A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Archive for the ‘Iran’ Category

Barley-bread and buttermilk

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 11, 2008

I’m a great fan of whole grains – but I’m not a great fan of the time it can take to cook them. So when Big D began sending us Seeds of Change’s various whole-grain pilaf blends, I was delighted. They cook easily and require very little attention from the chef, and they are delicious.

The one we like best is the “Persia” whole-grain dish, which the company calls a “pilaf blend”. I’m all for creative marketing, but both of us are mystified by the company’s description of the uses for barley:


Many of my relatives are Christian Scientist, so we have grown up with a fairly healthy skepticism of medical remedies. But using barley to cure cancer? I wish.

As for the ‘Middle Eastern saying’ about barley-bread and buttermilk: H professes total ignorance. I know: he’s from Lebanon, and Persia is Iran. But what good is postulating a Shia triangle between Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran if folk sayings don’t circulate along with the religious teachings?


Posted in Americans, Arab world, food, health, Iran, Lebanon, words | Leave a Comment »

“The book ends differently than the movie”: Body of Lies

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 28, 2008

Those of you living in the United States have probably heard about the new Ridley Scott movie, Body of Lies. It came out earlier this month: another CIA-in-the-Middle-East adventure flick, starring Matt Damon and Russell Crowe.

You might not have wanted to see it in any case, given what the New York Times called its “grinding tedium”. And you may have been turned off by what even reviewers noted was an improbable romance between Damon’s character and a Jordan-based Iranian refugee nurse (They scoffed at the religious and cultural differences, but readers with experience in the region will be scratching their heads at the thought of Iranians in Jordan. The Iranian refugees I know all live in Damascus.)

Well, guess what? As my AP English literature teacher used to say in high school: the book ends differently than the movie. And in this case, the book begins and middles differently than the movie, too.

You will love this book. The characters are beautifully drawn – they come alive immediately. The region is aptly portrayed, with the minor exception of the one hospital scene, which takes place not in Amman but in Tripoli. (Who goes to Tripoli for non-emergency medical care, when Beirut is only two hours away?)

I’m not going to tell you the plot, but I am going to tell you that it is not only very different, but much better than the movie.

And I will give you a few hints.

First, the main character’s name is Roger Ferris.

Second, his dearly departed grandfather spoke very little and only vaguely about his origins in the “Balkan region” of the Ottoman Empire.

Third, the Jordanian mukhabarat plays a starring role – in a good way. (When asked about torture, the director says: we find torture incredibly ineffective. But we know our reputation, and we make use of it. The sounds of screaming in the prisons? All a recording.)

Fourth, there is romance and a strong woman character (woo hoo!), but she is not Iranian.

This is not an anti-American book, and it is not an anti-CIA book. It is a gripping read, and it offers something that we need to see much more of in contemporary American literature: Muslim heroes.

Posted in Americans, Arabic, books, citizenship, Damascus, espionage, family, home, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, politics, romance, Syria, words | 4 Comments »

Lebanon career opportunity 1: looking like Nasrallah

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 16, 2008

News of the weird, from today’s Daily Star:

A Hizbullah media official told Ash-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper in comments Wednesday that the group was “unaware” of information published by Iranian newspaper Khoursid last week, which reported that the Hizbullah’s leadership had selected Hachem Safieddine as a successor to secretary general Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. Khoursid quoted senior Iranian officials as saying that if “the Zionists succeed in assassinating Nasrallah, Hachem Safieddine will take over the party.” “Having leaders that look alike is one of the ways that Hizbullah wages psychological warfare against the enemy, in that the assassination of one leader does not create a problem or harm the resistance,” the newspaper wrote.

The weird part is not that Hizbullah would have a succession plan in place – that’s just good planning. Its that Khorshid claims that the plan prioritizes finding someone who looks like Nasrallah.

Nasrallah’s charisma does lie partly in his sunny smile and sweet manner – but mostly it is the result of his strategic and oratorical brilliance. The idea that replacing him can be done by anyone with a beard, a roly-poly countenance and a sayyid’s turban doesn’t seem like psychological warfare. It just seems silly.

But if you have ever been told: You could be a good Nasrallah for Halloween and you are looking for a job, keep your eye out for Israeli assassination squads in Dahiyeh.

Posted in Arab world, Beirut, espionage, Iran, Lebanon, media, politics, vanity, words | Leave a Comment »

Movie Night

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 11, 2008

I’ve been looking forward to seeing Persepolis, the film version of Marjane Satrapi’s graphic-novel version of her childhood in post-Revolution Iran. Her books are witty and warm, and the childhood Marjane’s confusion at the changes taking place around her (politically, socially, economically) put a very human face on1980s Iran.


