Sunday, January 03, 2010


We have failed. I am talking about those who favor patience and tolerance. Yes, the supporters of the peaceful Green Movement have failed. If some of us are pleased over the events that are taking place in the streets of Tehran, I do not believe this joy will last. We had hoped that our wishes would no longer have to be presented with fists and kicks, and that we would be putting flowers into gun barrels. We dreamed that we would be giving flowers to soldiers, asking them to join us in our struggle. But this is not how things have turned out.

Once before, when ayatollah Khomeini, whom some called the Iranian Gandhi, issued the orders to shoot prisoners in Evin prison, we suffered a loss. Then again, just a few years ago we witnessed the failure of Khatami, whom we viewed as Iran’s Mandela, while the world was infatuated with his human face and Iran’s peaceful and peace-calling movement, in advancing his reform agenda.

Khatami eventually gave up broken hearted his dream of dialog among civilizations, while the center that he created for this purpose and with this very name was shut down, to remind us that such ideas cannot take hold or find roots in our country. Today, our country has turned into scenes that we see in video clips which have been made by ordinary Iranian, in which protestors respond in kind to the violence that is perpetrated upon them by government agents on the commemoration of the Shiite holiday of Ashura.

The violence that erupted on Ashura has brought smiles to hardliners and extremists. We can hear their laughter. But have they really turned us into one of their own? Have we all become similar in our hatred?

Hardliners have not had any mercy even on Ahmadinejad, who is one of their own men. The state of affairs now is such that Ahmadinejad’s guards at times outnumber the total number of people who have come to welcome him on some of his visits. Those who go to see him do it as a response to the presidential money checks that are sent to them. He is now proud that he collects millions of requests from the public in any given month. He cannot claim to be proud of creating a situation where the public is no longer in need of writing the traditional long petitions to the state.

This populism was once proud for traveling by bus to the midst of people and slept in mosques to attend to the needs and cries of people, in the presence of photographers. Today, it travels with its family to the different quarters of the world.

If we do not kill the dragon of violence in the heart of our society, it will continue to grow. We and our supporters are failing while hardliners are multiplying. Once before, the preceding generation poured into the streets and tried to gain happiness through slogans and the burning of tires, but it ended up in hell. So, is the current generation, the generation of transparency, the generation of news, and the generation of blue and green doomed to go through the same course? I will be honest, I am worried.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Lesson from this Year’s November 4th

What transpired on the streets of Tehran, and from what I heard transpired in other cities as well, was neither something no one had heard of before, nor something strange for a hundred people to say in a country of seventy million. But it is my belief that when a group of people, however small, chant slogans on the street in broad daylight that accuse the country’s highest authority of murder and deny his legitimacy because of that, the essential meaning of this is that something has snapped; ie a line was justly or unjustly crossed. Those who six years ago accused several ministers of “crossing the line” for writing a letter to the supreme leader, must now name those responsible for this.

The green movement, in its own wisdom and on the advice of Mr. Khatami, does not use the “death to …” chant. It is hoped that what was said today is the strongest slogan in the green movement’s psyche. The previous generation, during the protests leading to the revolution and the overthrowing of the monarchy, did not arrive at the famous “death to Shah” slogan for months. Even up to a month before the revolution ayatollah Khomeini had not said that the Shah must leave.

The acceleration of strong slogans today surpasses the influence of media outlets operating independently of the regime [the so-called foreign outlets]. But it most not be concluded that every movement and every protest inevitably arrives where the slogans point to; many movements are managed with wisdom to form the bases for cooperation and unity. The most recent instance is Afghanistan, where a fraudulent election took place. The candidates all spoke up and the main competitor protested and the world heard his voice. The issue was investigated. When the investigative committee said that the election was fraudulent Hamed Karzai accepted. That meant a second round. It was a large danger but there was no other option. And that easily he survived the crisis. Do not think that Karzai did not have people who told him to stand firm. On the other hand you had the Iranian decision making system. Iran was the only country that did not wait and congratulated Karzai. Perhaps it was suggesting the same response that was tried in Iran, meaning not accepting a real election. The supreme leader did not accept that there is an error in the system under the Guardian Council’s control. As a result, he tied his supreme leadership to Ahmadinejad’s presidency, because in private decision making sessions it was said that there is no end if you take one step back in front of them.

