Thursday, March 28, 2013

Neighboring Pakistan and US Drones

Pakistan is a neighboring Muslim country with a population of over 176 million. I have visited Karachi for two weeks in 1994 during a joint training course on immuno-chemistry as a course requirement for  PhD students of immunology. We were hosted by the Karachi University faculty led by the late Professor Zafar Zaidi and we enjoyed their kindness and hospitality. The attire and customs observed by the faculty and students indicated their high esteem for their national heritage and culture.
 Karachi is a over populated port, quite modern and advanced in some quarters but most of the city was marked by under development and poverty. Dr. Zaidi was quite concerned for our security due to the activities of violent Salafi groups like the Sepahe Sahabe and he asked us to use the University van allocated to our group for transportation. One day we devised an escape plan and went to the traditional bazaar to get a taste of the local culture and atmosphere. On the way back we took a minibus which was very noisy and overcrowded  and gave us a close up to life in Karachi.
We enjoyed the stay and the university held a graduation ceremony for us at the end of the course. The presence of an American air force base in Karachi and the strong control of American politics was quite evident, in spite of the democratic and Islamic aspirations of the educated elite of the country. Now 18 years later, Pakistan has been through very difficult turmoils and relentless violence continues to shake the country. This statistical visualization of US drone attacks made available by the Huffington Post, is the most evident visualization of how American forces  have plowed Pakistan territory  and how civilians and children have been massacred silently all these years.

The visualization, seen below, tracks the victims of the strikes using data from the Bureau for Investigative Journalism, at least 3105 casualties 175 of which were children.
Looking at the interactive graphs I was thinking is this one of the benefits / advantages of being an ally of the United States of America for all these years and harboring their armed forces and protecting their interests??

Monday, March 25, 2013

Iran, Iraq and an Anniversary Not to be Celebrated


Once in a while we hear strong words against Iran and the so called threat of " Iranian nuclear capability". While the nuclear arsenal is a explicit uncontested right for certain members of the international community, the potential thought of such capability for others such as Iran, constitutes an outright threat. Now, for several years, in spite of the lack of any evidence, the IAEA refrains from clearing the Iranian dossier on the pretext that Iranians have to somehow convince the international community (ie Western Powers) that they do not have a military agenda for their nuclear program.  Western powers on the other hand, have set on a course of paralyzing sanctions against the nation, purportedly to convince Iran to stop its nuclear activity. But as many analysts believe, sanctions are devised  in order to weaken the economy and break the nation's resilience in face of decades of pressures against the Islamic revolution and ultimately facilitate the regime change that American neocons have aspired for so long. In spite of hardships and heavy criticism against the government, the Iranians feel that pressures against the peaceful nuclear program are unjustified. Iranians are actually facing two fronts. They are facing an internal struggle for reform on one hand and an unjust and arrogant Western entity on the other.
Even as American militarism has faced heavy casualties and defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan, causing massive humanitarian disasters and the deaths of millions of civilians during the past decade, the world sees no sign of relent or repent .
The National Catholic Reporter makes a point of this fact:” Many believed then, and the world knows now, that the purported government justification for bombing and occupying Iraq were based on lies and deceit. Yet 10 years later, no senior government or military leader who ordered, directed and carried out this blatantly immoral and illegal invasion and occupation has been held accountable. No apology has been made, no public act of repentance or contrition has ever been offered by any U.S. official for the unspeakable war crimes committed. The use of white phosphorus anti-personnel weapons in a massacre in Fallujah in 2004 and the torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib are just two cases in point.”
While The Lancet reported over 600,000 civilian casualties in 2006 the numbers are known to be much higher now 7 years later.

 On the tenth anniversary of the US occupation of Iraq there were many reports about the consequences and aftermath of this event for the people of Iraq and for the region. Joseph Palermo did an interesting  article in the Huffington Post.   He reminds us of some of the dreadful facts of this tragic decision: 
"Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) surveyed the nightly news during the first three weeks of the invasion in March and April 2003 and found that on NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS, CNN, and Fox, pro-war U.S. sources outnumbered antiwar sources by 25 to one. With a 25 to 1 ratio of warmongers versus critical voices on the nation's dominant news shows it's no surprise that people came to believe the Bush administration's hype about WMDs. These news sources also assiduously avoided giving much coverage to the massive anti-war demonstrations that took place across the United States in the lead up to the war, including the 15 million strong global rally for peace on February 15, 2003."
Have  the American media learned their lessons? Do they have the independence to resist a new scenario?  Or are they preparing for a similar scenario against Iran, now even more sophisticated with the aid of others like Hollywood ( Argo's anti Iran propaganda).

