Showing posts with label conversations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label conversations. Show all posts

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.

Monday, October 29, 2007

War, no war... part two

Part two.

He is on a scholarship trip in the Netherlands for a couple of months. I did not know he was here until a common friend asked me if I had seen Namver (not his real name). I call him right after I talked to our common friend.

We are both doing some research on two different projects. We agree to meet another friend of his who is a long-time university professor and researcher at a well-known institute in Amsterdam.

“You just have to agree with whatever he says; otherwise we will be here for couple of days.” Namver tells me. I agree and walk to meet his friend in that institute. Not even two minutes pass after we meet and start our conversation that I start scratching my head.

“There are a lot of power struggles in the Iranian government at this moment,” he says.

I think dinggggggggggggggggggggggg, you don’t have to be rocket scientist to know that. It is so simplistic to come up with this again.

Yes we do have a power struggles in Iran, and we have had them for a long time, since the first days of our recorded history. What is new about this? I think to myself.

Are any of those involved with this power struggle worthy of trust? Are they really so diffirent from each other? Or do they just want the same thing but have different ways of getting it?

“Maybe this power struggle will end up in war,” the professor continues.

Bush is getting ready for war I am thinking...

They are counting minutes


When I talk to my friends most of them, like I am, are against war (At least in public).

Not only because they think war is devastating, but also so that they can tell everybody later that “I told you so” when things go wrong. And you know, things always do go wrong.

Power struggle or no power struggle, Iran should get ready for a nasty war, I think by myself quietly. There will be war. I have been saying this for almost two years, but I don’t want to tell anybody, “I told you so.”

“Americans are seeing that the option of diplomacy is not getting them anywhere. You can see that clearly. There are still some people in the Iranian government who believe we should be more willing to work things out with the European negotiators, but those people are not inside the power lines,” the professor tells us. “Look at history, and you can get your answer. Those mullahs don’t make deals until things get really bad.”

I don’t think this any more. This time I don’t believe they will compromise. Ahmadinejad said, “We don’t need experts; we need believers.”

Believers in what?

We all agree that if Iran is attacked and there is the possibility of regime change that we would see months of horrific bloodshed in the streets of every big city in Iran. Mobs will go wild and tear apart Teheran. The regime must know this. Just look at these pictures Kamangir found.

We talk about what might happen: pardons, arrests, riots, etc.

“What about 125,000 revolution guards forces?”

“Will they target us?” my friend adds. “What will happen to the MEK? Can you imagine if they get power?”

We all decide not to think about it.

I don’t personally know any Iranians outside Iran who would openly say that he wants the US to attack Iran. I am sure there are many in US who are just jumping up and down waiting until the day the US bombers attack Iran. Most of those are not people who care about the lives of Iranians that may be lost in case of war as long as this regime gets the lesson they deserve. Those people are just waiting to take power for themselves and steal more of our resources and money.

In Iran I met many people who could not wait to be (freed) by America. In the last two years I heard many Iranians say that they cannot take it anymore and that living cannot be worse than what they have even if there is attack.

I hate to admit that most of those people who I spoke to felt I had a direct line to the white house and wanted me to tell Mr. Bush “please just don’t hit my house.” One guy said that he wanted to paint an American flag on the roof of his house. “America. Friends,” he said he would write under the flag.

I don’t think it is a question of if there will be an attack but more of when. One friend says, “If it’s war or the regime, maybe war is not so bad.” Then my wife says, “What if it is war and the regime?” We both look at each other, and we are just shocked.

The sanctions and the talk of war are pushing Iran closer to Russia and China, some may think, but most Iranian don’t believe that Russia is there to help us. Russia is like poker player who is holding his cards close so that he has more options. Later they can say, “we were the only friend you had in those hard days when you were under attack from all over the world.” Or they can say to the US, when we realizes the danger of Iran with the N weapon, we took the right side. (Listen to this interesting interview with Steve LeVine on Fresh Air)

A couple of months ago when I met a friend here in Amsterdam who just married a nice Iranian girl, I was shocked to hear a different story. He told me that there are a couple of other possibilities. “Imagine Khameneie would get really sick from whatever he has and die in the next couple of months and there is a fight for his replacement and a lot of people are putting Rafsanjani forward since most of the people believe Ahmadinejad is not able to deliver what he promised two years go. He would be in power, and he would make a deal with US. End of story,” he told us with a small smile but self-confident face.


I told him, “Imagine Rafsanjani would die long before Khameneie.” When I told him this scenario, he was not happy. He told me, “You Iranians are always unpredictable.” I shook my head and told him that is the problem with the west, you only see things in black and white.

He was clearly frustrated with me. Yes there are a lot of options out there, but none as effective as a military attack.

His boss, a professor at a university in Amsterdam, told me a couple of months ago during a dinner, that there is 3rd option: the West could find a way to live with a nuclear Iran.

“Like they live with Pakistan?” I asked. “What about if things change in Pakistan, and you don’t have a president like Mosharaf who changes his polices in one night from not worried about terrorists at all to commando in chef of the war on terror in the region?” The professor had to leave after my question, so I never heard his answer.


“Dadash jan Khoobi?” I asked my brother when I called him yesterday.
I can’t wait to ask him how he and his family is doing, but I asked him first, “Are the people getting ready for war?”

“Which war” he asked.

“Here in the west everybody thinks there will be a war or better put: an attack.”

