Not Happy With Shiite Rule?

 Azeri Muslims in Iran Protesting Cartoon

The "Cockroach Incident" may replace the "Muhammad with a Bomb Attached to his Head" Danish cartoon flap as the # 1 not-so-funny-caricature to set off violence in the Middle East this year.

From the Washington Times via UPI:

Thousands of Azerbaijanis in northwest Iran are protesting a newspaper cartoon that compared the ethnic group to cockroaches. 
     

Five people were killed when Iranian security forces fired on demonstrators in Ardebil, Naqadeh and Meshkin Shahr. Dozens of others were injured and hundreds were arrested, the BBC reported. 
     

The cartoon, published in a state-owned newspaper, showed a succession of people attempting to talk to a cockroach in Persian. Each time, the insect responded by saying, in Azeri: "What do you mean?"
      

Azerbaijanis — often called Azeris — are the largest ethnic minority in Iran.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that the escalation in violence in the southern Iranian province of Sistan-Baluchistan is being blamed on US and British interests. The province which has seen heavy fighting in recent years as Iranian officials in Tehran crack down on opium drug lords is also known to be the spot of low-level Sunni insurrection. Since 1979 and the Iranian Revolution 3,300 Iranian security personnel have been killed in the renegade province.

From Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khomeini:

Provoking ethnic differences is the last resort by the enemies against the Iranian people and the Islamic republic. There is no doubt that this plot will be defeated.

 And for more in depth blogging on Azeri Turk protests in Iran, go to BayBak.

Cockroaches in Cartoon Land

Christian Science Monitor op-ed weighs in on the ethnic tension between Persians and Azeris caused by a recent derogatory cartoon depicting Iran's Azeri minority as cockroaches in the official government newspaper–The Islamic Republic Daily:

During the last week of May, thousands of Iranians demonstrated in the northwestern city of Tabriz, and the previous week there were protests at universities in five cities. The protests were triggered by the official government newspaper – the Islamic Republic News Agency's Iran – publishing a cartoon which depicts a boy repeating "cockroach" in Persian before a giant bug in front of him asks "What?" in Azeri. Azeri-Iranians – who make up approximately one-quarter of the country's population – were particularly offended by the cartoon. These disturbances come at a bad time for the Iranian government, which is stressing national unity in the face of international concern over its nuclear program.

World Religious Summit Coming to Russia

Updating on what I consider to be one of my racier posts ('UN of Religions'), Russia will be hosting a World Religious Summit on July 3-5 in Moscow, according to Interfax. The summit will be held prior to G-8 meetings scheduled for mid-July in St. Petersburg. Expect turbans to be ruffled, fedoras to be knocked around and a certain cardinal (it's a surprise kids) to do the macarena in high heels and a scarlet cassock.

After Vice-President Cheney's caustic remarks in Vilnius, Lithuania a few weeks back where he accused the Russians of thug tactics in energy consignment and a lack of democratic rule, I couldn't help but feel a little numb to the idea that Cheney may have screwed up the ever tenuous US-Russia romance.

As the US policy on Libya should prove, democracy advocacy has become nothing less then cheerleading for free markets. Notwithstanding Fareed Zakaria's Aristotelian commentary in the Future of Freedom on a strong entrepeneurial middle class being the engine for change, one questions the integrity of a Bush administration with lucrative (past) energy contracts in Libya as the spearhead for democracy reform. If Cheney could make a buck in Libya under a sanctions regime, why not question this administrations motives in oil exploration in Russia?

Libya's got a "reformed" despot running the show but that didn't stop the Bush admin from restoring U.S. diplomatic ties a few weeks ago. Although the draconian Qaddaffi has in recent years imprisoned high profile bloggers like Abdel Raziq al-Mansuri for posting accounts of Libyan human rights violations; women and girls for 'moral misconduct'; and sentenced 6 foreign aid workers to death (including 5 Bulgarians and a Palestinian) for allegedly injecting tainted blood into Libyan children, Cheney has the chutzpah to lodge criticism against Russia for anti-democracy programs. The point isn't that Russia doesn't deserve criticism, but rather that Cheney shouldn't be the one making these remarks. His oil company Halliburton's got too much grime beneath the fingertips from trading with Libya in 99' under the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act to comment on pro democracy. Nothing was democratic then, and despite Qadaffi's enviable decision to give up nukes in 2004, Libya remains regressively authoritarian according to Human Rights Watch.

