Our War Our President and the Artists of Iran

Date April 30, 2007 at 10:00 PM

Publication THE magazine

Categories Performing Arts

God told me to strike at Al Qaeda and I struck them, and then He instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did. President George W. Bush (in conversation with Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister of Palestine, June, 4, 2003)

Ronald Reagan negotiated with Mikhail Gorbacev. John F. Kennedy negotiated with Nikita Khrushchev. While those negotiations occurred, the Soviet Union had thousands of nuclear missiles aimed at the United States. Through negotiations, President Kennedy persuaded Premier Khrushchev to remove nuclear missiles from Cuba. Through negotiations, President Reagan persuaded Premier Gorbachev to dismantle thousands of nuclear warheads aimed at Western Europe and the United States. Three years after President Reagan's negotiations with Premier Gorbachev, the Berlin Wall fell. The Soviet Union fell with it.

President Bush is a born-again Christian. He believes that a god he calls "God"€ wanted him to run for president, and that the same god wanted him to fight a war on terror. President Bush does not negotiate. According to President Bush, in this war, "You are either for us or against us."€ In 2003, in an address to the cadets at West Point, President Bush said: "We are in a conflict between good and evil. And America will call evil by its name."€

If George W. Bush's presidency is God's will, then God must want His designated leader of the free world to come out of this looking like an idiot. God may work in mysterious ways, but there is nothing mysterious about the Bush presidency. The legacies of the Bush presidency are its disasters. For most presidents, Katrina, the budget deficit, the Jack Abramoff scandal, the Scooter Libby trial, the Walter Reed Hospital scandal, the Alberto Gonzales scandal, and the freedom of movement currently enjoyed by Osama bin Laden would be enough to warrant low approval ratings, if not impeachment hearings or resignation. But this president is no ordinary underachiever. For President Bush, the war in Iraq is the legacy around which all other legacies revolve. The war in Iraq is the war to start all wars. It is the mother of all disasters.

Because President Bush thinks he is God's man on earth, he cannot admit that he is wrong. In January of 2007, he admitted that "mistakes have been made."€ He also said that "responsibility for those mistakes rests with me."€ But he could not admit that he was wrong. He could not admit that our military occupation of Iraq has been the wrong strategy for Iraq, for the Middle East, and for us. What kept him from admitting he was wrong? Pride. Had President Bush admitted that he was wrong, he would have had to admit that the god he calls "God"€ was wrong. People who believe in that god don't do that.

The good news is, the war in Iraq has stretched our military resources to the point where neither the Army nor the Marines are capable of invading another country. The bad news is, President Bush and his God still have our Navy and our Air Force at their disposal. Plans have been drawn up for the bombing of Iran. We have three aircraft carriers at anchor in the Persian Gulf, waiting for Iran to make a mistake. Both the Pentagon and the White House have the means, motive, and opportunity to stage air strikes on Iran within twenty-four hours of receiving a "Go"€ order from their underachiever-in-chief. Put yourself in our president's shoes. One thing he can do is stage a good distraction. The day after we bomb Iran, how many members of the liberal media will ask tough questions about Iraq?

I use the words "our,"€ "us,"€ and "we"€ because the war in Iraq is our war. President Bush started the war, and he made it into the disaster it is today, but we enabled his $200 million-a-day habit. We voted for the Democrats and the Republicans who funded the war. We continued to vote for them after they borrowed $500 billion from our grandchildren and gave it to President Bush so he could do God's will. We supply money for our war each time we pay income tax or buy gasoline. We have the power to demand impeachment hearings. We have the power to demand that Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzales, Vice President Cheney, and President Bush be investigated for the war crimes committed at Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay, and the "black sites"€ in Afghanistan, Romania, and Syria. We have that power. Why don't we use it? President Bush's answer to the world's problems is to borrow money, cut taxes, and kill people. That's insane. Are we insane?

If we're not insane, what's stopping us from stopping him?

