Friday, March 30, 2007

Not quite an update... more on the fifteen

Keivan woke up this morning and heard Ahmadinejad saying that the British had to apologize. "The negotiations are over now. Now we have a problem," he said. What he meant was that now an official voice had spoken and Iran's position was getting more firm.

Angus McDowall has a good article about this very issue:

Last night's dramatic footage demonstrates how extremists with a grudge against the West and a burning sense of ambition can force Iran into sudden confrontations that its smoothest-talking diplomats can have trouble defusing. The revolutionary guardsmen and their radical supporters behind this crisis only represent a single faction. But they have been able to take Iran's foreign policy hostage and provoke an international incident.

Taking advantage of the deep fractures in the Iranian state, the revolutionary guards have created a fait accompli, forcing the government to adopt a position from which it will be hard to back down. Driven by their experiences of the revolution and eight bloody years of war with Iraq, many guardsmen want to see Iran take a more aggressive stance against Britain and America. The confusion is caused by Iran's unusual political system, which combines democratic elements such as an elected president and parliament with the theocratic rule of a supreme leader. In practice, this means decisions are rarely made by a single person: they are disputed and fought over by a host of political factions and vested interests, including religious leaders, elected politicians, wealthy merchants -- and soldiers.

I also agree with parts of what The Moor Next Door says about Iran's capture of the 15 British sailors:

This move lacked tact and subtlety. This kind of bold behavior irritates enemies and solidifies their alliances. This sort of action simply validates American perceptions of Iranian behavior (which are often incorrect, and even dangerous, in their judgements, because they are usually hysterical and spasmodic), and serves to potentially transfer those across the Atlantic.

(Found via Global Voices)

Last night, we decided to start a pool (I know, it's crass...) for when the sailors will be released. My guess is 15 months (everyone thinks I am nuts. I hope they are right), Keivan and another friend think sometime next week after Sizdeh Bedar (the 13th day after the New Year and the last day of the New Year's holidays). No one else was brazen enough to hazard a guess.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Negotiating,,, Redux

Iranian rebuttal shown via BBC World

Any diplomat who has ever worked in Iran can tell you that negotiations rarely go your way once the issues become public.

The problem is that in a case like this one: where 15 British sailors were nabbed while boating in troubled waters, in front of 2 journalists, which pretty much meant that there was no way of keeping the event quiet. This also meant that there was no way to have a kind of low-key negotiation behind-the-scenes.

It is only normal that the British public would demand a show of strength from its government. Unfortunately, it is likely that this show is also jeopardizing the negotiations. As Keivan and I have learned in much, much lower stakes negotiating, any show of desperation or demand is met by stonewalling and backtracking. Many Iranians seem to have no concept of win-win negotiating, which makes them dangerous.

“If I am not screwing you, you must be screwing me,” is how many Iranians seem to think of the negotiating process.

I am sure that the British politicians and diplomats understand all this, but now they are stuck with a public “ratcheting up” that just may end up meaning a few months of detention for the British sailors. Hope I am wrong.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

No News is Good News... or Not

“I can only come over if I can accept a call from a radio station,” a friend said to us last night. We thought: cool, we’ll get the scoop on the 15 British Sailors. Well, turns out he didn’t know any more than we do, which is not all that much, but probably more than many of you know.

Is no news good news?

In most of the cases no news is good news, but since lately Iran doesn’t do things like any other places do this may not be the case here.

Since last Friday, I have had the TV remote control glued to my hand. In Tehran, it is raining, and we did not go away for holidays, so I am trying non-stop to get a little bit of news about the 15 sailors who ware captured 5 days ago. So far my only sources about this incident are the internet and foreign media outlets. My couple of attempts to get any news from the Iranian government official web site or the TV news were very disappointing. Here in Iran, the government has a different take on news: they are in the business of getting news and information rather than providing it.

Imagine the deputy foreign minister of Iran meeting with Geoffrey Adams, the British ambassador in Iran and asking him: whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat’s up? Here it is not just “what is up?” “how are you?” like it is in the Budweiser commercials but more like “hey Mr. Adams do you have any news of your 15 sailors, because we sure don’t have any?” Here in Iran most people are on vacation. My brother called me yesterday, and he didn’t even have any idea that this had happened. “Didn’t you see the news?” I asked him. “No,” he said. He is like most Iranians: he is enjoying the new year holidays not worrying about sanctions and territorial waters.

