Burma, Cuba, and Iran: the pros and cons of Obama’s rapprochement

deal with it

 

 

2015 has been a big year in Obama’s administration, one that ultimately will shape his presidential legacy. While he did not do so well on the first term, and even on the first half of his second term (thanks to the government shutdown in 2013 and intense bipartisan politics being played in the Congress), his performance became hugely bolstered through the passage of fast-track authority, which enables the administration to finish Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) before 2017 and other proposed mega-regional free trade agreements in the future, as well as the improvement in relations with countries formerly dubbed as ‘sponsors of terrorism’ – while not being hypocritical that US does have its own particular record – and in this specific case, Burma (or Myanmar, you name it), Cuba, and Iran. I will not talk so much about other foreign policy accomplishments that he had done in his presidential period, but these three countries, oftentimes tied together in almost any media report as ‘centerpieces’ in his foreign-policy rapprochement, deserve some particular attention. While Obama’s efforts, which emphasize diplomacy and compromise rather than the overt use of military force, have won plaudits, there are always concerns about what these countries, upon the re-engagement, are doing, and will possibly do, in the present and in the future. In all Polyannaist terms, nonetheless, we do really expect – while keeping our realist mindset on track – that the ‘opening’ of these countries will also lead to the betterment in the surrounding regions, and the world.

 

BURMA

myanmar

Source (for all map images): Lonely Planet

Population: 60 million (almost), GDP (nominal): 60-65 billion US$ (2014)

Pros: since the limited reforms introduced in 2011 by the quasi-civilian president Thein Sein, sanctions have been gradually lifted the country has managed to attract more foreign direct investment from numerous Asian countries (other than the long-standing investor China), such as India, Thailand, Singapore, Japan, European Union, and obviously, from United States. Tens of billions of dollars have been poured in various industrial projects, while construction boom, mostly focused on high-rise buildings, is currently taking place in major cities, particularly in Yangon. For all the doubts among much of the international communities, World Economic Forum did even organize an investment summit in early 2013. Middle class is emerging in major cities, an important component in the country’s path towards eventual democratization. Hundreds of political prisoners are also since then released from prisons, and political participation is also turning into a more competitive arena as well, with numerous parties now participating in the country’s parliament based in Naypyidaw.

Cons: human rights abuses continue to take place, and the notoriety surrounding the country’s treatment of ethnic Rohingyas, as evident in the massive refugee crisis occurring in the seas between Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. The government continues to deny the citizenship status of the whole ethnic group, numbered at over 1.7 million strong. Other than Rohingyas, the government remains in belligerence with several ethnic-based insurgency groups in the border, particularly those near India and China (some of the peace accords struck with them in 2012 and 2013 failed). There are also concerns that the political reforms seemingly stall, with the latest regulation reserving 25% of the parliament seats to the armed forces, while a presidential candidate has to secure more than 75% of parliamentary support, an obstruction to the country’s most leading politician, Aung San Suu Kyi, to contest the electoral race scheduled to take place in October this year. It is obviously undeniable, in fact, that she can not become a candidate, but whether the next president will proceed with the ongoing reforms remains a big question that has to be solved.

Obama’s visits to the country: 2012 and 2014

 

CUBA

cuba

Population: over 10 million, GDP (nominal): 80 billion US$ (2014)

Pros: relations between United States and Cuba in 20th century were mostly characterized by Cold War conflicts, and CIA’s numberless covert plans to assassinate Fidel Castro, the country’s leading political figure, until his replacement by his brother, Raul, in 2008. Limited reforms have been introduced since then, most astonishingly, the layoff of over 500,000 public employees in 2010 (which indirectly also led to the growth of entrepreneurs). The rapprochement, initiated in May 2012 as part of a ‘spy swap’ program, had since become a wide-ranging thaw among the two countries, culminating with the December 2014 meetings between Raul and Obama, assisted by Pope Francis. Bilateral meetings between Raul and Obama continued further with Organization of the American States (OAS) Summit in Panama City in April 2015, which, for the first time, oversaw the handshaking between the two leaders.

