Tuesday, June 30, 2009

North Korea's Kang Nam Turns Around, and I've No Clue Why

Right now the Kang Nam, that North Korean ship that's suspected of carrying contraband weapons, isn't headed for either Syria (an idle speculation of mine) or Burma/Myanmar (a serious prediction of South Korean and American officials).

It's turned around, and is going back the way it came.

Why the ship turned around is a good question: for which there doesn't seem to be an answer. Presumably the Kang Nam's captain knows: but he hasn't shared that information, of course.

As for what I think this means: I think it means that the Kang Nam turned around, and that there's not enough information to allow reasonable speculation.

We'll just have to wait and see what happens next.

Related posts: In the news:

Monday, June 29, 2009

Ahmadinejad and Neda's Death: There's Going to be an 'Investigation'

I don't approve of the way the ayatollahs have been running Iran for the last three decades, but I think they're making the best of a bad - for them - situation, with the death of Neda Agha Soltan.

Instead of denying that she ever existed, or that she was dead, they're 'hunting for her killer.' Not in so many words, of course:
"Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday called the death of Neda Agha-Soltan 'suspicious' and urged the country's authorities to identify those responsible for it, Iran's semi-official Fars news agency reported Monday...."

"...But Iran has been pushing back against eyewitness reports that she was shot by pro-government Basij militiamen perched on a rooftop near a demonstration.

"Ahmadinejad told the head of Iran's judiciary, Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi, to probe the incident and make the results of his investigations public, Fars reported Monday, nine days after Agha-Soltan was killed.

" 'The massive propaganda of the foreign media, as well as other evidence, proves the interference of the enemies of the Iranian nation who want to take political advantage and darken the pure face of the Islamic republic, he said in a letter to Shahroudi, according to the news agency...." (CNN)
The "massive propaganda of the foreign media" helped, I'm sure. But that video being viewed and spread around the world didn't help, either, from the ayatollahs' point of view.

As for darkening "the pure face of the Islamic Republic," I'd say the ayatollahs and their enforcers have been doing a fine job of that, themselves: although that probably wasn't what they had in mind.

'Usual Suspect Syndrome' Ahead?

I used (and possibly coined) the phrase "usual suspect syndrome" on the eve of President Obama's inauguration celebrations. 'Usual suspect syndrome' is having "... a collection of 'usual suspects' - people or organizations that are The Bad Guys. Any connection with them, no matter how slight or irrelevant, makes a person or organization one The Bad Guys, too." (January 19, 2009)

What sort of person or organization is on the 'usual suspects' list depends on the list-maker's preferred perception of reality. Organizations and groups of people often include Hamas, the CIA, foreigners, or right-wing extremists.

Judging from what Iran's state press is doing I think it's clear that, if they ever considered it, the ayatollahs have given up on making Neda a non-person who never existed: of denying her existence and/or her death.

With that video loose on the Internet, and the people who knew Neda being known themselves - along with their recollections of Neda Agha Soltan - simple denial wouldn't work. Making Neda's family, friends, and acquaintances disappear would have made the matter worse: they're known, and their disappearances would have been noted.

The ayatollahs have not given evidence that they're stupid. Demagogues using a particularly violent brand of Islam to instill hatred of their enemies, yes. Stupid, no.

I think it's quite possible that at least one person who says he's from a group that the ayatollahs don't like will confess. And, probably say that some combination of the great Satan America, Israel, and Britain made him do it.

And, after a trial, will be quickly executed. Which is probably better than the alternative he was offered.

Related posts: In the news:

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Protesting Election Fraud is "Waging War Against God" - Ayatollah Khatami

We got a good look at one flavor of Islam this week, when Ayatollah Seyyed Ahmad Khatami said that, since the Supreme Leader likes the way the election came out, disagreeing with him is waging war on God. Not in so many words, but that's the gist of it.

Considering how the ayatollah says that western media 'lies' about what's going on in Iran, it's odd that his remarkable message is getting comparatively little press attention. I suppose that Michael Jackson's death, and yet another American governor in trouble (extramarital hanky-panky this time), together with a possible history-making revolution in progress, didn't leave much room.

The story is getting out, though:
"Ayatollah Seyyed Ahmad Khatami, a hardline member of Iran's Council of Experts, who led Friday prayers in Tehran today, said in his second sermon that based on the Islamic punishment for moharebeh [waging war against God], the imam and leader of an Islamic society can fight 'rioters' [election protesters] until their destruction, because Islam has suggested the severest punishment for those who engage in moharebeh.

"According to the Labour news agency, ILNA, Khatami said that the 'leaders of rioters' in [recent] protests 'feed at the trough of America and Israel,' and called on Iran's Judiciary to deal with them 'decisively and mercilessly,' so that others learn a lesson from their fate.

"Under Iran's Islamic law, punishment for people convicted as mohareb is execution...." (WashingtonTV)
Ayatollah Khatami doesn't approve of:
  • European, American and English media
    • Neda Aqa Soltan died "at the hands of rioters and instigators", even though "Mr. [Barack] Obama sheds crocodile tears" for her and the West "caused an uproar" about her
  • UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon

Ayatollah Khatami's Message to the World: Look at Those Jews Over There, and Great Satan America's Gitmo

It's getting to be something of a routine in Iran. When things aren't going well, direct attention to those hated Jews, and the great Satan America. I'll give Ayatollah Khatami credit, first for directing verbal fire at several targets:
"...Blasting UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon’s recent expression of concern and his call for Iran's government to respect the internationally recognized rights of protesters, Khatami alluded to the extended conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip last year and criticized American conduct in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Addressing Ban, he said: 'Wretched man! 400 children died in Gaza, you felt no worries; 100 helpless women died in Gaza, you felt no worries; Americans kill people in Afghanistan and Iraq, you feel no worries; you are worried now?' he said.

