Friday, April 18, 2014

Rittrati Carichi Persiano: The ‘Loaded Portraits’ of Mohammad Ali Ziaei

With wretched pencil to debase
Heaven’s favourite work, the human face,
To magnify and hold to shame
Each little blemish of our frame.

Not since Tom Hachtman’s “DoubleTakes,” published in 1984, has there been a motley collection of caricatures of notable public figures – world leaders, celebrity personalities, all-star athletes, renowned artists – so thoroughly captivating and compelling.

And never before, perhaps, have such exaggerated cartoon characters been as strikingly beautiful and evocative as those drawn by Tehran-born, Vienna-based artist Mohammad Ali Ziaei.

A student of Vienna’s Industrial Design University of Applied Arts between 2002 and 2007, the now 31-year-old Ziaei has deftly trained his pen on a diverse array of subjects. From Gandhi to Amy Winehouse, Russian mystic Rasputin to South Korean pop sensation Psy, Benazir Bhutto to Donald Trump, the drawings Ziaei crafts demonstrate precisely why the term “caricature” is derived from the Italian and French terms for a “loaded portrait.”

In The Economy of Character, University of Toronto professor Deidre Lynch explains that, according to eighteenth-century British commentary on this imported Roman style of what is essentially narrative or editorialized portraiture, “caricature couples the act of willfully carrying character drawing to excess – of swelling figures and being prodigal in one’s handling of the signs of humanity – with the tendering of a truth claim, the claim that the drawing improves on extant modes of imitating nature and conveys truths about the person more truly.”

This, indeed, is what Ziaei often achieves in his work. As caricatures are all effectively political cartoons (usually revealing the political persuasion of the artist far more than the subject), it is unsurprising that Ziaei’s drawings have been featured on the International Political Forum website. One glimpse at Ziaei’s drawings of Bashar al-Assad, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad makes clear where he stands.

Most impressive though are his caricatures of iconic Iranian political players old and new (from the Qajar dynasty to President Hassan Rouhani), along with his renderings of some of Iran’s most heralded poets, artists, writers, and musicians (including Sadegh Hedayat, Mohsen Namjoo, Ahmad Shamloo, and – my namesake – Nima Youshij).

Below are some of Ziaei’s portraits, but be sure to visit his full collection here.

All credit – besides that given to Ziaei himself for his immense talent – goes to ReOrient Magazine and S&F Joon for getting there first and putting this on my radar.

Sadegh Hedayat, writer (1903-1951)

Ahmad Shamloo, poet, writer, and journalist (1925-2000)

Hayedeh, Persian classical singer and pop vocalist (1942-1990)

Mohsen Namjoo, singer-songwriter (b. 1976)

Mohammad-Reza Shajarian, Persian classical singer and composer (b. 1940)

Qajar Dynasty (1794-1925): Mohammad Shah Qajar, Fat′h-Ali Shah Qajar, Mohammad Khan Qajar, Naser al-Din Shah Qajar, Mozaffar al-Din Shah Qajar, Mohammad Ali Shah Qajar, Ahmad Shah Qajar (l-r).

Mohammad Mossadegh (1882-1967)

Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (1919-1980)

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (b. 1934)

Mir-Hossein Mousavi (b. 1942)

Hassan Rouhani (b. 1948)

And this one, just because I can’t resist:

And, from the grotesque to the sublime, my personal favorite:


Originally posted at Muftah.


Sunday, April 6, 2014

New Federal Indictment Over Iran Sanctions Breach Demonstrates Reach of Nuclear Disinformation

United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Carmen Ortiz

A brief news story posted by Reuters at 3pm on Friday afternoon reported that Sihai Cheng, a Chinese national, is facing criminal charges brought by the U.S. government for allegedly having conspired to export "pressure transducers," sensors that translate the application of pressure into electrical signals, to Iran. This is in violation of sanctions that restrict trade of scientific equipment and technology to that country.

Cheng was arrested at Heathrow airport two months ago and the indictment was brought by Boston field offices of the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Commerce, and the Department of Justice's Massachusetts District Attorney.

Following the publication of the Reuters report, the news traveled fast via such outlets like Bloomberg News, AFP, Telegraph, and BBC, inevitably tying the news to the ongoing international nuclear negotiations taking place between six world powers and Iran.

Pressure transducers have myriad industrial and scientific uses; their use in the transforming pressurized gas in centrifuges to an analog electrical signal is but one of these applications. A statement released by the U.S. Attorney's office declares, "Pressure transducers can be used in gas centrifuges to enrich uranium and produce weapons-grade uranium."

The fact is that transducers can be used for thousands of other reasons. Still, it is important to understand that Iran's enrichment of uranium is legal, its enrichment facilities are under strict IAEA monitoring and inspection, and Iran has never been accused of enriching uranium to weapons-grade levels.

The prosecution of people accused of breaching the aggressive U.S.-led sanctions regime is nothing new. Just last month, Mohammad Reza Nazemzadeh, a prolific and respected medical research scientist in Michigan was inexplicably indicted for trying to send a refurbished coil for an MRI machine to a hospital in Iran. However, the particular language used in press reports to describe the indictment of Cheng - in bold below - is relevant.

Reuters reported that Cheng had "supplied thousands of parts that have nuclear applications to Eyvaz, a company involved in Iran's nuclear weapons program, in violation of U.S. sanctions on Iran, federal prosecutors said."

Bloomberg News used the same formulation:
From November 2005 to 2012, Cheng allegedly supplied thousands of parts that have nuclear applications to Eyvaz, an Iranian company involved in the development and procurement of parts for Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
"Iran's nuclear weapons program." Read that again. "Iran's nuclear weapons program." The ubiquity of this phrase in the press and political speechifying belies the fact that Iran does not actually have a nuclear weapons program and is thus, not only deliberately deceiving, but patently false.

It should now go without saying that, for years now, the United States intelligence community and its allies have long assessed that Iran is not and never has been in possession of nuclear weapons, is not building nuclear weapons, and its leadership has not made any decision to build nuclear weapons. Iran's uranium enrichment program is fully safeguarded by the IAEA and no nuclear material has ever been diverted to a military program. Iranian officials have consistently maintained they will never pursue such weapons citing religious, strategic, political, moral and legal grounds.

This assessment has been reaffirmed year after year by the U.S. Director of Intelligence James Clapper, most recently in mid-February before the Senate Armed Services Committee. U.S. intelligence has maintained for nearly seven years a high level of confidence that Iran has no nuclear weapons program.

Nevertheless, this phraseology goes frequently unchallenged in the mainstream media - despite repeated appeals by ombudsmen and public editors for more careful and measured writing by their reporters.

Reporting on the Cheng case, however, is a bit more revealing. The specific claim referencing an Iranian "nuclear weapons program" did not originate with the Reuters wire service or Bloomberg's own cribbed report. That phrase in its entirety came from the U.S. Attorney's own press release about the indictment, which was posted Friday by the "Boston Press Release Service," and has still (as of this writing) not appeared on the website for the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts.

That the offending phrase - "Iran's nuclear weapons program" - was literally copied-and-pasted directly from a government statement by professional reporters for major news outlets, without a shred of skepticism, scrutiny or fact-checking, is sadly par for the course in a media landscape wherein the press simply parrots the government line as a matter of policy.

