Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Best Spring Ever

Rain and wind and grand lightning storms have conspired to make this a glorious spring in Tehran. We’ve had wind so strong that it breaks lightbulbs, blows over potted trees, opens closed windows and chimney flues, and unties headscarves. It also carries the city’s pollution away.

I’ve been trying to go walking in the mountains every weekend to savor the clear views of Tehran and smell all the honeysuckle and wild flowers blooming: a great change from diesel fumes.

A man in a white Peykan drove us home from a trip to Jamshidiei Park. His windshield was cracked and there was a photo of his father under the mirror. “This car is 40 years old. It’s a junker,” the man says.

“How can you say it’s a junker?” my co-hiker asks. “What other car runs for 40 years? You think the new Peugeots will run for 40 years? Will the Prides run for 40 years?”

“You’re right. This car has served me well.”

“Is that your father?” I ask.

“He died before the New Year.”

“May he rest in peace,” my friend says.

“I miss him. It was just the two of us. I miss him.”
We stop at a traffic light. A man with a violin plays “Tanha Mundam” (I am left alone). He comes to our window. The driver beckons him over. “Play for me. My heart needs music.”

The light turns green and we give the violinist tips.

“He was good,” I say.

“He knows one song,” the driver replies.

“They all know just one song,” my friend replies.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Iran Chief Eclipses Power of Clerics - New York Times

Good article

Iran Chief Eclipses Power of Clerics - New York Times: "In this theocratic system, where appointed religious leaders hold ultimate power, the presidency is a relatively weak position. In the multiple layers of power that obscure the governance of Iran, no one knows for certain where the ultimate decisions are being made. But many of those watching in near disbelief at the speed and aggression with which the president is seeking to accumulate power assume that he is operating with the full support of Ayatollah Khamenei.

'Usually the supreme leader would be the front-runner in all internal and external issues,' said Hamidreza Taraghi, the political director of the strongly conservative Islamic Coalition Party. 'Here we have the president out front on all these issues, and the supreme leader is supporting him.'"

Saturday, May 27, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

“Lazy? You think so?”

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

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

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

“Not the only.”

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

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

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

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

“But they knew what to do with it.”

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

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

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Dress code

It is ironic that Iran’s hijab requirement for all women despite religious beliefs has the opposite effect than described by the questionable and erroneous article stating that minorities will be required to wear identifying markers. If the regime really wanted to have visual identifiers for religious minorities, it could lift hijab requirements for non-Muslim women. This would have the intended effect without the negative publicity. In fact, many would welcome this development as a sign of progress. Hmmm…

Many religious minorities wear their own identifying markers: many Jewish men wear yarmulkes and many Christian women wear prominent crosses. It is really the Bahai who are the most oppressed. They are seen as apostates and have an extremely difficult life in Iran.

Good article Iran’s Jews by Angus McDowall:Iran's Jews struggle in the shadow of Holocaust denials


Monday, May 22, 2006

I’m tired of my blog…

Tagged as:

“There’s nothing to write about.”

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

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

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

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

“Just another piece of mass hysteria.”

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

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

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

Everyday Pressures

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

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

“Iranian men break their promises.”

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

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

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

“Aha. Exactly,” Man 1 says.

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

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

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

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

more later...

Saturday, May 20, 2006


See it in context: http://president.ir/eng/

Thanks to Opip

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Hirsi Ali Case: "Voltaire and Erasmus Are Spinning in their Graves" - International - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News

The Hirsi Ali Case: "Voltaire and Erasmus Are Spinning in their Graves" - International - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News:
"Holland's most famous immigrant -- Ayaan Hirsi Ali -- has been stripped of her citizenship overnight following television revelations about news that's long been public: she lied a little on her application for asylum years ago. The controversial decision by the country's immigration minister has sparked outrage, and many are calling it a dark day for Dutch democracy.

This is the subject of conversation here: Iranians may be Eddie Haskells, but the Dutch are Mother Superiors: stern but caring (as the one from the Flying Nun is described; often making bad decisions because of sanctimony.

We are family

Tagged as:

“T have you been to Hawaii?”

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

“You see your cousins?”


“You mean, you have contacts with cousins?”

