August 30, 2009
Posted by mvlturner under Persian stuff
| Tags: Advar News
, Ahmadinejad helicopter travel
, Ali Larijani
, arms shipment from North Korea
, Behesht-e Zahra cemetery
, Christopher Caldwell
, Confirmation of rape in Iranian prisons
, Iranian TV viewing figures
, Khatam al-Anbya
, Majlis bodyguards.
, Plot 302
, Sadeq Larijani
, Saideh Pour-Aghaee
, sweets for temporary marriage
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Should there be a ‘not’ before the main verb?
The Great Donkey has spoken. Wistfully chewing on a batch of straw, he said yesterday, 26th August 09, to a group of students,
I do not accuse leaders of the recent events of being stooges of aliens, including the US and Britain, since it was not proved for me.
Then why are they all confessing to it, then? Isn’t that proof enough?
Wait a minute. The Wise Quadruped went on:
But Iran’s supreme leader … added that the unrest was calculated by Iran’s enemies “whether or not its leaders know”.
So that’s all perfectly clear, isn’t it?
Moreover it turns out that some detainees have indeed been raped, but only by brooms and bottles:
“Raping of some detainees through baton and soda bottle has been proved to us,” the unnamed member of the investigative committee [an Iranian MP] was quoted as saying.
And not by anything else, brother?
Arms for goons
North Korea has been shipping arms to Iran, apparently. Ten containers of weapons and related items, including rocket-propelled grenades and ammunition, have been impounded. The Bahamian-flagged ANL-Australia was seized in one of the UAE, though not Dubai.
A twenty-three year old boy who was arrested after the election, imprisoned, tortured and raped, was released on 26th August. When they came after him again, he ran out of his house into the street, threw himself off a bridge and killed himself, rather than go back to prison. His bloodied father, out of his mind, curses the Islamic Government here.
A footnote to the ghastly stories of girls being forced into ‘temporary marriages’ in prison, so that they can be raped with Islamic propriety: emissaries of the regime have been calling at the homes of such girls with bags of sweets, to congratulate the families on the ‘weddings’ of their daughters.
Islamophilia, I don’t think
And now, predictably, there is a rising swell of anti-Islamic public feeling (“Islamophobia” – silly word) in Europe, some of which is indicated here.
At last a well-researched book has appeared that takes sober stock of the new hostility to the huge, ‘unmeltable’ Islamic minorities in our midst:
For the most part European countries have bent over backwards to accommodate the sensibilities of the newcomers. A French law court has allowed a Muslim man to annul his marriage on the ground that his wife was not a virgin on their wedding night. The British pensions department has a policy of recognising (and giving some benefits to) “additional spouses”.
But European public opinion is tiring of such bending. Mr Caldwell cites a poll that shows that only 19% of Europeans think immigration to be a good thing for their country; 57% think that their country has “too many foreigners”. Such numbers have recently forced politicians to adjust their policies.
Since this blog first turned in an Iranian direction after the phony election, I have emphasised the economic aspects of the regime’s dealings. They are thieves and gangsters, as well as ruthless participants in an illegitimate military dictatorship. This is covered quite fully in this week’s Economist:
The IRGC leaders … also want to protect a moneymaking machine. The IRGC controls a big chunk of the 70% or so of Iran’s economy that is state-run, with stakes in everything from dental and eye clinics to car factories and construction firms. Even “privatised” assets seem to fall into its hands or those of friends. The real private sector has grown hoarse crying foul, as recently when the state privatisation agency quietly passed ownership of Tehran’s main convention centre to an army pension fund.
Because their accounting is off-the-books and the ownership of these businesses is notoriously opaque, it is difficult to gauge their value. But in his first term Mr Ahmadinejad steered billions in uncontested oil, gas and large-scale infrastructure contracts to the IRGC. Its main construction firm, Khatam al-Anbya, could barely keep up with the workload. In 2006 alone the subsidiary received $7 billion to develop gas- and oilfields and for the refurbishment of the Tehran metro system. “It’s got much worse in the last four years,” says one local market analyst. “They’ve become a mafia. They undercut bids by abusing their access to free labour and exploiting their intelligence capabilities [to spy on competitors].”
The IRGC is also widely rumoured to control a near monopoly over the smuggling of alcohol, cigarettes and satellite dishes, among other things in great demand. One MP reckons these black-market deals net it $12 billion a year. This creates not just a drain on state coffers but an incentive to radicalise the regime; the IRGC’s commanders personally profit from Iran’s isolation, since it creates more demand for contraband. Some American congressmen have called for an embargo on petrol imports if Iran does not come to terms over its controversial nuclear programme. The IRGC might even relish that.
