Haleh Esfandiari

She’s been charged with espionage. Her place of work, the Woodrow Wilson Centre responds:

At the Wilson Center, we do not take positions on issues, but rather, we bring all sides of an issue together for dialogue. As director of the Middle East Program, Haleh ensured that there was an open dialogue and that she convened meetings which allowed participants and attendees to discuss all views. We do not engage in propaganda. The Wilson Center receives zero funding from the U.S. government’s fund to promote democracy in Iran. Her detention is an affront to the rule of law and common decency. The Wilson Center’s message to the Iranian government is simple: Let Haleh go.”

Government secretly thinks we should all become vegan

I love the way environmentalists, animal rights activists and health professionals coalesce in the vegan movement.

Daily Mail yesterday – Stephen Poulter on the secret plans to turn us all vegetarian. The operative word being ‘secret’. A VIVA spokesperson comments:

“I think it is extraordinary that a Government agency thinks becoming a vegetarian or vegan could have such a positive impact for the environment yet it is not prepared to stand up and argue the case.”

Not extraordinary – entirely in keeping with this government’s record on the environment.

Help. Write for Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury

Salah Uddah Shoaib ChoudhuryDevout Muslim member of the Islam-Israel Fellowship, editor of Bangladesh’s Weekly Blitz, nominated for a number of prizes for his courage and conscience in the face of beatings, broken bones, intimidation and imprisonment, was arrested as he prepared his contribution to the Hebrew Writers Conference and imprisoned in Dhaka on the phoney charge of sedition. He’s in serious danger.

English Pen give details about who to write to.

It says:

Please send appeals:

  • Protesting the charges against journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury and calling for them to be dropped, in accordance with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
  • Expressing your concern for the safety of Choudhury and requesting that he be provided with immediate and effective police protection.


Prof. Dr. Iajuddin Ahmed
Honorable President and Chief of the Caretaker Government
People’s Republic of Bangladesh
Banga Bhaban

Cc: Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed
Chief Advisor, Caretaker Government
People’s Republic of Bangladesh
Chief Advisor’s Office
Old Sangshad Bhaban
Dhaka, Bangladesh
Fax: 880-2-811 3243 & 880-2-811-1490

It may be most effective, however, to forward these appeals care of the Bangladesh High Commission in London:

Mr Ashraf Uddin
Acting High Commissioner
High Commission for the People’s Republic of Bangladesh
28 Queen’s Gate
London SW7 5JA
Fax: 020 7225 2130
Email: bdesh.lon@dial.pipex.com


Night at EJ and JR’s with Matt. Degenerated into dressing up, and playing a game where you each take the worst book you can find and try to construct a crazy narrative in small fragments. I also tried Nigerian palm wine (£2.99 from Payless in Peckham) but it just tasted sweet, sour and kind of oily…

The next morning we posted three letters to Iranian excellencies on behalf of Haleh Esfandiari, passed through Borough Market for good olive oil and don’t ask me what I did for the rest of Saturday. Oh yeah, talked to my mum and got sucked into Israel again. Well, it’s time I did, but this time I won’t let it divert me from other important concerns. And I cobbled together a chronological philosophy reading list from the web sites of various UK universities.

Next day we went to the Museum of Brands and Packaging. Last time we visited when it was in Gloucester, we had happened on the owner-curator Robert Opie up a step ladder amongst the exhibits, and yesterday he was still there manning the phones (we got lost amongst the cattle-like locals who evidently never deviate from the track they make between home, work and tapas bar) and talking to the visitors. Not every day you get to do that. He told us about marmite jars, squirty cream and wartime recycling. I could have stayed longer, but as it was EJ and Matt left for the pub long before JR and I were ready. Then we went to a pub somewhere near Portobello Rd (which is populated by very creepy people, can’t put my finger on it) and I was able to contribute quite usefully to, and learn from, a conversation about Orde Wingate’s Burma company the Chindits, on account of having read a book I bought from the Cartoon Museum.

When we got home I got into bed and read Plato’s Symposium followed by the Allegory of the Cave. Ferris Bueller reminds me Socrates. Atticus Finch is distinctly Socrates-like, as is Sodapop Curtis. Or maybe it’s the way they are adoringly revealed to us through the accounts of their acolytes. My eyes were opened to Greek homosexuality, the acceptable face of which seems to have involved what the translator calls lovers befriending and – importantly – mentoring and initiating younger boyfriends. The thing about Socrates was that he turned convention on its head, and the younger men regularly ended up wooing him. And he was hard work to woo. The Cave is a must-read for anybody involved in education – if only because it’s quoted so liberally by people trying to make one point or another.

Sunday I started booking our accommodation for the Cambrian Way, then left for the natural history museum in windy rain, where I met pregnant S, pregnant A, and their husbands, and their little two year olds Holly and Olly. It was really good to see the children – Holly is like Augustine’s Angle and very talkative and Olly is cautious and untrusting at first but also self-contained. I’m always just on the verge of making friends with him when we go our separate ways. Started reading Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations on the train.

Then I tried to get WW1 in cartoons from the Cartoon Museum, because WW2 was mind-blowingly good, but the Cartoon Museum is shut on Mondays.

Came home and Matt was re-insulating the loft after we removed most of the stuff for the electrician to rewire. This time we have fibreglass that stays in its bags. We almost got environmentally friendly stuff but then we didn’t (he found some half-price while he was at B&Q buying a £50 (!) strimmer. Booked most of the rest of the Cambrian Way, spoke to Gina, tended the first that Matt lit. It’s now 22:00 and the fire is dying. Shower and then either Leon Wieseltier or Marcus Aurelius, I’m torn.

