Monday, July 31, 2006


Tagged as:

Response to Angel:

Iranian shi’a have a rule (sigeh) that allows them to engage in a “temporary marriage” lasting anywhere for a few minutes to pretty much forever.

The joke going around Iran at the moment is that Bush has finally responded to the letter AN sent him a few months back. Bush wrote that he is interested in hearing more about sigeh.

Unfortunately, the joke works much better for Clinton than for Bush, but you get the idea.

Read more about sigeh here:

Women in pre-revolutionary, revolutionary and post-revolutionary Iran

Sigeh is not actually an Islamic practice, but a pre-Islamic one used in Arab tribes. In its pre-Islamic form women still resided with her family, her kin still retained rights, a woman could also dismiss a man, and any children begotten belonged to the wife's lineage. In Islam, sigeh changed, so that the child now belonged to the father. The practice of sigeh was primarily used as an urban function associated with long distance trade.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Dance the night away

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Late one night last week, we drove west to a garden in the middle of nowhere for a wedding party. We drove by burning trash, industrial buildings, and military outposts. “This cannot be right,” we were thinking.

We drove onto an empty road and pulled up to a dented, dilapidated gate. It was dark. “No way is this it; it’s too dark.”

“No this is it,” the driver said. A police car drove by. Our driver leaned out the window to ask the police if this was the Garden we were looking for.

“It could be,” they answered and drove slowly away.

Keivan got out and knocked. The gate was opened by a sleepy Afghan. We see the lights of the party in the distance. “This is it!”

“If this were in America there would be signs and balloons everywhere.”

It only makes sense that in Iran a wedding party would be so coy. Once in, we danced with women dressed in tasteful gowns and men in sharp suits wearing silk ties around their necks.

A friend has just returned from Baghdad. “It’s horrible. People are really stressed. Baghdad is breaking up. Baghdad has neighborhood refugees now. People from one neighborhood are moving to others. It has become just too dangerous.”

We dance.


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My friend wonders if there is a connection between living in Iran and problems sleeping. When you ask expats and Iranians who travel abroad about their vacations, they talk first about the amazing sleep they had. I, for instance, slept for two days the first time I left Iran.

My point is, you just never know what is going to happen. Sometimes I sit out on our balcony and think, Tehran before the bombing… Then I argue that there will be no bombing.

But it’s even smaller and less important than that. In a land where almost everyone breaks the law, at any moment you could be arrested. The laws here govern too much private business and not enough public business. There must be some law you are breaking, after all. If you’re not, you must be a child.

And it’s even smaller than that: will any of the day’s promises be kept? Will that guy I am working with show up for his 4:00 meeting? Will houseguests appear tonight? Will I be able to watch that tv show until the end or will the satellite be blocked? Is the repair guy a thief or a spy? Is my computer being infected by malware?

To live in Iran is to worry non-stop. The worry is like a low hum, barely audible.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Internet usage in Iran

Guess what! The whole nation of Iran is on a banwidth diet while the phone company renegotiates its bandwidth contract.

Just what you'd expect from a nation with time and money to waste...

Monday, July 17, 2006


Iran, surprisingly, cannot refine its own oil. I did not know this when I first arrived here and was always baffled by the long lines at the pumps combined with the often empty reserve tanks. I thought it had to do with the (in)efficiency of measuring the reserves in the station’s tanks, not with the availability of gasoline.

On the highway, Iranians stop at every station they see to make sure their tanks are always filled. It’s not unusual to find stations in the middle of nowhere with no gasoline available to sell.

Iranians have giant plastic containers that they bring to the station to fill. They often drive around with these containers in the trunks of their cars. Any taxi driver you meet can tell you about witnessing a small accident that ended in a large explosion, confirming my speculation that Iran’s horrible accident fatality rate may have something to do with carrying gasoline in plastic containers.