Cooperation among the two countries extends not only among the leaders, but also in people-to-people level. Cuban medical researchers, which ‘doctor diplomacy’ is widely utilized in Cuban foreign policy, have pioneered a medical breakthrough in cure of cancer, and the cooperation has recently begun between the countries’ scientists. The re-opening of US embassy in Havana last week, as one expects, will push American businesses and tourists, gradually, to invest and interact with the locals living in the country in the future. Furthermore, the country can advance even further in its ‘doctor diplomacy’ strategy, now already dispatching more than 40,000 medical experts across the developing world.

Cons: two major takes. Firstly, US has continued to retain the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison, where the infamous CIA rendition program is still taking place there. Further negotiations between Washington and Havana have to be conducted in order to solve this decades-old, lingering problem. Another concern is the extent to which Cuba, still ruled by one-party regime, will introduce its political reforms, and also allowing more competitive political atmosphere. Such political opening will take years, if not decades; if reforms go too fast, a political crisis will be a real, legitimate threat. Gradual phases of tutelage will be a more recommended pattern to guide the country’s path towards political openness, and that will be left to his successors in 2018 (the time Raul resigns, as he will be 87 years old afterwards).

Obama’s visits to the country: zero

 

 

IRAN

iran

Population: 80 million, GDP (nominal): 400-500 billion US$ (2014)

Pros: the nuclear deal, eventually achieved two weeks ago, was another highlighted achievement that Obama had achieved in his administration after over 6 years of uneasy numerous processes of negotiation, together with European Union, IAEA, China, and Russia. The deal itself will require Iran to highly limit (but not completely freeze) the nuclear program, obligate the country to open up for inspections by IAEA, as well as provide progress reports, up for international joint reviews, for a period of 10 years. While the accord was achieved ‘not with trust, but through verification’, the deal will enable the gradual lifting of economic sanctions that have crippled the country for almost one decade, potentially adding an annual oil revenue of more than 100 billion US$ that Tehran critically needs to support the long-term development. Still, a complete normalization of US-Iran relations will not be expected in a short term period, somehow.

Cons: There remains this question of regional rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, two long-time arch-enemies, in Middle East. The two countries have played proxy wars and conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq, and in numerous other Shia-Sunni conflicts across the region. Unlike the two countries above, Tehran plays a powerful influence in Middle East. It continues to retain support to Bashar al-Assad regime in Damascus (and most recently, a new law has been signed in Tehran to authorize 1 billion US$ of financial support to the beleaguered country annually), while the civil war in Yemen, despite the truce, has not led to a full pause. There remains doubt, also, of what will happen once the deal expires in 2025; such uncertainty will have a major implication on global geopolitics in the decades to come, especially when one expects Iran to be economically and politically in even stronger position than now. An Iran-Saudi rapprochement, possibly brokered by Washington, will have to be attempted in a few years to come to prevent a larger regional conflict to take place.

Obama’s visits to the country: zero

 

As much as these efforts have resulted in significantly positive impacts on US relations with the world in the second decade of 21st century, these deals also carry Obama’s name in a huge stake in the long-term future. What if the direction becomes worse rather than better? There is too much one can hardly speculate, even in the 10 years of time; this also carries an important question, furthermore, of what the future US presidents will relate to these countries in a post-Obama setting. Will the presidents maintain the ‘diplomacy-first’ strategy, or will the stance become much harder and more hawkish? In such situations of fixed uncertainties, wisdom will be the sole guidance one has to employ to understand the problems, and proactively solve them. For all the flaws that have occurred, at least, engagement is the continuous form of remedy in international relations that Obama has exercised (so far).

 

 

 

 

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2014: year in review (by countries, part 2)

2014

 

This is the continuation of previous post I published yesterday. Here are a few more countries under the spotlight this year:

 

Iraq – this country has long been notoriously associated with sectarian strife, the failed US invasions, and right now, a seemingly new synonym is ironically added into once was an influential power in Middle East a millennium ago: ISIS. Since its advent in the middle of this year, this organization, led by a former CIA informant (ha!), has committed numerous atrocities against religious and ethnic minorities across much of the country, most notably Christians and Yazidis. Excluding their poor public-relations exercise by means of decapitation, which, as horrendous as it seems, still continues to entice thousands of foreigners across the whole world to join this movement.