"The indictment alleges that between in or about November 2005 and 2012, Cheng supplied thousands of parts that have nuclear applications, including U.S. origin goods, to Eyvaz, an Iranian company involved in the development and procurement of parts for Iran's nuclear weapons program," the release reads.

The government prosecutor responsible for the indictment is Massachusetts' U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, whose sordid history of overly-aggressive prosecution includes one case leading to the suicide of computer programmer and online activist Aaron Swartz in January 2013.

In the Cheng indictment, Ortiz has thus made an assumption about Iranian actions and intentions that directly contradicts the consensus of 16 American intelligence agencies.  Furthermore, the prosecution itself is part of the Obama administration's own economic war on Iran.

Just two weeks after Iran and the P5+1 signed a Joint Plan of Action in late November 2013, the U.S. State and Treasury Departments specifically named Eyvaz Technic Manufacturing Company among companies targeted "for evading international sanctions against Iran and for providing support for Iran's nuclear program."

The recent indictment and accompanying press release present a clear indication that the decades-long disinformation campaign about Iran's nuclear program is far more powerful and sustaining than facts and evidence. And that's bad news when the propaganda comes straight from the Department of Justice.



April 12, 2014 - As usual, the great investigative journalist Gareth Porter has sunk his teeth into this indictment story and has - also, as usual - emerged with some striking revelations.

In his story for the DC-based wire service IPS, Porter addresses the constant conflation between Iran's legal, safeguarded and monitored gas centrifuge enrichment program and an imaginary "nuclear weapons program."

The indictment doesn’t actually refer to an Iranian nuclear weapons programme, as the Ortiz press release suggested. But it does say that the Iranian company in question, Eyvaz Tehnic Manufacturing, “has supplied parts for Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.”
The indictment claims that Eyvaz provided “vacuum equipment” to Iran’s two uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow and “pressure transducers” to Kalaye Electric Company, which has worked on centrifuge research and development.
But even those claims are not supported by anything except a reference to a Dec. 2, 2011 decision by the Council of the European Union that did not offer any information supporting that claim.
The credibility of the EU claim was weakened, moreover, by the fact that the document describes Eyvaz as a “producer of vacuum equipment.” The company’s website shows that it produces equipment for the oil, gas and petrochemical industries, including level controls and switches, control valves and steam traps.
Moreover, the connection between the companies designated off-limits by the U.S. government and Iran's nuclear program are shown to be quite tenuous and exaggerated for political purposes.


Friday, April 4, 2014

The "Petty Game" of Denying a U.S. Visa to Iran's New UN Ambassador

Hamid Abutalebi

It has become increasingly clear that the United States government has deliberately delayed issuing a visa to Hamid Abutalebi, Iran's new Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York City. Abutalebi, a career diplomat who has previously served as Iran's ambassador to the European Union, Australia, Belgium, and Italy, was appointed to succeed outgoing ambassador Mohammad Khazaee by Iranian President Hasssan Rouhani late last year, following the landmark nuclear agreement signed between six world powers and Iran in Geneva on November 24.

Abutalebi has been unable to assume his diplomatic post for months due to the U.S. State Department's decision to hold up approval of his visa application. This past week, Bloomberg News finally provided the reason behind the American power play: Abutalebi was allegedly a member of the Muslim Students Following the Imam's Line, the organization of revolutionary students that took control of the U.S. embassy on November 4, 1979 and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.

"The Americans are very strict about this and they conduct thorough investigations to make sure those who get visas did not participate in the U.S. embassy takeover," explained Mohsen Sazegara, one of the founders of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and currently a U.S.-based political analyst who has previously served as a visiting fellow at the AIPAC-affiliated Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Sazegara spoke with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, which also noted that, in 1980 "Aboutalebi, along with Abbas Abdi, a student instrumental in the US Embassy takeover, traveled to Algeria to invite representatives from several 'liberation movements' to attend a meeting in Tehran. The invited groups included the Palestine Liberation Organization (Fatah), the Polisario Front, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Front for the Liberation of Zimbabwe, members of Shi'a communities from Saudi Arabia and Iraq, and Lebanon's Amal Movement."

Ebrahim Asgharzadeh, one of the leaders of the 1979 embassy takeover and subsequent occupation, told Iranian journalist Omid Memarian this week that Abutalebi had no direct or organizational role in the seizure or hostage-taking. Abutalebi, who had studied at the Sorbonne, was asked to act as a translator for the students "because of his fluency in English," Asgharzadeh said. "He wasn't one of the main students involved in the event, with an ongoing responsibility. After the siege, we defined new responsibilities such as 'document translation' or 'communicating with foreign reporters,' and this is why we used some people on a temporary basis."

In an interview with Iran's Khabar Online News website in mid-March, Abutalebi addressed rumors of his role in the hostage crisis. "For the past 15 years, I have been an ambassador to many Western countries that are very close to the U.S., from Europe to Australia, and have always been dealing with the West," Abutalebi said. "Even in 1994, when I traveled to the US as a member of our country's delegation at the UN General Assembly for a while, no questions [about my involvement] ever came up."

He continued: "On November 4 [1979] and at the time of the occupation, I was not in Tehran... When I heard of the incident, I was in [the southwestern Iranian city of] Ahvaz." Abutalebi was later told that the students occupying the embassy "needed somebody to do French translation for them. I accepted... On few other occasions, when they needed to translate something in relation with their contacts with other countries, I translated their material into English or French. For example, I did the translation during a press conference when the female and black staffers of the embassy were released and it was purely based on humanitarian motivations."

Abutalebi made clear his belief that the hostage crisis has severely damaged U.S.-Iran relations. The takeover, "challenged American power in international arenas," he said," and "caused subsequent fears of each other and each country's developments to run deep between the American and Iranian people and officials. The phobia, by and by, became so profound that any measure taken by one side – either positive or negative – stirred intense fears both inside and outside of the United States and in Iran."

Wholly supportive of the initiatives of the Iranian president, Abutalebi stated that Rouhani had already "managed to put an end to three major problems facing Iran's foreign policy," which he defined as Iranophobia, Islamophobia, and the "alleged and imposed political and economic isolation of Iran." This, he said, "has been his greatest victory."

Noting that, after so many years of animosity and suspicion, "relations between Iran and the United States are not a current focus of attention for the executive authorities in Iran, or even in the United States," Abutalebi still maintained that "we must do our best to solve the multitude of problems that have been created so far" between the two nations. "After solving these problems and through ever-increasing mutual understanding and trust, we would be able to come back and focus on the issue of relations," he said.

Reuters reporter Louis Charbonneau has noted that Abutalebi is "widely seen as a moderate and reformist," who has close ties to Rouhani and former presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami. "Hamid has never been a hardliner," an unnamed Iranian Foreign Ministry official and friend of Abutalebi told Reuters.

Another acquaintance, the well-known reformist journalist Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, called Abutalebi both "progressive" and "pragmatic."

The reaction from American officials - former and current - over his appointment and visa application has been nothing short of hysterical. The consensus view seems to be that the Iranian ambassador to the UN serves no other function than agitating against the United States, even though Iran is a sovereign nation, UN Member State, current chair of the Non-Aligned Movement, and enjoys robust relations with nearly every single nation on the planet.

"We think this nomination would be extremely troubling,"said State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf at a press briefing Wednesday. "We're taking a close look at the case now, and we've raised our serious concerns about this possible nomination with the government of Iran."

