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Welcome to my blog! True to my name, Shiva the Spy, I will be your eyes and ears in Iran, bringing you detailed accounts of everyday life from my perspective. You'll have a window into the social, cultural, political, and historical aspects of the country. I will bring you the stuff that American media can't...or won't. So, check back regularly for stories, photos, commentary, and anything else your curiosity calls for.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Another Day Off

Iran Daily, yesterday's front page:

Salutations to Imam Jafar Al-Sadeq (AS)
“No eyes have ever seen, no ears have ever heard and no heart has ever found anybody greater than Jafar ibn Muhammad Al-Sadeq (AS) in knowledge, piety and worship," Malik ibn Anas, the leader of a Sunni school of thought, said.

In fact, Muslim scholars of various schools never agreed unanimously on a matter as much as they agreed on the wisdom and virtues of Imam Jafar Al-Sadeq (AS) who is known as the theoretician of the Shiite school of thought.

Iran Daily expresses heartfelt condolences to our Muslim readers on the occasion of Imam Jafar Al-Sadeq (AS) martyrdom anniversary.

Since the day is a national holiday, our next issue will return to the newsstands on Nov. 29.

Ah, it's great suddenly finding out we've got a day off in the middle of the week, especially when we've got tons of homework to catch up on. Holidays to mourn martyrs, such as today's Imam Jafar Sadeq, the sixth successor to Prophet Mohammad, is a regular phenomenon in Iran.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Russia's Role

Well, Iran’s in the clear with the nuclear issue, for now. After Thursday’s board of governors meeting, the IAEA has decided to refrain from sending Iran’s case to the UN Security Council, much to the chagrin of the U.S. and Britain. Apparently, Russia has been thrust in the middle of the situation, as a possible mediator (ahem—supervisor) to Iran’s pursuance of peaceful nuclear energy.

If all goes according to the IAEA’s plan, Moscow will submit a proposal to Tehran that requests all uranium enrichment activity to be carried out in Russia, rather than in Iran. This is to ensure that no technology essential to the development of WMD gets into the hands of the theocratic state.

While many Iranians—sports/athletic community; Zoroastrian, Christian and Jewish religious leaders; 9 million Basijis (voluntary reserves); and more—have publicly protested the discriminatory tactics of the EU trio and the U.S., former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has been quoted in multiple reports as calling the decision of the IAEA board of directors “wise” and "visionary".

At Friday Prayers, during the funeral procession for the 110 newly unearthed soldiers, he is quoted in Iran Daily (Nov. 26) as saying, “Iran is prepared to collaborate with the IAEA to help remove existing ambiguities (about its nuclear program),” adding, “We need to interact rationally and seriously with the world. Islam and the Islamic Revolution subscribe to regional interaction and are not after waging wars with the world.”

It’s interesting that Russia, which has had its own conflicts with the U.S. pertaining to the proper dismantling of nuclear weapons left over from the Soviet era, is suddenly given a tremendous amount of weight in deciding Iran’s future.

Of course, Russia is a strong diplomatic partner of Iran, especially in the area of nuclear technology exchange, but the IAEA’s move seems a bit excessive. After all, Iran has been more transparent and welcoming to the agency’s innumerous inspection requirements/demands than any other country, and has operated within its legal rights, as dictated by the terms of the NPT. Plus, in spite of the highly suspicious attitude of the IAEA towards Iran, inspectors have turned up nothing suggestive of unfriendly nuclear development.

On a side note, Iran News (Nov. 26) reports Russia’s ambitions to get in on the $7-billion-dollar gas pipeline project involving Iran, Pakistan and India. Iran boasts the world’s second largest natural gas reserves (after Russia), making it a significant source of gas for its Asian neighbors.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Soldiers Unearthed

Even though the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), also called "10-Years War", ended nearly two decades ago, bodies of soldiers who died in combat are still being found and returned to their families for proper burial. More than 1 million Iranians sacrificed their lives defending Iran from Saddam Hussein's brutal invasion. These fallen patriots will forever be known as martyrs.

Even children, elderly, and others killed by the relentless Iraqi bombing of civilian targets are remembered as martyrs, as are the veterans of the war who managed to stay alive (yet perpetually ill) after being gassed by Saddam's chemical weapons.

My friend's father is a martyr. He died fighting when she was only six months old. His body wasn't recovered until she reached 11 years of age. Only then were she and her mother able to bury him. Many families suffer the same type of loss, in which the skeletons of their fathers, sons, and brothers still lay somewhere trapped within the earth, along the former front. When, by chance, a digger happens upon the skeletal remains of a soldier, whose identity is known by the military dog tag hanging around a bony neck, an entire excavation crew is organized to fish out more martyred remnants.

