… we took off down the highway, going 60 miles an hour, swerving to get close enough so I could pass a cocktail made of whiskey with mulberry nectar out the passenger-side window of our Korean hatchback to a friend in one of the other cars.

   Our stereo screeched Shaggy’s Hey Sexy Lady; theirs, insipid Lebanese pop. Tehran, with its murals of suicide bombers, Versace billboards and rickety buses adorned with portraits of Shi’ite saints, slid by in a smoggy blur. …

 – From the June 13 issue of Time written by Azadeh Moaveni, author of Lipstick Jihad, about her return visit to Iran.

Iran: Where — this week — elections will be held.

Iran: Where bombs are going off, with eight people killed and 75 others wounded Sunday.

Iran: Where Sean Penn is stationed in Tehran “as a reporter for his friend Phil Bronstein, editor of the San Francisco Chronicle”:
About the Bombings:“Top national security official Ali Agha Mohammadi told AFP late Sunday that the attackers ‘infiltrated Iran from the region of Basra’ in southern Iraq.

“‘These terrorists have been trained under the umbrella of the Americans in Iraq,’ he charged, adding that Iran suspected British troops across the border might also have links to the separatist group.”

More from AFP/Yahoo:

Iran’s Islamic regime pointed the finger at Arab separatists, possibly backed by US and British forces in Iraq, for a string of deadly pre-presidential election bombings.

The interior ministry said outgoing President Mohammad Khatami had mobilised the country’s vast security apparatus …

“The people behind these bombing must be pan-Arabists who are based outside Iran,” Ali Hadad, an aide to the governor of Ahvaz, told AFP.

Official media said eight people were killed and 75 others wounded Sunday in a series of four blasts outside public buildings in Ahvaz, capital of oil-rich Khuzestan province and an ethnic Arab majority city close to the Iraqi border. …

Later Sunday, another blast hit a busy square in Tehran, killing two people and seriously wounding at least two others. …

The attacks came just days before Iran votes on Friday to choose a successor to the reformist Khatami. [….]

Iran’s main armed opposition group, the People’s Mujahedeen, is based across the border in Iraq, and Mohammadi said he believed it was involved in some of Sunday’s attacks.

Ah yes. The election. The event that Sean Penn will cover this week for the San Francisco Chronicle. (The Chronicle, so far, hasn’t published any reports from Mr. Penn.)

Informal opinion polls suggest that none of the eight candidates will be able to secure the more than 50 percent of the vote needed to win. That means the top two would have to go into a run-off — unprecedented in the 26-year history of the Islamic republic.

Tipped as the frontrunner is powerful ex-president and pragmatic conservative Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Trailing him are the main reformist candidate Mostafa Moin and the hardline former national police chief, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf.

The close-run campaign has been heating up, with regular reports of politicians suffering violent attacks.

Rafsanjani, a pragmatic conservative who has vowed to save Iran from “extremists”, has again denounced the use of dirty tricks against him, saying those involved in an ugly smear campaign appeared to be well-funded.

In Time, Azadeh Moaveni describes general indifference to the election, with polls showing “that 50% of Iranians plan to vote in next week’s presidential election, compared with 66% in 2001.”

Ms. Moaveni claims that the Iranian government has “essentially decided to stanch [young people’s] discontent by buying them off” by boosting “subsidies on gas and household commodities” and, most significantly, “loosening control over the lifestyle choices.”

And, says Ms. Moaveni’s friend Karim Sadjadpour, an analyst in Tehran for the International Crisis Group, “You have a situation where the majority of Iranians have neither the luxury to risk their livelihoods waging political protest nor the nothing-to-lose desperation and rage that result from penury.”

Ms. Moaveni met with Amir Balali, “a former student activist who had spent time in prison for his organizing.”

He considered organizing a protest around a candidate for next week’s election but then realized that no one was particularly worked up, including him. “No one is interested in coalescing around anything beyond themselves,” he says with a shrug. “Their idols aren’t Che Guevara anymore. They’re Bill Gates and Angelina Jolie.” He predicts that the Islamic republic will eventually crumble and that change here will be chaotic and painful. “The lawful, peaceful approach didn’t work,” says Balali. “Young people can only tolerate this for so long.”

Sean Penn found a protest, however, and briefly had his camera confiscated:

Several hundred women at a sit-in outside the entrance to Tehran University demanded rights revoked after the 1979 Islamic revolution. As chants and taunts arose, police and plainclothesmen surrounded the demonstrators, pushing away those trying to join the group. Officials also cut off cell phone service in the area, and challenged reporters nearby.

In the process, they briefly seized the video camera of Penn, 44, who arrived in Iran as a reporter for his friend Phil Bronstein, editor of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Penn was spotted on Friday with a notebook in hand covering a prayer service. He has also written about his visits to Iraq for the Chronicle.

Democracy Now! reports that “The New York Times described the demonstration as the ‘first public display of dissent by women since the 1979 revolution’.”

I find these too-rare excursions by writers such as Ms. Moaveni and citizen-journalist Sean Penn to be incredibly important for Americans who have, unfortunately, a rather atonal, negative view of Iran, whose people — it appears — are not so different than Americans in that they look, too, for escape in as many ways as they can find:

Ecstasy, the leisure drug of √©lite Iranians, used to be smuggled into Iran from Europe. Now garage chemists produce the tablets locally, and a hit costs about $2. I slunk low in the car seat and muttered to my Iranian friend, “Aren’t we too old for this?” What I really wanted to ask was, When will you stop considering this freedom? When will you care again about what’s happening in the world? (Time)

Then Ms. Moaveni travels from ecstasy to angst:

The day after surviving the cocktail hour from hell, I attended a practice session of 127, Iran’s hottest underground rock band. Because the regime still pretends to oppose the toxic culture of the West, rock music is semi-taboo, so the band rehearses in a soundproof bunker inside an abandoned greenhouse in a low-rise complex of concrete apartment blocks on the outskirts of the city. The band members compare themselves with writers in Soviet Russia–miserably creative, creatively miserable. They sing in English and dress in the uniform of global grunge: long sideburns, faded Converse sneakers and plaid shirts. The band is beloved by young Iranians because its music communicates a despair that has few avenues for expression.

For my benefit they play My Sweet Little Terrorist Song, a sly lament about Iran’s inclusion in President George W. Bush’s “axis of evil”:

         “I just wanna watch Dylan live.

         I won’t fly into the Pentagon alive.”

Just like us.


Emphases mine.

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