“Na dasash jan (No my dear brother ) don’t worry, there would be no attack. Nothing will happen,” he is confident. Why? I don’t know. “Na dadash jan, nothing would happen,” he changed the subject. I don’t know if he does it because he is worried he is being recorded or he just wants to make feel better.

“Iran said that they would fire 11,000 rockets in the first few minutes if they are attacked.”

“How many?”


“What would they do when those are finished?”

“Fire 11,000 more?

“How is your wife?”

“I miss you too.” This time there is no way I can change the subject

I hung up the phone, stretched, flexed my muscles like a bodybuilder would, looked out the window happy to have heard his voice but worried very much about whether he and his family would be okay when and if an attack starts.

I would never forgive anyone who would attack and harm my family and friends. That is why I hate and can never forgive the Iranian government for killing and imprisoning and torturing of a lot of my dear friends. They killed the dreams of millions.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

To war or not to war

I was walking in the park with an Iranian friend who prefers to remain anonymous, so let’s call him Reza. Reza just returned from several years in Iran. We argued about the benefits of war. “Things are just getting worse. People have all the hope sucked right out of them. You just cannot believe the corruption and the government – what government? – can you really call it a government? – they are just a bunch of criminals. Sometimes I think the only thing to do is bomb them.”

Reza is serious. We have argued this point so many times. Reza wants the US to attack Iran. I think it is a mistake. Reza has family in Iran. He loves them. But he is just so fed up with what he sees as the destruction of Iranian culture and society. Reza thinks it’s worse and getting worse. “It’s not that I think that Iran will actually use a bomb,” he tells me. “I think they’ll just use it as blackmail.” He goes on to tell me that anyone who thinks that the current government of Iran is not pursuing a bomb is living in a dream world.

We argue a bit. I tell him that while Iranians may not greet war as an attack on Islam the rest of the world will. I argue that it will lead to increased radicalization and terror. “Maybe,” he admits. Then he goes on:

“What if you had a husband who beat you? You try to reason with him. For a while he stops. You think things are better. You have children. He beats you again. You try to do things his way, get him to stop. Then he beats your children too. Now this is too far, so you go to his family and friends to get them to help you, but they do not want to hear this about your husband. They don’t want to believe it. You take him to court. The court tells him to leave you alone, but he follows you. He threatens you. He threatens your children. What would you do?”

“Kill him.”

“Write that in your blog,” Reza says.

“Iran is different.”

“How? These guys now, if they get anymore power, they are like Stalin.” Reza speculates that the opposition in Iran will get completely shut down. “They are even arresting mullahs,” he says. The reformists are going to find themselves harassed, arrested, dead: that’s how little opposition the hardliners will tolerate. Reza tells me.

It’s hard not to believe him. It’s hard not to despair.

For more on war and propaganda read:

Zakaria in Newsweek:

In a speech last week, Rudy Giuliani said that while the Soviet Union and China could be deterred during the cold war, Iran can't be. The Soviet and Chinese regimes had a "residual rationality," he explained. Hmm. Stalin and Mao—who casually ordered the deaths of millions of their own people, fomented insurgencies and revolutions, and starved whole regions that opposed them—were rational folk. But not Ahmadinejad, who has done what that compares? One of the bizarre twists of the current Iran hysteria is that conservatives have become surprisingly charitable about two of history's greatest mass murderers.

Jahanshah Rashidianon the roots of the current problems on campuses all over Iran:

Under the IRI, nobody is allowed to claim that students’ rights should override any religious and ideological considerations. Actually, the issue of whether Iranian students have the right to have modern and secular universities stands against the Islamic philosophy of IRI’s constitution.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Talk of war: Part 1

He just got back from a month wonderful vacation in Iran. I never thought he would ever step a foot in Iran as long as the IRI was in power.

“Oh man it was so fun,” he says.

“One day we went for lunch at the well-known Alborz restaurant in Tehran, and we had to wait for more than an hour to be seated. Can you imagine that?” he continues.

“When we got our food, the length of the kebab we ordered was longer than my arm.”. He straightens his arm in our direction and he says, “So big. I don’t understand why Iranians complain! They have such great kebab!”

He is tall and has a long arm.

The rest of us in that small room during the birthday party for my friend’s son were sitting like school kids, following his lovely story about his first trip to Iran after 20 years.

“I am very glad you finally went to Iran,” I tell him. “Now you know how it is.”

“Iran has changed so much. It is much more modern than when I left, even considering the fact that they have not spent too much money on development of my home town Ahwaz. It was still very nice to see how beautiful Ahwaz is.”

Somebody says, imagine if all of that oil money was really spent in Ahwaz and the surrounding area instead of going into the mullahs’ pockets… Everybody shakes their heads.

“In the first days, when you are in Iran, everything is wonderful. You get to see people who you have not seen for a long time, eat good food, take a two-hour nap after every lunch, and at night drink from a bottle of whiskey that is finished in two minutes.” He puts his hand on his big stomach and says, “I am still the same size.” We all look at each other and smile. “But after couple of days you start seeing things different,” he tells us. Everybody was telling him, do not compare Iran to your lovely city in Holland. After 20 years he could not understand why he could not compare Ahwaz with his small city in Holland. He became mad like every other expat Iranian who spends more than a week in Iran.

