Neda and Now Mahsa

September 19, 2022 4 comments

We remember Neda Agha Soltan, assassinated by the goons of the abominable Islamic Republic of Iran, in June 2009. She was that young woman shot on the street while participating in a demonstration, one more, peacefully requesting more liberty from a regime that has repeatedly shown it not only despises the concept but considers it a crime. By the shock wave it sent through the world, Neda’s murder was the first major nail in the unspeakable Islamic Republic of Iran’s coffin. 

It is our fervent hope that Mahsa Amini’s brutal death three days ago will finally nail that coffin shut. The young visitor to the capital had just arrived from her home in Kurdistan, accompanied by her brother, when the public morality police spotted her, in all the beauty of her youth, hair not covered up enough, a terrible danger to the Islamic men around, instantly aroused and hating her for it. 

Women are tolerated in the Islamic Republic when they abide by the rules. These were defined fourteen hundred years ago by Saudi merchants on their camels peddling their wares and their morals to populations as ignorant and brutal as themselves. Part of their noble teaching was that men are allowed multiple wives. Also, that starting at age 6, women are nothing but a hole in which to relieve oneself. Arouse me at your peril. I choose when I do it, how I do it. If you provoke me, I’ll kill you.

But Iran is far from those times and those deserts. It is home to a population of 88 million people, with 60 percent of working age of which 22 percent very young. That youth is vibrant, articulate, active in all branches of work and public life, also very gifted as demonstrated with a multitude of artists in all disciplines–art, cinema or music–winning prizes and awards in international festivals and expanding their chosen fields. What’s more, it’s a highly educated population as the present regime of primitive religious scholars has not been able to shut down the innumerable pre-1979 revolution schools, universities and higher education centers, nor replace them all with institutions dedicated solely to the teachings of the Coran. 

In such ferment, the Islamic Republic has to constantly reinforce its base, push the holy writings down the throat of the population which, except for the truncheon-wielding thugs and the handmaids with their head-to-toe black chadors, remains at best recalcitrant to the teachings and the rules enforced by a detested regime, at worst defiant.   

The consolation, if any, in all this is that Neda, Mahsa, and all the other victimized young people who threatened no one and asked nothing but to live their life in the glory of their young years now cut short will live on and be remembered and honored when the Islamic Republic, hated and vilified as it is, will be only more dust to be blown away by time and history.

About Ukraine

Over the past two, three years, a growing number of us have been identitying with the frog, the batracian placed in a pot of cold water under which a flame is lit. The water gets warmer, then hot, then boiling, and kills the frog which hasn’t even seen the end coming.

So we’ve been buffered, thrown against this wall or that, feeling as if headed for a pot of boiling water, or destined to suffocate in a hospital ward through a virus arrived from who knows where and intent on killing. We’ve been quarantined, worried, lonely even when not alone, trying to get work done, endlessly scrolling down Netflix or YouTube or a dozen other entertainment sites, and even when the sun shone through our windows, feeling as aimless as a Kafka character wrapped in grey fog.

Politics grew ever more nasty during and since the Trump presidency and our countries, all of them, uncertain about the future, a number of them crushed under the brute force of despots.

And now the recent earthshaking crisis with Putin’s gaping maw ready to swallow whole Ukraine, the largest country in Europe and long for him a detested problem he hasn’t been able to solve so far-his solution of choice meaning reintegrating Ukraine into mother Russia of which the Russian President has long been trying to bring back borders into the Czar’s heyday or, barring that, to the USSR’s red glory.

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The Key to the Taliban

August 19, 2021 1 comment

In the remarkable 2014 film “Iranien,” (French sp.) the French-Iranian architect and filmmaker Mehran Tamadon gives us an excellent and frightening analysis of the way Iran’s “religious” guides think and the explanation of what causes the fanaticized bearded and turbaned Islamists such as them or Taliban to hate and fear women.

