SF Chronicle--Sean Penn in Iran

A very good Sun friend of mine just pointed me to a San Francisco Chronicle series on Sean Penn's visit to Iran during the last, 2005, presidential elections there.

I myself visited Iran (on vacation) a couple of weeks after those elections.

When my family and I arrived in early July, we could still see some of the election posters in far-flung places, including the Gheshm Island, near the Persian Gulf port of Bandar Abbas.

From the remnants of the election posters, it appeared the presidential candidates had focused their campaign energies in different ways and places.

My friend at Sun wanted to know if I cared to comment or blog about Penn's reports.

I had actually read Penn's "short history of U.S.-Iran relations" last night (but not Penn's full report of "Day One," as it was not yet put up at 11 pm) and had written this little note to myself while the kids were asleep and my wife was preparing for the first day of her graduate school work, which starts today.

I think Penn's "short history of U.S.-Iran relationships" (see the "box" or end portion of his first in a series) has the right highlights in the sense that he captures the main starting point of tension between the Iranian people and the U.S. government (and in particular its military and intelligence services) up to the Iranian revolution.

The most significant thing about which I'm sure he knows but keeps silent is the great damage and harm the U.S. has worked hard to do to Iran after the Islamic Revolution.

If it was just the 1953 Coup, it would perhaps be a simpler matter, but when you add the rest, the trust in the U.S. intentions in Iran grows very, very thin----funding of terror groups (like Mujahedin Khalq) in Iran in the early 1980s and up to today, the encouragement given to Saddam's Iraq to invade Iran (when Iran had no standing army to speak of) in Sept. of 1980, supplies and war assistance given to Saddam (including chemical and biological weapons, war field information, actual military support by military presence in the Persian Gulf, threatening to Iran, culminating in the downing of Iranian civilian aircraft which killed more than 200 people, as a signal of U.S. interference to come if Iran continued its war against Saddam, whose tide was turning in Iran's favor as Iran had mustered internal expertise to fight off sanctions) . . . up to today, when the U.S. has adopted a generally combative posture against Iran, continues to freeze its assets, and insists on its policy of last 25 years to "contain" Iran at any cost, including the cost of supporting Saddam up to his invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and of supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan in the early and mid 1990s because of their fierce anti-Iranian political and religious postures, the economic sanctions, the active (but mostly fruitless) prevention of Iran from attaining scientific and technological know-how, the active prevention of Iranian-world relationships in all forums, including not only international but also forums local to Iran, and the spread of pure mis-information about Iran.

I should add that none of this posturing or harm done to Iran has stopped it from progressing and gaining a very respectable following in the arena of world politics. What U.S. policy has done is to make the cost of that progress much higher. It has increased what economists call the transaction costs for Iran. It has helped to ensure (up to very recent times) that capital becomes unavailable in Iran. However, this problem has been fading in the last few years. Last but not least, the U.S. posture against Iran has clearly exposed the deep and obvious double standards on which the U.S. foreign policy is based. That policy has been maintained here by the constant barrage to make Iran appear as evil. The policy of animosity towards Iran has actually failed on a global scale but it is hard for those in Washington to admit to its costly failures (direct and indirect, past and present) and to adopt a new posture. Such admission is an admission to the end of the empire or at least a reconfiguration of its intentions. However, even without the admission, reality shows itself for all to see. Sean Penn is one of those who seem to be openning their eyes a little wider.

I wonder if I can blog this tomorrow . . .

Well, I just did . . .

, , , .


Iran needs to be contained. What do you call a governement that hangs two teenage boys because they were presumed homosexuals. That's simply barbarism, and there's no gray area there. I can't speak for the women of Iran but I know for a fact that their mothers were treated better during the Shah (as evil as he was) than they are today under the ayatollahs. Iran is an inspiration for terrorists in the middle east. After all, aren't most fighting for the return of Islamism and the sharia? Aren't the insurgents in Iraq fighting for a governement akin the one in Iran? US policy in Iran is getting tougher, but over the years it has contributed to a massive brain drain and flight of capital. The evidence is in the simple fact that post-revolution Iran is still a third-world country while it's sitting on one of the largest oil reserves in the world. The double standard is in Iran itself. Two systems of government (up until Ahmadinejad?) with two sided policies all in one country. These are simple facts, not my opinion. Some are living two lives, one on open, the other behind the curtains. eg. http://www.current.tv/studio/media/257 The world cannot let terrorists get ideological inspiration from countries like Iran. Afghanistan was the worst incarnation of a truly fundamentalist state, Bush started his cleanup in there... Now, we can only hope he'll have enough time to also help Iran.

