Thursday, June 25, 2009

Orwell and Iran

A Sunday Telegraph video about "George Orwell--A Celebration," in London's West End. It seemed less relevant when I saw it two weeks ago than it does today:

The Ministry of Love-Hate

A new form of totalitarianism is being born in Iran. Why—and what—Big Brother is watching.

By Christopher Dickey in London | Newsweek Web Exclusive

... "Totalitarian" is, in fact, one of those words that's been applied so often to so many governments that it doesn't seem to mean much any more. But back in the middle of the 20th century, when George Orwell wrote the bleak, iconic novel 1984, he had a profound sense of the evil that men did when they sought to control every aspect of a nation's and a people's life. For those who have the chance to see it, there is a dramatization called "George Orwell—A Celebration" playing in London just now. And parts of it, especially the interrogation-indoctrination scene from the closing pages of the novel, bring home this point like nothing else I've seen recently—except the videos out of Iran. Day by day, even as less and less news leaks past the human censors and inhuman digital filters, we can still make out the shadowy outlines of a new totalitarian state aborning. And this is something new.

Perhaps you thought this was always true in Iran, but it wasn't, quite. The reign of terror that followed the revolution 30 years ago had come to seem a fading nightmare. The regime, even under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had become one that could accommodate many views. It was restrictive and sometimes capricious, but it allowed most people to breathe and get on with their lives. When right-wing American pundits anxious to discredit Muslims everywhere talked about "Islamofascism," the Iranian reality tended to give the lie to their arguments, not confirm them. Now, sadly, all that is changing.

"In our world there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph and self-abasement," says the state interrogator in the 1984 Ministry of Love, which is the ministry of hate. The message is beaten into the society until all resistance, even mental resistance, is broken. As the protagonist of Orwell's novel finally surrenders, he lets himself believe that "Freedom is slavery," that "two and two make five," if the state tells him so, and that "God is Power." He learns to love Big Brother.

That was the kind of love, based on lies and fear, that the old totalitarian governments learned to expect from their populations. That is the kind of love the leaders of Iran's government seem to want from their people today. No wonder the Russians, the Chinese and the Cubans are cheering them on.

The full article:

Monday, June 22, 2009

Friend, Colleague Maziar Bahari Arrested in Iran

NEWSWEEK Reporter Arrested

Journalist and filmmaker Maziar Bahari detained in Tehran. NEWSWEEK calls for his immediate release.

Among the dozens of people arrested overnight in Tehran was NEWSWEEK reporter Maziar Bahari, who has covered Iran for the magazine for over a decade. Bahari was home asleep at 7 a.m. when several security officers showed up at his Tehran apartment. According to his mother, who lives with the 41-year-old reporter and documentary filmmaker, the men did not identify themselves. They seized Bahari's laptop and several videotapes. Assuring her that he would be their guest, they then left with Bahari. He has not been heard from since.

In a statement, NEWSWEEK magazine has strongly condemned the detention of Bahari and called for him to be released immediately. Bahari is a dual Canadian-Iranian citizen. According to the statement, "His coverage of Iran, for NEWSWEEK and other outlets, has always been fair and nuanced, and has given full weight to all sides of the issues. He has always worked well with different administrations in Tehran, including the current one."

NEWSWEEK Editor Jon Meacham said, "We are deeply concerned about Mr. Bahari's detention. As a longtime NEWSWEEK reporter he has worked hard to be balanced in his coverage of Iran. We see no reason why he should be held by the authorities. We respectfully ask that they release him as soon as possible."...(more)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

From Maziar Bahari in Tehran

Opposition supporters worry about their movement being hijacked.

Maziar Bahari
Newsweek Web Exclusive
Jun 17, 2009 | Updated: 8:29 p.m. ET Jun 17, 2009

There is no English equivalent for the Farsi words Efraat and Tafrit. They refer to the possibility of extremism on both sides of an issue, and they were much in use during the third day of peaceful marches in Tehran Wednesday.

Despite official warnings against gathering, at least half a million people marched along a street in central Tehran Wednesday afternoon to protest the re-election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a vote that many believe was blatantly rigged. After three days of ignoring the demonstrators, who believe opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi was the true victor, state-run Iranian television showed some images of Wednesday's activities. But its reporters chose to talk only to the ordinary citizens on the sidelines, who complained about the Mousavi supporters as a nuisance who were creating traffic in the city and bringing businesses to a halt. The crowd was peaceful and quiet, as they have been in previous days. But a chant against the director of Iranian television, Ezatollah Zarghami, was one of the few slogans heard today. "Shame, Shame, Zarghami!" people intoned.

What incensed people about the television coverage of recent days was its focus on the violence and vandalism that has broken out in sporadic incidents at night, and not the peaceful marches in the afternoons. "It's shameful that the state-run media show all of us as a group of hooligans who break shop windows and burn cars," said Mina, a doctor who has taken part in all of the pro-Mousavi demonstrations since Monday. Mina was a political prisoner before and after the revolution. She fought against both the Shah and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's regime as a member of an armed communist group. She now believes that violence is passé and counterproductive, and that it is only through peaceful means that Iranians can establish their rights. What worried Mina and other marchers was the violence that has broken out at night, which officials have blamed on Mousavi supporters....(more)