Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Why Europe will never let Iran get bombed...

Has Europe just been appointed Iran's designated driver? Is Europe going to keep Iran from getting bombed? And, more important, can Europe take away America's and Israel's car keys as well? Yes, yes, and yes.

Let's talk realistically here. The various corporatists and neo-cons who have seized control of the military decision-making processes in both America and Israel have been making a lot of strong noises lately to the effect that they really really want to attack Iran. Sober up here, guys! Get a grip. You seem to have carefully isolated yourselves -- and also your backup crew of citizen right-wingers -- from all too many of the realities and facts on the ground that are readily available to the rest of the world.

For instance, did you know that people in Europe view the Israel-Palestine situation from a very different perspective than most Americans do? Almost everyone in Europe has been pretty much disgusted by the American-backed Israeli neo-cons' failed 2006 invasion of Lebanon, its brutal 2009 invasion of Gaza and its recent viscous attack on the internationally-sponsored humanitarian flotilla to Gaza.

Knowing this, what makes Israel's and America's corporatist decision-makers think that Europe (and also Russia, China, etc.) is going to welcome an invasion of Iran with open arms? Not gonna happen!

Further, by isolating and restricting our major media to the point where it mainly prints opinions that corporatists in Washington want to hear, Americans and Israelis may be cutting off their own noses in order to spite their face with regard to Iran.

At this point, the media war for America's hearts and minds needs a serious reality check. Otherwise, Americans may find themselves once again swimming out into the deep end of the pool at their own peril -- just like what happened in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Won't someone please take our military-industrial complex's car keys away! They may think that they are sober -- but in reality they have drank far too much of the "Endless War" Kool-Aid and are in NO condition to drive. Europe knows this. But apparently we Americans do not.

It seems that if corporatists, neo-cons and right-wingers don't like reality, they try to make it disappear. And the main difficulty with this approach to reality is that we the people are getting suckered into situations that we might normally avoid like the plague. However, trying to convince Europe, Russia, South America and Asia to go along with these war plans against Iran may turn out to be a hard sell indeed.

And there's another major factor involved in this facts-on-the-ground equation as well -- unlike Iraq and Afghanistan (and to some extent Palestine), many Europeans, Asians, etc. have actually BEEN to Iran.

Who the freak went to Iraq before Shock and Awe? Hardly anyone. Saddam Hussein's Iraq was not exactly some hot new tourist destination. And tourists hardly ever went to Afghanistan -- except for perhaps a few hippies with wanderlust back in the 1960s. But. What Americans and Israelis apparently don't comprehend or understand is that Iran is a major tourist attraction -- for both Europeans and Asians. Think Egypt and the pyramids. Think Taj Mahal. Iran is to Europe what the Grand Canyon or the Great Wall of China is to us. A major tourist hotspot!

So while a huge number of Americans still think that Iran is filled with sand and camel jockeys and harems, most Europeans and more than a handful of Asians have been there, done that. They know, for instance, that Tehran is the Paris of the Near East. They know that the ruins at Persepolis rival the ruins at Karnak. And they know that Estafan's grand palaces and mosques can easily compete with the coliseum and Vatican in Rome. And Europeans flock to Iran by the tens of thousands annually.

Europeans have been there. Americans have not. You can tell Americans ANYTHING about Iran and they will believe it. You can't tell Europeans diddly-squat about Iran -- because they have actually been there themselves.

For this reason alone, I'm willing to bet the farm that Europeans will never let Iran get bombed.

PS: And I've been to Iran too. Here's Part One of my report on the wonders of Iran. "Iran never disappoints."


Innocents Abroad: On the Road in Iran
October 8, 2008:
"I have no idea what to wear to Iran," I whined. I’d heard stories of women actually being executed there for not covering themselves from head to toe.

"Don’t worry about that," said an Iranian-American friend. "Just wear long sleeves, long dresses and a headscarf and you’ll be fine." But I don’t even own any dresses. Crap. This is going to be like dressing up for a trip to the moon. I’m totally out of my cultural depth.

"It’s just not that big a deal," said my friend. But it is. All I ever wear these days are jeans and T-shirts. Jeans and T-shirts. That’s it. "Jane, get a grip. Jeans are made of cloth. Dresses are made of cloth. Same difference. You’ll do fine."

