Count me out
Keivan's arguments for anti-nationalism
By Dananjay Anandan
November 9, 2003
"The most unpardonable sin in society is independence of thought."
-- Emma Goldman, Feminist, 1869-1940
For months now,
two of Keivan's Iranian friends have been trying to convince
him to join their revolutionary organization
that is part of the freedom movement in Iran committed to overthrowing
the fundamental Islamic regime. Keivan has been resisting Mehrzad
and Kamyar; refusing to contribute with his efforts or with his
money to the cause.
Earlier this year, Hormoz, one of the leaders
of the movement had come to meet them from Tehran. He was to
be in Dubai for a week and Kamyar had arranged for Hormoz and
Keivan to meet one of those evenings.
We were to rendezvous at Afsaneh and it was early
when we got there; the chairs still overturned on the small square
that were arranged around the small dance floor. We spotted Kamyar
and the others on a table at the corner nearest to the bar.
fluorescent lights that doused everything in a purple glaze made
our teeth glow grotesquely. Hormoz is hirsute, with voluptuous
negroid lips and an adult lisp that would have been distracting
in a less impressive person. He was wearing a dark blue serge
suit that made him look like a businessman and had eyes that
were black as coal. Nothing I had imagined an underground revolutionary
to be like.
Hormoz wasted no time - I expect Kami has told
you all about us. And you also know how you can help us to liberate
He then went on to explain what they stood for,
how they supported
the student movement and how they proposed to undermine the current
regime. My presence didn't seem to bother or hamper his speech.
He then asked Keivan to tell him about himself and why he didn't
want to join them. Keivan had been quiet all this while except
for the occasional nod. He had been listening intently and now
raised his gaze from the beer mug below his chin.
-- "I was three
when the revolution took place. I left Iran nine years later,
after witnessing the war and having both my parents
jailed and tortured at Evin 'University'."
Nobody said anything
except Hormoz: "Evin prison. Yes, I've been there."
-- "My mother was a midwife and my family had
teachers, doctors, and engineers. They along with many other
were 'purged'. We, the survivors, were denied passports.
In those days of confusion, terror, war, blood and long lines
for the basic necessities, I would hear my aunts reminisce of
the days before the revolution; days that I had no memory of.
My Iran was different."
-- "Keivan, we all have friends and relatives
who were purged. But we do not want ..."
-- "Yes. But let me also make it clear I do not
want the Shah back. No member of my family enjoyed favor with
the old regime. I am
not a monarchist but you see neither am I a nationalist and that
is where we part. You want to bring a democratic government to
Iran? I wish you all the best. But do not ask me to join you,
I will not."
-- "What do you mean you are not a nationalist?
Don't you love your country?"
-- "You know some people would call you a traitor.
Don't you think you owe anything to your motherland?"
Keivan stared back at Kamyar's frustrated gaze.
-- "Do you consider yourself a patriot? Who do
you consider the beneficiary of your patriotism? The State? That
is what you are
fighting against. Then is it the abstract notion that you call
your motherland? But that is an abstract idea and by that count
it exists only in your mind and in the collective consciousness.
Who are you a patriot for Kami?"
-- "I am doing this for my countrymen."
-- "Which countrymen? Do you know what all your
countrymen desire? Do all citizens want to topple the regime?
There are many who
-- "Yes, those are the people we must defeat.
All I am concerned with is the majority."
-- "So if a majority of your countrymen decide
to execute all Shiite Muslims in the country would you consider
that an act of patriotism?"
-- "No. That is just the sort of injustice that
we are fighting against. We want to rid our country of these
evil corrupt rulers."
-- "That is what people like you said when they
wanted to get rid of the Shah."
-- "Yes, yes. But don't you see we are doing the
right thing? You must realize that we are fighting for a just
-- "That is just the sort of moral conviction that
I am horrified by. You have let loyalty to your ideology overtake
a far greater
loyalty that you owe to your reason and that to me, makes you
no better than those you are fighting against. You derive legitimacy
for your actions from a passionate belief in the morality of
your cause. Don't you know you only have to be determined
enough to realize heaven on earth to be sure of raising hell?
"You just admitted that your patriotism is
defined by your own sense of judgement and propriety. Then should
not allow the
same right to everybody else? I have the same right as you to
make up my mind. Wars are best fought by mindless armies of intellectual
slaves. I am not your best bet. You want me to
write for you and maintain your website and send out your newsletters.
I can if I want to. But I do not want to
and even if I did it would not help your cause. My only weapon
is reason and it is useless against those who will not see it.
If it comes down to force I know I cannot defeat them or for
that matter you. There are too many of you and I can be easily
done away with if you so choose. But that does not make me want
to join you."
-- "It looks
like you do not believe in anything Keivan."
-- "Oh, but I do. I believe in myself. I do not
recognize your claim over my being. Whatever I received from
belonging to the
nation is in truth from the structure of the state. Do not mistake
me, I realize the benefits of an organized society. And for all
the benefits that it provides I pay for those services with my
taxes and by respecting its laws. I believe I owe no more than
-- "I don't understand," said Mehrzad. "We want
to remove this evil government and put in its place a just state.
