Sunday, August 24, 2008

Protest the RNC?

Some people have emailed me expressing an interest in going up to St. Paul for the large anti-war rally outside of the RNC on Labor Day.  For anyone interested, there is a group of students are planning on going up,  who you can contact here .  

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The sadness of John McCain

Remember how John McCain was so brave because he stood up to Bush on the issue of torture? Well, all of that is no more, as McCain has now voted against a bill that would ban waterboarding.

It's easy to point out, as many have, that this demonstrates that McCain isn't really the straight talker that the media portrays him as. Of course, this isn't really news as he's already caved on things like lobbyist influence and religious fundamentalism in order to try to impress the conservative base before the election. But rather than gleefully pointing out McCain's inconsistencies, I think this particular action is best described as a profoundly sad event. McCain is someone who has been tortured, who knows what if feels like, and who has stated publicly that it doesn't work and that other methods are more effective at getting information. Yet, in order to get to the White House, he has now sold his last shred of human dignity to pander to the bloodlust of the far right. I often believe, despite the mountains of evidence to the contrary, that politicians retain at least some core principles even while they play the dirty game. Events like this do not help this belief.

Also, considering the bazillions of hours of press McCain got for criticizing torture in the past, it would be nice if the mainstream media would actually cover his shift in position.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

"The Sound of Democrats' Silence on Civil Liberties"

I'm posting the link to an article written by Jeanine Molloff, educator in the St. Louis Public School system. She discusses the Gonzales/torture protest as well as other shocking bills making their way through Congress now that will seek to criminalize dissension. For those who think Democrats are the key to change in this country, or others who support Democrats as the lesser-of-two-evils, you might find this article especially poignant. Take heed.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Only in Iran?

I think this bears repeating over and over. The media continues to regurgitate the claim that certain IEDs could only have been made in Iran. Yet, there were stories last year that describe how U.S. troops stumbled across a factory in Iraq that made these same IEDs. No attempt at reconciling the "Iran-only" story with this fact is ever given in subsequent stories. Atrios's post cites a Boston Globe story, and from here you can find stories in the NYT, the Wall Street Journal, and the LA Times that all allude to this idea (subscription required in all cases, unfortunately).

Though I'm tempted to make a stronger claim, I guess all I can legitimately say is that no evidence has been provided that demonstrates that the IEDs were made in Iran. But, of course, all we could say before the war was that there was no evidence provided that Iraq had WMDs. Shouldn't our media, especially after that debacle, require that the administration actually provides some evidence for its claims?

My own hunch is that most of the stories coming from the U.S. military are carefully controlled, but in the excitement of trumpeting the 'success' of the occupation, they accidentally let a story through that contradicted their claims that the IEDs could not possibly be made by Iraqis.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Windows on Iran--45 (Dr. Fatemeh Keshavarz)

Dear All!

Greetings! I am back to wish you all a wonderful 2008 -- and to open another window on Iran.

I hope you have had a peaceful holiday. In the spirit of celebration, let's open this window with festive images of light and color. The young Iranian photographer Hoda Alavi uses urban landscape as her canvas and paints with light. Let's visit her latest photo exhibit. Click on the first attachment, then on view, and then on *slide show.

Article on Iranian Women

* While on the subject of women, I have a very interesting article for you from the Guardian (Jan. 9) courtesy of Amir Companieh.
*The essay encourages readers to forget about stereotypes and look instead at the reality of women's vibrant and organized activism in Iran.,,2237579,00.html

* Still on the subject of women, take a look at images of Iranian women chess players competing for the national championship. Chess is an extremely popular hobby in Iran:

Recommended Reading:

* Over the holidays, I read an excellent book which I recommend to anyone interested in better understanding the complexities of the strategic games played by various regional and outside forces in relation to Iran and its neighboring countries. Authored by Trita Parsi and published by Yale University Press, the book is called Treacherous Alliance: the Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States.

*The Persian Gulf Incident*

* Trita's book is, in fact, a great tool for helping us understand that many a piece of shocking news about the region has to be placed in its full strategic context to be understood better.

* A perfect example of that is the recent news of the "aggressive maneuvers" by Iranian boats near American warships in the Persian Gulf. The incident, which many of you have been asking about, seemed totally baffling. Why would Iran provoke the massive American military machine sitting on three of its borders?

* According to an article sent to me by Daniel Pourkesali "The list of those who are less than fully confident in Pentagon’s video/audio mash up of aggressive maneuvers by Iranian boats near American warships in the Strait of Hormuz now includes the Pentagon itself." You can read the full article at this link: Daniel also distributed a video supplied by the Iranian Navy which suggests that the incident was a simple and routine exchange in the Gulf:

* Today's Washington Post, contains an article that supports Dr. Pourkesali's view suggesting "Iranian Boats May Not Have Made Radio Threat, Pentagon Says," check it out:

* Matt Miller, watching the world from Cairo where he is studying Arabic this semester, has sent another related piece by the historian and national security policy analyst, *Gareth Porter*
who further supports the view that the initial report on the Iranian "aggressive" behavior has been unfounded. Thanks Matt!

