Friday, May 30, 2014

Tehran’s Surrealistic Muralist

"Life Cycle" by Mehdi Ghadyanloo

“Never underestimate the power of colors and how they can bring life to old walls and buildings,” remarks a correspondent for Iran’s PressTV in an April 2012 report on the increasing ubiquity of urban artwork on the streets, walls, and façades of Tehran. While Iranian municipalities have long devoted so-called resources to “urban beautification” projects such as public parks and massive murals promoting patriotism and religious solidarity, the past decade has seen a substantial rise in both the prevalence and popularity of creative street art, both commissioned and independent.

Iranian artists have spent years transforming Tehran’s banal cityscapes of graying concrete and cracking plaster into vibrant and innovative public spaces bursting with color, imagination, and vision through sculpture, painting, graffiti, and tile and metal work. Where there were once mostly looming murals of religious leaders and martyred soldiers, Ajam Media Collective editor Rustin Zarkar writes, “Iranian streets have been increasingly decorated with classical poetry, mosaic patterns, landscapes, and an array of other images with roots in the traditional Iranian arts and experimental urban design.”

Four years ago, while on a trip to Iran, I took a stroll down Enghelab Avenue to visit some bookshops near the University of Tehran. Above the bustling sidewalks and traffic-jammed streets was an unremarkable building – like so many drab, imposing edifices in the capital erected in the middle of last century as part of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s modernization scheme - that nevertheless demanded attention. Huge walls were consumed by a colorful mural quite unlike the usual fare of revolutionary heroes and war memorials seen around town. I took a photo:

(Photo Credit: Nima Shirazi)

This was the work of artist and designer Mehdi Ghadyanloo, whose surrealistic murals combine elements of René Magritte, Giorgio de Chirico, M.C. Escher, Salvador Dalí, and many others. Ghadyanloo, who is only 33 years old, has been tripping out Tehran’s empty walls since 2006 as part of the city’s beautification project – promoted heavily for the past eight years by the managing director of the Tehran Beautification Organization, Seyed Mohammad Javad Shooshtari. To date, it is said that Ghadyanloo, who studied art and drawing in college and acquired a Master’s degree in animation, has produced over 100 murals. He even teaches a course on mural art at Tehran’s Soodeh University.

“My work in animation brought me to storytelling and exposed me to surreal short animations which really inspire the visual language which I use in my large scale urban murals today,” Ghadyanloo explained last year in an interview with the Young Persian Artists blog. He added:
The city is an architectural mishmash with buildings often having only one façade and the other three just left blank and grey. This doesn’t make for a beautiful city but it is a great environment for mural work. I think the municipality really felt the need to bring some cohesion or at least colour to the often confused and smog-smeared architectural face of the city.
Lately, Ghadyanloo’s amazing work has been gaining wider attention in the American press. Just this week, the Huffington Post described his whimsical images as “exaggerated dream sequences,” depicting “gravity-defying figures and portholes to other dimensions, all from altered perspectives that meld sky and structure.”

Though his large-scale municipal work is funded by the city of Tehran, Ghadyanloo identifies with the independent street art scene in Iran. He told HuffPost, “Graffiti is illegal here in Iran, like in many other countries, so graffiti artists in Tehran work at nights. We have very good underground street artist [network].”

Check out some of his work below and at the links above:




"Emdad Khodro"

"Childhood Dreams"

"Folded Walls"

Below is a short video featuring some of Ghadyanloo’s artwork:

Video created by Az Kolexion ‘E London (AKL)


Originally posted at Muftah.


Friday, May 23, 2014

Iran’s Latest Drone Drops Life Preservers, Not Bombs

Earlier this month, during an exhibition at the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Forces’ Central Command in Tehran on May 11, Iranian military officials unveiled a domestically-produced reverse-engineered version of a sophisticated unmanned aerial vehicle (UVA), Lockheed Martin’s RQ-170 Sentinel stealth drone. The Iranian version comes about two-and-a-half years after one of the CIA’s RQ-170s – dispatched from a U.S. military base in Afghanistan – was downed and captured by Iran during a surveillance mission over the Iranian city of Kashmar, located 140 miles from the Afghan border. The IRGC subsequently extracted and decoded the video data stored by the aircraft and claims it brought down another American drone in February 2013.

