Omid Memarian

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Between a Dictatorship and a Hard Place

The shocking
assassination of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto signals an era of extreme political instability, that may result in paralysis of the political process and hence chaos in Pakistan. Like the Gandhi Family who fell victims to assassins during India’s transition to democracy , Pakistan’s Bhutto Family is following a similar fate. It is difficult to determine exactly who is responsible for the murder of Pakistan’s favorite daughter , but almost all political factions may use the situation to further their cause. In the end, as always, it is the democratic process and the Pakistani people who have the most to lose.
Although General Musharraf has condemned this act of terrorism , he must be relieved at the removal of his most serious opponent who repeatedly questioned his legitimacy. In a piece she wrote for Huffington Post last September Bhutto described Pakistan under Musharraf’s command as follows:

“Almost a decade of military dictatorship has devastated the basic infrastructure of democracy. Political parties have been assaulted, political leaders arrested, and the judicial system manipulated to force party leaders into exile. NGOs have been under constant attack, especially those that deal with human rights, democratic values and women's rights. The press has been intimidated, with some reporters -- even those that work for papers like the New York Times -- arrested, beaten or made to disappear. Student and labor unions have not been allowed to function. The electoral institutions of the nation have been manipulated by an Election Commission that could not stop rigging and fraud. And in the battle against terrorism, we look on with dismay as the government of Pakistan ceded sections of our nation that previously had been governed by the rule of law to Taliban sympathizers and to Al Qaeda, making Pakistan the Petri dish of the international terrorist movement.”

Despite a questionable record during her tenure as Prime Minister of Pakistan, Bhutto remained the most popular political
challenge for Musharraf , and publicly demanded implementation of democratic values, especially freedom for political parties and civil society. In her blog on Huffington Post she wrote:

“It seemed now that the country had an opportunity to peacefully transition to democracy, which is critical for the other war - the war of moderation against extremism– to succeed.”

Unfortunately, Bhutto’s assassination greatly diminishes the possibility of democratic change pakistansbloodstaineddemocracy in Pakistan under Musharraf’s rule anytime soon. The US has relied on him to help lead the War on Terrorism in the region, despite his increasing fall from popularity. With Bhutto-- the only contender for transitioning Pakistan into a democracy--out of the picture, the US has no choice but to continue supporting Musharraf’s government, given the dangerous flourishing of radical Islamists there. Musharraf is bound to turn this tragedy into an opportunity to show the West and US, that only a powerful military man can control the country, keep nuclear arsenal out of the terrorists’ hands, target extremists, and avoid complete chaos. Unfortunately, the US is caught in a dilemma of supporting a dictator who suppresses its people and civil society.

This pattern has been repeatedly appeared i
n US Middle East foreign policy, from the Shah of Iran, to Saddam Hussein of Iraq, to King Fahd of Saudi Arabia (Pdf) , and more recently Musharraf of Pakistan: US is once again stuck between a dictator and a hard place. Despite ample US aid to Pakistan, not only are the Taliban and Al-Qaeda strong as ever , and terrorism in the region rampant, but also signs of democracy and Pakistani civil society are sparse.

Musharraf who has been a target of
Al-Qaeda himself , is accused of playing a double-game. However, given current security issues in Pakistan, the US faces a challenging choice between supporting Musharraf or following rhetoric of US presidential candidates in the last 48 hours, who are calling for a cut in funding and aid to Musharraf’s government. The assassination of Benazir Bhutto will paralyzes the political process, weaken the democratic movement and give rise to violence to the political sphere. Musharraf who has hardly been successful in controlling the growth of fundamentalism in Pakistan and beyond its borders with Afghanistan, faces a huge legitimacy crisis, as he is neither popular in Pakistan nor the West.

Imminent questions remain such as will US act more forcefully in its war on terror, who will they support, where is this
unstable society headed , can this tragedy revitalize democracy or strengthen extremism, and more importantly, after Musharraf , who will be able to lead the country toward security, peace, and democracy?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Do not miss this movie: The Kite Runner

Friday, December 28, 2007

"Corner Liquor Revisited"

Below is my story about liquor stores in Oakland. The connection between crime and liquor stores in West Oakland, in particular, has always been a question for many people and also experts here. It was the first time I worked on this topic and personally found it very interesting. (Read the rest of the story here.)
"WEST OAKLAND has more liquor stores than grocery stores, restaurants and other eating establishments. There are 53 to be exact, 28 more than licensing authorities believe there should be. For years, they have complained about a loophole in the licensing law that seems to keep liquor stores in neighborhoods that don’t want them. " (Continue...)

"Why I'm returning to Pakistan?"