I still want to know if they were in our waters or not. This should not be very difficult for Iran to prove considering all the advanced equipment Iran has got. Certainly, if we can enrich uranium, we have GPS systems. Right? Our foreign minister, like the British one did, can go in front of Iran’s parliament and show our evidence. Why should they ask the British sailors to tell them if they were in Iranian waters?

Today I am almost 100 % convinced that those sailors were not in Iranian waters. It is not just because I saw a live report of Margaret Beckett on the floor of the British parliament. I believe this because it is the first time I see the west, in this case UK, show evidence in a lot of detail, publicly, and very quickly. Usually we just hear that we will show you evidence, but it never really gets shown.

Margaret Beckett’s announcement that British government stopping all bilateral business activities until this issue is solved, is really bad news. It just means that we are starting the year with even more problems.

As I said before in my other posting, even if the sailors were in our waters, the problem could have been solved by using something called megaphones. Iran should and could use this tool more often to prevent anybody getting into our waters. This high tech device could prevent a lot of international crises.

The good news is that we hear that the 15 sailors are well & in good condition. Iran may release the one woman in the group in good faith. That is good but not good enough I fear.

In Iran, we say that you know if the coming year will be good by Spring time. It looks like we are starting off this year all wrong.

Monday, March 26, 2007

300 Spartans + 15 sailors

Last Friday’s capture of 15 British sailors in Shatt al-Arab waterway dividing Iranian and Iraqi territory ruined my attack plan against the new movie 300. Last week we had a problem with 300 Spartans, this week we have the additional problem of 15 British sailors and new UN sanctions. We are not afraid problems. We are a nation of problem-solvers. Hey you guys out there: any problems you can’t handle? Hand them to us…

Tony Blair said
, "We have certainly sent the message back to them very clearly indeed. They should not be under any doubt at all about how seriously we regard this act, which is unjustified and wrong." (

Yes I do believe it was a big mistake from Iran’s part and I am willing to say this incident may be even worse for Iran than the UN Security Council resolution 1747. Why do I think that? I will get back to that in other positing. But let me now get even with the movie 300. I do recommend that you see this film. The best way is if you and 100 other friends buy one DVD together, Otherwise you would be paying too much.

We saw the movie last week, when all was well in Iran and people were getting ready for a lovely new year. A friend invited us to his house to see it. Unlike other times when we were invited, there were no drinks on the table waiting for us. That night we were dealing with very important issues. 300 against 70 million. I cannot complain about the film from an artistic point of view: it seemed like it was beautiful in a fascist sort of way. Since I am not a woman, I cannot complain that there was only one woman in the movie who spent most of her time in bed. And I don’t think my black friends should complain either since they such huge roles in the movie. How that happened, I don’t know.

There were 7 people in the room, behalf of me and Esther. They were all these big guys from foreign newspapers, a few Iranians and our superstar foreign correspondent visiting from a Northern European country who I almost kicked out of the window because he was talking about himself too much. His comments about everything were getting to me. He was like one of those people who thinks he is an expert in the politics of every country that he visits even if he has only visited once and for no more than a week. His first comment to us was, “I hate Americans.” I said, “Then you are in the wrong place because Iranians love Americans.” Then he said, “Some of my best friends are Americans.” (Doesn’t that kind of line make you sick to your stomach? Just like when people say Iranians are terrorists but my neighbor is Iranian and I like him.)

First let me be honest with you, what I feel here is what I am almost 100 % sure you would be feeling if someone made you and your country look like monsters. This is not just about Iran; this insult can be made about any other country, because you don’t have to be right or historically correct. You can always make up stories about any nation and I am sure you can find research to prove what you want to say. From the other side what Azadeh Moaveni wrote:” It is going to take an act of foolhardy courage to distribute that film in Iran. It will truly be 70 million against 300” is ridiculous because yesterday I saw at least 4 places selling the movie 300. They were openly yelling out “300, 300, 300…” It was no secret.

Selling 300 on the streets of Tehran:

and here too:

Iranian newspapers are saying that the making of this film distorts historical facts and makes Iranians look like monsters. Many other Iranians believe that it was made in order to prepare the American public to start war against Iran. One of my friends asked Esther if it was true that America always made a movie like this before going to war. “Wasn’t there a movie like this about Saddam Hussein?” He asked her.

This is part of big conspiracy that the US government is responsible for everything and that US has plans for everything, any time and everywhere. This may be true if you think Americans have super powers and that they are so good at planning. Anyone who has ever visited the US should know that it is not true that everything is so well-planned. This is just part of line which people use to blame everything on others. I wonder why we Iranian buy into this kind of BS all the time?

