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From Unreasoned Righteousness to Reason

November 5th, 2012 No comments

Leo Villareal’s BUCKYBALL installation in Madison Square Park. Seems like an obnoxious display of power when thousands in the city are still without electricity (although its LED tube lighting may use relatively little wattage it looks abrupt when considering those on the city’s forsaken periphery).  ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

New York- So weird. A week ago today I was getting thrown around Long Island City by 90 mph gales as Hurricane Sandy thrashed Queen’s over gentrified littoral while NYPD barked on loudspeakers through sheets of rain not to get near the piers while shooting photos. In the interim, houses were smashed and burned, whole boardwalk areas ravaged and now tens of thousands of people are not homeless from one day to the next. But most of the lasting damage was hyper localized to where people in midtown and uptown areas of Manhattan had their lives interrupted only when the subways were demobilized all over the city as a precaution. I trekked around in an effort to do what I could to document the crisis–with an image from this blog getting selected for New York Magazine’s Sandy portfolio “What We Saw When the Lights Went Out.”

Many, many improvements have been quickly made, particularly in the areas of Manhattan that were politically and economically prioritized. But in the outskirts of the so-called outer-boroughs, people may likely freeze tonight, out of sight, out of mind from the rest of this city. People will shiver in the cold shadow of tomorrow’s mega ego election where a wobbly incumbent  who’s carried out highly dubious extra-judicial assassinations of American citizens in Yemen, faces off against a “weird Mormon billionaire” as an old friend of mine put it (though he’s only worth a paltry reported $250 million).

As largely toothless idioms like “the new normal” and neologisms like “superstorm” were thrown around all week by politicians and media figures, significant change will not occur until long outdated thought paradigms are cast aside forever, a highly unlikely proposition. Americans have been brainwashed for the last decade that Sunni terrorism of the Salafi-jihadi strain is the biggest threat to their survival (or messianic Shia Twelver state warfare from Iran if one is a Likudnik).

This narrative is only remotely believable if one narrowly views the struggle for and within humanity as amongst various interpretations of monotheisms. Rubbish. The fundamental threat to human survival is a catastrophic misreading of the environment, human and animal evolution, and the development of the solar system we inhabit. The media and politicos are extremely unhelpful in this regard describing the violent characteristics of a terrifying natural occurrence like Sandy using terms like “deluge” and “biblical proportions.”

Not to say these forces in the world are not genuine threats but they are a mere blip during the long evolutionary march of history. The terror wars have spawned a vast and mostly unregulated and hence unaccountable security industry that is now here to stay. Fear Inc. has been very profitable for some but has provided little palpable public benefit beyond those personally enriched by constantly over stating imminent threats on the horizon. In this period, the global  environmental crisis has carried on untended to as the proverbial ‘elephant in the room.’ Developing a smarter, faster drone air force to chase finite  “bad guys” in the world’s ungoverned geography is far less challenging than confronting large scale glacial meltdown and rising sea levels.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo encapsulated my point perfectly the other day with this quote: “[Utility companies] They’re regulated by the public service commission. The utilities were not created in the Bible. They’re not in the Old Testament. They’re not in the New Testament. God never said, ‘New York shall have these utilities forever, and Con Ed is the utility, and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s really not in the Bible.” Here is a case of a frustrated, angry political leader–perhaps without giving such a statement much rational forethought–injecting and legitimating Abrahamic themes into the public discourse thereby doing a great disservice to his millions of constituents by obfuscating the real history and nature of…nature.

Figures like Cuomo are not wont to offhandedly riff on the Jurassic Period or the Mesozoic Era during such a public tirade but perhaps they should. Referencing Noah in an era of bitter and confused climate change debate certainly isn’t helpful. Western observers scoff at Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for hailing the sought after return on the Mahdi–the promised return of the Twelfth Imam who has been in a state of occultation since he ‘disappeared’ during the year 874 A.D.  But are American leaders pandering to the masses really all that different in this respect?

We need more reasoned, empirical science and far less politicized seance if people are to grasp the environmental threats that lay before them and realize the inherent grand context of such events. It shall be no easy task. The “March of Unreason” continues.

