Read a selection of pieces I have written for various publications.
NEWSWEEK, DECEMBER 19, 2010
The Regime’s New Dread in Iran
A supporter of Iranian reform carries a green flag in Tehran in 2009.
Roozbeh, a 26-year-old university student in Tehran, considers himself a revolutionary. Never mind that he rarely leaves his room at his mother’s house. “Many people of my generation hate this regime,” he tells NEWSWEEK via Skype, asking that his last name be kept private. He says he spends 14 hours a day dodging government-imposed firewalls to share news with other Iranian cyberactivists inside and outside Iran. His strategy resonates with leaders of the country’s opposition Green Movement, who are now shunning street protests in favor of online organizing.
NEWSWEEK, OCTOBER 28, 2010
Iranian Ex-Officials: U.S. Knew Hikers Were Seized in Iraq
The American hikers: Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal.
Every morning and afternoon Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer are allowed to step out of their cells and go for havakhori, Persian for getting fresh air, when they are allowed to walk or run for an hour in one of the many courtyards of Evin Prison in Tehran, where they are incarcerated. After more than 15 months in Evin, the two Americans must know every dark gray tile covering the floor; every red brick on the courtyard walls. Havakhori is probably the time when they most wonder about when they will be freed. Fattal and Bauer most likely close their eyes and imagine they are walking in their neighborhoods—in Philadelphia and Oakland, respectively. They also must wonder how they ended up in a Tehran jail and under what circumstances they will be released. But by now the pair must realize that their upcoming trial, on Nov. 6, has little to do with justice and what they may or may not have done. And they would be right. Former Iranian intelligence officials and diplomats have indicated to Newsweek that the two hikers are the victims of cultural misunderstanding, a factional struggle within the Iranian government, and a combination of geopolitical rivalry and tacit cooperation between Iran and the United States.
NEWSWEEK, SEPTEMBER 14, 2010
Out of Iran, but Not Yet Home Free
American hiker Sarah Shourd, 32, poses for a photograph at Mehrabad airport, prior to leaving Tehran on Tuesday.
The hours Sarah Shourd spent between leaving Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, where she was in solitary confinement for more than a year, and crossing Iranian airspace must have been the most excruciating and longest hours of her life. I know that because I have been there. After spending 118 days in Evin in 2009, being charged with espionage every day and threatened with execution on a daily basis, all I wanted to do was to leave Iran and join my family in London.
NEWSWEEK, JUNE 07, 2010
The Last Ayatollah
The Green Movement’s bloody street protests may not have toppled Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei—but they will.
“This is the beginning of the end of the Islamic Republic as we know it,” I told my editors at NEWSWEEK in a hastily written e-mail from Tehran on the night of June 20, 2009. “I don’t know how long is it going to take for the Islamic regime to fall. Khamenei has learnt many lessons from the Shah’s downfall and is not making the same mistakes.” It seemed clear in any case that the rule of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was doomed. His regime had abandoned its claim to legitimacy earlier that day when Revolutionary Guards violently crushed a peaceful mass protest against the shamelessly rigged June 12 presidential election. By that assault on the Iranian people, Khamenei revealed himself to be no better than Iran’s deposed shah or any other common dictator.
NEWSWEEK, DECEMBER 21, 2009
The Ayatollah’s Inspiration
Montazeri never claimed to be a saint, but the Iranian opposition may well turn him into one.
“If you’re going to ask me questions about my regrets, plan to spend the next month or so in my house!” Those were the words with which Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri greeted me when I interviewed him at his home in the holy city of Qum four years ago. He was then 83 years old and could look back on a life in which he’d served as a founding father of the Islamic Republic only to become its most vocal critic. More recently, especially in the last seven months of protest and crackdowns following the disputed June 12 reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Montazeri has emerged as the authoritative voice of religious opposition to a supposedly religious regime. He has been lionized as an idealist speaking truth to those in a power structure riddled with cynical and corrupt ideologues. For many Iranians, Montazeri became more than a hero, more than an ayatollah; he was truly, as Shiites say, a source of emulation.
