October 2009


The violence of despair

Even the most miserable of prisoners, damned without hope of any kind, can turn the tables for a while:

Gohardasht Prison

Gohardasht Prison

A group of prisoners took control of Ward 1 of Gohardasht prison in the city of Karaj, west of Tehran, on Sunday during a riot against appalling prison conditions and the harsh treatments by the authorities. The prisoners clashed with members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) disarming two of the guards, Mohsen Khalesi and Marjani, before taking control of the Ward. Other prison guards and torturers fled the premises. Angry prisoners managed to get hold of the keys to solitary cells and release[ed] all the inmates. The riot continued until 21:00 local time, [after which] the prison’s special guards … took back the control of the Ward … The Ward 1 that houses solitary confinements is known as “dog house” because of harsh conditions and barbaric tortures deployed there. The prisoners are subjected to humiliation, insults and various physical tortures such as hunger and rape and are facing gradual death in the appalling living conditions. Every year a dozen of them commit suicide.

Bomb plots

Still worried about Af/Pak? According to David Blair, writing in the Telegraph,

Tehran’s nuclear ambitions have overtaken Afghanistan as the biggest security problem.

Breaking the Ramadan fast in Mashhad 06

Breaking the Ramadan fast in Mashhad 06

That’s bigger then all the currently highly irritating wars. Negotiations continue ─ after a fashion. The Gang of Six make a proposal. Iran accepts (it has just been caught with its pants down; Russia is miffed). Rejoicings. Then Iran gives a different version of what had been agreed. Despondency. Then Iran has to respond by a deadline. Iran secures an extension of the deadline. Yawn. Then it makes counter-proposals instead. These are said to be unacceptable to the Gang of Six.

In one of those anonymous but sublime diplomatic jokes,

“It’s like playing chess with a monkey,” said one diplomat close to the talks. “You get them to checkmate, and then they swallow the king.”

Is this what is known in the trade as ‘refreshing candour’?

Daily, there is news of bombs going off. So try plotting them on a map. Baghdad, Islamabad, Kabul. Occasionally also Mosul, Sistan, Lahore, Kashmir, Rawalpindi. Get the idea? Lots of orange flashes in an Islamic Crescent. What an explosive religion.

In Iran, everyone goes to jail

Hossein Rassam

Hossein Rassam

It is said that you are nobody in Iran if you haven’t been to jail. Nevertheless I feel sorry for Hossein Rassam, chief local research analyst for the political section of the British embassy. First he was arrested because the Little Satan must have sparked off the June/July protests. Then he was released on bail. Now he has been sentenced to four years.

For what exactly? For spying? For bringing God into disrepute? For wearing a multicoloured pullover? For spreading malicious tales about prison violence? No, for working for the British.

First Miliband spoke out. Now the whole European Union has spoken with one voice:

The European Union presidency [what Presidency?] … reiterates that any action against one EU country, a citizen or member of embassy staff, is considered an action against the entire EU, and will be treated accordingly.”

That’s the stuff. Make them tremble in their sandals. Threaten them with a return of Jenghiz Khan.

Border frictions

Women play cricket ... well, sort of

Women play cricket ... well, sort of

On 18th October, a suicide bomber managed to kill six senior Revolutionary Guard commanders in Pisheen, in the Sistan-Baluchistan province in south-eastern Iran. The Iranians have all sorts of trouble with their minorities who live along the borders who consider themselves Kurds, Arabs, Turks, Afghans or Baluchis respectively, depending on where they live. This lot are Sunni Moslems, which makes matters worse. They prefer Caliphs to Imams. There is a local resistance (“terrorist”) movement, the Jundallah, who may or may not have been responsible.

Anyway, a total of 42 people was killed. The Iranian government was quick to blame the United States, Britain and Pakistan. Somehow one gets the feeling that these people want to be taken seriously … but are going the wrong way about it.

A week later, an apparently secret mission involving Iranian soldiers, including Revolutionary Guards, in two vehicles was intercepted by Pakistani forces inside Pakistan’s territory, fired on and its cover blown. Eleven soldiers were taken into custody. The Iranians have been downplaying the incident.

This is a sideshow for Pakistan, however. Having for years made glowering faces and shaken nuclear fists at their Hindu superstate neighbour (because this is easiest for nationalist Islamic sentiment), the Pakistani government is now facing virtual national extinction from the northerly threat of Islamic extremism (Al-Qaida, Kashmiri militants, Taliban, Afghan insurrectionists), all done on its own territory and in the name of Islam. They are responding with uninhibited and successful ferocity, but already bombs are going off daily in the national capital and outside their military headquarters.

Bold student

During a visit of the Wise Donkey to Tehran students on 28th October,

a student from Sharif University, named by some websites as Mahmud Vahidnia, criticized the Iranian leader, state broadcast media, the postelection crackdown, and the closure of the reformist press — for a whole 20 minutes. The student reportedly told Khamenei that he had never seen criticism of Khamenei in the Iranian press. He said those surrounding Khamenei have turned him into “an idol.” He then went on to accuse state media of biased reporting and giving a false picture of postelection events. He added that since the supreme leader appoints the head of state broadcast media, he is responsible for its content and biased coverage.

Women sleep rough

Women sleep rough

According to his own website, Khamenei

reacted by saying that he welcomes criticism and knows that there is a lot of it.

Since you can go to jail in Iran for a lot less than this, we hope to hear that Mahmud is alive, well ─ and free.

Human rights at the UN

Demonstrators and Nobellists alike have long called for attention to switch from the nuclear issue to that of human rights. And it is true that with a more human government in Tehran the West would take a very different view of the risks involved in a peaceful nuclear programme. But little has happened until now.

“Today [i.e. 29-Oct-09], at the United Nations General Assembly, Canada will table the toughest resolution on the human rights situation in Iran,” Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said in the House of Commons just ahead of the UN filing. “For the first time, under this government, we are calling on the investigators to focus on Iran’s appalling human rights record.” The United States and five other big powers have long led the international focus on Iran’s suspected bid to develop a nuclear bomb. But Canada has emerged as a catalyst for UN scrutiny of Iran’s human rights record since the 2003 torture and murder of Canadian-Iranian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi while she was in Iranian custody.

