Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Whom I remembered on Memorial Day

Yesterday it was Memorial Day; a dazzling squad of all services raised their standards saluting the dead and warriors of an army who have been fighting in foreign lands for last 100 years. They have constituted the legions of the last imperial power, whose legacy relies much on another empire, Romans of ancient time.

I closed my eyes and remembered some other warriors, some other veterans. For last 200 years they have been fighting on the doorsteps of their homeland, they shed blood, they suffered in silence, and they were kept in dungeons. They faced their enemies barehanded, they fought with their nails to open a way. They have died in mountains of Kurdistan, in deserts of Khuzestan. No matter what tribe they were from, the enemies of Iran killed them without discrimination.

I remembered Basijis of Shalamcheh and Howeizeh, Guards of Majnoun, fighter pilots of 1981, navy commandos of Khorammshahr, sailors of Peykan, Sahand, Joshan. I remembered that unknown lieutenant of a western border post close to Mehran who hold his post for a day in front of an armored column. I remembered Chamran, Hemmat, Kharazi, Bakeri, Sayyad Shirazi, Fakouri, I remembered my father. I remembered men who went into battle like going to a wedding. I remembered the veterans of Imam Hussein Division, the soldiers of Hamzeh 21st, victorious 77th, I remembered men who would keep an appointment even over a hill in the middle of machine gun nests.

Yesterday I remembered men in green, blue, khaki and white uniforms. No matter from what service, or what organization Army, Guards or Basij, they always wear the color of dust and blood with a hint of sky in their eyes. I remembered men and women of Iran. No matter the disagreements, I remembered them; I remembered the simple fact that they died for a country, my country, and her cause. I remembered they did not die in a foreign land, but in defense of their very own homeland. I looked at the shinning standards, and I remembered the Iranian soldier, no matter the look he is the standard of honor, sacrifice and valor. Yesterday I remembered all fallen warriors of Iran. They are the reason for me to be Iranian, to be proud of being Iranian.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Is there a cross in front of my name?

I do not have a yellow David star or a Red or White Star & Crescent on my jacket thank you; you have not forced me to wear one, not yet. But I would like to know if you have put one in front of my name?

A day in September I walked through the gates, a brown passport in my hand, a visa stamp, a student, an officer the first average American woman I ever had seen welcome me. She was nice, she was kind, and she did the paperwork but one small detail she left out.
… Ma’am what about fingerprinting?
… Sir, we do not fingerprint students.
… Ma’am Iranian students must be fingerprinted
… I am sure, Sir, we do not require your finger prints,
(Guys in school had already told me: “Do it in the airport if you do not want FBI embarrasses you in School” I was persistent)
…Ma’am, please ask your supervisor, I am sure.
An African-American officer approached, he glanced at us. Lady asked him:
… Are we required to have his finger prints?
Officer glances at passport.
… Yes we do, send him to office
I went to office, he gave them my documents
… somebody will be with you shortly
I waited, another officer showed up. (Why I still remember this so clearly which happened after 24 sleepless hours after these many years) with moustache and glasses.
… This will be one minute
He added gently
… you might not know this, relax your arm
I hold out my arms, he pressed my fingers on a black stamp
…Done, you are done go wash your fingers
My fingertips remained black for rest of the day. I was in; outside the terminal bus driver looked at my hands. Did he know what the darkness meant?

Another September I woke up, some Saudis, some other guys, not any Iranian, crashed a plane into twin towers and into Pentagon. I was horrified. In school food court girls were crying the carefree college students were staring at a curtain showing collapsing towers. Some freezing days later I found myself in another office. I was reporting my presence. I waited for 3 hours, no one was in queue. They were getting their stuff together

… Bear me with me I am new to this whole system.
The lady was struggling, a webcam was malfunctioning, she called someone
…Brad, could you come over here, please
A technician showed up. It was fixed
… your name, phone number
I answered
… what do you do?
…I am a student
… What do you study? (This was not in questionnaire, she asked it smiling, these Americans at least are nice, or trying to)
I answered
… Smart guy, now your bank account number
I gave it to her
… Credit Card number
I emptied my wallet, I gave her all numbers
… Your closest relative phone number?
… I do not have any family here
… Your girlfriend phone number?
I looked at her, didn’t she know being from Iran was a conversation terminator
… I do not have one
… Why?
I looked at her, she read it in the stare: “Are you stupid? Don't you know I am considered a freak?”
… wasn’t lucky
More questions
More answers
I left.

Since then I have reported every change of address, I have been searched in airports, I carry all my documents.

