Monday, December 26, 2005

Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukkah and Happy Longest Night

Sorry for the radio silence. I had internet problems and anger management problems.

I have never had so many Christmas invitations before…Brunch here, lunch there, dinner somewhere else… Little plastic Christmas trees, revolutionary guards with kalashnikovs roaming the streets, and snow in the mountains! On Christmas eve, we even had a visit from a skinny Santa Claus.

Last year I wrote that I believe that in the coming 10 years Christmas will become a full-fledged holiday in Iran. This year was even Christmasier than last. Not one of our Christmas invitations has come from a Christian. Iranian state radio even wished Christians a merry Christmas and played Western music. (AN himself used the theme song from Bonanza in his campaign clip)

I love it when Iranian Muslims ask me what is traditional for Christmas: “Chinese food & a movie,” I answer. Of course, they don’t get it…Fortunately another foreigner could answer: “Alcohol.”

In the holiday spirit… here are a couple of jokes:

A joke:
Bush, Chirac, & AN pay a visit to God to see what’s in store for them in the coming year. First Bush:

“I’m afraid I have bad news for you,” God tells him. “Things are not going to go so well in Iraq. The public is going to lose its faith in you. You’ll have horrible hurricanes one after the other, and the republicans will lose the election.” Bush left crying.

Then Chirac:

“The news for you isn’t so hot either. You’ll have riots in the streets. Thousands of cars will be set on fire, and everyone will blame you.” Chirac, too, leaves crying.

Then AN:

“And what’s in store for my country?” AN asks. God hesitates a moment and then starts crying himself.

Another joke:

In a country where fish fall in love and turtles fly, it’s no wonder a monkey is president.

Oh and more humor...

Blocked on my side, but I bet you guys can read this: "How about transferring Israel to Iran." Hey... I laughed.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Earlier the day of the crash…

Waiting for a telephone line to be connected in Tehran means entering a strange world of bizarre excuses and broken promises. If you don’t know someone in the telecom office and then if you don’t grease his palm, you are guaranteed horrific service. If you do know someone that you can appropriately “tip” then you just get bad service.

After several broken promises, we were told: “The guy who can connect your phone had a death in the family.”

I found that I could not be sympathetic. “Iranians always have a death in the family,” I responded. “It seems to be a favorite excuse.”

Everyone laughed.

Later that day, we ordered pizza to be delivered. It arrived an hour late and cold. When we called to complain, the manager told us that his delivery person had just died.

Again we laughed.

It’s sad isn’t it? You get to a point here where the news just keeps getting worse and worse and you have no way of controlling it. Sucks, right. You just laugh. And then a few hours later the news is even worse.

Plane crashes, pollution, & other every day occurrences.

Iran is deep into its second week of horrific pollution levels. Schools and offices closed last week in an effort to reduce Tehranian’s mobility needs and therefore reduce the pollution. No such luck. It just keeps getting worse. There is no rain, no wind, no nothing. I am starting to feel like someone has been standing on my chest, like I am caving in.

In the midst of all of this, a military plane crashed with 68 journalists on board. The pilot did not want to take off. He was ordered to do so. This is a scandal. (See idiotic graphic on IRNA’s site. Note that tulips are the symbol of the martyr. Martyr to what? Irrational decision-making?) Mr. Behi expresses the common outrage.lThe uncommon outrage is that it is America’s fault because of sanctions. Well, there are sanctions against obtaining nuclear capabilities and Iran seems clever enough to get around those. Also check out the BBC’s report via regimechangeiran.

Our friends have been attending a lot of funerals. Many of them knew people on board. I wish them well.

Ahh… but the pollution is the lasting disaster. When will it end?

Monday, November 28, 2005

Taxi Talk

Tagged as: ""

Bad traffic. Our 20-minute trip in heavy traffic became a 45-minute trip in heavier traffic. Who knows why?

Our driver: tall, silver flecks in black hair. Black shirt. Big prayer ring.

He began by complaining that foreigners were screwing up the economy.

“Why do you say foreigners? We do it all ourselves,” K said. “What other country gives inexperienced and immature people such positions of power? Would you let a 12-year old manage your investments?”

“He might be a smart kid,” the driver joked.

“Yeah, but he puts all your money into candy.”

“That’s may be true.”

“All over the world, Iranians are successful. Let’s not even talk about engineers or doctors,” K said, “there are Iranian architects, Iranian designers, Iranian pop stars, Iranian journalists. Just look at CNN! But here: we can’t be successful at anything. We have everything; every talent; everything we need to be successful, and then a bunch of immature and inexperienced leaders.”

“What about Clinton? He was young when he became president.”

“The difference between a young Clinton and a young guy here goes from the ground to the sky. Clinton goes from high school to college to work. He builds his experience step-by-step. He doesn’t go from basij to oil minister in one step, does he?”

“But the West is always trying to influence us,” the driver added.

“Oh, and aren’t we trying to influence Armenia and Iraq and Afghanistan? That’s the way the world works.”

Later in the conversation…

“I was a member of the Basijee,” the driver tells us. “But it soon became clear to me that it was just a group of people out for revenge. They told me, go and get your revenge, but I told them: why should I do that? I joined because I believed in Islam and the revolution. All those guys believed in was vengeance.” (After the car ride I asked K why he kept talking about throwing bricks. K explained that that meant “taking revenge.”)

“What religion tells you that it’s okay to lie, cheat, and steal? Here in Iran, you cannot function without lying, cheating, or stealing.”

“This is not Islam,” the driver says. “This is its opposite.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Opip - an observation post: Conversation with Nasser Zarafshan

From Opip's Blog an interesting interview. I know I was late finding it, but that doesn't make it any less interesting:

Conversation with Nasser Zarafshan

Under the title „Tehran’s reformist mask has come off“ the German newspaper „Junge Welt“ published an interview with Nasser Zarafshan on Saturday.

Dr. Zarafshan acted as a lawyer to the relatives of Iranian writers assassinated in the ‘serial murders‘ (more on the serial murders), when he was himself arrested in 2002. He has been in prison ever since. In June he went on hunger strike to protest his detention. During the summer he was shortly transfered to a hospital to undergo treatment for kidney stones.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Isolating Iran is what the Fundamentalists Want

First the comment:
Anonymous said...
Ah, if only Americans could finance microbanks in Iran the evil regime would be less secure.

Sorry, the NY Times editorial is the usual Times pap about how the world be great if only we were all nice to each other and that it is always America's fault if we are not.

The Iranian regime is serious about the systematic destruction of the West. It even says so itself. Isn't that what Death to America means? Helping the Iranian people unfortunately means helping the regime. We are better off withholding our help.

My response:
Now you are thinking like the fundamentalists in Iran! You guys agree. They don’t want out help, and you don’t think we should give it.
Fundamentalists strive for isolation. Their goal is to isolate Iranians from the rest of the world: economically, culturally, and intellectually. They are itching for a fight. Sanctions and strikes would help build their power base.

Believe it or not, the Iranian regime is not 100% fundamentalist. There are dissenting voices that want to keep Iran and Iranians engaged in the world. Iranians themselves are far from 100% fundamentalist. And, guess what, they are overwhelmingly pro-American.

Sometimes I think Iran is like a tube of toothpaste. The regime just keeps squeezing people so that they leave or lose the will to fight.

Read “Soldiers of the Hidden Imam” by Timothy Garton Ash

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Sex Appeal

A friend of mine is convinced that Westerners are erotically obsessed with the hijab. “They love the photograph of the chadori with the rifle and the basij headband,” she raves. “It turns them on. I swear.”

Maybe. After all the “adult” shelves are filled with nun fantasies… It’s the same outfit more or less.

We had dinner with a couple vacationing in Iran. “This is how much the whole hijab thing affected me,” the man told us. “After just one week here I felt like a twinge of excitement watching a strange woman take her headscarf off when we would come inside a house. I felt like such a voyeur. I was constantly trying to imagine what the women were wearing under their hijab. Tell me what was it?!”

“A spaghetti strap, skin-tight top and stretch pants,” I answered.


GM from San Francisco sent a link to this article in the Jerusalem Post: “Exclusive: Immigrant moves back 'home' to Teheran”

"I have a lot of Muslim friends and they all knew I'd moved to Israel," he said. "They asked me, 'Why did you come back?'" His Jewish friends in Iran already knew the answer.
Despite the declaration last week by Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that Israel must be wiped off the map, the Shihab missiles displayed in Teheran with "Israel" painted on them, the broadcasting of anti-Semitic films on national television and the much-publicized trials of 13 Jewish Iranians on spy charges, Ishak insists that life in Iran is far better for Jews than life in Israel.
"If you have problems there, people help you - and they know you are Jewish," said Ishak, who has now briefly returned to Israel to sell his shop and leave for good. "But here, everyone is looking out for himself. You can't trust anybody."