Women wait for the right train

Women wait for the right train

So even gentle, agreeable Canada can be goaded into action. Good for them ─ and may the memory of Zahra burn brightly!

Detente or detonate?

Oh dear, it’s no longer exactly clear what was agreed on October 1st. Consequently the initial gush of optimism that the Islamic Republic of Iran might be entering a phase of co-operation is beginning to disperse.

Women do serious motorcross

Women do serious motorcross

“Time is on our side,” a senior Iranian official said.

Indeed it is. But haven’t we been here before? Or, as the lady said, it’s déjà vu all over again.

New rally

The harder-than-thou cockroaches, as usual, are anxious to do everyone a favour. For instance,

On Friday, a hard-line cleric sought to head off an attempt to reinvigorate the anti-government movement by warning against a planned opposition rally on Nov. 4 that would coincide with annual state-sponsored demonstrations against the United States.

So that’s a date for oppositionists’ diaries then.

The cleric, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, also had an unusual warning for the security forces, telling them any soft treatment of those activists already in detention would be considered treason. “Nobody gives a flower to his murderer,” he said in a Friday prayer sermon.

Ah, but they do, Mr Jannati.

Martyr Neda

Breaking the Ramadan fast in Mashhad 03

Breaking the Ramadan fast in Mashhad 03

Bizarrely, Neda Sultan is being considered for status as an official martyr by the state-run Martyr Foundation:

“The pictures seem to show that Neda Agha-Soltan’s death was the result of a plot by opponents and the enemy,” ILNA news agency quoted Masoud Zaribafan, head of the state-run foundation, as saying.

Of course, everybody knows that Neda was killed by an agent of the rogue state itself. He is now a penitent fellow, especially as his name, address and photograph have been circulated. Let us hope that future martyrs include some eminent figures in the regime itself and that their martyrdom is imminent.

More imminent, I fear, is the sacrifice of the lives of further imprisoned protesters. Watch out for news that more drug traffickers have been hanged.

How to destroy WMD

Women multi-task in offices

Women multi-task in offices

A death wish has long appeared to be a prime motivation among the ruling cockroaches of Iran. But they are not alone. Worldwide, a great groan of longing has arisen in unison from the very many righteous folks who long to see the end of this extra terrestrial regime and the restoration of some sort of normality.

Technologically, these discussions usually boil down to the question of bunker busters. Naturally, US military thinking has not stood still.

The United States department of defence has confirmed that it is rushing into production the world’s largest ever bomb, one designed specifically to destroy underground targets. The Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) weighs just short of fifteen tonnes, more than 80% of which is made up of a massively hardened ferro-cobalt alloy casing. When dropped from high altitude, the bomb will drive through earth and concrete before two-and-a-half tonnes of explosive are detonated to destroy the target.

Breaking the Ramadan fast in Mashhad 04

Breaking the Ramadan fast in Mashhad 04

Equally sobering is the view that Young Barack’s détente has reassured the mullahs that they are not under immediate military threat. Well and good, one might think. This can only lead to a constructive exchange of remarks as the heavy breathing subsides. Not a bit of it. With a smile of grim satisfaction, the regime has turned unchecked to terrorising and destroying its own population.

It seems the common analysis that the regime’s hysteria is a response to threat is mistaken. The threat is a response to the hysteria. The calculation is neatly summed up by the Wall Street Journal here:

To pursue engagement, President Obama needs his Iranian interlocutors to be durable leaders, not frauds on the brink. Iranian dissidents challenging the regime’s legitimacy are thus being treated as obstacles to statecraft.

Women perform intriguing open-air exercises

Women perform intriguing open-air exercises

Two more good quotes:

As Iran expert and human-rights advocate Mariam Memarsadeghi told us, the Obama team sees the democratic movement “as a wrench [spanner] in the works of nuclear negotiations.”

And:

[S]ays Iranian democracy activist Roya Boroumand, “Ask yourself why Iranians who protest in the street write things in English. They’re not just practicing language skills.”

More on the Qom Bomb

One effect of the revelation of the second processing plant has become clear since then. It is diplomatic:

Mr Obama’s dramatic revelation last month that Iran had built a second enrichment facility in secret at Qom has resulted in the Russians rethinking their pro-Iran stance. In return for supporting Iran’s position at the UN, Moscow expected at the very least to be kept fully informed of nuclear developments, so the Russians were deeply embarrassed by the exposure of the Qom facility. As a result, they have taken a far more robust approach to the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, which has increased Tehran’s international isolation and amplified the pressure on Mr Ahmadinejad to respond positively to the IAEA’s offer.

Breaking the Ramadan fast in Mashad 05

Breaking the Ramadan fast in Mashad 05

Raped into uniformity

There are reports of gang-rape being ‘officially’ carried out by “by four members of the Hefazat-e Etelaat-e Sepah Pasdaran, the intelligence service of the Revolutionary Guards” against two Arab women of Ahwaz. Ahwaz is the westerly oil-bearing region on the Gulf with a largely ethnically Arab population. Iran struggles with all its separate component identities. The women, one of whom had been raped before in 2006, were guilty of ‘cultural activities.’ Seems a bit steep. Eat Arab sweets or do an Arab dance, and you get raped by hairy Iranian fanatics?

But the way this is reported is illustrative of the bizarre social attitudes towards women which can be freely exploited by those who share them:

The women are aged 25 and 26 years old and were raped at a Revolutionary Guards prison in Charshir district of Ahwaz City on 1 September. They had been arrested in an ongoing campaign by the regime against Arab cultural and political activists … The rapes were filmed by the intelligence services to blackmail the women’s families into silence and to humiliate them in order to break them psychologically … In Iran, victims of rape, including children and pregnant women, are executed for adultery and ‘crimes against chastity’. But even if the women are not charged with adultery for being raped, their relatives fear being socially ostracised for the dishonour and shame that comes with extra-marital sex. In this way, families can be silenced and sometimes they carry out ‘honour killings’ if the wider community finds out.