There we are! Another misinformation about Iran...and a scary one.

Iran Opens a Peace Museum

* Iran will open a peace museum to promote sentiments for peace in a culture that still remembers the pain of an 8-year war that started with Saddam's aggression and led to his use of chemical weapons on Iraqi Kurds and Iranians. The museum which will soon open in Tehran City Park has the sculpture of a white dove at its entrance. While attributing imaginary violence to the culture is common, Christian Science Monitor's exceptional attention to this museum is commendable. Not surprisingly, the tone of the article suggests that the museum is something of an aberration in a culture that "glorifies martyrdom." It would be fantastic if the author of the article Scott Peterson would have the opportunity to take a trip to Iran. You can read the article on the Peace Museum in Iran at:

A Concert of Sufi Music in Tehran

* Iranians love live music. When master musicians perform, it is common to line up outside the concert hall from the night before the box office opens to make sure you can obtain tickets. I would like to close this window with a ten minute clip from a Sufi music performance at Vahdat Hall, a major concert hall in Tehran. The concert was sent to me by a dear friend, Nakhostin Javidani:

Until our next window, have a great week!

Fatemeh Keshavarz, Professor and Chair
Dept. of Asian and Near Eastern Languages and Literatures Washington University in St. Louis
Tel: (314) 935-5156
Fax: (314) 935-4399

Monday, December 31, 2007

'The Kite Runner' Critiqued: New Orientalism Goes to the Big Screen

By: Matthew Thomas Miller

While The Kite Runner movie is now captivating audiences throughout the country—much as the book did four years ago—with its enthralling tale of “family, forgiveness, and friendship” and the promise that indeed “there is a way to be good again,” very little has been written critiquing this work and its prominent role in the New Orientalist narrative of the Islamic Middle East.

Iranian literature specialist Dr. Fatemeh Keshavarz (Washington University in St. Louis) has classified this book as one of the recent works that she argues constitute a "New Orientalist" narrative in her book Jasmine and Stars: Reading More than Lolita in Tehran. (Dr. Hamid Dabashi of Columbia University also has written about New Orientalism and expatriates who serve as “native informers” or “comprador intellectuals” in respect to the Middle East).

Keshavarz broadly characterizes the New Orientalist works thusly:

"Thematically, they stay focused on the public phobia [of Islam and the Islamic world]: blind faith and cruelty, political underdevelopment, and women's social and sexual repression. They provide a mix of fear and intrigue—the basis for a blank check for the use of force in the region and Western self-affirmation. Perhaps not all the authors intend to sound the trumpet of war. But the divided, black-and-white world they hold before the reader leaves little room for anything other than surrender to the inevitability of conflict between the West and the Middle East."

While The Kite Runner is perhaps less obvious in its demonization of the Muslim world and glorification of the Western world—what Keshavarz terms the "Islamization of Evil" and the "Westernization of Goodness"—than books like Reading Lolita in Tehran, these themes nevertheless clearly permeate the entire novel. While seemingly just a captivating story of Amir and his redemption through the heroic rescue of his childhood friend Hassan’s son, Sohrab, the entire plot is imbued with noxious stereotypes about Islam and the Islamic world. This story, read in isolation, may indeed just be inspiring and heart-warming, but the significance of its underlying message in the current geopolitical context cannot be ignored.

At the most superficial level, the characters and their accompanying traits serve to advance a very specific agenda: everything from the conspicuous secularity of the great hero, Amir’s father, Baba, to the pedophilic Taliban (i.e. Muslim) executioner and nemesis of Amir, Assef, clearly perpetuates the basic underlying theme: the West (and Western values) = ‘good,’ while Islam = ‘bad,’ or even, ‘evil.’ The inherent goodness of Baba and evil of Assef is repeatedly reified for the reader in some of the most dramatic and graphic scenes of the entire book. Baba valiantly lays his life on the line to protect the woman who is about to be raped, while Assef brutally rapes children and performs gruesome public executions in the local soccer stadium. Yet, perhaps the most telling attribute of these two characters is the particular national ideologies that they express affinity for: Baba loves America, while Assef is an admirer of Hitler.

