Thursday, April 26, 2007

Bad Hejab

“Nuclear power is our inalienable right,” the staff of my favorite supermarket greets me as I walk into the bustling store. “It’s all your fault that the police are outside picking up women.” They are joking of course. They like to make fun of me when I come into the store.

Some people I know have yet to see the packs of police ushering women into awaiting minibuses, but my regular stomping grounds are in the heart of bad-hejabland. “At least the police are polite here,” a taxi driver tells me. They have to be polite. They are being watched by neighbors with cameras and internet connections. “You should see them over at some of the other spots. They are really going after women with force and being rough.”

A few nights ago Iranian tv featured some official denying that women had been picked up by force. “We’re just talking to them. We have not begun arresting anyone.”

“It’s nothing,” everyone says to me. “They do this every year.”

“I’ve been here more than three years, and I have never seen the police so organized about picking up women before. I’ve never seen them flag down cars before.”

“You’re right,” people admit.

Say whatever you would like: that we are wrong to take this issue so seriously, that most Iranians support the crackdown on hejab, that this will pass… I will tell you this: enforcing hejab makes me feel insecure and mistrustful. I am nervous walking down the street. I do not trust anyone. Why should I? I am wearing this scarf and manteau by force. Therefore, there can be no trust. If I had come to the decision to wear hejab on my own, and wore it because of choice, faith, or even subtle social pressure, that would be different. But I wear hejab because of force and that force has been even more visible the past week. Force will never allow me to make a religious choice of my own free will. It's a ridiculous notion.

The crackdown is a very visible symbol of oppression. So, some men are being picked up (or spoken with) for wearing ties or too much hair gel. That hardly compares to the insecurity of being a woman.


Anger at Iran dress restrictions

Islamica Community Forums: Anger at Iran dress restrictions

Iran police move into fashion business

Iran police swoop on slipping headscarves

Summer Veil Program in Iran, By Kamangir

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Riding with dogs in taxis

“Please fix your scarf,” the taxi driver said to me. “Not because of me, but because the religious police are checking. I don’t care what you wear.”

“It’s not good enough?”

“Make it good enough for them.” I fumed a bit and then retreated into my thoughts. Up front Keivan and the driver discussed the crackdown on hejab.

“I was taking a young woman and she had her small dog with her. The religious police pulled us over. They said, We are impounding your car, arresting the girl, and letting the dog loose on the streets where it will be killed. I said, Hajh Agah, (Mister Hajh: a term of respect given to a man who has made pilgrimage to Mecca) you can’t do that. How can you take my car from me? How will I earn a living? And this young woman, what is wrong with her hejab? She is properly covered. There is no law against having a dog. And you have to consider that maybe the dog was sick, and we just came from the veterinarian.”

Riding in the car was testimony to the fact that he was able to talk his way out of the arrest and that the dog survived.

Hejab crackdown...

“The news is reporting that 93% of the population approves of the crackdown on hejab,” our cab driver told us.

“If that is true, there is no need to enforce hejab,” I responded.

“Don’t the women have mothers? Fathers? Brothers? Sisters? What business is it of the government,” the driver added. “On my wedding day, my wife asked me: What is your opinion of hejab? I said, What you wear is your business. All I want is your heart. If your heart is mine then you can wear whatever you want. If your heart is not mine, then wearing ten chadors won’t make a difference.”

The traffic on Jordan was, as usual, crawling. Since yesterday afternoon flocks of smiling religious police added to the traffic slowdown by standing on the street peering into each car that passed by. Above each checkpoint, another flock stood with a minibus and young women that they have pulled over for bad hejab.

And it isn’t just hejab, as my next post will tell you.

Pictures of Iranian women in hijab here.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

I heart Iran

I am so sad…

For so long, our blog has been exempt from the kinds of commenter fist fights that we are having now.

Listen… Despite what you all might think, I love Iran. Yes, you read correctly. I love the country. That might be why both Keivan and I can be so critical sometimes. It is out of a kind of passion for what Iran is, was, and can become.

Iran is far from monolithic or doomed… It is diverse and delightful and filled with people who are unbelievably welcoming. Can you imagine Iranians traveling to America or Europe and being met with sincere kindness by 99.9% of the people they run across? Yet, when I travel Iran, I *am* met with kindness. Yes me. An American. I tell everyone who asks that I am American. Yes I do. I tell everyone. I tell the Revolutionary Guards and the soldiers and the police and the school girls and their mothers and brothers and fathers and friends. I tell cab drivers and business men and oil execs and refugees. Everywhere I go, I am met with kindness. When Iranians say to me, “It’s your government we hate, not you.” I say, “The government represents me. I may not have voted for it, but you must hold me and other Americans responsible for its actions.” Yes. They should, but they don’t.

