Sunday, July 29, 2007

That's me:

American Blogger in the land of “Down with USA”... read the interview at Global Voices.

I had a dream...

... that I was in Iran, wearing hejab, and that none of the Iranian women were.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Interview 1: Covering Iran's Revolution

...An interview with Marie...

This is the first in a series of interviews we are beginning. We are starting with Marie, a woman who has been commenting on this site for several years. Marie is an award-winning filmmaker, artist, and teacher who lived in Iran for over a year during the American hostage crisis. Her love affair with Iran did not end when she left the country but rather continued. She is currently expanding into the fields of acupuncture and herbal medicine and looks forward to fusing her knowledge of art and healing into effective and unexpected paradigms.

Marie, Your comments on our blog have intrigued us for years. You were in Iran during the revolution. Can you begin by telling us a) How much time you spent in Iran and b) Why you went there in the first place?

First, I was not there during most of the revolution. I arrived at the tail end, although I felt like I was there, as my husband at the time (Nader) was there and had used my photographic portfolio to get a job as a Time Magazine photographer and free ticket to Tehran.

I arrived in Tehran in September of 1979, and left December 22, 1980, so I was there between 15 and 16 months.

Nader had left for Iran in November the year before, and became very involved in the revolution there. He started a newspaper that year with some colleagues of his from CBS called Tehran Times, which is still being published, although he's no longer involved with it. I believe it became sort of a mouth piece of the government.

I came to be in Iran because Nader came to New York in the summer of 1979 and convinced me to go back with him. He secured jobs for us as stringers at NBC. In case you don't know, stringers are usually 1 or 2 man crews that work for the networks when news is light. He did camera, and I did sound. I went because a) the job b) Nader, whom I was in love with, but we had a complicated relationship c) I have always been intrigued by Iran d) I wanted to see the 'revolution' up close.

Unfortunately our job was short lived, as the hostages were taken the first week of November. The American Media poured in and I became radicalized :-)Seriously. I had always been somewhat delusional regarding our television networks, that while they don't show the whole thing, they made an effort to tell the news. What I learned very quickly was this was not true. I discovered that the story is decided prior to any fact finding. I quickly became disillusioned.

It was a very difficult year. Money was scarce. People were nervous. There was a lot of anarchy in the true sense of the word and there was a lot of hope. The hope really started to dissipate in the spring and summer of 1980. The mullahs consolidated power. I remember Bani Sadr giving history lessons on tv: how the Russian Revolution was hijacked by the Bolsheviks. It was so obvious what he was trying to tell people, but he was also complicit from the beginning. The mullahs had supported his presidential bid.

I will never forget the moment when I walked up the hill to television (where I worked) and heard that the 'sister' had to go home and change her clothes. I had been working there already for many months, and the guard was very embarrassed as he knew me and we were friendly. I was wearing a scarf, but now I needed a long shirt that covered my rear end. I stamped down the hill in absolute fury and for some reason felt terribly humiliated. It was very hot that day too. It was summer, probably in August that policy was implemented. All women who worked in government buildings had to observe hejab - dress code.

Wow, that was really interesting. I have so many questions to ask now. You bring up something interesting. We tend to think of the revolution in Iran as an Islamic one, but the reality is that there were many different factions (including Communists) involved in the overthrow of the Shah. So you were in Iran as the revolution was "Islamifying." In addition to the hejab, what would you say was the most striking example of the change from secular rule to Islamic rule?

It was not an Islamic revolution but it had an Islamic leader in the tradition of Iran; a charismatic leader and that was Khomeni. He was a magnetic personality and many gravitated toward him. But yes, the 'people' did not give up their power to the mullahs all at once. It was a consolidation of power in areas the previous government had ruled, such as television and the secret police, and required additionally the formation of the Revolutionary Guards and other supportive and intimidating structures. Mullahs executed a lot of people that year. I met and interviewed Judge Khalkhali, also known as Judge Blood. Quite an experience.

Shortly after I arrived in Tehran, a woman in a tight skirt was walking down the street. At the time, Iranian women ( in Tehran) sort of amazed me because they were either wearing the black chador or a floral chador wrapped around the body, or they were dressed like Italian women: skin tight jeans, very sexy etc. Very few women dressed in the rather asexual style in loose skirts or pants favored by Americans at the time. So this woman in her skin tight skirt was not that unusual. A man ran up and grabbed her skirt from the hem and ripped it straight up in protest. But from several directions, men converged upon him and sort of roughed him up and reprimanded him, and more people flocked to the woman and covered her with their coats. The crowd faced him off with indignation. He was an individual against a wall of disapproval for his extreme and insulting action.

