Iran is using indirect censorship methods to avoid international criticism

Excerpts from my last piece on The Conversation UK about indirect censorship in Iran. Read the full article here

Hassan Rouhani does the rounds at the Tehran book fair. EPA/Presidential Official Website/HA

Human rights watchdogs repeatedly shame Iran as one of the world’s worst offenders against freedom of expression, a harsh censor with little compunction about cracking down on critics with direct methods such as prior restraint and violent means of repression. But Iran, like other states around the world, is increasingly using other, more unorthodox ways of controlling speech – what might be called “indirect censorship”.

Instead of the classic methods of removing content wholesale or blocking access to it, indirect censorship methods make producing or accessing “undesirable” ideas and information costly, technically difficult or legally risky. They often do so via unrelated laws, or by bypassing weak or nonexistent protective regulations. Deployed by both governments and private actors, these methods often don’t fall under conventional definitions of censorship, and are therefore often not condemned as such.

The Iranian government is using indirect censorship partly out of geopolitical necessity. Tehran clearly wants to improve relations with the West, but the country’s domestic human rights situation is a major obstacle – and its attitudes to freedom of speech are a particular sticking point. Since the government is hardly inclined to fundamentally change its ways, it has come up with a typically neoliberal solution: to transfer responsibility for enforcing censorship to the private sector.

In a speech at Tehran’s 2016 International Book Fair, president Hassan Rouhani proposed that the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance hand its job of censoring books and cultural products to an association of writers and publishers. His government promoted this idea as an initiative to relax book censorship, and it was broadly accepted as such by the Western media. But because there are few clear regulations regarding censorship and a huge range of “sensitive” subjects, it would more likely have the opposite effect.

The plan is currently in its pilot stage, and if it becomes operational, the government will free itself from direct responsibility for book censorship. It would be left to publishers and writers themselves to enforce vague “red lines”, including upon themselves, lest they fall foul of a judiciary capable of seizing books after publication and inflicting paralysing financial damage.

This would inculcate a conservative culture of self-censorship, with writers and publishers desperate to avoid unbearable financial or legal consequences taking an even more cautious and strict approach than the government itself.


Our Father Prayer: A Poem

“This, then, is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come,

your will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.“, Bible, Matthew 6:9



Our Father Prayer


Our hollow Father who is in the holy hypermarkets

Who is in the sacred banks

Who is in the sanctified arms factories

Who is in the heavenly presidential palaces

Who is in the saintly police stations

Who is in the messianic departments of defense

Who is in the divine stock markets

Who is in the faithful heart of every single riot police, field marshal, intelligence chief, national guard, cardinal, Rabi, and Ayatollah.

McDonald is your name

Coca-Cola is your name

Goldman Sachs is your name

Morgan Stanley is your name

Lockheed Martin is your name

Raytheon is your name

Starbucks is your name

BP is your name

G20 is your name

WTO is your name

WCO is your name

WHP is your name

WFG is your name

IMF is your name

IMI is your name

IAI is your name

IWI is your name

Enhanced interrogation techniques is your name

Simulated drowning is your name

Solitary confinement is your name

Sleep deprivation is your name

Human branding is your name

Kneecapping is your name

Keelhauling is your name

Scaphism is your name

Nail extraction is your name

Hypothermia is your name

Strappado is your name

American controlled fear is your name

Chinese water torture is your name

Iranian reverse hanging is your name

Our loving Father

CIA is his Archangel

NSA is his Archangel

MI6 is his Archangel

RGC is his Archangel

ISI is his Archangel

DCRI is his Archangel

BND is his Archangel

MOIS is his Archangel

Mossad is his Archangel

Shin Bet is his Archangel

Aman is his Archangel

AISI is his Archangel

AISE is his Archangel

And his kingdom comes

For the Lord, himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command,

With the voice and eyes and ears of his archangels,

With the sound of the trumpet of God,

With two hundred tons of napalm,

With sixteen hundred tons of white phosphorous

With four hundred tons of dense inert metal explosives

With eleven thousand air strikes in a week

With two hundred thousand gallons of Sarin gas

With seven thousand hypersonic missiles

With nine thousand flechette shells

With fifteen hundred deadly drones

His kingdom comes

And the dead will rise

And his will be done

On Gaza as it was on Vietnam

On Afghanistan as it was on Chile

On Iraq as it was on Yugoslavia

The dead will rise

and pours out his blood into the sky

Here is your lamb at your feet.

This is my blood, which confirms the covenant between Hellfire missile and the human body, drink it.

It is poured out as a sacrifice to forget the sins of many.

This is my body which is given for you, it is dismembered as a background to support your peace speeches, eat it.

For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.

Our deadly Father

seated on an empyreal throne

Surrounded by his Arch agents

Sends us ISIS

Sends us Al Qaeda

Sends us Buku Haram

Sends Al Shabab

And blesses us all with the holy war on terror.


Give us porn to feed our cocks

Gives us veil to disappear our women

Give us Fox News to keep our faith

Let us see the JLO’s ass

Lets us vote for our favorite butchers

Let us march through the streets for May Day

Let us wear a Marxist t-shirt and drink 40$ cup of coffee in Broadway and dream of revolution

Let us stop the war from our living rooms through facebook while we’re watching Pornhub

Let us give flowers to cops while they’re reloading their M4s

Let us know you are deeply concerned by genocide in South Sudan so you send George Clooney to fix everything.

And you are deeply concerned by Michael Brown murdered by police so you send National Guard with tanks to give them your condolences.

And you are deeply concerned by civilians killed in Gaza so you ask them to dodge the bombs.

And you are deeply concerned by Human Rights violation in Europe so you rape 16 prisoner in Kahrizak to teach them manners.

And you are deeply concerned by cracking down the Green Movement in Iran so you caress the Wall Street occupiers with pepper spray.

And you are deeply concerned by hunger in India so you waste 133 billion pounds of food each year

And you are deeply concerned by  Taliban’s brutality in Afghanistan so you send your drones there and leave behind 2400 civilians dead

And the dead will rise

and pours out his blood into the sky

Here is your lamb at your feet.

This is my blood, drink it.

This is my body, eat it.

For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.

