Friday, February 29, 2008

The American people will bear the costs

The Israeli attacks on Gaza residential areas are unrelenting. They claim they are targetting rocket launchers. An Israeli minister has threatened the Palestinians with a Holocaust for them ! Have you seen some of the footage from the recent attacks? The scenes of injured or killed babies transferred to ambulances or morgues is shocking. But more shocking is the indifference of major international bodies like the UN and the censored reporting of international media. During the past 72 hours more than 100 civilians have been injured, over 35 have been killed, more than 10 among them are children.

The Palestinian people have been suffering under occupation, as refugees or in Israeli prisons now for more than half a century. None of the unimplemented plans for peace have undertaken the plight of the occupied territories or the 4 million refugees. They are overwhelmed by despair. Hamas leaders speak the truth, they reveal the true intentions of the occupiers and their supporters. It is broadly held among political circles that without the unconditional support of the American Government the occupiers could not have gone this far in their excesses.
In another development, in an act of military intimidation, the Americans have deployed two warships to the eastern Mediterranean. In light of the pressures on Hezbollah, the pending Presidential crisis in Lebanon and the very tragic situation in Gaza, this act is viewed with suspicion .

The interference of the American government in the Middle East has a long difficult history . In addition to a handful of pro-US undemocratic regimes, they now have the honor of being largely detested by the public opinion in Muslim countries.
The case of Iran is however paradoxical, while the US has uprooted the Taliban regime whose enmity with Iran was evident, and it also led to demise of the despotic regime of Saddam, but yet at the same time the historical enmity between Iran and the US has not subsided. Today contrary to the NIE report, or the recent IAEA report, which indicate there is no hidden agenda behind Iran's quest for nuclear energy, the US has braced for a propaganda campaign and a third resolution from the security council.
In any case the American people should know that if they live in a free and democratic country they will bear the costs of the adventures of their leaders in this part of the world and they be held accountable for the decisions their leaders are making and for the devastating consequences that those policies have for millions of people in the world.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Lessons from the centrifuge

A couple days ago, some of my students were describing some of the difficulties they were experiencing during their laboratory work for their Ph.D.thesis. They are doing advanced research involving molecular biology techniques, cell culture and a variety of immunological tests. Although our laboratories are relatively well equipped, we still need more sophisticated equipment every once in a while. On reagents and antibodies, we need to purchase them from relevant corporations like any other lab. Yet we have shortages and hurdles like blackouts, insufficient funds and competition among groups for grants and equipment. It some times gets rough for the students with the time constraints they have.
I decided to tell them some of my memories about when I was a PhD student in 1994, a mother of two, and the vice -chair of the national preparatory committee for the Fourth World Conference on Women. I was working on my thesis on the cytokine patterns of murine spleen cells and had only one season left to finish my complicated work. I described an incident for them in which I desperately needed a spare part for a Beckman centrifuge in the lab . Upon the advice of other students I approached a faculty member who was known to have the cylinder holder spare part but who was also known for his impolite demeanor. When he rudely turned me down and slammed the office door in my face, instead of losing my temper and falling into despair, I decided to find another way out and to confront the obstacles I was facing. I returned back to my lab, found a broken cylinder holder of the same size needed, using some of my engineering skills ( when I was a chemical engineering student I had studied technical drawing ) I drew a precise sketch of the part with all the details and measurements. I checked the material of the spare part and found it to be a light but strong plastic, I thought I could use wood instead. I took the drawing to a local carpenter and asked him to make 5 samples. He did an excellent job. I used the cylinder holder in the centrifuge and it worked. I used it during the rest of my work. I defended my thesis in 1995 , and published my work in the Scandinavian Journal of Immunology. My academic career began as Assistant Professor of Immunology.
I think these are challenges that every student faces, and they are full of lessons for us , lessons of patience,resilience, but also relentless efforts to advance. I told my students who listened attentively that these lessons were just as important as scientific and research gains or maybe even more important. Don't you think so?

Friday, February 22, 2008

An Award for Environmentalists

Last nights ceremony was held in a diamond. A pyramid shape glass hall for seminars and ceremonies, was where we held the Sixth Round of Environmental Awards in the Name of my late father Professor Taghi Ebtekar. The first three rounds were convened by the Iranian Academy of Sciences where my father was a member. For the last three rounds the Center For Peace and Environment has held the competition and ceremonies . The center made the award announcement four months prior to the ceremony and the candidates are screened by a board of referees who choose the best from among them . This year the life time achievement prize was awarded to Dr. Kahrom a prominent scientist, and expert in wildlife conservation. The second prize was given to Dr.Isphahanian , the Head of the Vehicle and Environment Research Institute for his research and work in the field of air pollution control.
An award was also given to Elahe Mousavi , she is one of the most active environment journalists. Her reporting on environmental issues has been quite professional and inspiring. Also tribute was given to two rangers who had given their lives during their mission in protected areas in southern parts of the country. Special tribute was given to Dr. Hormoz Asadi a CPE
member who specialized in wildlife conservation and lost his life in this way.
The honorary guest of our ceremony was President Khatami who gave the awards and delivered a speech on the essence of peace. He made the point that even though some philosophers have considered war to be the essential quality of mankind, yet the Holy Quaran teaches us that creation is based on the spirit of peace. The message of the Prophets has had two major themes he said , one justice and the other love. The major problem lies in the aggressive attitudes that humans have and their inclination to dominate over others. He considered nature as being also
under attack by this aggressive attitude. The CPE also gave him some original pictures of the arctic region taken by CPE members. Many reporters from international media and satellite channels were there. I had to make many interviews and answer many questions. My impression was that our guests enjoyed the program very much.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Theater in Tehran

