change that tonight.

Obviously, judging by the reactions Ms. Sheehan elicits, people and their conduct come to have different meanings and are perceived differently and that applies to Ganji as well, I suppose.

I don't share his views of politics or religion. Really, I don't agree with him about much. Although, I must admit, as I've grown older, and having lived through some tumultuous times, a shared outlook on life, politics and religion have become progressively less relevant for me.

Certain qualities of character count a lot more now than all the agreeable babble in the universe.

So about this man of conscious, free thinker, audacious journalist, and the veteran of the murderous Revolutionary Guards, I'll say this: Mr. Genji might not have always made the decent choices in life. But in this, he is very much like the rest of us.

There is such thing as forgiveness, after all. Which one of us could look back and unequivocally claim to be proud of the past?

But I think Mr. Ganji is what the wise old poets—ancient healers so much more firmly anchored in our common heritage and creative with constructs that continue to soothe and amaze–would have called the best and the bravest of men. And in many ways, Mr. Ganji has proven far better than many of the rest of us.

Mr. Ganji is the last of a (mostly decimated) generation who remains too guilt ridden to live the prosaic and too responsible to live aloof. He is a man conscientious enough to want to see to it that the mistakes of the past are set right.

And that to me is noble, and dignified. Mr. Ganji has integrity. Ganji does not collaborate and is no sycophant. And he refuses to bow or break or repent.

He makes it clear that he is no hero and justifiably so, I think. In many ways, he's come to realize that the age of heroism is long past and should best be forgotten.

This is a different era we live in and a fundamentally disenchanting one, in my view. And it is not as if history ever ended. It is merely that "grandeur of spirit" has finally vanished.

This is a time for sneak attacks and for striking the vulnerable and unsuspecting and for molesting the defenseless and for incinerating women and children from afar. A time when jailors torment their hungry, thirsty wards with the aroma of barbeque or the offerings of excrement and urine. A time for hoods, claustrophobia and lynching.

The era of petty tyrants and their petty spirited foes, and a time for spins, meanness and smears.

And while I am no longer certain there ever was a time when Titans clashed, I am rather convinced that what we have now are mostly the confrontations of the entitled and of the self-absorbed-- accompanied by nauseating displays of murderous jingoism and onanistic tribalism.

And unless there is a sustained outpouring of decency—which I am thinking highly unlikely in the foreseeable future, we'll be made into Tutsis and Hutus—most of us. It is a grave mistake to delude ourselves by (falsely) assuming our superiority.

So, I can certainly see why Mr. Ganji decided to say "no."

Mr. Ganji could have repented a long time ago to live a safe, servile existence and to contribute to the cacophony. But he refuses and if that means dying, he is prepared to let go.

More importantly, and ironically enough, he makes his stand only truly hurting close family members and friends who love him the most.

By his acts, Mr. Ganji, I think, puts petty tyrants, myriad jailors, assassins, tormentors, sycophants and indeed all those deliriously pursuing that illusive "awe" of the Leviathan on notice (yet again) of the truth of a simple proposition.

A proposition which Rousseau knew well and most tormentors seem to have nowadays forgotten—that,

it is difficult to reduce to obedience a man who has no wish to command, and the most crafty politician could not succeed in subjugating men whose only wish was to be left free.

So you see, for me Ganji is no hero. He is just a man probably fed up with what surrounds him and tired of living though audacious enough to toil on—but only on his own terms.

And while I am sure for some he remains just another predictably disingenuous Iranian who has never progressed beyond that adolescent stage of obsession with honor and shame; for me, Ganji rekindles the flames of hope in these dark, unsettling times.

Simply put, Mr. Ganji makes me blush.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Who are they, really?

I have been thinking about the comment Craig left a few days ago. There was certain lucidity in those simple expressions of his sophisticated thinking. And he has helped me better grasp what the problem for me has been all along with this Mesopotamian expedition. Let's see if I can articulate it—however tentatively.

From the very beginning, the pitch has been: there is no room in this war for oscillations. No room for nuances. Things are black and white. You are either with us or against us. They in 'them' pose such serious existential threat that the we in "us" have got to fight a very dirty, bloody slug match to the finish.

No doubts, no questions, no hesitations, no pauses allowed.