My name is Suana

And I fear

I walk in Tehran and I fear for I am a woman

I walk in Berlin and I fear for I am a black head

I walk in Gaza and I fear for I am an Arab

I walk in Rome and I fear for I am an Anarchist

I walk in Kobane and I fear for I am a Kurd

I walk in Kabul and I fear for I am a human

I walk in New York and I fear for I am nothing

O’ Father

I should have killed you when I had a chance

I should have killed you in Paris Commune 1871

I should have killed you in Petrograd October 1917

I should have killed you in Spain 1936

I should have killed you in Reggio Emilia 1945

I should have killed you in Paris 1968

I should have killed you in Turin Hot Autumn 1969

I should have killed you in Tehran 1979

I should have killed you in Cape Town 1994

I should have killed you in Seattle 1999

I should have killed you in Tunis 2010

I should have killed you in Cairo 2011

And I should kill you in Syria

And I should kill you in Iraq

And I should kill you right now

O Father,

Your scary blue hands block our way

And you pick up our haggard hurt lives from the branches of your garden

one by one ten by ten thousand by thousand

Oh those yellow petals and red flowers of men

And I saw death, an un-bloomed blossom, and I picked it from the sky of regret.

And I saw the sun, the happiness of thousand deranged scallops, and I kissed it from the farthest horizons

Oh fairies of forest, fairies of moon

Fairies asleep on no trees of no Hindu temples of no continent

The shivering crystal of times of the past grows there

By the Armando river

Where everyone who had a love lost it

And I drink the sky still like a desire for morning scent in early childhood

And I swim love always like a dripping wet blade among the Emily Dickenson’s horses which fall forever.

Fairies of earth, fairies of water

There shine all the sorrows of my people

There, by the Aral sea

Wind has taken my dreams

Winter has heard my wishes

My name is Suana

I pray and I fear.

I pray and I fear.

I pray and I fear.

Iran’s Nuclear Deal and Human Rights: Who Loses and Who Wins?

Omid Shams

The phone rings and it is one of my former colleagues from Iran. “They arrested Hossein as well.” she says as her voice trembles hysterically. This is the fifth call I have received in the past two weeks with the same bad news.

While the Iranian government is celebrating the lifting of international sanctions as a result of nuclear deal and the international investors rush to Iran’s highly profitable market, for Iranian activists, journalists and writers the new era of misery has just started. Since the beginning of the last round of nuclear negotiation, the number of detentions, executions and persecutions jumped to a whole new level.

Iranian intelligent service has launched two parallel projects: First, using foreign citizens as hostages to strengthen Iran’s position in nuclear negotiation and second, putting pressure on Iranian activists to suppress any potential domestic criticism. Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini both Iranian-American citizens were already in the hands of security forces when Jason Rezaian, Iranian-American journalist, and recently Siamak Namazi, Iranian-American businessman, were arrested. At the same time, a new wave of arrests and long-term imprisonments of Iranian intellectuals and activists has been launched by various security, paramilitary and intelligence departments.

Atena Farghdani, Iranian cartoonist and children’s rights activist, was arrested for the second time and sentenced to twelve years and nine months in prison. The court order was issued after a video of Atena was released in which she talked about the harassments and abuses she experienced in the prison. She was recently the subject of a virginity test in the prison. (1)

Bahareh Hedayat, Women’s rights and student movement activist, was sentenced to another two years in prison while she was about to finish her previous seven years prison term. (2)

Atena Daemi, children’s rights activist, was sentenced to 14 years in prison. (3) Mehdi Mousavi, Fatemeh Ekhtesari , Iranian Poets, were sentenced respectively to 11 years and 9 years in prison and 99 lashes for each. The prison sentence was for writing provocative poetry and 99 lashes were for “kissing”.(4)  Keyvan Karimi, filmmaker, was sentenced to six years in prison and 223 lashes for making documentaries about child laborers in Western Iran and having illegitimate relationships. (5)

These are just the few among many recent preposterous sentences against writers, artists and activists in Iran.

Shortly after the Iran’s nuclear deal was made, Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei declared that this deal will not lead to any agreement over human rights in Iran. In his letter of approval of Iran’s deal, once again, he pointed out the regime’s conditions for commitment to the deal:

“The nuclear deal will be rendered void if any future sanctions are imposed on Iran by any country, or under any pretext — including “human rights” and alleged support of terrorism.” (6)


It seems that the Iranian regime is using the deal as a shield to harshly suppress the intellectuals and human rights activists once and for all. If we look back at the history of Islamic regime, we will find this as an old tactic.

On 20 July 1988 Iranian regime reluctantly accepted resolution 598 and the bloody war between Iran and Iraq was over. However, less than a month after the agreement, Khomeini’s ghastly decree was issued (some would say it had been issued even a day before the agreement):
” Since those hypocrites (leftist prisoners) do not believe in Islam and their leaders confessed to their apostasy and regarding that they are at war with our nation […] those who are in prisons throughout the country persisting on their hypocritical belief are the enemy of God and are sentenced to death. […] having mercy upon these enemies of God is nothing but credulity. ”

Prisoners were tried once again with simple questions: Are you Muslim? Do you believe in God? Are you willing to denounce your respective organization in TV interview? Are you willing to execute the other members of the organization? “No” for answer meant immediate execution.
The estimated fatalities is between 2500- 6000. (7)
Once again, we are on the verge of a new agreement, which I support with all my heart since it might possibly prevent another bloody war. But there are signs that the days after the agreement would be similar to 1988 when the regime relieved of the international pressures came for those who were making trouble inside the country. Just like a drunken violent husband who smiles at neighbors assuring them that everything is alright inside the house. Then he locks the door and comes for his frightened trembling family.

About a week ago, Iran’s supreme leader warned against the “cultural and intellectual infiltration” in Iran. Shortly after more than 50 student activists, writers, journalists and artists were arrested. Recently, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Army announced that the recent arrests are related to a “network of infiltrations led by foreign hostile countries”.

For Iranian activists such announcement has a clear message. Soon enough, there will be a big TV show of confessions. In 1998 Iranian intelligence service admitted the existence of an elimination project that led to assassination of more than 20 Iranian intellectuals. Iran’s supreme leader asserted in his speech that “I cannot believe that these agents were not connected to the foreign intelligence agencies and did not take orders from them.” (8)

Shortly after a video of brutal interrogation of former intelligence agents leaked, in which they confessed of being connected to CIA and Mossad. One of the interrogators later explained in the court’s hearing: “when the supreme leader believes that these agents are connected to the foreign intelligence agencies, I have the religious and professional duty to get the same confession out of them by any means.”

