Respect Me or I’ll Kill You

February 13, 2020 3 comments

Warning, do not read this post if you are quick to take offense. That covers a good number of people, mafiosi, petty crooks, but also those exiles in, or immigrants to, Western democracies who consider degenerate the mores of the land and find themselves insulted and deeply offended by the slightest criticism. Respect–italics, capital R–is a great concept that has now become twisted and the primary driver of any exchange between people with wildly differing views on family, society, religious belief, on virtually any subject. It has become the basic requirement–which would be fine if it didn’t flow in one direction, only. Femme voilee 2020-02-13 à 20.40.05

In Iran (where I come from, originally) as well as in other countries of the area, you’re OK as long as you compliment people, tell them that their history is grandiose, their taste unique, their hospitality the best, their virtues without compare. Any deviation from full appreciation immediately draws strong reactions and the slightest remark can be perceived as negative, and therefore, insulting. Multiply this a hundredfold in France where I live, home to innumerable people from those same Muslim countries, many of them now with French nationality. The perceived lack of Respect draws the ire and the lightning bolt of all suburban Jupiters, often first- or second-generation immigrants who have been brainwashed into believing that acceptance of recently-refurbished customs and mores must be absolute, not only from the locals among whom they live but also from the authorities of the country that has taken them in.
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After the Infamous Trump-Netanyahu “Peace Plan,” a Sober Look at Numbers

The Israeli peace organisation Btselem has compared the Donald Trump US plan to Swiss cheese. In their press statement,
they explain: “the cheese is being offered to the Israelis and
the holes to the Palestinians.”

Israel as a state goes back to 1948, while previous centuries or even millenia saw Jewish wandering throughout the world, millions settling down in communities, sometimes accepted, more often either shunned or suspected/accused of every crime or malfeasance under the sun. That they paid a terrible price under Nazi Germany for simply existing is a fact, save for Holocaust deniers–and those are legion. That equating the creation of a Jewish state is seen by many as a disproportionate compensation is also a fact. (My view is that there can never be enough compensation for a crime surpassing all others in the history of a world that has been ever creative in the field.)

Capture d’écran 2020-01-31 à 21.00.15

Arabs (save for Jordanians and rare others) share with my fellow Iranians a deep hatred of Jews and nothing would make them happier than the destruction of Israel. They pride themselves on their brotherhood with the much put-upon, oppressed, crushed Palestinians but the feeling is caused by anti-Semitism rather than by virtuous empathy or Hegel’s “schöne Seele” (beautiful soul). Push them and they will say that the only problem with the Holocaust ( if it ever happened) is that the much admired Hitler didn’t do away with all Jews. But then, hating Jews has been a tradition forever–entire libraries are filled with books about the subject, with disquisitions on eras, events, legends, etc. Of the many strange facets of the human mind, this is one of the weirdest but one that yields no answers.

Certainly, ever since European Jews settled down in Israel, realising Theodor Herzl’s Zionist dream, cohabitation never proved easy between them and Arabs who had lived in the original Palestine almost since the beginning of time along with the original Sabras, the Jews who had never left. Clashes have been frequent, appalling stories occurred with the Palestinian population which legitimately felt wronged, deprived of basic rights, their land stolen and innumerable lives lost. As for Arab Israelis, they chafed under their second-rate citizenship. There were skirmishes, wars such as the 1967 one with Egypt, massacres took place, such as the abominable 1982 ones in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila near Beyrouth perpetrated by Lebanese phalanges while the Israeli military under Ariel Sharon looked the other way and even facilitated operations.

Yet, until relatively recent times, Israel had an active liberal press and progressive Jewish Israelis strongly voiced their dissent with the human violations of the government, though the hardliner Jews grew ever more rigidly religious and the army more often than not brutally crushed dissent. Meanwhile, the illegal settlements have increased in scope, making life ever more difficult or even impossible for Palestinians. Activists and sympathizers, despite good intentions, are not able to make headway as long as the people in power have no intention of looking for solutions. We remember Rachel Corrie, crushed by an Israeli armored bulldozer (photo below), or James Miller, the British filmmaker killed by Israeli soldiers, both in Gaza, both in 2003, but there have been and are others.

rachel corrie

Today, there are 9 million Israelis, including some 2 million Arab Israelis. Settlements number 130 government-approved ones and 100 unofficial ones. East Jerusalem (that Palestinians still believe will some day become their capital, demonstrating that hope does indeed spring eternal) counts 300,000 Israeli citizens, both Arabs and Jews. In nearby Syria, the Golan Heights, a desert region hardly populated and illegally annexed by Israel in 1981, counts 20,000 settlers. While Gaza, separated from the West Bank by the width of Israel and a battleground for all in the area as well as for unhinged warriors remains an impossible proposition.

