Thursday, August 31, 2006

Freddie Mercury: The Artist

At what point do we separate the artist from his/her personal life? There are a lot of artists out there -- both now and in the past -- whose art, whether it be music, or film, or literature, or dance or any number of creative efforts, we enjoy and partake of but whose personal lives we as individuals or as a society might not actually agree with or approve of.

Today, a 60th birthday special party event meant to honor Freddie Mercury (nee Farrokh Bulsara) in his birthplace of Zanzibar (he was born to Iranian parents) was cancelled because members of the Zanzibari Association for Islamic Mobilization and Propagation (UAMSHO) were opposed to both Mercury's personal life (he was gay and he died of AIDS in 1991) and to the personal lives of his fans: "We were ready to join forces against the party because we had information that a number of gays from abroad had come to take part," said Sheikh Azzan Hamdani of UAMSHO.

So let's take the case of Freddie Mercury (for whom a Hollywood or Brit-wood biopic is long overdue, I would venture to say) -- his music is outstanding -- there isn't a radio-listening, mp3-downloading, sport-watching soul out there who isn't familiar with his classic 'We are the Champions' -- his artistry on stage was unique and entertaining, his talent was widely respected and adored. But there are those who object and objected to his life as a homosexual and that brings up the question at hand: where do we draw the line against an artist because of his personal life?

I think it's actually a pretty simple answer -- an answer we can use not just for the artists whose art we enjoy but for all of our assessments of human relationships, from friendships all the way up to our partners: let's judge people by how humane they are. Humane meaning compassionate, empathetic, just, honest, considerate.

If Freddie Mercury chose to act upon his homosexual inclinations by engaging in mutually consensual homosexual behavior then who am I to tell him that he's bad? On the other hand, if Freddie Mercury was known or proven to have forced himself on someone or somehow violated another person -- or if he'd stolen from people, or lied to gain advantage or somehow, in some way hurt other people for his own interests or benefit then, and only then would I question my endorsement of his art.

But it's not easy to do a background check on the singer behind every song that appeals to my ears, the painter behind every canvas that satisfies my eyes, the dancer behind every show that captivates my attention. And it's not necessary: those people, artists or not, whose lives abound with inhumanity will be remembered for their injustices through the aid of history -- their wrongs will reach our ears and it is then that we must choose whether we mind or not.

Ray Charles was a fascinating talent who revolutionized jazz piano and voice but he was a cruel man who walked out on his first wife when she was heavily pregnant and who fathered at least 20 children from 12 women. He was also addicted to heroin for over 20 years but I could care less. The fact that he was cruel to people who loved him, to people who depended on him, is something that I can never overlook when I hear his music or watch his recorded performances. Ray Charles was a bad man in my book and that taints his art for me. He sings the blues and I think of his fatherless children. He bangs his piano keys in delight and I wonder if he thought twice about abandoning the young woman carrying his child. The point is, the artist is his art and the value of both is intertwined.

Some say the art and the artist are two separate things -- entitites that should be taken in their own right. Then maybe we shouldn't care that Bill Clinton bombed Somalia and Iraq and Afghanistan because he played a snazzy jazz saxophone. Or maybe we shouldn't care that Pablo Picasso was a misogynist who committed domestic abuse because his paintings are astounding. Or maybe we shouldn't care that Jerry Lee Lewis or Charlie Chaplin committed statutory rape against minors because they were great performers.

Maybe we shouldn't but maybe we should -- if art is pure then the artist, it seems, should be pure too and we should value the essence of both. That doesn't mean we don't listen to Bill Clinton play the sax or we don't watch a Chaplin movie -- it just means that we don't take to idolizing an artist or extolling an artist based solely on his or her work and disregarding the person behind the achievement.

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Manouchehr Mohammadi is Free

Low profile reports have been made in a limited number of Persian language media, indicating that Manouchehr Mohammadi, brother of the late Akbar Mohammadi, has been released from Evin prison and has left Iran.

His sister has confirmed the reports on some Persian language radio stations, according to this article in Advar News.

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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

End of Era: Mahfouz is Gone

Naguib Mahfouz, the most famous Arab-language writer of modern times, and a Nobel Literature Prize laureate (click here for a text of his Nobel acceptance speech) has passed away today at the age of ninety-four.

While he was generally seen as being a voice of moderation and religious tolerance, his name was once associated with controversy after the 1959 publication of his novel "Children of Gebelaawi" in serial form in an Egyptian newspaper -- it was considered blasphemous and thus was never published in full form in his homeland of Egypt, though it was later published as a novel in Arabic and English, outside of Egypt. This novel later precipitated a fatwa and an assassination attempt on his life by a religious extremist in 1994.

The respected Palestinian academic Edward Said once wrote of Mahfouz:

"Mahfouz's aim is, I think, to embody ideas so completely in his characters and their actions that nothing theoretical is left exposed. But what has always fascinated him is in fact the way the Absolute--which for a Muslim is of course God as the ultimate power--necessarily becomes material and irrecoverable simultaneously."

Novels are generally a modern phenomenon of literature, replacing poetry as the dominant literary form consumed by the masses, both in the East and West. However, in the Middle East, poetry is still at the top and most countries only have one or at most a few well-received and prolific novelists. Mahfouz paved the way for Arab-language novelists and will forever be respected for this achievement.

If you've never read a Naguib Mahfouz novel, it would seem that now is a good time to start.

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Ganji: 2 for 3, So Far...

Today, the mystery behind Akbar Ganji deepens ever further as the number 2 man on his list of 3 dissident prisoners has now been released. Ramin Jahanbegloo's release today tallies 2 of the 3 men on Ganji's list (in exactly the order of importance that Ganji himself proscribed, no less) as having been freed since Ganji made the worldwide call for their freedom less than 2 months ago.