It seems that the same scenario is on the agenda once again. The Iranian regime is intentionally and stubbornly worsening the human rights situation to send a clear message to the international community and the Iranian opposition: “From now on the matter of human rights in Iran must stay out of question.”

And So far, Iranian regime seems to be relatively successful in persuading the international community to compromise over the systematic violation of human rights in Iran after nuclear deal.

The Latest UN report on Human Right Situation in Iran, issued on October 2015, has faced absolute media silence. In the same month, Philipp Geist, German artist, was invited by German Embassy to present a light installation on the body of “Liberty Tower” in Tehran. (9) His project entitled “Gate of Words” and he projected the words “Freedom”, “Democracy” and “Peace” in different languages on Liberty Tower while on the other side of the city the real “Gate of Words” called “Evin prison” is holding more than 1000 artists, writers, journalists, and activists simply because of their “words”.

Today, the international community, especially EU’s fundamental values, is facing a historical test. Do they compromise over the human rights in Iran in exchange for securing a crucial deal with Iranian regime?

I hear the trembling voice over the phone: “I can’t talk much on the phone. You know… It’s getting difficult to breathe; really difficult. Do something if you can.”

















Surface of Image and Depth of Reality: On worldwide response to image of Aylan Kurdi

Omid Shams

 But certainly the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, representation to reality, the appearance to the essence….

Feuerbach, Preface to the second edition of The Essence of Christianity

Image of drowned Syrian boy echoed around the world. Thousands of people are sharing the photos and sending tweets and status updates sympathizing with the family and expressing their dismay. One might say this is the power of the image. And it is true. Image is indeed the most powerful phenomenon of our time even much more powerful than reality itself. In fact, Image surpasses the reality. It encapsulates the reality and delivers it to the exchange order.

What is disappearing in this process is totality. Image, in contrast with reality, is limited, framed and partial. Therefore the only way to perceive the totality in an image is through generalization, or better to say, fetishism. The Reality, which is fragmented and dissolved into images, loses its third dimension, its depth. It will be reduced and limited to the surface. Any reaction to the images of reality is motivated by and addressed towards the surface and will never reach or even realize the depth and totality. Without depth and totality, there will be no comprehensive perception (understanding). And without perception, what remains is nothing but mere consumption.  This is how the late logic of image introduces the reality as an object to the exchange order. Now reality finds its meaning in the exchange value.

A certain image is received and in exchange a certain reaction (nothing in form of perception or emotion, only sentiment) is sent that determines the value of that part of reality represented by image. At this point, the autonomy of image begins. The exchange value of reality, that is, the level of intensity of reaction depends on the marketing of image and nothing else. Those who control the marketing of image, also control the value and the meaning of reality which is represented by that image. They control which part of reality must be revealed and which parts must be hidden. Therefore, they also control the reflections upon the reality by controlling the frame and perspective of image. There is no other way to explain the surprising global reaction to the image of tragic death of Aylan Kurdi and shocking inattention to another image of tragic death of Aziz Badr, 4 years old Yezidi kid who ran away from ISIS wandering in desert for days until his eyes were burnt and blinded by sun and he was found paralyzed and mute and died shortly after.  These two images supposedly represent the same brutal reality and they were both presented in the market of global media, yet their value is incomparable.  It is simply because there is no connection between the surface of image and the depth and totality of the reality behind it.

Polish Refugees in Iran 1943

Polish Refugees in Iran 1943

The reaction to the incomplete image will be incomplete as well. And since the image is temporary by nature, it only causes temporary responses.

We are recently seeing beautiful images of solidarity, kindness and generosity from people around the world. But it seems like dressing the wounds on arms and legs while the throat is cut loose. People (well, some people) are doing their best to help; but since they are not seeing the whole picture, they are not able to ask the most important questions and examine the situation thoroughly. So they simply wouldn’t be able to stop the bleeding. Soon they’ll get tired of pressing their hands on wrong wounds.

They could have asked: why are we welcoming these people while our governments are bombing their countries? Who are these people running from? How those scary murderers suddenly appeared in those countries? Who armed them at the first place? How can these groups sell oil and gas to supply themselves? Who is buying oil and gas from them? Why our governments armed the same groups in Syria that they enlisted them as terrorists in western countries? Wasn’t any better solution for stopping oppressive Syrian regime than arming the most barbaric groups with the most reactionary ideologies?

Greek refugees in Syria 1943

Greek refugees in Syria 1943

How long can we keep doing this? Is it possible to move the whole population of a country and distribute them in other countries? Why our governments attacked Iraq and left it in total chaos as a safe haven for terrorist organizations? Did our governments find any trace of those mass destruction weapons that they claimed they will find in Iraq? Isn’t it an absurd irony that we are helping people whose enemies are being armed by our governments’ allies? Wouldn’t it be better if we stop the total destruction of these countries instead of welcoming their refugees? Isn’t it suspicious that the most powerful armies of the world all together cannot defeat a terrorist organization that has known ground bases in a known geographic region? Aren’t they the same armies that once occupied this whole geographic region in a week?

These are not the questions raised by the image of dead Aylan Kurdi. But these questions may lead to the reasons of his death. And if we
follow these questions and demand for answers, we’ll see that he was long dead before sea swallowed him.

These questions will also be useful for those who are so worried about the two percent of refugees of a ruined region coming to Europe; those who forgot 1943 when 12000 Greek refugees were accepted by not so rich Syria and more than 10,000 Polish refugees were welcomed in Iran. They could follow these questions to see that the most effective way to stop the refugee crisis would be to stop their governments from destroying these countries directly or indirectly.

Role of Foundational Texts in Illustrating the Fundamental Patterns of National Identity: With a Focus on the Theme of Filicide in Iranian Shahnameh: The Book of Kings


This was a lecture I gave to the Master students of Comparative Literature at University of Aarhus. Many thanks to Professor Mads Rosendahl for inviting me to his class. 


Foundational texts are either the fundaments upon which a culture is created or an account of how and through what characteristics a certain culture begins and thrives.