But still I worry. I’m not worried about going to Iran during a time-period where that idiot George Bush is threatening to bomb it and being there when the bunker-busters drop. And I’m definitely not worried about getting any tourist diseases over there. No, I’m all worried about clothes and I’m also worried about getting a ticket from the fashion police for looking like a dork.

"Jane," said my friend, "you went on Hajj and spent a whole month in Mecca. You visited Afghanistan. You even stayed on in Palestine. And you loved every moment. You’ll like Iran as well." Will I? I’m going to find out tomorrow. I’m leaving tomorrow for Tehran.

October 9, 2008: It’s 4:00 am in the morning, our jet plane is somewhere over Iceland, I just watched a re-run of a movie I saw last spring when I flew to China, I’m uber-tired and I’m stuck in a middle seat with no legroom – but other than that this has been a very smooth flight. I haven’t been reduced to total terror so far.

The man in the seat to my right – 35F – is from Monte Negro and he just gave me a capsulated rundown on the Serbo-Croatian war. "Serbs, Croats and Monte Negrans all speak dialects of the same language," he added, "but the people from Kosovo speak Albanian, which is a language unto itself."

"What’s Monte Negro like now?"

"We have a lot of beaches. It’s a tourist destination and we have hydropower and aluminum. Tito was in charge when I was a boy. There wasn’t all that much freedom of speech like there is now but we had excellent free education and healthcare." Trade-offs.

The woman on my left – 35D – was from India and remembered the days before the partition. "Hindu and Urdu are also similar languages," she said. I didn’t know that.

Both my seatmates had lived through civil wars. "I spent the entire duration of the Serbo-Croatian war in Russia," said the Monte Negran, "and the United States." Good thinking. Avoiding a war zone is always a good idea.

There’s a kind of fugue state generated by flying and I am now definitely in that zone. If I read any of what I wrote here later, will it make sense? Probably not.

After we landed in Frankfurt, a bus came out to our 747 and drove us for about a mile to the terminal, past a very long flight line. "How many wide-bodies do they have in this place!" I exclaimed to the Indian lady.

"Maybe 50?" Or more – all bearing the name "Lufthansa". Some were being driven from place to place like they were cars. Others sat parked in long parking-lot lines, like they were waiting around for their owners to get back from the mall and drive them home. "Aren’t they pretty!" someone said. Yes.

Then I trundled off to my free Sheraton Hotel dayroom, soaked in a nice long hot bath and slept for five hours. Heavenly – except for the dream. The dregs of society were down by the waterfront planning a wedding. One woman-man had a tongue made of metal and the end of his-her tongue had rusted off. Eeuuww.

Meanwhile back on the plane to Tehran…. We saw a lot of cartoons. "Why are we watching children’s shows?" said a member of our group that I had met at the Frankfurt airport gate lounge while waiting for our flight.

"Because Iranians love cartoons." Interesting. We watched Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and the Little Mermaid. Since when does the Little Mermaid pass the dress code?

There were two wonderful babies on the plane. More and more, I’ve been noticing wonderful babies – of all races, cultures and creeds. Maybe I just started noticing wonderful babies because of my wonderful granddaughter – or maybe more wonderful babies are being born because there is a greater need in the world now for wonderful babies than there ever has been before. Perhaps they will all grow up and save the world.

We have one hour and eleven minutes before we arrive in Tehran. Is it time to start putting my headscarf on yet?

I met up with the rest of my tour group at Gate 22 of the Frankfurt airport. They all seem very nice – three younger women, several women my age and a middle-aged couple. There’s supposed to be one more man but I haven’t met him yet.

"Do you have a copy of the itinerary?" I asked one of the women my age.

"Sure. We’ll be flying to the northern part of Iran and then driving back down south." Oh goodie! We’ll get to see a lot of the countryside and not just Tehran. "Yadz, Persepolis, Esfahan." Tourist hotspots and famous archeological digs. Cyrus and Alexander were here. I may have accidentally stumbled onto the trip of a lifetime – besides Egypt of course…and maybe India. Manchu Picchu? The Potola in Tibet? Shut up, Jane.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we have a very important announcement," said the stewardess. "All women are required to cover their heads so we ask you to put on headscarves before we land in Tehran." So I ran to the toilet area to put on my long skirt and coat-dress -- and the plane started rocking and the "return to seat" light started flashing and the stewardess kept saying, "Return to your seats," and there I was, halfway in and halfway out of my costume and bouncing around the toilet compartment and muttering "Oh crap!"

