back to

e-flux conversations

Superconversations Day 21: Sam Samiee responds to Ala Younis, "Men of Bronze, Homes of Concrete"


The Flesh of Phoenix

Iranian Army Divers by the Arvand River during the Iran Iraq War (source)

“Just write a poem back”
“It’s all poetry”

‘From Politics to Metapolitics’
In his ‘Challenge of Islam’
Brown, the Hellenist, the professor of classics, favouring Hellenism over Hebraism, though living far away,
a few months before Iraq attacked Iran in the first week of Autumn
He had become interested in the compilation of footnotes,
in the Spring,
before those bloody years.
He realized he had missed out on one third of the classics,
1979 reminded him of that fact
So he began his homework,
and finished,
when four more years of the war was yet to come
The Storm of permutations, of footnotes
Blew away, the next years
Those excavations Brown had found in the classical world
Not Greece
Not Rome
but from the 8th of August, 1164 AD
Captain Dowran, from Shiraz
The 7th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Baghdad
The conference was planned to take place at Baghdad’s Al-Rashid Hotel.
“On July 21, 1982, Dowran flew his F-4E Phantom to Baghdad and attacked
the Al-Doura refinery […] His F-4E was then hit by a Roland 2 SAM. His weapon
systems officer ejected from the aircraft and was taken prisoner. In order to avoid
cancelling the conference and showing Baghdad insecurity, Dowran directed his aircraft
into the Al-Rashid Hotel”
Shiraz has a street with his name,
Iranian state TV made a series on his life and death,
his heroine ensured the conference wouldn’t be held in Baghdad
Captain Mansouri on the other hand,
stole the fighter,
went over to Baghdad,
He was from Shiraz too,
he’d lied that he would let the bombs fall on Baghdad, but
detour to Saudi Arabia
left the fighter in Saudi Arabia
fled to the US
and was slaughtered a few years later in Turkey
“You!” never was said, nor “betrayed your homeland”, to him, before the hand navigated the knife over the body of Captain Mansouri
“How come you’re Shiraz”, said Goethe,
“immigrated to the northern misty lands of Gauen?”
Life against Death
The Challenge of Islam
"From Politics, to Metapolitics,
On the 8th of August, 1164 AD
Under the ascendancy of Virgo and when the sun was in Cancer,
Hasan II ordered the erection of a pulpit in the courtyard of Alamut
“The Imam of our time has sent you his blessing and his compassion,
and has called you his special chosen servants. He has freed you from the burden of the rules of Holy Law,
and has brought you to the Resurrection”
“With their backs towards Mecca, breaking the fast of Ramadan”
“We are this day together with him in heaven. It is a mystical or visionary reality”
No more political changes are necessary
It is all in our imagination, or as Blake said,
“Mental Things alone are Real”
It is a spiritual triumph over historical defeat
From Politics to Metapolitics, on the 8th of August, 1164 AD
From Politics to Metapolitics may be the story of my life
Or if not me,
what has happened to radical convictions in the history of my generation
is given a strange new light, it seems to me, if considered in the light
of what happened in the eleventh and twelfth centuries AD”
-couldn’t concentrate on anything after the news of the found 175 bodies
“Until the first three four years of war, anytime anyone would ring the bell,
she would run barefoot to the yard, to open the door. she was restless, would bring his photo everywhere,
to the bakery,
to Quran reading sessions,
to funerals,
to weddings
At sunset she used to wash the yard with water and would sit on the third step of the staircase,
staring at the bitter orange tree
Yesterday they brought the news that they have excavated the bodies of
175 divers. Handcuffed, with no injury. Had buried them alive
Probably a mid winter night, on the feverish soil of Faav, the enemy has beheaded the catastrophe
Hopefully, tonight one visits mom’s grave. Lights a candle for her. Takes Qasem’s photo and tells her: “eventually arrived, congratulations!!”

The bodies of 175 Iranian POWs returning home 30 years after the Iran-Iraq war (source)

They arrived.
But none had an injury on his body,
Passing Arvand river towards Iraq,
In an already revealed operation, called Karbala 4
175 amateur divers were captured, later handcuffed, buried alive
Bitter Orange trees grow all over Shiraz,
its blossoms make you drunk
Muslim colonisers took it to the south of Spain too
In Shiraz, they call those blossoms, the springs of the Bitter Orange
“That prodigal tree that became an axe wasn’t one of us,
When time breaks us, we become music instruments”
Before his death
Le Corbusier had become obsessed with phoenix,
burning his works and making new things
“the phoenix?”
“a phoenix?”

Sam Samiee is an Iranian Amsterdam-based painter and essayist, currently a resident artist in the two year program at Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten.

1 Like

In response to these two beautiful poems I am going to turn to an ugly form of prose: (speculative) geopolitics, a subject which both the arts and the humanities try to avoid as much as possible as they continue to insist on their role in identifying larger patterns and structural consequences for in historical and social transformations.

We often talk about capitalism or neoliberalism and hardly ever about the actual capitalists and neo-liberals, even though we know they are part and parcel of each other respectively.

Leaders, ie dictators, religious figures or even democratically elected presidents, are significant agents for the shaping of power and directing its accumulation in tangible forms such as governments, financial resources or social institutions. It’s not that these figures don’t mask the actual power dynamics but that they use their power to mask more complicated and dirtier functions as way to gain more personal power in the direction of a given system for which they play the role of an interface…


Ayatollah Khomeini was a smart man. He managed to fool the Americans in the late 1970s into trusting him as an alternative to the monarchy. He promised Americans full cooperation in fighting communists in Afghanistan. Americans thought that being a religious fanatic, he would naturally stand with the Americans and their muslims allies Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and other gulf monarchies. And if it wasn’t for the dominance of pro soviet communists in the revolution, he probably would have.