So in order to channel the primitive impulse that has kicked in, you've got to have a sense for who they are that propose to lead this dirty fighting and what they aim to accomplish. Especially since you find the other side rather creepy and have had your own mini bouts— ineffective mostly, yes, but it has now simply become a question of joining forces.

Hence the question of trust!

What is the vision of those who propose to lead you and promise to support you?

What is their real beef? What is this fight all about to them? What might they mean by victory? Could I trust them to watch my back when things get real gory?

But here is where things start to get messy.

So it has been the claim of some of their more outspoken ideologues that "we" are hated for who we are and not what we do. But when you reflect a bit more carefully, it turns out after all that this war has come about not because of who "we" are actually, but because of what we've failed to do.

That is, a failure to project invincibility by having unleashed Fury at the very first signs of trouble is what has led to this mess. They can still hate us as intensely as they have always, and yet, we'll be safe and get to drive our gas guzzler, and continue with our shopping sprees and lead our merry lives for as long as we have those terribly fiery iron fists.

We don't have to alter anything. We'll just send our boys and girls to flatten them. End of problems. And just to be on the safe side, no pictures of those who've paid dearly for our calculations.

Herein we have the first doubts about trust.

It appears to me that the "enemy" however ill defined, has always been thought of really not quite as formidable as they've made it sound. Or they couldn't have thought them so easily controllable. That's why they can counsel us to forget the "Arab streets." Those streets are filled with" impotent" men, as far as they are concerned, and stink of hot air which can ultimately be quite easily managed.

After all, they have lost every major war they fought in and have been brow beat to submission by some very low octane rulers. How bad can they be?

That's why we've been getting those constant comparisons. "This hasn't been all that bad now really, has it?" That is the constant chime. It's a war but not really a war. Just look at those casualties in percentiles. Negligible for what we've been doing. Or at least that's how I've understood those claims.

As an afterthought, we have had one incidental feature tagged on to the invincibility thesis—the Democracy creation project even when it means (or perhaps because it actually means, who knows?) wars or bombing entire countries into smithereens. In part since as the argument goes, expansionism and ferocity has always been in our nature. We have a mission. We are idealists and we fight for the underdog.

A classic case of an ill defined project, if I ever saw one. They want to be the scariest chelovak in town while also pretending to look out for the weak. Here is where things become even more confused and confusing.

It isn't as if these good folk who propose these policies have been out of power for any considerable length of time all these years. When you look, some of the meanest, most ferocious thugs and petty tyrants in the region have either been their best friends, their paid agents or still to this day their closest chums.

You don't have to agree with any of their arguments to see what conundrum they're faced with. If you try to be everything to everyone you actually end up being nothing to no one.

Again, at issue is that quaint matter of trust.

If your aim is to be the biggest, meanest thug in town, then the type of folk who would naturally be attracted to those qualities are going to have second thoughts about working with/for you having seen you in action.

Look where some of their old buddies have ended up: dead, hiding or in prison. One of the most prominent best friends of recent past who maimed, raped, butchered and gassed is sitting in a cell waiting to die. Their other buddies too must be feeling pretty insecure by now.

But that's the nature of politics for you and the inevitable future of all thugs no matter how big.

Alliances of convenience come and go. And I am not going to feel too terribly sorry for them, especially since none of them were ever my buddies.

But they are not content simply annoying the other thugs.

Some of these very same people who have had awfully close encounters with the ruffians we talked about (with pictures to show for it) get terribly nasty and start impugning your motives by charging anti Americanism or treason after your slightest reference to their history.

But you can't make the memory of those encounters disappear. You can't wish history away, even if you wanted to. Every time I see a close relative, I am reminded again of who has helped poison (gas) him. Tens of thousands more just like him still suffer. And it's basically the same story practically all over. Even assuming that history started in 1979, Mr. Boot and Co. should re-do their math before sounding too self-righteous or indignant.

They always lecture everyone, and yet refuse to own up their deeds. They have never been wrong. Never done wrong. Doesn't help their credibility in the slightest when they refuse to level. From here on, it gets even messier!

They say, go on, my fight is now also your fight. Join it. We know you have been disenfranchised and it's time for you to step in and take charge of your lives. But their message of hate, venom and bloodlust is too loud to miss.