Comfort, that's what. We invaded Iraq four years ago. How many people do you know who are worth less than they were in 2003? Comfort is the enemy of freedom. As long as we're comfortable, we'll let President Bush play Russian roulette with our freedom. We have enough to eat. We buy gasoline whenever and wherever the needle hits empty. How many military families do you know? How many funerals have you attended? How many of your daughters and sons are serving their third or fourth tours in Iraq?

Maybe you don't believe in this war. Maybe you pray for peace. Maybe you have a bumper sticker that says "My child is an honor student but my president is a moron."€ All well and good. But if you live here, in these United States, you fund this war. This is our war. And until we decide that war itself is our enemy, our war will continue. Do you really think President Bush is going to end it for you? Or Hillary? Or John McCain?

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, likes to play chicken. He has met his match in President Bush. President Ahmadinejad is what you might call a born-again Muslim. He wants to move Israel to Europe. He says the Holocaust never happened. His regime funds suicide bombers. His regime funds Hezbollah. His regime funds Shia jihadis who cross the Iran/Iraq border to blow up Americans.

Like Saddam Hussein, President Ahmadinejad is more than a little bit crazy. He may not have six thousand ICBMs aimed at our country, but he has evil, murderous intentions. If he is not already a threat to the people of the United States, he is doing his best to become one. However, President Ahmadinejad is willing to negotiate. He has invited President Bush to Tehran. Unfortunately, President Bush refuses to listen to people who disagree with him, much less negotiate with them. This increases the chances that our Air Force and our Navy will bomb Iran. When the bombs explode, the White House will issue statements about "nuclear test facilities"€ and "military targets."€ There will be no civilian casualty lists, just as there are none for Iraq. But nuclear test facilities and military targets will not have their arms, legs, or heads blown off. Iranian people will.

The artists on the following pages are Iranian artists. They do many of the same things American artists do. They eat. They sleep. They question authority. They make art. And they wonder about the future. Because of who they are, and because of who we are, their future is in our hands.

Sadegh Tirafkan


Sadegh Tirafkan was born in Tehran in 1965. He is an Iranian photographer and conceptual artist who goes back and forth between Tehran and Toronto. His photographs and works of conceptual art have been exhibited in London, Paris, Toronto, New York, and Tehran.

On March 7, 2007, Mr. Tirafkan posted the following statement on Iranian.com:

March 19th marked the 4th anniversary of the U.S.-led war against Iraq. Regardless of whether you are for or against the invasion, it is a contentious matter with many opinions. As an artist, the widespread violence and crisis in the Middle East has been a basis to inspire me to express myself through these images. Although there has been a lot of attention focused on the combat part of the war, the fighting and violence, I feel very little or no attention has been paid toward the thought that a civilization and culture is being destroyed. These civilizations are thousands of years old and people living in the Middle East have been struggling to keep and save what they have left of their culture and identity. This has been difficult to do, because the regimes in power have no interest in protecting cultural identity. Their only care is putting their own interests ahead of that of the people and their country. Is there hope to save these civilizations from extinction? Without a plan, how can we hope to save the people... the culture, before it is completely gone? With war and killing, there is no communication, no future. There can only be death and destruction. Sadegh Tirafkan

Gizella Varga Sinai


Gizella Varga Sinai was born in Hungary in 1944. She went to college in Vienna, where she met her Iranian husband. In 1967, they married and moved to Iran.

English is my fourth language which I know and it is the most weak of all. Excuse if I answer in a childish way. Ever since my childhood I was preoccupied with our own Hungarian stories, which date back more than one thousand years. Historians presume that we came from the East. Our famous poets and painters have created works expressing this nostalgia for the Orient as an ancestral homeland. With this background, I came to Iran, where a powerful and heroic past is sensed. It was my duty as an artist to pursue the tie between the past and the present and to show it in my paintings. Where did the old myths, fables, and stories come from? How can we express that they are still alive in us, that they now exist, and will continue in the future? Gizella Varga Sinai

Nina Ghaffari


Nina Ghaffari is an artist and a fashion designer who lives in Iran.

