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April 4, 2007

Iran smalltalk
Posted by Avram Grumer at 03:45 PM * 24 comments

Some more Iran links to go with Teresa’s recent post:

Wikipedia: Operation Ajax
Much of this Wikipedia entry is mined from Stephen Kinzer’s excellent All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror.

Operation Ajax (1953) (officially TP-AJAX) was a covert operation by the United Kingdom and the United States to remove the democratically elected nationalist cabinet of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh from power, to support the Pahlavi dynasty and consolidate the power of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in order to preserve the Western control of Iran’s hugely lucrative oil infrastructure.

“A World Without Ahmadinejad?”
You wouldn’t know it from the way western sources talk about him, but the Iranian president is not the commander-in-chief of Iran’s military. The Supreme Leader is, and here he is telling Ahmadinejad to shut up and do his job:

“Our advice to the president is to speak about the nuclear issue only during important national occasions, stop provoking aggressive powers like the United States and concentrate more on the daily needs of the people, those who voted for you on your promises,” wrote the Islamic Republic, a newspaper owned by [Iranian Supreme Leader] Khamenei.

“Ahmadinejad under fire in Iran for hardline nuclear stance”

Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, came under fire from domestic critics yesterday for his uncompromising stance on the nuclear issue as the US and Britain launched a new diplomatic effort to agree harsher UN sanctions they hope will force Tehran to halt uranium enrichment.

“Whose Iran?”
Unlike Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, modern Iran is not a dictatorship. It’s got its own weird, complicated politics, with multiple factions struggling for control.

But the way Ahmadinejad governed was nothing if not divisive. He undertook the most far-reaching governmental housecleaning since the revolution itself, reportedly replacing as many as 20,000 bureaucrats. And when it came time for the elections last month, he offered his own slates of candidates, disdaining to ally himself with the traditional conservatives or with anyone else. For the Assembly of Experts, Ahmadinejad endorsed a ticket of scholars from what is known as the Haqqani circle, a group of clerics who cleave strongly to the notion of the divine state and disdain popular sovereignty and democracy.

“Iranian Jews Reject Outside Calls To Leave”

In recent months, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Israeli officials and some American Jewish communal leaders have urged Iranian Jews to leave. But so far, despite generally being allowed to travel to Israel and emigrate abroad, Iranian Jews have stayed put.

“‘Wiped Off The Map’ — The Rumor of the Century”
Remember back in 1956 when Khrushchev told western diplomats “My vas pokhoronim” (“We will bury you”), and the US press went nuts and claimed this as a belligerent statement, when it actually meant something more like “We will outlast you; we will be present at your funeral”? Something similar seems to have happened with a statement Ahmadinejad made about Israel.

“As the Soviet Union disappeared, the Zionist regime will also vanish and humanity will be liberated”.

I’m not meaning to argue, here, that Ahmadinejad is not hostile towards Israel, or that Iran is a great place for Jews, or that there isn’t a lot of antisemitism in Iranian culture. Just that the actual situation is more complicated, and probably less grim, than the media portrayal of it. Israel and Iran are not going to have friendly relations any time soon. But war isn’t inevitable.

“Stop the Iran War Before It Starts”
Scott Ritter suggests passing something like the Boland Amendment that limited government aid to Nicaragua in the 1980s. Ironic, since it was that limitation that led to Reagan’s cronies financing the Nicaraguan Contras by selling weapons to Iran.

Democrats in Congress have the opportunity to nip this looming disaster in the bud. The fact that most of the Democratic members of Congress who enjoy tenure voted in favor of the resolutions giving the President such sweeping authority is moot. Democrats are all capable of pleading that they were acting under the influence of a Republican-controlled body and unable to adequately ascertain through effective oversight the genuine state of affairs. This is no longer the case. The Democrats in Congress are in firm control of their own destiny, and with it the destiny of America. A war with Iran will pale in comparison with the current conflict in Iraq. And if there is a war with Iran, this Congress will be held fully accountable.

“Iranian Typography Now”
Not relevant to the politics, but it’s pretty.

In comparison to Europe and North America calligraphy is a far more popular and practiced form of art in Iran and in most other countries around this area. You can spot at least one piece of calligraphy hung on the walls of most Iranian households.

Comments on Iran smalltalk:
#1 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 08:15 PM:

Thanks for the Persian Calligraphy article. It made my day. I only wish I could discern the individual letters in languages that use the Arabic alphabet.

#2 ::: Chang O.C., the Original Changsta ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 10:26 PM:

All good points.

Is it okay if I still think Ahmadinejad is a raving fucking loon?

