Thursday, January 06, 2005

Paper play

I learned a new word today. The word for bureaucracy in Persian translates literally to “paper play.” Okay. What could be more pleasing than that?
The Persian Gulf
In an issue that united Iranians of all stripes ( and was a constant feature of nightly news here in Iran, National Geographic changed its mind and has decided that the gulf we all know as the Persian Gulf really is the Persian Gulf and not the Arabian Gulf.
The New York Times > AP > International > Iran Celebrates Cartographic Victory: "Iran claimed victory after it learned that National Geographic had revised its world atlas to highlight the name ``Persian Gulf'' over the alternative ``Arabian Gulf.'' But the U.S. cartographer said such revisions are common.

Iran had said in November that it would ban from its territory new edition of the atlas, as well as National Geographic journalists, until the map for the Gulf region was changed. It objected to the eighth edition's printing the term Arabian Gulf in parenthesis beside the more commonly used Persian Gulf."
For Whoman
(I am sorry that Whoman is feeling less opinionated now, but I, for one, do not see this as a barrier to blogging. Why should it be?)

What I really wanted to write for Whoman was that it has been a snowy winter here in Tehran. While the snow has yet to stick on the streets, it is sticking in the mountains which are this incredible white with black rock sticking out here and there. When the pollution clears, Tehran is stunning. The skies are a bright, bright blue. The mountains are etched into the sky with whiffs of snow blowing off the peaks. Wow.

Unfortunately the pollution is horrid this winter. Everyone prays for rain, snow, and wind so that they can have one or two clean days. When there is no “weather,” we have these incredibly yellow skies combined with the overpowering smell of ozone. The government actually closed down schools and auto repair facilities for one day in a mostly successful effort to bring the pollution down.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Catch up
It’s hard to believe that there was an earthquake the same day as the one in Bam, which made me think of a panel from Art Spiegelman’s comic In the Shadow of No Towers [Not a link to Amazon: a link to a bio page on Spiegelman with some actual drawing samples]: Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop. [Go to the bottom of the page to see the panel I am thinking of.] Well the other shoe dropped, and it was much worse than the first. The earthquake in Bam started with reports of 80,000 dead and edged down to 26,000 (still a lot). The earthquake in Sumatra started with 500 dead and leapt up and keeps leaping up.

Iranian television news reported that Europeans were celebrating New Year’s and spending millions and millions on fireworks in the face of this catastrophe. I saw the images and said, “Pretty lame fireworks this year: clearly not professional.” K was outraged, “You see how they twist everything to their own advantage,” he sneered at the hooded newscaster. The next day I read this article in the Guardian:

For Sweden's prime minister, celebrating New Year's after the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Asia felt ``completely wrong.'' Paris draped black cloth along the Champs-Elysees. Elsewhere, prayers substituted for parties in the final minutes of 2004.

Even for those far from Asian and African shores where the giant waves killed more than 120,000, the disaster was too overwhelming for a carefree leap into 2005.

Iranian television has been peppered with Christmas commercials. Some of the shopping areas have Christmas trees up and Santa displays. I predict a full-blown Iranian celebration of Christmas within ten years. Why not? It’s just another one of their prophet’s birthdays. It is easily adjustable to Islam by taking out the whole son of God thing.

Speaking of Christmas, a few nights ago a mullah gave a sermon on television preaching against discrimination against other religions. Judaism and Christianity are part of the continuum, he told viewers. They are equal to Islam. (This was reported to me second-hand.)

Much of the Western view of Islam would have you believe that there is a monolith of belief in the Islamic world and that that belief is antagonistic to any other religion or culture. There is no monolith. There is no one source of interpretation. There is critique (at least in Iran… I cannot speak for anywhere else.) Iranian television is filled with the critique. Iranian society is even more filled with it. There is no monolith folks. Plus, it seems to me that much of the critique has to do with culture and not religion. (Save this thought for another post…)

One question: if, according to reports in the New York Times (okay, so I cannot find the link, so sue me), the American media does a piss poor job representing the depth of religious thought and diversity in America (Sharpton vs Robertson in a religious debate comes to mind), why would you even pretend to believe that they could accurately present the debate within Islam to us?