The Iranian


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Sehaty Foreign Exchange


January 8, 2001

Ban on parties may make us think

On the arrest of party-goers in Tehran [News, Cartoon]: When I saw the news of the arrests on New Years Eve I said to myself, well maybe now people will stop and think a little. I must say as awful as it might sound I was not altogether unhappy. There was in fact a little inner smile that betrayed a certain meanness that I rarely see in myself. How can you be amused at the arrest of fellow Iranians? I asked myself.

Here is what I came up with.

At the beginning of our exile we all had differences of political opinion and different theories about what went wrong with our country. Some of us believed the wrongs and short sighted policies of the Shah's dictatorial regime had led to a revolution that was necessary. The revolution had not gone the way many of us wanted it; but somehow the cleansing effect was seen as moving in the right direction at least historically.

Having read about other 'great' revolutions we stood by patiently for the 'terror' to pass - dismissing the excess' of the new regime as unavoidable growing pains. Disregarding our different interpretations of our recent history we shared a common concern for the country we had recently to a more or less literal degree fled. Whatever our background or ideology, we all shared a certain longing to go back.

But now some 20 years later we find ourselves in the midst of a 'Perestioka manque'. A chance at openness and reform missed. In these twenty plus years new differences have emerged. There is less talk of ideology and more of the dollar. Those of us who stayed abroad especially in the U.S found ourselves joining the consumer economy with vigor. As we grew older the old country seemed farther and immediate needs and realizable goals took precedence in our concerns.

Meanwhile in Iran many a pocket became full of black-market profits. And soon the exile community became a community of expatriates -no longer made up of those of us who left out of fear but of all kinds of fellow countrymen. With the 'thawing' of the hard-line stance in Iran that appeared first with the presidency of Rafsanjani and then Khatami we started hearing the first defenses of the regime by expatriates.

People would come and go freely and they always sang praises of how great life still was in Tehran. "As if the revolution never happened" was a common refrain, as if that would be a good thing. People started gushing about the luxurious lifestyle and relative availability of everything back home.

The ideological differences took back stage and in their place came economic ones. In the post cold war phase we all came to poo-poo ideology. "It's the economy, stupid" was what we too perhaps not too wrongly came to believe. Let capitalism reign and all will fall into place. This suited the new rich as well as the old who could now use their never taxed dollars without shame. Now they could use their dollar strength to ski in Shemshak, dance in Tehran and tan in Cannes. The difference between us became that of those with dollars to spend on both sides and those without. The only people who could not benefit from the new situation where those who never had or made enough dollars and those who were still active in their opposition like the Mojahedin or a few often mocked Pahlavi loyalists.

Many an Ambassador in the Shah's employ returned to Iran and sang praises of his new found life back home. Many a young professional from the States went back and raved about being able to have noon-e-sangak by day and dance to the latest Madonna by night. And when you said, "Yes but the humiliation and hypocrisy of having to veil yourself daily against your will," they would laugh as if you were the only communist left standing!

For the past few years we have witnessed these people coming and going without an iota of concern about the real life situation of our country. As long as you can buy scotch and go to parties in Tehran everyone considered it progress. You too have a chance to go back they would tell us. No matter the laws. No matter the treatment of political prisoners etc.. you can get any video you like in Tehran!

Those of us who still harbored some ideological hope for our country were treated as dinosaurs - an old fashioned breed bogged down by what must be our lack of personal or dollar success. "Get over it" we were told not knowing if they meant the revolution or Iran itself-as if twenty years is enough in the life of an ancient place to make one forget it. Iran became a place where some of us partied and some of us terribly missed. It became a place where some of us made a lot of money and some of us lost everything and others of us went for little ethnic vacations.

But now that party going has become a problem again, maybe now those of us who weren't shaken by the serial murders, the arrest and imprisonment of students and the shutting down of publications will finally wake up and realize that a great chance at reform was missed. That in Iran we still live under tyranny. Maybe then we all will finally see that the prerequisite for peace and comfort and even frivolous fun is democracy. That we need to free our students and writers and women before we can boast of throwing great parties. That whether we have high ideological aspirations for Iran or just want to visit and live there freely we need democracy first. Maybe that need will unite us once again as it did for that fleeting moment between the fall of the Shah and the establishment of theocracy.

S. Mashadi


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