Donald Trump: America Unmasked

24060018Less than one week to go before this mudslinging exercise is over and I – as an American transplant, am torn between voting my conscience or casting that single ballot in an effort to shore up a sham democracy against the American Mussolini.

First, I would like to make one thing clear. I am not a Hillary hater nor do I worry about color or gender when it comes to presidency. Most importantly, I do not care one cent about email-gate nor the four Americans killed in Benghazi under Hillary Clinton’s watch. Considering the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, Libyans and Afghanis killed as a result of elective interventionism, I find it obscene to lament the loss of four Americans stationed as regime change operators in Libya. Call it cost of doing business the same way we write off non-American casualties. Basta!

At the same time I am amazed that so many are horrified at Trump as if he were an anomalous specimen who sprang out of nowhere – an orange wound festering like an unsightly mutation in an otherwise healthy democracy.

Au contraire, not only is he the misplaced embodiment of the same anti-establishment rage catalyzed by neo-liberal economic failures that brought out the Bernie supporters, but also the poster child for our revered American exceptionalism which has given us militarized police at home and the planetary mandate for preemptive strikes anywhere at any time.    What’s the matter? Is it the sanitized veneer customarily delivered by Wolf Blitzer you miss, or the wooden faced white house speaker and inside the beltway suits reassuring us that we are the good guys trying to keep America safe.

From the vantage point of someone who is still resisting the “Exceptional” Kool-Aid both candidates are the byproducts of the state of our democracy and every bit the unapologetic embodiment of our American values. Hillary, the face of the reviled establishment most of us say we hate but are too fearful to change; and Trump, the shameless child of the unbridled individualism we celebrate in this country; the product of every man for himself culture that worships the pursuit of success by amassing all things material; of money and power; of empty promises that peddles the dream that you too can be rich and successful, and can own anything, including beautiful woman. And that unlike our European socialist counterparts, there is no shame in flaunting boundless opulence at the penthouse of the most prestigious address in the very heart of the Capital City that put the “C” in “Capitalism”. Isn’t that the essence of the American dream?


Now what exactly is Trump saying that is so shocking and repulsive? Build a wall across the border? Ship Mexicans back home? Ban Moslems from coming here? Or is it really the first time you hear that he who owns the gold commands the most pussies? Doesn’t anybody watch TV commercials anymore or do you folks simply TIVO and fast forward to the next act on the remote? How long do you think the advertising industry would last if delinked from the image of success and the promise of sex?

Simply scratch that puffed up bellicose surface of the Donald and you shall see what lies beneath the orange veneer is not that unfamiliar.

We were compartmentalizing and marginalizing each other long before Mr. Trump descended on that golden escalator? It takes just one look at our official forms to realize the systemic nature of these divisions. The red white and blue melting pot is a myth, at best we are a mosaic of hyphenated existences; a nation of a “white” dominant culture who believes itself to be the rightful owner of all things American, and a slew of hyphenated “others” – African-American, Native-American, Asian-American, Hispanic-American, all dutifully crossing the appropriate boxes on forms, owning our hyphenated labels, even signing petitions to create new labels where none exists, all the while struggling for equal rights, equal privilege and equal time.

The history of oppression stretches back from the gun slinging days of good guy cowboys against bad guy Indians, to the modern day systemic racism and violence against citizens of color by brutal force whether in Ferguson, Baton Rouge, NYC, Chicago, Baltimore, Charleston or elsewhere.

Since 9/11 Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense have jointly poured a staggering $39 billion into police force militarization, funding over 50,000 SWAT deployments a year, conducting combat style raids with assault weapons in our most vulnerable and underprivileged communities. Bringing violence and segregation home predates Mr. Trump whose hateful language simply mirrors policies already in place with either tacit approval of those at the helm, or very timid pushback as a result of an increasingly angry Black Lives Matter movement.

Today in the U.S. we have 2.3 million, mostly African American and Hispanic youth, caught in a largely privatized prison system, the highest rate of incarceration in the world, more than a four fold increase during the last three decades of both Republicans and Democrats and specifically as a result of policies enacted during the Clinton presidency. In light of the current trends, feigning horror at Trump’s divisive language seems disingenuous to say the least.

With regard to borders and walls, Trump is recycling old material. 2.5 million undocumented immigrants were deported just in the last eight years earning Obama the title “deporter-in-chief”; this represents a 23% increase in summary deportations compared to the Bush era – a trend that Mr. Trump would no doubt approve, but can take no credit for. Incidentally, despite the collective ridicule we heap on the idea of a wall on our southern border, this is a gentle reminder that Democrats and Republicans alike, have supported, even subsidized the Israeli Wall along the occupied West Bank without any qualms. Every American administration, Red or Blue, and Hillary Clinton in particular, has defended Israeli aggression each time Palestinians have shown even the slightest resistance to an immoral and brutal occupation. So – enough about the Wall. Hypocrisy has its limits.

As for the Muslim ban; after an illegal invasion of Iraq and blatant culpability in upending the Middle East as a result of two gulf wars, a 13 year U.S. lead embargo and years of occupation which generated 4 million displaced Iraqis; according to UNHCR, by 2007, U.S. had only taken in a mere 6,000 of these unfortunate souls; and each year after that, according to the Department of Homeland Security, the admission rates were limited to no more than a few hundred Iraqis.

And in Syria, in spite of our direct funding, aiding and complicity in a proxy war that devastated the country leading to millions fleeing American made weapons whether at the hands of ISIS, Al Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, FSA or others; less than 2,000 Syrians have so far been admitted and only after 18-24 months of arduous vetting. Apparently as Americans we demand unfettered access everywhere, but even the most unfortunate victims of our actions around the world have to suffer at least an additional two years before being considered. From over 4.5 million refugees reported by Amnesty International, the Migration Policy Institute in Washington DC states that only 10,000 Syrians have been proposed for admission to the U.S. – not exactly a full ban — but come on! trump

So, come November 8th, do vote. Consider all the options and vote for the candidate of your choice. But most important, no matter who you pick, don’t write off Trump as an inexplicable phenomenon from nowhere. The violence, the bullying, the sexism, racism, virtually every part of him that disgusts you represents a part of America, albeit without the window dressing we are accustomed to. The America where violence and sex are the main drivers, from our multi billion dollar film industry to the corporate stock markets. The America where our kids train competitively to shoot make-believe bad guys on video games, then grow up to hunt down real ones as drone operators. The America where owning a gun is a right, but health care a privilege; where the war on terror has blurred the lines between communities and war zones, and turned potential friends to feared terrorists. The America where even the Noble Peace Prize winning president is barred from apologizing when he travels to Hiroshima on the anniversary of the only atomic bombs ever dropped on humanity, yet is outraged when a boat flying its flag is detained when it veers into Iranian waters.

Come November 8th, do vote. Vote Hillary, if you believe it is time to shatter that glass ceiling, no matter who the female, or if you believe that she might deliver a few incremental changes after she has paid back her real constituents, the ones who delivered her the Whitehouse. Truth of the matter is that she probably will, if the political costs are not too high. But it would be a sad day if after the millions who demanded a revolution, the hopeful Bernie supporters, as well as the deluded Trump supporters, that we end up shoring up the same corrupt establishment which has given us this crisis.

