Monday, October 29, 2007

How Tehran's Intimidation Reaches Into Canada

Last week I wrote a column about the obstacles pro-democracy Iranians encounter when they look beyond their borders for support and solidarity. I mentioned the important work being done by a young Iranian émigré blogger in Canada, Arash Kamangir, a 28-year-old University of Manitoba student who tracks dozens of Persian-language blogs, translates his findings and posts regularly at his English-language site,

After the column appeared, Arash and I traded notes on how he might determine the veracity of a suspicious Iranian Press TV report (also carried in Persian FARS News, which cited AFP as its source) which claimed Norway's Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, was urging western countries to back off in their pressure on Tehran and dismantle their own nuclear capabilities instead.

Kamangir did some digging (of the kind the "professional journalists" at AFP should have done in the first place) and discovered that what Støre really said was rather more nuanced than Iranian readers were allowed to know. He reported his findings.

Now, a group of conservative Iranian MPs has publicly attacked Kamangir. They are accusing him of being some kind of stooge for American neoconservatives. They have also published Kamangir's real name and a photograph of him.

Kamangir presents reason to be believe that the stoolie in this escapade is none other than Hossein Derakhshan (Hoder), a darling of the Guardian.

Here's Samira Mohyeddin on the dubious Mr. Derakhshan. Here's Danny Postel raising similar, troubling questions.

UPDATE, OF A KIND: Arash draws my attention to an urgent call for action in the case of Makwan Moloudzadeh, a 21-year-old Iranian Kurd who faces imminent execution after confessing to having had a sexual relationship with another boy, seven years ago. Moloudzadeh's confession came after a reportedly brutal "interrogation," and after the police shaved his head, put him on a donkey and paraded him through the streets so people could throw things at him. His accusers have withdrawn their charges, and the alleged witnesses have renounced the testimony attributed to them, but Iranian authorities are planning to lynch Moloudzadeh anyway.

". . .As Nothing Compared To Our Love Of London"

Returned only slightly hung over. Did all those things an author is supposed to do (I was flogging this book) and enjoyed myself immensely because of the company I had the good fortune to be keeping. The book launch at Daunt's was packed with comrades and the sweetest kinds of people, not least of whom were David Hirsch and the crew from Engage, and David T from Harry's Place who gave excellently of himself in a rendition of the first bits of A Blacksmith Courted Me outside a pub on Holland's Park Avenue when we stepped out for a smoke. That'll teach me to try and show off.


An encounter with Oscar, his mum Anne Marie, and his dad Nick Cohen at their lair in Islington and our session at the Compton Arms.

The interview with Neil Denny and Tom Hamilton of Little Atoms, at Resonance FM (downloadable here; the BBC Excess Baggage interview is here; I was on the beeb with a couple of brilliant cartographers and the writer Mike Unwin). The Little Atoms show was the day the London Times reported this. Coincidence er wha. The pub session afterwards, at this wonderfully antique boozer, was a blast.

I finally got to meet Padraig Reidy, a brilliant fella from the Index On Censorship; also Paul Evans, who trusts hippies even less than I do; and Francis Sedgemore, a Morris-dancing science journalist who has forgotten more about nanotechnology than I have ever known. The Atoms' Neil Denny and Tom Hamilton hosted (did I buy a single drink for anyone all night? I am a disgrace) and others were along, such as the documentary filmmaker Simon Ardizzone, he of the Emmy-nominated Hacking Democracy, about which you'll be hearing more from me at some point soon.

And of course the reubenesque and astonishing Peter Ryley, who came all the way down from Hull for the craic, and noticed the absence of the general, to whom we raised a glass and to whose enemies we wished confusion (the same general who gathered Francis, Paul, Peter and me here). Peter and I roved off into the night looking for some sort of kebabs, found some down the Edgeware Road, and wandered back to Paddington, discussing the affairs of the world. Ryley's got a book or two in him at the moment, one being about eccentric 19th century British anarchists or something. And you watch. He's already a brilliant writer and I'm betting that if he manages the time for a book he'll prove the better writer of us all. Mark that.

Ryley reviewed The Lost and Left Behind here. The Financial Times' Alan Cane reviewed the book here.

