No War on Iran!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

An Open Letter to the organizers of the Iran Freedom Concert

*After much thought, I have realized that my stand on this concert was expressed in such a way to somewhat obscure my committment to human rights. So as of 3/17/06, I have edited and reposted the letter.

Dear Organizers of the
Iran Freedom concert

Based on the information provided in your website, I am writing to make you aware of two things: 1) Your website is riddled factual errors about the types of human rights abuses in Iran and, 2) What an unsustainable claim you make to "not take a stance on policy issues like foreign intervention."

Firstly, you have grossly misrepresented the civil rights abuses that do take place in Iran. A couple quick corrections off the top of my head: there are many Kurdish books in Iran. There are also Kurdish government officials; one of the most high-ranking was former government speaker Abdollah Ramazanzadeh. People are not executed for their religion in the sense of being rounded up and shot. But, Bahais are considered legally as apostates and face discrimination, arbitrary seizure, and at worst, the death penalty for publicly practicing their religion. But their case is different from other minorities and if you conflate all of them, then you are glossing over the precarious nature of their position in Iran. Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians have official representation in parliament and are free to practice their religion, but not to proselytize (of course many do this anyway, Christianity is the fastest growing religion in Iran). Christian Bibles are available for sale at many bookstores, with official approval. Your section on discrimination against homosexuals is also highly misleading. Homosexuals are in considerable danger in Iran, but the photograph that you have posted is of two young men who were hanged in Mashhad on charges of homosexual rape of a minor. The punitive laws for co-ed partying and for adultery apply to both sexes, not just to women. I also find the way in which you bring attention to the Iranian legal system to be more about how barbaric you consider the Iranian government, not any sort of principled stance. You repeatedly emphasize that executions are hanging in public. Is it more humane to execute people via poisonous injections in private, as takes place in the United States? More in keeping with human rights would be a universal repudiation of the death penalty where ever it may be legally sanctioned.

The discrimination and repression in Iran are highly deplorable, but I wonder, does the Christian Fellowship and the Harvard Republicans support full anti-discrimination of homosexuals in this country? Also, isn’t a successful strategy of protest against repression one that assesses the situation accurately and pursues a course most likely to have a constructive effect? I think this takes into account the various destructive ways over the last 150 years for which better minority rights have been pursued. These include those who have allowed themselves to be appropriated by their imperialist governments whose policies have sought to use minority rights as a leverage point to politically and economically exploit the country. This actually has resulted in more danger for minorities, marking them, however unfairly, as foreign and as imperial agents. In this sense, your condemnation of US violence against Iran is imperative.

Secondly, can you please explain to me how you think that a concert that "raises awareness of the Iranian government's human rights abuses and expresses solidarity with Iranian students seeking to end these violations" does not take a stand on the possible U.S. economic sanctions, U.S. supported Israeli attacks, or a direct U.S. military attack? It seems to me that such a position is unsustainable because you are raising the awareness in the US, at a time when the government is trying to convince the public that Iran must be denied rights to nuclear technology (contra to its legal rights in the same treaty by which the US is also legally bound). The US case for attacking Iran hinges on creating a consensus on evil intent on the part of the Iranian government. This is imperative because the US has no legal case and no proof of Iranian intent to build nuclear weapons, and, it was shown to have misrepresented unconfirmed (at best) intelligence on Iraq's intent and weapons capability. Thus, the US government needs to build consensus among the public of general evil intent that will serve to discredit explicit Iran denials of going beyond legal nuclear energy technology and deny Iran its legal treaty rights to that technology.

By no stretch of the imagination am I a fan of the current regime, however, I also think that the situation needs to be approached through constructive means, not through (inadvertent or not) support of the US military bludgeon. This is where your event comes in. Even if you do not make an intentionally explicit claim to weigh in on foreign policy, your organization's event, because of the inescapable fact that it takes place here and now in the US, becomes part of the US government's case for sanctioned violence on Iran. You don't need to make an explicit claim. The event itself, assigned meaning by its context, is itself an explicit endorsement of war on Iran. UNLESS, you condemn the use of violence and endorse the utter exhaustion of all peaceful means of negotiation. This is a principle enshrined in the UN Charter for the very good reason that it is an integral principle of the Just War doctrine from which the Charter is derived.