It would be ironic, if after the dust settles we realize instead of recognizing Trumpism as a symptom of all that is wrong with our political system, we further entrench it, taking refuge in its safeness, seeking comfort in the illusion of stability. Because we did not have the courage to imagine something different.

I can almost hear Hillary now: “Come back to mommy. I told you it was scary out there.”


Je Suis… Tu Es… Nous Sommes…

This might not be the best time to ask, but I have a question.

For once the world is bonding in unison. One voice in anger. One voice in hate. Calling for revenge.

Not even global warming and the possible total annihilation of mankind has been able to bring us together like this; Conservative and Liberal, Republican and democrat; Moslem, Christian, Jew; we have found seamless solidarity in our repulsion of the monstrous throwbacks to the medieval ages — The ISIS. The anomaly. A group clearly not part of our shared humanity — for only Evil deliberately targets innocent civilians.

Moslems are tripping over each other apologizing for the aberration. Mostly they deny association with the mutation altogether; as they should.

United in their stance, Russia, U.S. and Iran have formed unlikely bedmates, not withstanding the Islamic regime’s misgivings about indiscriminate sex with the infidels.

France, the original red white and blue, the bastion of freedom has declared a state of emergency; curbed civil liberties and is conducting indiscriminate search and seizures.

Even the otherwise wimpy president Hollande has suddenly found his inner Sarkozy and overnight dropped 20 bombs on the presumed stronghold of ISIS, never mind the several hundred thousand civilians who live there.

The only difference of opinion seems to run among our illustrious Republicans: Should all Moslems be tagged and contained, or only those from Syrian origin, and if so, how should the tags be designed so as not to be reminiscent of … you know … – because that, they say, was a whole different story.
So here is my question: When you target civilians deliberately; and they die; is that very different from when you target ….well …. “a target”– knowing fully well that civilians will be killed. And they die.

The Brookings institute has reported that there were ten civilian casualties for every one militant killed by drones in Pakistan.

UNAMA places the civilian deaths in Afghanistan in a single year at 350.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, in a survey of 860 confirmed strikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia; have reported between 735-1330 civilians killed; more than 200 children casualties; and 1489-1927 injured.

Which brings me to my next question: When you kill thousands of people in the name of Islam; is that very different from when you kill them in the name of Democracy?

According to terror experts — and there are lots of them these days – ISIS rank and file are stacked with disenfranchised, purposeless young men, brainwashed by their leaders whose principle motivation is the annihilation of the West. Well that, and a $350 monthly salary plus benefits for their families if they die.

Our boys in the U.S. Army, contrary to the patriotic fanfare played against uplifting soundtracks in the media, are majority high school graduates with no direction, financial means or prospects, actively recruited on school grounds.

According to a 2007 Associated Press analysis, “nearly three-fourth of U.S. troops killed in Iraq came from towns with per capita income below the national average. More than half came from towns where poverty rates topped the national average.

Recruits are guaranteed salaries and benefits. They are instilled with a sense of purpose by policy elites with a single mission: to annihilate the “bad guys”.

An ex-drone pilot conscientious objector described the “bad guys” in Afghanistan as males in white tribal garb “fitting” the description of a Taliban.

What about the beheadings? I know. Disgusting. But I also wonder about the humanity of a civilization that finds nothing wrong with targeting nameless faceless human beings in Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Yemen, from the safety of “cockpits” thousands of miles away in Vegas or Langley.

Besides, why fuss over beheadings when our close ally, Saudi Arabia conducted 192 such executions just last year – twice as many as ISIS; and no CNN coverage.

You say torture? I say Guantanamo. Water boarding. Extra judicial renditions. Abu Graib.

As for Terror? 130 people are killed in Paris and a state of emergency is triggered. Travel advisories go into effect and fear grips the citizens of the free world as far as the streets of New York. We debate how much of our moral and democratic values to sacrifice for the sake of security; and what human cost is acceptable for effective retaliation.

…A pitiless war it is! Because no attack on us shall go unanswered.

As Marc Rubio says, “If you kill one of us, we will come for you, we will find you and we will kill you.”

I don’t know the Arabic translation.

In the lawless stretch of land across Iraq and Syria; Afghanistan and Pakistan; from Yemen to Libya and all across the Sahel, 15 years of war on terror have left cities, villages and institutions in ruins, livelihoods and economies are destroyed.   Sunny days are no longer happy days. Children stay indoors because everyone knows those are the days the drones come looking for Moslems to kill.

In the new Middle East and beyond, Terror is the new industry, Revenge is its currency, a transnational generation of disenfranchised angry men its citizenry and the powerful its beneficiaries.

I look at the faces of the young Moslems responsible for the attacks in Paris and I see a reflection.

…extensions of a shared humanity.

Je suis Paris.

We are all Paris.

… we are Beirut, …Bamako, …Raqqa, …New York, …Baghdad, Kabul, Yemen…

The Tehrangeles Lobby: with friends like this …

The Tehrangeles Lobby: with friends like this …11737801_10206062894304821_5789867230595668089_n

In the year 2000 I took a trip to Cuba with my then long-haired musician husband. We were on the last leg of our marriage and hoped that celebrating the millennium on a tropical island frozen in time might jumpstart our dying romance. It was worth a shot! Besides, the Y2K techno-doom was looming and we had to seek third world refuge.

I booked a spartan room at the Santa Clara in the center of the historic district, and made a list of all things fabulous to see around the island. Cuba had been under an embargo for decades and as much as I believed in the injustice of sanctions, I knew that once American style democracy arrived in its full golden arched glory, gone would be the charm that had made Cuba the cultural treasure that it was. I had to get there before Ronald.

After a connecting flight through Cancun, we arrived along with a group of Americans who were exercising their freedom of choice by ignoring state department directives not to visit Havana. The Cuban immigration stamped entries on a separate piece of paper smirking at the irony of the great American democracy forbidding its citizens to enter a country on account of that country forbidding its citizens to leave.

The embargo had been in place for decades yet the Castro regime did not show any signs of caving; the island had steadily gotten more impoverished especially after the fall of the Soviet Union, and an organic economy had sprung up around tourism, Cigars and Salsa.

The hot topic of the day was Elian!   Remember him? — The little boy who was fished out of the sea after his boat capsized and his mother drowned. Overnight he became the symbol of resistance for the Miami Cubans who were pouring money into a publicity blitz to rescue the child from the horrors of communism.   This was his chance they said.   Meanwhile back on the island, his biological father wanted him back.

Every night pictures of Elian plastered U.S. news with toys, video games and new clothes that only his affluent American relatives could give him.   On the streets of Havana, Cubans cursed their Miami counterparts as crazy idiots who compared material things with the love of a father.

I walked into a rally in the center of town where pamphlets were distributed from a plane urging Cubans to rise up against their government. A manicero was selling peanuts on the steps nearby.

My Spanish was not perfect but the disdain on the street was obvious. “Why won’t they leave us alone?” Said one; “They already left Cuba and took their money.” Said another “They have their own lives in Miami. What do they want from us?” …”Son Locos!” They are crazy!!