According to an Iranian press report, the exposition “put on display the achievements of the IRGC Aerospace Forces in the design and development of drones, radars and defense systems as well as anti-ship, ballistic and anti-shield missile systems.” It also showcased other Iranian-made drones, such as the Shahed-129 and Shahed-125. Since 2010, Iran has periodically unveiled indigenously-manufactured models of drone aircraft capable of carrying out both “reconnaissance missions” and “combat operations.”

Just days later, however, another type of drone – one produced not by the IRGC, but rather a private Iranian innovative tech company called RTS Lab – was revealed by VICE’s Motherboard website. This drone isn’t designed to spy on foreign countries or drop bombs; instead, it saves lives. Motherboard reports:
We’ve seen how drones can be a crucial asset to search and rescue operations, but Iran’s RTS Lab has taken an entirely new angle. RTS’s Pars drone carries a payload of life preservers that can be delivered to a drowning swimmer far faster than a lifeguard. As we saw in testing in the Caspian Sea, the drone can also work at night, using bright lights, thermal sensors, and a built-in camera to stream video to rescuers on shore.
“At the moment, many people talk about ‘bad drones’ and drones that are spying and killing people. But I think everything has a good side and a bad side,” says RTS director Amin Rigi. “And they should see the good side that are drones that can save lives.”

Tehran-based RTS Labs was founded in 2010 by university students interested in competitive robotics, but is now an well-known technology firm with international contracts.

“We don’t believe in producing missiles and stuff will one day be used for destruction and killing people. We try our best to save people and build devices that can help,” Rigi says, citing his religious faith as inspiration, namely the Qur’anic verse (5:32), which declares that “whoever takes a life… it is as if he has killed all mankind; however, if anyone saves a life, it is as if he saved all mankind.”

Check out this awesome video, produced by Motherboard on location in Iran, to see the future of lifeguarding:


Originally posted at Muftah.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Pope, Palestine, and 'Price Tag' Profanity

Hate message reading, "Price tag, King David is for the Jews, Jesus is garbage" spray-painted on a Jerusalem church, May 9, 2014. (Photo credit: AFP)

Jodi Rudoren and Isabel Kershner had a longish piece about the Pope’s upcoming visit to Palestine (via Jordan) and then day trip in Israel: “Seeking Balance on Mideast Visit, Pope Pleases Few.”

The piece tries to establish that, with his planned itinerary, his poor Popiness can’t please everyone – or maybe even anyone – but reveals some things that are purposefully downplayed by the Grey Lady’s loyal lackeys.

Take this:
His Mass scheduled for Monday evening on Mount Zion, believed to be the site of both Jesus’ last supper and the tomb of King David, has ignited protests by religious Jews and drawn anti-Christian graffiti.
The pope’s refusal of bulletproof vehicles has also created some complications: Vatican officials said Francis had insisted on open-top cars to connect with the public, but the Israeli authorities responded by expanding the security perimeter, which will make it harder for people to glimpse the pontiff. And his short sojourn — the last two popes made eight- and seven-day trips — left the Galilee, home to many Christians and to Christian historic sites like Nazareth, off the itinerary.
While the link is there from one paragraph to the next, the truth is swept under the rug a bit. The reason why “Israeli authorities” have expanded “the security perimeter” has nothing to do with potential violence from Palestinians; rather, the threats of violence come solely from Israeli Jews.

Palestinians voice concern and disappointment with certain aspects of the trip; Omar Barghouti is frustrated that Pope Francis is to lay a wreath at Herzl’s grave, calling it "a nauseating, offensive act of complicity that Palestinian civil society cannot but condemn."

