Friday, December 30, 2005

A Reply to Jewish Telegraph Agency

An ill researched article appeared in the Jewish Telegraph Agency by Edwin Black:

The article also appeared in the Jewish Times but thankfully it appears it has been withdrawn.
(I hope I am correct in assuming this) Nevertheless the article still appears on the Jewish Telegraph Agency website.

The article carries ignorant statements such as :
So intense was the shah's identification with the Third Reich that in 1935 he renamed his ancient country "Iran," which in Farsi means Aryan and refers to the Proto-Indo-European lineage that Nazi racial theorists and Persian ethnologists cherished..."

Perhaps, Edwin Black, who should be writing children's book instead, should have bothered to read some of Iran's rich literature and relaised that Iran has always been called Iran by Iranians. The Book of Kings written by Ferdowsi 1000 years ago, is just one example from thousands, that refers to our country as Iran. Was Ferdowsi, therefore, a Third Reich supporter according to Mr. Black??

I am mostly disappointed with our Iranian Jewish compatriots however who have not pointed out to JTA the errors of their judgement in publishing Edwin Black's badly researched article. Most Iranian Jews I know are some of the most patriotic Iranians I have ever come across.

To anyone who doubts how well our Jewish compatriots were treated by the Pahlavi dynasty, let me quote some relevant extracts from a letter written by Cyrus Kadivar in response to another article :

"During his reign [ Mohammad Reza Shah], school children were taught the story of the liberation of the Jewish people in Babylonia by King Cyrus in 538 B.C. The Jews may have suffered under the Qajar shahs but neither of the Pahlavis (Reza Shah nor his son) can be accused of mistreating them. There were no pogroms and state-sponsored acts of anti-Semitism nor the burnings of synagogues or the banning of Jews from public life.

Even during WWII (shortly before the Allied Invasion of Iran on the false pretext that Reza Shah was pro-German) an Iranian diplomat in Paris was ordered to issue passports to French Jews escaping Vichy persecution. After the Holocaust many Jews were given homes and citizenship in Iran. Like all minorities in Iran, the Jews in Pahlavi Iran were allowed representatives in the Majlis (Lotfollah Hay served in parliament from 1967-1975 and was a leading industrialist) and even served in the armed forces and state ministries.

In fact, their contribution to the arts, wine-making, science, law, medicine, education and music industry in Iran is a well-documented fact in Esther’s Children published in 2002 by The Center For Iranian Jewish Oral History and edited by Houman Sarshar.

Another Jewish Iranian, Manuchehr Bibian established the Appollon Music Company – the country’s most advanced music recording and production studio of its time – and with it revolutionized Iran’s music recording industry.

Jews such as Iraj Lalehzari were members of Iran’s Royal Academy under Empress Farah’s direction. There were Jewish schools, active social and cultural organizations, and some thirty places of worship in Tehran alone. Hebrew classes were taught openly and Israelis were invited to lecture and speak at seminars. Before his fall, the Shah maintained cordial relations with Tel Aviv whilst calling for a settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Yes, under the last Shah, Iranian Jews enjoyed all the social liberties granted to fellow Muslims, Christians, Zoroastrians and Bahais.

The Khomeini revolution was a disaster for Iran’s Jews. The Ayatollah accused them of “distorting Islam, mistranslating the Koran, and taking over the Iranian economy”. In smaller cities and towns, Jews were bullied by their Muslim neighbours and anti-Jewish leaflets were distributed in the bazaars to boycott their businesses. In the months following the Shah’s dethronement, the turban-headed mullahs executed a wealthy Jewish industrialist by the name of Habib Elghanian. In 1981 the revolutionary guards (in which Ahmadinejad once served) shot Simon Farzami, a prominent and brilliant Iranian journalist and writer. The reason? He was a Jew!