So there we have it. Thanks for the gracious hospitality shown me by Kathy Willis and Shonil Bhagwat down at Oxford, and to the faculty and students down at Brighton and up in Essex. Kew was as lovely as the company I kept there. To those I should have mentioned, do forgive. I'm a bit lagged.

After I got home today I managed to stay awake and alert enough to spend a half hour live on air occupé dans la critique des stoppistes on Rob Breakenridge's Calgary radio program The World Tonight on CHQR AM770, which I believe you can download from the station's website if you can be arsed. I see the home front was guarded well.

I can't bear to think of all the emails I've yet to answer and I have another radio interview tomorrow morning. Can't remember who with, but I'm sure they'll tell me when they call.

Off to bed wi' me.

Monday, October 22, 2007

In Solidarity With Our Iranian Sisters and Brothers

What are we asking for, but freedom?

"I've been called an orientalist and a neo-con," the Iranian-Canadian writer, feminist and human rights activist Samira Mohyeddin told me the other day. "Isn't that funny? Can you believe it?"

Sadly, yes, I can.

That's how my latest Tyee column begins [UPDATE: For Persian readers here].

It's about the shameful absence in Canada of any effective solidarity with Iran's pro-democracy forces. And sure enough, one of the first responses contains the accusation that the column is "neocon propaganda," which perfectly confirms Samira Mohyeddin's observations, and my own, and Danny Postel's, too.

Postel's insightful Reading "Legitimation Crisis "in Tehran is partly the subject of the column, and in it, Postel counters the intellectual paralysis that afflicts my pseudonym-shielded accuser this way: "We should not allow Washington's rhetoric to have a silencing effect on us. To do so is to let Bush and the neo-cons do our thinking for us. We should express solidarity with our Iranian comrades regardless of the Empire's pronouncements."

But as Mohyeddin rightly points out, that's not even half of it. The "silencing effect" is very real, but the rot runs very deep, she says: It's a lingering, 1960s-era protest culture of "placards and megaphones" that expects nothing more than opposition to America; A prevailing mindset that continues to "exoticize" Iranian culture and holds that the Islamic Republic is "culturally authentic"; And a shallow anti-imperialism that wrongly equates human rights and freedom with "western" values - which ends up strengthening the hand of Islamist reactionaries arrayed against Iranian democrats.

Mohyeddin is a must-read on these subjects. But she should write more. I nagged her about that. Read this New York Times essay by Michael Ignatieff, for instance - and then read Mohyeddin's sharp critique of it. Here's her withering of Hossein Darakhshan.

And always read the tireless Arash Kamangir, for news you won't find anywhere else in English. His latest: Medical Student Commits Suicide after being Arrested by Sharia Police.

The other day, my 13-year-old son asked me whether there was anyone around these days like Martin Luther King. Yes, I said. They are countless, men and women, young and old.

Here's one. His name is Mansour Osanloo:

Here's another. His name is Mahmoud Salehi:

[UPDATE #2: Arash writes on "An Iranian Cure for an Iranian Problem" in The Manitoban: "Accepting Iranian students into Canadian, American, and other universities in the developed world is the best way to help the Iranians communicate with the reality, not through the deceitful channels of the regime. These hardworking individuals not only bring creativity to their hosting countries but also act as sources to send out the message to the Iranian public that there is more to life than living under an Islamic dictatorship."]


Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Invasion of Great Britain: October 22-28, 2007

Not to worry. It's only me. I'll be among the British all next week for a whirlwind book tour and for visits with some disreputable fellow Jacobins besides. It's this book, published by the fine people at Saqi. My comings and goings should more or less follow in this fashion:

For the first day or two I'll be wandering around and enjoying myself and with some luck I'll be cadging drinks from the likes of this guy, and I hope to be in top form by the afternoon of Wednesday October 24, when I'm due to give a chat at Oxford, if you can believe it, at the Oxford University Centre for the Environment. Then back to London.

Thursday afternoon, October 25, I'll be doing the same unlikely sort of thing down in Brighton, at the Culture, Development and Environment Centre, University of Sussex. That evening I'm scooting back to London for the book launch, at Daunts Books, Holland Park. All comrades are welcome.

Friday afternoon, I'm at the Biological Sciences Department at the University of Essex at Colchester for another talk, then it's another race back to London for a live, half-hour conversation at 7 p.m. on that fine program, Little Atoms, Resonance FM.

