Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Stop the Execution of Farzad Kamangir

I don't normally call for political action on this blog, but we just heard that there is a strong possibility that a Kurdish teacher and activist may be executed tonight.

I took these instructions on how to act from the site of the International Campaign for Human Rights:

Write to Iranian leaders to stop the execution of Farzad Kamangar, a 32 year old Kurdish teacher and social activist, sentenced to death following an unfair trial.

Cut and paste the following letter into your email. In the subject line write: "Stop the Exceution of Farzad Kamangar"

Send your email to:

* Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Seyd Ali Khamenei: info(at)leader.ir
* Head of the Judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hasemi Shahroudi: info(at)dadgostary-tehran.ir
* President of the Islamic Republic, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: dr-ahmadinejad(at)president.ir
* Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the UN, Mohammad Khazaee: iran(at)un.int
* CC: info(at)iranhumanrights.org


Your Excellencies,

I am writing you to express my concerns about serious violations of international and Iranian standards in the trial of Farzad Kamangar, whose death sentence of 25 February 2008 by Branch 30 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court has reportedly been upheld and confirmed by the Supreme Court.

In imparting my concerns I also appeal to you to commute the sentence and order a new investigation and trial under your supervision, both to ensure justice in this case and to protect the integrity of the Judiciary itself.

Security agents arrested Mr. Kamangar around July 2006 in Tehran. Mr. Kamangar was held incommunicado for seven months, and even after that, contacts to his family were very limited; there have been none since the beginning of the Persian New Year, 21 March 2008. Being held incommunicado violates Principle 19 of the United Nations Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1988.

Mr. Kamangar has been denied access to his lawyer, before, during and after his trial, which violates Principles 17 and 18 of the Body of Principles, as well as Article 14 (3) (b) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which the Islamic Republic of Iran ratified on 24 June 1975

While the charges against him have been changed in the course of his case, Mr. Kamangar has been denied any and all information concerning the case against him. This violates Article 9 (2) of ICCPR, as well as Principles 10 and 11 of the Body of Principles.

Evidence confirmed by multiple sources strongly suggests that Mr. Kamangar has been tortured during his detention. Your Excellency, I do not need to remind you that torture, as well as ill-treatment in detention, are egregious violations of human rights, and prohibited by Article 7 of the ICCPR.

Your Excellencies, I am confident that an objective review of Mr. Kamangar’s trial will lead to the conclusion that no factual evidence whatsoever was presented in support of the charges against him. According to his attorney, there is no evidence confirming the charge against him (Mohareb, taking up arms against state) in his interrogation records, his file, in the prosecutor's presentation in court or in the judges ‘decision.

Indeed, Mr. Kamangar was reportedly informed that he had been identified by intelligence and security officials as Mohareb prior to his trial.

It appears that the result of this trial was prepared in advance and that the trial was staged in order to give the appearance of a proper legal process leading to this result. Mr. Kamangar was not allowed the possibility to prepare a defense, and he was afforded no fair hearing before an impartial court. His trial in Branch 30 of Revolutionary Court in Tehran lasted no more than seven (7) minutes, three (3) of which were consumed by the reading of the indictment against him by the prosecutor. Neither Mr. Kamangar nor his lawyer was permitted to speak at his trial. Thus, Article 14 of the ICCPR was violated.

Your Excellencies, the life of a person hangs in the balance and is dependent on your decision. Given these grave violations of international standards and those governing the judicial system of the Islamic Republic, I sincerely hope you will give positive consideration to a review of the case.


Monday, November 10, 2008

The Right to be Inconsequential

I'll open this post from my sister with a question for my parents: Has the sanctity of your marriage been threatened in any way shape or form by the marriages of gay and lesbian couples? I think 49 years of marriage gives you the right to answer as experts. (Happy Anniversary!)

Ruthie the Riveter on Prop 8:

Over the last several days, friends, family and colleagues from around the country have asked me why proposition 8 passed in California? In California of all places? I have three words for that - marketing, marketing, marketing. The supporters of prop 8 were very good at marketing the fear. They told a compelling story of fear for our children. By the time the opposition was able to get the story out, it was only an answer to the fear.

