The year Iran almost invaded Afghanistan. From the New York Times on September 17, 1998:

To American eyes, the clerical dictatorships of Iran and Afghanistan can seem variations on the same Islamic fundamentalist theme. But relations between the two neighboring countries are now at a flash point. Ethnic, political and religious tensions have been exacerbated by the recent killings of at least eight Iranian diplomats by Afghan Taliban fighters. Iran is now assembling some 250,000 troops along the Afghan border and threatens military action unless its demands for amends are met.

I wonder how the history of the past thirteen years would have been different if Iran had sent a quarter of a million soldiers into Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban in the fall of 1998.

Rapping Rumi

My photographer friend Massoud, currently doing a Medevac embed somewhere in the south, introduced me to Persian rap.

This song by Iranian rapper Sogand is part of the soundtrack to my Afghanistan experience, especially late night drives through the streets of Kabul with my band of wonderful freaks.

Check out Tales From The Hood’s post about music and aid work, and Helo Magazine‘s ‘Soundscapes.’

Iran panel FAIL, and how you can avert it

Nico Pitney brings upsetting neocon-related news, and articulates the following appeal for a little balance in the upcoming Congressional hearing on Iran:

Neocons invited to Congressional hearing on Iran. Last week, the House Foreign Affairs Committee announced that it was holding a hearing this Wednesday titled, “Iran: Recent Developments and Implications for U.S. Policy.”

My initial thought was that the panel was decent but a bit disappointing, and lacking in progressive voices. Among the initial four witnesses announced were Patrick Clawson, a Bush administration supporter who repeatedly advocated that the U.S. use the threat of military strikes to shift policy in Iran, and Abbas Milani, whose 2004 op-ed arguing that President Bush should resist negotiations and publicly endorse democracy activists in Iran was distributed by the neocon outfit Project for a New American Century. (Milani has since shifted his position on the matter of negotiations.)

Suzanne Maloney, a Bush-era State Department official who notably worked against the administration’s hawkish elements, is also invited to testify. So is Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment, who has generally done excellent work on Iran.

On Friday, I spoke with committee chairman Rep. Howard Berman’s staff and suggested that they invite Trita Parsi, the superb analyst who heads the National Iranian American Council, to testify. I was told that Parsi would be considered but that it was late in the process to add witnesses.

But on Monday morning, the committee announced two new additions to the hearing, both aggressive neoconservatives whose Middle East analysis has proven detrimental. One is Orde F. Kittrie of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the other is Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute. (These witnesses were chosen by Republican members of the committee.)

Rubin’s addition, in particular, is rather stunning. His career work include aiding Doug Feith in the notorious Office of Special Plans to advance dubious intelligence that helped lead the U.S. into war in Iraq; repeatedly advocating for military action against Iran over the last several years; and, in June, laying out the case for why Ahmadinejad would be preferable to a “more soft-spoken and less defiant” president like Mousavi — “it would be easier for Obama to believe that Iran really was figuratively unclenching a fist when, in fact, it had it had its other hand hidden under its cloak, grasping a dagger.”

This panel really needs some balance. If you’re interested in calling the committee and suggesting Trita Parsi (or someone else) [REZA ASLAN! -Ed], you can reach them at (202) 225-5021.


Good news, bad news, and dumb news


Dostum’s day of reckoning may be approaching, albeit slowly:

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama has ordered his national security team to investigate reports that U.S. allies were responsible for the deaths of as many as 2,000 Taliban prisoners of war during the opening days of the war in Afghanistan.

Obama told CNN in an interview that aired Sunday that he doesn’t know what how the U.S.-allied Northern Alliance behaved in November 2001, but he wants a full accounting before deciding how to move forward.

I’m often displeased with the Obama Administration’s approach to justice at home and internationally, but it’s pretty clear that this administration doesn’t hold its predecessor’s view that war crimes aren’t really war crimes when they are committed by U.S. allies.