"He called the UN 'arrogant power' and asked other nations to seek a 'real United Nations.'

"Khatami then reminded American officials of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and said: 'You dare talk of human rights with all your human rights violations?'..." (WashingtonTV)
I'll also give Khatami credit for apparently keeping up with what the more 'sophisticated' Americans feel about the great Satan America, and all those 'terribly mistreated' prisoners at Gitmo. I don't see how catering to the prisoners' idea of proper Islamic food and providing them with Qurans constitutes mistreatment, but then I'm not 'sophisticated' by some standards.

As for the oppression of Gaza by the Jews: people who believe that, believe it.1

Neda: The Ayatollahs Seem to have Picked a Story, and They're sticking with it

The ayatollah also told Iran's Muslims that Neda was killed by 'protesters:' and offered proof. "That Aqa-Soltan's last moments were recorded on video in an 'alleyway' shows her murder was 'pre-planned' by protesters he said...." You can't argue with logic like that.

I've seen the video of her death. Tehran must have really big alleyways, or the ayatollah is counting on his followers to be people who:
  • Never saw the video
  • Are adept at doublethink
  • Don't want to be the next person shot by
    • 'rioters'
    • 'protesters'
    • 'instigators'
  • Some combination of the above

Iran's Supreme Leader, God, and an Opportunity for Reflection

As for Ayatollah's claim that protesting a decision by the Supreme Leader is waging war against God: some Muslims may believe it. I think - and hope - that many may take this as an opportunity to think very hard about just what is Islam, and what is a patchwork of cultural values and personal preferences.

Related posts: News and views:
1I don't doubt that people in Palestinian territory aren't enjoying a high standard of living. If I lived in a county run by an American equivalent of Hamas (think the KKK of the sixties), where significant numbers of my neighbors were in the habit of firing missiles at people in the next town and dressing their kids in suicide vests to go blow up at a 7-Eleven, I might have troubles, too.

After a while, those hypothetical people in the next town might decide to do something about the attacks. After which, of course, my town's leaders would cry out about the inhumanity of those people over there.

Iran and an Embassy: It Worked So Well in 1979- - -

The headline, "Britain blasts arrest of embassy staffers in Iran," reminded me of 1979's news that Iranian students had taken over the American embassy in Tehran.

Sure: the circumstances aren't the same. Staff of the embassy are being held, not the whole embassy; ayatollahs are running Iran, not a shah; and the embassy is British, not American.

Iran's government says that the nine or so British embassy staffers were arrested because the helped Britain mess up Iran's recent presidential election. I think the ayatollahs did a fine job of that on their own, with no outside help, but let that pass for now.
"...The Iranian government has long accused other countries, especially Britain, of "meddling" in its affairs, but has offered no proof any outside forces have been involved in the unrest since the election...." (CNN)
Diplomacy between Iran and the U.K. has been a bit strained of late, since Britain won't do what the ayatollahs want it to. Last week, Iran's government expelled two British diplomats. In diplomatese, that's a way of showing displeasure. Britain, in turn, expelled two Iranian diplomats. Then, Tehran booted the British ambassador. That's upping the ante considerably.

The British government says they didn't interfere with Iran's election, and I'm inclined to believe them.

Meanwhile, Iran softened its ban on public demonstrations by allowing one today, in honor of Mohammad Beheshti. I'd say that it's a case of some demonstrations being more equal than others. Beheshti is a hero of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. (June 28, 2009)

So That's Why the Numbers are So Low!

Wonder why the body count for one day of demonstrations was 19 (June 20, 2009, officially, but people who weren't on the ayatollahs' payroll said it was around 150? This might give part of the answer:
"...Amnesty International has collected accounts from people who have left Iran and expatriates with relatives there who say the Basij has prohibited medical professionals from getting identification information from wounded demonstrators who check in, Akhlaghi said on Saturday. They are also not allowed to ask how the injuries happened, and relatives are hard pressed to find the wounded.

"Once the patients are treated, the militia removes them from the hospital to an undisclosed location, she said...." (CNN)
The official line in the ayatollah's government seems to be that the CIA, or terrorists, or anybody but their own enforcers shot Neda, that not many people at all were killed, and that Iranians had better stop complaining, or they'll disappear, too.

It just might work.

As for seizing embassy staffers: something like that tied America in knots until President Regan took office. At that point, the current rulers of Iran seemed almost in a rush to get rid of their hostages.

Maybe the ayatollahs figure that, if it worked once, it's worth trying again. At this point, with the mess they've got on their hands, I suppose they may be willing to try anything.

Related posts: In the news:

Friday, June 26, 2009

Pray for Neda: And Learn About the Real Iran

I recommend reading an op-ed piece posted on CNN's website today. This is an excerpt:
"...I, too, was born and raised in Iran. My coming-of-age years coincided with the Iranian revolution of 1979. I, too, was on the streets, watching and rooting for the demonstrators. Nothing seemed more natural, more compelling than being on the streets, calling for freedom, breathing the intoxicating, the dangerously euphoric Tehran air.

"I was 12 in 1978, yet I was as undaunted as any adult. Nothing, least of all my pleading parents, could keep me away from the rooftops at 9 p.m...."

"... I soon learned that the images of a fist-throwing mob of angry men and darkly veiled women burning the Uncle Sam effigies were the only images that most Americans had of Iran. Those images had little in common with the Iran I knew -- greater in numbers and in the grip of the same fist-throwing crowds.