Their publications are filled with them. That's because, I am guessing here, it is not even clear to them anymore who they aspire to be or even who they actually are.

Some of the ideologues and their fellow travelers say loudly and repeatedly: look, we have those nukes. We have used them in the past twice. And if the need arise, we're prepared to do it again. Isn't this what they ultimately mean by Hayba?

Hence even more mistrust.

Thugs aren't likable--even the biggest ones. And one way or another, the prospect of a grotesque death has always been looming overhead—be it by hanging, stoning, hacking, gassing, swords, bullets, bombs or a terribly nasty chronic illness wreaking havoc. Now just one more thing to worry about!

But you're half hoping that you're elsewhere when the angel comes for you or at least too busy having fun with a rather brilliant old-fashioned cantankerous Spartan of a dominatrix to notice the painful end. So life goes on as it has always.

Besides, being a thug is ultimately about control, isn't it? Especially since a part of projecting this thug persona has to do with the need to protect a life style—a life styles that even some of the most outspoken promoters of sacrifice (for others) appear awfully inflexible about.

And as delicious a thought as it might be for some of the more psychopathic fellows in those think tanks, extermination is not an option-- not for as long as this is partially about oil, anyways. Perhaps, in twenty, thirty years down the road if this keeps up. But not just yet!

And remember, this is not the last century either. Any delusion of life as usual with endless shopping and traveling and meandering would come to an abrupt end after even limited nuclear strikes. A very premature end, I might add, to those aspirations of laying claim to entire millennia.

So from here, one ends up becoming not only terribly incredulous but also hypersensitive.

Who are they, really? And what do they really want? What precise set of qualities matter to them most? What are their principles? Are there any? One is now after tangible, easy to understandable signs.

Remember, we are not supposed to do nuances.

So the ideologues and their sycophants claim for instance that none of you can be trusted because your religious practices ("el-taqia" of the couple of posts down) make you pretend all is well when things are actually not, but then they turn right around and praise the British profusely for their "stiff upper lips."

They make it sound as if they are the most principled fighters of those nasty "isms"-- well, you remember anti-Semitism, racism and such, and yet some of their routine pitches and talking points reflect the crudest historical building blocks of these ancient vulgarities.

They claim they are really concerned about the suffering of the likes of Ganji and yet, they go on to give us Abu Ghuraib and those Club Gitmo shirts and other paraphernalia and want to see even more humiliation and flattened cities….One, two many Fallujahs is their war cry..

They expect you to start a civil war, and tolerate bombings and murder and mayhem in your own neighborhoods for a promise of a more decent, tolerant future and yet, the moment a grieving mother lands in their own backyard with some candles and crosses, they lose temper about having lost their peace and one ends up shooting a rifle and vandalizing setups intended to commemorate the memory of the fallen.

The likes of Horowitz yell inanities on TV. Drudge does what drudge does best and all other sort of people join in to do some nasty smears.

All the signs, even the "simpler" ones now give one a nasty feeling about all this at the gut level. How am I to trust their promise of a benign hegemony when they can't even offer succor to a grieving mother?

Remember, I am a simpleton. So no matter how you cut it, the visceral doubts continue to grow.

There is no trust.

That primitive instinct doesn't want to be channeled their way, even when you want it to. Especially since you continue to have your own mini-bouts with those creepy Islamist folk on the side and can use a bit of help and guidance.

So I keep asking myself: What are they really after? Who are they, really? What's their vision? Who do they want to be?

The biggest thug or a liberator? Partner or a boss? Savior or a cold blooded killer? Bright eyed and principled or cunning and cynical? Caring or callous? Champion of the underdog or a mean bully?

And so long as even they are not explicitly clear about who they aspire to be, most signs increasingly point to the suspicion that we are dealing here with some pretty callous, mean spirited bullies who expect steep sacrifices from everyone but want to be accountable to no one.

They go on to take credit for every good and yet are unwilling to even be reminded of the consequences of some of their calculations gone badly or those nasty policies of the past.

And self serving, obnoxious, mean-spirited bullies always go down. It is just a matter of time and a question of how many of the rest of us they manage to finally take down with them.