Akbar Ganji on the “Rise of the Sultans” and the evolving authoritarianism of the Iranian state:

Khamenei and his supporters have been snuffing out dissent among intellectuals, political parties, labor unions, clerical seminaries, and civil society groups. They have been enhancing ideological uniformity at the senior level of government by defaming previously high-ranking officials, such as former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. They have also been extending their control over state corporations, large industries, and banks in a bid to create a state-run form of capitalism that would benefit them.

Khamenei and Ahmadinejad’s plan has already received a warm welcome from Iranian arch-conservatives, some Islamic fundamentalist groups in the Middle East, and members of Israel’s political right who oppose peace in the region. Should it materialize, the resulting state would resemble the totalitarian militaristic bureaucracies of Latin America in the 1980s and of certain countries in the former Soviet bloc.

Like those states, the new Iranian regime would be hell-bent on restructuring the ruling class, eliminating influential opponents, and accumulating capital. Khamenei and Ahmadinejad may speak in the name of the people and the nation, but they have methodically resisted the demands of any professional group and have defied the formation of trade unions, syndicates, and political parties. They are fundamentally against democracy, including even those semi-democratic institutions that currently exist in Iran, such as elections and the parliament. Their ideal regime would create a state-run capitalist class eager to profit in international markets to the detriment of blue-collar workers in Iran and any independent private sector. It would be a rentier state based on political allegiances, brimming with discrimination and corruption and maintained by the machineries of oppression. If left unchecked, Khamenei’s efforts would further consolidate power in the hands of a select few — all but guaranteeing the ultimate triumph of sultanism in Iran.


Via Registan:

[…] if the Azerbaijani regime seriously can’t handle a video of a guy dressed in an oversized animal costume playing a violin it can’t be a good omen for freedom of speech on the interwebs in Central Asia.

Yeesh. Facepalm.

Thoughts for the weekend



Next time I come across one of those ‘Feminism Killed Romance/Chivalry/Marriage/Civilization’ pieces that seem to be so popular right now, I think I’m going to start projectile vomiting Exorcist-style.


Dozens killed in suicide bombings: Iraq is going to pieces. I didn’t think the surge would work, but I didn’t want it to fail. On the contrary, I very much wanted to be wrong in my prediction, and I still do.


I am disappointed that Ashraf Ghani has hired James Carville to advise him in his bid for the Afghan presidency. Carville represents all that is mercenary, cynical and deeply illiberal in American politics.


A trusted friend sent me a very reassuring email from Sarajevo, basically telling me to chill, and that Dodik knows he has already lost, but enjoys theatrics. Despite the deadlock, we push ahead, keeping sight of larger goals that move us beyond divisive politics –that was his message. This friend of mine is his country’s future, I am convinced.


Ann Corcoran hates refugees. And Muslims. But more than anything else, she hates vulnerable Muslim minority refugees. Iraqi Palestinians, for example. On my other blog, I wrote about this.


I keep telling my boss that I have hope that the reformists will win out in Iran. I believe they will, and I look forward to visiting a democratic Iran some day. I want to sit in a cafe in Tehran with my peers and listen to them tell me how they forced their government to recognize them as citizens and not mere subjects, how they won.


“The most important lesson the struggle taught me and my friends is that no one is endowed with remarkable courage. But courage is another word for learning to live with your fears. Now, after eighteen years and the Chilean Truth Commission, courage has again evolved a new definition: the guts not to give in to easy justice. To live within the confinements of reality, but to search day after day for the progressing of one’s most cherished values.”

-Jose Zalaquett, at the opening of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission.


“One cannot expect morality from politicians, but one can hold them to the ethics of accountability.” -Antjie Krog. From  ‘None More Parted Than Us’ in the amazing book Country of My Skull.


I know a lot of people think  Amnesty International letter (now email/fax) writing campaigns on behalf of prisoners of conscience are futile, but they’re not, even when the subject of the campaign remains imprisoned. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was right when she said this:

I know from the time of the GDR (East Germany) how important it was that people around the world made sure that the people stuck in (Stasi prisons) Bautzen and Hohenschoenhausen … were not forgotten. Iran must know, particularly in the age of modern communications, that we will do everything in our power to ensure that these people (arrested in Iran during the recent turmoil) are not forgotten about.


