Spaces of Freedom in the Islamic Republic of Iran


Wonderful article on spaces of freedom in Iran

Originally posted on jake threadgould:

Tour Guide


I was sat on a large wicker chair in the rooftop café at my hotel in Shiraz where, in keeping with the Shirazi tradition, a group of guys next to me were reciting poetry. The scented smoke of a bubbling qaylan pipe twisted and turned on the blue tarpaulin above. Downstairs, in the courtyard restaurant, the voices of men and women competed with a cross-legged Kurdish chap in the corner, playing a sitar. Tourists and local men alike pulled chairs up to the tables of young women to chat, safely hidden from the gaze of the authorities outside. Spaces such as that hotel provide an environment of freedom in Iran. In here a woman’s headscarf can teeter tantalisingly close to sliding down the nape of her neck. In here each drag of her cigarette flies in the face of that deeply held taboo. In here large, brown eyes wandered…

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The UK in the French news this week

Le Monde

This week Le Monde reported on the fact that Nigel Farage has advised UKIP party members not to use Twitter. They said that Nigel Farage’s warning came after a series of ‘severe misdemeanours’, making reference to Andre Lampitt’s recent remarks on Ed Miliband and African people. The new rules that UKIP has put in place for its members, forbidding them to use its logo on social media without express permission, were reported as being ‘draconian’. Le Monde also reported the dichotomy between UKIP maintaining that these rules had been put in place to clamp down on false UKIP twitter accounts, and the fact that Steve Crowther, UKIP secretary, said publicly that he himself had no Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and that it was ‘lovely’.
Le Monde also picked up on the fact that this week Scotland Yard has announced that it is investigating claims that a paedophile group consisting of MPs and public figures existed in the 1980s to 1990s. The police is also investigation the possible death of three young boys in relation to this scandal, which Le Monde describes as ‘multiplying the scandals over the channel’. Le Monde mentioned the revelations that came to light last summer, where 140 dossiers supposedly containing information on sexual abuse of young boys disappeared. According to Le Monde, all of this recalls the widely impacting Savile scandal, revealed in 2011.
Also reported in Le Monde was appointment of Libby Lane as the Church of England’s first female bishop. Le Monde reports that this ends ‘centuries of masculine dominance in the clerical hierarchy’, and reminds that is 20 years since women were allowed to become priests, and that female priests now make up a third of the clergy. Female bishops will also now be allowed to enter in the House of Lords. However, Le Monde also picked up on the fact that the British press had pointed out that Libby Lane will probably not enter into the House of Lords, as she is head of a secondary parish, and not from either Southwell, Nottingham, Gloucester, Oxford or Newcastle.
Also covered by Le Monde was the announcement by Orange and Deutsche Telecom that they were planning to sell their UK operations, EE, and that BT was the likely acquirer. Orange is a French telecommunications group that until 2010 was one of the high street UK telecommunications brands, along with Vodaphone, 3 and O2. Le Monde reports that Orange would receive a cheque of 5.9 billion euros for the sale of EE. According to Le Monde, Orange’s principal motivation for the sale is that it needs money; it is buying the Spanish telecommunications group Jazztel for 4.3 billion euros. Orange also has debts of about 31 billion euros. Le Monde said that the management of Orange don’t see its retreat from the British market as a defeat, as EE detains 33% of the market share. However, in order to make savings, the merger with Deutsche Telecom, and the subsequent sale to BT means that Orange has now totally disappeared from the British market.

Le Figaro

This week Le Figaro published an Opinion Way poll that it had commissioned. This poll asked Europeans whether they would vote yes or no to their country staying in the European Union. The poll suggested that in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, the no vote could win. This recalls an article published by Le Figaro in May of this year, in which it reported that only 51% of French wanted France to stay in the European Union, in comparison to 67% ten years ago. 38% of French people oppose France being actively involved in the EU, as opposed to 25% ten years ago. Those who oppose European membership, or even a close alliance with Brussels, all cite unemployment, loss of benefits, a rise in the number of immigrants, and a loss of national identity and culture as being consequences of integration into the European Union.
Le Figaro wrote that Christmas sales in the UK have risen the highest amount this year since 1988, largely thanks to the American inspired ‘Black Friday’ phenomenon. The combination of Black Friday discounts and a general lowering of prices in the run up to Christmas have encouraged customers to go shopping or buy products on line. A few French stores, such as the home-wares shop Darty, and the bookshop Fnac have done the same in France, where it is seen as a very American import.
Also in Le Figaro this week was an article about the detainment of a young girl on a plane about to take off at Heathrow. The young girl was reportedly on her way to Syria to join the ranks of the Islamic State. It reported that she came from the ‘underprivileged’ area of Tower Hamlets, in London. The authrorities believe that more than 500 British men and women have left the UK in order to go and fight in Syria over the course of war, half of which have already come back to the UK.
The French energy group EDF is selling a large stake in three of its UK windmill parks in Newcastle, York and Peterborough to the Chinese company CGN, Le Figaro reported.