As a result of the Islamic revolution, half of Iran’s 40,000 Jews fled or emigrated to Israel and the West. Many have remained loyal to the old country (some still hang portraits of Iran’s deposed royal family and the imperial flag in their homes) despite adjusting to life in new lands. Their exodus deprived Iran of centuries of wealth and talent, but more significantly a cultural heritage that had been entwined with the glory that was once Persia. "

Let me also add that Iran was one of the few countries in the Middle East which did not boycott Israel in sporting competitions. I myself remember with much fondness watching many of the exciting Iran v Israel football competitions as a child. I remember with much fondness the Nowrooz (Iranian New Year) visits to our Jewish neighbour and how I looked forward to opening up my delicately wrapped presents from our Jewish neighbour's wife, who would wave the present in front of me and say "what has uncle Nowrooz got for our little Potk?". And I can not forget the joys of stuffing my face with the delicious cakes we always found in their house.

I hope the Iranian Jews who have a 2500 years bond with the Iranian culture and the Iranian land and cherish their Iranian heritage so much, will also make Edwin Black realise how wrong he is!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

In Year 2005

Hopefully, now that I have a weblog it will be easier next year to list all the Iran related activities I will be involved in. For the past year, if my memory allows me, below are what my friends and I got involved in.

The year started off with the referendum appeal, for which I had a lot of hope.
I met Mohsen Sazgara in London. I told him for matters inside Iran, I can only be all ears and listen to people who have recently left Iran, but I can help in soliciting international support for the appeal. However despite my initial enthusiasm and backing, the ball just did not get rolling for the referendum appeal.

Perhaps the highlight of the year was organising Reza Pahlavi's surprise Iranian New Year visit to Iranian refugees in London. A day which was really unforgettable:

The murder of a young Iranian teenager by a cleric in Tehran metro needed to be brought to the attention of the world:

Then it was the so called presidential elections in Iran. We went to the voting polls set up by the Islamic Republic in London, talking to and arguing with the people who were taking part in the charade. We learned a lot as to why some Iranians still ignore the appeals to boycott Islamic show elections:

When I came home, I watched VOA Persian TV. Massoud Behnood was on the program. We bumped into him on his way to vote and also questioned his reasons for not boycotting the event as he himself had earlier called for. On TV, Behnood referred to me as a thug and said I had kept calling him a traitor. Complete lies!

I rang VOA and spoke to a Mr. Ardalan, he promised me VOA will give me a chance to say my version but that never happened.

I spent the rest of the evening collecting information about what happened during the Islamic elections. I could not understand how the organisers of the Referendum Appeal had made no provisions for holding a press conference to tell the world what had happened. After all the event was not an unpredictable one:

In London, I took part in a press conference at the FPA Head Quarters in Pall Mall.
On the panel was Amir Taheri, Babak Emamian and myself. Babak Emamian represented the British Iranian Business Association (BIBA), dressed in his typical bowtie and looking as plump and baby like as ever, Emamian said Ahmadi-Nejad's message of justice to the poor had appealed to him and prompted him to vote for Ahmadi-Nejad!

I had angry exchanges with him during and after the press conference. Amir Taheri, for reasons I could not understand, kept telling me to leave Emamian alone, and at times it looked like Emamian was going to burst out crying like a baby. To me the likes of Babak Emamian represent the most revolting type of Iranians who always suck up to whoever is in power regardless. Babak Emamian also falsely represents himself as an "entrepreneur", in fact he is just an insurance salesman for Zurich Life. He is also very much like a character played by the English comedian, Harry Enfield, and just like the character keeps uttering "I am considerably richer than you", not realising how vulgar he comes across.

Then there was the London bombings. Luckily on that day I was working from home, otherwise I would have been passing Holborn and Kings Cross in the London Underground around the times the bombings took place. The tragedy had brought home the global threat of the Islamic terrorism. Something we have been warning for years.

We organised a demo outside the Islamic Centre mosque in Maida Vale and handed out leaflets with the heading "Make Islamic Fundamentalism History":

More information reached me from inside Iran about the takeover by the Hojjatieh sect and how the new president was a devotee of this messianic sect.

