Dear Foreign Secretary

November 24, 2009 at 3:08 pm (1)

To Rt Hon David Miliband MP
Secretary of State for Foreigh
and Commonwealth Affairs

The Cyrus Cylinder


Dear Mr Miliband

I am writing to express my concern at the British Museum’s decision to lend the 2,500-year-old Cyrus Cylinder to Iran.

The Cyrus Cylinder is an icon of human rights — as you will know it is inscribed with one of the world’s first declarations of human rights.

For this reason, it is a source of national pride to millions of Iranians.

The Museum secured the loan of a number of artefacts from Iran, for its exhibition Shah Abbas: The Remaking Of Iran earlier this year, with a promise that it would then lend the Cylinder to the Iranians.

I humbly suggest that the Museum, which in October said it was “monitoring” developments in Iran, has ethical grounds to renege on that promise.

Over the past few months, as you know, protesters for democracy in Iran have suffered violence, illegal detention and even death at the hands of the state.

Given this backdrop, lending Iran such a unique symbol of humane intent risks being seen as reward for bad behaviour. As such, the Museum’s well-meaning gesture is sure to deal a blow to Iran’s ‘green’ movement for democracy.

I respectfully ask that you intervene to ensure this does not happen.

Yours faithfully
Peyvand Khorsandi
Journalist and blogger


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November 9, 2009 at 6:34 pm (1)

Tony Blair, UN Middle East peace envoy, has failed to broker £1m deal to open Tescos in the region. Asked what this has to do with peace, he said: ‘Every little helps’.

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Ayatollah twitters

November 1, 2009 at 2:46 pm (1)

I wrote this at the time of the demos in Iran in the summer.

It is the democratic right of every Iranian.

To be attacked in a demonstration.

It is the democratic right of every Iranian.
To be carried away after being shot.

Every Iranian has the right to scream
under torture and interrogation.

Every Iranian has the right to be shot
— not shot of the Islamic Republic.

Shot in the face, in the arms, in the legs.

Every demonstrator has the right to a stretcher.

Every stretcher has the right to a body.

Everybody has the right to vote.

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The hug dispensers

October 22, 2009 at 11:02 am (1)


BBC director general Mark Thompson

My ex-girlfriend Sandra got married. Last Saturday, she and her groom Joe vowed to look after each other “in credit and in overdraft” even “when you are grumpy”. It was a wedding filled with humour in a room – in Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre – overlooking the River Thames, with a view of St Paul’s Cathedral, on a sunny (if chilly) day. I stood at the back, pondering how our lives had changed. Well, mine in particular – weddings are a time to navel-gaze.

Twelve years ago finding a pair of socks that matched was difficult for me. Today things are no different. Saturday morning I had a suit on with a nice tie but I couldn’t find two socks of the same colour, fabric and pattern anywhere. I didn’t used to think twice about putting odd socks on. Now, I’m almost 38, it doesn’t feel right. It will feel less right when I am 83.

Last time I bought socks, three months ago, I thought they would last me till Christmas. But half of them have walked off.

In 1997, my girlfriend was no better. A sign on her bedroom door said, “Why tidy my room when the world is such a mess?” It was a fine argument. Until you entered the room – the mess was three feet high, clothes, magazines, coat hangers, books, more books and possibly a couple who failed to leave the house party thrown months before.

Can the tidiness of a room affect the world’s problems?



As I write, in London, the British Broadcasting Corporation is refusing to withdraw an invitation for the leader of Britain’s foremost ultra-right-wing party to appear on a televised political debate show called Question Time.

Its principle of not taking sides apparently demands airtime and publicity be given to this horrible man. Last week he bowed to a legal challenge over his organisation’s whites-only membership policy – it’s illegal for a political party to discriminate on racial grounds. His party has to change or disband.

Years ago he courted, unsuccessfully, the icon of Nordic masculinity that is Colonel Muammar Gaddafi to fund his white nationalist cause. Today he is a Member of the European Parliament who on his first day there referred to a female colleague who snubbed him as a ‘political prostitute’.

Earlier this year the BBC cited “impartiality” as its reason for refusing to air an aid appeal for Gaza, which had just been attacked by Israel. The UN Human Rights Council has since recognised Israel’s actions at that time as war crimes.
This week I met a journalist who reports from Palestine. She said the BBC’s decision not to air the aid appeal for Gaza “was wrong – they bowed to pressure.” It had nothing to do, she said, with impartiality.

Today the people who head the BBC can be excused for believing – given the press generated – that their decision to offer a racial separatist a high-profile platform on a current affairs show is important, progressive and cutting-edge. It’s not. The “impartiality” that deprived Palestinians of aid is now aiding the Nazis.