Today there was a report about colored ribbons for minorities in my country. It was a hoax, a lie. I am thinking, you have not asked me to wear a badge or a crescent on my jacket. But I wonder if you have put a cross in front of my name in a list somewhere. You have called it a matter of national securit...
By the way could you tell me how much I am spending on coffee? I keep forgetting.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Middle East of 2006 ain't Germany of 1933

Since electing President Ahmadi Neghad to office it seems many have welcome this opportunity to implement that Middleasterns in general and Iranian people in particular are not worthy of democracy. Palestinians also have helped this idea by electing Hamas[1] to the office. A rather large number of journalists, scholars and politicians have been saying that even if democratic systems are established in the Middle East these are the radicals whom people will be choosing to the office. The environment has become so poisonous that any small move or angry comment, like those of 1980’s, serves as testimony to this widespread false conclusion.

A much popular practice is to draw parallel to that of Germany in 1930’s, where Hitler came SECOND in a presidential election. Many are suggesting like Germans of 1930’s Middleasterns are embracing Fascism and one must get ready to deal with them, to liberate them from themselves. This notion has been extremely popular in the White House. Those, who had been conveniently absent in Vietnam War, are seeking their own Hitler in order to achieve the glory bestowed on the GI’s of WWII as the liberators of Europe. In their fantasies they forget one small piece of fact: Middle East is not Europe; Middleasterns, and particularly Iranians are NOT Germans of 1933.

In the absence of efficient government systems, in a region where in almost every country oligarchy of royal families, or military officers or religious elite has absolute political power there is no surprise to see people turn to the guys who are similar to them. For past decades in most Arab countries the secular elite, supported by west, have been ruling a desperate people, an impoverished one. They have seen their demands have been neglected. They have suffered from taxation without representations. They have witnessed that they do not have much role in running things, their obedience is needed not their participation. They are not embracing Fascism. They simply voted for people who have promised them a better life.

If one listens to Ahmadineghad, he does not wish to wipe out a certain country in every speech, but in every occasion he promises to build gyms for women (he actually says: ladies first!), to find jobs for unemployed, to construct roads, hospitals and schools. Many know he won’t come through with so many promises, but at least he gives masses of desperate people, forgotten by central government and corrupt politicians some glimpse of hope that their lives could be better.

It is easy to understand that why western politicians want to see their ivory league classmates in charge in the region. Why they are more comfortable with men wearing suit and silk neck ties, but are they in control? Events of last year tell us: “not anymore” Like any other region in the world the Middle East has its own variety of political factions. Radicals have come to power in the absence of efficiency and freedom of expression in many cases under the rule of those ivory league classmates who turned out to be corrupt and serve their own interests.

Those who talk of Fascism in the Middle East seek to sabotage the cause of democracy in this region. Their arguments help the current dictators, Mubarak of Egypt, Asad of Syria, King of Jordan, Emirs of Persian Gulf Countries and life time Presidents of Central Asian countries to argue that their presence is much needed to fight Fascism. Their grip on power is the main reason for people to seek some sort of representation for their demands; these tyrants want to keep it to eliminate all potential alternative representation for their nations.

Instead of letting Stalins of region guard their people from hypothetical Hitlers, it might be wiser for western politicians to remind their colleagues in the region and former classmates that they had better listen to their people. They have been grunting for a pretty long time. They will be yelling in a short while.
[1] Of course FATH corrupt administration who rely on western and Arab aids and treat that as personal pocket cash did not help this choice at all.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Iranian Jews

A very good article:

Tell the World: IT WAS A GODDAMN LIE!

A large number of Iranians abroad became horrified by the news: Iranian Parliament has passed a law imposing a dress code on non-Muslims to identify them from Muslims; Said National Post; a Canadian newspaper. Surprisingly article was written by a Mr. Amir Taheri, whose name implies that he could be an Iranian, and hopefully he at least could read Farsi or understand it when spoken.

Where did he read that colored ribbons are going to be forced on minorities in Iran? If you read the news, or contact people in Iran, and nobody had the impression that National Post and Mr. Amir Taheri gave to the World. Several English web logs and media have reported this as a fact and compared Iran to Nazi Germany.

The Islamic Dress Code is NOT even a law yet. It forces a certain standard on dress and to be honest conservatives have played their hand very intelligently. They brought a group of people, who constitute a minority in Iran, to Majlis. They were opposing the current situation and fashions in Iran last month, then conservative leading MPs left the Majlis session to give guarantees to these concerned citizens, whose opinion apparently is not shared by the youth and a large group of people. Then Majlis started to ratify new law to safeguard Islamic values in the society, based on its members understanding of them, which many oppose. There is no where in this law such additions forcing minorities to wear colored ribbons, there is not even such an intention. Actually this law is meant to make life difficult for the Muslim majority (98%) and the youth not the minorities.

