Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Roughneck USA

New post at Mideast Youth. Read the whole thing there.

“All of the foreigners who ride in my taxi – French, German, Spanish – they all love Iran. I am curious, so I ask them.”

“They love Iran because they expect something much worse.”

“What do you mean?”

“They expect to be frightened and see people living in fear.” (Forgive me if I am not nuanced in my conversations… I am not a fluent Persian speaker. I do the best I can with my limited abilities.) “We are afraid of you.”

The driver laughs. He thinks I’m joking. I must be joking. Us afraid of them?

“Why is it that foreigners have such a bad impression of Iran?” the taxi driver asked me.

“The only images of Iran that we see in the west are of thousands of people shouting, Down with America, Down with Israel, and then burning flags. This scares us.”

“Yeah, but that does not mean that we dislike Americans. We like Americans. It’s the government we don’t like.”

“Americans do not understand that difference.”

“Don’t they ask why we burn their flag? Don’t they want to know?”

“We do not want to know why. It just makes us angry.” [Our 'friends' dislike us the most, it seems.]

Read the whole post at Mideast Youth

Monday, February 26, 2007

Naive, not stupid

From Keivan

I am not sure were I am going with this, but first let me thank you all for your interesting comments. I do feel that if you read all of the responses to my posting you guys all will get at least partial answers to your asked/non asked questions.

I am definitely not sorry for taking part in the revolution. A 16 year-old boy who was part of something so huge and amazing can’t take a lot to take a credit for anything.

I feel that I need to clarify a couple of things. A woman wrote: “ I am one of those Iranians who lost much because of the revolution. at times, I sit down and blame people like you (or my husband), who were young, and stupid, and didn't listen to your fathers”. Basically I am not sure how to answer this, but first let me tell you this I was definitely young, but not stupid. (I know that I wrote that I was young and stupid. Probably “naïve” is a better word than “stupid.” At the time I did feel that what I was part of was the right thing to do. I had a sense of social justice. I could not accept that 44,000 Americans were getting paid more than the rest of the country. It was obvious that there were people who were just stealing from the nation, just as there are now. We were also very concerned about human rights.

Almost the whole country was proud to be part of the 1979 revolution: whether they like to admit it now or not. Considering the situation now, you can say most of people were better off then than now. Looking at boys and girls who are the same age I was at the time of the revolution, I can easily say we had much better lives then than they have now.

I am not sorry to be part of the revolution at all. I would do it again under the same situation; you can call it stupid or what ever you want. My father was wrong to just use his personal (maybe historical) experiences to keep me from being part of a something that a lot of people in the world called it one of the most amazing events of the last century. I say that, but my father was also right. He was right for the wrong reasons.

I do think the direction of the revolution changed from the way we imagined it. That is why I would not forgive people for wasting our dreams building a society that is collapsing from corruption, drug abuse, and dishonesty. I see unjustness here everyday.

I am not going to get in to why the revolution changed, because there are 100’s of books that are still not able to describe all the factors. It is just unbelievable how people in power here can heep people is this miserable situation and still appear on TV/Radio as innocents to complain about the lack of this and the lack of that. Even the dumbest person/government should learn after 28 years how to govern.

Naj wrote: “But you see ... this time around, Iran wants peace, and America is sending more fighter carriers to the Persian gulf ... why IS America not leaving us to our own problems?” If Iran wants peace, then why are they playing a mouse and cat game with the international community? Iran should defend its rights, including the right to Nuclear Technology, but Iran should be more transparent, at least in its foreign affairs, because the International communities are not like you and me who can be shut-up by the Ahmadinejad government. There are many ways to get what you want. It looks like we Iranians use always the most difficult and least successful ways. This is how I feel about Iranians in Qom, Los Angeles, and Tehran. Sorry if I create more arguments for you guys. I am going away for a couple of weeks, so you’ll just have to argue by yourselves.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Open Letter on Iranian Holocaust Denial Conference

I would be remiss if I did not post a link to this letter from a handful of Iranian intellectuals over at Norm's Place.

(I know I wrote "handful," but I believe it is only a handful because more Iranians did not have an opportunity to sign the letter before it was sent.)

Norooz 2007

Continually updated post... Watch this space for more and more and more...

Pictures and posts:

From Kamangir: Let the Propoganda Begin

From Papillon: Noroze.

Fram Payvand: Iranians Celebrate Chahar-Shanbeh Soori, Festival of Fire

Norooz: An Eternal Iranian Tradition

From me: The Last Tuesday...

Norooz for Sale

From Flickr: Photos tagged with norooz

From Elizabeth: Haft Cinn

From Pars-Arts: Happy Norooz!

From Levantine Cultural Center: Happy Norouz

Goldfish have officially gone on sale in Iran. Goldfish are one of the items that most Norooz displays have.

