When a site grows as large as Iranian.com, it is only a matter of time before some archive rat comes along to dig out long-forgotten pieces to see the light of day again. And what the rat drags out we will call “Best of Iranian.com.”
This archive rat started digging in 2006. My idea was to put together a “Best of…” covering the site to the end of that year – which I did. By 2007 the new site was going to be up and running “any day” and it made sense to wait and inaugurate “Best of…” in the new site. Well… that took a while. Meanwhile, it became more complicated to incorporate sections into the new design. So I decided to go live with my crazy labor, content management software be damned. I think now is especially a good time since we don’t have access to the archive of the old site any more. There’s a lot of good stuff there, ladies and gentlemen.
What is this thing called Iranian.com?
Iranian.com is an interesting place – for amusement, information, getting things off your chest, comparing notes, throwing up, finding friends old and new, re-inventing history, wasting company time, etc., all loosely having something to do with Iran or being Iranian. You can do all this silently or make noise. The best thing is that at any moment, and in the middle of anything, you can break into a song and dance in Persian. It is an enormous relief to have a place where translation is optional.
The more I delved into the archive of Iranian.com the more intrigued I became with the site as a phenomenon. The publisher calls it something like a public blog. That’s probably as accurate a description as any, but “blog” itself is too vast and too recent a phenomenon to have a clear definition. I offer here some thoughts on what Iranian.com is and how one archive rat went about editing an anthology of its content.
It is an addiction
The growth pattern of Iranian.com suggests that once you start reading and/or contributing to it, you’re usually hooked. And as I bestowed hit upon hit on the site I could not help asking myself: Why am I doing this?
The best answer I have found is that it is a kind of addiction.
Addiction is usually defined in terms of consumption of a substance. But since the content on Iranian.com is entirely generated by readers, there is definitely evidence here of addiction to production as well. So it is not just the site itself as the final product but the act of generating it – the messy, contradictory, complicated whole of it – that gives a sense of the substance that has proven addictive. I would venture to look at this from two angles.
That over-used word, community, and our other obsession, citizenship
Community is a good word – never mind its schmaltzy overtones and the fact that nowadays it is flung about so often that it has become meaningless. Those of us who have actually experienced life in Iran miss the sense of community there terribly. Perhaps Iranian.com gives us a little fix of that. Perhaps it helps patch up the shattered and scattered community that we have become. At any rate, “community” is the best way to describe the addictive substance that is both who we are and the shape we give it. In this sense we could say Iranian.com is a community. And as a community in whose creation we participate I would say the site also gives us a sense of citizenship.
To most Iranians the word “citizenship” conjures a combination of the tragically mundane when applied to “foreign” countries (the idiotic paperwork that has the power to make or break lives) and a lofty, unreachable peak having to do with political and civil rights when applied to Iran. Interestingly enough, we use the word “citizenship” much more often referring to that final goal after residency via immigration or asylum than in its civic/political sense. Outside the country, the only times we are reminded of being Iranian citizens is during body-searches at airports or when targeted by homeland security measures in the U.S. Inside the country, shahrvand is still a slightly clunky word and has more currency as a supermarket chain. (Back when I was in high school and read books about the French Revolution citoyen was translated as hamshahri.)
But citizenship is definitely a good word. Here I am concerned with that aspect of citizenship that has to do with the right, and opportunity, to participate in things of a public nature – the media, for example. And here we can look beyond “the mullahs,” or Iran for that matter.
It would be silly, for example, to assume that U.S. citizens have access to their media. With the entrenched corporatization of mass media, the average American citizen’s ability to participate in public communication has been reduced to nil – virtually, if not officially and technically. We won’t go into that. The good news is that “cyber” media has arrived to revive citizen participation in the communication sphere of public space.
Lately, the snowballing appearance of the “blogosphere” has prompted a great deal of commentary, and one of the recurring words in the emerging discourse is “citizenship.” We hear how the new technology has challenged the monopoly of mainstream media by releasing “citizen” voices. There is talk about how electronic publishing has not only created a new citizenship but has expanded the very notion of citizenship. Now we have “citizen” journalists, historians, literary critics, and experts in every field. Publishing itself has been “de-professionalized,” meaning that now you don’t have to be a paid “professional” to produce or publish. There’s even a word, “pro-am,” for the qualified amateur gone pro. For better or worse, with the new electronic media we have citizen producers of culture and knowledge. (Theodore Adorno might have had something to say about this new culture industry.)
And it is independent sites like Iranian.com, encompassing both the production and consumption ends of the media chain, that have not only returned the media to its rightful place as public domain but have actually turned public space into civic space. We are citizens of this domain. We may not carry passports as proof of citizenship but at least here there are no visa requirements for visiting other domains.