"With Neda's death, the Iran I know finally has a face. The sequence of her death is the sequence of our nation's struggle in the past 30 years: The democratic future that 1979 was to deliver collapsing, then trails of blood -- that of so many executed or assassinated -- streaming across its bright promise. The film of Neda's death is the abbreviated history of contemporary Iran...."
I've had the pleasure of knowing and being acquainted with Iranians, and hearing colloquial Persian spoken. Having an Iranian roommate helped. I've studied history, so I am aware of the debt that civilization owes to Persian rulers like Darius the Great.

And, I very emphatically do not agree with John Deady, Giuliani's one-time co-chairman, who said: "I don't subscribe to the principle that there are good Muslims and bad Muslims. They're all Muslims." And, that "We need to keep the feet to the fire and keep pressing these people until we defeat or chase them back to their caves or, in other words, get rid of them." (December 29, 2007)

I don't know how long it will take Iran to recover from the ayatollahs. My guess is that it will be generations before the damage is undone: my fear is that it will be centuries. But, given its history, Persia - Iran - will recover and will, in time, prosper.

Iranians are Not the Enemy

I think an exercise in imagination might help Americans, at least, see the Iran that Roya Hakakian knows.

Imagine that, toward the end of the Carter administration, the KKK, several militia's of the sort that encouraged Timothy McVeigh, and like-minded people took over the United States. They appointed a President-for-life, replaced the existing Constitution with a more 'American' one (by their standards), and for thirty years have been holding mandatory-attendance cross-burnings on a quite regular basis.

That didn't happen, of course, and it probably won't. One of the advantages of being a nation with an increasingly large assortment of ethnic groups and sub-cultures is that, in my opinion, it's getting harder to get enough people hating 'those people over there.'

But, in my opinion, it can be done. I think we're perilously close to defining Muslims and/or (potential) terrorists like Ron Paul supporters and American veterans as being 'un-American.'

Not all Americans are alike, and we don't necessarily follow the lead of the dominant culture. And, in my opinion, that's okay.

Related posts: Views:

Moussavi Told to Keep Quiet Like a Loser Should

Mir Hossein Moussavi, who might have won the recent Iranian presidential election under, ah, different circumstances, may be under house arrest. And, he got a warning from Iran's government:
"Members of Iran's influential National Security Council have told opposition leader Mir Hossein Moussavi that his repeated demands for the annulment of the June 12 election results are 'illogical and unethical,' state media reported...." (CNN)
I don't blame the National Security Council one bit. The 'correct' candidate won the election, just like he was supposed to: and here one of the people who was supposed to lose isn't accepting his assigned role. It must be frustrating.

Particularly since videos of the ayatollah's enforcers dealing with protesters are making the Islamic Republic look like a brutal dictatorship.

And, apparently, it's the fault of Moussavi and the CIA.

Related posts: In the news:

CIA Shot Neda: Old Story, New Names

I was wondering how long this would take.
"The United States may have been behind the killing of Neda Agha-Soltan, the 26-year-old Iranian woman whose fatal videotaped shooting Saturday made her a symbol of opposition to the June 12 presidential election results, the country's ambassador to Mexico said Thursday.

" 'This death of Neda is very suspicious,' Ambassador Mohammad Hassan Ghadiri said. 'My question is, how is it that this Miss Neda is shot from behind, got shot in front of several cameras, and is shot in an area where no significant demonstration was behind held?'

"He suggested that the CIA or another intelligence service may have been responsible.

" 'Well, if the CIA wants to kill some people and attribute that to the government elements, then choosing women is an appropriate choice, because the death of a woman draws more sympathy,' Ghadiri said...." (CNN)
Like the 'terrorists killed Neda Agha Soltan story, this is plausible - if for a more limited audience.

Quite a number of people in America are convinced that the FBI killed President Kennedy and that the CIA blew up New York City's World Trade Center. Lack of evidence can be used as proof. Paraphrasing something I wrote earlier: 'There's no evidence that the CIA secretly shot Neda - You see?! That proves it! They won't let The Truth be published!!' (January 14, 2009)

I don't see the CIA as being like James Bond's MI6, with quite a lot of SPECTRE mixed in: but I don't think that George Bush and the British royal family are space alien shape-shifting lizard people either. Which, for some, makes me a dupe or part of the conspiracy. That, I can live with.

As for the Ghadiri's "...choosing women is an appropriate choice, because the death of a woman draws more sympathy,'..." It's quite true: Neda wouldn't be on monitor screens around the world if she was fifty-something man. Probably.

This helps explain why the killing of Neda is such a thorn in the side of the ayatollahs: but that doesn't mean that the CIA did it.

I think it's at least as likely that the company that was going to deliver Neda's piano had broken the instrument, and had her killed to cover up their mistake.

Related Posts: In the news:

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Kenya and Somalia: Getting Along with Crazy Neighbors

As of yesterday, Somalia was down to about 280 members of parliament. That's above the 250 needed to make a quorum in Somalia's 550-seat assembly. (BBC)

The rest are either dead, fleeing the country, or already out. Or, possibly, in hiding.

I can't say that I blame the survivors. Trying to run a government in a shooting gallery - where you're the target - must be difficult.

Meanwhile, Kenya is either going to send troops into Somalia, or not.
"With troops massed on the Somali border and heavy artillery being moved into position, Kenya appears ready to join – if necessary – the Ethiopians in an armed intervention in Somalia.

"Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki called together his National Defense and Security Council in Nairobi yesterday, and while Interior Minister George Saitoti assured Kenyans that Kenya would not intervene in Somalia, it was clear that other ministers and defense officials were preparing for such a step...." (CSM)
The Kenyan Broadcasting Corporation has a different angle on the same facts:
"...Though the government is closely monitoring the unfolding situation, government spokesperson Alfred Mutua says Kenya will not send troops to Somalia.