You can email me (responses (AT) gmail (DOT) com) or link to this post when you have added a Norooz 2007 link. Or you can always add your link in the comments section.


Iran's bazaar

Before I came to Iran, I thought a bazaar was a quaint relic that had more value as a tourism draw than as an actual economic powerhouse. Iran's bazaar, I learned, is more than that, and Angus McDowall has written a great article about Iran's bazaar. Here is an excerpt:

The bazaar, a city within a city sprawling across central Tehran, has been at the heart of the Islamic republic since it rose from the ashes of the Shah's monarchy in 1979. In so secretive a world, it is impossible to know the extent of the bazaar's control, but estimates range up to a third of the country's retail market. With its high political connections and long economic reach, some Iranians see the bazaar as the centre of a mafia that permeates the entire state.

But this thumping commercial heart, which has pumped Iran's lifeblood for hundreds of years, is in trouble. Its arteries already clogged by modernisation, it now suffers the effects of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's reckless foreign policy and the belligerent rhetoric of the United States: the threat of sanctions and war. The economy is in crisis, the bazaar feels its pain, and worse could be in store as a result of Iran's nuclear showdown with the West.

"The economy is very bad now - prices are high, sanctions are coming," says Yadollah Bakhtiari, a grey haired mercantile veteran whose business has survived revolution, war, international isolation and a fast-changing economy. "Enmity is bad for business."

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

See Iranians at play....

Guess what. There is a great opportunity for journalists, photographers, and Iranians to present a different picture of Iran than the flag burning and fist raising that is so emblematic of Iran. The Iranian New Year holidays are fast approaching. They start on the last Tuesday evening prior to March 20 and go until April 1.

What is great about these holidays is that there is no religious or political obligation to celebrate them. The celebration in Iran is the celebration of a culture—of a whole people. The New Year is when you see the people of Iran at their best and at their least politicized. It is also a holiday that belongs to everyone. It is not religious.

Thirteen days after the New Year, usually on April 1, the entire nation of Iran goes out on a picnic. This is a public gathering that is not coerced or orchestrated. It is a great opportunity to see huge numbers of Iranians publicly enjoying themselves.

If the media is not interested in presenting this image of Iran, there is no reason why those of us in Iran cannot. I would like to see as many people as possible go out during the Norooz holidays and take pictures. Upload your pictures and tag them "Norooz 2007". That's an order…;-)

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Down with down withs

From Keivan...

Down with America

We got up at 4 in the morning; it was a dark and cold winter day. My older brother, who was most of the time sick of having me around, agreed to go together to Qom. It was one of the coldest winter mornings that I had ever felt. The winter of 1979 was one I would never forget.

The night before we had convinced our mother and older brother that we would be okay and that they should not worry. We were going to witness the arrival of Ayatollah Khomeini in Qom, right after he got back from France.

My lovely dying father, who was in bed with lung cancer at the time, tried everything to stop us from going. In a very powerless voice tried to convince us not to go. He was telling us non-stop that this revolution would bring the country backwards and that we should never trust the Mullahs. He was definitely not a Shah lover, but he had this bad feeling about everything was happening. We did not listen. We left for Qom.

It was not far from my hometown to Qom. We got there around 6 in the morning. We knew that Khomeini would arrive much later. On the ugly streets of Qom, my brother and I yelled -- not for first time -- thousand of times ”Allah-o akbar, Khomeini rahbar, marg bar Amrika.” (God is Great, Khomeini is the leader, down with America)

I will never forget that day. I did see Khomeini, and I was really happy to take this big action to witness an historical day in Iran.

I was happy about the revolution. Now I am like millions of my fellow countrymen who, like me, as young men and women went to the streets to cheer on the revolution and to shout down with America, and who now feel betrayed and devastated. Will the young people yelling the same thing today learn from me? Will they be like me? Regretful? Homeless?

My father was right about all of this. We were young and we were stupid. Maybe we were right about the revolution, but we were wrong about its direction. We did not know what we were talking about, just as my father said. Things took a turn for the worst. Me being only almost 16, I was really excited for the first time. Like people today on the streets of Iran, I did said many times Down with America. And I am really sorry about that. Not because America has been such nice friend for Iran, not because I say down with America and I don’t mean the American people, but because it is just so wrong to call for the death of a nation, and I don’t care which nation it is. This is especially true if you want to improve your image or you are internationally isolated.

I totally agree with Esther about this horrible flag burring sh*t.

Iranians should feel very sad and ashamed. I cannot imagine waking up in an apartment in New York city or any other city and looking out of the window and hearing people singing Down with Iran. It would be really painful. I know that I could not take it, and I know for a fact that it would make me sick. Hearing Down with America here is making me sick and that is not just to support Esther because she is living here with me, but because she is right. I am really sick and tired to hear how Iranians always blame others for every misfortune.

