Iranians on Video Site Big Think

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I’ve made no secret of my fandom of Iranian novelist Porochista Khakpour, whom I liked before I even read her book. She’s one of very few people so far that has managed to be Iranian and write a really great book of fiction in the English language, and she also talks honestly about not really feeling the whole “Iranian woman” genre of recent times. That takes balls.

After seeing her in these Big Think videos (27 of them!! Confession: I did not watch them all), I think my fascination with her as an author is slowing being overcome by a fascination with her hair. See bangs, above, and then see previous jaunty blonde streak in an artful, Veronica Lake swoop. PK, how do you do that?!

Big Think, for the Internet-erati that haven’t heard yet, is a video interview site that only talks to important people (er, big thinkers?). They don’t allow embedding, which is dumb from a content-distribution standpoint [Correction: They totally allow embedding. There’s a tiny “Share” button that I missed. Whoops.] And it’s clear they’re going for a very TED-like vibe, calling their videos “ideas.”

Khakpour’s not the only Iranian on the Big Think site, though she is the only person discussing mostly literature. Here are Reza Aslan (still pontificating about rich LA Persians), Vali Nasr (surprisingly handsome! charming accent!), and Azar Nafisi (is allegedly neo-con fabulous the Iranian version of ghetto fabulous?), mostly talking politics and the Middle East.

The common thread, though, is that Big Think serves up Iranian-themed videos with an unintended side of irony: all of these videos have really funny blanks in their transcripts. Basically, nearly all the names of Iranian poets and writers that are discussed by the speakers have been omitted from the transcripts that appear alongside the videos (i.e., Ferdowsi? That’s _______ to you, mister!). That’s probably because their transcriber or transcription software just isn’t up on the Iranian literary canon, but it’s still amusing to see it on a site with this level of intellectual chops.

Which Iranians would you like to see on Big Think, and what “ideas” do you want to hear addressed by them?

Frontline: Showdown With Iran

On October 23rd, PBS will begin airing a Frontline examination of U.S.-Iranian relations, ominously called Showdown With Iran.

The title and previews for this show seem to beat war drums; I’m encouraged only by the fact that PBS is airing this special. PBS has a long history of being even-handed in its political coverage and I will reserve judgment until I’ve watched the program in its entirety.

Local listings can be found on the website. If you miss the program it can be viewed online as well. From the PBS Frontline website:

As the United States and Iran are locked in a battle for power and influence across the Middle East — with the fear of an Iranian nuclear weapon looming in the background — FRONTLINE gains unprecedented access to the Iranian hard-liners shaping government policy. In Showdown with Iran, airing Tuesday, October 23, 2007, at 9 P.M. ET on PBS (check local listings), FRONTLINE examines how U.S. efforts to install democracy in Iraq have served to strengthen Iran’s position as an emerging power in the Middle East.

“You will not find a single instance in which a country has inflicted harm on us and we have left it without a response,” deputy head of Iran’s National Security Council Mohammad Jafari tells FRONTLINE in his first television interview. “So if the United States makes such a mistake, they should know that we will definitely respond. And we don’t make threats.”

There are increasing signs that the Bush administration is seriously considering military action before it leaves office if Tehran continues to defy U.N. demands that it cease enriching uranium for its nuclear program — a program the Iranians insist is for peaceful purposes. “The president has said repeatedly that it is unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons,” former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton tells FRONTLINE. “If action is not taken in terms of regime change or, if need be, the use of military force, the question of when Iran achieves nuclear weapons is entirely in Iran’s own hands. And that is extraordinarily undesirable.”

But Richard Armitage, President Bush’s former deputy secretary of state, warns, “It would be the worst of worlds for an outgoing administration to start a conflict.”

After 9/11, the Bush administration hoped to drive a wedge between Iran’s people and their Islamic rulers by installing democracies on two of Iran’s borders. “If things had gone better in Iraq,” says Hillary Mann, the Iran expert on the National Security Council during the run-up to the war, “then yeah, I think Iran was next.”

“I think Iran is more secure now, courtesy of the United States,” Bolton says. “We have removed the Taliban regime from Afghanistan, which they viewed as a mortal threat. We have removed Saddam Hussein in Iraq, which they viewed as a mortal threat.”

Before invading Iraq, the Bush administration rebuffed a series of overtures from Iran’s reformist government — among them offers to help the U.S. stabilize Iraq after the invasion — which culminated in a secret proposal for a grand bargain resolving all outstanding issues between the U.S. and Iran, including Iran’s support for terrorism and its nuclear program. The U.S., which had branded Iran part of the “axis of evil,” decided on a confrontational approach.

Vali Nasr, author of The Shia Revival, believes the Bush administration’s confrontational approach discredited Iran’s reformists and inadvertently helped bring the new hard-line government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power. “The wars of 2001 and 2003 have fundamentally changed the Middle East to Iran’s advantage,” he says. “The dam that was containing Iran has been broken.”