Rather than a nonsensical “deluge,” Hurricane Sandy was part of a continuum of punctuated natural violence that has formed continents and oceans, and played a key role in human evolution and its great migrations. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

It’s a Hazy Shade of Winter on the Syrian Border

January 27th, 2012 No comments

The gloomy Orontes River flowing through downtown Antakya. You can feel the dampness from this image. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Antakya- I have an article out in today’s edition of Asia Times Online on my view from a rain soaked Hatay Province of events just over the border in a besieged Syria. It’s been raining here nonstop since my arrival, which I’m told is the norm at this time of year. It’s cold and damp. I unknowingly checked into an Alawi-owned hotel in the center of town. As soon as I arrived I met with a brilliant and incredibly friendly translator who warned me of Assad’s spies in the city and the perceived allegiance of their co-religionists here on the Turkish side of the border. The Alawis of the hotel would surely notify the local Syrian mukhabarat stationed here, the translator told me. They would be alerted to my presence upon arrival. This was apparently accepted as the norm in Antakya. When my sources showed up for an interview in my room, their first comments was, “you had to check into an Alawi hotel?” They laughed and I made a self-depracating comment about being a naive Westerner who would never have guessed where I was staying would be an issue.

It’s always an awkward juxtaposition to be in such a vibrant, relatively healthy community when next door to a hot war where shells are falling. I’m sitting in limbo in my hotel, which I must say is fantastic for the price ($39 USD a night for a king size bed and great wifi).  I wait patiently for a contact to call me for a lead into the next story. I duck into a hallway to get out of the constant deluge. He tells me of danger ahead. A zone where journos aren’t collaterals but rather the targets of snipers and tank operators. I must tread with caution. I tell him I’ve been to Libya and was nearly hit by a Qaddafist sniper last summer. I don’t want a repeat of the same. Or do I?

Here’s the reality of the journo mindset. When everyone was kept out of Syria and that was simply accepted as the status quo, there was no issue. But as soon as one person gets deep into Homs behind the lines with the Free Syrian Army or talks about freely walking around the liberated town of Zabadani, that raises the bar for everyone. It is a furious momentum that builds around a set of extremely driven, competitive, often brilliant people where one’s feet can float off of firm ground drunk on the false notion of invincibility. It is all a farce. Yet it goes on. None of the bogus justifications or rationales in the world can make sense of dying in another man’s war.

When I noticed on Twitter that the New Yorker’s Jon Lee Anderson (whom I met in Libya a few times) was inside Homs, and I’m sitting, twiddling my thumbs in Turkey, it gave me that feeling. Of course Jon Lee made it inside Syria. He wouldn’t accept anything less than being on the first tier of a story. A guy like him doesn’t waste his time on the periphery. He goes for the jugular of the action, the beating heart of the story.

I can perfectly picture the journo hotel in Damascus. Blackberrys abuzzing, people staring at their MacBooks pretending not to notice one another, nervous freelancers networking amongst A-listers. Then again, I always see myself as an outsider never fully wanting to be on the inside. It is as if I am stuck in the mindset of the D.C. hardcore scene circa 1981 and I never want to sell out. Just a Minor Threat. I remember seeing Tim Hetherington outside the hospital in Ajdabiya about a month before he was killed in Misrata.  Jon Lee was there. Everyone who was left in Libya seemed to have turned up that day. I stood in the morgue silently looking at horrific casualties. I was warned by a group of edgy fighters at the western gate not to dare return the following day or there would be severe consequences. The following day a group of journos were grabbed out of their vehicles by Qaddafists. I was in a cramped minivan making the 14-hour trek back to Alexandria with a Libyan family lucky enough to have the money to go to Cairo.

The Republic of Hatay's Majlis (Meclis in Turkish-parliament) now houses a trendy cafe and regional cultural center overlooking the Orontes and downtown Antakya. The short lived republic existed from September 7, 1938 to June 29, 1939. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

To try and get in becomes a nearly irresistible urge. I fight a battle between the lusts of my lucid imagination and my more over the horizon goal of living as long as possible. There is only so long I can people watch non-hijabed gorgeous Alawi or Alevi or whatever Westernized looking Occidental girls strut by in the cold rain from the open air juice bar or çorba (soup) stand. I joked with my translator friend that there are probably more girls in Turkish-Kurdish areas of Germany rocking hijab than those in downtown Antakya. The mix of ethnicities and sects here makes for a colorful human cast. Yesterday after hearing the fajr azan (the morning call to prayer), for the first time I’ve ever noticed in Turkey (save for possibly once in Trabzon a decade ago), I heard church bells ring out. For a moment in time it feels like a paradise of fierce torrents until I remember that there are Soviet-era Syrian tanks facing Turkey not so far away at all.

There is a war nearby with a gravitational pull. You can tell yourself, “just one more harb (war), one more thawra (revolution), and then I’ll quit.” I’m not forcing myself to be here. Hell, I love it here. It’s damn exciting to be crass about it. Throughout the ummah, everything seems to take place in the shadows, within the whispers. And that, to be frank, is part of the draw. A world of public denial, a culture of the unspoken. Sex, drugs, war, it’s all available from Morocco to Mindanao. A quick phone call, a short text message, a soft knock on a hotel door. Here in this lovely rump province of French Mandate Syria, the Sajak of Alexandretta, I somehow feel at home. In fact, there is no place I would rather be at the moment.