My family was waiting for me at 7 pm in front of the City Theater Hall, in the center of Tehran. They had tickets for " Meeting with an elderly woman" . The play was written by Friedrich Durrenmatt a German playwriter and directed by Hamid Samandarian, a reknown Iranian director. Some Iranian celebrities like Gohar Kheirandish and Payam Dehkordi played major roles. Durrenmatt displayed his philosphical concern for the sale of human values like justice due to social pressures like poverty. The dramatic arts have always been favoured in Iran. More than 32 years ago , my late father used to take us to limited theater shows that were permitted during the Shah's regime. My father was an intellectual who enjoyed theater very much.
This year during the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, we had like the years before, two major art festivals in Iran , the Fajr (Dawn) Film Festival and the Fajr Theater Festival . There was alot of competition and controversy about the film festival; apparently the authorities had excluded some of the better films from the competition. I did not find the opportunity to see the festival films but I have heard alot about them.
The screening of this play , the professional playwriting and directing and the excellent performance all confirms the saying that ;"The Arts are with the Iranians Only" . Indeed in many respects, poetry, music, architecture, carpetweaving,painting and the modern arts film-making and theater Iranians have created masterpieces. After the Islamic Revolution, there was a great transformation in the film industry. The quality and conceptual content of films changed so that instead of violence and sex the Iranian film industry took a new spiritual and human direction. Many Iranian films have been screened in international festivals and many have been awarded. I think that certain ethical limitations have encouraged filmakers to take a different direction from their rivals in other countries. Could we say censorship in one direction opens new vistas in other dimensions!
We enjoyed the theater very much. When coming out some people recognized me and came up to talk. Many people from the Iranian world of cinema were there. I wish I had more time to take part in these artistic events.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Test of Democracy In Iran

Parliament elections will be under way in less than a month. Eventhough the Guardian Council claims it has approved many of the disqualified reformists, the spokesperson for the reformist coalition has indicated that they can compete in only 60 out of 290seats of the Parliament. This means that up to now the competition will be relatively unfair and unbalanced. There is still some hope that more reformist candidates will be approved.
True followers of Imam Khomeini are concerned.. They believe his version of an Islamic Republic is being seriously distorted by narrow-minded people who are very backward in their interpretations of Islam and the Revolution. Imam was very concerned about those who may use religion to promote their base and selfish interests. In his final will , Imam considers the danger of backwardness to be as devastating as the danger of imperialism and foreign hegemony. Unfortunately some of what is said and done today in the name of the Islamic Revolution is not in line with those principles. I hope some of the criticism that has surfaced in the media , and through the minority in the Parliament, is effective in changing this trend.
Ayatollah Tavasoli , a close companion of Imam Khomeini died today during a heart attack in a session of the Expediency Council. This news deeply saddened the friends of Imam and the reformists who knew the strong relationship he had maintained during all these years with Mr. Khatami.
Today what we need in Iran, more than anything else, is unity and close cooperation between factions within the country to ensure a healty and fair election process. We need to demonstrate the effectiveness of the democratic process in Iran, however difficult it may seem.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Deliberations in Delhi

