Thursday, March 4, 2010

The "Bakhtiari Alphabet" Film



A screening last night at the Chestnut Hill Library of the "Bakhtiari Alphabet," a documentary about the tribe of nomadic pastoralists living in Iran. The film was preceded by a PowerPoint presentation, which highlighted the demographics and geographics of the Bakhtiari people and their range.


I met the film-maker, Cima Sedigh, who told me a little about how she came to make the movie. Ms. Sedigh came to the U.S. before 1979, and now teaches in the Department of Education at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut. She traveled bck to Iran over a period of seven or eight years, usually in the winter, and the project was hindered by various mishaps, stolen footages, impassable wintry roads, etc.


Yet she persisted, perhaps because she believed that the Bakhtiari tribe and way of life has an important message for the world, because she wanted to educate Americans about Iran, and because she believes in peace. She is also an educationalist, and part of the film - its second half, actually - describes the educational aspects of life of the nomadic Bakhtiari. There are more children of the tribe being educated today - both boys and girls - yet the common theme and complaint was that the urban and modernist focus of contemporary education has little relevance to those who are growing up in a nomadic and pastoralist life. "You've never seen a traffic light," as one teacher points out to a little boy in his class. They are looking at a textbook picture of a truck, or other examples of modern urbanism. The little boy certainly doesn't look deprived. Indeed, the Bakhtiari - young or old, have a glowing vitality, perhaps accentuated by their gorgeous and colorful dress.
What a different world from the joyless modernism that has become our daily crust. We are surrounded by the wealth of things and technology, the fruits of human ingenuity and history, and yet we we are being herded - with a more relentless and less merciful hand than the Bakhtiari do their sheep and goats - to an ever-narrowing range of creativity and action.

One of Cima Sedigh's best insights occurred after the documentary, when she commented that the Bakhtiari, although they have little, are producers - whereas we, who have so much, have become mere consumers. It was a welcome relief from daily witness of American shipwreck to consider the Bakhtiari. I liked what the narrator said about Bakhtiari women - that they were proud to raise their sons to be generous and honorable.
I recall the late Ali Morteza Samsam Bakhtiari, the head of the Iranian Oil Company, and how important "Roots" were to him. He wrote an essay by that title. Now that I've seen some of his tribal roots, I can better understand.


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I have re-posted the essay I wrote a few years ago about Mr. Bakhtiari in "The Green Deal" website -- here.

See also: "From the Catacombs" -- Nov. 24, 2007.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Celebrating the Persians in Philadelphia

The Free Library of Philadelphia is celebrating "Persepolis," a graphic novel written by Iranian exile Marjane Satrapi, for its "One Book, One Philadelphia" series. One of the events last night was a "Persian Potluck" supper, honoring Persian cuisine. I have come to be an avid devotee of Persian cuisine, thanks to the chance discovery of the Caspian Grille on 539 Germantown Pike just outside of Chestnut Hill (in Lafayette Hill, PA). I manage to get down there on the bus two or three times a month and sample from Ali's wonderful menu: vegetarian orzo salad, grilled vegetables, palik-panic, humus, pasta salads, babaganush, falafel, roasted eggplant salad, and Ali Alou's great "How Are You?" shredded potato with light cream - plus many other items. The Grille is a wonderful place for lunch too, and somebody sells magic carpets too!

So, it looks like this blog will be picking up steam once again. And once again may I say that the continuous mutterings and threats made against Iran by our politicians and media whores are primary evidence for the deranged and criminal condition to which our nation has now sunk. The rule of law has disappeared in the West, and likewise the ability to engage in sensible, or even self-interested, reflection. We don't produce human beings in Western society any more -- only baboons. True manhood, the ideal of Western, Christian civilization, which existed even in an attenuated form until the first half of the 20th century - that ideal being the man of independence, who was neither a coward nor a bully -- has been gutted. Baboon-land is ruled by hate.