"There'll not be any rapprochement with Iran until hostages are compensated for their torture," declared Tom Lankford, a lawyer representing the former American hostages since 2000. "It's important that no state sponsor of terror can avoid paying for acts of terror." Lankford called the appointment "yet another slap in the face" of those held hostage and insisted that the U.S. government "should not permit this to happen."

Former hostage Barry Rosen said the same thing, calling it "a disgrace" for the government to consider granting Abutalebi entry to the United States. "He can never set foot on American soil," Rosen said. Despite not knowing Abutalebi's precise role in the embassy seizure, Rosen opined to the New York Post, "He's just as guilty as anyone of torture," adding, "It would be a travesty of justice. It would be like spitting on us."

Meanwhile, former Bush appointee to the UN, John Bolton, who championed the invasion of Iraq and has urged the American or Israel bombing of Iran for years now, told Fox News, "This is a thumb in the eye of the United States... Personally I think Iran should either be expelled or suspended under the UN charter because it is not a peace loving state. I have no hesitation at all in saying we should deny a visa to this individual."

Texas Senator Ted Cruz introduced legislation this week that his office said was meant "to prevent known terrorists from obtaining visas to enter the United States as ambassadors to the United Nations," according to the New York Times. The appointment of Abutalebi was "deliberately insulting and contemptuous," he said.

"Hamid Aboutalebi was a major conspirator in the Iranian hostage crisis and has no business serving as Iran's ambassador to the UN," New York Senator Chuck Schumer told the New York Post, without providing evidence to back up his charge. "This man has no place in the diplomatic process, and the State Department should flat-out deny his visa application," he added, seemingly unaware that Abutalebi has for years held senior diplomatic posts around the world.

Overblown outrage aside, the United States has no legal standing to deny Abutalebi a visa. The United States hosts the United Nations and is obligated to allow diplomats to do their jobs. It is not up to the State Department to pick and choose which diplomats are admitted, unless they pose an immediate national security threat, which obviously Abutalebi does not.

Bluster, pandering, and hurt feelings surely do not permit the United States to withhold a visa.

"Good heavens," Michael Doyle, a former UN official and now an expert in international and public affairs at Columbia University told the Christian Science Monitor. "It's like discovering someone was in the SDS in the 1960's."

Yet, the United States has a long history of playing pouty politics when it comes to issuing diplomatic visas - a "petty game," in the words of UN expert Jeffrey Laurenti, that underscores the petulance of the world's only superpower.

In 2007, Barbara Masekela, South Africa's ambassador to the United States from 2002 to 2006, was denied a visa to visit her dying cousin and did not receive a waiver until after her cousin had passed away. Indeed, until July 2008, South African leader Nelson Mandela and other members of the African National Congress (ANC) were included on the U.S. State Department's terrorism watch list and thereby officially denied entry to the country. Earlier that year, then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told a Senate committee that it was "a rather embarrassing matter" for her to have to issue specific waivers to South African diplomats traveling to the United States.

Iran's UN delegation has also previously been at the receiving end of this charade.

"For years, the way the United States issues diplomatic visas has irked U.N. lawyers and annoyed foreign governments, including Cuba, Iran, Russia and Venezuela, who complain that the U.S. routinely scuttles the plans of their leaders or allies to visit the U.N. for important meetings," Colum Lynch wrote in Foreign Policy in 2011. "The accusations have embarrassed diplomats at the U.S. mission in New York: In one cable from July 2009, they protested that U.S. 'credibility is damaged when a visa is denied so long after the fact.'"

The United Nations host-country agreement signed by the United States is not a suggestion that can be ignored on a case-by-case basis, depending on how the winds of D.C. lobbying and alliances blow. It's not up to ignorant blowhards in Congress, hungry for campaign funding and phony tough-guy credentials, to determine who foreign nations can appoint as their international representatives.

The law of UN treaty obligations - three of them, in fact - is clear, as Dapo Akande, a professor of public international law at Oxford University and founding editor of EJIL: Talk!, the blog of the European Journal of International Law, has previously pointed out.

Article 105 (2) of the United Nations Charter, signed in 1945, states, "Representatives of the Members of the United Nations and officials of the Organization shall similarly enjoy such privileges and immunities as are necessary for the independent exercise of their functions in connexion with the Organization." Being present at the United Nations headquarters in New York is obviously required for representatives to fulfill their diplomatic duties.

The 1946 General Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the UN [Art. IV, Section 11(d)] maintains that "Representatives of Members to the principal and subsidiary organs of the United Nations," along with their spouses, are exempt from "immigration restrictions, aliens registration or national service obligations" in foreign states in which they work, travel, or visit. Refusing a visa to a UN representative is therefore a violation of this General Convention.

Moreover, and more directly to the point, as Akande has written, "the 1947 US/UN Headquarters Agreement regulates the matter in more detail." Article IV, Section 11 of the agreement states:
The federal, state or local authorities of the United States shall not impose any impediments to transit to or from the headquarters district of (1) representatives of Members... or families of such representatives...; (5) other persons invited to the headquarters district by the United Nations... on official business.
The following section is even more specific:
The provisions of Section 11 shall be applicable irrespective of the relations existing between the Governments of the persons referred to in that section and the Government of the United States.
Finally, Section 13 (a) states that "[w]hen visas are required for persons" fulfilling diplomatic duties for Member States, "they shall be granted without charge and as promptly as possible."

In reporting on this issue, Reuters noted that, while the United States "is required to allow U.N. diplomats to come to New York under its host country agreement with the United Nations," it still "reserve[s] the right to refuse visas to those seeking to work as diplomats in New York."

While seemingly a contradictory notion, the pertinent distinction may lie in Abutalebi's role as a permanent - and therefore, resident - member of Iran's diplomatic corps in the United States. Article V of the Headquarters Agreement may provide this loophole: "...resident members of [UN Member State] staffs... may be agreed upon between the Secretary-General, the Government of the United States and the Government of the Member concerned."

However, the staff of Iran's Permanent Mission to the UN is different from the "person designated by a Member as the principal resident representative to the United Nations of such Member or as a resident representative with the rank of ambassador or minister plenipotentiary," as noted in the Agreement. This individual (or individuals) is not subject to joint approval or agreement by the UN or the United States for entry and residence in New York.

As Hamid Abutalebi has been appointed as Iran's ambassador, and not merely a staff member, he is exempt from this protocol or scrutiny.

"It may not have been the wisest choice for Iran to make given Rouhani's efforts to make nice," Columbia University's Michael Doyle says, "but it's their choice."

For the United States to deny Abutalebi his visa would not only be shameful, it would be illegal.



April 5, 2014 - Robert Mackey of the New York Times' The Lede blog has posted an excellent and comprehensive run-down of the Abutalebi firestorm. In addition to a number of fascinating and frustrating tidbits, he also points out that the MEK is at the forefront of opposing Abutalebi's ambassadorship - which is effectively proof that this is all one big propaganda campaign promoted by factions intent on sabotaging any Iranian rapprochement with the West.

Mackey writes:
While it is not clear where the accusations against Mr. Aboutalebi began, one group fiercely opposed to any diplomatic resolution to the standoff between Iran and the West, the Paris-based exiles who call themselves the National Council of Resistance of Iran, have actively promoted the idea that Mr. Aboutalebi was a leader of the hostage-takers.