 

Women restore Qajar ceilings

Women restore Qajar ceilings

At least the films can be used as damning evidence against the criminal imbeciles who committed these inexplicable acts. But wait a minute? Can people seriously think that, if you rape a child, that child is guilty of a crime against chastity? What depths of moral imbecility does this imply and is Islam solely responsible for the moral retardation of people such as these, evidently whole communities, and plausibly Sunni as well as Shi’a?

I remember a friend of mine, a diplomat in Yemen, explaining the moral reasoning to be found locally. If you passed down the street and a tile slid off a roof onto your head, injuring you, that was your fault – for walking by at that moment. (Perhaps you could be sued for causing damage to that person’s roof.)

I can understand the visceral recoil from the sullying of a woman (or man) involved, based on some primal grasp of the sacredness of life, guarded by chastity ─ but more than this seems to be going on here, a widespread ignorance of the elements of personal responsibility. I do not claim to understand such disorder at the base of human life. Perhaps some brave person would be kind enough to undertake my education?

Long live Kafka

Now a daughter of a prominent splutterer of the regime ─ President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s chief advisor on media and the arts, Mahdi Kalhor ─ has herself made a film which describes imprisonment and torture:

[Narges Kalhor’s] production, inspired by Franz Kafka’s short story, The Penal Colony, is a veiled critique of totalitarianism, which was screened when she appeared at the Nuremberg Human Rights Festival earlier this month … Ms Kalhor, who also works for an advertising agency in Tehran, went to the Nuremberg Film Festival for the screening of her film The Rake, in which a Turkish bath is recreated to represent the torture chamber depicted in The Penal Colony. She had not expected anyone at home to find out about her appearance, but news of her visit then found its way on to the internet in Iran, creating a furore in its lively blogosphere.

Narges Kalhor, film maker

Narges Kalhor, film maker

This did for her.

“On the last day of the film festival a friend called me from Iran and warned me that if I came back, I could well be detained at the airport in Tehran,” she said, in an interview near the drab asylum centre near Nuremberg that is now her home.” I don’t want to be put in prison and raped, or interrogated and tortured … This is a subject I have been thinking about all my 25 years of life. I am not a young girl any more.”

In the deep heart’s core

Mary (Baroness) Warnock has been issuing reports and pronouncing on overweight domestic issues throughout my professional life. In addition to this, she is a philosopher (I read her book on existentialism) and one of the current stony outcrop of the Great and the Good. I was on a Newsnight programme with her some years ago, when in the hospitality room Jeremy Paxman interrupted us obsequiously to solicit her opinion about his book, The English. She obliged, as I recall. Anyway, I happened to hear her in interview on the radio, enthusing about Robert Bridges’ The Spirit Of Man (1916), which was the main poetry anthology around in her girlhood and which influenced her throughout her life.

Robert Bridges, poet laureate

Robert Bridges, poet laureate

This aroused my curiosity and I obtained a copy which I read from cover to cover. Bridges was acknowledged in 1932 by FR Leavis in his New Bearings as a brave early patron of Gerard Manley Hopkins, though as I recall he chided him also for not exposing Hopkins more and interfering editorially with him less. It is true that a great many of the items in The Spirit Of Man have been fussed and fiddled with by Bridges, sometimes profitably, sometimes unnecessarily, including translations from the Latin and Greek which Bridges wanted to do all over again.

I don’t think anybody reads the poems of Robert Bridges today. His grandson (or great grandson) is a friend of mine and he certainly doesn’t read his ancestor. The Collected Poems is the sort of thing one could find quite easily in the little second-hand bookshops of yesteryear, like those of John Masefield and John Greenleaf Whittier. TS Eliot was still reprinting him in 1941, according to the cover of Harold Monro’s The Silent Pool. But De la Mare and the Georgians were rubbing shoulders with Ezra Pound, Robert Graves, Stephen Spender, WH Auden and Louis MacNeice, Edith Sitwell and Roy Campbell at this point. It is interesting that Eliot kept Bridges, Rupert Brooke and Edward Thomas in play. How time has sorted this list out, to be sure.

John Masefield

John Masefield

Nevertheless, the following short poem by Bridges seems to me both deft and intriguing:

The Evening Darkens Over

The evening darkens over

After a day so bright,

The windcapt waves discover

That wild will be the night.

There’s sound of distant thunder.

~-~

The latest sea-birds hover

Along the cliff’s sheer height;

As in the memory wander

Last flutterings of delight,

White wings lost on the white.

~-~

There’s not a ship in sight;

And as the sun goes under,

Thick clouds conspire to cover

The moon that should rise yonder.

Thou art alone, fond lover.

John Greenleaf Whittier

John Greenleaf Whittier

Bridges keeps all his 449 anthology entries anonymous, though he provides both a key and some scholarly notes at the back of the book. Many of the items are in French, some medieval French, though presumably this would not have troubled young Mary, at school in Winchester. The method of anonymity enables the reader to approach each offering with a modern but unglazed eye. Many chestnuts, to be sure, are easily recognisable but the playing field is surprisingly level.

I thus came to notice, as I read, that one figure loomed head and shoulders above the contemporary and now forgotten fustian of the likes of Dixon, namely that of the young WB Yeats. This seemed to me an essentially novel way of coming at the irruption of the talented and confident young poet in the years just before the First World War. I mentioned this to a friend who is a Yeats and Celtic Twilight scholar at Trinity College, Dublin, and to my amazement she obtained a copy of The Spirit Of Man and hunted up precisely the poems I meant.

Perhaps this is another example of Bridges spotting a significant winner. He was not entirely up-to-date with Yeats, since another two books had been published before he came to compile The Spirit Of Man, but he drew from the first four (1889-1904). The poems in question are as follows:

  1. The Lake Isle of Innisfree
  2. The Man Who Dreamed Of Faeryland
  3. The Sad Shepherd
  4. He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven
  5. The Lover Tells Of The Rose In His Heart (Bridges breaks up the long lines into two)
  6. The Ragged Wood (Bridges seems to have been working here from an early variant subsequently revised)
  7. Into The Twilight (Bridges extracts the first quatrain only)
  8. The Pity Of Love.

