A Persian Amsterdammer Blogs.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Christopher Hitchens R.I.P.

Gone is Christopher Hitchens. A great man. Though I didn't agree with him a some of the time, few people are as eloquent in stating the argument for atheism:

Nice write up on Salon.com:

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

More interesting developments in the region.

Here's some more interesting developments in the region:

4 days ago Iphones got banned in Syria:

Academics at Saudi-Arabia's highest Religious Council ruled that allowing women to drive in the country will eliminate the existence of virgins within 10 years:

In an unprecedented move Turkey's Prime Minister apologizes for the killing of almost 14.000 Alevi Kurds. Of course this opens a huge can of worms in a country that refuses to deal with many dark episodes in its past. Great write up in the IBTimes:

Egypt voter turn-out was 52 percent rather than 62 percent:

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Syria on the brink of civil war?

That seems to be what the stars are hinting at.

Now, before we do some analysis of our own, here's some links to articles to get you up to speed:

- Al Jazeera has a report about the Free Syrian Army getting stronger and better organized:

- An unnamed Libyan source claims this army will be partly trained and armed by them. Of course, unnamed Libyan sources have often made unsubstantiated claims in the past months, so read this with a grain of salt. If true though, it will definitely add some spice to a volatile situation:

- James Miller makes a case for a no-fly zone over at Enduring America:

For more information about current events in Syria, either visit the Syria Live-Blog of Al Jazeera:

Or the well informed blog of Joshua Landis:

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Welcome back dear friend...

... it's been such a while that I was busy with other projects, that I couldn't bring myself to even write down random thoughts and observations about what occupies my mind. Too bad really, as the focus of this blog, human rights and the middle-east, is an issue that needs a lot of thinking, analyzing and writing these days.

One issue is that of Aliaa al Mahdy, the Egyptian blogger who posted a picture of herself on her blog: http://arebelsdiary.blogspot.com/?zx=7722a5512dce8618

The result was hundreds of thousands of hits, thousands of comments (in favor and against her action) and a lively debate about the position of women in Egyptian society. Let me state here that I am a fan of Aliaa, and am impressed by her bravery (she posts with her own name, always, risking her life and more). However, what interests me is if the discussion is had within Egyptian society, or if it's only feminists outside of Egypt supporting her and advocating women's rights based on this action?

For instance, how will this Israeli women's initiative help the discussion in Egypt? http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4150344,00.html

Or the hundreds of Iranian women for that matter, who've spoken up in support, and in some cases have even shed their clothes. At any rate, I want to hear about Egyptian women! Let's see if we can find a few.

Conservative elements in the revolution are quick to brush her aside as a plot to derail the revolution. Here's an article in which it's claimed even the April 6th Youth movement denies such a person could ever be part of their revolution: http://www.albawaba.com/editorchoice/naked-blogger-egypt-aliaa-ostracized-401455

Anyway, now you know who she is and why you should follow developments around this story. I'll post more as the story develops.

PS. You'll be happy to know that my friend Arturo (de)Simone is opening an exhibition of his work in the Mezrab. In the exhibition he features two drawings of Aliaa. Two other drawings of her made by Arturo are currently up on her blog, so go check it out.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

More Syrian linkage

A great report by a (Syrian) traveler writing his personal observations in Syria.


taken from the blog that in itself is a wealth of information:


Cities rally for and agains Assad


Friday, 12 August 2011

Some Syrian links

Radio Zamaneh interviews a Syrian activist (Persian):


A European blogger updates us on Syria (English):


New York Times talkes about Iraq supporting Syria's Assad regime:


Syria & Iran

Overheard from a Syrian activist during the Egyptian revolts: "If they fail in Egypt, there is no hope for us in Syria". True words and they didn't fail, though what they achieved in Egypt remains fragile and is still in danger of being wiped out by the military council.

What was said about Egypt however, also applies to Syria and maybe to a larger scale. Because of its geo-political position, if Syria fails, there's no hope for the rest of the Middle-East. If people manage to get their basic human and political rights, this is a blow to both Iran and Hezbollah, who lose an important ally in the region. It also shows the people in other regional dictatorships that this type of protest cannot be silenced, even with the level of brutality show by the regime of Assad.

For Syrians especially Iranians have become the cartoonesque bad-guys to be feared and hated. Videos appeared on the internet of (alleged) Iranian forces being captured by demonstrators and questioned about their role in helping Syrian armed forces in squashing dissent. It is important to note that the Iranian post-election protests of 2009 where not shown in Syria. Many Syrians are unaware of Iranians showing their discontent with their government and the large amount of students, lawyers, journalists, politicians and ordinary citizens locked up to this day.

Friends told me of their visits to Paris this week, going to Syrian protests and being afraid to identify themselves as Iranians.

It is instrumental that in this time when our governments find ways of collaborating the Syrians and Iranian people do the same. We don't share a language, but we do share a common dream of democracy, freedom and dignity.


An insightful article on the struggle in Syria here:


Sunday, 7 August 2011


Sometimes blogging gets slow when other things in life take over. The past days however I've been very busy with a (humorous) blog documenting the struggle of me and my brother to get back in shape. If you're interested here's the link to the blog:


Confused? Go to the first blogpost on the blog, it'll clear a few things up.

Here's something else you might find interesting. A recently launched campaign for Assyrian rights:


Thursday, 4 August 2011

Happy Birthday Zamaneh!

