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Tag: "iran"

Bad Arguments

[ 48 ] May 13, 2015 |


In the world of libertarian economists, Bryan Caplan really isn’t the worst, but arguing that the Shah was “strong on civil liberties” is about the dumbest thing one can possibly say about the history of Iran.

Strong on civil liberties, weak on economic liberties – it almost seems like American liberals should have liked the Shah.

Herpty derpty. What did actual Iranians say about the Shah’s glorious civil liberties? From a 1979 piece written by Iranians in the Harvard Crimson:

SAVAK conducted most of the torture, under the friendly guidance of the CIA. which set up SAVAK in 1957 and taught them how to interrogate suspects. Amnesty International reports methods of torture that included “whipping and beating, electric shocks, extraction of teeth and nails, boiling water pumped into the rectum, heavy weights hung on the testicles, tying the prisoner to a metal table heated to a white heat, inserting a broken bottle into the anus, and rape.”

From Muhammad Sahimi:

The Shah’s regime responded violently in kind, establishing the infamous Joint Committee to Fight Terrorism, which was headed by Sabeti in practice, though it always had a military officer as its figurehead chief. “By 1970,” writes Dr. Abbas Milani in The Persian Sphinx, Sabeti’s “power permeated all facets of Iranian life.” Torture, beatings, show trials in military courts, executions, and even extra-judicial killings were all normal modes of operation for the SAVAK and the Committee. For example, Mehdi Rezaei, an MKO member, was arrested in April 1972 and executed that September at the age of 20, after enduring horrific torture. Ali Asghar Badizadegan, one of the MKO’s founders, was forced into an electric oven according to his comrade Lotfollah Meysami. He was burned so badly that he became paralyzed, and the SAVAK refused to turn over his body after he was executed in May 1972. As Ali Gheissari writes in Iranian Intellectuals in the Twentieth Century, under Sabeti the Committee was also “responsible for the arbitrary detention, interrogation, and torture of many university students during that period.”

Two classmates of mine, Mohammad Ali Bagheri, a pious Muslim, and Hamid Arian, a secular leftist, were lost to the political violence of the era. We were all students at the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Tehran, having been admitted in 1972 after passing the national entrance examination, or concours. Bagheri was executed by the regime, while Arian was killed in an armed clash with the SAVAK. Four other good young men that I personally knew, all secular leftists, who were a year or two ahead of me in the engineering department, were also killed: Mahmoud Vahidi and Saeed Kord were poisoned in the notorious Evin Prison, while Mansoor Farshidi and Mahmoud Namazi were killed in an armed clash. Numerous other students, including many friends in the engineering department, were imprisoned, beaten, and given long jail sentences.

To comprehend the atmosphere of terror that dominated the political arena at that time, consider the following. The house of a student friend of mine was raided by the SAVAK, and an engineering book was found there that he had borrowed from the engineering department library. In those days, the borrower’s name would be written on a card attached to the back of the book. One of the students who had previously borrowed the book was Nastaran Al-e Agha, an engineering student and a major figure in the Fadaian who was killed on June 22, 1976, in an armed confrontation with the SAVAK. Because the book had been borrowed previously by Al-e Agha, my friend was held in jail for months, just to make sure that there was no connection between the two. Such was the state of terror in the days when Sabeti was at the helm of the Committee and the leading figure in the conflict between the opposition and the Pahlavi regime. His name was identified with a host of brutal acts. He would appear on national television and talk about what had happened every time the regime declared a “victory” against the opposition, and in particular the “terrorist” MKO and Fadaian.

From Darius Rejali:

I remember one distinguished expert who reviewed my work said,
basically, how can Rejali say torture is part of modernity? If that was
true, America would torture too. It really was amazing, in retrospect,
how willfully blind people wanted to be. I grew up in Iran at a time
when the Shah’s secret police, the SAVAK, did not hesitate torturing
Islamic and Marxist insurgents. No one thought torture was something
incompatible with cars, fast food, washing machines and other parts of
modern life. I remember talking to a high-ranking SAVAK officer years
after the Shah was gone, and he certainly felt he played an important
role in modernization. It wasn’t the last time I’ve heard torturers say
how important they are in making their country safe for economic

Another point: Everyone forgets that the Iranian revolution of 1978-1979
was the revolution against torture. When the Shah criticized Khomayni as
a blackrobed Islamic medieval throwback, Khomayni replied, look who is
talking, the man who tortures. This was powerful rhetoric for
recruiting people, then as it is now. People joined the revolutionary
opposition because of the Shah’s brutality, and they remembered who
installed him. If anyone wants to know why Iranians hated the US so,
all they have to do is ask what America’s role was in promoting torture
in Iran. Torture not only shaped the revolution, it was the factor that
has deeply poisoned the relationship of Iran with the West. So why trust
the West again? And the Iranian leadership doesn’t.