I urge you to ask yourself, why Iran, why now? Why not Zimbabwe? Why not Egypt? You want a repressive government? Why not Myanmar?

I have two questions: 1) Where does your organization receive its funding? Is any of it, directly or indirectly, from the US government, more specifically, the 75 million recently earmarked by Congress to support "democracy" in Iran? 2) Do you have any actual contact with the student groups in Iran? Which ones? Where do they stand on US military attacks on Iran? And if not, why do you think you know their aims and can speak for them? Have you given a voice or any consideration to the student groups or bloggers that vehemently reject any and all US based activism on the ground that it a) can be appropriated by a jingoistic US government delivering “democracy” from the barrel of hundreds of thousands of guns and bombs that has proven quite bleak in Afghanistan and Iraq; and b) that because of the overwhelming likelihood of that appropriation, such activism will be read as collusion with an imperialist power with a strong and proven will to destruction, domination and exploitation.

Finally, I ask you, what happens to the principles of democracy and a free society when they are implemented through means which undermine their legitimacy? Do you end up with something that isn’t democracy at all?

I eagerly await your response to my questions and comments. If you choose to completely ignore me, I will have to conclude that I am correct in thinking that your claim to non-partisan neutrality on policy issues is fallacious. Furthermore, I will be convinced that you know what you are doing and thus you activities are dishonest and insidious to boot. I intend to make our dialogue public in the blogsphere, a public that crisscrosses activist, diasporic, and academic networks across world regions.


Mana Kia

Here is the response I received:

Dear Mana,

I wanted to thank you again for your email. We have been getting a
range of feedback, so we decided to put together an FAQ to address such

Please check it out here.

We are sorry to hear that you disagree with our event, but we respect
your right to do so. Thanks for your interest in promoting dialogue
about these issues.



In response I wrote back:

Dear Organizers,

This page provides some answers, but ultimately fails to answer the most pressing questions I present in my letter. Not taking a stand on intervention while condemning (a creative version) of human rights abuses in Iran, is allowing the wider official drum beating for war to incorporate you into their stand. Were you perhaps too young to remember what happened in 2002 in the lead up to the war in Iraq? Because it is eerily reminiscent.

Also, some of the spurious information I have pointed out about human rights abuses, you have left on your website. For instance, getting busted at a co-ed party with booze is not a form of gender discrimination. I am well aware of abuses against minorities, and yet, as an Iranian woman from a minority family, who likes to party (since you've included that in some assumptions about student group priorities) I don't feel like you are showing solidarity toward my counterparts in Iran. I feel like you are being hugely irresponsible politically in ignoring the context in which you are organizing such an event.

Here is the link to a translation of a student group leader and his response to US based human rights activism in Iran. I hope you will read it and reflect on what you are doing and who exactly it will ultimately serve.


Mana Kia

Friday, March 10, 2006

The text below is my quick translation of a piece by Saeed Ebrahim Habibi, a member of the same student organization through which Afshari once carried out his political activities. The post is a reflection on and objection to the speech of Afshari and Atri to the U.S. Congress.

The translation consists of all of the links of the original post, along with the photos that were included therein. Please be warned that the pictures are very graphic.

In peace,
Niki Akhavan

The Ends Do Not Justify the Means

There are certain fragments from history, which though they may have depths that are yet to be discovered, are nonetheless instructive. The relationship between Iran and the U.S. constitutes one such fragment. I do not intend to be longwinded because I think the issue is so clear that it does not need much elaboration. In brief, the subject at hand concerns the trip of two hardworking friends to D.C. where they asked Republican (!) and Democratic (!) senators for their help with Human Rights issues in Iran. We can defer for now the discussion of the tragic Human Rights situation in Iran, since we all know it very well and we all suffer from it. However, what I am moved to write about now is motivated by a serious objection to two aspects of the form and content of these speeches.

