Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Many Iranians Speak Out on Obama

I wrote about my own wish for an "Ich ben ein Berliner" moment in a previous post that has sparked a lot of discussion. Since then, I have spoken to many people who are demonstrating each day and putting their own lives on the line. They asked me what Obama has been saying about them. I told them that he finds you inspiring and has condemned the violence. "Do you think he should say more?" I asked. Every single one of them told me, "No. He is doing the right thing." I asked, "If you could send one message to Obama what would it be?" and they all answered, "He should never ever recognize the government of Ahmadinejad."

I defer to their wishes.

And btw, I want Iranian diplomats to go to 4th of July celebrations at American embassies. Yes. Why not? As one friend in Iran has repeatedly said, the isolation simply serves to fuel their narrow world view. Travel, she always told me, would only help integrate them into the rest of the world.

(BTW: Great interview on Fresh Air with Karim Sadjadpour.)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Friday Sermon Gives Permission for Bloodbath

Those saying that Khamenei's sermon today was a conciliatory one and a call for calm are living in a dream world. The fact that Ayatollah Khamanei called the millions of people who came to the streets in the past few days are "agents of the West" and calling the election fair and historic is shocking and divisive, but expected.

His unwavering support for Ahmadinejad and the unwillingness to investigate the vote has made it impossible for any compromise to be reached.

This speech was absolutely meant to terrify the Iranian people off the streets and back into their homes. He has now stated that any protest is illegal and that any violence will be the responsibility of the opposition.

His calls for using legal system for protesting the election results are meaningless when those laws have already been circumvented to declare AN the winner. Saying that Iran is a great democracy is also meaningless when any protest is illegal and lethal force is used to crackdown on demonstrators.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Obama, Turn on Your Charm!

I want "Ich Bin Ein Berliner". I want "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." I want the rhetoric that Obama is so famous for.

I know we can't say "We are with you," because that would be interpreted as an offer of military support as it was by Iraqis who attempted to rebel against Saddam Hussein in the 90s.

I know that diplomacy is a difficult and delicate game that requires a less than straightforward approach to many situations. I have used this space so often to call for diplomacy with Iran.

Ultimately, I know that rhetoric is just rhetoric. That the words of a president do not actually change history even though they become part of it.

If ever there was a time for Obama to turn on his rhetorical charm, it is now. Today at 4 pm there will be demonstrations in 20 cities in Iran. My friends *want to be on the streets.* They are parents, civil servants, accountants, receptionists, and yes students. In the end, with all of the violence, I am not sure that they will show up.

So Obama, turn on your charm. Use your powers of rhetoric to tell Iranians that, while we won't be sending in the marines, our hearts are with you. I know you can do a better job than I can.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Why We Were (Not) Naive

We woke up to two messages: one from a friend who is 100% against participating in Iran's elections, and one from someone who is an Ahmadinejad supporter. You can imagine the glee they felt telling us "I told you so."

They did not tell us anything.

The fact is, there are vote counters out there who know very well exactly how we and millions of other Iranians voted. They know, and it terrifies them. If we had not participated, we would not have been able to send that message at all.

If you voted please do not kick yourself for being "naive." (BTW, Now readers know why I posted "Thanks for Voting" before the elections.)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Iranians have their MOJO back!

During the last presidential elections in Iran I knew the situation was grim when one of our progressive, entrepreneurial, feminist friends announced that she would be voting for Ahmadinejad.

Today, while chatting with a friend in a 5-kilometer sea of green Mousavi supporters, I know that these elections signal more than modest changes in Iran. This is the Iranian people telling each other and the whole world that they are peaceful people who want the government off their backs and engagement with the rest of us.

If Ahmadinejad is voted out of office, it is time for the Western world to engage with Iran. We need to immediately reach out and help them build their economy (I know, who will help us build ours?) We need to be as quick in recognizing the message Iranians are sending us as the rest of the world was in understanding what the people of America were saying when we elected Obama.

Thanks for voting, Iran

Me at Jamshidieh Park

My Iranian Facebook friends have all turned green. I don’t know if they are recycling or conserving energy, what I do know is that they have put a green overlay on their profile images in response to Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s green campaign for president of Iran.

Do you think we should vote? An old friend texted me this morning.

Are you kidding me? I texted back. In the election four years ago, this same old friend tried to encourage friends, family, and strangers to vote for the Reformist candidate Moein despite calls for a boycott. “Do you think America or some other superpower is going to save us? No. We have to vote. It’s the only thing we can do.” In the end, he influenced a couple of people, but could not even get his own family to the polls.

Today he is on his way to Azadi Square to participate in a human chain of Mousavi supporters that will stretch to Sadaghieh about 1.5 kilometers away.

People may wonder why, an American Jew, am so passionate about Iranian elections. It isn’t just that my beloved husband is Iranian and that I lived there for four years and that I speak Persian. It is that for two years I lived under the current president Ahmadinejad’s rule. I was in Tehran when he organized a conference for holocaust deniers. I was there for the cartoon show about the Holocaust that was filled with anti-Semitic stereotypes. I was there when Iranian television rebroadcast the Egyptian serial Protocols of the Elders of Zion. And, believe it or not, I started to wonder if all of the Iranians who had been so friendly and warm and open to me, were not, actually, at heart disgusted with me. I started to wonder if Ahmadinejad did not, indeed, represent the true nature of the culture better than all of the wonderful people I had met.