And now, Iran may be running out of gasoline and running short on gasoline policy:

With demand far outstripping its domestic refining capacity, Iran buys foreign gasoline for slightly more than 50 cents a liter (about $2 a gallon) and sells it at the pump for about 8 cents a liter (less than 40 cents a gallon), the highest subsidies in the region.

The discount prices have further encouraged consumption and cut into the country’s export windfall. Waste and pollution are rampant. The cheap gas is smuggled out to other countries at the rate of some two million gallons a day, according to one study by Parliament.

Iran, an Oil Giant, in a Gasoline Squeeze

Sunday, July 16, 2006

f-ed up

Israel does Iran’s bidding
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In college, I had a giant friend who told me that little guys were constantly picking fights with him: on the playground, in bars, everywhere. He was a really gentle guy, but it just drove him nuts. “They just want to prove themselves in a fight with me,” he would tell me. “It’s gotten to the point that I do not even like to go out.”

Is Israel the giant or the small guy? I would say a little of both. My allegory does not make any sense at all, and I probably should just delete it. What I really want to know is how could Israel allow itself to be lured into a war that will only serve to strengthen its enemies? It’s no secret anywhere that Iran is suspected of being behind Hezbollah’s kidnapping. It’s also no secret that Iran finances Hezbollah. There are even murals of Iranians “martyred” in battles fought with Hezbollah. Iran wants so many issues on the UN Security Council’s plate that no meaningful decisions can be reached. Now there is North Korea, Iran, and Israel to deal with. That’s quite a big serving.

Israel’s costly mistakes in Lebanon have been widely critiqued by many generally favorable to Israel. What makes them repeat those mistakes? Someone tell me.

Laura Zittrain Eisenberg argues that clear borders are essential for Israel (MERIA Volume 4, No. 3 - September 2000). In her section on Israel’s entry into Lebanon’s civil war she points out this crucial mistake:

Begin relished the irony in the Jewish State rescuing oppressed Christians, while the rest of the world stayed mute. But Beirut was not Berlin, and Begin's insistence on viewing the Maronite situation in European, post-Holocaust terms removed him further from Lebanese realities than any of his predecessors.

A larger quote here:

Do Good Fences Make Good Neighbors?: Israel and Lebanon after the Withdrawal
Who is on the other side?

(The Israeli Perspective)

In the early 1980s Israel made its most dangerous blunder in assessing the intentions and relative power of its Lebanese friends and foes. Up until the 1970s the Zionist/Israeli exaggeration of a friendly Christian community of allies in Lebanon caused minimum damage because Israel did not predicate policy upon that faulty precept. While the increasingly unrealistic perception of a Maronite partner perhaps precluded the Yishuv from pursuing a more realistic and productive Lebanon policy, it had not exposed it to any special political or military threat. The same held true for the first two decades of Israeli statehood. But once the Lebanese civil war began in 1975, Israel fell into the common trap of relying on religious shorthand, Christian vs. Muslim, to distinguish the nature and intentions of the key actors and began to pursue policy in Lebanon accordingly.

But in actuality, the conflict was one between Maronites trying to preserve their traditional political and economic privileges in Lebanon versus everyone else trying to seize a larger piece of the Lebanese pie for themselves. Israel's interests in Lebanon were not "Christian" at all, but rather dictated by standard strategic political thinking, which made any anti-PLO (and later anti-Hizballah) force a potential ally. (17) Differences within and among the Israeli cabinet, military and intelligence services concerning the desirability and capability of the Phalange as an ally are well-documented in the many accounts of the 1982 war. There was general agreement over the usefulness of forcing the PLO away from the northern border and even destroying the organization, if possible, but Prime Minister Menahem Begin used the Maronite angle both in formulating strategy and in appealing to Israeli public opinion. Deeply steeped in the historical lore of Maronite friendliness, few Israelis initially balked at the depiction of Lebanese Christians threatened with genocide and a natural harmony of Christian and Israeli interests in the face of mutual Muslim, Palestinian, and Syrian foes.

