Monday, February 27, 2006

Request to news organizations covering the Iran nuclear issue!!!

“Why do Iranians mistrust everything the government tells them, but trust their spin when it comes to the nuclear issue?” We were wondering last night. If you have followed the nuclear issue at all, then you know that it is reported that Iranians support their government in this issue. Yet, when you hear Iranians on the street respond to reporters (and to me and to K…) they always say “We support nuclear ENERGY.” You would be hard-pressed to find an Iranian who would say “We need nukes. We are willing to be isolated for nukes.”

The standard line in Iran is that the West wants to prevent it from having nuclear knowledge and nuclear POWER. Not arms…

Iranians watch CNN, BBC World, VOA, Euronews… I do too. I have yet to hear a reporter say that the West does not want to limit Iran’s access to nuclear energy, just to nuclear arms. It may seem obvious to you, but it is not obvious here. It’s such a simple thing to do. Please let Iranians know the difference between the West’s position and their own government’s spin.

Taxi Talk

“Where else do you have such poverty next to such wealth?” a young taxi driver asked. (A lot of places…) “These rich young men buy $200,000 cars with their father’s money and then lie around all day, while we live in the south of the city struggling to make a living. It breaks your heart. With all that we could have. We have four seasons, oil, good people who have become liars and cheaters, but it is all stolen from us. Sometimes I am just so tired of the pressure.”

“I picked up this American. He did not speak Persian, and I do not have many words of English. I had to take him to the airport. The whole way he was nervous, afraid. I could see him almost shaking. I kept thinking why is he so nervous? And then I realized that I had not shaved for several days, and my beard was full. He was afraid of my beard. He thought I was a terrorist and that I would cut off his head. When we got to the airport he said “Tank you, tank you, tank you,” a thousand times. I helped him with his luggage. Obviously he was happy he still had his head.”

I laughed.

“We have a problem with out religion. It is a religion of force.”

I argued, “No it’s religion mixed with politics.”

“No,” he responded. “It is our religion. We are the ones with all of the terrorists, aren’t we? It is every religion. We are a good people who have become bad with religion just like the Christians were bad a thousand years ago. Now they do not have religion and they are better.”

I said, “No it’s still politics. Islam is the biggest religion in the world, it’s no wonder that it also has its problems.” But he stuck to his guns.

“I always had Jewish friends and Christian friends and Muslim friends and Bahai friends and Zoroastrian friends. We went to each other’s houses. We drank and ate together. We sang and danced together. What do I have against Christians or Jews or Israelis? Nothing. I have nothing against them. My Christian friend came to me and asked, ‘Do you think I am dirty?’

‘Dirty, why?’

‘Doesn’t your religion say that Christians are dirty?’

‘Eeeh baba, what difference does that make? Why would you suddenly become dirty after being my friend for 14 years? Do you think I am dirty?’”

Older man, big, white knit skullcap, loose-fitting maroon suit

“Every night I go to sleep dreaming of waking up to find the American military telling me what to do. This is the dream of many Iranians. The mullahs are terrible. They steal our money. I say they should leave our country. Leave us alone. They have enough money. They can all buy houses in Denmark.” Laughs at his own joke.

“Aren’t you afraid of them?”

“Aren’t you afraid of dogs?” (Actually no…)

Long Time...

...No write

Just sick of politics I guess. I forgot how to write about day-to-day life because it seemed there was no day-to-day life. But there was. There were the mountains, the taxi drivers, the jokes, the kindnesses, shopping, worrying.

Speaking of worrying… In the past 27 years Tehran has grown from something like 4 million to something like 20 million. “That doesn’t include the Afghans,” someone told us the other night. “They try to disappear into the crowd.”

The buildings are still going up. Everywhere we go, there is the sound of jackhammers, the smell of tar, and the sight of steel frames going up into the air. I thought the building would slow down when sanctions were threatened, but it’s sped up. Maybe the owners are worried about increases in the prices of building materials.

“I am so confused,” a recent returnee and very dear friend tells me and K. “I was coming from the airport with my dad, and I asked him, ‘where are we?’ he told me the name of the street. I always remembered this street as so beautiful, and now it was just ugly. Really ugly. Tehran is an ugly city.”

I have learned to find Tehran beautiful in its own way.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Losing my sense of humor…

Tagged as:
Sung to the tune of REM’s song…

“Did you know that a German paper has published a cartoon of the Iranian national team as suicide bombers?”

I laugh. K doesn’t think it’s funny. “It’s an insult to the Iranian people, not to our government.”

“I am sure that they did not caricature the individual players.”

“It is still our team.”