Benazir Bhutto's post before returning to Pakistan in September 2007 on HuffingtonPost is fascinating. She describes her destiny in this way: "I didn't choose this life. It chose me." It was the most tragic thing that could happen for Bhutoo's family while his father and two of her brothers embraced the same fate. Read the rest of her post here:
"My stay in New York wasn't exactly the family vacation I had planned, but it was a critical period of weeks that could very well determine the future of Pakistan. I long ago realized that my personal life was to be subjugated to my political responsibilities. When my democratically elected father, Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was arrested in 1977 and subsequently murdered, the mantle of leadership of the Pakistan Peoples Party, our nation's largest, nationwide grassroots political structure, was suddenly thrust upon me. It was not the life I planned, but it is the life I have. My husband and children accept and understand that my political responsibilities to the people of Pakistan come first, as painful as that personally is to all of us. I would like to be planning my son's move to his first year at college later this month, but instead I am planning my return to Pakistan and my party's parliamentary election campaign.

I didn't choose this life. It chose me."

Making a Martyr of Bhutto, Aryn Baker's story for Time Magazine. Aryn is a UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism's alumni.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bhutto Assassinated in Attack on Rally

It was not very unlikely: "he Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated near the capital, Islamabad, on Thursday." With the rise of fundamentalism in Pakistan, the prospect for democracy is disappearing. It's not clear that she was killed by Al-Qaeda or its sympathizer's or any other Islamist groups in Pakistan. It shows how democracy could hardly be implemented in a society that terror and violence has been institutionalized and government has not enough deternination and authority to end or control it. It will also have one direct, or in-direct, implication and that is paralysation of the political process in Pakistan. (Read NYTimes Story here)

Visiting Iranian officials seek to enhance scientific exchange with UC botanists

No Comments:

– High-level Iranian officials made a rare visit to the University and Jepson Herbaria earlier this week, seeking to augment ongoing scholarly collaboration with UC Berkeley scientists and students.

 Iranian diplomat looks at map, showing sites of past collaborative botanizing
On a map of his nation, Iranian official Mostafa Rahmani spots sites of recent collaborative research by Iranian and UC botanists, as Dr. Foisee Tahbaz and Dr. Abolfazi Mehrabadi look on. (Cathy Cockrell photo)

"Politics is going to fluctuate, but science is something that is not going to change with the president," said Dr. Mostafa Rahmani, director of the Islamic Republic of Iran's office at the Pakistan Embassy in Washington, D.C. "We need to invest for what is more permanent… "Animosity is not going to go away," he added, unless "these two great countries" enhance their interaction in peaceful arenas.(Read the full story.)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Slideshow: Sarkozy And Girlfriend Carla Bruni In Egypt

It was too early to hear Sarkozy's adventure with a new woman after his recent divorce. I was amazed by reader's comments on Huffingtonpost in reaction to this news, and honestly, his good taste as well. A tough man in foreign policy is a soft man when it comes to women, of course after a bitter divorce....I think publishers would thrive to get his ex-wife's story out these days...

"French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his model-turned-singer girlfriend, Carla Bruni, arrived holding hands in Luxor Tuesday, kicking off a private visit to Egypt.

Heavy security prevented media from approaching Sarkozy's entourage at the airport and the couple was whisked off in a convoy of Egyptian presidential security cars to Luxor's famed Old Winter Palace hotel on the east bank of the Nile."(To read the news and the slideshow click here.)

Monday, December 24, 2007

How do you look at 2008?

My friend, Siavash Fani, who is a prominent designer in Tehran, has expressed his opinion about the next year in his last graphic design. A few months ago he designed a poster for a film festival in San Francisco. You can look at
his website here.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

US-Iran Relations: The Struggle Over Who Is In Charge
"Treacherous Alliances: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States,"

Just a few days before the release of the National Intelligence Estimate, in a discussion with Trita Paris, Executive Director of NIAC , members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee estimated the probability of a US war on Iran of being about 50%. Parsi, the author of "Treacherous Alliances: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States," still believes that “no peace –no war” is unsustainable. He says that the nuclear issue is one of the driving forces in a struggle between Iran and the US. “It’s a conflict about who is in charge,” says Parsi. “Even if they have common interests, they don’t have common interests on the issue of who is in charge.” Below you can read my conversation with Dr. Trita Parsi:
Omid:The risk of war seemed extremely high just two weeks ago. It is not something to be overlooked and I think it is dangerous for people read the headlines and think: “Well, the risk of war seems to be reducing,” or “it’s increasing,” and interpret the news as an indication that it’s going away. But it seems it’s not going away.
Trita:It’s been overhanging now for more than a year and a half. I think we have to take a step back and understand one thing. It’s not whether it will happen or not. It’s is it acceptable to have a risk for war being that high for such a long period. What does this do to the Iranian-American community for just the risk to be there, for the community to be in a perpetual state of fear? Will it happen? Will it not happen? Constantly losing sleep over it. And then imagine their fear for their relatives in Iran, to constantly be in that fear as well. And of course for the larger American community as well, it is not a healthy thing for two countries to be constantly on the brink of war for a prolonged period of time. So, even if the risk were to be reduced to 20%, it’s not acceptable. It’s not acceptable.

