Wednesday, 29 April 2009

YouTube generation promoting Iran online

YouTube user Kamranat has put together an updated series of videos about Iran. It's always interesting to see people from the Iranian diaspora's views on Iran and this is an innovative use of the web to explain the country. All 4 parts are available here.

Friday, 24 April 2009

What do Iran's Jews think?

Iran's Jews are seen as a source of pride, a forgotten part of the diaspora, a jewel in a crown, a protected minority, a possible Zionist fifth column and a sign of religious diversity in the Islamic Republic, all depending on your perspective. The exodus to Israel and the United States from Iran after the Islamic Republic was founded has left only 25,000 Persian Jews remaining.

Ed Cohen, writing for the International Herald Tribune finds that behind all the rhetoric, official anti-Israel posturing, a Jew can still find himself welcome in Iran:

Still a mystery hovers over Iran's Jews. It's important to decide what's more significant: the annihilationist anti-Israel ranting, the Holocaust denial and other Iranian provocations - or the fact of a Jewish community living, working and worshiping in relative tranquility.

Perhaps I have a bias toward facts over words, but I say the reality of Iranian civility toward Jews tells us more about Iran - its sophistication and culture - than all the inflammatory rhetoric.

That may be because I'm a Jew and have seldom been treated with such consistent warmth as in Iran. Or perhaps I was impressed that all the fury over Gaza, trumpeted on posters and Iranian television, never spilled over into insults or violence toward Jews. Or perhaps it's because I'm convinced the "Mad Mullah" caricature of Iran and likening of any compromise with it to Munich 1938 - a position popular in American Jewish circles - is misleading and dangerous.

Roya Hakakian, author of Journey from the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran talks about her experience as an Jewish Iranian at this roundtable with other female Iranian authors, poets and artists.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Top Iran travel writing cliches

If you're thinking of writing about your journey across Iran, through "Persia" or into the mind of the self-flagellating Shia on the day of Ashura, here are some useful clichés you can use:

  • it's not what you expect
  • it's a land of contradictions
  • taxi drivers rip you off
  • the people are so hospitable
  • the women are so beautiful
  • people drive Paykans, based on the Hillman Hunter, such a quaint old car
  • there are pictures of martyrs everywhere
  • people live such contradictory lives with a public face and a private life

... in short? Avoid the clichés, just write about something with real meaning.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Iranian comedian - Dan Ahdoot

Dan Ahdoot is an American Perisan Jew who's worked with Lewis Black, Dave Chappelle and Jay Mohr. In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle he talks about growing up Jewish and Persian in the USA. He's never been to Iran and describes himself as a "comedian who happens to be Jewish", rather than a Jewish comedian. His act is pretty wide-ranging, but does include a few token accents and Middle Eastern stereotypes. Did I mention that he's also an actor?

Email lists

Dating indecisive girls

Find out more about Dan Ahdoot on his website: Dan Ahdoot

Monday, 20 April 2009

Iranian comedienne - Mona Mahani

Mona Mahani is a Persian American comedienne, actress and poet from Texas. She deals with growing up Persian, dealing with the generation gap, the old family back in Iran and dealing with a traditional father.

Breathtaking photos from Iran

Lucie Debelkova has a short, stunning selection of photos from Iran. Mainly landscapes, mosques and lighting they capture the beauty of the country.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Iranian comedian - Omid Djalili

Omid Djalili is a British-Iranian standup comedian. He's been working the comedy circuit in the UK and USA relentlessly for more than a decade. He's starred (normally as a squeaky-voice Arab character) in many films, an HBO special and even in a TV series in the US with Whoopi Goldberg. His stand up focuses on cultural differences, immigration and specialises in flipping, inverting and skewering identity. And of course, the popular subject of being Iranian vs. being Persian. His TV sketch show in the UK was pretty poor, but his stand up is hysterically funny, constantly switching between accents, his identity as both British and Iranian, a Londoner and a fat, bald man.

