Saturday, July 29, 2006

Books: Iran Awakening

Cross-posted from Logs of the Written Word
Iran AwakeningBook Name: Iran Awakening
Author: Shirin Ebadi with Azadeh Moaveni (website in Persian)
"The moving, inspiring memoir of one of the great women of our times, Shirin Ebadi, winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize and advocate for the oppressed, whose spirit has remained strong in the face of political persecution and despite the challenges she has faced raising a family while pursuing her work.

"Best known in this country as the lawyer working tirelessly on behalf of Canadian photojournalist, Zara Kazemi – raped, tortured and murdered in Iran – Dr. Ebadi offers us a vivid picture of the struggles of one woman against the system. The book movingly chronicles her childhood in a loving, untraditional family, her upbringing before the Revolution in 1979 that toppled the Shah, her marriage and her religious faith, as well as her life as a mother and lawyer battling an oppressive regime in the courts while bringing up her girls at home.

"Outspoken, controversial, Shirin Ebadi is one of the most fascinating women today. She rose quickly to become the first female judge in the country; but when the religious authorities declared women unfit to serve as judges she was demoted to clerk in the courtroom she had once presided over. She eventually fought her way back as a human rights lawyer, defending women and children in politically charged cases that most lawyers were afraid to represent. She has been arrested and been the target of assassination, but through it all has spoken out with quiet bravery on behalf of the victims of injustice and discrimination and become a powerful voice for change, almost universally embraced as a hero.

"Her memoir is a gripping story – a must-read for anyone interested in Zara Kazemi’s case, in the life of a remarkable woman, or in understanding the political and religious upheaval in our world."
From: Random House

Ebadi tells a story of conviction and courage. She is determined to bring democracy and equality to the oppressive rule of Iranian fundamentalists. As with all heroes, she does not believe she is doing anything special, only that which must be done. She is one tough cookie who can throw the teachings of the Quaran and its specific interpretations back without hesitation. She has tested the boundaries of the Iranian court system and been punished with jail time and death threats for her determination to see fairness restored to Iran.

Favourite passages:
On the "new" statutes imposed by the Khomeini regime after the Revolution of 1979:
The grim statutes that I would spend the rest of my life fighting stared back at me from the page: the value of a woman's life was half that of a man (for instance, if a car hit both on the street, the cash compensation due to the woman's family was hlaf that due the man's); a woman's testimony in court as a witness to a crime counted only half as much as a man's; a woman had to ask her husband's permission for divorce. The drafters of the penal code had apparently consulted the seventh-century for legal advice. The laws, in short, turned the clock back fourteen hundred years, to the early days of Islam's spread, the days when stoning women for adultery and chopping off the hands of theives were considered appropriate sentences. [p. 51]

The komiteh, or morality police, harassed all Iranians - Muslims as well as Iranian Christians and Jews, old people as well as the young - but they preyed upon women with a special enthusiasm. Slowly we learned to cope with the obstacle course that was public space. Dating couples socializing ahead of marriage, for example, would borrow a young niece or nephew on their evenings out, to appear as a family, and pass through checkpoints unmolested. We monitored everything from our personalities to our wardrobes, careful not to express opinions in public, to wear socks with our sndals. But often the harrassment was arbitrary and senseless, and thus impossible to anticipate. When most look back on those years, their memories are of antagonistic scenes that left them with headaches and a reservoir of resentment. Some recall encounters so wounding that neither their bodies nor their spirits every quite recovered. [p. 56]

The suicide rate amont women rose after the Islamic Revolution, commonly taking the form of self-immolation. This tragic exhibitionism, I'm convinced, is women's way of forcing their community to confront the cruelty of their oppression. Otherwise, would it not simply be easier to overdose on pills in a dark room?

