5 March 2014
18 November 2012
A Phony Hero for a Phony War
A Phony Hero for a Phony War
By LUCIAN K. TRUSCOTT IV
Published: November 16, 2012
FASTIDIOUSNESS is never a good sign in a general officer. Though strutting military peacocks go back to Alexander’s time, our first was MacArthur, who seemed at times to care more about how much gold braid decorated the brim of his cap than he did about how many bodies he left on beachheads across the Pacific. Next came Westmoreland, with his starched fatigues in Vietnam. In our time, Gen. David H. Petraeus has set the bar high. Never has so much beribboned finery decorated a general’s uniform since Al Haig passed through the sally ports of West Point on his way to the White House.
2 May 2012
20 April 2012
Iran's Territorial Integrity not on the Table
The announcement on Tuesday 17th April by the United States expressing sympathy with the United Arab Emirates over the so called disputed islands in the Persian Gulf is a dangerous step with drastic ramifications for the future relationship between the Iranian nation and the United States. It is not as Americans might think a measure taken against an unpopular tyrannical regime, but a slap in the face and a rude awakening for a nation who receives regular messages of goodwill from the President of the United States. It makes a mockery of Obama's reassurance that his quarrel is only with the government of the Islamic Republic and not with the Iranian people. By declaring that Iranian territorial integrity is negotiable, Americans are proving that they do not mean what they say and in their foreign policy they do not distinguish between the interests of Iran as a country and its ruling establishment.
Here I do not wish to cite cultural and historical evidence to prove how Greater and the Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa are an inalienable part of Iran's national territory. Many scholarly works have been written on this topic and the evidence for Iranian sovereignty over these Islands is irrefutable. They have been part of the Iranian historical and political landscape since time immemorial. Their roots are as deep as Persepolis and Ekbatana, going back to the time of the Medes, Achaemenid, Parthian and Sassanid Empires. They were occupied by the British for nearly seventy years during which various Iranian governments reiterated their territorial rights over these islands and made many official complaints regarding their occupation. In 1971, based on an agreement between Britain and Iran, the Islands were returned to Iranian sovereignty. Claims of the UAE whose history of fledgling existence is merely 40 years, over these Iranian islands are insupportable and outrageous.
What is even more offensive is that the United States is using these Iranian islands as pawns in its strife with the clerical government. In its sabre rattling with the mullahs, contrary to what it has repeatedly professed , the United States has not shown any sign of differentiating between Iranian people’s interests and the challenge posed by the Islamic Republic. Moreover, it is sowing the seeds of animosity with all Iranians, friends and foes alike. A government that over the years in the United Nations has repeatedly vetoed resolutions demanding that Israel cease all settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory has the temerity to all of a sudden call for the claims of the United Arab Emirates over the three Iranian islands to be brought before the International Court of Justice. Hearing about the training of MKO terrorists at a secret site in Nevada or covert American activities in arming Kurdish and Baluch separatists and now the news of backing UAE over its bogus claim over Iranian territory, there is no way that any Iranian with a modicum of common sense would be able to convince herself or himself that America is a bosom friend of Iranians and only endeavours to undermine the fanatical ruler of their country.
The threat to Iran’s territorial integrity is so unprecedented that even an ardent pro-Western Iranian political activist like the late Daryoush Homayoun warned against American and Israeli involvement in providing help to groups that aim to break up Iran and divide it into many parts. In his last recorded interview with Faramarz Forouzandeh just before his death in 2011, Homayoun said: "I always thought Israel was a friend of Iran and it saddens me to see that it is fostering and supporting groups that aim at the disintegration of our country."
The dilemma faced by Iranian nationalists today is that they are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. On the one hand they are facing a repressive dictatorship which drains their national vitality and tramples on the human rights of the citizens, and on the other hand an opposition which within the country is brutally repressed and outside the country has been mainly reduced to an instrument of foreign powers and a comprador bourgeoisie in training. How can Iranian activists living and receiving support from the United States keep their loyalty to Iran while hobnobbing with a power that thinks the cities and borders of their homeland are dispensable and subject to negotiation? How can they in good conscience go around posing for photos and attending press conferences with senators and dignitaries of such a country and at the same time posture as redeemers of the Iranian future and inspiration of its youth?
Daryoush Homayoun was not a person who would use his words thoughtlessly and in the aforementioned interview he declares that if he would be forced to choose between an Iran that is whole and united under the mullahs and a disintegrated one divided across ethnic lines, he would choose the former option. The United States of America with its wrong-headed and disingenuous policy that only results in alienating the majority of Iranians is playing right into the hands of the mullahs and forcing all Iranians to rally behind a corrupt and tyrannical government in order to save their country from disintegration.
