One of the many white canvases put out for marking in Tehran

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A quick response to Al Jazeera regarding the upcoming Iranian presidential elections

I'm not sure I'd be a good person to ask regarding the elections. My information on this is generally funneled through western minds. My only outstanding thought is that the fielded candidates are a very disappointing bunch. My concern, as with most elections around the world, is that people are not so much voting for what they want as oppose to voting for a person who is against what they don't want. Mousavi seems an odd choice for Iranians and yet he seems likely to win - at least if you stand this side of Vanak. Mousavi doesn't appear to be a uniter by nature and displays little leadership qualities - features that Iranians historically seem to need in my mind. Ahmadinejad in my mind shows these to a better degree. The people are united in a shade of green; of change, and the face is Mousavi's. I'm hoping that this will turn out to be a "yes we can" matter, in that people will understand their own role in shaping the future having invested themselves so much. For the first time, I think people are seeing aspects of a democratic nation develop, by this I mean the televised debates and the use of the internet what with the reversal of a decision to block Facebook. These are important steps towards the desires of the people.

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In the process of voting

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"Guys, don't you get it, every time we vote we are voting against ourselves", I tried to point out to my colleagues-cum-team mates as we sat huddled around a table for our end of year party. "Hey come on, we gave you four votes on the last round!", gasped an opponent on the neighboring table as an end of round vote count was taking place. To say that the system descended into chaos would be to suggest that it was ever anything else; true, the lady who beat me by one point in the acting round of the competition did do a great job of convincing us she was constipated, but merit was long forgotten by that point.

It was a simple situation; ten tables with roughly five or six people per table; each round we'd send a suitable candidate to either sing, draw, dance or appear a little clogged up. Following each round we were asked to vote on the performance but with the exception of not being able to vote for one’s own representative. Yet, with this haphazard recognition system it soon became apparent to me that one should never rightly cast a vote for they'll only vote against themselves. Regardless, the voting went on; be it for recognition of merit and a willingness to ‘enjoy-the-taking-part’, or be it for the tit-for-tat; back scratching; "we voted for your shit skit, where's our payback?".

Naturally I took it all very seriously, paying careful attention to the new and unavoidable vote bartering, yet conscious that we'd always schemed the better result. As the competition concluded our mixture of great team performances and vote trading brought about a tie for first place with the Media Monitoring department, for which was oddly settled with a round of tug-of-war. Our failure here was in accepting the newer and shinier end of the two-part, make-shift rope, leading to a swift demise and very sore hands.

Another small voting matter took place this weekend, with equally as many peculiarities and equally as contended. This weekend saw the elections for the parliament of the Islamic Republic of Iran; which – depending on what side of the Atlantic you stood – was an event that would test of the president’s approval, or be a display of defiance against the Grand Arrogance.

‘who’ and ‘what’ were therefore interchangeable; without somebody to vote for there was nothing to vote for

“Are you going to vote?”, became a repeated question asked by very few optimists. Many considered that I’d presented my willingness with these words, for which were often thrown back with a, “what is there to vote for?”. This question would rouse resentment, for which seemed to centre around the vetting process, whereby many so called reformist candidate didn’t gain prior approval by the Guardian Council (the supreme authority in Iran). The words ‘who’ and ‘what’ were therefore interchangeable and thus without somebody to vote for there was nothing to vote for.

A friend of mine assured me that one must be pragmatic; that one must pick the lesser-of two-evils and to at least put an, “urgently needed halt to some upcoming disastrous policies”. I could appreciate his desire for crisis management but wasn’t convinced that this is a sensible solution.

My friend stood alone among all those in my circles. “What for?”, became the reasoning for a boycott, but yet again I found no comfort in this being a solution. I was reminded of the end of year work party, "guys, don't you get it, every time we vote we are voting against ourselves", but like the party we would surely end with a tug-of-war.

I’d gathered a few friends for lunch on the big day, whereby we’d hoped to reach a decision for the will-we-won’t-we? I’d pitched my optimist friend against a self proclaimed intellect with opposing views, yet the resulting sparks – though entertaining –still had me sat on the fence. The decision tormented me as I tried to openly consider all options. My immediate options were as follows: to vote (pragmatically and based on trusted advice; for I was desperately lacking), to boycott or to spoil the ballot. Each option held a weight that tugged hard against the other, yet the rope seemed to somehow be wrapped around our throats with only the means to breathe being the thing that would give.