Yesterday was a busy day by all means. The Delhi Sustainable Development Summit is a very eventful meeting; there are alot of interesting speeches, panels and debates. DSDS provides a forum for views from the developing world and allows for a discourse critical to the conventional to be presented and debated. Being situated in Delhi, the capital of a country- 25% of which is still grappling with abject poverty -, but which claims also to be the fourth economic power of the world, makes this event even more attractive. But it was attractive for other reasons as well.
This year Dr.Pachauri, the President of Teri and DSDS, had won the Nobel Prize, along with Al Gore, for his efforts in IPCC in giving a sound scientific vision for the world on global warming.
Delhi was cold ,not as cold as Tehran, but cold enough to make it difficult to sit in the Habitat Center courtyard during receptions and dinner meetings. The meetings and spicy Indian food was however hot and therefore helped us tolerate the cold weather.
I had a 15 minute Keynote speech yesterday. It was entitled: Climate Change a Mirror of Our Actions: The Inner Journey.
In my speech I mentioned the crucial stage we face on global warming and the fact that new reports all indicate that the pace of warming is quicker than what scientists initially thought. I spoke about the need to see why our words and the commitments of our global leaders have not been properly translated into action. I mentioned the inability of global leaders to make correct decisions. I spoke about the peace of mind and heart as a quality that leaders need before they could promote peace with nature and with other human beings. I explained that many philosophers and thinkers had spoken about this inner peace but I found the Four Journeys of Mulla Sadra to be the most apropriate for our cause . I discussed the four stages of the inner journey and with that note I brought my speech to a closing. Along with my talk I had a power point with pictures from Iran's spectacular nature scenes. Some of them were trully breath-taking.
Many people came to thank me after the speech, they had somehow liked it. Many asked for a electronic copy although some paper copies of the text was also available . I think it was interesting for them since it was different from the techno-economy flavor that most other speeches and debates had followed.
Later in the afternoon there was a roundtable on media with the UNFCCC executive director and Nik Gowing from BBC , I would like to reserve a separate post for that. I had meetings with, IPCC officials, TERI experts, Dr Klaus Toepfer the former UNEP Director, Mr Borge Brende who was a former Minister for Norway and some others who I met on the sidelines of the meetings.
Our embassy in Delhi had a ceremony on the occasion of the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution last night. I was invited by our Ambassador to speak for the Iranian employees and their families. I spoke about the DSDS and the importance of strong international diplomacy and commitment in the field of the environment and about our experiences and success stories in this regard. I also mentioned the importance of preserving the spirit and essence of the Islamic Revolution , now almost three decades later. Independence , freedom , Islamic Republic were the themes people called for. Each theme still holds its essential status. One cannot be sacrificed for the other. We cannot sacrifice freedom for independence or vice versa; nor can Islam be sacrificed for the Republic or vice versa. The religious democracy of Iran is a unique trial or comeback for religion into politics. We all hope it still works out as a viable example for all.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Ebtekar to Attend Delhi Sustainable Summit 2008

Ebtekar to attend "Delhi Sustainable Summit 2008" New Delhi, Feb 6, IRNA
I am now in Delhi for the Delhi Sustainable Summit 2008. I have been invited by Dr. Pachauri the winner of the Noble Peace Prize to deliver a keynote speech at this meeting. I will provide you with the news excerpts and hopefully I will give you my thoughts tommorow. This is an IRNA (Iranian Official News Agency) report:

India-Summit-Climate Change
Former Vice-president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Massoumeh Ebtekar will attend the "Delhi Sustainable Summit (DSDS) 2008" which will begin on Thursday at Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi.

Hosted by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), DSDS will be the first major international meet on climate change after the UN summit in Bali, Indonesia, last December, to be inaugurated by Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh.

The main theme of the three day summit is sustainable development and climate change.

TERI is headed by R K Pachauri, who also chairs the Inter governmental Panel on Climate Change that came out with its seminal fourth assessment report last year and shared the Nobel Peace Prize with former US vice president Al Gore.

The President of Iceland Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, the President of Maldives Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the Prime Minister of Denmark Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Prime Minister of Norway, Jens Stolenberg and the Prime Minister of Finland Matti Vanhanen are likely to address the conference besides other speakers.

The leaders will discuss climate change in a situation where GHG emissions into the atmosphere are already affecting agricultural output, increasing frequency and damage caused by droughts, floods and storms and raising sea levels across the world.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Dawn of A New Trial

The ten days leading to the dawn of the Islamic Revolution in Iran are commmemorated each year. The period begins with the return of Imam Khomeini to Iran after years of exile in Iraq and later in France. From the day he came back events gained momentum until ten days later the Shah's apparatus collapsed and the monarcy practically fell apart. The Revolution was not a violent or armed struggle, on the contrary ,it came naturally through the will power and resilience of the nation. The Iranians stood up united against oppression and tyranny. In millions, they marched and chanted slogans demonstrating the strength of the masses when they move united and faithful. I can never forget those majestic scenes of collective strength and heroic resistance.

They called for independence , freedom and an Islamic Republic. Their message was sometimes improperly conveyed and misunderstood by an outer world overshadowed by the cold war era. On the other side, an idealistic approach and biased support for the Revolution from within did not allow for an objective assessment of the events. As time passes, we can see things in a more realistic light today. Can we learn from the gains and the losses of this important trial of Islam and democracy ?

Twenty-nine years later Iran has passed the test of time, pressures and sanctions. It is today a major player in regional development , a reliable partner in trade and investment and a sucessful example for developing countries particularly on indicators of human development.

That, not implying that we do not face challenges and unfinished work ahead. In fact, in spite of the great strides, Iran still has a long way ahead. The experiment of creating a religious democracy is one of the kind. Today 29 years later, the aspirations of the people should not be overlooked nor should one objective overshadow the others. The slogan Freedom ,Independence and Islamic Republic cannot be minimalized today. Freedom cannot be sacrificed for independence, and vice versa. Also democracy and Islam are delicately interwined in a sophisticated political system. Today there is a concern that certain factons may see their success in the weakness of democracy and the democratic process in Iran. The reformist discourse is still at the core of the debate.

The Dawn has arrived but there is still a long tedious day ahead of us . There is no going back, we need to move ahead.