Is it nostalgia? True? Or the interactions of a minority? I don’t know. I do know that when you are part of a minority, you get accustomed to a certain type of group behavior that is decidedly un-majority. I often wonder what happens to Iran’s Christians when they find themselves in majority Christian countries like America. Are they excited to be part of a big majority or do they retain the characteristics of a minority group. Any Armenians from Iran out there who want to respond?

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Telegraph | News | Suicide bombers on Iran kids' TV

"Ahmadinejad is not a shrewd political operator," said Dr Ansari. "Most Iranians want to focus on domestic problems and this [his anti-Israeli stance] is alarming the international community and creating huge anxiety in Iran."

A British diplomat in London said: "The increase in anti-Israeli propaganda and Ahmadinejad's dangerous rhetoric will only serve to alienate him from his people and further isolate Iran. For the West, as well as Israel, the prospect of this man having his finger on a nuclear button is truly horrifying."">Telegraph | News | Suicide bombers on Iran kids' TV: "'Ahmadinejad is not a shrewd political operator,' said Dr Ansari. 'Most Iranians want to focus on domestic problems and this [his anti-Israeli stance] is alarming the international community and creating huge anxiety in Iran.'

A British diplomat in London said: 'The increase in anti-Israeli propaganda and Ahmadinejad's dangerous rhetoric will only serve to alienate him from his people and further isolate Iran. For the West, as well as Israel, the prospect of this man having his finger on a nuclear button is truly horrifying.'"

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Our Allies in Iran - New York Times

Great op-ed by Afshin Molavi.
Our Allies in Iran - New York Times:
"Iran's modern middle class, which is increasingly urbanized, wired and globally connected, provides particularly fertile soil for these aspirations. The Stanford University scholar Abbas Milani has described Iran's middle class as a 'Trojan horse within the Islamic republic, supporting liberal values, democratic tolerance and civic responsibility.' And so long as that class grows, so too will the pressure for democratic change.

If Mr. Ahmadinejad's foreign policy results in further global economic isolation or military intervention, however, the situation for Iran's democracy-minded middle class could deteriorate. Foreign hostility will furnish additional pretexts for the regime to frighten its people and crack down on dissent. Particularly if the European Union decides to participate in a tougher sanctions regime, liberal-minded Iranians will lose contact with the foreign investors, educators, tourists and businessmen who link them to the outside world.

Now more than ever, middle-class and other democracy-minded Iranians need to preserve and expand their network of institutions independent from the government - institutions in which they can take refuge from the rapacious hardliners who seek to control all aspects of Iranian life. That network should include a strong private sector; a rich array of nongovernmental organizations dealing with issues like poverty, women's rights and youth unemployment; and social, intellectual and cultural associations that communicate with counterparts abroad.

Unfortunately, United States sanctions now prevent any American person or group from financially supporting, say, a microfinance bank, a program to train future political leaders or even an education initiative for rural women in Iran. That is a mis- take. Elsewhere in the Middle East, the United States has programs that provide exactly these kinds of grants, in the name of democratization."

Eid is tomorrow…

Update: Welcome to View from Iran...If you feel like it, stay and read a bit.

I know that a lot of people are coming to this site for info on Eid 2007 in Iran... Eid-eh Shoma mubarak. I heard that there will be only one day of Eid this year, but who can be certain? Last year's 2-day celebration was a complete fiasco!

In Amsterdam, where we are now, the streets are filled with Muslims eating ice cream and sweets. Hope you are enjoying yourselves everywhere.

Woke up to stripes of snow on the mountains, rain-charged air, and fantastic after-rain light. It was the happiest I’ve felt in ages.
The end of Ramadan has been announced.
Rumor has it that AN is recalling ambassadors. Will they actually come back? Time will tell.
I do not have a clue about what is going on. The Iranian stock market is crashing. People are not making purchases. Iranians are preparing for sanctions. The regime is preparing for war.
No one wants sanctions… except, perhaps, the hardliners (which hardliners? I am sure there is a faction of hardliners that would prefer not to have sanctions.). Sanctions will be a boost for the hardliners who get stronger on depravation than they do on plenty.
AN promised economic reforms. How will those promises be met with sanctions? I was riding in a taxi when 20% pay raises were announced. “The prices have gone up 40%, but our pay is only going up 20%,” the driver told me. “You need 1 million tuman a month to have a life in Tehran, but all I make is 200,000.”
It’s hard to believe that the rial was ever worth anything.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Jee zuee, what the f***?

Tagged as

The differences between the reformers and the conservatives seem tiny when compared to the differences between the hardliners and the hardliners. The reformers just wanted a kinder, gentler Islamic government. What do the hardliners want? You tell me.
I’m serious. Tell me.
I was riding downtown when I saw the giant posters “World Without Zionism.” A couple of days later, AN makes his firebrand speech. I am so sick of anti-semites (you know I don’t mean Arabs, right folks?) pretending that they are just anti-Zionists. Jezuee, you do business with the Russians for f***’s sake. Oh yeah, and the Chinese.
The weird thing is that most Iranians would be shocked to discover that the rhetoric of their various leaders makes me, at times, physically ill. They would never take it as seriously as I do.
They laugh it off. And I do not want to find out more. I do not want to know if they find AN brave (like a friend told me that many do) or honest or whatever. The Iranians I have met rarely make any connections between their hatred for Israel and anti-Jewishness. Jews are, after all, people of the book. The children of Ibrahim. Right?
Of course, many of the Iranians I have met have never heard of the holocaust. They still appreciate the Germans for fighting those evil Brits. They know next to nothing about World War 2.
Ramadan should be a spiritual time for Muslims. Right? But every fucking year, all over the world, it is used as a time for increased holy violence and vitriolic speech.
This year I stayed away from all Iranian media. I knew that if I watched it, I would be subjected to too much casual hatred.
But, like last year, I am sure that the day after Ramadan, everything will be back to normal. The vitriol will get watered down. Rafsanjani claims that the leader agrees that Israel should not be wiped off the map. If that’s true… what’s next from here?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Rosa Parks

Yes. Rosa Parks. I always admire her for the woman behind the myth: the one who was active in the NAACP and the Women’s Political Council; the one who was one of many women looking for an opportunity to get arrested for not giving up her seat. I admire her for not just being tired, but for being organized.

Recalling the incident for "Eyes on the Prize," a 1987 public television series on the civil rights movement, Mrs. Parks said: "When he saw me still sitting, he asked if I was going to stand up and I said, 'No, I'm not.' And he said, 'Well, if you don't stand up, I'm going to have to call the police and have you arrested.' I said, 'You may do that.' "
Her arrest was the answer to prayers for the Women's Political Council, which was set up in 1946 in response to the mistreatment of black bus riders, and for E. D. Nixon, a leading advocate of equality for blacks in Montgomery.
Blacks had been arrested, and even killed, for disobeying bus drivers. They had begun to build a case around a 15-year-old girl's arrest for refusing to give up her seat, and Mrs. Parks had been among those raising money for the girl's defense. But when they learned that the girl was pregnant, they decided that she was an unsuitable symbol for their cause.
Mrs. Parks, on the other hand, was regarded as "one of the finest citizens of Montgomery - not one of the finest Negro citizens - but one of the finest citizens of Montgomery," Dr. King said.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Ramazan Ramadan

Tagged as:

We’re about halfway through the mandated public fast. You can’t eat or drink in public unless you are a traveler or are sick. And then you better be in a hotel or a hospital. So imagine my joy when I was offered tea at a recent meeting. What a pleasure it was!

I think that many more women than men fast. “They think it will help them lose weight,” a friend explains. I’m not so sure. There is a kind of community that the fasting creates. It really is a pleasure to wander the streets at sunset. Someone is always out offering sweets, fruit juice, or porridge. Everyone watches the same serial: the story of a woman possessed by the devil. I have only caught bits and pieces because I do not have an antenna. Got one today, but now I only have 2 channels.

“Islam should be left to the individual,” a taxi driver ranted yesterday. “All of this fake fasting and public sanctions are ridiculous. They have taken away our personal relationship with the religion and made it the law. It’s too much.” And on and on and on he went…

“Wow. He talked a lot,” I told K.

“One thing’s for sure: he wasn’t an intelligence officer.”

“He didn’t give us any time to talk,” I laughed.

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.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Reality Bites

Tagged: and

"Iranians don't think because if they did, they would not be able to sleep nights." I can't remember who told us this. Somebody at some party somewhere, no doubt.

