Archive for June, 2009

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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Tehran Broadcast + Hajjarian

I have mentioned this in the comments before, but I’ll put it here too. This is a website where we (a rather big group of translators of which I am one of) post news and all kind of other articles translated from Persian:

It is run by the managers of balatarin, a sort of Persian version of digg.

Also, there has been (unconfirmed, but from generally reliable people) going around that Hajjarian, who I wrote about in the previous post, has a very bad general health condition, was taken to the Evin prison clinic, but needs to be taken to a real hospital. I do not know whether they have done that … please keep him, as well as all the other prisoners, in your prayers/well wishes.

This one is not new: I’m so terribly worried.

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Concerns about those arrested

I should have written about those killed and injured in the recent protests, particularly on Saturday, it was so awful, I was in a state of shock. I guess everyone has already seen the video of Neda’s death, as a symbol of the brutality going on in Iran right now. I wish all of them peace.

In the last couple of days there have not been large protests, just small ones here and there, again oppressed by the militia and riot police. The presence of military forces in the streets has increased, turning some of the beautiful parks and stadiums into makeshift military camps/headquarters. However, it is not the case that everything is over, there is definitely a power battle going on behind the scenes. I have a post coming up about that, but right now I want to voice some concerns about a few of the detained political figures.

Ebrahim Yazdi

Ebrahim Yazdi

There are an unknown number of protesters and students arrested. Their general effort is to try to make them confess to planning riots and vandalizing, getting orders from foreigners or the disgusting Mojaheidin-e Khalgh terrorists that are referred to in Iran as the Monafeghin (the hypocrytes). They show the videos of the confessions of some that they manage to force into this on the “national” television. There may be actually some thugs among the people, but the majority of those I have seen is just ridiculous confessions, that we have seen many of in Iran in the recent years, and nobody believes anymore, including one in which a woman who confessed she and her son, under the influence of the BBC (as if it’s some sort of drug), had intended to use a grenade “that they had kept since the Iran-Iraq war” [at least 20 years ago] in (source, in Persian) in one of the protests. I don’t want to get started on the Iranian national television’s actions, it is past propaganda, it is a collection of shameless lies and brainwashing.


Hajjarian with Khatami

Anyway, there are also many political figures arrested in the recent coup, some of which I’ve mentioned before here. is widely believed that a few of the detained reformist figures are being under extreme pressure to confess that they had planned the recent protests, or “riots” as they like to put it, in an effort to organize a “green revolution” in the style of the “velvet revolutions” of the past few years, something that some leaders of the Islamic Republic have a phobia of. We know that they can be very brutal in their jails, and that the detained have obviously been denied their rights to lawyers, visitors, any sort of contact with their families … some of the families do not even know where they are (Ahmad Zeydabadi has been reported by his wife to be basically kidnapped from his home they don’t even know who it was that took him, this is the fate of many).

The ones that are particularly said to be under pressure, and it seems that the goal is to blame it mostly on them are mostly members of the Participation Front, Mostafa Tajzadeh, Abdollah Ramezanzadeh, and Mohsen Aminzadeh, and Mohammad-Ali Abtahi, Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs of former president Khatami. God knows what they will be willing to do in order to get “confessions” from them. It’s just so stupid since everybody who has been to the rallies has says that they were not really planned ahead, only a time and venue had been announced ear-to-ear, email-to-email and the politicians were actually surprised by the number of people showing up.

What actually worries me most of all is the status of two other detainees that are also definitely under extreme pressure right now. One is Saeed Hajjarian one of the masterminds of the Iranian reform movement whose ideas were so dangerous for some that they assassinated him in 2000. He was shot in the head, the bullet miraculously went through his jaw and lodged in his neck, he survived, but permanent damage was done to parts of his brain and nervous system. He has problems with his movements, uses a wheelchair or walker, has trouble speaking, … he should constantly be under physiotherapy and other sorts of medical care. Not only is he being denied this in prison, but he is probably under mental and physical torture too.

