07/21/09 - 5:34am
by Chas Danner

PEN Discussion

Went to this wonderful panel last week here in NYC – and now PEN has put it up on YouTube which means everyone can see it. I mainly went to get a look at Roger Cohen in person as I have very much admired his work on Iran over the past month, but I was also very happy to hear the thoughts of Karim and Haleh as well. In particular look at how tiny Haleh is and then think about the fact that she, in her late sixties, spent 105 days in solitary confinement in Iran a few years ago.

07/5/09 - 11:24pm
by Chas Danner

Attention Must Be Paid

Roger’s Cohen’s A Journalist’s ‘Actual Responsibility’ is probably the best and most personal editorial he will write in his career. It is also a piece every writer needs to read, especially if they believe in journalism or seek to wrangle non-fiction to effect the ideas and lives of others. Writers like me.

Maybe I’m biased because I believed what he says before he said it, or because I care so deeply about the Iran story, but while we all complain about Old Vs New Media, or worry about WaPo’s salons, or consider what some idiot like Glenn Beck thinks about *anything*…  Here is Roger Cohen, old school, wielding the full potential of his ability as a journalist and writer to say as forcefully as he can: “bear witness.”

Watch for the use of this sentence: You cannot carve in rotten wood. which is one of many that as a reader stopped me cold – its perfect clarity and placement humming like a solemn bell. I already liked Cohen, I already thought what he was doing in the way he has covered Iran was downright heroic, as far as a writer can be heroic, but this is beyond all that. I won’t quote anymore, as it just needs to be read as it is – but I can give no better endorsement than to say that this piece is exactly why I want to be a writer.

**The original post was based on the fact that this column was not appearing in Sunday’s US New York Times, I see now that it in fact is appearing, only on Monday not Sunday, thus the edit**

07/1/09 - 9:47pm
by Chas Danner

Cohen’s Gamble

New York Times columnist Roger “made me want to toss away my notebook” Cohen has lined himself up for an award of some kind with the gutsy and emotionally charged reporting he contributed from Iran (including after the media ban). His latest piece has new perspective via a fascinating interview with a regime-ist cleric. He bounces off this cleric’s statements to offer a compelling proposal for how America should handle the new (old) Iran.

“This is going to cause a huge gulf between generations,” he told me. “I was talking to a young woman who was a good friend of mine before the vote and she said she doesn’t respect me any more. She’s so angry she’s ready to die.”

Mahmoudi looked surprised. I’m not. Sentiment has shifted radically in Iran as multiple security forces deploy in defense of a lie. For Ayatollah Ali Khamouenei, the supreme leader, the question of how to win back support will in time arise. Enter America, the target of Great-Satanism but dear to most Iranians.

Cohen then reiterates what has become commonly decided knowledge, that the coup to rig the election was a rush job, a last-minute autocratic flourish of the desperate (and desperately conjoined) Ahmadinejad and Khamenei camps to resist slow yet inevitable reform and their ensuing marginalization.

With the gears of Big Change now in perpetual motion, reform for Iran is only a matter of time, and the Iranian regime so overshot its reaction to the election and demonstrations that it has instead accelerated the timetable for its demise. Cohen goes on to suggest that it is essential for Obama to hold back what might be the one thing the current regime could use to win back the support of its people: engagement with the West. (this is a very Ameri-centric analysis but it makes some sense)

Obama must leave them dangling for the foreseeable future. He should refrain indefinitely from talk of engagement.

To do otherwise would be to betray millions of Iranians who have been defrauded and have risked their lives to have their votes count. To do otherwise would be to allow Khamenei to gloat that, in the end, what the United States respects is force. To do otherwise would be to embrace the usurpers.

The slow arc of moral justice is fine but Iran is gripped by the fierce urgency of now.


the Iran of today is not the Iran of three weeks ago; it is in volatile flux from without and within. Its Robespierres are running amok. Obama must do nothing to suggest business as usual. Let Ahmadinejad, he of the bipolar mood swings, fret and sweat. Let him writhe in the turbid puddle of his self-proclaimed “justice” and “ethics.”

The only thing I disagree with Cohen about is when he then suggests that Ali Larijani, the leader of the Iranian Parliament, might be an acceptable compromise should Ahmadinejad be removed from power (so Khamenei can retain his). That might be so, but only temporarily. From everything I have read and the people I have talked to, a new more moderate President for Iran is not what’s now demanded from the rooftops each night, not even the self admittedly “blank canvas” Mousavi. All the people had wanted was their vote, but now it’s gone beyond that. Now they want another fair election and for their will to not only be respected, but for that will to be the true ruler of their government. There is no longer an acceptable equilibrium for partial democracy in Iran.

These voters woke up June 12th understanding that they were voting for incremental change, not revolution. They were content to see a new President take Iran, via baby step, towards the rest of the world. But by taking away their voice they have now only grown louder, and their unrest will not end until the Islamic Republic becomes a real Republic – that just happens to also be Islamic. They have made a down payment for that future in blood. It might take months, it might take a generation, but the new arc for Iran has been permanently set. The faith of Islam, the power of youth and education, and the suddenly wide-open arms of the rest of the world – will make sure of it.

Let the Usurpers Writhe (New York Times) (and a must read)