Context: Being Iranian
“Context” is another word that is thrown around a lot these days. Everybody and their brother are climbing over each other contextualizing things. In a society (esm nemibaram, eshareh ham nemikonam) suffering from historical amnesia, splintered, and confused as to what the hell is wrong with it, “context” has got to be a good word.
For Iranian exiles and emigrants, however, things are a little more complicated. As far as their relationship to the old country is concerned, while exiles lament the loss of context, emigrants relish its shedding. But even this is too neat a classification for us. Most of us are part exile (missing the old context and the sense of belonging and significance that it gave us) and part emigrant (welcoming the possibilities of the new context, especially if we felt disenfranchised in the old one).
I refrain from applying the word “diaspora” to ourselves, even though the term has perfectly legitimate anthropological and sociological reasons for existence. (I have developed a particular aversion to that word, having encountered it too often in reference to purposes clear only to the likes of the World Bank.) I think the distinctions Iranians apply to themselves – dorun-marzi and borun-marzi – are much more descriptive of who we are.
And insofar as Iranian.com holds up a mirror in which many different facets of Iranian society are reflected, we can say that it contextualizes us – from the borun-marzi exiles and emigrants to the dorun-marzi public who somehow manages to break through the blocking of the site in Iran. From the various mainstreams and lunatic fringes to folks brimming with learning and imagination, they all show up on this site. And let me assure you that many are indeed “professionals” in the common usage of the word – that is, they do get paid for producing work similar to that which appears on this site.
Iranian.com does a good job of providing insight into the culture and – not for a moment to be considered in second place – the history and politics of those who have claims to being Iranian.
I will throw this out as well: independent Iranian media are increasingly contextualizing us as a political force. There’s an old adage that says, don’t pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel. In this sense, sites like Iranian.com distribute free ink by the barrel. And we use this ink to place ourselves as Iranians, dorun-marzi or borun-marzi, within the larger context of the world – culturally, politically, and historically.
And no matter which context we’re viewing or presenting ourselves in at the moment, we’re here, or there, to stay.
Since everyone else is talking about Iranian women…
I am touched to note that Iranian women have now been officially Lolitafied, with Washington D.C. think tanks and New York City public relations firms having picked up where Sir Richard (“Dirty Dick”) Burton left off a century and a half ago. There seems to be no end to the book party for the publication of Obscenity of Empire, Vol. II.
As an Iranian woman I am also infinitely grateful for all these attempts to give us “voice” — no, we are not being published and recognized, our work is not critiqued and valued for its worth – we are being given “voice.” The whole thing puts me in mind of the Persian expression having to do with a certain kalaagh, for which Mehdi Bazaran went down in history when he invoked it shortly after the revolution. (If you don’t know enough Farsi and recent history to know what I’m talking about, please especially refrain from patronizing Iranian women.)
We can’t say we weren’t warned about the kindness of strangers.
I won’t wax eloquent about the presence of women on Iranian.com, either. They’re there. That’s all.
But I do want to draw attention to something alarming I have come across while surfing the archive. Twice I found Iranian women contributors writing about receiving threatening phone calls after having published something on the site. Setareh Sabety wrote about it in //iranian.com/SetarehSabety/2002/May/Speech/index.html and Azam Nemati mentioned it in her letter published in the Letters section of the site after this piece of hers was published: //iranian.com/AzamNemati/2006/April/Minorities/index.html
Now, getting hate mail (emails in the old site and comments in the new) for things we publish on Iranian.com is not unusual. That’s inevitable when you contribute to “interactive” sites. But making threatening phone calls is on a totally different level of aggression than writing obnoxious emails or comments. I have not come across any male contributors who mentioned receiving threatening phone calls to their homes. Apparently all kinds of people have internalized the license to behave menacingly toward women in general and Iranian women in particular. So to those people I say: Listen you chickenshits, there are a lot of us, women and men, watching you. And I urge women contributors to bring any attempts at intimidation to public attention.
We don’t need anybody bestowing “voice” upon us but, sadly, attempts to intimidate us into silence do go on.
Best of Iranian.com: Nothing fair and balanced here
The content on Iranian.com is daunting in quantity and hilariously uneven in quality. To make the task of editing an anthology more manageable I excluded two sets of submissions: fiction, and contributions in Persian. For excluding the latter I have no other reason than having to draw the line somewhere. But I stayed clear of fiction for two reasons. First, I don’t want to get embroiled in the complexities of critical evaluation. Second, short-stories and poems are established genres, whereas my own interest runs to material outside of more conventional genres, especially since these are more unique to electronic publishing.