Thinking of Bosnia, of Srebrenica, of the grim anniversary. A powerful letter by a member of Women in Black (Belgrade), translated and published here:

And my dear Senka…

I missed you…so much…yesterday in Srebrenica…Again at the place where crimes were committed in my name, in our name…
Srebrenica…every time…it is an experience that will be remembered…the physical experience above all…which can never be forgotten…it’s here again…in me…and me with her (Srebrenica).

Meeting with the Women of Srebrenica…meeting with women whose bodies have been emptied of children killed by Serbs in my, in our name…

That’s them, those are “our” women…the same ones that followed the trial of the “Scorpions” with us, the same ones who we visit in Tuzla, and the ones that we meet in Srebrenica every year…You know this best…You know…Home is where you are loved…They always welcome you with a smile in their eyes, the same eyes that will never see their loved ones again…Serbs killed them! And they always open their arms to us, the same arms that will never hold their children again…Serbs killed them! And they come to you with a pure heart and a pure soul…they hug you and kiss you and even say thank you… to us, people from a brutalized, shameful, guilty land…And then you just want to die…to be gone…to vanish…to cease to exist…

And then…after all, after you have been burned by the July sun…wearing black…when you feel so guilty that you think this is it…Srebrenica is inside you…and that, my dear Senka, is confronting the past…our feminist approach…No abstract process…and it’s not happening to someone else, someone  far away…it’s happening to us in a land of  humanity, we who live in a land deprived of its humanity.

And then I remembered you…You, my image of you, every time we would travel back together from Bosnia…that horrible…hard…weight and silence I would see in your eyes…In front of me I see a large eyeball, a mouth of stone, which gives the impression that the verdict is already there…in front of me is a stone jury…
“We are guilty…”

I love you,

Iran’s deep political divide

This is the best essay on contemporary Iran I’ve read in a long time . An excerpt:

The key to the Islamists’ “anti-imperialism” is not the emancipation of the subaltern, but self-preservation. Ahamadinejad’s “anti-imperialism” has meant little to the well-being and the emancipation of ordinary people: the excluded, the poor, and women. If anything, hardliners have denied most citizens of their economic benefit and human rights, while their extremist rhetoric and exclusivist practices have justified and dignified neo-liberal enemies in the west. Their undemocratic precepts have given ammunition to the most intolerant Islamophobes and warmongers in the United States and Europe, enabling them to wage a protracted campaign in which mostly poor and downtrodden Muslims get victimised.

Think: any of the talking heads of cable news. Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial statements have, since they were made, been extrapolated to the entire Iranian people, and even Muslims in general. This is the main reason why the Daily Show’s brilliant Jason Jones “Behind the Veil” segments were so shocking to so many Americans.

Under the “anti-imperialist” Ahmadinejad, scores of NGOs have been closed down; hundreds of dissident students, faculty, women, and civil-society activists have been incarcerated, and the mass protests of teachers, bus-drivers, and other workers have been suppressed. It was under Ahmadinejad’s government that subsidies were cut, privatisation reached a new height (eighteen times more than that in 2001-03), and a 25% inflation-rate brought low-income people to their knees. Ahmadinejad’s electoral campaign in 2005 focused on fighting corruption, generating jobs and a generous redistribution of oil money. But under his government, cronyism and corruption reached a new level, and people living below the poverty-line increased (by 13%), with 9 million-10 million falling below it (according to the Islamic Works Council). In fact, judging on economic policies and support for the public sector, Mir-Hossein Moussavi is certainly more to the “left” than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.


The shocking outcome of the elections dashed hopes and inspired a profound moral outrage that in turn fed into a broad-based protest movement unseen in the history of the Islamic Republic. This movement, neither a class struggle against a pro-poor government nor a secularist war against religious rule, embodies a post-Islamist democracy movement to reclaim citizenship within a religious-ethical order. It articulates the long-standing yearnings for a dignified life free from fear, moral surveillance, corruption, and arbitrary rule. Indigenous and non-violent, it represents a green wave for life and liberty.