We are in a situation right now that beyond it not being acceptable, it is not sustainable. The state of “no peace-no war” between the United States and Iran is not sustainable. It is either going to translate into some kind of a peace, or some sort of a war. But the middle-ground is shrinking and it is soon going to be eliminated because of geopolitical forces in the region.

Omid:The nuclear issue is one of the driving forces in this struggle, but it is not the key or only driving force. I think there is a geopolitical context that is more about where America’s position is in the region whether its hegemony is going to survive, and how it will survive if Iran is a rising power?

Trita: This is at the core of the tension. Let me give you an example of why I think this is more important than the nuclear issue or even Iraq. Because in many areas Iran and the United States have common interests, probably more common interests than many of America’s allies have with United States. Take Iraq for example. Iran is probably the only country benefiting the most from a democracy in Iraq, because democracy in Iraq, at least in the beginning, will be a census. That’s going to bring the Shiites to power, and that going to beneficial to Iran. It’s not beneficial to Saudi Arabia, it’s not beneficial to Israel, it is not beneficial to Jordan. These are the countries, at least Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which have been playing a very negative role in Iraq. A very large number of the suicide bombers, the infiltrators, and the foreign fighters are Saudi, Jordanians, and Algerians. The United States is not talking about them; instead, it’s exclusively focusing on whatever Iran is doing. And if Iraq was truly the issue, then the United States would have worked more closely with Iran, and it would have addressed the negative role that Iraq’s neighbors, Saudi Arabia and Jordan are playing. Instead it is choosing not to do so. Part of the reason for that is that Iraq is not the central cause, Iraq is one of the arenas in which a much larger conflict is taking place, and that is the geopolitical conflict between Iran and the United States.

The US’ position, hegemony in the region, is weakened. Iran is rising and the US cannot afford to see Iran make advances in Iraq, even though they have common interests. It’s a conflict about who is in charge. Even if they have common interests, they don’t have common interests on the issue of who is in charge.

Omid: Given this approach, how can one interpret the recent situation at the Annapolis conference on peace in the Middle East? Iran and the Hamas were absent and presence of Syria was surprising without any compromise on Golan. Now, the major question is that while in a short run Iran seems to be left aside from the race, who is considered the winner or loser of this significant event in a long run?

Trita: I think in the long run, the biggest losers from this Conference were the entire region as a whole, as well as the United States. Because even if it temporarily increases the hope for peace, it is still not peace making that was at the center of this Conference. The center of this conference was to save the American moment in the region by creating an Arab-Israeli alliance against Iran. It’s balance of power politics, and I don’t think that the cards are in such a way that this policy would be successful for the United States, pursuing a policy aimed at creating an order in the region based on the exclusion of Iran or any other powerful country is not sustainable and it will not function. It doesn’t matter if we like Iran or not. It doesn’t matter if it’s Iran or if it’s Kuwait. If you pursue such a policy, you create incentives for those states to undermine your efforts, and there’s nothing that is easier to undermine right now than those efforts. So, in that sense I would say in the long run it is not a positive step, even if in the short-run it may raise hopes for peace-making temporarily.

Omid: On the other side, I think Iran has pursued a diplomacy that has not been multi-faceted (and uni-directional often times?). How does Iran’s diplomacy contribute to the current situation?

Trita: I think one of the key components of their diplomacy is to portray themselves as being much stronger than they are in order to deter the United States from attacking, because there has been a thinking in Iran which is an understandable thinking, that the only thing that could deter the US is to be as powerful as possible, because United States does not attack powerful states. So, instead of pursuing a more gentle face, a more compromising approach, this thinking will actually fit into the war machinery, will make Iran come across as weak, a more likely target, than if Iran is constantly having missile tests, military maneuvers in the Persian Gulf and in Iran, speaking very tough, talking about revenge, talking about retaliation, using a very aggressive rhetoric, that that would be a more effective way of being able to deter the United States. That policy may have had a very serious backlash in the sense that that talk would also fit into the perception not only in the United States but also in the Region, that Iran is a threat, and if the Arab States for instance are sensing that Iran is a threat, that causes them to gravitate towards the American position, and that’s not helpful for Iran in the region.

