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Dear All,

Greetings and best wishes for a restful weekend! St. Louis has been rainy for the past few days its magnificent trees bursting into a beautiful summery green. I am in awe of the trees around me after 25 years of living here (exactly as long as I lived in my hometown Shiraz in south west of Iran). Did I say Shiraz? Okay, let me give a few visual samples. Let’s start with seasonal change. In Shiraz, you can see the arrival of the spring in a matter of days:

The Eram garden, built in mid 19th cent. in Northern Shiraz, welcomes the spring!

While we are on short tour of Shiraz, you should definitely see another 19th century building, Nasir al-Molk school and mosque:

”View

Nasir al-Molk’s stain glass windows are quite famous though perhaps not quite as well known as the blue tiles used in the Safavid mosques of Isfahan. May be we’ll look at buildings in Isfahan in another window.

The inner halls of mosques are cool and serene. Sometimes people just sit there to pray or meditate.

The name of this school is for me associated with the stories my father told us about his youth. He lived in the vicinity of the school and passed through this courtyard often.

The city of Shiraz now has a population of over two million, many sprawling urban areas, as well as pockets of old historical neighborhoods. Every time a new highrise goes up, I pray that it is not at the cost of a beautiful old building. Fortunately, Shiraz municipality has been good at preserving historic sites.

Politics: Nuclear Negotiations

There is every indication that this round of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the 5+1 (representatives of six countries – the United States, Russia, China, Germany, France and Britain) will be very different. The headlines I was reading in the Iranian newspapers last week sounded clear conciliatory notes, an indication that the public opinion in Iran is being prepared for compromises on the nuclear front.  The same readiness to overcome differences can be sensed in the comments made by the 5+1 team (though Western politicians continue to use a threatening language). Even the appearances and facial expressions look different on all sides. Sa’id Jalili, the Iranian chief negotiator arrived in Istanbul empowered as the special envoy of the Supreme Leader relaxed and smiling:

The Iranian chief nuclear negotiator who was viewed as uncompromising is rapidly reinventing himself as a smiling and skilled negotiator

To read more on what has happened in the very first round of the negotiations, read this Guardian article. For a real in-depth analysis of the political conflict between Iran and the United States, see this piece by Professor Juan Cole of Michigan University here.  The Huffington Post also has good piece on the Istanbul nuclear negotiations, here. Okay, let me now give you an overview of my observations about what is going on. What is different about this round of negotiations? First, the American side. I believe that President Obama is  very willing to go the extra mile to make the negotiations work this time because allowing for the oil embargo to come into full effect means another serious hike in the price of oil and a kind of gas price that no president would like to deal with during an election year. On the Iranian side, the sanctions have begun to hurt in a deeper way. Shortage of many things – including drugs – are being felt by a large segment of the population. Nonetheless, in my opinion, the Iranian change of approach to these negotiations is more the result of the new internal political dynamics which have consolidated the power of the Supreme Leader, Mr. Ali Khamenei, and left Mr. Ahmadinejad fairly week after the parliamentary elections in early March. There is every indication that Mr. Khamenei would like to solve – or at least reduce – the political tension between the two countries whereby revealing his superior diplomatic wisdom to that of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s uncompromising ways. With most reformist figures languishing in jail, and Ahmadinejad’s camp in disarray, the credit for any success in finding a diplomatic solution to the Iran/US conflict will clearly go to the Supreme Leader. This explains why Mr. Sa’id Jalili has been given the added title of the Supreme Leader’s special envoy.

Seymour Hersh’s Recent Report on Iran

Journalist Seymour Hersh has come forth again with recent revelations concerning American military secretly training an Iranian opposition group, which is on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorists, to carry out acts of sabotage inside Iran. Hersh reports the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command trained operatives from Mujahideen-e-Khalq, or MEK, at a secret site in Nevada beginning in 2005. Watch his interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy now, here.

An Auspicious Life Saving Coincidence

I have not seen this reported in the American media yet but Iranian media is reporting that an airplane belonging to an unspecified airline flying to the Arab Emirate had to make an emergency landing in Tehran airport because one of the passengers, an unnamed 52 year old American, going through a major heart condition needed immediate attention. According to the report, the passenger’s life was saved by the Iranian medics who rushed to the plane. He is currently under care in a Tehran cardiac hospital. Is this a lucky coincidence? Or, what?

The Third Issue of Zannegar is out!

The third issue of Zannegar, the electronic journal for women's studies scholars and activists is out.