Many are writing about this report being a lie, but how many of those who want to believe such a thing about Iran are going to change their minds? How many of those bloggers are going to tell their readers that this was a lie. How many of Iranians who are living abroad are going to say that this was a lie? The fact is not many. Unfortunately at this moment of Iran’s history many are eager to believe the worst about her and to act upon it. Some are even eager to provide them with false reports justifying their childish fantasies and illusions about a great country.

It is a widely known fact that some Iranians are not big fans of IRI, and many more are not Mr. Ahmadineghad’s fans. But such dirty propaganda tricks, which actually reminds us of Mr. Goebbles, are not meant to help them, these are meant to silence them, to murder them and to justify a war on them. It is a shame that one’s hatred blinds him to that extend that he forgets: journalism is not to entertain, it is to vindicate, to verify and to educate and to safe guard morality and dignity of human beings and their freedom. It is not to spread lies. Mr. Taheri actually helped building many bullets and many missiles to attack Iran, more than any White House warmonger could have possibly done. There is a name for that; I rather leave it to him to find it.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Incentives in a Nuclear Game

As a student of economics, I would like to ask fellow economists to address the issue of incentives in nuclear discussion between Iran and USA. I have assumed that I cannot figure
out what is the objective here. However let's assume that all players use the best possible response. Could we figure out what they are maximizing by studying the consequences of their actions?
This also gives us a good opportunity to explore the role of perspective of information in decision making, e.g. It seems one perception in Iran is that USA could not afford another military engagement so the White House would not attack Iran. However many on this side of ocean believe that a military attack is plausible. What you say? May be a clear analysis could help us all to see things better.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

First Line of Defense, Last Line of Defense

Funny thing, I am thinking about this phrase: Last line of defense, first line of defense. How many military commanders have used it? How many times I have heard it in movies?
Several I guess. Now here I am sitting behind this laptop. The truth is the first line of defense is not military. It is not nuclear weaponry, It is not navy nor air force.

This is the first line of defense: ideas & words, the only weaponry it needs is the classical pen or the modern computer with a word processing system. If one fails here, his lost is imminent, if one prevails, his victory is certain.

For many of us the realm of words is the only battlefield left for us. As Gandhi said it so brilliantly: It is a place where we have the strong hand, and they don't.

This is the true first line and the real last line of defense.

The Realty Diplomacy

When last week the text of President Ahmadineghad’s letter was published, it did not surprise those who know a thing or two about Iran’s domestic politics. Many compared the letter with a similar letter written by Imam Khomeini in 1988 when USSR was approaching its downfall, offering another ideology based regime a solution by returning to faith. But White House of 2006 proved to be different than Kremlin of 1988. Imam Khomeini’s letter was used by all levels of government in Tehran as an excuse to approach Moscow, an act equal to blasphemy prior to that, and Moscow welcomed this opportunity to start a new era in Russia-Iran relations[1]. Ahmadineghad’s attempt has been rejected coldly so far, denying Iran’s diplomatic efforts a similar opportunity to that of 1988.

It is obvious that this letter neither in content nor in style has been appealing to the most of Iran’s intellectual society and international community. Some felt embarrassment, some laughed at it and some took advantage of it to attack fundamentalist basis of Islamic Republic. Not many voices have joined those of characters such as Madeline Albright to ask White House to use this opportunity to start a new dialogue with Iran. It also is true that many in Islamic world consider his letter a triumph. Many of its points, although not shared by majority of Iranian population, are common thoughts in the Middle East. The average people on streets and in bazaars would repeat the same points to each other. Thus it is simplistic to consider this letter as the work of a simpleton. If one believes in incentive, purpose and proper tactics in diplomacy, then one ought to analyze Mr. Ahmadineghad’s incentive, purpose and tactical advantage in doing so.

Incentive: Do President Ahamdineghad and Iranian government have any incentive to seek negotiations with USA? The answer is “yes they do”. If security is the first concern of any national government, then Iranian government has to seek guarantees from USA not EU nor Russia nor China. USA has forces on both eastern and western fronts of Iran. Its naval presence in Persian Gulf and Sea of Amman is strong. There also are plans to construct airbases in Azerbaijan. EU-3 would not be able to promise anything good enough without American signature on it. Thus Iran’s government has every incentive to negotiate with USA.

