Welcome Mandiba!

August 30, 2007 at 8:57 pm (blog)


This is the statue of Nelson Mandela unveiled in London’s Parliament Square yesterday, on its first morning in the capital. Behind him is Sir Robert Peel, the father of policing. The great man himself was present yesterday, flanked by Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the London mayor Ken Livingstone. Also on the square are Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln. They, as a reporter in The Times pointed out today, stand on bigger plinths.

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A few responses

August 26, 2007 at 9:49 pm (blog)

Just answered some questions to an academic researcher on culture. Posted for the interest Soul Bean readers.

What are the major features of your cultural identity?
Primarily, I am a native English-language speaker. Then, I am a speaker of British English. I am also a fluent but not native speaker of Persian. Add why I speak these languages (my history as the child of Iranian immigrants and the shared histories of Iran and the UK) to the fact that I am a non-white and you have the crackle on the radio that is cultural identity. Language is the dial which a writer uses to arrive at a reception, or conception of the self, free from interference. But of course, like the Russian Vega radio my dad struggled with in the 1980s, to listen to BBC Persian broadcasts, the crackle always wins.

2. What role does nation play in this?
Downstairs (I am at my father’s study, as I write) a satellite TV station is broadcasting a performance of the famous Iranian singer Elahe, who died this week. This afternoon my mother attended a memorial service in honour of the singer at the Churchill hotel in London. I asked my mother why she felt the need to attend. She said she wanted to pay her last respects. My grandmother who is visiting from Iran is watching TV too. She cannot read or write, is ill and will soon leave for Iran. Not having spent my childhood with her, there is little to connect me to my grandmother other than a history linked inextricably to other Iranian personal histories (and, more widely, to other colonised peoples’). My father just arrived. He has been in Cologne for two days to do a stand-up comedy show in support of political prisoners in Iran (he’s a well-known satirist). Nation is downstairs.

3. Are you comfortable with how others define your cultural identity?
In order to answer the question, we would have to define who the ‘others’ are and to specify instances when one’s cultural identity is ‘defined’. Broadly speaking, as far as representation and the mass media are concerned, one would have to say both ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Interestingly, this response is intended to sit among others from people identified as ‘cultural interfaces’. I had never thought of myself as an interface, a word one with computer hardware.
But still, I was charmed by the definition.

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Edinburgh II

August 19, 2007 at 5:23 pm (blog)

Just came back from Bismillah Butchers and Kebab Mahal in Edinburgh’s Nicolson Square. Kebab Mahal is easily the best place to eat in this town. I had a fine meal, really, we have it good in the west. At the butchers’ I bought lamb to cook some kebabs for my hosts who will be arriving from London in and hour or two.

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August 19, 2007 at 12:28 pm (blog, Family & Friends)

Yesterday I arrived in Edinburgh. Guest of my friend Rich and his partner Vic. They are in London and will arrive this evening. It was raining when I arrived, and Rich had said the key to their basement flat would be under a vase. Their basement flat is on an impressive terrace designed, Google tells me, by the 19th century Victorian architect William Henry Playfair.

I walked passed the US consulate building, having being impressed on my right by Arthur’s Seat, the impressive peak that overlooks the city centre. The first vase I looked under yielded a couple of sleepy worms, as did the next two, and I got worried that I had the wrong address and would have a tough time convincing anyone that I wasn’t an opportunistic burglar. Then, out of the blue, a young blond chap called Jimmy appeared and let me in. Rich had not told be about Jimmy, he probably didn’t fit under a vase which is why he was in a car.

He, I guessed, was a tenant or long-term guest he was setting off.  I then set off to see my sister, Shappi. She is heavily pregnant and performing her show Carry On Shappi every night. It was a surprise to learn that on some nights she does up three shows – taxiing about town, scuttling down the stairways and alleys that give the city its charm and character, doing a spot as a guest, meeting her husband, also a comic, for dinner then doing another gig and coming home. It’s fun and hectic. I saw her show, it was fun but of course, being heavily pregnant affects the consistency of her energy.

It is now 12.35. I will walk to Bismillah Butchers in town and buy meat to cook for Vic and Rich who arrive tonight. I will of course pop in to see my sister too.