He does so in a casual, offhanded way, when the handful of shiite priests he has gathered in his Tehran home to discuss faith politely ask him to remove the photos of women—a famous poet, a singer, etc.—which he has added to documents about which he would like to steer the talk. He is also requested to abstain from playing recordings of women singing. 

When he asks why, the main mullah responds, as though it almost goes without saying, “a woman’s face or her voice makes men narahat (uncomfortable.)” 

Of all the remarkable lines of dialogue in the film this is the one that most resonated with me. There it was, the key. Various faiths can be divided in many ways to find explanations for the more obvious or arcane ways in which they tell the faithful how to live their life. A “prescriptive” one such as Islam or Judaism is most obvious about edicts that guide every step, every act, every moment of the true believer’s life–the opposite of any thought system that would give them access to spirituality or transcendence. (No wonder that for centuries sufis,  mystics or dervishes have had to water down their teaching or fear for their life.)

In “Iranien,” when Tamadon hears the request of removing women’s photos from the spread of prepared documents or not playing music sung by women as men would be made uncomfortable, he knows right away as well as we do what the cleric is talking about. “Uncomfortable” or narahat is a metaphor for sexually aroused. For males such as these Islamists, any reminder of the image, the existence, the body of a woman results in a physical reaction that will keep them in a situation that often cannot be remedied right away.  

Hence the erasing of women from view and life in a place like Afghanistan or among the strictest of religious circles in Iran and other Islamist countries, as opposed to more casually Muslim ones. The woman’s duty is to serve men, in every possible way–yes, including that way–and to never ever cause them discomfort. The obsession with women is constant. Men are allowed four wives, plus, in Shiite Islam, innumerable temporary ones. Added to which, a particularly pious Muslim will be rewarded in heaven by the gift of 72 concubines with permanently renewed virginity.

This helps understand why in now Taliban-dominated Afghanistan, women must be absolutely hidden from view. Indeed, how would these holy warriors be able to mold their newly reconquered country into a proper sharia framework if they have to go about in the permanent state of sexual arousal which would result from women being allowed in the public sphere.

So, cover them up, keep them away from markets and schools as it’s hard enough to imagine the delights lurking under that blue burka without satisfying an instantly raging desire. And if imagination cannot be conquered and imagined delights from that hidden female flesh become uncontrollable, at the very least beat the culprit to a pulp, or stone her and throw her battered remains in a well, or make her drop to her knees in a public square and behead her. That’s all she deserves for putting a man in this narahat state when he has no immediate relief in sight. 

Categories: Islam

“I’m Mad as Hell, and I’m Not Going to Take this Anymore!”

If, beside being battered by the news, you’ve also paid close attention, you may be sensing changes in the way people and governments react to various events. Look at the trial of that cop for his murder of George Floyd a year ago. Over the years, thousands of Blacks, usually unarmed and usually not guilty of anything but a peccadillo for which a white person would have been sent on his/her way with an apology or at most a ticket, have been slaughtered by the same kind of racist, murderous cops. Over the decades since Martin Luther King’s dream turned to nightmare, there has been no accountability for these crimes across the land, usually not even an accusation, so no punishment.

But that ugly tide seems to be turning. When George Floyd’s murderer was recently found guilty on three counts by the District Court of Minnesota, it was the first conviction in Minnesota, the first ever, of a white officer for the murder of a Black person. (208 cop-related deaths since 2008, see Star Tribune, 27/4/21). In a nationwide address after the verdict, President Joe Biden called the decision “much too rare” and detailed how it took a “unique and extraordinary convergence of factors” for the judicial system to deliver “basic accountability.” 

Quite a change from the tenure of the con man who for four dreadful years managed to play on the small ids of ignorant suckers and KKK remnants. That frightening time uncovered the ugly soft belly of everything that is bad in the US, but also ushered in the reaction of everything that is good. Black Lives Matter is now a full-fledged social and political movement that is not only not going away but set to expand dramatically and possibly, finally, bring about change.