At that time, people would socialize outside the walls, families would enjoy outings and music would play from cassette players with even a little dancing in the street. My impression was that Iranians like to have a good time. There was also happiness at the success and peacefulness of the revolution. Iranian soldiers had not massacred the people. By the time I left over a year later, that was over. The war had started and the squeeze was on. People had already left during the revolution, and another wave left in the fall of 1980. It was clear where the country was going.

Many different factions (including Communists) involved in the overthrow of the Shah...

Yes, the Tudeh Party were the communists. The Fedayeen were the leftists. And the Mujahadeen were the Islamic Leftists, if you want to call them that. I went to a Mujahadeen rally in the winter of 1979/1980. It ended in tear gas and guards opened machine gun fire into the crowds. It was utter chaos. People flattened to the ground in an instant to avoid getting shot.

In addition to the hejab, what would you say was the most striking example of the change from secular rule to Islamic rule?

Please understand that when I went to Iran, it was a time of flux. The shah was gone. I heard a great deal about what life was like under the shah but did not experience it first hand. Many people had already left, and many Jews were fleeing Iran when I arrived. Many people and intellectuals who had been banned and tortured under the shah had returned. For example Reza Baraheni, whom I met and interviewed, had returned. He eventually left again. There was hope for a period of time that Iran be a place that would accommodate free and intellectual thought, there was hope for real change, land distribution and rights for the peasants.

The change toward an Islamic state was creeping and gradual. But of course, like with Nazi Germany, the writing was on the wall. Khomeini made his intentions very clear. But people were really in love with him. He inspired loyalty to the extreme. Even people who were not religious.

If I had to say what the change was, it was in the growing presence of Revolutionary Guards. It was the way people who had started things, like the Tehran Times, eventually gave up and drifted away. 2 of the 5 founding members of that paper had left for France by the time I left. The war really changed things. There were long lines for bread, rice and sugar. Tehran was being attacked, and the nights were dominated by the terrifying sounds of anti-aircraft missiles and actual bombs. Every late afternoon the air raid sirens screamed, warning people to get home before dark. This was a good opportunity for the mullahs to really move in and dig deep.

You may find that things have changed in this country. There has been damage done to our constitution. This administration used the attacks from 9/11 to do some very insidious things. War is always useful for undermining any democratic process because fear is a great weapon for manipulating people.

What is the one thing that you miss most about Iran?

Before I answer, I want to point out to you that the biggest thing that happened in Iran since I left is that the population has tripled (or something like that).

I miss most its light and colors.

What are your favorite blogs/sites?

I read your blog and through yours have started reading SERENDIP. I read the CATO website sometimes. NPR, WNYC - Look at the Bush/Blair Love Duet, at - it's very funny. I have too many interests, agricultural, apiary, avian and environmental... it gets overwhelming.

Thanks Marie... This was a great start to our interview series.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Which character best exemplifies tarof?

Calling all readers who know enough about tarof (taroof) and popular culture to suggest an appropriate mascot!

Tao has Winnie the Pooh, but which character from pop culture best exemplifies tarof?

I'm thinking Eddie Haskell, but that is just my first reaction. Anyone else have a suggestion? I will collect a few and then add a poll to the site for a vote.

Hope to see your comments!

(Read about tarof here and at The Iranian.

Question 8: If Iranians want democracy why don’t they overthrow the regime?

We get this question a lot… I like to remind people that Iran has had a number of revolutions and a war and that everyone I met in Iran knew someone personally who had died in any one of them. There’s kind of a revolution wariness in Iran right now. People want change, evolution: that’s without the R people!

What is interesting to me, is that the government in Iran seems bent on presenting Iran as country filled with maniacs, fanatics, and mindless followers when this is not the case. No, I believe that the current government of Iran would like the world to be afraid of it and its population. The idea that Iranians might be moderate, as most seem to be, is anathema to the current power structure.

That is why polltakers are dispersed by the police or worse -- as in the case of Abbas Abdi who was commissioned to poll his fellow Iranians on their opinions about the US -- arrested.