" 'The Government of Kenya is taking appropriate measures to protect the interest of our country and to ensure that our border with Somalia is safe and our citizens and refugees near the border are given the necessary comfort. The Kenyan Government will however, not send troops to Somalia but views this as a serious matter which requires intervention by the International community.'..." (KBC)
These articles don't contradict each other. Kenya shares a long border with Somalia. Kenyan leaders would be irresponsible, under the circumstances, if they hadn't moved troops and weapons to the Somali border.

The last I read, Somalia is a territory with a barely-functioning national government. Islamic fanatics and pirates are shooting it out with each other when they're not targeting survivors of Somali's governing bodies. Kenyan leaders have the responsibility to protect their citizens against Somali factions that might try to expand into Kenya.

I don't know if the implied call for international help will be answered soon. Although Somali pirates have made shipping in the northwest Indian Ocean hazardous, there's quite a bit going on just now: North Korea threatening America with Armageddon1, and being none-too-friendly toward its closer neighbors; Iran's government quite possibly going into meltdown mode; and the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. And that's just the highlights.

It's Not 'Those People Over There'

I'm a bit more personally interested in the situation in Somalia and Kenya, than I am in many others.

My parish church has close ties with a parish in Kenya. I had the honor to meet with a priest from there, when my extended family hosted him on a visit to our area.

Many Somalis have emigrated to America, and quite a few are now Minnesotans. I've discussed the occasionally-sensible way that American authorities have dealt with the disappearance of young Somali men in other posts.

National and geographical borders are not what they were when I was growing up. We have many more opportunities now, to deal with people who do not live in our immediate area. I see this as an opportunity for learning. And, for giving support to people in need. (More at "Earthquake in Ziarat: I Have to Care," A Catholic Citizen in America (October 29, 2008).)

Right now, it looks like people in Somalia need a national government that can handle the assorted pirates and fanatics. How that end will be achieved, I don't know. My guess is that the people who have been killing members of parliament in Somalia won't decide that it would be nicer if they'd stop: so force will probably be needed.

That won't be at all pleasant.

Related posts: In the news:
1 No, I don't think that America as a whole is in immediate peril. On the other hand we could lose places like Anchorage and Honolulu, so Dear Leader's threat isn't something that can be ignored.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Iran: 'Terrorists' Killed Neda Agha Soltan - Officially

Looks to me like the death of Neda Aghah-Soltan is a thorn in the side of the ayatollahs. The official line now is that she actually exists, that she was killed, and that it's the fault of "terrorists."

Actually, it's a plausible story: probably the best that Iran's government could do, under the circumstances.
"Iran said the gunman who killed Neda Agha-Soltan may have mistaken her for the sister of an Iranian 'terrorist,' the Islamic Republic News Agency reported Wednesday.

"In death, Neda Agha-Soltan has emerged as a powerful symbol of opposition to the Iranian government.

"Iran blamed the death of the woman known to the world simply as Neda squarely on 'those groups who want to create division in the nation,' saying they planned the woman's killing 'to accuse the Islamic republic of ruthlessly dealing with the opposition,' according to IRNA, Iran's state-run news agency.

"The report said the investigation into her death is ongoing, 'but according to the evidence so far, it could be said that she was killed by mistake. The marksmen had mistaken her for the sister of one of the Monafeghin who had been executed in the province of Mazandaran some time ago.'..." (CNN)
Monafeghin seems to be another name for the People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran, or PMOI, a leftist group dating 1963, which supported the the 1979 takeover of the American embassy in Tehran. They're no friends of the Islamic Republic, though. Their mix of Marxism, feminism, and Islamism isn't even close to being on the same page as the ayatollahs. (CNN, GlobalSecurity.org, FAS)

As bad guys, they're far from being a bad choice for the Islamic Republic of Iran. They've been attacking Iran from Iraqi territory. As such, my guess is that the ayatollahs are hoping to display Neda Agha Soltan's killing as some sort of western plot.

The 'terrorist' story may work to deflect outrage from the ayatollahs. It's dramatic, and doesn't require that people believe that Neda Agha Soltan never existed, that the video they've seen isn't real, or that she didn't really die.
  • "...Iran blamed the death of the woman known to the world simply as Neda squarely on 'those groups who want to create division in the nation,' saying they planned the woman's killing 'to accuse the Islamic republic of ruthlessly dealing with the opposition,'..."
  • "...the investigation into her death is ongoing, 'but according to the evidence so far, it could be said that she was killed by mistake. The marksmen had mistaken her for the sister of one of the Monafeghin who had been executed in the province of Mazandaran some time ago.'..."
  • "...IRNA reported Wednesday that the killer, or killers, may have 'thought that they were targeting one of the government opposition people and that is why they immediately distributed the video of the aftermath of the killing through the official and unofficial media in order to reach their murderous objectives against the Iranian government and revolution.'
    (CNN) [emphasis mine]
Giving credit where credit is due, the ayatollahs seem to be making the best of a bad situation.

Considering the rest of what's been leaking out, I don't believe the 'terrorist' story: but from a propagandist's point of view the tale is well-crafted.

