Monday, November 22, 2004

K used to complain about the flowers, streams, waterfalls, and mountains that made up a good portion of Iranian television viewing. Now he loves them. After Ramadan's grim and, frankly, nasty programming, we are both happy to watch flowers with Shajarian's voice singing along. Last night we both enjoyed watching birds flying across the tv screen.

During Ramadan our television viewing was dominated by anti-Israel, anti-America marches, war movies, children's war programs, and religious discussions. Iranian tv did show a few decent serials. The best was Mr. Mashallah about the family of a man who decides to find work in Malaysia. He pays some shady character--introduced to him by a member of his family—his entire life savings for a plane ticket and connections in Malaysia. The man cheats him. Mr. Mashallah feels he cannot face his family and pretends to be in Malaysia. It was funny, human, and sweet. There were a couple of other serials in this category as well, but I did not watch them.

Everyone in Iran (except for maybe the diplomats) watched Mr. Mashallah. It was far and away the most-watched program of the year. It was repeated three times each day, so there was a good chance you would get to see it. The most popular showing was about an hour after sunset. It was rare to get or make a phone call during that hour.

Iranian tv also showed the infamous Egyptian serial: Conspiracy of the Elders of Zion. In Persian it was called simply: Conspiracy. A live action children's program made during the Iran-Iraq war and shown during Ramada featured horrific war footage combined with live action animation of US and Israeli tanks running over dolls. A new children's cartoon features children being attacked by Israeli soldiers and tanks. Pretty grim programming for children.

Iranian tv is showing Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911 over and over again. The news is a vehicle for showing explosions in Iraq and Gaza. Every act of violence is blamed on a combination of America, Al Qaeda, and the Mossad (working together, I might add). Sports news is still okay. Last night we did see that horrible fight at the Pacers game. "Afghanistan must be okay," K commented. "They never show it."

I have been getting increasingly depressed about the television programming. Maybe it was always like this, and I am depressed only because my Persian has improved. Who knows? Our friend reassures me by saying, "Look the regime has given up on propaganda. It didn't work for the generation born after the revolution, and they don't really believe in it anymore."

Monday, November 15, 2004

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Iran bows to EU pressure to freeze uranium programme

While negotiations between nations are always filled with brinksmanship, it's hard for me to believe that Iran will ever agree to an indefinite freeze on uranium enrichment. Iranians of all stripes think that Iran should have this capability. It does not seem to matter on what side of the political divide they sit. Many exiles agree. Why shouldn't Iran have the right to enrich uranium? they ask. They don't seem to question Iran's presumed need for nuclear warheads. (Meanwhile, many of them have demonstrated against nuclear power plants in their new countries.) In my whole time here, I have only met one person who disagreed with the government's policy, and he works for the Iranian government.

Look Iranians, you are getting parts from Russia: home of the Chernobyl disaster. Remember Chernobyl? Most of your buildings are not earthquake proof. I am going to personally ask you all to consider retro-fitting existing buildings, implementing a strict construction inspection regime, and making the inspectors bribe-proof before you enrich uranium.

It's just a personal request from me.

Thanks for considering it.

Friday, November 12, 2004


I have written before about the complicated system of manners that Iranians call tarof. When I first arrived I hated it. Then I grew accustomed to it. Then I learned more about it. And now…

Now I think it is one of the most dangerous factors affecting Iranian society. The thing is, Iranians agree with this assessment.

Exiled Iranians--who do not live in LA--have learned (for the most part) to love life without tarof. They have become direct and efficient. When they return to Iran (or when they visit LA), they experience major tarof shock. One friend described a trip to LA as "suffocating." Another friend visiting Iran after 19 years in Europe had this to say: "It’s just a way for people to do what *they* want to do. Tarof has nothing to do with my needs and desires as a guest. It's all about the host."

That's how I experienced tarof when I first arrived. As I learned to function within tarof, I learned to make it work for me as well. That's the point.

The point is that tarof is manipulative. It's a system of manipulation.

"It's so much better now," the same friend tells me. "At least people are talking about it now. Before, no one even spoke about tarof."

I know people who have not attended weddings because they did not want to tell surprise out-of-town guests that they had an appointment elsewhere. You can't expect to keep appointments here, but you can make them. And you do make them. A friend made a doctor's appointment 3 months in advance only to find that he was on vacation when she arrived at his office.

Tarof keeps people from being direct. It slows down the economy. It drives people crazy. Young Iranians are rebelling against it, and I wish them luck.

World Qods Day

Today is the day of a huge anti-Israel rally. World Qods Day. Qods is the name for the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem: the third holiest site in Islam. For two weeks, television programming has been mainly anti-Israel & anti-America. "They're getting people on to the streets again," K said, as we watched the early-morning coverage of the demonstration near the university in Tehran.

This, of course, is combined with the drama of Arafat's death. "They're saying that Israel poisoned him."

It's an election year in Iran. Most of the programming shows Rafsanjani and Khameini. Rafsanjani is poised to be the "once and future" president of Iran.

K and I were mesmerized by hours and hours of programming featuring Khameini meeting with the families of people killed during the Iran-Iraq war. (We watched for about an hour.) Families came who had lost all of their sons, one son, one husband, four brothers… They kissed Khameini. His aides wrote the names of the families. Khameini promised to visit some of them. Sometimes he gave a young man his checked scarf: a symbol of the Hezbollah. His aides brought him a new scarf.

Later in the week, we saw a speech by Khameini to students in Tehran. I recognized some of the students. (Believe it or not… K often recognizes people in the audience of speeches. That's the nature of Iran. It's not such a very big country.). They seemed to spontaneously and wholeheartedly break out into chants of "Death to America." About a month ago, in Isfahan, the crowd barely joined in for the obligatory "Death to America" chant. That said, it's impossible to gauge how Iranians feel about politics by their participation in chants and demonstrations. Superficial assessments get you nowhere in Iran.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Okay, here is my theory on why both the opposition and the regime in Iran support Bush. The regime is hoping for a close election that would leave Bush acting like he has a mandate without the actual mandate. Just like the last 4 years, btw. The best thing that could happen to the regime in Iran is a Bush electoral college win.

They would love to have four more years of Bush's rhetoric and the resulting wedge between America and the rest of the world. Kerry is too subtle for them.

The opposition hopes that Bush will have a clear victory that would show American support for Bush's policies. This, they believe, would keep the Iranian regime wondering whether or not they would be the next target.

That's just my theory... no more, no less.