Posted by Joaquim Leist on August 22, 2005 at 05:05 PM PDT #

Modern Iran has come to a dangerous fruition. One of the leaders of the terrorist movement that siezed the U.S. Embassy in 1979 is now President of the country, and is in reach of nuclear weapons.

One can only hope the young, idealistic Iranians will rise up and overthrow Ahmadinejad, much in the same way their fathers overthrew Pahlavi.

Posted by guest on August 23, 2005 at 03:08 AM PDT #

Dear Joaquim,

I'm afraid you've got things a bit mixed up and up-side-down.

The boys were guilty of raping other boys much younger than themselves, some as young as 9.

Now, the Iranian criminal law proscribes execusion for rapists of all varieties whether they are homosexuals or not. You may or may not agree with this, and whether execution is a correct form of punishment for these ills remains something to consider. In the meantime, if you believe that the execution of these two boys has eliminated or supressed to non-existence the crowd of homosexuals in Iran, a simple walk down any busy street in any major city should dis-illusion you.

As far as the status of women in Iran is concerned, I think you need to study some of the statistics coming out of Iran rather than depending on anecdotal evidence here and there. There are more women in universities than ever before. There are more women in managerial posts than ever before. In fact, the percentage of women receiving higher education is begining to surpass that of men.

Iran is far from a third world country. It has advanced in all scientific fields but that's beside the point. Advance in science and technology does not make a nation more moral than another. We know this from the past (compare Hitler and Ghandi), and we know this from the present.

It is not the insurgents in Iraq but those elected into its parliament who're seeking to emulate Iran. Some of the insurgents in Iraq are actually inspired by Wahabism of the type primarily emenating from Saudi Arabia and which the U.S. supported earlier in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and certain parts of Central Asia.

I'm afraid I have to say that I sense a bit of anger in your comment which might have blinded you to some of the facts on the ground.

Posted by M. Mortazavi on August 23, 2005 at 03:31 AM PDT #

" ... it [Iran] from progressing and gaining a very respectable following in the arena of world politics."

Uh, and Kim Jong-il is the frontrunner for the Nobel Peace Prize.

I hate to tell you, but Iran's government is a pariah. I know several Iranians (Baha'is) who live in America because they would be killed if they went home. I know another who's son who was born in America cannot travel to Iran to visit his grandmother because if he did he would be drafted into their military against his will, even though he has never been an Iranian citizen.

And of course, who can forget this one:

"In the name of God Almighty. There is only one God, to whom we shall all return. I would like to inform all intrepid Muslims in the world that the author of the book entitled The Satanic Verses, which has been compiled, printed, and published in opposition to Islam, the Prophet, and the Qur’an, as well as those publishers who were aware of its contents, have been sentenced to death. I call on all zealous Muslims to execute them quickly, wherever they find them, so that no one will dare insult the Islamic sanctions. Whoever is killed on this path will be regarded as a martyr, God willing. In addition, anyone who has access to the author of the book, but does not possess the power to execute him, should refer him to the people so that he may be punished for his actions. May God’s blessing be on you all." Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini.

And don't forget, Khomeini backed up his fatwa ten days later with a bounty of $3M USD. Now, unless Khomeini had $3M sitting around, my guess is the money was to come from the government of Iran.

A peaceful, progressive, freedom-loving government at its finest.

Posted by guest on August 23, 2005 at 03:33 AM PDT #

Dear Annonymous,

By "respectable following," I mean that all major governments of the world, with the exception of the U.S., have diplomatic and economic relationships with Iran. In fact, the U.S. spends a great deal of energy to reverse this and has not been very successful in doing so for good reasons and measure.