Five years ago a man with almond eyes, long hair in a pony tail and a Frank Zappa style moustache and goatee walked into our cultural center Mezrab. After sitting for a while and asking some questions about what we do in our center he introduced himself as Mehdi Jami, the director of an about to be launched media platform called Zamaneh. He was looking for young and interesting people with something to share with the world to join him in creating this station.

I had been a bit sad that summer. My band members had left for a tour of Eastern Europe, and I was alone, working in the cultural center. When the bandmembers returned I said I had a new job: creating a weekly show on world music for this station that broadcasts into Iran through satelite and internet.

In the years that have passed I was always its strongest supporter as well as its biggest critic. It's not hard to imagine why I supported Zamaneh. A young station operating independently and allowing for different voices to be heard and tell their stories. A platform in which both the new generation as well as the old guard was creating shows. How can you not be excited about this? I always defended Zamaneh when paranoid Iranians (and there are oh so many of them) accused Zamaneh of being a mouth-piece of the Mullahs, the CIA or in some cases both. Or when during the post election turmoil of 2009 some thought that Zamaneh should abandon independent journalism and clearly take sides with the Green Movement.

I have also been a critic, voicing my discontent with some programmes, suggesting improvements in other fields, but always out of respect for what was there: a station that, if it survived, would be instrumental in creating a template for journalism that Iran needs: uncensored, respectful, deep-digging, impartial, independent. I voiced criticism not just to be a grouch, but to help improve what I loved and respected.

I'm happy to say that Zamaneh is still around, and still improves on the old formula. There's an operational English site that on a daily basis gives us news about Iran in English:

It teaches aspiring journalists the basics of journalism, it is the only major Iranian news outlet with a page dedicated to Queer issues (homo-emancipation). These are only a few of the reasons I love Zamaneh. Others have their own parts they read and follow. Is Zamaneh today what it needs to be tomorrow? I feel it has a long way to go, but I see it's getting there and I enjoy opening it daily to read the new articles and analysis.

And it did show its fans that it's here to stay. Those who are not pleased with Zamaneh can choose to wish its death (something Iranians are very good at, how many projects did we see come and go while we only grumbled about how bad it was without doing anything ourselves?), or submit ideas, articles, comments and critique, and in this way help to build the platform we can all be proud of.

I look forward to the coming five years!

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Happy Music

This is why I have hope for Iran. No matter how bad things get, there's always some young people enjoying themselves, and in doing so creating stuff for us to smile and shake our hips at:

1. the new clip of Eendo:

2. Here's a little home-made track by Naeim Meschian, our resident funkmeister and sound-technician.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Middle-East Linkage

I have lots to write about, but for now a summary of interesting links:

Iran -

Tehran Review has a two part article about the famous film director Makhmalbaf's evolving political life, as written by Ian Buruma:

Iranian Dervishes get sentenced to jail and flogging after peaceful protests:

Often in the West we focus on the persecution of Jews and Christians in Iran. While the discrimination they face is real, there is a much stricter persecution of Islamic sects who are considered to be heretical. Examples are Sunni (depending on the political climate), Baha'i and various Sufi orders.

Egypt -

Egypt tries to appease the protest movements by firing a large amount of police officers:

The revolution inspires poetry:


Monday, 11 July 2011

Power play and Women's rights in Iran.

It's no secret there's an ordinary power grabbing game going on in Iran. Not only are individuals fighting for a share of the power pie, they're fighting for a share of power for their faction as well as their position. In Iran's complicated power structure all begins and ends with the Supreme Leader (Khamenei), but how it trickles down to ministries, committees, councils, (secret) police, military factions, etc. is a constant fight that's been heating up in the last months.

Notably there's the Revolutionary Guard, a military force with considerable economic clout since it's a major share holder in many companies and has its own airstrips, ports, etc, that has decide to tell what candidates or even what number of people from a certain faction are allowed to run. It's not clear what they will do when candidates they don't want on the ballots run (other than the usual talk of blood in the streets), but that the organisation permits themselves such statements is indicative of the position they have or believe they should have:

It should be noted that Ahmadinejad's rise to power went hand in hand with the rise of the Guards, a partnership that's been abandoned since, with the Guards siding for Khamenei, and Ahmadinejad covertly accusing them of power abuse: http://www.radiozamaneh.com/english/content/ahmadinejad-decries-reporting-illegal-ports-statement)


Sadly in this power game the chips are often issues that have a deep impact on regular Iranians. For instance women will face a lot of harsh regulations when it comes to what they're allowed to watch, or how they're allowed to dress. An excellent write up about this is provided by Tehran Bureau:

But apart from the impact these social and political policies have it's important to realize the discussion is had in the Iranian political landscape between staunch orthodox principalists and politicians who advocate a more liberal view when it benefits their political agenda. If there are politicians and clerics with a principally more liberal view they are sidelined and marginalized.

Case in point is Ahmadinejad's opposition to gender separation in Universities and his opposition to the amount of power the Supreme Ruler. Even in the pseudo-democratic system of Iran the agreement was that the Ayatollah should remain impartial in the election process. When Khamenei obviously sided with Ahmadinejad after the 2009 elections there was not a peep from his camp about abuse of power. In that particular election struggle the sly Rafsanjani sided with the reformist candidates. Today we see reformist Rafsanjani claiming it's a shame that Ahmadinejad opposes the gender separation.