#3 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 10:31 PM:

Sure, Chang OC. Personally, I'm not sure how much is actual lunacy, and how much is acting up for political reasons. Ahmadinejad was elected because he promised to fix the economy, and Iran's economy has proven though to fix. Saber-rattling is an easier way of trying to rally popular support.

#4 ::: morgue ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 11:01 PM:

Yeah, I blogged about 'All the Shah's Men' about a year ago and it made me furious. I already knew the general run of events, and the importance of it, but the details of how the coup was managed were appalling.

From that post, and relating to Patrick's phony-middle post a few posts back: "Most eye-opening was the extent to which the British government and CIA could and did undermine democracy in Iran - as soon as your newspapers and Mullahs have their opinions co-opted by foreign interests, you've lost the ability to engage in free decision-making."

And lets not even mention the fact that hardline Ahmadinejad swept to electoral success at least partly because the previous, much more moderate, President was making concessions to the West and seeking to engage with the U.S., and getting nothing but hostility in return. The electorate (and the religious leaders) got the message loud and clear - what is the point of trying to engage?


#5 ::: Melanie S. ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 12:40 AM:

I'm sort of fascinated that this post has an ad for John McCain on the sidebar.

#6 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 04:50 AM:

Apparently. Freema Agyeman, taking over from Billie Piper in Doctor Who, is half-Iranian.

The second episode, to be broadcast on Saturday, is set at the Globe Theatre. Chris Ecclestone tangled with Charles Dickens. David Tennant gets to meet William Shakespeare.

It does make for an easy programming choice for Saturday night at the Britih Eastercon.

#7 ::: Pete Darby ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 06:00 AM:

Ahmadinejad is no crazier than Blair or Bush...

#8 ::: Chang O.C., the Original Changsta ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 06:12 AM:

Pete Darby, I'll drink to that. They're perfect for each other.

#9 ::: Janet Kegg ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 07:41 AM:

An Iranian-American mayor in the news.

#10 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 09:08 AM:

Pete Darby @ 7

So maybe it's time for another joke thread? "Bush, Blair, and Ahmadinejad walk into a bar ..."

#11 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 11:27 AM:

One matter that seems not to have been mentioned is that as the Tehran Times has just reminded us, China has some $16B of trade with Iran, most of it in oil. Iran has long-standing ties with China and China would respond, I think, to a US invasion of Iran. It is difficult for me to see how China could maintain its dollar reserves while at even indirect war with the USA, and not doing so would be destructive of the current world economic "order" (or is that house of cards?) and might well lead to wider conflict.

#12 ::: Jon Marcus ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 12:34 PM:

It's quite a stretch to say that Ahmadinejad's statement is being misinterpreted in the way Kruschev's was. The original mistranlation was by his own government's service, and has never been retracted. And he's had plenty of airtime on western media on this very topic, and has never corrected or retracted it.

So maybe he didn't mean to say it originally. But once "Wiped off the map" was out there, he seems to have decided that he likes the sound of it.

#13 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 12:34 PM:

I find myself thinking of the old Great Game, which was Russia gradually taking over the ancient trading cities of central Asia, and lurching towards India. There's a lot of weird stuff happened in that part of the world, with China and Russia in turmoil after WW1.

But I would expect the Chinese government to have a keen interest in who controls the states to the north of Afghanistan, between them and Iran.

The original Great Game was partly driven by the fears of the India Office, and the government in India itself. Expect India, and Pakistan, to see things differently from London or Washington.

#14 ::: Jon Marcus ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 12:39 PM:

(Sorry, meant to put this in the preceding post)

ABC is reporting that the US has been aiding an Al Qaeda splinter group that's making trouble for Iran from bases in Pakistan.

#15 ::: Jenny ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 12:41 PM:

The artwork in terracotta red on charcoal at the top of the calligraphy page absolutely blew my socks off. I had no idea calligraphy could be so tactile.

I've googled the artist, Mohammed Ehsaei, and found some more of his works online. This is particularly cool - it looks like a three-dimensional chrysanthemum of letters, or the world's most tangled tagliatelli.

Wonder what it says. I wish I could read Farsi.

#16 ::: Jenny ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 12:44 PM:

Sorry, I messed up the link

amazing calligraphy here

#17 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 02:05 PM:

Jon Marcus wrote: The original mistranslation was by his own government's service, and has never been retracted. And he's had plenty of airtime on western media on this very topic, and has never corrected or retracted it.

Ahem. From CNN:

BLITZER: But should there be a state of Israel?
SOLTANIEH: I think I've already answered to you. If Israel is a synonym and will give the indication of Zionism mentality, no.
But if you are going to conclude that we have said the people there have to be removed or they have to be massacred or so, this is fabricated, unfortunate selective approach to what the mentality and policy of Islamic Republic of Iran is. I have to correct, and I did so.