Related posts: In the news: Background:

Journalism in the Information Age, Or Nothing Says 'No' Like a Brightly Burning Motorcycle

Iran's Supreme Leader and his enforcers are doing their best to keep order in Iran. They're (apparently) killing protesters and (allegedly) rounding up reporters. According to Reporters Without Borders, Iran is now a world leader, when it comes to imprisoned or missing journalists.
"...Iran now has a total of 33 journalists and cyber-dissidents in its jails, while journalists who could not be located at their homes have been summoned by telephone by Tehran prosecutor general Said Mortazavi...." (Reporters Without Borders)
Three more reporters were arrested yesterday.
"...The latest arrests bring the number of journalists picked up and imprisoned since the disputed presidential election to 26.

" 'After demonising the foreign media, the authorities are trying to have it believed that Iranian journalists are spies in the pay of foreigners, confusing news reporting with spying', it added...." (Reporters Without Borders)
If you compared the two quotes, you're right: 33 plus three does not equal 26. Either the earlier figure was a typo, or "journalists and cyber-dissidents" aren't the same as "journalists." Or, Reporters Without Borders are making the numbers up and not keeping track of what they said before.

I'm going with the 'typo' or 'apples and oranges' scenarios for the moment. It's not that I trust Reporters Without Borders without reservation: but I don't think they're stupid, either.

For starters, they're aware of what's been going on since the dawn of the Information Age.

Today, If You've Got a Cell Phone, You're a Reporter - a Video Cell Phone, and You're a News Team

In the 'good old days,' maybe a dozen people would have seen Neda Agha Soltan die. Today, anyone with an internet connection and a decent browser can find the cell phone video of her death. (June 23, 2009)

When a regime locks up many professional journalists, and places tight restrictions on what the rest are allowed to do, people around the world are limited to the regime's official version of what's going on. And, whatever people post to the Internet.
YouTube Videos: Not Approved and Cleared by the Islamic Republic of Iran
"Police invasion on people tehran vanak Sq 13 June 2009"

PersianKoli, YouTube (June 13, 2009)
video, 1:01

"Riot police caught by crowd - Protests in Tehran after election"

Mousavi1388, YouTube (June 14, 2009)
video, 3:30

"Tehran Helicopter flies over protesters june 22 2009"

feridata1, YouTube (June 22, 2009)
video, 0:41

One thing I noticed in quite a number of videos identified as coming from Iran was the position of the camera.

American television journalists have been using what I call "ankle shots" on crowds for decades. It's quite effective at making a dozen or so people look like a huge crowd. The other angle, somewhat above eye level, is effective at making a cluster of a few hundred people look small in comparison with the surrounding street and buildings.

Some of the YouTube videos were taken from about mid-chest level. Quite a few of those also showed a wobbling, jerky image, as whoever was holding the camera ran for cover or dodged a club.

I selected these for their length, content, and comparatively steady camerawork.

There are a few lessons to be learned from these videos:
  • The crowds may be mostly men, but some of them have been going bald for a while - and women are protesting too
  • Not all Iranians are like their leaders
    • After expressing their opinion regarding the propriety of addressing citizen concerns with riot police, at least some of the 'rioters' took one of the police aside and assisted him
The motorcycle didn't fare as well as its rider. I suppose a lesson here is: Nothing says 'no' like a brightly burning motorcycle.

Whether or not this is the beginning of the end for the ayatollahs' regime, I think its clear that traditional information gatekeepers like journalists no longer have a near-monopoly on determining what the rest of us are allowed to see and hear.

That kind of freedom is messy and demands effort, but I think it's worth it.
"I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it."
Thomas Jefferson to Archibald Stuart, 1791
3rd president of US (1743 - 1826)) The Quotations Page
Related posts: In the news:

North Korea's Still There, Still a "Serious Concern"

If I'd said that North Korea's Kang Nam cargo ship was headed for Syria, I'd probably be wrong. It looks like it may be on its way to Myanmar/Burma. As it is, what I said was, "...let's say the Kang Nam is headed for Syria...." (June 19, 2009) I've discussed the elusiveness of certainty in another post. (May 14, 2008)

Today, American and South Korean officials think that the Kang Nam is headed for Myanmar (the ruling junta doesn't like the name "Burma"). The officials could be right.

If they are, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea is in violation of a United Nations Security Council resolution. Kim Jong Il's news agency echoed the usual response:
"...The new U.N. Security Council resolution requires member states to seek permission to inspect suspicious cargo. North Korea has said it would consider interception a declaration of war and on Wednesday accused the U.S. of seeking to provoke another Korean War.

" 'If the U.S. imperialists start another war, the army and people of Korea will ... wipe out the aggressors on the globe once and for all,' the official Korean Central News Agency said...." (AP)
I seriously doubt that Dear Leader's country would fare well in a full nuclear exchange between America, The Russian Federation, or any other world power with contemporary weaponry.

That isn't really the point, I think.

The Korean Central News Agency's report may be intended mostly for internal consumption, to show how resolute and/or powerful Dear Leader is. But there is a chance that someone in North Korea's leadership may believe the official propaganda. If that's the case, and somebody like that gets a decision-making position, Honolulu, Anchorage, Tokyo, Beijing, and Vladivostok could be in very real peril.

Right now, North Korea's development of nuclear weapons and ICBMs, coupled with what can be seen as the occasional break with reality, are a "serious concern," as a senior Chinese military officer said. (Reuters)

According to the Reuters article, it looks like China and America may be expanding communication and cooperation between their armed forces. This is nothing terribly new. The two nations wrapped up their 10th annual round of talks between high-level military officials. (Xinhua)

That doesn't mean that China and America are getting ready to bomb North Korea.
"...Lieutenant-General Ma Xiaotian ... said China believes that peaceful dialogue is the way to resolve the dispute.

