Since I opened my eyes and began to learn where the United States of America were on the bluish globe in our living room, I have associated America with John F. Kennedy. I even drew a card and sent it to the White House for the birth of John Kennedy Jr. when I was only 4.
Growing up in a country far from here, I also knew the US through the actions of a young American, Barkley Moore, who was a Peace Corps volunteer in a small town close to the Soviet border in Northern Iran. Despite the rumors I could overhear that he was a spy eavesdropping on Soviet communications, he was a friend back in the mid 60s when I was not even a teen.
I remember going camping with Mr. Moore and other boy scouts from English school in Golestan's national forests, singing “O' Mc Donald had a farm iya iya o… ,” which was a foreign concept for Iranian kids those days, nevertheless it was a happy image that I carried with me for decades.
I went to a high school in Tehran that had a large statue of the American missionary Dr. Samuel Jordan in its rotunda, and I learned English from Ms. Huchinson and Mr. Smith on the sixth floor of the Iran-America Society in Vessal Avenue.
I grew up as a normal middle-class kid who, in those days, normally would have ended-up in the West attending some engineering college. But it so happened that I passed the general university entrance exams and stayed. I learned how to eat in the university cantina while police stood guard in riot gears breathing down my neck every day.
It was in that environment that I turned out to be a dissident under the Shah and later its substitute, the Islamic regime. I finally left the country after the end of the eight-year Iraq war to be a no-land, self-imposed exiled person. I left in search of freedom of thought, escaping a theocratic regime that was more concerned with people's bedrooms and appearances than about their future.
We landed in Seattle, in the Northwest corner of the United States of America and later moved to charming Portland. Subsequently I came to know the country and its people from inside a bubble dubbed “little Beirut” and gradually started to overcome my prejudices about the Great Satan formerly known as Great Imperialist.
I found friends and built trust in them; old lefties, Latino farm workers, unionists, young anarchists, Gay and Lesbian activists, environmentalists, Jewish critics of Israel, Amnesty International and human rights advocates; the list goes on and on, and I felt at home. We did not have to burn our books anymore or submerse them in the bathtub to make paper dough before tossing them out in shahrak gharb hills.
I cherished my new life, I was able to say what I liked and write what I wanted, and I was in no way going to give up that freedom. I decided after much internal debate to become a US citizen to put a stamp on that faith in Western democracy and the US constitution, and so I did.
The collapse of the Soviet block left the United States to be the unilateral power of the universe, but Bush the 41st had not yet succeeded to dictate his world order. Clinton was the elected president even before I got to vote as a citizen.
The 90s era was too good to be true, an almost humble superpower worked to collaborate with all, and the US president was received as the most favorite foreign leader in the rest of the world, a neo-liberal who had a high IQ and resonated positively with most of the intellectuals around the globe.
So we drew ourselves into our comfort zone, it was the IT time and Internet century, our life bubbled, as did blue chips and NASDAQ. Americans once again were the favorites of the world, everybody envied us, life was good, and it was all about “the economy stupid!”
That bubble shattered one evening when someone at FOX reversed the news and called Florida for his cousin. Jeb could not have been wrong, he promised his state to his re-born Christian brother, and so it went in a drama in which Jewish votes supposedly came out for racist Buchanan. Dragging one's feet did not work and we hailed the thief.
The US left the Kyoto accords, and the cowboy turned his back on our partners around the world. 9-11 happened and thousands were arrested with no cause. The FBI infiltrated cultural and religious assemblies again, the funding of stem cell research was cut, and federal funds started to pour into churches while schools were forced to cut their art programs.
Four years and two wars later we convinced ourselves that the system would correct itself, after all the movement towards modernity and democracy was a globally shared value and in our opinion irreversible. In our neck of the woods we saw grass root movements mobilizing people and supporting minorities and war-torn communities. PPRC, the Bus Project, Moveon.org, ACT, Concerts for Change, the Kucinich campaign folks, all empowered the illusion that people would take back the country.
On the day of 9/11 I came to know people who were more concerned about my family and me than they were afraid of terrorism, and we were let to believe that indeed we were not and were not going to be alone in this bubble.
It is conceivable for those who did not have the kind of experience that we had to think that religious establishments could be contained under the concept of separation of church and state. But why did we refuse to accept that calls from the pulpits could work even in 21st century?
We had seen Khomeinis, and Khameneis of the 6th century ruling twentieth century Iran. Why did we not understand that the same destiny could be possible in Western civilization by advocates of pre-enlightenment? May be we resisted the notion that while we were wishing for Lutheran reform in Islam, a reverse movement could be taking place in Protestantism.
Anyhow, within our bubble, bumper stickers, lawn signs, and buttons all called for a change. I kept saying, YES! These people will take back the country, my friends would say that they had never seen such a surge of popular activism, we all agreed that sanity would prevail, and we were a bunch of happy campers.
That is of course until last Tuesday night when reality shattered the bubble again, and the dream abruptly ended in a nightmare. We all hoped that the rest of Americans, given what they knew about the lies of WMD, the unprecedented deficit, the US Patriot Act, Halliburton and Enron … , would not actually elect George Bush for four more years.
But they did. Was it election fraud? Was it the fulfillment of the promise made by the CEO of Diebold to “deliver Ohio to the president”? Oh well! We will never know. As a friend writes: “It makes me think I am living in a third world country where I can never know the truth.”
I have lived three decades of my life in the third world, so I know what it means when a bishop puts a full-page ad in my hometown newspaper calling a vote for Kerry a sin. But I had also developed more faith in the citizens of the so-called first world. That is now broken apart. The bottom line is that I escaped a theocracy by a few and ended up in a theocracy by majority. And now I have to read my daughter's e-mail who is backpacking abroad:
i will no longer be a resident of the united states for the next four years… this is really hard for me to say and do… i had a lot of plans for the next few years… but thanks to the terror-stricken brainwashed americans of the midwest… my dreams are torn down to rubble… i will have to leave my home until i agree with the direction of our country… i refuse to have violence and selfish monetary gain being done in my name (the american people)… NO…
Goudarz Eghtedari is an engineer, a writer, a radio producer, and a Human Rights and peace activist who lives in Portland, Oregon.