Thursday, April 21, 2005

The only thing entertaining right now is football. There was a serial that ended a few weeks ago that featured a trio of do-gooding Iranians driving a truck filled with medicine to Iraq. On crossing the border, they get arrested by the Americans (many of whom are played by black Iranians) who claim that they are terrorists who are transporting guns. There are some funny scenes, but the basic message is: Americans are stupid and mean and culturally insensitive.

In conversations with the man playing the Iraqi translator, the translator asserts that the Americans are responsible for the violence between Sunnis and Shiites and that they are all brothers.

Iraq Chief Says a Mass Killing, Under Dispute, Did Take Place
Polar Express
Our DVD guy was arrested. I've never met him, but we have to find a new source for films.

We can buy cartoons, so I bought Polar Express. Just as I was warned by countless reviewers, it was indeed a horror movie. You've got these kids traveling with some weird guy on a train with a ghost and then you end up in the North Pole, which is actually world-war 2 era Europe. The elves are all dressed alike in red. They are the subjects of a dictator: Santa Claus. It is unclear whether he is a benevolent dictator or one who rules through terror.

His appearance is attended by hundreds of thousands of red-clad elves who are what? Nazis? Facists? Islamists? Government employees? I am not sure. I am reminded of the huge Death to America rallies that take place during revolution-week and the thousands of black-chadored women marching with their fists in the air. It is not all that different looking.

The appearance of Santa Claus causes awe, but it is hard to tell whether this is because the elves like him or because they fear him. Even the party they throw to "celebrate" Christmas eve seems forced. It's as though they have been ordered to have fun. "Have fun or lose your job!" It's a little bit like forcing people to vote. The turnout is high, but the participation is low.

Well, merry Christmas.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Religion as law…Opinion as fact
It has been some years since I lived in America. In all that time, I have been unwilling and incapable of becoming an expatriate in the sense of how I have seen it lived by many expatriates: as knee-jerk anti-Americanism. When listening to their anti-American rants, I have often felt that it is much easier to count the sins of a nation/people than its virtues. Not that I want to close my eyes to the mistakes, injustices, and even evils of my nation/people, no not that. I just cannot close my eyes to its virtues. I cannot close my eyes to the idea of America as an unfinished project rather that as something complete, dead, and defined. As a child I struggled with conflicting views of America: one that saw America through the eyes of the Viet Nam war and one that saw America through the eyes of my immigrant relatives. I struggled to reconcile these conflicting views of America and was able to. As a result, my understanding of America is complex. I can never relinquish my American identity. It is not an identity that I shrink from. This does not mean that I am always proud of it or uncritical of it. No. It means that it is mine, and it is complex, and I will not disown it. I have been proud and amused by the way American ingenuity is so touted by us. I guess the real ingenuity is giving so many of the world's population opportunities to invent, work, and study. That has been our true ingenuity.

That said, I feel that my identity is under attack. Will my Americanism become a relic? Will people find me out of date, quaint even? Are free press, free speech, immigration, religious freedom, and the separation of church and state all coming under attack?

I have a friend here in Iran who is brilliant in his field but cannot complete his studies here because somebody (or bodies) has determined that he is not Islamic enough. Iran is a country that has shown itself willing to lose most of its best and brightest to the rest of the world: all in the name of ideology. America, having become wildly paranoid since 9/11, will no longer issue visas to these people. Trust me, they will go elsewhere. When they do go elsewhere, America will suffer.

My religion is a minority religion in both the US and in Iran. I do not want to live under the religious rule of either. I do not want them to live under the rules of my religion either. Why would I? When religions rule, they set themselves up as superior to civil law and other religious beliefs. Many Muslims believe that they should only do business with other Muslims. Many Christians believe the same. (To be fair, other peoples and religions believe the same, but I am only addressing the dominant religions of America and Iran.) This is how they interpret their religious mandate in the world. Disrespecting the wishes and even the legal protections of others is acceptable under religious rule because the ruling interpretation of God's word is more important than anything else. And that is key: interpretation. Law is always subject to interpretation. Proponents of religious law, however, can always claim that God is on their side which essentially means that you must bow to God's word. The ruling interpretation of God's word often needs to combine their interpretation with violence in order to enforce their ideas. After all, violence is acceptable with God on your side. We've all seen it.

When I was nine or ten, I heard a story from the Talmud about a group of Rabbis arguing about a law. One of the Rabbis argued that God was on his side and that he could prove that by performing a series of small miracles. None of the miracles was enough to convince the other Rabbis that their reasoning was incorrect and that they should change their opinion so that it was in alignment with the opinion of the Rabbi who had God on his side. In the end, God approves of their dissent. God says, "The Law is not in heaven."

Law is subject to change and interpretation.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Happy Sizdeh Bedar
On the thirteenth day after the New Year, Iranians go out for a picnic. I mean, just about everyone in the entire country goes outside to play badminton and eat a picnic lunch. It is the most amazing holiday. It is fun. It is peaceful. It is delightful. It is nicer than you imagine.

We picnicked with a group of foreigners, which means we had cold food. Most Iranians cannot imagine a cold lunch. They bring gas burners and kebabis with them so that they can eat stews and kebabs, and of course, the all important: hot tea.

Note to America: please do not attack Iran. It won't work. Iranians are nationalists… just like us. As a writer in a recent edition of the Economist (print, read in the back of a taxi, sorry no direct quote) wrote: with notable exceptions, Americans of all political stripes are pro-American. Get it? We may hate our administration at any given time, but we would band together if attacked… Am I right? That said, how many Iranians do you know who, when pushed, do not share a similar feeling about Iran? Attacking will strengthen the current group in power, not weaken it.

Happy Sizdeh Bedar.
Here is a correspondence between me and Hooman of Whoman. I decided to respond to his points in this blog. Then I found that I could not exactly argue with his points because in many ways he is exactly right. The only thing I will not give up on is the idea of change. K says, "Iranians take a long time to decide to change, but once they do: they do." I'll let Hooman speak for himself. Maybe one day, I will respond in detail.

Your blog remains a fresh breath of air. I enjoyed your last post, that's perhaps why I am writing to give some inputs although I don't know if you are interested in having any.

"Iranians are smarter about the world of politics than I am."

Don't be so sure of that. Iranians (specially older generations) usually brag about their political "insights" and flaunt them. As you know it is a pastime among many to talk politics with a spin that Don Quixote would have used.

I think Iranians waste a lot of their creative energy and vision by fighting their own windmills, dreaming unrealistic dreams, and an evasive culture (that you touched on in a later post). They would be better off if they kept their head out of the sand instead of burying it in there.

The fact is that their political remarks are not well-thought out or well-researched with solid evidences to back them up. They could be equally wrong as they could be right on specific topics. It is not that hard to be correct 50% of the time when things are hazy and uncertain.

"Iranians have an open and resilient culture that is unbelievably open to change."

I can agree with resilience of the culture, but open? I am not so sure. The downside of this resilience is that every time the culture bounces back up, it ends up having more cues and formalities added to otherwise simple interaction of people. Evasiveness and its burden on the culture have built up this way in the course of time.