Iran needs to pursue a more complex diplomacy in which on the one side it is making clear that yes, if there is a war it will be a difficult thing, it’s not going to be a cakewalk for the United States. But on the other hand, it also needs to do a very sophisticated maneuvering to show that there is willingness for negotiations, there are opportunities for resolving the issues. So far, that is certainly not the way it’s been coming across over here, mindful of the rhetoric of Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad has pigeonholed himself as a radical, and even when he may try genuinely to come across as softer, it has failed miserably in the United States and has been quite ineffective.

Omid: But the US could bring Syria to the negotiation table. Also, Annapolis showed Iran’s reliance on the Arab countries is a fragile strategy. The presence of Saudi Arabia and Syria in Annapolis especially surprised Iranian leaders.

Trita: Well, the success for United States was at the end of the day to manage to make the countries show up. But that, in and of itself, shows how weak the United States has become, that that would be a measure of its success. Ten years ago, it would have been an absolutely natural thing that every country would show up if the United States put on a conference. Now the measure of success is if they come or not. The measure of success is not what the outcome of the conference is; that is really reflective of how weak the United States’ position has become. In that sense, the fact that the Syrians came under these bizarre circumstances was a victory for the United States. It certainly did surprise the Iranians, and it certainly created an image that the alliance between Syria and Iran may not be as strategic, it may actually more expedient than strategic, but I think it’s too early to draw a conclusion on that, because at the end of the day, for Syria to come is one thing, for Syria to stay is a completely different thing, and they will only stay if there is a deal. If there isn’t a compromise on Golan, and we aren’t anywhere close to seeing that sort of thing happening. So far, I think the Bush administration can rejoice over their coming. I don’t think they will be able to rejoice over their staying.

Omid: It is hard to anticipate what the administration plans for Iran over the last year of Republican rule in the White House. Bush has called Iran a “serious threat” and on the flip side, Iranians are enriching uranium and seem defiant against the United Nation Security Council’s demand to halt their enrichment activities; additionally, the US is pushing for stronger sanctions. If this situation leads to a sort of confrontation, based on your information, what is the most likely time that it would occur?

Trita: When you ask the question what is the most likely time period it could happen, we come into some lower level political factors that have come in, including military factors, such as it’s probably easier to start a war in April than it is to start it in July, particularly if it’s going to be some sort of a mass movement of troops, particularly if it’s going to be some sort of land invasion included, which I don’t think would be the initial plan, but will most likely end up to be the case afterwards anyway, because war planning rarely works out the way that you had hoped for.

But there is now a lot of speculation saying that the President may be compelled by the Republican Party not to start a war, or military strike, in the middle of a Presidential campaign. That leaves him about two months, from November 5th, the day after the Presidential Elections in 2008, to January 21st, two and a half, three months in which a war could be started. It would be quite unprecedented for a US President to start a war at that stage. The most controversial things that have happened in the past during those months are if the President pardons a couple of people from jail, using his power to do so, and that creates some headlines. Starting a war is a different thing. Then again, this is an administration that in the past has shown tremendous propensity for doing unprecedented things, and even seeing a value, a shock value, in doing something that no one expected it would do. I would say that throughout this period, the risk of war would be quite great. Beyond that, even after the end of the Bush Administration, it would be foolish I think to think that the risk for war will be eliminated, because those forces going towards war are not just because of political factions and factions with certain ideologies. It’s also some geopolitical realities, and those geopolitical realities would remain and intensify even under a different administration. This is one point.

The second point is that even a different administration isn’t necessarily going to come in there with a completely different outlook on Iran. Many of them are using the same language as the Bush administration, and even if they wanted to, as some of them do, they are still stuck with past decisions that hinder and minimize their maneuverability. They come in there, and it’s not as if the playing field is open. There are a bunch of laws. There are sanctions. There are historical precedents. There is bad blood. There is mistrust. All of this is still there, and all of these factors minimize their maneuverability, and may force them to do things that they don’t necessary like to choose to do. I will give you an example. If the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) is on the terrorist list, what does this mean? Does it mean that United States cannot legally talk to the IRGC? Because it is forbidden for the Americans to talk to Hamas as they are on the terrorist list. And if that is the case, how can the United States pursue diplomacy with Iran, mindful of that fact that so many people in the Iranian government either are or have been tied to the IRGC? This would be a major obstacle that would be there even if there was someone like Dennis Kucinich or Obama that becomes the President. So there are other factors that I also think we have to pay attention to. There’s a tendency right now to put all the problems and all the blame on the Bush administration. I don’t want to defend the Bush Administration, but there are some problems that are going to live on, beyond them sitting in the White House.