Purpose: Did Mr. Ahmadineghad want to open doors of negotiation with USA with this letter? Yes I believe he did. Many would argue that letter does not address nuclear concerns. I would argue that the first communication could not possibly address that. In the first move, Iranian government has taken the first step to approach USA without being accused of compromising national rights. It is unrealistic to expect a president to surrender in his first communication. As for the nuclear issues Mr. Rohani letter to Time was addressing the same issue offering a start point. Thus Iranian government, although in an unorthodox way, has been sincere in seeking talks to USA. Mr. Ahmadineghad’s purpose is clear. He has offered White House an opportunity for negotiations. Mr. Rohani’s letter also confirms Iran’s preliminary bid in this bargaining process.

Tactics: Why then a letter 18 pages in this style? Tactic is a strange thing. Although there are many conventional ones, but nobody stops using unconventional ones as well. President Ahmadineghad in approaching USA has a number of concerns:
- He cannot appear that he is compromising Iran, there is no political group in Iran that can do that.
- He cannot risk losing the political stability of system by angering its ultra-radical elements; the religious contents of letter could have been for his own protection.
- He cannot speak from a position of weakness; he has some good cards in his hands.

Thus a letter of this character seems to be his optimal solution for a multidimensional problem.
I believe it is not hard to see that Iranian government is ready to start negotiations with USA. Now the ball is in the White House yard. It is unfortunate that Mr. Ahmadineghad is not the perfect gentleman, and there is nothing perfect in this world. But to make it perfect in the Middle East; one needs talk to Iran, one must talk to Iran. There is a genuine opportunity for that, now, here.

[1] Just a few months later Iran bought its first squadrons of Mig-29 from Russian and since then Russian has become a major supplier of weapon, aircraft, heavy machinery and technical service to Iran.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Women Can Go To Stadiums…. They cannot?

In midst of nuclear agenda, hardening the regulations regarding veil and collecting satellite dishes from residential areas, President Ahmadi Neghad announced that women must be welcome in Stadiums and sports events. He ordered one of his deputies to make necessary arrangements.

The reactions could not be more contradictory. On one side of political spectrum some reforms said with a sigh that he could do it because he has the support of the system. Others said that this was a good move. Many were happy because there was one sensible, visible change at last. People started to talk about it in buses and taxis[1]and women hold their breath for one brief second waiting to see the outcome.

Clergies, traditionalists and radicals alike, opposed such policies in most determine language. The most interesting part was the reaction of radical faction of Iran’s Parliament (Majlis). Some of its members openly told the residents of Qom that their Fatwas[2] are not law, and won’t be obliging until becoming so. Loftier heads had been lost expressing such thoughts in the past. More surprisingly the radical faction of the house is constituted by those who are there because of the support of the same clergies they defied for one brief moment.

At the end of the day, President caved in. There won’t be any women in stadium for a while. Another episode in the Presidency of Dr. Ahmadi Neghad is over. But why?

There is no observer of Iran’s politics who does not appreciate the role and influence of clergies of Qom and their radical figures. Mr. Ahmadi Neghad is supported by one of the most uncompromising figures Qom has to offer. However despite his teacher’s ideals and conventional wisdom he went for a bridge too far. There are several explanations each of them favored by some. However looking at Mr. Ahmadi Neghad’s actions from point of view of incentives might be more revealing than other approaches.

Mr. Ahmadi Neghad has come this far, not because he has been lucky or pragmatic, or modern. He has offered millions of frustrated low income families in Iran some hope. They might have seen him as an alternative to clergies rule, tired from Khatami’s indecisiveness and others’ economic gains, Ahmadi Neghad was an appealing figure indeed. He needs to keep the momentum of this support in order to stay in power and to remain controversial. He has not delivered any of his promises. There has not been any oil-revenue-surplus check for any one from south of Tehran. There has not been any free loan for recently married couples. Thus there must be another promise, another piece of hope to rally people to his standard.
Although it is not appreciated by the West, in Iran people’s opinions and support are counted on by different political factions. It is not the majority of people in this country, where population could be divided along so many lines; economically, culturally, intellectually, religiously, politically. There are groups, who form minorities but they can come together and form a decisive minority or a majority. Ahmadi Neghad has the incentives to act like he did; he needs these minorities to have some hope, even false ones. He needs to play women’s against hardliners and hardliners against women. And when he cannot deliver, this was “The others who did not let him to deliver”. In conspiracy oriented mindset of my esteemed compatriots that seems to be the final and unchallengeable excuse for lack of achievements.
[1] Taxis are the most active political discussion clubs in Iran, moderated normally by the cab drivers. They know everything.
[2] A religious decree which must be obeyed and followed by all true believers, in contemporary history an instrument for clergies to rally people to oppose un-Islamic policies of governments