But the Iranian revolution was as much against the monarchy as it was against what a spectrum of political forces and intellectuals aligned with Iranian stalinist communists (The Toudeh Party) thought of as “American Imperialism.” This discourse was the link between local struggles for self determination and the larger frame of cold war that had shaped the relationship between the two superpowers ever since the end of the world war 2.

But the revolution didn’t belong only to religious fanatics loyal to Khomeini and the supporters of the Toudeh Party. Islamic modernists who were the followers of Imam Mossa Sadre, Dr. Ali Shriati and Ayatollah Telghani also held a huge share of the forces on the ground and in the ministries and other government agencies that the revolutionary forces inherited from the previous regime. Religious modernists were against the monarchy wanted the new repiblic to remain friendly towards the west. They preferred to work with Europe and the US than to become a client state of the stalinist Soviet Union like the Baath regimes in Iraq, Syria and Libya.

However, none of the political figures at that time possessed wisdom and cunning as much as Ayatollah Khomeini who even prior to the revolution had started to eliminate his muslim rivals in the modernist camp: Dr. Shariat was found dead in a Southampton hospital (19 June 1977), Imam Mossa Sadre went mysteriously missing on his way back from Libya on a plane (31 August 1978), and Ayatollah Taleghani died of a sudden heart attack the day after he voted against the constitutional clause legalizing a form of absolute rule by Khomeini and his predecessors during a session of the new regime’s constitutional assembly (September 1979).

Coincidentally, he had his last meal the night before his death at the Soviet embassy, which caused people to speculate that he was the victim of a deal between the soviets and Khomeini regarding Iran’s relationship with the west and particularly the United states. Only a few months after the death of Taleghani who practically was the second in command to Khomeini and was considered his natural predecessor, the radical muslim students stormed the American embassyat the same time that the Iranian official government headed by an islamic modernist named Mehdi Bazargan was privately meeting the American officials in Algeria to restart the purchasing of weapons for the Iranian army and discuss the role of Iran in supporting the Afghani radical fighters against the soviets.

Khomeini remained silence for a couple of days after the occupation of the American embassy. Both camps, meaning the religious modernists from the one side and the coalition of fanatics and the communists from the other waited impatiently to see which side Khomeini was willing to support. Following Khomeini’s enthusiastic support foe the occupation of the embassy, Bazargan was forced to resign and a coalition of closeted communist technocrats and fanatic ayatollahs took over the Iranian government.

By then it was clear that the sectarian divide between Shia and Sunni can comfortably be repurposed to serve the geopolitical struggle between the two superpowers. Khomeini’s betrayal of USA is perhaps why the west and its allies amongst Arab monarchies armed and encouraged Saddam to loosen Iraq’s ties to the soviet union and to attack Iran a year later, opening another challenge to the soviets right underneath their nose.

Right there (and then) it was clear that radical Islam and ideological guerrilla warfare in the name of islam is going to constitute the form but also the content of geopolitical struggles of the future.

if I seem to have no tears for these men perhaps it is because I know too much about how arbitrary was their death and how compromised their sacrifices for their country.

Super interesting analysis of the situation that I wish the same for Iraq would be provided by one with the same knowledge from the Iraqi perspective.

I think both poems at best would be passages to what has been going on in those countries and in larger scale in the world that Iraq and Iran are situated. Yet since I still travel back and forth to Iran I won’t be able to elaborate or respond directly to issues Mohammad has brought up.

One thing I dare to say is that, not only regarding these boys, one can be always crying for all those boys who died for any version of ‘Dolce et decorum est’ propaganda. Being saints of Christianity, one can take saint Sebastian, to Soorena who stood before the Alexander army, or all the soldiers before, after and later.

Those tears, basically few years ago brought me to delve into my memories, Antony and the Johnsons, song, I fell in love with a dead boy, the murals in Tehran, the stories I grew up with, the names of the schools I attended, the names of the streets and the list continues if one wants to give a picture of how Iranian daily life is painted with those names of guys who lost their lives in this war.

Yet regarding the context of the publication of these two poems, I think a few thing needs to be added, although it always is being revisited by many thinkers, philosophers and social scientists: Mourning, the politics of mourning, the vicious circle of mourning, the constructive mourning, the inability to mourn and all and all together with having repression theory in sight.

in the first place when you asked me to reply to the poem, I just read it, loved it, hated it and replied with the natural reactive entities that surfaced into my mind. yet regulate with the thoughts of course.

In monumental texts, images and constructions, signifiers are fascinating, addresses, and addresses. And just by sacrificing the elaboration I just cannot be silent when it is anything related to the events after dismantled Ottoman empire. The pain for those who grew up on the Iranian side, the loss of the importance of Iran in the eyes and dawn of the new Empire, and the ongoing discourse of the post world one which represses anything beyond Ottoman Empire issues.

Signifiers of these locations, lives, histories, events and current situations, are occupying a great deal of our everyday life, yet simply many fundamental signifiers are missing. I don’t know when or where is the best place and time to talk about them, rather than this disorganized, disoriented pressure of each of the signifiers that press themselves to our perceptions and imaginations, but when I realised the primary text is going to be on Supercommunity, I only could throw those ‘other’ signifiers which in my opinion are fatally important and strongly repressed by the western subject and that repression is being welcomed, in many cases by the post ottoman, iranian, indian and generally non western subjects.

I don’t know how it is not surprising for many, the western subject is way more fascinated, engaged and busy with, anything beyond the muslim territories yet not with the first neighbour of itself.

1 Like