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

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

“Some are. Some are not.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 14, 2006

My Baby She Wrote Me a Letter

Tagged as:

AN is in the foreground, pen in hand, looking pensive; Bush is shown in the background, sitting in a simple chair, reading the letter on his lap. A woman reads the 18-page letter in stumbling Farsi.

That was Iranian tv a few nights ago. Why oh why didn’t I take a picture of the screen?

“When I read that letter,” a friend tells us, “I sat down and composed a 5-page letter to our president myself. Who does he think he is writing in that tone of voice? Everything he thinks he is saying about America is a problem here in Iran.”

“It could not be just 1-page, could it? Or even 5-pages? No, it had to be 18 pages. And can you imagine Bush reading PBUH Jesus Christ(PBUH)… What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“You know when we lost it? It was during the ceremony to celebrate uranium enrichment with that blue dancing figure.”

“That was so James Bond, wasn’t it?”

“No we lost it long before that… How about when we saw Khomeini in the moon?”

The man in the moon

One of the strangest occurrences in the revolution happened in late November 1978. A rumor circulated like wildfire that a pious old lady in the holy city of Qom had found a hair of the Prophet’s beard in the pages of the Qur’an. The same evening an apparition had informed the saintly lady that the faithful would be able to see the face of the Imam Khomeini in the full moon on 27 November. No one bothered to ask how the old lady knew that the hair belonged to the Prophet or whether any such old lady existed in the first place. Within a single day almost everyone had heard the rumor and millions of people gathered on the rooftops on the promised day and waited for the full moon, shouting “Allah Akbar.” Tears of joy were shed and huge quantities of sweets and fruits were consumed as millions of people jumped for joy, shouting “I’ve seen the Imam in the moon.” The episode, a masterly coup was, probably plotted by Beheshti, who had a remarkable understanding of popular psychology in Iran.

La lettre de Mahmoud Ahmadinejad à George W. Bush

From Iran, With Something Less Than Love

Iranian Leaders Watch Dance Celebrating Iran's Uranium Enrichment Capabilities

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Negotiating with Iranians

So here it is: tips and tricks for negotiating with Iranians.

Iranians do not care if they lose. This makes them dangerous negotiators. People, particularly Iranians, always argue with me on this point, but I remain unshaken.
They are tough because they are so rarely desperate. If they are desperate they either lose big in negotiations or have learned to hide it so well that the other negotiator will eventually fold.

Iranians negotiate everything. It is never safe to presume that you and an Iranian have the same idea concerning the subject of the negotiation. Let’s say that you are negotiating for a chicken dinner. You spend 1-month talking about this chicken dinner. You finally come to an agreement and it is time for the Iranian to present you with your chicken dinner. What you end up is a sandwich that you share with a live chicken. Anyone who has seen The Beverly Hillbillies turkey dressing episode will understand. (I surprisingly cannot find a good reference to this episode online. Let’s see, what I remember is that Granny asks Mr. Dreysdale to dress the turkey for Thanksgiving. He puts the turkey in a 3-piece suit and leads him to the Clampett’s for dinner.)

1. Never threaten.
Iranians do not respond well to threats. State your intentions at the beginning of the negotiations. State the consequences of failed negotiations. It is important to be prepared to accept the consequences before you state them. If you are unwilling to accept the consequences, do not state them.

2. Flatter the Iranian.
Always appeal to an Iranian’s vanity. Flatter him with everything and anything you can imagine. Bring him flowers, cologne, sparkling grape juice. Appeal to his honor and his pride. Call him by honorifics that he does not deserve: like doctor or engineer. Ask him to do you a favor.

3. Do not flinch when insulted.
Just make sure that you find a way to inflict a worse insult, preferably in the form of flattery.

4. Never show desperation.
While you may remind an Iranian of a deadline, you must not show any desperation to meet the deadline.

5. Do not ever trust an Iranian negotiator who acts like he is your friend.
You are about to get screwed big time.

6. Do not warn, act.
Let’s say the negotiations are now failed. At this point, you need to act. If you lack the will to act, then you broker rule 1. You threatened.

WARNING: Everything I wrote above may be wrong. I, myself, am never successful in negotiations with Iranians because I am too optimistic. I always think that this time things will be different...

