Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Kader Abdolah, a Dutch Iranian writer

“When I write, I’m on the frontline against dictatorship.” The Iranian-Dutch writer Kader Abdolah, who has just completed his latest historical novel De Koning [The King], sees clear parallels between 19th-century Persia and modern-day Iran under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Only now, he predicts, the regime that follows will be democratic not dictatorial.
“I wanted to write a story about my great-great-grandfather. He served as grand vizier or prime minister during Iran’s industrial revolution in Iran and he was murdered,” explains Kader Abdolah.

“My aim was to write about the vizier, but the shah or king turned out to be a better subject. I suspect the king was more important. In the king, I even discovered myself.”

Abdolah’s new novel De Koning is situated in Iran (formerly Persia), the land of his birth. It was also the setting for his internationally acclaimed book The House of the Mosque in 2005. His focus has now turned to the period of major change in the second half of the 19th century, with the advent of the telegraph, the railways, electricity and state reforms.
The shah or king reluctantly surrendered to technological innovation. But he wanted nothing to do with a parliament and a constitution, despite the urgent appeals from his grand vizier– who ruled the country on his behalf.
Such was his resistance that he ordered the murder of the grand vizier, great-great-grandfather. But eventually, the shah himself perished at the hands of an opponent. This is the tale Abdolah tells in De Koning.

New dictators
Kader Abdolah sees parallels between the past and the present.
“In the shah of yesteryear I discovered the men and their power: Gaddafi, Mubarak, Khomeini.”
Dynasties crumbled as a result of the technological changes at that time, but they were essentially replaced by new dictators. The writer believes that this is where the present parts company with the past.
“Now there is Facebook. These dictatorships are no longer able to hold back freedom of speech. Facebook will remove Gaddafi, Muburak and the ayatollahs, and bring a new kind of democracy.”

Language of censorship
Kader Abdolah himself fled the Iran of the ayatollahs, because his life was in danger as a writer, a journalist and a member of the underground opposition. In 1988 he came to the Netherlands with his family. His own language, Persian, had become the language of censorship and so he resolved to write only in Dutch.
While the reformists in Iran are still being mercilessly combated and suppressed, Kader Abdolah has hope for the future of his homeland:
“Iran is one of the most important democracies in the Middle East. The revolutions in Egypt and Libya are superficial: Mubarak is gone, but the structure of dictatorship remains in Egypt. But in Iran there is a movement that goes right down to the foundations. It may take 30 or 40 years, but democracy will take root in people’s genes. In 20 years’ time, we will have a strong, fully formed democracy in my homeland,” he predicts.

Victory

Abdolah’s work has been translated into many languages. But in Iran, his books are banned. He sees the books he writes as weapons in a battle.
“When I write, I think of the people in Iran who fight against dictatorship. When I write I am on the frontline, in the vanguard against dictatorship. My books can be seen as literature, but they are also the true fight against the ayatollahs.”
The writer has a burning desire to return to his homeland one day. Will Kader Abdolah ever write in his mother tongue again?
“After 22 years I am no longer able to write in Persian. I can’t put my soul into it. I can only produce literature in Dutch. It’s painful, but that’s the turn my life has taken.”

Shared by Hans A.H.C De Wit

March 22



Quebec city in winter by Gaetan Chevalier

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Is the ‘old’ Gaddafi back?

In the 1980s Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi sowed death and destruction with attacks on aircraft and a disco in Berlin, and by supporting terrorist groups like the IRA and ETA. Just a few years ago he officially renounced terrorism. Is there a risk that he’ll go back to his old ways and start blowing up planes again?
It’s a possibility the West should take seriously, says Glenn Schoen, terrorism expert with international security firm G4S.”Gaddafi’s got his back to the wall. Diplomatically and economically he can hardly do anything anymore. Militarily his capabilities will soon be limited. And one of the few options open to him to put pressure on the international community remains, of course, terrorism.”

Dissidents
It’s not clear whether Gaddafi now has potential terrorists in other countries. “We do know that the Libyan foreign secret service ESO is still active. Not only at embassies still in the hands of Tripoli, but also beyond. And we know that two months ago he probably sent some more people abroad to keep an eye on Libyan dissidents. So we can assume that he does have a certain capacity to do this, although it will be less than it was a few years ago.”
A Libyan terrorist attack could come in the next few days. “He’ll see when it’s useful to exert counter pressure,” says Glenn Schoen. That might be at the start of allied military action, to stop certain countries from helping the British, French and Americans. It would be a way for Gaddafi to create disunity in the Western world.
The longer the fighting in Libya goes on, the more time Gaddafi has to prepare terrorist attacks, Mr Schoen warns. Western countries should share secret information on the whereabouts of Libyan agents and on the flow of Libyan funds. And they should step up security for potential targets like civil aviation and the embassies of allied countries.