Akbar Ganji's heroic 70 day hunger strike also required us to do our bit in soliciting international support for him:

as well as the brutal murder of Shwane Ghaderi in Mahabad:

Then there was our efforts to stop the building of the Sivand Dam:

Our actions against the Lib Dems after Baroness Nicholson's remarks in the European Parliament:

and the year ended up with our efforts to expose the panel at the SOAS meeting:

All in all, quite a busy year considering that I was also going through a bitter divorce case and battling with a firm of solicitors by the name of Bross Bennett Family Law, whose only interest is to drain the family pot from both sides. Hopefully next year with my divorce now behind me, I can be more productive.

The injustice of the British legal system which is only designed to make the likes of Bross Bennett richer and divorced children poorer has also prompted me to join Fathers4Justice group, so you may hear about me dressed as batman hanging off some tall building in 2006 :)

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Reply to Baroness Sarah Ludford Lib Dem MEP

We received the following reply from Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP - -, who has defended her Lib Dem colleague, Baroness Nicholson:

"Thank you for your email regarding the remarks of my colleague Baroness Emma Nicholson MEP during a debate on Iran in the European Parliament.

I attach the comments made by Baroness Nicholson for your information, alongside a briefing note containing information Baroness Nicholson referred to when planning her remarks.

Whilst I can understand that you may feel Baroness Nicholson went too far in putting a positive light on the situation in Iran, I cannot in any way give credit to your implication that Baroness Nicholson's remarks were in some way racist, being based on the premise that Iranians are not worthy of a full democracy.

If you have arguments against Baroness Nicholson's views regarding women's rights in Iran, I am certain that she would be keen for you to put them to her. You will find her email address at the bottom of this letter

And here is our reply to Baroness Ludford:

"Dear Baroness Sarah Ludford,

Thank you for taking time to write to us.
Please see our objections to each one of the statements made by Baroness Nicholson on October 12th 2005, in the European Parliament.

[Baroness Nicholson] - Madam President, it is my view that the Islamic Republic of Iran has much to offer the region and the wider world.
[Our Reply] : Please enlighten us as to what the Islamic Republic - [Not to be confused with the people of Iran or with the Iranian culture] exactly has to offer to the wider world. The Islamic Republic in fact is a sponsor of terrorism and a source of instability in the region.

[Baroness Nicholson] - She practices a more advanced form of democracy than most of her neighbours. Theocracy or no theocracy,
[Our Reply]: As we have said before the analogy to this would be to tell a Chinese dissident that the Chinese regime is not as bad as that of North Korea or the Khmer Rouge.
Iran has its own history and should be compared with herself not with other countries.

[Baroness Nicholson] - women's rights in Iran are far more developed than elsewhere in the region, with education for all and jobs, up to and including the Vice-President of the State, open to all.
The women of Iran have struggled for over 100 years for their freedom and rights. They were the first women in the region to get rid of compulsory veil and gain the right to vote. Any credit for women's rights being far more developed in the region, should be given to the women of Iran and not to the Islamic Republic. In fact the Islamic Republic has reversed many of women's rights in the last 25 years. Prior to the Islamic Republic, women were not stoned to death, women were not flogged, women had much more protected family rights than now, the job restrictions that Baroness Nicholson has so casually mentioned did not exist prior to 1979. Iran had women judges as well as government ministers in the cabinet.

If women's rights is more developed in Iran, it has nothing to do with the Islamic Republic, give the due credit to the women of Iran who are still fighting the religous apartheid in Iran on a daily basis.

[Baroness Nicholson] -With regard to the arts, please come to London to visit the British Museum and see the great Persepolis Exhibition, opened by the Vice-President of Iran last month.
[Our Reply]: Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for damaging and smuggling much of Iran's pre-Islamic heritage. It is unbelievable how anyone can again give credit to the Islamic Republic for what is merely a PR exercise on behalf of the Iranian regime for the outside world and forget all the Iranian artists who were executed, jailed or banned from work because their work was not to the taste of the clerics.
Much of the Forgotten Empire exhibition relics are actually from establishments from outside Iran.

[Baroness Nicholson] -I believe that Iran's reintegration into the international community is long overdue and sorely needed.
[Our Reply] What in your opinion were required from the Islamic Republic for her reintegration into the international community and how have these requirements been accompolished?