Today, however, the slogans showed that people seemed to have known all of this and to have deciphered the other party’s game, as they chanted slogans against Mr. Jannati. In my opinion this was of supreme importance. It communicated the depth and level of people’s understanding, that they really know where lies the source of the problem.

Even today there would be people to say in inner regime meetings that the victory was theirs, because “November 4 was celebrated in the presence of millions beholden to the regime, and the few hundreds of people who had come to the streets on the invitation of foreign media outlets were secluded thanks to the efforts of the Hezbollah.” That was the substance of the story broadcasted on the state radio and television.

A look at the government archives show that what was discussed in meetings of officials and military leaders up to one day prior to the 1979 Islamic Revolution was no different than today. Another instance is Mohammad Sahhaf, Saddam’s propaganda minister, who continued to repeat what he had been saying for years even as American tanks had entered Baghdad. But it is obvious that the reality is different than what is portrayed in unrealistic bureaucratic reports. At the same time, however, reality is also not what was broadcast by international media networks, insinuating that millions of people in Tehran and large cities chanted opposition slogans. The reality is that whoever takes the risk in the present situation to voice his or her critical view represents thousands of Iranians who are remaining home and will come out at the appropriate time. That must be concerning.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

How to Exterminate Revenge

Two weeks ago it was announced in Tehran that a nineteen-year girl Atefeh Imam was arrested by unidentified agents. After her mother widely spoke to the international media about this, Atefeh was eventually released and it was said at the time that she was “dropped off” in a torn chador near a large cemetery south of Tehran. Her father, a former Passdaran Guard member, has been in detention for the past three months following the mass protests by political groups in Iran in the turmoil after the June 12 presidential election. He has been charged with being present at presidential hopeful Mir-Hossein Mousavi. At the time the news was announced, it was said that her arrest and interrogations were a step to pressure her father.

Now her mother has announced that the kidnapping of her daughter was not real and that her young daughter had engineered this as a possible way to free her father from prison. Even if we accept the basic notion of the new scenario, and at the same time for a moment disregard the fact that interrogators in similar situations in the past have pressured family members to deny that they had been subjected to pressure, this does not diminish the seriousness of this tragedy.

Mrs. Imam’s new narrative demonstrates the pain she has been going through and only those with young people under their roof can feel the depth of her struggle. During the recent months, thousands of individuals in Iran have been caught in a similar situation and have experienced the same agony caused by the political machinations of the state.

I believe that Saeed Mortezavi is in the same seat in this regime as General Hossein Azmudeh, the prosecutor at Prime Minister Dr Mosaddegh’s trial, sat in April 1953. The latter turned out to be the most infamous person after the 1953 coup. Mortezavi now is playing the same role, and will have the same historic judgment. Mortezavi’s zeal to please his superiors by arresting and torturing dissidents, are the kiss of death and poison that he has brought to the regime because of his ignorance and youth. He wanted to satisfy his own personal ambitions, just as did Azmudeh, and in both cases the price that had to be paid for this was huge.

This is not just Mrs. Imam’s pain and that of tens of other revolutionary Muslim children. Look at another corner and you will se the writings of Mrs. Mohtashemi (the wife of Mostafa Tajzadeh, the reformist who is now behind bars) which has single handedly turned into a distinct literature on a weblog that she launched since his imprisonment a few months ago. Look at the letters that have been published recently. Look at the letters that were published in the last issues of Etemad Melli newspaper on its last page: these were the words of children to their imprisoned fathers. This is literature that will live and their disgrace will remain with all those who have been defending the current direction of official events in Iran, even if they do not have a direct hand in them. For just one moment, put yourself in the shoes of Mohammad Ali Abtahi’s daughters (Abtahi is the middle level reformist cleric with the most widely read Persian language web blog) whose father has been in solitary confinement for three months and where a laptop computer is occasionally taken while he is forced to write a piece under the watchful eyes of the state. Look at the photographs that show the look in the eyes of Abtahi’s daughters as they look at their thinned father and the two prison agents who accompany Abtahi on his two-hour escorted visit to his house. This kind of prisoner “privilege” is granted only to those prisoners who make the desired confessions. You see them looking at their father whose eyes try to portray a normal picture through his usual jokes, the same thing that children too do so that their father remains blind to the pain they are going through because of his absence.