First, this conference began with the speech of Senator Rick Santorum, the leader (sic) of the Republican party. He is behind the “Iran Freedom and Support Act of 2005” which offers a referendum as a solution to Iran’s problems and which allocates 10 million dollars towards this and related activities. The presence of two of the architects of the referendum plan alongside this person, especially in the U.S. congress, is to me not only unjustifiable but also taints them. Besides, the two gentlemen introduced themselves as leaders and representatives of the student movement, and this is an obvious error since they neither consulted any relevant groups in this regard nor do they in any case hold such a rank among them. And if they went simply as two activists who represent a social movement, then they have made an even bigger error because then their presence in the Congress can only be interpreted as an appeal to and dependence upon a foreign power. While it is evident that internal changes impact external ones, but in order to have influence on what happens outside one must either have power or be rooted in a social movement. It would have been useful if the two gentlemen told us in all honesty about their motivations.

Secondly, if we assume that this was an opportunity to ask the Republicans for help in protecting Human Rights, it must first be proven that the U.S. in general pursues the adherence to Human Rights—which I do not think it does—or at least one should point to their previous violations of Human Rights so that we can somewhat (and only somewhat!) decrease the chances that they would recur.

I wont for now get into a discussion of exploitation and imperialism, but I will say this much: for capitalists human rights comes down to protection of their capital and nothing else.

Sometimes images can have a deeper and more penetrating impact than words. I believe that U.S. intervention in international affairs has been accompanied with much bitterness. I doubt that history will ever forget the fact that the U.S. has been the only nation to use the nuclear bomb.

Democracy was the excuse behind the Vietnam war as well. Four million people paid with their lives for the U.S pursuit of democracy.

Mr. Afshari and Mr. Atri, it would have been good if you had said something about Iraq as well. Merely stating your opposition to a military invasion is not enough. Being silent about Iraq or asking for help from the enemy can bear no justification. Children are sacrificed in the pursuit of this type of democracy.

On the anniversary of Mossadeq, it is very bitter to thank “all those who have given us the opportunity to speech to Congress and its respected members”. What would have been the harm in making but the slightest reference to the Coup d’etat of 1953? What about the coup d’etat of 9/11 against the people of Chile? And is human rights anything but the rights of those people who gathered around Mossadeq and the Allende?

Those who know and those who do not know me will know that my condemnations of U.S. international policy is in no way sanctions more than 25 years of human rights violations in Iran. Nor does it dismiss Ali’s [Afshari] hard work in Iran and the heavy price he paid in prison. My worry is only about the future that may come about if indecent means are justified in pursuit of our goals.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Is Ahmadinejad dressing up as Bush for Halloween?

I thought Ahmadinejad was suppose to be curbing corruption in Iran! So why is running around banning foreign movies and talking about wiping Israel from the face of the earth when doing business in Iran is still like trying to walk down a street waist deep in mud?

This confirms my deepest fears – in Ahmadinejad Iran has found its very own GW Bush! Not only does his religious zealotry blind him to any sort of practical political action, but he is clearly frothing too much at the mouth to see the ironies of his own rhetoric.

First of all, the heat is on Iran. At this point it is at a distinct disadvantage with regard to the IAEA after the recent vote allowing for future referral to the Security Council. I personally think this action is discriminatory since Iran is being expected to fulfill obligations far beyond ones in the treaty and there is a long list of nuclear rogue states that have not even signed the treaty (with Israel topping the list).

But fair or unfair, Iran must assert it claims to peaceful intentions of its nuclear program because rule of law is not the preferred method of the neo-imperialist war-mongering cabal headed by the US government. But when you have threatened the existence of another country, it is pretty easy to make a case that you do not have peaceful intentions.

Like Bush’s empty mouthings about easing the yoke of authoritarian government from peoples abroad, Ahmadinejad talks big about helping the Palestinian people. But what has he done for them lately? I really don’t see how burning an Israeli flag helps a woman dying in childbirth because proper medical care is not available. It does make him look big and bad manly, although I am almost certain Palestinians don’t care a whit about his ego. Has the Iranian government done anything but maybe provide weapons for a small faction of fundamentalist militants who will probably put the general population at un-consented-to risks as they continue their struggle? Can he not see that he is probably putting a whole bunch of other Palestinian groups in an awkward position and making them look bad? It’s just like when the US voices platitudes in support of the Iranian opposition in the country and gives the Iranian government a great excuse to crack down on them because their project is lauded by the largest threat to world peace today (the US government).