The paper's editors are clueless as to why portraying athletes as terrorists might have outraged Iranians. "The absurdity of the situation is obvious," editor Gerd Appenzeller writes in an opinion piece. No one, he argues, would ever believe that the Iranian team would show up armed -- nor would the Bundeswehr be present on the soccer pitch. "The illustrator makes that clear," he explains. "The Iranians' faces, just like those of the Germans, are those of peaceful everyday people -- the boys next door" -- not rabid terrorists. The paper said it "regretted the Iranian reactions to the caricature" and that it would be hard to explain the domestic political debate over deploying the Bundeswehr during the World Cup to the Iranians.

Don’t joke about football in Iran… the riots will really start!

“Iran deserves it. They advertise for suicide bombers, train them, reward them. What do they expect?”

“Now an Iranian paper is sponsoring a contest for cartoons about the Holocaust.”

“That’s sick.”

“That’s where free speech gets you…”

“No one is making fun of the Iranians who were gassed during the war with Iraq. They are not the subject of cartoons. Surely you see the difference.”

“Of course I see the difference. But when I go to Europe people see me as a terrorist. That’s what bothers me.”

Iranians know that the rest of the world sees them as terrorists. It really, really disturbs them. But they are out of control of their image abroad. It’s been hijacked.

“Why can’t we be a normal country?”

“What’s normal?”

“You know, modern. A place where people are not scared.”

I have said this before, and I’ll say it again: the biggest lesson I have learned in Iran is that free speech is more important than democracy. Iranians all have opinions. They know how to talk, and they speak their minds. What they cannot do is organize. I can tell you what I think as long as I don’t tell three strangers what I think. I can disagree with government actions as long as I don’t try to get anyone else to act on my ideas. Talk is okay. Action is not. Free speech is action.

Gene (in the comments section) asks about the bus drivers in Iran. Do people know what is going on? I don’t know. We have heard sympathy for them. But it’s very quiet. Think of these drivers… They are AN’s natural constituents: poor, hardworking, most likely observant. And they are arrested and put in prison for demanding living wages! AN would probably call them “imaginary,” just as he did when Christianne Amanpour asked him about the plight of people similar to these drivers.

This is a regime that punishes its supporters more than its detractors. There is absolutely no news of the plight of the bus drivers in Iran. There is very, very little discussion of it.

Well, I'll make sure to look for the union label and remember the depth of gratitude I owe to the unions and guilds who spent centuries creating dialog, free speech, and democracy. (Do you think that might actually be the case? I am not a historian of democracy or of unions/guilds... just wondering.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Nerves & Giggles

Tagged as:

Irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, panic attacks, headaches, and other nervous disorders… Almost everyone I know in Iran suffers one of these ailments.

One more: “Why don’t Iranians just overthrow their government…” and I am going to puke. Ever overthrown a regime? Not an easy thing… I assure you.

“My aunt has the bill, I swear I have seen it myself, for the 4 bullets that were used to execute her son. When she asked: ‘where is his grave?’ she was shown a mass-grave where hundreds of others were also buried. This was 20 years ago.”

We were talking about the cartoon furor which, despite what you might think, is not such a furor in Iran. Not that Iranians are not observant Muslims, just that they are sick to death of the manipulation of Islam for political ends. (For those of you who read Dutch:read Erdbrink's eye-witness account of the demonstration in front of the Danish embassy.)

“The mullahs have always controlled our understanding of Islam,” a friend tells me. “They are losing that control here. Partly it’s because of the revolution. We have to study the Koran in school. Now, we ourselves know what is in it. We don’t need the mullahs.”

Iranians also have experience with limits on their freedom of humor. It was a capital crime to make fun of a mullah. Now it’s the number 1 Iranian past time. (How else could a frankly pro-Islamic film like Marmulak get banned? BTW, if you have not seen it, see it. It is great!) As a rule, Iranians are highly unlikely to support any efforts to limit their freedom of humor.

“Did you know that it is impossible to pick a mullah’s pocket?” a friend asks me. “It’s just too deep.”

Monday, February 06, 2006

Sister called, “Has cartoon-mania hit your neighborhood yet?”
“If it’s not on the cartoon channel, I don’t see it.”
I laughed.

The cartoons are now part of the nuclear crisis in Iran.

“The Muslim world is vigilant”, Haddad-Adel said. “As they have expressed outrage and protest at the desecration of the prophet of Islam, they will not keep silent against bullying remarks under the pretext of a resolution of the UN nuclear agency”.

“Give me a letter asking the American soldiers not to kill me,” a friend asks me. It’s half a joke, half serious. Iranians really worry about the effects of being referred to the Security Council.

“You mean even the Russians voted against us?” a taxi driver asks in disbelief. K explains for him.

“Only Syria, Venezuela, and Cuba voted against the resolution.”

“Syria, Venezuela, and Cuba? You mean the Chinese voted against us too?”

“The IAEA does not trust that Iran has told the full truth.”