Bridges does not allow Yeats any of his titles, perhaps to enhance the anonymity. But the impact of these early poems, among the patinas of the museum and the featureless modern sawdust alike, is remarkable. They afford us a sidelong glance at an over-familiar eminence. Most of these poems are a century old, though Yeats seems distinguished enough now to be considered the foremost poet of the first quarter of the last century. If he is old, why so is Beethoven, whose youthful piano concertos also remind me of a young colt frisking in an empty Swiss meadow, running up and down, with mountains all around, tossing his mane.

The frisky young Beethoven

The frisky young Beethoven

Perhaps it is Yeats’s confidence. If ‘Innisfree’ is already familiar, and I want to come back to that poem, then we first meet an unfamiliar Yeats, like the Unknown Knight coming forward under a inscrutable gage at a tourney, in the following lines:

He stood among the crowd at Dromahair;

His heart hung all upon a silken dress,

And he had known at last some tenderness […]

Immediately, as sometimes with Browning, one comes across a level of unafraid emotional maturity. This poem consists of four 12-line stanzas, all purposefully but easily handled, and ends:

The man has found no comfort in the grave.

Yeats does a standard fin-de-siècle poem as well as anybody, as in the Dowson-like ‘The Lover Tells Of The Rose In His Heart’ (he dedicated his second book to Lionel Johnson of ‘The Dark Angel’), but one feels he is already beyond this. He works within an assumption of ─ not form: that has never gone away ─ but metre and rhyme, bit and bridle. But he handles classical models with an assurance bordering on sangfroid. Once again, the young stallion is tossing its head in the meadow. For instance, ‘He Wishes For The Cloths of Heaven ‘ opens:

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,

Enwrought with gold and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of the night and light and the half-light […]

WB Yeats by Augustus John 1907

WB Yeats by Augustus John 1907

(the monosyllables and spondees here arousing the reader to un-classical fervour) and ends:

I would spread the cloths under your feet:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Notice how the rhetorical overpowers the metrical. It is hard to see AE Housman, a near contemporary, allowing himself such liberties and prospectively inspiring Malcolm Muggeridge.

AE Housman

AE Housman

This poem seems to have been conceived as a whole before ever pen was set to paper, like the remarkable ‘The Pity Of Love’:

A pity beyond all telling

Is hid in the heart of love:

The folk who are buying and selling,

The clouds on their journey above,

The cold wet winds ever blowing,

And the shadowy hazel grove

Where mouse-grey waters are flowing,

Threaten the head that I love.

Here, the full force of rhetorical drive piles up in the initial dactyl of the final line. Similarly, the first stanza of ‘Into the Twilight’ ─ the only one admitted by Bridges ─ exemplifies a moody, pensive exploratoriness that is hard to match among his contemporaries in 1899:

Out-worn heart, in a time out-worn,

Come clear of the nets of wrong and right;

Laugh, heart, again in the grey twilight,

Sigh, heart, again in the dew of the morn.

One can see that this might lodge in the auditory imagination of Robert Bridges.

WB Yeats, the romantic idealist, by John Singer Sargent

WB Yeats, the romantic idealist, by John Singer Sargent

Which brings me to that dreadfully familiar poem, ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree.’ Here one has to forget the remarkable crackly recording of Yeats’s own reading and forget, too, the anaesthetic effect of meeting it in innumerable anthologies, and read it afresh, so that one can notice that this is a wholly unsentimental poem. Indeed it is primarily an acoustic poem, one that alludes to the effect of sound while not especially contriving such effects. Although the linnet’s wings are a visual exception, we are invited to consider the sound of bees and cricket and water lapping. The poet returns to the city, to tread the roads and pavements, but he still carries the echoes within him:

I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;

While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,

I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

This is a daring and irresistible plunge to the heart of poetic sensibility. Experimental psychologists have not, as yet, had anything illuminating to say about this most central aspect of human linguistic capacity, what Eliot called ‘the auditory imagination’ and what many poets, Pasternak and Bunting among them, have isolated as the matrix of poetic creativity.

WB Yeats 1923 after winning the Nobel Prize

WB Yeats 1923 after winning the Nobel Prize

It may, too, be relevant to evaluate Yeats’s writing ability (not his attitudes and beliefs, which are another story altogether), his artistic and rhetorical power, in relation to these gusts of prophetic current issuing from what he himself called “the deep heart’s core”.

Death in the afternoon

As I sit here in France, watching the sun go down over the noyers, it all seems a little surreal. Most surreal of all is that Pravda (but no one else) should be telling us that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Wise and Gracious Donkey, is dead. Long live the rahbar, the supreme authority for all prison rapes!

Breaking the Ramadan fast in Mashad 01

Breaking the Ramadan fast in Mashad 01

Wait a minute here, can this be true? Not that one idiot or another, equally idiotic, won’t succeed him, but his death at this time will surely cause factional ripples, so partisan had this particular Supreme Leader become. People even seem to have stopped arguing over the Velayat-e-Faqih (Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists), the Khomeinist doctrine that there should be a Supreme Ruler, because the Chaplinesque antics of the underqualified Ali Khamenei had rendered theological dispute superfluous.

In some societies the bad people lock up the good people. When Stalin died, the zeks in the prison camps rattled their tin bowls with delight, crowing, ‘The cannibal is dead!’ If you live in a society where the good people lock up the bad, just be glad. And if there should be a similar charivari in Tehran, with dancing in the streets, you will read it here first.

Trial of Karroubi?

Although unconfirmed, there are plans afoot to try Mehdi Karroubi for refusing to withdraw his ‘claims’ that male and female protestors have been raped in Iranian jails. Since the whole world knows a great deal of detail about these cases, which this blog has always emphasised, and no impartial and informed observer has doubted their authenticity, it is to be wondered what possible evidence could remain for authorities to ignore?

Women are keen on park exercise

Women are keen on park exercise

In which case, no indictment could succeed that stated Karroubi presented false information. It must therefore be, on the contrary, that he will be tried for telling the truth.

Let them wear what they like

Even in a jolly country like Kuwait, a hubbub of opinions and tubby women, there is still apparently an “Islamist movement” with a grip on parliament. (Yes, there is a parliament, which likes to criticise its ministers and gets dissolved from time to time by the ruling family.) Women MPs are supposed to wear the hijab when they attend the sharia-ruled precincts. Fortunately two of them are objecting and trying to have the stone age code reversed.