Karen Gammelgaard suggests that, “Foundational texts must be examined based on their complicated interaction with contexts that are ever-changing. Because the texts are written, read and used within different social arenas and historical traditions, they must be studied based on research questions that open up for comparisons that cross traditional institutional boundaries. He suggests the questions such as:

  • What characterizes the social, political, ideological, linguistic, and institutional conditions in which the texts are created, and do these historical conditions shape the texts and their status?
  • How do later situations affect the interpretation and use of the texts?

I believe these questions can be the starting point toward more important questions regarding the characterization of a culture and a national identity that remains relevant through the entire history of a nation. These questions could be raised as follows:

Is it possible to formulate the fundamental patterns of a nation’s social, political, ideological, and institutional behaviors that inherently indwells through their history?

How and by what means are we going to trace the persistency of such patterns throughout a nation’s history?

What foundational texts have to offer to map out those patterns?

These are the questions I would like to explore, not to answer, within the context of Iranian culture and with a focus on the most foundational text in Persian history, which is Shahnameh or The Book of Kings.

What I would be doing is simply giving a brief introductory of Shahnameh (The Book of Kings) as defining and inspiring literary document of Iranian national identity. And then I will focus on the concept of filicide as one of the most important themes that repeatedly appears in the book and may reveal the fundamental patterns of Iranian dialectical conflict between old and new, father and son, power and revolt, establishment and rebellion, tradition and innovation. I’ll try to show how the concept of filicide stands at the centre of all the social, political, religious and ideological conflicts between the suppressor and the supressed throughout the Iranian history.

I use the term filicide in a wider sense than “a deliberate act of parents killing their own child”. In fact, I expand the notion of physiological parenthood to political, cultural, ideological and therefore metaphorical spheres. In this sense, the king can always be seen as the Father to the nation in a same way that God can be seen as the ultimate Father to the man and especially to the king. I also stretch the concept of killing from an act of physical removal to the act of dispossession, subordination, subjugation, marginalization and suppression.

Shahnameh is a long epic poem written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi between 977 and 1010 of the Common Era consisted of about 60,000 verses. The Shahnameh should be seen as a point of confluence of certain ideas that have gathered over time and converged in this text with a potentiality of revealing the key aspects of Iranian national identity. This epic also embodies and reflects cultural features and characteristics of Iranianness or Iranianity, which I believe, are still relevant in contemporary Iran.

In my brief introduction of chronicles given in Shahnameh, I emphasize on the parts that represent the concept of filicide as a theme.

The Shahnameh begins with the story of creation by God, the divine wisdom or Ahuramzada, and ends with the fall of the Persian Empire as result of Muslim Arabs’ invasion toward the middle of the 7th century CE. It tells the chronicles of the birth, rise, and fall of the Persian Empire; not only to create a historical account of events, but also to reveal some of the most fundamental patterns of a nation’s identity.

The motivation behind writing, or rather collecting the stories of Shahname, is revealed by a simple yet crucial question.


The narrator of Shahname is an Iranian farmer of noble character who asks himself a question that implies the most important purpose of Shahname as a text that inquires the reasons of rise and fall of a great empire:  “How did they run the world in the beginning,” the farmer asks, “that they left it to us in such a sorry state?”


Searching for the answer, the farmer begins to collecting and narrating the story of kings and heroes of Persia from the mythical era to the historical era. In fact, the narrator believes that the answer could be found only through a critical reading of the past. More importantly, the narrator calls for the particular attention to the symbolism behind the stories, which was ignored or totally misunderstood in all of the English translations of Shahnameh:


Deem not these mere lies and tales

Do not take them as mere fantasy and fiction

The most accords with sense

The rest may be understood as symbols (translated by O.Shams)


Kumarth, is the first king who seats upon the throne of Persia and rules the whole world.  He wears leopard skin and lives in the mountains.  Kumarth’s reign is succeeded by his grandson Hushang who discovers fire. Similarly, Hushang’s son, Tahmureth, whose title is the Demon Binder, became the next king.


With Jamsheed, son and successor to Tahmureth, the cornerstones of a civilization is founded. He parcels out men in classes: priests, warriors, artificers, and husbandmen, etc. He builds the first great cities of Iran and exploits the nature in favor of men.


However, witnessing all the good he has done, Jamsheed’s heart was uplifted by pride saying, “I know no lord over the world, but my own self.” As a result, the divine wisdom forsakes him in the hands of a demonic enemy. He comes to a bitter end. His realm is lost, and the demonic Zahhak conquers Iran. Zahhak is the embodiment of evil, the punishment of rebellion against God and the most notorious oppressor of Iranians.


Ahriman, Devil, disguised as a cook comes to Zahhak and makes him the first dishes of meat. As a sign of gratitude, he is allowed to kiss Zahhak’s shoulders. Two hungry serpents grow on king’s shoulders. This time, devil appears as a leech and advises the king to feed the serpent with the brains of the youth of the land. Eventually, Zahhak faces with the people’s revolt led by Kaveh, the Iron smith who lost 17 sons to Zahhak’s hungry serpents. Then, Freydoon, the true heir of Jamsheed, becomes the king of Iran.  Freydoon’s reign is admired by the narrator as the golden age of liberality and justice.


The story of Jamsheed is the first appearance of a conflict between the Father and Son. Jamsheed’s rebellion against his divine father Ahuramzada to claim the lordship over the world is punished by his tragic death in the hands of Zahhak. The story reveals the hierarchical structure of power in Iranian culture: The God as the true Lord of the world and the divine father to the king, the king as the God’s son and Father of nation.


In addition, the evil Zahhak, who seizes the Jamsheed’s position as the father of nation, is the murderer of children of the land feeding their brains to his voracious serpents in order to protect himself. Here, Zahhak appears as a symbolic oppressor of fresh thoughts and new ideas.

What we see in these two stories is an inevitable conflict between patriarchy and anti-patriarchy which repeatedly continues in the most dramatically important stories of Shahnameh. In fact the repetition of this conflict in Shahnameh, specifically in form of suppression and elimination of young rivals of power, is incomparable to any other themes in the Book of Kings. Considering such emphasis on this theme, we can argue that the answer for narrator’s question at the beginning of Shahname, regarding the reasons of fall of Iranian Empire, is sought within the stories of filicide and suppression of the youngest and most virtuous heroes of Persia.