It is not surprising that Iran has ignorant and lumpen individuals. All human societies have them. It is not surprising that these lumpens are mostly in the right-wing political groups and supporters of Ahmadinejad. It is the same with all populist regimes – look at historical examples. Lumpens used to gather around Hitler’s popular beer store and did anything for attaining power. But it is strange that in the Islamic republic, whose first generation leaders were all educated and book writers, who gave speeches, who read and recited poetry, and whose clergy which by habit falls back on to Rumi advocated the revolutionary goal of having towns without prisons and of turning all prisons into schools, even if out of inexperience, today after all the things that Assadollah Lajevardi’s allies did in prisons in the 1980s, after thirty years it has come to the point where its security lies in the hands of the lumpen, one of whose members I personally witnessed in prison in the form of an important Passdaran Revolutionary Guards commander who was in custody.

Did Mr. Javad Imam believe that the regime that he desired and for whose creation he was willing to risk his life when he fought at the war fronts would come to a point where his daughter had no choice but to kidnap herself and where the regime had become so infamous that it actually believed all this. Did al those who heard the story of Zahra Bani-Yaghoob believe that her rape and death had taken place at the hands of the Basijis in their offices.

When I heard this latest report, I told myself could it be that Atefeh had concocted this plan just to be near her father, just as Saeed Hajjarian’s children have announced their readiness to move to Evin prison and nurse their seriously ailing father. In the same fashion, Mirdamadi’s children and the grand-children of ayatollah Taleghani and ayatollah Mousavi Tabrizi and tens of other clerics from Qom have done, and have ended up in prison. This is the height of meanness that can only come from the very lumpens who in Kahrizak say they had built a town similar to the one described by Nobel winner Jose Saramago in his 1995 novel Blindness or the one that gangs allegedly built in the Superdome sports stadium after hurricane Katrina had struck New Orleans.

What Happens When the News is Locked Up in a Cell?

Scattered around a sad, walled-in garden, with a few dusty and thirsty trees, broken pieces of rudimentary equipment for physical exercise lie around although no one is in any mood to exercise or body building here.

The air in Iran’s Tehran is so polluted these days that it is hard to breathe without a face mask. This is a corner of the notorious Evin prison in north Tehran. Over the past few weeks, Evin has been receiving new residents at all hours, day and night. And, with the resulting shortage of space, the terrified new arrivals have to sleep in the corridors.

In the sad, walled-in garden of Evin's Ward 935, the 200 prisoners shuffle around - for two hours a day - to expose their eyes to a bit of natural light. They are not allowed to talk to each other to exchange their scraps of news; scraps that amount to little more than speculation and guesses, because their contact with the rest of the world has been completely severed and they are not allowed any visits or telephone calls.
Until just 35 years ago, what is now Evin prison was a beautiful garden built by a former prime minister, who was using it to breed rabbits. But, then, the garden was handed over - on the Shah's orders - to SAVAK, the notorious security and intelligence service, to allow the construction of a modern prison with individual cells.

Iran's last king, who was happy to be seen by the world as the absolute ruler of Iran and the top man in the region, ordered the construction of Evin prison so it could be used to lock up "the dozen or so terrorists and saboteurs". Even in the last days of his reign, the Shah kept insisting that his opponents had orders from abroad to disturb the country's peace. But it became clear 30 years ago that there had been millions - not a dozen or so - discontented people in Iran; people who both forced the Shah to flee the country and freed thousands of political prisoners.

More recently, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who, in the opinion of his opponents, has held on to the presidency by rigging the June 12 election, described Iranian freedom advocates and activists as "a few bits of dirt and dust". But, in just the past month alone, several thousand protestors have been detained, joining the 3,000 prisoners who were already in Evin.
And on 15 June, two million people marched through the streets of central Tehran. In their chants, addressed to Ahmadinejad, they cried: "You're the one who is dirt and dust, you're the one who is the enemy of this land", "Tell us the real election results, you liar".