Human lives are at play, let’s not leave it too late

Translation of an article by William Lacy Swing, Director General of the Internal Organization for Migration,published in Le Monde on 16.12.14.

This year, more than 5,000 immigrants have perished worldwide whilst making dangerous journeys in the hope of finding security and a better life for their family. Out of this number, more than 3,000 have drowned in the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe on overcrowded boats. This is without counting the unknown numbers of those who have drowned out at sea.
These are the kinds of everyday tragedies that unfurl before our eyes, and which we process in a kind of quasi indifference. What efforts do we deploy to hunt down these traffickers? They profit from people’s desperation to rob them of considerable sums of money, in exchange for what often turns out to be a suicidal mission on boats that aren’t meant for the open sea.
We need to be reminded of the fact that all immigrants are human beings. They are not criminals. Their only wrongdoing is their wish to escape from a hellish situation. We hear right wing extremists talking about the invasion of immigrants from Eritrea, Sudan, Syria and Palestine who are fleeing dictators and extreme poverty and hunger.
Yet they are not as numerous as this would make out. What are 160,000 immigrants knocking at Europe’s door, when Europe itself counts 500 million people? Compare this to Libya, a country of 4.5 million habitants, which has given asylum to one million Syrian refugees. Italy showed great generosity in establishing Mare Nostrum, a rescue operation that saved 160,000 immigrant’s lives, with Italian coastguards patrolling the Mediterranean coast day and night, seven days a week, all year long.
Unfortunately, this operation has now come to an end. Can we really blame Italy for not wanting to shoulder the cost of an operation that cost 10 million euros a month? That being said, we desperately need sea rescue operations in place. Human lives are at play here. However, we are going more in the direction of controlling measures than rescue operations. Operation Triton, managed by Frontex, the European border control organization, is restricted as to where it can go within international waters, and does not have a huge amount of ships. It has admitted it doesn’t have the capacity to carry on where Mare Nostrum left off.
I don’t dare think of the mass sacrifice of life to which we could be witness to come the summer, when the good weather returns and migrants try once again to cross the Mediterranean, without significant rescue infrastructure in place.
Let’s not delude ourselves. Immigrants know the risks that they are taking. They know that they are risking their lives. But they do it out of desperation; one must be desperate in order put one’s wife and one’s children on these boats. Remember the emotion that the tragedy of the Vietnamese boat people caused? These modern day smugglers that have cold blood running through their veins can be compared to those ignominious pirates who presided over the Chinese seas.
But this despair is reinforced by an incredible will to live and a phenomenal desire to improve their situation – an energy which I remain convinced is something that European countries, in the middle of an economic crisis, would do well to take advantage of.
There is nothing more heartbreaking than those telephone calls, emails, and photos that I received from the relatives of those on the boat of 500 migrants, where only ten survived. They asked if their children, husbands, brothers, were in that ten. Whole families perished. They were engineers, young university students, doctors…
I am not preaching in favour of uncontrolled borders. But if legal immigration options were put in place, we wouldn’t see as many people risking their lives. If ambassadors put in place ways of applying for the right to asylum in the first countries in which immigrants arrive after having fled the war in their country, we wouldn’t have, for example, as many Syrians who have drowned in the sea this year.
I think that migration shouldn’t be seen as a problem, but an opportunity. Nowadays we live in a globalized world of which immigration is a product, and will continue to develop. With an aging population in the northern hemisphere, and an extremely young one in the southern hemisphere, we can’t hide the truth from ourselves. We are going to need each other.
It won’t be easy. But to refuse this reality is to actively encourage social problems. It is a challenge to take up. Politicians need to roll up their sleeves and take on an issue that is far from being popular in times of economic crisis. But, we don’t have the choice. Let’s not leave it too late.

William Lacy Swing

A quote that made me think #1

‘In real love you want the other person’s good. In romantic love you want the other person’.
I kind of instantly agree with this and it kind of makes me feel really bad about myself. Here’s what I liked; the acceptance that there are many different kinds of love which is something I have definitely come to realise over the past few years. I also liked the idea that romance, which I take here to be infatuation, is entirely based around one person. It’s not rational; the person could be totally psychotic, or actually just not the right person for you. This chimes a chord with me.
What I don’t like, is the differentiation between real and romantic, and the intimation that the two don’t go together. Aren’t all forms of love, even if you don’t end up with the person, real? Also, I find it constrictive to say that love isn’t real unless you have some quasi realistic/maybe just resigned feeling that the other person is ‘good’. I believe we should never settle when it comes to love, and for me, saying some-one is ‘good’ just isn’t enough.

