Friday, May 05, 2006

Fridays Good Read

This week's good read is from the New York Time's Magazine and JFK School of Government at Harvard, where Ramin Jahanbegloo and Michael Ignatieff met.

You can find the complete text here.
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Michael Ignatieff's visit to Iran in 2005

In south Tehran there is a huge walled cemetery dedicated to the martyrs, the young men who died fighting in the 1979 revolution and the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988. This vast city of the dead, complete with its own subway station and shops, does not share Arlington National Cemetery's sublimely stoic aesthetic of identical tombstones, row upon row. In Tehran 's war cemetery, each of the fallen is remembered individually with his own martyr's shrine, a sealed glass cabinet on a stand. The cabinets are filled with faded photos of men forever young, some in helmets or red bandannas, some carrying their weapons, others at home stroking the family cat or grinning during a meal with friends. Next to the yellowing photographs might be a Koran, or a faded copy of a Persian poem, or a set of plastic flowers, or one of the painted eggs that Iranian families exchange at their New Year. These little shrines seem to go on forever, each one a family's attempt to confer immortality on some young man who died in the trenches at a place like Khorramshahr, the pinnacle of Iranian resistance to the Iraqi invaders...

At the beginning of the week that I arrived, there were few Ahmadinejad posters around Tehran for the presidential runoff. Thanks to the veterans, by the eve of the final vote, banners and posters were displayed everywhere. At night, cars would grind to a halt while Ahmadinejad supporters, with his picture plastered on their foreheads, danced around the traffic circles. In the end, Ahmadinejad easily defeated Rafsanjani in the runoff election, winning with about 60 percent of the vote. It was a victory so unexpected that some were already calling it the second Iranian revolution...

I had been invited to lecture on human rights and democracy, but Ahmadinejad's unexpected victory changed the agenda of my talks. Suddenly the question was no longer, What do democracy and human rights mean in an Islamic society? but, Can democracy and human rights make any headway at all in a society deeply divided between rich and poor, included and excluded, educated and uneducated? The reformers had promoted human rights and democracy as a panacea for Iran's poor, and what had been the result? The slums of Tehran voted for a man who advocated stricter discipline for women, tougher theocratic rule and state control of the economy...

I was invited not by the mullah-dominated universities but by the Cultural Research Bureau, an independent center in Tehran that publishes books and runs its own gift shop, gallery and lecture hall. My Iranian host, Ramin Jahanbegloo, works in a tiny shared office at the bureau, inviting foreign guests and building up a small circle of free-minded students whom he lectures on European thought. He and I had never met, but he has published a book of conversations he had as a student with Isaiah Berlin, the Oxford philosopher of liberalism, and I have written a biography of Berlin. We are Berliners...

Jahanbegloo says he thinks of himself as a bridge between Iran and those universities. He invites a steady stream of philosophers like Richard Rorty from Stanford and Agnes Heller from the New School in New York to give talks to students. He sees some signs that their ideas are finding a toehold in Tehran. Three decades ago, the intellectuels du jour were Michel Foucault and fellow radical theorists. They arrived in Tehran proclaiming their solidarity with a revolution that actively despised them while persecuting its own freethinkers. Now the pendulum in Tehran has swung toward pragmatic liberals like Berlin...

Shirin Ebadi, the lawyer handling the Kazemi case and the regime's most visible opponent, is a heroic figure, a physically tiny dynamo, bursting with scorn for the regime and quick to shed her hijab in private houses as a sign of her independence. She walks a careful line, distancing herself from the Bush administration's criticism of the presidential elections, but remaining equally dismissive of the regime's claims that its guided democracy remains a democracy nonetheless. Having done time for political offenses herself, she knows the insides of the prisons where her clients now languish. The outgoing president, the supposed reformer Khatami, notably failed to lend Ebadi political cover and support when she came back from Oslo with the Nobel Peace Prize, the first ever Nobel given to an Iranian. When I asked her whether the prize and the recognition it brought protect her, she replied with a quizzical arch of an eyebrow: ''No, the Nobel does not protect me at all.''

3 Comments:

At 7:38 AM, Blogger Jackal said...

it's question time: where are you? you haven't updated for the past 5 days ...

 
At 11:11 AM, Blogger Bahar said...

We are all worried sick for Ramin. Apparently he is being tortured in Evin and they say he has confessed for being an American Spy.

I am sorry, what the fuck could he spy on? Universities? If he were a nuk engineer, all right, there could be something...

 
At 11:39 AM, Blogger Jackal said...

Bahar jan, you do know very well that the only thing anyone can do is to talk about it and increase awareness among people, specially inside Iran. Well of course if they could be bothered to spend the time to know about a fellow scholar.
I was in Iran a few weeks ago and I have to say that the situation is appaling. People appear to be either HIGH, or asleep. They don't want to know what's happening. Funny enough the nuclear industry issues was simply dismissed as sheer boring.

I can imagine that Ramin is in a bad condition, as it has been for many others before Ramin and is going to be for many to come. It's not about being a nuke eng. or anything like that. It's about the message Ramin's arrest/confession will send. You know what I mean... and we all know that no one, not even the government of Canada is prepared to take any kind of action about it.

By the way, being worried SICK doesn't help anyone; least of all Ramin Jahanbagloo ...

 

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