The same exile group — whose militant wing, the Mujahedeen e-Khalq, or People’s Mujahedeen, was removed from the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations only in 2012 after a well-financed Washington lobbying campaign — upped the ante further on Thursday, claiming that Mr. Aboutalebi had “coordinated” the assassination of one of its members in Rome in 1993.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

U.S. President Admits American Role in Iran Coup
...Way Back in 1991

Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and Vice President Richard M. Nixon greet the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in Washington, D.C.

It remains bizarre that, for years, certain agenda-driven scholars attempted to suggest that the United States had, at best, a middling or minor role in orchestrating the 1953 coup that overthrew popular nationalist Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh.

For instance, in a 2010 column in the Washington Post, Council on Foreign Relations fellow Ray Takeyh - a veritable font of nonsense - described the 1953 coup as "one of the most mythologized events in history," arguing that "[t]he CIA's role in Mossadeq's demise was largely inconsequential" and that the real power of the overthrow lay in the hands of Iran's "clerical estate" or, as he likes to call them, "the mullahs."

Despite the fact that American culpability has been clear for decades, and pushback to his claims was swift, Takeyh wrote effectively the same piece for the Weekly Standard three years later in the hopes that a more concentrated reactionary and Islamophobic audience would be receptive to his revisionist history. This time around, Takeyh claimed that "Operation Ajax—the notorious CIA plot that is supposed to have ousted Iranian prime minister Muhammad Mossadeq" was merely "mythologized history" and that - this might sound familar - "the CIA’s role in Mossadeq’s demise was largely inconsequential."

Rather than what he dismissively describes as the narrative of a "nefarious U.S. conspiracy," Takeyh declares that "the 1953 coup was very much an Iranian affair."

Takeyh published that on June 17, 2013. Almost exactly two months later, on August 18, an internal CIA report was released to the public openly acknowledging the U.S. (and British) governments' responsibility for the coup, thus rendering Takeyh's disinformation even more absurd.

"[T]he military coup that overthrew Mosadeq and his National Front cabinet was carried out under CIA direction as an act of U.S. foreign policy," the document, written in the mid-1970s, states. The supposed threat of "Soviet aggression," it continues, "compelled the United States... in planning and executing TPAJAX," the intelligence agency's codename for the overthrow operation.

The plot was authorized by President Dwight D. Eisenhower at the behest of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, whose brother, Allen Dulles, was then the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and carried out by CIA operatives Kermit Roosevelt, Jr. and Donald Wilber.

It is often noted that no U.S. government official had admitted American responsibility for the coup until March 2000, when then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said, "The coup was clearly a setback for Iran's political development, and it is easy to see now why many Iranians continue to resent this intervention by America in their internal affairs."

Years later, on June 4, 2009, before an audience at the American University in Cairo, President Barack Obama acknowledged, "In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government." In September 2013, Obama noted Iranian anger over "America's role in overthrowing an Iranian government during the Cold War."

More than two decades earlier, however, in May 1991, a figure much closer to the fateful events of August 1953 spoke openly of the Eisenhower administration's direct involvement and praised the decision unequivocally.

Former President Richard Nixon, in a conversation with C-SPAN about the legacy of President Dwight Eisenhower under whom he served as Vice President for two terms, discussed the American role in the 1953 coup.

"The United States, together with Britain, participated in supporting a coup in Iran that got rid of Mossadegh," said Nixon, who then described the former Iranian Prime Minister as "a left-leaning, Soviet - frankly - controlled leader." Nixon defended the coup because, in his words, "By restoring the Shah to power, it meant that the United States had a friend in Iran, a very strong friend, and for 25 years Iran played a role as a peace-keeper in the Persian Gulf area."

He then cited, as an example of the benefits of the coup, the Shah's continued willingness to ship oil to Israel during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. "That would not have happened if Mossadegh, the one that the CIA got thrown out, had been in power," Nixon said. "It happened because Eisenhower, in his wisdom, did support those forces that restored the Shah."

Watch the entire clip here:

Nixon was a staunch believer in the Shah's suitability as a regional policeman and facilitator for U.S. interests in the Middle East and visited Iran as Vice President shortly after the coup.  As president, Nixon began providing weapons systems and military assistance to the Iran on a grand scale, effectively bankrolling the Shah's $20 billion military build-up over the next decade.

"[W]e adopted a policy which provides, in effect, that we will accede to any of the Shah’s requests for arms purchases from us (other than some sophisticated advanced technology armaments and with the very important exception, of course, of any nuclear weapons capability)," recalled Nixon's National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger.

The role of the United States in overthrowing Mossadegh is undeniable. What remains in doubt is the credibility of commentators like Ray Takeyh, who have long produced faulty analysis, presented false history as fact, and yet retain their inexplicable reputation in the establishment media and halls of government as someone worth listening to.

When a liar like Nixon is more trustworthy than an "expert" like Takeyh, it's no wonder both the public and our politicians remain so outrageously misinformed when it comes to Iran.


Monday, March 31, 2014

Ya, Ollie! – Skateboarding in Iran

Alireza Ansari, founder of the Iranian skateboarding collective TSIXTY, does a kickflip at a skatepark in Tehran.
(Photo Credit: TSIXTY)

The West is often plagued with a rather blinkered view, coupled with a voyeuristic obsession, of Iran and its people. All too often, news reports, photo essays, and viral videos make the Internet rounds accompanied by breathless, slack-jawed commentary, expressing countless variations on the “Oh my god, they’re just like us!” theme.

Last month, Marguerite Ward perfectly distilled this common occurrence in a column for PolicyMic entitled, “Young Iranians Continue to Shock the Internet by Being Normal.” Noting the recent online sensation caused by “a provocative photo essay” by Hossein Fatemi, which “gives a global audience the chance to peer into the country’s more modern (or scandalous) sub-culture where men and women socialize together, drink alcohol and listen to rock music,” Ward accurately remarks that the essay’s success “is just as much about the content as it is about the audience. A person in touch with Iran’s contemporary culture would not likely be surprised or extremely interested in the series.”

Young Iranians doing much of anything – with the possible exception of praying, yelling or scowling (the “Argo Hat Trick,” as it were) – seems to surprise most Western observers, be it buying Apple products, drinking alcohol, going out to coffee with friends, or women engaged in ninjitsu training. Earlier this month, Agence France-Presse made a big deal out of a group of young women practicing parkour in Tehran. Almost a year ago, France24 did the same thing.

With this in mind, a video recently posted on the website of Thrasher, a San Francisco-based monthly skateboarding magazine, is a breath of fresh air. Beautifully shot and edited by Patrik Wallner as part of his “Visualtraveling” series, which follows professional skaters circling the globe in search of sick spots to shred, the half-hour film is a travelogue of Iran, Azerbaijan, and the Caucasus, as experienced by an eight-man international skateboarding crew.

Skatepark in Tehran
(Photo Credit: MJ Rahimi / 8FIVE2SHOP)

What is perhaps most remarkable is how the film treats young Iranian skateboarders; they are shown, not as outliers to be studied, pitied, analyzed or ogled at, but rather as compatriots in a worldwide community, bound by a common passion and respected as equals.