As it became clear that the declared election results had sparked extensive protests in Iran, Ahmadinejad’s government, his hardline supporters and the proponents of violence showed that they had no intention of accepting people's demands. They arrested young people and university students, handcuffed them and took them to unknown locations. This is in circumstances in which the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran says that people are free to hold peaceful demonstrations as long as they are not anti-religious. But the government has been dispersing demonstrators with tear gas, electric batons and clubs. The government has said that seventeen people have been killed in the streets of Tehran in the course of the protests. But word has it that the number is much higher than this, especially in far-flung towns.
It is said that a special section of Evin prison, where a small studio has been constructed, has the task of providing propaganda material for the hardline groups' media: the confessions of people who are being held in solitary confinement. Audio- and video-recording equipment and hidden cameras have been installed in this section of the prison. The aim is to tell the public exactly what the Shah's government used to tell them, which is that people's peaceful protests against election rigging is "a velvet revolution" commandered by foreign governments. Prisoners are being forced to make confessions, but, the moment they can say otherwise, they will explain that the confessions were extracted forcibly and against their will.

Among the thousands of people who have been arrested by the security forces and Ahmadinejad's supporters, there is a group of about one hundred, who have a special status. Their crime is that they are journalists. The government is angry that reporters filmed the peaceful protests and the violent way in which they were suppressed; thereby allowing the world to learn about the fate of "a few bits of dirt and dust" in Iran.

The government has used money, which it should have used to improve people's living standards to buy expensive equipment for blocking websites, jamming satellite channels, and cutting off mobile phones and SMS communications (cellphone text messaging), so that it can dump whatever news it wants on people and keep them ignorant about many developments. It goes without saying that such a government sees journalists as its number one enemy. The detained reporters, journalists and bloggers harmed the government because they foiled all the government's efforts to keep people in the dark. This is why the detained reporters' situation is different from that of all the other detainees. Reporters have to confess that they ecnuaged or forced university students, women's rights activists and the other "bits of dirt and dust" come out into the streets. They have to confess that, through their actions, they made people take part in demonstrations instead of going to work or to their classes; they made them insult the very popular government; and they made them accuse it of tampering with the election results. Reporters have to confess that they were spies and that they reported on events on the orders of foreign powers' intelligence organizations.

But these one hundred detainees are the people who kept the world informed about what was actually happening in Iran. They did their professional duty as journalists everywhere in the world are expected to do. After several weeks of detention and round-the-clock interrogations, the government disseminated two so-called confessions. The first was that of a young journalist Amir Hossein Mahdavi. In order for state-affiliated media to make his confessions appear serious, they described him as one of the main members of a political opposition group. And they cited him as saying that the groups which are criticizing Ahmadinejad's government have links to foreign governments and were trying to create chaos in the country.

Another person whose purported confessions were reported by state media was Maziar Bahari, a reporter for Newsweek magazine who is also an Iranian affairs analyst, a documentary filmmaker, and the editor of interesting books about Iran in English and German. He has also worked for reputable international TV stations, such as Britain's Channel 4 and Al-Jazeera.

Maziar Bahari is one of the best-known Iranian journalists among the foreign media. And, over the past three years, he has produced dozens of documentary films from Africa, the Middle East and West Asia which are all shining examples of professional work, unbiased reporting and a sense of responsibility. It is precisely because of his experience and record that many religious scholars, diplomats, thinkers and politicians (including many supporters of the Islamic Republic) have divulged their views in interviews with him.

Maziar, who had just completed a documentary film about injustices against people in Southeast Asia, was in Iran at the time of the presidential election. He was there because it was the right place to be for news. Many of the world's most reputable reporters had also headed for Iran to cover the election. Of course, Iran is also Maziar's home country. And, now, he has been a prisoner in Evin Prison for three weeks. He is again in a place that is full of stories to tell and scenes to film. Many of the world's journalists would pay a high price to speak to the freedom-loving young Iranians who are fighting a bullying, dictatorial state, and to interview them in their condition as prisoners. Many of the world's distinguished journalists have been making repeated attempts to receive the authorization to go to Tehran to cover the most exciting movement that the world has seen in recent years. But Maziar Bahari is deprived of the opportunity to cover this story. Although Maziar Bahari, a hard-working professional journalist, is in the closest location possible to cover the green movement of Iran, he can only hear muffled sounds.