Breaking the Ramadan fast in Mashhad 02

Breaking the Ramadan fast in Mashhad 02

Not a minority opinion

Obama got singed by his previous, ultra-paranoid pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who thought that AIDS was invented by the CIA to keep black people in their place. He was genial enough on occasion, though, to marry Mr and Mrs Obama and show Christian faith and leadership.

Now the President has other messages to think about, notably that

extremist manifestations, such as the actions of suicide bombers and crazed gunmen, don’t arise out of thin air … They are part of a religious tradition that from its very birth has used the edge of the sword as a means to convert or conquer those with different religious convictions.

Mr Obama denies that the Rev Carey Cash is his new chaplain, but he’ll have to listen to him at Camp David, where the President has opted to attend the tiny Evergreen Chapel, far from the prying Cyclops eye of the media. The Rev Cash also

Women cox female crews

Women cox female crews

baptised more than 50 men during the Iraq invasion in 2003 … and believed a “wall of angels” protected his men as they fought their way from Kuwait to Baghdad.

Inevitably, any manifestation of faith is equated in our secular society with schizophrenia (“hearing voices”, of course). More interesting, perhaps, is this indication of anti-Islamism as a commonplace, unashamed opinion.

So let us hear nothing of Islamophobia, an entirely bogus term invented to ride with the jargon of political correctness, itself an expression of modern squeamishness.

Telling it like it is

The United Nations has produced a 19-page report criticising human rights abuses in Iran. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has been reticent, to say the least, until now. But yesterday he

Man attacked in own home 01

Man attacked in own home 01

expressed strong criticism of Iran’s human rights record, voicing concern about the use of excessive force after Iran’s presidential election, the harassment of women’s rights activists, the ongoing execution of juveniles, and the continued persecution of minorities … a pattern of concern arises with respect to the protection of minorities, including the Baha’i community, the Arab minority in Khuzestan, the Nematollahi Sufi Muslim community, the Kurdish community, the Sunni community, the Baluchi community, and the Azeri-Turk community.

Naturally he needs to sound encouraging. So he concludes

I encourage the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to address the concerns highlighted in the report and to continue to revise national laws, particularly the new penal code and juvenile justice laws, to ensure compliance with international human rights standards and prevent discriminatory practices against women, ethnic and religious minorities, and other minority groups.

The report is available here.

The careers of butchers

Some very grim pictures are circulating of a particular privileged torturer/executioner, present at numerous rallies and occasionally photographed. Perhaps he too has not long to live. But in the meantime he is able to act in flagrant and flagitious ways (see the photographs on this page).

Man attacked in own home 02

Man attacked in own home 02

It is a feature of revolutions that they throw up criminal and psychopathic types like this, sometimes from the depths of prisons. Charles Crawford, retired diplomat, in his blog, instances the very detailed and at last undisputed account of the Katyn massacres in July 1940 of Polish officers by the Red Army and the extraordinary rôle played therein by a certain Vasili Blokhin, who personally conducted the execution of 7,000 of the prisoners. He was therefore

ostensibly the most prolific official executioner in recorded world history.

The Iranian revolution is no exception. Like all revolutions a backward, reactionary and elitist show, it has already thrust into garish prominence a number of executioners and torturers, Basiji and Sepah, who have been photographed and identified. Their time has come. Justice will follow.

Extraordinary rendition

The Iranians are saying that the US abducted one of their nuclear scientists while he was, presumably, on pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis don’t seem to be answering Foreign Minister Mottaki’s letters. Oh dear. Are such things possible in 2009?

Dove-face of nationality

Dove-face of nationality

Shahram Amir is the missing boffin. Mr Amiri and “three other Iranians in recent years” are mentioned. I thought it was only the North Koreans who were liable to kidnap visiting Japanese and hold them for decades.

Rape? What rape?

Now we have the official version ─ again:

Iranian police chief Esmail Ahmadi Moghaddam told the Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA) Wednesday that it has been proven that no one was raped at the now closed government detention center of Kahrizak. He did admit, however, that “some offenses were committed” at Kahrizak, but refused to go into detail.

So that’s alright then. Apart from one statement of the obvious:

Reza Moini of Paris-based Reporters Without Borders insists that the Iranian police chief’s denial of rape allegations Wednesday, “have no legal value” because he denied the same allegations even before any investigation took place.

Women do kick-boxing

Women do kick-boxing

Well, needless to say, we are dealing here with a priori reasoning, reasoning from axioms that are incontestable, such as no allegations against the moral purity of the Islamic Republic are admissible. What a pity, then, for the Republic that the allegations are a dead certainty ─ wholly established, comprehensively documented, universally publicised. You can even read this story in Myanmar and Tajikistan.

Any colour you like, so long as it’s not green

It is said that football matches in Iran are broadcast now in black and white, so as to filter out the many eruptions of green in the crowd. Green balloons, green velvet headscarves, green shawls, green gloves ─ you name it. These now appear as a sort of streaky yellow or plain grey.

Women sing in choirs

Women sing in choirs

Grey is the colour of my true love’s beard, as he gleefully watches green footballs streaking around, the colour of desert vomit. It seems the dictatorship does care, after all, about what we see and think, about how it appears. Suppress dissent, suppress the appearance of dissent.

Forlorn cause!

Backwardness, backwardness, backwardness

This blog has never been able to distinguish between different varieties of backward-looking morality as expressed in Saudi Arabia, the Taliban, Hamas, jihadist groups in Indonesia or Iranian jails. Here they are at it again:

The Hamas government has banned motorcycle riders from carrying women on the back seat — the latest in the militants’ virtue campaign in Gaza. The ban … seeks “to preserve … the stability of Palestinian society’s customs and traditions” … Its other efforts have included breaking up mixed couples on the beach and obliging female lawyers to wear headscarves in court.

Women play football

Women play football

Surely, it all comes down to the same thing – the ineluctable poverty, intellectual deprivation and inhumanity of Islamic societies, rooted in Islam itself. Surely they need to get themselves a decent religion. Can anyone point me to an Islamic society that is peaceful, democratic … or even happy?

