Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sanctions and research on cord blood cells

Economic and trade sanctions are inhuman and undermine the basic rights of nations. Particularly when they hinder the advancement of science and spreading of knowledge, sanctions counter human rights. Science belongs to all, research and efforts to understand the secrets of life and to promote the frontiers of knowledge are the fundamental rights of all nations.

Iran has been facing sanctions now for several years. In fact, we have been practically always under one form or another of sanctions and economic pressures for the past thirty years.
Inspite of those hurdles Iran has experienced unprecedented economic, scientific and technological advances in the past years. The growth in ISI published articles and citations from Iranin research has been acknowledged worldwide. Only recently the ultraconservative government in power has enacted policies which are slowing the country's pace .

A Ph.D. student of mine had purchased a reagent she needed for her cell culture work on her thesis. The reagent was not high-tech or anything sensitive of that nature. I do not know whether anyone is interested, but she is working on a very novel topic ie; to study the effect of certain neurotransmitters on cord blood cells, which are now highly regarded in transplantation studies. She had ordered the reagent from a local company who dealt with an American producer on the other side. When she had received the reagent she found that the production label and lot number did not match with the company information provided.

She had sent an email to the customer services of the corporation asking them to verify the authenticity of the product and the reason for the discrepancy. The person in charge of the customer had replied that since Iran was under sanctions he could not reply. Surprised and shocked my student had asked him again " But I already have your product! I only need some product verification, what does this have to do with sanctions!" The customer service officer had provided the same answer again.

We returned the reagent to the company and ordered another lot from another American corporation through a local dealer, we also had the option of several European companies as well. They provided the reagent and all necessary technical assistance without any hesitation. We had lost a couple weeks and some dollars but the research will continue. Sanctions cannot prevent a nation from advancing. They might slow down our pace of growth but instead we have learned how to persevere and resist in difficult circumstances .

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Clinton and Obama, The Lost Anima

Amidst a very busy week that I had due to endless ceremonies and activities for Earth Day celebrations in the City Council and with the NGOs, I've had a glimpse of BBC and English Aljazeera every night.

I was lucky to see parts of the recent morning debate of Senators Clinton and Obama and particularly that suspicious question dealing with Iran. They were asked :"what would you do if Iran nuked Israel?". The intentional inclusion of such a question in the debate was an outright attempt to create a delusion for the audience, inferring that Iran has nuclear warfare capability (which American security reports have denied), and that they might employ it against Israel.

More important however, was the approach that each of the two Senators took in their responses. Clinton, trying to look very stern, went too far in trying to convey a sense of power using the phrase "... we will attack Iran and obliterate it". Obama took a different approach, while also responding forcefully, Obama said that he did not find the employment of such terms as obliterate useful and said he thought that the correct choice of words was important, he also said that he would respond forcefully.

Thinking about the feminine archetypes which I believe are needed in the management of global affairs, I had come across a clear example. On the basis of Jungian psychoanalysis, I have written and spoken about the anima ( the feminine archetypes such as compassion and love) and the animus ( masculine archetypes such as strength, mathematical order, and control)and about the need for a balance in these archetypes not only within individuals but also at the level of global decision making. I believe that in the current world order the anima has very little influence and say.

When I heard Hillary talk, I felt she had so strongly denied her anima to remain in the race. She had mistaken ruthless revenge for firmness and strength. Does Clinton for one moment think that she can obliterate a 70 million nation like Iran? She has not learned her lessons.

Obama had responded with a thoughtful ,balanced and more rational approach. Here we have the case of a man who is capable of displaying some anima in his words and a woman who denies her womanhood to gain power.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Yazd, The Desert City

I was invited to speak at several election rallies in Yazd, a city in central Iran , located near the desert. The people of Yazd are known for their sincerity, piety and hardworking qualities. The beautiful mud and brick structures with the typical wind mills that you can even see in Dubai are very environmentally friendly.

These wind mills create a natural air conditioning system which along with the insulation that the mud and brick provides makes the interior of these buildings very cool while outside temperatures rise above 45 degrees Celsius during the summer days. They even construct the airways in their buildings so that the air passes over the underground water canals or the qanat making it humid as well. All this with no electricity consumption, no fossil fuel or power plant, no green house gases, only a result of human wit ie; correct designing and construction methods. This is where we see the interplay of traditional knowledge with modern scientific advancements.

