People have become mirror images of the
By Shahla Azizi
January 12, 2004
Over a year ago I came back
to live in Iran after an absence of some twenty-five years.
I came hoping to quell a longing that I had, all those years,
for my beloved birthplace. I came to give my children a sense
of their ancestral identity. But in this relatively short
span of time I have utterly lost any love or sense of belonging
for this place that I so carefully nurtured in my years of
Instead of finding a country where people
are warm and caring and where time is slow enough to enjoy
life, I found myself
in a den of thieves, a world of lies where the lack of freedom
has hardened people. You have to live under a fascist regime
in order to fully cherish the freedom that you no longer
What is worse than the regime itself is the
way people have hardened into little mirror images of the
hate. Yes, there are a few tired souls who have retained
their humanity, but they live in cocoons, afraid that if
they venture out, the body snatchers that make up the majority
may steal their souls. In fact, even the hardened locals
tell me that it seems like only the Iranians that have lived
abroad for a long time have retained any goodness.
Lying and stealing are the bread and butter
of the rest. Those who have been here all along can spot
returnees from afar and drool at the prospect of an easy
target to con. We are like lambs amidst a pack of wolves.
Not a day has passed without someone trying to cheat or lie
to me, sometimes over the simplest of things. Even if you
ask someone what he/she had for lunch you cannot be sure
that they are telling you the truth. They lie and steal almost
for sport as a way of reinforcing their cleverness. Street
smartness and guile are the only traits that are valued.
We have become a nation of carpet dealers, trying to eek
out the most Rials out of the next person we meet.
Rare is the Iranian family whose members,
upon the death of their patriarch, have not fallen into the
of disputes over inheritance, before the body of the poor
man is cold. The materialism of this land of Hafiz and Rumi
would make the most hardened New Yorker cringe. Here, money
rules. Women marry for it. Brothers fight over it. Men steal
and lie to get it. Children learn that in order to escape
to a better life abroad they absolutely need it. We toppled
a monarchy to become a nation of prostitutes and pimps.
The Persian language I so loved, and lamented
that I had never mastered, itself is for me now a mere evidence
national flaw. Over centuries of evolving under oppressive
kings and Byzantine court cultures it has been tailored and
honed for hypocrisy. Where as before I tried hard not to
use any English when speaking Farsi and kept my Persian pure
now I cling lovingly to my adopted language: English. The
language of truth, of science and of people braver, purer
and better than us. The language of a people who prefer death
to this form of oppression.
I, myself, too scared to voice
my opposition to the regime, remember daily the New Hampshire
license plates that brandished the logo: "live
free or die". None of us here are brave enough to believe
or implement that simple principle.
Jalal Ale Ahmad got it all wrong. The best
thing we can do as a backward nation (look at Bam or simply
try buying a
lamp made in Iran whose plug actually works and you will
have to agree with this labeling) is to imitate the West.
The West that has brought us freedom, truth and Penicillin.
Even as colonizers the Westerners were more human than our
I write with sweaty palms knowing that all
my liberal friends will disown me quicker than this piece
can be printed. But
I cannot help typing out what I believe to be the truth.
It is easy to be "politically correct" in
the cafés of New York or Berkeley. Freedom and truth
are universals. No argument for cultural pluralism excuses
kind of oppressive backwardness. You cannot bring democracy
to a people who cannot form a line in front of a bank teller.
To a nation who steal and lie to each other and who inflate
leaders for their own personal gain. This kind of "democracy"
is an outright lie.
Collusion and collaboration, betrayal and
hypocrisy are the order of the day. Even when one of us wins
the Noble Peace
Prize, she tows the party line never daring to attack all
the blatant human rights abuses taking place under her very
nose, against her very own colleagues and clients. Ms. Ebadi
even you would prefer being tried in an American court to
an Iranian one! Guantanamo is the exception - a wartime measure.
A desperate way to fight an enemy who operates on the principle
of breaking the rules of war.
The only thing that we, as a nation, are good
at is collective mourning. Ever since the Bam earthquake,
which, in California,
would have claimed maybe only a couple of lives, but here
killed 40,000 or more, all we see on the TV is heart wrenching
footage of the dead and interviews with the survivors. Poets
and artists come on every night pouring out their sympathy,
shedding theatrical tears. Not one of them has stood up and
asked why in an oil-rich, earthquake-prone country, with
much experience in this kind of disaster, were the buildings
so badly built? I am not talking about the ancient edifices
but the new ones, the hospitals and schools.
Why, as Ms.
Namazi so well put it in her article [Un-natural
causes], have relief
efforts, and coordination of them, been so poor, so little,
so late? We answer our problems with prayer and poetry --
the two instruments of our very backwardness. Bring on the
the builders, the concrete dealers, the issuers of building
permits, the responsible ones - the hell with the poets who
can do nothing but reinforce a culture of fatalism that has
kept us from being able to save little children's lives.
We are a nation of spineless souls who at
best remain silent or write from the comfort of exile or
behind the shameful
veil of a nom de plume, like yours truly. I make the fact
that I am a mother of young ones my excuse. We come up
with poetic excuses, all of us. But in the end we are not
enough to merit a better regime, a better standard of living,
a better life. Only those of us in prison, or dead for
the sake of freedom, are honorable.
It would do us good to imitate the brave here
and in the West who taught most of us what freedom is and
how it can
be bought with blood alone. I myself know that each time
I say nothing I die a little. Each time I hide behind
a pen name I bury myself under the rubble that fear and trembling
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