The Huffington Post article goes on :”We also hear the "argument" that Saddam Hussein was such a bad guy we had no choice but to invade and occupy Iraq, kill over 100,000 Iraqi civilians, and send over 4,400 American soldiers to their deaths. But at the time the world had plenty of human rights violators, including many, like Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, who were for decades considered faithful U.S. allies. The warmongers ten years ago brushed off the observation that the United States armed and aided Saddam Hussein's government throughout the 1980s in his war of aggression against Iran, which was the period when he committed some his most heinous acts. (Remember the 1983 footage of Donald Rumsfeld warmly shaking the tyrant's hand?) To this day, on occasion, we hear Condi Rice or Ari Fleischer or some other defender citing the litany of villainy that Saddam Hussein was responsible for as an ex post facto justification for Bush's war of aggression against Iraq.”

Does it ever pass the mind of the warmongers that contemporary   history gives  Iranians  the  justification they need in their resistance against American hegemony in the region and against their bullying of  the Islamic Republic.
Tony Blair told BBC World a few days ago that they had considered Saddam to be a threat to world peace when they attacked Iraq, he had told told the world that he had weapons of mass destruction, a familiar reasoning that we hear today about Iran.
The consequences of the war in Iraq go beyond loss of life and physical destruction. Scott Bates, President of Center for National Policy, a Washington think tank, said there is a geopolitical price to pay for the decision to invade Iraq.Pointing to the “law of unintended consequences,” Bates said that US credibility and influence were tarnished following the attack on Iraq, while Iran’s clout has increased. America is still living with the consequences of this, 10 years later: “Our unipolar moment ended when we went into Baghdad, but we didn’t know it,” Bates said.
Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell at the time of the invasion, said that Iraq has changed the way the world sees the US. “Our rhetoric is high and lofty and we talk about human rights and human dignity and freedom and democracy, and then what do we do? We mount a war of aggression on Iraq, kill a couple hundred thousand people, and mess it up majorly, including the region,” Wilkerson told RT in an interview.
When asked if the individuals who made the decision to invade Iraq, despite widespread global protest, should be held responsible, Wilkerson said that “history will hold them responsible,” emphasizing that there is “no accountability for people who make grievous errors in high office in the United States.”
Washington’s tendency to forget its past mistakes could prove disastrous, with new war talk brewing on Capitol Hill The American people need to be vigilant about the decisions of their government. If they believe that they are constituents of a democracy then they will be held accountable one day for the actions of their government and for the decisions that have affected the lives of millions and has taken people to the verge of death and devastation in many parts of the world.   When the American people elected Obama in 2008, it seemed that they were disillusioned with the Bush era and opposed American militarism, in 2012 it seemed that they still opposed interventionism.  Although, he has not met their expectations,  but many still  expect and hope that Mr. Obama and the more reasonable politicians in the Capitol Hill   prevent any   new adventurism in the Middle East.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Nowruz, Revival of Nature and Heart

The Iranian new year or Nowruz is celebrated  when the culmination of change and new life in nature appears. When temperatures increase, signs of the cold winter and  sleeping nature vanish, as blossoms grow on branches and flowers bloom.The Iranian new year coincides with what is called the Equinox and the true shift in the earth's axis and change in climate. The moment the Sun crosses the celestial equator and equalizes night and day is calculated exactly every year and Iranian families gather together to observe the rituals.

Nowruz has been celebrated for thousands of years in Iran and within the radius of Iranian civilizational influence. Countries like Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkemenistan, Kirghistan and Kazakhstan  where Farsi is spoken and signs of  Persian culture, customs and tradition are evident in ordinary life, all celebrate Nowruz. Hundreds of thousands of expatriate Iranians living in Europe and the US also celebrate this important occasion.  Nowruz is a time for friendship and forgiveness, it is a time for cherishing the blessings of life and nature.
Iranians and many other nations who enjoy the Persian culture and civilization celebrate Nowruz  as a symbol of their common heritage. Celebration of  Nowruz is the celebration of peace and friendship among nations and  has great cultural implications for humanity. For this reason the UN has designated this day as an international celebration.
The Haft Seen Table is the tradition followed in every Iranian home

Its a symbol of preparing for new times and better days. It is also a symbol of the changes we all need to bring about in our hearts and minds, we need to mend broken hearts and to heal the scars left behind. In Islamic ethics as individuals, we need to revisit our practices and behaviors and to evaluate them.  We need to clean the greed, deceit and hatred that plagues our hearts and prepare for an inner Spring and new life.
Family unions are very common and Iranians travel around the country to visit their loved ones and to see the beautiful scenery of spring in different cities throughout the country. 

The upcoming Presidential elections are the subject of many family gatherings. The Ahmadinejad team are trying to promote traditional Persian holidays like Nowruz to focus on nationalism rather than the more religious aspects of the country's Islamic Republic. Reformists have recently  produced an in depth analysis and plan concerning the very difficult conditions Iran is facing. They demonstrate how social and economic indicators have plummeted  due to current mismanagement and  they have given a plan how to tackle the crisis. 

Sprouts are a symbol of revival and spring 

Friday, March 15, 2013

UN Habitat Award

The Environment Committee in Tehran's City Council provides an opportunity to promote environmental standards for a city of over 8.5 million inhabitants, a city known for its congested traffic and as the economic and political hub of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
This committee which held over 180 meetings during the past 5.5 years,  also presides over the activity of more than 25 subcommittees in diverse areas related to urban environment. In addition, during   hundreds of visits to districts and local communities in Tehran, we evaluated the conditions and status of the living environment. The environment committee endeavors to set a standard for inter-sectoral coordination and collaboration among the major stakeholders, including municipal, government, NGO and private sector as well as local communities benefiting from the enhancement of environmental standards.
During this period we have undertaken policy-making, coordination and social mobilization strategies, in addition to the oversight of all urban activities.
A vast spectrum of issues ranging from air quality, to water and waste water management, green areas,civil society roles, waste management, national parks and precious ecosystems adjacent to Tehran, noise pollution , electromagnetic radiation, food safety and many other important issues  are tackled in the committee.
One of the most important bills  adopted in 2007 was the State of the Environment (SOE) Report for Tehran. On the basis of the national experience we had in the Iranian Department of the Environment, and the preparation and publication of two National SOE reports (2004,2005), we adopted a bill to obligate the Municipality to produce an annual SOE for Tehran.
The first city SOE report was produced on the basis of our national framework and the UNEP model .  The second report is  recently finalized and will be shortly available.
There was an international ceremony in Tehran on Wednesday, which I could not attend due to previous engagements at the University. The United Nations Human Settlements Programme UN-Habitat  acknowledged the preparation of this report under the jurisdiction of the Tehran City Council, as a Good Practice and applauded its impact in improving the living environment. The letter is signed by Ms Wandia Seaforth the Chief of the UN Habitat Best Practices Program.
We have to applaud the efforts of all our partners, experts and personnel in the municipality who made this report possible.
This photo of Tehran was taken by a Canadian astronaut- Chris Hadfield 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Awards for Environmental Activists and Researchers in Iran

The Center for Peace and Environment convened the annual environmental award ceremony of Dr. Taghi Ebtekar in Tehran. The eighth round of Dr. Taghi Ebtekar Award Ceremony was held on Wednesday March 7. Three activists and researchers , three NGOs, one journalist and the family of a forest ranger killed by smugglers were all awarded by the CPE Board of Referees. www.pengoo.irDSC_9852

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Argo is Disappointing

Iranian films are now quite popular worldwide, indicating that Iranian cinema has taken great leaps to compete at global levels. Iranian cinema has taken a aesthetic  and hermunetic approach during the past decades. Many Iranian directors and producers have embarked on a quest to produce quality films for the Iranian audience without government support and funding. They see the cinema as a cultural affair and hope to maintain a dialogue with the people through the cinema. 
Many Iranians also wished to see a cultural dialogue with Americans via the  film industry. Hopes were high after Asghar Farhadi's the Separation won the Oscars a few years ago. This year however, the selection was disappointing.  After the Oscar's best movie award was given to Argo,the BBC World Newshour asked me to speak about my views on the film. I told them I expected more from Hollywood. I told them they could have used cinema to promote understanding and peace among nations not as a means to distribute a negative impression and biased image against a great civilization and nation like Iran. You may listen to the interview through the links below.