After many sleepless nights, I have learned the Iranian art of not thinking. Every once in awhile someone or some event forces me to think, and I find myself up nights with my eyes wide open trying to replace my anxieties with the memory of an episode of the Simpsons or by immersing myself in the plot to Michael Swanwick's The Iron Dragon's Daughter ( at Amazon: When I am not successful, which is often, Bart and Lisa start to argue politics and predict Armageddon.

Oh well…

Predicting Armageddon

When AN arrived at the UN, the talk all over town (at least all over uptown) was of his clothing. I overheard a number of conversations about the president's appalling fashion sense. "Other leaders arrive looking clean and well-dressed, but our president looks like a mess. How could he dress that way in front of the UN?" This seemed to be the common refrain. Our friends confirmed that this was the topic of conversation everywhere they went. "If we were in South Tehran, they would probably be pleased. They're probably saying that he's just like us. He's a man of the people." Maybe.

Last night, we were up late discussing AN's speech and its possible effects. "Iran is overplaying its hand," a friend said. "They are underestimating America. They think America is weak."

And what does America think? If they think that an outside attack would lead to regime fall, than they are sadly mistaken. Does America think that we cannot let Iran get away with their nuclear shenanigans? And what does that mean?

Some Links:
(PDF file)A report from the Carnegie Endowment: (

From Business Week: (

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Tree-hugging Buddhist Republican


"You have to admit that the Americans never had any problems until the Muslims came along and bombed the World Trade Center," a self-described "tree-hugging Buddhist Republican" Iranian said at a dinner party last night.

The man sitting next to me looked at him with disbelief and said, "Vwhy, babba, we are the Muslims."

At this dinner we heard how fickle Americans are, how good they are, how short-sighted they are, how they want to spread democracy to the world, how there is no free speech in America, how America protects free speech, and how much America has changed since 9/11.

Later we actually talked about American football: you know the pigskin and all that… Turns out that our dinner party crowd were big fans of the Kansas City Chiefs. "My brother loves the team so much that he has started to refer to them in the first person."

"What do you mean?" I ask.

"He says things like '*we're* not doing so well this year. *We* are having a few problems with our defense…"

Never mind that Americans talk this way all of the time. It sounds funny coming from an Iranian.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Calling all bloggers writing about Iran: Tagging


I am going to start tagging posts. I hope that others will make suggestions for tags so that we can have some coherent way of identifying our posts. Please add suggestions to this post. I will keep updating it.

I suggest the following schema to begin with:

Here is the code. Replace the ?? with < and the !! with >

??a href="" rel="tag"!!Iran tagging??/a!!

??a href="" rel="tag"!! Iran celebrations??/a!!

??a href="" rel="tag"!! Iran health??/a!!

??a href="" rel="tag"!! Iran elections??/a!!

??a href="" rel="tag"!! Iran politics??/a!!

??a href="" rel="tag"!! Iran taxis??/a!!

??a href="" rel="tag"!! Iran daily life??/a!!

??a href="" rel="tag"!! Iran work??/a!!

??a href="" rel="tag"!! Iran what others think??/a!!

??a href="" rel="tag"!! Iran culture??/a!!

Updates and Suggestions
From opip ( editing):





??a href="" rel="tag"!!Iran: U.S.??/a!!

??a href="" rel="tag"!!Iran: WMD??/a!!

??a href="" rel="tag"!!Iran: religion??/a!!

??a href="" rel="tag"!!Iran: politics??/a!!

??a href="" rel="tag"!!Iran: Ganji??/a!!

??a href="" rel="tag"!!Iran: opposition??/a!!

Monday, September 05, 2005

Home care, health care, and corruption


"My mom needs a shot. The doctor told me to get the medicine through my insurance, not through the black market. 'It should be about 20,000 tuman,' she told me. I tried all of my contacts: nothing. Nothing is available officially. On the black market, they're asking 450,000 a dose. I sent another guy after it. He got the price down to 390,000. Finally, a nurse was able to get it for me for 99,000."

Oil revenues are reportedly high. Iran is using about $1 bn to set up a love fund to help couples tie the knot and settle down. Don't ask the gov what it will do for people who are aging or suffering serious illnesses. Iranians already know: they'll have to fend for themselves. Word on the street is that a famous wrestler recently died because he did not have money for the medication he needed. I heard the manager of the hospital give a well-spoken rebuttal to the rumor, but even I did not 100% believe him. I believed the rumor.

Caring for yourself or for another requires the following:

Good health insurance plus lots of cash;
A team of supporters who advocate for you with the doctor and the hospital staff;
A team that gets you your drugs;
A caring family member who acts as your nurse;
Someone who can interpret your lab results;
Lots of cash.

Healthcare is Iran's Achilles heel. The population is overwhelmingly young, which means that healthcare will be pushed to its very limits in the coming years. Families are increasingly small, which means no single daughter who devotes her life to caring for her parents.

Expectations are high. Iranians know that their doctors are well-respected. TV and radio are chock-full of medical programs. People want to be able to take care of themselves, and they expect to be able to take care of themselves. They know that the money from oil is pouring in, and some of them are starting to ask why don't the hospitals have drugs? Why isn't the medication they need legally available? Why can't they get the care they deserve and expect? How did the medicine find it's way on to the black market in the first place?

Friday, September 02, 2005


Rain and thunder. The mountains are etched across the sky. The colors are amazing. And then: snow on the mountains! It really is beautiful.

That night, K and I sit on the balcony. The air is clean and cool. The sky is orange. Suddenly, Damavand's triangular peak makes its appearance. The snow that covers it reflects the sun so that you see this dramatic, orange cone.

"Tehran is so beautiful," K says.

Sometimes I feel as though I have lived the Prague Spring. I remember conversation from some movie I saw about Prague (what was it?). The characters are in a jazz club. The Soviets are threatening. "The West would never let them reinvade," one of the characters says.

I still get heartsick when I think of that 1-minute of film.

The announcement of the cabinet means that many Iranians have had their worst fears realized, yet they continue to hope for the best, whatever the best means.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Tips for Journalists Visiting Iran

After living here for two years, after reading countless articles about Iran, after viewing news spots and listening to radio spots about Iran, I want to offer a few quick pointers to journalists coming to Iran.

Tarof is a complicated system of manners than can make it extremely difficult for a visiting journalist to get a straight answer.
a. Iranians would rather agree to do something than to admit that they cannot help you.
b. An initial "no" or "yes" should not be taken seriously. If permission is not granted initially, keep asking. It pays to be persistent.
c. Most Iranians you meet will invite you to their homes. If you agree to go, please understand that your visit may cost them a lot of money. They might not really want you to come. It might be too expensive for them.
d. If an Iranian invites you to a party where alcohol is served, you might want to remember just how expensive that alcohol is. They may love to see you, but resent the amount that you drink. Try to show some restraint. A case of beer costs 70,000 tuman. Cheap, brand name whiskey costs 50,000 tuman. This is not cheap even for a westerner. Imagine what it means to an Iranian.

This is a kind of addendum to tarof. The biggest cliché in the world is that the Middle East is a veiled society where there is a strict dichotomy between outside and inside behavior. (I know, I know, Iran does not consider itself part of the Middle East. Is a region unto itself.) Just because it is a cliché does not mean it's not true. Please take it seriously.

a. Take everything presented to you with a shaker of salt. Take context into consideration. Ask yourself, who else is listening? Who else is observing? For example, when an anti-American speech is made on the anniversary of Iran's revolution, don't forget to mention the occasion in your reporting.
b. It's hard to get to know Iran and Iranians unless you marry into an Iranian family. Don't be fooled by appearances.
c. Go to any funeral or wedding that you get invited to. Funerals do not require invitations. Your presence at one would be welcomed.
d. Most Iranians in exile do not know anything about Iran as it is today. Don't depend on them for information unless they still have family in Iran and have traveled here in the past two years.

a. Iranians are prone to exaggeration. All Iranians.

Northern Tehran vs. the rest of Iran:
a. Take any opportunity to get out of north Tehran. Talk to people who are neither wealthy Tehranis nor fundamentalist Islamists. Find the middle ground. How big is it? I have no clue myself.
b. If possible, opt for an intercity bus when traveling out of Tehran. Talk to your fellow-travelers.
c. Don't stay in a protected bubble. Your hotel, your friends or friends of friends, and most of the people you are meeting have little to do with Iran or Iranians.

Gender Roles:
There is no one more privileged in Iran than a western woman. If you are a woman, don't pass up the opportunity to come here.