After Freydoon, his kingdom is divided in two territories: Iran and Turan. From here on, a perpetual war between Iran and Turan begins. Rostam the main hero of Shahnameh is born in this era. Rostam’s father, Zahl, having been born white haired, as a sign of strangeness and difference, is left by his noble father in the mountains to die or to be eaten by wild animals. The story of Zahl, once again emphasizes on the theme of filicide in Shahnameh. The existence of Zahl, as a symbol of difference and strangeness is not tolerated by his father. Therefore, the only solution would be eliminate him.


However, he survives and is raised by Simorgh the mythical bird of Iranian mythology. The Rostam’s mother, Roodabeh, is a descendant of demonic Zahhak. Therefore, Rostam is a fruit of an unusual marriage of Zahl as symbol of the virtuous, the strange and the suppressed and Roodabeh as a descendant of an Iconic suppressor:


What will their offspring be?

This nursling of the fowl and that devil’s child. (A.G. Warner et Edmond Warner)


Because of such a strange and unconventional ancestry, through his whole saga, Rostam always suffers from an inner struggle between good and evil. He does both the most honorable and the most evil deeds in Iranian history. In this view, the complex character of Rostam could represent the Iranian nation itself, or better to say, Iranian-ness, rather than a mere savior or a protector of the nation. Rostam symbolizes a nation with great achievements and grievous mistakes; a nation with both unimaginable strength and undeniable flaws; a nation who courageously rises for its freedom yet kills its most free-hearted heroes by its own hands. After all, as we analyze the main character of Shahnameh, we must remember that question at the beginning of this epic: “how did they run the world in the beginning, that they left it to us in such a sorry state?” having in mind that the deeds of this character are part of the answer.

Of course, Rostam’s character could symbolize the various and even paradoxical national characters and aspects of Persian history and I shall return on this issue later. But first I would like to mention the three most crucial stories of Shahnameh in which the drama of Rostam’s life finds intense expression. The filicide is the dominant theme in all three stories: the story of Siavash, The story of Esfandyar, and the story of Sohrab.

Siyavash, the son of King Kay Kavus is told by his father to attack Turan, the main rival of the ancient Persian Empire ruled by Afrasyab. Siyavash refused to do so, and to escape his father’s wrath he took refuge in Turan. Thus a great friendship and love emerged between the two men. Soon, however, Afrasyab suspected Siyavash of conspiring to overtake his empire and had him killed. When the news of Siyavash’s death reached his father, he lamented and said it was not Afrasyab but rather he himself who killed his son. The death of Siyavash as a symbol of virtue and innocence inspires a cult of mourning that lasted until the tenth century and remained as one of the origins of Iranian interpretation of Islam, Shi’te. This cult of mourning also indicates one of the fundamental patterns in Iranian culture to which I will return.


Esfandiar son of Goshtasb, the Kiani king, is a hero blessed by Zoroaster the famous prophet of ancient Persia and because of that his body is invulnerable except his eyes.  King Goshtasb, repeatedly promises handing over the kingdom to his son, but does not keep his promise. He sends Esfandiar to the most impossible and dangerous missions. And when Esfandiar comes back victoriously, he not only does not bestow the crown upon him but also orders to jail him in a fortress. Once again when the kingdom is threatened by the invaders the king asks Esfandiar to defend the land. Esfandiar goes through so many dangerous missions and when he comes back once again his father refuses to give him the crown. The king then consults with his minister to know about Esfandiar’s fate. The minister, who is an astronomer and predictor, predicts death of Esfandiar by Rostam in Zabolistan. So the king sends Esfandiar to the last final mission that is bringing Rostam to the court bound and humiliated.

Esfandyar’s mother tries to warn him about his father’s real intention, but he does not pay attention. Also Rostam tries to dissuade Esfandyar not to fight but he refrains and finally war breaks out between them. Rostam becomes wounded and helpless and asks the legendary bird Simorgh for help. Simorgh tells him about Esfandyar’s vulnerable eyes and teaches him how to kill Esfandyar. But also simourgh warns Rostam that whoever kills Esfandyar will be cursed forever and his life would be nothing but suffering and shall meet a disastrous end. At the end Esfandyar is killed by Rostam. When Esfnadyar dies Rostam mourns and curses the king and land of Persia that let such a great hero to die in vain. Once again the tragedy of filicide reoccurs. Esfandyar is symbol of nobility and strength as well as simple-heartedness and arrogance. Despite the Achilles’ heel, the esfandyar’s eye is not only a symbol of vulnerability against death and fate, but it also symbolizes his naivety and blind obedience of his father.


And finally with the story of Sohrab, the most affecting story of Shahnameh, the tragedy of filicide reaches its peak: A father who unknowingly kills his own son in the battlefield; A son who was full of hope to find his father to make him the king of Iran; A son who dies not because of his weakness in the battle, but because of his good heart and his father’s deceitful plan; a father who spent his life to protect the kings and the land of Persia; a father who also has a principal role in death of all three young heroes of Shahnameh.


With death of Sohrab, the last of these young and virtuous heroes, the hope for change and peace vanishes and the fall of the empire begins. Rostam, himself, as a symbol of a nation who killed its golden children who were the last chance to bring glory, wisdom and peace to the land is doomed to die a tragic death. In Ferdowsi’s view with the death of Siavash, the symbol of innocence and virtue, Esfandyar, the symbol of nobility and strength, and Sohrab, the symbol of courage and chivalry, the nation remains with no values to stand for. Thus, the fall of Persian Empire would be inevitable. Shortly after the death of Sohrab, Rostam dies as a victim of his brother’s treachery. Even the death of Rostam indicates the extent of immorality within the Iranian society at that time. It seems that the narrator finally finds his answer to the question he raised at the beginning of Shahnameh.


Through these stories, Shahnameh suggests some fundamental patterns for Iranian political, social and cultural behaviors. The most important one is the conceptions of filicide and merciless patriarchy as the main reasons for the fall of Persian Empire and as principal context upon which the crucial events of Iranian history can be understood. Almost in every Iranian dynasty we can trace the evidence of filicide that eventually led to the fall of that dynasty. The systematic suppression and elimination of young energies and ideas throughout the history of Iran indicates the patriarchal characteristics of the Iranian society.

