Thursday, February 16, 2006

Losing my sense of humor…

Tagged as:
Sung to the tune of REM’s song…

“Did you know that a German paper has published a cartoon of the Iranian national team as suicide bombers?”

I laugh. K doesn’t think it’s funny. “It’s an insult to the Iranian people, not to our government.”

“I am sure that they did not caricature the individual players.”

“It is still our team.”

The paper's editors are clueless as to why portraying athletes as terrorists might have outraged Iranians. "The absurdity of the situation is obvious," editor Gerd Appenzeller writes in an opinion piece. No one, he argues, would ever believe that the Iranian team would show up armed -- nor would the Bundeswehr be present on the soccer pitch. "The illustrator makes that clear," he explains. "The Iranians' faces, just like those of the Germans, are those of peaceful everyday people -- the boys next door" -- not rabid terrorists. The paper said it "regretted the Iranian reactions to the caricature" and that it would be hard to explain the domestic political debate over deploying the Bundeswehr during the World Cup to the Iranians.

Don’t joke about football in Iran… the riots will really start!

“Iran deserves it. They advertise for suicide bombers, train them, reward them. What do they expect?”

“Now an Iranian paper is sponsoring a contest for cartoons about the Holocaust.”

“That’s sick.”

“That’s where free speech gets you…”

“No one is making fun of the Iranians who were gassed during the war with Iraq. They are not the subject of cartoons. Surely you see the difference.”

“Of course I see the difference. But when I go to Europe people see me as a terrorist. That’s what bothers me.”

Iranians know that the rest of the world sees them as terrorists. It really, really disturbs them. But they are out of control of their image abroad. It’s been hijacked.

“Why can’t we be a normal country?”

“What’s normal?”

“You know, modern. A place where people are not scared.”

I have said this before, and I’ll say it again: the biggest lesson I have learned in Iran is that free speech is more important than democracy. Iranians all have opinions. They know how to talk, and they speak their minds. What they cannot do is organize. I can tell you what I think as long as I don’t tell three strangers what I think. I can disagree with government actions as long as I don’t try to get anyone else to act on my ideas. Talk is okay. Action is not. Free speech is action.

Gene (in the comments section) asks about the bus drivers in Iran. Do people know what is going on? I don’t know. We have heard sympathy for them. But it’s very quiet. Think of these drivers… They are AN’s natural constituents: poor, hardworking, most likely observant. And they are arrested and put in prison for demanding living wages! AN would probably call them “imaginary,” just as he did when Christianne Amanpour asked him about the plight of people similar to these drivers.

This is a regime that punishes its supporters more than its detractors. There is absolutely no news of the plight of the bus drivers in Iran. There is very, very little discussion of it.

Well, I'll make sure to look for the union label and remember the depth of gratitude I owe to the unions and guilds who spent centuries creating dialog, free speech, and democracy. (Do you think that might actually be the case? I am not a historian of democracy or of unions/guilds... just wondering.)


Stan said...

You really think free speech is more important than democracy? Maybe, but free speech without democracy gives you just the situation you have in Iran, a mostly sensible population hijacked by a bunch of fanatics with guns.

Gene said...


Thanks for the mention. I posted photos from the Washington demonstration here:

If you want to see them but can't access the site, please email me at and we'll make other arrangements.

myotherfellow said...

I liked ur post. thanx

ET said...

Stan, Iran does not have free speech, it has people who speak freely. There is a big difference. Free speech is a practice that requires tolerance of dissenting opinion. Free speech entails action. Speaking freely means that you can say whatever you want as long as it does not matter to anyone: that is what Iran has.

Democracy without free speech is mob rule.

Helena said...

You have an interesting blog here!
In the Netherlands, we started this blog: "Bridge the Gap in Blogspace". You can find this blog here.
We want people communicating with eachother, to get to know eachother. Let there be no fear for eachother or hate.. (because of the cartoons).
I myself wrote an article about Iran (bus drivers strike, media silence, regime.. ). I first have to translate it in english!

jhan said...

The cartoon depicting Iranian athletes as terrorists is nothing but a cheap and cowardly means of cashing in on some easy publicity. Now an insignificant German cartoonist can have his name spread around the world. And the Iranian people are put in a double bind - either they accept the ugly stereotyping of the cartoon (and keep their mouths shut) or they are cast as intolerant fanatics. It's sickening to see the perpetrators of such ugly and violent two-facedness look up so innocently and say, "Who me?"

angel said...

Myself I sensed this special cartoon as an duspute in germany on interior security issues. I first thought this cartoon was cute and even blames german politicians even more than the poor football guys. - But afterwards I was shocked by the international reaction. (Sorry, I couldn't see any connection to the outrage in Iran.)

After reading Your article I understand the outrage much better. But be sure, me and the german people didn't intend to afront you.

When we play soccer, we play soccer - not politics.

Denver said...

Howdy from denver colorado, i have some questions and if you can't answer them understand.

1- What is your opinion of the current goverment do you agree with how they protray iran?