I, hungry, tired, sleep-deprived and not getting to eat anything before another 3 hours [it’s Ramadan] and 6.5km cycling, enter the elevator with nice old Dutch lady. It smells like fries. We have a conversation, in Dutch,  that, in retrospect, must have gone like this:

Lady: It smells like food in here … Are you carrying some food?

me: Yes it does, maybe like, hmm, fries.

Lady [with an expression of discovery (I’m thinking so she can’t tell the smell of fries?)]: Oh, ok. You can really smell stuff in the elevator, sometimes people smoke and the stay smells as well … something about the smoke alarm going off and the smell of smoke being very persistent I think …

I keep on nodding and saying “ja”, we get to her floor and as I prepare to say “gooienavond” [good evening], she says “eet smakelijk!” [enjoy you’r food!] to a bewildered me. I want to stop her and say “No, no, I don’t have any fries hidden in my bag, y’know, it’s my Dutch”, but quickly realize how idiotic that would be.


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The rare occasion when the exhaust of a bus happens to smoke directly into your face is when we, Tehranian expats in the Netherlands, are most reminded of home.

[I had experienced this before, but thanks go to a friend who put it in words very close to these]

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Appeal to international organizations: Ebrahim Yazdi’s life is in danger!

Ebrahim Yazdi

I’ve translated this short news piece for Khordaad88.

Source: Rahesabz.net (Jaras)

Friends and relatives of Dr. Ebrahim Yazdi have expressed concern over the state of his health and have appealed to international organizations for help in his release.

Based on the reports of a Jaras reporter from Tehran, Yazdi, a member of the Islamic Revolution Council, has been spotted in prison attire and with a very dire physical appearance in the revolutionary court in Moalem street early last week. He had been brought there in order to extend his temporary arrest warrant. Additionally, last week the family of this foreign minister of Iran’s post-revolution Interim Government was asked to bring him medicine and personal hygiene items. Dr. Yazdi is 79 years old and suffers from several diseases; he travelled abroad to undergo chemotherapy treatment a couple of years ago and had a surgical operation a few months ago.

Yazdi’s family and friends are seriously concerned for his health. A member of the Freedom Movement of Iran who wished to remain anonymous told the Jaras reporter: “We plead to all those who care about humanity and human rights organizations to help free our leader from prison so he can proceed with his medical treatment. His life is in danger”. Dr. Yazdi was arrested for the third time during the past year at his personal residence in Tehran at 3AM on the 28th of December 2009 (the day after the bloody Ashura protests) by officials of the Intelligence Ministry.

The Iranian government has completely prohibited all political activities of the oldest Islamic political party in Iran since two weeks ago in an act that is against the Iranian constitution. They have also arrested several of it’s members and even some family family members of the party leaders. Yazdi was also arrested during the aftermath of the presidential elections last year, for 72 hours while he was hospitalized. some say that he is the oldest prisoner in Iran.

I wrote about Dr. Yazdi before here.

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A Friday Prayer that will never be forgotten

Mir Hossein Mousavi at the Jult 17th Friday Prayers

Mir Hossein Mousavi at the July 17th Friday Prayers

I have not been updating as frequently as I would have liked to. One reason is that I can barely find time to follow the news, since I actually have a full-time job in the real world :).

Also I have written so much about the Iranian elections here that I am actually not sure what other sort of stuff I want to write here. I guess I’ll figure out in time.

What intrigued me to write now is the footage that has come from today’s Friday prayers (FP). It is just awesome. After the government refused to issue permits for gatherings of the Green movement supporters [which is our constitutional right, btw], and cracked down so violently, particularly after Khamenei’s Friday prayer sermon on June 19th that resulted in at least 20 deaths on the 20th (including Neda), there seemed to be no hope for peaceful gatherings. The atmosphere was that of martial law.

Mousavi repeatedly suggested in his statements that people be creative and try to find new ways for peaceful protests. There were/are various ideas releasing green balloons in the air at a particular hour, exhausting the power system by plugging irons and high-consumption electric appliances whenever AN speaks on TV, spraying green paint on walls, … but still none of these had the effect of the huge silent protests.

