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Right in Madrid

People have yet to regard communism with the same horror they rightly do Nazism

October 22, 2002
The Iranian

I'm invited to a party tonight, the first since January 2001 (or 2000?). I was stood up by a date on September 12th, 2001 and, human nature being just so, forgot the previous day's cataclysm across the Atlantic to focus my fury on the heartless villain who left me standing in the pouring rain on the Chelsea Embankment -- confirmation, again, that nobody loves me except my mother.

Living in Barcelona now as I do, I am going to the party wearing a T-shirt, cardigan (the party piece), jeans and sandals. You can wear sandals everywhere in this town, the excuse being that we're by the sea and it's hot. That is not the case in Madrid, where I discovered on a recent visit that people wear shoes.

The Spaniards keep saying "vale, vale" (OK), which sounds like "baleh baleh" in Persian. This is just one of the traits, aside their charm and good looks, that has endeared them to me. I am so delighted with them I declare them honourary Persians.

Strange to relate (do they read the papers?), they are also pleased when you tell them you are from Iran. ("Soy Irani", or "Naci en Iran", if you're trying to pick up). I don't know if they simply like the Persians or are favourably impressed by my light skin and Najeeb expression?

I visited a Barcelona antique shop last summer with Laila, my friend from New York, and when we said "Somos Iranies", the ladies oohed and aahed about the Shah and Farah, without giving us a discount, the Catalans being tight-fisted misers.

We repeated the trick in a Lebanese restaurant. The Libyan girl serving us was overjoyed. "My father loves Iran," she said. "He named my younger brother Khomeini, and the baby one Saddam." A nice girl, she didn't charge us for the Baklavas.

But I do love Madrid: Tehran as it should have been, charming if a little grimy. It's smarter districts remind me of old Shemiran, foliage hanging over walls, pouring shade over quiet streets.

My sandals were noted in Madrid. I made a sloppy noise wondering around the Prado. The wardens could hear me coming, as if I were an Iranian cultural delegation. But who cares? Unlike other visitors, I know that Philip III, prominently displayed in the galleries, was King of Spain, not some rapper or Black activist.

"Aren't your feet cold?" a bouncer at a bar asked me that evening; "No," I said, my habitual answer until I learn Spanish. I could have said "niet" in an attempt to imitate, hilariously, the defunct Soviet foreign minister Gromyko, but I was in no mood for jokes.

Sandals, I know, are like Iranian plastic slippers. The difference is all the young and beautiful people wear sandals here to go to beach parties, whereas slippers are worn at conferences in Iran.

I dare say I shall be the only one in sandals [actually flip-flops] at the party but I've belatedly realised that conventions are another of life's cruel tricks, imposed by the bold and unruly on the meek and diffident. I've been diffident all my life, and tonight I say no.

The problem with my adopted Barcelona is that the locals are known to be unfriendly, like the French. I have grudges against the French of course, who doesn't? They murdered Marie-Antoinette and have played host to charlatans like Sartre and Picasso. They were raising red flags in the streets of Paris as early as 1848, if not before. That's how long the socialist dogs have been around.

Which brings me -- as if I needed an excuse -- to the leitmotiv of my fleeting life: the despicable acts of communists and their filthy middle-class sympathisers. Those of you near well-stocked bookshops in Western Europe or America should, I urge you, buy a new title called Koba the Dread: a study of communist terror by the novelist Martin Amis.

History books have already catalogued the crimes of communism, but their public is limited. This book is important as, hopefully, novel readers, younger readers, the "general" reader will pick it up for the author and glimpse the horrors meted out by Lenin and Stalin. It also shows the shameless hypocrisy of sympathisers who enjoyed the fruits of liberal democracy and the market economy while giving their blessing to communist "progress".

The point about the book is this: people have yet to regard communism with the same horror they rightly do Nazism. The Left has won the marketing battle, seemingly the only battle these days. People -- common, silly people, but that's an awful lot of people -- continue to link socialism with intelligence, ethics and disinterest: I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Iranians lead the way in this collective folly. I have heard educated Iranians, monarchists even, insist that the communists, whatever their crimes, built roads and factories -- that old rotten chestnut. If roads and factories are the yardstick, then all praise to General Pinochet for leaving a prosperous country, the most orderly in Latin America, with "only" 3,000 or so deaths to his name.

The communist sympathy runs deepest among French-educated Iranians. Reza Shah sent them to France to learn skills and science; half of them returned as socialist vipers with nothing to offer but foul abuse and calumny. That's another item in the litany of French crimes against decency. France sends out offal like Pol Pot and Ho Chi Minh, the United States Milton Friedman and 100 million entrepreneurs. Jolly good.

I am of course a liberal. I stop being cantankerous at five o'clock, in time for tea and cakes. Supermarkets also enthrall me. And now, I'm off to my party, where I shall clink glasses with radicals and installation artists with bad teeth. And what a ball I shall have, Inshallah.

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