[Baroness Nicholson] -The inevitable prerequisite is and must be the essential requirement to resolve the nuclear issue. However, to avoid the accurate potential charge of hypocrisy, it is just as important that the European Union should pursue with equal aggression the policy of nuclear non-proliferation throughout the region. The European Union's single foreign policy demands no less.
[Our Reply] While we are opposed to Nuclear Weapons fullstop, are you aware of the Iranian president's views on judgement day and paving the way for the re-emergence of the hidden Imam?
In view of the above do you not see an urgency with regards to stopping the Islamic Republic from gaining nuclear weapons?

We believe the views of Baroness Nicholson and those Lib Dems who have supported her are racist, because it seems that the standards you would not accept for yourselves you seem to find acceptable for the Iranian people? Do you therefore think you are better than us and is that therefore not racist?

Friday, December 23, 2005

Bus Drivers Union Members Sent to Evin Jail

Those who desperately seek to promote the Islamic Republic as a "flourishing democracy" will not be ashamed when the news of the arrest of Bus Drivers Union members in Iran was announced. For those who promote the mullahs have no shame, they have other self seeking motives when they promote the Islamic Republic. However those who may be duped into thinking there is any kind of democracy in Iran, due to lack of knowledge and information on the true nature of the theocracy in Iran should open their eyes.

The bus drivers union has no political agenda, they are not planning to overthrow the Islamic Republic. In fact they have tried to negotiate with every level of the Islamic establishment, right up to the vice-president. Yet what is the response of Ahmadi-Nejad's "government of justice"? Throw the union members into the notorious Evin prison! Why? what are they guilty of other than demanding a fair standard of living in a country with so much wealth?

Mansoor Osanloo, The Union's head of executive committee was transferred to Evin prison today. Akbar Yaghoubi, Reza Boorboor and Hamid Reza Rezaiifar were arrested on Thursday.
Javad Kefayati, Javad Sidvand and Morteza Kamsari were arrested by the secret police.

In response to the arrest of their comrades, the bus drivers in Iran are planning to go on strike from Sunday. Their demand is simple: "Release our comrades".

Now wouldn't be a nice gesture from the Transport and General Workers Union in UK, to have banners hanging from their buses which go past the Islamic Republic embassy in London, saying "Release the Jailed Bus Drivers in the Islamic Republic". That would be proper international solidarity.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Where the Referendum Appeal Lost its Way

I was one of the first signatories of the Referendum Appeal on the The originators of the appeal, in my view, were serious Iranian opposition figures who could be trusted by the people of Iran. They had all passed their test of courage and resolution by having suffered in Islamic Republic prisons. An important factor in the Iranian psychology, in my view.
These originators were not the comical figures of the LA based self appointed TV presenters come opposition politicians, and it was no surprise to me that the LA based TV stations were so vehemently opposed to the appeal. To me that was a plus point for the referendum appeal.

I considered the appeal as a vehicle which could have snowballed and acted as a leaver to unite a sizeable bulk of the Iranian opposition to put the clerics under pressure to give concessions.
Internationally the Appeal also had the potential of becoming a credible body with a sizeable support amongst the Iranian population with whom the heads of state and the international media could talk to.

I still think the appeal has those potentials, but sadly many things have gone badly wrong.

The first thing that went wrong was the site itself. There were no provisions for what should have been expected, i.e. the site being filtered in Iran. Those behind the technical aspects of the site had not even catered for how to enter signatures sent in groups. I remember how one of the site administrators at the time told me she had spent all day entering 700 signatures sent in bulk in one email with many more like that which she had no time to enter.

There were no provisions to check the accuracy of the signatures. All of a sudden names like Mickey Mouse and Ali Khamenei appeared too often in the list of signatories, which reduced the credibility of the list. For some strange reason, the site adminstrators also divided the list into "Famous Personalities" and the pleb. You can imagine the arguments which erupted amongst the narcissist old guard as to who should be considered famous and who not. :))

The site also lost the plot when like so many other Iranian websites, it became a news copy and paste website. Worse still for a while, a group used the site to score points against a political prisoner, with whom they had personal problems with. Totally irrelevant to the original purpose of the appeal. I am glad to say that after a lot of time and effort, I personally managed to convince the site adminstrators not to get the site involved in scoring points against an Iranian political prisoner and remove the harmful articles.

