You don't have to like the Obama Administration's MidEast policies to appreciate the significance of what it's doing with Iran. In the most in-depth examination of the subject to date, Mitchell Plitnick explains exactly what the President is up to, and what his efforts mean for both America's regional allies (Israel and Saudi Arabia) as well as domestically. Plitnick isn't necessarily optimistic about Obama succeeding. Nonetheless, he reckons, the effort marks a sea change in US, as well as Western policy efforts, in the Middle East. The accompanying photography, documenting Eisenhower's 1959 visit to Iran, are a fascinating counterpoint, to a very different time in Iranian-American relations.
I've read a dozen books on the Middle East recently. I now get Iran. I sort of did before.
It's all so. fucking. sad.
Iranians revere Howard Baskerville. he was born in Nebraska. Iranians revere Sam Jordan. he was a Christian minister from Princeton. We really had to fuck shit up to get on Iran's bad side, and then keep it fucked up for decades and decades.
Stephen Kinzer put it pretty succinctly in Reset. Americans value pragmatism. Persians value principle. This is why Mossadegh was willing to run the economy into the ground in order to keep BP out, and why Eisenhower was willing to burn a democracy to the ground in order to keep the oil flowing.
One of the most striking things I've ever seen on television is the end of this show. I know you have to fish around, but watch the epilogue. Two minutes of those four are credits. Just give me two minutes, and look into the guy's eyes as they fade to black.
One of the men was father to the girls, and seemed to be speaking with insider knowledge as he lectured his wife and daughters about Zoroastrianism in a wild exaggeration of the theatrical style Iranians use when reciting verse - drawling out the long vowels as if eating them, peppering each sentence with SUDDEN LOUD PHRASES or unexpectedly . .. slowing... right... down. I decided that this must be a schoolteacher by trade - only they and television weather forecasters can get away with speaking in so mannered a fashion. We offered each other sweets and chocolates and I asked him to explain the Zoroastrian symbolism of the haft sin, the seven's', table.
There is none, he told me. The haft sin table is an ironic comment rather than a religious symbol.
"'Before Islam, Noruz was celebrated with a haft shin not sin table. We put on seven things beginning with "sh". We put sharab (wine) for celebration, shir(milk) for nourishment, sharbat(sherbet) for enjoyment, shamshir (a sword) for security, shemshad (a box) for wealth, sham (a candle) for illumination, and shahdaneh (hemp seeds) for enlightenment. So that these things would be ours during the coming year:
Hemp seeds for enlightenment? My thoughts immediately went back to Herodotus's description of Scythian funerals, when the nomads threw hemp seeds on a fire and inhaled the smoke from under a blanket.
'You have studied linguistics, perhaps?' the schoolman asked me. He looked disappointed when I shook my head. 'Well, if you did, you would know that "sh" and "s" are nearly the same but also very different: "sh" is a soft, generous, warm sound and "s" is hard, bitter and cold. Try. Hear the difference.'
And we all stood there for a moment in the abandoned village, hissing and shhh-ing like parked steam trains.
'You hear it?' .
We all agreed that we did.
'So when Iran accepted Islam, the people wanted to keep their customs.
And it was allowed, because the table did not break any of the laws of Islam. And also because the Qur'an was added. But the seven "sh" of the haft shin table became now the seven "s", so that every year Zoroastrians would be reminded of how bitter, hard and cold was the loss. But the Muslims, who have not studied linguistics, would not know this.'
'But what do the seven "s" objects actually symbolise?' I wanted to know.
'Nothing. Didn't you listen to what I said?' (Now I was convinced he was a schoolteacher.) 'Just seven things beginning with "s".'
- Paul Kriawczek, In Search of Zarathustra