Ahmadinejad is also like Bush in that he can only think in monolithic constructs. For instance, in what seem like budding delusions of grandeur, he claimed that "My words were the Iranian nation's words. Westerners are free to comment, but their reactions are invalid.” Well, last time I checked he was elected president of the Iranian STATE, the Iranian nation is another matter. Imagine the audacity of claiming to speak for the Iranian nation. I personally disavow his attempt to speak for me based on several things:

I have always disliked the unsophisticated conflagration of Judaism, Israel and Zionism. But Ahmadinejad, like so many American Zionists (Christians and Jews alike) and right wing Likudniks want Israel (a state), Zionism (a political ideology) and Judaism (a religion) to all mean the same thing. If Ahmadinejad wants to traverse the same tired logic of Zionists in his unoriginal critique, then he can. But do it in private, man! Personally I prefer to critique Zionism in a way that does not subscribe to the logic of that selfsame ideology?!

Ahmadinejad is pandering to his Basiji constituency and participating in a testosterone filled, ego trip ceremony. Add white hoods and burning crosses and you have the Klan. Add white baseball caps, date rape and beer and you have a frat party. Is he really so immature that he doesn’t realize that such strategically impractical displays have no place in the President of a country under a great deal of international pressure and scrutiny. One almost wonders if he wants to bring down a war on Iran so that he can attempt to galvanize Iranian society in support of his reactionary program. If not, he is a dangerously stupid and inept because he all but drew a big target on Iran. He is free to draw a large target on his own forehead and I will pray that his wish is fulfilled, but who does he think he is putting the country at risk of the miseries of attack “for their own good” ?! Or is he trying to distract young people from the rising unemployment that makes their degrees mean next to nothing? Can he please get his head out of the past that never was and start acting like a responsible head of state?

After such repulsive and gross statements, Ahmadinejad is no better than the racist Knesset members who liken Palestinians to roaches and talk about sweeping their filth away (comments which receive nothing close to the criticism they should, as if Israelis have any right to such genocidal speech ESPECIALLY because of their past). He is just taking the opposite position and reinforcing the logic of Zionism. Isn’t the view from the Pharaoh’s seat always better? Perhaps a real critique would be to attack the exclusionary nature of Zionism that disenfranchises millions of people under Israeli political domination. It is a selective democracy, which provides full citizenship only for Jews. I propose equal rights for all. But then, if Ahmadinejad were to take an ethical stand for the rights of Palestinians, he would be undermining theocratic government. Maybe that’s what a world without Zionism would look like…

*Mana Kia is a PhD student in History and Middle East Studies at Harvard University.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Where is Farshid Faraji?

Farshid Faraji, an independent Iranian cameraman, who was arrested by the American military forces in Iraq, is missing. Faraji, who entered Iraq on May 2nd 2005 with a valid visa and proper documents to complete the filming of the documentary, "In Search of Cyrus the Great," does not appear on the Red Cross list. While the Red Cross has registered the arrest of Koroush Kar, the producer of the film, there is no information available about Farshid Faraji’s whereabouts.

After shooting scenes in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Turkey, Faraji and Kar entered Iraq, in order to film the historical site of Babylon, but lost contact with their families after the first week of entering Iraq. Koroush Kar contacted his family and notified them that the he and Faraji were arrested on May 19th, 2005. Farshid Faraji's family, who are gravely concerned about his safety, have not been able to find any information about Farshid from the Red Cross and the Iranian authorities.

Iranian filmmakers and advocacy groups are putting pressure on the Iranian government to take appropriate steps to find Farshid Faraji. We need the help of human rights groups and international advocacy organizations in asking the United States government to provide Fashid's family with information about their son's arrest. We believe that while Farshid is being interrogated, his family has the right to know about his status and his whereabouts.

Thank you,

People who are concerned about Farshid Faraji and his family.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Elections in Iran

What is happening in Iran?! I keep wanting to write a post about it, but feel like I don’t have a proper grasp on it. So I keep reading news stories and scratching my head.

Last Friday I woke up and went over the Radisson hotel in Cambridge, MA to cast my vote. I even called my mother before hand to make sure I had the correct spelling (in Persian) of Mostafa. At the polling place there was an AP reporter who asked me questions afterward such as, “Do you feel that these elections are free and fair?”; “Do you think the candidates you have to choose from are representative of political spectrum?”; “How do you feel about the call to boycott elections?”