The driver just accepts this. Like very other Iranian, he knows there is no arguing with that comment.

“Why do we have such bad luck?” the driver asks.

“Well we have a president who cannot even accept the fact that 6 million Jews were killed in gas chambers and asks for Israel to be wiped off the map. Not even the Palestinians ask for this, but we have to.”

“What difference does that make?”

“What if Bush said that there was no war with Iraq and that over 1 million people did not die in that war? How do you think that would make us feel?”

Destination reached. An informal gathering that includes Iranians, Iraninan-kharigi, an Indian or three or four, some Australians, and us…

Talk of cartoon mania. “I could start a riot in India with these two posters.” Shows us the Ali and Hossein posters that grace the streets of Iran.

“Some Iranians tell me that those paintings are not really of Ali or Hossein, but of their friends.”

“I was visiting family who showed me a light-up painting of Ali. They did not say it was of one of his friends.”

“We also have a friend who keeps a 300-year old painting of Mohammad hidden in her bedroom. ‘They say there are no paintings of Mohammad, but I have one,’ she brags.”

“But still, it’s a pretty lame expression of free speech. Especially given the fact that the Muslim communities in Northern Europe feel so marginalized and under attack, which, of course, does not excuse the reaction.”

“Muslims are thinned skin.”

“You have to have a thicker skin in this world…”

After much discussion an agreement was made: “Mono-cultures are bad.”

Well my friend the entomologist agrees. She always told me that mono-cultures can be quickly destroyed by disease.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Adventures of Mr.Behi: We still can or we never could?

Adventures of Mr.Behi: We still can or we never could?

Just enjoying this post from Mr. Behi:

There is a lovely story about one of the old comic legend in Iranian literature that talks about the day he shouted in the middle of the main square of his town that he was still as powerful as when he was 20. People gathered around that 60 year old guy and asked for proof.

He took them to the country side where there was a big rock along side of the river. He started pushing the rock so hard for some minutes and then gave up. After restoring his breath he claimed: "See, I could neither move this when I was 20".

The Iranian president claimed :" We STILL have means to confront the west".


Speaking of sense of humor…

Cartoon-mania has swept the airwaves. Free speech? Blasphemy? K and I have been discussing it. We argued a bit about free speech. I have been disgusted – yes that is the right word – by the arguments on both sides: the cartoon supporters and the cartoon detractors. Both are a bit incoherent and dogmatic. As if free speech demands the printing and reprinting of the cartoons ad nauseum… and as if blasphemy is a legitmate legal ruling in today's world.

In America
, we have come to a kind of truce. What do most Americans know? That in polite society only Jews make Jewish jokes; only Blacks use the “n” word; only Poles make Polish jokes… and everybody gets to pick on the dominant culture. That’s the way that minorities protect themselves. It wasn’t an easy truce to come to… and it is violated. I see it as a manners issue, not a free speech issue.

Party Talk

We attend more parties in Iran in two months than we do in two years elsewhere.

It’s not like you can say “Hey, let’s go for a couple of beers after work.” No, you have to organize something, go to someone’s house, climb a mountain… something like that.

There are certain patterns to parties. For instance, Iranian parties are filled with couples who look like they stepped out of a high-school prom photo even though they are way over high-school age. You always have somewhere to wear your prom dress or suit in Iran, that’s for sure. Especially if that prom dress is strapless and low cut and that suit is trendy but not a tux. Some Iranian parties involve loud music and dancing. Others involve chatting in a living room, playing cards and backgammon. Of course there are the rumored orgies, but I have never met anyone who was actually invited to one.

Anglo parties are pretty casual with women and men complaining about hijab and Iran, dressed in jeans, and little to no effort on hair and makeup.

Intellectual parties are filled with women in long embroidered shirts, men in natural fiber vests, alcohol, some excellent dancing by the older set (the younger set just sits and talks), and lots and lots of talk.

They *can* be mixed.

“Why didn’t I study the culture of Brazil? Why did I have to choose the Middle East? I miss fun,” a friend lamented.

“When I go home, I am amazed at the level of fun. I mean I watched movies in a parking lot, drinking a beer. That was fun! I would be willing to fight for fun.”

“I used to think sitting outside having a beer in a café in a park was a bore. Now I dream about it.”

“It’s never boring in Iran, but it isn’t all that fun either.

“Which is why everyone feels that the situation in Iran is so unstable. I mean, if it were fun here, then people would feel more secure. They would feel like there was a future here.”

“Every bit of fun is stamped on.”

My friend in America always told me that paranoid powers have no sense of humor. “They say that the Nixon administration had no sense of humor.” Well this one filters satire on the internet and puts political humorists in prison.

(BTW, wanted to post this on Wednesday night, but I was late for a party)