I’ve been looking forward to seeing Persepolis, but apparently I won’t be seeing it here: Lebanon has banned the film.

Press TV says that the film has been banned because it presents a “distorted image” of post-Revolution Iran. I think that this is a bunch of rubbish – the Lebanese government more likely banned it for fear that it might increase the political tension.

Either way, I’m missing out on a movie that I very much wanted to see.

But interestingly enough, H has been mentioning that lunch in Tripoli sounds like a wonderful spring adventure. I’ve never been to Tripoli, but I hear that its merchants offer a particularly wide variety of DVDs. I bet I can find Persepolis there.

And if not, I can always watch the Shah’s Iran: Dubai TV has been airing Soraya, the 2003 Italian mini-series based on the life of Mohammed Reza Shah’s second wife. Furs, ballgowns and limousines: no distorted images there :).

Posted in film, Iran, Lebanon, media, politics | Leave a Comment »

feeling punny

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 7, 2008

Working in Dubai is a barrel of laughs, at least judging by the emails that S has been forwarding since moving there in September. I enjoy them all – even the ones I have to work at to understand, like this one.

Below is the list of the names of the ministers of the “new Iranian government”. Its a joke: the names are all puns, playing off the fact that many Arabic/Iranian names do have meaning in Arabic.

For example, the new Minister of Agriculture is: Growing Bigger Eggplants. In Arabic, the word for “agriculture” is الزراعة. The word for “growing” is زارع. Same three roots (zaa, raa, and ayn), but different form.

حكومة إيران الجديدة

تشكيلة الحكومة الايرانية الجديدة وضمت الوزراء التالية اسماؤهم

وزير الاتصالات : تلفنتلو رأساً جاني

وزير الزراعة: زارع أكبر باذنجاني

وزير الدفاع: علي أكبر مدفعي

وزير الخارجية: سافر منشي شهر

وزير الطاقة: مفجر آباري

وزير الداخلية: قامع أكبر تظاهراتي

وزير النقل: منتظر فين يجي

وزير الصحة: خابط أكبر إبري

After the list of ministers comes the list of foreign dignitaries who sent telegrams to congratulate the new government – standard practice and a mind-numbingly common feature of state-run media outlets. The dignitaries’ names are mostly expressions in Arabic – like the Chinese President, “Min Shan Chou” or “for what purpose”, and his foreign minister, “Moo Mishan Shi” or “not for any purpose”.

Or they are puns, like the Kuwaiti foreign minister, Saher Hatta al-Sabah. The Kuwaiti ruling family all has the last name “al-Sabah”, which also means “the morning”. So the foreign minister’s name means “Staying up all night until morning”.

وتلقى الرئيس برقيات تهنئة من الرئيس الصيني من شان شو

ووزير خارجيته ‘مو ميشان شي ‘ ..

ومن نظيره الفرنسي’جاك من وراك

كما تلقى اتصالا من وزير الخارجية الكويتي

الشيخ ‘ساهر حتى الصباح

ثم القطري ‘ كل ما ضربتو آل تاني

اما السفير لروسي’هجم بلاخوف’ فتمنى نجاح التشكيلة الوزارية الجديدة

هذا ويتوقع ان يصل الى ايران وفد تركي يرأسه وزير العلاقات

مرسل اعتذارات

للتباحث في شؤون تهم الدولتي

What a hoot – I’ve been giggling all morning. S., thank you for sending these!

Posted in Arabic, humor, Iran | Leave a Comment »

full of sound and fury: Ahmadinejad at Columbia

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on September 25, 2007

One of my former schools is in the news this week in a big way: for inviting Iranian president Ahmadinejad to speak at its World Leaders Forum. Like many New York schools, Columbia capitalizes on the UN’s annual summit as an opportunity to bring prominent global leaders to campus. A few years ago, Russian president Vladimir Putin came to Morningside Heights, and the campus rooftops were filled with snipers – quite a sight for Manhattan.

Many of Columbia’s invitees are controversial – but perhaps none so much as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This marks the second time the university has invited him to speak – although last year, the invitation was withdrawn. (For a conservative take on that story, see the New York Sun’s coverage, including this article.)

This time, the university went ahead with the event as planned – and I think it did so for good reason. Men like Ahmadinejad live in little bubbles of their own creation. Putting them before an audience uncowed by their power and unenamoured of their politics forces them to address a less artificial public sphere than that which they encounter in their home countries.

