Arts in Iran, Syria Bring Soul to Politics, War

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Iran is taking over the presidency of the 120-nation-member Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), and also hosting NAM’s gathering this week in Tehran. To help create an image of a nation with “soul,” and also promote tourism, Iran is featuring the country’s traditional art and handicrafts in an exhibition for the visiting delegations.

The Iranian Handicrafts Union is also distributing about 20,000 tourism catalogues on Persian handicrafts, available in English, Arabic, Spanish and Chinese.

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NAM was founded in 1961, uniting nations who consider themselves not aligned formally with or against any major power bloc. This week’s summit represents only the organization’s 16th in half a century.

It comes at an important time for Iran, which hopes to build international support against the U.S.’s aggressive efforts at economic sanctions and threats of a military attack. Iran may be able to make some headway, since 80 countries are participating in the summit at the top levels-minister or higher-and 50 are sending their heads of government, including Egypt’s new president Mohammad Mursi.

That might bring a strong vote of unity against any Western aggression. The organization in recent years has criticized U.S. foreign policy, including the invasion of Iraq and War on Terrorism.

Reuters noted Sunday, “Western diplomats have sought to downplay the importance of the summit and the start of Iran’s three-year presidency of NAM,” but Iran probably will stress that all NAM members should oppose U.S. efforts at empire and endless war, particularly now that America is hobbled by a continuing depressed economy and citizen dissatisfaction with a military presence in the Middle East.

NAM might also look to Latin America’s recent uniting behind Ecuador in its providing asylum to Wikileaks editor Jullian Assange, a direct slap at the U.S. and U.K.’s efforts to seize and silence him. That might be a catalyst for NAM to unite behind Iran and more strongly oppose Western aggression.

No doubt, a major issue before NAM’s delegates will be the bloody conflict in Syria, including Iran’s support for President Bashar al-Assad.

Art is playing a role in the Syrian conflict, with Syrian artists presenting an exhibition, “Culture in Defiance,” in Amsterdam. CNN reported this week:

A creative and resolutely non-violent form of opposition to Bashar al-Assad’s regime has taken hold in Syria, as the country’s artists respond to the crisis with newfound boldness and purpose, despite the clear dangers in doing so.

“Since the uprising, the artists have broken through the wall of fear in Syria and are thinking in another way,” said Syrian journalist Aram Tahhan…”The uprising has changed the artists’ thinking about the task of art in society, how they can do something useful for society…They have rewritten everything.”

It will also be interesting to see if Iran’s providing visibility to art might backfire on its repressive government, which has held opposition leaders Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi under house arrest since the February 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.