Saturday, June 24, 2006


Simon Etehad tipped me off to Coffee Zinio in Westwood--a small Iranian cafe run by a friend of his--but let it be known that, even though the gathering was being sponsored by the Marze Por Gohar Party (Iranians for a Secular Republic), I wouldn't find him there. Simon was completely incredulous back in January 2000 when friends wanted to organize a caravan to the Rose Bowl to watch the Iranians take on the US team in a friendly. "How can you root for a country that throws you out, that takes everything you own, even executes you?" With the election of Ahmadinejad, Simon's stance had hardened, even if his friends in the MPG would be waving the old Shir-o-Khorshid flag rather than the current Islamic Republic design.

Zinio is a throwback to a time when the coffeehouse was a laboratory of political association rather than a place to buy Cranium. There was a flyer placed prominently on the wall that reads, "Islamic Fundamentalist is the Worst Weapon of Mass Destruction," and another one that says, "We strongly condemn Germany's release of Islamic Republic terrorists and murderers of innocent Iranian dissidents." Unlike Simon, the crowd at Zinio – largely friends of MPG--delineated between Iran and the Islamic Republic. The latter never circumscribes the former.

Babak Namdar, MPG's Director of Foreign Policy, insisted that place transcends politics. "This is the national team, not the government's team." He recounted an episode prior to my arrival early this morning that Lisa Daftari repeated later of an Iranian woman walking by the café making a stink that Zinio was flying the Shir-o-Khorshid. "This is not the real flag," she wailed. Namdar conceded that there were a fair number of Iranians in southern California--particularly in Orange County--who are "pro-regime."

Like Etehad, Daftari is an Iranian Jew. Daftari maintained that secularists who support Team Meli, "culturally still believe in the people of Iran." Sepehr Aryannia, MPG's L.A. branch coordinator, agreed. "Since you can't make statements of political expression, this is how you blow off steam," according to Namdar. "The sport helps bring people together. After the games, people will go out and associate."

For Aryannia, soccer--like political association -- is good for secularism.

Original Article


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