Not so long ago I told you of the publication of Zannegar whose first issue focused on the intersection between gender and sexuality with science and technology, and  the second examined the women’s movement in its global context. The third issue published on April 7 focuses on Art and Culture from a feminist perspective. Do check out the latest issue of Zannegar here and share the news with interested friends, colleagues, students…

Musical Delight

I’d like to leave you with a beautiful duet sang by two of the greatest  living masters of classical Persian music, the vocalist Parisa and Master Hossein Omoumi, the composer, nay player and professor of music at UCI

Have a wonderful weekend,

Fatemeh

Greetings every one! I am back in time to celebrate the Persian sizdahbedar سیزده بدر with you. For those of you who are new to Persian cultural practices, sizdahbedar which literally means “the thirteen out,” refers to the the 13th day of farvardin  فرودین , the first month on the Iranian calendar. The expression could be interpreted as ” let us throw away any bad omen associated with the 13th day of the month” or simply “let us get out and celebrate on the 13th day!” Or, perhaps a bit of both.  On this day, finally, the new year celebrations end with a huge picnic. Family and friends get together and picnic in gardens, parks, and any green and open space they find. One of the goals is returning the wheat sabzeh grown on a plate for the haft-seen back to nature:

The Wheat grown before Nowruz and placed on the Haft-seen will be taken out of the house during the sizdahbedar

But of course, the main part of the day is the celebration and festivity with family and friends:

sizdahbedar is the day to get out of town and enjoy the nature

One popular practice during the sizdahbehar picnic is tying two blades of grass into a knot and making a wish! It isn’t that people think that knot changes their lives; rather it is a fun and symbolic way to tie their wishes and aspirations with that of the freshly growing grass, the messenger of the spring. Like the ritual of jumping over fire on the last Wednesday of the year, chaharshanbe suri چهارشنبه سوری , which is part of the Nowruz and therefore disliked by the current Iranian government as a pre-Islamic practice, sizdahbehar is frowned upon too. Here is how one cartoonist used the symbol to express  his / her opposition to the policing of the regime on this matter:

This is how a cartoonist, opposing the policing of the regime regarding Nowruz celebration in Iran, tied the knots on his / her sabzeh!

Iran in Bloom!

Countries that earn the title of “bad guys” are usually presented in the popular media as barren, poor, not-well-cared-for, fighting a harsh environment, and constantly dealing with tragedy. Beautiful panoramas or images of happy smiling people from such countries are hardly available to the American general public. As a result, it is easier to imagine the residents of such countries as unreliable, irrational, and ready to spring into violence. So here, together with the awesome picture (below) from the arrival of spring in the city of Larijan in the province of Gilan in Northern Iran, I gift you a photo-essay that relates the story of Iran in bloom . For the rest of the pictures, you can visit here.

Visit the link I have provided to Iranian.com above to see images such as this showing Iran in bloom this spring!

Spread Ronnie’s  Message of Peace

In my last post, I told you about about Ronnie Edri and his wife Michal Tamir, the Israeli designer couple who designed a logo with a message of peace and love to Iranians. Hundreds of thousands of people have already watched Ronnie’s message on the internet and many Iranians have responded to it already. Here is Ronnie himself on the subject. Do please help get his courageous message of peace and sanity out to more viewers:

And here is one out of numerous responses from Iranians (many of whom as you will see have covered a part of their face to remain anonymous to the Iranian authorities).

The Politicians Don’t Stop!

And yet the politicians on all sides continue with their inflammatory messages and the media keeps the war-talk going.  A piece in The New York Times focuses on the concern of the American intelligence community that hasty military action could take place based on unreliable information. Well, in my opinion, they should be concerned! It is hard to believe that some opinion pieces make it sound as if this caution is misplaced, that it is due to timidity, or a sense of guilt about Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of lives would have been saved if we  had not mistaken bread factories for nuclear sites. See the article here:

One of the buildings the American forces were told was a nuclear site in Iraq turned out to be a bread factory. See the article I site above from N.Y. Times.

If we are to avoid another war and hitting bread factories instead of nuclear sites, or if we are to prevent Iranian children from following the fate of Iraqi children, half a million of whom died as a result of food and medication shortages caused by sanctions during the nineties, diplomacy should be given a serious chance. Please don’t forget that massive sanctions are weapons of mass destruction. I already know of one such case: a first cousin of mine who is desperately searching for a medical supply for a surgery she has to have done every few years. I don’t know how life threatening the situation is at this point, but I know she is in great discomfort. For further thoughts and discussion on this and related topics, I have an excellent essay for you by Trita Parsi, author of A Single Role of the Dice: Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran. The essay is called “Five tips for President Obama on nuclear negotiations with Iran.” Trita’s suggestions include broadening the discussion beyond the nuclear issues, and not allowing American domestic politics to direct the exchanges.  You can read the full piece here.

