Friday, September 29, 2006

Condom Israel

Via Onze Man in Teheran:

This image illustrates why I tell my foreign friends never ever to use spellcheck...

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Akbar Ganji - Letter to America -

Read Ganji's Letter to America:
Akbar Ganji - Letter to America - "But the dangers of the Tehran regime are not limited to the nuclear question. The regime is dangerous mostly because it is willing to brutally trample on the democratic and human rights of the Iranian people. It is dangerous because it is willing to create gender apartheid in the name of religion and to suppress religious and ethnic minorities. Finally, it is dangerous because it considers all forms of dissent unforgivable sins. The real goal of the nuclear program is to make these policies permanent. In its negotiations with the Iranian regime, the West must not overlook this important fact."

Join the discussion

Dialogue with America or non-dialogue or no dialogue... all at Post Global at the Washington Post.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Sept. 25, 1899

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101 years ago today, my grandfather landed in America with a sister that my father only found out about yesterday through an internet search of records stored at Ellis Island. How cool is that?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Our Prison Doors are Open

…You can go in, you just can’t go out…

We got into a taxi. The driver immediately started speaking in an animated way with my husband. I couldn’t hear him from my place in the backseat, but I could see him gesturing. He would take both of his hands off the steering wheel to make particular points. Mind you, we were on the highway with cars zipping by at high speed on either side. What’s even worse is that after three years in Iran, I wasn’t even nervous; just amused.

When we got out, I asked Keivan what he was talking about. “Ahmadinejad’s press conference at the Foreign Policy Institute.”

“I thought he was talking about crazy driving habits. He seemed a bit excited.”

“He was saying that Ahmadinejad was asked why he is talking so much about international law when he doesn’t implement it in Iran. He answered that America has 200 million people and some high number of prisoners, but Iran, with 70 million people, has far fewer.”

“That’s because so many are executed,” I half-joke.

“That’s exactly what the driver said. I told him that it was because Iranians just cannot count.”

The driver is one of many people to talk to us about the press conference which neither of us saw or even read about. Everyone felt that AN's responses to the questions about the prisons were farcical.

“He asked the journalists who they thought they were to ask him such questions,” a friend tells us at dinner. “My god, they’re journalists. That’s their job.”

Shana Tova

School started Saturday: the day of the Jewish New Year. Our neighborhood has a school every few feet, which means that come 7:30 AM we could hear the clamor of the thousands of school kids that have descended on our neighborhood.

I spent the holiday with a Jewish family who served the New Year's dinner at 11:30 PM. “It’s just 20 minutes past Fall,” a 14-year old announced as the dinner came on to the table.

Earlier that day, I went hiking with an ex-pat friend who told me that two things need to be reformed in Iran: the start time of dinner and the salad dressing. “That pink stuff has got to go,” she said referring to the ubiquitous mayonnaise and ketchup dressing that accompanies almost every salad in Iran. “It’s time for a nice vinaigrette” That’s exactly right! Start small, I say. Clearly the nuclear negotiations are going nowhere. The salad dressing and dinner time negotiations promise more success.

The family had a Rosh Hashana ceremony that was a bit like a seder and that I had never attended before. It involved several symbolic foods and unfamiliar prayers. My favorite part was when we bit a green onion in half in a symbolic act of vanquishing our enemies.

“We bite it in half?” I asked.

“You’ve never done this before?” the mater familias asked me.


“Don’t you have any enemies in America?” they joked.

I laughed and answered, “No we do not.” I was only half-joking. I never experienced hands on anti-Semitism in all my years as a small-town Midwestern Jew.

We bit the green onion. Some names were given to the enemies, and we threw the green halves over our shoulders.

Inshallah, this time next year we will set a table for our enemies...

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Goodbye M

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Living in Tehran is like being at summer camp. The friendships are brief and intense, you swear you’ll be friends for life, and sometimes you never see your dearest heart ever again.

So when we had to say goodbye to a dear friend who left the country recently, it’s no surprise that I was left as stunned as I was when I was 12 years old on my last day at overnight camp. (I was one of those who loved camp).