In the crazy political arena of Iran, some Iranians might well decide that Ahmadinejad is the candidate of modernity and reform (only a short while ago he promised each Iranian family a plot of land of 1000 square ft. to build their own villas in addition to opposing the power of both Khamenei, the Revolutionary Guards, the stricter rules for women) forgetting that in previous struggles he was a champion for the issues he currently (seemingly) opposes.

The sad reality is that with this struggle and the players involved, all outcomes will be a continuation of a desperate situation for Iranians, or things getting worse.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Reform in Islam

I am one of those atheists who believes the various Islamic currents can be reformed. In fact I already see a lot of the reform happening. One of the leading figures in this movement is Irshad Manji, an activist for moral reform in the Muslim world. In her site she offers for free translations into various languages (including Persian) of her book "The Trouble with Islam Today":

She also makes mention of an inspiring figure in the Muslim world who passed away only a decade ago, Ghaffar Khan, the muslim Ghandi:

Ghaffar Khan was a pious Muslim, but vehemently opposed to the partition of Pakistan, the oppression of women, and many other ills that plague the Muslim world today. He was a staunch pacifist and suffered both under the Brits as well as the Pakistani Muslims.

How great would it be if the youth of today would walk with pictures of Ghandi and Ghaffar Khan side to side.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Reform in the Maghreb

Here's a series of posts that appeared on Al-Jazeera, covering the referendum in Morocco:

I'm not sure what to think about the referendum. Do the reforms proposed by the king go far enough? Hardly, but is it a total decoy to fight off further protests, or is it a genuine step towards democracy?

On Mid East Youth a little article about a survey taken in Tunesia on LGBT issues:

And a series of articles on sexual harassment in Egypt:

Monday, 27 June 2011

I want change in Iran...

This Monday twelve political prisoners have ended their hunger strike. These prisoners of the notorious Evin jail were protesting the deaths of Hoda Saber and Haleh Sahabi, prominent figures of the Religious-Nationalist party.

What is noteworthy in this episode is the response of influential dissidents. Important dissident clerics, former president Khatami and the children of Karroubi and Mousavi and many others called for the prisoners to end their strike. Ayatollah Zanjani even called it a religious duty to stop the strike and said "...this country needs loved ones like you in order to achieve freedom and rebuilding". I find this to be a very troubling reaction. Of course I don't want anyone to die in an action, but when all forms of protest has been taken away from us, and in the case of these prisoners even their freedom, why undermine their protests by telling them to stop?

Even wild animals with a basic instinct for survival stop eating and often die when put in cages. Why should humans be asked to suffer graciously when they are put in solitary cells and subjected to physical and mental torture? Khatami and his clan could have been stronger in condemning the regime, saying that while it is horrendous to think of the suffering of the strikers, it is the result of the treatment of the regime. A strike that will positively stop when they are treated as humans.

The response to the prisoners' strikes sums up the crisis of the Green Movement and many other activist movements of Iran. Where we are quick to point out the changes we want, it's hard to say what we are actually willing to do to get it:

- We don't want hunger strikes, as we don't want our dear activists to suffer
- We don't want sanctions as it will be the poor that suffer, not the ruling elite
- We don't want protests in the street without permission as that means more people will get arrested and killed
- We don't want to strike at work, as most factory workers have a temporary contract and no one wants to lose their livelyhood
- We don't want to sabotage any state material as we don't want to be seen terrorists
- We don't want to give up buying products that are produced by companies owned by the Revolutionary Guard as that would mean giving up part of our luxury.
- We don't want to speak out in a way that identify us as that means losing the chance to travel to Iran.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Game of Thrones

So far the kingdoms of the Arab world have been doing better in containing the unrest than their neighbours. Most protesters don't dare to directly critisize the monarchy, only oppressive laws and reality. This has prompted some of the kings to preach reform.

A few days ago it was the king of Jordan. He spoke of a national vision. Wether his words have any weight or are simply gestures to calm things in the kingdom is better explained by a the Jordanian blogger Nas: http://www.black-iris.com/2011/06/15/and-then-the-king-spoke/

In Morocco, the king is expected to speak today about reforming the constitution of the country. It is expected that in the new constitution some power will be handed over to the prime minister, and some degree of freedom of religion will be observed:

In Saudi-Arabia, another kingdom, perhaps the most important of the region, the battle is about much more mundane issues, such as women being allowed to drive. It's the first time in 21 years that a group of women are defying the religious fatwas against women driving:

The Facebook page in support of women driving rights:


I will write more when more details are known. In the mean time, here's a fun little bit of trivia. The King of Jordan was a huge Star Trek fan, and even appeared briefly in one of the episodes. Don't believe me? Here it is:

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Arab Spring Watch

While the world media was duped by Amina, the fake Arab gay blogger from Syria, the Guardian publishes an article about the real Aminas. Worth a read:

But the main country to follow at the moment, even it seems time is standing still there and nothing will change, is Saudi Arabia. There's something smoldering there, and though it might take another generation for real change, it's the country that will have the biggest effect in the region. This week both the Guardian and the Spiegel post insightful articles:

