The Rover Rebellion: Dogs Are New Symbol of Iranian Revolt

Muslims have kept dogs for centuries. For example, Salukis, a breed of hunting dog, have historically been valued by the Bedouin.

According to a recent news report in The Guardian, the extremist government and religious mullahs in Iran disapprove of dogs as pets. They are “unclean.” So now the pampered pooch become the latest sign of middle-class dissent. All I can say is that there are a million ways to undermine a dictatorship and the Iranians have found another one.

Recently a visitor from Iran assured me that her dog was staying at a five-star spa in Tehran for the duration of her trip. I had no idea she had a dog in the first place, but was struck that she had insisted in telling me such a thing. Over the past few years, dog ownership has become yet another unlikely arena for the social and political dispute within the tumultuous politics of Iran.

… The past 1,400 years or so haven’t been that much fun for dogs in Iran. All that has come to change paradoxically through the very same religion responsible for their plight. Their recent popularity and adulation must have taken Iranian dogs by surprise. Dogs are now as much symbols of safe, middle-class resistance as false eyelashes and green wristbands. Pooches have never had it so good, and rare breeds, especially small lap dogs, change hand for tens, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars.

An underground industry of dog beauty parlors thrives, mostly run out of private homes, as do a plethora of canine protection and welfare charities. A legal and substantial kennel industry has developed into what is fancily called “dog spas” where the middle class deposit their dogs when on holiday or, in the case of some of my conflicted relatives, when a devout auntie comes to stay.

The industry booms further every time a firebrand preacher calls for their banning or admonishes dog owners from such platforms like the much loathed national radio and TV. Its been a long time coming, but Iranian dogs are having their day.

Now we can add to the 2002 Great Key Shaking Revolt in Buenos Aires and the 2009 Pant-Wearing Defiance of Women in Sudan. Yes. It’s the Rover Rebellion. Biscuits all ’round.

‘Las Novias’: Same-Sex Marriage in Mexico City

Mexico wedding portrait
Jesusa Rodríguez and Liliana Felipe

I love Mexico. And now I have a reason to love it even more. Tomorrow, Mexico City will be the first in Latin America to put into effect laws legalizing same-sex marriage and adoption. (Mexico City legalized same-sex civil unions back in 2007.) There is, of course, sharp criticism and hand-wringing from my beloved Catholic Church hierarchy and social conservatives — but with a 50 percent approval rate for gay marriage among regular Mexicans (89 percent of whom are Catholic), I’d say that the laity are once again leading the way.

Here’s an excerpt from today’s Washington Post article:

On Thursday, [Mexico City] this sprawling megalopolis will catapult to the front lines of gay rights in Latin America when a city law legalizing same-sex marriage and adoption goes into effect. … Mexican actress Jesusa Rodríguez will marry her partner, Liliana Felipe, after 30 years together. “The important thing is that this law grants equality,” Rodríguez said. Many marriage-minded gay couples are preoccupied by concerns about the security of their loved ones. Reyna Barrera, 70, had a breast removed two months ago, and although she is weak from chemotherapy, she is busy planning her wedding to her partner of 36 years, Sandra Ponce. “This way, she is protected. She will get my pension, our house, everything from the life we built together,” said Barrera, a literature professor at Mexico’s National Autonomous University.

The Legislative Assembly passed the gay marriage act by a broad majority in December, as activists cheered and PAN representatives looked on in dismay. Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, a PRD leader, signed the bill into law — a first in Latin America. … Mexico City legalized same-sex civil unions in 2007; they also are recognized in Colombia, Uruguay, Brazil, Ecuador and Argentina, but advocates for gay rights say only marriage can protect the rights of families in such matters as property and custody. … An opinion poll by El Universal newspaper in November found that 50 percent of Mexico City respondents accepted gay marriage and 38 percent opposed it. Residents ages 18 to 39 were more likely to be supporters.

Read the whole article here.