You can only ask others to be fair if you are fair. Iranians may be upset about this movie, which makes us look very bad, but everyday some of us get up and go to the street to shout down with America. We need to tell our own stories. We need to look at our own propaganda and be more critical of it. Hundreds of people here ask me all sorts of crap about western families: do sons and daughters sleep together? Do they care more about dogs than their own children? Where do they get those ideas? From our own distortions.

I’ll leave you by saying that everyone in the group watching the movie (even the American and the Brit who wants to be known as Scottish, not British) thought it was racist, ridiculous, and dangerous. They all knew it was a fantasy. Esther could not figure out who we were supposed to have sympathy for. “Ahoo!”

Saturday, March 24, 2007

In Iranian waters or not in Iranian waters?

A commentor on my last post wrote:

"and you don't have the slightest doubt that they were not within Iranian Waters..."

Let me agree with the commenter for a second that the British sailors were in Iran's water, if that is the case everybody knows that this is against international law. Iran should have the right to protest that move.

I also strongly believe, particularly in this case, that the best way to act is not to choose to use the very last option you have. It is no secret to anybody that we are living in a very tense situation. At the moment that I am writing this, the UN Security Council is probably passing another damaging series of economic sanctions against Iran. This is a time that Iranians should put their nationalistic feelings aside and not just go after what is right at the moment, but to act in a way that ensures that we prevent a new disaster in Middle East.

So dear Commenter, since we both know that every coin has two sides, what about if the British sailors were not in Iranian waters? Is right to hold them? Will Iran benefit from this action? If Iran is wrong in this case, it will only add to the feeling of people around the world that the Iranian government is out of control. You do not have to be a rocket scientist to figure that out.

I do believe that Iran is looking for ways to show that they are not joking when they say they will retaliate if they come under attack. This may mean that the Iranian government believes that the US and its allies will attack Iran..

(BTW, ET adds that there is a pretty comprehensive roundup at Slate and at Jules Crittenden

Why oh why were British soldiers taken prisoner?

This morning when I woke up, I immediately turned on the TV to watch the latest BBC world news report on the British naval personnel who were captured yesterday morning, but I ended up watching a totally different program first, Francesco da Mosto’s travel journey to explore the history, culture, and modern-day life of Italy. He sets off heading south to Sicily. Francesco da Mosto’s journey is my favorite travel show. He finished this program by saying "Our country is not to be explained, but to be experienced and felt. I really think you can say that about Iran too.

But experiencing it lately means feeling a lot of pain.

Have you ever had a time when nothing is going well for you? Yesterday’s capture of the British Navy personnel by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Naval Corps is just another bad thing at a time when most Iranians feel nothing is going well for them. Considering Iran’s situation, one would think that we would do everything to improve its position in the world, and would do everything possible to make sure that the UN Security Council would not pass another damaging series of economic sanctions against it. But that is when you are rational and you are not looking for crises.

I still don’t understand what happened yesterday. But since yesterday I have been trying to figure out why Iran captured British Navy personnel at the moment when every eye in the world is upon us.

A couple of things came to my mind:

Iran is desperate to show the world and the west in particular that we are able to protect and control Iran’s territorial waters. Why we want to do this by capturing 15 British sailors is not clear to me just yet. The idea may be to have something to exchange for the 5 Iranians who were arrested last January in northern Iraq. This is also a bit strange since the 5 Iranians are held by American forces, not by British forces. It is not even clear those 5 want to come back to Iran.

Another idea is that perhaps Iran wants even more attention. Here are a few more notions that I have been considering:

1) We Iranians cannot read maps very well and got confused about where our territorial waters are.

2) Iran's Revolutionary Guard navy corps did not have anything to do on a boring Friday morning.

3) Iranians like to deal with multiple problems at the same time: a new UN resolution is just not enough for us to deal with when we can handle so many more crises at the same time.

4) The new Iranian Navy exercise in the waters off Bushehr province went berserk.

5) We know Margaret Beckett, the Foreign Secretary will say "We have asked for a full explanation on what has happened and we are leaving them in no doubt that we want the immediate and safe return of our personnel and their equipment."

6) Our president needed a reason for not traveling to the US to give a speech at the UN.

What do you guys think?

Friday, March 23, 2007

It's all the fault of the British...

Of course, only people who have lived in Iran or have read the book My Uncle Napolean realize that what I wrote is a joke.

Today Iran grabbed 15 British soldiers. We found out when we returned from seeing the movie Ekhragieh, which was about 6 misfits who join the Iranian military during the war with Iraq (their war, not ours). Turned on BBC and heard Frances Harrison speculate that Iran may have taken the soldiers in order to negotiate the release of their own captured "diplomats" in Iraq.