" 'We hope for and encourage positive steps and more stabilizing measures' regarding North Korea, Ma said...." (Reuters)
American leaders don't seem at all eager to use force, either. As an American military source said, "...'This is a very delicate situation and no one is interested in precipitating a confrontation.'..." (June 19, 2009)

I certainly hope that "peaceful dialog" can end the threat that North Korea's Dear Leader and his court pose. That would be nice.

But, as I've written before, sometimes the world isn't all that nice.

Assuming that the Kang Nam is bound for Myanmar/Burma, and is carrying contraband, the USS John McCain may hail the ship and demand permission to board. If the Kang Nam's captain says 'no,' the U.N. Security Council resolution permits American authorities to ask the military junta that's running Myanmar/Burma if they would please inspect the ship.

Since there's a good chance that they're the ones who ordered the contraband, I think the results of such a search would be open to skepticism.

In this particular case, I think America would have a hard time justifying military action against the Kang Nam. Myanmar/Burma is a mess, and I think its people and the world in general would be better off if the ruling junta wasn't in charge there. But helping the junta beat down its critics isn't all that much of a direct threat to American security.

In the short term, of course.

As for the apparent cooperation between China and America: It's significant, and important, but I don't think it means that America is coming around to China's point of view: or vice versa. We've seen something a bit like this before.

Back in the late 1930s, as the new German Chancellor's regime was starting to remold Europe politically and eugenically, the Soviet Union and America dropped their differences and cooperated against their 'serious concern.' What's happening to day isn't an exact parallel, but I think there are similarities.

Related posts: In the news:

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Neda Agha Soltan, Iran, Cell Phone Cameras, and the Information Age

It's official: Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be sworn in late July or early August. And, perhaps to show that Iran is run by open-minded people, the Iranian government has extended the deadline for complaints about the election - whose winner has been officially declared.

These two paragraphs seem like a pretty good summary of what Iran's leaders have been doing, aside from sending riot police and plain-clothes militia to rough up uncooperative Iranians:
"... The Guardian Council earlier ruled out the possibility of nullifying the results of the election, saying irregularities were reported before the balloting -- not during or after.

The announcement was another in a series of inconsistent stances by the council on how to handle the unrest stemming from the election....
" (CNN)

Neda Agha Soltan: It Seems You Can't Shoot Anybody These Days, Without Somebody Raising a Fuss

Back in the 'good old days,' somebody with a title like Supereme Leader could send enforcers to kill some malcontents, rough up a few more, and warn any left standing that they were next, if they didn't stop making trouble.

And, best of all: the Supreme Leader, or whatever, could say that his valiant troops vanquished a fearsome foe. And, with communications technology being what it was before the 20th century, there was a good chance outsiders would believe him.

Or have to accept the official account: since that was all the information they'd get.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words: Now, Think 15 or More Frames a Second

Decades ago, in college, I ran into a discussion of labor disputes in the late 19th and early 20th century. The presentation was - understandably, given when I encountered it - full of a 'sixties' world view. The facts, though, were what stuck in my mind.
Information Age Tech and Clueless Leadership: Nothing New
According to the presenter, newspapers and magazines had, by and large, written articles on events involving labor-management relations from management's point of view. Laborers - the ones demanding safe equipment and reasonable wages - were depicted as rough, violent, utterly uncivilized louts. (No wonder one of my ancestors, responding to a question about my grandfater, replied, "he doesn't have family, he's Irish.")

Then, movie cameras became reliable, portable, and affordable enough to be carried to significant events.

Like a picket line.

Where the police were going to deal with those violent protesters.

I saw an excerpt from a newsreel from that period. The picture quality wasn't all that great, but the viewer could plainly see picketers - maybe a couple dozen - plodding back and forth, carrying signs, about as violent in appearance as a draft horse that's been pulling the plow since sunrise.

Then, down the street flowed a dark mass. It resolved into a crowd of uniformed men, each with a short club. They looked like something out of a Mack Sennett comedy.

But, this was (apparently) real life.

When the dark flood hit the picket line, the laborers and signs went down. Fast.

I'm told that the dichotomy between what the audience saw, and descriptions of striking laborers as presented from management's point of view, made labor's view seem more reasonable.

Neda, Cell Phone Cameras, Citizen Journalists, and Freedom

I found a forty-second video clip on YouTube: apparently the same footage that has been causing all the fuss. It's the sort of digitally-grainy, well-below-broadcast-quality video that you'd expect from a cell phone camera.

I debated whether or not to embed it in this post: the video is unsettling, at best. But I think it's important, as an example of what dictators have to put up with these days.

"Neda Agha Soltan Iranian girl shot dead on Tehran street, live camera recording"

endeavour29, YouTube
video 0:40

Back in the 'good old days,' the story by Iran's foreign minister, that "...'Great Britain has plotted against the presidential election for more than two years. We witnessed an influx of people (from Britain) before the election. Elements linked to the British secret service were flying in in droves'..." (CNN) might have been met with skepticism.

But it, and other 'official' statements might have been all the information that leaked out: apart from tales of people whose accuracy could be questioned because they didn't like the existing regime.

This 40-second, up close and personal look at the last moments of one of those "British" agents - or one of their fellow-travelers - casts a different light on the foreign minister's words.
"Youtube frames of 'Neda', a young Iranian woman whose face is engulfed in blood, are a horrific image of what some are calling the Tehran spring. They also show the genie unleashed by citizen journalists.

"Identified on the photo-sharing Web site flickr as Neda Agha Soltan, the young woman shown on cameraphone footage falling, apparently shot, on the edges of a protest at Iran's disputed elections has drawn a passionate response worldwide...." (Reuters India)
It's the Information Age. Journalists, educators, entertainment media decision-makers, and other traditional information gatekeepers no longer have a near-monopoly on determining what the world sees and hears.