My Day on the Hugo Chavez Show

Tonight, PBS’s Frontline will air “The Hugo Chavez Show: An illuminating inside view of the mercurial Venezuelan president, his rise to power, and the new type of revolution he seems to be inventing – on television.” In the Washington Post review of the show, David Montgomery writes:

What Americans have been missing is a direct encounter with the temperamental, charming, fierce, cruel, seductive, whimsical and overwhelming personality that comes through on “Aló, Presidente.” When Chávez, 54, isn’t ordering troops to the border, he’s singing folk songs, riding horses and tractors, tramping through gorgeous countryside or castigating cabinet ministers who fail pop quizzes that he administers as the cameras roll.

In 2004, I was in the audience for Chavez’ “Aló, Presidente” … for 5 hours. And this was one of his shorter

Hugo Chavez at taping of Alo Presidente 2004
Hugo Chavez on Alo Presidente in 2004/Berger

shows! It was one of the most fascinating examples of political theater I’ve ever seen. He used media deftly to create a politically engaged populace.

Here are some of my journal notes from that day – January 18, 2004 – Caracas, Venezuela:

We were invited to be in the audience during the screening of President Chavez’ weekly television program. After coffee and about an hour’s wait, we were led to a tent behind the presidential house where the filming would take place (it is in a different location each week) and seated in chairs with our names on them in the midst of cameras and microphones and the “set” for the show.

Then Chavez sat at a desk “on stage” and for five hours hosted a program with only two short breaks. He talked about teachers in honor of National Teachers Day – honoring and joking with the Minister of Education who was present. He introduced an old prize fighter who was also present. He talked about the cross and scapular he wears. He chatted on the phone through a call-in mechanism with a number of people from around the country – a young girl about her school, one woman about the need for her to get involved in elections for mayor in her town, another woman about jobs for her sons and her nephew.

He talked about how unemployment was often the result of the neoliberal capitalist model and how Venezuela was creating a new economy – that they were going to initiate another revolution within the revolution by starting a new “mission” called Mision Vuelven Cara. This new mission will train and incorporate workers into development projects that will emphasize small farms and forestry projects, petroleum related businesses, tourism etc. The unemployed will be included as they build Venezuela’s capacity for productive employment. Then he recommended a book on the rebellion of 1840.

Then he went on to talk about how Venezuela has a deficit of beef and would be importing beef for a while from Brazil and Argentina, but that Venezuelans will be trained to raise beef, as well as for dairy farming. He said that it was good for poor people to eat more beef for the protein and that beef would be made available in poor neighborhoods for purchase in small quantities. He introduced the new Minister of Defense. He read from newspaper articles about the strengthened position of Venezuela in the world.

Then he spoke about the 1979 Puebla Conference of Latin American Catholic bishops which outlined the preferential option for the poor and he talked about the death of Oscar Romero. Chavez said that the challenge before Venezuela now is to take up the challenge of an option for the poor. Fr. Roy Bourgeouis was invited to make a statement. Fr. Roy talked about the School of the Americas and asked Venezuela to stop sending soldiers there for training. Chavez listened very intently. When Roy finished Chavez said quite a bit about the SOA. He had obviously done his homework. Then he moved on to talk about the writings of John Kenneth Galbraith. And so the program went on and on.

Chavez continues to be an ego-obsessed narcissist who doesn’t mind using his cult of personality to promote a particular political and social agenda and he’s not above taking direct, anti-democratic action against his enemies and to maintain his own power. So what else is new in the world of politics?

He is also “the peoples’ choice” in Venezuela’s fair elections. This week Chavez’ party swept most states, according to The Guardian, in Venezuela’s regional elections. The record turnout of 65% among 16.8 million registered voters shows the passion and antipathy elicited by this larger-than-life personality.

The Frontline show is tough, fair, and shows Chavez with his good points and his bad points. “The documentarians credit Chávez with being the first president in the 50-year history of Venezuelan democracy to elevate themes of poverty and social justice to the top of national discussion,” writes Montgomery. “But they suggest that his methods for addressing those issues have been uneven and over-hyped.”.