We meet 27-year-old Mohammad Javad (MJ) Rahimi, who dubs himself the “first skateboarder in Iran” and now manufactures handmade skateboard decks out of his home in Tehran. MJ introduces us to the small, but growing, Iranian skateboarding community and proceeds to tour the country with his new comrades.

Early in the film, one of the skaters, Kenny Reed, explains to the camera, “Iran is under sanctions right now and it’s really hard for them to import anything from the West. This kind of put the skaters in a position where they were forced to figure out a way to make their own boards. If they didn’t have MJ making those boards, I couldn’t see the scene getting any bigger at all.”

The footage of skaters rolling, grinding, jumping, kicking, sliding, and carving through the streets of Tehran is exquisite and remarkable, from one of Tehran’s state-funded skateparks in the Enghelab sport complex to public plazas like Azadi Square, in parks, back alleys, busy thoroughfares, down ramps and railings, over benches and stairs. The mastery of navigating urban topography is dazzling. Just as impressive are the locations, cinematography, and kickflips in places like Baku, Azerbijan and Tbilisi, Georgia.

Check it out here. Be amazed.

This is not, however, the first skate video to come out of Iran. The Tehran-based T-SiXTY crew, founded by skateshop owner Alireza Ansari, put out this video in 2011:

T-SiXTY has posted other videos of Iranian skaters celebrating “Go Skateboarding Day” in 2012 and 2013, as well as a 2012 skating excursion to the beautiful central city of Esfahan. And late last year, ABC News correspondent Muhammad Lila featured Ansari and T-SiXTY in one of his dispatches from Iran.


Originally posted at Muftah.


Friday, March 14, 2014

Hijacking Hijab: The West’s Myopic Misrepresentation of Iranian Women

A woman window shops outside a wedding dress store in Tehran, Iran.
(Photo Credit: Nima Shirazi)

In mid-2012, Alex Shams, editor-in-chief of the indispensable Persian and Iranian socio-culture site, Ajam Media Collective, wrote,
It is nearly impossible to read any article about Iranian women and not spend the entire time rolling your eyes. Historically, the Western media has tended to make liberal use of Orientalist and infantilizing depictions of Iranian women as, alternatively, trapped in the harems of their turbaned overseers (a historically pre-1979 trope applied liberally to all Middle Eastern women) or militantly crazed and clad in black “traditional garb” (a post-1979 trope specific to Iranian, and later Islamist, women).
Commenting on the then-recent mangled media coverage of the growing popularity of ninjitsu among women in the Iranian city of Karaj (the female martial arts practitioners were dubbed “ninja assassins” by Britain’s Telegraph), Shams pointed out that the Western stereotype of the Iranian woman has long relied on their portrayal as either “veiled, militant fanatics” or silenced victims of Islamic patriarchy, bubbling under their hijab – if not bursting out from under it - with exotic sexuality.

This latter trope has recently become ubiquitous in Western media.

The individuality, creativity, and personal agency of women in Iran – and Muslim women in general – have all been subordinated, if not completely dismissed or disregarded, to the Western obsession with the Islamic veil. According to the routinely reinforced narrative in the American and European press, academia, and political discourse, the measure of a woman’s freedom and self-determination is directly proportionate to how tight her clothing is and how much of her hair is visible to strangers in public.

Mellat Park, Tehran, Iran.
(Photo Credit: Nima Shirazi)
In the wake of a widely-reported University of Michigan poll earlier this year, which purported to reveal just how covered-up various Muslim societies prefer their women, New York-based communications strategist Arwa Mahdawi wrote in the Guardian of “the west’s bizarre fixation on what Muslim women wear and how they cover their hair,” while pointing out that women in non-majority Muslim countries suffer from similar, though perhaps inverse, societal pressures, personal choices, and inherent patriarchy and misogyny. “In a sense, women’s hair in the west functions as its own sort of veil, one which most of us are unconsciously donning,” Mahdawi noted. “The time and money women spend on their hair isn’t just the free exercise of personal preferences, it’s part of a broader cultural performance of what it means to be a woman; one that has largely been directed by men.”

After noting that “[m]odesty is not uniquely an Islamic requirement,” Daisy Khan, writing in Elle Magazine in late January, explained that “Muslim women wear burkas, nikabs, hijabs, or headscarves for a variety of reasons,” continuing, “Some genuinely do it out of piety, while others are conforming to local customary dress. Some are rebelling against state politics, some are acting like testy teenagers, some are making a statement about religious identity, and some are required by others to live as invisible beings.” Quite simply, she insists that Muslim women “reject the hijab as the sole marker of how we are defined in public.”

Meanwhile, in the Independent, Bina Shah commented:
Muslim women’s fashions have been interpreted and overanalyzed by the Western world as some sort of profound assertion of political identity or religious stance. Yes, there is an element of that in there, but the bigger truth is that Muslim women wear what they do, including what’s on their heads, because of how it makes them look and feel, just like all women around the world, and it takes on the cultural overtones of the milieu in which they live. There’s no need to survey this or pathologize it: there’s certainly no point in turning it into a value judgment.
Nevertheless, the Western media continues to promote the notion that a “fashion revolution” is currently underway in Iran, wherein women deliberately and courageously challenge, defy and subvert the societal prescriptions – and proscriptions – of Islamic authority and government mandate as evidenced by the increasingly prolific image of “young, skinny, upper-class, colorfully-clad and trendy woman” in urban settings and headscarves that rest loosely on bouffant hairdos and tight top buns. Reliably, the folks over at Ajam Media Collective have dissected this media trend in all its Orientalist glory.

Mannequins in a Tehran shop display various styles
of manteau, the long coat popular in Iran.
(Photo Credit: Nima Shirazi)
In an excellent, must-read essay entitled, “A Fashionable Revolution: Veiling, Morality, and Consumer Culture in Iran,” Ajam editors Shima Houshyar and Behzad Sarmadi write, “We see beautiful young women in the streets of Tehran inviting us to reconsider stereotypical images of Iranian women that predominate in mainstream English-language media. These images are juxtaposed against those of women clad in the black chador – the long flowing cloth, usually black – to clarify the extent of this ‘revolution’ and the substantive difference between these bodily surfaces.”

When asked by Muftah what inspired the piece, Houshyar and Sarmadi explain, “What we call the “fashion revolution” genre is simply a way of representing Iranian women for non-Iranian audiences. It celebrates the conspicuous consumption of women’s clothing as a mode of political resistance against state patriarchy and policing. Our article is intended to critique these representations insofar as they function as a popular genre: replicating the same kind of imagery, profiling the desires and politics of Iranian women based on such imagery, removing from view the social and economic hierarchies underpinning such imagery so as not to dilute the argument.”

“This kind of fascination with Iranian women and their sense of dress, however, obscures the complexities surrounding how Iranian women actually practice the mandatory veil,” they write in their essay. “These articles produce simplistic generalizations for the sake of provocative and yet easily digestible reading. They do so by: treating women’s bodily surfaces as a measure of societal progress and morality; romanticizing the notion of resistance; and eliding the significance of class and consumer culture in everyday urban life.”

Elaborating on this point, the authors told Muftah, “We do not dismiss the notion of everyday resistance through acts of clothing and the alternative conceptions of morality and self that they can signify. What we are dismissing is the simplistic caricaturing of such resistance as especially powerful, clearly indicative of political intent, accessible to all, or naturally representative of a how women engage in everyday forms of resistance.”