But when I got back to my seat, the Iranian men I had befriended on the flight all smiled and cheered and I was a big hit – except for the man next to me who got all nauseous and rang for the stewardess and was going to throw up – hopefully not because of me.

I’m so glad my daughter Ashley isn’t here. She’d laugh her head off at the sight of me in a skirt. But at least in all the excitement of me coming out of my cocoon as an Iranian butterfly, I forgot to be terrified of the turbulence.

After we got through customs, only our group was made to wait and wait and wait. "Sometimes they hold Americans at the airport for three or four hours – in revenge for all the waiting that Iranian citizens have to go through at American airports." But as we waited all alone in the now-deserted airport, I noticed that the immigration department computers all had Windows XP screen savers and we were waiting next to a Panasonic advertizing sign.

And then the customs police brought me a chair.

Boy did I misunderestimate the temperatures here. Once we got through customs, the fresh cold air hit us hard – freaking San Francisco weather. I’ve packed the wrong clothes.

"117 million people live in Tehran proper," said our new guide, "and an additional 22 million live in Greater Tehran. And the airport is one hour’s drive from the downtown ." We climbed onto the bus. It’s now 3:00 am, Iran time.

Our four-star hotel room had all the amenities – hot water, a bed, towels, sheets, cockroaches.

October 11, 2008: "Good morning!" said my new roommate. How does one civilly reply to something like that at 7:00 am after getting only three hours of sleep? I am so freaking tired.

I guess from my first impressions that the only difference between Iran and other places in Europe and America is that the women here wear headscarves and blouses that come down past their hips. But that’s about it. I could be sitting in any other hotel in the world.

"People in Iran are overly polite – that’s the big difference between Iranians and Americans," said our guide. "In that respect, we are more like the Japanese." Oh, and you CAN brush your teeth with the tap water.

"We just got word that we will not be meeting with a prominent ayatollah as planned," said our guide. "He is not feeling well."

Much to my surprise, everyone here wears western clothes and hardly anyone is in full Muslim drag.

"American dollars are getting stronger in Iran right now so you are lucky," said our guide, "and a lot of people here actually take dollars." And apparently inflation has hit here hard in the last year. "The price of eggs has doubled and housing costs three times as much." The inflation rate is around 500%. Wow. "Gas used to be 40 cents a gallon but now it is 40 cents per liter, and living in Tehran is very expensive. A lot of people work two or three jobs." The wives work as well as the husbands.

The first stop on our tour was the archeological museum, built in the 1930s as part of a plan to stop the looting of archeological treasures by western collectors. "This museum covers the period of the fifth millennium BC to the seventh century AD – the pre-Islamic period."

Iran is four times the size of Iraq – which is the size of California. "Iran is approximately one-fourth to one-third the size of the United States, excluding Alaska. The name ‘Iran’ is derived from the word ‘Aryan,’ the people who migrated down from the area which is now Russia. Our national history starts from around 1900 BC, when the Aryans came and subjugated the local people. Cyrus the Great is a descendant of the original Aryans." And they call all white people Caucasians because that’s the area where the Aryans originally came from, so Americans, European and Iranians all come from the same stock.

"Iranians are basically Caucasians – but because we are located at such a geographical crossroads, we have all kinds of ethnic diversity too." Aryans, Semites and even Mongols. Then we saw a lot of paleolithic stuff at the museum. That stuff was OLD.

"There’s a museum in Chicago that has more Persian antiquities than this one," said one tour group member. Still and all, this stuff is nice. Plus it gives us a taste of what we have to look forward to at Persepolis – lots of statues of impressive-looking bearded guys.

I didn’t see many statues of women here. "The role of women in the Middle East has always been secondary, not just since Islam." I guess that’s right. With a few notable exceptions, Jewish women were secondary to their men in the Middle East back in biblical times, and even look what happened to Mary Magdalene when she stepped out of her place -- she got called a whore.