This is such an important point, as I personally know some fellow lefties who wrongly believe Ahmadinejad is a Persian Hugo Chavez with slightly nastier views on Israel.

Why shutting up is the best course of action

My friend and colleague (and former TA!)  Steve makes an excellent point about why the Obama Administration is taking the right approach in its response to the ongoing uprising in Iran:

We can think of the international response to the Iranian revolts in terms of sovereignty and intervention, and in particular, pay attention to how other states recognize the external sovereignty of Iran (following the principle of non-intervention) in relation to the popular legitimacy of the state among the people. Because political actors can construct sovereignty and intervention for their own purposes, both the regime and the opposition justify their actions with relation to the regime and other interaction actors, societies, networks, etc. In doing so, they discursively borrow and reinvent old narrative themes to mobilize enough support to overwhelm their opponents. How Iranian actors and interactional actors construct the socially understood meanings of sovereignty and intervention impacts their mobilization. This is why Obama refrains from forcefully supporting the Iranian opposition because it reinforces the narrative of foreign intervention in Iranian politics, one that specifically refers to United States and its support of the Shah. The expression of overt support to one side from a historically hostile hegemonic state might simply shift the focus of the crisis to new social relationships. Mossavi would be altercast as a collaborator and the regime would ride a nationalist backlash.

The problem is really how we recognize the boundaries of the Iranian nation, and discursively act on that definition to contribute to a desired outcome without our fingerprints on it. Hence, Obama says “If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect the dignity of its own people and govern through consent, not coercion.” Implicit here is consent of the people, which obligates the government to recognize popular discontent in the form of protest. The inability to do so puts the moral onus on the regime, as it fails to recognize the sovereignty of its own people. We play up our soft stance in the name of non-intervention and sovereignty, but of course made sure Twitter kept running, thereby aiding popular mobilization against the regime. Thus, we define boundaries and take actions across them in reference to a popular sovereignty that has yet to fully materialize. Paradoxically, we can only support the Iranian resistance by not directly aiding it, but only by constituting the conditions in which it can fully emerge.

I would add that we might even want to be a little more quiet about constituting the aforementioned conditions in the future — not that US involvement in things like the Twitter maintenance delay should be denied by the administration, but rather the utmost importance of tact  in this very risky area of public diplomacy.

Our indirect assistance to demonstrators should be quiet and humble (and, in this case, very, very geeky). To paraphrase Jon Stewart’s mocking of Congressional Republicans’ criticism of how Obama has addressed the uprising in Iran — it’s (not) all about us! No prominent Iranian dissident has called for the US to take a stronger approach at this time, and several, including Akbar Ganji, have long argued that any support the US government tries to lend dissidents will only undermine pro-democracy forces in Iran. Even the family members of prominent dissidents arrested during the demonstrations of the past two weeks have emphasized this point.

Bottom line: I’m not braving the batons and bullets of the Basij, and neither are John McCain and the astoundingly hypocritical chorus of right-wing bloggers and pundits  — Iranians are. If we can help them organize by keeping informal channels of communication open as the regime struggles to monopolize information, great, but let’s not publicly pat ourselves on the backs for doing that.

Writing this, I’m chuckling, because Steve would use a cruder term than back-patting.


Not much I can add. Follow @TehranBureau on Twitter for real-time updates. And check out these stunning photos from The Big Picture.


A supporter of defeated Iranian presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi shouts slogans during riots in Tehran on June 13, 2009. Hardline incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared winner by a landslide in Iran's hotly-disputed presidential vote, triggering riots by opposition supporters and furious complaints of cheating from his defeated rivals. (OLIVIER LABAN-MATTEI/AFP/Getty Images)

An injured backer of Mir Hossein Mousavi covers his bloodied face during riots in Tehran on June 13, 2009. (OLIVIER LABAN-MATTEI/AFP/Getty Images) #

An injured backer of Mir Hossein Mousavi covers his bloodied face during riots in Tehran on June 13, 2009. (OLIVIER LABAN-MATTEI/AFP/Getty Images) #