The next idea was participation in the Friday prayers. There is always one unifying prayer site in each city and Friday prayers are unique in Iran (in comparison with the rest of the Muslim world, as far as I know) since they have a vary political atmosphere to them, each city’s Imam(s) is(are) appointed by the supreme leader himself . Usually, only very pro-government people and typical basiji-like types go to Friday prayers, another sad example of how religious symbols are exploited by the Islamic Republic. There are 4 or 5 Imams for the Tehran Friday prayers and they have turns circulating between them. This week after postponing Rafsanjani’s turn two or three times, he was finally given a chance to lead the prayers, and of course, give the sermon. From the very beginning that this was announced talks of the Greens attending these prayers also started. There was fear that Rafsanjani, although being severely attacked by the AN clan, would have reached some sort of compromise with them, and thus may end up “betraying” us after we have made an effort to show up. There was also a high probability of being cracked down again (yes, even at the prayers), particularly since The final general consensus was that people should show up if Mousavi [and Karroubi] himself plans to come, and this is officially announced.

Eventually in a very short, yet remarkable statement on Wendnesday, which is worthy of another post in itself, he announced that he would come. He wrote that it is actually he who is responding to the people’s invitation, not the other way around. Anyhow, today we witnessed the largest gathering at Friday prayers in the history of Iran (link in Persian). Hashemi indeed served us right and defended our right to protest and criticized the turn of events, including the current government and the Guardian Council. He called for the release of the prisoners and empathy with the injured and families of the dead, said that nothing has come to an end and that the current situation can be described as a crisis. He also referred to some examples from the revolution and the prophet’s (pbuh) life, emphasizing the importance of people’s votes and the crucial role of unity. More of what he said can be found here.

The number of attendee’s was estimated to be at least a million. The outstanding point is that we actually managed to take a gathering that has always been a place to show their power for the hardliners into our hands and there was nothing that they could do about it. They were so afraid of what may happen that they did not even let some reporters from hardline news agencies (e.g. Fars News) to cover the event. Still there as been a constant stream of amateur videos and pictures coming out all day. There are some reports of people booing the “national” TV (IRIB) crew.

In the live radio broadcasting today, the slogans that are shouted by the people at crucial points of the sermon where actually censored this time, instead of being fully covered as a show of power, because people were shouting unconventional slogans in support of the Green movement. In one place where Hashemi spoke against the crackdown on protesters in China, a stance which the official government refuses to take due to their close ties with China, there were shouts of “Death to China”, as opposed to the usual “Death to …” slogans against America, Israel, and sometimes (like now, depending on the political circumstances) England. It was so load that it was still recognizable although they had turned down the volume in the radio broadcasting. This is unprecedented.

A particular video (you can see it below) that was most remarkable shows a group of people in the streets before the sermons start, moving towards the FP venue (it is usually held in Tehran University, which has a special area for FP whioc usually fills up and people overflow into the surrounding streets). The guy who always leads slogans in Friday prayers and official government gatherings (a.k.a. slogan minister (SM) 😉 ) is shouting the traditional lines, but people reply there own cleverely chosen similar ones instead. It is interesting that they do this so naturally, it’s actually funny. It is 40 seconds long, but he sound has been recorded for less than 30 second, and this is a rough translation of what they say:

SM: death to England
people: death to Russia

SM: the blood in our veins is a present [sacrifice] for our leader [khamenei]
people: the blood in our veins is a present [sacrifice] for our people

The FP gathering turned into a rally afterwards, that is still going on as I write this, there are unconfirmed reports of people moving towards the IRIB headquarters, Evin prison, and the Interior Ministry. There were confirmed reports of teargas being used even during the sermons/prayers, and of course the plain-clothes forces and basij would not keep quiet on such a day! I hope it can have a relatively happy ending.

Shadi Sadr

Shadi Sadr

There has already been this awful news of Shadi Sadr, a prominent lawyer and women’s rights activist being basically kidnapped in an extremely violent manner (dragging her into a car, beating her, and yanking her manteu and hijab off when she resisted and refused to go wtih them) by the plain clothes forces while she was on her way to the FP today. She is one of the Iranian feminists that I have the most respect for because she is not into the “business” of human rights and women’s rights and really helps real people. I hope she is safe and will be released soon, she also has a young daughter.