The UK in the French news this week

This week Le Monde commented on the fact that hallucinogenic mushrooms had recently been found in the gardens of Buckingham Palace! It was reported that these mushrooms had been growing in the 40 hectare grounds of Buckingham Palace without the gardeners doing anything about it. Le Monde seemed to enjoy the fact that The Sun had quoted a palace official who had reassured the public that the mushrooms that grow in the palace gardens are not used in the palace’s kitchen, reporting itself to be very relieved.
Le Monde also picked up on the fact that there had been 76 arrests in London this week at demonstrations that supported those going on in the United States against police violence. The slogans at the demonstrations were the same as those found in the States; ‘Black Lives count’, and ‘Hands up’. Le Monde reported that these demonstrations are relevant in the UK as well, given the 2011 shooting of Mark Duggan, who was killed by police officers who suspected him of having a gun.
Le Monde ran an article this week on the fact that more and more British people are relying on food banks. The article started by reminding its readers of the recent economic growth in the UK, and quoted the report financed by the Archbishop of Canterbury that cites the significantly weakened benefits system and low salary levels as reasons as to why so many British people are below the poverty line. Le Monde quoted Archbishop of Canterbury as saying that the situation of a family that he had met in a food bank was similar to that of refuges from the Congo.

Both Le Monde and Le Figaro covered the findings of a report published this week about poverty levels in the UK, which are set to grow in the years to come. Le Figaro noted that the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which carried out the report, said that it will take six years for British people’s living standards to go up, which is the longest period of recuperation since the report was first commissioned in 1961. This article is one of a several that have appeared in Le Figaro recently about the levels of poverty in the UK; in October of this year Le Figaro ran an article commenting on the fact that the aim to reduce extreme child poverty to less than 5% by 2020 would not be achieved.
Le Figaro ran an article on the a report published that noted that the only 59% of French people have a positive view of France. It compared this to the results from other European countries. In Sweden, 89% of people have a positive view of their country, in Germany 78%, in UK 67% and in the United States 64%. Apparently, 26% of French people would live elsewhere than in France if they could. The French are also the most depressed about the economic situation of their country, only being beaten by the Japanese. However, France is still a country that offers a good standard of living. This is also the case throughout France, unlike in the UK, where there are huge differences in living standards between the North and South of the country. Le Figaro went on to report that 78% of French approve of the fact that they have an interventionist government, and 58% approve of the fact that the country has decentralized power, with the public sector controlling key aspects of the economy. So even though the French are depressed about situation of their economy, they don’t want to change the people running it, which is an interesting paradox to consider.

Babygate, Claridge’s

Mediapart, the French online opinion journal, ran an article by Jean-Louis Legalery this week, about the polemic that has risen up in the UK over Lou Burns’ experience of being asking to cover up whilst breast feeding her three month old daughter in Claridge’s. (
The title of the article was ‘Tartuffe s’invite au Claridge’s’, which could be translated along the lines of Tartuffe comes to Claridge’s. Tartuffe is a comedic play by Molière in which the protagonist is a puffed up man who exaggeratedly feigns virtue, but actually has a long history of criminality, thereby revealing himself to be nothing more than a hypocrite.
This title humorously tells us all we need to know about the author’s opinion of Claridge’s. It comes across as a stuffy, hypocritical hotel, with over hyped puritanical values that seem ridiculous. The author goes on to note the contribution of Nigel Farage, leader of the far-right party UKIP, to this debate. He quotes his comments that women who need to breastfeed their child should ‘perhaps sit in the corner’. Legalery also gives his opinion that Yvette Cooper, the Labour MP, responded in the best way to this, by saying that Farage himself should go and sit in a corner.
Legalery cynically notes that David Cameron, who was initially reluctant to get involved in the debate, had to eventually weigh in, and support the official viewpoint of the NHS (which is that it would be unacceptable to make a woman feel uncomfortable for breastfeeding in public) so as not let Farage dominate the media coverage over the case. This was perhaps not motivated by genuine feelings of support towards the situation in which Lou Burns found herself.
Legalery notes that both Farage and Claridge’s attitudes were ‘restrictive’ and ‘macho’, and wholly ‘regressive’, and compares them to Pétain’s theme of the ‘femme au foyer’ which he describes as an obvious hindrance to equality. Due to his military prowess in the first world war, Maréchal Pétain was a national hero in France before 1945. However, during the second world war, he collaborated with Hitler, and created the authoritarian Vichy Regime, which lasted until the liberation of Paris in 1944. During his time in power, Pétain changed the republican motto from ‘Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité’ (Freedom, Equality, Fraternity) to ‘Travail, Famille, Patrie’ (Work, Family, Fatherland), and instigated a rather Mao like campaign of rejecting the liberalist, secular traditions of the third republic, and instead promoting catholic, paternalist and agrarian values. He aimed to do away with the work of recent progressive figure heads such as Leon Blum, who, whilst Prime Minister, had managed to introduce measures such as the 40 hour week and paid holiday for workers. Pétain wanted a new France, that would be ‘a social hierarchy…rejecting the false ideal of the natural equality of men’.
The warnings bells ring out when women are told to cover themselves up whilst feeding their child. That is why I personally appreciate articles like this, which show a fresh perspective on British society, reminding us that institutions like Claridge’s are faintly ridiculous, whilst a pleasure to go to, are in some ways very backwards.