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Live free or flee
That's our Iranian slogan

By M. Shahbodaghi
February 5, 2004
iranian.com

Ms. Azizi [See All Bamed out!], who left Iran 26 years ago, has gone back there to discover America is a better place to live than Iran. That's not really surprising. It's not news either. In fact, the sentiment is exactly 121 years old. That's when Nasereddin Shah returned from his frist trip to Farang. (Ahmad Shah, when he abdicated the throne and moved to the French Riviera, is rumored to have said that he would trade the whole country of Iran for one of the tree-lined, gaslamp lit boulevards of France.) The big deal is in why she'd leave here to go there searching for answers? What was she longing for that she didn't have here? Answer me that, and you know the root of our relationship with Iran.

Then there is the majority of readers who agreed with her in the opinion poll following her article. They say we should all "imitate the West". That's ironic too. If this majority has no use for Iranian culture, why are they reading iranian.com?

There are many ironies in our times, and many more things we don't understand. For example, those New Hampshire license plates that say "Live Free or Die"? They're made by prisoners. Did she know that when she got sentimental about them? Can you imagine sitting around in a prison hacking the words "Live Free or Die" all day long? Ouch! It's ironic, but at least we know what the slogan means. It's the slogan of the Americans who envisioned & built this great country. Some of them actually did die before this country found freedom.

Notice that the slogan does not say, "Live Free or Flee". That's our Iranian slogan. The cream of Iranian society has been leaving Iran now for a century or so- I guess we are too good to live in that misery. It's a wonder there is a society left at all. Iran is in a brain-drain death spiral whereby she raises stars and watches them leave. Then she produces the next brilliant batch, and they leave too- and so on.

To add insult to injury, some go back every once in a while to, indignantly, declare the place beyond hope. Did she really expect the society to improve after she and other capable people like her left? How? It's like molla Nasreddin who said, "I've trimmed my beard three times now, but it's still too short!" Where's the logic in her disappointment? It's like saying, "You all grow the wheat, and bake the bread, and I'll be back to eat it"! That takes a special kind of gall. It's like leaving your family for better pastures, then going back after decades to declare them too maladjusted to put up with.

We all need to make a confession: we still love Iran even though we don't know how to make it better. We are angry because we can't live with her, and we can't live without her. It's like we know there is a treasure in that box, but we can't crack it open. It's frustrating but we can't walk away, or throw away the box. Once we admit to our love-hate relationship, then I suggest we observe some rules:

1- Let's not attack each other, specially the ones who are trying to make things better. Can you think of one true Iranian patriot, visionary, "jaan-nesaar" who saw a happy ending in the past tumultuous century? Do we have anybody who stood up to help and was appreciated? Is there anybody today's young people can look up to and say "I wanna be like him"? Let's look at the top of the list: Amir Kabir: slit throat, Mirza Koochak Khan Jangali: firing squad, Mirzadeh Eshghi: shot outside his home, Ahmad Kasravi: shot in a court of law, Reza Shah: died in exile, Mossadegh: died under house arrest, Dr. Fatemi: hung, and the list goes on.

Oddly enough, unlike other societies in progress, we attack each other from below. The least accomplished, least helpful citizens are always attacking the ones who do the most, as if wanting to drag them back down to their own level. Who led the masses to overthrow Mosaddegh? A thug who went by the illustrious name of Shaban Bee-Mokh (Shaban "The Brainless").

For whom does Ms. Azizi save her most venomous attacks? For Shirin Ebadi, of course, the most accomplished Iranian fighting for justice, and, arguably, the best human being on earth last year. (And notice how I, to my shame, am criticizing Ms. Azizi now, who I'm sure has done more than me). Leaders don't have to be everything to everybody. As long as they are something to somebody, that's a start. The average citizen MUST honor & protect them.

2- Let's not throw anything away. I get nervous when somebody talks about aspects of culture that they personally deem counter-productive. Ms. Azizi says our literature is to blame for our backwardness. ABSOLUTELY NOT! That's an enormous over-simplification, and borders on abject JAHL, I'm sorry to say.

During Reza Shah's reign, we threw out our traditional clothing and our military music and traditions because we believed they were holding us back from modernization. That didn't make us modern, and it didn't make our military stronger either.

Let's not throw anything of this great civilization out, lest we come to regret it very soon. I say there is nothing as excellent, as refined, or as beautiful in human history as Persian literature. Period. In our troubled times, it is us who are not worthy of it- not the other way around.

3- Let's not shed crocodile tears for Iran, or look down at Iranians who stayed behind. We know we left Iran for selfish reasons. We turned our backs on our people, right after we climbed up on their backs. It's not a personal issue, it's a social problem. The society's psyche is such that they would've left us if they had beaten us to it.

Nobody should be personally mad at anybody else. If we care about Iran, let's roll up our sleeves and help. If we don't, let's forget her and live happily here. Let's stop the pretenses. Let's be humble. Let's be honest. Maybe then we can start taking baby steps and making small contributions.

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