Again, the following unanswered questions must be repeated:

1. why did Ganji pick these 3 men of the over 300 men and women who are prisoners of conscience of the Iranian government (formally speaking, that is -- on another level of course, the entire nation would more or less fit under this category)?

2. why are the men on Ganji's list being released one by one?

3. as a corollary, does this mean that the next prisoner to be released by the IRI will be Ali Akbar Mousavi Khoeni?

4. does Ganji want only those people released who, like himself, have a past that was affiliated with official institutions of the IRI, and if so, why? (Ganji, as we all know, was a member of the Revolutionary Guards; Osanloo was the president of the Syndicate of Workers of the Tehran Bus Company; Jahanbegloo was Head of the Department of Contemporary Thought at the Cultural Research Bureau; and Mousavi Khoeni is a former member of Parliament.)

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Ahmadinejad v Bush: Debate 2006

The battle of hearts and minds continues, as Herr Bushmann and his administration have coined the term (or was it that old sleaze Clinton? That reminds me, this is a perfect time to add Der Clintonner on the Saccharinist's list of war criminal candidates -- has everyone forgotten that he bombed Iraq for 8 straight years, amongst other notable crimes?). However, the victor in the battle between Bushmann and Ahmadinejad is, as has increasingly been the case of late, Ahmadinejad, of course.

Cleverly taking advantage of the well-known fact that Meister Bushmeistermann is thoroughly incapable of thinking (or speeching) on his own (pathetically failing to hide his speech accoutrements), Ahmadinejad invited him to a televised debate -- because surely if the nuclear issue is an issue at all, it is worthy of a respectable debate, no? I envision a Bush-as-Nixon catastrophe a la the 1960 presidential television debates.

And, like the "Dear John," letter before it, Ahmadinejad has managed to force the Bushling to address his communications -- something very un-Bushlike when you consider that the big US government facade (geared mainly to the American people) is that Iran and the US are not on speaking terms. This time, as before, the answer, with a grumble through his clenched teeth, is 'no.'

But Ahmadinejad is persistent and, arguably, successful at making the Americans look the fool, so doubtless there will be other provocations to come. At least, we hope so.

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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Iran and US Elections

I don't know what is more obnoxious: the American government or the American media. Today's headline across America is, amusingly, amazingly Defying U.N., Iran opens nuclear reactor.

How, by any estimate of democracy, diplomacy, or even decency is the United States government or media in any position to demonize a country for "defying the UN"? Like many of the US government and media's international declarations, this too would be uncontrollably laughable if it weren't for the fact that it is hypocritically out of line.

This coming from a country whose own outright defiance of the UN has paved the way for death, destruction and division throughout the world. Let it be duly noted that so far, Iran's "defiance" of the UN has not destroyed a country (Iraq, for instance), reignited a horrible conflict (Lebanon/Israel), or killed hundreds of thousands of people (Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Israel, the Occupied Territories of Palestine -- just to name a few of the most of obvious places).

This pre-election propaganda has really gone to great lengths -- in addition to the various arms and wings of the Wart on Terror, there was the UK "terror plot" which has disrupted a long line of flights and created the essential pre-election elements of fear, desperation and dependence on the part of the public, finally, the Iran nuclear "issue" is back in the headlines, ensuring the aforementioned general state of hysteria wherein the public tends to vote conservative out of unfounded fear and xenophobia, only to regret it later, then become a victim of it again. And again. And again.
As we all know, this is not the first, and probably not the last, time that Iran has been a major factor in a US election. We all know why Ronnie Ray-gun won his first Presidency.

It is actually very interesting that in this age of Internet communication, governments and media are still able to influence public opinion. That said, it's early days and Internet communication is not nearly as advanced as it will be in a decade's time.

Does that mean we're only ten years away from world peace? Wouldn't that be nice...

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Ahmadinejad v. Khatami

Few of us are fans of the Islamic autocracy in Iran today, but ever since that phony Khatami left office, at least things have been more transparent. Ahmadinejad, who, as this blog has stated over and over again, has absolutely no power, has two overriding qualities that are an improvement on Khatami: he is not a cleric and he does not claim to be something he's not.

Never trust the quiet ones and Khatami was as quiet a smiling mollah could be. When it came to Western Press coverage, that is. In Iran, he was well known for his wild praise for Khomeini, for his mistreatment of the 1999 student demonstrators, and for his now widely condemned misrepresentation of himself as a reformer. Now, he's even whispered his way to a guest speech at the Washington National Cathedral early next month as a guest of the State Department. Further proof, if such is needed, that the US's links to fundamentalist Islam (as commenced with their funding and support of the Taliban against those atheist communists from Russia) are anything but tenuous.

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Monday, August 21, 2006

Cricket for Racists

Pakistan cricket captain Inzamam ul Haq sums up the farce that was yesterday's historic and racist first-ever forfeiture in 129 years of the sport.

In these days, the boundaries between politics and everyday life have been so atrociously blurred that not only are civilians paying the price for racist and prejudiced political maneuvering such as the still unconfirmed so-called "airplane terror plot" in the UK, but institutions once intended as benign leisure have also entered the ring of fire.

After the way Zinedine Zidane was treated during the World Cup final, there have been other incidents of post-September-11th racism in the world of sport that have marred the entire concept of sportsmanship while undeniably demonstrating the leashless power of the West --its governing bodies and institutions of all sorts -- to insult, denigrate and disrespect the ethnicities, cultures and religions of the great majority of the world that does not include them.