Unfortunately it is left to the likes of Mr Rafsanjani, with his abominable record to don the garment of Iranian nationalism and declare: "Those wishing to separate the three Persian Gulf islands from our homeland have to pass through a sea of blood." How many of our so-called Iranian activists abroad have the gumption to jeopardise their bread and butter and tell their American hosts that Iranian territorial integrity is not on the table? Unfortunately not many; and ergo the perpetual attitudinizing of the regime as the only viable option for those Iranians interested in protecting the intactness of their country’s borders and totality of their homeland.
30 January 2011
On the Death of Daryoush Homayoun
Daryoush Homayoun died on 28th January at the age of 82. He was a great journalist, politician, thinker, teacher and human being. He left behind hundreds of articles, books, interviews and many devoted friends and students. I met Homayoun a few times and once conducted an interview with him. We kept an on and off correspondence up to the beginning of this year.
What impressed me most about Homayoun was his unwavering sincerity. He never defended anything but what he genuinely thought was right and worth defending and never criticized anything or anyone without clear and justifiable reasons. He abhorred dogma and was one of the rare Iranian thinkers who could view his world impartially and disinterestedly.
This soft-spoken man commanded an unrivalled presence everywhere he went. Everyone sat up and took notice when Daryoush Homayoun spoke. He was an extremely handsome man, even in his eighties. He spoke in an almost languid voice deliberately and slowly but charmingly and poignantly. He chose his words with great precision. He loved and revered the Persian language so much that he ardently guarded it against any careless user. He knew the crucial relationship between the decay of a language and the decline of a civilization.
With a keen eye he was able to see through people but he treated everyone with kindness and respect. To those who had the chance and were willing to listen to him he was a consummate teacher. He impressed upon his listeners the need to rescue Iranian politics out of the dark gullies of the Third World mentality and elevate it to its deserved status of a robust and rational endeavour. “My goal”, he said “from the days I was a mere child has been to take part in the renaissance of Iran; to turn my life into a building block to be built higher upon.”
There were times that he seemed disgusted by the folly and vulgarity of what he encountered in the course of his political and professional life but he never turned red with rage nor did he ever lose his temper. He had this great capacity of walking into a room suffused with the ill intention of political enemies and then walking out looking refreshed by the cool confidence of his logical and mental pre-eminence. In my talk with him he said: “by writing and talking, and acting scrupulously, I am trying to help transform Iranian political culture, to raise the level of political discourse”. He thought that lack of ethical backbone was the Achilles heel of Iranian politics.
Although he had a great number of admirers and many sang his high praises he always remained down to earth. He viewed life with the eyes of a philosopher cognizant of its vicissitude and unmoved by its momentary ups and downs. He used his time both in freedom and as a political prisoner in Iran dynamically; in reading, writing and engaging in political discourse. He had a kind of mindset that was safe from intrusion of both success and misfortune. He never succumbed to the tyranny of external circumstances.
I remember Daryoush Homayoun's speech at the late Houshang Vaziri's memorial service in 2003. The two had worked together as journalists for many years. On that day Homayoun said:
"An intellectual is a person who - thanks to the range of his interests and his education - perceives things in a broader context than is usual. It is someone who attempts to get below the surface, to grasp the deeper meanings, relations, causes and affects, to recognize individual items as part of larger entities. And more than that, an intellectual, conscious of the broader and deeper connections, also derives from this awareness a broader or deeper sense of responsibility for the world.
These words befit Homayoun’s own character perfectly. He was an intellectual par excellence and felt a great sense of responsibility towards his people and his homeland. He said he believed that Iran was not simply a country, a homeland like any other but an “Idea”. For him Iran was a way of life and it entailed a worldview nurtured by the collective experience of an ancient culture and civilization. To be an Iranian for him had nothing to do with sentimental slogans but was part and parcel of a moral and intellectual discipline.
Instead of a mere regime change in Iran, Homayoun advocated the sustainable development of political institutions. He believed that all depends on the strength of democratic values both during our struggle and after the overthrow of the Islamic regime. Either our society is capable of sustaining democratic institutions or continues to surrender to different dictatorships. In either case the name of the regime, royal or republican, would not be that important".
In spite of his age he was thoroughly modern and progressive in his attitude. In my interview with him he said, “I consider myself a product of Persian literature, Greek philosophy, and European Enlightenment – a perfect background for engaging a lifetime with modernity”.