So goodbye to a dear friend who spent one of her last nights in Iran comforting a woman who had barely survived a fatal crash and who saved me and K when we were most depressed. Everyone should have such a friend.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Help me keep track of evidence of preemptive war on iran

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June 21, 2004

Seymour Hersh writes about Israeli and Iranian efforts in Iraq and Kurdistan. He quotes a former intelligence official who tells him how the white house responds to the news: ‘We can’t take on another problem right now. We can’t afford to push Iran to the point where we’ve got to have a showdown.’

January 17, 2005

Seymour Hersh’s article “The Coming Wars” reports on Pentagon plans for a campaign in Iran (to be fair: civilians in the Pentagon)

July 21, 2005

In his article, “The Iran War Buildup,” Michael T. Klare calls for early efforts to prevent a US war with Iran.

December 30, 2005

Is Washington Planning a Military Strike?
Spiegel Online presents a round up of reports in the German media on the Bush administration’s plans to attack Iran. According to this article many of the region’s countries have been informed of possible air strikes against Iran.

April 8, 2006

“The Iran Plans” is another Seymour Hersh article reporting on white house plans to attack Iran: this time with the possibility of using bunker busting nuclear bombs.
December 30, 2005

July 24, 2006

James Bamford reports on the PR machine selling war with Iran in Rolling Stone’s “Iran: The Next War.”

September 4, 2006

The Telegraph’s story, “Straw: Iran attack 'nuts',” reports on Straw’s headline making response to the Hersh Story.

September 18, 2006

America already at war with Iran according to retired colonel Sam Gardner interviewed by Wolf Blitzer on CNN.

September 21, 2006

Well, well... someone is already doing this:

Source Watch

Monday, September 18, 2006

Half of the conversation

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Keivan is slumped on the couch bothering me while I try to watch Babe on tv. “Why didn’t you write in our whole conversation?” He asks me.

“It was too long to put in the blog.”

“But you should have put in the part when Mr. Beard said that Iran was looking for a fight.”

“He didn’t tell me that.”

“He told me.”

Keivan often expects me to “grok” his conversations with others as if I am really a stranger in a strange land.

“He told me that Iran has been looking for this fight for the last 27 years and that all of the best minds have been working on defense.”

“All of the best Islamist minds,” I add.

“Yes. He thinks that if Israel had not attacked Hezbollah, there would have been an attack on Iran. Now, he thinks there will be no attack.”

“He always glorifies battle, doesn’t he?”

“I am not sure what he really thinks about anything. The only thing I am sure of is that he is an honest man.”

“He is honest,” I agree.

On the tv, Farmer Hogget is dancing for Babe.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Recommended reading at Mideast Youth


The portrayal of Islam in the MSM: Is it really Islam?

Check out the protester's banners: Muslim world angry, for the bajillionth time

An Iranian responds to a Washington Post article An Apology, Mr. Knipp.

Apocalypse Not

Tagged as:

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“There won’t be an attack on Iran,” our bearded friend says. “It won’t happen.”

“Esther is not so sure,” Keivan says.

They turn to me and wait for my response. “I am confused. I used to think there would not be an attack, but now I see that many in the West are trying to equate Ahmadinejad with Hitler and Iran with WW II era Germany.”

“Who has Ahmadinejad killed?” Mr. Beard asks.

“Yet,” Keivan adds. They laugh.

“There are also many writing that Ahmadinejad is apocalyptic – how do you say “apocalyptic” in Farsi?”

“Apocalyptic? I don’t know,” Keivan answers.

“End of the world,” I say. I can say that in Persian. Keivan offers a clearer version.

“They say that the Shi’a are waiting for Mehdi and want the end of the world to come faster. A bit like fundamentalist Christians.”

“Why do Christians want to see the end of the world?”

“Because it means that Jesus will return.”

“Aaah… But Iranians are like other people in the world, we do not want to bring about the end of the world.”

“There are some journalists trying to calm that view. The ones who visit Iran write more calmly than the ones who have never been here. Yesterday, I read an article that said that a nation that requires drivers to wear seatbelts is not dangerous.”

“Seatbelts? What does that mean?” Mr. Beard asks.

“It means that the government is worried about your health. They don’t want you to die in an accident.”

“Exactly. Now that you have been here three years, what do you think?”

“I think that if Iran were really waiting for the end of the world there would be no highway projects and no clean water projects and no sewage projects and no buildings. Anyone can look around and see that there is a future here.”

“Excellent. Excellent.”