In the meanwhile the mini-battles, however inefficiently, will have to go on until we get more trustworthy leaders with a more clear vision. But like I said, the Islamists are terribly creepy and will have to be brought down one way or another.

Tell me--honestly--where I am wrong in this.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Is this the best America has to offer?

Could it get any more depressing than this?

Is this the model civilization these callous, petty spirited sycophants who smear a grieving woman propose to have the world emulate?

What set of indecencies constitute a vision of life that allows no succor to a distraught, discombobulated mother?

Is there any wonder progressively more people are revolted allover?

Even under a murderous Authoritarian regime, on those rare occasions and however reluctantly, the President could be seen being yelled at in closed quarters by angry citizens.

Monday, August 15, 2005

The embarrassment

Although I normally don't alter entries much after I've posted them, I decided to sneak back on a couple in order to erase traces of crudeness. In two recent posts, you see, I had a sum of 4 profanities. As luck would have it, a couple of bloggers whose opinions I respect had offered their counsel-- which I had so obviously missed--about the need to avoid vulgarities.

And I was persuaded. I am sorry. It was a temper tantrum.

Obviously, though, I must have been more fundamentally embarrassed than I'd thought. Because when I dozed off briefly, I had the oddest of dreams. A nightmare really!

In a new town every feature of which was unfamiliar, I was struggling to find my way before it was too late.

And when I finally came upon what I had been looking for, it turned out to be a building and there was a long line and I was to take a test.

So I register and take my seat. Two pages of questions are handed me.

"You have two hours," someone announces.

And I look at the first question and the second and the third and on and on to the last. There are 79. I simply can't think of a single answer I am satisfied with. It is not exactly a multiple choice test either. Only pointed questions which allow a one line response!

Now, I am sure I can even recall the exact pages of the particular books the questions are taken from. But I can't for the life of me remember what the relevant answers would be.

An hour has passed. I am squirming in my seat.

A friendly old Professor comes by. He looks at the blank paper in front of me and then we exchange glances. I am so obviously blushing. I can even feel my ears. They always heat up when I am embarrassed.

"But surely Mr. ..., you must know at least some of the answers!"

"Sorry, can't think of a single one."

"Do try then." "Write something," he quipped.

And I look again at the papers.

One question stands out roughly in this form: "How does *Caliban's coarseness relate to the nature/nurture debates?"

And I wake up murmuring to myself—as I inevitably always do after my nightmares:

"It doesn't relate much. He simply wants a more worthy ruler, that's all."

The celebrated passage I have in mind:

A devil, a born devil, on whose nature
Nurture can never stick; on whom my pains,
Humanely taken, all, all lost, quite lost;
And as with age his body uglier grows,
So his mind cankers. I will plague them all,
Even to roaring.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Kurds, Ganji, and competing visions of cultures

A friend and I were corresponding about the ongoing unrest in the Iranian Kurdistan recently with me complaining bitterly about how fundamentally disappointed I have been with those who have chosen to remain silent while this murderous Islamic regime continues to batter our much abused and blameless ethnic minority.

The issues at the heart of our disagreements are much broader than what my disenchantment with the stunning silence in face of the brutal assaults on the Kurds would suggest. And indeed what can be gleaned from the raging battles over Mr. Ganji's fate or the simmering conflict over the future of Iran's nuclear aspirations (via Iran Sazi) or even the looming threats of further atrocities against more gay youngsters in Iran.

It is really a contest about who we aspire to be and what qualities we want to have our cultures embody.

In a fundamental way, our disagreements continues to center on what seem to derive the American expedition in Mesopotamia and those identical impulses behind the abuses Mr. Ganji suffers in and out of the notorious Evin prison and the despicable practices we all witnessed in Abu Ghuraib.

And I urge some of you here not to be so self indulgent and intellectually lazy as to quickly retreat into the imaginary safe haven which that miasmic bubble of "moral equivalency" has afforded you. Haven't you been lecturing the world about there being no free passes in life? Practice, then, what you preach and fight the temptation of living on one.

What I propose to do tonight is to leave you with a couple of ideas and revisit them a bit later.