Today, after Friday Prayers, a massive funeral procession took place for the 110 martyrs recently unearthed. The ceremony was held in Tehran University, and was attended by President Ahmadinejad. Afterwards, the 110 coffins will be sent to their respective hometowns to be buried by their families.

Many Iranian soldiers still remain buried along the enemy (Iraqi) front, but will likely be recovered in the near future, with the cooperation of Iraq's new and diplomatic government.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Conflicting Reports

Coincidentally, I read this in the Christian Science Monitor news briefs (via e-mail) for Monday:
CIA Director Porter Goss said the agency does not "do torture" in an interview published Monday by USA Today. To counter what he called much misinformation about the handling of detainees, Goss said the CIA uses "lawful capabilities to collect vital information, and we do it in a variety of unique and innovative ways, all of which are legal and none of which are torture."
But moments earlier, I had watched an IRIB news broadcast reporting that the U.S. has 50 prisons worldwide that administer the illegal practice of torture.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Dodge or Die

Traffic in Tehran is kind of like Dodgeball, except far more fatal. Pedestrians (players) must be as swift and cunning as a fox, strategizing their next move, twisting and turning their bodies as they cross the street, in a bid to stay in the game (i.e., among the living). How does one stay in the game? By dodging the herd of ruthless, speed-hungry cars (balls). Forget about the neatly painted crosswalks, the stick figure man that lets you know it's safe to stroll, the policemen stationed around the streets who try to bring order to the traffic anarchy...No, when it's game time (i.e., 24-hours a day, 7 days a week), it's just you, the speed demon, and fate.

Pedestrians here do not have the right of way. So, you either dodge, or become roadkill. And since ambulances also don't have the right of way, you'll likely die while waiting for one to rescue you. Moral of the story: Dodge or Die.

I almost died four times here so far. Usually, I'm a dodger. But sometimes, your mere presence triggers the speed demon to accelerate, no matter how far away he/she is, forcing you to leap out of the way. Or, the driver will actually target you, zeroing in on the bull's eye, aiming to knock you clear into the next world. I guess I have to adapt. It's simply not enough to be hyper alert--you've got to get into the mind of the driver, and know his/her intentions. This is imperative to survival. And like me, you'll probably have a handful of split-second moments where you happen to be looking at a traffic light, instead of the erratic vehicles charging towards you, and in a flash find yourself frozen and stunned, like a deer in headlights, trying to scream away your impending doom.

Moral of the story: Dodge or Die.

The problem lies in enforcement. There isn't a very strong punishment system, unless an incident takes place. If you get hit, you get paid through the courts (women get 1/2 the amount of men, since men are the primary breadwinners and have a higher value, in terms of family survival); if cars hit each other, insurance takes care of it (drivers must be insured--this rule goes back decades, way before the U.S. made it the law); and if you break any traffic laws, you get a ticket.

But the ticket is pointless. Even though you get ticketed for speeding, illegal parking, ignoring traffic lights, refusing to fasten your seatbelt, holding a phone/cigarette/etc. while driving, the amount of the penalty is low enough for people to pay and continue on their merry way. People may pay anywhere from $1 to $25 in fines, which is a low sum, even in Iran.

I think the only way enforcement is to make an impact is if it scares people. Fear creates discipline, on an individual level. How many Iranians would drive straight towards pedestrians without batting an eye, if they were forced to yield? What if people here feared lawsuits, increase in insurance rates, exorbitant fines, revocation of driver's licenses, etc.? After all, isn't it these uncomfortable thoughts that keep us Americans in line?

More on the insanity of the streets, later.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Week in Brief- Part 2

(Note: This post is lengthy and full of pictures. I apologize to those who have a slow Internet connection -like me, at a whopping 33.6 Kbps- and must sit through the painstakingly sluggish download of the images. Thank you for your patience.)

Masjed Jame (Friday Mosque)
The history of Isfahan Jame Mosque could be regarded as the history of the city of Isfahan. The mosque was founded contemporaneously with the foundation of the city, and the later changes in the form and skeleton of the mosque are reflections of the political and social events of the city. Amongst the said mentionable events is the fire in the mosque and the library during the Saljoogh rule committed by the pagans (Malahedeh). The other mentionable event is the bombardment of the south-western section of the mosque during the imposed Irano-Iraqui war, but all devastated parts have been repaired in the initial form.
(Excerpt taken verbatim from an information room set up for tourists at the entrance.)

Besides the political and social significance encompassed within this historical treasure chest, the site also serves as a record of Iranian Islamic architecture spanning a period of more than 1,000 years. The mosque prominently looms over a massive courtyard, the buckle that connects the belt of buildings enclosing the complex.

The part that fascinated me the most was the rich ornamental and structural architecture. One is easily humbled by the sheer size and number of minerets, columns, arcades, and stone-chiseled inscriptions sweeping seemlessly across porches, domes, pillars, and more. Beginning in the 10th century, Jame Mosque has undergone intricate and tedious construction--from the rebuilding and renovation of destroyed sections, to the addition of structural and decorative elements.