For women:
a. Do not be offended if a man does not shake your hand or look you in the eyes. Don't let it make you feel anything at all.
b. Shake hands with anyone who offers his/her hand. (For men as well)
c. Don't over dress. Iranian women expect you to push the boundaries of hijab regulations.
d. Style is key. Don't let the Islamic dress code make you look unstylish. Practice wearing a scarf before you get here. Buy a fashionable jacket that covers your ass. Look good.
e. Go to as many all-women events as you can. Try to talk to women without any men around.

For men:
a. Shake hands with all of your female colleagues and all women who offer their hands.
b. Don't be fooled by women who are demure in front of men.

More than once, I have seen reporters refer to the supposed religious tolerance of reformist clerics. When a cleric expresses his tolerant views, please ask him these questions:

a. Does this tolerance refer only to the "people of the book" or does it extend to the Bahai, Hindus, and Buddhists (to name just a few?)
b. Does tolerance refer to Muslims who convert to other religions?
c. What about aetheists?

Many Iranian women struggle to assert their own personality through their hijab. Strangely enough, style *is* a form of protest. Style, however, is a function of class. Wealthier women can afford to flaunt dress codes because they can afford to pay any fines that they might be saddled with as a result. Poorer women are more subtle because the fines would be impossible to pay and because their families commonly exert more pressure on them to conform to Islamic dress standards.

Chadors are the big black capes that women wear over their heads. Manteaus are the jackets women wear. Please keep the two separate.

Government employees are required to wear chadors. Not all of these women would choose this form of dress for themselves.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

A (naïve) case for (modicum of) Irano-Israeli rapprochement

Interesting post from the Brooding Persian...

I am still puzzled by the curious silence which shrouds Mr. Katsav's recent personal peace appeal to Iran. I think we might have a real opportunity here to win some much needed time and breathing space to set our houses in order. I know this is a thorny issue. But I am going to make a case for having the Europeans find a way of linking the future of Iranian nuclear aspirations to some degree of direct engagement between Iran and Israel.

The relations between these two nations have ancient roots. I know the affairs have been a tad more complicated in recent past, with revisionists on both sides hard at work projecting the present animosities backward in time in order to provide even more justification for the ongoing campaigns of hate and venom.

Yet, the fact remains that some ancient nations are tied at the proverbial umbilical cord. There have been positive interactions and mutual influences over countless centuries as attested to by what little scholarly work exists that map out the history. Much work remains to be done, of course, given the vast quantities of material available still that has remained unexplored by the broader academic community.

As an aside, I have noted once before what a magnificent tradition of Judeo-Persian literature exists which is simply astounding and that you should get familiar with it if you are not already. And in one recent work (I have yet to examine) we get a glimpse into the life of our Jewish compatriots over the years. Some pictures here. ">Brooding Persian: 08/01/2005 - 08/31/2005: "I am still puzzled by the curious silence which shrouds Mr. Katsav's recent personal peace appeal to Iran. I think we might have a real opportunity here to win some much needed time and breathing space to set our houses in order. I know this is a thorny issue. But I am going to make a case for having the Europeans find a way of linking the future of Iranian nuclear aspirations to some degree of direct engagement between Iran and Israel.

The relations between these two nations have ancient roots. I know the affairs have been a tad more complicated in recent past, with revisionists on both sides hard at work projecting the present animosities backward in time in order to provide even more justification for the ongoing campaigns of hate and venom.

Yet, the fact remains that some ancient nations are tied at the proverbial umbilical cord. There have been positive interactions and mutual influences over countless centuries as attested to by what little scholarly work exists that map out the history. Much work remains to be done, of course, given the vast quantities of material available still that has remained unexplored by the broader academic community.

As an aside, I have noted once before what a magnificent tradition of Judeo-Persian literature exists which is simply astounding and that you should get familiar with it if you are not already. And in one recent work (I have yet to examine) we get a glimpse into the life of our Jewish compatriots over the years. Some pictures here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


I'll join Iran bloggers everywhere and link to Sean Penn's series in the SF Chronicle.

One of our young friends received an email full of pics of Penn on his recent trip to Iran. She assumed that they had all been faked and could not understand why he would come here.

Well, it's an interesting country...

Monday, August 22, 2005

Down with Germany! Down with France!

Flew back into Tehran. Paid too much for a cab. Well, just about 20 cents too much. I guess I can live with that. My driver has the radio on. The news. Reporting on Friday prayers. Chants of Khameini! Khameini! Khameini!

Subject of sermon: nuclear power, AN's cabinet, and the usual "down withs:" Israel, America, England…Plus 2 new ones: Germany and France. Welcome to the club!

"What do you feel when you hear 'Down with America'?" My driver asks me.

"Frankly, I don't like it. But it does not bother me too much because no one has ever been rude or insulting to me. Even the Basiji are polite and friendly when they find out I am an American."

"We are a hospitable people. You won't meet a more hospitable people anywhere in the world."

Maybe not…

The driver's brother lives in San Jose, California. His sister lives in Germany. His other brother is a fisherman in Bandar Abbas.

Get home. Friends greet me. Sleep.

Saturday, August 20, 2005


No one would ever call an Iranian stoic. In fact, you might say that Iranians have a trembling lower lip rather than a stiff upper lip. Mourning is expressive and public and shared with friends, relatives, acquaintances, and colleagues.

Until you've been to an Iranian funeral, you know nothing about the culture. And until someone you love dies, you can be nothing but an interested observer.

This past week, someone I loved died. I was not the only one who loved her. She was one of those people who just get under your skin. Perhaps it is because of their own comfortable relationship with themselves, who knows? But from the first minute I met her, she was like family to me. She always seemed to understand my difficulties adjusting to Iranian culture and especially to tarof. Even before I could speak a word of Persian, we managed to share jokes and stories. I cannot tell you how we did it. I used to marvel at it myself. Sometimes we would talk for hours. She in Farsi and me in English. We never seemed to misunderstand each other. How is that possible?

Day 1
At 7 in the morning, K and I landed in her hometown. Looking down from the window of the airplane, I wondered if I would ever visit this part of Iran again, now that this woman was dead. In my mind, her oil-rich city belonged to her and her alone and not to the myriad of other relatives who lived there.

Before entering the house, we could hear the fresh screams of her sisters. Her children were still in Tehran where they were waiting to accompany her body down south. Every person who entered the house was greeted with wails and shouts and a flood of tears.

I was embarrassed. And exhausted. "We should call a doctor for your sister," I told K. "She needs a sedative."

"This is the way things are here," K told me. "We cannot call a doctor."

A woman entered the home beating her chest and crying. She and K's sister hugged and yelled and cried together.

There were times when I wanted to laugh. I couldn't help finding these extreme displays of emotion somewhat comical, which does not mean that they were not sincere.

Soon the house was full. It kept us busy preparing tea and orange juice and cold water. The children kept themselves busy anticipating the needs of new guests and bringing them drinks.

In the evening, we went to the airport to meet the body. A little boy played with the security guard at the gate to the landing strip. He ran in and out of the bars of the fence. His father chased him through the secure area.

The body arrived and was placed into the ambulance.

People collapsed on the ground.

My friend's young son picked his friends off the ground.

Still thinking like a foreigner, I thought, "How could they make their grief more of a show than his?"

Day 2: The Burial
The next morning we were up at 6:30 and at the house by 7. We arranged the ice and the cold drinks and the trays of dates and halvah (not halavah…) that we would bring to the graveyard.

At 8:00, the house was packed with women. The body was carried into every room of the house while the women wailed and beat their chests. I was terrified and shaking.

By the time we arrived at the graveyard, it was 110 degrees, dusty, and starting to fill up with families who came to picnic at the grave of a lost loved one.

There was a ceremony. The body was lifted onto the shoulders of sons and brothers and nephews and carried to her plot.

She was still in her Iran Air wrapping a chipboard box covered with a beautiful shawl that her best friend would later wear as a kind of chador.

My friend went into the grave wrapped in a simple shroud and facing Mecca. When it came time to pray on her grave, I knew what to do. I squatted down with the others, put three fingers on the grave like the others, and said Kaddish. Then I got up so that someone else could take my place.

Evening Prayers

That evening, the prayers were arranged for her. Her Koran teacher could not lead them, so another woman came in her place. She didn't want any men or boys to hear her. It was an ordeal kicking the sons and nephews out of the room. They did not want to leave to sit in another room.

The woman was such a cleric. She was officious and angry and complaining about us. She lectured us. I looked at my friend's daughters and we all started to smile and quietly laugh. "Well, at least she made them smile," I told K later.

I served fresh dates with walnuts in the centers. I think they were called Fatimeh's dates. I am not sure.

A young male cleric arrived later. He would not lead prayers unless everyone would cover up. My sister-in law looked at me and said, "What is it about our bare arms that has so much power?"