What he saw after a week of visiting and eating was enough to make him angry. He was so shocked to see how Iran really was: all those corruption stories, tales of bad management in every aspect of life in Iran, lack of work for young people, the pressure the Arab Iranians face in the south, and the danger of new war.

“There will be no war. I am sure of it,” he says with confidence. “Iranians don’t believe US and UK would ever attack them.”

“This is all to make Iran scared so they would accept whatever the US wants,” another person says.

“The US is not in a position to attack Iran. They don’t have resources and the American people do not have stomach for it. They have lost too much in this war with Iraq and Afghanistan.”

I think: where have I heard this before?

“THEY CANNOT ATTACK IRANIANS because this government was put in power by the US AND UK.” I look around and give a dirty look to the nice guy who said that and respond with, “Oh please don’t give me that bullshit!” He starts laughing and telling us that he was just kidding.

“But don’t you think America had an even worse situation during the Vietnam war, yet they still attacked Cambodia?” I ask.

There is a silence in the room. The funny guy who speaks with a south-Iran accent yells from the back of the room, “Let us say, if they do attack, what would be the worst?” He walks to the front of the room where we are sitting and continues:

“Don’t you guys see who is running our country? Don’t you see that they are making every aspect of daily life miserable for everybody? What can be worse than this humiliation we are living with? Iran is a rich country with a lot of resources, full of smart and educated people who are very successful in the rest of the world when they get out, but we don’t have even the basics of human rights. I am not talking about human rights like we have here. I am not saying we have a government like the Taliban in Afghanistan, but if we cannot compare Iran to a modern industrial western government, we should also not say, oh we have it much better than a lot of other countries.” His face gets red.

The hostess says, “Take it easy. Eat some cookies.” She hands him an open beer. “Here, you drink this.” She looks at me and said, “I am sure you started all this.”

I shake my head, not sure if I disagree with him or her.

The discussion is getting hot. I really want to know what these Iranians think of war. It seems that a lot of my friends don’t dare to say what they really feel.

“We want a different government that’s for sure,” one says.

“Even if that means we will have to be attacked by the US arm forces?” somebody asks.

I say, “Iranians always want everything at the same time. But they don’t want to pay for it.”

“Oh yeah,” another says.

Ham khar mikhad ham gorma. (You want a donkey and dates at the same time.)

Everybody thinks that is funny.

I go out to smoke a cigarette. Most of the guys come out with me.

One goes to sit by the women’s table. Tori wants to be a part of our conversation and looks at me with a questioning expression of what is going on?

“I am against all wars, I feel really bad for the Iraqis. Iraq is not far from where I come from and when I see on TV how many people are killed everyday I get really upset and don’t want Iranians to be killed. But then when I am alone at home and think of the situation in Iran I am not sure if getting rid of this government is such a bad idea.”

“Americans would not kill Iranians even if they attack,” one guy says.

We are looking at him and thinking which f**king planet are you from? He also leaves the back yard and goes back to the room where the food is ready for us. “Come. Come the food is ready,” the hostess calls.

My friend who just came back from Iran let everybody to go first and tells me, the situation is really bad and I am afraid that the people in Iran are not ready for it.

They may have months of food stocked in freezers and kilos and kilos of rice stored in closets, but they still cannot imagine that war is at the doorstep.

A lot of people I talked to think Iran would agree with the international demands at the last moment, but I am not sure of it. I think an attack is imminent.

With Larijani’s resignation, I am now sure that there is no compromise. They see compromise as the end of their government.


Larijani's resignation

Forum on Iran, Target Iran with lots of different opinions from people who rarely get to visit Iran

"The United States is in serious trouble, its economy is in trouble, the army is badly damaged, the morale of its soldiers is not exceptionally good."

A North American Affairs professor in Tehran quoted from Chris Gelken's blog and repeating the commonly held view that American cannot attack Iran.

Adm Michael Mullen, who took over as chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff three weeks ago, said diplomacy remained the priority in dealing with Iran's suspected plans to develop a nuclear weapon and its support for anti-US insurgents in Iraq.

But at a press conference he said: "there is more than enough reserve to respond (militarily) if that, in fact, is what the national leadership wanted to do".

The official US viewpoint quoted from the Telegraph.

About the problems of Ahwazi Arabs

Links to articles about war from us

Radio Open Source discussion of war with Iran.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Dirty, cheating, lying democracy...

“Our generation has lost,” Kamran said to a dear Iranian friend.

“Yes, we have.”

Our friend has lived in Iran all these years, trying to make a life for himself, terminally optimistic about the future of post-revolutionary Iran. Kamran, on the other hand, left during the early 80s when internal purges began and the war with Iraq was just getting under way. “I felt so bad for my friends and family,” Kamran said to our friend. “It got to the point that I could not read their letters anymore. When they wrote me about the war, how could I respond with my adventures at a café? Or the beautiful girl I met the night before? I could never be free from feeling that somehow I did not deserve this life.”

Funny that despite all of Iran’s problems they are currently engaged in the very messy act of building a democracy. What we all tend to forget is that it is indeed a messy process. Democracy/free speech are not neat little products as compact and clean as iPods or toasters. It does not come wrapped up like a gift. It is easy to dismiss the democratic process in Iran because of the religious element, candidate elimination, vote tampering, corruption, and our disapproval of the results. This does not mean that it should be dismissed. I keep pointing people to the last city council elections in Iran and how voters sent a clear message to the current government or Iran. That was democracy in action. It’s not a nice process. It’s just the best of the worst as Churchill would say.