And who are these people? Largely those who never wear mismatched socks, I imagine – I doubt the BBC’s director-general stomps around the house, late for work, saying, “Darling have you seen my vertical rainbow-stripes? This one’s horizontal.” (“Who’ll notice your socks with those boots on, dear?”)

So this dangerous man, who believes in the “repatriation of non-whites”, gets to air his bile on national television. (It’s not that simple anyway. Iraq just sent British immigration officials back with 41 of the 50 rejected asylum applicants they’d forcibly flown to Baghdad to deport!)

Meanwhile, thousands of “indigenous whites” are flocking to north London’s Alexandra Palace for a hug from an Indian woman called Amma.

Mata Amritanandamayi Devi – the 56-year-old “hugging saint” from Kerala – is in town. I’ve seen Amma a couple of times, and bonkers as the spectacle of adults lining up for hours to be hugged by “Mother” may be, I prefer her message to that of the Nazis. Love indiscriminately, Amma says. She, one suspects, is one who might lose her socks. While the BBC embraces a far-right lunatic, she dishes out “darshan” – divine energy – to far-out devotees. They return her love, unconditionally, in credit and in (the unlikely event of) overdraft.

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June 18, 2009 at 12:03 pm (1)

IRAN: A matter of timing

By Peyvand Khorsandi

It is too early now to publicly attack Messrs Khatami and Mousavi, two appalling political fraudsters hoisted on to the placards of masses who for thirty years have suffered under the brutal reign of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is too early because blood is being spilled by young people whose lives are denied their full expression by the medieval sensibilities of Iran’s ruling clerics.

Khatami and Mousavi are, for now, untouchable – to criticise them, judging by the competing emotions on Facebook – is to attack the very demonstrators who are risking their lives for freedom. It is too early to say that these two shining lights are in fact agents of darkness. It is too early because blood is being spilled.

“The Islamic Republic,” a friend of mine writes, “is too deeply rooted to go. We have to take what we can.” So deeply rooted that it is afraid of bloggers and tortures them and executes them. So deeply rooted that after 30 years, death is still its best answer to dissent.

But what about those of us in the West, showing solidarity? Is it too early for us to chant for a separation of religion and state? Is it too early do say “Death to the Islamic Republic of Iran?”

It is too early for the lion and sun to return to our flag (not with Reza in tow, thank you)? So we watch with frustration as people, our people, risk their lives for unworthy men who believe in consolidating the very rule people are trying to shake off.

For a dispassionate look at what’s happening in Iran — as history whether it has been made or is being made demands we should — perhaps we should turn to Iran’s enemies. President Obama this week told CNBC: “The difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi in terms of their actual policies may not be as great as has been advertised.”

Amazingly, the dark lord who heads Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad, Meir Dagan, would prefer it if Ahmadinejad’s victory stayed intact. He told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz: “The reality in Iran is not going to change because of the elections. The world and we already know [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad. If the reformist candidate [Mirhossein] Mousavi had won, Israel would have had a more serious problem because it would need to explain to the world the danger of the Iranian threat, since Mousavi is perceived internationally arena as a moderate element.”

Who better to read a fundamentalist religious state than another fundamentalist religious state? They know each other well, cut from the same fabric, these men of cloth.

Most of my Facebook friends are Mousavi supporters. People are dying for the reformist camp. Surely they deserve to live? Surely he should renounce the Islamic regime and offer himself up to human rights investigators – surely that’s what he should do? Surely once, and only if, he’s proven to have had no hand in any disappearances and killings and corruption, surely only then he can be fit to lead? But’s it’s too early for that. People are dying. You can’t question things when people are dying. Strange, that. It’s precisely when you should.

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Comedy in London

April 6, 2009 at 4:00 pm (1)

Peyvand Khorsandi and Hils Barker

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Rebel with a pause

December 26, 2008 at 2:51 am (1)

“How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal?”

News of playwright Harold Pinter’s death arrived in primetime, Christmas – a religious date, in Britain, for watching telly. You couldn’t escape the news and the news couldn’t escape reporting on Pinter’s final years and his opposition to the war in Iraq, as well as his monumental literary achievements. His stance on the war demanded to be featured in the briefest of TV obituaries. Of course, in the BBC News bulletin I caught, there was no mention of the fact that, in accepting his Nobel prize for literature in 2005, he had called for Tony Blair to be prosecuted for war crimes. That would have been too much given the mince pies, turkey, pigs in blanket and booze viewers will have been digesting – going after Blair would, after all, mean hauling key government figures into the dock, too, such as justice minister Jack Straw or even prime minister Gordon Brown and we need him to steer us out of the economic downturn.

Pinter’s death pushed Her Majesty into being the news programme’s second item. In her speech, she had wasted no time in reminding us that troops in Santa hats are still risking their lives for us in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In his video address to the Nobel prize people three years ago he said: “The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law.