NEWSWEEK, JUNE 15, 2009
Blood in Tehran
Tens of thousands march peacefully in Iran. But in the end, at least one man died a violent death.
It wasn’t supposed to end like this, but there was blood today in Tehran.
The last time I saw so many people on the streets of the city was in November 1978 (I was 11), when the media reported that 3 million people took part in demonstrations against the Shah of Iran. Today, there were at least half that number walking along the same route from Revolution Square to Liberty Square. “We walk this along this route because from our revolution to liberty is a long way,” said Ahmad, a 54-year-old academic who didn’t want to give his full name. Ahmad took part in the 1979 march as well. “I see many similarities between what happened then and now. In both case we had a clear mandate. Then we wanted to overthrow the shah. Today we want this little man who has stolen our votes to resign and accept people’s votes.”
NEWSWEEK, JUNE 13, 2009
‘It’s a Coup d’Etat’
Supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi say their candidate was the victim of electoral fraud.
“It’s a coup d’etat,” says an adviser to the defeated pro-reform Iranian presidential candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, to the telephoned question “So, what happened?” Then, with apologies because the staff is in an emergency session, he hangs up.
NEWSWEEK, MAY 23, 2009
Anyone but Ahmadinejad
The unlikely candidacy of Mir Hossein Mousavi.
The candidate looked as if he wished he could be anywhere but where he was—among his most enthusiastic supporters. About 4,000 mostly young people had gathered in Tehran’s Milad Hall for several hours, waiting to see and cheer their man: Mir Hossein Mousavi, the main reformist running in the upcoming Iranian presidential election.
NEWSWEEK, MAY 23, 2009
Quarks and the Koran
Iran’s very Islamic embrace of science
Mohammad Ali Shomali’s clerical robes are immaculate, his manner urbane. Fluent in English, with a Ph.D. from Britain’s Manchester University, he spends his days in the holy city of Qum studying advanced stem-cell research and the mapping of the genome. Shomali, at 44, is clearly not your run-of-the-mill mullah, even if he insists that he is. “We live in a religious country with a religious government,” says the turbaned Shia cleric, “so we have to know what our religion tells us about modern issues.” Along with hundreds of other mullahs in Qum, Shomali is at work trying to define an Islamic context for advanced scientific work from nanos to, yes, nuclear technology.
NEWSWEEK, FEBRUARY 7, 2009
Talking To Tehran
America’s old Iran hands on how—and whether—to start the conversation.
Ever since their 444 days spent in captivity, from November 1979 to January 1981, Bruce Laingen and John Limbert’s names have been preceded by the words “Iran hostage,” a grim honorific that’s emblematic of the suffering and frustration that have marked U.S.-Iranian relations.
NEW STATESMAN, SEPTEMBER 11, 2008
It’s not a promising start, but I’m going to confuse you. That’s how I feel about the situation in my country, Iran. If I’m supposed to remain true to my journalistic principles I have no choice but to share my puzzling observations with you. After 40 years of being an Iranian I can say it loud and clear: Iranian politics, economics, society and almost everything about Iran are confusing and confused.
NEW STATESMAN, NOVEMBER 08, 2007
We know where you live
I’m not supposed to tell you this, but I met Mr Mohammadi. In fact I met three Mr Mohammadis in four days. Mohammadi is the nickname of choice for the agents of Iran’s ministry of intelligence – the country’s equivalent of the CIA. They have other nicknames as well, most of which are variations on the names of Shia imams such as Alavi, Hassani and Hosseini. I guess the names don’t indicate a rank or anything (I have to guess, because Mr Mohammadi doesn’t tell you much. He asks the questions).
NEW YORK TIMES, AUGUST 24, 2006
Sweating Out the Truth in Iran
WORKING as a journalist in Iran embodies the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again without getting any results. That’s how I felt at the height of the conflict in Lebanon, when I asked officials about Iran’s relations with Hezbollah, bearing in mind that posing such questions can be a futile, dangerous and sometimes even lethal exercise.