"Hey, it's nice to know that we still do have some power over men," I responded.

After the prayers, everyone relaxed and started to tell stories about our friend, sister, mother, and aunt. People were laughing, as they will do. It was at that moment that the full power of my grief hit me. I went out into the heat, sat on the window ledge, covered my face with my scarf, and started to cry.

K's nephew (just a couple of years younger than K himself) came to sit next to me and comfort me. Normally I would demand to grieve alone, but I let him comfort me.

"We Iranians, we cry at everything, but your tears are very powerful for us," he told me. "Uncle's wife," (Iranians are very literal about family relationships) "are we really so different anywhere in the world? When someone we love dies, don't we all feel the same grief?"

"That is the question I am asking myself," I told him. "I keep hearing that we are really different, but I do not feel it myself."

He called to his young daughter and his wife to come comfort me as well. As I let them, I felt how much I had changed in the last two years. I realized that the display of grief from others gave the family something to do. It gave them someone to comfort. It allowed them to think of something other than their own grief.

Day 3: The Mosque

Six in the morning, up and showered, and into the early morning heat to prepare for the morning at the mosque.

Trays of dates, cookies, and halvah are covered in plastic wrap.

Ice is always a problem. The water in the desert is not exactly the best, so all of the ice has to be made with mineral water. The family does not trust ice-sellers, so everyone is busy making ice in their packed freezers.

We prepare coolers and coolers with orange drink.

Bottles of water are packed in barrels of ice.

You cannot have too much to drink in the middle of summer in the desert cities of Iran. By noon, the air is so hot and dry that you feel like your eyeballs are cooking in your head. There is no water in your body other than the water you put into it.

When we arrive at the mosque, it is clear that there is no way that the women's area is big enough for the hordes of women who will arrive. K lifts the curtain that celebrates us from the men, but someone else lowers it. We pack into our tiny area. Soon, though, the curtain gets lifted and the women spill over into the spacious men's section.

Most Iranians, no matter how devout, go to mosques only to attend funerals. Their religion is integrated into their daily lives. Unless they have a family member or friend who is a cleric, they do not have any personal relationships with their religious leaders.

Despite the small size of the women's area, it is a much better place to sit than the men's area. It's more casual. You don't have to see the cleric. You don't have to pretend to listen to his 1-hour sermon. The women form little groups. They chat and cry. Some of them pray and read the Koran.

The first hour of the service is sung. When a woman dies, the hazzan sings this song that is sung for Fatimeh (Mohamad's daughter). I am not sure of the event: is she dying or is someone else? The song is like pouring salt into open wounds. There is long wail: "Mother, mother, mother get up!" The hazzan cries. "All women are mothers," he sings. "Even those women who have no children." The family wails. The chadoris cover their faces with their chadors and their shoulders shake from weeping. When the song ends I notice that quite a few of them uncover their faces to reveal dry eyes.

Noon: the Graveyard
We are doing the third and 7th day ceremonies together. So when the service is finished, we head over to the graveyard. An air-conditioned bus is waiting outside the mosque. An 8-year old great-nephew is calling out "Air-conditioned bus! Just 10,000 tumans! Ride with us!" When I come out he yells, "Kharigi [foreigner]! Kharigi! Come on board!"

We laugh.

We arrive at the graveyard. It is at least 120 degrees. (It's 54 degrees [129]," a taxi driver tells me, "but they never report that because they would have to close all of the factories. So it can be 53 here, but never 54.")

We go to the grave and cover it with flowers. Everyone is crowded around it. We have a truck with loudspeakers and a singer and so does the funeral party next to us. Our guy is saying, "Brothers, sisters, get moving it's too hot to crowd around the grave. Say your prayers and get moving." Very sensible. Their guy is singing and shouting commands as well.

The grave next to us is mourning a father and son. I assume they were killed in a car accident. A midget is lifting their pictures above his head. When the prayers are finished, the young men strap on drums and beat out a heartbeat while the women trill.

After about ten minutes, the young men come to our grave and drum for us. Mourning is sociable in Iran.

Afternoon: another Graveyard

"I want to visit my father's grave," K's nephew's wife tells me.

"I will come with you."

Her husband drives us to a mosque in the center of the city. We get out and go into the quiet, shaded graveyard. "The plots here cost 30 million tuman," V tells me. "When we got my father's plot, they were much cheaper.

We put on the flowered chadors that they are handing out.

"Since Ahmadinejad became president, they think they have to make us wear these chadors," V tells me. "I have fought with them a few times, but I never win." V never takes off her headscarf around us. I have only seen her hair once in 2 years and that was when we were alone and she wanted to show me her curls.

The chadors are scented with rosewater. I wear mine like a tallis. It's the best I can do.
When we get to her father's grave, I squat, put three fingers on the grave, and say my prayers. It always baffled me what people were doing at stranger's graves – what kinds of prayers they were saying… now I get it. It feels normal for me now.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

One pill makes you taller

Almost everyone in Iran has a plastic bag filled with medication. That medication may range from antibiotics to Zantac and everything in between.

The other day, K came home with his plastic bag. "Please put it in some other bag," I told him. I couldn't bear seeing him carry around a clear plastic bag.

Doctors do not provide much information about lab results or prescribed medication, so it has become my job to analyze test results and research medications. Thank god for the internet.

"Look at all these negatives," K told me when he brought me a lab result to analyze. He was worried. After about 5 minutes I could tell him that the negatives were all good. No weird virus had infected him.

The more serious the illness, the less information doctors share with their patients. They might find one member of the family to inform. That family member makes the decision about who should know what, when. Since I am not that family member, I cannot tell you how detailed the information doctors provide is. My guess is that it is always too little to make informed decisions.

That is why people bring me their lab results. It's not that Iranian doctors are bad. Quite the opposite! They are excellent diagnosticians. It's just that no one ever knows how much information the doctors are sharing. People often think that the doctor is holding back. To be fair, I often get lab reports with the admonition not to share too much of the information that I discover.

Iranians do not want to make their own decisions. They believe in experts. I do not. What can I say?

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

All news, all the time

Ganji will probably die soon.

The explosion at BA was caused by a bottle of benzene in a garbage can. "It was not a bomb," the police reported. News accounts showed some broken windows, but that looked like it.
Katzav has made a plea for peace between Iran and Israel. The plea made it into the Iranian press.

Lawyers are being arrested, and a judge has been assassinated. (The lawyers work for the family of the Canadian photo-journalist who was killed in custody and for A. Ganji. The assassinated judge was responsible for imprisoning Ganji and other reformers.)

Ahwazis are being taken in by pyramid schemes and they do not appreciate it. The news reports these as anti-government protests, but K's family says that the protests are in response to something more mundane. Apparently, many Ahwazis have been taken in by promises to receive a car or a stove or other appliance after depositing 200,000 tuman (about $250) for a few months. Some have received their promised gifts. It's a typical pyramid scheme.

It feels like something is happening, but it's unclear what that something is.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005 - Blast hits BA, BP offices in Iran - Aug 2, 2005 - Blast hits BA, BP offices in Iran - Aug 2, 2005: "TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- An explosive device has detonated in a building housing offices for British Airways and oil company BP, breaking some windows and causing other damage, representatives of the companies said.

No casualties were reported."


It's countdown to a new president in Iran.

Last night Khatami gave an important speech that K found pretty exciting. "Everything he should have said 8 years ago, he is saying now." I hope to find a good translation soon. You can read Payvand's summary here:

Until then, here is K's summary:

Since the beginning of the revolution, there have been two Islams. One that embraces tolerance and diversity and guarantees freedom of worship for Zoroastrians, Jews, and Christians, and one that uses the tools of terror to impose its will. There is the Islam of Al Q'aeda and the Taliban and of those who support the use of methods of terror. And there is the Islam that says: we do not have all the answers. It says, we have to use scholarship to examine our faith and modernize our faith.

No manager in my government has ever been more than 5 meters from prison.

The Middle East can prosper when there is a true dialogue among the different faiths. The Middle East can prosper when Muslims, Christians, and Jews have a meaningful conversation with one another.

(1 ½ hours of explanation and then: standing ovation… )

I had a hard time following the speech. I'll just say that it was the most animated speech I have seen Khatami give and that it was interrupted several times by applause.

Monday, August 01, 2005


"T, you will never guess what we saw when we visited my cousin," An observant friend told me. "A girl, my daughter's size, clearly a teenager at the very least, who went out into the streets of Ahwaz in a tank top and jeans. No scarf. No manteau."

"No scarf even?"


"Ahmadinejad," her daughter laughed.

"Maybe she was only 9," I commented.

