Monday, November 29, 2010

Wikileaks, Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia

Update: I have been trying to catch bits and pieces from these 250,000 cabels, and one thing that is becoming increasingly clear to me is the RACIST media spin, which is trying to divert the damaging attention from the US department of foreign affairs and instead scapegoat the "dubious Arabs" and the "dangerous Persians" ... all concerns I expressed a few hours ago before North America woke up are becoming more justified. There seem to be a concerted effort to demonize Muslims (Arabs) and through their eyes, justify a war against Iran, selling it as: "see it is not only Israel who is afraid of Iran; all the neighbors wanted bombed too" ... clever Zionists, huh? Well we are more clever than you!
End of update

Initial reaction
Well well, my facebook world is flooding with angry and nationalistic messages about the recent Wikileaks: Saudi Arabia urging a military attack to stop Iran's nuclear ambitions.

And then came concerns of Robert Gibb, that such as these leaks are undermining the plight for democracy and worsen the human rights situation in Iran. This concerns, coming from Robert Gibbs the White house spokes person made my brows hit the ceiling: "what the Eff??" THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH IRAN'S DEMOCRATIC MOVEMENT!!!!

To link ANY policy regarding Iran's nuclear program to the Green movement is TOTAL hypocrisy of Mr Gibb, especially in the light of the following leaked piece of information:

¶7. (S/NF) Regarding the recent election in Iran, MBZ (Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan ) cautioned that Mir Hossein Musavi is no different than Ahmedinejad when it comes to their nuclear ambitions, 'same goal, different tactic.' In this respect, he regards Musavi as more dangerous than his competitor, as at least Ahmedinejad was 'an open book.' He reminded Secretary Geithner that Musavi and his advisors are part of the same group that took the U.S. Embassy in 1979.

A few minutes after all these reports, a Saudi Arabian friend of mine sent me a little message. If you are curious what Iranians and Arabs think about this, am copy pasting our little exchange about this issue:

The Iranian Naj:

The Saudi Arabian friend of Naj:
While I agree with you... and believe that stoking such ethnic tensions could be in part behind this... I hope most people realize that there is a difference between the actions of governments in the middle east and the feelings of people. Most Arabs I know have very little direct contact with Iranians, the exception being Iraqis. Almost all the Arabs I know, which does not represent them all obviously, feel identified with the Iranians as a people and sympathetic to their causes. I am sure that news like this, if they believed it, would anger them about their own governments.
The Iranian Naj:
The problem is that we Iranians know very little about Arabs and have seriously distorted stereotypical notions that can easily get ignited by documents such as this. I think the problem needs to be understood from two angles:

First, that the Arab governments harbor hatred for the Iranian one is not necessarily untrue. Iranians need to understand WHY that is. In my view it s because Iran has a more vocal and more dynamic pro-democracy movement, compared ot other countries of the region and this unsettles the Arab governments.

Second, that which is referred to as "arab street" does aspire to the Iranian model, and this not only unsettles the arab governments, but the scare-crow, Israel. However, reports such as this exacerbate the anger of the pro-democracy Iranian activist, who used to fight shoulder to shoulder for Palestinian rights but are recently let down and dismissed by their fellow Arab activists who have branded their movement as an American interventionism, turning a blind eye to the HORRENDOUS violations of social, civil, and human rights of Iranians.

Reports such as these, therefore also undermine the Iranian green movement, and give the Iranian government extra excuse for putting the screws on all Iranians.

So, the bird flock is killed indirectly:
  1. The Iranian democracy will not get actualized => this relaxes the arab dictaorships.
  2. The anti-arab sentiments of the Iranians are fueled => increases the antagonism between Iran's anti-Israeli government and the Iranian people.
  3. The more unpopular the Iranian government becomes at home, and the further the military attack becomes likely, the more extortionist the armsdealing princes become.
  4. The indignation about the war agenda of the American economy and the Israeli "neediness" gets shifted to fellow muslims, the fellow muslims become further radicalized =>Islamophobia gets further justified.

I think over all, the outcomes of such leakages CAN be positive if people put their nationalistic "reactions" aside, and sit to think of the implications of these and how one can reap benefits from such reports. How one can change the course of history. My fear is that most people don't take time for that, and the cycle of hatred, misunderstanding and retardation will continue."

Of course, I am wondering why no one has mentioned Haaretz piece on the not-leaked, rather by-Pentagon-published documents about the Tipped Kettel Operation: The truth about Israel, Iran and 1980s U.S. arms deals.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Censoring an Iranian Love Story, a self-reflexive satire about the IRI-imposed postmodernism of the contemporary culture

This is a book by a rising figure in Iran's "third-generation" novelists. The 53 year old author is Shahriar Mandanipour, whose books, nine of them, saw a brief window of opportunity during the reformist era of Khatami's presidency (but were banned until then and afterward). Two years after the crowning of Ahmadinejad and his cultural assassins, Mandanipour gave up living in Iran. An American university (Brown) has provided him (and many other international writers) a fellowship to write free of fear of persecution.

I picked Censoring an Iranian Love Story two days ago, because of the riveting reviews (such as this one by James Wood in the New Yorker) and read it with a hawkish scrutiny.