What I am trying to get at is most manifest in a notion that plays a central role in a particular vision of the American presence in the ME proposed and supported by our famed CIA veteran, Mr.Reuel Marc Gerecht. Mr. Gerecht, you will recall,

popularized the atavistic notion of hayba as a way to understand the Middle East and America's role there. Hayba is an Arabic word that Gerecht translates loosely as "the awe that belongs to indomitable authority"--a kind of supermojo. For a ruler or for a nation in the Arab world, the ability to inspire awe is more important than the mere exercise of power. If the image of invulnerability seems unassailable enough it can contribute to real invulnerability, or so the argument goes.

This is an ancient quarrel that only incidentally relates to the Arabic word Hayba.(Farsi Haybat) We should look a bit more closely, nonetheless, at one of his many formulations in the original. Here is Mr. Gerecht-- in his own words-- writing about The Restoration of American Awe:

And now the administration that has done so much to reverse the image of American weakness in the Muslim Middle East--weakness that is the jet fuel behind the appeal of bin Ladenism in the Arab world--may well deal, quite unintentionally, a severe blow to America's hayba, the majesty and magnetism that inhere in unchallengeable power. Without this mystique, there is no guarantee of peace and security for us and our friends in the region.

And a slightly more pestering version in his Forget the Arab Streets:

As the militants have grown stronger, U.S. soldiers have increasingly withdrawn from Iraqi streets. While the Americans have wanted to seem less provocative to the Iraqi people, they have certainly sent a different image to the holy warriors and ex-Baathists. Washington forgot historical rule number one about getting enemies to surrender and acquiesce: You must first beat them. They must see clearly that they have no hope. In a Middle Eastern context, your hayba, the awe that comes with indomitable power, must overwhelm them. This has not appended in Iraq since the fall of Saddam.

The other matter too is an old quarrel, although it is being given a new twist. One of our more interesting (Iranian) bloggers has already broached the subject. So, I'll just use the sources she singled out for us (pdf):

Finally, in promising "moderation," Mr. Ahmadinejad gives an example of one of the favorite exercises of the Shiite clergy and its allies: Takiya. Takiya is an ancient practice of the Shiites, a Muslim minority long persecuted by the Sunni majority. The term could be translated as "precaution" and is a mixture of ruse, lying and dissimulation, which allowed Shiites to protect themselves and to prosper in secret. It is also a sectarian way of organising which allowed them to hold on to their beliefs while escaping persecution by making it seem they were good Sunnis.

And here again:

Using nuclear energy to build huge economical projects proves that Iran aims for peace. Yet, the misunderstanding between Iran and the rest of the world comes from the traditions of the common Iranian character. Iranian personality believes in "El Takya" which means that person should hide his real feelings and appear to be well.

The practice these observers have in mind is more popularly known as AL-TAQIAH and one shudders to think what some of the more excitable, provincial intellectual giants amongst them would have said about Iranians had they been familiar with the more obscure practice of TORIEH which involves oaths!

The point here is not that cultures are not different with some indeed less despicable in their totality than others or that there might not be practices that adversely affect the way people interact in different settings.

The crux here is that like all those born and bred elsewhere, there exists among Iranians also different tendencies and a wide range of different concepts which animate folk in daily struggles and competing visions of life.

And these notions can (and do) serve to justify various definitions of the ideal life-- both in present as well as the (always contested and contestable) plans for the future direction of our societies.

What set of concepts, then, an observer chooses to highlight can serve to inform us more about the type of person we are dealing with than the inherent qualities of any culture which that person purports to report on.

More simply put: it all comes down to-- for me at any rate-- whether or not a Gerecht could be relied upon as a friend or, more crucially, even respected as an enemy.

Look at it another way.

Notice for instance that some of the people who think the propensity to lie can serve to define the essential qualities of Iranians and should thus be viewed as an integral part of the supposed constitution of the Iranian national character are also the very same people who have no difficulty highlighting the brutal honesty of some Iranian Officials such as we see in this MEMRI TV report for some perceived petty advantage.

Any thing for a good laugh, I suppose, at the expense of other cultures, right?

Furthermore, notice also that some are the very same people who don't feel the slightest remorse about incinerating women and children from afar and so not all their revisionist babble can mask the presence of that shameless, thuggish nuclear extortionist within.