Jews vs. Christians

Nigerian parking attendant

Omid in America

At the London Palladium

Find out more about Omid Djalili on his website:

Friday, 17 April 2009

Obama's victory offers hope to Iranians?

The BBC, back when Obama won the US election, said his victory would offer hope to Iranians. Hope that US/Iranian relations could change and hope that Iranians could emboldened to make changes in their own country. This is a painfully ironic situation.

Mohammad Khatami was Iran's Barack Obama, way back before Barack Obama was even in the US Senate. A figure from the fringes of politics, with a solid, diverse base, large student backing and seen as a rank outsider against a well organised political machine. With a rag-tag bunch of friends and family he stormed onto the election trail, straight-talking, personable with a catchy slogan about change. Yes, Khatami looked unlikely to win the presidential election. But he did. And he soon found himself powerless to effect any meaningful change, outmaneuvered by a re-grouped opposition and unable to fulfill many of his campaign promises because his position has no real authority.

Geneive Abdo and Jonathan Lyons' Answering Only to God: Faith and Freedom in Twenty-First Century Iran (review from Payvand here) is an account of Khatami's rise to power, the problems he faced, an how he eventually turned on those who had brought him to power. Full of interviews with many of the Islamic Republic's power-brokers and loyalists turned critics, it could almost describe the predicament Barack Obama finds himself in. Unlike Khatami who was made powerless by the Guardian Council, right-wing clerics and the Supreme Leader, Ali Khameni, Obama is made powerless by Congress and the American political system. Unable to fulfill his campaign promises, saddled by economic problems caused by his predecessors and a global recession, Obama's presidency looks set not to offer hope to Iranians but to reassure them that they're not alone in having problems with their political system and the disappointment caused when reality triumphs over mere hope.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

YouTube, nationalism and the battle of the babes

From it's early days YouTube has been a hotbed of competing nationalisms. It's always people insulting or parodying other countries, how they talk, the beauty of their women or making videos promoting the virtues of their country. An interesting phenomenon on YouTube is the babe slideshow video. They're slightly different from the "sexy Arab/Persian girls dancing" home-made webcam videos of teenage girls dancing to either American hip-hop or their native country's pop music (which even have blogs devoted to capturing the most recent clips).

Usually a gallery with Ken Burns effect transitions and title slides of pictures of actresses, pop stars, ex-patriate babes from the diaspora, girls who've had their photos swiped from their MySpace and Bebo pages. Here's a typical slideshow of Iranian women which features in, yes, a playlist of slideshows about Iranian women. It's an interesting take on the "we're the strongest/have the biggest bombs/drive the fastest cars..." to spin it as "we've got the hottest babes!" Some of the videos even try to make Muslims turn away from Islam or promote an anti-war message.

There's probably an interesting dissertation to be written about all of these. It's an interesting, Web 2.0 complement to the "babe theory of revolution".

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Iranian/Persian comedians and comediennes - the best standup comedy

Omid Djalili likes to start his standup comedy routine by saying he is Iran's only standup comedian, which is, technically, 2 more than Germany. It's funny, but it's not true. There are many more Iranian/Persian standup comedians. Most of them are from the diaspora or hyphenated Iranian-somethings. I'm going to run a series of blog posts highlighting as many Iranian-American, Canadian-Iranian, British Iranian, British Persian, Persian, English-speaking Persian, Iranian ex-pat, etc. standup comedians and comedienne's as possible. Wikipedia has it's list... but YouTube has more. I do not accept liability for any of these comedians not actually being funny. I also realise there is a wealth of Persian-language satire out there that I'm not going to be covering.

Here's a taster...

Photo of Ali and Hadi laughing by Vahid Rahmanian on Flickr.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

The Oud

The oud an Arab guitar-like instrument came into Spanish, French and finally English as "the lute". The original source of flamenco and "Spanish" guitar. Whilst the English used it for songs such as Greensleeves others were making much more interesting music.