The points above are just a fraction of how the site turned into a tool of self destruction for the appeal. The sad thing is those who started the appeal did not even think of any other mechanisms for registering signatures, the website was the only gateway they had ever considered!

Forget about inside Iran, where I am not in a position to say what should be done, but I know of only one opposition personality outside Iran who left the comfort of his internet connection to go and explain the referendum appeal to a group of Iranian refugees. Thousands of other Iranian refugees stuck in camps and hostels around Europe alone were not consideed worthy of being solicited for their support. The refugees are Iranians who have risked their lives and limbs, their honour and their possessions to escape Iran, yet none of these exiled opposition cyber activists saw it fit to solicit their support for the appeal!

The referendum appeal became a cyber activity amongst the self-styled "elite" of the Iranian exiled opposition. What I always refer to as the "closed circuit TV" opposition, once again took over, supported by their network of cliques in the Iranian media, like the Voice of America(Persian Service), the numerous websites, the weekly journals etc.

As I have said time and time again, all this "closed circuit television" is capable of doing is writing articles alone. Articles which only they themselves read, and take seriously and once again the great mass of ordinary Iranians are left unaccounted for.

The "closed circuit exiled Iranian opposition" is just not able to break out of its own circle. It is unable to make contact with the Iranian public even outside Iran. Not just because it lacks the charisma, but because it lacks the will as well. Somehow the "closed circuit exiled Iranian opposition" does not consider ordinary Iranians worthwhile and is also incapable of recognising that without the support of ordinary Iranians it can never organise any mass action and if it can never do that, it will never have any credibility nor power.

Of all these "Referendum Committees" which sprouted all over European cities, none of them can I recall who actually organised any action which gained much publicity in the international public opinion or within the Iranian community.

In December, the "closed circuit opposition" held a conference in Brussels. To them it was a great achievement. I however, have seen many of such events. I can summarise them in one sentence:
"They came, they sat, they talked, they made a declaration and they left". This one seems to be no different.

Apart from Eli Lake of the New York Sun, the international media gave the event no coverage at all. What seemed to the organisers as a great achievement, in the eyes of the international community was a zero event.

I have approached many of these self-styled opposition "elites" and aksed them to join our pickets and actions. The usual answer is "I approve of what you do and am willing to act as an advisor but it is beneath me to stand with the rest of you in the streets handing out leaflets!".

By refusing to embrace the ordinary Iranian public inside and outside Iran, the Iranian opposition will never be able to break out of its own closed circle. It will remain what it has been since the end of the 1980s, a bunch of cyber activists and article writers unknown to the vast majority of Iranians, unable to mobilise any significant organised movement.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Pickets Outside Lib Dem HQ Continue

Despite Lord Rennard's promises to set up a meeting with Sir Menzie Campbell and review the Party's policy towards the Islamic Republic, we have heard nothing from the Lib Dems since.

Hence we are picketing the Lib Dem HQ, in Cawley Street on a daily basis now between 2 - 4 pm. It would be good of other Iranians in UK to join us and put pressure on the Lib Dems to clarify their position on the Islamic Republic.

The Iranian opposition must learn to do more than just write articles and poetry.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Illusions of Fair Elections

Anyone who is under any illusions that there are free and fair elections in the Islamic Republic of Iran, may find it worthwhile to read the news item below.

If a regime can't even stand a free and fair elections in the neighbouring country, Iraq, how could they possibly allow a fair and free election in Iran???

"AFP - Hundreds of blank ballots like those to be used in this week's elections in Iraq have been found on a truck which entered the country from neighbouring Iran, security officials said, according to AFP.

"A truck with Iranian number plates was intercepted Tuesday night in the locality of Badra, Wasset province, southeast of Baghdad," an official said.

Another security source confirmed the discovery and said authorities were looking for three other suspect trucks in areas east of Baghdad near the Iranian border.

"The blank ballots were probably destined to stuff the ballot boxes" in Thursday's general election, a security official said.

The ballot papers were not printed by the Iraqi Electoral Commission which is the only body authorised to supply voting materials.