Monday, 13 June 2011

Thoughts on Amina Arraf and Iranian Journalism

If there's one way I can define our work in the Mezrab, it is that we allow people to tell their own stories. This can be a song, a story, a personal film or anything else that connects the personal you with an audience. The reading of weblog posts is a perfect fit with this philosophy. In essence it's a very Persian artform. Driven from government controlled media outlets, Iran's internet users have flocked to the anonymity of the internet, where the most secret and sacred thoughts and observations can be penned down, protected by a pseudonym. One of the major ways of getting the true stories out of Iran and similarly oppressed countries is to read the blogs and the twitter feeds.
One of the voices that we read in the Mezrab from the internet was that of Amina, a gay Syrian blogger, who openly defied the oppressive regime of Assad. Her story, exciting and brave, was picked up by Al Jazeera, the Guardian, the BBC and many other respected news outlets. As I thought the Syrian situation is especially relevant to Iran I translated one of her posts for Zamaneh. Then she disappeared. According to an update by her cousin she was arrested by the Syrian secret police. One week after an international campaign to locate her and secure her release, it's been proven that the blog was in fact a hoax. All posts were (probably) written by an American man called Tom MacMaster.
That such a hoax was possible is not a surprise, there's billions of internet users with all the tools that they need to set up such an operation. That it went on for so long says a lot about how journalism functioned in extraordinary circumstances, reporting from countries where the standard rules of journalism don't seem to work. Some are more lax about their sources (and don't mind that they don't prove adequately who they are, as coming forward would put their life in danger) and grateful for even the little bit of information that comes out of certain countries. Al Jazeera had camera crews covering Tahrir square in Cairo, why can't we cover events in Iran in the same way?
While the speed with which the Amina hoax was disproven shows the power of the internet (in different countries people were working to uncover the truth, both professional journalists as well as "amateurs", all the time sharing information with each other in a "wikipedia" spirit of selflessness) this whole episode reminds us that we need to think about the state of journalism and writing in itself. It shows that while every person with an internet connection can write a story and publish it online, there is much added value with the existing media, it is to uncover the untruths and propaganda and to provide fresh thoughts and analysis on the facts that are out there. Also, existing media can distribute basic journalistic skills that we need to navigate a media landscape in which every neighbour and friend is a medium, and some government controlled media of many countries are propaganda tools. I'm very happy that our Iranian exiled media is doing just that: building skills and foundations, giving a stage for not just facts but also analysis:

Radio Zamaneh has e-learning courses for various levels that hundreds of aspiring journalists have already followed.

The association On File gives journalists with a non-Dutch background a home to network and access to various courses. (not Iranian, but a lot of Iranians have been welcomed by this lovely crowd: http://www.onfile.eu/ )

Tehran Review's Shervin Nekuee and Ali Mohtadi discuss the need of a "Green" medium with journalistic pioneer Mehdi Jami:
Iranian Progressive Youth supports academic thought by creating an essay writing contest. The winners are presented this Tuesday (Tomorrow) at 16.00 in Leiden. Info here: http://iranpy.net/articles/1248

Monday, 6 June 2011

Good news in Libya, bad news in Syria

It seems in Libya time is running out for the Colonel. The northwestern town of Yafran was taken by the rebels. This is a town that has always been in the hands of the Government, as opposed to other towns that are being taken and retaken. More importantly, it's only 100 kilometers away from Tripoli.



The blog of Amina brings horrible news. She was taken by some kind of Syrian secret police. Followers of this blog know of my great admiration for this strong woman who kept us updated about all that happened in Syria since the unrest began.

She had become more and more concerned in her more recent posts, writing that she even clipped her nails extremely short to keep interrogators from pulling them from her fingers. These posts also showed her determination to see things through to the end.

My heart is with her, her father and the rest of her family.



Tuesday, 31 May 2011

An Eye For An Eye

A case that's been discussed extensively by the Iranian media is that of the woman who was blinded and had her face disfigured with acid by a man who's advances she'd rejected. By Iranian Quranic law of eye for eye she has the right to blind the man by injecting his eyes with drops of acid.

Though these cases or commonplace in Iran, where usually the family of a killed one is asked if the killer should be put to death or bloodmoney should be paid to spare his life, it's the possible blinding of a person that has caught the public's attention and has sparked the debate.

One of the articles written a while ago was against this system of revenge killing and maiming, to which the sister of the victim wrote this response. It was very difficult for me to read, as the writer sympathetically argues for the right of her sister to blind her attacker.

Sunday, 29 May 2011


Having heard the tales of Irish resistance over the years, I was surprised to hear from the Irish themselves that they're a docile people. Centuries of servitude to the Brits has left its mark. Apparently no one goes to demonstrate in Ireland. When 1000 people gather in Dublin for a demonstration it's huge and makes it all the news channels. More often a demonstration is ten or twenty people walking in a figure of eight.

Maybe it fits the national psyche more to work in small efficient work units. A guerrilla approach to activism. Whatever the reason for their success is, I was inspired by the Iranian Group of the Irish branch of Amnesty. A small band of brothers and sisters that uses a lot of creativity in organizing their actions and in the short time they've existed have become one of the most active branches of Amnesty Ireland.

On this very same trip we were lucky enough to meet the Dutch couple that set up Amnesty in the Netherlands many decades ago. Such stories they had to tell!

Anyway, here's some inspirational material for you. First off, iconic material from over the years:

And a short animation to mark the fiftieth birthday of Amnesty:

Saturday, 28 May 2011

An Alternative to Where's My Vote

Since the last presidential elections in Iran the slogan of the protest movement has been: "Where's My Vote".