So right, strong on civil liberties.


Guess Who?

[ 89 ] March 9, 2015 |

I’ve been putting together a lecture for tomorrow’s U.S. Environmental History class on atomic nature and I came across this ad, which I just could not resist sharing with you.


Good times.

Death to America

[ 18 ] November 28, 2014 |

I wonder if Iran is accepting American entries to its Death to America festival:

As part of the campaign, Ouj also launched the “Death to America Grand Award” festival, sponsored by themselves and other similar organizations. The festival took place for the first time last year and gave away considerable cash prizes to its contestants. Now that the Vienna nuclear talks have ended inconclusively, the second festival is in the pipeline and billboards have gone up across the city to promote it.

According to reports, its sponsors also include Hezbollah Cyber, Saraj Cyberspace Organization, Tasnim news agency, Fars news agency and Nasr TV Network—all of which are affiliated to the Revolutionary Guards.

Winning contestants at the festival last year were awarded their prizes by the likes of Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, a commander in the Revolutionary Guards, and Hossein Shariatmadari, the managing editor of the hardliner daily Kayhan, the day before the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.

According to Mohammad Hasani, the festival secretary, the event will start on December 7 and people taking part must incorporate themes such as, “Why death to America?” “America and Human rights” “America and Islamophobia” “America in the Embrace of World Zionism” “America and Nurturing Terrorism” and many more, into their artwork.

According to festival organizers, the “Death to America” Grand Prize will have a main competition for pictures, posters and cartoons and a side competition for documentaries, video clips, songs, articles, blogs, software and mobile apps. The winning prize in the main competition is $3,700, with a runner-up prize of $1,800 and a third prize of $750. While in the smaller competition, the first prize is $1,100, the second prize is $550 and the third prize is $260.

The festival’s finale will take place on February 11, 2015 on the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.

Wouldn’t pictures of Black Friday be enough to win?

Today in Duh

[ 43 ] August 23, 2013 |

I suppose it’s good to know for sure that the CIA orchestrated the 1953 coup in Iran, overthrowing a democratically elected government and replacing it with a corrupt but oil-providing Shah, although it’s not like anyone doubted it in the first place. There’s a reason the Iranian government can prop up the United States as an enemy. This is it. Most peoples of the world have much longer memories than Americans. That’s because we can afford short memories and they can’t.


[ 51 ] March 23, 2013 |

I know you all, like myself, are celebrating Oregon’s dominating victory over St. Louis to advance to the Sweet 16 where they will no doubt crush Louisville.* So if you haven’t seen this NPR piece on Oregon forward and rebounding machine Arsalan Kazemi, I recommend it. The first Iranian born player in NCAA basketball, Kasemi played at Rice but transferred, along with several other players, due to some kind of racial discrimination that he won’t talk about. At Oregon for his senior season, he has led the Ducks to their best season since 2007 and is really just a great player to watch. Earlier this season, I saw Bill Walton call a game between Oregon and Arizona. When Kazemi stopped at the free throw line on a fast break and threw a perfect bounce pass to a teammate for a layup, I thought Walton was going to have a heart attack. Walton went on and on about Kazemi’s old-school fundamentals for like a full minute before going back to discussing Ken Kesey and the Dead shows he attended in Eugene.

* I am not putting money on this

Foreign Entanglements: Israel and Iran Redux

[ 7 ] March 10, 2013 |

On this week’s episode of Foreign Entanglements, Matt speaks with Gil Troy about the recent AIPAC conference:

A Message to Khomeini

[ 16 ] February 20, 2013 |

Tonight’s exploration of American culture’s underbelly is brought to you by Roger Hallmark and The Thrasher Brothers, who I think had the most sophisticated response to Iranian Revolution imaginable.