Back on the bus, we passed two churches on our way to a ceramics museum. My idea of a good museum is one that has places to sit down. This one had lots of chairs.

"These necklaces date back to the fourth millennium BC." Even then, human beings appreciated art. I gotta start appreciating art too. Human beings create art – it’s what distinguishes us from beasts. Less bombs, more art. Let’s spend the Pentagon’s budget on teaching people to paint, draw, write and play the violin instead. Iran and Israel could have a battle of the bands. May the best poet win. There is a peaceful quality about museums. Then I accidentally sat in the museum guard’s chair – but he was extremely gracious about it.

What’s next? Lunch. "We are going to one of a chain of restaurants that serve traditional Iranian food." Mostly stews. Ours was a stew composed of extract of pomegranate, walnuts, vegetables, dried lemon and kidney beans, served with plain rice. Then we got to talking about fast food. "People here really like fast food – burgers and pizza."

"Is there a McDonalds?"

"No, but we do have Coca-Cola." So much for sanctions. I had a Sprite. Someone else had a pseudo-Red Bull. My Sprite can said, "Canned under authority of the Coca-Cola Company."

Apparently traditional Iranian food includes chicken pasta salad. "And this dish is fried onions, tomatoes and lamb." Then the shish kebob came! And dates and macaroons for dessert. "Is lunch or dinner the main meal of the day?" I asked.

"Every meal is the main meal of the day." My kind of people.

Then we got into a discussion about headscarves. There are advantages and disadvantages regarding the treatment of Islamic women. "We sacrifice some things yet we also receive more respect," said one Iranian woman. In one way I like the headscarves because they grip my skull and keep my brains from rattling around in my head.

When people found out that Americans were at the restaurant, it took on a festive atmosphere as diners from other tables came over and offered us food. "Try this yogurt. Try these olives!" Sure. I wonder what the poor schmucks who think Iran is such a horrible place are doing right now? Probably just stuck at home at McDonalds.

I can see the direction this trip is going in. Once I get back from Iran, I may never have to eat again.

"Next we are going to the jewelry museum. An 18th century corrupt shah was so busy with his harem that the Afghans were able to invade. But then a new shah came to power and kicked the Afghans out and got back the treasury that the Afghans had seized – plus a lot more." That’s where we are going now – to view the gold and gems once owned by this shah. I’m definitely up for looking at gold.

"The jewels exhibited here," said our guide, "are priceless." Imagine a huge underground vault filled with hundreds of thousands of diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphires, gold and other shiny stuff – worth trillions of dollars.

"Are any of the people who owned this still alive?"

"No, all of them are dead." There’s a moral here – that even a treasure-house full of jewels won’t make you immortal. Deep, huh.

"Do any of the current Iranian state leaders wear any of these jewels?"

"They wouldn’t dare. Their reputations would be ruined." But there were so many thousands of diamonds that they just seemed like rhinestones, paste and glass beads after a while.

"Diamonds used to be the most valuable stone," said our guide, "but they are still mining diamonds – whereas there are no more rubies left to be mined and so now rubies are five times more valuable."

Then we went off to buy Islamic dresses. Islamic dresses basically look like overcoats. We all had fun trying them on but the ones that were stylish cost over $50 and the cheap ones didn’t fit at all and were ugly. I finally found a black cotton one for $25 that wasn’t too bad, if a little bit tight. Hey, it had pockets. I look like a sausage. But it was fun shopping for it and I can always move over the buttons.

October 12, 2008: My roommate and I really get along well outside our hotel room but once in our room we (politely) fight about everything – what time to set the alarm for, whether or not to open the window, what speed to set the air conditioning on, when to turn out the light and even where to put the toilet paper roll. Weird. Plus she snores a lot and I certainly don’t want to be the one to tell her that.

Right now, all my extra money is going to the hotel’s internet cafĂ©. The Iranian government denies me access to and but gives me access to That’s strange. All three sites offer the same articles and all three sites worked their little hearts out to prevent Bush from attacking Iran. I submitted an appeal to whoever manages this kind of stuff to unblock the sites.