Sometimes I think this is the one of the saddest realities of being an activist or an intellectual in a place like Iran. When dissidents or just regular old intellectuals come out of prison, often they are not celebrated for simply being brave and having survived but are pruriently examind for their conduct in prison. Did they succumb and agree to videotaped confessions? Did they sign letters? Did they make lists of their comrades? By judging what ethically should be immune from judgment - the response of an individual to a form of torture - we enable the interrogator's tactics. We legitimize the sickness of the whole enterprise, as though when forced into the wretched position of sustaining torture or breaking down, there is such a thing as a right response. [p. 173]

... from the day I was stripped of my judgeship to the years doing battle in the revolutionary courts of Tehran, I had repeated on refrain: an interpretation of Islam that is in harmony with equality and democracy is an authentic expression of faith. It is not religion that binds women, but the selective dictates of those who wish them cloistered. That belief, along with the conviction that change in Iran must come peacefully and from within has underpinned my work. [emphasis added]

I have been under attack most of my adult life for this approach, threatened by those in Iran who denounce me as an apostate for daring to suggest that Islam can look forward and denounced outside my country by secular critics of the Islamic Republic, whos attitudes are no less dogmatic. Over the years, I have endured all manner of slights and attacks, been told that I must not appreciate or grap the real spirit of democracy if I can claim in the same breath that freedom and human rights are not perforce in conflict with Islam. When I heard the statement of the [Nobel Peace] prize read aloud, heard my religion mentioned specifically alongside my work defending Iranians' rights, I knew at that moment what was being recognized: the belief in a positive interpretation of Islam, and the power of that belief to aid Iranians who aspire to peacefully transform their country. [p. 204]

I can think of no scenario more alarming, no internal shift more dangerous than that engendered by the West imagining that it can bring democracy to Iran through either military might or the fomentation of violent rebellion. [emphasis added] [pp. 214-215]

Thursday, July 27, 2006

An American/Iraqi Affair?

I was reading a Broadsheet story this morning, and then tonight found myself wondering... What if the Iraq War were compared with an abusive man/woman relationship?

An already powerful, but still power-hungry, man with plenty of women of his own, sees an exotic and beautiful woman of substance and culture, and decides he wants her too. And not just because she's rich, either, but because he thinks he can convince them both that they are soul mates. Really, he thinks of himself as Higgins to her Eliza, but he cannot say that metaphor out loud without risking being humiliated by his buddies.

Only one problem... she already belongs to another abusive man, and our guy is the one who introduced them in the first place. For some men, such an awkward circumstance might cause them to show just a bit of restraint, if only for the sake of appearances. But not our guy. It doesn't matter to him what winning her might cost him or her or their friends or family... or even their respective communities, so sure is he of her eventual and undying gratitude. So, he makes many grandiose promises about all of the wonderful things he has to offer her, while simultaneously sabotaging even further her already abusive relationship with the other man.

Unbelievably, she declines, but undaunted, he refuses to take no for an answer. It is a testosterone-driven and very ugly scene, including the part that was supposed to be so wonderful when his gang bests the other guy's gang. Unfortunately, our guy's friends get a little carried away with themselves, and the other guy's friends totally flip out.

Too bad that he didn't get better acquainted with her volatile family first, because now her brothers, and their friends, and some cousins, and the neighbors have all gotten involved in what has become a horrific brawl, the like of which has not been seen in some time, even in that neighborhood.

Sadly, yet very true to form... now that the luster has worn off this doomed-from-the-beginning relationship, he is already casting his eyes elsewhere for fresh meat.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.

In another comment at Political Physics, the author of our previous post, sane yet not, offered a link to a speech by Arundhati Roy, "Confronting Empire," which concludes with the following:
Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness — and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe.

The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling — their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability.

Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them.

Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.

~ Arundhati Roy ~ Porto Alegre, Brazil ~ Jan 27, 2003 ~
* * * * *
Roy's words certainly speak to our intentions at Lyssa Strada, if not yet to our results. So, as we approach our third-month anniversary, we are still inviting other voices we admire to join us, hopefully for some very serious play. (See Dr. O's comment on play in the comment section of this post.)

