…the much-ballyhooed Twitter swiftly degraded into pointlessness. By deluging threads like Iranelection with cries of support for the protesters, Americans and Britons rendered the site almost useless as a source of information—something that Iran’s government had tried and failed to do. Even at its best the site gave a partial, one-sided view of events. Both Twitter and YouTube are hobbled as sources of news by their clumsy search engines.
Much more impressive were the desk-bound bloggers. Nico Pitney of the Huffington Post, Andrew Sullivan of the Atlantic and Robert Mackey of the New York Times waded into a morass of information and pulled out the most useful bits. Their websites turned into a mish-mash of tweets, psephological studies, videos and links to newspaper and television reports. It was not pretty, and some of it turned out to be inaccurate. But it was by far the most comprehensive coverage available in English. The winner of the Iranian protests was neither old media nor new media, but a hybrid of the two.
With a pinch of salt
I find it a very interesting phenomenon, that Haaretz.com could boast yesterday of a minimum of four front page stories on Iran! From my humble, unscientific and distant perspective of Israeli society, and of the rather sizeable Haa’retz reading chunk of the Israeli populace, I feel I can tell so much: The protests have re-humanized Iranians to the eyes of many Israelis, and many Israeli news observers are somewhat elated by their own mind shift in this process. More interesting still is how temporary and flighty this new perception of Iran is.
The true giveaway is the rather eery editorial by Zvi Bar’el (“Which Iran would Israel bomb?”). Statements such as that “Suddenly there is an Iranian people” presumably do not express the author’s own surprise, but instead constitute an ironical enumeration of the surprises many Israelis feel with regard to the events.
Even so, this is an intriguing insight into an Israeli view of Iran. The notion that there are neither one nor two “but rather a number of Irans” is of course elementary to anyone with a vague knowledge of Iranian society and culture, yet perhaps not so in Israel. The notion that Khameini and Ahmedinejad are a monolithic projection of Iranian public opinion is ludicrous, a notion too ridiculous even to refute in a serious paper, yet we are told that “it was not the son of God who spoke on Friday, but a politician who needs to preserve his system of rule as well as his own legitimacy.” A closer observation of the Iranian elite and great parts of the middle class, may more than just surprise Israelis. To that one might add that Iran is a country whose student population is considerably more diverse in its ideological make-up than is Israel’s (it has been so for a while – this phenomenon certainly doesn’t date back to last week).
I must confess that I am heartened by the following:
“most interesting and important is that the commentary on what is taking place in Iran is not being brought to the public by senior intelligence officers, but via images transmitted by television.”
Indeed, the riots may not have toppled anyone in Iran yet, but they have revolutionized Israeli information channels, ushering the country into journalistic normalcy (If I may, where the bloody hell does every other public get its commentary on Iran from? From the back of the label of a Mickey Mouse doll that self-destructs on a park bench?).
Now, the bombing question. Admittedly, it is far harder to bomb someone once we have acknowledged they have a human face, even if we do so to “save them from tyranny”. Once we see their face, we will also have to imagine what it looks like, singed and bleeding under a heap of rubble. But what if we haven’t seen their face? That is precisely why I felt queasy about this part:
“For goodness’ sake, who is left to bomb? Until one week ago, the path was well-lit.”
I am not quite sure what it’s supposed to mean… But I think I can distinguish one rather ill-omened implication, which I will now explore.
Let’s just assume that the “path” is “well-lit” once again (the ease with which the prospect of a tremendously barbaric operation is dismissed using such a singable term has to be one of the hallmarks of militarized cultures); let’s assume for a moment that the protests suddenly stop, that Ahmedinejad stays where he is, that the Israeli public loses interest in Iranians, and that (God forbid!) the university of Tel Aviv publishes a new poll PROVING that most Iranians are three-nippled, terrorist, anti-semites hungry for the blood of young Jewish children… Would the path then once again be “well-lit”? Let’s assume for a moment that every Iranian woman were portrayed to Israelis as that Wildersian pastiche of a human being, the domestically abused, ‘clitoridectomy-ed’, vitriol-singed wretch, both victim of and accomplice to the project of her own plight. That is presumably a far less appealing image to the Israeli public than that of the handsome, poetic, Sorosian fantasy of a student ‘democracy worker’ (I find this term rather abhorrent, but that’s just me). Unless they are that, then they are not really “of us” any longer, and do not deserve our sympathy or support. I have some serious reservations about this Walzerian notion of solidarity, the one that proclaims that I am morally obligated to help another if he or she is like me; the notion of solidarity that is exclusively directed at those whose views and habits we share (see Walzer’s ‘Spheres of Justice’, published in 1984).