At the beginning of August, there was the almost comical, had it not been unabashed, incident of the Australian cricket commentator Dean Jones just days before the August 11 UK "terror-plot" incident pampered the Western media's desperate need to criminalize and antagonize a large number of people including, but not limited to: Muslims, Middle Easterners, South Asians, and Africans. In what Jones readily admits is not a personal fault but a shortcoming of the nature of broadcasting, after a Muslim South African cricket player, Hashim Amla (who happens to have a beard), made a play in a match against Sri Lanka Jones blurted out that "the terrorist has got another wicket." Jones, clearly despondent that his comment was made during a commercial break that unfortunately was broadcast in South Africa managed to apologize, though seemingly more for the technical difficulties than his clearly racist remark. "I...made a stupid, ridiculous off-the-wall comment that unfortunately was picked up in the background and, as television people always know, the microphone is always live," he said.

Jones was reprimanded and fired by the Dubai-based broadcasting company he was covering the match for (though the Australian radio station he usually commentates for has welcomed him back with open arms, naturally), but it seems likely he would have gotten away with it had he done it just a few days later, considering the fiasco that is now the Pakistan-England test match.

Yesterday, a well-known racist and cricket umpire with a history of false accusations against Muslim and South Asian cricket players, Darrell Hair, who also happens to be an Australian, halted play during the final match of a series between England and Pakistan to accuse the Pakistan team of tampering with the cricket ball. The series was 2-0 in favor of England and Pakistan was set to win the final match when the incident occurred. Hair, who has provided no evidence of tampering, has failed to accuse any single person of having tampered and who initiated and encouraged the series of events that caused Pakistan to forfeit the match, is thus far silent amidst the imbroglio he is undoubtedly relishing.

What does it take to be named and shamed as a racist? What does it take to be fired from a high profile or even a low profile position once you have been shamed as a racist? These are questions that have no answers in the West -- cricket umpires and commentators aside, an alarming number of Western political leaders have made statements, policies and comments that are clearly racist -- including, but not limited to Dickity Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Joe Lieberman, Tony Blair, Silvio Berlusconi, Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel, and John Reid, just to shame a few who are making headlines these days.

For the first time in a long time, Pakistan is taking a stand against the West to redeem its own dignity -- the Pakistan cricket team staged a protest shortly after the bogus call was made during yesterday's match -- a protest that led to the forfeiture of the match. They have now announced that they will no longer accept Hair as an umpire and it remains to be seen what final decision the International Cricket Board takes -- though so far they have sided with the hair-raising ploys of racism. Unsurprisingly, the Western-puppet president of Pakistan has taken this cricket fiasco as an opportunity to redeem himself to his people -- as if he had a choice: this is sport and not politics, after all -- and is siding with the team.

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Europe's Biggest Ghetto

Now we can add Lebanon to the long list of military occupations in the world -- you know, those countries where everywhere you go, there are soldiers with dangerous weapons standing around as a reminder that you are either in danger or are dangerous. Western countries usually employ police for this purpose and while they tend to be less visible and don't walk around with semiautomatic weapons, they are increasingly ridiculously invasive as this Wart on Terrorism carries on.

This begs the question, again, of what kind of a ghetto Israel has become where it must insulate itself by instilling violence and trepidation in its neighbors.

The fact is, even World War II didn't waver Europe's obsessively hateful urge to expel Jews from its lands. Instead, Europe devised a brilliant new concept of ghettoization: religious incentive residency, i.e. we'll personally give you every right to overtake a small block of already inhabited land in the Middle East because millennia before, people who may or may not have been your ancestors lived there, according to the holy book that you believe in as a cherished, if at times fictionalized (who lives 175 years?), account of your history.

Certainly, the state of Israel has done nothing to dispel Jewish victimhood paranoia and the increasing violence and military presence in the neighborhood isn't helping either.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Pre-empting: Who's Next?

Journalist Seymour Hersh who uncovered, amongst other things, the My Lai massacre, the Abu Ghraib prison torture, and now the preventive strike against Lebanon.

Seymour Hersh has done it again. This time, his article, which as always begins by carefully meandering through the terminology of blame so as to neither confirm nor deny Western media angles on Middle East issues (i.e. "In the days after Hezbollah crossed from Lebanon into Israel....triggering...a full-scale war"), is about what most thinking people in the world already knew: the 33-day war in Lebanon was an unwarranted prelude to further accusations against Iran and Syria. The Saccharinist is still of the opinion that Iran will not actually be attacked, though the media war against Iran certainly intensifies. But not without competition from Iran's side.

More specifically, the article clearly indicates that both Israel and the United States had planned this attack for some time and the alleged "trigger" of the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers was merely a bogus media sensation to justify the hundreds of billions of dollars of damage and the over 1,000 civilian lives lost in this illegal war. "...Israel had devised a plan for attacking Hezbollah -- and shared it with Bush administration officials -- well before the July 12th kidnappings," Hersh writes. Sounds like a pre-emptive attack to me.

As the US heads toward major mid-term elections in November, the most important task -- for both Democrats and Republicans -- is to convince the American people that they are in danger. Sadly, this is very easy to do. This politics of fear rings of religion -- you know, that institution of fear that has subordinated the masses for millennia -- and today the fear is swelling in the heartlands and badlands of America. Just ask this 59 year old lady from Vermont.

With over two months to go before the elections, there is no doubt that the Bush administration and its cohorts have other scary scenarios planned ahead to secure their agenda in the sympathies of these unsuspecting Americans.