Before the forum, Columbia president Lee Bollinger sent this letter to students and faculty, outlining his rationale for inviting Ahmadinejad to speak – and to answer questions from his audience:

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:

I would like to share a few thoughts about today’s appearance of
President Ahmadinejad at our World Leaders Forum. I know this is a matter of deep concern for many in our University community and
beyond. I want to say first and foremost how proud I am of
Columbia, especially our students, as we discuss, debate and plan
for this highly visible event.

I ask that each of us make special efforts to respect the different
views people have about the event and to recognize the different
ways it affects members of our community. For many reasons, this
will demand the best of each of us to live up to the best of
Columbia’s traditions.

For the School of International and Public Affairs, which developed
the idea for this forum as the commencement to a year-long
examination of 30 years of the Islamic Republic in Iran, this is an
important educational experience for training future leaders to
confront the world as it is — a world that includes far too many
brutal, anti-democratic and repressive regimes. For the rest of us,
this occasion is not only about the speaker but quite centrally
about us — about who we are as a nation and what universities can
be in our society.

I would like just to repeat what I have said earlier: It is vitally
important for a university to protect the right of our schools, our
deans and our faculty to create programming for academic purposes. Necessarily, on occasion this will bring us into contact with beliefs many, most, or even all of us will find offensive and even

But it should never be thought that merely to listen to ideas we
deplore in any way implies our endorsement of those ideas, or the
weakness of our resolve to resist those ideas, or our naiveté about
the very real dangers inherent in such ideas. It is a critical
premise of freedom of speech that we do not honor the dishonorable
when we open the public forum to their voices.

The great majority of student leaders with whom I met last week
affirmed their belief that this event, however controversial, is
consistent with the values of academic freedom we share at the
center of university life. I fully support, indeed I celebrate, the
right to peacefully demonstrate and engage in a dialogue about this
event and this speaker, as I understand a wide coalition of our
student groups are planning for today. That such a forum and such
public criticism of President Ahmadinejad’s statements and policies
could not safely take place on a university campus in Iran today
sharpens the point of what we do here. The kind of freedom that
will be on display at Columbia has always been and remains today
our nation’s most potent weapon against repressive regimes
everywhere in the world. This is the power and example of America
at its best.


Lee C. Bollinger

If I had been in New York, I doubt I would have gone – I’m not good with confrontation, and I don’t like crowds. But I’m delighted that Columbia made good on its invitation – and all the more so since it resulted in such gems as Ahmadinejad’s “wishful thinking” comment about gays in Iran, which my aunt has posted as a video link on her website.

Update, September 29, 2007:

Having read the text of Bollinger’s ‘welcoming’ speech I do agree with Abu Owlfish that Bollinger erred on the side of grandstanding rather than statesmanship. I do wonder why – and suspect it might have something to do with last year, when Bollinger rescinded the invitation that then-SIPA dean Lisa Anderson had extended to Ahmadinejad. Perhaps he felt pressure – self-imposed if nothing else – to be “strong”, both in seeing through this year’s invitation and making it clear that he did so as a critic.

In any case, I note in today’s Daily Star that Ahmadinejad is comfortable with the idea that President Bush could make a similar appearance in Iran:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who recently addressed an American university in a somewhat stormy session, says that if US President George W. Bush would like to make a speech at an Iranian university he would authorize it. In a statement to state television during his visit to Latin America, the Iranian leader said: “If their president [Bush] wishes to come, we authorize him to make a speech” at an Iranian university.Ahmadinejad was asked by an Iranian television journalist if he would agree to “American politicians” making a speech as he had been able to do at Columbia University during his trip to New York to attend the UN General Assembly.

I’m sure Bush will be there on the next plane.

Posted in Americans, Iran, media | 2 Comments »

playing games with Iran

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 18, 2007

G is dying for a copy of the new Iranian video game “Special Operation 85: Hostage Rescue”, which is the subject of an Agence France Presse article published on Naharnet, in the Daily Star and every other English-language publication in the region, it appears:

Iran Rescues Its Missing Diplomats by Computer Game

Iran on Monday launched a computer game with a strong political message that mixes the standoff over its nuclear program, the mystery of missing diplomats in Lebanon and its hatred for Israel.

Players of the game “Special Operation 85: Hostage Rescue” play the part of a special agent battling to release captured Iranian diplomats and nuclear scientists from the clutches of his U.S. and Israeli foes.