Settlements are generously encouraged and approved by Trump who would be hard put to find Israel or any country in the area or any country, period, on a map, has no idea what languages the people there speak, what gods they worship and the future or lack thereof they see for their children. Where other U.S. presidents more or less half-heartedly paid lip service to possible roadmaps, the present one, the “very stable genius” who swerves from one pathetic and destructive bright idea to the next helps his best buddy, the corrupt and dangerous Netanyahu, by bringing him total support in what often looks like a “final solution” regarding Palestinians. The “Peace Plan,” brainchild of the brilliant international policy expert Jared Kushner, calls for occupation of even more of the West Bank by Israeli settlers, in exchange offering Palestinians desert land on the Golan Heights. By some estimates, the Palestinians will end up losing 30% of  of the land they occupy now, generally in a most uneasy cohabitation with the ever more rabidly religious and Palestinian hating settlers. The appalling injustice makes even staunch supporters of the existence of Israel such as myself wonder how long this situation can keep deteriorating and not end in total disaster.
And the world looks on…

 

Also see:

One Country, Two People

January 14, 2020 3 comments

Throughout the hectic news cycle presently related to Iran, journalists and other specialists entirely miss one crucial point: They talk about protests, reactions, demonstrations, etc. as though participants are analogous and the core is the same from day to day, with only chanted slogans changing depending on the events sending people out in the streets.That is a profound misreading of what takes place in Iran these days. The most cursory look at images hightlights the differences.

The vast crowds who mourned the January 4 death of Qasem Soleimani, the Qods leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) hit by US drones are not the same as those infuriated by the January 8 bringing down of the Ukrainian plane. That terrible action by Iranian forces, since apologized for as a mistake, resulted in the death of 176 people, many of Iranian or Iranian-Canadian origin, many young, many students or schoolchildren, with a number of families losing several members. Read more…

Remembrance of Things Past *

November 30, 2019 5 comments

* (original English title of Proust’s Recherche which I’ve always liked more than In Search of Lost Time, closer to the French title)

Though I’m not good with figures, I’ve always kept my own statistics, my own numerical data up to date and regret not being able to come up with a more complete system. Had I been born with an in-built computer or standard calculator as part of my brain, I would have made a valuable contribution to the overview of what a human being accomplishes, or misses accomplishing, in the course of a lifetime. LITREVIEWStudies already give us some numbers: We learn that we spend one third of our life sleeping, this long doing dishes, that long having sex, and precise figures for sitting in meetings or pulling out weeds. You never know, though, are we talking about Bangladesh or Winesburg, Ohio? Are we talking about the median or the average of both? Huh… That’s a preoccupying question. If I live to a ripe old age, will I really have spent eight years of my life searching for the car keys I knew I’d put there a minute ago? For that perfume bottle I just bought? Writing the card I was going to drop in the mailbox? Read more…

Categories: Daily life

The Temptation of “More”

Evin-Iran-PakravanWhat does it mean, to tell an unvarnished story? To describe our travails, our emotions, our pain or grief, as they are, without adding, without feeling that we need to enhance, turn on searchlights, say “but wait, there’s more,” bring in makeup and costume departments?

These are the thoughts that came to me watching the Arte TV channel presentation of a documentary, “Born in Evin” by German-Iranian director Maryam Zaree.The story is that of a quest so many people, no matter race, creed or country, go through at some point or other: who am I, where do I come from, what’s my story? There are so many narratives, so many pasts, so many ways to have lived through it and to relive it, that the process often remains interesting and even banal accounts can offer at least some nuggets that make us more aware, wiser perhaps, able to identify on some level with the story teller.

In this particular case, the director goes way back, to her birth in an Iranian prison in the Islamic Republic of Iran some thirty-nine years ago, when her parents were arrested because of their anti-regime activities. Later, Maryam Zaree and her mother emigrated to Germany where she was brought up but the past never ceased to intrigue and perhaps even haunt her, until, with the help of her mother and others, she reconstructs those times and what followed. It’s an interesting story, and also one rather different from the myriad ones told and retold ad nauseam by refugees and exiles in memoirs, films, novels.