This sentence, however, reveals the sophomoric and petulant (or merely cruel?) nature of Zionism:
The pope’s decision to visit Herzl’s grave, 110 years after Pope Pius X harshly rejected Herzl’s appeal for support, is, for Israelis, a significant signal to offset his embrace of Palestine as a state.
And again, see who is angriest (and why) and who poses a potential threat to the Pontiff:
Monday’s Mass at Mount Zion has escalated a fight over the holy site. Christians, who have not been allowed to hold formal prayer services there other than a few times a year, want the last-supper room opened for liturgy daily from 6 to 8 a.m. Despite Israel’s insistence that no change in the regulations will be discussed during the pope’s visit, religious Jews plan to denounce such a change with a march Thursday night.
After a recent spate of hate crimes, the Israeli police on Wednesday issued restraining orders requiring that several right-wing Jewish activists stay away from the pope and Jerusalem’s Old City during the visit.
A recent Ha'aretz report further notes how Christian officials are increasingly concerned about the Pope's visit and the Christian community in Israel in general and includes a striking anecdote about Israeli police removing a welcome sign for the Pope from outside a Catholic Church and then citing some bogus reason for doing so. Church officials "question[ed] the fact that the police, instead of taking action against the extremists who paint hate slogans on mosques and churches, choose to remove a sign with a positive message that welcomes the pope in three languages."

"We hope the police will act with the same determination to prevent the growing incitement and violence against Christians," they said.

Hateful graffiti, care of right-wing Israelis, continues to appear on Christian churches around Israel and Palestine in advance of the Pope's high-profile visit.

Meanwhile, The ADL's outgoing leader Abe Foxman has written a lengthy op-ed decrying these "price tag" attacks and calling for Israeli (and, more generally, Jewish) vigilance again them. There's must to dissect in the piece, but his conclusion betrays the outrage: "It is not just a matter of protecting the victims of assaults and preventing vandalism of religious sites sacred to Christians and Muslims; it is a matter of living up to the ideals of the democratic and Jewish soul of the State of Israel."

What Foxman (and other like-minded Zionists) refuse to ever examine or admit is the sad fact that the insistence that a state of human beings, which should be governed by laws that protect equality and guarantee justice to all, have a "Jewish soul" - an inherently exclusivist and discriminatory concept, especially considering the indigenous people of that land are do not identify as Jewish - is precisely the impetus for price tag attacks in the first place. It is the very premise of Zionism, and that premise is inherently and explicitly anathema to equality and democracy.

This aspiration was expressly articulated by David Ben-Gurion in a 1937 letter: "What we want is not that the country be united and whole, but that the united and whole country be Jewish."

Without first dismantling this mindset, Foxman and his ilk will do nothing to stop the vitriol or the violence. Meanwhile, the non-Jewish communities and populations under Israeli authority from the river to the sea - Palestinians, Africans, migrant workers and refugees - will continue to pay the price.

Meanwhile, here’s some of what the Pope will be doing in Palestine:
[C]hildren from Bethlehem’s refugee camps will sing him two songs during a 15-minute stop at a community center, where organizers were told the pope would have time to shake only three hands.
“I negotiated with them for 15 minutes; they spoke about 10 minutes,” said Mohammed K. Lahham, a Palestinian lawmaker who also met Popes Benedict and John Paul II, and who as a boy of 9 was among the throngs greeting Pope Paul VI in Manger Square. “Frankly, even if he comes just for seconds and leaves, it’s important. It’s an S.M.S. message for the whole world.”
Isn’t it curious as to why the more diverse and downtrodden are welcoming his visit, while the vitriolic, insular, garrisoned colonizers are so enraged?

Perhaps it's because, when traveling through the Holy Land, Pope Francis will surely remember the supposed words of his savior and bless the meek, those who hunger and thirst after justice, and those who are persecuted for justice's sake. It's pretty clear that the nuclear-armed settler state isn't the one eventually inheriting the earth (annexation and occupation isn't the same thing) and there is certainly no confusing them with the peacemakers, who, according to the region's most famous son, shall be called the children of god.


