Revolutions notoriously struggle to live up to their principles, and America and Iran are no exceptions.
—from the article "Reading Independence Day in Iran" by Wm. Scott Harrop and R.K. Ramazani
Though it is just over a month old, I found this comparison of American and Iranian revolutions to be still highly relevant as Ahmadinejad, now sworn in as president, attempts to control Iran’s international profile while "the world is watching."
Mitch Hanley, senior producer
Transgender Identity in Iran: A Film
Trent Gilliss, online editor
The topic of gender and sexuality is on our long list of shows we want to produce in the coming year — in particular, a show on transgender people. The videos above and below are excerpts from Be Like Others, a documentary about a number of young men who are transsexuals living in Iran and pursuing surgical changes.
In these two clips, Iranian-American director Tanaz Eshaghian shows the complex, multi-layered conversations and struggles for transgender people living in an Islamic state — from conversations about proper attire and wearing of the hijab to familial struggles about cultural norms.
What’s surprising to me in these clips is the nature of the conversation. Even though there are discussions about operations and genetic tests confirming a biological male identity, the root of these conversations is love and caring and community. Despite her objections about his transformation, the mother in the second clip spends as much energy lecturing her son on wearing less makeup and donning the hijab properly when going out; in the first clip, a member of the transgender community reprimands a peer for going out in public with hair hanging out the back of her hijab and talks of bringing respect to their community.
Although these individuals are pursuing lifestyles that are outside the cultural norm, it doesn’t mean that they abandon their upbringings and the values instilled in them. They continue to live within the larger culture, defying some strictures while observing others. Obviously, they face predicaments I can’t imagine, but, it’s also heartening to see that their families remain in dialogue with them in tense circumstances. I find that heartening and am anxious to view the documentary.
Update (6.21): The film will be broadcast on HBO2 on June 24th.
Iran from the Rooftops
Colleen Scheck, Producer
In our editorial discussion at this morning’s staff meeting, we talked about the remarkable fallout from last Friday’s election in Iran. Over the weekend, I received an e-mail with a link to video of Iranians shouting from their rooftops at night. Simply, I found the sounds of the voices simultaneously haunting and beautiful.
This has been described as Mousavi supporters chanting Allahu Akbar, or “God is Great” — a symbol of similar nighttime protests done over 30 years ago to show opposition to the Western-backed monarchy before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. A few news outlets report it this way, and I can hear Allahu Akbar in the video, but an AP story reports people also were shouting “death to the dictator,” and others report chants of “bye, bye dictator.”
The Iranian Presidential Election in Pictures
Trent Gilliss, online editor
A lovely set of 13 images on Iran’s presidential election assembled by the Christian Science Monitor.
Pictured above is a supporter of Mir Hossein Mousavi — a rival candidate to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — who was attending an election rally at Heidarnia Stadium in Tehran.
(photo: Ben Curtis/AP)
A Guest with a Personal Interest in the Torture Debate
» download (mp3, 1:00)
Trent Gilliss, online editor
As we look for guests for each show, we seek authoritative voices who not only have the expertise to speak about delicate subjects but a personal investment in that subject as well. In this week’s show, “The Long Shadow of Torture” (available via podcast on June 11), we found that voice — Darius Rejali, a professor of Political Science at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.
He’s written several books on the topic of violence and torture, including Torture and Modernity: Self, Society and State in Modern Iran and, most recently, Torture and Democracy. In the preface to the latter, Rejali writes about his personal stake on this subject:
Perhaps as a child, I was more disposed to thinking differently about violence than others. My relation to violence was more intimate. On my Iranian side, royal autocrats in my family had no difficulty ordering torture or genocide when it served their interests. Stories of their deeds are, to say the least, unforgettable. On my American side, we remember General Sherman’s march through Georgia. In September 1864, as cannons shelled Atlanta, my ancestor, Harriet Yarbrough, dug a hole in a bank and hid there with her two children. Afterward, she was one of 446 families who stayed behind; she had opposed the war passionately from the outset, but when Union soldiers destroyed the Yarbrough home for firewood, that was the last straw. Undaunted by the situation in which she found herself, she went to find Sherman and unleashed all her fury at him. It did no good, and the site of her home is now part of Olympic Park. She filed for reimbursement from the War Department, and pursued the claim until 1891. She never forgot.
Being an Iranian aristocrat — American Southerner, a Shiite Muslim — Calvinist with a keen sense of history, presents unique intellectual and moral challenges. If you had told me early in childhood that I would write a book on Iranian torture — as I did — I would not have believed you. And I am just as surprised, I think, that this new book is also on torture.
But it seems my family’s tales of the dark side of human life have put me in a good position to understand where we find ourselves today. Exactly a hundred years ago, my Iranian great-grandfather fought to defend his autocratic way of life. He did not hesitate to turn cannons on crowds or torture people he considered terrorists and anarchists. His opponents said, there you see, his way of life is a sham, and these people disguise barbaric force behind high-minded talk of honorable values. And who was to say they were wrong? For if honorable men cannot fight fairly and win, who on earth are they, and what do they represent? In the end no one, except a handful of sycophants, mourned the passing of his way of life.
A hundred years later, believers in democracy seem to be ready to make the same mistake as my autocratic ancestor, and I am here to urge them not to. I hope I have written a story that makes us take a second look at ourselves as we enter a new century primed to treat our enemies inhumanely.