But Iranians are protesting, and Israelis are identifying with this, and whether or not we like Walzer, the moment is ripe, and a mental ‘gap year’ for Israelis in Tehran probably won’t go wasted, even if that means that they will see in Iranians what they want to see. In Bar’el’s own words, the events are “a mark that should… be seared into the minds of the West in general, and the United States and Israel in particular”. If a flighty infatuation with Iranian students is what it takes, then we might have to settle for this, and it may do more than we think to prevent Israel’s destruction of half of the Middle East. On a final note, I apologize about the excessive use of neologisms.
In 1978, New Yorker writer Joseph Kraft visited Iran. The Shah, after twenty-five years in power, was losing his grip on the country. The clerics, mainly based in the Shi’a holy city of Qom, sensed that Iran was losing its Islamic core to Western culture and U.S. interests; the working class, faced with rising inflation and poverty, was restless; everyone was pushing for free elections. Every week, it seemed, brought a new round of protests. And the Shah, instead of cracking down, tried to find a compromise with his political opponents. It didn’t work. By February 1979, the Shah was in exile, and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had returned from his exile in Paris under the banner of revolution.
Kraft’s Letter from Iran ran on December 18, 1978. At the time, the Shah and his people did not consider Khomenei’s strident Islamism the greatest threat to the regime—instead, they feared the rise of the more pragmatic Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Shariatmadari, who was based in Iran, and an array of secular activists. Revolution seemed inevitable as the new year approached, and Kraft captured the confusion of the regime and the strategic patience of the opposition:
Sensing peril, the military government on November 28th banned “processions of any kind” during Moharram. Nevertheless, crowds demonstrated in Teheran during the first two days of the holy month, and there were violations of the curfew on a large scale. Oil production dropped from 5.8 million to below 2 million barrels a day. An exodus of Americans got under way. But even as high noon approached, the major protagonists drew back. The Shah ordered that a hundred and twenty political prisoners be freed on
Sunday, December 10th. On December 6th, Karim Sanjabi, the National Front leader, was released from custody. On December 8th, Ayatollah Shariatmadari, at a press conference in Qum, urged his followers to avoid violence. That same day, the military government announced it would permit the religious processions, and the next day pledged to keep troops only in the northern sections of Teheran, out of the line of march.
On Sunday and Monday, December 10th and 11th, crowds of several hundred thousand paraded through the downtown streets. They shouted Islamic religious slogans, and showed hostility toward the Shah, the military government, and the United States. But there was no serious violence, and those who tried to make trouble were constrained by more responsible elements in the procession. The troops drawn up in the northern section of town, in the vicinity of the Niavaran Palace, were not even tested.