Time for Music…

Time to turn from politics, war, and sanctions, to a happier topic. I usually close these windows with visual delights such as painting or calligraphy from Iran. Let us turn to music this time. Just before Nowruz, an Iranian master setar player and composer Jalal Zolfonun died at the age seventy-five. I had heard him in concert about ten years ago. He was quite amazing. Here is a short clip of master Zolfonun playing

Setar is one of the oldest string instruments used in Persian classical music. Fortunately, young Iranians take a lot of interest in learning how to play it. Bear in mind that while Persian traditional music follows some tight rules, the player has plenty of room to display his or her originality by bending those rules in improvisation. Below, I have taken a delightful moment from a concert in Iran where a young Iranian woman musician named Sepideh Meshki shares the stage with her master Mohammad Reza Lotfi and many other Iranian women musicians. I have enjoyed this piece tremendously. I hope you do too:

Have a great week,

Fatemeh

Dear All,

Greetings! This is the first day of spring! Happy Spring to you all and Happy Nowruz to those who were awaiting the arrival of the Persian New Year 1391 (no kidding). “Nowruz” refers literally to a new day and metaphorically the beginning of a new time, a new stage in life of nature of which we human beings are an important part. The Iranian calendar is a solar calendar celebrating seasonal change. In this cosmology which is based on Zoroastrian belief, light and darkness are engaged in a continuous struggle which unfolds inside all manifestations of nature. The role of us human beings is to help light to overcome darkness by spreading “good words, good deeds, and good thoughts” گفتار نیک، کردار نیک، پندارنیک. And by preventing the destruction and pollution of nature. Ancient Iranians considered it a spiritual duty to plant a tree!

How Do Iranians celebrate Nowruz?

First, they clean the house thoroughly. In fact there is a Persian word for especial Nowruz cleaning called “shaking the house” خانه تکانی. You shake the house clean! Then a special table is set with seven items on it all carrying names that begin with letter “seen” or “S” in English. That is why the table is called the haft seen, literally “the seven seens.” All the items on the table are natural, nourishing, or somehow related to life (things like, apples, flowers, sprouted wheat, etc.) The haft seen table is usually decorated beautifully. It is your chance to share your artistic creativity with friends and relatives who visit you to say Happy New Year! Take a look at a few:

Sending Nowruz Cards

One thing that Iranians at home, and all over the world, do at Nowruz is sending each other Happy Nowruz cards. While there is a whole industry of creating such cards – electronic and otherwise – for sale, many people create their own cards. My lovely friends Zari and Reza do that by combining two verses of the great Iranian poet Hafiz of Shiraz (1325-1390) with their own art of design and calligraphy. I just got their card for this year:

The poem reads "All the grace and glory that the autumn had brought // has fallen at the feet of the spring breeze. Thank God! flowers are wearing their lucky hats again // Wintery winds and bare brunches are about to leave us too!

Who Gave Iranians A Great Eidi This Year?

First, you need to know that Eidi عیدی in Persian means a special gift given on the occasion of an Eid, a day of celebration  (in this case the Eid is Nowruz). That is to say, people give each other gifts. This year, a great Eidi for Iranians came from an Israeli, yes Israeli, couple. Last Saturday night, an Israeli couple – two graphic designers named Ronnie Edri and Michal Tamir– decided to cut across the growing anxiety and fear over the possibility of an Israel-Iran war, and address Iranian citizens directly. They created a slogan you can impose over your profile picture or any picture of your choice. Many of the first responses they got were cynical ones. But more and more Israelis took up the call in earnest.

First things first: “Ronnie and Michal! We love you too! And we love the peace loving people of Israel! You had the courage to cut through the cynicism and fear-mongering of politics and reached out to the people of Iran! Some people will tell you, this will amount to nothing. Don’t believe them, this is a changed world and it needs people like you! In last year’s anniversary of the Iranian Revolution, when the officials guided the crowds to say “Down with Israel!”people responded with “Down with China and Russia!” Not that they hate the Chinese or the Russian people. But they were saying, we have nothing against Israeli people. What we really dislike is the policy of these two superpowers who back dictators. Now with the aid of technology, people of the world can speak to each other! Here is the logo that Ronnie and Michal created:

The logo that Ronnie and Michal created. It has already got loving responses from Iranian who are able to access the logo.

Here is a young Israeli mom adopting the logo. Just think how many misunderstandings and fearful thoughts will be demolished with the power these two smiles. Let us get these smiles viral on the web. Please, please, please, share them:

All I can say is that Iranian people love you too! They would not want the slightest harm to come to you.

I can’t believe this, I have tears in my eyes! It is almost shocking how no one thought of doing this before! Thank you Ronnie and Michal. Let us make a promise to each other on this Nowruz occasion. We will stand together for peace, not just between Iran and Israel, but everywhere in the world and won’t let anyone make us think this is naive. For all of you out there reading these words, please visit here, and on Iranian.com here to see who else adopted the logo.  Of course, in Iran you must respond to an Eidi with an Eidi which brings me to my thank you gift to Ronnie, Michal and the people  of Israel: a beatiful wedding picture of an Iranian Jewish couple and their relatives celebrating their union in Tehran’s historic synagogue:

A young couple get married in Tehran synagog in 2007. The Jews of Iran are an ancient and proud people who continue to worship and perform their ceremonies in this and other synagogues to this day

And a Happy and humorous Nowruz song by the Iranian band Ajam to cap it all:

We Will Not Forget!