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The 9/11 Post on 9/12

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A bunch of us are lamenting the inequalities of the world that drive people into extremism. What can we do to make it fairer? We ask ourselves. My, aren’t we patronizing? [Note to self: add links]

I agree that we need to focus on the ways that we contribute to unfairness but we should not be so naïve as to think that that will save us from extremism, particularly militant Islamism. Unfairness, after all, is at the heart of militant Islamism. Islamism does not demand a more just society, but a more unjust society.

Is there really something that we can do to please militant Islamists other than bombing Israel into oblivion? C’mon, admit it. They are not about to change their opinions of us because we care about their human rights or economic disparities. They won’t even change their opinions if we negotiate peace. They won’t change their opinions if we step in in Darfur or Kashmir or Chechnya or Bosnia or Palestine or any of hundreds of trouble spots. Their minds are made up.

Oh, and the other thing we do is call for the moderate Islamic world to raise their voices. C’mon. It’s not something we can call for. It’s not something we can demand. We can only engage those voices when they do rise up. But why should they? Moderates are at heart, well, moderate. We moderates do not go out and kill people who violate our moderate code of ethics. We don’t demand loyalty. We don’t believe in blasphemy. How can moderation compete with certainty?

Look, on this side of the conversation (I am living in Iran, remember)the West seems hypocritical, divided, and flailing. It’s time to own up to hypocrisy: time to admit that the world demands hypocrisy. Living in the world demands that we negotiate the grey areas. It isn’t as if there is a simple path to good or a simple path to bad. There is a reason that we say the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

If we really want to defuse the Islamist movement, we would all convert; we would give up wine and pork; we would follow the nebulous Shari’ a law; we would pray 5 times a day; and we would follow the strongest and most brutal among us. Even that, as moderate and observant and secular Muslims all over the world know, would not be enough. For some, the only sense of freedom comes from the oppression of others.

Militant Islamism is imperialistic, appealing, and unappeasable. It is not ours to defuse. It is a discipline that demands obedience. We can only compete with it by offering an equally compelling discipline. In lieu of that, we need to realize that people, particularly young men, need to feel a sense of purpose. How are we going to provide that? Habitat for Humanity in lieu of extremism? What do you think? I think that now I am being naïve.

On the other hand, it is crucial for us to know the difference between militant Islamism and, well, something a bit different. The Islamic Regime of Iran, for instance, must answer to its huge population. When ideologues govern, they face the same issues as governors do everywhere: roads, water, electricity, and hospitals. Governing is a force for moderation.

It is important to draw distinctions between those who govern and those who do not.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Voices From Iran

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I read a report from the Foreign Policy Centre (what’s up with British spelling?). This report includes several anonymous interviews with key Iranian figures (it would take about 10 minutes to figure out who most of them are). It is a useful document for people who want to hear Iranians speak for themselves. I’ve pulled a few quotes, but there is a lot more.

From the Reformist Journalist:

The West and Iran:
“I don’t like to speak all the time with analogies, but I think the West is approaching Iran in exactly the wrong way. It’s like there is a dangerous element, a radical element in this country and perhaps at the moment it is holding us hostage. Rather like a terrorist who runs down the street with the police chasing after him and then takes refuge in a building. What should the police do? Negotiate with the people in the building until the people deliver the terrorist to them or the terrorist gives himself up; or attack the building, killing the terrorist but also killing lots of other people? If the United States were to attack Iran it would be like storming the building, a tragic mistake, because negotiation can resolve this dispute without anybody getting killed. ...”

On Ahmadinejad:
“The best way to deal with Ahmadinejad would be if he were left alone for a couple of years. If he can’t use foreign pressure to repress more, he will face internal challenges. The most dangerous class is the workers – he told them he would raise their salaries. He has given them too much expectation, there’s a possibility they could strike.”
“Engagement with Iran has a much better effect for pushing the reforms, if the world wants to fully change the people, even those considered to be hardliners. Even they could become pro-Western. Why do I think that? Well, there’s a strategic element in foreign relations. The current situation for Iran isn’t good. We are surrounded by a lack of friends. We don’t have many Muslim allies – people are Iranians first, then Muslims. Engagement is the most effective weapon. We can use our capacity in the region to contain terrorism. Isolation just fires back. The ex-officials of US make sense – there need to be more talks.”