I answered these questions the best I could, warning the reporter that a great deal of my views are informed by my studies, rather than from my Iranian heritage. First of all, no, these elections are not free and fair, but I don’t think I’ve participated in free and fair elections since we elected class presidents in high school. In Iran you have to “have proper respect for Islam” (a la the Guardian Council) and in the US you have to be able to please enough rich people for them to give you the money needed to run an election campaign. So it’s either Islam, or the religion of this country, the creed of the holy Prophet Greenback. So no, they are not free and fair, but as imperfect as it is, I prefer to cast my vote, rather than abstain in protest. 60% of the electorate has been staying home in the US for election after election in this country and it hasn’t made a lick of difference.

Furthermore, with Iran under so much pressure internally and externally, I feel like although I think the Iranian political system needs to be overhauled and restructured, at this point I’d rather let my vote be partially appropriated by hardline conservatives to extol the legitimacy of the system, than have an extremely low voter turnout exacerbate internal tensions and give aggressive external forces an excuse to “liberate” Iran. Perhaps I am wrong about this, but something tells me that most Iranians would prefer these flawed elections and their potential for gradual reform to the kind of democracy the US is dishing out – in the form of unelected 2 ton bombs and freedom to stare into the barrel of a gun.

And, of course these candidates are not representative! But, again, the last time I voted in an election where everyone who wanted to run was on the ballot was in high school. How many times have I stared at a US presidential ballot forced to pick between the lesser of the two evils, rather than a favored candidate…

I think it is the right of people to boycott elections if they want – everyone should be free to show their disapproval or support for the system in the way they deem best. After all, is that not the point of democracy, to think for yourself? Boycott is just not the way I have chosen.

This Friday it is time for yet another choice and I dread the idea of voting for Rafsanjani. I am still unclear how this man suddenly has become a moderate and a pragmatist. Has he moved over to the left or has the relative pool of candidates moved over to the right? Is he referred to as such in the English language press because he supports free-market capitalism? Wasn’t he just on the Expediency Council, the notoriously conservative group that resolves legislative disputes between the parliament and the Guardian Council? What was he doing during the four years the reformist dominated parliament was trying to pass laws to make the system more democratic?

And while Ahmadinejad is extremely conservative, he does look better to some in contrast to a fabulously wealthy Rafsanjani. Not once have I seen an English news story ask how he acquired all this wealth. If they did, their pragmatic candidate might start stinking of nepotism and corruption. Is there an economic layer to this election we are not getting access to? The mainstream press glosses this over because it embraces free market capitalism as an absolute Go(o)d. The left leaning press is usually (not always) unable to soak up economic nuances in any situation that smacks of religion. So what is the deal with Ahmadinejad’s popularity and why are we told that he appeals to the poor? Why doesn’t Moin appeal to the poor? And I don’t accept the artificial connection that poor people are stupid and uneducated and thus mindlessly follow the most conservative religious candidate. That sort of dehumanization of the poor and/or religious is unproductive if we are to try to figure out what is going on and take steps from there. The Pahlavis thrived on that sort of dehumanization as the backbone of their political legitimation and look where it got them.

These are not rhetorical questions, I really would like to know what the deal is… Should I stay home this Friday, or should I do my duty and vote the only possible way to keep Ahmadinejad out of office?

And with all these claims of ballot tampering, was I wrong in telling the reporter that while I thought the Guardian Council’s vetting of candidates was reprehensible, once underway, the elections were real elections (contra the claims of Bush)?

I am posing this post mostly in the way of questions to encourage a dialogue…

*Mana Kia is a PhD student in History and Middle East Studies at Harvard University.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Petition Against U.S. Military and Monetary Intervention in Iran

The office of Senator Brownback, the author of the Iran Democracy Act, and Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, has confirmed that on June 9th, the Commission will hold a hearing on Iran "to discuss the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran and the prospect for a joint US Europe response." This hearing is scheduled between 1:30 P.M. – 3:30 P.M. at 192 Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington D.C. It is now confirmed that Goli Ameri, the Co-Founder of Iran Democracy Project at the Conservative think tank, Hoover Institute, and Larry Diamond, a Senior Fellow at Hoover, will be among the panelists.