While I have to confess I didn't vote in the elections, I supported both the protesters as well as their slogan. For me the slogan wasn't just about the votes cast and thrown out in the 2009 elections, they were for all votes that we cannot cast for candidates of our own choice.

However, since two years have passed, I believe if we want to start another round of protest, we need another set of slogans. Slogans that obviously refer to the events of 2009, but take the reality of today into account. The sad issue we face is the great number of people who've been killed and the greater number of people locked up.

I suggest the following slogans:

Where's My Teacher?
Where's My Classmate?
Where's My Friend?
Where's My Son?
Where's My Daughter?
Where's My Journalist?
Where's My Lawyer?
Where's My Mother?
Where's My Father?
Where's My Filmdirector?
Where's My Busdriver?
Where's My Musician?
etc. etc.

Every Iranian has a friend who's been killed, locked up, or has left the country. The majority of students I spoke to outside of the country have said they left the country without the intention to stay, but really don't want to go back to their country.

Also, every Iranian knows someone who's a supporter of this regime. We know millions of people who live in a separate reality with no access to the articles we read, people we speak to, Youtube clips we watch. Consequently they refuse to believe the injustice that goes on in their own country (though the ones I've spoken to do have a strong sense of justice, they curse the regime of the Shah for locking up, torturing and killing innocent people). Ask them the questions I just wrote. Where are these people? Why do you trust a government that needs to survive by killing and locking up students, teachers, lawyers, journalists, etc?

Just kick those shins a little bit. If we all do it, it might be more effective than the next protest that gets a few thousand people into the street, exposing them to the batons of the Baseej militia.


Here's something heartwarming. A dissident action in which speakers are distributed in Tripoli, blasting the forbidden anthem of the country.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Why Syria Matters

Syria has reached a pivotal moment in her history. It's make or break time! And I for one hope that the people make it by breaking the government. Of course as an Iranian I have a special interest in Syria. Of all Arab countries that have been infected by the virus of revolution, Syria's government is a special friend of our Ayatollahs. Where the other revolutions were extensively covered by Iranian media (to show the people the Islamic revolutions are spreading) they had to ignore events in Syria. If Iran the democracy is only friends with other democracies, then why the popular uprising? If Assad leaves we don't know who will replace him, but it will certainly be someone who's less friendly with the Ayatollah's, isolating them further in the region, and exposing another one of the lies they sell to their own people.

After the Iranian mock-elections of 2009 many people went into the streets, both in Iran as well as in other countries, to demand answers about the elections, an end to killing and torture. As Iranians we saw that the world stood with us, as we protested hand in hand with people from all over the globe. It felt so natural for us to receive this support. If you are a supporter of democracy why wouldn't you be in the streets protesting for some kind of change in Iran, one of the most oppressive countries in the world?

Sadly we don't pay back the same kindness to other people and other nations, even if their fate is so intertwined with our own. I haven't seen many Iranians take to the streets in support of the Arab uprisings. In the case of Syria it's not too late. We can still gather, Arab, Persian and Kurd, hand in hand in front of Syrian embassies worldwide, to demand an end to the cruelty.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Happy Birthday

We arrived in Ireland two days ago. Many hours of delay because of Obama's arrival, and an elated crowd, much more excited than when the Queen of England visited a week before. However, the highlight of my day was not Obama's visit, it was celebrating the birthdays of Bahman Amouyi (husband of journalist Jila Bani-Jaqoub) and Masoud Bastani. These two men are political prisoners adopted by Amnesty's Ireland Iran group. The celebration is to let them and their families know that they are not forgotten.

Here's two articles that give you a bit of an idea of who these two men are:




So this is it. two years pass since the mock elections of Iran, and when we get involved it's to comfort the relatives of those who stuck out their necks for the rest of us. Is there no one else who will raise his voice or his fist?

Maybe this is another reason why I obsessively follow the news in Syria and Libya, to comfort myself with their eventual success where Iran has failed, and hope that their success will inspire us.

Fight on, my brothers, fight on, my sisters. And with fight, I also mean dance, laugh and sing.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

The waiting artists

The American poet Charles Bukowski once famously wrote about prostitutes and poets that society outlaws the one ignores the other, which should give you an idea about the power they have.

In Iran the poets are not being ignored. Our filmmakers, these current day poets, deal with censorship and repression on a daily basis. The most famous case being that of Jafar Panahi, who was sentenced to six years in jail and a twenty year ban of making films. He's free at the moment (though not allowed to leave the country) waiting for his appeal, but what is waiting life for an artist who's not allowed to create? Below you'll find an excerpt of his "This Is Not A Film":

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

What I want for my birthday

Today I turned 31. Or as we say in Persian, I entered my 32nd year of life. I was overwhelmed by all the love and support I received from friends and relatives, but really, when I fired up the internet I wanted to receive for my birthday the news that Libya and Syria were liberated.

Sadly, the struggle continues, day by day, inch by inch, claiming lives without the guarantee of final success. However, one little thing that happened did feel like a nice birthday gift:

Iranian-American-Canadian journalist for Al Jazeera was released by Iranian authorities!


In other news. From the country that will probably be the last Arabic country to experience revolt and revolution, Saudi Arabia: A lone demonstrator shows up on a square filled with police and plainclothes thugs. He speaks about the injustice that exists and predicts he will end up in jail immediately after his interview. Sadly he was right. It's been two months since that event, and Khaled is still held in jail.

Where is Khaled?

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Out of the closet.