Generations of architects have worked on what I believe is the greatest jigsaw puzzle of humankind. Actually, it's more like a grand project, carried out over multiple lifetimes, with an unspoken understanding of the final result. It's as if the work in progress had a mental blueprint that passed from one architect to the next over centuries, constantly getting better with age. Every inch of brickwork, ornamental adornment, mosaic tilework, ancient inscriptions, and innovative construction styles speak of a chemistry derived from the flawless application of scientific and mathematical finesse.

From afar, you'd think the same group of architects built this landmark in accordance with a shared plan. Everything appears unified and harmonious. However, up close, you can see history unfold in all of the inconsistencies. For instance, there are over 100 arches within the walls of Jame Mosque (belt and buckle), but because multiple architects helped construct these arcades, designs vary from one arched ceiling to the next. Therefore, almost each dome displays a unique geometric brick pattern, believed to distinguish one architect's work from the next. Below are only a handful of arched ceilings illustrating this effect:

The brickwork that makes up the bulk of Jame Mosque shows similar identifying characteristics. Below are a couple examples of bricks marked with distinct "signatures" of architects who worked on building the monument at various points in time:

The Winter and Summer Praying Halls (below) maintain the same comfortable temperature all year-round. Due to unique architecture, indoor and outdoor temperature is exchanged slowly. As a result, the place remains warm in the winters and cool in the summers. While I wandered through these halls, I sensed a certain aura of tranquility, perhaps because of what felt like the perfect temperature. Imagine that--the perfect temperature!

Well, that ends my "Week in Brief" for Esfahan. There's much more to tell, but I must move on. I'll try to describe the city-museum through images that I plan to upload soon, in the Photos section, under "History". Due to a sudden shift in my schedule lately, I have not been able to put aside enough time to update my Photos. Thanks for bearing with me!

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Week in Brief- Part 1

Last week, I traveled to Esfahan to visit family members. Anyone who knows Iran, knows that this city is one massive museum. Countless remnants of history can be seen with every blink of the eye--from the mysteriously brilliant architecture, ethnically diverse citizenry, and bustling bazaars, to the finest quality Persian rugs and renowned miniatures. At some point, one finds themselves meandering through a labyrinth of mud brick homes with heavy wooden doors, all eventually leading to the nucleus where merchants set up shop side-by-side in booths decked from floor to ceiling in everyday goods.

Since I didn't have any access to the Internet in the homes of family members (after all, Esfahan isn't Tehran--people can live without the World Wide Web), I thought I'd sum up my week's activities now, two days after my return to Tehran.

Qods Day
My trip to Esfahan fell in the last week of Ramadan, the month of fasting for Muslims. In the early period of the Iranian Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini called for Muslims around the world to show their solidarity with Palestinian suffering at the hands of Israeli occupation. He officially declared the last Friday of Ramadan as Qods (Arabic for "Jerusalem") Day, which not only represents solidarity with oppressed Palestinians, but also symbolizes the taking back of Jerusalem from Israeli seizure. As a side note, Friday is significant because it is the Muslim sabbath, in the way that Saturday is for Jews and Sunday for Christians.

In order to gain a sense of Iranian support for the Palestinian Arab cause, I attended Esfahan's Qods Day, held in the enchanting Meydan-e-Emam, a site, which has a capacity for about 100,000 people.

As we drove to the event, we spotted many signs such as this one decorating the intersections.

Before entering Meydan e Imam, we were greeted by this symbolic display. The man in the front represents the Palestinian freedom fighter chained down in three directions by entities representing Israeli and U.S. interests.

Crowds of thousands of men, women, and children came to the Meydan for Qods Day, and to participate in the Friday prayers. The Imam who led the prayers over a loudspeaker also gave political speeches denouncing Israel's occupation of Qods (Jerusalem), and its human rights abuses against Palestinians. This rally also brought the nuclear issue into play, and specifically involved the chanting of "Marg bar America! Marg bar Israel! Marg bar England!" Thousands of fists would be thrust into the air with each passionate utterance of Marg bar, or "Death to"...

The first picture below shows the turnout from the men's side (on the right half of the Meydan), while the second is taken from the left half, where the women gathered.

In the end, it became clear that the central theme of Qods Day was Iran's right to nuclear energy, a message stamped on fliers, posters, and other paraphernalia. Throughout the day, news reports followed the masses all around Iran; from the northern point to the southern tip, video clips showed tens of millions of people in every major city across Iran marching through streets with fists thrown high, and shouts of protest drowning out all other noise. It was surprising to witness the amount of people who had poured out of their homes and into the streets and mosques in support of Qods Day.

Week in Brief, Part 2, will feature more observations in Esfahan.

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