Compared to the concept of patricide in western culture that can be read on the context of modernity and enlightenment era, the concept of filicide in Persian culture could be read on the context of historical resistance against modernization and sociopolitical innovations.

There are many strong arguments that the Iranian revolution, despite its appearance and progressive claims, was a result of a historical resistance against the project of modernization practiced by Pahlavi kings and eventually led to a traditionalist and reactionary regime.


The possibility to trace the tragedy of filicide in the contemporary Iran, specifically as it is narrated in the story of Sohrab, proves that this pattern is still relevant thousand years after Shahnameh. In 1979 Iranian revolution, the young idealist Iranians rebel against the king as father of the nation, with a naïve dream of giving the power back to the people. But they were dispossessed and massacred by people who still identify themselves with patriarchy and its charismatic embodiment, Ayatollah Khomeini.


The major body of the Iranian revolutionaries which were the young leftists can be compared to Sohrab from several standpoints. First, Sohrab is the only hero of the Shahnameh who demonstrates the anti-patriarchal tendencies. Sohrab neither prays to God as the divine source of power, nor refers to him at any point in the story. He is stateless as essentially without any religion as well. Second, Sohrab’s rebellion against the king is also rebellion against the god as the ultimate patriarch who chooses the king as his son and as his chief on earth. Third, Sohrab’s dream to make his father the king instead of Kavus can be seen as a dramatic shift from aristocracy towards meritocracy. Sohrab does not know his father personally; all he knows is that Rostam deserves to be the king not because he is Sohrab’s father but because of his heroic endeavors to protect the land. The leftist revolutionaries of Iran, who were wiped out right after the revolution, had the same ambitions. The interesting point is that these young revolutionaries praised and accepted Ayatollah Khomeini as their spiritual father at some points. In memory of these revolutionary the Iranian poet, Kadkani, writes:

What springtime it is in this wasteland

Where all the tulips are mirrors for blood of Sohrabs and Siavashes

Also one of the most famous poems of that time is a long poem by Reza Baraheni called Ishmael, the son Abraham was ordered to scarify in Muslim belief. The poem is a long elegy for the death of his revolutionary friend, in which the filicide is again the dominant theme. The poem begins as:

I swear to your red eyes my dear Ishmael

That the sun will shine much better than the day you died


Another fact that supports the presence of filicide as a principal pattern in 1979 revolution is the popularity of many stories about high ranked clerics who personally tried, sentenced and executed their own leftist children. Those filicides were seen as brave and revolutionary acts at that time.


Identification with the fate and legend of Sohrab is occasionally used by the next generation, the children of revolution who were born after 1979 and were constantly dispossessed, suppressed and murdered in the name their fathers’ values. During the Green Uprising in 2009, the death a young protester named Sohrab Arabi, immediately made him the icon of the movement; a martyr who revives the memory of legendary hero of Shahnameh. Unfortunately, this identification never goes beyond the characterization and sanctification of the victim or the suppressed as a hero of tragedy.

The story of Sohrab becomes an exemplum of a failed dream of an anti-patriarchal rebellion in the Iranian culture. Until today, the death of Sohrab has largely been interpreted as such a rebellion is doomed to failure. However, the very existence of such a hero in the Iranian foundational texts proves that such idea has always been part of Iranian collective unconsciousness and it has the full potentiality to become a basis for a political and cultural upheaval.


Another fundamental pattern for Iranianness that Shahnameh suggests lies within the conception of “immortalizing defeat”.


Micheal Hillmann points out such a unique aspect of Shahname as follows:


“Although the literary epic tradition generally implies or represents nostalgia for bygone heroic age, epics themselves generally recount the story of victory in the heroic age. But Frdowsi composed his Shahnameh as national history culminated in disaster”.


The act of “sanctifying the defeat”, in Shahnameh suggests another pattern for Iranianness:  identification with defeat and tragedy. This pattern is so essential that even during the Islamic era Iranians recreate a new interpretation of Islam based on this pattern within which the death of Mohammad’s grandson Hussayn is replaced with the tragic death of Siavash and Sohrab as the Lord of martyrs and becomes the main core of Shite philosophy.


The form of tragedy used by Ferdowsi for the stories mentioned above and the role of fate in these stories can also suggest another pattern: aggrandizing the fate to justify the defeat. In all of Shahname’s stories the regrettable death of a hero is blamed on fate or will of God. Such a viewpoint covers up all the mistakes and misjudgments of characters leaving no place for criticizing their actions. Within the Iranian culture such important role for fate led to passively acceptance of defeat and to the long tradition of Sufism. If in the story of Oedipus, he relives himself from the consequence of his actions by blinding himself and cutting his connection with the outside world, in stories of Shahnameh and in Iranian culture, one relieves himself by accepting his unfortunate fate and by submission to the will of God. Such a belief also formed a strong tradition of waiting for a messiah that has both religious and national origins in Persian culture. Even within the Iranian intellectual circles that distinguish themselves from such believers, the lack of deconstructive recreation of these stories from a critical point of view can be seen at least as a sign of incuriosity or disapproval toward these topics.


However, Shahnameh is still at the center of attention in Iranian culture and within all layers of society. In fact, there is a hyper-sentiment about this text mostly from the younger generations as a reaction to anti-nationalistic efforts of Iranian religious government and also as literary opium for contemporary social frustration and political disappointment of Iranian society. Shahnameh is praised and quoted in every occasion. But it is being read erroneously and it is rarely analyzed on a contemporary context; as if the most of Iranians prefer to enjoy the glorious image of pre-Islamic Iranian empire and to forget the image of defeated idealist heroes that is still similar to the contemporary image of Iranians.

The necessity of analyzing and criticizing the fundamental patterns of Iranianness is more than obvious, and considering the unique situation of Iran politically, socially and internationally, it is necessary more than any time else. These attempts can lead to a deeper understanding of the political, cultural and social problematics of contemporary Iran. And similar attempts in any other languages can lead to surprising answers to the questions of national identity and its fundamental patterns. One can hope the deconstructive readings of foundational texts separated from the national sentiments that surround these texts might bring to light the darkest corners of a nation’s culture.



Works Cited:


Baraheni, Reza, Ishmael: A Long Poem, Tehran: Morghe Amin, 1988, print.