Never mind that in this kind of narrative, after a while, no matter how original the material, things always become repetitive as we’ve turned the page of that book once too often. What bothers me more is the mental CGI. Much like the makeover apps allowing Chinese teenagers to enhance face and body for their social media followers, everyone who tells a story needs to make it stronger, prettier, more relatable.

Thus, in the presentation to this documentary, we hear that Maryam Rezee travelled to numerous destinations in order to hear the stories of people who have lived extreme situations in Iranian prisons or detention centers or more generally have gone through some kind of gruelling process. The people the director meets relate their experience, their memories of what they lived through or witnessed. Superfluous is the comment of the Arte channel, taken–or not– from the film I haven’t yet seen–that it was difficult to get people to speak as Iran is still the Islamic Republic and would retaliate against people critical of that regime. That is an absurd statement. Over the last forty years, I have met, known and written about countless Iranian exiles of all political persuasions and with memories covering a wide range of experiences. I have yet to see one refusing to talk for security reasons. On the contrary, they are often boringly eager to narrate their past, their experience, their problems, which every single one considers unique and never gone through by anyone else. Not one, ever, refuses to share. Saying that they talk under cover or have to be persuaded to give their own testimony may give it a thriller sheen (a genre, alas, more ubiquitous by the day) but it’s simply not true. We Iranians love to enhance not only our stories but history itself. We don’t mind lowering our voice to add that we may well be under surveillance, as the Iranian grocer in El Paso, Texas, or the university student in Heidelberg, Germany does when stating that they’re being followed for representing a threat to the Islamic Republic as they know secret facts that would sink the regime if revealed, etc.

The MEK, a shadowy exile group hated by Iranians inside and outside the country for their cult-like presence actively planning regime change

I see our myth-making capacity, a part of the Iranian psyche, as a failure of personality.  Not everone can be as rational as the philosophers of the French Enlightnment but falling into the exact opposite is not admirable, no matter what we think. Inventing facts or presenting vague hunches as life-threatening is not admirable. The Islamic Republic, repulsive as it is, is busy on many fronts keeping itself relevant or viable. I don’t believe it can, at the same time, plan the demise of the millions of Iranian exiles scattered in different parts of the globe who have a low opinion of the Tehran regime and are not shy about expressing their feelings. And no, they don’t court swift reprisal when they do so. We love to wrap ourselves in narratives, thus painting ourselves as worthy descendants of the heroes of Ferdowsi’s Book of Kings. But rewriting reality, whining about being perpetual victims of fate and the nefarious plans of the powers-that-be and, also, believing we are far more relevant than we actually are, prevents us from walking on the solid ground of the here and now. Enhancing reality casts it in shadows and prevents the actual story from being told–which, surely, it deserves.

 

Will you have blood on your hands, Ms. Pelosi?

September 23, 2019 Leave a comment
nancy-pelosi

Speaker of the house, Nancy Pelosi

For when the country finally crumbles and dies, its blood will indeed be on your hands. As the only adult in the room, you will be solely responsible if the ugly specimen that calls itself President is reelected in 2020. As he will be, no doubt, given the intellectual challenges of the segment of the population that will vote for him no matter what. Also, cheating will occur once more, given the unfortunate loopholes left by the Founding Fathers, as well as terrible errors such as the establishment of an electoral college instead of the sensible “one person, one vote” practised in functioning democracies, Read more…

Notre-Dame de Paris, Point Zero

April 20, 2019 2 comments

(Version française ci-après)

Our lives are filled with moment after moment of routine or happening or boredom, of bright days offset by dull or disappointing ones, of times great and not so great.

tca-pakravan-notredameThen there are those events that from the instant they occur dig deep into our psyche and will remain there forever. Whenever something brings them back to mind, we find them intact, stored minute by minute, emotion by emotion, the flow of events, should we wish to recall them, intact as on day they occurred. There are personal, striking ones, then there are universal ones, often tragic as we seem to recall tragedy more than happiness. In 2019, most people except the very young remember September 11. Older generations will not forget the Kennedy assassination, how they heard the stunning news, what happened in the moments, hours, days, after the first shock. Now, with the fire at Paris’s Notre-Dame Cathedral, we have another extraordinary event that we will never forget. Read more…

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