Begin relished the irony in the Jewish State rescuing oppressed Christians, while the rest of the world stayed mute. But Beirut was not Berlin, and Begin's insistence on viewing the Maronite situation in European, post-Holocaust terms removed him further from Lebanese realities than any of his predecessors.

Despite behind-the-scenes diplomatic activity, support for the SLA, and its own military operations in July 1993 (Operation Accountability) and April 1996 (Grapes of Wrath), Israel failed to suppress Hizballah. Fatalities ran at 20-30 IDF soldiers per year. Attempting to avoid roadside bombs, the IDF began to ferry its soldiers to security zone bases by helicopter, a plan that worked only until a collision between two helicopters in February 1997 claimed 73 lives. From that tragedy the "Four Mothers" group was born, a grassroots movement initiated by four mothers of sons serving in Lebanon, with the goal of compelling the government to withdraw all Israeli troops from Lebanon. (18) The organization introduced and legitimized the concept of unilateral withdrawal in national debate, its message driven home by the relentless procession of IDF body bags from Lebanon. Hizballah had succeeded in making the security zone untenable.

(The Lebanese Perspective)

Israel was so focused on the PLO and its Lebanese and Syrian allies that it neglected to evaluate properly the Lebanese Shi`a's politicization in the early 1970s, marked by the rise to leadership of Musa al-Sadr, and the formation of Shi'a organizations such as Amal and the Islamic fundamentalist Hizballah. Although some Shi'a supported the Palestinians and the PLO, others--angered at oppressive PLO domination and PLO cross-border attacks that invited Israeli retaliatory strikes against their villages--responded to Israel's anti-PLO invasion of 1982 with relief and support. But as hostilities dragged on 1982, Israeli forces settled into the south, building new roads, posting road signs in Hebrew, commandeering facilities, and establishing bases or detention camps. These steps caused Israel to change in many Shi'a eyes from liberator to occupier. Despite the fact that a majority of the FLM and SLA foot soldiers were Shia, Israel had neither recognized nor rewarded the Shi'a as potential allies, taking their continued acquiescence for granted.

By 1985 Amal, founded to champion Shia rights within Lebanon, was being outgunned by Hizballah, which proclaimed a pan-Islamic fundamentalism. Funded by Iran and encouraged by Syria, Hizballah sought to drive the Israelis back across the border. Frequent declarations by the organization also stated an intention to remove Israel from Palestine and Jerusalem, as well. It is ironic that the PLO, target of the 1982 invasion, became Israel's peace partner in 1993, while many of the previously friendly Shi'a of south Lebanon joined Israel's new Hizballah enemy.

Missed Opportunity?

Hindsight is always 20/20, but it does appear that Israel missed a critical opportunity for salvaging some benefit from the 1982 invasion in the year or two immediately afterward. Unlike the situation in 1978, the PLO was really gone this time, and although the alliance with the Phalange had already soured, relations were still good with the Christians and Shia of south Lebanon. Had Israel withdrawn at that time, and/or accurately recognized the sensibilities and needs of the south Lebanese people, it might have earned the trust of a population genuinely interested in seeing the border quiet and secure. In a reflective post-withdrawal interview, Israel's coordinator for activity in Lebanon, Uri Lubrani, similarly suggests that Israel could and should have redeployed to the international border in 1984. (19) By failing to identify and accommodate the south Lebanese actors who remained after the PLO's expulsion, Israel helped provoke the creation of Hizballah, an enemy equally or more punishing than the PLO had ever been.

Unfortunately for everyone, we are living in a time of inferior leaders.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

About the revolver

Tagged as:

(response to Matt’s question)

The photo of the revolver that is featured in this blog is from a mural in front of the former American Embassy. I am posting a few photos of that mural so that you get an idea of what it looks like.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Head Butt

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Like every other football crazed nation, Iranians are talking about the World Cup and Zidane’s head butt. In fact, this has been the primary topic of conversation for two days now. I just read a couple of my Iranian friends Materazzi’s description of the incident translating it into approximate Farsi. The lines:

'I did not call him a terrorist. I am not a cultured person and I don't even know what as Islamist terrorist is.'

