Saturday, April 18, 2009

An Op-Ed Piece in the New York Times

Farnaz Calafi, Pouyan Mashayekh and I wrote a piece on Howard Baskerville, which is accepted by the New York Times as an Op-Ed piece today. This April 19th marks the 100th anniversary of his death. Remembering him, is remembering the ideals and the principles of humanity.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Back from Vacation

Iran has come back from Nowruz's vacation. Two weeks, no newspaper, no serious political meeting and no significant economic event. Right now the USA and Iran both are in the business of sending positive smoke signals, a fortunate development.
Economy...well economy is a rather strange affair in Iran. Dr. Larijani allowed a report on fiscal performance of the government to be read in Majlis. One must admit that Mr. Ahmadinejad's govrenment left much to be desired in this matter. Apparently government did not follow the budget in half of the places, where it should have.
On the other hand Dr. Mo'meni, Mr. MirHussein Mousavi chief economic advisor is adding to our concerns. Mr. Mousavi is running as the chief presidential candidate of reformist parties now, and has been endorsed by several groups so far. Should he occupy presidency it is speculated that Dr. Mo'meni would be his choice to run the ministry of economic affairs. Dr. Mo'meni has made no secret of his passion for protectionism and government's role in economic affairs.

Friday, April 10, 2009

New Weblog on Iran's Economy

Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, who is a professor of economics at Virginia Tech and a fellow at Brooklyn Institute, has launched his weblog on Iran's economy. He has called it: Tyranny of Numbers. Djavad's work on Iran is well recognized. He is one of few well informed economists on this side of Atlantic who painstakingly follow Iranian affairs and rely on domestic data sources for his research and studies. His most recent article is due to appear in the Journal of Economic Inequality. This is a great blog to follow.

Friday, April 03, 2009

An Observation: Makhmalbaf and Dehnamaki

Mohsen Makhmalbaf came to prominence as an independent Iranian filmmaker with an eye for social issues. However as a rebellious youth he was a radical revolutionary who once stabbed a constable with a knife in his revolutionary zeal. For a time during early days of revolution he symbolized what was called an ideologically responsible Muslim director in Iranian cultural society. His first movies were those of a revolutionary still fighting an Armageddon again evil. The change came later.

After making The Cyclist, a movie about the plight of Afghan refugees in 1980’s, he moved to work on social issues within Iranian societies. These proved to be too perceptive and too sensitive for the authorities. His movies; “Marriage of the Blessed” and “The Nights of Zayandeh-rood”, were banned. He discovered that he had crossed a line and now was on the other side of the table against the establishment. His later projects were mostly critically acclaimed and he boldly tried new topics and ventured the unknown. He even made a movie about the constable he once had stabbed, calling it "A Moment of Innocent". He is now a renowned filmmaker of international reputation.

While Makhmalbaf was embarking on his artistic voyage as a director, thousands and thousands of young men were volunteering to fight in a real war. Masoud Dehnamaki was one of these thousands. Young and passionate about his country and revolutionary ideals he joined Basij to fight invading Iraqis. He found his utopia among his fellow soldiers; ignoring the impossible, braving Iraqis tanks with AK-47s, finding themselves following the footsteps of martyrs of early Islamic history. He felt he was a crusader. When the war was over, that world came to an end. Dehnamaki found the normality of a peacetime society most disagreeable. It did not take too long for him to be outraged by what he considered to be a betrayal of wartime values and war veterans.

He became a familiar face in Ansar-e Hezbollah, a radical group, and started writing for their periodicals. While Makhmalbaf was a celebrity in Tehran’s movie festivals and cultural events, Dehnamaki was a protestor on the street denouncing these events, accusing them of immorality and ignoring the principles of martyrdom. Once he gave an interview to Christian Amanpour sitting in front of a wall of sandbags replicating a barricade at frontlines. He was fighting new enemies, his war had not ended.

Still Dehnamaki has a genuine interest in social issues and poverty. He entered the world of movie making and made a documentary about prostitution in Tehran, thus crossing the street to begin a career in movies. In 2007 he made a movie about war, a comedy called “The Outcasts”. The movie tells the story of a gang member who volunteered for the frontline so he could induce the father of the girl he loved to give his blessings to their marriage. The movie portrays his spiritual journey. It was a box office success and Dehnamaki complained bitterly that it could have set the record if the authorities would have let it stay while there was still demand for it. The success of “The Outcasts” prompted him to make “The Outcasts 2” which is now in movie theatres across the country, and is a box office best seller.

Both movies are popular with the public. Although both have been criticized by some for having too many silly jokes and portraying frontlines too jovially; disrespecting the martyrs and their spiritual journey to martyrdom. However Mr. Dehnamaki is happy with his success yet bitter with the cold reception of Iranian movie making circles. Many artists have neither forgot nor forgiven his actions. He considers himself an outcast in their world and complains from time to time. For him they represent an establishment he is opposing. Well no one claims Iran suffers from a lack of irony in any aspect of her affairs.

Dehnamaki and Makhmalbaf are two opposing sides of Iranian artistic scene now, but their journeys are similar: from violent activism to artistic creation, from approving stabbing and beating their opponents to criticizing them openly and strongly for their lack of humanity or their lack of respect for humanity, from preferring guns to using pens and cameras. Theirs should serve as a reminder to anyone who might fancy an Armageddon. You want to be merciless with your enemy, use a camera. It is much safer and way more rewarding.
* Photo is from galleries on "A Moment of Innocence"