Flower of Culture

Welcome to my little corner of the web! I will be discussing language, culture and art here.

Friday, March 09, 2007

More food for thought concerning American prejudices

A commenter to my last post brought up the American government's dehumanization campaign against the people of Germany and Japan ("huns" and "gooks"), which was used to prevent American soldiers from considering the humanity of the those they were sent to kill. It was successful to the point that the majority of America cheered when two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, destroying millions of innocent Japanese civilians in the most horrific way. Similar propaganda helped to fuel the war machine during WWI, and the same tactics were again used when the U.S. was at war with Vietnam. Today it is the peoples of the Middle East who face a deliberate building up of prejudices and dehumanization, and the puppet mainstream media is focusing especially on Iran and Iranians at the moment.

A number of the people groups this propaganda has successfully turned American prejudices against have been dark skinned- easy targets, sadly, to racist tendencies. And yet the the degree to which the propaganda has worked, first against the Germans in WWI and WWII and now against Iranians, both of whom are in most cases not easily discernable by skin color as different from the average white American, to me shows how easily Americans can be led to grab onto prejudices and suspicions of other cultures/peoples, even without the skin color factor that usually helps such things along. It's quite scary, frankly.

And yet if Americans could be somehow be made to put aside pride in their own culture as superior to those of the rest of the world and actually be open to seeing the beauty and refinement of other cultures, how well would the propaganda work then? It would be much harder to dehumanize the everchanging "enemy" to anywhere near the same extent. But as things stand now, Americans are all too glad to embrace the idea of their own superiority and dismiss the rest of the world as less human or at least less deserving of happy, fulfilling lives. I think people in this country truly need a less nationalistic perspective before they destroy more of the world in their ignorance and overblown fears.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

American Ignorance

When acquaintances and even friends here in the U.S. hear of my interest in Iran and Iranian culture I invariably get a response similar to the following examples, usually accompanied by either a glazed over look or a sudden scrutinizing glance that as good as says "so just when did you get here from Mars?"

Some people get an intrigued look on their face, followed by a dawn of recognition. "Oh," they exclaim, "I saw a documentary a while back about some nomads somewhere on the border with Israel--it was really interesting seeing their camels and stuff." Or "Yeah, I heard some Indian music at the mall the other day. Doesn't Iran border India or something?" And of course, "Arabic's a difficult language, isn't it? By the way, I've always wondered, why do they all wear those red checkered things in Iran?"

And those are usually the best responses. It's very depressing, especially when it hits you that a good many people here in the U.S. don't have the faintest idea where and what Iran is, let alone Iraq. (Though of course it's very convenient not to know too much about a place your country is intent on destroying anyway--it saves one from having to worry about unsettling thoughts like whether those hundreds of little bodies turning up in morgues and hospitals in Iraq might have been children just like the ones we see every day here in America.)

Frequently, any mention of interest in Iran's culture is enough to stop a conversation short, with a long awkward pause and a sudden lack of enthusiasm on the other participant's part. It's like I've just mentioned how much I enjoy scrutinizing public toilets as a hobby or spoken of a great liking for reading heavy geometry tomes as poolside relaxation. They stare at me for a moment and look around for a convenient escape, or quickly ask my opinion on the latest movie.

But far worse are the angry and vehement comments I receive more and more often these days. "We should have turned Iran into a glass parking lot long ago when they first gave us trouble," they declare (conveniently ignoring the fact that the U.S. destroyed Iran's democracy in 1953 and set in cycle the events of the past fifty years with their coup and installation of the ruthless and iron-fisted shah.) "What are we waiting for," they demand, "why not just drop a couple of nukes and send Iran back to the dark ages?"

And my blood boils inside, destroying my attempts to keep a calm exterior. The callousness and utter lack of humanity of that statement never ceases to shock me anew every time I hear it. How can people care so little that they would like to see millions of innocent people nuked to death--mothers, fathers, grandparents, children, babies, teenagers? Apparently not even that much occurs to them, let alone the fact that the U.S. has absolutely ZERO right to interfere with governments all the world when they have not attacked us.

And now I ask, why do Americans have so little interest in other cultures, in others' ways of life? They have the means to be the most educated people on earth, and yet time and again they display their wanton ignorance and prejudice before the world. Really, what would it take in a country so diverse with so many cultures and people from almost every place on the globe, to simply take the time to learn about a way of life outside of the typical white American way? And don't we have a responsibility as human beings to at least learn about the Iranian people and their way of life before we step in to destroy their country with bombs?

I'm not anti-American, before someone slams that label on me for my honest questions and criticsms. I merely wish to illuminate and hopefully help to change an aspect of American culture I find sickening and tragic. If people here took the time to learn about other cultures and peoples and even learn another language besides English, perhaps they would develop a more understanding and compassionate (and hopefully less condescending!) view of the world.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised is a must-see independent documentary about the 2002 attempted coup against Venezuela's democratically elected (and much-demonized by Western media) leader, Hugo Chavez. You can see it here.