Sunday, May 07, 2006


…Iran’s 911.

Saw a police minibus parked on Jordan Street. A bunch of young girls were crowded around it, their big hair lifting their scarves high above their heads.

What does proper Islamic dress mean? “It’s just fashion,” a friend answers. Holland’s Moroccan women who choose to wear Islamic dress all by themselves would be subject to harassment in Iran. Why? Fashion. That’s all.

A friend was picked up. “I knew enough to call 110 when the military police started harassing me and my friend. I mean, their job is to pick up wayward soldiers, not harass women. I got through to the police. ‘Give the phone to the military police,’ they told me.”

She did. The police told them that the way the two women were dressed was none of their business. “Hand the phone back to the women,” the officer on the other line said.

“We told them to leave you alone and quit harassing you. We will call back in ten minutes to make sure you are okay.”

The police called back in three minutes. They called again in ten minutes and again in twenty.

There are so many different police-type organizations roaming the streets of Iran: the Basigi on motorcycles, traffic cops who lazily direct the traffic into bigger and bigger jams, military police just kind of hanging out, diplomatic police, intelligence, and the police police, to name a few.

This is why when some mullahs got upset about plastic manikin breasts, only a few of the offending plastic breasts actually got sawed off. “Why didn’t all of them get sawed off?” a visiting friend asked me.

“Because the police actually have to *want* to enforce that law. It’s too perverse for most of them.”

Anyway, lesson here… call 110 no matter who approaches you with no matter what kind of id.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

No way, she’s not American

Tagged as:
Got into a taxi. The driver was speaking funny English to me: “Where from?”


“Amrika! Bah bah!”

The four men in the cab started laughing and talking amongst each other. They are thrilled to have an American in their midst. The guy in front is telling the others that I am not really American. “One of her parents must be Iranian. Americans don’t come to Iran.” He doesn’t realize that I speak Persian.

“No, no her husband is Iranian. I am sure.”

The guy up front persists. “No she is maybe English or German.”

“He doesn’t think I am American, does he?”

The driver laughs. “We told him your husband is Iranian.”

The driver begins to sing. The passengers are now discussing Condoleza Rice. “She is funny,” says the guy up front. (Funny=ba namak, which is literally “with salt”)

“No, she is sour,” the driver says. Works better in Persian.

“Now that one before her…”


“No the big woman. What was her name?”

“Albright,” offers a passenger.

“She’s a woman to love. Big, beautiful. Like me.” The driver is big, tall, and vivacious if not beautiful. “I would like to court her.”


“Yes. I want me a big American woman.”

“They say that Rice was spurned by an Iranian man and that she now has it in for Iran.”

“I’ve heard that,” I tell them. Probably from Iranians.

“Is it true?”
“I don’t know.”

Monday, May 01, 2006

Happy May Day

AN said that Israel was like a prison, and I responded “Iran is the prison.” I was loathe to board the plane to Iran, but somehow managed to get myself on the flight. Once I did, it was a party in the sky: a plane filled with slightly inebriated Iranians laughing and talking the whole way back to Tehran.

“You must really love your husband to come back,” they joke.

The baby next to us laughed for the entire flight. She had several rows of playmates.

“You must serve more alcohol on this flight than any other flight,” I comment.

“Yes we do. At least we serve more than on any other flight to the Middle East. They board already a bit drunk.”

Iranians make heroic efforts to lead normal lives. They are ignoring the threat of sanctions as best they can, focusing instead on AN’s spending. He is holding huge government meetings all over the country. When questioned on the huge expenditures for each meeting, he is reported to have responded: “We just have tea and bread for breakfast: no cheese.” This has made for some good taxi conversations.

People tell me that AN is going to let women into football games (google blog search blocked for “ahmadinejad women football”) and make the hijab optional (no one believes this). For some bizarre reason having to do with prayer times, Iran decided not to spring forward this year, so now we are only 1 ½ hour ahead of Europe. Some say this is costing Iran tons of money. The cost is most certainly offset by the amount of money the government would have to pay if it served cheese for breakfast.

Sometimes I am happy to be back. Everything is funnier in Iran.