I wonder what we are going to do today? I need to buy some T-shirts. I packed five skirts and dresses that I will never use but not enough T-shirts to wear under my manteau (that’s what they call these overcoat dresses here).

Our hotel is one block away from the Petroleum Ministry. That probably contains more gold than the jewelry museum.

"In a few minutes we are going to pass the former U.S. embassy. You are not allowed to take photos." But mostly it was just a view of a wall, you couldn’t see the embassy itself, nothing strategic. But I figured it was okay to take pictures of the wall. It had lots of anti-American phrases and murals that had been done back in the 1970s and were now almost the only place in Tehran that you could see anti-American slogans. "Iran will outlast the American superpower," said one section of the wall. At this point that might not be very hard to do. The reports on BBC News this morning about the American economy were really bad.

Then we drove through the old Armenian quarter. It looked like the Lower East Side of New York City.

"Tehran is 4500 feet above sea level. The population went from 3.5 million in 1978 to 17 million now, creating a population boom as people streamed into Tehran searching for jobs and creating large ghettos and sections of poverty. Plus over a million people died in the Iran-Iraq war, which also affected Tehran because people came here to be safe."

To the east of the city, high mountains suddenly rise. I know that the mountains are in the east because I always carry a compass – but you know that I still always manage to get lost.

"We are now going to a palace complex that belonged to the former shah. The closer you get to the mountains, the more expensive the neighborhoods get." Lots of 20- and 30-story condo towers – with helicopter pads on their roofs. "A two-bedroom condo in this area goes for a million dollars. There is a lot of construction going on and, unlike in the USA right now, housing is still a lucrative business here."

Iran has 30 provinces but Tehran is the most popular place to live at. "They are trying to transfer the capital to Esfahan to lower the congestion here but that move is still in the works." Then I got the sneezes from all that air conditioning last night.

"You can find the best-paying jobs in Tehran but you have to spend more to live here."

Then we passed through a lovely tree-lined boulevard. "It is not allowed to cut down trees in Iran. There’s a $20,000 fine. This street is the Champs de Elysees of Tehran."

We passed some Starbucks wannabes here, only they had changed the name to "Starcups". Many brand-name stores are coming to Iran now, such as Versace and Baskin Bobbins. "Tehran is not an ancient city, only about 200 years old." We will try to see three palaces today. King Reza, the founder of this dynasty, had four wives. And his son, the last Shah, had three wives. The last shah had 18 palaces but we are only going to see three of them. And after the palaces, we are going to go shopping at Nordstrom’s."

Tourist buses were lined up at the palace entrance and little girls in lavender cupcake uniforms sat on the steps of one of the palaces and said good morning to us in English. Third graders.

Then I tripped over nothing, fell flat on my face and screwed up my left ankle. Crap. It really hurts. I feel like a horse that needs to be taken out and shot. "Are you okay, Jane?" No. But, hey, I tripped on the same path that one of the cruelest dictators in the whole world used to walk on daily.

Next we went to a museum for the paintings of Mahmoud Farsachian. My initial reaction was "kitsch" – but technically well-executed kitsch. I’m such a snob. I couldn’t have possibly drawn or painted any of his stuff. Would I hang any of his work in my home? Sure. I’ve already inherited about 20 other kitsch paintings from my mom. These would fit right in.

Then we found a restroom with options besides a squat toilet. And the men’s side was cleaner than the women’s, giving me a whole new respect for Iranian men. Men’s rooms in America suck eggs.

Then we went off and got our photos taken in ancient Persian dresses while sitting in front of a Cinderella-style carriage that used to belong to a shah. I think. And then we toured the last shah’s palace with a group of Korean tourists and the women in the group wore the most beautiful headscarves, all covered with sequins. The shah had a lot of fabulous Persian rugs.

Then we went off to the Black Palace which is now an art museum. Lots of stairs, no chairs.

"These are paintings of Persian nobility from the 17th century." I’d hang any one of these in my home any time. I loved them. Who ARE these people? And where do they shop?

One portrait showed two young men, six young women and an old lady, fondling each other. "Back in those times, relations between women were not uncommon and were considered normal." Why not? There was probably nothing else to do in the harem.