Mahdi Karroubi, after an attack that resulted in his turban falling off, at the Jul 17th Friday Prayers

Mahdi Karroubi, after an attack that resulted in his turban falling off, at the Jul 17th Friday Prayers

Hashemi’s statements show that there is a tough battle going on between the different figures in power behind the scenes (e.g. between Hashemi, Khamenei, other high ranking clerics, AN’s clan), and it also means that there is still a long way before the end of this. A friend pointed out something that I find very true: Rafsanjani actually took the role that would have naturally been expected from the supreme leader. He took the tone of someone who cares about the revolution and wants to solve the crisis as opposed the stance of Khamenei who irresponsibly erased the question instead of attempting to solve it, threated and initiated violence.

Zahra Rahnavard at the Jul 17th Friday Prayers

Zahra Rahnavard at the Jul 17th Friday Prayers

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My dear professor

There was news last Wednesday night that 70 University professors were arrested after a private meeting with Mousavi (see here and here). There were quite a few of my professors and those I knew among them, but fortunately all but four of them were freed the next day. The name of one or two of these [still detained] was announced, which I knew, but not very closely. I’ve just heard that another one may be one of my advisors who I worked with and was very close to. It makes perfect sense because he was one of the most politically active professors in the university and a reformist, but I am still not sure about the news. Not that it was not already a disaster, but hearing news like this about someone you know and care about personally makes it feel so much more real all of a sudden.

I’ll update this if the news is not confirmed.

Update: Confirmed. He is still in prison. A committee of the professors have been working for their release as well as detained students’ release. Students also had a sit-in demanding their release today [Wednesday, July 1].

Update 2: He has been released one or two days ago, thank god. [Saturday, Juli 4]

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Will The Cat Above The Precipice Fall Down? – by Slavoj Žižek

This is a peice by Slavoj Žižek on the current affairs in Iran. I found his insight to be rare, if not unique for someone who has not lived in nor is an expert on Iran. It was actually  quite surprising for me and some other Iranians I had feedback from how precise and well-informed he was. Some of points about the Western interpretations of what’s going on were previously brought up here, some in the comments (like the particularly cool bit about the Leftist supporters of Ahmadinejad), but he writes it so concisely.

I am copying it from here, from which I quote: “[…] sent to us by Ali Alizadeh who writes, ‘Apparently the mainstream media has not shown interest in publishing it. Hope that the blogsphere can counteract their tendency.’ The piece is copy-right free and you should feel free to republish this on your own blog.”

When an authoritarian regime approaches its final crisis, its dissolution as a rule follows two steps. Before its actual collapse, a mysterious rupture takes place: all of a sudden people know that the game is over, they are simply no longer afraid. It is not only that the regime loses its legitimacy, its exercise of power itself is perceived as an impotent panic reaction. We all know the classic scene from cartoons: the cat reaches a precipice, but it goes on walking, ignoring the fact that there is no ground under its feet; it starts to fall only when it looks down and notices the abyss. When it loses its authority, the regime is like a cat above the precipice: in order to fall, it only has to be reminded to look down…

In Shah of Shahs, a classic account of the Khomeini revolution, Ryszard Kapuscinski located the precise moment of this rupture: at a Tehran crossroad, a single demonstrator refused to budge when a policeman shouted at him to move, and the embarrassed policeman simply withdrew; in a couple of hours, all Tehran knew about this incident, and although there were street fights going on for weeks, everyone somehow knew the game is over. Is something similar going on now?

There are many versions of the events in Tehran. Some see in the protests the culmination of the pro-Western “reform movement” along the lines of the “orange” revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia, etc. – a secular reaction to the Khomeini revolution. They support the protests as the first step towards a new liberal-democratic secular Iran freed of Muslim fundamentalism. They are counteracted by skeptics who think that Ahmadinejad really won: he is the voice of the majority, while the support of Mousavi comes from the middle classes and their gilded youth. In short: let’s drop the illusions and face the fact that, in Ahmadinejad, Iran has a president it deserves. Then there are those who dismiss Mousavi as a member of the cleric establishment with merely cosmetic differences from Ahmadinejad: Mousavi also wants to continue the atomic energy program, he is against recognizing Israel, plus he enjoyed the full support of Khomeini as a prime minister in the years of the war with Iraq.