Farid Ghosn - Taksim Nahawand
Found at bee mp3 search engine

More oud music...

Friday, 10 April 2009

The Iranian Revolution 30 years on - the media looks back

Channel 4's Jon Snow looking back at the Iranian Revolution 30 years on, including his own reporting from the US embassy takeover. photo gallery. Iranian film-maker Maziar Bahari on real life in Iran. (More from Channel 4 on Iran here). Other areas of the media maybe have to look back on their reporting and ask themselves if they were as impartial as they should have been. It turns out, that after much soul-searching, the BBC finds it own's reporting was impartial (even if many in the British establishment at the time didn't think so). The BBC also has two reflections on the revolution. And Rageh Omar gets in on the action again...

Thursday, 9 April 2009

A bloodless coup?

It is annoying that the BBC feels the need to include even the most reactionary nonsense in it's user-contributed content. Here was have a comment from an article on the Iranian Revolution:

We only wanted the right to live in an Islamic society, where we could practice moderate Islam freely. After voting for democracy in 1953, the Shah continued to run the country in the interests of a minority. The revolution was bloodless and a revolution of the people.

Syed Shah, Tehran ,Iran

A comment as ridiculous as it is untrue. The aftermath of the revolution saw many associated with the Shah rounded up and murdered, collaborators tortured and executed, rebels executed and thousands of political prisoners executed through the next decade.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Photo essay about Iranian nuclear power

The UPI has an interesting photo essay on Iran's nuclear power plant in Bushehr.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Visualising Shi'isms numbers

Trouble flares in Bahrain as the Shia majority becomes discontented with minority Sunni rule. Writers such as Vali Nasr write about the rise of Shi'ite political power as Sunni states fall out of favour or are forced to become more democratic/representative. But judging the influence of Shi'ism in politics is a notoriously tricky thing to do. Whether that's because quietist Shia ulama discourage political participation, Shi'ites end up being counted amongst non-religious political forces, as was the case in Iraq...

Qasim had no political party of his own and it was the powerful Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) which provided him with a mass political base. Founded in 1934, the party had an impressive record of anti-colonial resistance and commanded widespread respect because of the tenacity with which it had pursued its struggle. In the 1940s and 1950s, its membership and support had expanded dramatically, particularly within the Shi’ite community. The tilt towards the Communist Party by the Shi’ite community has been explained as the response of a politically disenfranchised community from which ‘the poorest of the poor’ were drawn. In the 1960s the drift of Shi’ite youth towards the party was so alarming that the traditional Shi’ite ulama even issued a fatwa against those supporting or joining the party. (source)

Or because people lack the basic mathematics to put their numbers into context. Here is an interesting blog post that tries to visualise Shi'ite influence by population.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Yemeni Jews under threat?

There have been lots of reports that Yemen's tiny remaining Jewish population (around 300 people) is under threat from Islamists and that the Yemeni government is unable to protect those families.

Despite a long history in Yemen that pre-dates Islam many Jews felt pressure on them (from Zionist organisations and Yemenis alike) to move to Israel. The latest tragedy in Yemen will probably result in the end of the Jewish community there, even though those remaining Yemeni Jews are adamant they will stay.

Minority groups are always at risk of pogroms and violence and religion seems more likely the cause than a restraining factor. Whilst the Abrahamic faiths swing between God consuming whole groups of people and prohibiting collective punishments:

The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers; every man shall be put to death for his own sin. -- Deuteronomy 24:16

... they still put forward covers and excuses for ideas and actions that right-thinking people ought to find absurd and reprehensible.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Millie's Yiddish class podcast

Millie's Yiddish class podcast is an infrequent irreverent Yiddish lesson. You can learn new words, the occasional joke and lots of laughter. Need more words? The Jewish Chronicle has a a long-running feature on Jewish/Yiddish words and Wikipedia has a huge list of Yiddish words.