Iraqis go to the polls Thursday for the third time this year to elect a 275-member Council of Representatives that will form the basis of the first permanent post-Saddam Hussein government

Monday, December 12, 2005

Meeting at SOAS

On Friday, I went to a meeting at SOAS. The title of the meeting was the "Future of Democracy in Iran". This in itself intrigued me, it sort of sounded like there is democracy in Iran now and its future is up for discussion. I recognised the name of Ziba Mir-Hosseini in the panelists. Just after the July 99 uprising in Iran, she had facilitated a donation of £250,000 from the Islamic Republic to SOAS. In return the university had granted two fellowships, one to the brother of Rahim Safavi, the head of Iran's much feared revolutionary guards. At the same time while according to the Iranian regime's own figures, 2000 students were imprisoned, Ziba Mir-Hosseini also organised a conference in SOAS, commemorating Khomeini's 100th lunar birthday.

The Iranian community responded by holding a demonstration inside the university campus. This was an unprecedented act in the university's history. I also took part in the demo, and I remember how to our delight, several SOAS students, including the SOAS NUS president and a number of the university lecturers joined our ranks. When the representative of the Supreme Leader in London, Ayatollah Araki arrived for the conference, the entire campus erupted in booing and jeering him. The consequences for the university's actions went further. A petition was signed by more than 80 distinguished academics across the world condemning the untimely acceptance of the donation from an anti-student and anti-academic regime.

On this occasion on Friday, apart from Ziba Mir-Hosseini, the other panelists were Elaheh Koolaee, former Iranian MP during Khatami's presidency, Elaheh Rostami from Iran Action and Campaign Against Military Interventionn in Iran and Dr. Ansari from St. Andrews.

I started listening to Elaheh Rostami's speech and soon I realised what the whole thing was about. The panel was trying to convince the British public that there was a flourishing democracy in Iran and it should be left to its own accord to develop. When Elaheh Rostami went further and claimed "It is easier to be critical of the regime inside Iran than outside Iran" I couldn't accept the insult to my intelligence. "How can it be easier to be critical of the regime inside Iran? How can you as an academic say such non-sense?" I shouted from across the room.

Elaheh Rostami who looked nervous and shakyy even before I interrupted her, looked at me nervously and said the format of the meeting will allow me to ask questions at the end of the meeting. I thanked her for the possibility but reminded her if she was there to promote the Islamic Republic, she will not go unchallenged.

My protest encouraged some of the victims of the Islamic Republic in the audience to protest too. A woman who had lost an eye from being whipped repeatedly to the head in Islamic prisons stood up and said in her best English "What democracy are you talking about? I lost my eye in prisons while she was an MP" pointing at Elaheh Koolaee.

Dr. Ansari from the panel threatened to leave the meeting and called a young chap in the audience a donkey. Although he quickly apologised and retracted his remark. I tried to calm everyone but something out of my control happened. A suspicious character that I have seen on previous occasions hurled personal insults at a young Iranian in the audince calling his mother a prostitute. I had previously seen the suspicious character with Massoud Behnood, a self-seeker journalist desperately trying to win favours with the mullahs. I also recognised the chap who was insulted. It was Amir Ghaffari, the son of a prominent Iranian political prisoner, Reza Ghaffari. Amir grew up in Iran, only seeing his father on a handful of occasions during prison visits. His family suffered immensely during the repression of the eighties until they managed to escape Iran. Amir was raging and furious. Once I saw him move towards Behnood's friend, I rushed towards him trying to calm him down. I was trying to explain to Amir what this guy was trying to do. In the melee which followed, the panelists called security and cleverly moved into another room. By the time I had calmed Amir down, the suspicious character had left and Ziba Mir-Hosseini and the university security prevented all those who they could identify in the protest from entering the room, including me.

I felt bad, and thought the meeting's organisers had cleverly outmaneuvered us. The non-Iranian audience there couldn't have worked out what was happening and they may have even thought the guy who enraged Amir was one of us.