In order to remain in power, an unpopular government needs to do several things:

1. It needs to bare its teeth every once in awhile as in the case of the crackdown on hejab.

2. It needs an exhausted population too busy solving day-to-day problems to act on their desires for reform

3. Most importantly, it needs a population unaware of the true feelings of their neighbors.

So, hmm, did it surprise me that 79% of the population supports direct election of all leaders as is reported in the report by Terror Free Tomorrow? A bit… but did it surprise me that the survey showed an overall moderate bent to the responders? Not at all.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Welcome to View From Iran

If you are new to this blog, I have a few old posts to recommend.

(Don't forget to buy our photo book or pick up a t-shirt)

I think the most interesting posts about adjusting to life in Iran are from the first year. After that, things got just a bit too normal for me to comment on as precisely.

From 2003:

Kamran's first post from Iran: Arak

Our first trip to Darband (or was it Derakeh): Iranland

Our first post on Taxis from Kamran (scroll down until you see the title: Taxi Driver)

The Women's Party

When Shirin Ebadi won the Nobel Prize: An Oscar for Iran Iran

Watching young women sell drugs in front of a hospital: A Night Out

A fascination with foreigners: Kharigi


Kamran's sister tries to convince her son to meet a woman for an arranged marriage

Election Posters


Big year! Elections and death...

Cowboy Campaigning in Iran

The New President

The death of one of my most cherished friends, Kamran's sister, a woman I still miss every day: Mourning

Tips for Journalists visiting Iran

A taste of doom: Snow

A rant against the health care system: Home care, health care, and corruption


A trip to visit the Qashqai (a nomadic group in Iran) and a surprise wedding: Wedding Bells

Part 2 of a travel report on a trip that took us from Tehran to Yazd: Next to Natanz

Casting ballots in Tehran: elections in Tehran


The many ways people find to leave Iran: Leaving Iran
I heart Iran:
A post British sailor crisis post

Hejab Crackdown: the beginning of the crackdown on women's dress

If you find others that you like, let me know.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Question 7: Who are we?

We have now taken up residence in the West and are adjusting to our new lives here. I have been slow about revealing our identities because I got used to being Esther for so long. My husband has been eager to end the anonymity, so I am finally going to take his advice and make a clean break of it.

Esther (ET) is Tori Egherman and Keivan (K)is Kamran Ashtary. I am currently at work on a book about the time we spent in Iran. The two of us published the book of photographs and essays: Iran: View from Here that we announced in a previous post. We were interviewed by David Inge on Focus 580 for those of you who want to hear our wonderful voices.

BTW, while we were in Iran, most of our friends did not know that we kept this blog. In addition, we did our best to hide the identities of others. So if you are one of our friends discovering this now... don't feel bad.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Iran: View From Here

Buy this book

Buy it today!

In a review of Iran: View From Here in Payvand, Kamin Mohammadi wrote:

In describing Iran one is in danger of wearing out that age-old cliché – this is a land of contrasts and Tori and Kamran's book does not attempt to explain away the complexity or many contradictions or try to make sense of them. But within the atmospheric range of images and bittersweet essays printed here, they beautifully capture and communicate the immense charm of Iran, its ability to enslave the heart, and the tenacity of its hold over the affections in spite of the frustrations of living there. Most of all, this book is a visual love letter to a country that can befuddle the mind and nourish the soul all at the same time.

Iran: View from Here
features photographs taken over three years of living in Iran. It is a personal account that features images of Iran that not only include the snow-covered mountains and desert expanses that surround the county but also images that illustrate the culture of Iran: images of mourning and celebration, of day-to-day life, and of special events. The book captures an Iran that eludes the casual visitor and often escapes the notice of professional photographers. It's cheap too! Just $22.00 plus shipping for US shipments and €17.00 plus shipping for shipments outside the US.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Stoning is Murder

Stoning is murder... plain and simple. The question this reporter asks is Who did it?

Click here for the full account at Women's Field. Here's an excerpt:

I start walking towards the foothills. It’s about a kilometer away. The ground is strewn with rocks and stones, and heaps of dirt that could be filled pits. I look around. Don’t see anything. I return to the village and walk around the streets. This time there are young people who answer my questions in more detail. Finally, one of them agrees to take me there. He goes directly to the spot where the filled pit is. Points it out. It’s obvious they’ve been here before. We go nearer.

