In a cool, exceedingly polluted evening in Tehran, I meander aimlessly searching for the familiar scenes of my youth. Some say the eye is a window to the soul. I look for the inquisitive, dignified, and descent glances of the years past. The glances tonight betray lascivious frenzy and an insatiate acquisitiveness. The demons our Manichean ancestors warned us about so many centuries ago — Concupiscence and Az — stir all around. Life is odd in this heartland of evil!
There are sign of wealth everywhere, and yet the condition of the poor is heart wrenching. The jewelers peddle gold, diamonds and rubies, while the streets are filled with men, women and children — the bearded, the hirsute and the unwashed — peddling socks, batteries and their bodies to make ends meet. Hundreds of young coquettish women — fake blondes among them in force, with painted toes, tattooed eyebrows, and exaggerated, colorful makeup — walk around in their trendy see through gowns while numerous children, dirty and undernourished, peddle stuff no one cares to buy.
The educated, opulent youth organize to pass around the latest pirated Microsoft software, games, alcohol, drugs, and porn flicks — all the while bemoaning the lack of freedom essential for self expression. People appear frightened of the harm government authorities might inflict upon them, and yet, they almost never hesitate to engage in a fight over some lousy traffic accident, or a perceived affront to their person, property or dignity.
The number of drug addicts, prostitutes, wanderers and vagabonds is astonishing, and yet, both weddings and funerals are lavish, with people throwing thousands of tomans, (and frequently a few Euros and Dollars) on the flirtatious dagger dancers. Some funeral feasts continue with catered food for seven days and nights. Houses are luxuriously (over) furnished. Shops are filled with fruits, vegetables, canned goods, as well as appliances both foreign and domestic. Poverty is omnipresent
Marital discord and domestic abuse are social epidemics. An irritating, cavalier attitude of the supposedly sensitive citizens of this Republic makes for an infuriating display of callousness manifest in hospitals, pharmacies, academic institutions and government buildings. The excruciating agony of the multitude of our political prisoners must be appalling judged solely by the torment that masquerades as healing in the state owned hospitals.
It is thus not difficult to be sympathetic to the acute observations of the mostly sober-minded, though recklessly audacious, and frequently maligned prognosticators of the neoconservative movement. There is something rotten about the state of affairs in our society; ours appears on a most advanced stage of decay.
This is a marvelous time, nevertheless, to be an Iranian, isn't it? There is simply no shortage of people claiming to have our best interest in mind. We have it all. The list includes, though not exhaustively, an infallible Leader, a President who is a philosopher, a President elect who is a woman, two Vice Presidents; a Guardian Council, a King, a Queen, and a Queen Mother; a Constitutionalist Movement, a Green Movement, Republicans, Monarchists, assorted Islamic Organizations–democratic and otherwise, and both a Communist Party as well as a Communist Workers' Party.
Ruled by the self appointed plenipotentiary Satraps of the Almighty here on earth who, in their infinite wisdom, have taken upon themselves the thankless job of guiding us towards perdition in the absence of our beloved hidden Imam, we are a nation bombarded by the daily dose of encouragement, advice, and (mostly) threats. Our foreign guardian angels, much like our domestic ones, are too numerous to list.
Just why on earth are we not acting? Are we not developing WMD's? Is our society not a threat to the international community? Are we not deprived of our human rights? Do we not deserve better? Why the inaction? Does our existence not exemplify collective cowardice?
I look up. The Tehran skyline of my childhood was filled with stars. I used to count the shooting ones. None of that is visible tonight. Neither are helicopters and fighter planes. Gun ships are not engaged in targeted killings over Tehran tonight. Fighter planes do not bomb my city blocks. Thousands of armed troops do not patrol my streets in tanks and there are no checkpoint shootings. I move in whatever part of the city I chose to.
The power grids appear to work — the city is well lit. Plenty of water is available for almost everyone. The kids are busy buying books. Schools have started and millions attend without much fanfare. No, the efficacy of a society should not be judged by its functioning schools and utilities. But again, neither does a working electric circuit or two and a freshly painted bullet ridden school wall a successful expedition make.
I pass by a pharmacy. All sorts of stuff is on display except for PreparationH. Is it not true that the amount of money Americans spend annually to preempt that annoying itch is roughly the equivalent of what the government here spends on the military. A menacing threat? I don't know, but certainly a suffocating presence in our lives.
And the concerned international community? Take the latest declamation of one Christopher Hitchens, an aspiring Orwell for our time. In the name of History, Mr. Hitchens wants us to consider the positive role a foreign military intervention can play in unleashing our collective energy. In so doing, he has finally decided to outdo American Enterprise Institute's Michael Ledeen, a colorful fellow who played a cruciall role in the cake and the Bible episode of the mid Eighties and the one who seems unable to resist authoritarian personalities with shinny leather boots be it Mussolini or Reza Khan–that infamous Nazi sympathizer who was forced to abdicate by the Allies.
Hitchens forgets that we are used to dealings with infallible leaders here. We have learned to question motives; to suspect those who claim privileged knowledge and to be suspicious of the self appointed champions of Justice. We have grown wary of the calls to die sheepishly in the name of some abstract, impersonal concept.
Why should I violently revolt right now, and feel good about myself, when only a few kilometers away, in a land intended to be the “light unto nations” the folks who merely try to temper the policies of their government by pointing out that it is not just, or moral, to shoot unarmed children are vilified as self-hating? Why should I cause a civil war here and feel heroic when in another continent, the mere criticism of a highly contested foreign policy is dismissed as Anti-American? Won't I be self-hating? Won't I be Anti-Iranian?
Why should I take the declarations of concern for my liberties seriously when I see thousands incarcerated without charge, hooded, humiliated, paraded and occasionally tortured? Why should I want to see thousands of my fellow citizens, no matter how odious their beliefs to me, incinerated, dismembered, and the lucky ones tormented without due process, hooded and paraded on the Fox Channel? How much better would that be from what exists today?
The chemical and biological weapons? I still see the unending torment of my fellow citizens, thousands with blistered skins and burned lungs gassed in silence when Saddam was a darling of the West shaking hand smilingly with the likes of Rumsfeld.
Make no mistakes: one thing's for certain. These repulsive, gray, and not so gentlemanly turbaned creatures wreaking havoc on our existence will have to go. But don't tell me, “Faster please!” Freedom and Democracy are too precious to toy with. We have waited for way too long. We will fight for them as we have always. But the time and the method of my participation in the final putsch: that will be something upon which I will have to decide on my own.