In all the Nowruz festivity and Eidi exchange, let us not forget those who cannot celebrate Nowruz in Iran because they are too poor:

A Happier and better Nowruz to children of poor families selling flowers for Nowruz festivities on streets of Tehran and other cities

An injustice which is distributed without gender discrimination:

We wish you a happier and more promising Nowruz!

And to political prisoners who have committed no crimes and whose charge is spreading “propaganda” against the Islamic Republic. Their families will have to spend the Nowruz with their pictures:

Lawyer and Women's Rights activists, Nasrin Sotoudeh was sentenced to 11 years in Jail for spreading so-called propaganda against the government. Her family will have to celebrate Nowruz without her.

Let us close this window with a beautiful painting by Sanaz Dezfoulian born in 1983 in Tehran pictured here.

And below, I post one of Sanaz’s most recent creations, a bedroom.  Acrylic on canvas, the work was a  part of her art show in 2010 in Tehran

Have a great Nowruz wherever you are! Let us keep our messages of peace to each other going. Happy 1391 to you and yours!

Best,

Fatemeh

Dear All,

Greetings from Washington University in St. Louis. It looks like we are in for a nice warm early spring in many parts of the country. I hope you are all well and your spring is arriving in a timely fashion wherever you are.

There is another celebration we have just left behind – the wonderful and festive March 8. So, a belated Happy Women’s Day to you all! The Iranian women sociologists celebrated the day with a speaking event in Tehran, here. Iranian Azari women activists celebrated the women’s day with a day of hiking, among other things! Here.

Iranian Azari Women celebrated women's day by organizing a hiking which included discussion of women's rights in the broader political context

Here, in the U.S., my totally amazing friend Safoura Nourbakhsh and a team of writers, translators and scholars just celebrated the Women’s Day with the publication of the second issue of their online publication Zannegar Journal. The journal is a great resource for academics and activists specializing in women’s studies who read Persian and work with that language. Congratulations to Safoura and friends. We look forward to future editions. In the mean time, do check out the first two issues here and don’t forget to share  the link with your Persian speaking friends.

Simin Daneshvar Dies on Women’s Day

In a rare coincidence, Simin Daneshvar, one of the greatest fiction writers of modern Iran, and one of the most articulate defenders of women’s rights, died at her home in Tehran in late hours on March 8th. Born on April 28, 1921 in the historic city of Shiraz (my own hometown), Daneshvar studied Persian literature with Dr. Sayyah (a woman Professor) and the great Iranian Rumi scholar Badi’uzzaman Forouzanfar and received her PhD in 1948 from Tehran University with a thesis focused on the treatment of beauty in Persian literature. Even though Daneshvar had started writing her own prose years earlier, her marriage in 1950 to Jalal Al-e Ahmad , the highly acclaimed and somewhat controversial, Iranian short story writer and social critic, at first appeared as a possibility of keeping her in the shadow of her well-known husband.

Daneshvar's marriage in 1950 to the acclaimed writer and social critic Jalal Al-e Ahmad could have kept her in the shadow of his accomplishments

In 1952, Daneshvar traveled to Stanford as a Fulbright fellow and studied creative writing with the American novelist and Pulitzer prize winner, Wallace Stegner. Later, Stegner who visited Daneshvar and Al-e Ahmad in Tehran, spoke of her in most moving terms. Below, I post a short video that Iranian students made in 2004 about Daneshvar’s visit in 1952 to Stanford. If you don’t speak Persian fast-forward to minute 4:55 where Stegner’s letter about Daneshvar is read in English:

Indeed the tragic death of Al-e Ahmad in 1969 (the same year in which Daneshvar published her major novel Savushun) could have overshadowed her literary achievement completely. In reality, with Savushun, which sold about half a million copies, Daneshvar established herself as one of the most articulate literary voices of the 20th century Iran.

For the English translations of Savushun and her other works, visit Payvand News, here. Daneshvar’s funeral was held in Tehran this afternoon. She was laid to rest in the segment of Behesht-e Zahra cemetery where many other Iranian writers, and artists are buried. For more pictures and a full report on the event, go here.

Hundreds of people walked to the Behesht-e Zahra cemetery where Daneshvar's body was laid to rest next to other Iranian writers and artists

To honor Simin Daneshvar and her legacy of freedom and dignity for all human beings, and to celebrate the recently passed Women’s Day, I would like to introduce to you a woman who is very much alive though sentenced to 11 years in jail for being an advocate for reform, women’s rights and human’s rights: Narges Mohammadi. A graduate in the field of physics and engineering, and an advocate for reform and human rights in Iran, Mohammadi was sentenced to eleven years in jail last September. Over forty women activists like her are in jail in Iran, as we celebrate Women’s Day this year. All highly educated and intelligent, none convicted of any crime other than their dedication to human dignity and freedom which is viewed as a security risk, and equated with spying for the enemy, at present. Read more about Narges Mohammadi, here.

