Rock and no roll
Insisting on contentious issues does not bring unity
February 22, 2002
Why is it that Pahlavi apologists cannot let Cyrus the Great rest in peace? Does
Mr. Nassehi ["The
ultra-motive"] really think we will buy his logic that the 2500th anniversary
celebrations were a great public relations triumph? The ceremonies were a public
relations gaffe, both inside and outside the country. Reviving them is also a gaffe
on the part of the monarchists, or even Reza Pahlavi Referendumists, if they rather
be called that.
At the time Westerners who were meant to be impressed by this pageantry looked at
these ceremonies as over the top nouveau richisms at best. Many of those invited
-- close allies -- did not show up because of the stigma attached to attending a
Third World dictator's laughable little side show. So regardless of how much was
spent or not spent, these ceremonies, from the start looked ridiculous and failed
to achieve the goal of impressing Western nations and media.
Another problem when looking at official figures is that they hide the incredible
theft that went on even if they are accurate -- which would be a miracle. How many
middlemen became rich as the result of these ceremonies? Fiscal corruption and nepotism
were rampant in Pahlavi Iran. They are rampant now as well but this does not lessen
corruption back then. One could write a book on Pahlavi era fiscal corruption.
Plus, the whole Pahlavi mentality that sought to validate us by seeking acceptance
in the eyes of Western nations was inherently wrong. It began with the mistaken premise
that we need to show Westerners that we can be like them. It began with the wrong
assumption, or hang-up, that we had to catch up with the West, not just technologically,
but culturally as well. That assumption did much to damage relations later on with
the West. It also did much to add to the national identity crises that blue jeans
and Rock and Roll mixed with repressive dictatorship had created.
You see if you want blue jeans and Rock and Roll to bloom into freedom-seeking democratic
adulthood in a nation, you better get rid of the dictatorship as well or there will
be a bloody revolution. It happened once in Iran. It happened in the Soviet Union
and in Eastern Europe. It will happen again in Iran. The demographics will do it.
The power of the liberating message of blue jeans and Rock and Roll or other variations
on the theme cannot be underestimated in a society that is boiling with youthful
In Pahlavi Iran, unfortunately blue jeans and Rock and Roll, or freedom of individual
and sexual expression, came to be associated with the hated regime. That cost a lot,
especially for us women. The Pahlavis we could live without but the youthful promise
of freedom embodied in a pair of jeans and a Pop song is what we are still seeking.
As for the roads and infrastructure improvements brought about by the 2500th anniversary,
my question is, Could they not have done the good works and skipped the gaudy party?
Could they not have promoted tourism without throwing this lavish party?
I, also, am amazed at how people go on and on about us having been proud of being
Iranians those days. It was shameful, period. All this talk of Ahura Mazda and Darius
and pride in our ancient heritage is either incredibly naive or downright reactionary.
It is like the Italians of today going on and on about the Roman Empire in the context
of their contemporary politics. I think only the extreme right in Italy may harp
back to the days of the Roman Empire, like Mussolini did. Are we going to hear about
racial superiority of the Persians next?
We even have people calling those of us not bedding with the newly invigorated monarchist
movement: Arabs. As if that is a term that should automatically give offense. I cannot
stand all this talk about Persian heritage and purity. It reminds me of a Pakistani
professor at Boston University, who taught us much about Farsi and Urdu poetry over
curry he cooked in his office. He used to tell us that we Iranians are a very arrogant
-- always thinking we are superior to all in the region. I personally prefer a blood
that is all mixed up -- like a cocktail. Purity is for fascists.
The Iranian revolution gave us pride like the 2500 anniversary never could because
it came from below instead of being imposed by the fancy of someone from above. It
made the world see a people taking his/her own destiny in hand even if it were for
those few moments after the revolution's triumph. But more importantly it showed
us how we could rise as a people.
I am not proud of this theocratic regime and I pray for its fall -- but please do
not try to sell us the 2500 ceremonies. They were a mistake that cost the Shah the
most. These ceremonies will go in the history books as the beginning of the end of
Pahlavi rule in Iran. I do not understand why the monarchists insist of reviving
As for seeking freedom and democracy in Iran, it seems if someone wants to unite
Iranians they would do better not dwell on a topic that is a thorn in the side of
many. The 2500 ceremonies are not a good historical event to act as a unifying umbrella.
If you want to find a unifying event use the coming to power of Mossadegh instead.
I do not know any Iranians who do not like him or who regret his existence.
The 2500 ceremonies where more about the person of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi than anything
else. As such they contributed to the cult of personality of the Shah, which brought
about the fall of the regime. You see, when you turn a leader into a God who can
converse with the illustrious dead -- then the only way for a people to change things
is to topple the leader and his regime and everything he stood for with one blow.
Iconoclasm is the punishment reserved for man-made Gods. When you want to get rid
of a God you have to break him to make sure that he is breakable -- that he is indeed
The very ritual or anti-ritual of breaking an icon or a God or a Shah is itself a
test of the power of things being broken. That is the psychology of iconoclasm. Fear
of an oversized Godlike despot makes eliminating everything associated with him a
psychological necessity for those seeking to overthrow him. In this way the Iranian
people lost a lot of what was positive about the old regime namely and foremost:
a barely formed, half-born secular culture. Out went the jeans and Rock and Roll
and freedom for women with the Shah himself. They were seen as so many accouterments
of the King that had to be brought down and broken with him.
If you want unity Mr. Nassehi, stop talking about the horrendous mistakes of the
Shah. They make some of us cringe and thank God we do not actually have to choose
between a crown and an ammameh even if it does mean remaining in exile. If you want
to unite Iranians start talking about the terrible economy. That is something most
people agree with. I say to you with utmost civility the term coined by the Clinton
election team, "It's the economy stupid!''
People in Iran are not clamoring for change because they are worried about our image
in the West. They want jobs and the freedom to wear blue jeans and listen to loud
music. They want opportunity and freedom. Nothing less. They want a government that
shows them the bills. They want a system that functions on merit. The young people
in Iran do not care what Paris Match thinks of their leaders -- they want
freedom. Nothing less.
And if you really need to find a historic event that brings Iranians together look
at Mossadegh or the Constitutional Revolution or some other event that most of us
look to with pride. Leave the Shah's mistakes to rest and avoid them like the plague.