“I think Iran is a relative beacon of light in the region and in some ways refreshingly honest with its democratic process”

“So who did you vote for?”, came a microphone to my face, “I don’t know”, I responded, being half true and slightly ambiguous in my words. “So what do you think of the elections so far?”, returned the microphone, “In what respect?”, I questioned, conscious of all the eyes turning in my direction as I spoke in English. “It’s interesting to observe so many people having faith in a strange ideal”, I continued, sticking with the ambiguity. Her questions were also vague as she alluded to how things compared in a global context, “I think Iran is a relative beacon of light in the region and in some ways refreshingly honest with its democratic process”. Her astonished face led me to want to retract my words, “how do you mean?”, she came back at me, “well, the controversial vetting process, I’d say other nations have more subtle means, but nevertheless have some form of vetting; it’s interesting to see that it’s rather straight-up here”. My indifference almost silenced her; it seemed too much to consider that somebody from beyond these borders wasn’t bleeting for democracy. Again she asked what I thought of this local display, yet I didn’t know what to add, “you tell me, you’ve been here longer. How does it feel for you? Do you think this is going well?”, I said in agitation. As I turned the questions around, she turned her microphone around, flicking the off switch underneath and indicating to the cameraman that they were done.

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Scenes from Palastine, edited between scenes of demonstrations in Tehran in support of the Palastinians.

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"Oh my f...", yelped a friend having just switched over from a Manchester United game to an interview with our president by a CBS reporter. The ensuing gasps and the shrieks were more appropriately related to the football and certainly the excited leaping from the chairs and fruitless flicking of Vs. "What the... shut up, just shut... you liar!", came the reactions to what was an all together different match. Such emotive responses surrounded me with every touch of the ball by our president, but I couldn't see the fowl play they repeatedly protested about. Yeah, there were dives and excessive rolls, but it's part of the game, and in this game and that room, it appeared I was rooting for the underdog.

I'm an odd supporter of the home team, going so far as to carrying a photographed keyring of our star player. Yet, how I'm scorned at for this, regardless of how far my tongue is wedged in my cheek. I get a similar responses when pushed to vocalise my thoughts; it's not that I'm fashionably backing the outsider, but more that, at times I hold a view that the games can have as much relevance as an actual football tournament.

"This is a terrible translation", both my friends simultaneously remarked as I strained to keep up with the pace; the only errors I noticed being the additional, "Mr. President", and other courteous terms padding the translated questions for the home team. I was enthralled; lost between needing clarification from my friends and not wanting to interrupt. This match was perversely important however; a long running tournament seems to be reaching its final stages, with a great many heated fans hungry for a slip-up; an excuse to vent anger and transcend the event; offering their own interpretation of a red card, regardless of a referee's decision.

For me, these vigilantes who seemingly shroud themselves in their own comfortable understanding of events, have at best, historical amnesia and certainly a gross immunity to self-awareness. This became prevalent with the media circus surrounding a recent visit by our president to the, "Lion's Den", which could be marked as the away-game to the previous week's interview.

"The Evil Has Landed", we read in the morning papers as the cogs of the corporate media shifted a gear. Various tactics had been considered by the home team; or even stolen, with 11/9 victims once again not left to rest in peace. Predictably, the media performed its tacit role of 'amplifier' well, with the volume turned down for this and also for the main reason of the visit: the fact that our president was a guest to the United Nations. Where the volume was increased however, was with our president also being a guest at Columbia University. Here he was made equally as welcome, being introduced as a, "petty dictator". Such flattery! And I'm serious.

no amount of witty uppercase-play can invite the situation whereby he will hover his finger over a phantom red-button

Such flattery that can only exist with tiring ignorance of our system, and this man's role; this democratically elected man I should add. He is arguably less influential than his international equivalents – simply a face, some stock-words and a nice beard, but one should be careful not to over-estimate him. One should know that he does not preside over the military, unlike the much loved former shah who was not democratically elected, did preside over the military and was not shy in using it against his own people (with a blind eye from the west). So one should be aware that no amount of witty uppercase-play ("AhMADinejad") can invite the situation whereby he will hover his finger over a phantom red-button.

The madness could be attributed to the provocative words on the holocaust; clumsy at best, but broaching this taboo in its current way of, "let's allow more research", invites an interesting response. These little pokes at western hypocrisy seem to be chipping away at the roots of a regional issue and – depending on who does your indoctrination – it resonates in great volume, yet in different ways. I might be so bold at this point and suggest that the surrounding rhetoric is awkwardly refreshing; so rare to hear a representative at such a level to stand up against the status quo and even represent his people. Today, for example, is an international day of recognition for the plight of the Palestinians, with a national televised demonstration running through most cities – yes, it reminds me of when in Britain we had national days of recognition for the struggle against the Apartheid. Remember? I put it to you, this guy is not mad; he is a mirror, one that is highly susceptible to smearing.