"She'd have to be even younger," the daughter said.
Among the Tehranis and Ahwazis in K's family, the girls wear as little of the hijab as they can until they are given a warning or picked up by the police. The girls in his family have a fortunate girlish look that belies their years. This is totally unlike the unfortunate daughter of a friend who is extraordinarily tall for her age, and, as if that were not enough, has entered puberty early. "She absolutely refuses to wear a scarf," my friend told me. "I had to send her to a boarding school in England. I could not keep her here."

Recently, a man I met told me how heartbroken he was about Iran. "I am a nationalist. I am Islamic. My wife and I both pray 5 times a day. The other day my nine-year old daughter asked me if she could go live with her uncle in England. I asked her why, and she told me that she does not want to wear the hijab. I told my uncles who are clerics. 'How could you do this to my country?' I asked them. 'How could you do this to the religion I love? How could your rules push my daughter away from me?'"

Fashion in Tehran: Giant scarves and tiny manteaus. Hemlines are just below the ass. The scarves are huge, flowered, and fringed, and look like your grandmother's tablecloths.

That's what I really wanted to write about. It's never that easy is it…? Over and over again I have tried not to make hijab an issue, but it is. It was over 110 degrees here for 3 weeks! In a headscarf. And a manteau. It's hot in that frigging outfit.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Cures for malaise

Thanks for all your comments…

Here are some cures I have discovered. With a tiny bit of effort, all are available in Iran:

Go out to dinner at a crowded traditional restaurant that employs musicians.
Watch Singing in the Rain.
Tell strangers that you are American.
Go to the store and listen to the owner recite poetry.
Put some fresh mint into cold water and drink.
Sit outside in your swimsuit.
Eat sour cherries.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Iran makes me sick

(By that title I DO NOT mean that I am disgusted by Iran. I am not.)

I cannot keep my promises.
I do not trust others.
I do not speak my mind.
I whisper in the shower.
I do not believe that I can accomplish anything I set out to do.
I do not believe that hard work gets you anywhere.
I feel watched.
I am paranoid.
I pass on rumors.
I have lost my confidence.
I have gone native. This is what it feels like to be Iranian.

Actually, I should not say that I have gone native. If I had truly gone native, I would never admit to all of the above problems: at least not to any outsiders.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Iran's economy is a mystery

Iran's economy is a mystery.

Oil money is coming in, but where is it going? Nuclear power and peccadilloes? Perhaps the yellow hummer I saw cruising up and down Valiasr after the football victory?

It certainly isn't going to pay the bills owed to hundreds of small, medium-sized, and even large non-oil businesses. "We have not received payments from our clients in more than 6 months," a friend tells me. "One of our clients, the largest ____ manufacturer in Iran, gave us a check that bounced. If we do not get paid this month we'll have to close down."

A few weeks ago, some Iranian football players were interviewed on tv. They told the interviewer that they never know when they will get paid. "We hardly ever get our salaries on time," they joked good naturedly.

Another friend works for a company that has not paid its employees in 5 months. "The company has a lot of work; they just aren't getting paid."

Yet another one of our friends sent all of his employees home. His company has work, but it isn't getting paid. "We decided that we could not continue the project on promises of payment," he told me.

"First it was the election," a friend in a manufacturing company told me. "No one wanted to do anything before the election. Now no one wants to do anything until after the cabinet is named. Meanwhile, money is flowing out of Iran. There is no control."

Sunday, July 17, 2005

About 1 Iranian Dead Every 25 Minutes

Iranians are out of their minds on the roads. They push rickety old cars way past the legal speed limit. They drive like maniacs on roads that, while in good condition, are not in good enough condition for speeds of 80-100 mph.

I guarantee that if you spend 1-year in Iran, someone you know will be killed in a car accident. It is likely that the person killed will be young, just married or engaged, and full of promise. If you only have one-week to spend in Iran, then ask any Iranian you meet. They will tell you the story of a loved one dying in a car accident. That loved one may be a brother, a lover, or a dear friend.

Visit the graveyards here on a Thursday afternoon, and you are sure to see mothers crying beside the graves of their 20-something sons. These boys did not die in war or in any act of insurgency.

Iranians only half-jokingly blame their driving on the mullahs. Every day you can watch public service announcements geared towards improving the driving habits of Iranians. The PSAs are witty and interesting and tragic. But they are sanctioned by the government, which makes them suspect. "Iranians cannot believe that the law can also protect them," a friend who is a lawyer says.

No. Iranians believe that everything can be solved with a little money. "If Iran can solve its traffic problem," K says, "then any problem can be solved."

Why is this topical now? I'll tell you. It's because a good friend's brother was killed this past week. Just married. Full of promise. And not the first…

Friday, July 15, 2005

Riding with Pigeons in Taxis

I put on my hijab over a summer outfit and headed out to a party in a chi-chi part of Tehran that I have come to think of as Rafsanjani country. The taxi arrived.

"Be careful of the pigeon," my driver said in perfect English.

I noticed the bird's pink feet sticking out from under the seat in front of me.

"It looks scared."

"It's for my son. His pigeon died, and I wanted to replace it before he noticed."

"Where did you learn your English? It's great." …Probably an intelligence officer, I thought… "Were you a pilot?"

Drivers often claim to have been pilots. Sometimes I think they may be telling the truth.

The driver thought for a moment and answered, "I was one of the youngest pilots in the Shah's airforce."

Everyone was something. K always jokes that he has met at least 10 people who were the Shah's personal pilot.

Friday, July 08, 2005


I was so hoping to get this blog away from politics and back into the realm of the mundane. This I write knowing full well that the mundane is filled with politics. Especially in Iran.

We were having lunch with a friend when her sister in London called to tell her that her family there was okay. "Okay? What happened?"

We watched her face drop. She started running around collecting the phone numbers of all her family and friends in England. She began to make calls. It would be several hours before any reports appeared on Iranian tv.

That night we attending a birthday party. Almost no one at the party had heard the news. A guest announced the news to the other party-goers.

"What a bad name these terrorists are giving to our religion," he said.

"No Iranian has ever participated in one of these attacks," another responded.

"No. We just fund them," said another in a half-mocking, half-serious way.

That was the end of the conversation. It was, after all, a birthday party.

All you have to do is live among millions of Muslims to realize what an aberration the terrorists are. That's my only word on the subject.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

2 Questions about Policy with Iran

I have 2 questions about the American policy with Iran. Maybe the answers have been well-thought out by others. I invite your comments.

1. People often critique the EU's engagement of Iran saying that it is naive and economically driven. That said, what happens without that engagement? Iran then engages with China and Russia. Right under our noses a new superpower is being created that will make it increasingly difficult for the EU and the US to influence countries like Iran. How do you balance the carrot and the stick?

2. Economic improvement means a bigger middle class that will, as so many historians and pundits claim, create a class that demands a voice in its government. Today, most Iranians-- middle class and poor-- are too busy worrying about money to care about having a voice in government. Isn't there a way to engage in trade with Iran without being seen to support the current government?

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Miniver Cheevy: Independence Day

Recommended reading from the Miniver Cheevy blog:

Miniver Cheevy: Independence Day:

"Independence Day is the High Holy Day of American political identity. If you think about it, the Fourth of July is a strange choice of date. Consider the French equivalent, Bastille Day, which commemorates the storming of the Bastille and thus the event which demonstrated that the French monarchy was over. By similar reasoning, we should be celebrating when Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown on 19 October, the battle of Lexington & Concord on 19 April, or (my favorite as an occasional lefty activist) the Boston Tea Party on 13 December.

But we don't. We celebrate the day that a bunch of guys signed a piece of paper."

Monday, July 04, 2005

America: love it and leave it

Happy 4th…

I was explaining to some friends that today is a holiday in America. "What kind of a holiday?"

"It's the day that we celebrate our freedom."

"Freedom from whom?"

"The British."

"Ehhh…," a young friend laughed. "Everyone has holidays to celebrate freedom from the British."

"They were everywhere," another laughs.

And while we are celebrating our freedom…

These are the things I celebrate most:

Free speech (It trumps democracy any day… although it probably requires democracy…)


The capacity for change

Maybe I should make my own bumper sticker that reads: "America: love it and leave it."

Happy 4th

Marsha Mehran wrote a really nice piece in the NYT. Check it out...

The Long Way Home - New York Times:

"I know that identity is a major concern for many first-generation immigrants in America, but I find that I'm not preoccupied with hyphenated labels. When people ask me where I am from, I say I am Persian, born in Iran. I write and dream in English, I curse in Spanish and, after a few pints of Guinness, I dance a mighty Irish jig. And when people ask me where I live, I tell them Brooklyn is my home. "

Monday, June 27, 2005

Juan Cole comments on Iran's elections

I wish Juan Cole would not waste his breath making comparisons between Bush and AN. It's exhausting... I'm exhausted from these arguments...