Mohammadi's position as Deputy Chairperson for the Defenders of the Human Rights Center (DHRC) and her dedication to reform have been counted as ‘security crimes’ against her

A Brief Touch on Iran/Israel War Politic

I would really like to keep war politics out of this window. Somehow it should be dedicated totally to women. But I have come across a piece of exciting news which I would like to share with you. It is the kind that our media seem to always miss: nations’ reluctance to go to war.  In a poll conducted this month by Professor Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland and Israel’s Dahaf Institute, only 19 percent of Israelis said they would support an Israeli unilateral military action against Iran. The poll would have likely made headlines if it were 60 or 70 percent in favor of such a military action. Let us hope the two nations leaders learn from their respective people. Read more about the poll here.

Visual Delight

Time for our visual delight before closing this window. I leave you with two beautiful painting of an Iranian woman artist Jamileh Vafakish. Have a great week,

Fatemeh

Finally, an Oscar for the Thriving Iranian Cinema

I am sure many of you watched the Academy Award Ceremony as Asghar Farhadi won the Oscar for her superb film A Separation as the best foreign film. Let us take a look at Farhadi and the crew on the red carpet:

Prior to the Oscars, he had won the German and French major festivals as well as the Golden Globe. If you have not seen the movie, I hope you do as it will show you a side of the Iranian society which you are not likely to have seen. Here is the trailer

It is unfortunate that our popular media referred to the Oscar as a diplomatic victory for the Iranian regime. See the article on the Washington Post blog here. You can consider the movie a victory for the Iranian regime only if you had assumed that in the Islamic republic of Iran there were no real people living in normal human conditions possessing real voices. This film certainly changes that perception. Beyond that,however, there is nothing in the movie that can be interpreted as a political move in favor of any regime. Indeed, the Iranian officials have complained about the focus of the movie being on a family conflict and divorce. Furthermore, Farhadi’s acceptance speech at the Oscars in which he said “I proudly offer this award to the people of my country, the people who respect all cultures and civilizations and despise hostility and resentment” could be interpreted as a criticism of possible aggression against Iran. But at the same time, it could be viewed as a criticism of the Iranian officials verbal aggression against other cultures. In this video, taken at a press conference in Germany, you’ll here Farhadi making candid comments about the subject of class conflict and divorce in Iran:

And here is Leila Hatami the leading woman interviewed by the CNN:

I just read that in Israel people lined up outside theaters to see A Separation. This was wonderful news for me in that the more nations see images of each other in real life contexts, the less they would be afraid of each other. At the same time, this is a tribute to the Israeli society not to sensor the film. If the situation was reversed and the Israeli film had received the Oscar, would the current Iranian regime allow its public screening in Iran? My guess would be “no.” I am addressing this issue in an article I am writing for a Persian website.

Mousavi: I have Not Changed my Position

In a rare phone contact with his daughters, Mir Hossein Mousavi started the conversation with “My daughters, I would like you to know that nothing has changed. I am fully committed to my previous positions.” Obviously, he feared that the conversation would be interrupted by the security forces who were listening. He also warned his daughters that the occasional phone contact they’ve had may be discontinued. Read more about the conversation here.

Mir Hossein Mousavi: I am fully committed to my Positions!

The Parliamentary Elections Today

While the Iranian official media was speaking of the participation of 65% percent of the electorate in today’s Parliamentary Elections boycotted by a vast number of opposition groups, the Minister of Interior reported the participation to be 34% until 7:00 pm. The voting time was extended four times which indicates the participation has not been to the satisfaction of the officials. The state run media, played a range of tricks to get the public to the ballot boxes including the false news of voting by popular figures such as the reformist ex-president Mohammad Khatami. While the news of his voting remains unconfirmed, the image published of him speaking to the reporters turned out to be an image taken from an earlier event! Take a look:

News and Image of President Khatami supposedly Voting today

In less than ten minutes, the image was found on an a website dated three months earlier and reporting on Mr. Khatami’s participation in a memorial service. That image (below) is now being circulated:

Khatami photographed in a memorial service 3 months earlier

Six Questions Reporters should ask of anyone Advocating Military Action against Iran!

There is an interesting recent article by Reza Marashi and Trita Parsi with the above title. I am so relieved that someone is asking substantive questions. Usually the question is “Is the Iranian government telling the truth about its nuclear objectives.”  And the implied answer is always “No!” As if , the rest of the world politicians are going about revealing the truth about their objectives particularly with regard to security issues. Marashi is Director of Research at the National Iranian American Council and a former Iran Desk Officer at the U.S. Department of State. Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council, is the author of the new book  Single Roll of the Dice: Obama’s Diplomacy With Iran (Yale University Press, 2012), here.