“The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public; an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading – as a last resort – all other justifications having failed to justify themselves – as liberation. A formidable assertion of military force responsible for the death and mutilation of thousands and thousands of innocent people.

“We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people and call it ‘bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East’.

“How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand? More than enough, I would have thought. Therefore it is just that Bush and Blair be arraigned before the International Criminal Court of Justice.”

While tributes have poured in for Pinter, the ultimate tribute to him will not be paid as the unrepentant duo remains outside the grasp of justice.

In 2003 I went to a Stop the War Coalition meeting in London where I heard the great man speak. In the middle of his speech he was heckled – it was a friendly heckle, in support of what Mr Pinter had been saying but clearly an unwelcome interruption. Mr Pinter responded with a pondering silence before resuming his sentence. “It’s a Pinter pause!” I nearly shouted. Perhaps that’s all his passing is.

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Life is Beautiful

December 26, 2008 at 2:47 am (1)

Life is beautiful
Feliss Nabbidad!” yells dad. “Happy birthday Jesus!” – it’s always a bad idea to stay at your parents’ on Christmas Eve. Cheery Mexican brass blares from the stereo.

“What’s that noise dad?”

“Happy Christmas!” he shouts. “No sleigh balls in Mexico Christmas. I hate sleigh balls.”

“Sleigh bells, baba. Not balls.”

“¡Próspero año nuebbo!”

“It’s 9am!” I shout.

“Six hours to Queen’s speech.”

I ask for one of his blood pressure tablets and stick my head in a pillow.

“These pills are great dad, you should try them some time.”

“I prefer cigarettes,” he says. “Honestly, you’re an old man. You should be up celebrating the birth of Christmas.”

“It’s Christ, dad. Christmas is a cake.”

Mother is at my sister’s. They will be having turkey with the rest of the family while dad and I are going to eat lamb kebabs. There was no row but it does feel like we’re a splinter group dedicated to red meat.

Half an hour later I’m in the kitchen putting on a brew. Dad is grating onion.

“Do me a favour and pass the meat from the fridge,” he says.

All I find in there is a half-eaten slice of cheese and a cabbage.

“What’s the matter?”

“There is no meat in here.”

“How can that be?” says dad, touching the interior of the fridge as if the 4lb bag of minced shoulder – ground twice – we bought yesterday from a kosher butcher might actually be there but we can’t see it.

“It must be in the car,” says dad.

I check the glove compartment, under the seats and the bonnet but no meat.

“Baba jan, I don’t know how to break this to you but there is no meat in the car.”

“What about your car?”

“We went to the butcher’s in your car.”

Dad opens a bottle of red wine and pours me glass – I’ve forgotten all about my tea. It’s his way of making me feel better about the elephant in the living room – the fact that it was me who last had the meat.


We had never been to M Lipowicz, the kosher butcher’s, before. The two old men who run it were shocked when the two of us we went in – two unshaven, unkempt Arabs or Pakistanis. Dad ordered some meat. It took fifteen minutes to prepare so we went to the Indian restaurant next-door for a quick curry and returned two hours later.

“Discount?” said one of the old men, stroking his beard.

“Yes,” said dad. “You charge a little more for your meat being kosher, sir, no?”

“Yes,” said the man.

“Well, I am Muslim – what use is kosher to me? You can discount the kosher!”




As this went on I was cowering behind a pyramid of Hebrew-lettered tins of pickled cucumbers where, reduced to infantile embarrassment by dad’s haggling, I left the meat.


“I have an idea,” says dad. He sticks a bag of walnuts, a gift from Iran, in the grinder in an effort to rustle up vegetable kebabs. An hour later the kitchen looks like a war zone, with flour everywhere and his test kebab in pieces. He looks distraught. I pat him on the back.

Dad calls M Lipowicz after fishing for their number online but no reply. He does a search for “Meat+Christmasday+west London+emergency” but nothing.

We watch Mary Poppins and fall asleep on the sofa. I wake up two hours later, greeted by a glass of freshly made tea. With the Queen’s speech an hour away we decide to swallow our pride and drive to my sister’s house. The whole family is surprised to see us and we are greeted like heroes.

“Did you bring your meat?” says my sister.

“No, we thought that would be silly,” I say.

“So silly,” dad pipes up, “we left it at the butcher’s.”

We end up eating turkey and watching the Queen on TV with the volume turned down. Dad nudges me and says: “Perhaps the English know something when they eat a dumb vegetable like turkey on such a special day. Meat would only distract us from the wonderful time we are having with the family.”