Backwardness, backwardness, backwardness.

Long live the Shah

It is being reported that one Mohammad Reza Ali Zamani, “who belongs to the Association of Monarchists,” has been sentenced to death by hanging for taking part in the June demonstrations. He made various confessions at his trial, was not allowed a lawyer (who is?), and according to a biased source,

Iran’s Mehr news agen

Women run in athletics teams

Women run in athletics teams

cy reported, during the trial, that Zamani was an active member of a “terrorist” monarchist group, and had fought against the country’s Islamic regime … Iranian monarchists have long attracted the ire of the government, which has accused them of responsibility for a number of bloody mosque bombings in recent years.

Of course if Zamani has really thrown bombs and taken innocent lives for the sake of the Shah, then Green support will be muted. But such is the lack of credibility of the Iranian legal system in these, its final days, one is entitled to treat all this with the greatest scepticism.

As a matter of interest,

A number of prominent Iranian clerics have ruled that the Revolutionary Court’s trials of opposition activists “have no legal value,” since “involuntary confessions made by defendants are void according to Shi’ite jurisprudence.”

Left hand, right hand? Sounds like chaos to me.

What has Yahoo been up to?

There is a rumour – more than a rumour – that

Women play American football

Women play American football

Yahoo collaborated with the Iranian regime during the election protests, providing to the authorities the names and emails of some 200,000 Iranian Yahoo users. This is according to a post on the Iranian Students Solidarity (Farsi) blog. My sources indicate the information comes from a group of resisters who have infiltrated the administration and are leaking out important information.

This ailing ex-giant will suffer a massive reaction if this is proved to be true (there is some doubt at present). A boycott would deliver it into the hands of its enemies. But maybe Google and Microsoft started the rumour themselves!

Yahoo representatives were asked to provide Iranian authorities with the names (data) on all Iranian Internet account holders in exchange for removing the block/filter on the Yahoo website … the Yahoo representative agreed to provide such a list within a matter of hours. Upon the receipt of such a list, which included approximately 200,000 emails, by the Iranian authorities, the regime immediately unblocked access to the Yahoo.com website. The list went back as far as five years and included active and inactive accounts and blogs.

It is imperative, as we enter the uncharted waters of global intimacy afforded by the internet (the Overmind), that repellent and repressive regimes are eased out by human rights morality, nonviolence and unanimity. Internet Service Providers, dizzy entrepreneurs all, have a special responsibility in this situation. They are in the forefront of political change ─ very much to their own surprise!

Venerating hot air

It is announce

The handshake

The handshake

d today that Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace prize. The Swedish committee apparently pays more attention to symbols than to substance. Obama’s Cairo speech was well-judged, and has had a constructive effect, but this is all he does: he speechifies (like all politicians). Verbal gestures extend in the air like curlicues.

Is the world a safer place since he became President, only nine months ago? Not noticeably. Has it become a more warlike place? Quite possibly, but we do not consider awarding him a Nobel Prize for War. So far, he has not earned himself the Peace Prize, unless good intentions, symbols and hot air are all the substance that can he hoped for in the cause of peace.

Marxist viridian

I am delighted to acknowledge some fellow-feeling with the Iranian Marxists who are watching what is going on. This one (Babak Kasrayi) is very observant and appears able to interpret the esoteric choreography of this appalling regime. Rat and Co. are reactionaries, of course, rather than the revolutionaries they style themselves, a title he would deny them. Kasrayi is particularly good on disappointment in the ‘leadership’ (Rafsanjani, Mousavi).

Women build tall buildings

Women build tall buildings

I have long suspected that Marxism is rather like all the bad medicines, cigarettes and outdated economics that we export to the Third World, where they enjoy a sort of afterlife. Otherwise it must defy belief that the dogmas of Marxism have any continuing currency in today’s world? What is “US imperialism”? This is something that is taken for granted and need not ─ on the basis of shared prejudice ─ be explained. The American ‘Empire’ is a contested, controversial term, as should surely be acknowledged, yet it is used like a blunt instrument in every paragraph.

Then we have to talk about ‘classes’ (as many still like to do). But people cannot be graded for quality, like eggs – small, medium, large. Even if we strain to accept the existence of a ‘proletariat’ (or ‘working’ class – and who does not work?), then it is sadly apparent that is the middle class that makes revolutions and the working class who, if you are lucky, joins them. In fact, in today’s Iran (and I accept the analysis that this is a revolution that, since June 12, is continuing) we see a broad-based popular movement counted in millions – by far the majority in the country – that sweeps up middle and working classes alike. If “strikes are growing everywhere in Iran”, well and good.

Green nosed Rat

Green nosed Rat

Where we part company is in the understanding that the Green Movement is largely one of mentality, not industrial or street power, of nonviolence, poetry and human rights, of social mores, rejection of Islamic identity, of equal rights for women and a humane spirituality. (The chunterings of Lenin from the early twentieth century are as irrelevant as some sort of Disney routine.) The Greens need to understand, not that

All genuine Communists, Socialists and Marxists in Iran should be working towards building what is missing, a revolutionary party of the working class

but that Israel and the civilised nations are their allies and friends, and they have been brainwashed to believe otherwise.

As for Khamenei, Larijani, the other Khatami, Rafsanjani, Ahmadinejad and all the other little cockroaches ─ something tells me they have not very long to live.

Imam, nizam, kaboom

The mood in Iran now seems to be one of alienation from the whole project of the Islamic Republic. I always said the regime would have been wiser to compromise very quickly after the disputed election, even to the extent of sacrificing Ahmadinejad, because a less fanatical leadership could have led a cobbled-together government into an Islamic future consistent with the previous 30 years.

Ahmadi-Nejad's wife, with glasses, with Vafa Sulaiman, wife of the Lebanese president

Ahmadi-Nejad's wife, with glasses, with Vafa Sulaiman, wife of the Lebanese president

There is now a mood of deep distaste with the whole enterprise. Mousavi keeps talking about policies “in the line of the Imam” and the future of “nizam” (Republic). But the population is fed up with clerical rule altogether: to hell with the lot of them. This is forcefully expressed as a desire for a Republic of Iran (no Islamic).