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Monday, August 14, 2006

Ahmadinejad Reveals Wallace

The best thing about Ahmadinejad in these CBS interviews (the 2-part video can be found here and here -- CSPAN television in the US has, apparently by Ahmadinejad's own request, decided to broadcast the entire 90-minute interview in full on US television tonight) is that he totally dispels all of the Western media propaganda of the last couple years that has tried to portray him as a loose cannon, an uncivilized leader of the developing world -- something the Western media specializes in.

Though Mike Wallace tries his very best to talk down to the President, to portray him as evasive or erratic, the only thing Wallace really achieves is embarrassing himself. With an almost pathological ease, Ahmadinejad calmly and with a reliable smile, calls attention to Wallace's denigrating and condescending interview style, while at the same time answering all the questions and getting all of his messages across. The only person uptight about an agenda turns out to be Mike Wallace.

By the end of the interview, it's almost as if Wallace has overcome his scorn and is seeking a reconciliation not only with Ahmadinejad but with Iran itself. "Do you want to have relations now after 26, 27 years?", Wallace asks, rather pleading for the chance at another roll in the hay.

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Ahmadinejad: The Blogger

Ahmadinejad may be a fundamentalist in his religion, but he's with the times in at least one respect: he is now in the solitary position of being the only Iranian president (and perhaps the only world leader) to have his very own blog -- a very presumptious position to be in when one's government has famously imprisoned bloggers (and their fathers), filtered politically damaging websites (but not porn) and arrested and detained numerous people for freely expressing themselves on the Internet.

The blog is available in Persian, English, Arabic, and French and, in a move no doubt precipitated by The Saccharinist, Ahmadinejad also offers RSS feeds for regular updates to his blog. In the spirit of interaction (a spirit the IRI government has never fostered and has in fact discouraged), Ahmadinejad's blog not only has a form for comments and feedback, but features a poll asking if the US and Israel are trying to start a new world war.

However, if you want to read his blog, you might have to join the queue: his server is getting so many hits that it sometimes overloads. In which case, you might want to check the website of the Supreme Feeder (oops, I mean Leader) which nobody seems to give a care about.

His first entry, entitled "autobiography" was posted by a Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last Friday (August 11) and is a nearly 2,000 word praisebook of the revolution, Khomeini, and all the rest of the usual gibberish that has been continually uttered by proponents of this regime all these years. But the blog also includes bits of interesting biographical information, such as the fact that despite having severe nose bleeding, he managed to take and pass the hugely important college placement exam. I guess sometimes it pays off to be in the nosebleed section. But don't worry, Ahmadinejad (should we just call him Mahmoud now?) has said that the blog entries will be more reader friendly following this longwinded introduction: "From now onwards, I will try to make it shorter and simpler," he blogs.

As expected, there are a number of inconsistencies throughout the entry, not least the contradictions between what he hated about the Shah's era and what he likes during this era. For instance, he complains of Shah-era laws and practices which in fact are much worse under this regime and one wonders whether, under the guise of support and praise, he is actually condemning this government. The most blatant of these moments can be found where he states that "the traiterous shah and his clan tried to abolish...revolutionary motives among students, by propagating immorality, promiscuity, and perversion in universities in Iran." It seems impossible that a man of Ahmadinejad's apparent intelligence could overlook the fact that all of these things are rampant -- and not in a good way -- in Iran today: there is no freedom of assembly (we all know what became of the students who demonstrated in 1999) and the rates of extra- and pre-marital sex, as well as prostitution, drug abuse and sexual violence have dramatically (several-fold) increased in the 27 years since this government came to power.

And then there are seemingly trivial contradictions which are made significant by the fact that they detract from his genuineness, such as his statement that the 14 years of Khomeini's exile and the fact of his "separation and absence" were "intolerable" for him. Pretty questionable considering that Ahmadinejad was 8 years old when Khomeini was sent into exile.

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Saturday, August 12, 2006

Zahra Kazemi Legal Report

The Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC), based in Connecticut in the US, has come out with a full report detailing the "chronic, systemic problems in Iran's law enforcement and justice systems" using the internationally-known case of 54 year old photojournalist Zahra Kazemi who was brutally tortured to death in the hands of Iranian prison authorities in 2003.

The report is a no doubt useful legal document detailing the procedural and legal aspects of everything from Kazemi's permit to photograph in Iran, to her movements in the prison by the authorities, to her medical report, and to the aftermath of her death. And it is good to know that this significant and symbolic case is still being pursued.

The IHRDC has indeed achieved its aim of documenting things, but sadly, none of this documentation answers the basic question of who exactly is responsible for all of the horrible things (see pages 9 and 10 in the full report) that were done to Kazemi during the course of the 3 1/2 days of being in the custody of the prison authority. Essentially, after 3 years of work, no one has yet been charged with the responsibility of this extrajudicial killing. Someone, or ones, has gotten away with rape and murder.

But this is the most crucial thing of all -- without recourse, without the value of responsibility, things like this will continue to happen ( as happened with Akbar Mohammadi, with Atefeh Sahaaleh and surely others we know nothing of) and other "authorities" at all levels, from the revolutionary guards who roam the streets and conduct martial law to the very top of the list of outlaws who have granted themselves stewardship of the laws of the land, will continue to believe that they can attack people's human rights and get away with it. So far, nothing and nobody is stopping them from believing otherwise.

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3 Brothers Quarrel

............................................."Quarrel at Venta Nueva" by New Zealand artist Linda James, based on a work by Goya. (Source:

What is it with these 3 Middle Eastern religions that have taken over the world and just keep fighting each other? They are like 3 brothers from the same parents, grown up in the same house, living the same lives, but thinking they are so different. The world has tired of their petty quarrels.