With the Iraqi Army still in partial disarray due to internal conflicts, who else remains in charge of limiting ISIS’s movements? Big kudos to Peshmerga, the army for Iraqi Kurdistan, an autonomous region in northern Iraq. While the Army’s offensive has been largely limited (and some even escape), the Peshmerga fighters remain fiercely committed to defending their region, and more generally, the country as a whole, despite the frequent fracas between Baghdad and Erbil (capital of Iraqi Kurdistan) in regard to oil production sharing contracts.

Iran – it has been an uneasy year for President Hassan Rouhani, as nuclear deals with Western countries remain largely in limbo. But one piece of slightly good news abounds: Iran has, for the first time since Ahmadinejad era, achieved positive economic growth, albeit small compared to most emerging markets. With GDP growth estimated at 2%, no matter how small it is, Iran is expected to move slowly into better direction in the years to come.

The big concern that matters, as of my opinion, is the limited freedom of expression that prevails.

Israel / Palestine – “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Gandhi’s quote resonates very obviously in terms of how these two countries relate to each other. A few Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and murdered, followed by a retaliation by which a Palestinian child was done so in similar manner. And huge conflicts, due in part to deep scars that remain in both governments, reverberated again, as history has taught. More than 2,000 Palestinian civilians were killed during an offensive by Israeli military in August this year. But is Israel the sole culprit in this conflict? What about Hamas, notoriously known for exploiting civilian places like schools and hospitals to launch unending attacks to Israel? With now Israel dominated by hard-line Zionists, and Palestine partially under control of hard-line leaders as well, the doors towards negotiation and dialogues will not be achievable in the near future.

A piece of good news that remains largely overlooked in this conflict zone: start-ups, mostly in software development and creative products, in both countries are flourishing, and more European countries are recognizing Palestine as a sovereign state.

Japan – Shinzo Abe was reelected as Prime Minister of Japan in a somewhat risky bet he placed in this year’s general election, as his Abenomics was showing failure. In short term, his quantitative easing policy has pumped over trillions of dollars into the market, therefore stimulating exports growth, abundant cash, as well as inflation, the word first time appearing in the news after more than 20 years experiencing continuous periods of deflation. Nonetheless, with Abe’s introduction of consumption tax at 8%, this deals a catastrophic blow for his ambitious initiative intended to revive Japanese economic miracle. With GDP contracting this quarter, the country unofficially enters its recession again. Even his ‘Womenomics’ program, aimed to increase female participation in leadership seats across Japan’s corporations and organizations into 30%, will be hardly achievable in this decade.

In 2015, challenges will not be even easier for Abe, as a whole range of issues will soon face his administration. Revision of US-drafted post-war constitution has attracted massive opposition from largely Japanese public, still traumatized by the deadly repercussions of World War II, even though Japan will never become a militarist power again, given the country’s increasing demographic pressure. His plans to restart nuclear power plants, ratify the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), pass national secrecy laws, and handle Japan’s fragile relations with China similarly encounter big resistance from much of the Japanese population as well. 2014-2018 will not be a smooth path for Abe, were he to continue his tenure.

Libya – the country remains largely fractured three years after Muammar Qaddafi was overthrown and brutally murdered by opposition forces in a NATO-led civil war that destroyed Libya in 2011. Some militants have previously formed their own ‘governorate’ in the country’s eastern part, only to face another armed resistance from other fighters, while several ISIS sympathizers have begun to infiltrate the country’s security. Even with Libya’s riches stored abroad (the country’s sovereign wealth fund reaches a staggering amount of 120 billion US$, but mostly in bank accounts in Switzerland, notorious for their secrecy laws), the money can hardly be used for Libyan public, given that much of the money remains under control of Qaddafi’s relatives, many of whom had escaped abroad (except for his son, Saif al-Islam, who may possibly face death sentence).