Podcast of Vali Nasr’s talk to the Commonwealth Club (listen to it!)

My post on Tehran’s city council elections

More on the city council elections:

From Open Democracy

From Payvand

From CBC

From Kamangir

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.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Leader and the Price of Tomatoes

“Khameini is dead,” my sister-in-law tells me. “They’ll announce his death during Ashura.”

“He’s just fine. I saw him on television.”

“They are showing old footage and writing “live” on it. But he is dead.”

That’s just a rumor from abroad,” I add. “They say he’s sick. They say he’s dead. Is he even sick?”

“Yes,” one woman says.

“No,” another says.

One of our friends thinks he looks sickly; another that he looks healthy. There is nothing so subjective as the leader’s health.

“Tomatoes are 3,000 a kilo,” Keivan’s cousin says.

“The most I have paid is 1,700.”

“That’s what I paid last night,” I say.

No one should buy them. They should be left to rot. Tomatoes are too expensive.”

“They are terrible now anyway. The taste is bad, and they are rotten.”

“Ahmadinejad says If tomatoes are expensive then come to my neighborhood to buy them.”

“Yeah, and spend two hours getting there and 6,000 tuman on the cab.”

“Why is everything suddenly so expensive?”

“There are American warships in the Persian Gulf,” I say.

“Eh,” says my sister-in-law who lives close to the Gulf. Her face screws up and she starts to panic.

“Nothing will happen,” I say. I don’t know what else to say. She has already lived through her share of bombing.

“You don’t know, Esther, when Iraq was bombing Tehran it was terrible. The house next to us was hit; our neighbor’s car… Every day we thought that we would be next. It’s so horrible. I cannot take it again,” my other sister-in-law says. “Remember when we were taking care of Nooshin’s dog and how scared he was? He just hid under the couch.”

“That wasn’t during the war,” her husband says.

“It must have been Chahr Shambeh Souri,” I say (Last Tuesday night of the year: lots of bonfires and fireworks…)

She laughs. “You’re right. It was Chahr Shambeh Souri.”

Friday, January 05, 2007

Surprise party

“Keivan is that you?” Our hostess calls. The road to her house is impassable, so we are making our way on foot through snow and dirt.

“I am so happy to see you,” she calls out. A young man appears at her side. “Be my guest for dinner.”

What’s going on? We thought we were having dinner in this remote mountain apartment with our eccentric intellectual friends. Now we are being herded five into a taxi and making our way through Tehran’s mountainous lanes. On the way, our host catches fire when his cigarette drops on his coat. Pulling up to our destination, the taxi falls into one of the open drainage ditches that can be found alongside most Iranian roads.

We arrive around 9:30, still waiting for dinner. Inside the modest apartment on the inaccessible lane is a lively group of young, budding intellectuals. There is no alcohol, but one of the guests managed to arrive drunk and remain drunk for several hours until he became equally sleepy. How much do you have to drink to remain drunk for three hours with no refills? It seems like a kind of miracle to me, but then again, I cannot drink enough to even get drunk, let alone stay drunk.

“A friend of ours has a cat that eats pistachios. It cracks them open and eats them,” I tell the assembled.

“If the cat eats pistachios, what does the owner eat?” A carpet seller jokes.

A jumbo man pulls out his tanbur – a two-stringed traditional instrument made from a gourd – and begins playing traditional tunes while the drunken man attempts to hush the party goers. “This is the real Iran,” our would-be hostess whispers in my ear. “This is why I don’t want to leave again.” She is incongruously dressed in a designer black party dress and a fur coat while the rest of us wear our ready-to-wear. This is not a party filled with prom dresses and posing.

“What do you think of your fellow classmates,” our hostess asks the assembled students.

“The women have beautiful faces and empty brains,” one young man volunteers. “They are in university just to be students. Our discipline is not taken seriously so you do not need very high marks to get in,” he explains. “The men are worse. They are just there to avoid military service. It’s annoying. There is no conversation, no probing.”

“I am afraid of the military service too,” I say.

“No, you are afraid of the military,” Keivan laughs. “You are not afraid of military service.”

Monday, December 25, 2006

Busy week and Happy everything

First there was a lot of work… then a grant proposal for Mideast Youth… then party after party after party…plus Hannukah, Shab-e Yalda, and Christmas. Certainly, the most satisfying of the holidays is Shab-e Yalda which makes no secret of its meaning: welcoming the sun back into our lives. No baby Jesus, no miraculous flame, just the sun. Welcome back, sun.

Eating red fruit and nuts is a Shab-e Yalda tradition. Shab-e Yalda is celebrated on the longest night of the year.

Last week, one of my faithful readers invited me for a delicious dinner of Arabic delights. Thanks! I ended up spending most of the evening talking to a Libyan and an Egyptian… odd how that works, isn’t it? We had a good time making fun of Iranian food (I like it, but it’s not quite the brilliant cuisine that Iranians think it is) and Iranians themselves. Hey, I like you guys… don’t worry! You’re simply the majority and deserve the teasing you get from the likes of us.

I asked the tall Syrian man what he felt about the religious convictions: “Convenient,” was the short answer. I was reassured. Convenient is healthy. Committed is strange.