For the past weeks I've been following the blog of Amina. Little did I know that we in the Netherlands have an Amina of our own. Monique Samuel, the Dutch-Egyptian publicist who was on TV almost every day during the unrest in Egypt, came out in an emotional post on her blog. She's divorced her husband and has told the world she's a lesbian. Though I've met her only once, when we were both invited to speak in a panel about the Iranian and Egyptian protest movements, I have to say I'm very proud of her and wish her luck!

Unfortunately this is only in Dutch:

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Arab Spring

Howdy folks, apologies for the long absence. Work at the Mezrab Cultural Center took over and I was crazy busy. Anyway, I'm back now, and hope to be back for a while, posting news and reflections on politics, culture and life in the Middle-East.

The ongoing struggle in the Arab is in danger if dropping off the front pages as unrest in some of the countries has been subdued or doesn't seem to go anywhere (Bahrain, etc), while in other countries it has become civil war or is in danger of becoming civil war (Libya, Syria, etc). Not the sexy success stories we would like to consume.

However, even the messy stories of people getting killed by the dozens, rebels taking and retaking quarters in embattled cities are all part of a larger narrative that will fundamentally change the face of the region.

Now since any grand narrative can be broken down into smaller pearls of human experience, here's a few that you should know of:

Some Libyans have set up an English language radio show. It's really funny since they're discussing serious stuff, but in a strong Cockney accent. It's a station of Ali Gs!

The most moving story from Syria is the blog of Amina A. who writes from Damascus. She's put her life on the line, writing about her life as a lesbian dissident, staying in the country with her father while the rest of her family has left the country:

Radio Zamaneh does a great time covering the conflict between Ahmadinejad and the clerical leaders on their English language site. This conflict reads like a complicated game of Chaos Chess, with many pawns and moves and shifting rules and alliances. The highlight of it was when one of the Ahmadinejad clique was accused of witchcraft and Djinn-binding. Here's the latest move:

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Iran burning

Well, maybe it's a bit dramatic to say that... but it hasn't been like this in decades. Soldiers on every streetcorner, insane amount of violence. In the months to come we'll hear about the ordeals the poor souls who are getting arrested today will have gone through.

For proper English language updates go here:


Dutch Iranians, Iranian Progressive Youth is organizing another get together to talk about social/political movements in Iran this Saturday. For info, have a look here: www.mezrab.nl

Sunday, 27 February 2011

The crazy Ghadafis

It would be funny if because of it people weren't dying. No scratch that, it's a tragedy that people are dying, but this is still hilarious:

Seif-of-Eslam Ghadafi flat out denying anything happening in the country in an interview with Christiane Amanpour. No violence against protestors, no uprising of the people: "Show me a single attack, show me a single bomb," he told her. "The Libyan air force destroyed just the ammunition sites. That's it."

Take note that this is said at the time that media report all but four cities in Libya in the hands of protesters, and two of those being contested. For the article on the interview go here: http://abcnews.go.com/International/saif-gadhafi-interviewed-by-christiane-amanpour-worldwide-exclusive/story?id=13011545

And for jobs that papa Ghadafi can do after this whole mess is over, he can be a DJ!


Meanwhile, outside of Libya, Oman has joined the countries where unrest has spread. Oman is a peaceful nation run for 40 years by a Sultan who came to power when he overthrew his own father. How thousand and one nights! It's been inching towards modernity and democracy at the pace of a demented snail with reforms such as granting all citizens over the age of twenty the right to vote in the year 2003.


The news on Iran isn't so much what's happening in the street, but rather the discussions about how to proceed with the movement. Is it going to be weekly demonstrations? Will other methods of civil disobedience be used? Will people resort to violence? I'm collecting a few articles which I will post online tomorrow.

Friday, 25 February 2011

End of the Reformist Era

It's been brewing for a while: talk of taking the struggle in Iran beyond reform. Even some friends who have been staunch supporters of reform from within the system doubt wether the current political climate in the country leaves any room for reform. Wether enough people are convinced inside the country, and wether their conviction will be turned into action, is a question I cannot answer, but here's an insightful article to read from Tehran Review, on protest, revolution and Iran:

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Where are we?

More than once did I hear Iranians lament that they need al-Jazeera to cover events in Iran like they did in Tunesia, Egypt and Libya. But even the little that us Iranians can do to fill the gap, it seems that we don't. The Green movement has brought out another declaration. Apparently it's a game changer, reaching out to workers and minorities. But so far, no one has translated it. And sadly my Persian is not good enough to do it either.


Again, to remember the real people involved in the movement in Iran, here are some personal stories:

From Teheran Bureau: "Mariam", 23 years old

From Teheran Review: N. Sayeh

But maybe most striking is this personal story (in Persian) from an Iranian transgender who participated in demonstrations with her friends, as published in Radio Zamaneh:


Finally a good analysis of why events in Libya play out differently than in Egypt or Tunesia, and why Iran is different even from all three is to be found here: http://www.enduringamerica.com/home/2011/2/24/from-tunisiaegypt-to-libyairan-notes-of-caution-on-sudden-ch-1.html

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Iran update. Politics and Culture

I can't verify if this is true. If it is though, what bad Hollywood script do these thugs read and follow? I can imagine a director telling actors, pretend you're the most stereotypical Middle-Eastern bad-asses, and this being the result:

According to Rooz Online the thugs surrounding the house of Karroubi have broken into his house, locked him up in a room and are threatening to cut his head off. Link to Naj's neo-Resistance page as she writes it up in English:


On the cultural front, the Prince Claus Fund is organising an event on contemporary Iranian photography. It will be held in the Nieuwe Kerk on Thursday Evening. For info go here:


Persian speakers, have you found these guys yet? The creaters of "Lokht dar Ayneh" (Naked in the Mirror) hold a mirror to Persian society with a bi-weekly updated sketch on Iranian mores and taboos. Very much a rough diamond and lots of room for improvement, but some of the six episodes that have come out so far are hilarious!

