A Persian Amsterdammer Blogs.

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.