What if the story that was told was one that I had experienced? When my kids were in 1st and 4th grades they rode the bus to school. And every morning we would meet up with the other kids, moms and dads at the bus stop while we waited for the bus to arrive. At our bus stop, there were my two kids - half Filipino, half Caucasian; there was another child being raised in a single parent household, that child was also half African American and half Caucasian; there were two other children - half southeast Asian, half Caucasian, and finally there was one other child at the bus stop being raised in a two parent household; sometimes the mom was there waiting for the bus and other times her step mom was there waiting for the bus and a lot of times, they were both there waiting for the bus with their daughter. The only thing any of us had in common was that we all wanted to make sure that our kids got to school ok. We wanted to make sure that they were wearing their uniforms, brushing their teeth, and doing their homework. There were days where one of us had to run off to work to make sure we made that early morning meeting and we felt comfortable leaving our kids with any one of the other parents. We laughed about our kids together, and we worried about our kids together. We were the villiage that it takes to raise a child. Am I better or worse for the experience? No. Are my kids better or worse for the experience? No. In fact, it was so inconsequential that when we all had to go our separate ways when the school shut down, and we had to find ourselves a new village, that I hadn't even thought of it until today. Whether straight, gay, white, black, or brown we all want the same rights to worry about our families and to laugh about our families. More importantly, we want the right to be inconsequential.

For those of our readers who don't keep up on California politics, you can read more about Prop 8 here:

Schwarzenegger's reaction to the vote

Prop 8 and the San Jose Community

Vote no on prop 8

Andrew Sullivan on Prop 8

Some people even want you to vote yes.

Text of prop 8 in pdf format

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The Obama Effect

I am trying to convince my youngest sister (author of the love letter to our parents) to start keeping a blog. Soon, she'll have her own. Until then, I am posting her latest email to me:

I think its been three weeks, that's how long I've been holding my breath. And on Tuesday, November 4th at 8:01 pm pacific time i was able to exhale. I think our whole country exhaled at the same time - it might have been the winds of change that were felt at that moment. And the entire world was in Grant Park in Chicago, also known as the Windy City. Weathermen might call it the lake effect, those of us who live by the ocean blame it on the tides, but this wind, on this day, at this moment is what we call the Obama Effect. And when I awoke from a most restful night of sleep on Wednesday, November 5, I realized that I had forgotten to pay my rent- the Obama Effect, at least that was what I told my landlord. Later that afternoon, while waiting for my 6th grader to get home from school, and wondering why he still wasn't home 40 minutes after school had been dismissed, I realized it was my carpool day - the Obama Effect. I'm wondering, can I blame the pile of dishes in the sink on the Obama Effect? Maybe not, but at least I'm breathing again, and with every breath I take there is hope - that, for sure, is the Obama Effect.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

10. Tips about dealing with Iran for President-elect Obama

My long-term companion turned to me this morning and said, “The regime better watch out now. They can no longer argue that America doesn’t want to talk. With Obama as president, they can’t keep making America their enemy.

He’s right; an Obama presidency means “all options are REALLY on the table.”

Stepping on the flag by Vahid Nikgoo (Thanks to Kamangir for the translation of this cartoon from Vahid Nikgoo's blog)

Of course President-elect Obama will have his Iran experts: people who have studied the country’s politics, society, revolution, history, and language more thoroughly than I would ever dream of doing. There are people who know the rules of taarof better than Iranians themselves and who understand the historical roots of certain forms of behavior better as well. There will be people who have examined the DNA of Iran’s leadership and who know just how many misspellings were in that fake Oxford diploma (It sounds as though it was forged by the same people who sold my friend fake Johnny Walker whiskey featuring a label with 17 misspellings.) I won’t let this stop me from offering my free advice to the next president.

1. Bluster is bad
Do not make threats that will not or cannot be carried out. Ever. There are circuitous ways to threaten Iran, if that is necessary. This means, of course, explaining to Americans that diplomacy is a subtle game and that we cannot always come out and condemn or threaten openly and still expect to be taken seriously. Direct bluster simply makes us look weak.

(related posts: Interview 3: Gary Sick talks about negotiating with Iran
Negotiating with Iranians)

2. Don’t say that you respect the history of the great people of Iran…
…And then revoke visas while people are in flight to the US, detain them without reason, or insult their intelligence.

3. Temper the demands for transparency
Demanding immediate transparency from Iran is like demanding that all Americans learn a second language. Tomorrow.