Change is everywhere. For too long, many countries on our planet have been exploited and gouged and used as personal treasury and playing field rolled into one by repulsive individuals holding up charts of human rights, freedom of the press and a booming economy on lands in fact mostly devastated, with hordes of the exploited or the supine. The list would be long but anyone can instantly come up with names on all continents. The few civilized countries with actual governments unfortunately make a short list : Western democracies, a few others, too small or too distant or of unappealing climate or unattractive financial possibilities. Then there’s the particular case of India, « the world’s largest democracy, » under the crushing sway of Modi, that living insult to hinduism and to that extraordinary country. 

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Did Sisyphus Ever Make it?

February 20, 2021 1 comment

Back in Virginia, Patricia cleaned house for us for sixteen years, until we left the States to return to Paris. Once every two weeks, she spent about three hours on the job, then drove away leaving everything sparkling. No spot of dirt, no trace of soap in the bathtubs remained to be seen, no hairballs from the cat Pishoo and her successor Cerise (each of which she cuddled and cooed to and called “my baby.”) Patricia was efficient, always in a good mood as she went from one room to another, from one floor to the next. She had legal residence, as did her husband, but sometimes brought an illegal helper. 

When we had work to be done and brought in carpenters to redo the deck or painters to repaint a bedroom, and I admired their skills and timeliness, they were often from “El Salbador,” like Patricia herself. I would ask her why her country remained so poor when in the States, her fellow citizens worked so hard and so well, and didn’t they work the same way in El Salvador. She countered that there was no work there, and also that people didn’t need to work as their relatives in the States sent them money. I don’t know about that but I do know that I was happy at Patricia and her family all being legal residents and not risking deportation. When the awful Trump started talking about “rapists and criminals,” I called her from Paris to make sure she was all right and was relieved to hear they had all become legal citizens in the meantime. 

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What I lost forty two years ago : the idea of a country

February 11, 2021 4 comments

The Islamic revolution took place forty-two years ago today, February 12, 1979. I was in Paris at the time, Paris where I had first traveled when I was five years old, to which I came back often, where I obtained my degree at the Sorbonne and had now been living for a number of years. Born in a French-speaking family with complicated roots and history, I was of French culture and felt so. But I was an Iranian national and I equally felt so. 

The revolution occurred not long after the return to Iran of Khomeiny from the Paris suburb of Neauphle-le-Château from where he had spread his revolutionary messages to Iran, reflecting the wisdom and serenity of a new Gandhi. Or so he was perceived by the West, always a pushover for imported spirituality. The riots of the cadets of an air base were the last nails in the coffin of the Shah’s fallen regime, after months of troubles. The street followed, with a nonstop flood of unfamiliar characters, dishevelled, spewing hatred, their fists tight as they  chanted slogans about revenge and promised those brighter tomorrows that become the first line of any discourse in times of power grabs and upheavals. The government, already shaky, fell. Shapour Bakhtiar, the last prime minister appointed by the Shah, went into hiding ; blood started flowing that would never stop.

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We, the Frogs

The fable, as we know it, is that of a frog put in a pot of water, the pot of water put on a stove and the stove lit. As the temperature rises, the frog adjusts its body temperature until the water comes to a boil and the frog dies.

This story comes to mind as, over the last year, the temperature of the water we swim in has been rising steadily. We had already paddled, since 2016, in the murky glop of a country and a world twisted beyond recognition, rules, or sense by an unhinged leader who had made his way to the White House on the shoulders of millions of simpletons eagerly letting themselves be manipulated and ready to swallow any lie, any promise and any conspiracy theory. Added to which more millions who didn’t stop and weigh the consequence of simply voting Republican as they always had.  

