WINDOWS ON IRAN - Parts 30 to 32

WINDOWS ON IRAN - Parts 30 to 32


The news from Iran has both good and disturbing parts. Among the disturbing parts are further American action to create unrest in Iran, as is the Iranian government’s move to tighten its enforcement of the ladies dress code in public and of course the continued anxiety over the arrest of Dr. Esfandiari. Good things include news of continued strong resolve among Iranian women to enhance their presence on the social and political scene by forming new coalitions as well as the usual great artistic and intellectual activity in the country.

One of my goals in these windows is to dispel the myth that reduces Iran to a culture of “villains vs. victims.” I would like you to see that regardless of the internal and global issues that Iran is dealing with, Iranians continue to be a lively, creative, humorous, and art loving people like any other in the world. Here it is in the words of one of the major contemporary Iranian painters Iran Darrudi Or, read about the three-minute documentary that the renowned Iranian director and screen-writer Abbas Kiarostami made on the occasion of Cannes Film festival’s 60th year. Kiarostami included in his three-minute documentary, 24 top Iranian actresses whom he has worked with over the years:

According to ABC News, the CIA has received secret presidential approval to mount a covert “black” operation to destabilize the Iranian government, current and former officials in the intelligence community say. The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject, say President Bush has signed a “nonlethal presidential finding” that puts into motion a CIA plan that reportedly includes a coordinated campaign of propaganda, disinformation and manipulation of Iran’s currency and international financial transactions. 

Though the majority of Americans many not readily connect the two, the recent harshness on the part of the Iranian government toward Iranians themselves as well as Iranian American visitors has much to do with these “regime change” plans cooked here in the U.S. A letter has recently been written by Emaddedin Baghi of Defending Prisoners’ Rights Society in Tehran, Iran and circulated through the International Society for Iranian Studies here in the US. In this letter, Mr. Baghi writes:

In recent years, the government of the United States has announced that it has allocated a yearly budget for the support of civil society, democracy, and human rights in Iran. This so-called “democracy fund” is approved by the United States Congress and extensive media coverage of this financial endeavor has been encouraged.

Given the existence of long-standing hostilities between the governments of Iran and the United States, the government of Iran has shown extreme sensitivity to the idea of individuals or groups receiving funds to engage in activities that, in the public words of at least some American officials, is intended for an eventual “regime change” in Iran. I am sure the United States government would show similar sensitivity if it was revealed that there were individuals or organizations in the United States that were receiving funds from hostile groups or countries intent on creating instability in that country.

Mr. Baghi suggests in his letter that “Undoubtedly, not all these pressures and arrests are reflective of recently developed government concerns and suspicions. Forces that are against liberty also use the U.S. budget allocation as a pretext or excuse to legitimize their opposition to civil liberties and to discredit their critics.” Nevertheless, he goes on to say: “It is not right for independent individuals and institutions inside Iran to pay the price for allocated funds that the United States government spends on broadcasting from the United States into Iran or for the activities of exiled Iranian groups that cooperate with various American organizations.”

Mr. Baghi’s moving letter ends with “This is why I hereby make a plea to you and your respected organizations to insist that the United States government change its ways or, in case of its insistence on allocating a yearly budget, make public and transparent the exact amount and recipients (individuals and groups) of these funds.”
On the brighter side, an Iranian woman member of the parliament, Fatemeh Rakeii has announced a plan to form a coalition of women political activists to help women gain all their rights in the political and management arenas. Rakeii described the main goal of the coalition as “abolition” of gender discrimination. At the same time, a coalition of reformist women is also about to form in order to increase women’s seats in the 2008 parliamentary elections. To read more on these, please visit: 

PEW Poll

In these windows, I am always talking about one-sidedness of the media on Iran/Islam related issues. At the moment, Iran gets the worst possible press. But the treatment is extended to all Muslims, as my student Matt Miller noted recently in an e-mail (thanks Matt!). Matt writes: “There was a poll by Pew that came out today that surveyed the U.S. Muslim population. Here is the headline that appeared in U.S. media outlets (via the Associated Press) about the poll: “Some young Muslims approve suicide hits.”  While on the BBC this was the headline about the same poll: “Muslims ‘well-integrated’ in the U.S..”  The stark contrast in the headlines is incredible. The articles both go on to talk about the same poll by Pew, yet the AP (U.S.) article focuses almost exclusively on Muslims and terrorism (citing the 13% of young U.S. Muslims who approve of suicide attacks to defend religion in “rare cases”),while the BBC article talks about how U.S. Muslims are well-integrated into U.S. life, reject terrorism in overwhelming numbers, and like the U.S. although they don’t often feel welcomed in the U.S.” Matt finds “incredible” how two stories about the same poll portray the U.S. Muslim population in such vastly different lights. He provides the link: Now compare with:

