December 30, 2003


Some will see this as simply a natural disaster of the kind to which Iran, according to Khatami, is “prone”. Four days earlier, however, there had been another earthquake of about the same intensity, this time in California. In which about 0.000001% of the buildings suffered serious structural damage and two people were killed when an old clocktower collapsed. So why the polar disparity between Bam and Paso Robles?

This is not a silly question. True, the Californians are much richer than the Iranians. But if you believed everything you read in the works of M Moore and others, you would anticipate a culture of corporate greed in which safety and regulation came way behind the desire to turn the quick buck. Instead you discover a society in which the protection of citizens from falling masonry seems to be regarded as enormously important.

Whereas in Iran – for all its spiritual solidarity – the authorities don’t appear to give a toss. The report in this paper from Teheran yesterday was revealing. It was one thing for the old, mud-walled citadel to fall down, but why the new hospitals? An accountant waiting to give blood at a clinic in the capital told our correspondent that it was a “disgrace that a rich country like ours with all the revenue from oil and other natural resources is not prepared to deal with an earthquake”.

Spent on nukes and clerics’ limousines.

Read the whole thing. He’s pretty hard on non-Iranian intellectuals, too — especially in this bit:

What, I wonder, has Arundhati Roy to say now about the superiority of traditional building methods over globalised ones? Some Iranians might think that it’s a shame there wasn’t a McDonald’s in Bam. It would have been the safest place in town.


UPDATE: It’s interesting to read the above together with this from Iranian blogger Hossein Derakshan:

Nothing could ever show the real sense of diconnectivity and distrust between Iranian people and the Islamic regime, and its deeply dysfunctionality better than a devastating quake. Everywhere you go and every blog you read, there is talk about the political implications of such tragedy going on.

People inside and outside Iran are desperately trying to gather donations, but they don’t want to give the money to the government.

It’s even more interesting when you read these two together with the Hanson article, linked below.