Convenient is important to remember. The other day I read somewhere that most Iranians agree that Israel is the source of many of the region’s problems. I believe that this is convenience speaking once again. Every single time an Iranian makes some argument against Israel, such as today when my cab driver said that Israel controlled the UN’s vote on sanctions, I make a counter argument (when there is one). I have never heard a counter-counter argument, which makes me think that there is not real depth to general anti-Israel sentiment. For instance today I told the driver that Israel did not vote on UN sanctions. He just said, “Oh. Well nothing will come of it anyway.”

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Party like it's 1999

Monday night…

Scene: small dinner party… mostly Iranians in their 40s…

“Do the Azeris want to separate from Iran?” I ask an Azeri (Turkic people in Iran) friend.

“Why would we want to separate? We may be a minority, but we think of ourselves as the majority in Iran.”

“It’s true,” his wife, also Azeri, adds.

“We run in Iran. The leader is Azeri. Why would we want to separate?”

“Khameini is Azeri?”

“Yes, of course. Didn’t you know?”

“Every grocer in Iran is Azeri. Everywhere you go, people speak Azeri.”

“We even tell the most Azeri jokes.”

“Ahh yes, but every once in awhile you get a bit touchy and demonstrate.”

“That wasn’t really because of the joke.”

Tuesday night…

What?! No party?

Wednesday night…

Scene: mid-size party, lots of foreigners, a smattering of Iranians… ages 20-60…

“Iranians always tell me that I am focused too much on hijab,” an unnamed foreign journalist says. “They say there are other more important women’s rights issues.”

“It’s a symbol of oppression,” I say.

“I agree. I blame my mother’s generation for hijab,” an Iranian friend tells us. “For the most part, they put it on willingly. They wore it proudly as a symbol of the revolution. Believe me, they regretted that choice.”

“It’s strange: where women are forced to wear hijab, they want out. Where they are not forced, they are wearing it more and more. You get on a plane with Saudi women or Iranian women and within minutes everyone of them has their veil off.”

“One day those women who think Islamic rule will save them will regret it. Their daughters will be angry with them for their efforts. Trust me.”

Thursday night…

Scene: Small dinner party in an elegant apartment with a great view of the city… A bit more than half of them

“I was in London for some classes. There were Egyptians and Jordanians and Lebanese with me in class. You know what they said when they found out I was Iranian? They said, ‘You are so lucky you have a strong leader like Ahmadinejad who stands up to America. You in Iran are our model of democracy. We envy you.’ I had to laugh. They really believe this. They looked at me like I was some kind of hero just for being Iranian.”

Friday night…

Scene: Typical Iranian party: over dressed women, men playing backgammon. Too much food: boiled tongue, chicken with rice and berries, eggplant and tomatoes stuffed with ground beef, salad, yogurt, smoked eggplant with tomatoes and eggs… All served late in the evening after the last guests arrive 1 ½ hours after the appointed time.
The crowd: 40s-70s with their young and teenaged children in tow.

The women are sitting in the back of the room having the typical conversation: the price of food. Meat, fish, tomatoes, grapes…

“What is our government doing by giving away our money to Hezbollah?” the oldest woman at the party asks.

“You know why all of the Lebanese are walking around with Nasrallah posters? Because our government is giving them $12,000 each. Just handing our money out, when Bam has not even been rebuilt.”

“That’s right. We can’t even get Bam rebuilt, but we are rebuilding Lebanon. That’s not our business.”

“And did you see the hospital we built for the Palestinians? Why can’t we have better public hospitals?”

“Because Iranians build our hospitals,” my husband answers.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

So you say you wanna' revolution...

Tagged as:

“Things have gotten much worse for us since Ahmadinejad took power,” a young university student tells us at a party. “Our choice of classes is limited. Many of our professors have been replaced. They even removed the benches from the campuses so that boys and girls cannot sit together.”

“They removed the benches?”

“Yes. People still sit on the walls, but all of the benches are gone. The worst part is that most Iranians are happy with this.”

“You think so?”

“They do not want boys and girls talking together.”

I have argued with Iranian friends that the regime does indeed represent many of their wishes, but they always disagree with me. My observation has been that most families want to control their children. They want to control who they see, where they go, and what they do. It is the very small minority who afford their children any measure of freedom. By children, I mean anybody who is not married yet: even then, the control continues.

The Iranian regime is parental. It cares for your soul, it punishes you for disobeying its rules, it shelters you from disturbing information, it reads your diary, and it destroys your porn stash. It is sometimes abusive, sometimes distant, sometimes illogical, sometimes it is even loving. Sometimes your mom will let you do something that your dad disapproves of; sometimes the opposite is true.

In Iran, you remain a child: dependent on the whims of your overprotective and abusive parents; sneaking out behind their backs; secretly disobeying them; expert at playing the good child.

Back to the party…

“They are especially controlling of their daughters,” I say.”

“You would be surprised how much boys are controlled in smaller towns and villages. Iranian families do not want their boys doing anything that they do not know about or approve of. They can be just as controlling of them as of the girls.”

“You are lucky you come from a family that allows you to be independent,” I tell her.

“Yes I am. We are different from most Iranian families, so we have to constantly lie about who we are and what we do. We even have to lie to relatives. It is so hard to always pretend.”

“It can be that way in America too. When your family is different from what is normal, people sometimes get in your business.”

“That’s because there are so many Christians in America. Sometimes they can be just as controlling as Muslims.”

A new group of guests arrive. They shake hands without introducing themselves which is normal for Iranians. “How have you been?” Our host asks.