Giving the resistance a human face

While victims turn into numbers, and events more abstract and removed from our reality, here's a small article to remind us where talking about living and breating human people.

photo's and short profiles of six protesters in Iranian prisons and one under house arrest:


Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Following Libya

Where to go to?

If you're not following the al-Jazeera live stream, these are good live blogs for news updates:

http://revolution2.moonfruit.com/ (site that follows confirmed and unconfirmed reports)

It's a massacre. I hope the nightmare ends soon.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Why Iran isn't Egypt or Tunesia

While it certainly is educational to compare the situation of Iran with Egypt and Tunesia (and yes, there are parallels to be found), it's not a simple why can the Arabs, and not the Iranians facilitate change in their countries? In Egypt and Tunesia, the deposed ruler was the head of a corrupt institution, hated by anyone who's ambitions in life was thwarted, whether it was because of poverty or the human rights abuses. In Iran, there is actual support for this regime with a significant part of the population. This support can be because they have personally benefited from this regime or they see the regime as the guardians of their culture and belief (ie. abandoning this regime is opening the doors for all kind of moral corruption). Understanding this reality helps to understand the insistence of opposition leaders Mousavi and Karroubi to not to discredit the whole system of the Islamic Republic, but only the reality of it under Ahmadinejad and Khamenei. It is to keep a door of understanding open to the devout target audience that might see in their struggle a true moral compass to follow, rather than the current leaders who behave so barbarically.

Whether this is a sound tactic (or even a moral one) is up for debate. But one cannot wholeheartedly support or dismiss it without studying all factors in the field. Here are some important contributions to the discussion:

Pedestrian of the Sidewalk Lyrics blog chimes in on what it means to be a non-violent demonstrator in a country where journalists have been expelled and the state can do with you as it pleases: http://www.sidewalklyrics.com/?p=7984

Tehran Bureau brings the following article on the labor force that the Green movement so far has been unable to connect with: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tehranbureau/2011/02/irans-labor-flash-point.html

I hope that the flash news articles about events in Iran have come and gone, serious debate will take hold about how this movement should develop. Especially since the founding fathers will be more and more closed off from the rest of the movement, and rather will turn into symbols for the movement to use (check out news on how they are treated at the Zamaneh news site: http://www.radiozamaneh.com/english/ )

More on Libya

Currently watching Seif-ol-Eslam (Sword of Islam) Ghaddafi talk live on Al Jazeera. He's pulling a Ben Ali, even starting his talks with a "I'll speak to you, in my local Libyan dialect, rather than in classical Arabic" and proceeding to address the events in Libya in a way that seems to show regret but in reality is slandering media, foreigners (and Libyan traitors abroad). Gems include:

The army did make mistakes, but they were not used to facing angry people.
Some people who attacked the army were on psychotropic drugs.
Media grossly exaggerates events and deaths. They have a hidden agenda for this.
There is a plot against Libya, the security forces will show this in the next days.
Libya is not Tunisia, Libya is not Egypt, don't get overexcited.

Well, we know what happened with Tunesia's Ben Ali when he gave this kind of talk.


Make no mistake, the Libyan leadership is very capable and willing to kill hundreds or even thousands of Libyans if they think this will save them. But amongst the important events that are tipping the scales to the other side take note of this:

The main religious scholar of Libya has called the it a religious duty to protest the injustice of this regime. Here's a part of it:

I thank Al Jazeera for giving me this opportunity, I say that what is happening in Libya now cannot be tolerated, cannot be bared, cannot be kept silent about. A heavy war machine is confronting protesters who are bare chested, raising their hands above their heads as a sign of peace, peaceful, and the regime is shooting them with anti-aircraft artillery, we have not seen this except in Israel’s attacks against Gaza. We cannot believe this happens in our country. The majority of those doing this are thugs and mercenaries from Africa and from Libya who have sold their honour for money. We cannot remain silent about this now, the country is being attacked by foreigners right now. Therefore, I extend a call, and would like to ask our brothers from army officers, technicians and those who are providing logistical transport to these weapons and ammunition about the bridge that is connecting Tripoli to Benghazi via airplanes carrying these weapons and mercenaries. I want to ask these people who are offering this logistical service, how do they plan to face their Lord? Where is the Honorary oath of service to the Army? Where is the honour of being part of this land? Where is the brotherhood? Where is your faith? Selling your religion in exchange for these mercenaries.

Full text of Sheikh AsSadiq al Gheryani can be found here: http://www.libyafeb17.com/?p=1266

Sunday, 20 February 2011

What's up doc?

There's lots of crazy stuff happening in Iran. I can't write as eloquently or well informed as some of the writers out there, but I can point out where to find the information.

