After another hard-working semester at Miramar College, I figured my brain can no longer function, and after all it was summer time! I decided to go on a vacation, but it was not going to be an ordinary one, I had decided to go to Iran, my home, a country that I had left at the age of seventeen. As I was counting down the days to June 18th, a nostalgic feeling grew in me, “How has the image of Iran changed?”, “What if I find myself distant and cornered from the Iranian youth in terms of life-style and values?” It seemed though that the media had done its job in terms of influencing me! [PHOTOS]
After going through several “terrorist checks”, proving in both Los Angeles and London that my sister and I are currently “inactive terrorists”— and eighteen hours on the airplane— finally we were in Tehran. We spent a week hanging out with my aunt and some relatives in the capital. We left for our hometown, Shiraz, a week later. I was mentally ready to go beyond the boundaries, sneak into the veins of society, talk to people, and find out about their pains, views, and values. On June 30th, I attended the funeral of the Middle Class in Iran. Gasoline rationing created a lot of aggression and violence among people, as well as killing the middle class. At least the society looked more seamless; one would be either rich and powerful, or poor in search of a load of bread, day and night.
As a result of gas rationing, Shiraz became this chaotic place I had never seen, several gas stations were set on fire and several more protests were sparked all over the city. Nothing serious leaked from the domestic newspapers despite the extraordinary circumstance. No language or skills were required to sense the anger and frustration among people, whose lives were hit by this shocking decision. Some joked about it, “Three liters a day?” (Their share of gas per day) “That is almost impossible to function in a city like Tehran with its infamous traffic problems, no this program will no last!” One could see them bleeding, with their every breath, wishing an end.
Well…only time proved that the program did last; and the government did everything in its power to stabilize the situation. The reasoning behind the gasoline rationing was obvious for so many, “The government fears the up-coming sanctions by the U.S and Europe, they are guaranteeing their own survival”, for others it did not matter, all it mattered to them was their own lives. All they could taste was the present, last night’s bread, last month’s shelter, yesterday’s father, last year’s laughter. All they could do was to wait for this endless night to come to an end.
The government adopted yet another extreme approach to add to people’s sufferings. They strictly began to promote the “Ethics of Islam.” The Iranian government seems to have created and adopted a brand new definition of religion, under which some members of the society are more “equal”, some are entitled to uncountable privileges, and some are empowered to do anything they desire to, in the name of Allah. Here are a couple of outrageous and demeaning examples from their “Ethical program”: Suppressing women in every sense, humiliating the youth by arresting/beating/torturing them, executing gays and lesbians under the label of murderers or drug smugglers, preventing people with the Bahia faith from entering the university, etc…
Soon I became a victim myself. As my friend, his cousin and I were getting some food for dinner; the moral police stopped us. They believed that my friend’s cousin’s dress was too revealing that it interfered with the laws of Islam. To interrupt your imaginations, she was wearing short pants (to her “knees”) and a jacket that covered all of her body; still problematic in Iran. Begging, pleading and apologizing proved to no avail, five officers had already grown a six-inch love for my friend’s cousin, they were “seduced.” We ended up in their station, nothing different from a prison. Soon, my friend’s cousin was separated from us, and her well-being added to our worries. We were questioned several times about the incident (what incident?), and later on imprisoned for the night. Our crime, according to the officer, was some joke in itself, “Hurting social dignity.” Now, I did not know how I had hurt Ms. Dignity, but she must have been severely injured. It all seemed like a set-up joke, later it became a nightmare.
As I found myself inside the prison, next to drunk drivers, rapists, and thieves, my frustration grew. I could not imagine how I was going to spend the night in that dark, wet, and disgusting place, so I kept my brain occupied. Fortunately, Sia’s father bailed us out, but it was not going to be the end of it. We attended court the very next day. As I was advised by my fellow criminal friends; I kept my mouth shut before the judge. Our silence paid off and we were only financially penalized (50 dollars each, added up to $ 150), my cousin’s friend for dressing out of the “social norm”, and us for being with her (based on their regulations, a man could only make a public appearance with his wife, mother and sister)!
I was depressed; nevertheless I knew I was on vacation. Sia, whose life was permanent in Iran, was full of loathing, frustration, anger, and a sense of retaliation. We tried to talk about it less, but every attempt ended up with Sia saying, “I want to run him [the officer] over with my truck” or “We can send people after the judge, you know just a couple of knife scars on his face…”
I knew I could find beautiful aspects of life in contemporary Iran, despite political issues. It was my chance to get to know the Iranian youth. I would not have missed it for the entire world. My friends were mostly college students. Iranian youth listen to rap music; they drive up to coffee shops for some warmth in their lives. They like listening to Nickel Back. They go to language institutes to learn English, German, and French; to familiarize themselves with the world. They play soccer, tennis and basketball for fun. They like to party and show off their driving abilities in front of girls.
They too, hate terrorism. My friends have never participated in a demonstration against a country. They have never held loathing for a nation. They have never seen or made bombs, have never set the American flag on fire. Generation after generation, the Iranian youth are becoming less affectionate toward the boundaries and territories, and more infatuated with being universal and contributing something to the world. Iranian youth pursue the same goals in life as any other youth in the world. They aspire to finish the university, land a decent job, lead a modest life, and get married.
One day I would like to rouse and see that the world has different arrays of sight. I would love the world to see the Iranian women who are beaten up because they choose their dress on their own, see men who are imprisoned because they are walking with their girl friends, see gays who are lashed because they have tendency toward their own sex, see Bahia’s who are tortured because they practice their faith, and see people’s efforts to let all nations hear their rebelling voice.
I would like to see the world taking interest in genuine people, genuine images. One day, I would like to rouse and see Sia’s picture on the newspaper, as an Iranian, who does not want to negotiate with the world about anything but his freedom, his peace. I would like to rouse and see the world has quit listening to Ahmadinejad and his monarchy!
Sadly, this is the image of Iran in 2007. Believe it or not, I still managed to have some fantastic times in Iran. I felt the world has adopted a universal literature, language of sympathy, kinship and acceptance, and the Iranian people are also a part of that, far away from the sphere of politics, void of knowledge and love. My friends are all survivals, a great group of motivated and talented students, and if Iran’s future falls in their hands, as I believe it will, this night will turn into a bright day …and let’s hope the world recognizes their sufferings and struggles by hearing their voice! Because all they want is peace, all they want is freedom! [PHOTOS]