You seem to
be against the very idea of a state."
-- "Not exactly. I am just careful not to let
it control me. If I do not use my mind I know somebody will drive
it and claim it for his own. If the State schools, informs, entertains
you it does so for its own sake. It is only ensuring compliance.
It is the means of ensuring that you will continue to recognize
the legitimacy of the charade of the nation-state. It wants you
to continue to believe in the illusion.
"You, Kami and Mehrzad,
are now Americans. You say that you are the citizens of a democratic
state, that it is a people's government. Dananjay here
is from India. You believe that you have a choice. When indeed
you have no such thing. What difference do you think it makes
who you vote for? The system is in place, it doesn't matter
who runs it. The rules of the game are set; it doesn't
matter then whether you throw a red ball or a blue ball. That
is the nature of the free choice you exercise.
"As for me, I refuse to be bound to the letter
of a social contract that I have not been a party to and in which
my agreement has
been taken for granted.
"For all that the state provides you with
it is more than enough recompense, believe me, that you accept
the choice given to you
and happily elect which syndicate will have the right to loot
and cheat for the next four years or five years. Make no mistake
the only difference in a democracy is that you decide every term
who are to be your chosen aristocrats. That is the freedom that
you have settled for.
"I have neither respect nor time to waste
on people who value their freedom so much less. Not only do you
willingly and merrily
even give up your freedom for this lie you go even further by
acknowledging its right over your body and mind. You are willing
to mortgage your mind and sacrifice your body for it. That is
worse than what Faust did, for he sold only what he could not
know and did not value for what he could know and valued."
think you are giving the State more credit than it deserves.
You seem to be suggesting that there are eminences grises, a
masterminding an elaborate hoax. Surely you realize that you
are a little paranoid?" Said Hormoz calmly.
-- "What I mean is the
state just happens to be the prime beneficiary of this system
that society evolves for itself. A system that
promises maximum stability. And yes, in that context it is
a completely desirable goal. But to fail to recognize it as just
that, a system and instead to surrender to its comfortable
is hazardous. The most potent propaganda is that which is delivered
unconsciously and by those who believe in it themselves as
an irrefutable article of faith. People who think different and
instigate others to think are a danger to the status quo, the
system and the state. I stop with thinking for myself therefore
I believe I pose no threat but more importantly, I am not a
-- "But, Keivan, have you thought what would
happen if everybody thought like that?" Mehrzad said.
-- "That is
a weak argument. Kami here is a vegetarian. You think eating
meat is wrong because it results in the killing
animals. Do you really think your giving up meat makes
any difference to the animals that are slaughtered everyday?
You are not a vegetarian
because it benefits anybody else, but because you believe
in it and it benefits you."
-- "Hey, wait a minute that is not
a fair comparison. My being a vegetarian benefits only me true,
but it does not
anybody else either."
-- "Does it really matter to your cause
then if I support it or not. Does my refusing to join harm
do you think your benefit should be the reason I live
and die for? Just because you benefit from something
not oblige me to do it."
-- "What you are asking is why
should you sacrifice yourself for the greater good," Hormoz
-- "Yes. Our concepts of country, motherland,
patriotism is the mull leftover from the human race's wholly
past. Don't you see that we live in a time when
tribal loyalties are irrelevant? I do not have to subscribe
a collective identity to survive, to protect my
ensure the safety
of my family. Why then should I do it? Because
it is a comfortable myth? I would rather not. My destiny
with that of others who happen to share my ethnic
or geographic origins.
I am an individual and I choose to live as one
because for the first time in human civilization we have
-- "Yes. I see your point and I respect what you
call your freedom. But you will forgive us if we, like
as our own minds
tell us, yes?" said Hormoz with a deprecatory
There wasn't much left to say after that.
We left soon after the band began to play. Hormoz was
next day to Turkey and promised to call on
us a few days later
Keivan was to write to me later that year from Isfahan:
... Arezoo read my notes on anti-nationalism and wants
to print it in Farsi. I don't see that as a good idea. Apart
fact that it would read positively evil in Farsi. We would
be accused of being traitors by both the government and the
Hardly a consummation to be devoutly wished!
I do not intend to communicate my beliefs because I know
that it will be embraced, misunderstood and misused by cowards
opportunists. The tragedy of the reluctant prophet; hated
by many who know little of what he is talking about, and revered
by many more who know even less. I remember you said that
Not to suggest for a moment that I am under any delusions
of being a radical thinker. As you know, these notes are essentially
a distillation of my interpretations of Objectivism and Secular
All they describe is a personal philosophy. It is the individual's
belief in his individuality. By its nature, it does not
lend itself to being preached. It would be antithetical to
it as an ideology.
One of my teachers said to me once about atheism - "I will
not lead you. I can only tell you that I believe in it.
You have to make the journey by yourself. And you can
you want to and realize that your only weapon is your
own mind." I think that says it well enough.
How is the plot coming along?
Arezoo, aunt and I went to the foothill today and we
made a picnic of it. It is an especially enchanting
the sun is
crisp as a slice of frozen carrot!
P.S. - Aunt wants me to marry! Will tell all about
it when we meet.
this page to your friends