After the protests of February 14th (and the counter protest staged by the government on Friday where a negligable amount of people showed up) today is pandemonium in Tehran and other cities of Iran. At least one protester has been reported to have been killed. Opposition leaders Mousavi and Karroubi are cut off from the outside world. For live updates on the events here are the live blogs of Teheran Bureau and Enduring America:

Radio Zamaneh sadly doesn't have a live blog in English, but other sites use the items of the Persian live blog in their articles. For general articles in English go here, where you can read about the release of the German journalists, the sealing up of the houses of the opposition leaders and other events. It's important to note that the English Zamaneh site is not the fastest (as they write in Persian and later things are translated in English, but still an invaluable source)


It is important to note in these events that the revolutionary fire was very much fanned by the events in the Arab world. After Tunisia and Egypt protest continue in Libya, Algeria, Bahrain and other countries. In Libya and Bahrain it's important to note that the crackdown was bloody, but didn't drive the people back to their homes, like it had in Iran at the end of 2009. Hopefully this time the result will not be the same in Iran.

To follow the situation in Libya (to find gems such as protesters burning down one of the houses of Ghadaffi) go to: http://www.libyafeb17.com/ and the Al Jazeera live blog: http://blogs.aljazeera.net/middle-east/2011/02/17/live-blog-libya


For Dutch readers, here's Peyman Jafari giving an update on the Iranian situation on the TV programme "Buitenhof": http://player.omroep.nl/?aflID=12170640

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Love Jihadists

Amsterdam has a very special guest: South-African Imam Muhsin Hendricks. Some people know him from the documentary a Jihad for Love (http://www.ajihadforlove.com/). He's a queer Imam on a mission to rid homophobia from muslim communities. In his own studies he's come to the conclusion that Islam has no negative views on mutual consentual love.

I had the pleasure of meeting him a few days ago. Today I will attend a conference on Islam and Homosexuality where the Imam will speak.

Here's an article on mr. Hendricks:

Friday, 18 February 2011

Music in service of the revolution.

There are different ways in which Iranians are contributing to the struggle for freedom and democracy. One is by the creation of art. If not to convince government supporters to join the cause, then at least to remind ourselves what it is we're fighting for.

Golshifteh Farahani is an Iranian actress living abroad. The song she sings in this clip uses the melodies and texts of old songs every Iranian knows, from political songs to children's texts. The lyrics are updated to refer to today's events.

Here's a translation of the lyrics, made by my friend S.A.:

[Sound of people calling out "Allah Akbar" from rooftops]

Our nights on rooftops
I call out "God is great"
I hold a dream in my heart
and the universe will share our fate

For our children
it's time to sacrifice
thus they will be freed
from this long lasting oppression

This sinister night
will disappear
This country will be free
from sorrow and depression

We will laugh again
We will laugh again
We are united

We will laugh again
We will laugh again
We're undivided


Beautiful girl
It's time that you claim your rights*
to free yourself from oblivion
and the people will cherish you in their pure hearts

Beautiful girl
The flame of your enchanting gaze
your innocent eyes
will illuminate the way for those who fight


Father brought the water**
Father brought the bread**
That man came on a horse,
as soon as the oil was spread.
I will walk to my destiny.

That man is armed,
he attacks the people.
And I'll go on a quest for my destiny.

Stay strong and focus on your final destination
The time has come for sacrifice

[trembling voice:]
Kiss me
Kiss me for the last time

*Literally she sings "The voice of justice has summoned you". Voice is "Neda" in Persian, which is the name of the young girl who was shot during the uprising in the summer of 2009.

**These are two sentences from childrens school books and all Iranian children know this by heart.


I hope it inspires you to keep involved with the Iranian struggle.

Thursday, 17 February 2011


It's an issue that always kind of hung there. The taboo no one talked about. Everyone knew about the human rights abuses against the LGBT community, but to talk about their rights was not done. Luckily things are changing. Iranians are getting more educated, and instinctively feel that if we have 3.750.000 gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders in Iran (my rough estimate, based on a conservative 5 percent of the total population) you can worry about their rights, even if you are not gay yourself.

Also, many TV channels are writing about the issue. Radio Zamaneh has a page dedicated to LGBT called degarbash (in Persian).

And the new TV channel Man-o-to TV came with this item. Not shocking stuff, unless you're an Iranian that's been kept away from this kind of info:

Maybe this is the battle, to slowly inject sanity to the discourse, one item at a time...

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

The PR war.

The battle for Iran is a media battle as it's about events in the street. Witness the case of Saneh Jaleh, a victim of Monday's government violence, now being claimed as a civilian militia member (Baseej) killed by foreign backed agents.

For a full factual write up of who he is, and the tricks the government uses to claim him as their own, here's a good link to study:

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

A video in support of the protesters

A group of creative Amsterdammers (Iranian and non-Iranian) performed in the streets in support of the Green movement of Iran. Here's a video registration of their event.

A new chapter...?

After 9 months of blog silence, is it of any use to return? It does not matter, one blogs because one has to, not because there is a function. At any rate, with all that's happening (and not happening) in Iran I need a place to vent.

If you're looking for Iran related news, here's some active and very good blogs. People I've been following for a while, and people I've recently discovered:

One tough lady dishes it out like no one dares to:

When online then relevant, interesting and well written:

The most important blogging/news site on the Middle East at the moment:

Last but not least, Radio Zamaneh has revamped her English site. Good news!

That's plenty to keep you busy. Tomorrow I'll note my thoughts on today's events, and the road ahead.