The book is about the struggles of a writer who wants to write a simple love story, but on the one hand the Censor's office limits his literary creativity, and on the other hand the Morality police prevents a realist love story from happening in Tehran. Despite several scenes of magic-realism and surrealism, the book is a mini- documentary/history, and most of its stories and references are real.

The realism of the book is so dominant that I was tempted to give up reading a few times. Not because I didn't think it was interesting, but because it was not new for me as an Iranian. I found it contrived at times. The nagging back-translation (to Persian) in my head annoyed me. The book seemed like a hodgepodge (آش شله قلمکار): pretentious postmodern narrative, with the omniscient voice of the author working constantly to distanciate (borrowing from Brecht) the reader from the "love story" and creating layers and layers of auxiliary stories and explanations of that which constitutes the paradoxes of contemporary Iranian culture. Reading the book, I kept thinking of a conversation I had with a young friend who was curious about Iran and I thought the book should have been called: All you wanted to know about Iran but were afraid to ask.

At times, reading the book felt as being forced to browse through an "Iran for dummies" manual. At other times, I felt forced to float in the stream of his consciousness. Plus, it often seemed to me that the writer is lecturing his wanna-be-writer readers, in a not so humble manner, on the art of narrative. I felt as if I was sitting in a boring never ending workshop or listening to an uncle on opium-high, with a broken tape recorder's zeal asking me: "Ask me, and I tell you why." A few times, I wished I had bought a Kindle version of the book (which would have cost the same 10 dollars) so I could bookmark every time this "dialogue with the reader" was forced; or so that I could count how many of his library-books he was rubbing in the reader's face (actually, it is a good reference for those who don't know what kind of world literature are found in many Iranian households). At times, the book seemed like an inventory of the titles held in a library.

Of course, all this was conducted in experimentation with narrative and even typeset stylization: The letters and words intentionally crossed out, and the reason for each crossing explained, fonts and boldness of letters varying depending which story was interleaved with which.

As much as I could understand the deliberate choices of the "artist" and wanted to empathize with and appreciate the choices, my hostility towards his pompousness (or the pompousness of his translator, Sara Khalili) could not subside, UNTIL I reached page 247 (out of 295) and I read a paragraph from the conversation between the writer (first person) and the censor:

[The Censor]: "But I want you to be able to write an Islamic love story. And if it happens to be postmodern, then all the better. In other words, for everything in it to be muddled and confused and yet for it to criticize modernism, which incites sin. Don't forget, we take no issue with posmodernism. After all it promotes a return to tradition."

It is with this sentence that my ice thawed: Mandanipour was not an eager novice who didn't know the principle of "less is more", and thus hid in postmodernist form because he could not create coherence and clarity. Rather, he was creating the farce of our contemporary culture. And the reason why I was so annoyed by him was because he was doing it so effectively, by holding a clear mirror to things that are so trivial in Iranian lives, that I accused him of resorting to cliche.

In fact, it is not true that he was unable to tell stories straight and classical. His narrative poignancy in page 232 made me fold the page for future readings, when his love-story character (Dara) lashed out at him (the writer) blaming him for his postmodern wishywashy tiptoeing and creating Dara as a sheepish character, who was pathetically deprived of life, education, job and even love because of his political acts and his moral righteousness that prohibited him from raising a shout, lifting a fist, rising to knock down the thieves who were robbing him and his country of wealth. Or on page 217 and 197 he wrote Sara's dreams about the coast of Spain or her wet imagination of a pornographic menage a trois with Dara and her new-rich, IRI-connected suitor, Sinbad as vividly as any romantic best-seller at the airport.

The book is not difficult to read, but it is full of cross-references (which he explains to some extent, to not confuse the reader too much). The core of the story is based on adaptation of characters and themes from three of the most recurrent literary masterpieces of Nizami's Khosrow and Shirin (whose narrative elements are to constitute the love-story to be written), Hedayat's The Blind Owl (whose surrealist "goormagoori" appears as a midget here, who never dies although is always killed, and haunts every single characters of this book), and Kafka's The Trial (whose various prosecutors strangulate the characters of Mandanipour's novel to-not-be-written), there are several auxiliary short stories which document realistic aspects of the life and times of Iranians.

With all this, I have to add that despite my "critiquing" attitude, I had several loud outbursts of laughter. Description of brother Atta, "the basiji who considers himself in charge of all of Iran's sexual organs" (p 284), or the gluttonous ways Persians describe love and love-making (p 28), or description of Oliver Stone's "stupid" depiction of Persian King's chamber with an Egyptian-Arabi-Indian-Iranian-Chinese decor (p 23) and many other graphical and metaphoric depictions made the book fun to read. I also have to add that when I raced to read the last pages, my heart was beating faster. Actually, I spend the entire Sunday glued to it--and only now I remembered I have to prepare for important meetings tomorrow.

Wood writes: "Perhaps we look enviously at those who have the misfortune to live in countries where literature is taken seriously enough to be censored, and writers venerated with imprisonment. What if writing were made a bit more exigent for us? What if we had less of everything? It might make our literary culture more “serious,” certainly more creatively ingenious. Instead of drowning in choice, we would have to be inventive around our thirst. Tyranny is the mother of metaphor, and all that."

I think Wood is right.