In other words, they have a vested interest in all the prostitution and drug use that are now an epidemic in that fair country. And perhaps they would even welcome tighter sanctions. The interests of the ruling clique are not aligned with those of the Iranian people.
The economy in Iran is now in such a parlous state, quite apart from the epidemic social evils, that there is currently, in the harvest season, a shortage of fruit and vegetables. The delicious home-grown rice, distributed from the fertile country to the north of Tehran, is suddenly unavailable and the main bazaar, business district in Tehran is flooded with Chinese goods, to the disgust of Iranians.
Viewing figures for (state-run) television show that audiences are down to 40% of what they were before June12th.
The butcher of Tehran goes
Few names, since Khalkhali, the hanging judge of the years after the revolution, have come to be associated with so much terror and injustice than of chief prosecutor Mortazavi. He has now been fired by Sadeq Larijani, suave former nuclear power negotiator and now head of Iran’s judiciary (and one of the five brothers known as the Kennedys of Iran). Since hope one must, and since injustice is such a key indictment of the present Iranian regime, let us hope that the anarchy, despotism and illegality of the ramshackle and primitive ‘justice’ system will reduce somewhat.
The fates of the several hundred detainees at present caught up in show trials depends on what is essentially a power struggle involving Ayatollah Khamanei, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ali Larijani to determine the future direction of the lurching Islamic state, whose very survival is increasingly in doubt.
The Rat has become increasingly averse to public appearances, for fear of being assassinated. He travels by helicopter for preference. He seldom comes even to parliament, the Majlis. But last week, he put in an appearance there, accompanied by two bodyguards. One of the bodyguards was asked to sit elsewhere, but refused. Eventually parliament ordered both security guards to leave, on the grounds that if Ahmadinejad did not trust his own MPs, he should not be there.
People coming forward in rape cases
According to Advar News, the body of a seventeen year old girl, Saideh Pour-Aghaee (Amaee) who had disappeared, after being arrested by the militia for ululating on the rooftops, has now been identified, raped, and scarred from head to knees with acid. The family applied for release of the body for mourning and burial, but were refused. The girl has been secretly buried in the notorious Plot 302 in Behesht-e Zahra cemetery in Tehran, the site of many alleged mass burials. Her family were intimidated into silence, and into sticking by the story that she had died of kidney failure, but they have broken their silence and are speaking the truth.
A shipment of at least 25 bodies, all of girls who had been raped, is reported by a female attendant at Behesht-e Zahra cemetery.
August 26, 2009
In an analysis that says what many of us have thought, Aziz Motazedi describes the election miracle as a shift in opposition activity from positive (which inevitably involves tactical compromise) to negative (dissociative) expression:
[…] the boycotting of goods and services promoted on state-run television (or imported from China), the orchestrated honking of car-horns, the deliberate power-outages caused by turning on electrical appliances when government officials are scheduled to appear on television.
This does indeed have precisely the effect he attributes to it:
If people in the free world today look on Iranians as people not unlike themselves, and certainly different from the ruling minority that governs its country, this is the achievement of the protesting young Iranian generation. In its continued refusal to allow its innocence to be sacrificed for the benefit of this or that group, this generation may yet find a remedy for the deadlock of Iran’s past thirty years.
It is no surprise that Motazedi is a writer (in Farsi) of long, historically rich stories. Would that they were available in English.
Trapping the rats
The Regime of the Rat really has caused an immense amount of anger among the ordinary population. If a sizeable crowd isolates a group of the despised plain-clothes police on their own, then it really is all up with them. This video shows a traffic jam of irate commuters, all honking their horns at a group of basijis, two to a bike and in plain clothes. The basijis eventually turn tail and escape against the direction of the traffic. One hopes that no-one was hurt, but several bikes are left in flames.
A new ‘people’?
I am reminded of an old joke that occurs in Brecht:
The Secretary of the Writer’s Union had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee, stating that the people had forfeited the confidence of the government and could win it back only by redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier, in that case, for the government to dissolve the people and elect another?
Bertolt Brecht, The Solution.
The remains of the remains
There is currently much anxiety that the regime will destroy, displace or otherwise obscure the site in Behesht-e Zahra cemetery of the ‘mass burial’ of protestors, tortured to death or simply executed. Pity those families who don’t even have a body to mourn or, more numerous, don’t know for sure whether their children are dead or live. There is some embedded wobbly YouTube video footage here showing what appear to be gravestones with many bootprints in the sand. Not so unmarked graves, perhaps.