Malaysia – 2014 is the most disastrous year for the country’s aviation industry, as three airliners belonging to its most reliable carriers, Malaysia Airlines and Air Asia, perished this year. The most puzzling of which was Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, a scheduled flight between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing that ended up nowhere. After almost 10 months of investigation, involving hundreds of rescue ships and even war ships from more than 27 countries, not even the slightest trace of the plane can be found. The plane was presumed, as by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, to have ‘ended up somewhere in Indian Ocean’. This makes the search efforts even riskier, given that much of Indian Ocean’s terrains remain largely unmapped, some of which may have depth over 6,000 meters. Four months after this tragedy, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 again became a tragedy, as pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine mistook it as ‘Ukrainian military transport plane’ and shot it down. 239 people in MH370 had never been found, while 298 people in MH17 were instantly killed by the missile launched by the separatists.

And this Sunday, Air Asia, long notable as Asia’s largest low-cost carrier with great safety records, faced its first major crisis with the disappearance of its plane in Air Asia Flight QZ 8501, flying from Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city, to Singapore. 162 passengers and crew were inside the plane, which remains missing as of this hour.

However, other than aviation disasters, Malaysia faces another major issue in regard to the country’s increasing authoritarian rule, as Najib’s administration restarted decades-old sedition laws, used only during British colonial rule, to detain political opponents without prior permission from judiciary powers, including Anwar Ibrahim, the most outspoken. The country also faces ethnic and religious tumults, as Christians are no longer allowed to use ‘Allah’ in their sermons, and more pro-Malay policies at the expense of Chinese and Indian minorities, many of whom have increasingly emigrated abroad.

Myanmar – the country doesn’t experience much progress in democratic transition, as one-fourth of the national parliament remains solely reserved for military. Even the constitution itself requires a law to be approved by more than three-fourths of the entire members, something which can be easily aborted by the powerful military members.

How the country handles its ethnic minorities will remain a concern to be observed in 2015 and years to come, most commonly illustrated by the country’s failure to relate with Muslim Rohingya minorities, many of whom have fled abroad to avoid persecution by ultra-nationalist Buddhists.

One thing almost for sure: in next year’s 2015 election, there is large probability Aung San Suu Kyi will not become the country’s president, given many of the current constitution’s limitations.

Nigeria – Africa’s most populated country faces its major crisis when Boko Haram, an Islamist movement affiliated with Al-Qaeda in northern Nigeria, kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls, sparking an international campaign to free them. However, the kidnapping itself is not the mere problem the Goodluck Jonathan’s administration is being faced with. Continuous suicide-bomb attacks have killed over thousands of civilians in many parts across the country, prompting military operations to capture those involved.

Nonetheless, there remains some good news that is worthy of international attention. The country, given its proximity to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, was once thought as a potential ‘bomb’ for Ebola epidemic to turn itself into a pandemic, given the country’s population that now reaches 170 million, as well as high density, low sanitation, acute poverty, and little awareness about cleanliness. However, within months, less than two dozens of cases took place across the whole country, with the number of mortality countable by fingers. This is something seemingly impossible for many experts, but Nigeria, given the national unity in facing this crisis, has proven to the world that no matter how problematic things seem to be, they can resolve it successfully.

And Nigeria’s GDP has for the first time surpassed that of South Africa, therefore becoming Africa’s largest economy. While oil and gas revenues remain the largest source for government budget (and often corrupted), Nigerian economy has been more diversified in recent years.

North Korea – other than the Kim-Obama fracas about naughty comedy ‘The Interview’ and the subsequent Sony hacking attacks that follow (which may possibly be conducted by third parties using North Korean IP addresses), the country is not as isolated as people perceive anymore. Over hundred thousands of Chinese tourists are now visiting North Korea every year, followed by a large flow of cash from China, its principal ally, largely driven by informal economy that the country is mostly depending upon. As economy has collapsed, majority of the North Koreans have now turned into either smuggling or small trade, and the country’s unofficial currencies are either US dollar, euro, or Chinese yuan (South Korean won is not allowed).