The West sees images of Iranians throwing smoke bombs and burning flags and shouting down with America… You don’t see the 16-year old girl trying out her English with me. You don’t see the soldiers who greet me with jokes. You don’t see the families who have served me countless dinners. You don’t see any of this.

The West has chosen to demonize Iran. I don’t agree with Iran’s politics; I don’t agree with its legal system; I don’t agree with a lot of things here. Iran is flawed. Well aren’t we all…?

Do I have to turn off the comments for awhile? I will start deleting comments that are not civil and self-serving. I hate to do that... I will not delete comments of people who disagree with me or others as long as they are civil. You are on notice.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Sisters, Modesty is Like Angel Making You

Okay, I made that up. But it is not too far from the type of English you might really read on a billboard in Iran.

Which brings me to announcements of a planned increased religious police presence on the streets of Iran: the authorities have announced that they are going start arresting annoying people and enforcing hijab.

What does that mean? What is proper hijab/hejab? Who are public nuisances? Listen, people may argue that enforcing hejab is Iran’s version of keeping topless men out of restaurants… But my question is this: if it is the same then do thousands of clothing police roam the streets of Santa Cruz intimidating topless men trying to get into restaurants? It seems to me that if the police have to regulate personal behavior then the rules are in need of a bit of a review.

Monday, April 16, 2007

BS is BS in any language

Turned on the satellite and **click** Bill O’Reilly:

“I am not worried about North Korea because I think China can contain them. Iran, on the other hand, I do worry about. If they get nuclear weapons they *will* give them to the terrorists and POOF Cleveland goes up in smoke.”

It was the last minute of Oprah.

POOF Cleveland goes up in smoke.

Every time I see these FOX news pundits I am reminded of the regime: They use the same tactics: bs, hyperbole, fear, and ignorance (their own and ours).

Sometimes the regime gets it right. Sometimes FOX news gets it right. Most of the time both depend on our lack of critical thinking skills and, in the case of FOX, our inalienable right to be entertained to numb us into inaction.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Missing, 2

A great piece of reporting from FT's Najmeh Bozorgmehr and Guy Dinmore

Just why Robert Levinson, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent and now private investigator, should venture into Iran to meet a American fugitive wanted for murder in the US remains a mystery that the highest Bush administration authorities are trying to unravel.

As the Financial Times revealed this week, Mr Levinson disappeared on March 8 after a six-hour meeting on the Iranian island of Kish with Dawud Salahuddin, an American who converted to Islam and was recruited by revolutionaries to assassinate an Iranian opposition activist near Washington in 1980.

Friends of Mr Levinson are mystified that he took the risk of travelling for such a meeting. They fear he is the victim of a sting operation by Iranian secret services engaged in an escalating "dirty war" between the US and Iran, involving hostage-taking and covert cross-border operations.

Mr Salahuddin, who fled to Iran after the 1980 murder and has at times expressed interest in returning to the US to face justice, told the FT in Tehran that he, too, feared Mr Levinson was an "innocent victim" of the clash between what he calls Iran's paranoia about the US and Washington's misguided foreign policy.

Mr Salahuddin said they registered a room in the Maryam hotel before he, too, was detained that night but released the next day after his Iranian passport was checked. Mr Levinson has not been heard from since. Iran's foreign ministry says it does not know where he is. The US believes he is in ­detention.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


Indulge me...

Kurt Vonnegut
: Those cigarettes sure took a long time to kill him...

I started reading him when I was 14, and I never stopped.

Then I'm going down the steps, and my wife calls up, "Where are you going?" I say, "Well, I'm going to go buy an envelope." And she says, "You're not a poor man. Why don't you buy a thousand envelopes? They'll deliver them, and you can put them in a closet." And I say, "Hush." So I go down the steps here, and I go out to this newsstand across the street where they sell magazines and lottery tickets and stationery. I have to get in line because there are people buying candy and all that sort of thing, and I talk to them. The woman behind the counter has a jewel between her eyes, and when it's my turn, I ask her if there have been any big winners lately. I get my envelope and seal it up and go to the postal convenience center down the block at the corner of 47th Street and 2nd Avenue, where I'm secretly in love with the woman behind the counter. I keep absolutely poker-faced; I never let her know how I feel about her. One time I had my pocket picked in there and got to meet a cop and tell him about it. Anyway, I address the envelope to Carol in Woodstock. I stamp the envelope and mail it in a mailbox in front of the post office, and I go home. And I've had a hell of a good time. And I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don't let anybody tell you any different.

