Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Wilders Mania

In defence of the right to offend (

But his announcement in late November that he would make a short film to that effect sent the government into a panic. The cabinet met in secret. It ordered foreign embassies to draw up evacuation plans in case of mob violence. It put the mayors of Dutch cities on alert. It arranged meetings with imams and other Muslim representatives, distancing itself from Mr Wilders' positions. The interior, justice and foreign ministers summoned Mr Wilders to meetings, and the country's terrorism co-ordinator warned him that he might have to leave the country for his own security. The government reportedly investigated whether it would be possible to block or delay Mr Wilders's broadcast.

The FT writer Christopher Caldwell looks at the Wilders controversy over his platonic film about the the Koran. This is an interesting point of view that equates Wilders with Western liberalism and its drive to separate us from Biblical command. Not so sure I buy the argument... Do you?

Mr Wilders is something of a bogeyman in polite Dutch society now. He should not be. His perfectly legal effort resembles the kind of mischievous testing of boundaries that civil libertarians have engaged in whenever they have sought to hasten social change in the face of an indifferent or hostile electorate. In seeking to reopen such questions as, first, whether Islam is a religion, and, second, whether ancient scripture is sheltered from our laws regulating hate speech, Mr Wilders is the comrade-in-arms of those western legal activists who have agitated successfully for gay marriage, euthanasia and bans on religious display.

In the end, the best response to Wilders is the cold shoulder or humor.

If there is a violent response, doesn't that just make his point? It's like fuel for him and even for people who might not agree with him but who see his vindication in a violent response. Who am I to tell people what to do? But if you are a Muslim who is offended by Wilders, then the most effective protest you can offer is to ignore him completely .

I prefer Eutopia's response to the mania. It's generous and humorous.

read more | digg story

Sunday, January 20, 2008

New site for K

Global Voices beat me to the announcement of Kamran's new site, which we worked on over the Christmas/New Year's holidays. I have to say that getting Kamran to launch his website was a bit like getting a cat to swim. He is the worst imagineable client: never satisfied. In fact, he has been fiddling with the design for the site for ten years. "It's too boxy..." "Can we do this?" "Why can't we do that?" In the end, I forced him to accept the limitations of the web and my own coding limitations, and I think the site turned out really well.

He plans to add some more images of New York and some of the images for his project: "Missing Son." So stay tuned...

It may be a bit image heavy for servers in Iran. Sorry... we will launch a tiny version someday.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A “Robot” for Analyzing the Persian Blogosphere

Interesting interview with Kamangir about his analysis of the Persian blogosphere. Here's an Excerpt:

Q: How do you evaluate Iranian blogs' impact in Iranian society?Big and even bigger. Not that every single Iranian reads blogs. But I am amazed how conveniently we cross the red lines put in place by the state to discuss issues of interest. There is a very long way to go, but this phenomenon is fantastic in that it offers a method to think together and freely discuss issues of mutual interest.Q: Any ideas to share with the Global Voices audience?One of my hobbies these days is to go inside the database of KiBeKi and look at random blogs. I am amazed how many fantastic Persian blogs are out there, most of which do not have the deserved readership. The Persian blogosphere has been initially shaped around a few famous blogs. This is gradually turning into a more scattered pattern of readership. I believe that anyone who wants to know about the Persian blogosphere has to refrain from restricting themselves to the “first-generation” blogs and must try to go deeper than that.

read more | digg story

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Republic of Suffering

I heard a fascinating interview with historian Drew Gilpin Faust who writes about the American Civil War. She talks about the way the Civil War forced Americans to redefine their notions of what made for a good death. In pre-CW America, apparently, the way a person died was a predictor of how they would be received in the afterlife. A Good Death meant a quick transition into heaven. She reads from a letter that a soldier writes while he is dying and states that he knew his father would be "delighted" to hear from his son as he died. It's really an interesting an interview.

Here is an excerpt from her introduction to her book, This Republic of Suffering:

The Civil War confronted Americans with an enormous task, one quite different from saving or dividing the nation, ending or maintaining slavery, or winning the military conflict—the demands we customarily understand to have been made of the Civil War generation. Americans North and South would be compelled to confront— and resist—the war's assault on their conceptions of how life should end, an assault that challenged their most fundamental assumptions about life's value and meaning. As they faced horrors that forced them to question their ability to cope, their commitment to the war, even their faith in a righteous God, soldiers and civilians alike struggled to retain their most cherished beliefs, to make them work in the dramatically altered world that war had introduced. Americans had to identify—find, invent, create—the means and mechanisms to manage more than half a million dead: their deaths, their bodies, their loss. How they accomplished this task reshaped their individual lives—and deaths—at the same time that it redefined their nation and their culture. The work of death was Civil War America's most fundamental and most demanding undertaking.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Glowing men: a story from the research for my book

I met a young Iranian-Dutch storyteller a few weeks ago who told me a story from the Iran-Iraq war. “The children who fought in the war were told that a death in battle meant that they would go straight to Paradise. They were told that the body of a martyr would smell like rosewater so even when some recovered bodies that had been decomposing out on the battlefield they would swear that all they smelled was rosewater. That’s how much they believed what they were told.”

I can hear the groans already. Many Iranians who were in the regular military will dispute this story… but the storyteller was not talking about the regular military, he was talking about the child volunteers who cleared minefields while they listened to rousing religious music sung by Ahangaran, which my friends in Iran tell me is very hard to get a hold of in Iran now, but which you can hear on YouTube.

“Sometimes when morale was low,” he continued, “a glowing man would appear on the horizon. The young soldiers would point and say: 'It’s the messiah!'” The Mehdi, the last Imam appearing after centuries in hiding. “There is a story I heard that the Iraqis captured several of these glowing men. They were all painted with phosphorous.”

If anyone is reading this from the discussion list I belong to, you know that I queried about the veracity of this story. After all, storytellers are not the most reliable sources, just the most interesting. I could not get any confirmation and eventually thought that it was simply hyperbole.

A few days after I had given up either proving or disproving the story a broad-faced friend from Iran was visiting us with his wife and son. We were eating dinner together: roasted potatoes with chicken, rosemary, and garlic prepared by my excellent chef who, thank god, I am married to. (You should taste his gormeh sabzi or zereshk pollo… To die for…). I knew that Amir had been in the military. “Did you ever hear of men dressing as the last imam?” I asked him offhandedly.

“Have I heard of it? I saw it with my own two eyes." He pointed at his eyes for emphasis. "Tori, it was not to be believed. We were on a hill overlooking a battle being fought by the Basij. We were not in the battle ourselves,” he explained. “There was just a sliver of a moon. A cloud passed over the moon, and I turned my head and saw a glowing man in the distance. ‘What the hell was that?’ I asked. This guy was painted with phosphor and riding a white horse. I asked my commander about it. He told me, ‘They send men dressed in phosphor to ride with the Basijis all the time.’ Really. It was unbelievable.”

I told him that many Iranians I had had contact with denied that something like that could have ever happened. He told me that he saw this in 1983 (1362, for Iranians) at the Meymak Front, during one of the biggest battles and worst defeats for Iran: Valfajr-3.