For the crime of tying a green band around their wrists, taking part in peaceful civil protests and crying out, "What happened to our votes?", young men and women, artists, sportsmen and even elderly women first had to endure beatings with clubs and electric batons, and then to be tossed into the back of a van like a sack of potatoes and taken to Tehran's notorious prison. These detainees know thousands of songs and poems, all of which are about love and friendship and shunning violence. Maziar can hear them but he cannot record any of it. He has no recording equipment.
Maziar’s prison cell measures one meter by one and a half meters. He is alone. There is no paper or pen, never mind about a camera and the laptop that he used to produce his films and interviews. These were all taken away from him when he was arrested and who knows if he will ever get them back. But what could be worse for a journalist than to hear something being shouted from rooftops throughout a city every night and not know what the shouting is for?

But, in all earnest, what does it mean when a single cry can be heard throughout a city every night, so that you can even hear it being voiced in the cell next to yours - even though the prison guards have forbidden any talking and signalling?
Iran is pregnant with events. Maziar Bahari is in prison, along with well-known journalists who used to work for the now-banned newspapers in Iran, because the state wants to prevent the world from hearing the cry of the Iranian people's peaceful movement. And the best way to do this, as far as Iranian officials are concerned, is to jail journalists like Maziar Bahari, who wrote in his articles and analyses just a few weeks ago that Iran is in the transitional stage to democracy and that it is ahead of many other Middle Eastern countries in this respect. He said that the Iranian state was much more tolerant than many of the other regional states. But now he has been put in a solitary confinement cell to make the "confessions" that foreign governments had a hand in Iran's reform movement. He has to "confess" that the movement of peaceful young Iranians is bad. He has to come up with an explanation that will convince Iranians that bullets are good, tear gas is good, banning newspapers is good, prison is good. Maziar has to confess these things with longing and sorrow. And in his heart he has to write a sentence that he wrote years ago about an African country: "They may not even realize what the cure for their ailments is, but their eyes say 'freedom'."

Even if they are forced to "confess" something else, Maziar Bahari and all the other journalists who are in prison in Iran and elsewhere believe only one thing: Freedom of expression is the cure to backwardness in human societies. Freedom of expression insures societies against corruption and putrefaction. Freedom of expression is a garden, for the greenness and lushness of which many people have lost their lives over the course of history. It is a crying shame that, at a time when a generation of Iranians is crying, "freedom", the people who should be conveying this cry to the world are themselves in prison.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Your Eyes Say That You Have Cried

With her small frame she would sit in the first row of class, squint her eyes, and listen. She never raised her voice, even at the end of the class when she would come to my office to ask something. One time, however, she did not learn a particular lesson, meaning she could not accept it, could not believe it. When I was saying that a reporter has to be objective, Fereshteh stood up and asked whether she still had to be objective in an interview with Saeed Criminal. I said, “Yes.” With a pitch louder than usual she asked, “How can I be objective?”

Saeed Criminal was Saeed Hanai, the same guy who had strangled 16 women in northern Iran. He became a darling of fundamentalists because he claimed to have killed the women in order to purify the earth. Saeed Criminal was a monster. And Fereshteh means angel in Persian.

I was sure she did not accept the notion that a reporter has to be detached and objective. She did not accept it even when I reasoned that only with detachment would her work be effective; only when it was not in opposition to someone or to a situation right from the beginning; only when she can lay out or question the situation effectively. Only then will the reader take a side in the end. “It will turn out the way you want it to,” I said.

Even to influence, one has to be objective. A report cannot take a side and have a direction …

Even when I said these things.

In the next class, Roya was the same, as she stood up and renounced the idea. She asked, “Are you objective?,” and she firmly questioned how anyone can be objective.

In those years, Banafsheh was a young girl in that class. When I asked the class to write a report of their choosing, she described a man who had nice facial features, wrote well, and spoke romantically, but whose heart was not tender, maybe made out of iron. Banafsheh was describing me. She had not accepted that one could be objective, either, and she had voiced her dissent in that way.

Objectivity in a society in which violence against women has become institutionalized is a difficult task, and in vain I wanted young women to discover this—the very ones who can better feel pain. Why was I adamant to dictate callously and test them on classic journalism?

The day they arrested Fereshteh, I could not believe they would take that delicate girl to prison. But they did, and the newspaper picture showed her walking toward prison with a smile, staring straight at the camera—into my eyes. It was as if she was saying, “See professor, it’s not possible to be objective.”

