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Published August 28, 2008
guest commentary by Ana K. Sami
Denver Post


The Democratic National Convention in Denver brought with it a plethora of activity, including booths supporting various political and social causes and demonstrators who also voiced their opinions at Civic Center Park.

Undoubtedly the most eye catching of all presentations was a mosque-like structure made out of synthetic silk with pictures held up by massive steel beams, a sound system that played street sounds from Iran including the azan (Islamic call to prayer), and lights to be lit at sundown.

The inside and outside of the structure boldly displays large photographs printed on sturdy weather resistant fabric of Iranians living in Iran, including an Iranian cleric, a young bassiji (Iran's internal paramilitary forced charged to maintain public order through suppression), and many photos of young women with their headscarves pushed back.

The artist, and the name behind this project called "Pictures of You," Tom Loughlin, states that the purpose of this project is to show Iran's human side, to allow the American public to see that "we are all made from the same flesh."

From the outset, many Americans and others who viewed the display were appreciative of the art, and received the message of "peace" and no "war" well.

However, those who are more familiar with the reality on the ground in Iran, were outraged, not by the images which were pleasing to the eye, but to the deeper political message that Loughlin admitted was "inevitable."

If Loughlin admits there is a political message involved, it is necessary to dissect the message that Loughlin whether purposely or unintentionally has promoted.

Throughout the past thirty years since they gained power, and especially since the Khatami administration (1997-2005), the Iranian regime has made their best attempts to promote an image of Iran that is falsified and only attempts to mask the worst of crimes committed against the Iranian people, and now sadly the people of the region.

The laundry list of Iran's crimes against humanity include the execution of minors, the hanging of individuals under the pretext of being criminals (often in mass number, without fair trials), the stoning of women and men to death, the gouging out of eyes, the severing of fingers, the rape and sexual assault of very young girls and women by Iranian officials, the physical oppression and torture of Iran's vibrant youth who protest, and of course violent terrorist acts abroad which has been responsible for the death of Americans, and so many other innocent individuals.

In addition the majority of Iran's population lives in abject poverty because of the massive amounts of money dedicated to developing their nuclear program-Iranians starve to feed the ego and political prowess of their unwanted ruling regime.

One can only wonder if Loughlin ever passed Evin prison in Tehran, the notorious torture chambers where heart stopping crimes are committed, and where Zahra Kazemi was brutally tortured, sexually assaulted by Iranian regime officials, and murdered by a blow to the head.

Kazemi was a photographer as well, but felt the need to show the truth, images of Evin, and the brokenhearted yet steadfast families who were there to protest the abuse of their families and friends.

Yes, Iran and their people are beautiful, and try as they might, the Iranian regime will fail time and time again to obliterate their spirit and resolve to free their country.

If an image is worth a thousand words, then images of Iran's people, resisting tyranny and oppression, deserve to be photographed, displayed, and lauded.

Loughlin's unbalanced view of the reality of the Iranian people undoubtedly plays directly into the hands of Iran's ruling elite, the message that Iranians are well, happy, and carefree are superficial and promote the Iranian regime's agenda to convince world leaders to use "diplomacy" and not violence as a means to deal with them.

The Iranian regime knows all too well, and recent US diplomatic history has shown that diplomacy and its potential results of appeasement are simply a ploy to buy time and continue their expansion of suppression.

Loughlin and those that fund his rather expensive projects have a responsibility to understand the message of their art, while attractive, only encourages Tehran's hideous and oppressive nature.

At the very least, Loughlin has an obligation to show all sides of Iran's social structure. The truth of the matter is that Iranians, because of their serious situation in the world spotlight, are infused with politics and burning to tell the world the horrific crimes they have witnessed throughout the years. Of course, the fear in speaking out and documenting such things is ever-present.

On at least one occasion, Loughlin traveled to Iran with an outspoken anti-war advocate, Iranian-American Deena Guzder, who just received her advanced degree from Columbia University.

Interestingly enough, Guzder was a member of a student organization called CCAW (The Columbia Coalition Against the War) who according to the AdHoc Columbia University newspaper, "generally supported Ahmadinejad's invitation, some on free speech grounds, and others as a move towards dialogue rather than war with Iran."

While war is not the solution to the Iran crisis, the failed policy of diplomacy isn't either. The only solution is to listen to the Iranian people, and to support and allow them to take back the control that they deserve, but never had.

Loughlin acknowledged that he would rather his message bear a more "connective" nature rather than "divisive." But what he has failed thus far to realize is that he has alienated the deep wishes and dreams of Iranians; to free their country and end the nightmare that has become their lives.

Indeed, human beings are all made from the same flesh, but we are all also sustained by the same blood; one should ask why the Iranian regime chooses to spill the blood of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. The most genuine bond any human being can have with the Iranian people, is to remember and speak of those that have paid so dearly for their ideals.

Iranians and others should remember Atefeh Rajabi, who was hanged at 16 by an Iranian judge/cleric, for "crimes against chastity," while she was being raped by a former Iranian prison guard four times her age.

People can connect with Rajabi and thousands of others by honoring and pondering their most intimate wishes and unwavering faith.

Their desire for liberty and justice shine bright, especially in those last few moments of their lives. Before the noose was tightened or the bullet bore, these fearless individuals show us an image far greater than a photo can fully capture, that of the unbreakable quality of a true human spirit.

Ana K. Sami ( received her Masters degree at the Colorado School of Mines and is a specialist on human rights and women's issues in Iran. EDITOR'S NOTE: This online-only guest commentary has not been edited.


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