“Well, you know… waiting for *them* to come.” We may not know their names, but we know who “them” is. “We have our bags packed. Toothbrushes, pajamas, a change of clothes, all neatly packed and waiting by the door.”

“When you are ready for them, they never come,” a young artist jokes.

“That’s true!” the woman laughs. “Exactly why we should always be ready.”


BTW, link to new post at Mideast Youth

Saturday, May 27, 2006

conversation cont'd (see a couple of posts back)

“If the Americans had not gone to Afghanistan, the Taliban would still be in power, and the women would still be in burkhas. Am I right? We need a hand outstretched in friendship now.”

“Oh c’mon… We don’t know how to take that hand. Every night the VOA tells us about democracy, and how we will have the support of the US if we just take the first step, and we do not take the first step.”

“How can we take that step? We need a helping hand.”

“Our problem is that we are essentially lazy,” K says.

“Lazy? You think so?”

“We don’t care about quality or about detail. Our 3000 year-old culture has not improved in 3000 years. All we do is whine and blame others for all of our problems.”

Man 2 lowers his head and shakes it. Man 1 smiles and says and nods his head in agreement.

K continues, “We don’t care about our own country. We don’t care about building our country. We must be the only country in the world whose citizens could care less what becomes of their country.”

“Not the only.”

“Okay. Maybe not. But my point is that instead of thinking ‘how can I improve my country?’ we think, ‘How can I line my pockets?”

“It’s the fault of the mullahs.” Man 2 makes a swirling gesture above his head to indicate their telltale turbans.”

“I don’t accept that,” K says. “After world war 2 Germany was destroyed. With the help of the Marshall Plan, they were able to rebuild. They could rebuild because they care about themselves and take responsibility for their own problems.”

“That’s what I am talking about,” Man 2 says. “Exactly. They got a helping hand.”

“But they knew what to do with it.”

“And they had Konrad Adenauer. Who do we have?” Man 1 says.

“It is the fault of the mullahs that we are this way.”

Monday, May 22, 2006

I’m tired of my blog…

Tagged as:

“There’s nothing to write about.”

“You’ve been here too long,” I tell my friend who keeps his own blog about Iran. “Everything seems normal to you.”

“That’s the problem, I know. I try to get away, but it’s still too normal. What’s strange is that every time I go abroad, all the talk is about Iran. Here we just laugh things off. There they take everything seriously. My God, this talk of flying gas chambers is really outrageous.”

“I feel like I am getting sucked into the hysteria. All I write about is political anymore. Dress code, nukes… it’s all getting on my nerves. If I don’t write about it, then I am dragged into it.”

“Oooohh… I see you wore your lovely red-striped ethnic identification clothing tonight.”

“Just another piece of mass hysteria.”

“The problem is Conrad Black’s paper publishes it and then everyone starts linking to it. The retraction gets less attention than the rumor.”

“People think that Iranians are as obsessed with the nuclear issue as they are, but in reality people here just have to deal with the every day pressures.”

“As if there is not enough to worry about… Like frigging taxis overcharging you, shopping, funerals…”

Everyday Pressures

“What do you think of Iran?” a nurse asks me.

“If I had never worked here, I would love it.” She laughs. “You’re lucky. You work with women. I have to work with men.”

“Iranian men break their promises.”

“Tell me about it…” Just then K opens the door of the doctor’s waiting room. “Except for my husband.” All of the women in the room laugh.

From the doctor’s office, I tag along with K as he heads downtown for an informal business meeting. I am tagging along. Their work completed, the men gather for tea and cigarettes. They are soon deep in conversation about Iran.

“The only honest thing an Iranian ever says is that Iranians are liars,” K says.

“Aha. Exactly,” Man 1 says.

“It’s gotten so much worse since the revolution. It’s all the fault of Jimmy Carter and the mullahs,” Man 2 says.

“We have 3000 years of history, but all we do is blame others for our problems. It’s the fault of the British, the Americans, on and on…”

“But shouldn’t they take some responsibility? Didn’t the British and Americans conspire to bring down Mossadegh? Was that our fault?”

“For a few million tuman, they were able to bring down a government: all they had to do is bribe a few people. We sell ourselves out cheap.”

more later...

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

We are family

Tagged as:

“T have you been to Hawaii?”

“No, but I want to go. My cousin is there, and I would love to visit him.”

“You see your cousins?”


“You mean, you have contacts with cousins?”

“Of course. When I was home I say a lot of my cousins. I attended several family events.”

“Eeehh… The mullahs always tell us that your families are broken.”

“Some are. Some are not.”

“Just like ours. They tell us that you leave home at 18.”

“Just because we leave home does not mean that we do not love and respect our families. The mullahs tell you that leaving home means that our families are broken. I tell you that’s not what it means. They tell you we care more for our cats and dogs than for our children. That’s bullshit.”

“Bullshit, yanni chi?” (What does bullshit mean?)

Yesterday the news was filled with guidelines for de-uglifying Americans. (Thank god we’re still beautiful in Iran ;-) ) The tips are simple politeness. While I agree with being polite, I do not think we should be polite to the point of letting people tell us that liberal democracy is bad, that we are decadent, and that our families are broken.

“Did you know that over 50% of all American marriages end in divorce?” K asked his sisters a couple of years ago.

“100% of Iranian marriages end in divorce,” they laughingly responded. “Only we still have to live together.”