No support
But not everyone is expecting fresh Libyan terrorist attacks. Dutch Libya expert Gerbert van der Aa thinks Gaddafi is now barely capable of carrying out major acts of terrorism against the West. Since Tripoli renounced terrorism, it has not maintained the international terrorist infrastructure it had in place for decades.
What’s more, many Libyan embassies – the bases for Libyan secret agents – have turned against the regime in Tripoli. And embassy personnel who nominally remain loyal to Gaddafi will not be willing to support terrorist attacks, says Mr Van der Aa, who recently wrote a book on the capricious colonel. “There’s a growing feeling at most embassies that they would be very happy for Gaddafi to go. So I don’t think there’s much support for him there.”

Shared by Hans A.H.C De Wit

Day Opening March 20

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Confide, trust and be brave

This is a post that took a long time to make it here. I have no idea how it will shape up, but I feel like writing and I won't stop myself.

In my post some days back, The Unbearable Randonmess of Being, I talked about how women are an inherently strong race. Their strength is of such a unique emotional nature that by default they end up taking a lot more than that is expected of any human, any other male or female in person, at that point in time or situation.

Woman, you are brave and strong, it is in your genes. But do not let this genuine natural benevolence come in your way.

Do you feel you are in a situation you don't deserve to be in?
Do you think you are made for better things, better understanding, love and compassion than what your immediate family spares for you?
Do you think you are unhappy but you can easily adjust to the situation and seek happiness even out of the present, however gloomy or disappointing it may be?
And do you bank on your strength to face sorrow?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, sit back and think. Confide, trust and be brave.

Do not bank on your feminine strength to pull you through sorrow. I know we are a strong race and can see ourselves through hell and fire. But why? Use your strength instead to find joy. Take a call, give priority to your individual well-being and stop gulping down sorrow, inequality or abuse just because you have an infinite capacity to hold your own in such circumstances.

No one will protect your dignity for you. And when you make a truce with the unfairness that is dealt to you, you lower yourself. Day by day, month by month, the compromises you make pile up against your original self-respecting self that was made of iron and steel. And yet, you woman, you are so strong, you find strength in your weakness. You take a deep breath, tell your mind you will see it through, and see it through. Why?

Why? And for whom? For your partner? For your husband who unapologetically prioritizes his work before you, your profession? For your in-laws who expect you to be the good homely homemaker who has swallowed her tongue? For some vague definition of society that will have its own negative opinions if you be brave enough to seek your joy? For your parents whom you do not want to hurt, burden or put through any emotional crisis you are certain you can tackle on your own? No. This is not the way. Woman, I know you will pull through on your own and smile like no one will ever know. But you don't need to. Confide, trust, be brave and move on.

Move on to seek your happiness without any sense of guilt. Woman, why do you think just because you are a woman and because your social position is much more intricately entwined to the smooth functioning of your family, you should continue keeping yourself as the last priority? Woman, why do you feel guilty for seeking happiness? You deserve it just as much as any undeserving chauvinist deserves it. Listen to no one who tries to tell you otherwise.

People will pull you down. They will try to snub you, supress you and keep you 'in your place' ever so subtly that you would not even realise how badly you have been manipulated till you gather the courage to break it all, move away and take in a breath of fresh, free air. Talk to your friends, talk to your family. Or talk to your maid. Talk to anyone who won't judge you. Listen to what they say, tell them you need love and warmth and you are not getting it where you now stand. And unfortunately even if their answer is a stereotypical representation of the downsides of being a woman, don't lose heart. If they tell you to hang on, take in a little more pain because it is likely to stop in future or because it is very likely that you will 'get used to it', tell them to go kick themselves in their butt. Impossible, I know. You can ask me, you know. I would take pleasure doing so.

But woman, listen to me. You be good and be brave. The world is waiting for you. I am waiting for you, to meet someone of my own kind, someone who is not free and happy by default, but who has actively sought her own happiness and self-respect and has gone through the pain and confusion that comes in between seeking happiness and resigning to the status quo.