Unfortunately, there are some voices that we are unable to coax to our pages because they are busy with other responsibilities, while still trying to keep up with their own writing, as well as blogging. For example, this writer, who inspired Dr. O's comment above, is not just one of my favorite bloggers, but one of my favorite writers. Sam's daily writing, the stuff with which she feeds us, embodies Roy words... words that bear repeating:
To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness — and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe.

And the rockets red glare...

Back in the 1980s when I began to actually care about the world outside my idyllic existence in suburban Massachusetts, I observed something then that continues to be true today...

...whenever I encountered the words "Middle East" in TV or print, the word "crisis" was never far behind. Today, with the recent escalation of hostilities between Israel and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah, the word "crisis" may soon be replaced with "conflagration" as the conflict threatens to widen and involve other countries in the region.

The responsibility for this latest escalation has been laid squarely at the feet of Hezbollah, and in a narrow sense, it is responsible. Yet diplomacy demands that all who are interested in a solution examine more closely the region and its complex dynamics of politics, religion, and culture.

It is just such an examination that appears to be lacking in America if one believes the recent public opinion polls that show about 65-70% of Americans support Israel's actions. Though the rest of the world seems to be in agreement that Israel response has been "disproportionate," Americans and its leaders continue to utter the inane comment that, "Israel has the right to defend itself."

Perhaps better said would be, "Israel has the right to defend itself with reasonable force against specific, non-civilian targets." The claim that Hezbollah militants hide among the civilian population can not and should not justify random bombardment of civilian areas. As noted bby Mary Ann Sieghart, journalist for the Times, UK:
The War on Terror is too easy a pretext for Israel to hide behind. It does not give free licence for a state to bombard the innocent citizens of another in the hope that a few terrorists might be killed in the process. Imagine if we had bombed Dublin in the same way, with more than 300 deaths in a week and half a million people displaced. That would surely have been seen as a war crime.
---TheTimesOnline-UK, "The Shocking Silence from No 10," 7/21/06
Another international newspaper expressing the world's consensus is The Daily Herald, Canada. Journalist Dan Leger writes,
[PM] Harper's statements failed to recognize the disproportionality of Israel’s response to what was really a minor incursion by Hezbollah fighters. I think any fair-minded person would agree that the destruction of Lebanon’s airports, bridges and roads and the killing of hundreds of civilians is a wild overreaction to the immediate threat from the militants..
---The Daily Herald, Halifax, Canada, "Why Canada's Response Has Fallen Far Short," 7/24/06
Another paper questions the "neocon mentality" that seems to dominate some policymakers' decisions in Washington and Israel:
You might say that the mindset of the neocons is very September 12. It has not altered one jot since that day in 2001. It is as if we have learned nothing from the debacle in Iraq about the limits of military force in changing culture and politics in countries we do not fully understand and do not have the expertise or manpower to micro-manage...
---The Australian, op-ed piece, "Neocons Face Right Rebellion," 7/24/06
UN humanitarian coordinator Jan Egeland, in Beirut this week also weighed in:

"This is destruction of block after block of mainly residential areas. I would say it seems to be an excessive use of force in an area with so many citizens." ..."It [Israeli bombardment of civilian areas] makes it a violation of humanitarian law."
---CNN Report, 7/23/06
Other world leaders, notably Jacques Chirac of France and Vladimir Putin of Russia, have called for an end to hostilities by both parties and have also criticized Israel for a "disproportionate" response. Indeed, at a United Nations emergency meeting last week, out of 192 member nations, 189 supported an immediate ceasefire in the Israel/Hezbollah/Lebanon conflict. The three who did not support such an effort: the United States, the UK, and Israel. Even Pope Benedict has essentially said enough already.

There was another time that the United States stood in defiance of the international community when it invaded Iraq three years ago. And today, even with a democratically-elected government, Iraq descends into escalating violence and civil war. What is interesting to note is that American public opinion at the beginning of the Iraq war was about 70% for, and now only about 35% agree it was the right thing to do. So today, American public opinion about Iraq has finally coalesced with the rest of the world's. What will it take for it to catch up with the world's opinion on the current Middle East conflict?