Israel Displeased with Public criticism by U.S. officials of a Possible Israeli Attack on Iran

A recent piece in Haaretz (February 24) by Barak Ravid, reveals open tension between American and Israeli politicians over comments by American officials that a military move against Iran is a mistake, here.

US Agencies See no Move by Iran to Build a Bomb

This is one of those reports that is bound to make some happy and others unhappy. According to The New York Times piece by James Risen and Mark Mazzetti, posted here, the American intelligence community believes there is no evidence that Iran is moving toward building a bomb.

Fields of Dreams

I was looking for some soothing images from Iran. Something really far way from politics and conflict. And I run into a set of amazing pictures form Iran by Mohammad Emdadi posted on Iranian.com called “Fields of Dreams.” Here are two images from this collections:

The lush nature of Northern Iran

And I absolutely loved this one!

A woman Shepherd from Southern Iran?

Do look at Emdadi’s full collection here.  And have a great weekend!

Best,

Fatemeh

Dear All,

Greetings! I hope you are keeping warm wherever you are. I have not opened a new window for a while. My daughter e-mailed me two days ago and said “Mom, aren’t you sending out a new window? There is a lot of nonsense  in the media about Iran!” I am working on my next book, and I guess I was just trying to make all  the political conflict go away so I can live the life most academics do: enjoying the classroom and carrying on research. All Iranians have that feeling from time to time. But my daughter has a point. There is just too much going on inside and outside Iran for these windows to stay closed. So, here it comes, update number fourteen!

Winter Celebration

Let us start with a fun cultural topic, something all Iranians of different age and ethnic background celebrate, Yalda, the heart of the winter, the longest night of the year. The actual Yalda night has passed. It is usually celebrated on December 21st. But it is still winter, and nights are cold and long. Take a look at the way Iranians celebrate that night to warm up the winter.

Celebrating the Anniversary of the 1979 Revolution

On Saturday February 11, the Islamic Republic celebrated the 33rd anniversary of the 1979 Revolution with a major rally that brought thousands of people to the streets. The government has been showcasing images from the rally to indicate popular support and therefore legitimacy. However, people working in government offices have smuggled out images of memos, such as the one I post below, sent to heads of units instructing them to bring their employes out for the rally and reminding them that attendance would be taken to ensure full participation.

Example of the memo sent by the Iranian officials to institutions demanding full participation by the employees in the February 11 rally threatening that attendance will be taken.

Peaceful March by the Opposition

The peaceful rally announced by the opposition for Tuesday, February 14, however, met with full militarization of the announced routes and arrests of over 400 people in Tehran and other cities, particularly in Shiraz. The main objective of the rally was to protest the house arrest of Zahra Rahnavard, Mir Hussein Mousavi, and Mahdi Karrubi whose objections to the result of the 2009 disputed general election led to the their captivity without trial. Their house arrest just entered its second year. You can join the Campaign for Human Rights in Iran demanding their freedom, here.

Mousavi, Rahnavard, and Karrubi are under house arrest and cut off from the world without a trial. Their fault is objecting to the results of the 2009 disputed election

Iranian Women Scholars and Activists Going Strong

As the Iranian Supreme Leader, Mr. Ali Khamenei spoke about marriage and motherhood as the first duty of every woman, Iranian women scholars and activists held a major conference about women in Muslim countries. The conference was organized by the Society of Iranian Women Historians.  Read the full report here (in Persian).

The organizers expressed appreciation to Afsaneh Najmabadi, the Harvard scholar for participation in the conference and her over all contributions

The Poster for the Conference Organized by Iranian women historians

To remember how such simple but brave acts of exploration and self-expression can be in present day Iran, read about the two Iranian bloggers Vahid Asghari and Hosseing Derakhshan both likely to face the death squad because of running blogs which presented the Iranian government in a poor light and “enticed the population to rebel.” It is kind of ironic to kill people for demonstrating that life in Iran is better than they have suggested! Read more here.

Iranian Woman Engineer Invented Metal Foam

While on the topic of Iranian women, watch this short video about Afsaneh Rabiei, an Iranian woman engineer living and teaching in the United States who just invented something rare and apparently very useful: metal foam

Iran and Syria

Back to politics, the Iranian Regime has put itself in a dire situation by continuing to support the much hated regime of Assad now responsible for the death of over 6,000 Syrian citizens. The Syrian protesters, who have repeatedly sent messages of support to the Iranian people, view the Iranian government as one of the forces that has kept the regime of Assad from falling. In an unprecedented rally held on February 18 in the center of Damascus, close to Assad’s residence and the Iranian Embassy, the Syrians expressed anger at the people inside the embassy whom they referred to as armed thugs. See the full article in New York Times.