I don't know if we're seeing the start of an Iranian revolution. I am quite certain, though, that we are in a world that's changed a great deal since Iran's 1979 revolution.

Related posts: News and views:

Monday, June 22, 2009

Remembering Iran's Neda Agha-Soltan

Neda has a full name, and identity, now.

BBC and other reports are using "allegedly" and "alleged" to describe what happened to her: and it is possible that Neda doesn't really exist, or that she had some medical condition which convincingly mimicked being shot.

For the moment, until there's clear evidence that the enforcers of Iran's leadership didn't kill her, I'm assuming that she's
  • Real
  • Dead
  • Killed by supporters of the ayatollahs
The BBC devoted the bulk of an article to a statement by Neda Agha-Soltan's fiance, Caspian Makan.

An excerpt:
"Amateur video apparently showing a young Iranian woman dying in Tehran after she was allegedly shot by pro-government militia on Saturday has caused outrage in Iran and abroad.

"The woman, Neda Agha-Soltan, was buried on Sunday.

"Her fiance, Caspian Makan, told BBC Persian TV about the circumstances of Neda's death.

" 'She was near the area, a few streets away, from where the main protests were taking place, near the Amir-Abad area. She was with her music teacher, sitting in a car and stuck in traffic.

" 'She was feeling very tired and very hot. She got out of the car for just for a few minutes...'."

"...The authorities are aware that everybody in Iran and throughout the whole world knows about her story. So that's why they didn't want a memorial service. They were afraid that lots people could turn up at the event.

"So as things stand now, we are not allowed to hold any gatherings to remember Neda." (BBC)
I think this sort of news coverage may be what Iran's ayatollahs regard as meddling in their election. I get the impression that Iran's rulers are not accustomed to a press which doesn't politely look the other way when a young woman is gunned down.

Here in the west, things are different.

That prolific correspondent, Anonymous, responded to an earlier post about Neda's death:
"Anonymous said...

"I feel so bad with this murder. But where was the media when a born American Rachel Crow was smashed under an Israeli bulldozer while she was showing her support for the poor Paelistine [sic] people. Do we American know this fact that Isarel dared to kill our daughter -not an Iranian?
"June 21, 2009 10:21 PM" (from coments on "'RIP NEDA, The World cries seeing your last breath ... We remember you.' " (June 21, 2009)
My guess is that not every American would recognize the name Rachel Crow, in the context of "the poor Palestinians." There are around 307,000,000 of us at this point, and some of us don't keep up with the news.

Anybody who was paying attention in March of 2003 could hardly have missed the case of Rachel Crow. CNN's "Israeli bulldozer kills American protester," CNN (March 25, 2003) gives a pretty good account of what happened.

I'm quite sure that the views of Anonymous will not change. For many people, gunning down a young woman is okay because an American student rather imprudently got in front of a moving bulldozer about six years ago.

Remembering Neda Agha-Soltan

Nothing can change the grief of Neda Agha-Soltan's family and friends. And, nothing can replace the memorial service they had planned to hold at a mosque.

But perhaps they can get some comfort by knowing that Neda Agha-Soltan is not forgotten.

More-or-less related posts: In the news:

Iran's Election: The West Has been Meddling - Sort of

Iran's ayatollahs blame their problems on the British and other meddling foreigners. I can see their point: it's easier to blame 'outside agitators,' than acknowledge shortcomings in one's own system.

And, while Iran's rulers are blaming Britain, America, and the west in general for their problems, at least one Iranian man has pleaded with America, Britain, and the west in general to get involved.

Note to Election Organizers: Don't Report More Votes than Voters

Press TV, Iran's government-funded news service, reported that there were "excessive ballots" in 50 Iranian cities. But not to worry: Press TV also reported that Iran's Guardian Council declared that this irregularity didn't affect the election's outcome. (CNN)

Meanwhile, in Britain, researchers from the University of St Andrews and a London think tank, Chatham House found a scenario that would fit, more or less, the official results. Their model, however, requires some whacking great assumptions, and is wildly improbable.
"...'The analysis shows that the scale of the swing to Ahmadinejad would have had to have been extraordinary to achieve the stated result,' said Ali Ansari, Professor of Iranian Studies at St Andrews...." (Times Online)

Europeans, Spies, and Other Outside Agitators

Meanwhile, Iran's own Fars news agency reported that five European spies were arrested. Coming on the heels of Roxana Saberi's experience, I'm a trifle dubious.

I'm fairly sure that five Europeans were arrested: whether or not they were involved in espionage is an entirely different matter.

Iran's rulers, by and large, seem to have decided to stick with their 'outside agitators' story.
"...Iran's foreign minister accused Britain of stirring the protests, saying the UK has 'plotted against the presidential election for two years'.

"Manouchehr Mottaki, who also criticised interventions by France and Germany, claimed: 'We witnessed an influx of people before the election. Elements linked to the British secret service were flying in in droves.'

"His comments come after Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused "the evil British government" last week of interfering in the June 12 election...." (The Press Association)
Despite Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's insistence that "the evil British government" interfered in the June 12 election, I am not at all convinced that this is the case. From the looks of things, the ayatollahs have mismanaged their country to the point where a fair percentage of Iranians are fed up.

On the other hand, it's pretty obvious that "the evil British government" is keeping an eye on events in Iran. They're not alone. As President Obama said, "the whole world is watching."

