Groups campaigning for greater understanding and less confrontation with Iran have recently banded together to form Campaign Iran. Their website is at http://www.campaigniran.org/ Concerned that military action against Iran is a real threat, and believing that the ground for such action is already being prepared in the Western media, they recently published a useful booklet called Answering the Charges against Iran: Dispelling the Demonizing Myths and distributed it to governments and media outlets. Read an abridged version at http://www.campaigniran.org/casmii/index.php?q=node/1216 The Million Signatures Campaign demanding changes to discriminatory laws against women – described by Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani on page 8 – can be accessed at http://www.we-change.org/ Scroll down to the bottom to find English links or go to the list of English news items at http://www.we-change.org/spip.php?rubrique20/ On 27 January three of the Million Signatures campaigners – Talat Taghinia, Mansureh Shojai and Farnaz Seifi (pictured below) – were arrested at Tehran airport on their way to an educational workshop in India. Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, who is also a signatory to the campaign, has offered to defend them in court. Iran is one of the worst countries in the world in which to be gay, lesbian or bisexual (see ‘Facts: Human rights’). To read a letter from the editors of the gay e-magazine MAHA about the importance of international solidarity, go to http://direland.typepad.com/direland/2006/08/from_inside_ira.html
If this magazine has given you a taste for hearing a multiplicity of Iranian voices instead of just Western commentators pontificating about the place, your next port of call should be Nasrin Alavi’s We Are Iran (Portobello Books, 2006). Alavi revolves her book around hundreds of illuminating excerpts from blogs on subjects as diverse as torture and Western cinema, censorship and the effect on men of showing strands of hair outside your hejab – each put in context by her clear and careful commentary.
If you want a quick overall swing through Iranian history and politics you might try John Farndon’s Iran, in the Icon Books series ‘Everything You Need to Know’.
Ray Takeyh’s Hidden Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic (Times Books, 2006) attempts to explain why Iran has been so misunderstood by US policy-makers. He argues for an entirely new approach built not on confrontation but on negotiation and acceptance of difference, similar to the shift in US relations with China from the 1970s onwards. British-based academic Ali M Ansari covers similar ground in Confronting Iran (Hurst, 2006), showing that the stand-off over the nuclear issue is only the latest in a long series of cultural collisions between Washington and Tehran. The lost opportunities to bridge the gulf during the reformist Khatami presidency seem particularly sad in Ansari’s telling. Three best-sellers on Iran deserve the recognition they have received. Iran Awakening (Rider/Random House, 2006) is Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi’s own account of a life less ordinary – a working judge at the time of the Revolution, she was soon barred from such work but has devoted herself since 1992 to pro bono legal work and campaigning on women’s rights. She is fiercely faithful to Iran and says she has never spoken again to those friends who have given up on the country and gone into exile.
One such exile is Azar Nafisi, whose Reading Lolita in Tehran (Fourth Estate, 2004) has been popular with book groups. It weaves together stories of young women’s lives in Tehran with extended meditations on the Western authors they read together. The first section will probably tell you more about Nabokov than you ever wished to know, but it is well worth persevering.
A lighter treatment (though not necessarily of lighter material) comes with Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi’s book splicing together two graphic novels telling of her childhood in Iran and her return to it as a teenager after a period in France (Jonathan Cape, 2006). Bold drawing and spiky writing.
Most Iranian blogs are in the Farsi language. But there are some who write in English and these can be accessed at http://blogsbyiranians.com/ The vast majority of those listed are from Iranians in exile and it is telling how many of those from within Iran have stopped posting over the last year or so of increasing clampdown. Women in Iran, for example, a website which ‘tries to open a window, however small, to the life of Iranian women’ has not been updated since August 2006 (http://www.womeniniran.net/english/).
The ‘photoblogger’ Arash Ashoorinia, whose work is widely used in this magazine, has an excellent website (http://www.kosoof.com). The Kargah (http://www.kargah.com) and Qoqnoos (http://www.qoqnoos.com) websites collect together links to the work of literally hundreds of photographers and artists who will open the eyes of many who are unaware of the diversity and creative vigour of Iranian society. Check out the cartoonists and illustrators at
http://www.irancartoon.com as well.
In September 2006, the BBC devoted a week of radio programming to Uncovering Iran, ‘a season of programmes aimed at challenging some of the perceptions held about this intriguing country’. All the programmes are still available to listen to at http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/iran/
A group of Americans who went to Iran in search of ski slopes posted their short video at youtube.com
They say: ‘We didn’t find the angry fundamentalists from the news. We just found people getting along and living their lives.’
NI WEB EXTRA
New Internationalist campaigner Zarlasht Halaimzai writes about the plight of her family and other Afghan immigrants to Iran at http://www.newint.org/features/special/2007/02/20/iran-afghan-migrants/
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