"Just Asking: Marjane Satrapi"
about her animated movie 'Persepolis'
[SATRAPI] This week, Marjane Satrapi's "Persepolis," which shared the jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival, was nominated for a Golden Globe in the category of best foreign-language film -- a surprising honor for an animated film."

The movie is coming out on December 25th in the United States. I watched it a few weeks ago with some of my classmates and friends at a private screening by Sony in Berkeley. The story telling style is pretty impressive. (Read Wall Street Journal's interview with Satrapi here)

Friday, December 21, 2007

Time's man of the year: Vladimir Putin

Well, it is not the first time that Time magazine choose somebody as its man of the year who is controversial since 1927. The leader of an authoritarian regime who has been criticized for having hands in some notorious events like the death of Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB agent, who was apparently poisoned and died in a London hospital where he was being treated last November, and also, the assassination of Anna Politkovskaya, the Russian journalist which took place on Saturday, 7 October 2006 . Both will never be forgotten. This recognition, however, may bring people's attention to what Putin is doing in Russian and raise lots of questions about his security oriented government and the upcoming elections in Russia.
A few weeks ago, when I watching "Czar Putin", a CNN documentary film about the Russia today, I was amazed that she was murdered at Putin's birthday, such a coincidence! Still, many questions unanswered. But, don't these killing cases seem so classic in a country like Russia?

A conversation about Time and Putin, the person of the year on Fox news: Watch it here
Here is Putin's interview with Time Magazine

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Competition over the Best quotes of the year: President Bush and President Ahmadinejad on the top

Time Magazine has introduced the top of everything of the year which is interesting and funny, to an extent. One of the funny parts is about the 10 Best Quotes. No surprise that on the top of the list there is something by President Bush and the second is a controversial quote by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad":

#1. "I really am not the kind of guy that sits here and says, 'Oh gosh, I'm worried about my legacy.'"

— President GEORGE W. BUSH, when asked about his falling approval numbers and mounting criticism of the Iraq War during an interview with CBS' 60 Minutes (Jan. 14, 2007)

#2. "In Iran, we don't have homosexuals, like in your country."

— MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, president of Iran, responding to a question about the treatment of gays and lesbians in Iran during a visit to Columbia University in New York City (Sept. 24, 2007)

(Read the rest of the quotes here)

An Interesting Flash page for Holiday in New York Times. Click Here!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

UN Sees Iranian Rights Abuses

For the fourth time, since 2003, the "U.N. General Assembly approved a draft resolution Tuesday expressing "deep concern" at the systematic human rights violations in Iran, including torture, flogging, amputations, stoning and public executions.The 192-member world body adopted the resolution by a vote of 73-53 with 55 abstentions."

(Read the rest of the news here)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Chris de Burgh in Iran: other artists will be jealous

Almost none of my friends at UC Berkeley know who is Chris de Burgh. He is not like Justin Timberlake, but I remember, for years, Chris was very popular among the Iranian youth. Now, he is becoming the first famous and popular singer who is on the way to Tehran. It doesn't, however, surprise me. Remember the enthusiasm about Oliver Stone's desire to make a movie about President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which was on media recently. I think, at this time, the Iranian government is open to invite everybody who bring publicity and attention to the conservative government in Tehran, domestically and internationally. It doesn't matter these people do not fit to the Islamic ideals or not, though. I can imagine in the coming months many other artists, musicians and actors decide to perform in an Islamic Republic which is super friendly with the West:
Chris de Burgh believes that music is an international language. Photograph: Johannes Simon/Getty

"It's like when
Wham! played China in 1985 all over again, isn't it? News is just in that Chris de Burgh will be the first major Western musician to perform in Iran when he plays Tehran next year. Since the 1979 revolution, "decadent" music has been banned. But Burgh has been working with Iranian band Arian (NB not Aryan), recording a song entitled - not very controversially - Melody for Peace. While the government might approve of "peace" conceptually, they don't appear to be that interested on a practical level. Could Burgh's track be retitled Melody For a Bit of West-Baiting? Or a Wurzels cover, perhaps: I've Got a Brand New Uranium Enrichment Plant and I'll Give You the Key." (Read the rest of the story here...)

Guess Who is Building Nuclear Power Plant?