During the two-week visit we talked to many Cubans. We discussed life, music, culture — but mostly politics! I was surprised at their awareness of the world. From the taxi driver to the hotel attendant and the random Havanero in a café, the very mention of Iran peeked interest and sympathy.   “Iran! Wonderful! Which city are you from? Isfahan? Shiraz? Tehran? Or Mashad? …” Followed by “I am so sorry for your people. We are the same. Both castigated by America.”

Sure they were eager to tap into outside opportunities, but no one expressed sympathy or approval, neither for the embargo nor for the Cuban expats, who seemed to be on automatic pilot making life more difficult for them. “When you go to America, please tell them to stop this embargo. Tell them we are suffering.”

Across the spectrum of pro and anti Castro, no one, not even the paranoid civil servant living on his ration card, the one who locked the front door and dropped to a whisper when he spoke of “Uncle” Fidel, supported the embargo. Not one person told me they were happy to endure the daily suffering if it meant bringing an end to the Castro regime.

This year, amidst the outrage of the Miami Cubans, as the American flag is once again hoisted in Havana; a parallel drama unfolds around the Iranian Nuclear Deal.


On the eve of the agreement, as thousands came out in jubilation, faces painted with the bright colors of the U.S. and Iranian flags; as families honked and danced in the streets, holding up messages of peace and friendship with the U.S; some Iranian Americans responded with contempt: “… they jubilated when the Shah left and Khomeini arrived as well”; They sneered.

As the entire Republican block and many democrats in Congress trip over each other pandering to Netanyahu’s bogus demands in defiance of their own president; incredibly, they have found unlikely partners within the Iranian Diaspora who are ostensibly more concerned about conjured threats to Israel, than imminent ones to their own compatriots.

Among the older generation of Iranian Americans, those who consider themselves prematurely plucked from the “golden era” of the Shah and catapulted to the manicured streets of Beverly Hills, many have rallied behind the craziest of Republicans and the Israeli Lobby to denounce the deal as a “bad” deal. A “good” deal, they say – rather rudely I might add — is one that refuses any dealings with the mullahs. A “good” deal, is one offered as a mirage that never materializes. It’s a deal of endless sanctions designed to cripple Iranians into rising up against the regime. Because – they say – this is the most evil of all evil regimes of all time. A good deal demands total capitulation – capitulation of a sovereign nation – the nation of their forefathers to an empire already implicated in the implosion of much of the Middle East.


Others rallied behind the likes of the “Shah’s of Sunset” Iranian-American actor who has publicly and repeatedly expressed his preference to bomb Iran – clear indication that fervent consumption of Reality Television leaves little room for processing actual news from the real world, the one with daily reports of death and destruction, the one showing the stream of refugees in the aftermath of foreign interventions. “We need surgical military strikes inside Iran;” said a conservative Iranian blogger on a radio interview as though speaking of a quick outpatient nip and tuck.

Like the Cuban republicans who have managed to re-invent the Cuba of a murderous Battista as paradise lost; many in our anti-regime Diaspora have drawn on the binary notions of good and evil to elevate the pre-revolution Iran to a utopia overseen by a benevolent Shahanshah ousted prematurely by international conspiracy.

This begs the question; why then collude with the same self-interested foreign agents to engineer another regime change? Have the Western powers suddenly found their inner humanitarians after the devastating carnage of their “democracy building” adventures? — 1953 Iran … the Congo … Chile ….Central America, Indonesia … and now Middle East and North Africa?

And if the revolution was indeed a popular uprising — an organic movement that was then hijacked by the Islamic right — isn’t what we are witnessing part and parcel of Iran’s own learning curve in building a pluralistic political system? The regime change anti-deal hawks would say no!   This is the second Arab invasion: First in 651; then again in 1979.

The total dissociative nature of this narrative explains the ridiculous alliance of the pro-sanctions Iranians with Israel. It falls under the brilliant political rubric: “The enemy of my enemy has got to be my friend!” – never mind this friend’s 200 plus undeclared nuclear arsenal; their discrimination against Arab Israelis and “lesser Jews” from Africa; their illegal occupation of Palestinian lands; and their pariah status in the U.N. – permanently a single veto away from being sanctioned or referred to the ICC.

Under this narrative, the Palestinian cause is dismissed as self-inflicted, IDF is hailed as heroes and republicans like Scott Walker, Cotton, and Trump are supported in the hopes that 2016 will usher a leader more like Netanyahu than Obama.

Human Rights, they say, is their main concern, yet the mere mention of Jimmy Carter, the one President who made human rights the centerpiece of his foreign policy is enough to send them into a raging fit of expletives. It was under Carter’s watch, they say, and due to his insistence on the “ridiculous” issue of human rights that the floodgates of the revolution were cracked open. Interesting logic!

For now, the Nuclear Deal is preserved by the minimum number of democrats who are doing the right thing albeit for all the wrong reasons. Iran has been branded with the worst labels; anti-Semitic; terrorist; medieval; human rights violator and existential threat to the “free world” – code for the U.S., Israel and its close allies who simply wish to consolidate their faltering influence in the region.

The neo-con Iranians are the perfect addition to the U.S. – Israel anti-Iran camp, legitimizing what in essence has nothing to do with Human Rights or even a Nuclear Bomb since no rational player will spend years developing a single bomb, only to hit a target armed with 200.

This month, as our representatives in congress make the excruciating choice between their allegiance to Israel and their duties as elected American officials, Iranians have their own internal debates which have created a rift reminiscent of the Cuban crisis. The conversations I had in Havana could very well have been in Persian.

This group, mostly based in Southern California, like their Cuban counterparts in Miami, will soon become the butt of every joke if they don’t stop living in a fantasy world of their past and instead focus on scenes of jubilating crowds on the streets of Iran if democracy and human rights are truly their concerns.

Because, after everything is said and done, there is nothing more debilitating to the Human Rights of ordinary people than “crippling sanctions”; nothing more disruptive to democratic principles than foreign engineered “regime change”; and nothing more dangerous than toppling one of the sole standing stable governments in a region already burning in flames.


Will the Real Charlie Please Stand Up!

17 people die in Paris and media outlets are screaming red alert! I had no idea CNN and FOX had so many terror experts.  It seams terror experts are to the 2000’s what M.B.A.’s were to the 80’s; highly in demand whether certified online, or by mail order.   An intensive debate on the right to “freedom of speech” and whether Moslems are inherently “violent” is what’s “trending”.   Not to be callous or anything, it’s a good thing that once in a while a white person is attacked so we can have a serious debate on the state of humanity and our role in creating it. Wishful thinking… I know.

TinTin au Congo!

TinTin au Congo!

17 people die and over 3 million come out to show outrage. Forty world leaders march in solidarity with the rights of the journalists in what one reporter called the circus of hypocrisy, featuring among others, the likes of Bibi Netanyahu and the Saudi Ambassador, serial human rights abusers and free speech deniers who have suddenly found their inner Charlies.