Two independent journalists were in Venezuela at the time to make a documentary about Chavez and his policies, and ended up at the palace in August during the coup and Chavez's amazing comeback. Backers of Pedro Carmona, a business leader, took over the TV stations and broadcast propaganda, including false allegations that Chavez instigated gunfire that killed demonstrators outside the palace (it was the anti-Chavez demonstrators who first opened fire on huge crowds of Chavez's supporters.) With the help of the army, they successfully kidnapped Chavez and took him off to an island (after threatening to bomb the palace where the government leaders and many supporters were with him.) But the people poured into the streets the next day, demanding that the leader they voted for be restored to his rightful office. Chavez's guard, still loyal to him, retook the palace, making way for the rightful government to return to power within 48 hours.

Sooo many fascinating details are in that documentary, things you'll never hear anywhere else. Almost all but the narration is in Spanish, but the gist of everything said is in English captions. I have a good knowledge of Spanish, so I had the advantage of being able to catch more than could be easily translated, but you don't have to know even a word of Spanish to understand what's going on in the video.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Which culture?

If you could choose any culture in the world to live in, which would it be?

Three years ago I couldn't have answered that, but now I know. And this is what I'd do.

I'd divide my year between three countries, spending a third in each. One part of the year I'd spend in Mexico, preferably in a village in the southern areas. Another part, maybe in summer, I'd spend in the Peruvian mountains, and in both places I'd perfect my Spanish. The third part of the year I would live in Iran, and get to know the people there, and more about their culture and language. Eventually, when I had lived in all three countries, maybe I'd know which one I wanted to settle down in.

Gilan: Ancient Jewel of the North

The Iranian province of Gilan (known as Guilan in Iran) is home to the Gilaki people, whose unique and beautiful culture still thrives. The fertile land lies along the Caspian Sea, making good conditions for the rice paddies grown along the coast. Further inland are mountains and forest, with a climate of much rainfall and humidity, often giving the land a beautiful misty look.

Most people of Gilan still speak the Gilaki language, except among the younger population and the cities, where Persian is often used. Gilaki cuisine is wonderful I've heard, with many dishes of fish, lamb or chicken prepared with distinctly Gilaki flavorings of fruit and spice.

Every year many tourists, mostly Iranians themselves, come to this province to get a glimpse of the fascinating culture and exquisite folk costumes with vivid colors and brightly striped skirts (much the way Americans might travel to Colorado or Texas to see ranches and cowboys, or enjoy bluegrass music.) Here are some pictures to give you a feel of what I mean:

Gilan also has a fascinating history, dating back to the time of the Persian Empire and Cyrus the Great. Wikipedia has a nice article on this.

If my dream of visiting Iran ever turns to reality, Guilan, jewel of the north, is one of the places I want to see for myself.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

News Perspectives

Ever gotten sick and tired of trying to find out what's really happening in other countries, particularly those targeted by the U.S. government, and finding only the same biased views on every Western media site?

I have, and recently came up with a solution of my own. I look for news sites based in the countries themselves, and almost always find myself looking at international situations with a new perspective. Of course it helps to know other languages, but many foreign news media have their sites in English as well as their own language.

It started with Venezuela, because of the obvious corporation-bias in Western coverage of that country (and the rest of South America I might add.) The disrepancy between the coverage and what I knew from my cultural studies to be true was great, and thus began my search for foreign media to get international news.

I bookmark the good sites I find, which makes it easy to keep coming back and back to keep up with the news. Currently, my focus is on Iran, because of the constant U.S. concentration on demonizing and provoking a fight with them. Here are a few good news sites (though I'm not done looking for non-US-biased sites about that region.)

Payvand is a good one, with news from several different sites and from different viewpoints. The IRNA is one I often check - Iran's official news agency. I also like reading blogs by people who actually live in that country. I've only found a few so far about Iran and most aren't updated frequently, but here are some of the best I've discovered. The Super Heavy is a gem, with anecdotes and fascinating details about life in Iran, from the perspective of an American woman married to an Iranian. This one, this one, and this one have good photos of Iran for those who want to know what the country looks like.

Enjoy, and I hope you'll look for your own good sources of foreign media to counteract agenda-biased propaganda!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Defeat in the UN

Prepare for the U.S. to throw a tantrum, since the UN failed to give them their way (a Security Council threat of force if Iran didn't stoop to their demands.) Article here. This is quite a triumph! It's not enough yet, but it's sure going to help!

Sunday, June 11, 2006


Finally, someone in the UN pointing out the hypocracy of talking war over a country that doesn't even have nukes, while the US and other Western powers have thousands on the ready.

Quoting the words of Hans Blix, former chief weapons inspector in the UN:

"While it's desirable that the foreign ministers talk about Iran, they don't seem to devote any thought to the fact that there are still some 27,000 real nuclear weapons in the United States, Russia and other states, and that many of these are on hair-trigger alert.
Nor do the ministers seem to realize that the determination they express to reduce the nuclear threat is diminished by their failure to take seriously their commitment, made within the framework of the NPT, to move toward the reduction and elimination of their own nuclear arsenals."

Read the rest here.