‘Vegan offensive’ – Bristol Vegan Fayre

I made a wicked butterbean houmous on Friday night round EJ’s.

But I failed to find a decent vegan group on Facebook. However, if you find veganism threatening enough to draw you to vegan bashing, look no further.

And, meatists, why don’t come to Bristol Vegan Fayre to get yourselves even more offended. According to this press release (which came to me via Google Alerts which is keeping me terribly well informed about this kind of niche stuff) Tim Barford has made startling progress in organising a coalition of not only animal rights orgs, but also environmentalists, waste management bodies, health professionals and even Amnesty.

http://www.bristolveganfayre.co.uk/home.htm. Our day approaches. 😉

Comment is cheap

Spoke to my ma this evening about Yvonne Roberts’ (pah!) “throw a pebble at Goliath” pro Israel boycott blog post on Comment is Free (which I don’t want to oxygenate with a link). Mum was fussing but when I eventually read it, it I found it so useless that I couldn’t believe it had 240-odd responses.  Matt said that Comment isn’t free – it’s just cheap.

I was struck how, on Comment Is Free particularly, blogging has made it acceptable to confidently grandstand your argument without taking the trouble to reassure or warn your readership that your sources are broad and reliable, or narrow and partisan. So when she tells us that (my emphasis):

“The Israeli treatment of Palestinians shows a total disregard for human rights. Apartheid doesn’t seem to me to be too strong a word – and its consequence, as many have pointed out, is a recruitment drive for Islamic fundamentalists.”

I’m obliged, award winning journalist or not, to take it with a fistful of salt. I like blogging – in fact, blogging is marvellous, and democratising, and heralds the return of the public intellectual, and encourages us all to be better writers and thinkers, and provokes and stimulates, and so much more. But really, does everything have to be an opinion piece? Can’t authors at least dignify their readers by revealing their sources for evaluation? And if their sources are just their own bias and prejudice, do they really want to go ahead and parade them so authoritatively? Yvonne Roberts cites only once – a single article from the distinctively unrigorous New Internationalist. 

Some would argue that’s how the blogosphere works – throw your stuff at the wall and see what sticks. But really… surely we’d get further quicker if fewer of us had to go fact checking. But because Yvonne Roberts really doesn’t seem like a very reliable person in this regard, we do have to go fact checking. She uses emotive rhetorical language such as “brutal” and “savagery”. And she fails to develop the disreputable shabby old arguments which have been so throroughly taken apart (Normblog, Nick Cohen, Engage, Harry’s Place) that reading them here reminds me of Commercial Road on Sundays, where you have to sidestep defeated-looking street vendors who crouch on the pavement amongst the most undesirable wares – odd shoes, single door handles, balding bone-backed hairbrushes, plastic dolls’ heads, lockless keys, chipped and teastained teapots – arrayed on old curtains spread over the filth.  That derelict.

John Sedgemore on comment being cheap, and on the “scan and react” phenomenon. He doesn’t reference either.

Getting off my fat ass – Haleh Esfandiari, Hao Wu, Abdelkareem, aid, Darfur …

Haleh Esfandiari is held in the Evin jail in Tehran, which sounds like a particularly shit place to spend your time, on what Amnesty and her employer the Woodrow Wilson Research Centre (Washington D.C.) consider to be spurious charges of conspiracy against the government of Iran. She’s a campaigner for better women’s rights in Iran, and according to the review of her 1997 book Reconstructed Lives: Women and Iran’s Islamic Revolution I’ve just read (Moghadam, 1998), “is informed by secular and feminist concerns”. I can’t find many details about what she has written on Athens or even Google Scholar – she’s not a big peer-reviewed publisher, but authors a lot of grey lit such as occasional papers and reports for the Woodrow Wilson Centre. Her page at the WWC where she’s Director of the Middle East Programme, lists a few major publications.

There is a move to boycott Iran over this and their general treatment of dissenting academics. Engage has come out against boycott and in favour of, well, engagement. Good for them. I wonder how confusing all those monomaniacal boycotters in UCU and the AAUP will find this – are they planning a boycott of Iran right now?

But more importantly, this woman is banged up in a torturers’ toyroom. Details of who to write to and what to mention are at the bottom of these pages:



Political bloggers Abdelkareem and Hao Wu, who are just two of so many that it makes me feel limp with impotence, could do with similar treatment. And by the end of the week Lee Scott will have a letter about delivering on our aid pledges, and about Darfur.

Moghadam, V (1998). Review. Contemporary Sociology;27(4):358-360.

Yvonne Roberts on my dartboard

For being lazy, and a bully, and starting fights.

Via my hand-wringing mother who is trying to fight the online racists who hate Israel for reasons that they should also, but don’t, hate China, Sri Lankan factions, Zimbabwe, to name a few. I see that YR writes, on Comment Is Free (ughhhh, what a dismaying place that is for a true-minded social democrat):

“However, a double standard pertains. The Israeli treatment of Palestinians shows a total disregard for human rights. Apartheid doesn’t seem to me to be too strong a word – and its consequence, as many have pointed out, is a recruitment drive for Islamic fundamentalists.”

without any reference to the standards by which she identifies ‘total disregard’ nor ‘apartheid’. Nobody on there seems to bother citing sources for anything they say. They just wait to see whether somebody bothers to refute it and if nobody does, God help us, it stands. (Ha, Clay Shirky, suddenly that way of running an encyclopedia isn’t looking so solid).

On that post, djman responded today:

“Or is Yvonne having selective anger, perhaps because of her age and presumed dotage?”

No, djman, I don’t accept that age has anything to do with it. I think it’s more likely to be because she’s stupid and ignorant.