A shorter version of this post was published at Mondoweiss on May 25, 2014.


Friday, May 16, 2014

Iranian Students Continue to Face Discrimination from U.S. Sanctions

Iranian students, studying in the United States and reliant on Bank of America debit cards and ATMs for access to their foreign bank accounts, have recently had their assets frozen. According to Ryan Costello and Jamal Abdi of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), “Due to a sudden, unnecessary and — most of all – discriminatory change in bank policy, Iranians and Iranian Americans across the country suddenly try to use their debit cards to make a purchase or withdraw money from an ATM, only to find that their accounts have been frozen effective immediately.” Furthermore, “When they try to get answers from the bank, they are often subject to a Kafkaesque bureaucratic run-around before a person with proper clearance is found, at which point the process begins anew.”

The arbitrary, opaque, and ultimately discriminatory nature of many of the United States’ sanctions provisions on Iranian institutions and Iranians themselves is nothing new. In 2012, consumers of Iranian ancestry – real or perceived – were subject to ethnic profiling and explicitly prevented from purchasing products from Apple retailers across the country. Restrictions on Apple sales to customers planning to bring these products to Iran were only lifted last August.

Earlier this year, the online education company Coursera ceased offering courses to Iranians due to the same “export control regulations” imposed on businesses by the U.S. government, proscribing services to sanctioned jurisdictions. The U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the agency that implements economic sanctions, subsequently issued a regulatory exemption known as General License G, designed to ease academic exchanges between Iran and the United States, including “the provision of scholarships to Iranian students, Iranian participation in online courses, and Iranian participation in university entrance and professional certification examinations,” according to sanctions expert Erich C. Ferrari.

Nevertheless, even with some sanctions relief resulting from the multilateral nuclear accord signed by Iran and six world powers last year, myriad problems remain. As Ferrari points out, U.S. law still “prohibits the debiting or crediting of an Iranian account, therefore all transactions must be routed through foreign financial institutions. The problem is that both domestic and foreign financial institutions have been skittish about processing any Iran-related transactions, even when they are clearly authorized by OFAC.” He notes that even banks who have express authorization from the U.S. government to conduct business with Iranian banks are still hesitant to do so.

“Some banks are willing to play a part here. But not all of them. There are a lot of big banks that have been subject to fines for engaging in transactions that were in violation of U.S. sanctions that aren’t willing to do anything – even humanitarian,” a U.S. official recently told Reuters. The victims of such policies continue to be the Iranian people, whether suffering from shortages of medical supplies at home or, in these recent cases, having their bank accounts frozen abroad.

Costello and Abdi explain:
The justification for this discriminatory and damaging policy lies in an over enforcement of U.S. sanctions law. Under extensive financial sanctions that have cut off Iran’s financial sector from the United States, U.S. banks cannot provide any services or permit accounts from being accessed within Iran. Many Iranians and Iranian Americans know these restrictions and are careful to ensure that they do not access their accounts when visiting Iran.
Nevertheless, Bank of America has employed a scorched earth approach to ensuring sanctions compliance: freezing domestic accounts with little to no warning for weeks at a time until they obtain additional documentation. These freezes are simply not necessary under U.S. sanctions law and solely rely on the legally questionable and ethically problematic justification of national origin. By contrast, many other banks simply request the documents and allow their customers to continue to access their accounts from the U.S. while they review and assess the risk of the customer running afoul of financial sanctions.

Meanwhile, over the past year, European sanctions imposed on Iranian banks and businesses have been collapsing in courts, due to their “irrational” and “arbitrary” implementation and reliance on secret evidence. In September 2013, a European Union court quashed sanction on seven Iranian companies, including four banks, rejecting arguments that they were acting as front companies to bypass the punitive measures,” according to the New York Times. Earlier that year, in June 2013, British sanctions imposed on Iran’s largest private bank, Bank Mellat, since 2009 were similarly annulled by the UK Supreme Court. In February 2014, Bank Mellat filed a $4 billion lawsuit against the British government for damages and compensation.

