Thursday, March 29, 2012

How Much Darker Should It Get?

Azadeh Moaveni has written a piece for Guardian in which she writes "But the reality is not as black and white as Tehran makes out. American law includes provisions allowing Iran to procure spare parts by applying to the US treasury department for a special licence. Under this provision, Iran applies for what it needs through an intermediary and the parts are installed in a licensed third-country, such as by Lufthansa in Germany. Iran has availed itself of this option in the past, and the treasury has issued nearly a dozen special licences related to its civil aircraft, according to a treasury department official. Given that Tehran is pretending this provision doesn't exist and is declining to use it more aggressively, Washington should make the case that Iran is playing its own cynical game."

I read this part several times and shared it with a few friends. While I have no doubt that Ms. Moaveni's ultimate goal is to reduce the pain and sufferings of Iranian people, I doubt that she has a true grasp of the factual reality which exists on the ground.  The truth is that the aforementioned provisions and the procedures to use them are not known. And even if they were implemented in practice, benefiting from them would not be that simple.

First one does not apply to U.S. Treasury on his or her own. The interactions between nations are ruled and governed by national governments. Particularly in Iran where national sovereignty is emphasized on a daily basis such applications without the government's explicit authorization are nothing short of treason.

Secondly even if Iranian businesses apply to be exempted from sanctions on humanitarian grounds on what basis these exemptions will be granted. The public sector is the largest sector in Iran's economy and Iranian government either owns or controls most of the industries in this county.

Third few private entrepreneurs in Iran have the resources to apply for such permits on their own. The financial burden will be too heavy and the process too time consuming. Paradoxically only businesses with government connections and access to government resources could go through this process. Wouldn't this be against the spirit of sanctions?

Since Ms.Moaveni has paid particular attention to Iranian airlines and their plight, I would like to point out a few particulars about this industry in Iran. Iranian airlines are a mix of public, semi-private and private firms. The problem is not lack of parts, it is the age of the existing fleet. Iran is one of the few countries, if not the only one, where one still could board a Boeing 707 or a 727-100 or a 747SP. These are considered classic airplanes these days. Both private and public airlines do not have access to modern aircraft. Even if one or two private airlines in Iran could receive such exemptions one would wonder how they should manage the financial transactions for this process.  No banks would accept their wires and Iran banking system is being isolated aggressively. In my last trip to Iran I talked to the director of a private flight school where men and women learn to fly and receive their licenses. The operation was fully private with two women flight instructors.  The director was desperate, since he could not get either parts for his light single engine airplanes or replace them with new ones. He told me "We simply do not have the funds to keep bypassing sanctions".

The fact is that the situation does not need to be pictured as black and white. Since it is black. And may be that is why now owning up to it has become a bit difficult.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Neither Shahs Nor Mullahs

Today Bravo is going to broadcast "Shahs of Sunset" a reality show about six Iranian-American men and women or as one of the local radio stations in Atlanta calls them "six Persian-Americans".   These not so young individuals live in Los Angeles, home to the largest Iranian immigrant population in the United States. The show is another reality TV production, filled by drama, to use a polite word, and that attractive surreal reality. It is made to entertain. However there is little doubt that it will trade one stereotype, the angry bearded fundamentalist from Tehran, for another one; vulgar, materialistic show-off from "Tehr-Angeles". Neither can possibly be representing Iran or Iranian people.

As I hear the commercials about this TV series filled by "pool parties", "extravagant lifestyle" or "brand orientation" of these characters I could not help but thinking of real Iranians and real Iranian Americans. I cannot help think of my friends in other cities, where they devote their time to their families. These days they are getting ready to celebrate Nowruz. They could be anywhere from Oshkosh, WI to Columbus, SC. Last year a friend who actually lives in Oshkosh told me that she had to spent one whole week preparing decorations and table covers. So the dozen families who live in the vicinity could get together to celebrate the coming of spring. She will not be on this reality TV, since she is really real.

I also cannot help thinking of average Iranian living in Iran. These days I am working on a piece about Iranian NGO and I remember Zahra, a 30 years old mother of a two year old. We met in our Alma mater in Tehran. The NGO was a group of students dedicated to help impoverished children and to assist in their education. Their office was one small room in the student center on campus. While Zahra talked to me about their challenges her two year old son strolled around. The furniture consisted of a very old table, couple of chairs. In a corner two students were packing boxes of hygiene products  for the children. Zahra was tired, she had a full time job and It was 8:00 PM.  For those kids, who are always absent from news and articles about Iran and Iranians, the show will come as a gross misrepresentation of the truth. They do not care about the brand they are wearing, as long as they are wearing something! So no I am not happy about "Shahs of Sunset".

Roshanak Taghavi has written a great article for CSMonitor  describing the dilemma many Iranian and Iranian Americans face. I think "confusion" describes the reaction the best. On one side some think the show provides a fresh insight into Iranian culture, some argue that it is the last stage in Americanization of Iranian Americans. And many are unhappy that their choices are either Tehran or Tehr-Anglese. For one I wonder when the world and the media would see us for who we really are; like anybody else we try to succeed while almost everybody else refuses to see us for ourselves. We are neither Shahs or Mullahs. We are just humans like anybody else and kinda tired of stereotypes.