Stones and rocks with dried up curdled blood lay around the heap. Some are splashed with blood. Some are so black and red with blood, you know right away what they were used for. Stunned, I ask, “You mean they threw these stones? These are way too big”. He shrugs his shoulders.

It’s difficult to survey this site but I manage to shoot a few picture and bit of footage. It’s not so much that the stones might’ve been bigger than prescribed. It’s that the large size of the stones they used means the executioners were not much concerned with following the letter of the law for a proper stoning. They just wanted to go though with it.

I ask: who was trowing the stones? Did you see them?

- No. But I don’t think it was the police themselves. They were milling about away from the spot. If they were throwing it, you’d see.

- Then who was it?

- Don’t know.

Stop Stoning Now (again)

I hope that we have witnessed the last stoning in Iran. It's time for a reinterpretation of Sharia law. I'm no expert, but I know that Iranians are quite capable of reinterpreting the law and banning stoning altogether with a bit of will. Until then I believe that any little problems that the government may have such as the release of the movie 300 or Persepolis or the knighting of Salman Rushdie look unbelievably petty.

Here's what Kamin Mohammadi writes:

(From: Iranian Stoning Case - the Act of a Civilized Nation?)

In May, the Iranian regime summoned the French ambassador in Tehran. The reason? Marjane Satrapi’s animated movie of her best-selling books Persepolis was set to premier at the Cannes Film Festival...

If the Iranian regime is concerned with these ‘unfair’ depictions of Iran and its people, it should perhaps look a little closer to home. What ‘civilized’ country in the 21st century stones its people to death? Iran, unfortunately, despite its 2,500-year old history, despite being the longest continuously inhabited land by a single people in the world, despite the pre and post-Islamic splendours of its architecture and arts, still puts people – mostly women – to death by stoning, for ‘crimes’ such as adultery. Under Iran’s Sharia law, being raped can count as adultery for a woman.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Question 6: How are other Muslim/Arab countries in the middle east seen by Iran?

...(allies - opponents)?

Thanks to reader Phillip for the great question. I cannot answer this authoritatively. All I can say is that for the most part, the Iranians I met do not like to see themselves as part of the Arab world. They are fairly racist against Arabs, claiming that the Arabs have no culture.

The Arabs I met in Iran also seemed to find Iranian culture foreign and odd. "This is not an Islamic country," they would tell me. "Every Iranian party has alcohol. At private parties, the women remove their hijab!" Yep.

An Ahwazi Arab-Iranian told me that during the Iran-Iraq war he dreaded hearing the propoganda from both sides. The Iranians, he told me, claimed that the Arabs were dirty and blood-thirsty and the Arabs claimed the same thing about the Persians.

After an earthquake in a Sunni-dominated area, the Iranian government refused to accept aid from many of the Sunni Arab countries. Why? They were afraid that the aid would come with radical ideas and were afraid of the radicalization of the Sunni population. This angered the local population because they felt that they were being denied help... but it did not radicalize them.

I think relations among Iran and the Arab/Muslim world are very delicate. The alliances that exist are not very strong. I have actually heard people in Iran argue that they would be better off forming an alliance with Israel. (Not that we will see anything of the sort anytime soon).

Some references:

The Persian Gulf States

(I hope to add more as I find them. If readers have suggestions, please add them. Thanks)

Study from Terror Free Tomorrow

From the Executive Summary:

...80% of Iranians favor Iran providing full inspections and a guarantee not to develop or possess nuclear weapons in return for outside aid. A majority of
Iranians (52%) also favor the development of nuclear weapons and believe that the people of Iran would live in a safer world if Iran possessed nuclear weapons. However, support for nuclear weapons drops to below 17% if Iran were to receive outside assistance in return for full inspections and a guarantee not to have nuclear weapons.

68% of Iranians also favor normal relations and trade with the United States. In return for normal relations, a majority of Iranians favor recognizing Israel and Palestine as independent states, ending Iranian support for any armed groups inside Iraq, and full transparency by Iran to the United States to ensure there are no Iranian endeavors to develop nuclear weapons.

Yet the most significant finding of our survey for Iran’s present rulers may be the Iranian people’s opposition to their current system of government. 61% of Iranians were willing to tell our pollsters over the phone that they oppose the current Iranian system of government, where the Supreme Leader rules according to religious principles and cannot be chosen or replaced by direct vote of the people.

Even more telling, however, over 79% of Iranians support a democratic system instead, where the Supreme Leader, along with all leaders, can be chosen and replaced by a free and direct vote of the people...