If you couldn’t get enough of momentous national street protests before, Iran’s ongoing Tweet-volution will certainly keep you buried in a backlog of must-see/read/post-to-Facebook digital tidbits of cyber-democracy in action for a long time. Between refreshing Andrew Sullivan’s page for the next tsunami of Persian-green tweets, and watching all those YouTube videos with bigger crowds than Braveheart, it might be easy to think you know the nooks and crannies of Tehran like the back of your hijab. However, while the mainstream media’s coverage of the posts linked round the world may resemble a brontosaurus trying to win the 100m dash, there is only so much depth you can get out of 10 mins of low-res cell phone footage or texts with a 160 character limit. So for those of us curious for a window into Iran that allows for a more leisurely, reflective glimpse, there’s certainly been no shortage of sources of late that don’t require a DSL connection—and won’t strain your eyes without the proper gamma correction:
If you’ve been within eyeshot of a New York Times best-seller list anytime with in the past five years, chances are you’ve heard of Azar Nafisi’s acclaimed 2003 memoir, Reading Lolita in Tehran. After resigning from a comparatively liberal Iranian university in the mid-90s, Nafisi hand-picked female students to read “forbidden” works by Fitzgerald, James and of course, the grandiloquent patron of literary perversion himself, Vladimir Nabokov. Then, she wrote down her experience and the stories of her students demonstrating how a book club can be an act of sedition. More recently, Iranian-American Azadeh Moaveni, who first re-connected with her inner Iranian in Lipstick Jihad, returned to Tehran in 2005 to cover Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election. After she fell in love, got pregnant, and got married, she tried to make a permanent home there for herself—she didn’t quite succeed but her clashes with the Ministry of Intelligence became the backbone of her new book Honeymoon in Tehran. If you still don’t have enough of an idea of the challenges facing women in modern Iran, Marjene Satrapi’s two-volume graphic novel Persepolis will ease the strain on your eyes with its compelling visual style. (You should also watch the equally engaging, award-winning animated film of the same title.) For a dose of testosterone, Economist correspondent Christopher De Bellaigue did his best George-Orwell-in-Spain impression and catalogued his years in the Islamic Republic with In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs to give a complex, nuanced take on the history of the Islamic Republic and daily life inside it.
Photo: A still from Bahman Ghobadi’s Nobody Knows About Persian Cats, about the underground indie rock scene in Tehran.
Cette phrase est une des plus célèbres de la littérature française, et nous la devons au baron de Montesquieu, dans ses Lettres persanes, roman épistolaire. Elle illustre l’étonnement de bourgeois parisiens devant la différence, devant des gens qui ne leur ressemblent pas : au XVIIIe siècle*, un Persan à Paris faisait presque l’effet que ferait un Martien aujourd’hui. Elle a servi de sujet à d’innombrables dissertations de philo ou de français. Près de trois cents ans après, elle revient comme en écho, avec la protestation “persistante”…
* Lettres Persanes (Broché) de Montesquieu (Auteur), Jean Starobinski (Sous la direction de)
I just heard a CNN reporter in Tehran say that Ahmadinejad’s support base was rural. Is it possible that rural Iran, where less than 35 percent of the country’s population lives, provided Ahmadinejad the 63 percent of the vote he claims to have won? That would contradict my own research in Iran’s villages over the past 30 years, including just recently. I do not carry out research in Iran’s cities, as do foreign reporters who otherwise live in the metropolises of Europe and North America, and so I wonder how they can make such bold assertions about the allegedly extensive rural support for Ahmadinejad.
Take Bagh-e Iman, for example. It is a village of 850 households in the Zagros Mountains near the southwestern Iranian city of Shiraz. According to longtime, close friends who live there, the village is seething with moral outrage because at least two-thirds of all people over 18 years of age believe that the recent presidential election was stolen by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
When news spread on Saturday (June 13) morning that Ahmadinejad had won more than 60 percent of the vote cast the day before, the residents were in shock. The week before the vote had witnessed the most intense campaigning in the village’s history, and it became evident that support for Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s candidacy was overwhelming. Supporters of Ahmadinejad were even booed and mocked when they attempted rallies and had to endure scolding lectures from relatives at family gatherings. “No one would dare vote for that hypocrite,” insisted Mrs. Ehsani, an elected member of the village council.
Warmly courteous behind his trademark dark glasses, he apologises for being preoccupied with rehearsing Juliette Binoche next door. Certified Copy, to be shot in Tuscany this month in French and English, will be his first feature to be filmed outside Iran. On the walls of MK2, the French company that co-produces his films, is some of his photographic work of zig-zag roads and snow-covered landscapes. (His visa problem meant he also missed the opening of an exhibition of his photography last month at the Purdy Hicks Gallery in London’s Bankside.)