Friday evening I'll want to be on my best behaviour when I'm out for pints in the vicinity of this place with various fellow Eustonards, and I'm very much looking forward to meeting The Big Fella, and Simon, and perhaps one or two from Harry's. A pressing civic duty is threatening to detain The General, but you never know.

The effort at best behaviour on Friday night is due to an appointment I've got for an on-air interview with this BBC 4 program at the cruel hour of 9:30 of a Saturday morning. And Saturday afternoon I'm off to spend some time probably looking out-of-sorts but I hope not too hung over to act the part of an obscure author standing around waiting for someone to approach him at the Kew Garden Bookshop. I'll wander around Kew and sober up first, I promise. I love Kew.

Then it's back to my swish digs, and then to Gatwick Sunday and home.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

In The Vancouver Review: Looking For Mr Bing

. . . It was then that I noticed something rising up out of the strangely familiar, half-conjured, half-drowned landscape. I could just make it out through the rain, on some high ground in the distance. It was a diaolou.

A diaolou is a kind of watchtower, an architectural anomaly found only in a few small counties in this part of Guangdong. Diaolous borrow from a variety of Occidental and Oriental styles. There are about 1,800 of them in Guangdong. No two are the same.

Although people here were building them at least five centuries ago, and were still building them well into the 1900s, there's not a lot of literature about them. The authorities in Beijing, for much of the 20th century, preferred not to know they existed. Accounts of the older ones tend to be found only in the deepest memory of local folktales, so they're mysterious things.

Down through the years, diaolous served as places of refuge from floods, warlord armies and roving bandits, but right around the time farmers from Guangdong were breaking the rich estuarine loam of The Flats for their first farms, the peculiar fortresses started taking on a different meaning. Emigrants had begun saving every dollar they could scrape together to send back home to Guangdong, to build diaolous.

It was all bound up in the duty of remembrance and gratitude.

Which brings me to Mr. Bing. . .

That's from my cover piece in the latest Vancouver Review. It's about my search for a man in a greatcoat and a Homburg hat who showed a great kindness to my family a long time ago. It's about a lot more than that, too, and it took me all the way to Guangdong, in the Pearl River Delta.

You can't get VR on-line. You actually have to go out and buy it and bring it home and curl up on the couch and read it. You can buy it in these fine establisments. Or you can subscribe.

Editor Gudrun Will worked her magic with my piece, as she always does, and Mark Mushet did wonders (as always) with the layout and graphic presentation.

In this issue there's also a tremendous piece of short fiction from my pal Oliver Kellhammer, a hilarious essay from Lyle Neff, another chum, about his adventure at an "anti-war" rally, a Caroline Harvey review of the late Bruce Serafin's Stardust, and much more.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

How Doris Lessing Learned She'd Won the Nobel

It was just a nuisance she encountered as she arrived home from grocery shopping. "Oh Christ. . . Are you photographing us? . . . I'm sure you'd like some uplifting remarks of some kind. . . I'm trying to think of something really suitable to say . . . Look, I've won all the prizes in Europe, every bloody one, so I'm delighted to win them all. Now it's the whole lot, okay? It's a royal flush."

And another of many reasons to admire her:

All writers are asked this question by interviewers: “Do you think a writer should...?” “Ought writers to...?” The question always has to do with a political stance, and note that the assumption behind the words is that all writers should do the same thing, whatever it is. The phrases “Should a writer...?” “Ought writers to...?” have a long history that seems unknown to the people who so casually use them. Another is “commitment,” so much in vogue not long ago. Is so and so a committed writer?

A successor to “commitment” is “raising consciousness.” This is double-edged. The people whose consciousness is being raised may be given information they most desperately lack and need, may be given moral support they need. But the process nearly always means that the pupil gets only the propaganda the instructor approves of. “Raising consciousness,” like “commitment,” like “political correctness,” is a continuation of that old bully, the party line.

Noticed by Norm.

Friday, October 12, 2007

So that's what they mean by "Israeli Apartheid"

Is still one step forward.

UPDATE: David over at Harry's Place nominates the PACBI "Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions" reactionaries as deserving of at least some of the blame for this: "That is why the boycott movement is the enemy of the Palestinian and Israeli peoples. And this is also why this scum must be fought politically wherever we encounter them - in our unions, in the media, and in the street - until they are defeated."