In a Sense, the West is Meddling: By Paying Attention

Governments in America, the United Kingdom, and other places in the west, have gotten used to the idea that whatever they do or say may get into the news. Calling journalists, photographers, and the rest of the press "the fourth estate" goes back at least to Thomas Carlyle's book on the French Revolution. (More at "History of the free press," Media Law, Journalism Ethics)

There's a sort of dynamic stability between the government's (real or imagined) need to keep the masses and leaders of other countries from knowing what's going on; and journalists' need (real or imagined) to publish everything they know or surmise, regardless of the consequences.

Places like North Korea and Iran don't seem to be run that way. The press in these and similar regimes can be relied upon, for the most part, to promote the policies and personalities of whoever is in charge.

Given the roles of the press in Iran and in the west, I think I can understand why Iran has expelled a BBC correspondent. I think it's possible that the ayatollahs believe that the United Kingdom and other western powers are meddling.
"...Speaking to reporters, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hasan Qashqavi alleged that foreign media organizations, such as CNN and the BBC, were mouthpieces of their respective governments that were exaggerating reports of police clashes with protesters who have demonstrated daily since the June 12 race...." (CNN)
Given their cultural assumptions, and their management of Iran's press, it may be natural for them to assume that all nations are like their Iran.

Whether or not CNN and the BBC are mouthpieces of their respective governments, I think it's very likely that coverage of Iran's election has influenced the election's outcome. Iranians were able, by reading and viewing reports by a press which isn't controlled by the ayatollahs, to gather information and form opinions in ways not approved by their rulers.

One Iranian Man's Plea

A man identifying himself as an Iranian student called CNN's "American Morning" this morning. CNN posted an edited transcript of the interview. Mohammad clearly does not approve of how the ayatollahs have been running his country:
"...For about three decades our nation has been humiliated and insulted by this regime. Now Iranians are united again one more time after 1979 Revolution. We are a peaceful nation. We don't hate anybody. We want to be an active member of the international community. We don't want to be isolated… We don't deny the Holocaust. We do accept Israel's rights. And actually, we want — we want severe reform on this structure. This structure is not going to be tolerated by the majority of Iranians. We need severe reform, as much as possible."

And, later in the interview:

"Americans, European Union, international community, this government ... is definitely not elected by the majority of Iranians. So it's illegal. Do not recognize it. Stop trading with them. Impose much more sanctions against them. My message-to the international community, especially I'm addressing President Obama directly - how can a government that doesn't recognize its people's rights and represses them brutally and mercilessly have nuclear activities? This government is a huge threat to global peace. Will a wise man give a sharp dagger to an insane person? We need your help international community. Don't leave us alone." (CNN)
That's just one man's voice. But, from the thousands of enforcers needed to keep protesters quiet, I'd say that he's not alone.

What's going on in Iran is far beyond one side in a political contest not liking the result. Even Iran's official news acknowledges that their election was, at the very least, highly irregular.

What appears to be blatant, massive, election fraud intended to keep an incumbent in office; followed by the nation's highest official giving his blessing to the results; would be intolerable in America. Many Iranians appear to believe that it's intolerable in their country, too.

Related posts: In the news:

Sunday, June 21, 2009

"RIP NEDA, The World cries seeing your last breath ... We remember you."

The word "calm" is in quite a few headlines, telling what it's like in Iran today. I'm not surprised. Put a few thousand riot police and Basij militia on Tehran's streets, and it would be surprising if thing's weren't "calm." Or quiet, at least.

The Ayatollahs' enforcers have impressed Iranians a great deal. And, provided them with a martyr and rallying cry.
" 'RIP NEDA, The World cries seeing your last breath, you didn't die in vain. We remember you.'

(from CNN, used w/o permission)
"People tend to a woman called Neda as she lies on the street."

"That post on Twitter came from a man who identified himself as an American guitarist in Nashville, Tennessee.

"Amid the hundreds of images and videos of Saturday's brutal crackdown on protesters in Iran that flooded the Internet, it was the graphic video showing the death of a young woman that touched a nerve among those following the events in Tehran for more than a week...." (CNN)
I'm with a BBC op-ed writer. I think that Iran's Ayatollahs have taken a page from the late Shah of Iran's playbook. In a tense situation, they're ignoring the Iranian people (BBC)

Shah Reza Pahlavi survived, but he had to leave Iran. Ayatollah Khomeini returned, became Iran's first Supreme Leader, and Iranians have been experiencing life as subjects of an Islamic republic ever since.

From the looks of it, many of them are fed up.

Also from the looks of it, the Supreme Leader isn't listening.

Not all of Iran's rulers are quite on the same page.
"...The country's foreign minister disputed allegations of ballot irregularities in Iran's disputed presidential election, and the parliamentary speaker implied the nation's election authorities had sided with one candidate...." (CNN)
With my background and biases, I suspect that the parliamentary speaker realizes what's going on, knows a little Iranian history, and would like to be around a year from now.

Not that siding with people like Neda is particularly safe. The daughter of one of Mir-Hossein Mousavi's, Hashemi Rafsanjani, and three of Rafsanjani's relatives, have been arrested. (Update June 21, 2009: "All but Faezeh Rafsanjani, the former president's daughter, were later released, Press TV said. The woman's brother said she was arrested while taking part in a protest." (CNN) CNN's Twitter account (cnnbrk) posted "Iranian media: Rafsanjani's daughter, Faezeh Hashimi, released after being arrested for participating in illegal rally. #iranelection" - but I haven't found that on CNN's website yet.)

From my point of view, it seems likely that the Ayatollahs' enforcers are quite effective at killing women and shoving 14-year-old girls around. (June 15, 2009)

With a Supreme Leader who has forgotten what gave his predecessor control of Iran, and a broad swath of the Iranian population thoroughly fed up with the fruits of the 1979 revolution, that may not be enough to maintain the status quo.

Related posts: News and views:

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.