Even so I blame the British. ;-)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

22 Bahman… and another day off…

Corrections to the text made thanks to comments from "M".

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the revolution: the day that the Shah's regime fell and several days after the Air France flight landed with Khomeini on board. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians (really millions: certainly all 10 million Basiji will be there) will turn out tomorrow to chant Nuclear energy is our inevitableinalienable right (inevitable? Why “inevitable” I wonder? Note to: M, I did see someone wearing a hand-painted sign that had "inevitable" written instead of "inalienable"), Down with America (of course), Down with Israel (double of course), Down with England (maybe they’re on to something ;-) ), and perhaps Down with France and Germany as well. For most it will mean nothing, but for some it will mean something. For a dangerous minority, the aggression is real.

I watched Khamenei speak to air force servicemenat the induction of new police officers (on television, not live). Thousands of blue-hatted men lifted their fists in the air and shouted “Down with America” like a bunch of automatons. Why do regimes always choose to portray themselves in the most despicable manner? Why do they goose step and raise their fists in the air? Why do they choose to set themselves against an enemy rather than for themselves?

It’s wasteful and despicable. And for all those Iranians asking me to tell the world “We are not terrorists,” I challenge you to present a different view. I know it is tough. I know, I know, I know. I am sympathetic. I know it’s fun to be out in a crowd. I know that it’s fun to let yourself get swept away in crowd behavior the way I might do when I go to a rock concert. I know. I know. What’s worse, is that I know how seductive the image of the demonstration is for the media (all-inclusive, because the Iranian media is just as responsible for the image of flag-burning, fist-waving fanaticism as the bugaboo Western media). I know that marchers ham it up for the camera. “I almost got my hair singed,” a photojournalist told me. “When the marchers saw me with my camera, they decided to burn one of their flags.” (For those of you who want to join the fun, burn your own virtual flag. Read what Scott Adams says about flag burning.)

This is the official picture of Iran and the unofficial picture of Iran. This image was created here, not in the west. It will have to be un-created here as well.

It doesn’t help for me to say that a black-tented woman shouting Down with America is much more likely to serve me dinner than to serve me up. It’s time for people here to start taking a bit of responsibility of the image being broadcast out.

And I know it’s hard. It may not even be possible.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Tips for web sites that are meant to be read behind the iron veil

I am amazed by the number of sites that I am *supposed* to read from here (Iran)that are filled with multi-media, links to Flik'r, Photobucket, and Youtube, and graphics heavy. Flik'r, Photobucket, and Youtube are all filtered folks. On top of that, the regime has put such a squeeze on our bandwidth that a dial-up modem is often faster than dsl. This makes using circumventors for blocked content a frigging headache.

So, if you want those of us behind the iron veil to read your site here are some tips:

1. Go easy on multi-media
2. Provide text feeds with complete posts or columns, not summaries
3. Don't depend on images or multi-media to tell your story (I am not saying don't use them, just provide the rest of us with some description so we can share in the joke)
4. Try not to make us move around the web too much to get the point of your story

That's it. Thanks for listening

Update of Life in Iran

Posted at Mideast Youth for those of you interested...

Friday, February 02, 2007

Happy Birthday

"You Shi'a certainly take a lot of holidays," a (rare) Sunni neighbor said to Keivan.

"Well, if you guys wouldn't kill us then we wouldn't have to have this holiday," Keivan answered. The neighbor was stunned at first but laughed with Keivan. He thinks the Shi'a are nuts.

Two days after Ashura, we found ourselves magically transported to a friend's birthday party. During a month when parties are infrequent or just simply quiet in order to avoid the prying of neighbors and potential visits from the police, this was a loud party with dancing and singing. Young and old were represented in healthy numbers as our friend was presented with cake and gifts.

"The sun should never set on Ashura," a woman told us as we discussed the best Ashura events in Iran. She had traveled the entire country observing them. Her favorite was in some out of the way corner of Iran and was, by her accounts, different from all others.

I imagined her standing by the procession in a black scarf and a black manteau crying as the battle of Karbala was recounted in chants. Now, here she was, vodka in hand, listening to music and watching the young people dance. This is what people mean when they tell you that you never know what to expect in Iran.

After a series of Iranian songs sung by a deep-voiced youth, the host's daughter attached her ipod to the stereo and acted as DJ: Bob Dylan, Queen, Cream, and R.E.M. Ahh… the tunes of my youth. What are they doing on the ipod of a 19-year old?

We all sang along to my favorite REM tune: Losing My Religion. It never sounded more like an anthem then when sung by these young Iranian party-goers.