For this is the secret of totalitarian societies: it is possible to rule and to unify men through hate. America at this stage in its history seems to have nothing going for it except its hate. This is why we have seen our morals, and now our economy, collapsing. Giving way to hate is the easiest thing in the world, as easy as going to hell, for it is a sure generator of energy - although the energy generated is illusory and ultimately insubstantial. It cannot really be put to use productively, although it can produce a convincing imitation, at least for a while. But men resort to con games when they have destroyed the human principle, that is to say the conscience, within themselves.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Benchmark

From The Iranians: Persia, Islam and the Soul of a Nation, by Sandra Mackey (1996)

"Between 1951 and 1953, a charismatic figure named Muhammad Mossadeq rose out of the Iranian parliament to lead Iran in its second revolution against national subjugation and absolute monarchy. The British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company was his sword and a broad spectrum of Iran's population his soldiers. For over two years, the weak and vacillating Muhammad Reza Shah, king for almost a decade, played a passive role as leadership moved from the peacock Throne to the magnetic Mossadeq. Finally, the second Pahlavi shah fled Iran for the first, but not the last, time. It was Mossadeq's own mistakes and the intervention into Iran of yet another foreign power -- the United States -- that placed Mohammad Reza Shah back on his throne. The Pahlavi dynasty survived in large part because Mossadeq's Nationalist Movement, which found its ideology in Western political thought, could gather but not hold the great masses of Iran to its cause. ..In the end, the Nationalist Movement of 1951 to 1953 by engaging the United States in iran, exhausting the middle of the political spectrum, and largely destroying the left, bequeathed to Shiism the emotional issue of nationalism and the leadership of the opposition against absolute monarchy." (p. 188)

That "intervention" was an engineered coup against Prime Minister Mossadeq by the CIA. One can allow some latitude to this author because the date of her book (1996) is before the revelations came out. Nevertheless, the passage seems to me hardly more than a tissue of falsehoods.

But she gets better. Of Mossadeq- "Possessing a magnificent courage to challenge, he sadly lacked the capacity to construct." (200) This may be accurate. Says that Mossadeq sought for a third power to strengthen Iran by neutralizing Britain. "It was only the beginning of America's bewildering relationship with Mohammad Mossadeq." (201) By the end of 1953, "Externally, the attempt to employ the U.S. as leverage against Britain had collapsed in Mossadeq's rigidity and America's misunderstanding of the melodramatic prime minister." (202) Questionable. Visitors to Iran - Allen Dulles and Brigadier General H. Norman Schwarzkopf are described as "...characters in a plot to rid Iran of its troublesome prime minister by restoring the authority of the shah." (204) Also Kermit Roosevelt - head of the CIA's Middle East operation, employed bribery and contacts provided by British intelligence to weave together a royalist coalition to unseat Mossadeq. Finally she lets the cat out of the bag: "The coup triumphed with a speed that surprised even its most ardent supporters." (207)

So the truth finally comes out. But unwillingly, it seems to me. This book would therefore not pass my benchmark test: which would be to grapple uncompromisingly with American interference in Iranian politics. Such a confrontation with our own "Shadow" would focus not on Mossadeq's failures but on our own duplicity and manipulation.

For I think the CIA-sponsored coup in Iran was a benchmark in our own history- the imperial mantle passed from Britain to the U.S. President Truman did not want to take up this mantle. But Eisenhower was persuaded.

The passing of the imperial handshake from Britain to the US was a dark moment in our history.