The Age of Reason
In response to an article by Mr Mehdi Ghani attacking, and trying to refute, the claims and teachings of an unnamed sect under the title of ‘The end of reason’, an anonymous writer responds with a another article called ‘The dawning of the age of reason’ at the Critics on history site (in Farsi).
According to this writer, the Age of Reason began:
- When the twelfth imam was born from the right thigh of his mother.
- When a woman whose relatives were all imams didn’t know that Shi’a prophets all grow as much in a day as a week, in a week as a month, and in a month as a year, so that the eleventh imam was forced to explain to his sister how this came to be.
- The destruction of the libraries in Alexandria and Iran by the order of Omar on the grounds that, if these books are against the Koran, they should be burnt, and if they are not against the Koran, then the Koran itself is sufficient.
- God was confused as to whether the creation had taken place in six days or eight days, so the Koran mentions both (and nobody objected).
- God told men, Women are your fields: sow in them as you please.
- The history of past peoples changed in the Koran, so that nonexistent people suddenly appeared and, equally suddenly, disappeared again.
- Abraham, instead of sacrificing Isaac as in all other sources, suddenly, in the Koran, sacrifices Ishmael instead (and nobody objected).
- The prohibition on fighting was announced: Do not fight or you will become weak, because you will pass wind.
- The result of all this reasoning is that although one claimed Mahdi was questioned in court about Arabic grammar, nobody questioned Mohammed about grammar (the Koran is full of such mistakes); as a result the hadith [traditional spoken teaching of the Prophet] are so contradictory.
- All the interpreters of the Koran, in the face of these grammatical errors, historical mistakes and inaccuracies, did not know what to do.
- The monotheistic religion of Mohammed became so entwined in trouble that, despite Ali, all the brothers started fighting each other.
- And as a further result Mr Mehdi Ghani (the original journalist) ceased to occupy himself with Islamic matters and started taking an interest in the beliefs of others.
More prison rapes
These tales continue to eke out, sadly mitigated by the sheer modesty of the victims:
“I was in prison, I was blindfolded and my hands were tied,” the young man told Mr. Karroubi. “I was beaten nearly to death, and worse than all of that, they did something to me which even unbelievers and idol worshipers would denounce.” […] In his statement to Mr. Karroubi, the young man who said he was raped said that in his case, his questioners suggested he was to blame, even asking if he enjoyed the attack. Then they threatened him. “While we were waiting, the officer told me he didn’t think anyone was capable of such an act and accused me of lying,” the man said. “He asked me if I realized the kind of trouble I would get into if I couldn’t prove the charges.”[…] He said that one day, when Mr. Karroubi was filming their discussion, three government men came to Mr. Karroubi’s office to question him. The young man agreed to go with them to visit a doctor. On the way, he said, “I asked them why they had done this, why they had treated us like this, what had we done?” The response was, “When the supreme leader confirmed the election result, everyone should have recognized it.”
A selection of images of the green protest is anthologised here to accompany the release of BuddaHead’s new single, Sour Grapes. Many of these we have seen before, but all are moving. Bonfires in the rain. Young faces. Men fighting, girls impressing. I hope they are all alright.
August 25, 2009
Posted by mvlturner under Persian stuff
| Tags: Abdel Baset al-Megrahi
, Ahmad Behbahani
, Carla Bruni
, Ebrahim Nabavi
, Hanna Makhmalbaf
, homosexual rape of ‘Reza’. birth rate demography in Iran
, Hossein Khomeini
, Karim Sadjadpour
, Karroubi rape allegations
, Larijani brothers
, Mohammad Ali Abtahi
, national identity of Iranian youth
, New Yorker reporting of Iran
, Persian cookery
, spoof confessions
, stoning punishment for adultery
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The footwork of the show trials is “almost surreally obtuse”, as the New Yorker puts it.
The nefarious plotters engaged in “exposing cases of violations of human rights,” training reporters in “gathering information,” and “presenting full information on the 2009 electoral candidates.” Apparently, the Iranian citizen is meant to consider it self-evident that the country’s national interest depends on concealing human-rights abuses, censoring the news, and obfuscating the electoral process … Today’s show trials are a sign of how much Iran has changed in the past thirty years, and how poorly its regime has kept pace.
Let satire be my song
An amusing Iranian satirist, Ebrahim Nabavi, pretending to be Mohammad Ali Abtahi, confesses on camera to being recruited by the CIA, having an affair with Carla Bruni and importing green velvet. He thanks his interrogators for kindly beating him. Only in Farsi, unfortunately.