Costello and Abdi aptly conclude:
While the U.S. and Iran continue to try to resolve their many differences, action must be taken prevent the fallout of these disputes from disrupting the peaceful lives of citizens in each country. Bank of America has a clear role to play in this effort, and should immediately halt its discriminatory account freezes and undertake a thorough review of its sanctions compliance policy to ensure that these practices do not continue. The innocent customers that Bank of America has harmed deserve, at least, to know that their policy has changed and that they won’t have to suffer through this discrimination again.

Originally posted at Muftah.


Friday, May 9, 2014

The Beautiful Game and Bad Ass Jerseys:
Iran’s Team Melli Prepares for the 2014 World Cup

As four days of “fruitful” and “useful” expert-level talks between Iran and the six world powers known collectively as the P5+1 (Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany) wrap up in New York City, and the next round of ministerial negotiations continue in Vienna next week, all Iranian eyes are trained intently on this summer’s international battle of grit, determination, and national pride. No, not the drafting of a final, comprehensive multilateral agreement intended to finally end the decades-long standoff over Iran’s nuclear program; rather, all attention has turned to the quadrennial FIFA World Cup, held this June and July in Brazil.

Iran’s national team, Team Melli, is finally returning to the prestigious competition after failing to qualifying for the 2010 tournament, and with high hopes. Team Melli is currently ranked 37 in the world and will face Argentina (7), Bosnia-Herzegovina (25), and Nigeria (44) in the round-robin group stage. Midfielder Ashkan Dejagah, who plays for Fulham in the English Premiership, recently predicted in the Iranian press that Team Melli will defeat Nigeria and Bosnia to advance past the first round alongside group favorite Argentina.

“We can go there and just play. If we get into the next round, it’ll be the first time for Iran,” Dejagah said. “Argentina will go through as group winners, but against Nigeria and Bosnia we have a chance. Why not? We have a talented team.”

Coached by the renowned Portuguese manager Carlos Queiroz, Team Melli’s 28-man squad will most likely include 27-year-old California-born Steven “Mehrdad” Beitashour, a former Major League Soccer All-Star who is now a defender for the Vancouver Whitecaps. ”It’s the biggest stage and the best players [are] playing there. As a kid you dreamt about it,” Beitashour told the Los Angeles Times. “So having an opportunity to potentially be there, it’s just great.” The final lineup will be announced June 2nd.

When Beitashour, who hadn’t visited Iran in over two decades, began practicing with the team last year, any semblance of political tension quickly disappeared. “Within five, 10 minutes I felt like they were my brothers,” he said. “It’s the Iranian culture to be that welcoming.”

Though he is still struggling with the language, Beitashour feels a deep connection to Iran, its people and customs. ”The culture is still part of you,” he explained. “You know your parents were born there. So I definitely feel like I’ve got strong ties.”

Team Melli’s history in the World Cup is a brief and unimpressive one; in only three appearances, the Iranians have never advanced to the second round. Despite hailing from a soccer-crazed country and boasting a number of international stars, some analysts are expecting a tough road ahead for Iran to qualify past the knockout round.

Nevertheless, even with Iran poised to win its 11th Asian Football Confederation title this weekend, what perhaps matters most right now is what Team Melli will be wearing on the Brazilian pitch. This week, Sports Illustrated unveiled the official jerseys for all 32 teams. As anticipated (and reported on back in January by Muftah‘s Hanif Zarrabi-Kashani), Iran’s uniforms – red with green accents for away, white with red and green trim for home - both “feature a giant silhouette of an Asiatic cheetah, an endangered species found only in Iran.”

While Iran is not the only country to sport wild animals on its jerseys, SI notes, “The elephants and condors of other nations have nothing on the cheetah.”

That may be true aesthetically. But with just over a month to go before the kick off in Brazil, Team Melli’s fans are hoping their beloved squad’s chances of survival are not quite as critically endangered.