His manner of death was consistent with the way he lived. He went downstairs in his Geneva house to get some books and carrying them in his hand he slipped on the stairs and hit his head on the step. Daryoush Homayoun lived and died with books. With his death Iran lost a great asset. The intellectual investment he left behind however will be an enduring heritage for the young and future generations of Iranian political thinkers.
3 March 2010
Goli Taraghi at Village Voice in Paris
by Reza Bayegan
The evening of Thursday 25 February in Paris was wet and windy. From metro Mabillon I turned left and found myself in the rue Princesse and in front of Village Voice, the Anglo-American bookshop where Goli Taraghi, the Iranian novelist was going to give a talk. This well-known Parisian bookstore organizes lectures by many international writers.
I got there over half an hour early. Next door I spotted an eating establishment with plenty of empty chairs. I went in and discovered that it was a fancy hamburger joint with Sri Lankan cooks sporting Saddam Hussein moustaches and French waiters dishing out pseudo-American burgers in pseudo-American accents. I ran into a rather ample middle-aged woman coming out of the restroom and for a second we locked glances in that usual air of tribal recognition Iranians have when they spot a co-member. A faint smile crossed her face and then passing me by, this short lady went and perched on a rather high stool at the counter. Was she Goli Taraghi? I half thought so, but could not tell for sure. She was carrying a handbag, but no books or notebooks to indicate that she belonged to the writing profession. Moreover, on this rainy evening, drinking a cup of coffee on her own, she looked a bit forlorn for an author who was about to give a talk. If that was her, where then were her admirers and entourage?
I turned back towards my own table, which was under a picture of Barack Obama presenting the camera with a big smile and baring a perfect set of teeth. At six thirty-five the lady at the counter got up and left. She turned right towards the bookstore, her chignon keeping an even keel against the persistent wind. I got up, paid the bill and left.
Inside the bookstore I saw the same lady and was now sure that it was her, Goli Taraghi. She looked different from my remembrance of the photo on the back of her books I had at home. She seemed a bit darker and with a broader nose. It was however her congenital nose, a rarity nowadays amongst Iranian women. We again looked at each other. I greeted her in Persian expressing my happiness to see her. She seemed pleasant and unassuming. The meeting with the author was on the first floor. So I climbed up the stairs. Fold-up chairs with seats as small as dessert plates were filled by a sizeable crowd of Europeans, Americans and Iranians. At the top of the spiral stairway was a table displaying Goli Taraghi’s latest book translated into English, A Mansion in the Sky
Mrs Taraghi came upstairs and sat down. She said the chairs with the tiny uncomfortable seats reminded her of a story. She used this story as a preamble to her lecture. It went like this: according to an Indian legend a famous musician in retirement agreed to play his instrument once more for the king, the queen and all the royal court on one condition, that if anyone during the performance shook his or her head from side to side they should be beheaded. This seemed like a very lethal stipulation since Indians are accustomed to shaking their heads a great deal when they speak, or when they are transported by hearing a piece of delightful music. Nevertheless the king acquiesced. Not surprisingly, as soon as the audience heard the splendid music everyone started shaking their heads including the king and the queen. After the performance the musician relieved everyone’s fear by letting them know that he had only set that condition to see how much the audience was in love with his art and what price they were willing to pay for their enjoyment. The point of telling this story was that the uncomfortable chairs of the bookstore, like the threat of impending decapitation, were the test of the audience’s love for literature and the sacrifice they were willing to make on its behalf.
Goli Taraghi’s opening anecdote was followed by many other stories. It was natural for her to illustrate everything she wanted to say through a story, be it the state of censorship in Iran or the capricious and inconsistent despotism of the Iranian political and administrative system. Although the stories themselves were charming, their import only confirmed what the audience already knew about Iran. As noted by Kenneth Galbraith the late Canadian scholar, the hallmark of conventional wisdom is acceptability. It has the approval of those to whom it is addressed. Conventional wisdom as defined by Gabraith refers to those views that are taken for granted and “accommodate themselves not to the world that they are meant to interpret, but to the audience’s view of the world.”1 Goli Taraghi was doing a wonderful job corroborating the audience’s already formed conclusions about Iran. The crowd wanted to hear ingenious variations on the woebegone theme of our Jekyll and Hyde country. A country where on the green side all women are strong, all men are good looking and all children are above average and on the other side they are the exact opposite. Mrs Taraghi was very obliging in living up to this expectation. She also let everyone know that she would soon be going to Stanford on a three month teaching contract.