Yes, it was the Shah, the most reliable ally of the United States in the Middle East in mid 60's.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Rep. Wexler Calls for Cheney Impeachment Hearings [VIDEO]

Well, no surprise! It seems that the release of NIE has made critics of the warmongers within the BUsh administration more comfortable to criticize what is happening in DC, and politicians like Dick Cheney:

"I was serving in Congress and on the Judiciary Committee for the ridiculous and politically motivated impeachment hearings of President Clinton. During that witch hunt Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, and Ken Starr wasted a year and a half on investigations and hearings about President Clinton's personal relations. However, this attempted coup d'etat by Republicans against President Clinton was not and should not be the standard of impeachment that was enshrined by the Founders in our Constitution. (Read and watch the video here.)

"I am Muslim": Laura's Story

The below short video is done by my classmate at UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, Manal Ahmad. She is very talented and friendly. Recently, when I was chatting with her at the school, she told me how President Ahmadinejad is popular among Pakistanis. Well, no wonder! Many Muslims, and even non-Muslims- praise Ahmadinejad for his resistance against the United States. However, he is losing his popularity among poor people, who are his main supporters, in Iran because of the economic failure of his government to deal with inflation, unemployment and so on... Manal from Pakistan, Omar from Iraq and I, are the only students from that part of the world. Manal has updated the school about the current events in Pakistan via email during the last two months...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Religion and Politics: Super Christean White House's Christmas Card?

There are many people in the World who have no idea how the United States is a religious country. It's not like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Bahrain and Iran, but extensively is mixed with religion in different levels. The recent remarks by Romney or Huckabee, the two 2008 republican presidential candidates, about their faith shows the trend...

Below you see this year's Chrismas cards which have been sent by White House to many people:

"The super-Christian card features a verse from Nehemiah (Old Testament, it should be noted):

You alone are the LORD.
You made the heavens, even the highest heavens,
and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it,
the seas and all that is in them.
You give life to everything,
and the multitudes of heaven worship you.

Friday, December 14, 2007

How Iran's president is being undercut

Vali Nasr and Ray Takieh have co-authored an opinion piece in Christean Science Monitor today. It gives the Iranian's side approach toward the new NIE and deals with Ahmadinejad's domestic crisis and the upcoming elections. Both scholars have been encouraging the administration to pursue a peaceful approach toward Iran. Vali Nasr met President Bush last year and explained for him the differences between Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq. The author of "Revival of Shiites" and Ray repeatedly have condemned the war rhetoric and also inefficiency of the unilateral sanctions, promoted by neo-cons during the last years . You can read this article here:

"But as a result of the NIE, Iranians may conclude that there will be no war, no new sanctions, and perhaps even a relaxation of financial restrictions. And they may begin to put up with less and demand more from their government. Iranians supported Ahmadinejad when it looked like the US was gunning for war, but they will probably not support their president if it turns out he is the one looking for trouble. They want prosperity and stability and will take Ahmadinejad to task for the failures of his administration, unfulfilled expectations, inflation, unemployment, and suppression....

The US should seize the moment with an offer of comprehensive negotiations between the two countries and the prospect of rapprochement. These carrots will not just diminish the power of hardliners such as Ahmadinejad; it will also provide a mechanism to ensure that Iran complies with its nonproliferation commitments..." ( Click here to read the article...)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

How to Defuse Iran: A Guideline For Engagement With Iran

Read the below article to learn how the NIE report has been crucial. It basically suggests the US a full-fledged negotiation with Teheran's government on mutual concerns. I think it has written very quickly and lacks some of the fundamental element which makes the recommendations a sort of linear, however if there is anyway to get off of nuclear dead-end, that should be just engagement:
hy should any Iranian leader take such rhetoric as a legitimate invitation to the table? Iran has tried tactical cooperation with the United States several times over the past two decades - including helping to secure the release of hostages from Lebanon in the 1980s and sending shipments of arms to Bosnian Muslims when the United States was forbidden to do so. (Read the rest of the article here.)

Charlie Rose Interview With Iran's ambassador to UN

Mohammad Khazaee, Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, who came to NY after Javad Zarif's departure to Iran, has talked to Charlie Rose. Javad Zarif's move from New York office was a shock for the many diplomats who had learned to speak to one of the most influential and professional diplomats Iran ever had after revolution. He can not speak English very well, otherwise he would be more articulate in his interview.....

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"You, Mr.. Bush, are a bald-faced liar."
Keith Olbermann's Special Comment 12/6/07

What is the Real Threat? The Failure of Intelligence or Iran's Civil Nuclear Program?