Finally, the saddest of them all are the Leftist supporters of Ahmadinejad: what is really at stake for them is Iranian independence. Ahmadinejad won because he stood up for the country’s independence, exposed elite corruption and used oil wealth to boost the incomes of the poor majority – this is, so we are told, the true Ahmadinejad beneath the Western-media image of a holocaust-denying fanatic. According to this view, what is effectively going on now in Iran is a repetition of the 1953 overthrow of Mossadegh – a West-financed coup against the legitimate president. This view not only ignores facts: the high electoral participation – up from the usual 55% to 85% – can only be explained as a protest vote. It also displays its blindness for a genuine demonstration of popular will, patronizingly assuming that, for the backward Iranians, Ahmadinejad is good enough – they are not yet sufficiently mature to be ruled by a secular Left.

Opposed as they are, all these versions read the Iranian protests along the axis of Islamic hardliners versus pro-Western liberal reformists, which is why they find it so difficult to locate Mousavi: is he a Western-backed reformer who wants more personal freedom and market economy, or a member of the cleric establishment whose eventual victory would not affect in any serious way the nature of the regime? Such extreme oscillations demonstrate that they all miss the true nature of the protests.

The green color adopted by the Mousavi supporters, the cries of “Allah akbar!” that resonate from the roofs of Tehran in the evening darkness, clearly indicate that they see their activity as the repetition of the 1979 Khomeini revolution, as the return to its roots, the undoing of the revolution’s later corruption. This return to the roots is not only programmatic; it concerns even more the mode of activity of the crowds: the emphatic unity of the people, their all-encompassing solidarity, creative self-organization, improvising of the ways to articulate protest, the unique mixture of spontaneity and discipline, like the ominous march of thousands in complete silence. We are dealing with a genuine popular uprising of the deceived partisans of the Khomeini revolution.

There are a couple of crucial consequences to be drawn from this insight. First, Ahmadinejad is not the hero of the Islamist poor, but a genuine corrupted Islamo-Fascist populist, a kind of Iranian Berlusconi whose mixture of clownish posturing and ruthless power politics is causing unease even among the majority of ayatollahs. His demagogic distributing of crumbs to the poor should not deceive us: behind him are not only organs of police repression and a very Westernized PR apparatus, but also a strong new rich class, the result of the regime’s corruption (Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is not a working class militia, but a mega-corporation, the strongest center of wealth in the country).

Second, one should draw a clear difference between the two main candidates opposed to Ahmadinejad, Mehdi Karroubi and Mousavi. Karroubi effectively is a reformist, basically proposing the Iranian version of identity politics, promising favors to all particular groups. Mousavi is something entirely different: his name stands for the genuine resuscitation of the popular dream which sustained the Khomeini revolution. Even if this dream was a utopia, one should recognize in it the genuine utopia of the revolution itself. What this means is that the 1979 Khomeini revolution cannot be reduced to a hard line Islamist takeover – it was much more. Now is the time to remember the incredible effervescence of the first year after the revolution, with the breath-taking explosion of political and social creativity, organizational experiments and debates among students and ordinary people. The very fact that this explosion had to be stifled demonstrates that the Khomeini revolution was an authentic political event, a momentary opening that unleashed unheard-of forces of social transformation, a moment in which “everything seemed possible.” What followed was a gradual closing through the take-over of political control by the Islam establishment. To put it in Freudian terms, today’s protest movement is the “return of the repressed” of the Khomeini revolution.

And, last but not least, what this means is that there is a genuine liberating potential in Islam – to find a “good” Islam, one doesn’t have to go back to the 10th century, we have it right here, in front of our eyes.

The future is uncertain – in all probability, those in power will contain the popular explosion, and the cat will not fall into the precipice, but regain ground. However, it will no longer be the same regime, but just one corrupted authoritarian rule among others. Whatever the outcome, it is vitally important to keep in mind that we are witnessing a great emancipatory event which doesn’t fit the frame of the struggle between pro-Western liberals and anti-Western fundamentalists. If our cynical pragmatism will make us lose the capacity to recognize this emancipatory dimension, then we in the West are effectively entering a post-democratic era, getting ready for our own Ahmadinejads. Italians already know his name: Berlusconi. Others are waiting in line.

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On a lighter note

The Daily Show has sent a representative to Iran right before the elections. In the link below he has entertaining interviews with two of the arrested politicians I’ve mentioned before, Ebrahim yazdi and Mohammad-Ali Abtahi, as well as the documentary filmmaker and Newsweek correspondent, Maziar Bahari (also detained now) right before the election. Enjoy.

PS. It’s also pretty funny how they use the worn out cliche “behind the veil”.

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