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Children of a lesser God
Setting the record straight on my own generation's childhood

May 3, 2003
The Iranian

Every morning walking to work on Enghelab Avenue, I had to pass a gargantuan
mural of a rosy-cheeked Ayatollah Khomeini mounted high on the side of a tall building. He was looking pensively towards a little boy whose slender body was strapped with hand grenades and explosives, a burnt-out tank in the background. Pointing at the child soldier, the Ayatollah was shown to be saying: "Children like you are the real leaders of our revolution."

Not very far from this mural, once having just arrived in Iran after eighteen years of absence, I was rescued by a kind shopkeeper who had pulled me into his store to save me from the swarm of children who habitually roam on the sidewalk across the street from Tehran University. Mixing supplication with coercion, they peddle their wares of unchewable bubble gums or inedible candies.

I had foolishly reached into my pocket wishing to assuage the anxious look in the poverty-beaten face of one of those little angels. I remember that I did not want to be rescued by the kind shopkeeper. I wanted to kneel down right there on the pavement and hold the little faces of those children in my hands and ask them to forgive me for my carefree childhood, for all the sense of security that at their age I had enjoyed, for all that I once celebrated as a young citizen of a proud country.

I wanted them to forgive me for all the opportunities that now they could not even imagine or believe had ever existed in the unhappy land they had inherited.Writing these words today, I do not want to use those children as statistics in my own war against a regime that has systematically frustrated the aspirations of all Iranians.

I write, for this is my way of shouting at the top of my voice and this is my attempt to express the great sense of urgency demanded by the heart-rending plight of the weakest and most fragile members of our national community.

I write for I cannot help shouting 'stop thief' at those who do not leave off robbing our children of their rights to dignity and a decent future.

I write for I feel I should set the record straight on my own generation's childhood which was blessed by the protection of a kingdom where no foreign enemy dared to challenge our territorial integrity.

I cannot but feel thankful that my own childhood was blessed with the reign of a king who guaranteed our national security and needed no child soldiers to fight his wars. A king who confident of the safety of our borders took upon himself to mobilize armies of men and women to go to the remotest corners of our vast homeland battling against the dark forces of illiteracy and ignorance.

My childhood was blessed with the wisdom of a queen who encouraged us to celebrate the rich humanity of our great civilization. A queen who handed to us no plastic keys to fool's paradise but applauded our efforts in every step of the way towards the heights of our highest potentials. A queen who honored creativity and promoted artistic achievements.I remember as a teenager my dream was to become a great writer and receive a literary prize from Shahbanou.

Today I cannot but weep comparing my own hopes two and a half decades ago with the dream of Soleiman (*) a runaway abused boy and a member of the group of 30,000 homeless children roaming the streets of our country. When asked by a reporter what he wished for in life, he answered: "What I wish more than anything else in life is to die".

* A conversation with a run-away child: "I wish to die."

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