Sunday Times Article on Iranian Bookstores, Books and Readers

A two-day conference I attended in Chicago was dedicated mostly discussing the subject of Sufism (the Islamic mystical tradition) with a number of fine scholars working on Iran and other parts of the Muslim world. Quite a few of these American friends/colleagues travel to the region regularly. The subject of an article published in Sunday Times a day before the conference inserted a sad note into our otherwise happy discussions. The article called “Seeking Signs of Literary Life in Iran” made incredible claims such as: bookstores do not really exist in Iran, or the books Iranians read are good to be discussed only with their therapists!

On May 27, Sunday Times published and article called “Seeking Signs of Literary Life in Iran” by Azaseh Moaveni regarding books, bookstores and readers in present day Iran. the article presents an exaggerated and inaccurate perspective. The author suggests that in present day Iran “bookstores do not exist at such,” and what Iranians read do not “lend themselves to discussion except with a therapist.” She goes on to say that after the 1979 revolution Iranian women have no “social clubs or culture centers to frequent” and that due to censorship, characters in translation of Western novels sip dough (an Iranian yogurt soda) instead of whisky. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you that currently Iran is free of censorship. But I can say with certainty that the statements I just quoted are simply erroneous.  Last summer, I personally visited many bookstores and purchased a good number of books in Iran including Sharnoush Parsipour’s critically acclaimed Persian novel Tuba and the Meaning of the Night and a copy of the Persian translation of The DaVinchi Code, which I found to be very popular with Iranian readership. I was fascinated with the large window displays of bookstores for the Persian translation of the respective autobiographies of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton’s My Life (complete with her picture on the cover) was also a popular title. Prior to writing this window, I picked this last book and examined it carefully to be able to give you some finer details.  This translation contains discussions of Senator Clinton’s pro-choice views, and her support for homosexuals in the army. It also refers to occasions where she has drinks (other than dough) with friends.

The news concerning a possible American military assault on Iran continues to suggest different - and at times conflicting - possibilities. In the month of May, for example, one the one hand, Reuters has reported 9 US warships entering the Gulf in a show of force. Following Vice President Cheney’s travel to the region, this may be viewed as a grave new development.;_ylt=AjqeRVgqCQwyyrccLNzOyOus0NUE  Other reports, however, suggest strong opposition by high ranking U.S. army officers to the idea of a military campaign against Iran according to the online news source The reporter Gareth Porter, who interviewed Admiral William Fallon suggests that the Admiral has vowed that this will not happen until he is Chief of Central Command. Let us hope, the latter report is more indicative of the reality.

Iranian Women Karate Players

Iranian women do use culture centers, social and sports clubs. Having been introduced to a new Iranian women’s sports web site, I decided to put together a brief slide show for you of Shirzanan, an Iranian women Karate team practicing. I am very careful though to keep these attachments very small, so as not to cause problems for your home computers. Click on the second attachment, then on view, and then on slide show
Visual Delight

I’d like to report on the great success of the Iranian graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi. The Jury Prize in Canne film festival 2007 was awarded by Jamel Debbouze to the Persepolis, an animated adaptation of Ms. Satrapi’s graphic novel about growing up in Iran during and after the 1979 revolution.  Reygadas.

Recent Visit to Iran

While disturbing news about visits to Iran get a lot of attention, the happy and successful ones find it hard to get any. My friend Judith Ernst who visited Iran recently, had promised to share her experience with us. Judith wrote a beautiful piece which provides a rare window on Iran as few Americans make such a visits these days. Her thoughtfully written piece about the trip received little attention from the national papers. However, fortunately, it was greeted enthusiastically by on-line news source Commondreams (thank goodness for the alternative media). Judy was in Iran with her husband, Carl Ernst, a professor of Islamic Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who was invited to a conference on Rumi and while there received an award for his most recent book, Following Muhammad: Rethinking Islam in the Contemporary World.  I recommend the book highly for personal reading and/or classroom use.  Now, for Judy’s take on the trip to Iran click on:

Miles For Peace

On the subject of peace, I have great news for you. A dozen Iranian men and women cyclists who had started cycling from Iran, and across Europe, have now arrived in the United States. Their message: Iranians are a peaceful people,  they love other nations,  and would like to be a constructive member of the International community.