We are often ready to let the enlightened non-West define us as decadent, selfish, and individualistic. Well, some of us are. Some of us are not. After living in Iran where Inshallah or God’s will absolves the population of responsibility, I would say that we are not alone when it comes to facing our social problems. Here, individualism is masked as community because people do not often challenge the will of the community. Iranians can be just as willfully individualistic as the best of us…They just do it in private. Many Iranians live like perpetual high school students: hiding their private lives under a mask of propriety and manners like grown-up Eddie Haskells.

Europeans and Americans (to a lesser extent) look at themselves critically on a regular basis. Let’s just talk about crime: Why do we know our crime rate? Because we examine our crime rate. We also report crimes that other cultures do not.

“A woman came before me,” an Iranian judge told us. “She was Russian and had been assaulted by a couple of men. She was terrified to tell me about it. I could tell that she did not trust me. I had to gain her trust, reassure her that she would not be punished for the crimes of the men. It took awhile before she could trust me enough to tell me what happened to her. This is what I have to fight all day: the idea that we will not help.”

Monday, February 06, 2006

Sister called, “Has cartoon-mania hit your neighborhood yet?”
“If it’s not on the cartoon channel, I don’t see it.”
I laughed.

The cartoons are now part of the nuclear crisis in Iran.

“The Muslim world is vigilant”, Haddad-Adel said. “As they have expressed outrage and protest at the desecration of the prophet of Islam, they will not keep silent against bullying remarks under the pretext of a resolution of the UN nuclear agency”.

“Give me a letter asking the American soldiers not to kill me,” a friend asks me. It’s half a joke, half serious. Iranians really worry about the effects of being referred to the Security Council.

“You mean even the Russians voted against us?” a taxi driver asks in disbelief. K explains for him.

“Only Syria, Venezuela, and Cuba voted against the resolution.”

“Syria, Venezuela, and Cuba? You mean the Chinese voted against us too?”

“The IAEA does not trust that Iran has told the full truth.”

The driver just accepts this. Like very other Iranian, he knows there is no arguing with that comment.

“Why do we have such bad luck?” the driver asks.

“Well we have a president who cannot even accept the fact that 6 million Jews were killed in gas chambers and asks for Israel to be wiped off the map. Not even the Palestinians ask for this, but we have to.”

“What difference does that make?”

“What if Bush said that there was no war with Iraq and that over 1 million people did not die in that war? How do you think that would make us feel?”

Destination reached. An informal gathering that includes Iranians, Iraninan-kharigi, an Indian or three or four, some Australians, and us…

Talk of cartoon mania. “I could start a riot in India with these two posters.” Shows us the Ali and Hossein posters that grace the streets of Iran.

“Some Iranians tell me that those paintings are not really of Ali or Hossein, but of their friends.”

“I was visiting family who showed me a light-up painting of Ali. They did not say it was of one of his friends.”

“We also have a friend who keeps a 300-year old painting of Mohammad hidden in her bedroom. ‘They say there are no paintings of Mohammad, but I have one,’ she brags.”

“But still, it’s a pretty lame expression of free speech. Especially given the fact that the Muslim communities in Northern Europe feel so marginalized and under attack, which, of course, does not excuse the reaction.”

“Muslims are thinned skin.”

“You have to have a thicker skin in this world…”

After much discussion an agreement was made: “Mono-cultures are bad.”

Well my friend the entomologist agrees. She always told me that mono-cultures can be quickly destroyed by disease.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Party Talk

We attend more parties in Iran in two months than we do in two years elsewhere.

It’s not like you can say “Hey, let’s go for a couple of beers after work.” No, you have to organize something, go to someone’s house, climb a mountain… something like that.

There are certain patterns to parties. For instance, Iranian parties are filled with couples who look like they stepped out of a high-school prom photo even though they are way over high-school age. You always have somewhere to wear your prom dress or suit in Iran, that’s for sure. Especially if that prom dress is strapless and low cut and that suit is trendy but not a tux. Some Iranian parties involve loud music and dancing. Others involve chatting in a living room, playing cards and backgammon. Of course there are the rumored orgies, but I have never met anyone who was actually invited to one.

Anglo parties are pretty casual with women and men complaining about hijab and Iran, dressed in jeans, and little to no effort on hair and makeup.

Intellectual parties are filled with women in long embroidered shirts, men in natural fiber vests, alcohol, some excellent dancing by the older set (the younger set just sits and talks), and lots and lots of talk.

They *can* be mixed.

“Why didn’t I study the culture of Brazil? Why did I have to choose the Middle East? I miss fun,” a friend lamented.

“When I go home, I am amazed at the level of fun. I mean I watched movies in a parking lot, drinking a beer. That was fun! I would be willing to fight for fun.”

“I used to think sitting outside having a beer in a café in a park was a bore. Now I dream about it.”

“It’s never boring in Iran, but it isn’t all that fun either.

“Which is why everyone feels that the situation in Iran is so unstable. I mean, if it were fun here, then people would feel more secure. They would feel like there was a future here.”

“Every bit of fun is stamped on.”

My friend in America always told me that paranoid powers have no sense of humor. “They say that the Nixon administration had no sense of humor.” Well this one filters satire on the internet and puts political humorists in prison.