Massive demonstration in central Damascus against Assad and the Iranian Regime keeping him in power (reported in New York Times)

Extensive Sanctions on Iran and New Conflicts

Before I get any deeper into the details of the recent conflicts between western countries and Iran and look at a possible clash between Iran and Israel, let me say that although I find the Iranian foreign policy deeply flawed and in places totally unacceptable, I still disagree with our popular media here in the U.S. when it speaks of the “threat” of Iran in no uncertain terms. This view is overly simplistic and not backed by the facts that we actually know about the abilities and intentions of the Iranian government. Those who base their assertions on facts that are available to us often agree with me. I have collected a number of articles for you published by respectable activists, politicians, and investigative journalists here, here, and here. Furthermore, there are those scholars and journalists who believe that marginalization of Iran will indeed lead to more serious conflicts, here. More recently, there has been talk of the need to take military action to curb the threat Iran causes the world and particularly Israel.

There is every indication that unlike the past when the Iranian government took such threats with a pinch of salt, this time it is preparing itself for such an eventuality, here, and here. This is in part because the sanctions are beginning to show their effects in the daily lives of the Iranians. The situation has gotten particularly difficult since the sanctions were imposed on Iranian Central Bank. Indeed, the  economic conditions may deteriorate so much that a war might seem like a way out (at least to certain factions within the Iranian government), here. The worst threat, however, lies in allowing the tension to escalate because, as Trita Parsi observes in this piece, without renewed diplomacy things can get out of control in the Persian Gulf even if neither side is trying to start a war. For Trita’s essay look here. Before I end this segment, however, let me give you another article on the horrors of the military option for all sides, here. I deeply believe we must avoid such a conflict – which I could see as developing into a far deadlier conflict than the one with Iraq.

Okay, let us just take a look at a beautiful recent image from Iran. Let us take a look at this peaceful night in the Naqsh Jahan Square in Isfahan to change the mood for a moment before we get to more politics.

This is what peace looks like on an ordinary evening in the main square in Isfahan!

Skirmishes with Israel, and the Iranian Schindler

Iran and Israel have been savaging each other verbally at least for the past two decades though the media here mostly highlight the Iranian side, particularly when it can be read as anti-Semitic. A recent example is the assertion by the Iranian Supreme Leader who compared the problems caused by Israel in the region to a “cancer.” I must admit, I find the metaphor very harsh and totally unacceptable to be applied to any country even though the Iranian officials claim that it applies to the government of Israel and its aggressive and destructive impact on Palestinian lives and not to the Jews. If you are an Iranian, and hearing about the above remark makes you feel bad, read this article which was sent to me by a loving Jewish friend. It is called the Iranian Schindler, and it makes you remember the kinds of Iranians whom we forget because of the current conflicts, here. Or, take a look at this picture which is just over two years old. It was taken when President Ahmadinejad visited Tehran Polytechnic:

The sign reads: Fascist President, Polytechnic is not for you!

What is remarkable in the recent events is the pressure on the Iranian Supreme Leader due to severe sanctions, Israeli threats to attack Iran (and don’t forget Israel currently has nuclear weapons), the assassination of four Iranian scientists in the past two years (widely seen as the work of Israeli intelligence), and internal conflicts.  Unless you visit sites such as the Counterpunch, edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, however, you are unlikely to see an argument for the way the Iranian leader would view the role that Israel has been playing in these assassinations. If you like to see one such argument, take a look at the piece by Ismael Hossein Zadeh, the Iranian economist at Drake University, here. In short, Mr. Khamenei’s angry remarks, and his choice of a more aggressive tone, are a reflection of this point of view.

Another sign of this change of tone, in the Supreme Leader’s talk mentioned above, was his clear reference to having supported Hizbullah in pushing the Israeli army out of Southern Lebanon after its July 2006 invasion. The Iranian government had never acknowledged that fact before.

Such tensions between Iran and Israel are not totally new. Still, the temperature rose dramatically when Mr. Panetta, the American Secretary of Defense, was described in a Washington Post column on February 2nd as being worried about the growing possibility that Israel will attack Iran over the next few months. According to the column, Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June, before Iran enters what Israelis describe as a zone of immunity to commence building a nuclear bomb. Ever since, Mr. Panetta has been trying to avoid making further comments on the subject, here. But the initial observation drew a range of angry responses from Iranian officials.

Furthermore, amidst the Israeli expressions of fear of an existential threat from Iran, the Iranian government has since announced further progress in developing home made techniques for uranium enrichment (though it maintains that none of it is for building a bomb). In other words, threats and assassinations don’t seem to do much except putting the two countries on a collision course. One can only hope that sanity will prevail.

Never Mind their Nuclear Program!