And from Time:

TIME: You have been quoted as saying Israel should be wiped off the map. Was that merely rhetoric, or do you mean it?
Ahmadinejad: [...] Our suggestion is that the 5 million Palestinian refugees come back to their homes, and then the entire people on those lands hold a referendum and choose their own system of government. This is a democratic and popular way.

(Of course, just after that Ahmadinejad engaged in a bit of Holocaust denial, so I'm not seeing anything in here to refute Chang O.C.'s position.)

I am reminded of the "Why didn't Muslim groups condemn 9/11" trope - just because you haven't heard about something doesn't mean it didn't happen.

For further reference, Google turned up this in no time at all:

#18 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 02:07 PM:

Jon Marcus @12, if you look at the page I linked to, it points out that the "wiped off the map" phrasing was one of several translations that the Islamic Republic News Agency used, inconsistently. And that Iran's Foreign Minister has tried to clarify the statement.

#19 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 05:08 PM:

jenny @ 16

Mmmm, that's lovely. I don't know why exactly, maybe the shapes of the letters, or the colors he used in those two pieces, but Ehsaei's calligraphy reminds me of Hannes Bok's paintings. Especially that lovely magazine cover he did for Zelazny's "A Rose for Ecclesiastes". As soon as I get home from work this evening I'm going to dig out my collection of Bok and just start at it for awhile.

#20 ::: Jon Marcus ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 02:27 AM:

Avram, I did read what you wrote, and followed the link. I realize that there have been multiple translations. But it's still quite significant that this didn't come from AIPAC, or Fox News, or some other questionable source. This came from Iran, any agency that presumably can translate accurately. They've aided and abetted any misunderstanding.

Fungi and Avram, I don't deny that there's a wide range of views in Iran, as other links on this page indicate. I'm talking about Ahmadinejad's views. Denials by various functionaries don't have any bearing.

If Bush spouts some idiocy, no matter how his staffers (or even the Democratic opposition) tries to explain it away, we're still stuck with idiocies attributed to our president. Same goes for Iran.

Finally. Fungi, I wasn't aware of that Time quote. It sounded...close anyway. But when I went back to check what was behind the ellipses, I found this first response to the question: "People in the world are free to think the way they wish." It was a non-denial, with the sentence you quoted coming at the end of a paragraph of subject-changing. That's probably why the page Avram linked in the article didn't bother with it.

Is this a slam dunk either way? No. That's kinda my point. Characterizing it as the "Misquote of the Century" and drawing parallels to a misunderstood idiom which Khrushchev explicitly denied* is, as I said, quite a stretch.

*("I once said, 'We will bury you,' and I got into trouble with it. Of course we will not bury you with a shovel. Your own working class will bury you.")

#21 ::: Tim in Albion ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 01:16 PM:

The amount of free-lancing that goes on in Iran is consistently underappreciated. The point was made by someone interviewed on NPR in connection with the British sailor hostage crisis. Apparently this kind of thing happens frequently: some group takes action on its own initiative, and then the government (itself far from unified) tries to handle the resulting situation to its maximum advantage. It's not a centrally-planned country.

Ahmadinejad may be wacko, but he is clearly capable of seizing the moment; things like this are perfect for his "Grand Gesture" style. The mistake we make is focusing on him instead of the distributed problem. Replacing Ahmadinejad probably wouldn't change things on the ground very much. For that, you'd need a paradigm shift among Iranians in general. To get that, you need patient, long-term diplomacy. For that, you'd need a paradigm shift in the USA.

#22 ::: John D. Berry ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2007, 04:56 AM:

If you're fascinated by Iranian typography and calligraphy, you might find this recent book worth checking out:

New Visual Culture of Modern Iran
by Reza Abedini & Hans Wolbers
(Mark Batty Publisher, 2006)


#23 ::: Calton Bolick ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 02:13 AM:

This came from Iran, an agency that presumably can translate accurately.

And your belief that they can do so is what, exactly? Hint: the problems of translating one's native language into a foreign language don't seem to be any less than that of translating from a foreign language into one's native language. Specific issues of meaning, idiom, and vocabulary, yes. Scale? No.

Looks at middling/bad translations of foreign-language text into English for a living.

#24 ::: Jason Wallace ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2007, 06:00 PM:

A real great blog on Iranian Jews is by Karmel Melamed, he's a reporter that exclusively covers Iranian Jews and issues dealing with Iran:

The pieces on this blog are very interesting and informative on Iranian Jews.

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