The attack on Charlie Hebdo is called the 9/11 of France, the memory of which has been permanently kept on life support, resuscitated every year to great fanfare, using the death of 2,977 Americans as a platform to launch extensive assaults across the Moslem world from Afghanistan and Iraq to the Arab Peninsula and the Horn of Africa; extending to the sub-Saharan continent where African leaders can now brutally suppress political dissent with Western support and CIA supplied arms under the guise of “War on Terror”.

Fourteen years later, after over a trillion spent, hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced, we flick the news channels and pontificate as to whether ISIS is the true representation of the violent message of Islam even as we make a case for torture “if it leads to good intelligence.”

The Western mainstream consensus is clear not only in the media; but among nouveau liberals like Bill Maher and even many educated elite of the Moslem world who are suddenly welcomed on TV and publications as experts on their world to confirm what the West has always suspected: Islam is a backward religions; the “mother lode of bad ideas”. It is inherently violent and intolerant. These folks will kill you if you offend them!

Mark Twain was right.   History does not quite repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme!

It wasn’t too long ago when similar arguments were made against “Blacks”.   Look at the African continent – they would say.  It’s never amounted to anything.  Billions of dollars in aid and still nothing to show for it. Africans rank the lowest on every development scale. Is it any wonder that their decedents are living marginal lives in America?   African Americans should take responsibility for their cultural short comings – they would say.  It’s part of their heritage.

I am not personally against making general statements.  Even repulsive, or stupid ones – all in the good spirit of freedom of speech of course – but do lets examine a brief history of the 20th century for a quick reality check of the human violence scale.

17 Million killed in WW I – started by Christians

60 Million killed in WW II – started by Christians

6 million Jews burned during the holocaust – by Christians

20 million killed in the Gulag – by Christians

3 million dead in the Vietnam War and Indochina – funded, waged and prolonged by Christians

10 million killed in the Congo during the colonial times – by Christians

Many more killed, tortured and maimed defending the “free world” from the threat of communism by proxy wars and death squads in Africa, Asia and Latin America – by Christians. And we won’t even mention the near annihilation of the Indian population in the Americas when the continent was “discovered” – by Christians.

As for the instruments of “Terror”:  Twelve out of fifteen top Arms producing countries are Christians!   The other three are Israel, China & Korea – just in case you were under the illusion that violence is the monopoly of any one particular group.

It is obscene that we can justify avenging the death of 2,977 on 9/11 by a full scale destruction of two countries; and that a single beheading of a white person can trigger a national call for military attack, when the death of thousands of Iraqis and Afghanis is written off as collateral damage.

It is obscene that the death of 17 people in Paris can bring out millions in solidarity, when the mass murder of thousands in Gaza evokes a simple “reprimand”!

It is obscene that despite 14 years of indiscriminate “war on terror” and drone assassinations whenever and wherever; despite the barbarism of extra-ordinary renditions and institutionalization of torture, we still have the unbelievable chutzpah to decide who is a terrorist and who is not.

All I can say is that it’s good to own the major news networks.   You can manufacture opinion & mobilize consent – simple minded audience willing of course.

As for all our assertions about the right to freedom of speech – It’s a hollow mantra readily dismantled when the tables are reversed.

Today, you would likely not be able to publish a book called Tin Tin in The Congo; and when the New York Post depicted a monkey with the caption: “who would write the next stimulus bill” there was an uproar.  Burning the American flag lands you a fine and I guarantee a speedy end to your career, if you even think of portraying an avaricious repulsive Jew like the Fagin character in Oliver Twist under the banner of freedom of speech and artistic expression.

You see – despite all the solidarity pledges of the born-again Charlies in this country, freedom of speech has its strict limits at least for the protected groups who have fought for the privilege.   After all it was only a few months ago that Donald Sterling was put on public trial and forced to sell the Clippers for having privately mentioned that he did not want black people at his games.  And Helen Thomas, the distinguished first chair white house correspondent was asked to resign after suggesting that the Eastern European Jews should return to Poland and Germany instead of taking Palestinian land.  In this case, if there were voices raised in defense of freedom of speech, they remained in the fringes.

In this country we fight for freedom of speech for all the things we already agree with, or else to assert our rights to indulge in the kind of third rate mindless entertainment like the “Interview” which would otherwise die at the box office without so much as a single rotten tomato were we not to jump to its validation like a three year old just because we were told not to go see it.

So fascist liberals like Bill Maher, terrified mainstream consumers and the self proclaimed enlightened elite of the Moslem world who have joined the Islamophobia bandwagon if nothing but to prove they are so westernized they can spit on their own to show just how well assimilated they are, may have only succeeded in energizing the causes of bigotry.  Perhaps the repression of the era of political correctness finally brimmed over leaving Islam as the safest target.

I don’t blame them.  After all what better target than a people so desperate, frustrated and disenfranchised whose God needs them for protection!


By: Firouzeh Afsharnia
News broke out over the weekend that a deal was finally struck in beautiful lakeside Geneva.

Well.  Technically, it’s a deal to work towards a deal in six months. So you might argue what’s the big deal?   But after 34 years of silent treatment, crippling sanctions and relentless threats of war by irresponsible crazies with way too much clout in the U.S. Congress; a deal to have a deal is a really big deal.

Within minutes the airwaves filled up with news, chatter and commentary; everyone claiming to have their finger on the left or right pulse of the truth.

Joy and relief on one side; rebuke and disgust on the other.  The indefatigable NIAC duo, Trita Parsi and Reza Marashi provided minute by minute updates for what played more suspenseful than a Hollywood blockbuster, and finally posted “Congratulations!” — then their ecstatic beaming photos captioned: “….if you’re wondering how happy we are!”

I clicked that “like” button over and over, more than anytime I remember, brimming with optimism in spite of my reservations toward the Islamic regime — even feeling a certain fondness for Mr. Zarif, who in a PR video earlier that week, had extended a reconciliatory hand in tandem with stressing mutual respect and insisting on all rights to peaceful enrichment for his nation under the NPT.  I liked his tone.

The text of the agreement was released. Iran would dilute their stockpile of enriched uranium; halt the installation of new centrifuges as well as the construction of the Arak reactor site; and allow intrusive international inspections by the IAEA.

Sounds like a giant step. Whether it was the force of sanctions or the voice of the moderates, Presidents Rouhani and Obama both claimed victory. Whoever needs to pat themselves on the back — be my guest. That’s the nature of good diplomacy.

Conservative hawks denounced the accord as a sell out!  What exactly was being sold out is unclear since the ultimate deal is months away. The Saudis vying for regional dominance rushed to stand with Israel — a laughable alliance in itself — warning the White House against negotiating with the dangerous Iranians in cynical disregard to the fact that one is the prime incubator of the Jihadi movement, complicit in the continuing Syrian carnage and holder of the most dismal of human rights records; the other, serial violator of international law and of basic human rights of millions in the occupied territories.

Netanyahu called it a “historic mistake” after his intense lobby offensive failed to derail the talks. He drew on Jewish history – again – to invoke Israel’s security concerns, evidently clueless to the basic principle that the security of Israel without the security of its neighbors is a fantasy. John Bolton, the mother of all – sorry – the father of all intransigent war hawks called for nothing short of bombing Iran.