I agree that Baha'is fared rather badly after the revolution, as did many others, including my own family who were not Baha'i. Each suffered in different measure. Even the strongest supporters of the new government suffered huge losses, including many of their youth killed in fighting off Saddam's invasion of Iran, an invasion which was carried out under the U.S. watch and support. A visit to the vast cemetery to the south of Tehran should make this very clear to anyone willing to see. Long rows of graves put aside for youth of my age.

The revolution dislodged one of the Bahai community's best protectors and supporters in the world. The Bahai' community lost their broad and unprecedented rights for missionary work in Iran. There are also some U.S. scholars who've pointed to the fact that the Shah himself was indeed a Baha'i in disguise. However, I'm not an expert in their religious disputes with those in Iran. (There have been religious disputes that have been settled far more badly in the U.S. and elsewhere, and there are some Baha'is who continue to live in peace in Iran, like the grandmother you mentioned.)

On the other hand, the rights of citizenship are a different matter. The issue that you raise regarding the U.S. born child of an Iranian citizen of Bahai' faith has to do with Iranian law. If his father is Iranian, he is automatically considered an Iranian citizen, and hence certain privileges (such as rights of ownership and no visas necessary) and duties (such as government/military service). He can always renounce his Iranian citizenship but then will have to deal with getting a visa to enter, not an automatic matter, which anyone entering the U.S. is quite familiar with, or he can get out of military service by payment of a modest (for Western incomes) service tax. The amount varies according to education and is usually published in newspapers. There are often large chunks of age groups (currently this is around 38 years old, I believe) that are given a free ride.

As far as freedom to visit family members is concerned, what do you say to the fact that my brother who lives in Turkey for the last 25 years has not been allowed a simple tourist visa to visit me and my family in the U.S.? This is a simple, basic freedom he has been denied for too long.

Law and bureaucracy, of all varieties, are often blind to human needs. Some are more blind than others.

As far as I know, the reward against Salman Rushdie, who had also earlier won several prizes for his books from the Islamic Republic, was removed from effect, years ago, perhaps more than a dozen years ago. It was certainly not as bad as invading a country and leading to thousands of innocent deaths for no real reason, and Salman is still alive and doing quite well by comparison to hordes of Iraqi women, children, old and young buried under 6 feet of ground. Salman was just interviewed by a major local paper in Santa Cruz area a few weeks ago.

My recommendation to you, no matter what your inclinations, would be to travel to Iran and keep an open mind. Things are not as bad as they are made to appear.

One things is for certain. The fact that there's no commerce between the U.S. and Iran deepens and adds complex facets to the misunderstandings that exist.

I'm deeply convinced that only through commerce and exchange can we have a building of trust and a deeper appreciation of differences and similarities.

One thing should be certain to everyone who's willing to see. Iran is no pariah state, and the majority of the world agrees with that. Pariah states invade and repress other nations and cause huge harm to their populations.

A pariah leader boasts about freedom, liberty and love but denies it to millions in far-flung places through force and fear.

Posted by M. Mortazavi on August 23, 2005 at 04:41 AM PDT #

Dear (first) Anonymous Poster,

I just discovered your comment which tells me you should more diligently read news (not opinion pieces) in U.S. and Iranian papers on the events in Iran.

U.S. intelligence is now saying Ahmadinejad had nothing to do with the hostage take over in 1979. Iranian government spokesmen have said the same and have added that he was actually opposed to it. (By the way, it is a fact of history that all hostages got home quite safe and sound, which is a lot better than being subjected to a war of aggression with U.S. support and than sitting in a civilian plane headed for UAE from Bandar Abbas and getting shot down, the latter of which happend to than 200 Iranian civilians over the Persian Gulf when their civilian jumbo jet was shot down by a U.S. warship in 1988.)

Young people in Iran are too busy casting votes and creatively constructing new cultural modes of expression to stage a revolution, which will only bring further instability and can only slow the pace of development.

To be frank, Shah had to go, from their fathers' perspective, because he was considered to be at the service of foreigners.

Posted by M. Mortazavi on August 23, 2005 at 07:42 AM PDT #

I'm afraid I've had to close the comments here after one person went a little too far, and I don't want to be linked or associated to some of his sources. I would have written a response and allowed his comment to stay had it been done in a sensible way.

Posted by M. Mortazavi on August 23, 2005 at 05:00 PM PDT #

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