Re-posted from Political Physics with permission of sane yet not.
photo: source

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Who Are the Terrorists?

"Regrettably, Suzanne Swift is not the first," says Anita Sanchez, communications director of the Miles Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides services to victims of military violence. "There have been several young women who have been declared AWOL for seeking treatment due to sexual assault, but most of them are too scared to speak out."
...
Another recent case involved a young American woman who was raped by an Afghan soldier in a rural area. Sanchez says it took two weeks to get to a one-room medical facility in Kabul. "They had no facilities to do a rape testing, so they couldn't test for pregnancy or HIV. An American doctor literally handed her high dose antibiotics and told her, 'This will kill anything you've come in contact with.'" The young woman is now recovering in the states.
...
"This administration justified going to war because we said we wanted to stop Saddam's rape rooms. This administration said we can't afford to have priests raping and yet in the same breath and lack of action, our own military leadership are free to rape at absolute carte blanche. This has been going on for too long. We must hold the government accountable for refusing to deal with this issue."
[ Female Soldiers Treated "Lower Than Dirt"]
I think commentary from me would be extraneous.

She's a What?

Jeffrey Sebelia, one of the designers on season 3 of Project Runway just needs to go. He's a creepy little man with an arrogant attitude that exposes his small mind and sexist bs at every turn. (Yes, I can hear my co-workers now, "but how do you really feel?")

I suppose I should also introduce Angela Keslar who is ham fisted in her attempts at manipulating situations and, oddly for a designer, doesn't sketch.

There are several designers I just don't care for and whose work has yet to show they actually deserve to be there. It's only because someone's work was even worse than theirs, that they are still in the competition. Angela and Jeffrey are 2 of those designers.

Episode 2's challenge was for teams of 2 to create a gown for Miss USA to wear to the Miss Universe pageant. I can't even find a picture of Jeffrey's gown to remind myself what it looked like. Angela "worked" with Vincent Libretti who kept shoving her away, making it a one-man show full of pouting and anger.

(Believe it or not, I am actually getting to the point of this post.)

As designers are busily sketching their ideas to present to Miss USA, Angela is trying to convince Kayne Gillaspie who has pageant experience to choose her as his teammate. To no one's surprise, Angela is the last designer standing and, by default, goes to Vincent.

In the apartment Vincent is bitching up a storm about Angela and Jeffrey pokes his head out of the bathroom and says, "I have one word for you ... feminazi." (You can see a clip from the video mashup I created at Project Runway's website.)

What the ......? Feminazi? Angela is a lot of things but feminazi? Just so we are clear, here's the Wikipedia definition of feminazi
Feminazi (also spelled femme-nazi) is an invective neologism used predominantly in United States political rhetoric to characterize women whose ideas are believed to be vehemently misandrous; i.e.- having an irrational and extreme hatred of men.
...
The term feminazi has developed various connotations. To some pro-life conservatives, it equates feminist advocacy for abortion rights with promoting a holocaust. Others use the word rhetorically to suggest feminist views are being expressed in a unilateral manner. Others see the term as an example of hate speech.

In the extreme formulation, feminazis are seen by some as women who persecute men or who desire their elimination from the public discourse and any involvement into public affairs. The term is often used as a derogatory term for feminist.

It is clear that Jeffrey is simply using this word in a derogatory manner, the same way he would have used "bitch." It is also clear that he does not understand the true meaning of the word and has just decided to use this word to slander Angela and her character.

In this particular episode, Angela does not espouse feminist rhetoric of any sort, in fact she is quite delighted they will be designing for Miss USA. She does not express hatred for men, and is in fact married to one.

I was disgusted by Angela's behaviour and really felt she should have been the one to be eliminated. But she in no way was doing it out of a feminist mindset, she was only being Angela.

Jeffrey, on the other hand, offends me. As do all men who are quick to write all women off based on the personality flaws of one woman.

[cross posted from Blither Blather Boviate]