Monday, 22 September 2008

Annual ta'arof competition... we're not worthy!

I wish I'd been able to see the annual Iranian American ta'arof competition. Ta'arof is a notoriously difficult concept to understand if you're not born into it. A good friend had lots of trouble when he moved to Iran accepting dinner invitations he shouldn't have.

Polite Iranian:Come to my house for dinner.
My friend: OK. How about next Tuesday?
Polite Iranian (looking shocked): Err.. Yes, come to my house for dinner.
My friend (repeating): I'm free next Tuesday.
Polite Iranian (stretching limits of politeness): Yes, please come to my house for dinner.
My friend (exasperated): It's either next Tuesday or never!

Ta'arof seems to cover so much of Iranian cultural codes and Westerners, even Iranian-Americans, can blunder through it without realising what should or shouldn't be accepted.

(There's more info about the event here.)

Friday, 12 September 2008

There is no compulsion in religion. Except for women.

Being neither a Muslim, nor a scholar of Islam, I wonder how Muslims reconcile what appear to be cultural and social compulsions that receive a religious legitimacy from their faith?

Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth has been made clear from error. Whoever rejects false worship and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold that never breaks. And Allah hears and knows all things. [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 256]

So what can we say when a father murders his daughter for not wearing a hijab? No tabloid paper is going to pick up this news story and run it under the headline "Muslims condemn sickening brutality in name of Islam", because that's not their line on anything to do with Islam and because there is no outcry.

Turkey and France ban the hijab in universities. German states ban the hijab for teachers. More young Muslim women are adopting the hijab as an expression of defiance and an assertion of Islamic identity. But compulsion, force and violence in the name of Islam, persist in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, etc.

I listened to a girl wearing a hijab working in Primark explaining to her work colleagues (another teenage girl) why she wore the hijab:

It's part of my religion. It's a religious symbol.

But isn't it a cultural symbol from part of the Middle East and now a religious fashion statement? Modesty doesn't mean a rejection of beauty. It is less about appearance and more about humility, the way your carry yourself and the way you treat others. There is no modesty in forcing your opinions or culture onto someone else. That's chauvinism.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Is ethnic conflict inevitable?

Jerry Muller has an article in Foreign Affairs called Us and Them arguing that ethnic nationalism remains one of the:

enduring propensities of the human spirit, it is galvanized by modernization, and in one form or another, it will drive global politics for generations to come...

It ruffled a few feathers and generated some vigorous repsonses.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Two great resources for finding out about Iran

Institute of Persian Language and Literature Studies and the Library for Iranian Studies. Both great-looking resources for finding about Iran, Persian and Persian history/culture.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Chris de Burgh and Arian jamming

Here's a video clip of Chris de Burgh (will he/won't he play in Tehran?) jamming with members of Iranian band Arian looking on:

And another video of Arian playing a concert in Tehran, thankfully without Chris de Burgh. Metallica, they ain't, but it still looks good: