Friday, March 27, 2009

Obama,A Political Nowrooz and Emotions

Nowrooz was highly politicised this year in Iran. It all began with the official announcement by Khatami that he will pull out of the Presidential race despite speculation and polls that indicated that he had the highest voter appeal among all candidates. Then, we heard the Obama Nowrooz message which had vast coverage in media in Iran and particularly over the internet. A day later the Leader spoke in Mashad on the occasion of the new year and made clear references to the overture . Finally, Larijani, the Majlis speaker said that the crisis in relations is not an emotional issue and therefore cannot be resolved with words alone.
The reality is, that although Obama's rise to power in the US has been viewed with optimism in many political quarters in Iran, and though he has endeavored to change his tone and approach in dealing with Iran, other members of the administration and the Senate and Congress have not taken similar direction. The overall mentality it seems, is still to follow the carrot and stick approach and hope to achieve something out of pressure and intimidation. Was it not possible for the Congress to at least, delay the imposition of sanctions as a sign of genuine change?
I believe that the Leader clearly pointed to the deep mistrust which still overshadows the relationship. He has pointed to grievances indicating that there is a deep rift between the two countries mainly due to the actions and policies of American administrations. My overall understanding is that the Leader did not close all doors but pointed to the direction and road map for improvement of relations.
Contrary to Larijani , I think relations between Iran and the US, are in a way, emotionally strained. Americans had staged a coup d'etat in 1953, leading to 25 years of dark dictatorship and repression for the Iranian people. Iranians stood up in 1979, to take up their affairs in their own hands and to establish an independent political system not reliant on either superpowers of that age. Americans did not like the idea at all and they started a campaign to undermine the Revolution by any means. The story goes on to take an emotional tone since the big bully cannot repress his patriarchal hegemonistic emotions for Iran and the Iranian people cannot repress their beliefs and feelings for Iran since they see their future their dignity, their homeland at stake. So this is an emotional account by all means. Struggle, perseverance, hope ,altruism and sacrifice all have their origins in sublime emotions, as hatred, greed, lust are rooted in emotions. Therefore I would disagree with those who think this is not an emotional affair. Obama should take action and change the course.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Personal Life of Imam Khomeini

The late Khadija Sagafi, wife of Imam Khomeini, who died on Saturday at the age of 93, was laid to rest beside him in his Shrine in Beheshte Zahra. She was the daughter of a wealthy religious family not interested in politics. She had attended elementary school and had a Jewish tutor who taught her French. That would have been in 1925. Imam was a theological student at that time and was introduced a few years later to their family through a relative. She was reluctant to marry him since she thought some clergy were strict, and some did not treat women properly. The suitor had to ask five times before receiving a positive response, to the surprise of the family. Khadija later said in an interview a few years ago that she had experienced a very demanding and challenging life with Imam, but that he had given her all the respect and love that a woman could imagine. He had always spoken to her with respect, he left her free in her personal decisions, what to wear, where to go. She, in return, created an atmosphere of calm and compassion for him during the tumultuous years of struggle for freedom, the years of exile and the fierce years of combat. As the love story went on, Imam always felt indebted to her patience and dedication. Before the Revolution, Imam wrote in a letter to her from Lebanon,:"My most dearest,during these days that I am away from you I have kept the memory of your beautiful face in the mirror of my heart......" .
Although , as the Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Imam was instantly recognized throughout the world and renown for his courage and determination in the face of superpowers however, the multiple dimensions of the life and personality of Imam and his family are still not properly known today.
The stigma and stereotyping created by western media against Imam during the Revolution prevented many from observing the light and greatness in his prudent personality. His eloquent poetry and personal writings were published only after he passed away. Many were surprised to learn that he had written beautiful poems. Two decades later, his legacy lives and inspires, not only in Iran, but throughout the world. The sun never remains behind the clouds for long.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Nowrooz; Revival of Nature and Cleansing of Hearts

Many people do not know the vast influence of Persian tradition and culture in the world. When traveling in Central Asia several years ago , I realized that most of these countries are also deeply touched by Iranian history and culture . In Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, I realized that Nowrooz was practiced during the first three months of Spring. They had celebrations of all kinds many similar to Iranians. In some Eastern European countries you can also find the footprints of Persian culture, some older generations in the Balkans speak Farsi from the poems of Moulavi.
In addition, now that there are many expatriate Iranians living in Europe and the US , Persian customs are more appreciated and understood in the world.
Here in Tehran , the early signs of Nowrooz begin with Khanetakani or " house cleaning" . Iranians thoroughly clean and throw out the extra items piling up in homes. Its a symbol of preparing for new times and better days. It is also a symbol of the changes we 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 behaviours and to evaluate them on the basis of the religion's teachings , we need to clean the greed, deceit and hatred that plagues our hearts and prepare for an inner Spring and new life.
On the other hand, Nowrooz is the revival of nature after a long winter sleep. Nature displays its goodness and services and we need to use wisely and protect these precious gifts.
The Iranian new year coincides with what is called the Equinox and the true shift in the earth's axis and change in climate. Although today we are experiencing the "anthropogenic climate change phenomena" and for this phenomena humanity is now deeply concerned since it has tilted the balance of the ecosystem.
As you have heard in the news, Khatami officially announced his decline to run for presidency in June. This decision deeply saddened his supporters and the sympathizers of the reform campaign but they understood that Khatami has made a very sound ethical decision. Many analysts believe that this decision has elevated his position and rank among various political groups and figures. He has implicitly indicated that he prefers to support Engineer Mousavi in the upcoming race. Some of his followers will follow course while others might prefer Mehdi Karroubi who was the former Majlis Speaker. In any case, we have to wait at least for two weeks until national holidays are over .

Monday, March 16, 2009

Green Spaces and the Presidential Race

Last week the Environment Committee of the Tehran City Council had two major visits . On Saturday we visited Tehran's waste management center in the southern district of Kahrizak. More than 7000 tons of waste is generated daily in Tehran. In recent years, with the establishment of the Environment Committee we have succeeded to promote sound and efficient waste management programs. Currently ,as we witnessed more than 2000 tons of organic waste is composted and more than 800 tons is recylced. On Wednesday we witnessed some of the activities underway to enhance green areas in Tehran. There are 1578 parks of different sizes in Tehran. Currently there is more than 12 square meters of green area per capita, but we believe it is not enough and not distributed evenly. We visited one of the two women's parks in Tehran. This park located in the south of the city is very large, over 170 hectares with all modern facilities, football, volleyball, tennis and badminton courts. Indoor body building and outdoor activities of all kinds were available but most important is that since only women are allowed in the park, they can take off their covering and stroll in the park area without hijab. This is very attractive for women and particularly the young .They enjoy the atmosphere and the opportunity to walk around without the usual covering . There will be at least four such parks in Tehran by the end of this year.
After Engineer Mousavi the former Prime Minister of Iran entered the race for the next Presidential elections , Khatami is reconsidering his decision to run . Khatami's popularity runs high and all polls show him between 20 to 30% ahead of other candidates . He however does not believe that numerous reformist candidates could win the race and is concerned about rivalry among the reformist camp. Khatami believes that ethics should prevail and that is the essence of any political game. He has shown he has no political ambitions and that he will not sacrifice his ethical principles for the sake of power. That's the man that we have known all these years.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Campaign Trail and Environmental Awards

The non-governmental Center for Peace and Environment (CPE) held its annual awards ceremony in Tehran last night. Former President Seyed Mohammad Khatami who had taken part in the previous years was not available. After announcing his candidacy for the up-coming Presidential elections, he has started his provincial visits and yesterday he began a 3-day trip to visit people in Fars, Bushehr and Kohkilouye Boyerahmad three important provinces of Iran. Many predict that the provincial visits of Khatami will create a favorable atmosphere for the reform campaign in Iran. However, pressures and smearing campaigns have also been underway against him during these days and this has created more popularity for Khatami among the young people. His campaign trail is worth following these days.
In the awards ceremony Professor Mohammad Soltanieh was awarded the Prominent Researcher Award for 35 years of devoted research work in the field of air pollution and climate change. Dr. Soltanieh was also a member of the leading team of scholars of the IPCC , the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that received the Noble Peace prize in 2008.
A provincial activist from Gorgan and an NGO from Azerbaijan were also recognized by the Board of Referees for their significant activities in this field. Two environmental journalists also received a prize for their efforts in reporting on environmental issues.
I spoke on the importance of recognizing the work of environmental activists and criticised the government for its lack of insight and action for the environmental cause. I called upon NGOs and media to question Presidential candidates about their environmental policies and to evaluate candidates on the basis of their perspectives and policies on sustainable development.