The most pernicious element of this novel, however, is also the same aspect that American readers consistently have identified as the most heart-warming and inspiring: the story of the redemption of Amir thorough his harrowing and heroic rescue of Sohrab. In short, Amir, the successful western expatriate writer must leave his safe, idyllic existence in the U.S.; return to an Afghanistan that has been ravaged by the Russians (our Cold War enemy) and the Taliban (the representation of our new Islamic enemy); and rescue the innocent orphaned son of his childhood friend from the incarnation of evil itself, Assef. Amir’s descent into this Other World, a veritable ‘heart of darkness,’ appears to be the only hope for its victims’ salvation.

This adventurous and engrossing story neatly functions as an allegorized version of the colonial/neo-colonial/imperial imperative of “intervening” in “dark” countries in order to save the sub-human Others who would be otherwise simply lost in their own ignorance and brutality. These magnanimous interventions, of course, have nothing to do with economic or geopolitical concerns; they are purely self-sacrificial expressions of the superiority of the imperial peoples’ humanity and ideology. When considered in this frame, the profound guilt that Amir suffers from his inaction during the violation of his innocent friend Hassan seems to represent the collective guilt of all “good” western or western-oriented people who watched idly while the Islamic bullies—epitomized by Assef—violated Afghanistan and the innocent western-oriented people like Baba and Amir. Of course, the implication then is that we also must redeem ourselves by returning and “rescuing” the people there from the Assefs of Afghanistan—this is our “way to be good again,” in the words Khaled Hosseini’s character Rahim Khan. This new recapitulation of the old “white man’s [now, western] burden” narrative, when combined with the “Westernization of Goodness” and “Islamization of Evil” clearly present throughout the novel, provides a superb ideological framework upon which to justify our present occupation and future military interventions in Afghanistan.

It certainly does not take much imagination to expand this story and its message to the entire Islamic Middle East—especially when we combine this work’s portrayal of Afghanistan with the other New Orientalist works on the Islamic Middle East, such as Azar Nafisi’s popular Reading Lolita in Tehran, Asne Seierstad’s The Bookseller of Kabul, Geraldine Brooks’ Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women, and even scholarly works like Bernard Lewis’ What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response. If what these works say about Islam and Islamic countries is the whole truth, then surely the continued and expanding U.S. military presence in that region is a good thing, right?

For anyone who has been to, or studies the Middle East, it is obvious that these accounts are gross distortions of the full reality on the ground there. It is not wrong to identify and write about the flaws of a particular country, religion, or ideology, but it is wrong and dishonest when an author’s writings systematically dehumanizes and reduces an entire culture and religion to the actions of its extremists. Especially, when these are the same people and countries that our leaders tell us need to be attacked and occupied by our military.

Matthew Thomas Miller is a graduate student in Islamic and Near Eastern Studies at Washington University in St. Louis. He can be reached at

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Windows on Iran - NIE Special (with bonus info)

Dear All,

I hope you are well!

Monday's *NIE Report* focused the attention on Iran once more. This brief special window is an attempt to clarify a number of important and interesting issues:

*Did Iran have a clandestine nuclear weapons program?*

* You might be curious about the reactions to the report in Iran. While the mood among those close to the Iranian President is jubilant about the report, a wide range of Iranian commentators and politicians are apprehensive about the spin put on the NIE report _which implies the existence of an Iranian nuclear weapon's program until the year 2003_. According to these sources, the conversations among Iranian officials, which was intercepted by American intelligence, points to a lively debate about whether Iran should or should not go in the direction of creating such a weapon's program. Since, in that debate, those opposed to such a program got the upper hand, it was never created. The IAEA inspections support this view.

* The Iranian newspaper headlines also show that the opposition by many Iranians to the creation of a weapon's program was not a result of outside pressure. Since in 2003 such a pressure was not there. Rather, those opposed argued that the country did not need to spend its resources on such a dangerous and useless program. * A similar debate is going on here in the Iranian American community. The following short essay by *Daniel Pourkesali* is a fine example. The essay provides the actual content of the NIE Report, and interesting observations on it:

*It Makes Sense to Adjust Policy with Reality*

* President's Bush suggested today (Dec. 4), that Iran is still dangerous even though it does not have a weapon's program because it possesses *the knowledge to make one*. The President of National Iranian American Council *Trita Paris* wonders how is Iran supposed to eliminate this knowledge (if indeed it has it).
To read his article visit:

Have a great weekend,

Special Bonus Info!