Predictably, the U.S. congress scrambled for a new round of sanctions at the run up to negotiations, leading one to believe that not one of them has passed a test in Diplomacy 101.  Republican Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois went so far as to say …Israel is the reason he ran for the Senate. ”… I am totally dedicated to the survival of the state of Israel.”  Surely this is treason if you substitute any other name for “Israel.”

If the chorus line of the belligerents should prove anything, it is the one truism that concern for human rights in Iran is not on anyone’s agenda.   Not really.  Not even for many in the Iranian diaspora who seem more entangled in an ideological debate over Persian vs. Arab; and Moslem vs. Zoroastrian; and whose most hated American President in U.S. History is Jimmy Carter – the only President who ran on a platform of human rights.

Many in the diaspora have instead found new love for the State of Israel on the premise that the enemy of their enemy must surely be their friend. They echo the same tired old hard lines on permanent replay by the neo-cons who’s foreign policy rhetoric is all of two words: Sanctions and War.  Why not!  Some argue.  Anything to dislodge the Mullahs.  Then our people shall be free!  “Inshallah the day will come to see a mullah hanging from every tree on Pahlavi Street.”   — An interesting strategy towards Democracy.

The voices are clear.   On one side, proponents of peace and moderation looking for a way out of a 34 year old impasse with an ear to the wave of reform and view to new possibilities.

On the other; the intransigence of ideology, real-politik and self-interest.  From the hard line coalition of Netanyahu in the Knesset posturing against a permanent enemy; to the U.S. congress who depends on campaign support from the powerful AIPAC; — from Gulf nations vying for regional dominance to the U.S. war economy aching for another fix; — and finally to members within Iran’s own diaspora who hate the Islamic Republic more than they love their fellow Iranians – each have their own rationale, and none of it about the rights of those living under artificial hardships imposed by a foreign government.  New York times reported even the currency traders in Tehran Manouchehri Square are hoping for more sanctions. They say the Ahmadinejad days were fantastic for business.

But if there is a global barometer on this subject, Financial Times headlines provided a clue when it reported first thing this week that Iran nuclear deal pushed oil prices lower.  And Reuters news flash came in that Israeli stocks gained. They do say markets know best.

Meanwhile within hours of the deal, the haunting bold letters of the Green movement – WHERE IS MY VOTE – again went viral; this time with the letters amended: …….HERE IS MY VOTE !

Here Is My Vote!

9/11 …we shall not forget

by: Firouzeh Afsharnia

Another 9/11 anniversary has come and gone.   Flags were hoisted, solemn words of remembrance were uttered, pictures of the fallen were hung on virtual and real walls; and the words….”…we shall not forget” were heard over and over, even as the war on terror rages on and the White House makes a case for an imminent strike against Syria that could most certainly bring about willful death to others.

12 years have passed since the day the world grieved with us, held up candles in silent mourning across the globe and stood with us in solidarity, friend and foe alike, condemning the attacks as a crime against all humanity, against all that we hold dear, just and decent.   How did we transform such abundance of good will to a lecture on the importance of international law, merits of peaceful dialogue and a plea to “…return to the path of civilized settlement”  — by an autocratic, human rights usurping ex-KGB agent no less?

The past decades have been marked by periods of unspeakable violence.   Two world wars, genocides, protracted armed conflicts, man made and natural disasters have lead to unprecedented human devastation leaving us all with tales of human tragedy and injustice we shall not forget; and yet it seems we have done little but transform these events into more tragedy.

The first World War, the war to end all wars, ended in the defeat and humiliation of the Germans at the Versailles convention leading to the rise of nationalism and the Nazi mobilization which destroyed Europe and incinerated millions based on misguided principals of Aryan exceptionalism.

The allied armies emerged victorious over the evils of fascist tyranny only to install the Cold War order across Asia, Africa and Latin America, arming and funding client states which tortured and maimed their own citizens, waging proxy wars ostensibly to uphold “righteous” causes, though not before dropping two atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

The fall of the Soviet Union, and the end of the Cold War, far from ushering in a new era of peace and cooperation, unleashed decades of repressed grievances and flooded the world with arms and ammunition, the majority of which were traded by the same guarantors of global peace who sit on the Security Council.

As the African continent grapples with hacked bodies, rape, massacre and death of millions from Mali and Sudan to the Congo, CAR and beyond, the Arab spring has turned to cold ashen winter, the budding promise of democracy chocked under the dictatorial armies of the past regimes and the ruthless fundamentalism which has emerged after decades of political and economic injustice and metastasized through the endless war on terror.

This week – as we marked the anniversary of 9/11 to commemorate the fallen, we are engaged in yet another open ended threat to bolster our credibility as if the past 12 years of heavy handed, expanded militarism in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia and beyond have not made it amply clear that the U.S. is credible in the single minded pursuit of its own brand of exceptionalism which lectures, demands and strikes at will all the while immunizing itself against accountability to International institutions like the ICC, as well as to its own citizens if they threaten to blow the whistle.

This week the main drivers of the attack on Syria – Israel, U.S.  hawks, and humanitarian interventionists alike, continue to make their case invoking human tragedies past and present …reminders of what we must not forget.

Israel will lobby through the powerful AIPAC, pushing for a strike while evoking images of gassed victims in the Holocaust, even as they hold millions of Palestinians under open-ended occupation in ghetto like existence, and work toward ever more crippling sanctions against 75 million Iranians.

Obama’s close circle of liberal advisors like Samantha Power and Susan Rice will push for intervention conjuring memories of the Rwandan genocide while they turn a blind eye to the current support of that same government for the looting and pillaging rebels in Eastern Congo.

The Rwandan state, a poster child for the interventionists and a symbol of what the world must not forget; having defeated the Hutu genociders, for its part has steadily taken up authoritarian measures, stripping human rights, repressing political opposition as enemies of state, sponsoring assassinations of dissidents abroad; and has enshrined “genocide denial” as a crime punishable by imprisonment.

This week pictures of the 1400 dead lying on the cold floor in Syria will be brandished in our living rooms reminding us of all that we must not forget, while images of those killed by drones, missiles and bombs in Afghanistan and Yemen are filtered out.

This week we continue to make our case, reliving the trauma of 9/11 to give us the mandate to pursue justice and national interests whenever and wherever, to create new traumas.

On this anniversary of 9/11, I mourn all those who died innocent and in vain, whether in Syria, New York, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Yemen, or in concentration camps across Europe, with the hopes that we finally stop living traumas of the past — instead focus on preventing new ones.

Syria: Buy Long! Sell Short!

I am learning how to dabble in stocks.  I, like so many others have now put a small amount on that magic ticker TESLA, follow the daily news tidbits on my iPhone and stare at the numbers as they crawl up and down to determine whether I should buy or sell!   Just yesterday I made $300 and some change while sitting right there at the corner Starbucks sipping my latte!  What a country! I marveled at the miracle of capitalism as I scooped up the virtual dollars into my virtual savings account; then reported my success to my virtual friends on Facebook while dodging random ads on fat melting diets and overstock handbags on my wall.  As I scrolled down I glanced through the multitude of outraged posts and commentaries about the Miley Cyrus video.