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FT’s First Person column

November 23, 2008 at 10:40 am (1)


First Person: Omer Goldman

Friday Nov 21 2008 19:50

I first went to prison on September 23 of this year and served 35 days. By the time you read this, I will be back inside for another 21. This is going to be my life for the next two years: in for three weeks, out for one. I am 19 years old now and by the time the authorities give up hounding me, I will be 21. The reason? I refused to do my military service for the Israeli army.

I grew up with the army. My father was deputy head of Mossad and I saw my sister, who is eight years older than me, do her military service. As a young girl, I wanted to be a soldier. The military was such a part of my life that I never even questioned it.

Earlier this year, I went to a peace demonstration in Palestine. I had always been told that the Israeli army was there to defend me, but during that demonstration Israeli soldiers opened fire on me and my friends with rubber bullets and tear-gas grenades. I was shocked and scared. I saw the truth. I saw the reality. I saw for the first time that the most dangerous thing in Palestine is the Israeli soldiers, the very people who are supposed to be on my side

When I came back to Israel, I knew I had changed. I told my dad what had happened. He was angry that I had been over to the occupied territories and told me I had endangered my life. I have always discussed history and politics with my father but on this subject – my rejection of the military and my conscientious objecting – we can’t speak.

My parents divorced when I was three and my father has a new family. My mother is an artist and she is very supportive of me. But my father has been horrified by my decision. I think he thought that I was going through a stage that I would grow out of. But it hasn’t happened.

In prison, I wake up at five and clean all day, inside and out. It’s a military prison so we are made to do ridiculous stuff. They painted a white stripe across the floor, and I have to keep the stripe glowing white and clean. I have to wear a US army uniform. The uniforms were given as a present to the Israeli army by the US Marines. I feel stupid. I am anti-military. I am against the whole idea of wearing the uniform.

The other prisoners are women from the army. They are in for silly things such as playing with their guns, smoking dope, running away from the army. None of them is really a criminal. And then there are five girls like me who are conscientious objectors.

We talk to the other girls, tell them things they have never heard about before. Like that everyone is a human, no matter what religion they are. Some of them are really ignorant. They have never heard of evolution theory, or Gandhi or Mandela, or the Armenian holocaust. I try to tell them that there have been a lot of genocides.

Of course I get scared when I am in prison. Three times a week, I have to help guard the prison at night. But also, it’s frightening that my country is the way that it is, locking up young people who are against violence and war. And I worry that what I am doing may damage my future. The worst part is that I have a taste of freedom and then I am back inside, back to my mundane prison life. It’s hard to go from being a free girl who can decide things for herself – what to wear, who to see, what to eat – and then go back to having every minute of the day timetabled.

Last time I was out of prison, I went to see my dad. We tried not to talk politics. He cares about me as his daughter, that I am suffering, but he doesn’t want to hear my views. He hasn’t come to visit me in prison. I think it would be too hard for him to see me in there. He is an army man.

I suppose, actually, we have similar characters. We both fight for what we believe in. It’s just that our views are diametrically opposed.

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The Great Library — a dialogue

November 22, 2008 at 10:02 am (1) ()

— I’m sorry which way is your ancient Persian?

— Shhhh. There are people studying.

— Yes, but all I want to know is which way.

— Please be quiet.

— Well instead of telling me to be quiet why don’t you point me?

— Very well. But you must promise that once you are there you will not talk.

— Talk to whom?

— The books.

— The books? Who talks to books?

— Please accept that some people do and that it’s not wise to.

— Who?

— They. Don’t you know who they are?

— No. Who?

— The men who talk to books.

— Right. I won’t talk to the books. Which way.

— Yes.

— Well?

— What?

— Ancient Persia. Where is it?

— Well, it’s in the past.

— So will you be if you don’t help me.

— If you threaten me I shall be forced to leave. I mean, I shall be forced to ask you to leave.

— Just please, tell me where the ancients are.

— Greece or Persia?

— Persia.

— Epoch?

— Ancient!

— Could you be more specific?

— I don’t know.

— Well, I can’t help you if you don’t know. It’s a library, not a school.

— Alright, the Safavids.

— Hardly ancient are they? Do you have a permit for using this library?

— Permit? If you if you don’t tell me where the Persian section is I will start to TALK LOUDLY.

— Shhhhhhh! We can’t have people shouting.

— You’re mad.

— This is the Great Library. Men have come here to learn for centuries.

— It probably took them that long to find a book.

— Which book are you looking for?

— I am not looking for a book, I am looking for a section. Ancient Persian.

— Are you Greek?

— Are you bonkers? What difference does it make?

— Greeks burnt Persia’s libraries. Surely you know.

— Yes, I read it in the Evening Post. Terrible, what’s the world coming to, eh?

— So you are –

— No I’m not bloody Greek.

— You look Greek.

— I am not. Let’s say I am.

— Knew it. Well, can’t have you burning our section, good day sir.

First published August 24, 2006

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