Indeed, the spoof confession has become a whole new art form. One may in quick succession view a man admitting to igniting Iran’s green revolution, sinking the Titanic and starting World Wars I and II; a supposed female CIA agent admitting to smuggling suitcases full of cash into the country to support the reformists; and a face-shaped stub of wood lauding the dieting benefits of Iranian prison. “I was able to lose 30 pounds in just 30 days,” the stick says. There is even a convincingly rasping confession from a bored-looking and ultimately yawn-prone, cat.
A regrowth of identity
It is said that, rather than espousing feminism (with lipstick), liberation and careers as doctors and engineers, as in the 1970s, at least half the younger generation are keen to become human rights activists. There is also increasing evidence among the young of a search for identity – ‘roots’ – among Zoroastrian and Achaemenid remains. They reject their Revolutionary Islamist identity, which is all they have been officially given. Born since 1979, they have known nothing else ─ but they know they are not that.
Hang together ─ or hang separately
It is difficult to have much confidence in the anti-Ahmadinejad factions, including the five Larijani brothers, the Kennedys of the Islamic Camelot. As Karim Sadjadpour, an analyst with the Carnegie Endowment, says, quoted here,
10 years ago, the Larijanis would have been considered arch hard-liners themselves on the Iranian political spectrum. But the spectrum has moved so far rightward in recent years that, now vis-à-vis Ahmadinejad, they appear somewhat moderate.
All these people are thieves and low-life riff-raff. The more senior the official, the scruffier their appearance, as has often been observed. Their calculation seems to be that their own future depends on the survival of the Islamic republic. But the republic is going down, so why wait? Why not defect to the forces of virtue now, like Khomeini’s grandson, now a green velvet man in Iraq? Is the logic of brutality such that they must cling on to the bitter end, to be despatched by crippling sanctions and bomb strikes?
The moral benchmark of rape
Something of the veil-tearing effect of the Karroubi rape allegations is conveyed here by Hanna H, writing from Tehran and who evidently grew up in Tehran, a ‘bubble-wrapped’ child of the Revolution:
The bubble-wrapped generation learned from television shows that Jesus-looking young men and Mary-like young women serve as the country’s security and civil officers, foiling one enemy plot after the other, convincing offenders and terrorists with their charismatic charm to confess to their crimes, and shaming the bad guys with their aura of piety into guilt and repentance … The bubble-wrapped generation was then offered alternative images with Western movies reeking of decadence, in which cops and secret agents never hesitated to beat the suspect to a pulp to extract a confession … Horror stories about Abu Ghraib and Gitmo made everyone shiver to the bone and feel blessed that there to protect us were the unnamed soldiers of the Hidden Imam — God-fearing individuals who have chosen to remain anonymous lest their deeds, which are all an act of worship, be carried out with insincerity.
But all that quickly vanished:
When Mehdi Karroubi went public with information that protesters had been raped in detention, officials were shocked into speechlessness. How could one of the insiders betray the brotherhood and expose the closely-guarded secrets of the Iranian illuminati? … The law enforcement officers whom we had seen on TV and about whose selfless acts and religious zeal [we had] learned in school were the ‘bad guys’ shown to us in the alternative imagery. They had tortured, raped and killed … Years of deceptively convincing the nation of their benevolence and compassion vanished within a week and the Islamic Republic, the self-proclaimed guardian of religious values and the upholder of the true Islam, was stripped bare before the eyes of the entire world. The holier-than-thou were charged and found guilty of fraud.
It is no comfort, though, to hear that
in the Middle East, a rape victim is viewed as a leper and society either denies their existence or boycotts them.
Baying for blood
A man (not a woman, unusually) is to be stoned to death in Iran for adultery ‘confessed’.
Capital offences in Iran include murder, rape, armed robbery, apostasy, blasphemy, serious drug trafficking, repeated sodomy, adultery, prostitution, treason and espionage … Under Iran’s existing law, adultery is still punishable by stoning, which involves the hurling of stones in public at a partially buried convict. A man is buried up to his waist and a woman up to her shoulders … Convicts are spared if they can free themselves.
Presumably it is harder to wriggle free if you are buried up to the neck.
No one without an education in this country actually knows what apostasy and blasphemy are. Treason and espionage, in Iran, are whatever you want them to be. Prostitution is now a major national industry there.
Even Hossein Khomeini, pictured above, believes, in addition to the fact that an American-led invasion of his country is desirable, that such stoning is against Shi’ite Islam.