The purge, and eventual execution, of Jang Song-thaek remains a proof, however, that Kim Jong-un can be as ruthless as his grandfather and father were (Jang was his uncle, and a sort of ‘intermediary’ between North Korea and China in terms of economic, trade, and investment relations).

 

(wait for part 3)

 

Why America’s decline is dangerous for global security

america's allies

 

As I’ve said before in previous posts, no superpowers are absolute sages. Either their good deeds – providing aid packages and investment worth billions of dollars – or bad deeds – overthrowing other countries’ regimes by force, everything is done under the context of ‘global interest’, actually referring back to the superpowers’ own sake. Nonetheless, when the ‘big brother’ grows frail, what will happen to its key allies, or at the least, those leaning towards them? Will the rise of another global hegemony ensure that their countries will maintain their ‘business-as-usual’ approach? In politics, the answer is uncertain.

In regard to America’s influence, we can see both the positive and negative sides it has spread across the globe. We see democracies flourishing, global trading increasingly interdependent, and globalization itself more intense, but at the same time, we still see Western-backed plutocrats in power, Western-waged geopolitical wars, and international rivalry with a few competing emerging regional powers, say Russia and China. None of these countries, despite being US allies, is completely reluctant to surrender all its rights to the Globocop as well. However, the most fretful question – in early 21st century context – is: when American influence increasingly declines, especially as seen from Obama’s increasingly timid, hyper-cautious, and anti-military stance in his approach towards global problem-solving, what will happen to those which are depending on its global might?

A lot of fretful things, indeed, have happened. Russia, led by Putin, has led the pivot by firstly annexing Crimea, the geopolitical point of contention between Ukraine and the latter. Baltic states, Poland, and other NATO members, are being scared of a possibility of Putin leading another ‘conquest’ towards their countries. Japan is afraid of China, especially when it comes to the ownership of a chain of uninhabitable rocks known as Senkaku (in Japanese) or Diaoyutai (in Mandarin). South Korea is apprehensive about its aggressive North, and any probability of China leading another military intervention should North Korea collapse (which is an imminent risk many experts concern). Taiwanese people are particularly afraid of such prospect, as Taiwanese economy is becoming increasingly dependent on China’s, leading to their greater fears about ‘future reunification’. Southeast Asian states, particularly Vietnam and Philippines (and most recently, Indonesia), are in deep uncertainties in regard to the ownership of South China Seas, which, by its entirety, is claimed by Beijing. India doesn’t want to provoke a nuclear war with China, but it also doesn’t want to let go some of its territories in Himalaya. Gulf states, and Saudi Arabia in particular, do not want to see a nuclear-powered Iran leading any future invasion (but which threats are being calmed down after Hassan Rowhani’s charismatic leadership).

 

Still, despite some animosity, support of American global influence remains a Hobson’s choice.

 

Read a complete analysis on The Economist.

Surviving the sanctions

kk_monocle_9892-5239cea6b82dd

 

 

Iran will always be remembered as a miracle. Not that it has such an impressive economic growth; its oil subsidies, surpassing 80 billion US$ every year, and also the world’s highest, has disproportionately cramped the growth rate to date. Not that because it has an abundance of oil either; its plentiful resources have been the soft target for numerous emerging powers, particularly US, Russia, and China. And not even that its civilization is brought out of magic.

The miracle itself can be attested to the very fact that despite the malaise yielded by economic sanctions, spiraling inflation, and very high unemployment rate, and to exacerbate the whole matters, numerous natural disasters (most notably mass-killing earthquakes, rehearsing the pattern in an epoch spanning over three millennia, and most recently, its heavily autocratic regime, the whole nation can still survive. ‘Survive’ may not be a pretty word, for that can not describe the insurmountable plight bulk of the populace has experienced. Nevertheless, what that as yet sustains the whole country to this moment is, in short, the strong sense of persistence among much of its people.

Now the country seemingly glitters with hopes. With the appointment of Hassan Rouhani as the new leader of Iran, replacing his hard-line predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and with new possibilities of nuclear talks between Iran and the United States, and with Rouhani’s pro-reform agenda many experts have likened him to China’s pro-reform leader, Deng Xiaoping, the people are waiting for the moments when their plights are gradually taken off their souls. And they are still waiting.