But I will say this about Iranian fiction in Persian, English, or translation. As Amit Chaudhuri, who edited an excellent anthology of modern Indian literature, puts it, “[T]o be interested in a canon, you have to be interested in how a nation or community sees itself.” Those interested in contemporary Iranian literature can certainly benefit from the view Iranian.com provides of how the community sees itself.
I have also excluded (for the most part) polemical essays and commentary on everyday political events. This material ages quickly.
Finally, as a bi-jireh-mavaajeb editor I decided to have fun with the editing. I had fun picking only what struck my fancy and read fairly easily. I did not belabor my reading to glean points of possible merit. I am certainly biased toward knowledgeable people and a sense of humor, though some pieces I have included out of sheytanat. I love the uninhibitedly heartfelt. And, lest you fret that I’m not owning up to it, I detest three things: religion, identity politics/crisis, and the right wing, both here and there.
And I have of course deviated from everything I’ve said here.
Ultimately, this is a work in progress. There is a great deal that can be dug up or re-organized and certainly a great deal of new material that can be added. Let’s consider this edition of “Best of Iranian.com” as merely a springboard.
How best to read from “Best of…”
I have organized my selection into contributors and pieces, and will publish them separately. “Contributors” will be links to individual authors and the list of all their contributions. The pieces are organized under thematic headings such as “Living in Iran,” “Football,” “Places,” “War,” “Money,” etc. I will publish my selection one thematic heading at a time with links to individual pieces.
Jahanshah complains that I have not organized my selection under author name and article title. Frankly, I don’t have the kind of time to cut and paste through hundreds of articles. My apologies to the contributors for making readers click on a link before discovering their identity. And to Mr. Javid I say: joftesho biyaar moftesho bebar…
What I suggest is that you pick a thematic category and randomly click and read. This way you will get a good sense of the not necessarily connected diversity of the material.
You will notice that most of the pieces can be listed under more than one thematic category. Each “category” in fact yields a slightly different reading of a piece because it places it in a different context. It is fun to muse over the subtle and sometimes not so subtle powers of contextualization as you imagine the pieces classified differently. Notice the effect of time too – things appear different at different times. And dig this: historical moment may or may not be the ultimate contextualizer.
The next step: A Piki
Although I limited myself left and right, I can hardly be sure that I have exhausted even the material that I have tried to cover. I bet I have missed many great pieces, maybe even the very best ones. And, frankly, after months of devoting way too much of my free time to this project, I have run out of steam. (One of my most favorite categories, “Places,” needs more work, and another site subgenre, “Shorts,” has not at all been done justice to.)
So in the spirit of our cyber citizenship I call on citizen-editors to pick up where I’m leaving off. I suggest that following the model of wikis (those terrific orgies of collective knowledge) we create a piki for Iranian.com: an interactive anthology where pieces are “picked” by the readers. The Iranian.com public at large can participate by nominating the pieces they consider good and a panel composed of some of the better contributors will select from the nominations.
Who will set up this project?
Please note: What is needed is not your nasihat and good ideas, it is your time and effort. Also, if you do not volunteer your own hard labor, don’t you be sending me hate mail for the work I have put into the selection here.
And while we’re at it, let’s set up a piki for art, music and photographs too. A piki of photos of places in Iran would be especially nice.
What’s a collection without a blast of pure subjectivity?
Here are my own favorite contributors in the following categories:
Guts and glory: Sarvenaz //iranian.com/sarvenaz.html
Smarts: Ahmad Sadri //iranian.com/ahmadsadri.html
Hyperextended intellect: Guive Mirfenderesky //iranian.com/mirfendereski.html
Scholarly sobriety: Fatemeh Soudavar Farmanfarmaian //iranian.com/fsff.html
Literary uncanny: Shirin Bakhtiar
How in the world does she know all these people: Fariba Amini //iranian.com/famini.html
Does not write enough: H. Utanzad
Life as we knew it: xAle
And while you’re at it, check these out:
Funniest piece: //iranian.com/Saghari/2004/November/Sheep/index.html
Funniest image: //iranian.com/Arts/2002/November/Tintin/index.html
Mom gets the last word
As I combed the material on Iranian.com I kept an eye out for a good quote describing the site and the community it represents. I came across it in a March 2002 contribution by Burntoast:
“It [is] raw, irritating and urgent as ever to be Iranian with Iranian.com filling our tortured need for friendship, affection and acceptance in America.”
As it turned out, Burntoast is a pen name of Shirin Bakhtiar, the mother of Jahanshah Javid and the godmother of Iranian.com.
Now, for a mother-worshipping nation, isn’t that apt?
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