And years after you have moved on, have gone through pain and discomfort not for some third party, but have consciously undergone the trouble and confusion of breaking away from stereotypes knowing that it is for your own good, no one can stop you from being happy. Use your strength to your own benefit. In our benevolence, we keep using our tolerance for others. For once use it for your own self.

Your strength is for a much more positive reason. To nuture, care, love and honour. Don't make your strength a tool for taking in more than you can take, for acknowledging sorrow and unfairness and yet making it a part and parcel of your life. Your strength, woman, is not a placibo. It is a power pill. Use it such. You are already so amazingly brave. It's now the time to make a conscious decision to 'be' brave. Be brave, woman. Move on.

-Gauri Gharpure

More such reflections on Life Rules

Day Opening March 16



Albino baby girl and her Mwila mother - Angola. By Eric Lafforgue

Friday, March 11, 2011

Day Opening March 11



The shaft-Casa Batlló, Barcelona - Spain. By Trey Ratcliff

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Random deviations or Belated Woman's Day wishes...

We find our safeguard in our little joys and achievements. Over the past few months so many little-nothings have made my life worthwhile. It may not be much, it may not matter to others, but my hours of doing small things, that may, on a more specific level be bracketted into "nothing", have given me immense satisfaction.
March 8 was International Woman's Day. I regret missing out posting something special on that day. But then, isn't every day a celebration for us, men and women alike? I do not understand feminism. Feminists, so to say, cannot function without the support and honour of men. In fact, no one can. The good needs bad, the black needs white, the sweet relies on sour... And man needs woman. Ditto the opposite. Remember Yin-Yang? :)
So this Woman's Day, I sat back and thought a little more than usual. I came to the conclusion that I must honour March 8 to recognise and celebrate the men in my life who have made me the woman I am. My father, my grandfather, brother, friends... Even spare gratitude for those who have been mean. For without chauvinists, how would I learn to value those men who care, respect and honour?
Here's cheers to the celebration of humankind, and not just women...

Day Opening March 10


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Compliments and the Netherlands

"Oh, I’ve had it for ages" or "I got it in a sale" - classic reactions from a Dutch person should they get a pleasant remark about something they’re wearing. The Dutch and compliments are an uneasy match. National Compliments Day - last week, March 1st - aims to change all that.
Hans Poortvliet knows how difficult it is for the Dutch to encourage each other:
"It’s easier for the Dutch to criticise each other than to give each other compliments. It’s not one of our national traits. It’s to do with our Calvinistic nature. There’s nothing wrong with it, except that it’s good to appreciate others. But it doesn’t come naturally to us."

Part of the job
Hans Poortvliet: "Our Calvinistic restraint ensures that we’re sparing with compliments - though daily life
would be more enjoyable if we’d give them more often. ‘You’ve done well’ is rarely heard. And when it is, all too often the reaction is ‘it's just part of my job’."
By contrast, Americans are the complete opposite, says a n US expat, Robert Chesal:

"In the Netherlands you only hear comments when you make a mistake. And if you hear nothing, you take it that everything’s fine. But you don’t get a compliment for it. That’s the way things are here. In America it’s quite different, people are much more generous about complimenting each other."
Self-confident people
Robert Chesal has lived in the Netherlands for nearly 25 years. In that time he hasn't come to have serious doubts about himself, but he has had to get used to the lack of praise here:
"Because we give and receive so many compliments in America, Americans are a confident people.
I felt I could do things reasonably well, so I was not dependent on compliments. I’ve had compliments all my life in America. It took some time before I realised they weren’t given in the Netherlands."
Hans Poortvliet says managers of Dutch businesses would do well to appreciate their employees more, by rewarding them with appreciation and compliments. Especially in these days of an ageing population and consequent likely reduction of the labour force. "Employees love being recognised for their input. The main reason they start losing interest in their job is a lack of appreciation," says Mr Poortvliet, who is a manager himself.
Disturbance
Dutch society seems to have a blind spot when it comes to the way people treat each other. "There is a constant need to be self-confident, but very little drive to value each other," is what sociologist Paul Schnabel told on the subject of the evident lack of courtesy in the Netherlands. He sees a possible solution in the Dutch taking it upon themselves to become more considerate and obliging towards each other. "It sounds banal, but that’s what it’s all about."
Compliments Day
In an attempt to curb Dutch boorishness Hans Poortvliet was the moving force behind National Compliments day on 1st March (now in it’s 9th year) which has as its motto ‘momentje voor een complimentje’ (a little time for a compliment) and 'waardeer en krijg meer' (appreciate and accumulate).
-Hans A.H.C De Wit

March 8