The temperature of the water kept rising and we paddled on, unaware, though we started seeing weird images out of the corner of our eyes: news reports too extreme to grasp, unholy alliances with other unhinged world leaders, followed by spats and breakups, laws changed and executive ordered over night, nominations of totally inept and corrupt officials, the Treasury looted by thugs out to make fortunes, the rise of overt and criminal racism with cops killing Blacks on every street corner, Latino children kept in cages. 
Through it all, we adapted, though starting to feel a little overheated. Then the virus struck, and people started dying in unbelievable numbers, city streets were deserted as everyone was told to hunker down at home as the cost of survival, businesses shut down while the economy, unbelievably, soared to thus far unseen indexes. The air was silent, millions of planes grounded, and still people died, and still the unhinged leader shrugged it off with his compassionate wording, “it is what it is.” 

(On the plus side, Nature, meanwhile, started breathing again, plants grew, oceans cleared, animals on the verge of extinction thrived.)

We sat in front of our computers, wearing comfortable clothes that camouflaged our growing blubber, and we gradually became too stunned by the increasing heat to move. When the votes came in and we at last breathed a sigh of relief, we also physically felt the water cool down. While goons with horns attacked the Capitol in retribution for their guy having lost, we all started crossing fingers, for though death was continuing to claim untold thousands, the water was still cooling. Overworked scientists finally came up with vaccines, elections were held, decent people who know what they are talking about were voted in and we, once again, had a future, actual tomorrows rather than a dull, gray, today after today after today.  

On the 20th of this month, things will actually begin changing. What lessons have we, the frogs saved in the nick of time, learned, what conclusions have we reached, was all this necessary? Did we have it too good before, should we be content with less? Will things go back to normal once we figure out what normal is? Have we changed?

Categories: Daily life

This Is Not Who I Am, This Is Not Who we Are

January 13, 2021 7 comments

The racist imbecile who a while back called the cops on a Black birdwatcher in Central Park used these words to apologize for her behavior: this is not who I am. Meaning, presumably, that the unseemly rant didn’t come from her but from the evil spirit that had temporarily taken over. I’m a good person. Ask my family, ask my friends. THAT woman? I don’t know who that was. I’m as appalled as you are by what happened.

We know that for a while now the creeping non-apology all but prevents an actual plain and simple apology which is usually enough to see most sins forgiven. This one—”that’s not who I am”–is yet the best people have come up with (even better than the prevalent non-apology apology: “I’m sorry you feel hurt/disrespected/slighted, etc.”) It takes away responsibility, what happened is really not their fault. The danger is that like so many of the language tics that are adopted overnight, not only does it not excuse shocking behavior and is downright insulting to the offended party’s intelligence, but it becomes a standard. You can’t arrest me, chastise me, turn your back on me, I didn’t do anything. That’s not who I am.

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Dear President-elect Biden, please don’t apologize for the Iranian events of 1953

December 4, 2020 4 comments
Mohammad Mossadegh

(le texte français suit)

Assigning guilt for past real or conflated crimes and misdemeanors can and often does lead astray leaders and even historians, insisting on blanket and endless apologies where a sharper look at facts would better serve policy. Humans being what they are, the abominable, the criminal and the appalling does occur through centuries and countries. All do not deserve the same treatment. As an example, the case against the atrocity that was slavery cannot be watered down by a redeeming explanation and Black lives must forever be honored and protected in atonement for that sinister page of history.

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Islam Is Killing Us

Anxiously counting the days until November 4th and the US elections results doesn’t cancel or even slow down the vortex of other matters that call for attention and sometimes bring us much anger and sorrow. As reflected in the news, Paris where I live is once more under Islamist attack. The assassination and decapitation on October 16 of a high school teacher who, discussing freedom of expression with his class showed as illustrations the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad (which, in 2015, had caused bloodshed with 15 deaths) causes, again, immense indignation, and more fear that this Western democracy where the separation of state and church or secularism (laïcité) has been law since 1905 will have to adopt strict measures that go against its culture and principles.

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