(BTW, wanted to post this on Wednesday night, but I was late for a party)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

There is a mouse in the wall and it has ears…

New Persian lesson of the day… In Iran it’s not that “the walls have ears,” but that "the mouse in the wall has ears…"

I was speaking with a group of Iranians about nothing in particular and learned that saying as well as this one: “He left his hat backstage…” which is what you do when you lose control of a situation.

My “teachers” were calling me Miss America. “I just cannot remember your name,” the ringleader explained. “I hope you do not mind being called Miss America.”

“Why don’t you invite Bush to visit you here?” One asked me.

“Do you really want a visit from Bush?”

“I think if Bush came to Iran, he would see what a peaceful people we are and he would put the whole world’s minds to rest. Don’t you agree?”

I laughed. One of the group added, “When you do not visit Iran, you think we are an awful people… that we are terrorists, right?”

“Right,” I agreed. “That is the way the world sees you.”

“But we are nice. We do not want to fight anyone. We are peaceful.”

“You are,” I agree.

Iranians are worried about being bombed. Many are already making predictions about where. Apparently housing prices have dropped in a certain neighborhood of Tehran.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

It can’t get any worse...

Oh yeah? I can think of thousands of ways that things can get worse. There is no rock bottom, I can guarantee that. There are only ledges on the way down. Get yourself on one of those ledges and hope that you can pull yourself up.

I have been accused of being biased against Iran by one of my recent readers. I think that if you read the entire site you will see it is 100% bar aks (opposite). I am in a funk now. When you get in a funk, everything goes wrong. Here’s a small list: crazy, vindictive landlords who want to get us arrested for giving notice; broken promises; missed deadlines; bad communication; out and out lying and purposeful misunderstandings; hospitals and death. Oh and politics. There is always that when you can’t find anything else to depress you.

“We are borderline clinically depressed,” K told me this morning. “I saw a program that described all of our symptoms.”

Us and just about everyone else in this country…

“Many of our friends are leaving the country,” a friend tells us. “They feel like the last eight years were a sham – that we are back at square one.”

“They have discovered 300 million dollars of corruption in the oil ministry,” K tells me.

“They’re scratching the surface.”

I remember before the war with Iraq when reporters and blogger" were saying that Iraq was not preparing for war at all. Iraq did not prepare for a war that most believed was inevitable. On the other hand, rumor has it that Iran is preparing for war: a war that most believe is, in fact, unlikely.

They are dragging out the negotiations: giving themselves time to build relationships with the Russians (oops! Soviets! Or uhhh Russians) and the Chinese and god knows what else. Some Iranians I speak to believe that the regime will eventually come to an agreement about the nuclear issues, but I am not so sure. Why would they come to an agreement with the EU and US when China doesn’t care about their nuclear ambitions or their human rights record?

“All of our clients are from China,” a lawyer tells me. “We don’t open the doors for Iranians even. They are never satisfied with our work; they call at all hours of the day and night; they don’t like to pay; and they are inefficient. Our Chinese customers love us. They have money. For them, we are cheap.” (The lawyer wasn’t commenting on foreign policy, nuclear power, or anything else but his business.)

On the other hand, there seems to be a shrinking sense that nuclear arms will make Iran more respectable. What could be causing this diminishment of enthusiasm? Could it be that most Iranians wanted to believe that the nuclear program was, indeed, peaceful? Could it be that they are now realizing that it is not entirely peaceful? Could it be that the regime may be thrilled with its new-found friendship with China, but that most Iranians look to the West when they see their future? Could it be that Tehran’s metro construction has struck water and caused the near collapse of a busy street?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Millions of brilliant liars

"After the revolution, my friend tells his kids: 'Look, don't tell anyone at school that I drink vodka.' Later they got a satellite. Once again, he tells his kids, 'I know we have a satellite, but don't tell anyone at school that we have one.' When his kids are teenagers he discovers that they lie to him all the time, and most of the time he does not have a clue. 'How did you get to be such good liars?' He asks his teenage children. 'You taught us,' they answer.

Millions of parents just like K's friends. Millions of brilliant liars. That's what the revolution has produced.

When you first arrive in Iran, people tell you: "Don't trust your own brother." You don't believe them. How could these people be so frigging cynical? You might ask yourself.

Today some guy told me: "Adapt, don't conform." Iranians, he explained, conform. That's what makes them so frustrated and so depressed. "We have a history of conforming," he tells me. "I adapt. That's why I have managed to maintain my sanity here."

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Back in Town

Millions of Iranians have returned to Tehran which means the roads are packed and there is a disgusting orange cloud of smog covering the city.

School started a couple of days ago. Mornings are filled with the noises of children playing in the schoolyard before the first class starts. I like the sounds.

"Soon only the women will be educated," K tells me. "Guys just aren't making an effort. They don't see any benefit in pursuing an education."

Every year the percentage of young women attending university goes up. (I could add that critical thinking goes down, but that might be interpreted as an indictment of women rather than an indictment of the education system. The second is meant.)

"Young men have their daddies buy them stores and put them up in business. They think they can make more money that way than through an education."

We have friends in foreign-owned businesses in Iran that only have women working for them. "The men are just useless," they tell us. "We have almost no men working for us."
To be fair, the situation is more complicated than that. "Men in Iran believe that the women are making the regime work," K tells me. "After awhile, men here use inefficiency as a form of protest."

Yeah, yeah… maybe…

It's hard in Iran. People start out full of energy and ideas and slowly find themselves worn down and thwarted. It's enough to make anyone useless and inefficient.