Friday, August 11, 2006

UK Terror Plot: Allied in Hypocrisy

Unavoidably, the Saccharinist must comment on yesterday's latest episode in the Wart on Terror -- yesterday's fiasco at UK airports. 24 individuals, ranging in age from 17 to 35, have been arrested in the UK, most of them, apparently, of Pakistani descent, while two other Britons are being held, amongst the 7 individuals arrested in Pakistan itself.

It is worthwhile to point out that once again the major plotters of a terrorist or would-be terrorist attack against U SUK are predominantly descended from a nation that is a strong ally of theirs in this Wart on Terror. The September 11th plotters being predominantly -- 15 of 19 -- of Saudi Arabian descent and the July 7th plotters as well as yesterday's would-be's being predominantly Pakistani (the figures are not yet in, but it seems that of the 24 individuals arrested in the UK, as many as 22 of them may be of Pakistani descent). With friends like these, who needs enemies, eh?

But this is just a clear indication of what I've said before: you simply cannot equate a government's alliance with its people's, especially when that government operates in a totalitarian or strongly controlled political system, or, as is the case in the US especially, but also in the UK, when the political system is so flawed that the public's voice -- even through their votes -- is not actually heard.

In the case of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, there is also the added issue of religion's role in culture and society. The Pakistani government deems itself secular but one strongly questions the validity of that when considering the strong religious element in their culture: Islam and Pakistani culture are so entwined that one does not exist without the other. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, is an Islamic kingdom -- it does not profess secularism -- but the same inseparability of religion and culture exists there. The point being that these governments cannot, as they have been doing, deny that by being allies in this Wart on Terror -- a war that has almost exclusively been fought against Muslim people -- they are ultimately insulting their publics.

It is (as has been proven) inevitable that there would be Pakistanis who take exception to their government's alliance with two nations who have made it a political and military mission to alienate and attack not only Muslim people and their nations, but Islam itself -- it is no secret that Western governments and press openly question this religion, despite the fact that it is almost identical to their own Christianity and Judaism. If the West dislikes Islam so much, then why are they doing everything in their power to encourage interest, especially fanatic interest, in this religion? Something's just not adding up.

The other big question here is how can people who've been born and raised in a supposedly democratic society become so religiously undemocratic? The answer is alienation -- these people are clearly alienated from British society and turn to religion to have some sense of identity and cohesiveness to express their pain and anger. The fact is, they are neither at home in the UK or in Pakistan -- in both places they are treated like outsiders, so they've turned to the one thing that gives them a sense of home in both: religion. This is the result of the ghettoization of immigrants and one wonders if the US and UK and other Western governments are so anti-immigration, why they destroy so many peoples' countries, forcing them to immigrate to theirs.

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Wallace-Ahmadinejad Video Clip

One brief clip of the Wallace interview with Ahmadinejad has been released on And, they've only released the same image of the interview that was available yesterday, except now with the 60 minutes logo embossed on it.

The Saccharinist's initial reactions (based on a less than one minute video clip) are that Wallace's interviewing style is typical of Western journalists: they become celebrity-autograph-seekers when presented with the chance to interview one of their own leaders, always failing to ask the "tough questions" or even the "hardly tough just reasonable questions," and when it comes to non-Western leaders their questions inevitably involve repeated references to the danger that leader's nation poses to the safety of the American public.

The great thing about this clip, and I can only assume the rest of the interview, based on newly released gushes by Wallace about Ahmadinejad (see below), is that Ahmadinejad, calmly and with authority, identifies these moments of Western journalistic practice (if you will), and cleanly brushes them off.

Wallace continues to be impressed it seems: "He's actually, in a strange way, he's a rather attractive man, very smart, savvy, self-assured, good looking in a strange way," Wallace said. "He's very, very short but he's comfortable in his own skin."

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Osanloo Released From Prison

Akbar Ganji's list of the 3 political prisoners he wants released has now been narrowed down to two. Mansour Osanloo, the Chairperson of the Union of Bus Drivers in Tehran who has been imprisoned since December 2005, was just released from Evin. Sadly, Ganji's list did not include either of the Mohammadi brothers, nor the nearly 300 other political prisoners of conscience being held in Iran's prisons.

Are Jahanbegloo and Mousavi Khoeni soon to be released now? Does this mean if you are seeking democracy but not in a way that questions the role of religion in government, as in the case of these 4 men, you have a greater chance of not dying in a political prison in Iran?

News of the release of a political prisoner in Iran is always gladly welcomed, though it seems more in the line of universal human rights for all political prisoners to be in line for release, not just those who don't fundamentally question the theocratic system, as appears to be the case here.

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Wallace Interviews Ahmadinejad

........................................... Publicity still released by CBS of Wallace's interview with Ahmadinejad in Tehran on Tuesday.

Mike Wallace (nee Myron Leon Wallace in 1918) retired from full-time journalism in March of this year but he is set to make a major comeback cameo in the US tonight when small parts of his coup d'interview with Iranian President Ahmadinejad will be broadcast on the CBS network. (The full interview will be broadcast on Sunday's 60 Minutes program.)

Yup, 88 year old Wallace, who, like many Western journalists, had healthy access to Iran even shortly after the revolution, counts one of his greatest coup d'interviews (yes, this is a term I've made up) as the 1979 Q & A with le plus grand ayatollah himself Ruhollah Khomeini (the less said the better) in the midst of the Iran hostage situation. Of course, shortly afterwards, good ol' Ru stopped playing footsie with the West and well, with everyone, and decided it was time to terrorise his own (though there is little evidence that he cared about Iranians or the fact that he was Iranian at all) people and put into practice his dream of an Islamic dictatorship a la velayat-e faqih (which, by the way, was not his brainchild but that of a gurgling little mollah who Ru banished into house arrest ages ago: Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri).