CIA-sponsored coup against Mossadegh

All the Shah's Men ~ Stephen Kinzer
Professor of political science at Northwestern University
James Risen, a reporter on the New York Times, deserves credit for bringing much of the truth to light.
~Concerning Britain's threats against Iran re the Anglo-Iranian Oil company-- "Truman's position found much support in the American press. the Wall Street Journal lamented Britain's reliance on "nineteength century threats." The Philadelphia Inquirer warned that a British invasion of Iran might bring "a quick outbreak of World War III." A popular CBS commentator, howard K. Smith, asserted that many countries in the Middle East and beyond supported Iran, and that an invasion might "stair all the Southern Asians to a rebellion against the Western foreigner and cause serious trouble for both Britain and the U.S." (p.113)

~"Not a conspirator by nature, Mossadegh had an almost childlike faith in the sincerity of most other people. he was also a very decent, even chivalrous man who appreciated form, ceremony, and diplomacy. Despite the troubles of recent months, he had soft spot for Americans. if [Kermit] Roosevelt could find a way to exploit these traits in his adversary's character, he
might throw him off balance or force him to make a false move. It was a classic challenge of psychological warfare...(p. 174)

~Mossadegh died march 5, 1967, aged 85. "The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, which later changed its name to British Petroleum, tried to return to its old position in Iran, but public opinion was so opposed that the new government could not permit it. Besides, the logic of power dictated that since the U.S. had done the dirty work of overthrowing Mossadegh, American companies should share in the spoils. Ultimately, an international consortium was organized to assume the rich concession. Anglo-Iranian held 40% of the shares, five American companies held another 40, and the remainder was distributed [elsewhere...](p. 196)

"...In the years that followed, Mohammad Reza Shah became increasingly isolated and dictatorial. he cruished dissent by whatever means necessary and spent large amounts of money on weaponry... he had ...[much] free cash becuse of the sharp increase il oil prices during those years. The $4 billion that Iran received from the consortium in 1973 reached $19 billion just two years later...(p. 196)

"In one of the most stunning political collapses of the 20th century, the Shah was forced to flee his homeland in January 1979. This time the CIA was not able to return him to his throne. The next year he died in Egypt, reviled by almost everyone. Ayatollah Khomeini replaced him as arbiter of Iran's destiny........(p. 197)


"The world has paid a heavy price for the lack of democracy in most of the Middle East. Operation Ajax [the coup] taught tyrants and aspiring tyrants there that the world's most powerful governments were willing to tolerate limitless oppression as long as oppressive regimes were friendly to the West and to Western oil companies. That helped tilt that political balance in a vast region away from freedom and towards dictatorship." (p. 204)

"How did Iran reach the tragic crossroads of August 1953? the main responsibility lies with the obtuse neocolonialism that guided the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and with the British government's willingness to accept it...The men who ran the company, and the government officials who coddled them, were frozen in their imperial mindset and contemptuous of Iranians and their aspirations. Dean Acheson had it exactly right when he wrote: 'Never had so few lost so much so stupidly and so fast.'" (p. 206)

"The election in the U.S. [i.e., election of Dwight Eisenhower] was esp. significant because it brought John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles to power. They were driven men, intensely focused on the worldwide communist threat. Their decision to make iran the first battleground of their crusade may or may not have been wise, but they deserve to be judged harshly for the way they made it. Even before taking their oaths of office, the brothers had convinced themselves beyond all doubt that Mossadegh must go. They never even considered the possibility that a coup might be a bad idea or that it might have negative consequences. History might view their action more favorably if it had been the result of serious, open-minded reflection and debate. Instead, it sprang from petulant impatience..." (p. 208)

"Forty-seven years after the coup [i.e. 2000] the US officially acknowledged its involvement. President Clinton, who had embarked on what proved to be an unsuccessful effort to improve American relations with Iran, approved a carefully worded statement that could be read as an apology. Sec. of State Madeleine Albright delivered it during a speech in Washington--[quote]"The Eisenhower administration believed its actions were justified for strategic reasons. But the coup was clearly a setback for iran's political development. And it is easy to see now why many Iranians continue to resent this intervention by America in their internal affairs."[close quote] (p. 212)

Historians have tended to vindicate those who opposed the use of force against Mossadegh. Truman predicted that mishandling the Iran crisis would produce "a disaster to the free world" Henry Grady, his ambassador in Tehran, warned that a coup would be "utter folly" and would push Iran into "a state of disintegration."