The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency, which consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce. Goli Ameri was appointed by President George W. Bush as one of three public delegates to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Ameri was the Republican candidate for Congress in Oregon’s first district during the 2004 election cycle. Last year, during her campaign, Ameri wrote an open letter to Secretary of State Colin Powel, encouraging him to take a harder stand on Iran, which stirred much reaction among Iranians. To our knowledge, Ameri has now contacted a selected number of her supporters to attend this hearing. Diamond, who is introduced on Hoover’s webpage as "a specialist on democratic development and regime change, and on U.S. foreign policy affecting democracy abroad," served as a senior adviser on governance to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad in 2004. In his Iran Democracy Act, Senator Brownback, the author of the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, suggested the establishment of an "Iran Democracy Fund," according to the model that allocated money for Iraqi opposition groups in exile in 1998.

Considering the political background of the organizers and participants in this hearing, we are worried that the plight of human rights in Iran may be abused for geo-political agendas that will only harm the development of any viable democratic movement, by the imposition of economic sanctions or military intervention. We believe that the voices of the Iranian diaspora should not be limited to the selected few that claim to represent the will of the Iranian people. Despite our objection to the arrest of Iranian journalists and bloggers in Iran, we strongly oppose military intervention or monetary support for "dissident groups" in Iran or in its diaspora, and ask the U.S. representatives to represent our voices, which are often suppressed in such hearings.

If you are against U.S. military and/or monetary intervention in Iran, please sign this petition. We plan to send this petition to the members of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe by June 7th. Please help us circulate this petition by sending it to others in the community.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Some Questions on Minorities and Majorities

This article is truly amazing. Referring to the events in southwest Iran over the last few days, the White House “accused Iran on Tuesday of violating the rights of Arabs and other minority groups and urged restraint in dealing with them.”

Um. Is this the pot calling the kettle black or what! And pointing out that the Bush administration possesses an astounding level of hypocrisy uttering these statements, in lieu of the widespread mistreatment of Arabs (or people perceived to be Arab) in this country, does not mean that I think just because the US discriminates against minorities that Iran can go ahead.

The article further notes: “The United States calls upon Iranian authorities to exercise restraint in dealing with the Arab minority and to "respect the peaceful exercise by the Iranian people of their democratic rights," Ereli said.” Might I quote this to a police officer the next time I am at a demonstration against US government policy and am getting pepper-sprayed and shoved to the ground in hand cuffs? Also, I recall some demonstrations in Iraq last week against US occupation that seemed to have produced little effect… what does it mean to respect democratic rights? Allow the demonstration and then refrain from too violent a reaction while completely ignoring any demands? Does the fact of simply allowing a demonstration to take place constitute a respect of democratic rights? (Perhaps I am too jaded, but talk is cheap and I have yet to see this administration respecting my democratic rights. I wonder what lessons it has – besides the bid for full spectrum domination - to teach other governments.)

What does strike me as weird is this concept of ethnic minority. What does this mean?

Does this mean people who speak Arabic? (Presumably they speak Persian as well). Is ethnicity in Iran understood on the basis of language? If so, most of the country can speak Persian, even if it is a secondary language. If Persian has to be a native language, then I must regretfully inform all of my cousins that most of us are not “Persians.” They will, let me tell you, be shocked, especially after all those years of Persian lessons after elementary school. Furthermore, in Safavid times, there were seven times more Persian speakers in India than in Iran. Majority rules! India then, must have been the core of “Persian.” This notion of the Persian language as the bastion of Persian identity becomes even more complicated once we consider the fact that standard modern Persian is something that, before the twentieth century, existed largely in the world of literature and was largely the preserve of the literate. And the literate were usually bilingual, learning to read and write Arabic alongside Persian. If these people are disqualified from being Persian, we should certainly strike from the list of Persians traitorous bilinguals like Hafez, Rumi, Firdowsi, ibn Sina, Sa’adi, and Suhravardi, - anyone who ever wrote anything that enjoys wide circulation today as “Persian.”