He added: 'For me the mother is sacred, you know that.'

…Got a big laugh from my friends. “How Iranian of him,” Niloofar laughed. By this, she meant the way that Materazzi admits to insulting Zidane but does not rule out an insult to Zidane’s family, just one to his mother.
ESPNsoccernet - World Cup - Materazzi admits to insulting Zidane: "Materazzi, 32, told Gazetta dello Sport: 'I held his shirt for a few seconds only, then he turned to me and talked to me, jeering.

'He looked at me with a huge arrogance and said, `If you really want my shirt I'll give it to you afterwards'. I replied with an insult, that's true.'

Materazzi has not elaborated on what he did say, but one report suggested he responded with: `I'd rather take the shirt off your wife'.

He has denied, however, some of the more vile insults referring to his wife or sister or calling him a terrorist.

'It was one of those insults you're told dozens of times and that you often let fall on a pitch,' Materazzi said.

'I did not call him a terrorist. I am not a cultured person and I don't even know what as Islamist terrorist is.'

He added: 'For me the mother is sacred, you know that.'"

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Fun in the Sun

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I thought I would write at least once in awhile during the past two weeks, but I did not. Why didn’t I? I cut the tip of a very important typing finger, and it hurt to type. Oh yeah, I also went to a friend’s wedding in a normally cold country that was in the grips of its three-week summer so it was sunny and gorgeous every day so we went to the beach and swam in the ocean and I actually wore a bikini in front of men and women and little children and big and small dogs and was still one of the most covered up women on the beach. I rode a bicycle, wore a summer dress, and spoke freely and openly with everyone. I slept a lot. I drank a lot less than I do in Iran, but I drank good wine and good beer instead of the staples available to us here. Friends returned from Greece with homemade red wine. They were excited about it, but I told them I had had enough homemade wine in the past few years.

I returned with Iran Air. Once again, I did not want to get on the plane, but then, once on, I had fun. I sat next to an ex-pat Iraqi family whose parents have taken refuge in Iran. Their parents are too scared to travel back to Baghdad. They like Iran. In the row next to ours was a couple who had not been in Iran for 15 years. They were beaming. Excited to see family and eat Iran’s famous sheep’s head and foot soup (calepache). (Talk about foot in mouth…) When we were just above Tehran, the man leaned to look out the window and shouted: “There is calepache everywhere in this city!” We landed to a great burst of applause from the passengers.

Everyone was covered up while we were still in the airport. I did not wear my headscarf until we landed. Soon, many of the women had taken theirs off as well. Iran Air is often carrying people who have not been in Iran in years and years. Those women cover every strand of hair on their heads: not from religious passion, but from fear.

The cold European country was filled with women in hijab: all of whom would be arrested in Iran for bad hijab. Hijab, as I have said before, is all about fashion. Moroccan women, for instance, wear tight-fitting scarves, form-fitted to their hair, and tied behind their necks. Then they wear long skirts, with tight tops, lots of jewelry and fashionable shoes. They look great. Why? Because, as so many Muslim evangelists tell me, hijab is a signal that the woman’s body is not part of the social discourse: it’s all about respect. Hijab is supposed to protect women from prying eyes and sexual violence, but I very much doubt that it does any of those things. Talk to any man: western or eastern: they are obsessed with women in hijab.

Hijab makes the women’s body the center of social discourse: all it does is eroticize the body. I’ll tell you what takes women’s bodies out of social discourse: it’s thousands of topless women at the beach.

More on hijab:
The Veil: Resistance or Repression?

Scarf and Make-up: the Modern Face of Islam

Women in Islam, veiled oppression or stigmatized misconception

A Pearl In Its Shell

Arab Feminists on Women's Rights: Cats and Dogs in the Developed World Have More Rights than Women in the Arab and Muslim World