A lovely, ex-student of mine has sent this lighthearted article about a group of Iranian women training in martial arts in a state-sponsored all-women Ninja club 28 miles northwest of Tehran. It’s called “Iran has an army of deadly Ninja Women.” It just shows a side of Iran you don’t usually get to see. I post one picture below but you can read the full article here.

A Member of the Iranian Ninja women

Wedding On the Sabalaan Peak

Let us close this window with a happy picture, one that is about love and union rather than war and conflict. Muslim Najafi and Maryam Fekri two young Iranian climbers celebrated their wedding on the peak of Mount Sabalaan in north eastern Iran. It is good to know that political conflict and economic hardship does not stop normal life for young people.

Muslim Najafi and Maryam Fekri got married on Mount Sabalaan!

Have a great week!

Fatemeh

Dear All,

I hope you are all well. The events related to the invasion of the British Embassy in Iran keeping us in the headlines. As we are going to dive right into not-so-pretty political discussions and pictures, I want to open this window with a view of the ordinary non-political people and natural scenes from North of Iran. Just visit this site, scroll down, look at the pictures, read and enjoy, here. I do think we need sites like this because our visual vocabulary has become so limited to guns, demonstrations, and rows of prayer — which exist, no doubt. However, they should not mask peaceful cities and their ordinary people.

Invasion of the British Embassy by “Students”

Now you can watch the not-so-pretty scene of invading the British embassy. If you have any doubts that the crowd is small and mobilized by the government, ask two simple questions: why do the cameras not show us a long shot of the crowd, and why is there such a heavy presence of the official media in the first place, here.

The event of invading the British embassy, and its residential garden, is still hard to understand.  As pieces of information surface gradually, it becomes clear that the heavily publicized release of the IAEA report on the Iranian nuclear situation in early November triggered a series of events which seem to have got us where we are now. The release of the report was followed by talk of further sanctions, even possibility of military action by western officials. See the chronology of some of the important events here. Weeks later a major explosion shook a military base near Tehran and killed 27 people including the founder of the Iranian missile program. Now it seems the explosion has been more extensive than initially thought, here. Amidst all of this, the British government declared a special sanction on the Iranian Central Bank, a move truly devastating to Iranian economy particularly the small businesses.

If you add to the above picture that the British government has been extremely unpopular and held responsible for historical disasters such as the 1953 coup that toppled the democratically elected and popular Prime Minister of Iran Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh, it is not hard to see why the Iranian authorities could even hope for sympathy in targeting the British. If you are interested in reading a superbly researched and highly readable account of the toppling of Dr. Mosaddegh, I refer you to Stephen Kinzer’s: However, as I said, the majority view inside and outside Iran is that the event was staged by the segment of the government taking orders from the Supreme Leader Mr. Ali Khamenei. Here is an interview with Mr. Hussein Alizadeh, a defecting Iranian diplomat on the subject.

Deepening of the Rift?

Interestingly enough, while the reactions in the official media range from adamant to hostile, the Iranian Foreign Office has twice expressed regret about the incident, here. Furthermore, the invasion of the British Embassy took place shortly after the Iranian President, Mr. Ahmadinejad had declared he is ready to speak with European officials about the nuclear issue. Whatever may or may not have emerged for such talks, the invasion incident indicates the deepening of the rift between the President and the Supreme Leader.

An even more visible rift is one that gets deeper everyday between the Iranian (particularly young) people and regime. The shocking effect of the attack on the British Embassy in Iran has left many Iranians  sad and confused. The general feeling among the general populations in Iran is “We do not want to return to where we were almost thirty years ago with the American Embassy.”  Nothing can illustrate the rift better than the picture I post below. Each Friday, a group of young Iranian are brought to the Friday prayer in which a political sermon is delivered. I don’t think the picture needs a caption just compare the generations:

Just compare the difference between the reaction of the two generations to the Imam speaking during the Friday Prayer

What if Iran does not Use its Bomb?

I have so far been focusing on the actions and reactions inside Iran. There are interesting developments at our end as well, including politicians worrying about the fact that the main disaster is if  Iran makes a bomb but does not use it!! This is not a joke. Watch it for yourself:

Hope We are not Heading for another War

With the kind of diplomatic thinking reflected in the above video, let us hope we are not heading for another war. On that note, I wrote a poem called “Giggling in Fallujah” a few years ago when the Iraq war was in its most destructive faze in Fallujah. I dedicated the poem to all young war-stricken boys and marines maimed for life. Last week I published the poem on the Huffington Post in the hope that some of us think about preventing another Fallujah from happening. You can read it here.

Music From North of Iran

I opened this window with beautiful scenes from Northern Iran. This is the region on the coast of the Caspian Sea  south of the Alborz mountain. The Alborz mountain traps a lot of moisture from the sea and the rain turns the region green. The folk music from this area reflects its natural liveliness: fast tempo love songs and group dances. Here is one such song to close our window:

Okay, time to close this window. Hope you all have a great rest of the week.

Fatemeh

 

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