Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Inspired by the content of an email from a friend visiting Tehran, I wrote....

Just a jungle now
But not so green
Not so fresh
Not so innocent
Not with a single golden bough

A desert in the face of    
A big Lie
Massive burdensome dust
Deep rot
Absent is the blue sky

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"Iranians Have Democratic Values": A Survey

Regarding the survey done by a number of Israelis researchers entitled "Iranians Have Democratic Values" published in WSJ (or link 1 below), I still believe that the rise of the liberal values in Iran is obvious and a given fact (also support by a couple of previously conducted surveys). However, the result seems reassuring and experts seem to welcome the conformation.
There was an informative program about it on VOA Persian on May 22, 2012, the link to which is (link 5) included at the end. It featured an interview with the sponsor and head of the team who explained the methodology used for the research and the incentives behind it. The program also included interviews with as Mansoor Moaddel and Ebrahim Soltani, both experts on the topic, and both to varying degree agreeing with the results.
The conservative Iranian newspapers Qods and Kayhan also reacted to the news and the article published in WSJ by printing an identical review (link 2 and 3 below). Of course, as it is customary, they challenge the well intention behind the effort. Nevertheless, their reaction is indeed very mild comparing to other topics they cover.

All these links (in Persian) are below.
For a report/article entitled "Could Iran Turn In to a Liberal Democracy?" on a survey conducted before, see its abstract and the link (link 5) to the entire document below.
This research proposes new lenses from which to view the Islamic Republic of Iran, different than the common picture portrayed in the Western World. Based on the theory of basic human values, developed by Professor Shalom Schwartz, this research formulates a new index "Societal Potential for Liberal Democracy" which measures the potential of a society to foster a liberal democracy based on a society's value structure. In order to study the values which characterize the Iranian people and to measure Iran's societal potential for liberal democracy relative to other countries, two separate surveys were conducted in Iran, consisting of over 900 respondents, and including two representative samples of Iranian society. Using the newly formulated index, this research placed Iran 22nd out of 47 countries in a world-wide continuum of Societal Potential for Liberal Democracy, above Egypt, Morocco and Jordan, thus proving the provocative thesis that the greatest potential for democracy in the Middle East lies not in Arab Sunni countries, but rather in the Islamic Republic of Iran. In addition, a significant gap was found between the societal potential for democracy in Iran and the actual level of democracy, indicating a high potential for future regime change. Hopefully this research will help ignite public discourse regarding new courses of actions for dealing with the threat posed by Iran, based on an alliance with the liberal forces discussed in this research, with the objective of promoting liberal democracy in the Islamic Republic.
5. Link to the entire article: http://www.iranresearch.org/readthefullresearch

The Growth of Poetry

Based on a report by the Mehr News Agency (link also below), Hojat al-Islam Mohammad Mohammadi Golpaygani, the chief of staff of the office of the IRI leader said "The growth of poetry is indebted to the leader's support."
Iran boasts more than a millennium of poetry during which time no other literary genre was as revered as verse. That is only until recently. Since, the revolution, many literary critics have argued that poetry has lost its hegemony. Indeed, this loss of hegemony and other factors explain the production, publication, and significance of numerous novels in recent decades. 
Golpayegani provided no statistic or explanation for the claim.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

An Excerpt from my Book (Iranian.com)

Searching for Shahrzad
"Modernity, Sexuality, and Ideology in Iran"
by Kamran Talattof at Iranian.Com
Modernity, Sexuality, and Ideology in Iran
The Life and Legacy of a Popular Female Artist