And that was our day, spent flitting through the palaces of the former shah. Back on the bus. "About 60 years ago, you wouldn’t see any houses around here, only lawns, gardens and trees."

Time for lunch.

We drove up a winding street up on the hillside of the poshest part of town. "That home there costs 25 million." Dollars. This is the Beverly Hills of Tehran. "Here is our restaurant." Men sat outdoors on carpets. We sat outdoors too, under trees, in a garden – but not, thankfully, on the floor. Barley soup, eggplant anti-pasta with dill sour cream – just for starters. I’m already full. Lamb kebabs, chicken, potatoes, dates and tea.

Then we went off to an upscale mall. Not quite Rodeo Drive – but close. "Don’t think of this as window shopping," I told someone in our group. "Think of this as anthropology!" Exploring how the Tehran upper class lives. Incredibly stylish ways to wear black dresses of course, but also Dior, Tommy Hilfiger, Benetton, Yves St. Laurent, Givenchy, Mont Blanc, D-Squared and Elle! I was all in a daze.

I also found an ATM machine at the mall. Good. I was running out of money and had $200 less than I thought I had. But my card was rejected. "This machine will not accept your card."

"Where can I get money?" I asked one of our guides.

"There’s no place that you can get money from America here." Wow. The banking and credit system has gotten THAT bad? The dollar has sunken that low? "No, it’s just that there are no commercial ties between Iran and America." Tell that to Coca-Cola and Tommy Hilfiger.

"What about Western Union?" I’d seen a Western Union sign near our hotel.

"Yes, you could do that." But how?

"No tourist has ever been killed here in the past 200 years," someone said. Good to know -- but not surprising. Tehran is an extremely civilized town. I wonder, however, if any tourists have ever died of starvation due to access to an ATM machine. And I also wonder if I will have enough money to be able to buy a soccer jersey for Ashley or a doll for baby Mena. And maybe a small Persian rug for Joe?

One Iranian explained the gas situation to me. "We don’t have that many gas stations here so there are always long lines. Some people get up at 3:00 am to buy gas. And it’s rationed too. And if you don’t have a ration card, gas costs four times as much."

Then we went off to a carpet museum. I’m assuming that they have a bathroom.

"There are two different types of carpets: Tribal rugs and urban rugs." They showed us a rug from 500 BC. Awesome. A whole museum full of carpets. I wonder how many people went blind weaving these rugs?

"Urban rugs are more valuable if they are perfect but flaws in tribal rugs are acceptable, even expected." Persian-type knots, natural dyes. "144 knots per (something, I didn’t hear what, perhaps inch?) is the highest amount you can get." And it is illegal to import Chinese rugs into Iran. Then we looked at the rugs themselves. They were stunning, impressive. But I still like my little prayer rug better. It’s been in my purse since 2005, followed me everywhere, been around the world with me, kept me company. Just like the nomadic rugs.

Next stop – the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, featuring an exhibit by art instructors in some of the local colleges and design schools. Nice building. Nice exhibit. My feet hurt. Can I go back to the hotel and use the internet yet?

"None of this stuff is political," someone commented, "and none of it reflects the horrors of the Iran-Iraq war." I get the opinion that almost everyone in Tehran is trying to forget it.

The sofas in the museum are incredibly soft – but hard to get out of. So I sat in the one by the door, waited for someone in our group to walk by and pull me out of the sofa, and listened to an Iranian Muzak version of "Sketches of Spain". I used to listen to Miles Davis’s version of that in college back in 1963. I’d play it again and again – that and a whole ton of Joan Baez – and now I am sitting here listening to it in Iran.

Then we went off to a park where I saw the first man I have seen since I got here who was wearing a thobe -- the traditional Middle Eastern white nightgown worn by men. "That isn't a typical Persian item," said a guide, "and, also, Tehran is such a new city that everyone here wears Western garb except the mullahs. That man was probably a Pakistani."

This park actually has park benches! Whew! And we also found a bunch of Nautilus-like exercise machines. And I got to sit down on the stationary bike.

Speaking of exercise, someone here told me that, "The girls in Iran eat very little until they get married and then after that...." The day after the wedding day they say goodbye to their diets.

(To be continued when I get back from the Netroots Nation convention in Las Vegas)