Shock and disgust was the general reaction, followed by collective lament on the current downward spiral of pop culture, although admittedly, the outraged crowd must have themselves spent the time to read and watch through the entirety of Ms. Miley’s spectacle before taking precious time to comment.  That’s just that many more clicks on the link.  I suppose it’s a good thing.  After all that’s how success is measured. The number of clicks adds up to traffic, to advertising revenue, higher stock prices, all in all generally healthier economy.  Not that much more different from my own mindless stock trading.  I opened the lid to my Latte and sucked off the last of the foam. Starbucks!  I wondered if I owned any of that stock in my investment portfolio.

In a predictable shift in the eternally Attention-Deficit-Disordered media, this week the news was singularly focused on Syria so much so that one might be tempted to believe that Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and beyond are now oases of peace and tranquility and if we just dropped a few bombs on our new target we could tick that box as yet another job well done in our continuing supremacist adventurism abroad.  The news channels did of course make room for the usual stuff – the armed four year old in a small town kinder garden; the teacher who gets 30 days for raping his 14 year old student who later kills herself; the dog that saved a cat’s life in New Zealand; and the California wild fires — hardly headline news this time of year. The saving grace of course is that Iran gets a breather from occupying the number one slot on the U.S. pariah list.  Although we are reminded of that turbaned looming threat if Bashar al-Assad stays in power.

This week a whole industry of think tanks, journalists, activists and talking heads work overtime analyzing and writing what-if scenarios around reasons to strike or not to strike.  They argue the constitutionality of such an act.  The founding fathers apparently vested the authority to declare war with the congress, and only in the case of present and imminent danger to this country; telling the president in no uncertain terms not to draw ultimatum lines; red or otherwise.

Furthermore, International law requires a U.N. mandate, highly unlikely considering the lack of regional support and the fact that China and Russia sit pretty on the Security Council holding a Veto card. Besides, the inspectors haven’t even ruled on their findings, not that a little thing like the U.N. weapons inspectors report would get in the way of a Western strike when civilian lives are on the line –  lives not labeled as collateral damage by the West that is.  In any case the U.S. has declared the inspections largely irrelevant. “Too late” they say, as if worried that the results could point to the Free Syria Army trying to drag the Americans in.

As a matter of fact the objectives of conducting a strike seem hazy even to Henry Kissinger who these days looks more like Tweety Bird among the modern day hawks of the post 9/11 world.  Taking Assad out he argues, would only fracture the country further and help the Jihadists.  The last time the U.S. intervened in Iraq, they did the Iranians a favor by taking out their archenemy; as for that surgical strike in Libya – it set off a steady stream of rebels into neighboring Mali which ignited a civil war splitting the generally stable West African country in two.

Yet the leaders of the free world say they must to do something.

“Syria gas attack is a moral obscenity” Secretary of State John Kerry went on record. He lectured about a “moral compass” and said our sense of “basic humanity” has been offended.

By the way, I was really amused to hear the hawkish FOX channel in their predictably knee-jerk anti-Democrat stance, oppose any intervention.  Yes; in this crazy world, the democrats have become such war mongers that Hannity has to loop back 180 degrees sounding semi rational if he wants to keep up his ratings as Obama’s number one enemy.  Who knows, maybe FOX will become the new MSNBC, leaving the latter to re-strategize as the liberal voice of reason.  I suppose that just means you and I must hedge our bets on both FOX and General Electric.   You did know that General Electric owns NBC News, right!?

Speaking of hedging, Investors Business Daily says dropping bombs stimulates the economy and that “… investors should note that the Aerospace/Defense industry group surged forward in IBD’s ranking.”   In fact, they said, a military action might ease the effects of the federal budget sequestration.   That’s really great news; don’t you think?

Bloomberg further reported that hundreds of Tomahawk cruise missiles made by Raytheon Co. could be launched against Syrian targets, followed by a second wave if “…enough destruction is not achieved”.  Satellite-guided bombs could be dropped from Lockheed Martin’s F-15 fighter jets; and Northrop Grumman’s B-2 bombers could drop as much as 40,000 pounds of bombs made by Boeing.

Army General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said attacks from outside Syrian airspace “could be used to strike hundreds of targets at a tempo of our choosing.”  The U.S. Navy’s “Destroyers” in the Mediterranean, each carry 90 Tomahawks.  “With a 1,000 pound warhead and a range of 1,000 nautical miles, a Tomahawk can inflict damage on targets across Syria without putting U.S. troops at risk.” Reported Bloomberg.

Wow!  40,000 pounds of bombs; hundreds of cruise missiles; thousand pound warheads and our boys would still be safe.  That’s just splendid! I wondered however if that might not leave behind more casualties than the 1,300 civilians just gassed.

Boeing (BA ) – Northrup (NOC ) – Lockheed Martin (LMT) – Raytheon (RTN ) – I thought as an informed investor I should check out their stocks.  All of them had doubled in price in the last 2 years.  Who needs fair trade coffee as long as there’s that long Arab Winter.

I wondered.  Is it any different to be killed by a bomb instead of chocking on Sarin gas?

I wondered about the thousands of men and women working on the assembly lines across the United States — regular folks working hard in a struggling recovery to feed their families.  Did they ever wonder where the bombs they made would be dropped?

I wondered if friends and families of the dead would find solace in the fact that they were targeted by the good guys.

I wondered whether to invest my little nest egg in Raytheon or Boeing? Would the Tomahawk cruise missiles inflict larger destruction or was the future of warfare in satellite-guided bombs.  I added the new symbols NOC, BA, LMT and RTN to my daily watch list.

I wondered about the true meaning of “moral obscenity”.   About the hypocrisy of a society that feeds the machinery of obscenity and reaps its benefits yet disconnects from its end results and shrugs off the responsibility for its fallout.   I wondered if Kerry has a right to talk on our behalf about a moral compass and basic humanity when our very economic system thrives on its continued perversion.

I wondered. Would Miley still twerk half naked if she didn’t think she would create a flood of web traffic.

I wondered.,yahoo

Persian 101: The Art of Diplomacy

For those of you not familiar with Iranian culture and mind set, last week’s presidential elections with over 72% turnout serves as a mini lesson into the subtleties of Persian temperament and multilayered subtext.

Lesson number one in the art of diplomacy: Do not criticize undesirable behavior.  Instead, encourage and congratulate what you wish to see as final outcome. Persians are by nature pleasers and would much rather extend a hand of friendship, kiss and make up and let bygones be bygones. You just have to know which button to push.

Hassan Rouhani secured the 7th presidency of Iran with 18 million votes, over 50% of the electorate, running on a campaign of “Hope and Wisdom” — a slogan reminiscent of the euphoric 2008 election of Obama who ran on a promise of “Hope and Change”, in the Iranian case “Wisdom” being the operative word.

Foto Credit: Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty image

“Thank you for choosing Hope and Wisdom.”  Rouhani opened his first press conference, congratulating the good people of Iran for having opted for reconciliation, collective interest and rational response. This, he said, was a signal to the world that the people of Iran are declaring solidarity, extending trust and choosing moderation, rule of law, respect and civility instead of self interest and belligerence — a clever opening, moving to close the gaping fissures created during the Ahmadinejad years, and ease the bitterness ensuing the violent crackdowns of the previous election.