By Kamran Talattof
Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2011

Excerpt from the introduction:
On March 8, 1979 (International Women’s Day), less than a month after the victory of the Islamic Revolution, my friend Azar and I were standing near the front gate of the University of Tehran, which was filled with outraged women. They were preparing to protest the mandatory public veiling of all women. Two days earlier, this demand had been voiced by Ayatollah Khomeini in a speech he delivered in the city of Qom.
We were joined by another woman who told us the crowd at and around the University of Tehran was about to move to the prime minister’s office, where another rally was in progress. We all walked down the street and the newcomer, who like the two of us was young and secular, but somewhat more leftist, pointed out famous people who were marching. One woman was a former political prisoner, another was an author, and she laughed when she identified an actress whom I did not recognize at that time.
This rally and others that took place over the next few days were covered at length by the press. One newspaper reported the events in a supportive tone. Others attributed the demonstrations to supporters of the old regime and so called antirevolutionary forces. One published a photo of the demonstration that featured several women wearing makeup and mocked them as “the kind of women” who have been rallying against the revolutionary government. In the center of the photo was a woman with large glasses, a rare color photo in that newspaper in those days. I realized this was the actress whom we had seen on the day of the demonstration: Shahrzad, the dancer. I also learned from these reports that she was one of a few women who were arrested.
More than a decade later, in 1991, in a section of the Graduate Library at the University of Michigan known as “the Cage,” where they stored publications that lacked sufficient cataloging information, I was combing through Persian materials when I came across a book that aroused my curiosity. It was a short book of poetry entitled Salam, Aqa (Hello, sir), written by Shahrzad, whose picture appeared on the cover.
I sat in a corner of the dusty Cage and read it from cover to cover. Many of the poems were grammatically and thematically distorted and were filled with ambiguous references to deserts, horses, seas, and other natural elements. Yet, I believe that it was the book’s highly unusual imagery that made me read it through in one sitting. Later, I found and read two other books she wrote before the 1979 Revolution. I also gave some thought to her metaphors and her symbolic, surrealistic language.
Scholarly Views
In the late 1990s, I returned to Shahrzad’s books and tried to gather more information about her literary works, films, and life. My contemplation of her career and imprisonment was now an academic (pre)occupation. It was also relevant to my new enthrallment with what Nancy K. Miller describes as the “feminist theory’s original emphasis on the study of the personal.” “The personal,” especially when related to ordinary people, was an unknown theme in the leftist materials I read with eagerness in those revolutionary days. I grew suspicious of the sufficiency of the study of high culture and its elite producers and was interested in “what had become forgotten,” to use Susanna Scarparo's words. Yet other issues related to writing biographies can be taken into consideration. Elspeth Probyn, for example, encourages a move beyond the problems of representation, where no one can speak for another, by questioning the dichotomy of “moving selves and stationary others.” Perhaps Virginia Woolf could provide a lesson here. Her interest in biographical writing stems from her work on “the lives of the obscure,” which oft en translates to the lives of women and her reflection on the balance that should exist between fact and fiction in works of biography. Scholars such as Susanna Scarparo have been successful in overcoming the frustration biographers experience in locating the subject of their biographical works through an interdisciplinary and cross-cultural study. Scarparo writes, “I revisit the canonical separations between genres by placing biography at the centre of debates about the boundaries between genres and disciplines.”
I participated in those demonstrations, and later I wrote on women’s literature, but then I began to see the margins, from a farther breadth, in terms of both time and space.
I tried to track down Shahrzad in Iran to ask questions about her books and her careers. A prominent woman publisher was adamant when she told me that Shahrzad had been ill and disoriented and that she was in a psychiatric hospital. Others thought she was dead. But it turned out that Shahrzad was living in the streets of Tehran at that time and usually could be found near a place called the Cinema House. She would not talk to anyone.
An Enigma
If true, then Kobra Saidi, known as Shahrzad, who played in a great number of theatrical productions, danced in skimpy costumes in cabarets and films in the 1970s, acted in about sixteen movies (some of which were considered risqué for that time), worked as a journalist writing commentaries on cinema and culture and also as a published poet, had surely been the most famous homeless person in Iran!
To be sure, she received a number of cinematic awards, and one of her roles in a movie titled Dash Akol (based on a story by Sadeq Hedayat) was highly acclaimed. By many accounts, she was also a screenplay writer and a film director. At the height of her dancing and acting career in the seventies, she gave it all up to devote herself entirely to her writing. In other words, in a relatively short time, a woman who, perhaps due to the Shah’s modernization projects, was able to excel in several areas of artistic and professional activities was also agonized in prison, confined in a hospital, and left homeless in the streets of Tehran.
How is it possible?
Why did it happen?
Why Shahrzad?