Gammlgaard, Karen, Foundational Texts. Retrieved from:


Ferdowsi, Abul Qasem, Shahnameh of Ferdowsi. Trans. Edmond Warner and Arthur.G. Warner. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co, 1905, print.


Hillman, Michael, Iranian Culture: A persistent View. Lanham MD: University Press of America, 1990, pp. 14, 15


Shafiee Kadkani, M. Reza, Dar Koochehaye NeiShabour, Mashhad: Toos Publication, 1972, print.


Zimmern, Helen, The Epic of Kings, Retrieved from:


Et feltstudie af Omid Shams (En digt)

oversat af Shekufe Tadayoni

Vi er voldsomme kvinder vi har sat os i vores bryster med forenede halse døve

med dirrende vorter med mere dirrende vorter. Vores farver er fulde af metroer og ranke cypresser

vores hemmeligheder er åbne åh du! Koranlæseren der flyder over af gitre og de tre bedestillinger efter tusind bedestillinger efter dig vores hemmeligheder blomstrer mellem dig kom igen herhen i hjørnet din plads er blandt knivene

Og vi er igen fulde af hashens nye eksplosioner vi fører hånden langs kanten henover slørede nyheder eksplosive nyheder

Du er udvandingens fuldblodige ære under din kjole er fabrikker, skorstene med sug, dine ønskers brændende lyst

Fugl Fønixens fjer flyder i vores fingre og med hvide læbestreger puster vi søsterligt på jorden

Hele vejen rundt om Baane

Flere kugler end en moders bønner

Hvor er du i nat igen er vi!

Vi er i gang med at lægge i midten

Vi giver lyd

Fulde af eksplosive lokker af hår og klar smerte

Flashen er Sahand Monshis fjerne flash

Lørdag kl mere otte om morgenen

og Kianis boghandel

i to minutter endnu

blomster fra blomsterne på byens plads

og alt imens du kommer hertil er vi hedninges vestlige bøn en sær svie!

to ringduer to ringduer som to og to og to hvis vipper er sorte to og to som på ingen måde er godt nok

eksplosive nyheder disse dage atter går en dag

overalt er der blod på ahorntræerne og de rænke cypresser og for enden af de syvende gader

vores rædbrækkede mellemøstlige rygge tre midnatslys            Rayban og kom igen

kom for disse dage er igen …

i guder!

og i guder guder jeg             er Omid Shams

jeg kender ikke andet end dette      at er klokken da ikke otte om morgenen og jeg

jeg af kugler jeg af om få minutter af en af vores tørre svælge kan du komme til dit dig af i de pragtfulde cypresserkan du komme til bøn under en fjerkrave af fest


jeg er Omid Shams

og to som slet ikke er nok ikke er Bob Dylan strømmer igennem alle vejnes intet og to faktisk er Amir Hamzes bydel en slags vending som i sig af en mægtig lilje og Ali Dardashti vil igen i nat og jeg jeg er Omid Shams og som en klump hash man lægger frem er jeg meget lidt jeg er lidt

lørdag klokken mere otte om morgenen og om få minutter      er jeg ikke en vending der kan undslippe kom!

Amir Hamzes plads er en slags gud  og din tunge er mellem dens ben den er meget høflig mellem og en kær og anstændig stund og er

vi er vi har sat os og du med en tshirt med Kate Millet på vi er vi sidder til du lader os gå ud og sprede viden:

I guder!
og i guder i guder! det var gået i stykker det var meget vi tog det op for at tage det med ind i vores bryster det var meget det spildte og hele tiden

og alt imens sælsæluj bå bå sælsæluj bånd og sæl sæl bå sæl og sæl og bå og sælsæluj

og mæjnot

og engang imellem kan de ske at Gadamer dør og Baba Chahhi stadig skriver artikler kom!

og jeg til dig du slet ikke, som henrettede vidundere med kugleregn!

og klokken otte om morgenen

og klokken otte om morgenen

og vi er i det og til en guitar som fra vores tørre svælge mere otte om morgenen og med en t-shirt med Kamim Kam på

og vi er både

Bob Dylan

og også

guder som må komme godt ud af det med en slags Ali i en eng af tyraner med hash og med mæjnot


efter dig må man altid en smøg efter dig sidde vågen og

ikke dø

… og ligesom månen som slet ikke er nok og endda federe og endda meget federe og både kan komme over sig selv i nat ligge det frem på bordet i nat og klokken otte om morgenen og både mæjnot kom!
Når man slet godt  kan når man kan når man forgude meget

og af en vending fuld at små stykker og sælsæluj

fuld af eller mindre

som sagde:  for enden af den syvende gade, kom!

når vi siger sådan mener vi:  Søde Negar hej! disse dage er den gavmilde jesus blevet tungere fra at fra bambussets dyb råbte du

i tusinde hænder hvorfor er i ikke inden for rækkevidde ?

Igen og igen kan man storme Karbalas ørken storme universitetet

disse dage disse dage kan man

kan man sætte sig til blods og få dig at se

som var du tiltroens eng som var du

et værelse fuld af legetøj

det siger vi og det mener vi at den gavmilde jesus

undslipper imellem mine fungre og rundt om og to vinder klager som en benzintank

blomster blomster fra blomsterne på byens plads

og igen kan man forstå et fortov

i den uudslettelige morgen

blomster fra blomsterne kom

rundt om disse dage har vi en bønhørt Alda’ve

vi lægger den i Oxonerne og Noronerne og Vigenerne og David Bowierne og Roger Waterserne og Allenderne og Pasolinierne og

Mehrnush Nikpasanderne og Sahand Monshierne og Mehran Ghafurianerne og Mehran Ghafurian er disse dage en bønhørt Alda’ve en dødens bløde kapsel kom!
Faktisk er disse to to Hejral Sud’er går sammen gennem junglerne og den tropiske hede sammen er de to blokke oste to jeger  jegere jeg

jeg er Omid Shams!

Place of Café


This is the first chapter of my coming book “Notes on Café” 

The maternal womb is indeed our first impression of a place: The very first dwelling; the fundamental form for reposing, resting, nourishing and surviving; the first “ ” for human’s being.