The day they were trying Banafsheh, I went and sat in the back of the courtroom. I hid myself pointlessly so she would not be embarrassed. I was mistaken; she was not ashamed to be standing on the defendant’s stand. She stood tall and proud and said, “I wrote it. I gave my signature for women’s freedom, in order to prevent oppression in a misogynist society and legal persecution of women.”

She did not even ask for mercy. The judge, prosecutor, guard and court were all men; even Banafsheh’s lawyer was a man. Except for a few members of her family and a couple in the audience, there were no women in the room. Still, it seemed to me, even the lifeless statue of justice with its empty scale was crying—the consequence of the words of a romantic young girl.

Our daughters, our students, young women reporters, in a traditional society like Iran, take photographs, conduct interviews, and write reports. Some like Asieh exhaust their own health in their effort to help young girls facing execution; some like Massih become wanderers. All because they say something their patriarchal society deems bigger than their mouth. They say you talk too much. A woman should be modest and chaste, raise kids, cook and clean the house for her man returning from work, tired and expectant.

Young women are doing in one generation something that in other societies it has taken many generations to accomplish. So what if they cannot be objective about Saeed Criminal who murdered all of those women and the serial killers who murdered 10 intellectuals and dissidents.

Today’s generation of Iranian women reporters are doing big things. Their mark will be left on history. Let the professor not accept their papers. Let the heartless professor tell them that in writing a report they have to be objective. Objectivity only had meaning when Fereshteh smiled at her guard while being taken to prison, teaching him that he was not her enemy and, if she had any enmity, it was with the tradition of misogyny.

She had learned this lesson from life.

for: neiman report

Monday, March 30, 2009

Toward the no Future

For those who have followed the U.S.-Iran chronicles in the past thirty years, Obama's message and the Islamic Republic Supreme Leader's response to it seemed to carry kinder tones, away from their usual harshness. However, I believe that they may not amount to anything.

Currently, even if some inside Iran seriously wanted to resolve the U.S.-Iran standoff, it would not be smart to bet on the immediate thawing of the frozen relations. However, the point that is of importance in this midst relates to the Iranian people and their future.

In foreign policy, the Islamic Republic now is in possession of some capital. What is meant is the list that the Americans would probably put on the table for discussion if and when the negotiations begin. This capital includes the Hamas, Hezbollah, the situation in Iraq and peace in Afghanistan. Perhaps in the future Iran's closeness with Latin America's defiant regimes can be added to this list.

One of the Islamic Republic's last losses in its conflict with the West is the fact that America finally got serious and decided to enter into open talks with the Islamic Republic Supreme Leader. For a regime that claims to be popular, it is not an achievement that thirty years after its founding, others have realized that they must resolve their differences with the person in charge for life - that the elected institutions have no power.

For Ayatollah Khomeini, from that day when the monarchy crumbled with the announcement by the royal army commanders, it was not only probable but perhaps inevitable - because of the society's authoritarian culture - to occupy the fallen Shah's place. But the Islamic Republic's founder wanted the Shia regime to be a model, built on the people's votes. He wanted to make the new regime permanent and knew that he should not fall for the prescriptions of those who are always ready to turn power into absolute power and pit any regime against its own people. Now, is it cause for celebration now that, thirty years after joining the ranks of the republic's in the world, the White House has finally realized where the real power resides in Iran?

I guess that with Obama's new approach, the U.S.-Iran feud has fallen on the tracks of peace. That is cause for joy. But what now? Aren't elections and voting meaningless now that the Islamic Republic foreign policy has been insulated from the current president's unwise remarks? Have we not moved a step closer toward the rule of absolute power, which somebody pointed out of being of no future twenty years ago?

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Iranian Press and Censorship

Thirty years ago, when Iran's last Shah hosted the-then British Prime Minister Callahan at the ‎Sadabad Palace, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's current president, was fifteen- or sixteen-years-‎old.