It's not the first time that Iran has detained British soldiers, but it is a particularly precarious moment to do so when any provocation could go further than Iran or the West would want.

This was exactly our fear when we heard rumors of Iranian sailors leaving grafitti on American tankers or we imagined nervous, young soldiers getting itchy fingers as they were forced to keep still while smugglers zipped in and out of Persian Gulf waters.

So far is reporting what the BBC reported, which is that the British sailors were brought into Iranian waters by Iranian warships.


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

New Year's wishes

Kamangir tagged me to write my new year’s wishes. He writes that this is going around the Iranian blogosphere. Thanks to my “slow as molasses” Persian reading comprehension skills, I am not even going to attempt to read the wishes written in Persian.

What are my wishes?

1. I wish that we would be paid the money we are owed by one of our clients. The thing is that there is so much corruption in Iran that you have a hard time getting paid if you don’t make bribes. “If I try to get you paid, people will think I have been bribed,” clients tell us. Huh? So I have to bribe you to get my check and you can’t get me my check because I have not bribed you and people will think that I have.

Bureaucracy is the true legacy of the 3000 year old Persian culture. Even corruption is bureaucratic. I am sure they’ll find an ancient version of Catch 22 in the ruins one day.

2. I wish to lead tours for Jewish visitors to Iran and not have people ask if we are Muslims before we are allowed to enter Daniel’s tomb.

3. I wish for a good haircut.

Who is tagged from me? Mr. and Mrs. Behi, my husband, a non-celebrant who has written about his travels in Iran: Sean Paul Kelley, and David Yaghoobi at ddmmyyyy (BTW, why am I crossed off your links list?). DY will have to find the tag online because I cannot find his email address.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Norooz for sale

Goldfish have been on sale for awhile, but a couple of days ago the stores started really pushing their Norooz wares. On Norooz, families place displays in their homes that include 7 items starting with the Persian "S" along with items that represent spring and rebirth (eggs, for instance).


Oh how the mighty Persians have fallen! From empire to chia pet!


Fish, candles, eggs, sprouts, and candles all for sale at the fruit market.
Posted by Picasa

Boys eagerly eyeing the fish.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Last Tuesday in no more...

Last Tuesday, I headed for Meidun-e Mossehni with a friend who was visiting Tehran from Bombay. We walked for at least 90 minutes, passing more police and and military than I have ever seen in my 3.5 years in Iran. Every corner had at least a traffic cop and a soldier. Some had Revolutionary Guards and Basigi. When we arrived at the square there were about 50 motorbike cops (not motorcycle cops). The only people out were boys and boy-men with firecrackers. And that's what pissed me off: the worst aspects of Chahr Shanbeh Souri were evident everywhere: the irresponsible use of fireworks that included throwing them at people's feet and underneath cars and dirty fires made of anything that could be found. It seemed to me that the only purpose of the military/police presence was intimidation, not safety. The regime can say "safety" until they are blue in the face, and I won't believe it. Why control irresponsible fireworks when it's the fear of them that keeps people off the streets in the first place? The police/military presence was there to control fun. That's it.

The dried tumbleweed like branches that usually are for sale all over the city were nowhere to be found. In the residential streets, families lit fires, jumped over them and went home. It was quiet where we were. "What happened?" I asked when we arrived at our mini-celebration. "Last year people were dancing in the streets."

"We've become Islamic," our hostess joked.

"The military has been driving up and down the streets since 10 this morning," a man by the fire told us.

The nice aspects: the small fires, music, dancing, and celebration, were hidden.

We took pictures, but our camera disappeared. So, sorry, none here. But you can see some here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Chahr Shanbeh Souri

Well, the fireworks are going full force, and a friend and I are about to wander off to jump over fires.

I hope to have pictures up in a couple of days. In the meantime:

Give me your red!

Take from me my yellow!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Freedom of speech

What are you talking about?

Free speech for others.

For everybody?.

Do you know, how much more time exercising freedom of speech would add to my daily life in taxi cabs and butcher shops here in Tehran? It would take me 5 hours in cabs to travel from west Tehran to east Tehran and hours more at the butcher shops because then I would need to listen to everybody. That would be really a nightmare, maybe even worse than not having free speech.

Can't we all just get along? Can't we just go home Esther? I mean, leave this place.

I would get you your own TV show in Los Angeles and you can talk as much as you want about free speech.

I am going crazy here.