To learn more about Team Melli, its history and players, check out this rather good 12-minute video posted on FIFA’s online profile of Iran’s national team.


Originally posted at Muftah.



May 21, 2014 - Ishaan Tharoor of The Washington Post has revealed (and rated) each of the 32 national team slogans for countries heading to the World Cup next month.

Here's what he said about Iran's, "Honor of Persia":

Official slogan: "Honor Of Persia"
WorldViews grade: B+
Comments: Short and simple, the Iranian slogan does the trick. The Islamic republic's team achieves the rare feat of uniting both Iranians at home and in the diaspora, where many are staunchly opposed to the mullahs in charge in Tehran. Ahead of the World Cup, some of the Iranian squad have joined Twitter, even though the social media site is technically unavailable in their home country.
Suggested fix: “Follow us on Twitter, if you can.”


June 6, 2014 - It appears that the folks over at Mashable don't much like Team Melli's new jerseys. Having ranked all the competing teams' uniforms, and despite what they call a "a cool in-lay" of the Asiatic cheetah, Iran comes in last place. Weak, Mashable, weak.


Friday, May 2, 2014

Pink Floyd to the Rolling Stones: Don’t Be Another Brick in Israel’s Apartheid Wall

In response to the recent confirmation that the Rolling Stones will play a concert in June at Israel’s Ramat Gan Stadium, Roger Waters and Nick Mason – founding members of the legendary British band Pink Floyd, have written an open letter to their fellow rockers asking them to cancel the gig.

Published Thursday May 1 in Salon, Waters and Mason call upon the Rolling Stones to respect the Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) – an international rights-based campaign that demands an end to Israeli occupation and colonization of all land seized in 1967 and the dismantling of the Separation Wall, which deliberately annexes Palestinian land, the recognition of full and fundamental equal rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel and the cessation of all discriminatory practices, and the acknowledgement and implementation of the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees to their homes.

The statement reads, in part:
With the recent news that The Rolling Stones will be playing their first-ever concert in Israel, and at what is a critical time in the global struggle for Palestinian freedom and equal rights, we, the two surviving founders of Pink Floyd, have united in support of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS), a growing, nonviolent global human rights movement initiated by Palestinian civil society in 2005 to end Israel’s occupation, racial discrimination and denial of basic Palestinian rights.
So, to the bands that intend to play Israel in 2014, we urge you to reconsider. Playing Israel now is the moral equivalent of playing Sun City at the height of South African apartheid; regardless of your intentions, crossing the picket line provides propaganda that the Israeli government will use in its attempts to whitewash the policies of its unjust and racist regime.
We are nearing the tipping point in global awareness that the denial of Palestinian rights has had a devastating impact on generations of people, and that they need our support now more than ever. Consequently, we encourage you, fellow artists, to ask yourselves what you would do if forced to live under military rule and discriminatory laws for decades. If the answer is that you would resist until justice prevailed, we ask that you champion BDS as a nonviolent, collective means of securing a better future for all. If you wouldn’t play Sun City, back in the day, as you, the Rolling Stones did not, then don’t play Tel Aviv until such time as freedom reigns for all and equal rights is the law of the land.
Waters has long been an outspoken advocate of BDS. Last summer, he published a letter addressed to his “Colleagues in Rock and Roll,” urging them join him in endorsing “a cultural boycott on Israel” and “proclaiming our rejection of Apartheid in Israel and occupied Palestine, by pledging not to perform or exhibit in Israel or accept any award or funding from any institution linked to the government of Israel.”

Numerous intellectuals, artists, writers, and musicians – including Elvis Costello, Annie Lennox, Carlos Santana, the Pixies, and Massive Attack – have already heeded the academic and cultural boycott of Israel. Nevertheless, many musicians, like Elton John, Metallica, Leonard Cohen, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Paul McCartney, have ignored the call in recent years.

The Rolling Stones have yet to respond to Rogers and Mason’s letter.


Originally posted at Muftah.