One of the best facets of Turkish life: the food. Kasarli Pide (Turkish "pizza") in the foreground. a feast fit for a sultan in the city of Adana after a long trip from Queens. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Iran’s Elections: Dear Supreme Leader

June 18th, 2009 No comments


Keep that momentous pixelated video coming!

I posted a piece addressed to Ayatollah Khamenei last night on the HP here

According to the Guardian, during the called-for day of mourning, protests are not letting up from Kurdistan to Baluchistan and Ahmadinejad has not been spotted since Monday’s meeting of the the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Yekaterinberg. Today, the arm and headbands morphed from green to black in memory of those killed in the demo’s thus far. The democracy movement now appears to have gained enough momentum that real change may be afoot. It is up to the strength of the masses of the people at this point. Obama has not and really does not have a place to interject in Iran’s internal dynamics. People in the East have a long memory and if Baghdadis can bitterly compare the American sacking of Saddam Hussein to Hulagu Khan’s destruction of the libraries of the Abbasid Caliphate in 1258, then certainly Iranians will recall Operation Ajax just fifty-six years ago.

Iran’s Elections: And Ya Don’t Stop!

June 17th, 2009 No comments

A bird’s eye view video, I’m guessing from a mobile phone, shows the breadth of the crisis the Iranian leadership must now genuinely face. The Iranian government’s strategy of blocking websites and giving foreign journo’s the shoe is inherently flawed. The regime is facing a sophisticated, erudite populace that will somehow be able to connect with the outside world no matter what e-fatwas they issue. Mobile and social networking technology is something the demonstrator’s predecessors a decade ago sorely lacked. This is not July of 1999. The post-revolution is and will be televised.

Iran’s Elections: Days of Rage

June 16th, 2009 No comments


Is this Iran’s Tianamen?

Tehran’s restive urban class does not appear to be slowing down its outrage over what opposition supporters are terming a “Stolen Election.” Though without maintaining empirical evidence thus far, those opposed to the Ahmadinejad government here in the West are absolutely inclined to support such claims. Thousands of people, who mostly appear to be under thirty, continue to pour into the Iranian capital’s smog choked boulevards not for another so-called revolution, but to make their voices heard and their votes counted. It remains to be seen whether Tehran today will be more like Beijing in 1989 or Tehran in 1979. The Dear Supreme Leader, Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Hoseyni Khamenei, has indicated that his divine assessment may in fact need to be reassessed. No small feat for a grand man so divine, Khamenei may be genuinely worried about his and his Qom-based epigones hold on a tiered absolute power. As his history has shown us all with Shah Reza Pahlavi, there are moments in time where one man cannot withstand the will of millions of dissatisfied, motivated people. No doubt the present dualist Qom-Tehran based power structure has not lost this irony. Though admitting such after three decades of moribund revolutionary rhetoric is akin to heresy in modern Iran. Ahmadinejad, though somewhat charismatic and often inadvertantly amusing on the global stage, has largely been an abject failure domestically. Iran’s power projection into Iraq and Afghanistan during the calamitous Bush wars has been nothing short of remarkable. But as Iran punches its green fist outward into its neighborhood, its economy has remained thoroughly stagnant even as oil prices soared at record highs. Minority unrest has continued to flare up in the country’s remote corners (purportedly egged on by the CIA according to the New Yorker’s Sy Hersh) with discontent has been simmering among elements of the Left, Center and Right.

The United States has been trying to promote democracy across the Middle East for years and here it is in all of its blood red and Islamic green glory. It scored a recent coup with the victory of the Hariri-led bloc in Beirut last week and Islamism is not dogmatically triumphant in the Middle East contrary to the group-think following the Hamas win in Gaza. The U.S. has boxed itself into a bit of a foreign policy corner and only the most deft of manouveres may speed its hoped for exit. The demonstrations have certainly created a conflict for Israeli hawks who love nothing more than another unequivocal Ahmadinejad win to justify their often aggressive rhetoric. A Mousavi government in Iran would throw the arithmetic of the Netanyahu-Lieberman coalition out of whack and force groups like AIPAC in Washington to reconfigure their hardened stance towards a boogieman vanquished not by a calculated air raid, but by internally driven democratic transition.

AZADI!

UPDATE: According to what the BBC is reporting from a statement by the Guardian Council will be conducting a vote recount. Power to the people? We will see…