The making of a martyr
Inconceivably, Karroubi has actually betrayed his rape witness, a traumatised fifteen year old boy, ‘Reza’, to those investigating the truth of the claims. They removed the boy and of course pursued an idiosyncratic line of questioning:
How did you meet Karroubi? Which telephone number did you use?
Two months after the event, he was subjected to a physical examination amid whispered telephone consultations with doctors. A report was issued, torn into confetti-like shreds.
The regime controls the press, the television, the streets. Where can one go for any kind of redress? Three people who allege rape in prison have disappeared. For those who were tortured to death in custody, there is no further judicial or any other possibility.
With all this apparently bottomless sordidness, it can at least be reported with pleasure that Hanna, the talented daughter of Mohsen, Makhmalbaf and winner of the Crystal Bear, is putting finishing touches to her film of les événements, Green Days, to be shown at the Venice Film Festival.
Can we see it please?
Birth rate declining
It is a truism of development studies that, if you educate women, they have fewer children. The current tension in Iran is in part down to the fact that 60% of the population is now under 30. But things are changing:
[Now] women give birth to fewer than 2 children, on average. This is one of the most remarkable demographic shifts in world history. [Iran’s] fertility rate has declined from 7 children per woman in 1980 to 1.9 today – a decline of 70 percent in the space of a single generation. And about 80 percent of married women in Iran use contraception — the highest rate among all the countries in the Middle East.
Perhaps, as women find purposeful things to do with their talents outside the home and achieve some economic independence, Persian kitchen culture will shift from the woman-intensive business with a multitude of pans and fine chopping that seems specifically designed to create occupation for prisoners.
There is currently a media tumult over the release on compassionate grounds of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi. The Libyans, predictably, make no distinction between guilt and innocence (they are Muslims after all) or a hero and a villain. Who gave the white-clad crowd all those Scottish saltire flags?
I have no problem with compassion, but I have a nagging problem with the justice. Was not Iran behind it all anyway?
In 2000, a man named Ahmad Behbahani, claiming to be a defecting Iranian intelligence operative, told CBS’s 60 Minutes that Iran was behind Lockerbie; and that the motive for the attack was retaliation for the accidental downing in July 1988 of Iran Air flight 655 by the USS Vincennes, killing all 290 passengers. Behbahani spoke of an operation involving the Syrian-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command and a group of Libyans trained and funded by Iran.
The shooting down of the Iranian airliner in 1988 was severely shocking and a disgrace. But if the skipper of the Vincennes had known the correct identity of the civilian airliner, he would not have opened fire. Revenge seeks a forced parallelism.
August 23, 2009
Posted by mvlturner under Persian stuff
| Tags: Ahmad Vahidi
, Ahmadinejad cabinet criminals
, Ahmadinejad cabinet women
, Argentina bombing
, Behesht-e Zahra municipal cemetery
, Buenos Aires bombing
, Commerce Minister Massoud Mirkazemi
, Hamid Reza Katouzian
, Mohammad Taghi Rahbar
, New York Times
, Norooz News
, Persepolis 2.0
, Quds Force
, rape victims in Iranian prisons
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The protests in black and white
A refreshed, updated Persepolis 2.0 may be viewed as a PDF here.
Dead, buried or frozen
It is rumoured that three rape victims, who have come forward to substantiate the allegations by Karroubi and others of rape and torture in Iranian prisons, have disappeared.
It seems that every joke one might make about this regime is not funny. Every joke is true.
The New York Times reports:
On Saturday, Norooz News, a reformist Web site, published a report that workers in Behesht-e Zahra municipal cemetery in Tehran buried 28 bodies from July 12 to 15 in Plot 302. If confirmed, the news of the burials would suggest a higher death toll than the government has acknowledged … With accompanying photographs, the report said that in other cases, bodies returned by the authorities to family members appeared to have been frozen solid, suggesting that corpses were kept in industrial facilities.
Cabinet of criminals
It seems that objections to the Rat’s proposed cabinet are not based on their criminal tendencies,
Ahmad Vahidi, who commanded a unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard known as the Quds Force at the time of the attack, was nominated by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Wednesday along with others named to fill Cabinet positions. The Quds Force is involved in operations abroad, including working with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group, which is accused of carrying out the Buenos Aires attack.
or their incompetence
Hamid Reza Katouzian, a conservative MP, made clear his view that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s nominee, current Commerce Minister Massoud Mirkazemi, lacked the right background for the top oil job … “Any person unfamiliar with this field who would step into this ministry would need at least two years to get familiar with its rudimentary concepts … and during this period there would be irreversible damage to the industry,” he was quoted as saying … In a surprise move, Ahmadinejad on Wednesday nominated Mirkazemi, an industrial engineer, as oil minister in his new cabinet following June’s disputed presidential election. Mirkazemi has little known experience in the oil industry, but is seen as an ally of the hardline president […]
but on their sex. Being female might be seen as some sort of faint, vestigial advantage in this cabaret of old men from some distant century. Not a bit of it. No matter that the women are sclerotic and fossilised in the extreme. The objections are theological:
“There are religious doubts over the abilities of women when it comes to management,” said hardline lawmaker Mohammad Taghi Rahbar.