These are indeed some of the very same people who can be so right in speaking on behalf of Mr. Ganji, and yet, remain so unwilling to comprehend that his uncompromising audacity in face of injustice is fundamentally rooted in a set of countervailing notions deeply engrained in our tradition.

And these set of values are what remain at the root of the broader opposition to their campaign of mayhem in the Middle East and no PR campaign, no matter how sophisticated or well financed, can make them disappear.

So think a bit more carefully about how that quest for the illusive Haybat plays out in this context!

Here is Mr. Ganji writing about MOROVAT and MODARA in his Second Letter to the Free People of the World from prison:

Although the dictators have managed to bring my body under their domination, since they have not succeeded in taking away my spirit and my thought and in making them theirs forever, they can't stand my face and so crave for my blood.
The person, who recounted these sentences to me, swore to me that "Your death is their dream. You are an obstacle for them. They can’t wait till you die". That compassionate person wanted to convince me by this to break my hunger strike.
Now that I have shouted out I have hastened my death, but I have also managed to show to the entire world how ruthless and inhuman the Sultanist system ruling Iran is in reality and what it has in store. …

Let the world learn what goes on inside "Hotel Evin" and its "Suites".

Hafez used to say:

The ease of the this world and the next is in the interpretation of these two words
With friends, compassion[Morovat], with enemies, tolerance[Modara]

But Motahhari used to say Islam has gone even further than this:

"With friends, compassion and generosity, with enemies, compassion and generosity too... to have compassion is to be compassionate towards one’s enemies as well."

I'll pick up --at some point next, with why rendering this notion of MOROVAT as compassion is inadequate and why our learned outside observers should take it a bit more seriously.

And ultimately why I think it crucial to speak more aggressively about the plight of the Kurds and why it remains so absolutely essential to do whatever we can to help support the Kurdish aspirations for a more just settlement.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

More Signs of the Second Coming

It is simply amazing what can be found on the net when you really look. For starters, something I hadn't seen till today--a (wmv) clip that appears to me to be a propaganda video of one recent bombing in Ahavaz. This might help resolve the mystery of the particular group behind the terror campaign.

See, one of the reasons I keep on beseeching some of you to stop all your tarradiddle about Iran is that Iranians are a very diverse bunch and all kinds of different creatures could be found in our polity.

Just imagine how much more fun you could have (and so much more effective to boot) demonizing us once you get past the superficialities and get a real sense for everything you have been missing all these years repeating the same silliest of stereotypes.

So, I've decided to do my part and tantalize you a bit with a few of the more entertaining ones for today. Thus we have the Iranian For Aryans, and the Islam haters, and the Neo Nazis, and the 21st Century Fascists and the Arab haters, and the Turk haters, and more Arab haters (recently blocked) and the famed SUMKÂ --National Socialist Iranian Workers Party, (a teaser in English so you don't feel left out) and of course the Ultra Nationalists, and ….

Can't you see? The Lord must surely be on his way…Hallelujah!

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The never-ending asininities

I am beginning to think slow internet had its virtues. I mean, I tell you, I get so mad these days reading Iran related material that I am about ready to flip. I simply don't know whether to react to the perpetual torment which this murderous Islamic regime never tires of inflicting on our society or respond to all the silly clichés people use to talk about them.

It has been one caricature after another.

So I end up turning all my fury inwards. And as you might suspect, my already battered lungs are taking a beating from chain smoking.

So today, I am going to rant about Open Democracy.

I know some body there has been kind enough to link to my blog, and I shouldn't bite the hand that feeds me. But anyways, does the quality of what they put out about Iran compare in the slightest with any of their other material?

How is it that of all the hundreds and hundreds of articles written about Iran, only the silliest, most asinine speculations ever gets published there?

I must admit, I very much like that they don't even make the slightest pretense to objectivity. But seriously, do you think some of the writers showcased there would have gotten away uttering the sort of nonsense they routinely peddle about Iran if they were writing about any other country on the face of our planet?

Even the more sophisticated writers that I normally should learn from! And I don't want any (needless) misunderstanding here. I like that he is speaking up and I like those global protests even more. But I think we should avoid simple, terribly tendentious presentations of Iranian society.