Fatemeh mentioned last week that the American media had misinterpreted Ahmadinejad's statement about the American report. Here are the details of that (from her friend Daniel M Pourkesali):


First let me say that I much rather see Ahmadinejad keep his mouth shut because the west continues to use him to demonize Iran and Iranians by deliberate mistranslation of his words. On their English site <>BBC quotes him as saying:

*"If you want to start up a new game, the Iranian people will resist and will not step back one inch. If you want to negotiate with us as an enemy, the Iranian people will resist and will conquer you."*

But the actual speech as posted on their own BBCPersian <>site
is quiet different:

*"Aval elaam konid az cheh mozzeii mikhahid baa mellat-e Iran gotogoo konid; agar mikhahid az moze-e doshmani barkhord konid, mellat-e Iran dar moghabeleh shoma khahad istaad va shomaa raa nakaam khahad kard." *

Which translates to:

*"You must first announce the angle from which you want to talk to the Iranian people. If you approach us as enemy, then the Iranian people will stand up in resistance and make you fail" *

Note how his actual speech is meant as a response to an act of external aggression while BBC's English translation casts Iranians as the aggressors who do the "conquering" (or "ghalabeh" ), a word NOT used in his speech.



Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Gonzales is coming! Gonzales is coming!

The WashU Student Union has decided to pay $30,000 to disgraced former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to speak at WashU on Feb. 19.

I'll have a bit more to say later, but for now the take-home message from the Student Union is that even though this event might be "controversial" it's worth it because it builds our university's 'prestige'. This, judging from the below video clip, makes us not quite as "prestigious" as the University of Florida, who managed to contribute to Gonzales's defense fund bills before we did:

We decided at the last meeting that the Peace Coalition will be protesting this insult to democracy. Anyone have any ideas from the video or otherwise?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

This Week in Peace and Social Justice (11-15-2007)

War With Iran

We must take action to stop the march to war with Iran! And, Now! Attached to this email is a PDF document prepared by CASMII entitled “Twenty Reasons Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran.” It is long, but it is a must read! We need to counter the propaganda that is coming from the Bush Administration before the U.S. gets led into another war under false pretenses. Also please sign the ‘Stop War with Iran’ petition at Peace Action.

The Surge is Working!!! Hmmm, actually, not really…

Please be very skeptical of the recent claims that Bush’s Surge is working. There are a couple of problems with this claim. First, as in the past, the statistical methods that the military uses are always suspect (see the second article below). It is notoriously easy to manipulate statistical analysis. Secondly, as the first article below reveals, probably the primary reason that a drop in overall violence may have occurred is the major demographic shift that has happened over the past few years in Iraq: Baghdad has been completely religiously segregated; thousands have been killed; and millions have fled the country and are now living as refugees in surrounding countries.

Iraqi Government: “Don’t Extend Mandate for Bush’s Occupation”

“The United Nations Security Council, with support from the British and American delegations, is poised to cut the Iraqi parliament out of one of the most significant decisions the young government will make: when foreign troops will depart. It's an ugly and unconstitutional move, designed solely to avoid asking an Iraqi legislature for a blank check for an endless military occupation that it's in no mood to give, and it will make a mockery of Iraq's nascent democracy…As far back as the middle of 2004, more than nine out of 10 Iraqis said the U.S.-led forces were "occupiers," and only 2 percent called them "liberators." Things have only gone downhill since then.” “While the Bush administration frequently invokes sunny visions of spreading democracy and "freedom" around the world, the fact remains that democracy is incompatible with its goals in Iraq.”

Nobel Peace Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu Likens Israel to Apartheid Regime

Anti-Apartheid leader Desmond Tutu called for the end of the Israeli “occupation of Palestinian territory” and said that demeaning and inhumane practices of demolition of Palestinian homes and endless check points reminded him of South Africa under the Apartheid Regime.

Gap, Mattel, Speedo, and Wal-Mart Products Linked to Child and Sweatshop Labor in China and India

The title says it all. Please do not shop at these places or buy their products! (Thanks go to my friend Mark Zaegel for this article)

The New Faceless Wars: Bombing Afghanistan (and Iraq)

U.S.-supported President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, has called on the U.S. to stop the air strikes. In Afghanistan this year, U.S. forces have killed as many innocent civilians as the insurgent forces. Why so many air strikes? First, because the U.S. forces are stretched thin and don’t have as many troops to secure Afghanistan as is needed, and secondly, it reduces U.S. causalities when we bomb instead of sending in troops to an area—never mind the fact that we may kill dozens of innocent civilians in the process. This same tactic is also used in Iraq. (Thanks go to my friend Mark Zaegel again for this article).

The American Dream vs. The American Reality

More staggering statistics on poverty and inequality in America: “Just 1 percent of Americans currently hold about half the financial wealth of the entire United States. Meanwhile, notes Washington University sociologist Mark Rank, the nation' s bottom 60 percent hold less than 1 percent of that wealth, and 75 percent of Americans, sometime in their adult lives, can now expect to ‘experience a year either in poverty or near poverty.’ If the United States keeps to its present course, Rank predicted last week at an insight-rich national conference on inequality in North Carolina, the nation could "begin to reflect the bifurcation patterns more typical of third-world countries," with the privileged opting to ‘physically separate themselves from the middle and bottom.’”

Friday, November 9, 2007