In this October issue, Monocle attempts to document Iranian businesses struggling to survive amid waves of sanctions having been imposed on the whole economic system by the United States. Read the full article here.

Excerpt:

Sanctions are only half the trouble. Eight years of maladministration – under the increasingly unpopular government of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – have devastated Iran’s domestic industries and sent inflation soaring. Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005 during the beginning of a steep climb in global oil prices. The price per barrel jumped three-fold under his watch and Iran made more money than during the rest of its century-old crude export history combined.

The populist newly elected president spent this windfall transforming the Iranian economy. “Ahmadinejad flooded the economy with petrodollars. Cheap loans were given out for almost anything… Exotic fruits from places such as Egypt and Latin America were imported for the first time since the Revolution,” says Houman Dolatshahi, managing director of Tehran-based Atieh Bahar Consulting Group. “The domestic sector died, which caused a spike in the unemployment rate and the liquidity also brought inflation,” he explains. Inflation now stands at 44 per cent, year on year. Several experts put the inflation and unemployment figures even higher.

Ahmadinejad changed Iran’s – particularly Tehran’s – consumer market inexorably. Banned or heavily levied products such as iPhones, Western-branded clothes and large, status-symbol cars found their way into the market via importers with access to cheap foreign currency though government connections. But the sharp drop in the rial since the end of 2011 has exposed the folly of Ahmadinejad’s monetary policies during his first six years in office.

Why not everyone is gonna watch Persepolis.

Marjane Satrapi is a living talent. In my lifetime, there has never been an animated film – and never a motion picture itself – as satirically biting as her beloved ‘Persepolis’. What makes it exceptional lies on her ungodly experiences she herself had tasted through the tumultuous periods of life. She is not only doing her own tale-telling; things go deeper in the entirety of the 95 minutes Persepolis offers you. Deeper in her soul, she tells a fairytale about a polity imprisoned by its own isolationist regimes.

The story began with a young woman, that is Satrapi herself, undergoing a watertight immigration check-up upon her arrival in Charles de Gaulle International Airport, Paris, 1994. She later went into a toilet, and saw one French woman viewing her – and her headscarf, a must-have item for women in today’s Iran – with full suspicion. In no time, the scene moved into Satrapi sitting in a cafe, while a cloudburst was taking place outside the airport, at the same time contemplating about her gruesome past. There, we began to see a 9-year-old Satrapi, bigotric of Bruce Lee, Che Guevara, and revolution. A 9-year-old who was full of beans on revolutionary hopes instigated by the 1979 revolt which ousted the dictatorial, heavily anti-Communist Reza Shah Pahlevi. Life became more exuberant after her uncle, Anoush, was released from the prison after having been behind bars for 9 years, due to his Communist-inspired rebellion against the regime. Little Marji was overwhelmed by hopes, dreams, and ambitions (one of which was to become a prophet) by the outcome of the revolution; societies cherished the collapse of the regime of terror, which Satrapi indirectly implied as ‘teddy-bear of the West’.

However, it took not much time to grab every smiling face from virtually every citizen of the country. As soon as the Islamic Fundamentalists, those led by similarly brutal, sadistic, and savage Ayatollah Rohullah Khomeini, led a victory landslide with an overwhelming 99.9%, Iran was back into another regime of terror, but this time, on the behalf of ‘Islamic Republic of Iran’. Women are no longer allowed to adopt Western styles of fashion outside their homes; every woman was required to wear hijab, otherwise they might be alienated by surrounding societies.

Her uncle – also her very own source of inspiration for her exuberant life, Anoush, was all in a sudden captured by the regime due to his ideology, and was subsequently executed by a firing squad. Iran was preparing for a war with Iraq, a war in which would later claim more than 1 million lives, and lasted for 8 years. Almost every single day was spent with overwhelming fear, due to the high possibility that Iraqi forces would fire missiles into their apartments, and blow their bodies apart. Millions of men and women were recruited in self-defense jihad units, in which they sacrificed their lives by crossing through the heavily landmine-infested Iran-Iraq borderline. To make things more miserable, Satrapi put a scene in which her mother was involved in a conversation with their neighbor, who had lost all her 5 sons in the war, and instead having them ‘rewarded’ with a government-made plastic key, which symbolizes ‘path to heaven for courageously expelling the kafirs’.

All the situation had its own immediate effect on Satrapi. There was much personal tumult she had to struggle. All sorts of Western art were prohibited – and are still in effect until this day. That means obtaining them would be a grueling process; even vendors of pirated DVDs on American movies would have to put their eyes all the time on to anticipate any unexpected raids that may be conducted by some kind of local sharia patrolmen. She expressed all her concerns on the loud, banging, explosive sounds of heavy metal bands, notably Iron Maiden (her lifetime idol), listened vividly to Michael Jackson’s songs (often mis-spelt in Iran as Jichael Mackson), and wore a denim jacket with signs written out ‘punk is not ded’.

Her personal struggle escalated after she was moved to Vienna, Austria, in 1983. She lived in a rented house under the strict supervision of Catholic nuns, but in her schooling life, she befriended a group of punk, anarchy-minded Bohemians, and frequently attended underground, death-metal concerts. She fell in love with one of them, but the relationship ended off in no time after the man declared openly he ‘is a gay, and is proud of it’. Having fallen headfirst into desperation, her relationship with the Catholic nuns deteriorated, and she was expelled after a rabble-rousery fracas, which ended up by snapping at the nuns as ‘prostitutes’. Most of her time in Vienna was spent bohemianly, where she had to move from her friend’s house to her friend’s house, again into her friend’s friend’s house, again into her friend’s friend’s house, and even had to stay 4 all-gay couples for some time, before she found a brief period of tranquility staying in a philosopher’s house. She fell in love with a freelance playwright, but she even fell headlong, deeper into the valley of stygian desperation, after finding out her lover was having sex with another woman.

Her life became unstable since then; she often had falling-outs with the philosopher, and ended up expelled. For months, she had to wander around the streets of Vienna as a beggar, having survived day to day from the food remainings she found in landfills. In a deep night, she fell into comatose. Someone out there had taken her to hospital. Unable to cope with the emotional pressure she had been facing for months, she decided to return back to her homeland.

Back in Iran, Satrapi again regained her gusto after she dreamt she met God – and Karl Marx, her longtime idol. She enrolled back into academic life, amidst increasing fear about more possible repressions coming up in the future, since the death of Ayatollah Rohullah Khomeini. She openly spoke up about the hypocrisies and all the religious absurdities in symposiums, fell in love with a local man, married her afterwards, and divorced him 4 years later, before she moved to Paris, and lives there until now.

—–

To be honest, Persepolis is many times ‘crunchier’ than any animated films I have ever seen. If there were a measurement unit to calculate how deep these films are from 0 to 10, I would rate most of Dreamworks-produced films on average 5, most of Pixar-produced films on average 7.5, and Persepolis on 10. I don’t say that all Dreamworks- and Pixar-made films are bad, but Persepolis has its own path to interpret about the absurdities of the world in a simplified manner that, if you listen deeply on their dialogues, you will slowly feel it. But not everyone will do it. Only those who are already well-prepared to witness the personal tumults of Satrapi as a woman, and as part of Iranian nation, are permitted to watch Persepolis.

But perhaps the most important theme it wants to emphasize is about the essence of human freedom. Satrapi was once born in a country ruled by dictatorial regime, and once had to overcome all the challenges imposed by another, religion-based regime who continues to rule Iran iron-handedly until this second. Once she was set free, she had made one mistake, and had learnt it: the metaphorical wired fences of harsh rules had ‘forced’ her to dream and seek her very own utopia, a realm of absolute freedom. But the world out there never permits, and is always absurd. Only the resilience and fortitude of hearts of man in seeking human freedom itself that will set themselves free, not the elusive, imaginary pledges of utopia. That had ruined her life once. And she realized she must not make another mistake like that anymore.

This is a film to commemmorate everyone who dreams of being ‘set free’.