I heard that the airport flooded with admirers upon the return of our man, with crowds no doubt thankful for his safe return. I couldn't help but also feel thankful for this, as it was with each day that I gritted my teeth and begged that he not slip-up. But how silly of me; this has been proven to not be necessary; the age-old "wiped-off the map" – dusty rhetoric for the Islamic Republic – had recently gotten a fresh mistranslation and amplified by the corporate cohorts.

It is exactly that which we in-turn fear, the cyclical repetition of, "bringing democracy to the middle east", as this for us is like being wiped-off the map

But when these words are not being hideously mistranslated, they are not all that outrageous; in fact, much the opposite in my mind and no doubt the minds of a great many others in the region. I should add, I'm under no illusion that these words are said with as much sincerity as, "bringing democracy to the middle east", but they resonate with the same effect to a different audience. Yet, it is exactly that which we in-turn fear, the cyclical repetition of, "bringing democracy to the middle east", as this for us is like being wiped-off the map.

The tournament is racing to its final stages, and with this, my greatest fear is of the resulting hooligans; for you [my readers] are the one who allows the transcending of the game. Be cautious, your anger or fear might be measured by your ignorance. So I feel we should be vigilant, so as not be seduced for want of our vigilante behavior, for it does us no credit and we far from benefit. I might then end by provocatively suggesting that, if you want democracy, respect it, and respect ours.

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A poster campaign, "It's our own fault", promoting good hejab in Iran.

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A lot of changes have been taking place in Iran over the last week, the Islamic Republic has been remembering itself, taking further steps than enforcement of the dress laws. Coffee shops have been closing due to women smoking in them, clothing shops will have to have their stock put to the scrutiny of the Islamic ideals and Satellite dishes have been torn from roofs.

I occasionally duplicate my blog at an interesting site by the name of MidEastYouth.com, a site that brings folk from the Middle East together to share and publish words and ideas. I'm flattered that they except me as a youth and often enjoy the lively debates that spin off from mine and other people's writing.

Occasionally I get lost in these debates and felt that one of the recent ones resulting from an article concerning the struggle for free press in iran [oddly enough this has now been deleted by the author who feared the repercussions, or so I was told], would be a timely one to reverse-post with. Here is my last response/rant.

Esra [site founder], I feel you've rather missed the point about Chomsky (with all due respect). The beauty with Chomsky is that he doesn't have ideas, or at least not in that way. You will often hear him state that he is far too unqualified to make predictions and you will note that he's at pains to simply present facts and make suggestions as to other ways to perceive them. It is by not sticking his neck out like this that I feel he gets a large audience and relatively little bashing.

That Chomsky 'doesn't try hard enough' [referring to Esra's comment] to enforce any ideas might make sense with what I say above. Although it should be added that Chomsky was very active in his early years as far as protesting and organising.

As for Chomsky not being a force for change [referring to Esra's comment], I very much disagree here. When the people have access to such a wealth of mostly hidden facts, then has them presented in a way that exposes alternative agendas - I feel this is a very powerful source of change. he has been a huge influence for me, a true intellectual power-house with such a perfect form of presentation, modest, selfless and relentless. He has inspired me to dig deeper, try harder and alway reflect upon my bias.

Which leads me on to City boy [the author of the article in question], maybe I need to be clearer here [referring to his response to mine]. Yes, we can be reductionist about bias and suggest that all individuals include an amount of prejudice in their words, actions and behavior, this should be universally appreciated. But we must look at the bias in the institutions and corporations.

To get back to Chomsky, he asks us to consider that the media's market is the advertisers and their product is the consumers - with a bias toward more wealthy consumers. With this in mind we have our understanding as to the trail of influence. Jina [commenting on City boy] suggests that Fox news is a mirror for the government, yet I feel this also misses the point, again, Chomsky would tell us that the Government is the shadow created by the corporations, and especially so in the USA I would add. Regardless, the media simply align themselves to the market thus adapting what we consume.

Where this is slightly different is in cases like the BBC, whereby license payers contribute with the government to provide a service. Yet I see this as a more interesting form of media distribution of which is certainly still open to bias. One may simply read of BBC Persia's reporting during 1953 when Mosadegh lost power. More amusingly the BBC did a documentary about it recently.

But one sees these cases where the consumer is fed to fulfill the needs of the government and those higher up: the corporations. Was it no small coincidence that the largest company of the that period ('53 coup) for Britain was British Petroleum which pretty much functioned only in Iran.