However those who managed to stay in the meeting, told us that the panelists failed to convince the audience. "They put women in a sack, bury them up to their waist and stone them to death. What democracy are you on about?" one member of the audience reportedly asked. Another British woman who was recently in Iran, said " I still haven't got over the horrors of what I saw in Iran." The panel had failed miserably despite shutting us out.

So it seems that despite all the clever tactics of promoting the Islamic Republic by holding so-called "academic debates" etc. The days of fooling the Western people by Khatami's smiles and nice words is over. The people now see Islamic Republic for what it is: A reactionary religious dictatorship and a religious apartheid not fit for this century.

Friday, December 09, 2005

They Saved the World

I am always amazed when I see thousands pour into the streets either to say their farewell to some celebrity or to welcome them. The most recent one being George Best's funeral.

Hundreds of thousands poured into the streets for the funeral of someone who at best dazzled us with his football skills for a couple of years and then lived the rest of his life as a complete piss artist. George Best is certainly not a role model I would choose.

I started pondering as to why the masses feel obliged to display such acts of stupidity. Is it the media manipulation? Is it the media's constant coverage of these characters that makes people feel like they have lost a close relative? and then my thoughts wondered to ask who would I choose as the ultimate hero? the ultimate role model? Who does the world owe more to than anyone else?

Quite frankly, I didn't have to think for too long. For me it has to be the sacrifice made by a small number of Soviet professionals who saved the world from the deadly radiation of Chernobyl. Men like Anatoly Grishchenko, the Ukranian test pilot, who flew over the nuclear site and poured sand and boron carbide into the burning reactor to stop the nuclear bonfire and tons of radioactive material.

These courageous people knew what they would face, physiological damage from radiation poisoning, however as Anatoly Grishchenko said before he died "I did what I had to do, my childhood home was threatened".

The heroic sacrifices made by the firefighters, the technicians, the pilots and all the rest of the people who helped contain the nuclear disaster simply saved the world. No ifs and buts, we owe our lives to them. Yet how often do you see their names in the media? How many people do you know who can name them or even remember their sacrifice?

I for one salute their courage and sacrifice. There should be a memorial built to these heroes in every country across the globe.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

On Reza Pahlavi

I grew up in a family who were opposed to the Shah. My father, I am told, spent a total span of 6 months in prison during his student years. My maternal uncle, who had distinguishing red hair, was always identified easily in political protests because of his unusual hair colour amongst Iranians. At the end, he was arrested so many times, he had to flee the country and start a new life in the West. We had childhood friends whose fathers had been executed and despite having no blood relationship, referred to my parents as aunt and uncle.

After my father became a parent, he had already stopped all political activity, but still on a couple of occasions, he was taken from home for questioning by SAVAK secret police. No harm was done to him and he returned safely on each occasion, but still the images of not knowing why he had to suddenly leave home and a worried mother who was trying to pretend to us there was nothing wrong, while uncontrollably shaking like a leaf, are not comfortable childhood memories to remember.

I remember vividly when the Shah suddenly decreed the creation of a one party state on state TV, and how he condescendingly said "anyone who doesn't like it can ask for his passport and leave the country". I only remember my father shed tears in front of us on a handful of occasions, and that was one of them. He looked straight at the TV screen as if talking directly to the Shah, and said "I love my country, why should I leave it just because I oppose you?"

So when I first met Reza Pahlavi in London, it was with such a background and outlook that was engrained in me.

When he walked in the room and shook hands with us, his charisma was unmistakeable. Naturally he had the celebrity status. I had only ever seen Reza Pahlavi as the Prince of the realm on TV as a child, usually during popmpous ceremonies or sporting occasions. Meeting him in person was as remote as you can imagine. Yet here I was in a room face to face with the Prince and he was calling me by my first name. But such encounters may be usual when one meets anyone famous, and the initial awe gradually fades away. What was impressive about the rest of the meeting was that what Reza Pahlavi said, made sense. I soon found him to be a level headed guy, without any hang ups about the past but focused on the future of Iran. Most importantly he was nothing like the usual run of the mill, out of touch with reality, monarchists I had often met.