Back to religion. When representatives of the Bush administration show up in Russia for G-8 Summit meetings, why not pop in for a Bible (or Koran!) session or two at the World Religious Summit. On the agenda will be discussions of the religious views on fair allocation of natural resources, education, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and prevention and treatment of infectious disease.

Eventhough the religious world through a skeptical prism often seems hypocritical, two points should be made: (1) fox holes are full of scaredy pants atheists praying for salvation as the mustard gas falls, and (2) no world's ever gonna' rid itself of the "Holy Books" so long as impoverishment remains a theme of human progress.

Before Cheney or other petrol punks make any more rash statements about democracy, best to search the closet high and dry for the Mephistopheles costume. Goethe would be proud.

Where Have Your Hands Been?

Reuters has a spread today on Iranian Jews in Israel worried about an attack on their former country. There are still 25,000 Jews that remain in Iran out of a population of 69 million. At its peak,the Iranian Jewish community–from Queen Esther and Mordechai to the establishment of Israel's "Little Satanic" state–numbered well over 100,000.

One Tel Aviv Iranian-Israeli had this to say: "I am strongly against any war with Iran as I do not want to see Iranian people hurt."

Another responded: "We are Israelis but we are still Iranians. I hope there are no air strikes. I would prefer the ruling leadership being removed by U.S. or Israeli special forces. Perhaps then the people there will be able to breathe again." 

Reuters went on to discuss a Daily Farsi Radio program broadcast from Israel. The program's become popular in of all places, Iran, which receives a feed through Europe. Israeli President Moshe Katsav, an Iran native & sometime-guest will show up for Sunday morning interviews where he occasionally receives calls from the Islamic Republic.

In an interview with al-Jazeera satellite TV reported in Iranmania, Katsav had this to say:

"The world is not against Iran. I was born in Iran and I have much affection for Iranian culture and history. My family lived in Iran for 2,500 years. Iran today can gain the support of the international community."

The million dollar question then: Can Israel send Katsav on a peace mission to some neutral station (say, Norway?) to meet with top level Iranian officials. They can shmooze in Farsi, talk about Yazd, avert the next World War…maybe even eat some Haleem Baadenjaan together. 

Reuters also quoted the famous Toronto-based Iranian activist Hossein Derakhshan, one of the best-known Farsi "bloggers" on the Internet–RegimeChangeIran:

[Derakshan]visited Israel this year — a trip he described as a good opportunity to break "a long-established taboo" about the Jewish state. "Because of the anti-Israel propaganda of the Iranian regime there is a backlash and people have become curious," said Derakhshan, who left Iran five years ago after working as a journalist with a reformist newspaper. On his Web site, he wrote about his recent experiences in Israel and posted video clips of his visit, especially his meetings with Iranian Jews. He said more than 4,000 people, many of them in Iran, have viewed the recordings. "People in Iran are intrigued by the idea of Israel and want to visit it," he said. "Tel Aviv could easily be the sister city to Tehran if Iran becomes open and democratic."

If Poll Numbers Mean Anything

From Juan Cole via ABC News/Washington Post Poll:

Bush's Handling of the Issues

Terrorism     Approve: 53%   Disapprove: 43%
Privacy Rights     Approve 52   Disapprove: 45
Taxes      Approve: 42   Disapprove: 54
Ethics      Approve: 39   Disapprove: 54
Economy      Approve: 38   Disapprove: 60
Immigration      Approve: 34   Disapprove:56
Overall job      Approve: 33   Disapprove:65
Iraq       Approve: 32   Disapprove: 66
Deficit       Approve: 27   Disapprove: 67
Gas Prices       Approve: 20   Disapprove: 76

But He’s Our Little Dictator

 

Still the little dictator, the tunic wearing Muammar Qadaffi is being given a "get out of jail free" card by the U.S. State Department in 45 days for willingly deposing of his nuclear program and renouncing terrorism & the pan-Arab struggle against the West. According to media reports, he'll be free to do biz with the Christian hemisphere as a prize for the good work he's done to combat terrorism.