Today, the world recognizes Ahmadinejad better than the former Shah and newspaper write ‎about him more; his picture is in more places than the Shah's, and he has been to the United ‎Nations and spoken there more times than the Shah. The Shah, however, was worried about ‎Ahmadinejad, because at his meeting with Callahan he said, "My thoughts point to thirty years ‎from now." ‎

At that time, neither the Shah nor anyone else could imagine that in thirty years Iran would be ‎consumed in an election that would send Ahmadinejad to the Sadabad Palace as President. ‎Thirty years ago, the Iranian people, a majority of their thirty-and some odd million people, ‎carried out a revolution that was predicted nowhere in the world and not preceded by any sign or ‎alarm.‎

When the revolution took place, a while had passed since anyone was looking for an important ‎headline in newspapers. Newspaper pages were similar and those days' colorful magazines ‎summarized society's worries, be they traffic in Tehran, difficulty of obtaining a construction ‎permit or lost cows on provincial highways, and so on. The country's mighty censorship ‎apparatus had not been able to find much to censor for some time. ‎

In the second half of the seventies, the Shah and his government insisted that the youth become ‎more politicized, but they weren't interested. The regime was worried that the indifference of the ‎youth was harmful for national security, but at the same time the Savak [Shah's infamous ‎intelligence organization] would throw young people in jail for possessing a banned book. Still, ‎the Shah, his ministers and general still complained that the youth cared too much about jeans ‎and looking like Elvis Presley and Allen Delon. They asked, why isn't there any activism? Why ‎doesn't anyone care about issues? Why is the city dead? They worried so much that they finally ‎decided to establish a full political party for the youth to channel their political activism- though ‎to no avail. ‎

Then news came that students were preparing themselves in dormitories for armed struggle ‎against the regime. Suddenly it was revealed that several youngsters had gone to Iran's northern ‎mountains to emulate Fidel Castro's armed resistance. The royal army mobilized its tanks and ‎helicopters to suppress the uprising. ‎

For the regime, even the handful of youngsters was surprising. The guerillas were killed. The ‎Savak was happy and proud, but in March 1975 the Shah confided in his chief of staff, Asadollah ‎Alam, "It is surprising that out of one thousand students at the Tehran University yesterday, six ‎hundred paid homage to the killed guerillas." Acknowledging the Shah's concern, Alam ‎responded, "This is the result of controlling thoughts." Alam adds in his memoir, "He [the Shah] ‎asked why can't we do that ourselves [police thoughts]?"‎

Neither could journalists control thoughts for the regime, nor could writers paid by the palace or ‎other institutions. And so, the revolution began. ‎

When the revolution heated up, no one worried about people's indifference anymore. Suddenly ‎everyone was politicized. The newspapers were politicized. When the government wanted to ‎pressure them, they staged a powerful strike that ended only with the full lifting of censorship. ‎And when they ended their strike, they all published on their first page the image of their ‎country's next leader, whose image no one had seen in newspapers for a quarter of a century. ‎From then on, all newspapers began criticizing the regime. ‎

The situation continued until the revolution's victory. Immediately afterward the American ‎embassy was invaded. Before long, war arrived too and Saddam's missiles began an ominous ‎dance in city skies. ‎

Everyone had forgotten that six years before, in the very same Iran, the Shah was worried about ‎thirty years after. People were consumed in the struggle to prepare essential goods in wartime ‎and talked politics while waiting in line to purchase them. ‎

Gradually, officials entertained the thought of preventing society's further politicization. ‎Women's magazines, cooking and sewing journals flourished. Though wartime and post-war ‎reflections politicized journalists and newspapers, it didn't liberate them. Censorship grew, and ‎so journalists were left in the same predicament they were in before the revolution, and to change ‎which they had revolted. The situation continued until the 1997 presidential election and the ‎coming to power of Khatami, which ushered an era of unprecedented journalistic freedom.‎

The conservatives renewed their war on the media. More than one hundred newspapers were ‎shut down and two hundred journalists were sent to prison. Silencing the media, however, is not ‎possible after a revolution whose main goal was liberty.‎

There was a time when the government could control the media as it wished, but that time has ‎passed. It may be possible to control journalists for a short time, but to silence them forever- that ‎is an impossible wish.‎

Friday, September 26, 2008

What He Will Bring from America

Last Friday Iran’s leader made a fiery speech at Tehran’s weekly prayer gathering in ‎which he once again defiantly snubbed the power of the regime at its opponents. Coming ‎on the eve of President Ahmadinejad’s trip to New York to attend the annual General ‎Assembly meeting, the snub sends a special message.