And I don't know how much he really knows about what goes on here and what AN will or will not do...

The fact of the matter is this: AN ran a compelling campaign in the one-week between the first and second rounds of the election. All of the other candidates pledged their votes to Hashemi which just made AN look more appealing to Iranians who do not trust the establishment.

Only time will tell what will happen here.

Informed Comment: All that said, it is probably true that there was some ballot stuffing by Ahmadinejad supporters. It was alleged by clerical moderate Karrubi, and it is plausible. These presidential elections are the least free and fair since the early 1990s, though all along there has been a problem of the exclusion and vetting of candidates by the clerics. On the other hand, it seems undeniable that Ahmadinejad's campaign struck a chord with many Iranians tired of corruption and economic stagnation. He may well have won the second round even without those 'extra' ballots.

Thanks to Diana for pointing me in this direction.

In the interest of even more fairplay...

More on Secure Computing...

Yishay Mor; Slightly informed, highly opinionated.: "Some time ago I posted a call to ban Secure Computing, the company that makes SmartFilter.
The reason: these guys are selling their software to Tunisia, which uses it to block pornography and political debate.

Today I got a comment from Mr. David Burt, PR manager, explaining that secure computing do not licence software to Iran, due to its strick adherance to the US embargo, and any Iranian ISP using SmartFilter was doing it illeagaly.

I almost flogged myself in public, but then I re-read my original post. Hang on Dude, I say, I was talking about Tunisia. What about Tunisia? You know, they are using your software to shut people up. I even warn him that I'm going to post his response.

Here it is:

We sell to ISPs where the law allows. It's really up the customer how they use
our software.

right. thanks. have a nice day."

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Comment from PR spokesman at Secure Computing

In the interest of fair play...
Blogger: Post a Comment: "Secure Computing has sold no licenses to any entity in Iran, and any use of Secure's software by an ISP in Iran has been without Secure Computing's consent and is in violation of Secure Computing's End User License Agreement."

Today Iranians Woke Up to a New President…

Our friends are crying and depressed and sick. "Last night they started arresting boys and girls out walking together," a friend told me. "People are saying no more colorful scarves; no more parties…" This may seem to be the least important aspect of the whole election, but it's not. Live without a normal social life and see what happens to you…

Iranian tv is saying that Iranians have shamed America and Western news is saying that Iranians have taken a hard turn to the right. I am going to go out on a limb here and say that neither are correct.

This election was not about America.

This election was not about Islam.

The election may have been about the revolution.

This past week AN presented these simple messages:

Rich against poor and honesty against corruption.

People voted for AN. Raf voters voted against AN.

The middle class voted, but many of them voted for AN. The rich went on vacation.

The poor voted for AN. And there are a lot more poor people than rich people in Iran.

AN knew something about Iranians: they are sick to death of corruption, and they think every rich person is corrupt. They hate mullahs, but they still love Islam. And one more thing: the majority of his opponents are apathetic.

"I don't think it mattered who we voted for ever," a voting friend tells me. "This is the result they wanted from the beginning. They got it in the parliament and now they got it in our new president."

Her eyes are red from crying.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Cowboy campaigning in Iran

Hear in your head the theme song for the old television shoe Ponderosa.

Now imagine instead of a cowboy, the Islamic fundamentalist: Ahmadinejad. That is what I will do the next time I hear the song.

Last night I watched AN's campaign film. There was something so attractive about it. Here is this unassuming man who lives the way many Iranians live: simply and unpretentiously. He makes it clear that he has not been corrupted by money. He portrays himself as a friend of the poor. He is an idealist. "Our culture has come so far from the culture of the revolution."

He's right.

Now he may be elected as president of Iran. A very professional, efficient, modern friend of ours called and claimed that she will vote for him. She will call back to tell us her reasons. What could they possibly be? The undeniable sex appeal of facism? Romance with socialism? A utopian world view? A desire for change? A passion for Islamic rule? Who the f*** knows?


Hashemi is portraying himself as the future of Iran. A poster portrays him looking down, without the turban that identifies him as a cleric. The text reads something like: Against terror and for freedom.

What will it be?

Filtering the Internet in Iran

Iran is the country of stupid filtering tricks. I have read that they bought their web filter from an American company: Secure Computing... So much for spreading free speech all over the world... Hey Bush, wanna' spend your free speech money wisely? Impose an embargo on companies that restrict free speech.

Upstart in Iran Election Campaigns as Champion of Poor - New York Times:

"But if Mr. Ahmadinejad had one point that he wanted to get across it was that people should not fear that he will try to impose Taliban-style rule over Iran. 'They have said if I become president I will shut down the Internet,' Mr. Ahmadinejad said Wednesday night. 'Why do they say that?'

He added: 'My children and my wife are constantly on the Internet. They don't give me a chance to use the phone line. My wife loves doing her research on the Internet.'"

Forget politics, pornography, and other controversies...his wife is certainly not looking for any women's health information in the course of her research. You can't even access articles about breast cancer.

Ironically, the one thing that Iranian television freely presents are programs regarding health. But don't try to access the same information on the internet... it is forbidden.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Mural in front of the former American embassy

Another piece of the mural outside the "Den of Espionage:" The former American Embassy. Posted by Hello

Front-Runner in Iran Finds Students to Be a Tough Audience - New York Times

Front-Runner in Iran Finds Students to Be a Tough Audience - New York Times:

"'If Mr. Ahmadinejad comes to power, it will be a complete concentration of power like you have never had before in Iran,' said Amir Ali Nourbakhsh, a political and economic analyst in Tehran. He added, 'The question that will be answered for us will be, 'Will Iranians vote for radical Islamic socialism, yes or no?' '

But many of Mr. Ahmadinejad's supporters said they were not thinking that way, seeing him instead as a fresh face and a man of the people, while Mr. Rafsanjani is seen as a throwback, a part of a system they distrust.

'In my opinion, if Mr. Rafsanjani wins, they will have to replace his turban with a crown,' said Aida Shafiee, 20, a university student who was in the street on Tuesday protesting the failure of the Education Ministry to begin her program on time.

In fact, the street was crowded with protesters, young men and women, voicing their discontent. It looked like a natural constituency for the reform movement, but most everyone in the crowd said they supported Mr. Ahmadinejad.

'He has come from the people, and he is honest,' said Mehdi Gholamnia, 20, a student from the city of Bijar who said he voted four years ago for Mr. Khatami but this year will vote for Mr. Ahmadinejad. Iranians can vote when they are 15.

Mr. Rafsanjani's partisans were clearly taking the contest seriously and had stepped up their attacks on Mr. Ahmadinejad, with messages flashing on cellphones all over Tehran warning that he would usher in a Taliban-style government and put up dividers to separate men and women riding in elevators."

Monday, June 20, 2005

Happy Father's Day

Happy Father's Day to my father living in the Great Satan from his daughter in the Axis of Evil. Posted by Hello

The rumor mill

Itchy's comments on a recent post made me decide it was time for a post on Iran's well-oiled rumor mill. Many Iranians, for instance, still believe that the earthquake in Bam was the result of underground nuclear testing.

Rumors get spread from family-to-family, friend-to-friend, and taxi driver to passenger. (Taxi drivers are the source of most of my favorite rumors…) Rumors are the way that Iranians deal with their distrust of official sources of information.

As Itchy pointed out in his comments, there is currently a rumor going around that the mayor of Tehran made it to the 2nd round in order to solidify the country's voters around Hashemi. So far, this rumor is being spread by Westerners. The Iranians we know are still too shocked to spread rumors.

Before last Friday's elections, there were rumors of plans for dirty tricks. The rumors were not specific, but there was certainly an expectation.

Recently, Fox News reported a popular Iranian rumor and called it a "well kept secret." This particular Fox News piece claimed that it is a well-kept secret that Iran is harboring Al Qaeda members including OBL. K and I have heard this rumor from ever other taxi driver since our first day in Iran. I would hardly call that a well-kept secret. I would call that a "rumor."

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Election Results


Are bloggers and moderates so out of touch with Iran that they could predict a strong showing for Moin? Or did the heat convince borderline boycotters/voters to stay home?

[See poll (]

There are about twenty people around me now: all of whom are in shock: voters and non-voters alike. The news in Iran is that Ahmadi Nejad may be the top vote getter and that Moin will be fifth. All of the voters we know (which turned out to be many more than two days before the vote), save 1, voted for Moin. Even the 1 Rafsanjani voter who early on admitted to her intention to vote, voted for Moin.


Well there was a demonstration…
But it did not result in any deaths… I don't think.