Although the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear program has been provided more in-depth information about the recent activities by Iranians regarding to achieve nuclear capabilities, still there are many questions about the credibility of the Intelligent Agencies in the US. What exactly they are doing. I like the front page of the NYTimes, the day NIE was published. The most significant part was the face that it is so hard to trust these agencies. The way they can manipulate the truth is astonishing, and in the case of Iraq is, however, tragic.

But it seems that NIE and the other reports on Iran's nuclear program have not be sufficient for many in the media and/or the Administration to stop talking about using force against a country which is normally the most natural ally of the US in the Middle East, as Thomas Friedman said once.
"We live in a dangerous world. The survival of the U.S. must be our paramount concern. If Iran could, it would terrorize us here at home and destroy us. We must never let down our guard in seeking to protect our country from our enemies. Take our enemies at their word. Of course, the U.S. has made errors in judgment. Every human being and every country does, but that should not cause us to withdraw from world affairs or to stop insisting that Iran cease threatening U.S. personnel in Iraq, the U.S. homeland, as well as our allies in the Middle East. Senator John McCain said it better than anyone else to date: "There's only one thing worse than the United States exercising the military option, that is, a nuclear-armed Iran."Read the rest of this article here.)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Holidays and the Paradox of Plenty
(my personal memos about Thanksgiving....)

All last three of my Thanksgiving celebrations have been spent with a Jewish family. The coincidence of thrice being amongst Jews is something that most Middle Easterners would likely interpret as cabal-esque. However, these gatherings make me believe in a more symbolic coincidence as well.

My Mom was not happy when I told her about my spending Thanksgiving with Jewish friends. She thinks just as soon as I blog about it, the Iranian government propaganda machine will say, "An alienated Iranian journalist has defected to International Zionism," and so forth. But at least if this mix doesn't look good politically back home, it works pretty well socially here, with my friends, classmates and professors. That being said, it has become a little complicated since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad allegedly called the Holocaust a myth and proposed the removal of Israel from the world map.

So, instead of embracing the joy of eating turkey, mashed potatoes and wine, I have to spend the day exploring why I think Iranians are not going to bomb Israel, and why I think Ahmadinejad isn't more insane than most politicians. Believe me, this is not an easy job.

On Thursday, from the three invitations I received, I chose to accept Lisa's invitation and spent the day with other classmates. But these days, my fellow UC Berkeley students are less curious about politics, and I probably would not have to talk about Ahmadinejad, mullahs, or nuclear bombs. What a relief! Most impressive was that despite being a vegetarian, Lisa managed to make a delicious turkey, stuffing and all. I couldn't help but wonder how she had managed to create such delicious flavors without intermediate taste tests.

I called my Mom on Thanksgiving morning, 9:00 p.m. Tehran time. Her first question -- per usual -- was whether I had any information about a U.S. attack against Iran. I told her that it wouldn't likely be on Thanksgiving Day. Americans make many sacrifices for national security, but not on Thanksgiving. Besides, there have been no military attacks or air strikes on Thanksgiving Day since World War II.

I don't know why my family thinks that I would know of an impending attack in advance: I tried to explain to them that if such a crazy thing were to happen, most people in the U.S. or even Washington, D.C. wouldn't know about it beforehand.

Since the first time I talked to her about this American tradition, my Mom has been interested in the shopping aspect of Thanksgiving weekend. She, like many others in that part of the world, pictures the U.S. as a country where you can find anything and everything: the land of the worst and the best. For example, even though the Iranian market is saturated with French, Korean, and Japanese cars, there is still a strong respect for American automobiles. This is a mindset that dates back to the American auto industry's flourishing era during the 1960s. To some extent, though, she is right and Thanksgiving is among the few occasions that remind us why size and quantity matter.

My parents have been married for almost 40 years, but I think if there were Target, Wal-Mart, Macy's and especially Costco stores in Iran, their marriage wouldn't have lasted so long. My father would have filed for a divorce to avoid going bankrupt. My Mom has all the makings of a shopaholic.

I couldn't describe her feeling until I got into poetry and romance myself. It was like the moment where Romeo finally embraced his Juliet: excitement in her eyes, hands shaking. She was always in her most relaxed state after shopping. I never understood what in her life was replaced by the joy and excitement of shopping.

The prosperity, wealth, happiness, and the shopping frenzy in a country at war are not tangible for my mother. She probably compares the notion of "a country at war" with the eight-year-war we experienced with Iraq between 1980 and 1988, when most of a family's basic staples from fuel to bread and meat were rationed, mixed with daily bad news from dead soldiers, air strikes, seeking shelter in basements, and the deadly anticipation of bombs which would hit the capital. Here, only politicians, oil or weapons industry operatives, and those who have a loved one in the armed forces seem to recognize that this country is engaged in a deadly war.