Take the following section of Mr. Ireland's expose about the tragic, brutal execution of those youngsters accused of "rape," or "homosexuality"-- whichever charge you have been a-priori most comfortable believing:

Afdhere Jama, editor of the e-zine for Queer Muslims, Huriyah, says contacts of his in Iran affirm that the two boys hung in Mashad were lovers. "The first day I found out, I called my Iranian contacts from Huriyah," says Jama. "All agreed on the fact that these boys were murdered for being queer. One of my contacts who has been to gay parties in Mashad (the city where the boys were executed) swears the boys were long-term lovers, and another source told me one of the boys' family members outed the couple.

Jama told me that, "The level of surveillance in Iran has reached maximum since the reports of the hanged boys 'got out.' You would be surprised how far I had to go to find out what happened. Can you believe one of my contacts had to dress up as a woman -- with full facial nikkhab -- also wearing gloves.... and go into an Internet cafe... only to use Yahoo messenger he created right there for only -- yes -- just a ONE minute message to me? He had to travel a day to this Internet cafe to make sure nothing would get back to him. it is that scary. People are rightfully scared for their lives."

This is what my Iranian compatriots routinely call, "khalee bandee," or that time honored practice of exaggerating fluff which might only engender in listeners fully grown horns in utter disbelief. (Shakh dar-o-Vordan).

What is this? A bad melodrama set in a North Korea populated by Saudi Arabians? What country does he think he is talking about?

Just look at the prose. What was there to "get out" about a very public hanging? And what kind of a city is Mashad anyways?

Yes, it is "holy" city. But it also (rightly) boasts a reputation as one of the most "libertine" cities in Iran. It is a city of pilgrimage, yes, which means it is a tourist resort.

And just like any other tourist town the world over, people who pass through act out on all their pent up frustrations and fantasies by doing what they are normally unable (or unwilling) to get away with in their own cities located somewhere in one of the most meddlesome societies in the globe.

People gorge with food, abuse drugs and copulate like crazed rabbits—licit, elicit, gay, lesbian, straight and everything in between.

And about those internet cafés.

Does he seriously want us to believe his account? Give me break! The surest way to attract attention anywhere in Iran is to go to an internet Café dressed in the outfit the fellow describes. Again, where is the exact setting for this goofiness?

But let's focus more on this scary campaign he talks about.

The whole country has been in an uproar with myriad revolts breaking out all over the place and those sit ins and protests and candle light vigils and battles with the police and the army and the guards-- and not to mention, all the habitual licentiousness and the utter contempt for anything remotely resembling laws and ordinances everywhere and here we are again-- being fed that same ridiculous gobbledygook about a petrified population in such morbid dread about some simple act of using the internet to send a message.

Look, you don't even have to have been to Iran to evaluate the veracity of some of the claims.

How many Iranian blogs are there? How many million of internet users? Where do we get most of our news from? Just look at the Netstats rankings of Iran's top sites from only today --even with this regime's ongoing best efforts to filter and suffocate independent life.

And unlike the fellow's contact, these sites remain stationary.

# 1: Porn. #4 porn and #15 porn. And terribly bad porn at that.

They can't even stop Ganji's letters and writings from getting out-- and he has been under surveillance!

I am so absolutely fed up with all of this simplemindedness, I tell you.

We are so doomed. With all these murderous, mediocre rulers and the outrageously silly friends and allies, and even more obnoxious enemies, there are no graceful exits anywhere in sight.

Why can't we get some sane voices to speak out about Iran? Please, please, write and send them to Open Democracy! They seem to need it.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Protesting Regime's brutalities in Kurdistan

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The Islamic Regime has unleashed a ferocious assault on the Kurds and some (Iranian) blogger have begun a campaign of solidarity with our Kurdish citizens. I've decided to join them.

I have been trying to get a better sense for what has been happening with all the revolts and the myriad forces involved. These are indeed pregnant times. Events are unpredictable and hard to understand. But one thing is for sure: the sky is the limit or a bottomless pit the destiny…who can claim to know for sure?

Upheavals simply don't happen out of the blue. I know it has been fashionable of late to always blame expressions of mass discontent on outside forces. The American authorities have been doing a lot of that with Iraq and the Iranian regime historically has been notorious for blaming "Imperialist agents" and "outside conspiracies" for all its woes.