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Tehran Backyard

August 15, 2007 at 12:42 am (FILM REVIEW)


This film directing debut by Edinburgh-based artist Roxana Pope (pictured above on location) is a charming portrait of the life of a cleaner in a poor neighbourhood of Tehran. Shot beautifully, by Ian Dodds, the 30-minute film focuses on Pari, a 65-year-old who tells us she has worked for fifty years yet still does not think twice about supporting her husband, who is blind, and her family, on her meagre wages. Tehran Backyard is a vivid and impressive portrait of working class life in the Islamic Republic, devoid of the plaudit-seeking posturing that dogs much of Iran’s film output, while carrying, a subtle and touching women’s punch. Pope will be taking part in a Q&A on Sunday with writer Kamin Mohammadi at The Frontline Club in London following a screening of the film on a double-bill with Tehran Generation by Sara Bavar.

Londoners can catch both at:

The Frontlineclub
13 Norfolk Place
London, W2 1QJ

Tube: Paddington

Sunday 19 August at 4.00pm

Tickets: £5

Phone: +44 (0)20 7479 8950

Photo: Hoora Haeri

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Cat life

August 4, 2007 at 10:53 am (blog)


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Wrong direction

August 2, 2007 at 6:01 pm (blog)

Don’t you miss the good old days when Noam Chomsky was a humble groundbreaking linguist? These days the MIT professor is increasingly an apologist for Islamists (last year he met with Hizbollah). Now, in an excerpt from Interventions, his latest book, he writes that Washington is bent on “demonising” the Iranian leadership in order to pave the way for US-led assault. How, he must be asked, can you demonise people whose power, after almost three decades, remains pegged to death, torture and imprisonment?

That’s like saying “Osama bin Laden gets a hard time in the press, all he did was kill 3000 people, I mean, you’d think people would show some respect”; or “All Tony Blair did was lie to his own country and draw the UK into a war that cost 600,000 lives, give the guy a break.”

According to Chomsky, the poor old Islamic Republic of Iran suffers misrepresentation at the hands of the press: “In the West, any wild statement by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, immediately gets circulated in headlines, dubiously translated. But as is well known, Ahmadinejad has no control over foreign policy, which is in the hands of his superior, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.”

“They have invented a myth that Jews were massacred and place this above God, religions and the prophets,” is presumably one such translation. As is: “Anybody who recognises Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation’s fury.” No doubt these quotes have been taken out of context – the president was comparing recipes. Also, how would Chomsky know if something has been dubiously translated? He doesn’t speak Persian.

Wedding his anti-war stance to a pro-Islamic Republic one is so odious that Chomsky is a sitting duck for his rightwing detractors; imagine ceding moral high ground to the neo-cons.

Last US election, Chomsky grudgingly backed John Kerry over George Bush. In his view only “small differences” separated Democrats from Republicans. But those differences, he said, “can translate into large outcomes”.

If the two main opposing forces of US politics are virtually identical, how is it that difference is so easily discernible within a single wing of Iran’s political landscape – and the ultra-reactionary one at that. Khamenei, no Iranian needs reminding, is at the helm of a terrorist organisation called the Islamic Republic. Ahmadinejad is his enforcer. Does Chomsky really expect us to go, “Hmm, maybe Khamenei is more urbane, might pop around for tea and to talk the legacy of Ingmar Bergman.” (The Swedish director who died this week might if making The Seventh Seal today find no better shadowy figure to play the role of Death than, er, the Ayatollah.)

Anti-war organisers and the left look to Chomsky for direction. But while rightly highlighting the US’s thirst for Iran’s energy reserves he fails to level a single charge at the mullahs (here’s an idea, call for the release of your fellow academics Kian Tajbaksh and Haleh Esfandiari, Noam). Rightwing columnists will have a field day gunning for his reckless short-sightedness. (His naïve assurance that the US is likely only to conduct a “cold war’ against Iran is further evidence of this). War will be a step closer.

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Ugly duckling

August 1, 2007 at 12:43 am (blog)


The other night I was walking home. In a driveway I noticed a cuddly toy face-down, under some branches. I flipped it over (pictured). It upset me why someone would discard a cute duck. It’s was intact, if slightly bruised. I propped it on a wall. I would have taken it home, but really, I am trying to feng shui the place and not doing very well as it is. Tonight when I walked past the same spot it wasn’t there. Enjoy him below in all his glory.


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