Foreign Entanglements: A Red Line Here, a Bombing Campaign There…

[ 11 ] October 2, 2012 |

On the latest episode of Foreign Entanglements, Matt speaks with Jamie Fly about Bibi’s Bomb Cartoon speech:

Foreign Entanglements: Romney and Iran

[ 0 ] September 2, 2012 |

Matt and Meir Javedanfar talk Iran, Israel, and US politics:

Foreign Entanglements: Sanctions Part Deux

[ 1 ] April 16, 2012 |

Mark Dubowitz (Executive Director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies) and I follow up the sanctions conversation that Matt and Michael Singh started last week:

Foreign Entanglements: All Iran Bombing, All the Time

[ 61 ] February 26, 2012 |

Duss take on Helle Dale of the Heritage Foundation on the subject of bombing Iran to Freedom:

Uncertainty and War: Iran Edition

[ 55 ] February 22, 2012 |

This week’s WPR column considers the rhetoric of war against Iran:

The case for attacking Iran relies overwhelmingly on the concept of uncertainty. We don’t know if the Iranians want to build a bomb, or whether they can build a bomb, or when they might be able to build a bomb. Even if they build one, the consequences will remain unpredictable, because we don’t know what they would do with a bomb, or how their neighbors would react to an Iranian bomb. The deterrent effect of an Iranian nuclear weapon might prevent us from seeking regime change or some other aggressive military option, thus creating even more uncertainty. Containment might be possible, but the costs could be high and much would remain out of U.S. control.

It’s understandable how so much uncertainty can trigger anxiety. What is less clear is how we arrived at the notion that airstrikes against the Iranian nuclear program can eliminate this uncertainty. Prospects for success of an Israeli strike remain iffy, and U.S. estimates suggest that an attack would only briefly delay Iran’s nuclear program. Indeed, it’s difficult to say what precisely would count as “success” or how the Israelis would measure the effectiveness of their attack. Tehran would certainly declare victory as soon as the last Israeli aircraft left its airspace, and the Iranians would control public assessment of the damage to their nuclear facilities. Moreover, an Israeli strike on Iran, or a joint U.S.-Israeli strike, would hardly disarm the Islamic Republic. And once started, the war would end according to Tehran’s timetable, as Israel lacks the capability, and the United States the will or interest, to conquer Iran and replace the current regime. It is not certain that the regime of economic sanctions targeting Iran would break in case of an attack, but it’s certainly possible. Similarly, it’s not certain that Russia and China would become more forthcoming with military assistance to Tehran, but that, too, is certainly possible.

Spencer has an interesting post comparing the 2002-3 Iraq debate to the current Iran debate:

The war fever of 2002-3 was stoked by a government that had made up its mind. Whatever war fever exists in 2012 exists in spite of the current government’s national security apparatus. I work out of the Pentagon these days. People here do not want war with Iran.

You can even try to caveat that case to be fair to Shane’s thesis, but it still doesn’t hold up. For instance: there’s an argument that the Clinton administration didn’t want war with Iraq, but because of its reluctance to accept that the United Nations weapons inspectors actually disarmed Iraq, it seeded the bed for the Bush administration to co-opt its warnings about Saddam to portray the invasion as bipartisan, consensus wisdom. Could President Santorum do the same thing with Obama?

Not really. The Clinton administration did not argue, as Gen. Dempsey did, that a war would be destabilizing. It enforced a no-fly zone and administered a four-day bombing campaign called Desert Fox. That, obviously, wasn’t an invasion, but it provided a rhetorical opening that the Obama team hasn’t provided. The most you can say is that Obama has repeatedly argued that a nuclear Iran is a destabilizing force that can’t be allowed; but that’s baseline political discourse.

There’s an interesting counter-factual comparison to be made between the Obama administration and a notional first term Gore administration. I think there’s sufficient evidence to conclude that Al Gore was not personally interested in war with Iraq (just ask him!), but it is often argued (by Naderites and neocons, among others) that he would have been unable to resist the pressure for war that would have mounted from hawkish elements in the liberal internationalist fold and on the neocon right. We’re seeing an imperfect test of that proposition now; the cases are substantially different (Iraq, notably, lacked an “Iraq” as counter-argument), but nevertheless suggestive of how Iraq might have played out with an unenthusiastic administration.

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