The field may be larger, the fence maybe lower but we are still sheep

City boy, aziz e delam [returning his Farsi endearment], please do not purport to be a tour guide for 'reality'. "Freedom of democracy" is an illusion for a few countries and although I have also heard our dear Chomsky suggest that indulging the political process has benefits, he is never a faithful for the concept and neither am I. The farce of a system that we have in those countries (that feel so enlightened to export such a virtue) is simply a means to control the masses. The field may be larger, the fence maybe lower but we are still sheep to use the metaphor. My guess is that soon the fence won't even be needed as we will simply obey.

But you know my field is different with methods such as these [blogging] although my basement [term used by City boy] doesn't have the resources to compete with the majority of the established media. Yet it is not the resources I desire as this will then create a market and thus I am no different.

So OK, as you suggest I can write for these institutions and corporations [in my basement as is suggested], but you honestly think I am at liberty to say what I will.

But then we can get on to systemic failings, which I might state is where America struggles more. Robert Fisk talks occasionally about this subject whereby career mindedness or even the need to maintain a job has sucked the life out of any ability to counter the corporate line. So we can sees the compounding distortions.

The 'West' is afforded 'freedom' and 'democracy' as the results are not as harmful

But yes City boy, there is a difference between Iran and the 'West', but this difference is – in my mind – to do with the ruling family or party's strength. The 'West' is afforded 'freedom' and 'democracy' as the results are not as harmful or at least comfortably undermined. In nations like Iran, the clamping down is a reflection of the weakness in dealing with it by other means.

But City boy, I don't much care for revolutions [he suggests we should conspire to one] nor think it would be wise, I might rather evolution - it's less bloody among other things. Regardless, optimist or pessimist, keep on writing and thinking, moving and progressing.

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Prior to the elections, the Tehran streets awash with candidates' faces.

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"How did it feel to have voted then?", I asked a friend as we left the small school tucked away from one of Tehran's main roads. "Like having done my duty, painful though it was", she responds. "Yes, it is like volunteering a gun to a person that will shoot you in the foot because the other one will go for your head – no different to how it was for me in England really", I add, inviting a nervous laughter between us. Like a song that's over reliant on its chorus we faded to silence and I'm certain she filled this moment with the same thoughts as I as we reflected on our recent political action. We'd gone against our family's aggressive protest as well as the tireless repetition of "what for?" and "why? spilling from the lips of our peers, had we wasted our time, or possibly made things worse?

Having handed birth certificates, pressed our inked-sodden fingers and been issued voting slips we departed from the line of female civil-servants fully equipped to relinquish our fate. Two parallel walls hosted a huddle of people jotting down codes from the 10-large posters filled with details of an astounding 1200-plus candidates.

Phone calls were made to confirm spelling as scraps of paper collected scribbles of hope. "Why are there 5-boxes available for the code and each of the candidates only have a 4-digit code?", my friend gasped, far from reassured by the vague verbal instructions given by the onlooking security. We raced around shouting numbers to one another while collecting the 15-names needed to adorn the Tehran council. 1200 wasn't enough however, we were giving it up in style with the occasion offering further exercises of democracy – two extra ballots were available to embellish, a further 2-candidates were needed for something missed last time around and also 12 of the supreme league – not wanting to feel left out – were in need of some flattery.

"No, if you vote for women only then the government will brag to the west about how this system not only functions but is inclusive and progressive"

Prior to the big day I'd planned various strategies for how I'd vote. "No, if the head in your drawing of a sheep falls between a box then they may count it a your choice", I was oddly informed. "No, if you vote for women only then the government will brag to the west about how this system not only functions but is inclusive and progressive", came more advice. "Pick the reformist candidates" I was repeatedly told, "but I want to vote for somebody I want, not for somebody who is opposes the person I don't want", I ranted, reminding myself of the strategic voting that distorts the political outcome back on the UK.

"My statement cannot be lost with the unaware or unconcerned", I answered to the angry people that accusing me of giving credit to a system they've long given up on. "Apathy and conscious avoidance register the same with the absence of a 'none-of-the-above' box", I plead. "Increasing the turnout must surely represent an active public and an active public should invite a more conscientious government, spoiling your ballot is surely an available option", I conclude.

It nearly seemed like a worthwhile option until I heard, "20,000 Basij have been brought into Tehran to vote!". Of course, I hadn't noticed, I was not registered to vote at any specific location, I'd freely walked into a school, handed my birth certificate and began my art project. And of course, any other Iranian is at liberty to do so also, potentially giving Tehran a 150% turnout for example. Indeed, maybe the gun was never in my hand – maybe we had wasted our time.

I'd left the school having endured a test, and to the question of democracy I'd indulged it with my answer of action. I sit and wait to see the results yet even though my answer may not be counted, the certainty that at least one person had to decipher my choice, for me at least, counts.

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