Are you crazy to start this discussion with the Iranians? Most of Iranian people I know, (sorry guys) who live, work, married and have wonderful lives in the west love free speech, but not for others. I say this because if, we could tolerate disagreement better than we could agree about something. (You Iranians know what I am talking about. Esther always says two Jews, three opinions. We are even worse.) The fact is that we can almost always agree to be against something but we can almost never agree about what to do about it. We have an even harder time agreeing to be *for* something. This may not be just an Iranian problem, but we definitely need to work on this.

I know I am getting in big trouble now. But, the good news is that I and Esther will have a (?) book for sale soon, it is by the printer and would be ready to ship in couple of weeks. So watch this space.


Dream, watery dream, sweaty dream:

Angus McDowall has a great mistranslation up at his site

The will to support…

Dissent, disagreement, and debate…

I wrote a piece for “The Persian Impediment”.

It ends with this paragraph:

Iran is a society filled with thoughtful and outspoken individuals. Only the bravest or the most desperate have the nerve to organize. The rest exercise their freedom of speech in taxicabs and butcher shops; at parties and swimming pools; in poems and through blog posts. There is no dearth of conversation and debate here. The dearth is in the legal protection to debate and the social will to support those who publicly disagree.

I realize that this ending is more of a provocation than a conclusion. So here I am to provoke:

“I thought I was fighting for free speech but when I came to live in the Netherlands, I found myself upset when I heard opposing views,” this is what an extremely enlightened, extraordinarily brilliant, and fantastically wonderful Iranian-born friend told me. “I realized that free speech was also for people who disagreed with me! Not just for me.”

This is not an Iranian problem, this is a universal problem. We tend to like and trust people who agree with us more than people who don’t. We forget that free speech applies even to those with opinions we reject.

I once marched in a small, quiet anti-war rally (except for one guy who had to have been a plant: his slogans were too militant and offensive for the rest of us) that was met with anti-anti-war protestors yelling “We’re fighting for our rights, and this is the way you repay us?!” Yes. I repay you by exercising my rights. What could be more appropriate?

Free speech requires legal protection. Yes. It also requires public will and a culture of debate. These two aspects of free speech do not just miraculously appear with a change of government or law. They have to be exercised, learned, and constantly renewed.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Norooz facts and links

Norooz starts on March 21st at 00:07 Greenwich Mean Time. This means it will be at 3:27 in Tehran and the rest of Iran and 19:07 in New York City and 16:07 in Los Angeles.

Unlike the January 1st New Year, The Iranian/Persian/Zoroastrian New Year begins at the same moment all over the world, which means those who are up at 3:27 in the morning in Tehran will be celebrating with people having afternoon tea in Los Angeles.

For those of you Down Under… would you rather celebrate Norooz on our autumnal equinox, which, I guess, would be your vernal equinox? Tell me.

Here in Iran, the shopping and decorating has begun. Goldfish and mirrors are out everywhere. I haven’t seen grass yet… For those of you who have never celebrated Norooz, grass, mirrors, apples, coins, candles, goldfish, decorated eggs, money, and new clothes are all part of the festivities. I have included some links below the post that can help you find your way around Norooz. As always, watch Norooz 2007 for links and pictures as they come in.

About the Equinox:
Equinoxes & Solstices

About Norooz:
About Norooz

The New Year of the Iranian Peoples

Flickr photos tagged norooz

Wikipedia (of course)

Norooz countdown

A Norooz story

Another one

About the Iranian Calendar:

Wikipedia (again)

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Tough women

“Khanum [Ma’am], Iranian men do whatever their wives want.” (There is probably a better translation for this that includes the word “whipped”)

“Exactly,” my husband agrees.

In my travels around Iran, many of the men I have met from all sorts of socio-economic backgrounds have expressed a kind of admiration for the tough Iranian woman. It’s kind of a new twist on machismo: “My woman is the boss. She is tough. I do everything she says.” I am not sure where it comes from but a friend of mine whose mother came to Iran from Russia tells me that her mother always said, “Marry an Iranian man. Don’t even dream of marrying a Russian. Iranian men love their wives. Russians go crazy with jealousy.”

(Iranian women are fond of denigrating their men as in: “Never marry an Iranian man.” I am not sure how deep that feeling goes. Any thoughts?)

The Iranian women I know and meet are indeed tough. I stand in awe of these outgoing, outspoken women. I know very little about the case of the 33 feminist activists who were arrested, but I, like others, am awestruck by their courage and will.

It’s ironic to me that a revolution that was inspired in part by the ideas of Karl Popper, who believed in a self-critical society, would be so unwilling to tolerate peaceful protest and the criticism of citizens who only want Iran to become a better place.