Have you ever worked with someone from Iran? And by from Iran, I mean someone who has not had the opportunity or need to adapt to the new culture? Many (not all, by any stretch of the imagination) have what my friend calls a “bazaari mentality.” There are secrets, deals, patronage, and negotiations ad nauseum. Decision-making is a very private affair and the reasoning behind a decision is deemed unnecessary. (I know that Iranians are not alone in this... just saying that it comes naturally)

Iranian culture is not, by nature or nurture, a transparent culture. Look, Ahmadinejad can’t even give a straight answer to a question about the ages of his children. The very power structure of Iran’s government is a secret even to those participating in it. It is secret, even though it is openly documented. Even where there are NO secrets, many of my Iranian friends construct secrets and conspiracies. (Earthquake in Bam: underground nuclear testing; fire at mosque: explosion, let's not even get into 9/11, the holocaust, or the moonwalk...)

A friend of mine, who has become Americanized, wondered why his own father would tell people he ate kebab for lunch when instead he ate chicken with rice. “What’s wrong with chicken?” he asked, baffled. “Why did my father feel like he had to tell people he ate kebab?”

There have to be ways to ease into a transparent relationship, rather than demand one. How? Ask the experts.

4. Doubt and challenge your experts
The first thing I learned when I went to Iran is that my expat Iranian friends did not have any idea what Iran was like. They had frozen it in time, at its very nastiest. Once I got past this, I realized that their view was extremely limited by their class and geographical location. Many of the people I spoke with extrapolated the feelings of all Iranians based on the feelings and beliefs of their own family members. I have been guilty of this as well, but not nearly so desperately as many of the people I met inside and outside Iran. Iran is a seriously classist society. Seriously. It's also "placist." Here's one of my favorite examples (one that I heard tens, if not hundreds, of times):

Why do people think we have camels in Iran? There are no camels in Iran. (News flash: I saw a camel on Dibaji Jonubi in Tehran!)

The next thing I learned is that experts can be too, let's say, "expert." Knowing the historical, cultural, and linguistic roots of certain forms of behaviors means attributing meaning where there may be none. Iran, like the US, has a culture that changes. It is a dynamic, modern culture where every single action is not necessarily as self-aware or as historically rooted as the experts think it is. Society is still changing in Iran. Many of the young people we met there have cut all ties with tradition: some consciously, some in a nihilistic manner, and some for no reason at all.

5. All Iranians hate the regime…
NOT. Even those who tell me quite openly and vehemently that they hate the regime don’t really hate them. I know that so many people I know and love would love to believe that what they really long for is freedom and democracy, but what I saw in Iran were strong familial efforts to control the behavior of their children. Some use the regime as an excuse, albeit a valid one. Allowing their children the social freedom that nearly all adolescents and young adults long for could bring them into dangerous conflict with the religious police. Ok, I’ll give them that. Despite that, I sincerely believe that despite social changes in some social classes in Iran and some cosmopolitan areas, most families in Iran want to control their families.

6. Do not fall for the argument that Western culture is decadent…
If you cannot argue in favor of Western culture, then do not negotiate with the regime in Iran. If you cannot argue in favor of our family values and our society, just surrender now. If you cannot argue in favor the rights of women and minorities, give up hope. If you cannot champion free speech with all of its messiness, all is lost. If you cannot be proud of our open debates and disagreements, don't even go to Iran.

7. Walk a mile in their shoes…
Attempting to empathize with our foes has been demonized, yet there can be no meaningful peace until we start to do that. Empathy does not require capitulation, but it can lead to real discussions and more productive negotiations. Americans cannot continue to view the world only in terms of our own self-interest. We have to at least be able to imagine the interests of others.

Here are some places to start:
Sardasht: Iran's rallying cry, root of nuclear ambitions, by Borzou Daragahi

About the Iran Coup, 1953 and in the NYT

If you're really ambitious, read My Dear Uncle Napoleon.

And don't forget to visit the blogs in my blogroll and keep up with Global Voices.

8. Remember, Iranians still educate some of the best engineers in the world at Tehran University, their best political analysts are realistic and sharp, and many get their news from a variety of sources.

It does not make sense to speak to Iranians as though they are a nation of children.

9. The next revolution will not be televised…

When I tell my Iranian friends that I believe the current regime has infiltrated society to such an extent that it cannot be easily or happily removed, they tell me that Iran is full of surprises. It even surprises itself. I know that it surprised me.

10. Absolutely gotta repudiate torture, close Guantanamo, and observe the Geneva Convention.

And here is one tip for Iran's regime:

Do not make the mistake of thinking that an Obama presidency means that you can pull a Khrushchev. You have no choice now but to negotiate in good faith.