Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Yaa AbolFazl!

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Recently I have written a lot (1, 2, 3, ...) about how in many cases I interprete the process of 'meaning-making' for social and cultural issues as an act of putting the subject in a mythologic system, whose meanings are already created, and are ready to be used.
The more I think about this idea the more I find it useful for explaining what I see. Take this one:
Rezazadeh of Iran lifts 441 pounds (200 kg) in the snatch during the men's over 231 lb (+105 kg) event at the Nikaia Olympic Weightlifting Hall during the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Wednesday Aug. 25, 2004 [News]. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

Just look at the word on the shirt: it says "O' Abolfazl, help me."
- Abolfazl?
- Yes, Abolfazl, ... The hero of the Shiite story of the sacred battle of Karbala
- The battle of Karbala?
- Yes, ... It is a war which hapenned in 680 in support of Hussain
- Hussain?
- Yes, Hussain, but it's a long story.
There is a long mythologic story behind those two words there. The only thing I can say about it now is that Abolfazl -the hero of battle of Karbala in 680- is still alive, lifting weights in Athens of 2004.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Is Democracy Still Democratic?

Arhundati Roy

Arundhati Roy, speaking in San Francisco, California on August 16th, 2004.
>>> The audio, video, and text here.
... If you think about it, the logic that underlies the war on terrorism and the logic that underlies terrorism is exactly the same. Both make ordinary citizens pay for the actions of their government. Al-Qaeda made the people of the United States pay with their lives for the actions of their government in Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The U.S government has made the people of Afghanistan pay in their thousands for the actions of the Taliban and the people of Iraq pay in their hundreds of thousands for the actions of Saddam Hussein.

The crucial difference is that nobody really elected al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or Saddam Hussein. But the president of the United States was elected (well ... in a manner of speaking).

The prime ministers of Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom were elected. Could it then be argued that citizens of these countries are more responsible for the actions of their government than Iraqis are for the actions of Saddam Hussein or Afghans for the Taliban?

Whose God decides which is a "just war" and which isn't? George Bush senior once said: "I will never apologize for the United States. I don't care what the facts are." When the president of the most powerful country in the world doesn't need to care what the facts are, then we can at least be sure we have entered the Age of Empire.

So what does public power mean in the Age of Empire? Does it mean anything at all? Does it actually exist?

>>> Complete text here

Sunday, August 22, 2004

The Exorcist, A Samuel Huntington Movie

The Exorcist
"The power of the christ compels you!" (QuickTime movie)

As the only Hollywood movie that begins with Islamic call to worship Allah, The Exorcist (1973) is a unique film and worthy to watch, even after 31 years. It is even more interesting to see it now, when you know that the story begins in Iraq, shown as the birthplace of Evil, and ends in Washington DC, as the battlefield of Christianity and Evil -who is resurrected in the Islamic world. The last shot of the movie ends with the Evil still alive inside a seemingly innocent girl, passing through the beautiful George Town streets. The final shot is accompanied with the Islamic Azaan again, in the middle of George Town, reminding the viewer about the presence of the Evil, and relating it to the 'false religion.'
Written by William Peter Blatty(a Catholic) and directed by William Friedkin(a Jewish filmmaker), the movie is a good example of how a political ideology can be created by a seemingly neutral entertainment industry. What is unbelievable to me is that during all these 31 years no film critic has ever mentioned the anti-Islamic connotations of the movie. To realize how strange it is just imagine if there was any reference to anything Jewish in the scene presenting the demon. Such a thing not only couldn't be ignored for a minute (not for thirty one years), but the movie probably would have been immediately listed as a dreadful anti-semitic propaganda.

The Exorcist

The Exorcist

The ten minutes opening to the movie is shot in the city Mosul, Iraq. Beginning with an Islamic Azaan, the movie shows an old priest (played by one of my favorite actors, Max Von Sydow) unearthing a demon-like statue, representing a creature whose comeback to the world is accompanied by the unnerving sounds of snarling dogs: the Evil comes to the world again in this exotic far land that doesn't have anything to do with pre-evil happy life we see in the "Christian" Washington DC. In a series of preceding shots we see the priest passing praying muslims. Later on, we see him confronting the demon statue, symbolizing the battle between Christianity and the unearthed Evil. The Exorcist story, the fight between Christianity and the Evil begins here, in Iraq.
To me, The Exorcist is not a simple horror story of a little girl possessed by a demon, but a nightmarish part of a bigger mythology created by Hollywood cinema. This ready-to-digest mythologic system describes the world as a place for the confrontation of God and Satan. According to this mythology (which can be seen in any major horror, science fiction, adventure, or disaster movie) America is the main battlefield between these two, and American people have a pre-defined duty to save the world by supporting a superhero whose power comes from a divine force (yes,... no democratic institution is involved in this process). In all these 'good-fights-evil' movies the hero himself has never decided to be a hero. He is always chosen by the devine to carry a 'mission' for eradicating the Evil, and saving the world. As you see, we have a lot of sprituality here, a mixture of religion and imperialism to describe everyone's role in the New World Order.