The Western press is hilarious, describing everyone on the Iranian scene as a hardliner (what else?), trying to discern shades of black. This is to distinguish them from reformists, the good guys. Faith is always placed in Turbans that evince some flicker of education, cognitive complexity, sophistication, modernity. Yet in truth one could shuffle the turbans a good deal and still carry on with ignorance, cruelty and lack of imagination. All the hardliners are flatliners.
August 23, 2009
Only the evening like honey comes
to stare into the cross-hatch of faces
etched in the grime, the blunderings
of animals caught in the grid.
Viewed from the Neva the vaulted
pock-marked wall has a geometry
like a chessboard, while over all
hangs a giant, bitter sulk
like smoke that does not fade
with the backwash but rises
to blacken and haunt the river passengers
for years to come in dreams and spectacles of ruin.
Now one can recall, too, with comprehension
the early morning figure passing along
the Fontanka canal and over the bridge,
alone, unobserved, but furtive.
The tender heart is deceived into thinking
that this city’s scowl can be coaxed away
by a spot of sunshine, that it does not conceal
anything more than weakness and defeat.
The truth is altogether harder: the waves
of famine, terror and death
have arrived in scars that ridge
every step to the cemetery.
The queues are gone. The smell
remains but there is no smell.
In the cells on three-tier bunks
the teenage thieves fester
with one tap for twenty-four inmates,
the hardest on top, like the guards.
Each crime is sweated out in the heat,
a rape, a stolen anorak.
And so all the passing birds long
to fly in at the little crosses
bearing pebbles of light
like migrating souls.
Everywhere time stops, history yields,
eternity hesitates, while nature
spreads out and endures.
Like honey the evening comes.
August 17, 2009
Posted by mvlturner under Persian stuff
| Tags: Achaemenid eagle
, Achaemenid lion
, American hitchhikers in detention
, Baroness Caroline Cox
, Farhad Lohoni
, Green Path of Hope
, Iranian cemetery
, Iranian government hostage taking
, Joshua Fattal
, Mohammad Reza Baqeri
, Paolo Woods
, President Robert Mugabe
, Sarah Shourd
, Shane Bauer
, St Petersburg Investigative prison
, Trajectories of Despair
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The prisons of Russia, the cemeteries of Iran
In 1994 I visited the St Petersburg Investigative prison with a group of professional colleagues. In order for our cameraman to film undisturbed in the tiny cell with twenty-four boys stacked in three-high bunks inside it (the film was later shown on Channel 4), I kept the principal guard, Valery Vasilievitch, talking in the corridor.
The heat was oppressive, with sweat trickling down our faces. Natasha [our stalwart interpreter] looked pale and exhausted, trying to keep up with the translation. I had been struck, inside the cell, by how he had appeared to know some personal detail about one of the boys, perhaps that he had received a visit or parcel recently. Outside I asked him, “Do you know all the boys’ names?” “Of course!” An extraordinary question. “Do you find,” I continued, “that you become like a father to them while they’re here?” I thought this had been an innocent, confidence-building question. It released a torrent of vehemence from our block of hard-liner wood. A father? Good heavens no. Everything was a routine. His job was to carry out all the routine procedures. There was nothing but routine. No contact at all.
This explanation went on for a long time.
Then came more: the first word a Russian child hears is No. Physical confinement is the main punishment used with children in this country. They are locked up. It is natural. It produces a very disciplined nation. All children are naturally well behaved. Discipline should be very severe.
Later, as he became impatient, I mollified him by commenting that “Russian prisons were famous throughout the world.”
One tyranny is much like another. Now it is the hysterical tumult of turbans in Iran. The current news is bad enough. Readers will by now be familiar with the exposure of the IRI as a military dictatorship, ruling by force (IRGC or Sepah) in opposition to its own people, whom it tortures, rapes and murders. Equally as impressive as the visibility of the regime’s every move, is its unawareness of that visibility. As often argued here,
The massively orchestrated and naked violence that the Islamic Republic has launched against its own citizens [has] discredited any claim to “Islam” that it may have while bordering on discrediting Islam itself … The Islamic Republic of Iran is self-destructing.