He developed an interest in photography in the 1970s from scouting for locations in the Iranian countryside, but has exhibited his work only since the 1990s; its global sales have helped to subsidise his films. “I film normal-life subjects in natural settings that some people would consider uncinematic. But what I want to show is nature itself, as the truth of life.” He avoids human figures in his photography, and considers it a “purer” medium than cinema. “The moment of the picture is one of personal truth, not of a story. I feel something in a landscape and want to capture it; only that moment is shown.”
Also a screenwriter and poet, Kiarostami has in recent years made video installations such as Sleepers, of two sleeping lovers, for the Venice Biennale in 2001, and Forest of Leaves (2005) at the V&A. For him, art can reframe even the trivial details of life, spurring us to take a fresh look at them. Films such as Close-Up (1990), which dramatised the case of an unemployed print worker arrested for passing himself off as the Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makmalbaf, blur the line between fiction and documentary. His frequent intrusion of the filmmaking process forces viewers to question the boundaries between reality and representation, truth and fabrication, life and art.
His most recent film, Shirin, will be screened at the Edinburgh film festival on 19 June, with a UK-wide release a week later. A bold experiment, it is 90 minutes of close-ups of more than 100 women – including a headscarved Binoche – as they watch a film based on a 12th-century poem by Nezami Ganjavi about a love triangle involving an Armenian princess and a Persian prince. Light from a screen flickers on the women’s faces; their expressions alone create the drama.
Coup de cœur: Kiarostami on Digital Camera (Voice-over in English)
A 3G campaign ad for Karroubi (via Sullivan)
1 (Girl in street): Defending civil rights
2 (Boy next to old man): Counterbalancing poverty/deprivation
3 (Boy pushing away donation box): Nationalizing oil income
4 (Man standing on rooftop): Reducing tension in international affairs
5 (Boy sitting next to satellite dishes): Free access to information
6 (Girl sitting besides her mother): Supporting single mothers
7 (Girl with cast): Knock down violence against women
8 (Boy): Education for all
9 (Boy infront of man locking car): Increasing public safety
10 (Girl on rooftop): Ethnic and religious minority rights
11 (Man on rooftop): Supporting NGOs
12 (Girl in front of wall): Public involvement
13 (Boy and girl): We have come for change
14: Change for Iran
Impression du Jour: Shirin Neshat (Iran)
From an exhibition at Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont, March 2008
Recently, I saw an exhibition by Shirin Neshat at the Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont where we can see two amazing new color cinematographic videos entitled Munis and Faezeh, these two videos were of an enigmatic beauty rare in contemporary art today. Those of you who saw her work at MAM may remember how most of her videos were black and white, youtube her here if you want to catch a few reminders, but these new color films are color corrected in such a fine and delicate way that I was surprised and immersed in it… like a boy with cartoons… The colors were soft pastels colors. The subject matter of the two videos are based on Women Without Men, a novel by the Iranian author Shahrnush Parsipu depicting the perception of a young Iranian woman during the summer of 1953 in Iran’s political unrest and a psychological breakdown of a Muslim woman following a sexual assault. The two videos are stuning and remain in my mind even a few days later. I recommend you try to see this recent works when it comes to your town.
Kevin Drum has been grading the coverage:
I followed the events of the weekend via three basic sources. The first was cable news, and as everyone in the world has pointed out, it sucked. Most TV news outlets have no foreign bureaus anymore; they didn’t know what was going on; and they were too busy producing their usual weekend inanity to care. Grade: F.
The second was Twitter, mostly as aggregated by various blogs. This had the opposite problem: there was just too much of it; it was nearly impossible to know who to trust; and the overwhelming surge of intensely local and intensely personal views made it far too easy to get caught up in events and see things happening that just weren’t there. It was better than cable news, but not exactly the future of news gathering. Grade: B-.
The third was the small number of traditional news outlets that do still have foreign bureaus and real expertise. The New York Times. The BBC. Al Jazeera. A few others. The twitterers were a part of the story that they reported, but they also added real background, real reporting, and real context to everything. Grade: B+. Given the extremely difficult reporting circumstances, maybe more like an A-.
Twitter has been a great tool for the Iranian protesters — and for us. Marc Ambinder rounds up the evidence here. But protests have happened before without either Twitter or the internet.