So, this Ahmadinejad interview seems far more of a coup than the one with Ru.

Hopefully the clips will be available on YouTube soon, but for now, we can relish in the pre-broadcast, post-interview gushes from Wallace who says what most of us outside of the US of A (and increasingly, the UK where ignorance is spreading like rabies, or is it stagnating like halitosis? who knows...maybe we can doublecheck with Tony Bleh) already knew: Ahmadinejad is no fool. Though I suppose for someone coming from a country led by Major General Bushwhacker, expectations of intelligence amongst leadership are not terribly high.

"He's an impressive fellow, this guy. He really is. He's obviously smart as hell," Wallace says, adding that he was surprised the president is actually still teaching a graduate-level course at the university. What's more telling is that Wallace confirms that Ahmadinejad is not the crazy advertized by the Western press "I expected more of a firebrand [but] he comes across as more rational than I expected."

Wallace also managed to bring out in Ahmadinejad the only thing most Iranians like about him -- his sense of dignity about Iran, some might call it pride. "See how they [the US government] talk down to my nation," he said. Yes, Ahmadinejad, in contrast to every other leader in the world, including Tony Baloney, has successfully managed to bring to the fore the insulting diplomatic rhetoric that emanates continually and unabashedly from the US government toward other nations. "I don't think he has the slightest doubt about how he feels ... about the American administration and the Zionist state," Wallace says.

Of course, there is the added fascination here of Wallace being Jewish which no doubt Ahmadinejad was aware of, considering he surprised Wallace by knowing even more details about him, such as the fact that he'd retired. According to the Associated Press, Wallace said he nearly fell out of his chair when Ahmadinejad said "I hear this is your last interview." The point being that the whole anti-Semite theme doesn't float quite so well now, especially considering the much less widely reported news that apparently Ahmadinejad's statements on Israel were actually mistranslated (also see here) in the first place.

What does this all mean in the grand scheme of things? Well, on the one hand, Iran is hard core cracking down on human rights and free expression in Iran since last week. While on the other hand, at the same time, Iran has openly allowed one of its biggest critics, Akbar Ganji, and its most famous human rights campaigner (though not much of a critic) Shirin Ebadi to circulate the Western hemisphere promoting democracy and human rights in Iran. And add to the equation Ahmadinejad's sudden acceptance of a major Western media showcase this week.

What's the final calculation here?: two-faced politics. The Iranian government is exerting its strong arm of terror on its own people while internationally presenting a charming and cooperative leadership -- let's not forget that Ganji and Ebadi are by no means enemies of the state. This is clever politics and will no doubt be useful in Iran's trade and economic relations with the Western world, as well as this whole nuclear showdown at the end of the month.

Trouble is, it is highly unlikely that the Iranians themselves will tolerate hardline domestic policy for very much longer and if Ahmadinejad truly cares about Iran (which remains to be proven), he'll act to help his people and not Iran's investors.

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IRI Targets Ebadi's Center

................................. Official logo of Ebadi's Center for the Defense of Human Rights. (Source: Wikipedia)

On the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of Iran's Constitutional Revolution, a major human rights organization has been banned by the Iranian government. On August 5th, the Center for the Defense of Human Rights -- Kanoon Modafean Hoghooghe Bashar -- (also known as Defenders of Human Rights Center), co-founded by Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, was banned after four years existence.

As usual, Ebadi has had little to say. Offering nothing more than a tiny press release indicating that she will continue with her human rights efforts and a statement about the legality of her organization -- the IRI government announced the ban because the Center does not have a registered permit but Ebadi has responded that "non-governmental organizations that observe the law and do not disrupt public safety do not need a permit. So the... Center does not need authorization". Her problem, sadly, has always been, as she has said herself many times "to work within the law" -- something that is decreasingly practical within a system of laws that simply does not respect the value of human rights.

Notably, one member of the group, Abdolfattah Soltani, was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment exactly one year ago to the day (July 30, 2005) that Akbar Mohammadi was also poisoned to death, of no doubt bogus charges -- he was well-known as the lawyer representing Akbar Ganji and the family of slain photojournalist Zahra Kazemi. Soltani has been refused access to a lawyer and has been held incommunicado on charges stemming from the usual 'insulting the regime,' etc.

Proof that the very laws Ebadi is so keen to follow are in total contrast to the defined aims of her human rights organization.

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The US's Sectarian Propaganda

One of the greatest propaganda efforts of the US administration's Wart on Terror has been to disseminate the falsehood about sectarian divisions in the Muslim world. They have done and continue to do this with the question of Iraq -- constantly cooperating with their mainstream media bed-mates to characterize what is essentially a guerrilla war against US occupation as a Muslim civil war in Iraq. And the US has managed to convince (though one doubts it was much of an effort) Western media of all sorts to pick up on this fabricated thread of news.

This is also being done with the question of Lebanon -- with the constant reminders in the Western media that Hezbollah is an isolated Shiite group in an Arabia that is predominantly Sunni. This continual peddling of divisions betwixt the Muslims is simply not true, the Shiite vs. Sunni battles in Iraq, for instance, are politically, not ideologically, motivated, and are entirely born of the US occupation, interference and violence in Iraq. (There is also the question of how certain we can be of who is behind these supposedly sectarian violent acts.)

Even the US's depiction of Shiite Iran as its enemy and a banner of violence in the region is not true -- the US itself is the one who has eliminated the two greatest enemies of the Shiites, Saddam Hussein and Abu Musab al Zarqawi. Why? Because they were a danger to US interests in the region, namely power and stability -- two things the US could never hope to sustain without Iran's authority in the region.