The game has been produced by the Union of the Islamic Students, which was behind the infamous “World Without Zionism” conference in 2005 where President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for Israel to be “wiped off the map.”

“In this game we are not promoting terrorism and violence. By freeing Iranian hostages we are promoting selfless dependence, devotion to and defense of our country,” said the group’s secretary general Mohammad Taghi Fakhrian.

The eight-level game starts in Iraq, where a young married couple who are Iranian nuclear scientists have been captured by U.S. forces while making a pilgrimage to the Shiite holy shrine in Karbala.

Iranian special operations officer Bahman Nasseri, can intervene to save the couple, named Saeed and Maryam, who have now been spirited away to a prison in Iran’s arch-foe Israel. He slips into Israel and locates their prison.

In a twist, here he finds locked away not only the young scientists but also four other Iranians who in real life have been missing since disappearing in northern Lebanon at the height of the civil war in 1982.

There has never been any official confirmation over the fate of three Iranian diplomats and one photographer. But Tehran believes they were handed over to Israel by Lebanese Christian forces and are still alive.

A successful player completes the eight levels by killing U.S. and Israeli soldiers, stealing their laptops which hold secret information and finally liberating the scientists and the diplomats.

A player operates the Iranian-made AK-47 machine gun of special agent Nasseri, making sure it has enough ammunition and then shooting down enemy soldiers who suddenly pop up in the three-dimensional graphics.

The enemy then falls to the ground and Fakhrian then continues his relentless pursuit of his quarry to the sound of pounding electronic music.

Anyone who loses their “life” in the game is spurred on to try again with the words: “With resistance and help you can battle the enemy.” An Iranian flag flutters in the top right hand corner throughout.

Fakhrian said that the computer game had been inspired by Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“The computer games are cultural mediums that have their own positive and negative effects on young people. In our last meeting with the leader he told us to come up with ways to guide our children and students.

“So we went and thought about it and found out that it is computer games which have the most influence on the young people.”

It sounds like quite a game.

Please, can you get a copy of it for me? G asked me last night.

And how do you think I could do that? I replied. Walk through the camps downtown with an Xbox?

I can just see the headlines here, I said. “While Israeli journalists infiltrate Beirut, American academic asks Hizbullah for souvenir kill-the-Americans video game”. My parents would be less than pleased.

The description of this game reminds me of another one I used to hear in Doha. When the khal and khala were new arrivals there, they had no home internet. My uncle could go online at work; my aunt used the internet cafe in a nearby, eponymously titled mall.

My first visit to see them coincided with the last week before and first week of the war in Iraq. Some days we felt comfortable going into the city; some days we were warned that venturing out as obviously American foreigners was a poor idea.

On the days that we did go out, we stopped by the mall to check our email. The internet cafe was a three-aisle open-air affair stuck way back at the end of the mall’s food court. When we or any other women would arrive, the proprietor created a movable “family section” by blocking off one aisle with folding chairs.

It wasn’t plush, but it was fine – and, unlike the cafes I’ve used in Damascus, a “ctrl-h” didn’t turn up a long listing of I-hope-someone-cleaned-the-chair-I’m-now-sitting-in porn sites.

The cafe did attract a healthy crowd of ten-to-fourteen year old boys, though – who couldn’t have been less interested in us. They were engrossed in a high tech computer video game involving extremists and military personnel. I couldn’t tell which side the game favored, but the yells (from the boys) and the gunfire (from the game) were loud and frequent.

If this new game becomes popular in Beirut, I’ll be all the happier that I have internet at home.

Posted in advertising, Arab world, Beirut, childhood, Iran, Islam, Lebanon, media | 1 Comment »

career opportunities with the Axis of Evil

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on June 24, 2007

If you are starting a 24 hour English language news channel designed to break Western media’s “stranglehold” on the world, where do you look for news correspondents? Beirut, of course!


Well, this advertisement is looking for Beirut correspondents, but … its tempting to imagine the specter of fear that might be raised if Press TV were hiring all its correspondents in Lebanon. Shi’ite news crescent, anyone? 

Press TV will be the latest in a line of state-run or state-affiliated global news channels to open in the past year or two, including France 24 and Russia Today as well as Al Jazeera’s international channel.

UPI’s article on the channel describes Mohammad Sarafraz, deputy head for international affairs of the state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, as saying that the station springs “from the need to counter misinformation and mudslinging about Iran”. Accordingly, its news will focus primarily on the Middle East and the United States – apparently some “international events” are more newsworthy than others.