That’s what they’re saying in Cairo. Meanwhile, we all must contemplate the universal image of the Islamic Republic of Iran ─ the cemetery.
The Iranians do death really well. They have the highest road accident rate in the world: each year 20,000 people die in 250,000 accidents. With China, it boasts the highest number of judicial executions. And in recent weeks, with two plane crashes reported, it has emerged that the country also has one of the worst air passenger safety records in the world, beating off flyweight competitors such as Yemenair.
Photo here from Paolo Woods, of Time Magazine.
But those a little more familiar with the ups and downs of theocratic rule over thirty years will say, quite rightly, that it was always a police state and the first waves of executions were in 1981, 1985 and 1988. Survivors of those waves are among the most eloquent reporters on life in the prisons and torture cells. A particularly calm, sober and moving set of such interviews may be viewed here.
Spot the waterfall?
The three American holiday hikers through scenic south-eastern Iraq, were initially reported to have ‘strayed’ into Iranian territory, and not to have been helpfully redirected but instead detained by the authorities there. Now there is an altogether different story. The three appear to have been kidnapped from near a scenic waterfall at Ahmed Awa , in Khormal district, inside Iraq.
Farhad Lohoni, the leader of the local tribe, said his relatives had witnessed a group of men cross the border using a road that leads to a base used by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in Marivan, Iran. He claimed that the local Kurdish security service had records of a call suspected to have been made by an Iranian agent to Iran that is said to have tipped off the IRGC to the Americans’ presence in the scenic area. “This was not a case of the Americans straying into Iran,” he said. “They were targeted and captured by a group that came over from Iran, ignoring Iraq’s sovereignty. We know this and it means that Iran must have wanted to take Americans hostage at this sensitive time.”
Once again, mobile telephone evidence is not the kind that Iran likes. After thirty years in power this regime, the flagship for Jihadist violence everywhere, still exhibits all the instincts of village bandits. Ahmadinejad insists that his government is a major force in world affairs, deserving of all international respect, yet in any tense situation what does he do? Reach for a hostage. This time it is not unarmed British sailors in international waters:
Shane Bauer, 27, Sarah Shourd, 30, and Joshua Fattal, 27 … are believed to be in detention in Tehran … Almost three weeks after the group was seized, the Swiss ambassador, who serves as the representative of US interests in Tehran, has still not been granted access by the Iranian authorities. A fourth member of the group said Mr Bauer had been able to use an Iraqi mobile to alert him to their predicament. “I sent Shane two text messages, one at 12:50pm and one at 1:22pm, to which he did not respond,” said Shon Meckfessel, a friend of the group who had been resting at a hotel. “At 1:33pm I received a call from Shane during which he told me that they were being taken into custody and that I should call the embassy.”
In any case, if these three intrepid holidaymakers had wanted to penetrate into Iran, a three-hour hike east from their position, they might never have arrived, since there are uncleared minefields along the way left over from the Iran/Iraq war.
Mousavi has announced a new movement, to be called The Green Path of Hope. One cannot begin to imagine that such freedom of association will be allowed in the dungeon that Iran has become, where even free-minded journalists are all in jug. There is scope, is there not, for some samizdat-style clandestine distribution of reform literature. At present, all most people seem to be demanding is for there to be some law in Iran.
Patriotic Iranians – the majority – who have been led to feel seven hundred varieties of shame by the Ahmadinejad regime, are critical of their present national flag, which they regard as defiled. The flags of Iran down the ages include the original Achaemenid eagle, shown here, and subsequent lions, dropped in 1979 because of their association with the Shah.
There is some preference being expressed for the restoration of pre-Islamic eagles and lions, especially because Iranians now feel that only a return to the dignity of ancient roots could cleanse the national consciousness of the ghastly reign of criminals.
Honour among thieves
A rather shy news intelligence source reports as follows:
Mohammad Reza Baqeri, Deputy [Iranian] Foreign Minister for African Affairs, who is heading a delegation visiting Harare, discussed issues of mutual interest with President Robert Mugabe on Friday evening. In the meeting, the two sides congratulated each other for holding presidential elections in the two countries. Mugabe called presidential election in Iran a ‘big event’ and said that he was following the election process very carefully. The president said, “We are familiar with the west plots and conspiracies and we intend to fight against imperialism.” He considered President Ahmadinejad’s message as a sign of brotherhood between the two countries. Baqeri, for his part, praised President Mugabe’s wisdom which has brought tranquillity to Zimbabwe.
This seems almost too good to be true. I couldn’t let that pass, could I?