A prequel to the original story, Exorcist: The Beginning was released two days ago and it became an immediate box office success. I haven't seen the movie yet, but according to what I have read in the news, similar to Exorcist II, the origin of the Evil in the recent movie has been moved to somewhere in the North Africa. What is not changed though, is the main pattern in the story: God fighting against Evil, America fighting against the unknown world.
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P.S. Evidently, marketing Hollywood mythology to the world has been very successful. It has been even sold to the land of mythologies, Mesopotamia. Read the news here:
American troops launch 'Exorcist' tour at ancient temple

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Ahmad

My cousin, Ahmad, is dead. This morning I got a call from my brother telling me about his death in Iran. He has been dead in his apartment for three days, before the neighbors smell the decaying corpse and call the police.
***
Death never had such a tangible apearance to me.
Ahmad is dead forever.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

The Library of Babel

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Reading Borges' short story The Library of Babel again reminded me of Nietzsche's fascinating essay On truth and lie in an extra-moral sense. They both question the ways the "unique truth" is manufactured through inventing systems of meanings out of an ambiguous scripture -our chaotic world.
"What then is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms — in short, a sum of human relations, which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that is what they are; metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power; coins which have lost their pictures and now matter only as metal, no longer as coins.
We still do not know where the urge for truth comes from; for as yet we have heard only of the obligation imposed by society that it should exist: to be truthful means using the customary metaphors - in moral terms, the obligation to lie according to fixed convention, to lie herd-like in a style obligatory for all..." (—' The Viking Portable Nietzsche, p.46-7, Kaufmann transl.)
Illustration: A Man with A Cube, by Maurits Cornelis Escher (1898-1972).

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Start your own church!

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Among all the junkmails I get every day, occasionally there are a few that take my attention, like the one I got today titled "Our church will ordain anyone who asks":
Become a legally ordained minister within 48 hours
As a minister, you will be authorized to perform the rites and ceremonies of the church!
Perform Weddings, Funerals, Perform Baptisms, Forgiveness of Sins
Visit Correctional Facilities
Want to start your own church?
Press here to find out how
After reading it, I thought probably I don't need them for begining my "own church". What it needs is an XX-Large robe and a talent in performing arts --to make me able to cry in public if necessary, and prevent me from laughing at people when they look at me with tears in their eyes.
It also needs a bunch of dedicated believers for starting the business. They have to worship me, see me in their dreams, try to understand what I say, and get "healed" when I touch them. Their job might seem difficult at the beginning, but there are good opportunities for them in the future to begin the first denominations of the religion, based on their interpretations of the sacred words I recite.
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The picture: Guru Nanak Jayant.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

LA, Summer 2004

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To me this is the real LA.
Photography by Vinny Pacheco.
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Thanks to eyeranian.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Liberty

Gandhi
"The cause of liberty becomes a mockery, if the price to be paid is wholesale destruction of those who are to enjoy liberty. It then becomes an inglorious satiation of ambition."
--M.K. Gandhi, 1940

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Homosexuality and the Tradional Iranian Culture

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Reading this article about the ways the sexual concepts were transformed in Iran during the last 200 years made me thinking about my own memories of the older generations talking about sexuality. It seems generation after generation people became more conservative and less comfortable talking about sexual practices and homosexuality.
During the 19th century Iran imported the Victorian moral value system as an integral part of the Modernization process, and consequently homosexuality was not tolerated anymore. Historically, homosexuality was never considered a symptom of the decadence of society, the way it is considered now. It was very much accepted as a part of the real life, and even "Ulama" (the clergy) had their own rules of "halaal" and "haraam" for the act of homosexual sex between men for helping the beleivers to do it according to God's rulles! There is a big contradiction between what Quran says and the clergy "rules", but I think back then the clergy were smart enough to tolerate these types of issues. Homosexuality, like drinking, was a 'sin' that could be neglected. One can see that clearly in the Persian Classic literature.
Redefining gender in Islamic societies according to Modern values imported from Europe, and the relationship between Islamic foundamentalism and these ethical values is something worthy to research. There are not that many books and articles on this subject.