Some opponents of the regime will ‎simplistically compare the words of the leader that, “sympathy for the people of Israel is ‎not the view of the government” with the remarks that Ahmadinejad made at a press ‎interview in which he said, “Mashai’s message is my message and that of the ‎government” (Mashai is Ahmadinejad’s vice-president who had a few months ago ‎publicly stunned the hardliners by talking positively about friendship with Israeli people), ‎and conclude that these two politicians have very opposing views. The reality however is ‎something else.‎

The controversy over Mashai’s remarks and the finality of the storm it caused is ‎indicative of an unfolding political plan. The implementation of similar plans by earlier ‎administrations had failed because the leader, and right-wing groups in Iran, had opposed ‎them. Today, however, the leader does not even attempt to hide his support for the ‎current administration and its allies, creating an opportunity to go ahead with ‎implementing plans that had proved impossible in the past.‎

Except for Ahmadinejad’s first trip to the UN which was to send a religious message ‎when he claimed in his speech at the General Assembly that a halo of light surrounded ‎his body as he stood at the podium, his trips to the US have been aimed at opening a ‎channel to the White House.

And despite the humiliating gestures in the way the ‎Americans issued entry visas to their country and tens of other more subtle barriers they ‎created – whose reasons will be revealed in the future - Ahmadinejad has continued his ‎knocks at the door by presenting different models and formulas to break the impasse, ‎while George Bush’s administration has till now rejected each and every one of them. ‎But the Iranians have not been dissuaded and have now relegated the task of building the ‎ground for Iran-US relations to Mowlana and Amir Ahmadi.‎

It appears that in the latest scenario for Ahmadinejad to get close to the White House he ‎must first retract his comments about Israel and the Holocaust, as a way to win the ‎American heart. I think a roadmap has been prepared in this regard which would begin ‎with Rahim Mashai publicly declaring friendship with the people of Israel. When he ‎announced, “I will repeat this a thousand more times that we love the people of Israel and ‎I am not afraid of anybody for saying this,” however, another hullabaloo erupted.

Clerics, ‎theological centers, Friday prayer imams, 200 Majlis representatives, members of the ‎Experts Assembly on Leadership, Majlis clerics etc, all protested the message to the point ‎that even a resolution to subpoena the president to the Majlis was signed by eighty ‎conservative MPs.‎

The president however not only ignored the protests, but responded with these words: ‎‎“Clerics are respectable but we have to do what we have to do. You make your ‎recommendations, but (bear in mind that) we cannot implement every recommendation ‎that you make. The responsibility of running the country rests with us, and that has its ‎own rules.” Even the former king of Iran, the Shah, could not utter such words in public. ‎And with these words, the president clarified the issues, and subsequently stressed that, ‎‎“Mashai’s words are my words and those of the government.”‎

The storm continued and required a larger intervention. This is when the leader of the ‎Islamic regime stepped in to help the president, and through them stopped the growing ‎protests against the fiery chief executive. At last week’s Friday prayers, he said that while ‎talking about friendship with Israeli people was not right, there should be no attacks on ‎the government because of Mashai’s words! In short: Stop the uproar and leave the ‎government alone. End of the matter!‎

This message was immediately heard by Mashai who responded that he is a dedicated ‎follower of the leader. Ali Motahari, an MP from Tehran who had initiated the process to ‎subpoena the president to the Majlis, announced that they were removing the resolution ‎and others too said that with the words of the leader, the issue had ended.‎

So with these words and maneuverings, the basis for Iran-US talks is now laid and we ‎must wait to see what the president will bring from Washington. The outcome may result ‎in a product that will require more propaganda (similar to the claims of seeing a “halo of ‎light” or the “victory” at Columbia University) or a better product, which may come ‎about because the president’s new advisors (Hushang Amir Ahmadi and Hamid ‎Mowlana) being Americans with a better understanding of that society and its political ‎workings, may perform better than his previous advisors.‎

Recent events in Iran clearly demonstrate that under Ahmadinejad’s administration, ‎anything that is willed can be implemented, and, because of the total support of the ‎leader, Iranian politicians and officials don’t have much to worry about. This is so ‎because inside the country, everybody has accepted the regime. Stay tuned.‎