Once the baby is born, she loses her first “dwelling”. Becoming “restless”, she cries and gets another place: the mother’s arms. The mother’s embrace is a replicate of that fundamental receptacle: it holds, it cares, it protects and it nurtures the baby. In fact, right after being born, one keeps searching for that very first place. Being displaced from his fundamental safe haven, fearful and anxious human seeks to return. And since it is not possible, he looks for similar versions. The most primitive and natural versions of the maternal womb are the caves, the wombs of the nature, the first shelters for man.

Therefore, the maternal womb is the human’s fundamental idea for all the places that function as dwelling or residence. Therefore, the whole history of architecture indicates the various interpretations of the idea of womb. Some of these interpretations are too far from the original idea and some of them are so close. One of the closest receptacles to the maternal womb is a place to live but not to reside and it is a house but not a home. That place is café.

Of course, the appearance is not our criterion of resemblance or at least not the only criterion. As Gilles Deleuze explains:

“Resemblance must not be understood as an external correspondence. It precedes less from one thing to another than from a thing to an Idea, since it is the Idea that comprises the relations and proportions that constitute internal essence. Interior and spiritual, resemblance is the measure of a claim. A copy truly resembles something only to the extent that it resembles the Idea of the thing. The claimant only conforms to the object insofar as it is modeled (internally and spiritually) on the Idea.”

So, what is the idea of womb? What are the fundamental concepts that reveal the idea of the maternal womb? Those concepts, as mentioned before, are holding, caring, protecting and nourishing.

Café’ is a maternal place. It embraces you, nurtures you and lets you rest. It holds you as long as you need and then it lets you go. It prepares you to face with the outside. And the most important, it is always in the middle. It stays beyond metaphysics. Like “the receptacle of all generation” and the maternal womb it is neither in heaven nor in earth.

In her mother’s body, the baby has a median being: She is neither in heaven nor in earth. She is an unborn child. She still lives inside another human that does not even distinguish her from a parasite that lives in “another’ organism. The idea of a baby is to be born. However, we cannot say that an unborn child does not live. In fact, the place that holds the baby creates such a unique situation; simply because the maternal womb, just like the receptacle of universe, stands in the middle of air and earth and rejects any categorization:

“We may liken the receiving (containing) principle to a mother, the source or spring to a father, the intermediate nature to a child…Wherefore, the mother and receptacle of all created and visible and in any way sensible thing, is not to be termed earth, or air, or fire, or water, or any of their compounds or any of the elements from which these are derived.” (Timaeus)

Therefore, the maternal womb as the fundamental form of containing and receiving stays beyond the platonic dualism and its system of cognition. As the womb is somewhere outside the heaven and earth, café stands outside the real and unreal. It does not belong to the real life, or better say the actual life, and yet it is not unreal. What kind of reality a café rejects or resists against? The reality defined and ruled by time. If café does not belong to the real life, then what kind of life is going on in a café? I might answer: the aesthetic life.

At the beginning, the human life was a set of instinctive, emotional and experimental actions to be taken instantly on the basis of desire or need. As humans settled down and the first civilizations appeared, the concept of work as a temporal, purposeful and profitable activity was established. Work and time, are the basic principles of the real life. Therefore, the real or actual life appears as profitable activity that follows the rules of time: time to cultivate, time to harvest, time to supply etc.

As the work and time expand their influence over the human’s life – through the skills such as scheduling the life, supplying, planning, programming- humans leave the aesthetic life behind which is based on mystery, wonder, accident, experiment, instant reaction, improvisation, discovery and danger. By accepting the time as an absolute law, the real life defines the life as a predetermined production plan. Therefore, the life is the purposeful activity within a particular time interval, which is originally the definition of work.  Any action in the real life has to be recognized in its relations with work as the basis of life: in this sense, recreation is nothing but an after work resting and a refection to get back to work.

In a world with such an understanding of reality and life, café is a place between reality and unreality. In fact, café challenges all of these concepts and their definitions. When you go to a café, you are leaving your actual life. You are leaving a life in which you have a job to do, duties to attend, things to buy, goals to reach, and you have friends and family to be responsible for. All of these make the “reality” of your life. You also do not make any profit out of the time you spend in a café. You actually pay for your time in a café; simply because the price you are paying is obviously not for what you might eat or drink there. You go to café for the pleasure of “killing the time”. Being in café reminds us of kind of laziness and leisure and indolence, the concepts used by the real life as tools to scorn, warn and punish its rebellious workers. It might seem that these concepts have been always the negative characteristics. However, in early human communities they were rather positive or at least neutral concepts; especially in religious narratives of human’s life in heaven, which can represent the pre-civilized era, these concepts are essential in characterization of human life.



In fact, Café represents a place where you abolish all the fundamental rules of real life (such as profitability and purposefulness). However, café is still part of reality, yet it protects us from the seriousness of “outside”. Café reduces the impact of reality by mixing it with imagination and symbolism. What you do in a café (listening, talking, drinking, eating, and watching) is what you do in your life all the time. Yet, something is different when you do it in a café. There is something more. You are not simply satisfying your needs. You are also satisfying your desires. You are pleasing, cherishing and appreciating your body and your mind. You are treating your body and your mind as a dear guest. You are offering them something more than just food or drink. You are offering them the pleasure of eating, drinking and being in a joyful environment where they can ask for what they desire rather than what they just need. You transcend the acts of eating and drinking to a ceremony of jollity, bringing your mind and body to the center of your attention. You let them to be welcomed, embraced and nourished by the motherly affection of café. You bring your body back to the safest and most comfortable place: the mother’s embrace. Look at the form of sitting in café. Look at a person at the small table on a corner of a café, drinking his coffee or wine. The legs are close to belly and knees are bent backwards; hands are close to the mouth and head is down toward the chest.  See the resemblance between his form of sitting and the form of an unborn child in the womb.

The mother of café protects us from the imagination-less seriousness of “outside”. She holds us for a while and prepares us to go back to the reality of outside. She let us experience an aesthetic and poetic life free from the sovereignty of time and profitability, just like a child or a primitive human.

Café is a sweet and pleasant pause in the middle of fast and violent rhythm of modern life; a memorial for the poetry of a life free from time, a fantasy life as charming, imaginary and real as a doll party. The one takes shelter at the café and hides from the omnipotent eye of the real world. He introspects and dives into the dark ocean of his own psychological universe. There is no thinking anymore; there is only daydreaming and fantasizing. He does not see anymore; he just observes.