Although at the outset she declared that she was not a politician, and she would only speak as a writer, Goli Taraghi went on to talk almost about nothing else but politics. Even when she spoke about her craft, she depicted the kind of juggling an Iranian writer has to do to bypass state censorship. She talked about the predicament of the Iranian writer in general, and the female writer in particular, pointing out how an Iranian artist has to bend down to procrustean rules of a backward political establishment. In her competent English she sketched the moronic antics of authorities that are the embodiment of absurdity.
At question time, when I ventured to ask her what writers she used to read in her formative years, and particularly what Iranian writers influenced her, she altogether ignored my question about her possible indebtedness to Iranian writers and only quipped that she was her own influence. Had authors such as Jamalzadeh, Hedayat, Al-Ahmad, Simin Daneshvar, Golshiri or Pezeshkzad contributed to her literary upbringing? She did not tell. Instead she mentioned Nabokov and commented on how much she loves reading him. Her words on Nabokov however were encouraging. She said she is not after extracting any particular philosophy out of his work, but is interested in his craft as a storyteller. She made an apt distinction between the job of a philosopher and that of a storyteller. She also mentioned Salman Rushdie and how she hoped one day to be able to emulate the subtleties and intricacies Rushdie has accomplished in his novels. I thought this kind of openness to other influences is good and fine and what else could we expect from an international writer. On the other hand, the ultimate test of a novelist is the ability to create a vivid and powerful portrayal of life and not regurgitate techniques of this or that fashionable author like Salman Rushdie.
It would have been nice to hear her read one or two extracts from the translation of her book into English so the audience could have witnessed her writing skills and the breadth and scope of her imagination. When someone made approving noises about the English translation of her books, Mrs Taraghi said that some people were unhappy with it, complaining that the sense of humour loses something of its force in translation.
Odile Hellier the bookstore’s owner asked Mrs Taraghi if living thirty years outside her native country had put a damper on her inspiration as an Iranian writer and how credible really was her understanding of Iranian life and society after such a long absence? Mrs Taraghi replied that she visits Iran regularly and insisted that living as an expatriate has presented no obstacles to her writing. She remarked that Persian is the life material of her artistic expression because it is the language she loves and knows how to knead and fashion for the telling of her stories. Her answer however did not come across as very convincing. There is no denying that writing away from the living centre of a culture and that organic community in which the real pulse and palpitation of a language can be felt poses a major drawback. She was also not very persuasive in responding to a question about the possibility of publishing outside Iran where the censorship of the Islamic Republic has no sway. If nothing else, writing in Paris at least has the advantage of providing her with freedom of expression. She mentioned how all her books - barring one have been allowed publication in Iran. She cited practical reasons such as low print runs and limited readership for not publishing her books outside the country. Practical considerations of course are very important, but a writer who has something to say will manage to say it come hell or high water.
Although Mrs Taraghi remarked that she was averse to using symbols in her writing, at the end of her talk she told a symbolic story to illustrate the dichotomy of the Iranian psyche. The story went like this: she was trying to bring a bar-axe, which is used by Iranian Dervishes out of the country for her son. On the blade there was an inscription from The Koran. The customs officer at the airport examining the axe told her that she couldn’t take the axe out of Iran because it was an ancient artefact belonging to the Sassanid period. Mrs Taraghi shot back that it could not possibly belong to the Sassanid era if it had Islamic writing on it. The customs officer who did not want to lose face told her that the handle belonged to the Sassanid period, but the blade was Islamic and she would only be able to take the latter half out of the country. For Mrs Taraghi, this story became a symbol of the divided soul of the Iranian nation: Iranians, she argued, belong to their ancient Zoroastrian civilization from the neck down, and from neck up they are given to Islamic culture. Nevertheless, what Mrs Taraghi overlooked was that the bar-axe she was trying to bring out of the country was going to end up on the wall of a Parisian apartment as a mere ornament and bereft of its real purpose and significance.
When at the end of the meeting I was getting ready to leave, I was again thinking of the teaching chair at Stanford that Mrs Taraghi was soon going to occupy. Is this Iranian writer also going to become a mere ornament perched on a prestigious academic height, but bereft of her real purpose and significance? Will she articulate to her listeners what they already believe in, but want to hear confirmed by a famous Iranian writer, or will she defy established platitudes and complacencies? The dark days Iranians are going through right now are due to the triumph of conventional wisdom and failure of the creative imagination not only in Tehran, but also in Washington, London and Paris. Mrs Taraghi is a talented author and immensely likeable as a person. She belongs to a profession that can break through the formidable wall of ignorance and greed by humanizing us and holding a mirror to our collective conscience. What can we do but hope that she will live up to her high vocation and wish her luck.
1 -- The Affluent Society p. 20