Many of us living here in the United States are the former sons and daughters of the Islamic Revolution. We have left Iran and immigrated to this country, seeking (a new) life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Some of us may even be old enough to remember the early days of the Iranian revolution.
I was a young boy, but I can still remember the lively discussions around our dinner table. My father and his friends would discuss and debate the state of our country into the small hours of the morning. It seemed everybody had an idea for the future direction of our country and these ideas were as varied as the people holding them.
I remember gazing in wonder from the shoulders of my father at the human sea of protestors marching in unison, denouncing the regime of the Shah. The prospect of a new Iran, was being debated with feverish energy and enthusiasm in all circles of life.
A revolution was in the making and it was a time of drastic and sweeping changes: a time of idealism about the abilities and triumphs of individual human beings and the reaches of human potential. Many had aspirations to help make a difference and influence the progress and development of Iran after the revolution.
When I talked to my father, who is still residing in Iran, on the phone last night and asked him about the current student protests that are taking place in Iran, I got the all too familiar, “Baba velesh kon…” or just let it go!
I thought to myself, what happened to the generation of idealistic intellectuals who left behind their comfortable lives here to go back home and “make a difference?” What happened to that dynamic and vibrant era and the high aspirations of the early days of the revolution?
And then, a very frightening thought set in. What will I be like in 20 years? Are my friends and I the new generation of idealistic intellectuals, discussing the prospects of a new Iran with passion and excitement into the small hours of the morning, only to be disillusioned 20 years from now? Will I think, what a waste it was spending the energy of my youth thinking these “useless thoughts.”
Unlike my friends and I, my father and his friends had put their money were their mouth was by giving up a bright future abroad for a very uncertain life in Iran. Taking big risks by protesting and rioting against the Shah. Some even loosing their lives to their causes after the revolution.
If I were ever to return to Iran, and really put the energy of my youth to help “make a difference”, will I find my youthful enthusiasm and intellectual idealism be blotted by skepticism or worse yet, give way to apathy? These thoughts can make any aspirant for progress and development in Iran shake to their bones.
I have been following with great interest the latest development of the recent student protests in Iran. I would like to think of the student movement as a leading engine in creating reform and change in Iran, just as it has historically established itself as a leading force in bringing about the revolution in 1978.
As a student myself with ties to Iran, I feel great sympathy and identify with the drive of this movement. I admire the brave Iranian students who are taking on the oppressive Islamic regime and openly criticizing the supreme leader and other hard-line clerics standing in the way of social and political reform.
In a recent, well-crafted video clip by Javanan-e-Sabz meant for “the worlds free thinkers and especially students,” footage of the recent student demonstration came to life through a very moving song, which in loosely-translated words said:
Look, we got to the end of ally, but ran into a cul-de-sac. Till when are we going to sing about freedom, what can we look forward to in our lives. God knows we are on the verge of insanity. Everybody's lips are sealed when it comes to dissent. We don't have peace or security.
By the end of the song, I could not ignore their plea: “back each other up and don't be pessimistic, ask for your rights and don't stand still.”
Hearing this, it is very difficult for me to “velesh konam”. I am sure the crushed and devastated youth in Iran who are “on the brink of insanity”, cannot afford to think whether or not they will regret taking to the streets 20 years from now. For them this protest is not about intellectual aspirations, it is about their very existence.
For them 20 years from now don't matter. It is about the powerful present, the here and now. They are completely fed up, as their song suggests, “we are rotting in all of this futility” and “what can we look forward to in our lives?”
But it is not only the students who are fed up. As witnessed in the elections and support for the pro-reform movement, most of the country is fed up with the oppression. It seems, most of the country is also still suffering from the repercussions of their last great uprising against an oppressive regime and are cynical and disenchanted in the idea of a reform movement, much less another revolution.
Their youthful enthusiasm, and intellectual aspirations has given way to aged indifference and pragmatic pessimism. Indeed the words of the song, “back each other up and don't be pessimistic, ask for your rights and don't stand still” strikes a very familiar chord.
As a student residing in the United States, who left Iran to escape its suffocating political climate in the first place, I can certainly understand and identify with the plight of my counter parts in Iran. I try to help and support in whatever way I can those students who, like me were more fortunate and were able to break away from that stagnant and decaying environment.
But, I would like to do more than merely support Iran's massive “brain drain”. I would like to do more than stand in solidarity with Iranian students from across the ocean. The cry of the Iranian students is ringing in my head, but I understand that I am limited to what I can do by being here and not in Iran.
I want to do something, but what can I do? I am here now, living as an Iranian-American. Perhaps this is the key point. Unlike many of my Iranian counter parts, who are “rotting in all of this futility” I had the privilege of being introduced to a new world of hope and growth. While Khatami speaks of “Dialogue among Civilizations” as a mere rhetoric, I can be an active participant in this dialogue.
In fact the need to reconcile Iran to the West and ourselves to ourselves seems more urgent now than at any other time. In this time of uncertainty about the future of the world, we are more than ever, in dire need of the exchange of ideas among people who are willing to understand and hear each other.
I realize that I am standing somewhere with the opportunity of being heard without being shot at. So, while I am limited to what I can do to help out with the plight in Iran and the cry of the students because I am not there, it seems to me there is something more immediate I can do, because I am here.
Despite the football hooliganisms and stealing of goal posts, there are still concerned people to connect with on my campus at University of California, Berkeley. There are people who are willing to lend an ear and listen to each other. Everyone of us Iranians of the Diaspora is urgently called to a dialogue of civilizations.
Not only for our own self-growth by reconciling the many cultures contained within ourselves, but also to serve as ambassadors of the country we left behind and the culture we brought with us. This is not a time to see being an Iranian in America as a blemish to be concealed or erased. This is a time to come together and use our multi-cultural upbringing as a gateway to a world where we are facing the “clash of civilizations” and “a war between cultures”.
We may think why are there so many Iranians sitting silent and not doing more about the oppressive Islamic regime. Have we asked ourselves, can we really afford to sit quiet under the Bush regime?
Unless we don't have a problem with being labeled a “potential terrorist” we cannot afford to sit quiet. The draconian measures taken during World War II in placing all Japanese in concentration camps for the possibility that some of them may be spies is not all that unlikely to happen again, given the kind of attitudes we are seeing by some politicians right now who are using terrorist attacks to curb and limit freedom of individuals.
We have a duty to remind these politicians, that these kinds of attitudes are fundamentally shortsighted and go against the spirit this country was founded on.
So, while I am completely for progress and development in Iran and my heart goes out to those fighting for a “civil society” in Iran, I also recognize the growing need for a more civil society here. The “baba velesh kon” attitudes are just as detrimental to progress and development in Iran as they are to the social progress and development right here.
Bijan Khazai is a PhD candidate in Civil Engineering, University of California, Berkeley.