These environmentally-friendly structures are seen in the traditional sections of Yazd. Many tourists now come to Yazd to visit the various attractions, art museums, traditional baths transformed into restaurants and many other sites.

Campaigning for the runoff elections have begun.Mr Olia who was a reformist and had served in several government offices during the previous government had won the first vote but elections were taken to the second round. Yesterday, after meeting with the Friday Prayers leader Ayatollah Sadoughi who was previously a deputy to President Khatami, we attended a session with local NGOs who were weary of the restrictions that the government had created for them. I spoke about the importance of the civil society in the promotion of democratic values.

The next rally was in Yazd Azad University a large auditorium had been allocated and many posters were distributed in the campus inviting students to attend my speech. I think over 500 students had attended. I spoke about the role of the student movement in the achievement of the goals of the Islamic Revolution and how important it was that they support the reform movement to proceed in its objectives in strengthening the democratic aspects of the political system.

I received 127 questions, some were presented orally but mostly in written. I answered several questions but time was running short, I promised them I would respond through my Persian blog. I was interviewed by some local reporters and many students were asking for my autograph, they were very anxious to talk to me. We attend two other rallies , one with the reformist coalition headquarters and the second in a large mosque where many people had gathered. I spoke about the importance of voting and taking part in the political processes of the country , I spoke about the Islamic democracy that the revolution had brought about and our role in its sustained development. We arrived in Tehran at 9 pm it was a very long day.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Democracy can go along with religion

I have just returned back from Geneva. The workshop sessions worked out well. In addition to the opening session, which began at 9 sharp, there were three panels; the first: Religion and the State in the Islamic World and the West, the second dealing with democracy , secularism and religion . The third panel dealt with the conditions and rights of religious minorities.

I had to moderate the second panel in which Lionel Jospin the former Prime Minister of France, Anne Grung a lecturer for Oslo University, Dr. Khoshroo the former Deputy Foreign Minister of Iran and Edibe Sozen from the AK party in Turkey also spoke.

The moderator before me, was very strict in regulating the time, thereby causing Mr. Khatami to sarcastically ask the moderators not to use a "militaristic" approach in their dealings with the panelists. So, when I took up the panel, I promised I would use more compassion in my approach!

Monsieur Jospin took more than the 10 minutes designated for him but I refrained from interrupting him while the other three speakers observed the time limit and at the end I thanked them for not abusing my compassion! Many interventions were also made. Many matters were debated, but I think one of the most important issues that were agreed upon was the understanding that secularism should not be considered as a precondition for democracy , but that even in religious contexts, democracy should be promoted and emphasized.

An Algerian born young woman who was a European citizen and leader of the Islam and Europe Program at the Center for European Studies talked about the concerns of Muslim Europeans and their identity crisis and the citizenship rights of Muslims in Europe. I brought up the point that democracy at the national and international level currently faces two deficits. On the one hand the ethical crisis is plaguing our political systems and on the other hand we lack compassion and love in our decision making processes which is taking us to the verge of confrontation and war.

The final statement of the workshop read among other phrases :religion and politics support each other in their common aim to improve the quality of human life, interfaith dialogue and education for mutual understanding can reduce fear and tensions, promotes religious minorities' rights and expand democracy. The statement also called upon religious and political leaders to be guided by moral and ethical values in the exercise of their leadership and to promote gender equity and overcome those traditional practices that inhibit its achievement .

The full text of the Statement will hopefully be available on the Internet soon. The session finished after 7pm and we convened two meetings for organizing two other events. I tried to practice my French talking with Mr. Jospin and some other delegates. They encouraged me, but I feel I have forgotten so much and I need to practice but when to find the time...

Monday, April 14, 2008

Geneva Workshop on Religion and Politics

I am now in Geneva. I arrived in the afternoon after losing a connection from Amsterdam to Geneva due to the delay that we had in Tehran. It took me more than 12 hours to get here. I am attending an international workshop on Religion and Politics held jointly by the International Institute for Dialogue Among Civilizations, The Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights and The Club of Madrid. That is the Center led by President Khatami, the Oslo Center led by Prime Minister Bondevik (Norway ) and the Club of former world leaders.