Iran has a well-oiled rumor mill that I sometimes accidentally participate in.

We had 2 days of vote talk. At the last minute one of our friends began to canvass for Moin. He called everyone he knew and convinced them to go out and vote. "What are you waiting for?" He asked friends, family, and strangers. "Do you think America or Europe is going to come in and save us? Are you going out onto the streets? Do you think we should have a new revolution?" These are the questions he asked the non-voters. He was able to convince many to go out and vote. Many others remained unconvinced.

Boycotters argued that only a boycott would send the right message. I have always been dubious of this argument. I think it is difficult to weed active non-voters out from the apathetic.

And now we hear that Karoobi is leading. What?

Friday, June 17, 2005

TV coverage

Television programs are really pushing the vote. Iranian television is even broadcasting strange, fake LA satellite programs that urge people not to participate in the vote. I think these are meant as a form of comedy. A skinny guy with a tinny voice takes calls and makes himself look like a fool. I think that the government was so successful broadcasting snippets of the Zoroatrian guy who said that he would bring 50 full planes to Iran to bring about peaceful regime change that they thought that it would be a good idea to fake an LA-based call-in program calling on people not to participate in the vote.

I have a sense that there is a growing urge, if not intention, to vote. I found another person who is planning to vote. He plans to be the first Moin voter of the day. So in my informal poll, I have found 1 Moin voter and 1 Rafsanjani voter.

My taxi driver told me that fights have been breaking out all over town. "Yeah, supporters of the various candidates have taken to the streets and the police are busy breaking up their fights all over town." This has been confirmed by others.

K's nephew just stopped by to tell us that on his way here, the streets in front of one of the broadcasters was packed with police. "The driver said that there had been a demonstration against the government and that two people were killed."

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Taxi Poll

The taxi poll

I've been in a lot of shared taxis lately: that means 5 passengers plus the drivers. Our conversations have been mostly mundane or non-existent. If you have a gregarious driver or gregarious passengers, shared taxis can be fun. If not, you have a quiet trip: you just sweat and, unless you are short and skinny, sit uncomfortably.

When K is with me, he always asks if anyone is voting. So far, only one person has said yes. One guy said, "Why should I vote? We already have a president. What difference would voting for a president make? It's just a title."

Last night, K and I were out waiting for a taxi to drive by to take us home. There were some young men working on their car: music blasting. A car pulled up. "Rafsanjani voters," K said pointing to the guys working on their car.

The driver who was young himself said, "Just wait. Three days after the election, they'll start cracking down and arresting people again."

Monday, June 13, 2005

Bombings in Iran...

7 Bombings Shatter Iran's Pre-Election Calm, Killing 10 - New York Times:
"Even so, if a pro-Hussein group is responsible for the bombings in Iran, that suggests that the instability plaguing Iraq may have begun to spill over into Iran. It also suggests that Iran's leaders could get more involved in Iraqi politics.

Mr. Mohammadi rejected the possibility that Iran's armed opposition group in exile, the Mujahedeen Khalq, was behind the bombings. But he said the bombings were aimed at undermining public participation in the election on Friday.

Bomb explosions have been almost unheard of in Iran since the eight-year war with Iraq ended in 1988. .

There were some indications that the Ahvaz bombings might have been rooted in a more local dispute. Ahvaz was the site of ethnic protests in April over rumors that the government wanted to relocate some of the region's Arab population.

The rumors grew out of a letter that had been circulated suggesting that there was such a government plan. The government said the letter was forged, but 250 people were arrested in the protests, and at least one person was killed."

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Rock the Vote

Last night Rafsanjani had a Q&A with university students. One asked if he had ever been in love. "My thoughts are on the hereafter," he answered.

Another asked if it was okay to wear bright colors. "Of course," he answered.

Others complained that they were sick of being hassled every time they walked out on to the streets. Girls wanted to hang out with boys. Boys wanted to hang out with girls.

My Iranian friends and political activist friends tend to dismiss these concerns. "Iranians don't really want freedom. They just want to have sex," one friend stated just a couple of weeks ago. When we first came here, K commented: "Iranians think freedom means that they can walk hand-in-hand with their boyfriend or girlfriend."

Well isn't it? Aren't these personal freedoms important? Isn't fun important? Isn't political freedom part of this equation?

UPDATE (2013): a bit of the discussion with Rafsanjani was published on YouTube. For those of you who speak Persian, here it is:

Basically the young woman, a 23-year old student, is explaining why she doesn't want to vote. She's tired of the harassment. She's sick of all the bs. She's sick of the mistrust. "I don't have any expectations from you. Just give me back trust."

How sad is that?
Guardian Unlimited | World Latest | Eight Killed by Bomb Blasts in Iran:
"TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - At least eight people were killed and 36 others injured Sunday in four bomb explosions that targeted government buildings and officials in southwestern Iran, state-run television reported.

At least four women were among those killed in the explosions in Ahvaz, capital of the southwestern Khuzestan province which borders Iraq. The blasts were the deadliest explosions in Iran in more than a decade."

Saturday, June 11, 2005 / Middle East & Africa - Islamic virtue takes a back seat on Iran's new-look campaign trail:

"'If a candidate tries to escape from democracy and shows toughness, it won't work,' said Hamid-Reza Jalaei-Pour, a sociology professor at Tehran university.

For the first time in Iran, there is a candidate clearly running for a party. Mostafa Moein, a reformist contender, was chosen by Mosharekat, the main reformist group. In a reality check to polished electioneering, Dr Moein appeared on Wednesday on state television in an interview with Saeed Hajjarian, the leading reformist journalist partially paralysed by an assassination attempt by Islamic vigilantes in 2000.

'You are an example to our young,' Dr Moein told Mr Hajjarian, whose questions were run as subtitles because of his slurred speech.

But just a week before the election, candidates are struggling to motivate a disillusioned electorate. Iranians are sceptical about politics and politicians' promises after wearying years of revolution, high unemployment and inflation, and Mr Khatami's battles with unelected state institutions. 'Not even all the changes in the way of campaigning may be enough to make people vote,' says Mr Jalaei-Pour. 'We have had 25 years of sloganeering, so now it's very difficult to fool Iranians.'"

[emphasis mine]

Friday, June 10, 2005

Watching from Shariati Street

Our friend thinks that there was a revolution two nights ago. She was out on Shariati Street where the crowd was tearing down election posters and young women were burning their headscarves.
Anyone else see anything like this?

Our crowd was celebratory and peaceful. I cannot imagine a more mellow group of football celebrants. They had fun without getting into fights.

"Imagine what this would be like if these guys had a few beers in them," K commented.

"They'd probably toppling cars and setting them on fire like sports fans everywhere else."

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Iran qualifies to 2006 World Cup

Iran has qualified for the World Cup and, on top of that, has qualified undefeated.

I was talking on the telephone when the final second ticked off. There were whoops and the sound of firecrackers. "It sounds like Iran won." (Hey, I saw the rerun of the game at midnight… I'm new to soccer: remember, I'm an American.)

K came to get me off the phone. "Let's go out," he said. "Let's celebrate!" I thought he was joking, but he wasn't. We went out. All of our neighbors were out. Some of them had boxes of pastries and were passing them out passersby. We turned the corner and went on to the main street. Rafsanjani supporters were out with giant SUVs blaring electronica and trays filled with fruit drinks. Moeen supporters were handing out pastries to people in cars stopped at the light.

We made it to Valiasr right before the major traffic started. We arrived just in time to see thousands of celebrants running down the street with faces painted and flags waving in the wind.

Drivers honked their horns and young men blew these noisemakers. There were firecrackers galore. Some of the flags were simply green, white, and red. Most were the current Iranian flag.

Young men danced in the street. Iranian men are really sexy dancers. (Although I hear that Iranian women don't find their dancing sexy. Well, foreign women do. Trust me.) We came across a group singing and dancing. A woman in her late 60s was encouraging people to clap. "What's your problem!" she would yell to passive onlookers. "Clap! Sing!"

Rafsanjani's campaign was out in force. Young people were covered with his stickers. They were dancing and yelling.

The Qalibaf campaign handed out zero alcohol beer from an Efes truck. I can't remember the exact slogan printed on the truck. I think it translated to something like "Life goes better with Qalibaf." So many people were running after the truck that you would have thought they were receiving 2.5% beer.

We saw a small, solemn group of Moeen supporters who held his poster up over their heads and walked quietly up and down the streets.

Later we saw a yellow hummer driving through the crowd. "Is Schwarzenegger in town?" I asked.

Groups of celebrants seemed to wander in and wander out from all directions. People were happy and relaxed and somewhat anticipatory. Did anything more dramatic happen? I do not know.