(Timequake) (I know I should link to the site where I found that quote, but it did not link to Timequake, so I won't link to it.)

My friend at Miniver Cheevy wrote his own obit. Unlike him, I never became disaffected with Vonnegut. I loved him: limitations and all.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Leaving Iran...

There are several ways to leave Iran. Among them: marry an American, claim asylum in the Netherlands if you are gay, apply for a student visa or residency, or win the Green Card lottery. For Christians and Jews and Ba’hais, there is another way: asylum based on religion. It requires a few months stay in Vienna or another city where paperwork is processed and “homeless” Iranians find temporary housing before moving on to new homes in Orange County, Chicago, or Virginia.

If Muslims could do the same they would. They would pick up and move out in higher numbers than the minorities. Iranian law may be harder on minorities, but the minorities I know express no more displeasure with their lives in Iran than do the Muslims I know.

Awhile ago, a Ba’hai family that I met told me that Iranian society had become more tolerant since the revolution. The law, they explained, had become less tolerant, but their neighbors and friends had become more tolerant.

I asked a young Jewish friend how his parents felt. He told me that they would agree. “Before the revolution, Iranians were much more religious. If my father would visit a shop or the home of a Muslim, they would clean everything. They felt he was dirty. Now, it is never a problem. Muslims shake my hand all the time. Most of my friends are Muslims.”

“My grandmother was that way,” Keivan added. “She would clean the house from top to bottom if a Christian came over. My mother, no. I had a Christian friend who was always over.”

An Armenian friend of ours recently made the move to Vienna to await her paperwork for residency in the US. “My father is broken-hearted. He loves Iran,” she told me. “Iran saved our family. They were refugees from Turkey. They all love Iran so much, but it is too hard to continue. He is sick of lying all the time so we are moving to America.”

Soon, Iran will have almost no religious minorities. They won’t be able to point to their “big” Jewish community of 30,000. In Hamadan, where the tomb of Esther and Mordecai is located, only 17 Jews are left. Iran reports that there are 30,000 Jews here, but every day the number gets smaller. It isn’t because of any “special” persecution. It’s just that they *can* leave.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

What has Iran ever done for me?

A commenter recently asked:

what are the main contributions to the health and happiness of the world that iran has made outside of its borders in the last 50 years?

Another commenter responded that Iran houses more refugees than any other country in the world. That is true. There are many Afghanis and Iraqis here. Someone from the UN told me that it is hard to count the number of Afghanis because they make every effort to disappear into Iranian society.

Going back a bit more than 50 years, we should not forget that Iranian diplomats were instrumental in saving many Jews during the Holocaust and that many Armenians found refuge in Iran as well when they were being killed by the Turks.

That's not too shabby, I would say...

Enough with the sailors

…Although, hmm…six figures for the story of a 15-day detention in Iran? Help! I’ve been held hostage for almost four years. Is there an agent out there willing to save me?

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Happy Passover, Easter, and the Prophet of Islam's Birthday

Ahmadinejad covered them all when he signed the papers announcing the release of the 15 British sailors.

It was their clothes that were so interesting to me and Keivan: the woman, Faye Turney wearing a giant striped shirt with baggy pants and an over-sized blue shirt; the men in their standard-issue Hacoupian suits. It's hard to imagine the process of dressing the British sailors. They had quite the array of outfits: their uniforms, the gym suits we saw them in while they sat in a room close to the location of Ahmadinejad's press conference, then the suits and Faye's really unfashionable outfit (clearly, shopping for her clothes was not done by Iran's chic set).

Keivan has been speculating on how they were fitted for their outfits and who bought them. And the strangest part yet (at least for me) is the parting gifts. Who provides released foreign captives with parting gifts? They got pistachios too: not too shabby a parting gift at all!

Imagine, 5 years in Guantanamo and then you get a little party bag filled with Starbucks coupons and Gap t-shirts. "A mememto of your stay with us."

And of course the British sailors were under psychological pressure... that comes as no surprise. What I find the most unnerving is that our (American) behavior at Abu Gharib and Guantanamo has completely robbed me of the right to be indignant. If Americans don't agree with me, tell me why I am wrong.

