I got an email today from someone who knew me long ago. “Salaam. Behrooz ro mishenaasi? Dar Iran 1980-1? Meidaane Kakh?” (Hi. Do you remember Behrooz? In Iran 1980-1)? Kakh [Palestine] Square [in Tehran]?). I don't remember him. But since September 11, little incidents here and there have forced me to think about my past.
The first rude reminder came as I was following the news after the World Trade Center attacks. One of the detained suspects was Mohammed Jaweed. What a coincidence, I shuddered. I too was Mohammed Jaweed — or Mohammad Javid to be exact — for many years after the fall of the Shah. Back then the last thing I cared about was keeping an imperial name like JahanSHAH.
My revolutionary phase is not something I like to talk about because it's just plain embarrassing. I didn't commit any evil acts, I can assure President Bush. But when I see John Walker — the “American Taliban” — on TV, I tell myself I could have been him. And in many ways, I was. There are too many similarities.
There's no shortage of people who like to remind me of that. If they're really nice they'll say, “Koss khol shodeh boodi?” (Did you have your head up your ass?) I could care less what people think or say about me (that's not entirely true). The problem is, I can't leave myself alone, even years since I “snapped out of it”.
Feeling guilty is a normal part of my life. Christians talk about people being born sinners. As far as I'm concerned, it's true. Not a day goes by without putting myself on trial, accusing myself of a whole range of things: Bad person, bad friend, bad son, bad brother, bad father, bad lover, bad publisher, bad Iranian, bad American…
I live through it by putting on a vigorous defense. I almost always get off the hook. But the charges never go away. A new day, a new trial, a new defense. If only Court TV could air what goes on in my head…
Lately, a lot of these psychotic trials have involved my post-revolution life in Iran. What I don't fully understand to this day is why I was attracted to religion and the revolution in the first place? My family was not religious or even anti-Shah. We were as secular and “American” as any Iranian family could be. See photos
As far as I know, my father, Manoochehr, was agnostic, if not downright atheist. He was born to secular Muslim parents, fell in love with America as a student in southern California, and did not show any personal interest in religion. Although long after his death, I found out about his fascination with ancient Persian religions — Mithraism and Manicheism in particular — and their impact on Christianity. He was a senior PR man for the Iranian oil company.
My mother, Shirin, published the company's newsletter in English and painted. Her father was a Bakhtiari tribesman who became a doctor in New York and married a nurse from Idaho. For a while my mother got into Indian religions (Hinduism?). But that was her thing. The rest of us weren't compelled to sit cross-legged meditating in front of a little stone figure which looked like a recoiled snake sticking its head out. (Later I found out it symbolizes something quite else. Go mom!).
We lived in Abadan, Iran's main oil center, in an exclusive neighborhood for families of oil company employees and executives, most of whom had studied in Britain and the U.S. I don't think there was even a mosque in our part of town. I had one confirmed sighting of a molla before the revolution and that was at my sister's wedding. Religion was only a subject taught at school.
The family car was not the popular Paykan but a Shahin — the Iranian version of an American Motors' Rambler — with a color never seen before or since: light purple. Our favorite dessert was mom's cheesecake. My favorite day of the week was when we had shrimp curry, not ghormeh sabzi. The music most often blaring out of our house was Wagner and the Beatles, not Googoosh.
I left Abadan in 1976 to go to high school in America. You would guess with my background, I would fit in perfectly. But I became terribly homesick. I crawled into my Iranian shell. Within a year, my parents had ended their turbulent marriage, my father died (he had a long history of heart disease), my mother remarried, and we were living in Hawaii. A year after that, Iran was in the middle of a revolution.
Then, less than two years later, Jahanshah was Mohammad, in Iran, a practicing Muslim, picking corn to reduce the Islamic homeland's dependence on global imperialism. I was married at 19; a father at 20. And I joined the Islamic Republic News Agency.
What happened is a textbook example of “acting out” — “expressing unconscious emotional conflicts or feelings, often of hostility or love, through overt behavior” and “the display of previously inhibited emotions (often in actions rather than words),” according to the dictionary. But there's more to it than that.
Children born to bi-cultural parents and/or raised in different countries tend to go through an identity crisis which initially ends up in a decision to cling to one culture and reject the other. I wanted to belong, to fit. I chose Iran over America and then took it one step further by trying to be as “authentic” an Iranian as possible by embracing Islam.
Of course I do give myself some credit. I did believe in freedom and justice. I just chose the wrong means. And not all who joined the revolution were young, stupid or social misfits. People had legitimate grievances and demands.
If Iran had not been so politically under-developed, if there had been political parties and a free press (nothing fancy or utopian, just some means to vent and initiate change), Khomeini would have been just a disgruntled molla, there would not have been a revolution, or a fundamnetalist Islamic state. I would have found some other way of acting out my emotional problems, but at least mamlekat eenjoori beh gaa nemeeraft (Iran would not have been screwed like this). See photos
Maybe now John Walker's actions don't seem too strange. I just hope if he hasn't done any serious harm to anyone, they let him go home.