The channel is meant to launch on July 2, which gives its HR staff two days to sort through the CVs it receives from this advertisement. They must be powerhouses of efficiency. I’m going to add “presstv.beirut” to my list of gmail contacts and see how often the address is active!

Posted in advertising, Americans, economics, Iran, media, news, politics, teaching, television, words | 2 Comments »

Little Mosque on the Prairie: comments on episode III

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 2, 2007

Asifnana has kindly posted Episode Three of “Little Mosque on the Prairie” on Youtube. I enjoyed it, although the sluggish Lebanese network chopped it into 15 second bits. Perhaps this is why I found this episode entertaining but less memorable than the first two.

One of the most poignant moments comes approximately 6′ 20″ into the third section of episode three – and it is not part of the show. It is one of the “Hire Canada” PSAs, a brilliant if discomfiting series.

This one follows a job interview in which a young fast food store manager asks an older middle aged, English speaking, senior level mechanical engineer – an emigrant from Teheran – about his education and professional experience. His final question is: “so can you operate a soda machine?”

The advertisement fades to black, and the screen asks: “If Canada is a land of opportunity, why is an engineer serving fast food?”.

We in the United States could ask ourselves the same question. Its not only a question of rights and human dignity – it also raises the issue of whether our prejudices outweigh the country’s best interests.

Is our ‘best practice’ as a nation to have super-qualified taxi drivers (New York is filled with them), or to re-certify those whose professional training was undertaken elsewhere, in order to maximize their capacity to benefit our country?

My answer, I imagine, is obvious.

Posted in advertising, Americans, Canada, Canadians, economics, food, Iran, Islam, media, mosque, politics, religion, words | 6 Comments »

following the money trail: Indian investments in Syria

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 27, 2007

The Oxford Business Group‘s latest report on Syria interprets the same 2006 FDI numbers quite differently than I did in following the money trail.

OBG’s Syria: Ties with India emphasizes a number I mentioned but thought little about: the $84 million that India invested in Syria during 2006.

Here is OBG’s take on things:

Having enjoyed considerable and profitable success with both Iran and China, Syria is now turning its attention to another of the emerging giants of Asia – India.

Like China, India has been increasing its profile in the Middle East, seeking new markets for exports and ramping up investments so as to gain a stake in the energy sector and to open trade doors. India’s booming information technology (IT) industry is also looking to the region, where countries such as Syria are just entering the next stage of the technology and communications revolution.

In 2006, India was one of the largest non-Arab investors in Syria. Though well behind front runner Iran, which accounted for half of the $800m of investments from non-Arab nations, India came in a respectable third with $84m, just behind neighbour and rival China, which contributed $100m to the total.

India’s contribution to Syrian foreign investment looks even more healthy when it is considered that fourth ranked Germany directed just $24m, while total European investments added up to $155m.

Most of the Indian investments in Syria to date have been relatively small scale, mainly in the energy sector. However, this is something Damascus is seeking to change.

In mid-January, Fouad Issa al-Jouni, the Syrian industry minister, was in the Indian city of Bangalore to tout his country’s investment potential. Taking part in the annual Partnership Summit, staged by the Confederation of Indian Industry, he said his country had much to offer Indian investors.

Syria is a good option for investment with its unique geographical location, diversified economy, ongoing trade liberalisation process and good infrastructure base, al-Jouni said.

Al-Jouni also said that his visit would allow him and members of the accompanying delegation of Syrian businessmen to get acquainted with the latest technological and economic developments in India, and to promote Syria’s major industrial advancement and available investment potential.

Another prominent figure to recently give a sales pitch for Syria was India’s ambassador to Damascus, G. Mukhopadhyaya. Addressing the Federation of Andhra Pradesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the Indian city of Hyderabad on January 9, the ambassador described Syria as virgin market for investors.

Saying that there had been a major liberalisation of the Syrian banking and finance sectors, Mukhopadhyaya said these offered good business opportunities.

There was also immense business potential for Indian businesspeople in the country’s pharmaceutical sector, railways, information technology, education, tourism, construction, agro-processing, textiles and textile machinery industries.

Another move to deepen cooperation came on December 18, 2006, when the Federation of Syrian Chambers of Commerce (FSSC) signed a memorandum of understanding with the Indian Merchants’ Chamber (IMC) outlining plans for cooperation and promotion of bilateral business relations between the two groups.

Fascinating. Now that my eyes have been opened, I can’t wait to see where these new partnerships lead.

Posted in Damascus, economics, India, Iran, politics, research, Syria | Leave a Comment »