The Western infatuation with female fashion in foreign lands objectifies and insults women just as much as Islamic laws mandating certain dress codes. Both perceptions, Houshyar and Sarmadi write, simply assume “that the surfaces of women’s bodies reflect the moral state of society at large” and incorrectly correlate “what is happening to female bodies” with “deciphering some widespread zeitgeist.”

Young Iranians relax in Mellat Park in northern Tehran.
(Photo Credit: Nima Shirazi)
Glimpses of female skin are seen in the West as the tea leaves of political intent and resistance to societal, cultural, and government strictures. “The narrative of women’s defiance of state oppression through their style of hijab perpetuates this patriarchal approach of constantly locating either freedom or oppression on their bodies alone,” Houshyar and Sarmadi note, adding that it not only “perpetuates the view that deliberate action is only worth regarding as truly deliberate when it breaks with convention or challenges state prescriptions,” but also presumes “a simple correlation between women’s ‘inner’ beliefs and their ‘outer’ appearances,” thus distorting and even inverting “the complexities informing practices of veiling, but also the potential for resistance itself. It suggests that women who consider themselves religious and practice the veil in ways that happen to be prescribed by the state must therefore support the state.”

The article also delves into how issues of consumerism and class cannot be separated from this so-called ‘fashion revolution.’ In correspondence with Muftah, the authors distilled their argument this way:
An ever-expanding consumer culture in Iran has developed in lock-step with an upper-middle class subjectivity. Explicitly cosmopolitan, and performed through the consumption of global brands (Apple) and ‘Western’ cultural commodities (artisan coffee), it is also often marked through clothing. This subjectivity is not necessarily absent in lower socio-economic classes, and we are not suggesting that the “revolutionary” aesthetic that these articles exhibit is not to be found in lower-income neighborhoods. But class does necessarily determine the capacity to inhabit and express this aesthetic, and is manifested in the universe of such brands and their knock-offs. The embodied practices of fashionable-looking clothing therefore represents a trenchant consumerism that cuts across class lines in Iran, but also highlights them and makes them socially legible in doing so.
Houshyar and Sarmadi aptly conclude in their article that merely reducing the struggle of Iranian women ”to the tightness or length of their clothing in the manner shown by these articles reproduces exactly the kind of sexist logic that elevates women’s appearances as a register of morality inviting intervention, or as an occasion for conspicuous consumption. Iranian and other transnational feminists have been challenging such sexism for decades.”

“Instead of dealing in such binaries and stereotypes,” they insist, “we would do well to acknowledge the complexity of women’s realities and understand how they navigate their lives through the intersecting systems of the state, family, capitalism, religion, and patriarchy.”

Read Houshyar and Sarmadi’s entire article here at Ajam Media Collective.


Originally posted at


Friday, February 28, 2014

Wide Asleep on Radio Dispatch, again!

I had the sincere pleasure of joining the great John Knefel - investigative reporter, Occupy gadabout, and broadcaster extraordinaire - on today's episode of Radio Dispatch, the stellar progressive daily podcast.

John and I spoke about the ongoing multilateral negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program, the constant barrage of disinformation and sabre-rattling from Israel, and the AIPAC push for new sanctions on Iran that would inevitably (and deliberately) scuttle the talks.  You know, the usj.

The interview begins at about 10:17 and runs roughly 22 minutes.

Listen to it below or download it here.

And be sure to check out John and Molly Knefel's amazing archive of past shows here. And listen to the show from now on. C'mon people.


Human Development After the Iranian Revolution

College graduates in Iran
(Hossein Salmanzadeh / Fars News Agency)

Over at Truthout, Tyler Cullis and I have published an analysis of certain societal gains achieved in Iran over the past 35 years following the 1979 revolution. It explores a number of factors, namely that of the United Nations' "Human Development Index," which charts advancements over time with regard to access to education, health, life expectancy, and quality of life.

The piece also points out how the perception of Iran in the West has been myopic and routinely negative ever since the revolution, noting:
...those in the United States saw events in Iran in 1979 through their own distinctive prism, which was far removed from - and often quite antagonistic to - the very real aspirations and grievances of a revolutionary people. It would be hard to argue that much has changed in the interim: 35 years of demonization, distrust and denial have shaped US discourse regarding the revolution and its heir, the Islamic Republic. Consequently an honest and dispassionate assessment of the revolution's myriad and measurable achievements has proven elusive, if not altogether impossible. Meanwhile, exposition of its shortcomings and unforeseeable consequences (like Iraq's invasion in 1980) has been routinized to the point of exaggeration and exploitation.
We argue that "perpetually casting the revolution as merely a backward embrace of medieval theology and a stubborn rejection of modernization and development does a great disservice to the reality (and messiness) of the Islamic Republic." Moreover, we conclude that "fictionalized representations of the Islamic Republic perform no service to Iranians, who struggle for a more just and equitable public space in their beloved country, and disrespects those who, after deposing a puppet dictator, set about improving the lives of their fellow citizens."

Development metrics and statistics don't alone tell the full story or provide a comprehensive accounting of the consequences of the Iranian Revolution, of course. While women have gained substantial access to education, there are still very real and repressive limitations to their presence and roles in the workplace. For instance, as Faezeh Samanian has written, "Although women are unemployed at a rate of roughly twice that of men, one-third of doctors, 60 percent of civil servants, and 80 percent of teachers in Iran are women, according to the British historian Michael Axworthy." Women in Iran still face an upward battle when attempting to break into the political realm.

Brain drain is also a substantial problem. Early this year, Iran’s Minister of Science, Research and Technology Reza Faraji Dana revealed, “Every year, about 150,000 highly talented people emigrate from Iran, equaling an annual loss of $150 billion to the economy.” Though perhaps an exaggeration fiscally, the point is made. "According to the International Monetary Fund, Iran has the highest brain drain rate in the world, writes Bijan Khajehpour. "An estimated 25% of all Iranians with post-secondary education now live in "developed" countries of the OECD."

Of course, brain drain is often tied to economic issues and the influx of foreign investment into Iran provided a successful nuclear deal is struck would do much to stem, if not reverse, the trend. Same goes for personal and social freedoms; access to information must unrestricted and uncensored, human rights for all upheld, and the judiciary’s reliance on capital punishment abandoned. "As such, the country will need political, economic and social reforms to attract many Iranians to return to their home country," Khajehpour points out, adding, "Reconciling with the Iranian diaspora will be important — not just because of this potential brain gain, but also because of its potential to invest in the country and connect the economy to global technological trends."

Nevertheless, as Tyler and I write:
Besides the damage done to an honest appraisal of Iran's history, a failure to acknowledge the very real achievements of the Islamic Republic - including the way it rendered visible entire segments of the population that had before been scorned and denigrated (the rural poor, the religious classes, etc.) - risks exacerbating the rampant ignorance about the country here in the United States, serving only to further cultivate the damaging Manichean view of Iran so prevalent in our politics and press. 
Moreover, ignoring what the Islamic Republic has done right imperils efforts to create a more promising future for all Iranians - a lesson unlearned and thus doomed to go unheeded. Accurately assessing the fruits of the Iranian Revolution not only respects the value of truth but also the will and determination of the Iranian people to throw off the shackles of autocracy and continue their long revolution.
Read our entire piece over at Truthout or here.