Please remember when you see my pictures, my work is against the government and if I were caught for the things I did in these pics, I would be in jail now. Many of my designer friends and models are in jail and I am always under pressure. I am a fashion designer/artist. I've been working now for a while, since childhood, and now I have made it a business. [I have] been working seriously about two years now. Yeah, it's a living and a very dangerous one, but I love it and I would never give it up. Non-religious people here do not find my clothing revealing enough and on the other side the religious people find it outrageous and strange and sometimes offensive. There is an underground war here and it's fought with fashion, it's the way people here have pushed for freedom, so I feel I am doing my part. I am half-American. I was born and raised in Mississippi. The people of Iran are no different than Americans. All of us live and work and love. It's really a shame that things are the way they are. I hope I can bring some knowledge to the United States. Terrorism is the stupidity of closed-minded people. And terrorism is not only in the Middle East. It is under our noses everywhere. Terrorism has nothing to do with specific race or color or clothing. It comes from lack of knowledge and is caused by hate. How can you stop hate in people? It's much deeper than it seems. Nina Ghaffari

Reza Khatir


Reza Khatir was born in Tehran in 1951. In 1968, he moved to London and started taking photographs. In 1981, he established his own photography agency in Locarno, Switzerland. In 1986, he launched a magazine called FLAIM, in Switzerland. He later co-published Chiaroscuro photo-magazine in Milan. In 1996 and 1997, Mr. Khatir did a series of photographs called The Oblivion Series. In conjunction with The Oblivion Series, he wrote: "The memory is the only oblivion that you cannot cancel."€

"Oblivion 1996 (non-digital black-and-white silver prints mechanically manipulated in the darkroom) is a series shot in Switzerland, and apart from its apparent aesthetic aspects, my concept was to demonstrate that photography can completely change the reality and falsify one's perception of the truth (just by using a piece of cloth I changed a European environment and turned it into a typical Oriental scene)."€

Those who were born dead or perhaps never born at all did not fear the sword and not even the womb they were granted the unforeseen in the gardens of Kavous the conquered rest in peace as orphans wave the black flag in morning light. Reza Khatir

Shadi Ghadirian



Shadi Ghadirian was born in Tehran in 1974. She is one of the most respected photographers working in Iran. Her Qajar-Like Every Day series explores some of the differences between traditional Persia and modern Iran. Ms. Ghadirian made the following statements about her photographs:

I am a woman and I live in Iran. I am a photographer and this is the only thing I know how to do. I began work after completing my studies. Quite by accident, the subjects of my first two series were "€˜women.' However, since then, every time I think about a new series, in a way it is related to women. It does not make a difference to me what place the Iranian woman has in the world because I am sure no one knows much about it. Perhaps the only mentality of an outsider about the Iranian woman is a black chador; however, I try to portray all the aspects of the Iranian woman. And this completely depends on my own situation.
When I did the Qajar series of photographs, I had just graduated and the duality and contradiction of life at that time provided the motive for me to display this contrast: a woman who one cannot say to what time she belongs; a photograph from two eras; a woman who is dazed; a woman who is not connected to the objects in her possession. It was very natural that after marriage, vacuum cleaners and pots and pans find their way into my photographs; a woman with a different look, a woman who no matter in what part of the world she is living, still has these kinds of apprehensions. This time the woman is convicted of a daily repetitive routine and for this reason I named the series Like Every Day.
Now I know what I wish to say with my photographs. Until now I have had many photographs which show women as second class citizens or depict the censorship of women. I wish to continue speaking of women because I still have a lot to say. These are my words as a woman and the words of all the other women who live in Iran,where being a woman has its own unique system. Although ultimately I create these photographs in my personal studio, however I follow social issues. The photographs are not authentic documentations but deal with current social issues. Shadi Ghadiarian

©2007 by Joshua Baer - All reproduction rights reserved.