Political theatre

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.Confessing cat

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.

Hossain Khomeini

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? … Mosque sceneThe 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.

Green DaysHanna Makhmalbaf

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.