From the Human Rights Activist:

On democracy:
“Democracy is not like a plane, you can’t just export it. You have to have social basics and foundations on which to build democracy. People must want democracy if you want to create democracy. If you truly want to change this government, you have to bring in a completely democratic government. The voice must be heard in the West – I want to make a union between a peace loving Iran and a peace loving West.”

On Iran’s nuclear capabilities:
“The international community worries about Iran being a nuclear power. There is no reason to worry, it won’t be an atomic bomb that will destroy West. There is no such bomb. It will be Chernobyl style events that might destroy our own nation. All of this expertise and equipment were acquired on the black market. These factories and reactors lack safety standards. The West has very transparent reactors, and at the same time you have the greens and the environmental lobby keeping a check. When something is secret and unknown, you can have no confidence for safety. We should be worried, not you. You’re scared for us, and that’s very strange.”

From the Feminist:

On higher education:
“Higher education gives women a clearer understanding of inequality and oppression, and that understanding will produce change. It’s already happening, in vocal opposition to policies that sanction polygamy, temporary marriage, free divorce for men, and child custody to fathers and their families. If you pick up a women’s magazine in Tehran, you’ll find it’s full of stories of wives suffering at the hands of despotic husbands, a long list of wife-beatings, suicides and loss of children. At the moment it’s happening at this kind of anecdotal level because the courts discriminate against women, not just in terms of outlook or judgment but technically speaking, so a man’s testimony is equivalent to that of two women.”
“But change is inevitable, regardless of which faction holds the presidency. Education is giving Iranian women a new understanding of freedom, the freedom of choice, which is not displaced by sharia law. Ultimately the mullahs cannot make women wear the hijab or the chador, and the women of Iran are beginning to see this.”

There is a lot more. You can download it at the Foreign Policy Centre’s Site.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Why I blog

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The editors at Reconstruction have asked several bloggers to comment on why they blog. Here is my response:

I often get letters from researchers who are doing studies of Iranian blogs. They want to know many things, including why I started blogging. Here is the simple answer: my husband and I started this blog in order to keep in touch with family and friends.

It has proven an effective way to do that. Once we got started, it became fun to be part of the blogosphere’s conversation about Iran. Yes “fun.”

The blog is a way to have a conversation that would be difficult to have any other way.

People ask a lot of questions: “What effect do Iranian blogs have on internal Iranian politics?” The accurate answer is: “I don’t know.” The empirical answer is: “None.” There is no evidence that Iranian blogs do anything more than provide an outlet for a nation of natural storytellers.

So, you may ask, is there a point beyond fun? Well…yes. The blog is a form or memory. I record every day life, every day conversations, and I post many of them. These every day things fade so easily.

The blog also records the process of being a complete foreigner to being a bit more (although not total) of an insider. I came to Iran with a few sentences of Persian and very little concept of tarof or anything else Iranian. I will leave with decent conversational skills, a fairly comprehensive understanding of tarof, and a bit more facility with Iranian culture as it is experienced in Iran.

The best thing I will leave Iran with is a distinctly Iranian sense of the absurd, which is just something that cannot be translated into English.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

oh yeah...

new post at Mideast Youth

Party like it's 1999

Monday night…

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

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

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

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

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

“Khameini is Azeri?”

“Yes, of course. Didn’t you know?”

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

“We even tell the most Azeri jokes.”

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

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

Tuesday night…

What?! No party?

Wednesday night…

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

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

“It’s a symbol of oppression,” I say.

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

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

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

Thursday night…

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

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

Friday night…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Guns, Butter, and DVDs

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“Listen, are they just going to talk or are they going to bomb us already?” the clerk at the computer store says to Keivan when he finds out I am American. “It’s been years. If they are going to bomb, they should bomb already.”

“We’re all better off if there is just talk,” I say.

He places the blank DVDs in plastic wrap, and we go out to get a cab home.

“So what’s going to happen,” the driver asks Keivan. “Are they going to bomb us? Will there be sanctions?”

“I was at a meeting today and the guys kept saying to me Mr. ____, your wife is a foreigner, tell us is there any news? News of what, I asked. War, they said. As if my wife gets news from Bush about war.”

“I’m sure they’ll be calling me any day,” I joke. “As if I have a hotline to Bush…”