The Shiite-Sunni division rubbish was initially just an excuse to convince the American voting public that it is not the US's fault that Iraq has fallen apart or that Lebanon has gone to hell, it is the fault of these Middle Easterners who just hate each other too much to want peace. It was brilliant and seemed to work initially but considering Herr Bushmeister's current approval ratings as well as the approval ratings on Iraq, (and now Lebanon) the American public is becoming more skeptical of any excuses at all. (Though sadly, their skepticism always falls very far short of average worldwide skepticism.)

The more pressing reason this propaganda is being touted now is to isolate Iran's role in the Middle East region -- a task that is all too easy on a superficial level when one realizes (as I'm not sure either Herr Bushler and his administration have) that Iranians are not Arabs. Yes, Iran is different, it is not Arab and it is not Sunni but it has proven, especially over the last few months, that this has not deterred the worldwide Arab and Muslim (of any denomination) publics from increasingly supporting Iran for doing the one thing no Arab or Muslim government has done: stand up for them.

That's right, Iran, as the US and its so-called allies (all of whom are greedily and impatiently awaiting their own chance on the throne of imperialism again) perilously ignore, is growing more popular by the minute amongst the publics of the Arab and Muslim world -- in all corners of the globe, from the Middle East to South Asia, from North America to China and everywhere in between.

This is one of the most damaging examples of the US government's ignorance of basic issues in the Middle East -- an ignorance that has them scrambling for explanations as to why the Iraqis aren't taking well to US "democracy," why the Lebanese are predominantly (and increasingly) supportive of Hezbollah, and even why Iranians themselves who more than anyone else despise their own government cannot help but side with them on the major issues concerning the region.

One wonders what exactly the qualifications of the experts at the US State Department are when such fundamental issues are so far above their heads. Perhaps the New York Times can offer them internships at the Foreign News desk -- you don't need any knowledge or intelligence to work there, either.

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Don't Let Akbar Die in Vain

...................................Photo of Akbar Mohammadi by Arash Ashoorinia (Source: Kosoof)

In the hours and days following Akbar Mohammadi's death in Evin prison, there was much speculation and rumor about the exact cause of his death since it was well known that years of being tortured was of course the umbrella cause.

The information that seemed most plausible has in fact come to light as being true, according to a report by Amnesty International (amongst others): during an official parliamentary visit to the prison on 30 July, prison guards gagged Mohammadi and tied him to his hospital bed (a place he spent an inordinate amount of time due to the non-stop torture he was subjected to, though he never did receive adequate medical care) so the officials could not see or hear him. And it was at this time that he was, as Amnesty puts it, "administered" an unspecified drug that ultimately led to his death in incarceration. It is not certain how this was administered but apparently he was able to deflect an injection of the drug into his body so instead the drug was given as a pill.

His parents who, though they were not allowed to bury their son, were allowed to see his body in the mortuary, have written an open letter about the signs of severe torture on their son's body. This family is shockingly brave: they do this knowing that their other son Manouchehr is also in Evin right now and is no doubt at risk of also being killed by the authorities at this point.

Not to mention the fact that Ahmad Batebi is also back in prison (and on hunger strike) and as the blogger Webgardian has stated so simply: his life is in our hands. The bloggers and people who have access to the media must make his case known loud and clear before others succumb to the horrible fate of Akbar Mohammadi and let us not forget Zahra Kazemi.

Many human rights groups have condemned the illegal and inhumane clandestine actions taking place in Evin, but the Saccharinist would like to know why our two most prominent human rights activists, Shirin Ebadi (who has made a brief statement about the closure of her human rights center but still has said nothing about Mohammadi) and Akbar Ganji (himself a newly released victim of torture at Evin) have said nothing substantial either to Iranians or the Western press which they have such easy access to. Ganji made a reference to Mohammadi in a letter to Kofi Annan yesterday, but it was a brief reference in a long letter focusing on the situation in Lebanon.

They didn't even sign a joint letter by a group of high profile Iranian human rights campaigners including Mehrangiz Kar, Mohsen Sazegara, Ali Afshari, Reza Delbari, Akbar Atri and Mohammad Maleki.

Why have Ebadi and Ganji maintained what is effectively a silence about the death of Akbar Mohammadi? Is it too much to ask that our two most well-known and well-connected human rights campaigners make a media issue of a gross human rights violation, especially at a time like this when both of them are on major lecture tours to promote human rights and democracy in Iran?

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

US Human Rights Abuse Continues

A copy of Abeer's identity card indicating she was just 14 at the time of her 12 March murder. Source: Reuters

There have been countless Mai Lai's in the US war against Iraq but nothing seems to pervade the press long enough to make this killing stop.

The UK Independent has today (buried in the middle, but at least there on page 23) two new installments of the failure of US troops to follow even the minimum of international laws intended to uphold the rights of civilians. These troops got away with the prehistoric incivility of Abu Ghraib which in itself was a sad statement on the condition of so-called international law today. But today's headlines are about two new incidents in George W. Bush's "fabulous" army's record of brutal and downright cruel human rights violations, the first story is about Iraq, the second one is about Afghanistan.

The Raping of Abeer

The first is the tragic story of 14 year old Abeer Al-Janabi -- an Iraqi girl who was gang raped then murdered by 3 or possibly 6 members of a US troop squad in a town just south of Baghdad. Her mother, father and 6 year old sister were also brutally murdered during the incident. Today began the US military trial of 5 of the apparent rapists. And this horrible incident was the vindictive culmination of an extended period of harrassment against this innocent child. According to USA Today these soldiers of the US army are being charged with premeditated murder and are "accused of targeting the girl after seeing her near the Iraqi town of Mahmoudiya earlier this year."