Concerning the Nuclear Issue

Now to the crucial facts that should not get masked by the flow of misinformation on Iran :

Iran has no history of military aggression against its neighbors in the past two centuries (in the Iran-Iraq war, Iran was attacked and stopped at the old borders once the invaders were pushed out).

Iran is a signatory to the NPT (None Proliferation Treaty) which means its nuclear facilities are open to surprise inspections. That is why El Baradei insists that Iran should be talked to, not threatened. Please note that there are countries such as the United States, Pakistan, Israel, and India which have not agreed to become members of NPT. 
There is no evidence of a nuclear weapon’s program in Iran.

Iran has repeated, time and again, that if the pre-condition of suspending enrichment is removed, it will negotiate everything (including suspension of enrichment).
Iranian nuclear facilities are spread out in the country. It is impossible to target them without horrific civilian causalities.

Consequences of a Potential Military Assault on Iran

Iran has five times as many people and resources as Iraq.

Hundreds of thousands (Daniel Elsberg says millions) of innocent Iranian civilians will die if Iranian nuclear centers are targeted with the so-called bunker busters.
Iran can retaliate with thousands of missiles targeting American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even if a few of these missiles are intercepted, the rest can inflict major casualties.

Iran can make the narrow Straits of Hormuz an unsafe place for the oil tankers to pass through, in effect cutting a substantial part of the oil supply of the world.
If desperate, Iran can hit oil tankers in the gulf causing major fuel shortage, and environmental pollution.

As of now, al-Qaedeh does not have any sympathizers in Iran. Individual members trying to escape through Iran have been arrested. In the unfortunate event of an attack on Iran, a new front will open for al-Qaedeh recruiters.

Iran sympathizers inside Iraq, Afghanistan—and elsewhere in the world—will find themselves engaged in a war with the U.S.


Some of the misinformation spread against Iran gets refuted later but often the major media - which has carried the original “news” - overlooks the corrective statements. One such topic is the alleged help Iran is providing to the Taliban who fight the U.S. military in Afghanistan:

NATO commanders in Pakistan have long been aware that the Taliban has been dependent on Pakistan for its arms and ammunition. The Telegraph reported Sunday that a NATO report on a recent battle shows the Taliban fired an estimated 400,000 rounds of ammunition, 2,000 rocket-propelled grenades and 1,000 mortar shells and had stocked over one million rounds of ammunition, all of which came from Quetta, Pakistan during the spring months. Despite all of this, and despite the fact that the Taliban have been hostile to Iran from their very inception (in 2005, they killed 11 Iranian diplomats in Kabul), the hawks in the current American administration are still working on presenting Iran as supporting the Taliban to justify a possible military campaign against Iran. As Matt Miller who sent me some recent reports on this topic noted, these claims (most probably generated by Vice President Cheney’s supporters) appear to have been rebuffed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Dan McNeil, who issued unusually strong denials. Thanks a lot Matt:


An Iranian woman story-teller who is already gaining a reputation as the first Iranian woman Naqqal (a performer of who reads/enacts stories of the celebrated Persian epic The Book of Kings by the 10th century poet Firdowsi of Tus). Naqqals usually did their story telling in coffee houses (in fact, tea houses because they serve tea rather than coffee!). Do watch the clip, even if you don’t know Persian. It is about four minutes, and does not require much explanation. Her voice recites the epic poetry in the background while you see images of her story-tellling, and of coffee houses in Iran:

I will close this window, introducing you to an American woman story-teller, a writer friend I have not met yet, though we have corresponded for some time and read each other’s work: Meghan Nuttall Sayers. Meghan writes and weaves in Eastern Washington where she lives with her husband, three children, two sheep and a cat. Meghan has recently published a delightful novel Anahita’s Woven Riddle (selected ALA’s top ten best books for young adults). This is an historical novel that weaves together rich details of 19th century Persian culture, Sufi poetry, romance and adventure. Meghan has kindly kept in touch since reading my book on Rumi a number of years ago. Following my critique of the May 27th NY Times essay that presented Iran as devoid of bookstores with readers who only read books that lend themselves to discussion with psychiatrists, Meghan sent a link to a very interesting piece called Colors of Iran: Images From Iran’s First International Children’s Book Festival, Kerman, March 2005.  She is currently working on another book about the positive experiences of non-Iranians traveling to Iran.

Fatemeh Keshavarz is Professor and Chair Dept. of Asian and Near Eastern Languages and Literatures, Washington University in St. Louis