But this approach is not a sane reaction to the human condition or an accurate characterization of what transpires.

In confronting the sort of unsettling times such as we are witnessing today, Hegel reminds us to be attentive to the new passions and the new forces inevitably unleashed. Different groups and organizations –some old and many new, combine in familiar or unexpected ways and what we might ultimately get is anyone's guess!

I'd like to make explicit here where I stand: the Kurdish Nation has very legitimate grievances that have to be dealt with. The aspirations of the Kurdish Nation must be acknowledged. Their conditions should be ameliorated. Their torment must end.

So I have a wide selection of links for you tonight. And bear with me as I struggle to find my bearings in this puzzling labyrinth.

Guardian reports of mass influx of troops into Iranian Kurdistan and the ongoing brutality.

Payvand reports on Amnesty's concern about the spiraling levels of violence and the killings and arrests of many Kurdish activists.

We have also the website of Kurdish Human Rights Organization. The section in English is not as up-to-date as the Farsi or Kurdish material.

Two sites of general interest: The Kurdistan Web and the Kurdistan World.

The parties in Iranian Kurdistan with a history of activism and contributions-- both positive and negative:

The Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan.

The Communist Party of Iran-Komalah.

The Komala Party-Iranian Kurdistan.

And of course the Revolutionaries Union of Kurdistan (pdf. Graphic, heart wrenching pictures.)

Some more pictures of the recent unrests. The site is s platform for wide ranging discussions and assorted news and views about Kurdistan. And based on this, the lineage may be traceable to the Kurdistan Worker's Party or the PKK.

The PKK program in English.

There is a splinter group from PKK, the Kurdistan Free Life Party (Hezbe Hayate Azade Kurdestan) better known by its acronym PJAK which has been active in the Iranian Kurdistan.

Their goals and objectives. (Farsi)

And more about their split from PKK. And some background on insider fighting and murder.

And report of meetings between their leaders and some officials in Norway

One of the regime sanctioned News Agencies, BAZTAB, reports of a meeting in Iraqi Kurdistan between some leaders of PJAK and the American Military. And also a recent clash that left 5 regime soldiers killed and 4 injured.

And some nice pictures of PJAK camps and their military exercises.

More later.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Assasination of Judge Moghadass

Would I ever see a day in my lifetime when our intelligent and talented Iranian writers with access to all the latest research tools started first by grappling with the credibility of the actual claim of responsibility before retreating into that always-an-option world of oneirism and delirious speculations?



The site I linked to is being blocked now. Opip was good enough to retrieve the google cache. The original text is the following:

قاضي مسعود احمدي مقدس سرپرست مجتمع قضائي ارشاد توسط هسته های چریکی به هلاکت رسید

معاون قصاب و جلاد مرتضوی -- مسعود احمدی مقدس توسط همان هسته چریکی که امام جمعه دد منش کرج و مزدور خامنه ای در شیراز که مسئول اجرای نماز جمعه در ان استان بود در خیابان احمد قصیر واقع در میدان ارژانتین به سزای ددمنشیها و جنایتهای خود رسید . سازمان مخفی جوانان مسلح بار ها وبارها در اعلامیه های خود عنوان کرده بود که در اینده ای نزدیک تعدادی از دادستان ها ی جلاد توسط این سازمان به سزای اعمال ننگین خود خواهند رسید و ما بار دیگر این اطلاعیه را در سایت درج می کنیم . سازمان مخفی جوانان مسلح مسئولیت به هلاکت رسیدن این مزدور وجانی را با قاطعیت بر عهده می گیرد .

کمیته مرکزی سازمان مخفی جوانان مسلح

And our friend N's sort of quick and skim-etic (Ha!) translation from the comment section:

I skimmed the site which includes statements by a group calling itself "the secret organization of armed youth" which claims association with a well known, and very fractured, leftist guerilla group. They claim to be carrying out their own courts and sentences, since they have no faith that any international or local courts will ever bring justice to these people. They claim that Judgge Mortezavi is next on their hit list.

The only thing I should add is that based on this exchange with someone they had threatened previously, they disavow all connections with any and all existing organizations or activists linked to the famous and fractured cells of the (Maoist) Fadaie Organizations.