War does not appear to be a sufficient reason for people to stop having fun and enjoying life. The United States has been in some type of war somewhere in the world almost continuously since World War II.

TV channels showed American troops in Iraq, eating turkey and mashed potatoes in military camps, and I wondered what they were thankful for: they face IEDs daily, and are considered occupiers and infidels rather than liberators.

In retrospect, they have a great reason to be thankful -- being alive and keeping the hope alive that they will return home soon, enjoy watching football on their couch, while stuffing themselves with sandwiches made from leftover turkey.

Alas, the best part about Thanksgiving is and should remain the good food that is shared -- I call it an element of unity. This is where most religions and traditions agree to a large extent - except, of course the kosher and halal rules of Jews and Muslims -- a tradition that I have been blessed to share with my friends of all religions to date.

On Black Friday, while millions of Americans who line up before 4 a.m., for me it was a great day for me to catch up on my sleep, in peace. As someone from the Middle East who is skeptical of sales to begin with, and doesn't think a sale is a good deal unless it follows lengthy bargaining, I held on to my convictions and used it to overcome my temptation to go shopping.

Besides, I already have an iPhone anyway.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Ahmadinejad and His Blog on NPR

Cyrus Farivar, a freelance journalist and blogger based in Oakland, has aired a piece on President Ahmadinejad and his blog. (Listen Here) My friend Sanam Dolatshahi, Afshin Molavi, Hamid Tehrani and I, have contributed to this piece. Sanam is a prominent Iranian blogger who is studying in Florida. Afshin is a well-known analyst and Hamid is a well-known blogger as well. It is amazing the why President Ahmadienajd obsessively tries to use all the possible means to promote himself. However, I wished he could stand on his promise and spend 15 minutes a day on his blog and also, being open enough to the comments....

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Still a Danger...

Even after the National Intelligent Estimate report's clarifcation, on Iran's intention not to go after nuclear weapon, President Bush still does not show any move to change the administration's rhetoric against Iran. During the last few days, some people, such as John Bolton, have tried to question the legitimacy and accuracy of the report. On the flip side, Iranians think that this report pave the way for a new set of sanctions. I agree that this report try to, candidly, correct the errors in the prior report, which was published in 2005, but still is very complex. For example, it does not say how they know that Iran has been following a nuclear weapon program, while they have limited access to Iran.... there are lots of ambiguity about the reliability of the intelligent sources.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Presidential Candidates and New TV Ads...

I am getting very interested in the different styles and forms that are using by presidential candidates campaigns. This clip that is made by Slate shows some of the new TV ads...Some of the candidates can not afford to put these ads on TV, so people can watch them just on their monitors....

Monday, December 03, 2007

U.S. Says Iran Ended Atomic Arms Work

Can this new information about Iran's nuclear plan pave the way for the pro-negotiation elements in the administration to purse a more peaceful way in the way they are dealing with Iran dilemma? White House allegation regarding to this news is not very positive, although it shows how "Iran's Nuclear Weapon" plan is a myth more than a reality. Everybody who is closely following Iran's nuclear plan certify that there are lots of technical problems that do let Iranians go after nuclear bomb, even if they have the intention to do so. Still, the US lean on many pretexts to be hostile against Iran. It ranges from Iran's allegedly involvement in Iraq to Iran's support of Hamas and Hizbollah and its efforts to diminish the Middle East peace process, if the re is any process of that kind. (Read the rest of the story here)
"WASHINGTON, Dec. 3 — A new assessment by American intelligence agencies concludes that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that the program remains frozen, contradicting judgment two years ago that Tehran was working relentlessly toward building a nuclear bomb. The conclusions of the new assessment are likely to reshape the final year of the Bush administration, which has made halting Iran’s nuclear program a cornerstone of its foreign policy."

Saturday, December 01, 2007

In Iran, a cadre of lawyers takes the case of justice

Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer, has written a story about the lawyers who take care of Human Rights cases in Iran. He has talked to the Lawyers in the Center for Human Rights Defenders, which was lunched by Shirin Ebadi, 2003 Noble Peace Prize laureate, and a few other prominent Layers a few years ago. Among them, Nasrin Sotoodeh is the youngest. Borzou has interviewed Dr. Sheifzadeh and Ms. Sotoodeh which are both my lawyers in Tehran. and since 2005 they have been following my case in the court. We have been in touch closely to complete the defense documents. However still the case is not finished and I'm not sure the authorities care about the evidences and facts. These lawyers accept all the cases for free and spend lots of time with people with politically motivated charges. I admire their efforts and commitment to the society and to the Human Rights values.