Thursday, February 27, 2014

TRUTHOUT: Fruits of Iran's Revolution

The following article was co-authored with Tyler Cullis and originally published at

Fruits of Iran's Revolution
Thursday, 27 February 2014
By Nima Shirazi and Tyler Cullis, Truthout | News Analysis

Accurately assessing the fruits of the Iranian Revolution is crucial to understanding Iran today.

February 2014 marks the 35th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution - an epochal event whose ultimate significance remains unknown. Regarded as the "last great revolution," one that overturned Iran's political, economic, social and cultural order, Iranians will endlessly assess and debate its aftermath, up to and including the clerical rule that soon followed in its wake. Yet, few will regret the revolution itself. Even among those who most vigorously dissent from the Islamic Republic's rule, the revolution remains a source of intense pride - a living testament to the will and determination of a people to break the chains and assert their independence.

(Photo: Wikimedia)
In the United States, however, the Iranian Revolution has much different meaning. It signifies, first and foremost, the fall of arguably the U.S.’s closest ally in the Middle East — Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah — and the advent of an assertive and revisionist state — the Islamic Republic of Iran — which had little regard for maintaining America’s privileges in the region. Far from sympathizing with Iranians’ yearning to cast off the yoke of dictatorship, the United States saw in the revolution little more than a baffling, chaotic outburst of religious fanaticism — made all the more threatening several months later when revolutionary students seized the American embassy in Tehran following the deposed Shah’s admittance to the United States for medical treatment.

For the past three and half decades, these events - and the political and media reaction to them - have catalyzed Americans' perception of Iran, its government and its people. Describing media coverage of Iran at the time of the hostage crisis, the late Edward Said perceptively noted, "Clichés, caricatures, ignorance, unqualified ethnocentrism and inaccuracy were inordinately evident ... with the result that the distinctive continuities and discontinuities of Iranian revolutionary life never emerged." For example, The New York Times' reporting, according to Said, formed "a collection of attitudes displayed for the benefit of suspicious and frightened readers."

In other words, those in the United States saw events in Iran in 1979 through their own distinctive prism, which was far removed from - and often quite antagonistic to - the very real aspirations and grievances of a revolutionary people. It would be hard to argue that much has changed in the interim: 35 years of demonization, distrust and denial have shaped US discourse regarding the revolution and its heir, the Islamic Republic. Consequently an honest and dispassionate assessment of the revolution's myriad and measurable achievements has proven elusive, if not altogether impossible. Meanwhile, exposition of its shortcomings and unforeseeable consequences (like Iraq's invasion in 1980) has been routinized to the point of exaggeration and exploitation.

Even now, as we pass the revolution's anniversary, the US press privileges and amplifies those Iranian voices that reflect back what Americans have been led to believe about Iran and its revolution. They speak contemptuously of the 1979 upheaval, either regretting its very occurrence or bemoaning the lowly place it has brought Iran in the global order. For the most part, too, their claims are allowed to pass without challenge or substantiation - the prevailing narrative beating out once more the inconvenience of historical fact. Fair appraisal, it seems, proves as rare in 2014 as it was in 1979.

Rewriting History

Two recent cases underscore this phenomenon. In October 2013, Afshin Molavi, a fellow at the New America Foundation and Johns Hopkins' Foreign Policy Initiative, declared that, while Iran's revolution "reordered regional and global geopolitics, and spawned hope, inspiration, joy, terror, destruction, despair and disenchantment .. [t]he one thing it didn't do was improve people's living standards."

Seconding the claim, Iran-born author, Camelia Entekhabifard, wrote of the legacy of the Iranian Revolution in February 2014 in Al-Jazeera English:
"Ayatollah Khomeini promised his followers free electricity and cash from oil revenues. ... Now, poverty, unemployment, inflation and a high cost of living are all what most people, I've spoken to, believe the revolution has brought them."
Then, in a New York Times piece marking the revolution's anniversary on February 11, she doubled-down on her contention: "In an attempt to eliminate what he perceived as Western corruption, Ayatollah Khomeini mismanaged the economy, setting back development and widening the gap between rich and poor - while engaging in a devastating eight-year war with Iraq." (Entekhabifard conveniently thrusts to the side two basic facts that undercut the premise of her argument: first, Iran has been living under US-imposed sanctions since 1979, and second, Iraq was the aggressor during the Iran-Iraq War, as the UN secretary-general pointed out in a report in 1991.)

For both authors, the Iranian revolution - despite whatever promises it may have held - has left Iranians despondent and desperate, worse off than where they started in 1979. But this tale, tall as it is, confounds fact and fiction, ignores historical data on Iranians' living standards, and thus rewrites history. Furthermore, perpetually casting the revolution as merely a backward embrace of medieval theology and a stubborn rejection of modernization and development does a great disservice to the reality (and messiness) of the Islamic Republic and forces us to question the ultimate integrity of the writers themselves.

Decades of Development

It doesn't take long, for instance, to undermine Molavi's claim that the Iranian revolution failed to "improve people's living standards," nor Entekhabifard's contention that the Islamic Republic "setback development." In its 2013 report, for instance, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which measures long-term societal progress in human development around the world, assessed that - with regard to life expectancy, health, education and living standards - "Iran has made considerable progress in human development when measured over the past 32 years." It did this while under constant economic siege and military threat.

HDI trends for the Islamic Republic of Iran since 1980
Not only is the Islamic Republic of Iran considered a location of "High Human Development," according to the UN's Human Development Index (HDI), but "between the years 1980 and 2012, Iran's HDI value increased by 67 per cent," virtually doubling the annual gains of other countries in the same category and more than twice the global average. The UN notes that "from a human development standpoint - during the period 1980-2012, Iran's policy interventions were both significant and appropriate to produce improvements in human development." In other words, Iran's gains are not haphazard luck but, rather, a direct result of specific policies of the Islamic Republic.

This works to undermine the predominant narrative - subtly hinted at in both authors' pieces - that were it not for the shah's illiberal policies at home, which alienated Iranians, he could have followed through on his modernization scheme and left Iran in a much better place than it finds itself today. (This narrative may likewise explain why the media has been virtually silent about the ravages of the Shah's dictatorial rule, the brutality of his CIA- and Mossad-trained secret police force, SAVAK, and the surveillance, corruption and torture that thrived during his reign. Even today, accounts of the shah's Iran border on the hagiographic - his social policies widely praised for the "modern" attitudes that they are said to resemble. While Entekhabifard, for instance, laments what she deems the destruction by the clerical leadership of Iran's pre-revolution "pluralistic society," few recount, as scholars Shahrzad Mojab and Amir Hasspour do, that "during the entire rule of the Pahlavi dynasty, the possession of Kurdish, Turkish or Baluchi publications, gramophone records or even a handwritten poem was proof of 'secessionism' of political prisoners." The benefits of the shah's "pluralism," it seems, were very narrowly targeted.)

In his 1989 study, Social Origins of the Iranian Revolution, Misagh Parsa described the stark living conditions faced by Iran's impoverished citizens pre-1979:
"During the 1960s and 1970s, Iranian society was characterized by housing shortages, land speculation, and considerable social and economic inequality. The government's rushed development policy and its strategy of serving the interests of the upper class and wealthier groups were largely responsible for these problems. ...