To be sure, in a time when so much of the Middle East and beyond is burning in violent conflict from Syria and Iraq to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, not to mention the recent unrest in Turkey; previously known as an exotic oasis of stability, Iranians have laid down a reconciliatory card through moderation, a sure set back for the sanction hawks who have been working steadily towards an imminent implosion.

Lesson number two in the art of diplomacy: Be all things to all people. “If anyone has been alienated in the past, we must find out why and include them.”

Mr. Rouhani’s first press conference presented us with a complex and intriguing character.   In spite of the austere clerical garb and Turban, he exuded a light and personable charm. He spoke in rational and pragmatic terms laced with a glint of humor, even a twinkle in his eyes.  He spoke of inclusiveness, mutual respect, economic growth, importance of civil engagement and justice.   He reached out to the gulf countries, in specific to Saudi Arabia as allies with common interests and history. He hinted at the possibility of progress on the enrichment issue if dialogue and negotiations are pursued on a platform of respect and recognition of international rights rather than cruel and outdated methods of sanctions and threats.  He even extended a cooperation hand to his adversaries; to all persons qualified whether from the old guard or new.

Our very own Obama, I thought – ok –minus the beard; minus the turban; a little rounder perhaps; but the national euphoria was an uncanny echo of the 2008 U.S. elections.  At that time people celebrated in the streets from sea to shining sea, sang the theme to Darth Vader and waved good-bye and good riddance to Bush and Cheney.  This week in Iran, videos went viral within minutes of the election results showing millions rejoicing all across the provinces; men and women dancing to the audible chants of Ahmadi Bye! Bye!

The soft spoken cleric vowed not to allow insults hurled at anyone and promised to advance the cause of cooperation and inclusiveness presenting himself as the man who could be all things to all people; the sole cleric on the panel of candidates, with the name Rouhani – literally meaning “spiritual” – bringing back the lost legitimacy of the supreme leader who this time allowed a genuine tally of the votes; running on the reformist agenda through the backing of Rafsanjani and Khatami; and reminding the international community of his pragmatic approach to the nuclear issue.

Lesson number three in the art of diplomacy: When faced with hostile adversaries; the calmer, the more reasonable you are, the crazier the adversary will seem.

In no time at all, even as it was clear that Rouhani had the backing and support of the majority of the electorates, even as he publicly announced there would be more transparency, even as he reminded the world that never had the world been closer to a nuclear deal than during his tenure as chief negotiator in 2005 before the deal was torpedoed by the US and the UK and that he would work to reopen the talks on a platform of respect and recognition of sovereign rights, Netanyahu dismissed his victory as irrelevant, his promises as wishful thinking, and issued a warning that international pressure must continue on Iran “…to stop their program by any means.”

The white house in turn praised Iranians for their participation in the process but did not congratulate Dr. Rouhani, instead focused on reminding everyone that the elections took place “…against the backdrop of a lack of transparency, censorship of the media and intimidating security environment;” maintaining their big brother, stick in the hand posture which has proved futile and ineffective to say the least — hardly diplomatic if indeed a rapprochement is sought, leading one to believe that either the Iran experts in Washington need a refresher course or U.S. is singularly focused on regime change and simply using the enrichment issue as a pretext.

"Hope and Wisdom" foto credit: Saeed Karimi Nejad

“Hope and Wisdom” is Rouhani’s promise.   It turns out Rouhani may be talking to the U.S. and Israel as much as his own people.

It is not clear how Mr. Rouhani’s presidency will evolve.  Is his message of “Wisdom” rather than “Change” meant as a clue not to expect radical departure from what has been policy till now.  Will he turn out to be “window dressing”, like Khatami before him.   After all, the office of the presidency has its limitations, as even Obama supporters have come to find out judging by the debate on the drones, Guantanamo, NSA eavesdropping and the expanded war on terror – which – granted has been rebranded in the post-Bush era, yet continues full force.

But since the sanctions and hard lines taken against Iran have produced nothing, why not take lesson number one from the new president and practice a little Persian diplomacy.   Extend a hand of good will and burden Dr. Rouhani with the collective confidence that finally the one with the key to unlocking the troubles has arrived.

Iranian Elections: An Exercise in Civility within Restrictions

by: Negin Fazeli

I have just come back from Iran where I witnessed the pre and post presidential elections. This will not be a piece on the fairness of elections nor a judgment on the governing bodies currently ruling Iran. Let’s just say that we all agree that elections that disqualify most candidates from the get go are not fair by any international standards.

If we can, for a moment though, put this fact aside, there are many interesting things to be noted about elections in Iran. For those of us living abroad, in particular in the United States, the difference of approach is remarkable. To begin with, the actual candidates are not identified until about a month before the elections in Iran. Compare this with the never ending campaigning that goes on in the U.S. for two or more years prior to an election, thereby directing all the energy, money, and effort of the candidates toward getting elected or re-elected as the case may be; rather than toward the business of governing and putting forward legislation.  The short time period makes for a quick, but powerful and effective campaign.   I think whatever a candidate needs to say can be said over the period of one month prior to an election and there is no need for a two year drag during which many positions change.

During my stay in Iran, three debates were held between the eight vetted candidates, one of which ran four hours long.  I ended up watching bits and pieces in three locations! Interestingly enough, even though the candidates were ‘pre-qualified’, based on some pre-determined criteria, giving the impression that all of them must be made from the same cloth, their opinions ran the gamut on different topics.

Everything from the economy, poverty, internal infrastructure, and the nuclear issue was discussed and a range of views were put forward by each candidate. Arguments were heated and the difference of opinion covered a wide spectrum.  It was interesting to watch as candidates discussed everything from the lack of ‘joy’ in society to the shame that marks the nation resulting from how the last election was conducted. This was particularly interesting indeed as touchy feely subjects never had a place at the table before this election.  At some point one of the candidates said “We (referring to the country’s mighty decision makers) have to stop the practice of branding university students with stars (referring to the process of marking students with a star which in turn leads to their expulsion as a result of unwelcome political activity)”; he said, “Universities are where human beings are formed, where they become adults. It is their function to question and to protest, what other point is there?” Again, Interesting!  At some point, I was not sure I was in the Islamic Republic of Iran, watching State run TV.

Throughout the debates, political prisoners, the press, student protests, and personal freedoms were discussed just as vehemently as economic and nuclear issues. For eight hand-picked, conforming candidates, there certainly was not much conformity to be found.

In addition to the debates, which were animated but civilized for the most part, the State run TV offered free air time to each candidate to present and defend his platform. There was no need to raise money to generate airtime spots, no need to bow to big interest and its money so that a candidate could be heard. Campaign Finance Reform, what is that? Time was given to each candidate for free so that no one had to make deals with the devil to buy that time.

As far as the election itself, it began to take shape at the eleventh hour.  For two weeks prior to E-day, I asked everyone I met, the street sweeper, the cabbie, the bank teller, the businessman and the housewife the same question: who will you vote for? The resounding answer was ‘no one’; followed by something like ‘did you not see what happened last time around? One of their own will win, Velayti or Qalibaaf (both conservative candidates) of course. What is the point of voting?’ Every single person I met had decided to boycott the election to show disapproval of the process after what had taken place four years ago — what had been known as the ‘Stolen Election’.