Mrs Ahmadinejad goes shopping in New York

American satire, however welcome, seems to consist largely in the belief that references to current mass media entertainment are very funny. Here, Mr and Mrs Ahmadinejad appear on a talk show. He is a speechless dummy, she a shopaholic chatterbox. I don’t understand any of the references.

The reality is that Mrs Rat is virtually invisible. She is the one in the photo wearing glasses, on the right, with the elegant wife of the Lebanese president (when they had one). Never is more than this seen of her. I do not know her name and nobody else seems to either. People like this consider that to take one’s wife out of her closet and expose her, even garbed in black, to the cameras of strangers is virtually pornographic. During the pre-election TV debates, Ahmadinejad clandestinely waggled a photograph of Mousavi’s wife from the podium. He need not have bothered, since Zahra Rahnavard routinely appeared alongside her husband, a shockingly radical break with Taliban morals.

Mr and Mrs Ahmadinejad, 2-Jun-09

Mr and Mrs Ahmadinejad, 2-Jun-09

However, Rat has allotted huge numbers of lucrative positions to members of his family, helpfully summarised in a chart here.

The bloody tide subsides

A multitude of observations suggest that the worldwide tide of radical Islamic fervour has been dying down for a year or two. Now it is reported from Egypt that

Sheikh Mohammed Tantawi was reportedly angered during a tour of a Cairo school when he saw a girl wearing a niqab, the full veil worn by some devout Muslim women which covers the entire body except for the eyes. Sheikh Tantawi, regarded by many as Egypt’s Imam and Sunni Islam’s foremost spiritual authority, asked the teenage girl to remove her veil saying: “The niqab is a tradition, it has no connection with religion.”

“May your head be always green, and your lips always laughing, so that lovers’ hearts rejoice in you. Who sees you and does not rejoice, may he remain crestfallen, wretched and always a wanderer!” Jalal al-din Rumi (1207-1273).

“May your head be always green, and your lips always laughing, so that lovers’ hearts rejoice in you. Who sees you and does not rejoice, may he remain crestfallen, wretched and always a wanderer!” Jalal al-din Rumi (1207-1273).

Now it is to be banned in Egyptian schools. Emboldened, Sunni clerics elsewhere may follow suit. But if the niqab bites the dust, the hijab lingers on. Does anyone know the difference between a niqab and a burka? (The burka has a fine mesh over the eyes and is still more concealing, if that is possible, than a niqab.) But

Sheikh Tantawi’s edict is likely to prove unpopular among fundamentalist Muslims. One popular Saudi cleric has already argued that the niqab is not conservative enough and has called on devout women to ensure they only reveal one eye in public.

God help us. Meanwhile,

Lebanon’s militant Islamic group Hizbollah has had its reputation for ideological purity tarnished by a growing scandal involving an alleged Bernie Madoff-style Ponzi scheme.

One might rejoice in the discomfiture of one’s enemies, if this did not imply some sort of acceptance of morality on their part. Alas, that would be going too far.

The Henna Commander

The Henna Commander

The UN lurches

After producing a report on the Gaza conflict of appalling partiality, the UN now

is to include the Holocaust in a new curriculum for schools attended by children in Gaza despite protests by the Palestinian territory’s Hamas rulers.

All the news that’s fit to ban

The life of a newspaper in contemporary Iran might be thought to resemble that of man, at least in a state of civil war as described by Hobbes,

solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.[1]

With journalists in prison, the regime wages ferocious and unceasing war against any accurate reporting whatsoever of news. Iranians are presumably supposed to lap up the bullshit of Keyhan only, on a daily basis. To this end, three more newspapers have been closed. One had hardly supposed that there were any that remained open.

Infirm Obama

Free Iran!

Free Iran!

I’m afraid that evidence is mounting as to the weakness of our new leader. He is reported to have faced considerable pressure from Brown and Sarkozy not to delay further the release of news about Iran’s second processing plant at Qom.

Details of the disagreement appeared to explain why Mr Brown and Mr Sarkozy, the French president, took a harder line on Iran than the American leader at the meeting. The Prime Minister said it was time “to draw a line in the sand” on Tehran’s nuclear programme while the Frenchman mocked Mr Obama for the naivety of his “dreams” of eliminating nuclear weapons.

Now, much worse, it is said that federal funding for the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center in Washington has been denied.

But just as the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center was ramping up to investigate abuses of protesters after this summer’s disputed presidential election, the group received word that – for the first time since it was formed – its federal funding request had been denied.

Where is my Mummy? - Lost in the tar shales of Friday group prayer

Where is my Mummy? - Lost in the tar shales of Friday group prayer

“If there is one time that I expected to get funding, this was it,’’ said Rene Redman, the group’s executive director, who had asked for $2.7 million in funding for the next two years. “I was surprised, because the world was watching human rights violations right there on television.’’

This is seen as a sign that the White House is inclined to be “less confrontational”.

Many see the sudden, unexplained cut-off of funding as a shift by the Obama administration away from high-profile democracy promotion in Iran, which had become a signature issue for President Bush.

A Muslim mayor for Rotterdam

It seems to me quite a constructive move, not to mention a democratic one, that Moroccan-born Ahmed Aboutaleb has been appointed (not elected) Mayor of Rotterdam. Pace Geert Wilders, this is not comparable at all to a Dutchman becoming mayor of Mecca. Unless of course Wilders thinks Holland should be compared to Saudi Arabia. After Theo van Gogh was murdered by an Islamic extremist,

Speaking at an Amsterdam mosque, Aboutaleb sternly told Dutch Muslims that if they did not subscribe to the Netherlands’ values of tolerance and openness, they ought to catch the first plane out.

The Iranian abattoir

It is now reckoned that the number of people killed by the regime since the end of the Iran-Iraq war has surpassed the number killed in that war.  In their passionate quest to chuck nuclear weapons around, the Iranians leadership might be thought better fitted to fur panties and clubs.  But their necrophilia rages unchecked.