Some claim that Qadaffi shouldn't be let off so easily. Despite the millions his government has paid (blackmailed?) to the relatives of Lockerbie victims for his government's involvement in the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing in 1988, some like the Libyan National Congress, an opposition group, are questioning the rationale behind letting a well entrenched dictator off "scot" free.

Putting aside responsibility for terrorist acts in West Berlin, Scotland and major funding for the PFLP (a rather brutal Palestinian guerilla outfit) in the 80s, one wonders the fairness of rewarding a man who continues to repress freedom of press and the right to pen a constitution. Weren't these cherished values what induced Tom Paine to write Common Sense and for the continentals to get off their arses and fight for independence?

If the point is that the US is playing the expediency game, making nice with the dictatorial crew (Libya, Pakistan, Nigeria, etc…) while making pretified but ultimately false statements about democracy building, then we should be aware of double speak in the echo chambers.

Conspiracy theories are nice and good but they don't necessarily explain things. Dick Cheney & Company as is well known did business with both Iraq and Libya in the late 90s. For fucking around with sanction laws, his Halliburton company was fined in the millions. Questions of course should be asked about the connection between the board members at Houston-based ConocoPhillips and Marathon Oil Corp. & the Bush admin., but just because the link seems to be there doesn't mean the emerald city's not a mirage. The 800 pound gorilla who's been farting up a storm in my head late at night has only one question to ask: What does U.S. democracy building mean when Qaddaffi doesn't have an intention in hell of letting up on the reigns anytime soon?

Here's the Realist calculation from National Review Online:

…It's important to note that (traditionally at least) maintaining diplomatic ties with a country doesn't (or shouldn't) connote approval of its governing regime. It merely means that it has done enough to be considered a full member of the international 'community', and (however revolting its regime) Libya probably has done that. And is there anything wrong, particularly under the current circumstances, with the US building up additional contacts/communication in that part of the world? I don't think so.

Here's the Desperation Move from Junkyard Blog.com: 

 

…I don’t think Qaddafi has had a change of heart. I think what happened is he realized he had been beaten. Reagan took the wind out of his sails in 1986. The Scots went all Braveheart on him about the Lockerbie bombing and he has had to pay out billions to the families of his victims. The CIA broke the A.Q. Khan nuclear bazaar that was supplying him with atomic nightmare fuel. At the same time he began to realize that his Arab League allies were never really going to amount to much, nor would they even get his back in a fight

Unbridled Cynicism From the Daily Kos:

Oh…low production costs, sea access, and the potential for exploration. Well, surprise, surprise. When Iraq oil doesn't work out, just get in bed with the next dictator that will have you. Great work Dick. Those blind trusts will get a bump I am sure.

The Peppy Ambassador

Expect the UN Ambassador with the funky snow white mustache, Mr. John Bolton, to invoke Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. The resolution if enforced could find the Islamic Republic sanctioned, "and if necessary" bombed into paradise. Expect the Iranians to remain firm on their position that uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing is for civilian purposes only. Expect the US to do something stupid.

If it comes to that, can I get a few of you to join me in some first amendment fun fare at the United Nations. We can burn some effigies of Bush, Ahmadinejad, the Ayatollah, and Rummie. If Chapter 7 is only a cover for that hygienic policy of attacking your enemy through formal channels then ramming a drone bomb down your adversaries collective throat, then some serious antics are in order.

From ABC News:

UNITED NATIONS May 6, 2006 (AP)— The United States said Saturday it was prepared to bring a U.N. resolution on Iran's nuclear program to a vote with or without Russia and China's support but was still seeking to bridge differences and win unanimous Security Council approval.

After an informal meeting at Britain's U.N. Mission, council members said they made progress in a paragraph-by-paragraph discussion of the draft resolution. Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry acknowledged, however, that the most contentious issues were not discussed in detail.

"We are still working to achieve unanimity … but we're prepared to go to a vote without it," U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said. "We're not prepared to extend these negotiations endlessly … I think it's realistic to consider this for a vote next week."