The other person I am particularly concerned about is Ebrahim Yazdi. He is a great man, was the foreign minister in Mehdi Bazargan‘s government, the first after the revolution that was basically forced into resignation after 9 months (when the American embassy was attacked) because they were too calm and intelligent for the extreme revolutionary environment of those days. He has continued his civil activities all these years in Iran, although their party was branded “illegal” early on, they get a share of arrests, accusations, and insults no matter what is going on Iran. He is 78 years old now and has previously suffered from prostate cancer. He was detained from a hospital where he was either under observation or conducting some medical examinations. I have enormous respect for this man, and am very worried about him.

Amnesty international has also reported on these arrests here.

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I am waiting for ayatollah Khamenei to start his sermons at the Tehran Friday prayers right now.

Listening to any rhetoric from them, AN, anything from the Iranian state tv, … these days makes me sick, physically and psychologically. This speech will have a great impact on what course the events will take from now on, I really wish we would at least hear a change of tone today, but am not that hopeful. So I hope it would not be as I anticipate it. What I want to share now is how I feel right now.

Listening to this sort of rhetoric humiliates you, it’s lying to your face, making everything look upside-down. It not only disregards your intelligence, but you dignity. Now I feel that there is a blow on the way, and I have to take it, I prefer to listen than to remain guessing. It’s like knowing that someone will rape you, and that there will be nothing that you can do, you just have to take it.

I fight these feelings and overcome them each time, we will be persistent on what we want. We are not just taking it anymore, we are making our voices heard. But frankly it still doesn’t help me very much to not feel like this right now. I just have one question:

Isn’t making someone feel like this a crime?

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More on Wednesday’s demonstrations

I contacted some people that were at the demonstrations. One group started at around 4pm at Haft-e Tir square, down Karimkhan street, Valiasr square, Keshavarz boulevard, down Kargar street, and then Enghelab square. It took a total of three hours. But when they contacted friends who had gone back to Haft-e Tir because they had left their car there, they reported that there were still people coming from Hafte-tir even at around 8pm. I have marked the route in light green in the map below for those who are not familiar with Tehran, it is something between 4 and 5 kilometers. Another person said that some people had gone towards the Tehran University dormitory complex (Kuy-e Daneshgah) (which was scene of a bloody attack a few day ago), the route that they have probably taken is branched off in the map in a darker green. There seems to have been people in many of the other streets in the area as well.


I also talked with someone who had spent more that three hours on top of Karimkhan bridge (seen in the video below), in order to have an estimate of the number of people participating in the demonstration. Calculating the number of people that passed by per minute, the estimation was that around 1.5 million people had passed by that very point, this is not considering the huge number of people that had entered the route from other perpendicular alleys after that, which could have been half that amount. This particular person was also pretty active in the 1979 revolution and believed that this demonstration was twice as big as any demonstration in those days. There has been NO account of violence that I have heard of, and people have not been chanting any slogans, just holding their hands up with signs of victory, and some holding posters, amazingly quiet.

Somehow there is a widespread awareness of how to handle this among everybody, something that I also saw here at the protests in The Hague. The demands are clear, protesting the election outcome, asking for another free and fair election, and preventing the country from turning into a totalitarian dictatorship. Anybody saying anything outside this framework is promptly quietened by the crowd, so as to not give an excuse to brand them as being after a “velvet-revolution”. Nothing against the supreme leader, the Islamic republic itself, no insults to anybody, even AN.  One of the demonstrators today said that the campaign officials that loosely monitored the demonstrations would make sure nothing like that would get through, and nobody would object. This is not because we have no problem with the current system, but because we don’t want another revolution, not to mention foreign involvement in our country. We want to go back to the state before AN, or even before the elections, then we would be back to ground zero and would need hard work to make whatever changes we want from within.

I am basically worried to death and have my heart in my throat the whole time each of these rallies is going on, waiting to hear some bad news (like what happened on Monday). This is particularly heightened when I happen to listen to the rhetoric from the Iranian state television, they try to portray these protesters as thugs, rioters, and trouble-makers. They don’t sound as if they want to compromise, that they may want to suppress all these people or that they may have some other worse, more complicated plans. I pray to god that it may not be so.

But I am mostly hopeful. If we gain nothing else, we have already shown our courage, persistence, and maturity to the world. A dictator will not have a cahnce to rule for too long over such people. I am proud of our people.

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