Thursday, October 11, 2007

"Nobody's covering the Afghan side of the war..."

If the real story of Canada's engagement in Kandahar is really a story about "courage and grit and idealism" – as Osprey Media national affairs columnist Michael Den Tandt says it is, and as I've long been convinced it is – then why has Canada's news media done such a lousy job of telling that story?

It's partly because the people in the best position to tell that story "have been gagged," Den Tandt writes. It's also partly because "nobody’s covering the Afghan side of the war." Just one result is that the picture of the Afghan conflict that emerges in Canada's news media tends not portray the real struggle going on there, and Canada's role in that struggle.

Ask yourself the last time – anytime – you heard about the Canadian-led landmine-clearing project that's making Afghanistan a safe place to merely walk outside, or the 3,000 war widows in Kabul who have started up business with microloans financed by Canada, or the 34,000 Afghan troops we've helped to equip and train, or the 200 small-business projects Canada has funded in Kandahar City.

Hundreds of Canadian journalists have been circulated through Kandahar in recent years, and it's always the same. Tag along with a convoy and go for a drive, take in a little bit of bangbang, and maybe even lead the nightly news with a ramp ceremony. It's a situation-farce, and the Canadian Forces are not blameless in it, as Den Tandt so clearly explains.

While it's important to bear in mind that the Taliban are "fighting a media war, designed to stimulate anguished coverage in Western capitals, which then creates political pressure for a pullout," Den Tandt writes, it's not the media's job to fight a media war on our behalf. But it is the media's job to do its job.

This brings me to what I think is the really significant thing about Den Tandt's analysis.

What's important about it is that he wrote it. And he's not just a national affairs columnist who took the time to travel to Afghanistan, he's also the editor of one of the newspapers he writes columns for – the Osprey-owned Owen Sound Sun Times.

Osprey Media's market penetration consists of 20 dailies that boast a combined circulation of about 325,000 subscriptions. Its weeklies take in roughly 378,000 more readers. By itself, the Toronto Star, Canada's largest-circulation daily newspaper, sells about 360,000 newspapers a day, and a half a million newspapers on weekends.

The Star's parent company, Torstar, also owns a fifth of CTVGlobemedia, which owns the vast CTV television network and the Globe and Mail. Then there's Canwest Global. It's often unfairly maligned, but let's not kid ourselves. It's a conglomerate. It's Pravda.

Canwest Global's dailies and weeklies dominate almost every major Canadian city (the National Post, the Vancouver Sun, the Edmonton Journal, the Montreal Gazette, the Ottawa Citizen) and its Global TV network commands major penetration in more than 90 per cent of Canada's television markets.

Journalists from Torstar, the Globe, and Canwest have done yeoman service in Afghanistan. Fair play to the Globe's Christie Blatchford and Graeme Smith, the Toronto Star's Rosie DiManno, and Canwest's Matthew Fisher (I'm especially partial to Rosie, myself). But keep Den Tandt's observations in mind whenever you read something about Afghanistan in the Globe or The Star, or see some report on the Global TV news. Many of those journalists, embedded in their comfortable Toronto offices, should be embarrassed to read Den Tandt's fine analysis.

One last point. Read The Torch, which is where I first came upon Den Tandt's essay. If you're honestly interested in what's happening in Afghanistan, read The Torch religiously.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Villagers With Torches Rampage Through Wells

Well, not quite. But I'm with them.
Because if we don't win this one, it'll have to be the hard way.

Friday, October 05, 2007

A Small World: News From Friends Far And Near

Norman Geras, the prolific British author, Marxist scholar, immensely popular bloggist and eminence grise behind the Euston Manifesto, has posted a profile of our own Damian Penny, Newfoundlander, blog marshall and all-round wit. Norman kindly invited me into the august company of his Writers' Choice series last year, with this contribution, in which certain other Newfoundlanders appear, which reminds me of the sadness I felt only yesterday with respect to the treatment of this Newfoundland hero.

Meanwhile, Radjana Dugarova, head of the Buryat Human Rights Movement (and whose efforts I wrote about in in the Ottawa Citizen a couple of months back), has managed to acquire one of those Livejournal websites. For news from our friends East of the Urals, keep an eye on it. My heart and thoughts are with you, Radjana.

