“The most unpardonable sin in society is independence of thought.” — Emma Goldman, Feminist, 1869-1940
For months now, two of Keivan's Iranian friends have been trying to convince him to join their revolutionary organization that is part of the freedom movement in Iran committed to overthrowing the fundamental Islamic regime. Keivan has been resisting Mehrzad and Kamyar; refusing to contribute with his efforts or with his money to the cause.
Earlier this year, Hormoz, one of the leaders of the movement had come to meet them from Tehran. He was to be in Dubai for a week and Kamyar had arranged for Hormoz and Keivan to meet one of those evenings.
We were to rendezvous at Afsaneh and it was early when we got there; the chairs still overturned on the small square tables that were arranged around the small dance floor. We spotted Kamyar and the others on a table at the corner nearest to the bar.
The fluorescent lights that doused everything in a purple glaze made our teeth glow grotesquely. Hormoz is hirsute, with voluptuous negroid lips and an adult lisp that would have been distracting in a less impressive person. He was wearing a dark blue serge suit that made him look like a businessman and had eyes that were black as coal. Nothing I had imagined an underground revolutionary to be like.
Hormoz wasted no time – I expect Kami has told you all about us. And you also know how you can help us to liberate Iran.
He then went on to explain what they stood for, how they supported the student movement and how they proposed to undermine the current regime. My presence didn't seem to bother or hamper his speech. He then asked Keivan to tell him about himself and why he didn't want to join them. Keivan had been quiet all this while except for the occasional nod. He had been listening intently and now raised his gaze from the beer mug below his chin.
— “I was three when the revolution took place. I left Iran nine years later, after witnessing the war and having both my parents jailed and tortured at Evin 'University'.”
Nobody said anything except Hormoz: “Evin prison. Yes, I've been there.”
— “My mother was a midwife and my family had teachers, doctors, and engineers. They along with many other members of my family were 'purged'. We, the survivors, were denied passports. In those days of confusion, terror, war, blood and long lines for the basic necessities, I would hear my aunts reminisce of the days before the revolution; days that I had no memory of. My Iran was different.”
— “Keivan, we all have friends and relatives who were purged. But we do not want …”
— “Yes. But let me also make it clear I do not want the Shah back. No member of my family enjoyed favor with the old regime. I am not a monarchist but you see neither am I a nationalist and that is where we part. You want to bring a democratic government to Iran? I wish you all the best. But do not ask me to join you, I will not.”
— “What do you mean you are not a nationalist? Don't you love your country?”
— “You know some people would call you a traitor. Don't you think you owe anything to your motherland?”
Keivan stared back at Kamyar's frustrated gaze.
— “Do you consider yourself a patriot? Who do you consider the beneficiary of your patriotism? The State? That is what you are fighting against. Then is it the abstract notion that you call your motherland? But that is an abstract idea and by that count it exists only in your mind and in the collective consciousness. Who are you a patriot for Kami?”
— “I am doing this for my countrymen.”
— “Which countrymen? Do you know what all your countrymen desire? Do all citizens want to topple the regime? There are many who support it.”
— “Yes, those are the people we must defeat. All I am concerned with is the majority.”
— “So if a majority of your countrymen decide to execute all Shiite Muslims in the country would you consider that an act of patriotism?”
— “No. That is just the sort of injustice that we are fighting against. We want to rid our country of these evil corrupt rulers.”
— “That is what people like you said when they wanted to get rid of the Shah.”
— “Yes, yes. But don't you see we are doing the right thing? You must realize that we are fighting for a just cause.”
— “That is just the sort of moral conviction that I am horrified by. You have let loyalty to your ideology overtake a far greater loyalty that you owe to your reason and that to me, makes you no better than those you are fighting against. You derive legitimacy for your actions from a passionate belief in the morality of your cause. Don't you know you only have to be determined enough to realize heaven on earth to be sure of raising hell?
“You just admitted that your patriotism is defined by your own sense of judgement and propriety. Then should you not allow the same right to everybody else? I have the same right as you to make up my mind. Wars are best fought by mindless armies of intellectual slaves. I am not your best bet. You want me to write for you and maintain your website and send out your newsletters. I can if I want to. But I do not want to and even if I did it would not help your cause. My only weapon is reason and it is useless against those who will not see it. If it comes down to force I know I cannot defeat them or for that matter you. There are too many of you and I can be easily done away with if you so choose. But that does not make me want to join you.”
— “It looks like you do not believe in anything Keivan.”
— “Oh, but I do. I believe in myself. I do not recognize your claim over my being. Whatever I received from belonging to the nation is in truth from the structure of the state. Do not mistake me, I realize the benefits of an organized society. And for all the benefits that it provides I pay for those services with my taxes and by respecting its laws. I believe I owe no more than that.”
— “I don't understand,” said Mehrzad. “We want to remove this evil government and put in its place a just state. You seem to be against the very idea of a state.”
— “Not exactly. I am just careful not to let it control me. If I do not use my mind I know somebody will drive a stake through it and claim it for his own. If the State schools, informs, entertains you it does so for its own sake. It is only ensuring compliance. It is the means of ensuring that you will continue to recognize the legitimacy of the charade of the nation-state. It wants you to continue to believe in the illusion.
“You, Kami and Mehrzad, are now Americans. You say that you are the citizens of a democratic state, that it is a people's government. Dananjay here is from India. You believe that you have a choice. When indeed you have no such thing. What difference do you think it makes who you vote for? The system is in place, it doesn't matter who runs it. The rules of the game are set; it doesn't matter then whether you throw a red ball or a blue ball. That is the nature of the free choice you exercise.
“As for me, I refuse to be bound to the letter of a social contract that I have not been a party to and in which my agreement has been taken for granted.
“For all that the state provides you with it is more than enough recompense, believe me, that you accept the choice given to you and happily elect which syndicate will have the right to loot and cheat for the next four years or five years. Make no mistake the only difference in a democracy is that you decide every term who are to be your chosen aristocrats. That is the freedom that you have settled for.
“I have neither respect nor time to waste on people who value their freedom so much less. Not only do you willingly and merrily even give up your freedom for this lie you go even further by acknowledging its right over your body and mind. You are willing to mortgage your mind and sacrifice your body for it. That is worse than what Faust did, for he sold only what he could not know and did not value for what he could know and valued.”
— “I think you are giving the State more credit than it deserves. You seem to be suggesting that there are eminences grises, a 'them', masterminding an elaborate hoax. Surely you realize that you are a little paranoid?” Said Hormoz calmly.
— “What I mean is the state just happens to be the prime beneficiary of this system that society evolves for itself. A system that promises maximum stability. And yes, in that context it is a completely desirable goal. But to fail to recognize it as just that, a system and instead to surrender to its comfortable myths is hazardous. The most potent propaganda is that which is delivered unconsciously and by those who believe in it themselves as an irrefutable article of faith. People who think different and instigate others to think are a danger to the status quo, the system and the state. I stop with thinking for myself therefore I believe I pose no threat but more importantly, I am not a foot-soldier either.”
— “But, Keivan, have you thought what would happen if everybody thought like that?” Mehrzad said.
— “That is a weak argument. Kami here is a vegetarian. You think eating meat is wrong because it results in the killing of innocent animals. Do you really think your giving up meat makes any difference to the animals that are slaughtered everyday? You are not a vegetarian because it benefits anybody else, but because you believe in it and it benefits you.”
— “Hey, wait a minute that is not a fair comparison. My being a vegetarian benefits only me true, but it does not harm anybody else either.”
— “Does it really matter to your cause then if I support it or not. Does my refusing to join harm your cause? And even so why do you think your benefit should be the reason I live and die for? Just because you benefit from something I can do does not oblige me to do it.”
— “What you are asking is why should you sacrifice yourself for the greater good,” Hormoz summed up.
— “Yes. Our concepts of country, motherland, patriotism is the mull leftover from the human race's wholly forgettable tribal past. Don't you see that we live in a time when tribal loyalties are irrelevant? I do not have to subscribe to a collective identity to survive, to protect my property or ensure the safety of my family. Why then should I do it? Because it is a comfortable myth? I would rather not. My destiny is no longer linked with that of others who happen to share my ethnic or geographic origins. I am an individual and I choose to live as one because for the first time in human civilization we have that choice.”
— “Yes. I see your point and I respect what you call your freedom. But you will forgive us if we, like you, do as our own minds tell us, yes?” said Hormoz with a deprecatory smile.
There wasn't much left to say after that. We left soon after the band began to play. Hormoz was leaving the next day to Turkey and promised to call on us a few days later when he returned.
Keivan was to write to me later that year from Isfahan:
… Arezoo read my notes on anti-nationalism and wants to print it in Farsi. I don't see that as a good idea. Apart from the fact that it would read positively evil in Farsi. We would be accused of being traitors by both the government and the revolutionaries! Hardly a consummation to be devoutly wished!
I do not intend to communicate my beliefs because I know that it will be embraced, misunderstood and misused by cowards and opportunists. The tragedy of the reluctant prophet; hated by many who know little of what he is talking about, and revered by many more who know even less. I remember you said that once. Not to suggest for a moment that I am under any delusions of being a radical thinker. As you know, these notes are essentially a distillation of my interpretations of Objectivism and Secular Humanism.
All they describe is a personal philosophy. It is the individual's belief in his individuality. By its nature, it does not lend itself to being preached. It would be antithetical to peddle it as an ideology.
One of my teachers said to me once about atheism – “I will not lead you. I can only tell you that I believe in it. You have to make the journey by yourself. And you can make it only if you want to and realize that your only weapon is your own mind.” I think that says it well enough.
How is the plot coming along?
Arezoo, aunt and I went to the foothill today and we made a picnic of it. It is an especially enchanting winter here; the sun is crisp as a slice of frozen carrot!
P.S. – Aunt wants me to marry! Will tell all about it when we meet.