This is an initiative aimed at understanding the interplay between religion and politics in the West and Islamic societies. Issues dealing with secularism and democracy, political Islam, the importance of appreciating diversity will be raised tommorow, during the four sessions we will have.

We had an introductory session tonight and President Khatami and Mr Bondevik spoke while others had the chance to introduce themselves, Mr. Jospin the former French Prime Minister as well as the former Bosnian Prime Minister, many academicians and scholars and religious leaders were also there. I think we will have a unique opportunity tommorow to listen to some interesting views on these issues.

I have been asked to moderate the second panel on religion and democracy. This seems to be the "crunch issue", referring to the term used to underscore the major contentious issues in international negotiations. Can religion and democracy come to terms ? Can the Islamic state come to undertake the basic provisions of political freedoms, civil liberties and at the same time ensure an ethical and balance approach in governance? Well we have to wait until tommorow to see what is going to be said.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Negotiations with the US

Etemad a daily newspaper of the reformist camp published an interview last week with John Limbert one of the political officers of the American Embassy who was held hostage by the revolutionary students in 1979 a few months after the Islamic Revolution. Limbert stressed that he believed relations between the two countries were unhealthy after the 1953 Coup d'etat against the nationalist priminister Dr. Mohammad Mosadegh.

He said he believed that in addition to the foreign factor there were other elements that provided support for the Shah's dictatorial regime but circumstances were such that everyone thought the regime relied only on the US for its existence. He pointed to a reality and an image and said that in the takeover of the American embassy the Iranians saw the image. He acknowledged that granting entrance to the US for the deposed Shah was a strategic mistake.

Paul Newsom a former deputy Secretary of State also had mentioned the fact that he and even President Carter initially opposed the idea but gave in to the pressures by David Rockefeller and Henry Kissinger (More about this at New York Times).

Limbert regrets the fact that relations between the two countries have been in a deadlock and attempts to improve them were always thwarted by parties who do not want to see this happening.He said he believed there were many reasons for the two countries to work together on the basis of their mutual interests.

I think this was a noteworthy interview and being published by a reformist newspaper I think it is an indication of the sensitive times we have ahead of us. Inspite of the harsh rhetoric that the neoconservative administration is using against Iran , I think there are many people within the system who believe in changing the approach. The neocons are not ready to relinquish their arrogant tone and policy vis a vis Iran. Bilateral negotiations for the future of Iraq, cooperation on issues like terrorism and narcotics , increased exchanges at the non governmental level are issues that should be promoted.

Constant threats and pressure for sanctions and regime change and adopting 75 million dollar bills to weaken Iran are futile tactics that only serve to increase security pressures leading to more difficult times for the civil society, independent social and political activists and independent media. In short it serves as a major impediment for democracy in Iran.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Working with the civil society

Everybody is back to work now after the long holidays. The felicitations however are still going on. I sometimes wonder how many holidays we have in Iran and how long it takes afterwards to get back on track. We usually visit the family and friends and people we honor during these days .

We visited President Khatami on Wednesday and, along with Tehran city council members ,the Supreme Leader Khamenei on Sunday. Aside from these courtesy calls, I found some time to complete some of my unfinished work.

We have had two official Council sessions this week and today we completed a bill defining the procedures for close collaboration of the Council with NGOs . This bill provides grounds for the empowerment of NGOs and their integration in urban management processes. Part of the text reads: NGOs in Tehran are invited to take part in the decision making processes,to assist in the implementation of projects and to provide consultation and expertise for the proper management of city affairs. In addition NGOs may take part in regulation and oversight which is the most contentious issue that the council faces in its mandate. I spoke about the importance of providing opportunities for NGOs to take part urban management issues and I explained our successful experiences in working with NGOs in the Environment Committee in the council. I think this is an important step forward for the civil society.

During the Reform period under President Khatami the civil society in Iran began to flourish and NGOs grew in number as well as in strength and capabilities. The current Principalist and populist government has different priorities and they have not provided adequate support for non-governmental activites which are mostly critical of governmental policy.