This election is so important to me because I see an Iran that wants to engage with the world in a peaceful manner. I see an Iran that reflects the best of what I experienced while there: an open, warm-hearted society filled with people that would rather share tea and kebab with you than confront you. I see people who do not hate me either for being American or for being Jewish. I see people who would shake my hand and hug me and dance with me. I see, again, the culture and the people that made me feel so welcome.

Thank you Iranians. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for reaffirming what I learned in Iran: that you are a peaceful and open people and that you know very well how to have fun.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The executioner's campaign

Ahmadinejad says that he has no money for advertising. He has complained about this during the debates with the reformist candidates.

So he uses cranes to hang his banners.

Do the cranes come free with the banners?

Where else have we seen these cranes?

Monday, June 08, 2009

Fight Club Campaigning

A short telephone conversation to a couple of friends in Iran yesterday turned into an afternoon-long debate about the upcoming election. My family and friends all know of my plans to vote. Some disagree with me. My simple question about the latest campaign news produced brand new jokes about the candidates. They tell me that they have heard all these promises before and remind me that it wasn't long ago that the president was Khatami.

Those like me who are planning to vote, only do so because they cannot take it anymore. One even told me that he feels like putting his head out of the window and yelling, "I am mad as hell and I can not take it any more."

To be honest, I never imagined that the presidential election in the Islamic republic of Iran would turn into such a public fight between the different groups running for president. Looking at the last couple of TV debates between the different candidates, one can conclude that the election campaign has turned into a nasty fight between people who have done everything they can to make sure this Islamic system would stay as it is for the last 30 years.I am not naive to think there is not much difference between the different candidates who are running with slogan of change, I know there is a difference. Who ever wins this election cannot pretend that this system is holy anymore. Instead of discussing how they plan to address the fundamental problems that we face, the candidates are busy accusing one another of corruption. Before this election, a normal person making the same accusations in the public sphere would be accused of being anti-revolutionary. Now the candidates are publicly stating what most Iranians have been saying for decades: the whole system is corrupt.

I am deeply afraid that Mr Amadinejad could be elected again, not because people will vote for him, but only because his government and the right wing supporters of his presidency are doing everything -- I mean everything: legally and illegally -- they can to ensure his victory. This situation is so bad that a couple of days ago, a group of employees from Iran’s Interior Ministry (which is in charge of supervising the elections) rightfully warned the nation that a hard-line ayatollah, who supports President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has issued a Fatwa authorizing the changing of votes to favor Guess Who.

This is especially worrying because right after the last presidential election, one of the reformist candidates, Mr. Karoubi, who is currently running as well, protested of vote fraud to the leader of the Islamic republic stating that there had been clear violations of election laws because of interference from the Revolutionary Guard and the Basiji.

Considering all of the amazing public fights and debates in Iran, If people vote Mr Ahmadinejad out of office, it is not just to send him, alone, home, it will be a vote that questions the whole system with Mr Khameneie on top. People want fundamental changes, and they show this by supporting the only possible opton they have during this election.

My old friend for 25 years, who is on vacation in Amsterdam, told me, "Kamran, some of your dear and innocent friends were executed after a 3 minute trial in the so called revolutionary courts during the 80's." He continued, "You are naive to trust these people. It is all just a game for some candidate to get elected. Nothing will change," he told me from his heart. He said, "I will call you in one year again. You will see that nothing will have changed because their version of human rights and freedom is totally different from that of most Iranians. This election is only to make some people billionaires who feel they have been cut out of their share."

In a couple of days, I will take a 45 minute train trip to go to Iranian embassy in The Hague to vote. I am looking forward to my friend's call in one year, but I am not really sure if I will pick up the phone. I am not sure if those so called reformists will keep thier word and all those nice promises they have made in the past couple of weeks if they all elected. For most of my fireds this will be the last chance the reformists ever get. If they don't walk the talk, I will not be shocked if the future battles are about the entire system.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Yes, I Will Vote

Kamran Ashtary
In less than ten days, millions of Iranians will go to the polls to participate in what might be the most important election since the revolution thirty years ago. I want to vote because I believe that it is a fundamental right to use every democratic tool we have to try to influence change in our beloved land. This is especially true even when the options are not our dream options. The government of President Ahmadinejad has show and created a situation, nationally and internationally, that can easily get out of control and have disastrous effects for the country and the people we love.

I don’t believe in these people and do not think any of the candidates can solve the enormous challenges we face, but I am still voting. During the past thirty years, our rights as Iranian citizens have been constantly under attack. This has been true despite many promises of protection and invitations to engage in the building of our society.

I am voting with the hope that not only the hardline government will change, but that we will build a more democratic society where women’s rights, a free press, free speech, and human rights are not a dream. Last 4 years proved our right can be in more danger than we could even imagine.

Being part of this initiative was unthinkable for me just four years ago. Four years of right-wing Ahmadinejad has put Iran on a downward path. I believe that Iranian expats should play a more constructive role and not keep waiting for some magical transformation of power.

Let’s make a change. Let’s vote.

Cross Posted at Harry's Place