As is typically the case, these soldiers are all from poor and broken family backgrounds, several of them being minorities. All of them looked set to propagate their miseries on their own offspring, with out-of-wedlock children from multiple unmarried partners, previous criminal convictions and other hopeless tallies on the list of things not to do for a successful life. They have been named as James P. Barker (whose mother was born in Mexico), Paul E. Cortez, Jesse V. Spielman, Bryan L. Howard, Anthony W. Yribe, and Steven D. Green who was actually honorably discharged for being a nutcase, sorry, having "personality disorders" before the incident came to light in early July.

The whole trial seems a suspicious attempt by Herr Bushler to redeem himself and his military which he says consists of "the finest people [he's] ever known" (yes, he knows each and every one of the hundreds of thousands of US military personnel) by sweeping under the rug what he is selling as an exception and not the rule of US military behavior -- something most of us stopped believing long ago.

That's right Herr Bushler, put a bunch of insane boys behind bars while you continue to breed deeply disturbed boys just like them in a society that seems conducive to such fundamental family and mental problems that they clearly suffer from, only to replace their vacated spots with a new batch of the same type of psychologically disturbed moldable clay figures that your military thrives on.

The Murders at Khair Kane

The reason why the US has gotten away with so much is the same reason it has always been in history: there is no evidence to prove their carnage and violence. As we all know, things changed with the advent of the televised images of Vietnam and now bit by bit we are getting more and more information -- though it is arguably still very far from sufficent. May 29th in Khair Kane, a district north of Kabul in Afghanistan is one such exception. As US troops fired away and murdered up to six unarmed civilians in what one can only presume is routine behavior, unbeknownst to them the incident was preserved on film.

How did the world find out? Because 34 year old photographer Atif Ahmadzai, who was also grazed in the thigh by one of these bullets managed to get 20 photographs of the incident which he then took to the US embassy to complain on deaf ears. Eventually, the

UK Independent found out about the pictures. However, the Independent fails to tell us how this information got out to the press -- though it was most probably because Ahmadzai, who seems quite resourceful to say the least, managed to get in touch with the press himself.

This is an inspiring story of how individuals can and should make a difference in media coverage of otherwise clandestine potential news items. In this case, one man's efforts could bring, if not justice for the Afghan victims, at least international recognition of the specifics of US war crimes in Afghanistan. This is grassroots journalism at its best and let's hope there is more to come.

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Deadlining Iran

Let us, for a moment, remove ourselves from the media hype on a looming deadline for Iran's reaction to the UN proposal on its nuclear program. Let's look at the bigger picture here: why is there a UN proposal at all on the issue of any nation's domestic nuclear program? Did the UN make similar proposals for the US? Israel? India? Pakistan? What exactly constitutes a UN effort toward creating any resolution at all?

Is it as a response to a pressing need for international or regional security? Then why isn't there is resolution today on stopping the preventive (yes, folks, this is the new 'academic' term for what was originally called 'pre-emptive') war in Iraq which has caused millions to suffer?

Is it as a response to a pressing need for civilian security? Then why wasn't there a resolution to cease the massive civilian bombing campaign in Lebanon when it started weeks ago? Then why isn't the focus of the Iran resolution on the much more urgent and damaging threat of a wayward nuclear program against the domestic population of Iran a la Chernobyl?

Is a UN resolution created as a response to a state's failure to follow international law? Then why is there no resolution against the United States for, amongst a long list of other egregious violations, their incomprehensibly persistent grand crimes in Guantanamo Bay?

These are questions you've heard before but they are crucial to understanding that targeting Iran's nuclear program is not about security -- whether international or domestic -- of any kind. It is about power politics at its most playground level. Ahmadinejad, who, as we all know is not in any position whatsoever to make decisions -- he is merely a mouthpiece whose microphone is unplugged -- has announced that Iran will reject the August 31 deadline to agree with the UN resolution or otherwise deal with sanctions or US preventive war, whichever comes first.

But don't be fooled, Iran has done well to expose the hypocrisies and sycophants at the UN and that is a clear indication that the Islamic Republic of Iran is neither illogical nor unreasonable. It has not been easy to maintain a despotic government amidst a barely-there approval rating for nearly 30 years -- these mollahs are not as stupid as they look. Over the past 6 months, Iran's rejections of the UN power game have strengthened its alliances, especially across the Muslim world, and succeeded in increasingly exposing the West's own extremely questionable behaviors not only to the world but, even more importantly, to the Western public.

This has all been worth it many times over, and now Iran and the clerics who own and drive it are not going to throw away their 3 decades to a mere UN resolution. They want to stay in power just as much as anyone else. And no outsider, certainly not the UN or the US, is going to be the one to stop them. Iranians themselves revel in this delicious knowledge.

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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Saccharinist Emailed to You

The Saccharinist welcomes you to subscribe to its new email service. By clicking here you can get daily updates of the Saccharinist emailed to you -- now isn't that sweet!!


Zidance Tops Again

In our continuing effort to cheer up, the Saccharinist provides you with the latest in the Zinedine Zidane head-butt saga: a chart topping French pop song called Coup de Boule (meaning 'headbutt') from LaPlage Records devoted to the grand finale of World Cup 2006. The chorus says it all:

The guido, he was hurt
Zidane hit [him]
The Italian's not doing well
Zidane slapped [him]
The ref saw it on the TV
Zidane hit [him]
But we lost the World Cup
We had a good laugh anyways
Zidane, he hit [him], Zidane, he slapped [him] (Headbutt!) 4x

Click here to listen to the song. And click here to read the French lyrics and an English translation. It's actually a very catchy song with reggae undertones that seems to have been sung by African francophones because of the accent... Enjoy!

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