My heart and thoughts are also with Sallahuddin Shoaib Choudhury, about whom a collection of essays has just been published, and I'm proud to say one of those essays is mine. The book, Injustice & Jihad (Blitz Publications, 384 pages, US$30, postal charges included) is available from Dr. Richard Benkin in the United States (; bookstores should order from Amanur Rashid Aman (

On a related theme, here's Vaclev Havel on Burma: "It is not the innocent victims of repression who are losing their dignity, but rather the international community, whose failure to act means watching helplessly as the victims are consigned to their fate."

My brother Tony (told you it was a small world), a trade union lawyer in Vancouver, brings my attention to this project, which he's been involved with from the beginning. It's a fine idea. Help them out.

Lastly, following my post here, Louis The Unrepentant Marxist weighs in here, and arguments ensue.

Canada's Imperialist Aggression Against Muslims

More evidence:

"You protect our people and advance the basic rights of our people. Our government is so proud to convey to you that you are our greatest ally - an ally that we depend upon, an ally to be appreciated, an ally that we will long be grateful to."

Mohammed Atmar paid particular tribute to "the brave Canadian men and women in uniform who are literally protecting my kids as they go to school."

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Burma: "...totalitarianism in its most physical form"

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Homage To A Fallen Comrade: Mark Daily, 22

UPDATE: Hitchens on Daily, on NPR.
Much has been said about America's intentions in overthrowing Saddam Hussein and seeking to establish a new state based upon political representation and individual rights. . . anyone who knew me before I joined knows that I am quite aware and at times sympathetic to the arguments against the war in Iraq. If you think the only way a person could bring themselves to volunteer for this war is through sheer desperation or blind obedience then consider me the exception (though there are countless like me). I joined the fight because it occurred to me that many modern day "humanists" who claim to possess a genuine concern for human beings throughout the world are in fact quite content to allow their fellow "global citizens" to suffer under the most hideous state apparatuses and conditions. Their excuses used to be my excuses.

That's from Mark Daily's own account of why he enlisted in order to join the fight in Iraq. Although I was and more or less remain in the "anti-war" camp on the Iraq question (although it's been a moot and wholly obsolete position since the day the bombs started falling), I have yet to read anything in the entire body of American anti-war literature that comes anywhere near Marks' essay as an expression of principled idealism and internationalism.

Did that play of mine send out
Certain men the English shot? …
Could my spoken words have checked
That whereby a house lay wrecked?

That's the horrible question the Irish poet William Butler Yeats asked of himself following the Easter Rising of 1916, and it's the question the essayist Christopher Hitchens confronted after learning that Daily reached his decision to take up arms in Iraq after reading Hitchens' own arguments favoring the Anglo-American overthrow of Iraq's Baathist tyranny. Daily died a hero's death. Hitchens' essay is, among other things, a fine and moving homage to Daily, and to his family:

On a drive to Fort Knox, Kentucky, and again shortly before shipping out from Fort Bliss, Texas, Mark had told his father that he had three wishes in the event of his death. He wanted bagpipes played at the service, and an Irish wake to follow it. And he wanted to be cremated, with the ashes strewn on the beach at Neskowin, Oregon, the setting for his happiest memories of boyhood vacations. The first two of these conditions had already been fulfilled. The Dailys rather overwhelmed me by asking if I would join them for the third one. So it was that in August I found myself on the dunes by an especially lovely and remote stretch of the Oregon coastline. . .

To the Daily family and everyone like them: Maireann croi eadrom i bhfad. Tiocfaidh Ár Lá.

Mark liked the Murphys. So do I. Here they are:

Monday, October 01, 2007

Thou shalt think for yourselves. . .

. . .But I'm thinking Scroobius Pip is worth listening to.
Thou shalt not steal if there is direct victim.
Thou shalt not worship pop idols or follow lost prophets.
Thou shalt not take the names of Johnny Cash, Joe Strummer, Johnny Hartman, Desmond Decker, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix or Syd Barrett in vain.
. . .Thou shalt give equal worth to tragedies that occur in non-English speaking countries as to those that occur in English speaking countries.
Thou shalt remember that guns, bitches and bling were never part of the four elements and never will be.

Noticed here.

And if Oi Skall Mates is Sadness, I want lots of it: