Tonight on VICE on HBO: Heroin Warfare, by Suroosh Alvi
Iran is an extremely challenging place for journalists to operate. Formal invitations, convoluted bureaucracy, and government-approved “minders” tracking your every movement make it one of the most difficult places to report from in the world. Even with legal permits we got detained and/or arrested almost daily.
VICE had been trying to get into this isolated country for seven years, and every time we got shut down with zero explanation. Last year, after hearing that Iran had a heroin epidemic on its hands—which every single Iranian we interviewed for the piece insisted was a direct consequence of America’s decade-plus occupation of Afghanistan—we gave it another shot.
This time our pitch to the Ministry of Culture was that we wanted to do a story about the widespread damage the opium and heroin trade has had on Iranian society. Finally, they agreed and invited us to come over. Our entire international crew was allowed inside, with the exception of our American cameramen, whom we had to replace with Iranian and Mexican nationals.
It’s estimated that 80 percent of the dope flowing out of Afghanistan passes through Iran before ending up in Europe, where it is sold at a street level. Along the way, a lot of it ends up in the arms of what the Iranian government estimates to be 2 million drug users. (The actual number is widely believed to be much higher.)
In the years leading up to the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the Taliban had enforced a ban on opium-poppy cultivation, resulting in historically low levels of production. After the Taliban were toppled, the Afghan warlords who regained control of the country (many of whom were appointed by the Americans) resumed the stupidly lucrative farming of opium and poppy once again.
Continue

Tonight on VICE on HBO: Heroin Warfare, by Suroosh Alvi

Iran is an extremely challenging place for journalists to operate. Formal invitations, convoluted bureaucracy, and government-approved “minders” tracking your every movement make it one of the most difficult places to report from in the world. Even with legal permits we got detained and/or arrested almost daily.

VICE had been trying to get into this isolated country for seven years, and every time we got shut down with zero explanation. Last year, after hearing that Iran had a heroin epidemic on its hands—which every single Iranian we interviewed for the piece insisted was a direct consequence of America’s decade-plus occupation of Afghanistan—we gave it another shot.

This time our pitch to the Ministry of Culture was that we wanted to do a story about the widespread damage the opium and heroin trade has had on Iranian society. Finally, they agreed and invited us to come over. Our entire international crew was allowed inside, with the exception of our American cameramen, whom we had to replace with Iranian and Mexican nationals.

It’s estimated that 80 percent of the dope flowing out of Afghanistan passes through Iran before ending up in Europe, where it is sold at a street level. Along the way, a lot of it ends up in the arms of what the Iranian government estimates to be 2 million drug users. (The actual number is widely believed to be much higher.)

In the years leading up to the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the Taliban had enforced a ban on opium-poppy cultivation, resulting in historically low levels of production. After the Taliban were toppled, the Afghan warlords who regained control of the country (many of whom were appointed by the Americans) resumed the stupidly lucrative farming of opium and poppy once again.

Continue

I Was Abducted by Hezbollah at Beirut’s Bombed Iranian Embassy

Yesterday, at around 9.30 AM, two suicide bombers attacked the Iranian Embassy in Beirut. The building is in Bir Hassan, a Hezbollah-controlled suburb in the south of Lebanon’s capital. Targeting the Iranian embassy sent a clear message. Iran is a major supporter of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as well as the Shi’a political and paramilitary organization Hezbollah. At least 25 people were killed in the blast—including the Iranian cultural attaché, Ebrahim Ansari. About 145 more were injured. 

Within hours of the bombing, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades—a Lebanon-based jihadist group with links to al Qaeda—claimed responsibility for the attacks over Twitter. Sheikh Sirajeddine Zuraiqat, the group’s religious guide, described the twin bombings as a “double martyrdom operation carried out by two heroes from the heroic Sunnis of Lebanon.” The attack marked the third time this year that areas in Beirut’s Bir Hassan suburb have been targeted, with previous attacks on July 9 and August 15 killing a total of 27 people.

Lebanese politicians were quick to present a united front in condemnation of the attack. Caretaker Prime Minster Najib Miqati described the twin blasts as a “cowardly terrorist” attack, suggesting that foreign agents were using Lebanon as a “mailbox” for their own agendas, while opposition leader Saad Hariri stated that “the blasts should become a new impetus to steer Lebanon clear of the fires in the region”. Iran, as it does with everything from political instability to natural disasters, pointed the finger at Israel.

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DON’T INSULT THE IRON SHEIK, BUBBA
If you know anything about professional wrestling, you know who the Iron Sheik is. The legendary heel started his WWF career back in the early 80s, when he was part of an anti-American tag team with Nikolai Volkoff. Hulk Hogan beat the Sheik to earn his first title, and the Iranian-born star—his real name is Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri—was a major character during pro wrestling’s golden era. In “real” life, Hossein was a talented Greco-Roman wrestler who served in the Iranian Army and worked as a bodyguard to the Shah before emigrating to the US in the late 60s and achieving the American Dream many times over.

Today, nearly 40 years after the Sheik adopted his trademark shaved head and mustache and stepped into the ring, he’s more famous than ever before, thanks to frequent appearances on The Howard Stern Show and his Twitter account, a hilarious, profane, stream-of-consciousness rant about everything from celebrities to the Sheik’s former rivals to days of the week.
CONTINUE

DON’T INSULT THE IRON SHEIK, BUBBA

If you know anything about professional wrestling, you know who the Iron Sheik is. The legendary heel started his WWF career back in the early 80s, when he was part of an anti-American tag team with Nikolai Volkoff. Hulk Hogan beat the Sheik to earn his first title, and the Iranian-born star—his real name is Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri—was a major character during pro wrestling’s golden era. In “real” life, Hossein was a talented Greco-Roman wrestler who served in the Iranian Army and worked as a bodyguard to the Shah before emigrating to the US in the late 60s and achieving the American Dream many times over.

Today, nearly 40 years after the Sheik adopted his trademark shaved head and mustache and stepped into the ring, he’s more famous than ever before, thanks to frequent appearances on The Howard Stern Show and his Twitter account, a hilarious, profane, stream-of-consciousness rant about everything from celebrities to the Sheik’s former rivals to days of the week.

CONTINUE

We Spoke to a Rejected Iranian Presidential Candidate
In a couple of weeks, Iranians will go to the polls to choose a replacement for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who’s held power since 2005. Although “choose” might not be the right word. Of the hundreds of candidates who applied to run for the top job, just eight have been selected by the “Guardian Council,” a crusty cabal of senile theocrats, who make sure Iranians never really have a choice each time the election party rolls around.
Even between the eight—each of which has been approved for his piety and dedication to the “Supreme Leader,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei—it’s unlikely to be a fair fight. Following the last election back in 2009,millions of protesters accused the ruling elite of vote rigging, censorship and suppression of reformist candidates. The government cracked down hard. On one occasion that would be totally unbelievable if it wasn’t happening in the world’s least democratic democracy, a candidate’s real-time vote count actually fell on live TV.
There’s no reason to think this election will be any more transparent. Last week, Facebook and Twitter and were blocked, probably to head off a 2009-style youth protest movement. The press is on lock more than ever. Iran has the sixth least free media globally, according to Reporters Without Borders. And while the country falls apart, the eight candidates are locked in a complex and Westerosian power struggle.
To get an insider’s view of the race, I called Hooshang Amirahmadi, one of the candidates who failed to make the Guardian Council’s cut last week. A joint US-Iranian citizen and academic, he campaigned on a platform of reform, engagement with the US, human rights, and nuclear non-proliferation. We discussed his campaign, nukes, press freedom, and gay people.
VICE: Hi Hooshang. Why did you decide to run?
Hooshang Amirahmadi: Iran is going in the wrong direction. The country’s problems are accelerating every day—it’s very factional and has a terrible relationship with the US and major economic issues. People are suffering tremendously and they need and want change. Iranians are very nervous.
What about?The options at the moment are a continuation of the status quo, or more sanctions, or even the possibility of war. Iranians don’t want any of these outcomes, and each is terrible for the international community. That’s why people inside and outside the country have been pushing me to run for president. They don’t want the status quo to continue and they certainly don’t like the other options.
And you were pressured to withdraw from the race?Yes, I was forced to withdraw. I was told by the authorities that my campaign was too popular and that I was becoming controversial – people were saying that I was the only hope for Iran. The government is very concerned and doesn’t want to face another controversial, unpopular election. So they suggested that I stay away and preserve myself for running in the future.

Were you threatened?Not really, but I was told I wouldn’t be welcomed by the government and that I would be disqualified. They told me it would be better to stay away. They never really threatened me. They were respectful.
Continue

We Spoke to a Rejected Iranian Presidential Candidate

In a couple of weeks, Iranians will go to the polls to choose a replacement for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who’s held power since 2005. Although “choose” might not be the right word. Of the hundreds of candidates who applied to run for the top job, just eight have been selected by the “Guardian Council,” a crusty cabal of senile theocrats, who make sure Iranians never really have a choice each time the election party rolls around.

Even between the eight—each of which has been approved for his piety and dedication to the “Supreme Leader,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei—it’s unlikely to be a fair fight. Following the last election back in 2009,millions of protesters accused the ruling elite of vote rigging, censorship and suppression of reformist candidates. The government cracked down hard. On one occasion that would be totally unbelievable if it wasn’t happening in the world’s least democratic democracy, a candidate’s real-time vote count actually fell on live TV.

There’s no reason to think this election will be any more transparent. Last week, Facebook and Twitter and were blocked, probably to head off a 2009-style youth protest movement. The press is on lock more than ever. Iran has the sixth least free media globally, according to Reporters Without Borders. And while the country falls apart, the eight candidates are locked in a complex and Westerosian power struggle.

To get an insider’s view of the race, I called Hooshang Amirahmadi, one of the candidates who failed to make the Guardian Council’s cut last week. A joint US-Iranian citizen and academic, he campaigned on a platform of reform, engagement with the US, human rights, and nuclear non-proliferation. We discussed his campaign, nukes, press freedom, and gay people.

VICE: Hi Hooshang. Why did you decide to run?

Hooshang Amirahmadi: Iran is going in the wrong direction. The country’s problems are accelerating every day—it’s very factional and has a terrible relationship with the US and major economic issues. People are suffering tremendously and they need and want change. Iranians are very nervous.

What about?
The options at the moment are a continuation of the status quo, or more sanctions, or even the possibility of war. Iranians don’t want any of these outcomes, and each is terrible for the international community. That’s why people inside and outside the country have been pushing me to run for president. They don’t want the status quo to continue and they certainly don’t like the other options.

And you were pressured to withdraw from the race?
Yes, I was forced to withdraw. I was told by the authorities that my campaign was too popular and that I was becoming controversial – people were saying that I was the only hope for Iran. The government is very concerned and doesn’t want to face another controversial, unpopular election. So they suggested that I stay away and preserve myself for running in the future.

Were you threatened?
Not really, but I was told I wouldn’t be welcomed by the government and that I would be disqualified. They told me it would be better to stay away. They never really threatened me. They were respectful.

Continue

Global Fear League 2013: A Look at Which Countries Are Going to Destroy the World This Year

Global Fear League 2013: A Look at Which Countries Are Going to Destroy the World This Year

There’s a lot of rhetoric thrown around at the UN. And I mean A LOT. (It is a meeting of many of the world’s most influential politicians after all!) So, instead of writing a column attempting to analyze all that rhetoric, I have created a series of word clouds for nine of the most important, hyped, and just plain interesting speeches that have occurred so far during the General Assembly. Enjoy.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Israel)

President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad (Iran)

CONTINUE


THE ARAB SPRING’S FORGOTTEN UPRISING
By Henry Langston


Ahwazi national flag.
The Arab Spring swept across the Middle East last year, toppling authoritarian regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, while violence still rages on in Syria. Global commentators speculated about whether the Arab Spring would reach Iran and reignite the anti-Ahmadinejad Green Movement that was brutally suppressed after it started protesting election results in 2009. However, as soon as protests started this February, the police moved in to prevent a repeat of the tragedy that unfolded a few years back. Foreign news coverage then became severely limited, after news bureaus were threatened with closure and their staffs with deportation if they dared print anything negative.
However, the clampdown didn’t stop the protests. Two months later, Iranian Arabs in the western province of Ahwaz took to the streets of the capital, which is also called Ahwaz, and were attacked by the security forces, who fired live ammunition into the crowd, killing 15 and wounding dozens more.
Never heard of Ahwaz? That’s because, officially, it’s called Khuzestan and is home to one of Iran’s longest running independence movements—a movement that Iran has been fighting and brutalizing to keep quiet. If the name rings a bell at all, it’s probably from the 1980 Iranian embassy siege in London, which was carried out by Ahwazi separatists demanding the release of Arab prisoners in Iranian jails. 
Ahwaz is a mainly ethnically Arab province that was an autonomous state before 1935. Ever since, Ahwazis have been protesting both peacefully, and not so peacefully, to regain their independence. But, surprise surprise, Iran isn’t listening. And not only is it not listening, it’s shooting protesters and often torturing and executing the ones it captures while branding them traitors and heretics.
Unsurprisingly, Ahwazis are getting tired of demonstrating, and there’s now talk of armed insurrection. I got in touch with Kamil Alboshoka, who was forced to flee Iran and now works as an Ahwazi human rights campaigner, to find out exactly what’s going on.

VICE: Hey, Kamil. Can you tell me a little bit about Ahwaz please?Kamil: Ahwaz is a very rich and fertile land, with many rivers that help it sustain its vast agricultural output. Ahwaz is Iran’s third richest province by GDP, but the country now suffers. Ahwaz is rich, but its people are not. We’re not allowed to study our own language, not allowed to engage in politics, not allowed to wear our traditional clothes, not allowed to use our traditional names, and we’re not allowed to have our own economy. The country is in a really bad situation.
How did it all start?It was independent before 1925, then Iran attacked my country, occupied the land, and killed thousands of people. In 1935, Iran officially declared that Ahwaz was a part of the country, then they changed the name to Khuzestan in 1936. Since then, Iran has moved thousands of ethnic Persians to Ahwaz to change the demographic of the land. Now there are nearly two million Persians in Ahwaz, but they live in the centers of the towns and they don’t mix with people, exactly like Kosovo in the past, or like the West Bank. They’re Persian settlements and they have the power to take agriculture from the people. The economy is run by them and they’re supported by the Iranian state.
So the 1979 revolution changed nothing?No, nothing changed. It just became worse, because, in 1979 Persians weren’t supposed to take power again—it was supposed to become a federalist state. During the revolution, the ethnic Turks started the demonstrations across Iran, and Arabs blockaded the oil and gas in Ahwaz, so that made the previous regime close down. Before Ruhollah Khomeini took power, he told them he’d give them rights to speak their language, rights to be federalist, and rights to have a percentage of their economy, but didn’t fulfill any of his promises. The only thing we have left now is self-determination. 
Continue

THE ARAB SPRING’S FORGOTTEN UPRISING

By Henry Langston


Ahwazi national flag.

The Arab Spring swept across the Middle East last year, toppling authoritarian regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, while violence still rages on in Syria. Global commentators speculated about whether the Arab Spring would reach Iran and reignite the anti-Ahmadinejad Green Movement that was brutally suppressed after it started protesting election results in 2009. However, as soon as protests started this February, the police moved in to prevent a repeat of the tragedy that unfolded a few years back. Foreign news coverage then became severely limited, after news bureaus were threatened with closure and their staffs with deportation if they dared print anything negative.

However, the clampdown didn’t stop the protests. Two months later, Iranian Arabs in the western province of Ahwaz took to the streets of the capital, which is also called Ahwaz, and were attacked by the security forces, who fired live ammunition into the crowd, killing 15 and wounding dozens more.

Never heard of Ahwaz? That’s because, officially, it’s called Khuzestan and is home to one of Iran’s longest running independence movements—a movement that Iran has been fighting and brutalizing to keep quiet. If the name rings a bell at all, it’s probably from the 1980 Iranian embassy siege in London, which was carried out by Ahwazi separatists demanding the release of Arab prisoners in Iranian jails. 

Ahwaz is a mainly ethnically Arab province that was an autonomous state before 1935. Ever since, Ahwazis have been protesting both peacefully, and not so peacefully, to regain their independence. But, surprise surprise, Iran isn’t listening. And not only is it not listening, it’s shooting protesters and often torturing and executing the ones it captures while branding them traitors and heretics.

Unsurprisingly, Ahwazis are getting tired of demonstrating, and there’s now talk of armed insurrection. I got in touch with Kamil Alboshoka, who was forced to flee Iran and now works as an Ahwazi human rights campaigner, to find out exactly what’s going on.

VICE: Hey, Kamil. Can you tell me a little bit about Ahwaz please?
Kamil: Ahwaz is a very rich and fertile land, with many rivers that help it sustain its vast agricultural output. Ahwaz is Iran’s third richest province by GDP, but the country now suffers. Ahwaz is rich, but its people are not. We’re not allowed to study our own language, not allowed to engage in politics, not allowed to wear our traditional clothes, not allowed to use our traditional names, and we’re not allowed to have our own economy. The country is in a really bad situation.

How did it all start?
It was independent before 1925, then Iran attacked my country, occupied the land, and killed thousands of people. In 1935, Iran officially declared that Ahwaz was a part of the country, then they changed the name to Khuzestan in 1936. Since then, Iran has moved thousands of ethnic Persians to Ahwaz to change the demographic of the land. Now there are nearly two million Persians in Ahwaz, but they live in the centers of the towns and they don’t mix with people, exactly like Kosovo in the past, or like the West Bank. They’re Persian settlements and they have the power to take agriculture from the people. The economy is run by them and they’re supported by the Iranian state.

So the 1979 revolution changed nothing?
No, nothing changed. It just became worse, because, in 1979 Persians weren’t supposed to take power again—it was supposed to become a federalist state. During the revolution, the ethnic Turks started the demonstrations across Iran, and Arabs blockaded the oil and gas in Ahwaz, so that made the previous regime close down. Before Ruhollah Khomeini took power, he told them he’d give them rights to speak their language, rights to be federalist, and rights to have a percentage of their economy, but didn’t fulfill any of his promises. The only thing we have left now is self-determination. 

Continue