Put down your gun

Put down your gun

When the supply of corpses, blood fountains and chain-slapping ceremonies dried up in 1988, they turned their attention to Communists, left-wingers, peaceful protesters, Kurds, Baha’is, journalists and even armed revolutionaries on their borders (most of the latter are now in Iraq). Many of these massacres and mass burials have gone unnoticed by the Western press.  Only now, on the crest of the Green Wave, has the extraordinary appetite for death come to public attention.

There are thus two mysteries in contemporary Iran.  First, there is the dynamic of ultra-ism, whereby everybody at the top of society strives to appear more extreme, more hardline than everybody else (the latter therefore designated as ‘moderate’ or ‘reformist’ ─ a considerable exaggeration).  This version of Islam seems to entail the necessity, in order to appear holier-than-thou, of my claiming ever blacker grades of ferocity and hatred.  Secondly, there is the passionate interest in death and dying, killing and being killed, martyrdom and sacrifice.  The commonsense view here seems to be right, that on any account this is morbidity verging on psychoticism.  One hunts in vain for a relevant category.  Religious mania is not like anything else.

Why is there this investment in imbalance? And the apocalyptic embrace of death and atrocity?


[1] Leviathan (1651) pt. 1, ch. 13

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is Jewish

Well, well, well, Apparently the Rat springs from a Jewish family. There is a large Jewish minority in Iran, perhaps the largest such group in the Middle East. Nobody in Iran changes their religion, becomes a naw-kish (one with a new

Rat's family is Jewish

Rat's family is Jewish

religion), unless they are desperate – to escape persecution. Someone who converts from Islam is a mortad, one who turns his back, who is then under sentence of death. (Islam being rather like a concentration camp: Anyone attempting to escape will be shot.)

Ahmadinejad’s family was called Sabourjian (‘cloth weaver’) until they embraced Islam shortly after little Mahmoud was born, when they changed their family name. Apparently this is known to many Iranians, though it might be more unsettling if all Basiji got to hear about it, but it certainly was not known to me. What does this say about his fanaticism and insecurity?

I hope his blacksmith father was properly proud of his son with the doctorate in traffic management.

The singer not the song

Apparently Colonel Gaddafi, who recently tore up the charter of the United Nations in public, though with less reason to do so than Benjamin Netanyahu, has been having a quiet word with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “Do you want to govern or do you want the bomb?” he is said to have asked.

This is precisely the right question, because, however messy and undesirable would be the process of de-fanging the military dictatorship in Iran, it would undoubtedly spell the end of the Islamic regime.

It was Gaddafi, remember, who voluntarily renounced nuclear ambitions and opened his doors to IAEA inspectors when Saddam Hussein was dug out of his foxhole and had his hair and beard cut in front of television cameras.

Since this reported conversation in New York, the Iranian regime has sung a sweeter song – marginally – and co-operated in Geneva with a partial internationalisation of its nuclear industry. Indeed Mohammed ElBaradei has flown to Tehran this weekend to discuss a lightning inspection of the newly disclosed Qom facility. Of course, as serial deceivers they have absolutely no leeway for being believed by the 5 + 1 nations, but the brink seems just a tad further off than it did at the beginning of the week.

Thanks to Colonel Gaddafi.

Himalayan beatitude

Dalai Lama signs up to the Green Wave

Dalai Lama signs up to the Green Wave

At the end of September,  Nazanin Afshin-Jam met the Dalai Lama in Vancouver:

I asked His Holiness if he would stand in solidarity with the Iranian people by holding a sign that says “Freedom for Iran” and “Human Rights for Iran”. When the Dalai Lama agreed without hesitation, I hugged and thanked him. I was so elated because I knew what an important symbol it would be for the people inside Iran. I want the Iranian people to know that they have not been forgotten and that the international community stands beside them.

The Qom bomb

Always anxious to be helpful, the Israelis have given Tsar Putin a list of all the Russian scientists believed to be helping Iran develop a nuclear warhead. Knowing the value of both grace and tact, they chose this method of implying that such help was not official and that Putin knew of no such scientists.

It was thus altogether an unembarrassing moment, one afterwards greeted in Western capitals by a concerted purring:

American and British officials argued that the involvement of freelance Russian scientists belonged to the past.

Iran nuclear sites and rocket range (Economist 3-Oct-09)

Iran nuclear sites and rocket range (Economist 3-Oct-09)

But its supposed influence over Iran remains highly important to Russia:

So far as Mr Putin is concerned, the Iran crisis presents Moscow with a golden opportunity to assert itself as a global player. “Iran is the only card the Russians have to play on the world stage, so they will hang on to it for as long as possible,” commented a senior Western diplomat. “It is not in Russia’s interests to have this problem resolved any time soon.”

The canter towards offensive nuclear weapons, which Ayatollah Khomeini believed, before his death, could have delivered victory against Saddam Hussein, is turning into a gallop:

The Israelis believe the Iranians have “cold-tested” a nuclear warhead, without fissile material, for its Shahab-3B and Sejjil-2 rockets at Parchin, a top-secret military complex southeast of Tehran.

The graphic here is from today’s Economist.

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Sayeed Jalili (whose predecessor accused Mr Ahmadinejad of corruption before departing), is said by diplomats to specialise in ‘monologue’. Con Coughlin comments:

During the six years that Iran has been negotiating with the West over its controversial nuclear programme, it has taken the politics of procrastination to an entirely new level. Keep the talks going, and keep those centrifuges spinning – that has been the dictum that has defined Iran’s approach to the nuclear crisis and, from Iran’s perspective, it continues to pay dividends … They have repeatedly promised to freeze their controversial uranium enrichment activities at Natanz, only to resume enrichment once they realised there was nothing the West could do to stop them.

Imprisoned green bird

Imprisoned green bird

Meanwhile, are the Obama people getting real?

More broadly, the US side is uncertain whether meaningful progress can be made with the current Iranian government. “We’re not back explicitly at regime change,” says this official. “But incrementally there is agreement, a [growing] realisation within the administration that this is not a regime that can make the compromises we want them to make.” In fact, the Obama administration has been widely reported in the past week to have stepped up its examination of various sanctions options. US officials in Washington have begun to speak of the president’s outreach efforts in the past tense.

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