Read the full report by clicking here (it's a pdf file)

Great Ted Rall Comic

At Yahoo comics

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Stop Stoning Now

Note: I waited to post this until I had confirmation. Sadly, the reported stoning really happened.

Every day that I was in Iran, an Iranian asked me this question: "Do they think we are terrorists in America?"

I would answer, "Yes."

I know that no country is perfect, believe me. But as long as the Iranian government sanctions slow death by hanging and stoning, the world will think that you are a brutal people. It's time for the Iranian establishment to denounce brutal executions and to make them illegal.

Which gets me to my point: sadly it seems a man was stoned to death by the Qazvin police. His crime? Living with a woman in an unrecognized marriage.

Read about it here:

Stoning WAS carried out in Iran

Global Voices

Women's Field

Iran confirms

Monday, July 09, 2007

Is this site being filtered in Iran?

I know that some ISPs were filtering this site before we left Iran... but now we are getting almost no Iranian visitors. Can someone tell me if DATAK and Parsonline have started filtering this site?

Question 5: "Don't all Iranian men beat their wives?"


That does not mean that there is no abuse in Iran. There is.

Just so that you know, Iranian popular culture does not excuse spousal abuse. Soap operas and films do not excuse abusive men.

It is not easy to get any real information on wife beatings in Iran since most women will keep it secret. The Iranian government loves to tout the figures of abuse in the West, but they are not fooling anyone. Everyone in Iran knows that the same things happen there without the subsequent reporting.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Questions from our readers

Here is the list of the upcoming questions that we will respond to:

1. From CA/DC Reader:

Continuing on the oppressed womem you often get asked "Don't all Iranian men beat their wives?"

2. From Leila:
Is Christianity legal in Iran? Is the Bible illegal?

This answer is easy, so I will respond now: Yes Christianity is legal. No the bible is not illegal.

3. From Phillip:
how are other muslim/arab countries in the middle east seen by iran (allies - opponents)?

4. From someone with all consonants:
my question: i'm hoping to visit iran in the fall, can i meet you guys? will you be in tehran then?

We will try to respond to one every day and then continue with questions we are being asked on our travels in the US and Europe.

Question 4: What's up with the jacket?

Christopher asked: "Can ahmadinejad do something about the no tie with a jacket thing? it really doesn't seem to be working."

I could not agree more Christopher. While Iranian women have found a way to look fabulous even in chadors, many men dress like slobs. To be fair, neatly dressed men were harassed in the dark days after the revolution. To be well-groomed was seen as pro-Western. "I had just gotten back from the front," a taxi driver told me (he was referring to the war with Iraq) "when I was arrested for wearing jeans. Can you imagine?" (Now people wear jeans all the time. Things change)

Just as women who work in government jobs or for companies that have a public face wear conservative clothing to work, men do as well. For men that means a colorless shirt, ill-fitting pants, and stubble. No ties allowed: that's for sure.

Still, I often wondered why Iranian men could not find a neater way to show their anti-Western leanings. Why look so dingy all the time?

Now about Ahmadinejad: Let's face it Christopher, the guy's never going to be a fashion icon no matter what he wears. And he isn't going to put on a designer suit: he's a populist not a fashionista. Here look at him in this neat suit jacket:

Or in this headdress:

(Thanks to Kamngir's site for the last pic)

I rest my case.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Hmmm... interesting

Excerpted from: Iran Has a Message. Are We Listening? by Michael Hirsh in the Washington Post:

My conversations with hard-liners and reformers inside Tehran also suggested something deeper: that under the right circumstances, Iran may still be willing to stop short of building a bomb. "Iran would like to have the technology, and that is enough for deterrence," says S.M.H. Adeli, Iran's moderate, urbane former ambassador to London.

And what of other overlapping interests? Let's start with Iraq, the one area where Washington does seem to acknowledge it needs Tehran's help, even as the administration continues to accuse Iran of delivering sophisticated makeshift bombs to Iraqi militants. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite-dominated government "is of strategic importance to us," Rezai said. "We want this government to stay in power. Rival Sunni countries oppose Maliki. We haven't." It also stands to reason that in Afghanistan, Lebanon and the new "Hamastan" in Gaza -- all places where Tehran wields enormous influence -- an Iran that is encouraged to play a broader regional security role could become more cooperative.