If ethnicity is not based on language alone, then is it based on race? If this is the case, most Persian speakers are disqualified from being Persian because they or their families hail from parts of the geographic political entity of Iran that has been identified as non-Persian. This assumes that people in “Persian” villages and areas have always lived there and have never had any other people pass through. Common occurrences like migration, invasion and reconfiguration are absent from such assumptions that “Persians” have, since arriving in Iran and being forged into a shining people through the glories of ancient empires, never moved since or married any of the people who arrived later or lived there before.

The idea of a racial basis for “Persian” identity is pure fantasy, one that is further bolstered by patriarchal systems that try to erase all traces of maternal connections through name and larger community affiliations. This is currently enshrined in Iran’s citizenship laws, where Iranian citizenship is passed down from a child’s father. Thus, my brother, who has never set foot in Iran can assume Iranian citizenship for his children, while I, who was born there, will have to wade through a mountain of petitions and paperwork to have such status for my children considered – since my husband is American.) So according to patriarchal systems of assigning identity, my brother’s children are Iranian and mine are American. Unfortunately, naming cannot erase the fact that they will probably still look like one another and their playing in the sandbox will not be an youthful enactment of multi-racial/multi-cultural diplomacy!

So if we are all a little mixed up from the word go, then what is this Persian identity? Some could say it is a set of ethics, a way of being in the world that is upright, honest and honorable. After all, ethical texts from pre-Islamic times heavily resonate in Islamic Iran from the Qabusnama up through Safavid and Constitutionalist times. But these ethical texts are prescriptive, meant to urge the practice of particular behaviors – which means that these are not the ethics that all people live by, at all times. They are an ideal, and an ideal is something hardly anyone lives up to. So do you stop being Persian when you are behaving badly? Do something ethically suspect? Make a mistake?

My own (paternal) family hails from the mountainous area of Mazandaran that was notoriously rebellious in the hundred years after the Arab invasion. The region kept revolting, the Arab troops kept coming back, putting down the revolt, and the people would pledge their allegiance to get the troops to leave and then revolt as soon as they were out of sight. Finally, sick of this, the Arabs placed a permanent garrison there and settled. (Shah Abbas also forcibly converted thousands of Georgians and Armenians to Islam and settled them in Mazandaran). So my glorious ancestors are racially suspect AND ethically dubious (as oath breakers). Furthermore, up until my grandparents generation, most of them were learned, and therefore bilingual speakers of Persian and Arabic. Imagine that, Nur and Kujur, a hotbed of non-Persians linguistically, ethically, and racially. So why are they not considered a minority? What erases some aspects of the past and not others? Could it be that political, social, and economic expediencies of particular historical moments demand particular interpretations of the place of self and community?

So what is this concept of Arab minority or any other minority in Iran? What sort of myths and constructs does it uphold about the Iranian nation-state? That it’s core is “Persian” and everyone else is a minority? Rather than squabbling about what happened to cause the protests and crackdowns (which is entirely unclear) I wanted to ponder over why no one who criticized the IRI’s actions questions the basis of the argument, that there is an Arab minority and a Persian majority and that naturally the state is constituted by the majority nation and room must graciously be made for the minority. What is the Iran nation but the latest permutation of a fantasy of belonging? Is it not an idea that sustains a form of political rule, where cultural forms (and other similarities) may or may not overlap? There is no way to have a majority without excluding others. Maybe we need to think of belonging in more flexible ways.

A final note on the article: the caption of the generic militant picture (which always accompanies articles on Iran) reads “Iranian special forces soldiers march during the annual Army Day parade in south Tehran April 18, 2005. Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said on Monday Iran had the military might to deter attacks against the Islamic state, which is under Western pressure over its nuclear program.”

Why does this accompany an article about US criticism of the Iranian government’s military behavior in Khuzestan? Does this hint that this criticism is an attack on Iran? What does this have to do with the nuclear program? Or is it just another statement of “proof” that the Iranian government is Evil and Violent in such absolute terms that specification, clarity and relevance of proof are unnecessary. Or is Reuters also colluding in underlining and reinforcing the peripheral nature of the Arab minority to the Iranian nation-state by implying that such protests constitute an attack on the state. As always, the picture to text logic of articles on Iran tell their own mystifying, insidious story.

*Mana Kia is a PhD student in History and Middle East Studies at Harvard University