At times, it did not seem an election was taking place except for the pleas on TV urging people to vote and exercise their right. Some print and TV spots carried the following message: ‘your vote means an affirmation of our Nation (system) and of Islam’. I don’t know if this was to encourage voting or perhaps a reverse psychology move to have people stay away!

The only two people I met who were going to vote were one eternal optimist, the kind which is hard to find in Iran these days, and one eternal pessimist who has turned pessimism into an art form. Both fall in the critical age of 30-45; both knew something we didn’t know!

We had two days to go until Election Day. Out of the eight vetted candidates two were reform seeking and the other six were hard line conservatives. The conservatives have begun to call themselves “Osulgara” — meaning “Principles Driven”. One of the conservative candidates dropped out, leaving the rest of the ‘highly principled conservatives’ in the race — one of these candidates, I was sure, would drive the country into war — an Iranian Neocon.

Then something happened that changed everything.  Mr. Khatami, a beloved yet weak, former Reformist president, asked Mr. Aref, the Stanford-educated, former head of Tehran University, to step out in favor of the only other Reformist, Mr. Rohani, so that the votes could be consolidated behind one candidate on the left (left of the very right may be more apt in Iran). Mr. Aref took himself out of the race and this was the flame that ignited what was to finally become an election just two days before people were to take to the polls. With one reformist candidate left, up against the ‘principles-driven’ ones, people started to ponder boycotting the boycott and going to the polls. Two nights before the election, finally there was action, chanting, gatherings and lots of music and celebrations in favor of Mr. Rohani’s presidency. Lethargic attitudes were slowly being taken over by a mild glimpse of hope that perhaps, just perhaps… it was possible to defeat the conservatives this time around.

Iranians went to the polls in school and places of worship all over the country and abroad. Although the numbers did not reach the over eighty percent ones like the last time, it was still a respectable election with over seventy percent of eligible voters taking part.  Friday, the weekend day in Iran, was Election Day which is a good day to go to the polls. There is nothing else to do but vote! In fact, something I have never understood in the US is why elections are held on Tuesdays when people have a hard time making it to the polling stations between work and school etc… Even though it was Friday and people were off and the polls opened at 8:00 AM, there were such long lines that the election committee extended the voting hours by two hours to accommodate all those who wished to vote.

Polls closed, the counting began and I unfortunately had to jump on a plane. By the time I reached Istanbul, the reformist candidate was in the lead. By the time I landed in Los Angeles, he had won.

What seemed an impossibility just two short weeks prior, had now become a reality. There was no run off as the conspiracy theorist had predicted. The conspiracy theory went something like this … the reformist candidate would make it to a run-off to appease the Nation and give a sense of legitimacy, but the result of the run-off election would come later putting the conservative in office and no one would be the wiser. The system will win, yet again. However, Mr. Rohani, the Reformist candidate won by over 50% of the votes, guaranteeing his place as the next president of Iran and eliminating the need for a run-off.  Conspiracy theorists couldn’t have predicted this and everyone I talked to was a conspiracy theorist – well except the one eternal optimist.

Well done Mr. Optimist!

As a side note, it is important to note that local elections were taking place at the same time and scores of women were running for city councils in every city. It will be some time before one can run for president, but this was a good start, I thought.  To my untrained eye, the month leading up to the election can be summed up as utter indifference, wild suspicion turning into cautious speculation, quiet deliberation, hesitant action and a final explosive victory.

Now only if the first step of candidate elimination could be eliminated, we could perhaps have a model for elections, short, sweet, to the point, intelligent with mass participation.



Negin Fazeli: June 2013

Playing Jazz in the Rainy Season: Stories from Africa!

The rains have finally come.




It startled me early this morning and practically threw me out of bed as it pounded against the windows; wailing through the seams of the sliding glass door; demanding to be let in.

It’s midnight now. The lights flicker across the river like murmurs of another world whispering — come to me.  Take off your shoes; leave your hair entangled from the night before and skip across the dark waters.  Come play with the happy children; hold my hand; let me look into your eyes. I will tell you everything.

Tord Gustavsen is playing on the stereo.   Jazz – that exquisite other worldly music that washes over me when I am covered with the dust of this potholed city – my very own secret passageway to a parallel universe where people sip vintage wine, keep their virtual wealth in their digital portfolios; debate the existential paradigms of life and death over pretty food and later ponder while savoring Italian espresso; why do they hack limbs in Africa?

Did you know that the skies are starless here? Opaque, unrelenting and sealed shut.  Not a shooting star. Not a glow of light. Not a breath of hope.  Just the moon at times rising up to take note of who was taken away in a wooden box earlier that day and tell the child witches sleeping in the cemetery on the Avenue of Independence to hush up before they are dragged away.

Smoke-filled heat choking by day.

Darkness gripping by night.

It’s the rainy season and the mist slowly descends on invisible lines of trapeze laying out warm, delicious beds for those elusive winged creatures. Wake up; they say in a muted buzz. Its time to multiply. Soon more will rise from newly hatched eggs to feast on the sun-scorched bodies of men, women and children whose bellies are half full of the same thing they had two days ago, black beans soaked up in dough. And that’s on a very good every other day.

They say God is Congolese.  But if this is his home, then surely he must have lost his keys.

Crystal drops from another world run unexpected up and down the piano, then holds to let the music breath; and I hold to listen through the colors of the open voicings. It has started to drizzle.  One. Two. Three. And suddenly the skies erupt like a madman and the flickering lights across the river drop into the mist and vanish in a blink. The heavens crack and a deluge is released breathless into the night; unleashing a mad rush upon the city, washing over the dust, washing over the disease, the cracked garbage strewn lives, washing away the enclave of squatters I see day after day in that eternally unfinished construction across the way; kicking over their rusted pots and those rags hanging in the gaping holes staring through the half mortared bricks in the exposed frames of their lives; washing away the gawkers, peddlers and the hangers-on sleeping in bundles; knocking over the phone card salesmen and the fixer uppers nodding off in their plastic chairs down on each street corner. This must be how the unwanted get recycled on this continent.

The sliding glass door to my balcony shimmers – then shakes violently; rumbling through the floor — a stern warning, a small reminder of my insignificance.

The music drowns in the steady drone of the deluge and a violent lash of lightening sends me cowering behind the kitchen counter for fear that the gods may shatter the glass and come for me. Thunder lashes again and again against the window and I am completely deafened to everything but its existence.

The parallel universe of those exquisite harmonies is light-years away; far, far in another time, another place where man is the master of his destiny and rules his world.  Even the illusion of control breeds hope I am told.

Here – in the heart of darkness – under the starless skies I am invisible and nature is the daily reminder that it holds all the cards.  Be silent and obey, it thunders.

You are nothing.

As much as man is dominant in that otherworldly plane, nature is the master here, reminding man of his insignificance every day; until finally — he knows it to be true.

When I leave I will cry and miss the rains.

Finally, I understand the quiet resignation in their eyes.

It has been a whole year.  And Africa is creeping inside me slowly … slowly… every day.