I then saw Reza Pahlavi at Chatham house. During the questions and answers, a girl stood up, introducing herself and her family members, claiming they were the first Iranians to raise the flag of monarchy in Hyde Park. She was obviously fishing for compliments. I dropped my head in despair, but it quickly bounced back up when Reza Pahlavi interrupted her, not only not complimenting her but saying "that was your first mistake, rather than raising the flag of monarchy, you should have raised the flag of Iran. I want Iranians to say they are freedom fighters first and foremost before saying they are monarchists, next question please".

The attitude he displayed against the old hat sycophant monarchists made me like Reza Pahlavi even more. This is actually one of Reza Pahlavi's traits. You will not impress him by saying there was nothing wrong during his father's reign or showering him with empty phrases of adulation, you will impress him however with a sound sensible argument.

I have met Reza Pahlavi on many occasions now, haven't always agreed with him, but I think I am in a good position to make better judgement on him than most people. Reza Pahlavi is a modern Prince, who is passionate about the liberation of Iran. He genuinely believes if monarchy is to play a role in the future of Iran, it has to be similar to that of European constitutional monarchies. If I can sum it up, I see him as the equivalent of King Juan Carlos of Spain for Iran. Something I find quite appealing amongst the few alternatives we have in front of us. A stabilising figurehead and a symbol of unity, who can inspire the citizens above the partisan politics. After all I saw for myself how he changed the feeling of depression and hopelessness amongst Iranian refugees and asylum seekers in an unannounced Nowrooz (Iranian New Year) visit.

So to those who still have a hang up of the past, I say, GET OVER IT, whats in the past, is in the past. No one wants to, nor is it possible to restore the way things were under the Shah. Unlike most of us who have shared responsibility of what went wrong in the past, Reza Pahlavi is not repsonsible for any of the past mistakes. Lets focus on the future as Reza Pahlavi does.

Even if a similar model to the Spanish monarchy for Iran does not appeal to you, then fine, work on your heartfelt desired paradigms, but do not have any misguided illusions about Reza Pahlavi and what he stands for: A patriot who is in touch with reality and an important player who strives for a modern democratic pluralistic secular Iran.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Foreign Press Association Media Awards 2005

Iranian investigative journalist, Akbar Ganji became the first recipient of the "Dialogue of Cultures Award" the Foreign Press Association in London on 29th November.

Also present were leading politicians, celebrities and media personalities including Jack Straw, who gave the keynote speech, Dr Muhammad Abdulghaffar, Minister of Information and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs; Baroness Boothroyd; Sir Bob Geldof; human rights campaigner Bianca Jagger; broadcaster Sue MacGregor; Antonella Notari, global spokeswoman for the ICRC; Lord Owen and FPA external judges Sir Simon Jenkins, and Stewart Purvis.

Guests and Awards nominees were welcomed by Annalisa Piras, President of the Foreign Press Association and correspondent for LA7 TV, Italy and by Nazenin Ansari, Vice President of the Foreign Press Association, Chair of the FPA Media Awards and Diplomatic Correspondent for the Iranian newspaper Kayhan (London).

Statement issued by Mrs. Massoumeh Shafiei, wife of Akbar Ganji on the occasion of
Akbar Ganji receiving the first A Dialogue of Cultures Award from The Foreign Presss Association in London
29th November 2005

"I sincerely thank the Foreign Press Association in London for having chosen Mr. Ganji as the first recipient of the Dialogue of Cultures Award.

International support such as this for the rights that Mr. Ganji has lost is without a doubt extremely helpful. Clearly were it not for the support of the international community, the regime in Tehran would have forced him to vanish without a trace and then disposed of him.

At a time when my husband is in solitary confinement and is denied access to the outside world, this award strengthens and bolsters his resolve, enlivens his spirit and gives us moral boost.

One important point that I should emphasize and draw your attention to is that awards such as this do not belong to Ganji but to all free thinkers and dissidents in the prisons of the regime in Tehran who are living in desperate conditions.

Ganji represents one these political prisoners. Others include Dr. Soltani, Amir Entezam, Tabarzadi, Zarafshan, Massoud Bastani, the Mohammadi brothers, all the students in jail and others whom I have forgotten or do not know their names. I hope they are all set free."