"Despite increased spending, the housing shortage remained unalleviated for the working classes and the poor. Part of the reason was that most government investments financed the construction of military and "national" buildings."
Parsa adds, "On the eve of the revolution, as many as 42 percent of the inhabitants of Tehran lived in inadequate housing." Furthermore:
"Whereas 80 percent of the city budget was allocated to provide services for the wealthy inhabitants of northern Tehran, shantytowns lacked running water, electricity, public transportation, garbage collection, health care, education, and other services. The contrast between urban shantytowns and rich high rises was an embarrassment to a regime that had promised the advent of a 'great Civilization.' As shantytowns proliferated, the government declared them illegal. Eventually, in mid-1977, the government sent bulldozers to demolish a number of shantytowns in large cities, including Tehran."
Outside of Tehran and other major cities, the situation was even worse. In the rural provinces, basic services proved absent, literacy rates remained at appalling lows, health care was largely unavailable, and schooling for children was dismal. As Ervand Abrahamian noted in his magisterial study, Iran Between Two Revolutions, an International Labor Office report dated from 1972 called Iran "one of the most inegalitarian societies in the world." Whatever his intentions, then, Iran's self-styled Ataturk proved himself remarkably incapable of, or simply disinterested in, meeting the needs and demands of his people.

On the other hand, the Islamic Republic managed to pull together one of the most impressive rural development schemes in modern history, despite being under savage attack by Western-backed Iraqi forces and economic assault from the world's leading power. In doing so, too, the Islamic Republic triggered a profound cultural revolution that enlisted women in the fight to remake society from the ground up and thus undermined the tethers that had for so long tied them to their religious families – a fact that scholars of Iran's gender politics are beginning to uncover.

We see its effects when we look at the hard data. In the two decades between 1984 and 2004, the poorest 25 percent in rural areas saw their access to basic electricity increase from 37 percent to 94 percent and to piped water from 31 percent to 79 percent, highlighting the substantially increased access to basic services for Iran's rural poor.

Improvements in health care are similarly impressive. During the shah's reign, access to health care was deplorable, with rural populations suffering the most. In addition to a dearth of both hospitals and doctors, Parsa reveals that "infant mortality in rural areas was 120 (per 1,000 live births), one of the highest in the world. ... Malnutrition was prevalent in many parts of the country, and anemia was almost universal."

"The real problem," Parsa concludes, "was the regime's failure to commit sufficient resources to meet society's needs. Instead, resources were spent, or rather wasted, on military buildup" - a fact overlooked in the hype and hysteria over the Islamic Republic's meager outlays to its military apparatus.

Health Status of the Iranian Population Before the 1979 Revolution
(Asghar Rastegar, “Health Policy and Medical Education,”
in Iran After the Revolution: Crisis of an Islamic State, 1995)

Today, however, Iranians live longer and healthier lives than they did under the Shah, having added more than two decades to their average life expectancy (up from 51 years to 73 years). Infant, maternal and neonatal mortality rates have dropped dramatically. For every 100,000 live births in Iran today, only 21 women die from pregnancy-related causes. (The average for other High HDI countries is 47.)

"Poliomyelitis has been reduced to the point of near-eradication and the coverage of immunization for children and pregnant women is very extensive," reports UNICEF. "Access to safe drinking water has been provided for over 90% of Iran's rural and urban population. More than 80% of the population has access to sanitary facilities."

Click to enlarge
The contribution of each component index to Iran’s HDI since 1980
(United Nations Development Programme)

More than 85 percent of Iran's rural and vulnerable populations now have free access to primary health care services through an impressive system of "health houses," which have been described by the World Health Organization as an "incredible masterpiece" and replicated for disadvantaged communities in the Mississippi Delta region.

While commentators - such as Entekhabifard - are quick to point out that Iran still experiences a wide rural-urban gap in income inequality, they fail to note, as economy expert Djavad Salehi-Isfahani has, that since the end of the Iran-Iraq War, "poverty has declined steadily to an enviable level for middle-income developing countries."

Iran's literacy programs also have proven a boon. In 1975, 68 percent of all Iranian adults were illiterate; only 35 percent of women were literate; and literacy rates in Iran's poorest provinces typically hovered around 25 percent. Today, however, literacy is practically universal, thanks to the extensive literacy programs put in place soon after the revolution (none more significant than the Literacy Mobilization Organization, which was an outgrowth of the efforts of leftist students in the period 1979-81). Women and the rural poor shared these gains. That is why, for instance, over 60% of college and university students today in Iran are women, many of them studying in the arts and sciences.

Claims that the Iranian Revolution marked an ideological rejection of modernization are even more difficult to substantiate considering that, as the New Scientist reported in 2010, "scientific output has grown 11 times faster in Iran than the world average, faster than any other country." Moreover, scientific "publications in nuclear engineering grew 250 times faster than the world average - although medical and agricultural research also increased." And, far from being an illiterate and backward ruling elite, Iran's leaders tend, on the whole, to be highly educated: that Iran's Cabinet employs more American Ph.D.s than Barack Obama's White House made for a "fun fact" not long ago.

The Revolution, Continued

Acknowledging these basic facts (of which there are many more) does not, by any means, condone the very real repression that exists in the Islamic Republic, nor the tension in values inherent in the Islamic Republic’s very name. It is perfectly true that Iranians face severe limitations on their ability to vigorously engage in political, social, and cultural life; that, despite the rise in women’s health and education standards, gender inequities remain firmly rooted in the Islamic Republic and only a further transformation in cultural values can replace the deep patriarchy and misogyny that underpins much of the leadership’s attitude towards women; that access to information in Iran is restricted due to government censorship; and that upholding human rights and abandoning the judiciary’s reliance on capital punishment remains critical to improving the Islamic Republic’s reputation both at home and around the world.

But, fictionalized representations of the Islamic Republic perform no service to Iranians, who struggle for a more just and equitable public space in their beloved country, and disrespects those who, after deposing a puppet dictator, set about improving the lives of their fellow citizens. In fact, as discerning scholars have noted, much of the recent activism in Iran - including the Green Movement - is thanks to a broadened middle class, "whose empowerment stems from the developmental push of the Islamic Republic over the past two decades." In other words, the growth of Iran's reform movement can be traced back "in part [to] the modernizing efforts of the post-revolutionary state itself." That is not an analysis that is heard all too much in popular discourse about Iran.

Besides the damage done to an honest appraisal of Iran's history, a failure to acknowledge the very real achievements of the Islamic Republic - including the way it rendered visible entire segments of the population that had before been scorned and denigrated (the rural poor, the religious classes, etc.) - risks exacerbating the rampant ignorance about the country here in the United States, serving only to further cultivate the damaging Manichean view of Iran so prevalent in our politics and press.

Moreover, ignoring what the Islamic Republic has done right imperils efforts to create a more promising future for all Iranians - a lesson unlearned and thus doomed to go unheeded. Accurately assessing the fruits of the Iranian Revolution not only respects the value of truth but also the will and determination of the Iranian people to throw off the shackles of autocracy and continue their long revolution.


Nima Shirazi is editor of the Iran, Iraq and Turkey pages for the online magazine Muftah and publishes foreign policy analysis at

Tyler Cullis is a recent graduate of the Boston University School of Law and has been featured at CNN's Global Public Square, LobeLog and Muftah.

Copyright, Reprinted with permission.