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Liberal Iranian
Liberal as in Liberty and Freedom. Iranian as in Cyrus and Ferdowsi.
Saturday, April 21, 2007
Novelist Put in Jail
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Yaghoub Yad-Ali, an Iranian novelist, has been jailed since March 14, 2007 in the eastern city of Yasouj, Iran for what has been called "insulting ethnic groups and interfering with national security." The charges are related to two of his books, Halat-ha dar Hayat and Adab-e Bigharari (The Ritual of Restlessness), published in 1998 and 2004, respectively. Books published in Iran are first vetted by the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance's censor office and must have an official permit. The charges of insult have been brought against the writer because in the first book he had described a "special" relationship between a female character who speaks Luri and a man other than her husband. The second book was awarded the 5th Golshiri Best Novel of the Year in 2004.

His conditions are reported to be grave. His request for release on bail has been denied by the judge.

(Via خوابگرد and BBC Persian.)

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Thursday, April 19, 2007
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Someday is the title song of Nazanin Afshin Jam's début album. It is a recounting of the "regressive revolution" that marked her birth in Iran. The Revolutionary Guardians of the new regime "jailed and tortured" her father. "Awaiting execution, it was the family's escape to Europe that saved them from political persecution." The song is poignant and powerful. With her passion for human rights (she staged a major international campaign to save another Nazanin, a minor, in Iran from execution), intelligence, and beautiful and effective art Nazanin is a fine example for the Iranian youth in diaspora -- and for my generation as a whole.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Guns For or Against Safety?
The horrible massacre at Virginia Tech yesterday morning brings (or will bring) to the fore again the debate over guns. But maybe this reflexive reaction to the news is too shallow to capture the reality of situations like this.

On the two sides of the debate sit two rather simple representative propositions. On the anti-gun side, it is that "guns kill, and kill only." On the pro-gun side, it is that "outlawing guns leaves them with the outlaws." Each and every time an incident like the VTech or the Columbine massacre occurs the anti-gun people turns up its voice, and the pro-gun crowd rebut. According to The Economist
Similar atrocities have happened in countries with much stricter laws--at Dunblane in Scotland in 1996 and in Erfurt, in Germany, in 2002. But such events, elsewhere, lead to the laws being tightened even further. Inevitably individuals set on committing violence find some way to act, but with such effective tools as automatic pistols available to do so quickly and efficiently, the toll may be higher.
On the first thought the anti-gun argument is very weak. Guns don't just kill, they can also injur or threaten to injur or kill, which are all different in their consequences for the parties involved. They are, in short, a means of self-defence or attack, depending on the use the owner puts them in. So could be knives and there are knives that are designed for that purpose alone. Once we settle that, it is simply against personal freedoms of people to take away their means of self-defense. So on this first analysis the pro-gun crowd wins.

But there is a catch. Self-defence granted, we can still argue that carrying guns for this purpose in the community falls under the category of security. Security is a public good and that is why we need a state-run police. So, if carrying guns endangers the safety of the individuals in the community, we are justified in enforcing some restrictions as a way of minimising the total danger to the lives of the individuals (and no more). This is perhaps the non-emotional gist of the anti-gun argument and the pro-gun proposition is its negation.

This question is an empirical one: Does it or does it not endanger the security of the individuals to be free to carry guns unrestricted? It could and must be answered with sound reasoning (not the Michael Moore style) and adequate data. Is there such an answer?

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Monday, April 16, 2007
The Blame of the Crime
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Strange times we live in! A great number of people believe in fantasticly unrealistic explanations of the ongoings of the world. There are different levels of this divorce from reality, but the one that hits me hardest is the utterly amazing places where some people put the blame of an apparent crime. For example, a suicide bomber blows himself up in a Baghdad market killing tens of ordinary Iraqis. They tell us that the crime is that of the United States. Of course the US (along with the Iraqi government) bears the responsibility for the security and safety of the streets of Baghdad at which they are doing a dismal job. But this is not the sort of blame the US is burdened with by our mostly intellectual fellow citizens. She shoulders the blame, we are told, of the crime of killing civialns itself, as if it is the US that has given the bomber his intent, his plans and his bombs to carry out the attack. (Caution: the US might have given him the motivation, objectively, but that is different from the intent, which depends on the worldview of the subject.)

Imagine a gang of thieves take on a bank, hold the people and the clerks hostage and kill the security officer. If the number of such incidents in the city is increasing we could perhaps blame the police and city authorities for failing to ensure the safety of the city. But by what sort of twisted logic could we blame the actual killing of the security officer on the police? That would mean that we should jail the police chief or some such person instead of or beside the shooting criminal, with no criminal intent, planning or execution whatsoever relating to the charge. (Of course I am assuming there are no complicating details here.)

Such moral confusions, dilutions and inversions pose a mortal threat to our existence as a civilized society. What's the cure? I'm not sure. But the only way I know of attemting to cure this illness is by trying to find convincing arguments that show the falsehood of such irrational modes of thinking. 
Sunday, April 15, 2007
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Darfur on Google Earth If you use Google Earth (if not, you should!) search for "Darfur, Sudan", click on the fire flame sign and download the file. It gives a glimpse of the horrible genocide that's been unfolding there in the first years of the 21st century through information, video footage, photographs and eyewitness testimony thanks to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. The Washington Post reports:
When Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel conceived of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, he envisioned a "living memorial" that would not only chronicle the crimes of the past but also take on issues of contemporary genocide, said Sara J. Bloomfield, director of the Washington museum.

"A memorial unresponsive to the future would violate the memory of the past," Bloomfield quoted Wiesel as saying.

To help fulfill that mission, the Holocaust Museum this week launched a multimedia initiative with Google Earth to highlight the genocide unfolding in the Darfur region of western Sudan, where government-backed militias and nomadic tribesmen have burned huts and villages to drive sedentary farmers from their homes.