 These notes were made at the time and subsequently published in Cox, C. (ed) Trajectories of Despair. Misdiagnosis & Maltreatment of Soviet Orphans. Christian Solidarity International, 1991.
 Perhaps, pace Tolstoy, each happy family is happy in a different way.
August 15, 2009
The kind-hearted people of Iran have hard-hearted rulers
Karroubi has kept up his accusations of rape, torture and murder. They are an understatement and seem to represent the slightly shocked responses of a decent, naïve old man.
Other detainees “were forced to take off their clothes [he is quoted as saying]. Then they were made to go on their hands and knees and were ridden [by prison guards]. Or the prison authorities put them on top of each other while they were naked … Do such treatments conform with Islam, which is a religion of mercy?” he asked.
Ah, religion does come into it then. Perhaps we might seek further examples, such as the presence of a mullah required in prison to hold a Koran over the heads of a female prisoner and prison guard, to make her a ‘temporary wife’, before he rapes her? This blog has reported before on the ‘religious duty’ to rape young girls in prison prior to their execution to prevent them going to Paradise? Is Islam inculcating these childish fairytale beliefs alongside the moral brutality necessary to their realisation?
If this is religion, give us atheism
Islam actively sanctifies these acts of savagery and violence. This is not a question of some marginal shadow across the good name of Islam. Islam is the source of this moral vision. Make no mistake, ordinary people everywhere, in the intimacy of the internet, are able to see precisely the harsh, ruthless sensibility, lacking in forgiveness, pity and tenderness, which is characteristic of Islam, at least Shi’ite Islam in Iran today. They unerringly perceive the prevailing hardness of heart of the hardliners. For most people, the portrait of Khomeini is the epitome of evil.
The lid is now off the pot and the contents stink in the nostrils of the world.
Such a sordid, degraded vision is totally unworthy of the name of religion. A people imprisoned in such a tradition will always stagnate in cruelty and backwardness. Let them get themselves a decent religion and begin to live:
Wilt thou have anything to do with the stool [judgement seat] of wickedness: which imagineth mischief as a law?
Resistance nimbly mutates
The wonderful Martin Fletcher, who has often reported Green Events first and best for The Times, describes the guerrilla actions of reformists:
They still chant Allahu Akbar (God is greatest) from the rooftops every night, and write anti-regime slogans on banknotes, but they are also daubing graffiti (“Death to Basiji”) ─ the volunteer militia that confronts protestors on the streets ─ and “Death to the Dictator”) on walls across the capital, and using paintball guns loaded with green paint to obliterate posters of Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader.. Sometimes they simply paint a black X across his portrait.
Thousands of samizdat DVDs are discreetly distributed in cafés, restaurant and tea houses, and through networks of friends and relatives. They document the regime’s crimes, show protesters being beaten up, and focus on the faces of the Basiji volunteers carrying out the beatings so they can be identified.
At football matches, religious ceremonies or anywhere that large crowds gather, small groups in their midst will start chanting and others join in. “It has reached a stage where the government is trying not to show sports events live. When they do, they censor the noise and try not to show spectators,” said one reliable source in Tehran.
The opposition plans to step up its attacks on government websites, and create huge traffic jams outside government offices to prevent employees reaching them. From next week it also plans to paralyse the heavily-used rail system on selected days by holding doors open, pulling emergency brakes and other such actions.
There are still periodic street demonstrations, but they are designed to thwart the security forces. On Wednesday thousands gathered outside Tehran’s huge, labyrinthine bazaar. “When the police attacked we were able to run into the maze of the bazaar and its surrounding streets only to reappear at a different place to continue the protest,” one participant told The Times. Sympathetic merchants sheltered the protesters, and on at least one occasion beat pursuing Basiji.
The laughing pen
The cartoon here is by Mana Neyestani, a seasoned satirist whose somewhat metaphysical works can spark riots.
The Revolutionary Guards, including the much-loved Basiji, clearly aren’t going to yield to anybody in the hardness-of-heart stakes:
A senior guard commander struck back on Sunday [it is reported here] and challenged the judiciary for not going after the three top opposition leaders, Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mahdi Karroubi and former president Mohammad Khatami themselves, who initially led the protests over the June 12 elections on the grounds they were rigged.
Meanwhile, as reported above, the protestors, undeterred, are collecting photographic and witness evidence of acts of individual Guards and Basiji so they can be put on trial when they, the protestors, become the government. Which they soon will.
 Psalm 94, v. 20, Coverdale; Shorter Book of Common Prayer, CUP/OUP 1992, p. 250.
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