Click on the New York Times multimedia link for a good slideshow of images

As usual, The Onion has the best take: Iran Releases British Sailors

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


Apparently, an American has gone missing from Kish. I know nothing more than you do about it. It’s a mystery to me.

New York Newsday has a story on him that may tell you more

Apparently he was working for an independent filmmaker. Who knows? This must be disturbing for his family.

The Iranian government denies that anyone has gone missing from Kish.

We are all happy that the Brits are being released. It's a relief.

Release Papers Signed

Fars News Agency is reporting that Ahmadinejad has signed the release papers for the 15 British soldiers.

You know what this means, don't you? It means that Keivan wins the pool for when the Brits would be released. He guessed sometime this week. I thought it would be 15 months from now.

Our commenter Hossein also gets to keep both of the s's in his name. (He offered to give one up if this whole thing lasted beyond Keivan's prediction.)

Aside: This is an interesting coincidence: Sharafi is back in Tehran.

Monday, April 02, 2007

15 sailors, 10,460 news items

Last night, while Al Alam and western news organizations were showing the latest confessions from the British soldiers, Iranians were watching Buster Keaton unfold a giant newspaper...

Why is Iran losing its case in international public opinion and why doesn’t the Iranian government care about this?

It is no secret that governments and corporations around the world spend millions, even billions, of $s to improve their public relations. When governments or corporations are under attack or when they see their policies or actions are not received well at the national or, as in this matter, international level, they try to present their side of the story in a compelling and coherent manner. They also seek help or guidance from the partners that they count on to come to their side in times of need. Looking at events surrounding the capture of 15 British sailors in the past 10 days proves that Iran does not care about its public image and does not know how to gain the support of the international community. Iran is speaking with too many voices and has too many different agendas. Iran will come out of this crisis the big loser.

Just a few months ago it seems that the people in the Arab world were supportive of Iran’s policies such as in the case of so-called peaceful nuclear energy and standing up to the west. Now it seems that they are increasingly nervous that Iran might provoke another war. Some guy on the BBC said about this that Iran scored an own goal. (sorry, can’t remember his name)

What Iran needs at this time is a brand new political calculation machine that can better analyze situations both tactically and strategically. If anyone knows of such a machine, there’s a market in Iran.

Why am I saying this? This morning when I got up, I went through all of the comments people left on this blog since the 15 British sailors ware captured on March 23. There is a storm of news articles and opinions about it around the world. I can see very clearly that Iranians writing inside and outside Iran take a similar approach: were the 15 sailors in Iranian waters or not, and if they were, was that right or wrong? I think this shows how black and white we Iranians tend to see international events. I bet there are incidents of foreign ships entering a nation’s territorial waters all the time: these breaches do not become international incidents because they are rationally dealt with and solved. Usually, as I wrote earlier, with a megaphone.

Here I want to give you guys a few statistics regarding a couple of issues Iran is dealing with or needs to deal with. I am hoping to prove to you that whatever Iranians had planned or not planned that the result of their actions is more damaging than the UN resolution against the country. You might say that Iran was good at taking the attention away from the UN resolution, but may have brought extra and more damaging sanctions upon itself through its actions.

Here we go:
If you search for 15 British sailors on Google News, you get 10,460 news items/articles.

Search for subject United Nations Resolution 1747 will deliver 208 hits.

Combination of United Nations Resolution 1747 + 15 British sailors will ONLY deliver 37 hits.

US + 15 British sailors delivered 7,366 hits. In the same time deployment of 21,000 new soldiers in Iraq add only 90 hits

We Iranians should look at what people are saying about us: they say that we have a tradition of taking hostages: there were the Americans taken hostage in their embassy at the start of the resolution, the British sailors that we took a few years ago, and that in the 1800s we killed the Russian ambassador when we attacked his embassy.

This is another disaster for us. It will take years for us to recover from it. It isn’t only the Iranian government that will suffer, it is the Iranian people as well. We need to stop being such losers and so short-sighted. Iranians need to see that we are losing big time in international public opinion. Our image is as important to defend as our territorial borders. Right now the world sees us as out of control. That is a very dangerous image to present to the world.

For the record, these televised confessions that the Iranian government keeps showing on its Arabic channel Al Alam are a big joke and they only serve to make us look stupid. I, like other Iranians, know of many people who were forced into making confessions for television.

People may form an opinion of us in ten minutes that it will take us decades to undo.