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Freedom columns
"We are Iran" reinforces the impression of a vibrant civil society chafing at the bit and ready to jump and flourish


january 24, 2007

In recent years, we have seen the publication of a large number of books on Iran, whether memoirs or historical, literary and political studies. We are Iran is different from any of those. This is a book about ordinary Iranians as seen through the eyes of the country’s many bloggers, mainly young people who are voicing their hopes and anxieties through their writings. Its editor and (skillful) translator, Nasrin Alavi, has compiled a sample of their blogs in such a way that readers can come to their own conclusions about the fabric of the Iranian society based on the opinions of those who were either very young or not yet born during the turbulent days of the Islamic Revolution.  

It is rather difficult to do a review of this book since it is not about one historical figure or episode, or even one particular subject; instead, it is about Iran, its current state and its many faces. It includes blogs about love, life, the mullahs, boyfriends, politics, mothers and fathers, relationships, about men and women. Subject range from human desires and weaknesses, about life and death, about earthquakes and university riots, and war. We read about the US, Israel, Palestine, Iraq; about everything and anything that is interesting, sometimes irrelevant and sometimes noteworthy. We hear opinions about Khamenei, Mossadegh, Montazeri, Khatami, the Shah -- about evil doers, the good, the bad and the ugly. And we learn about women, Fatimeh Haghighat-jou, Shirin Ebadi, in addition to many unknown ones.

Unlike most books, which start with an introduction and end with a conclusion, the author has left that to the reader. Although it would have been useful to begin with an explanatory introduction, We are Iran does not present its material randomly; it is divided into chapters that are organized in a loose way according to historical sequence. The first one, titled “A Virtual Community,” is followed by chapters on the Revolution, and via subjects like censorship, the media, women, we arrive at the present, “A Quarter Century Later.”

In the process we go from dictators to martyrdom, from faith to war, from veils to political rights, from forbidden love to free and fair elections. The tone of the blogs selected ranges from sarcastic remarks about those in power to joyful odes to life to introspective musings about the gap between appearance and reality in today’s Iran. All excerpts ooze with spontaneity and vibrancy, and many serve as poignant commentary on the absurdities of life in the Islamic Republic. .

Had this book been published about any other country, it might not have had much of an impact. Coming, as it does, from within the borders of Iran, a country that has long been a mystery for the behavior of its government and its confrontation with the one remaining superpower, it only reinforces the impression of a vibrant civil society chafing at the bit and ready to jump and flourish.   

We are Iran is a book to read.  It is a book to read at night, in gatherings, on the metro or on the bus, to friends who want to know about this fascinating country, its people-- people from all walks of life, especially the young, energetic ones who long to break the chains of ignorance so they can be free and alive. It is a book for those who like to see what exercises the minds of the many articulate, witty, and committed young people of Iran, the ones whose notion of revolution does not just embrace reform but the simple and basic freedoms which we in the West take for granted.

A sampling of the hundreds of blogs translated into English in We are Iran:

“As a stand against tyrannical Mullahs, on Chahrshanbeh Suri we set off fireworks... ”

“If George Bush, Dick Cheyney and the Fox News Network swapped places with Ayatollah Khamenei, Rafsanjani and our own state-controlled television network... nothing much would change in the world. Just as everything in Iran is the fault of the Americans, in America, the Middle Eastern terrorists are to blame for all the woes of the World... ” 

“Has everyone noticed the spooky absence of graffiti in our public toilets since the arrival
Of web logs? Remember the toilets at the university we used to call our ‘Freedom Columns’?” 

“Yesterday I bought a turquoise ring... They say it brings you happiness... I didn’t let my boyfriend buy it... I bought it myself. I wanted to be the creator of my own happiness, beauty and freedom... The era of fairy-tale heroes has come to an end.”  

“Death to everybody! Death to America! Israel! Britain! Imperialism!... Death to your mother, aunt, and sister too!... Death! Death! Death! They have been chanting Death to America and Israel for 25 years... and what have these useless leaders have achieved?... Israel is still the bully of the neighborhood and the Palestinians are swamped in misery... . But I can’t get over how we Iranians today are considered the most fanatical people in the world-all because of a bunch of nit-ridden illiterate mullahs... When I was growing up, Haji Yousef, the mullah who used to teach us the Koran.. Would say that ‘Moses taught us wisdom, Jesus love and Mohamed life’... so where did all these death chants come from?” 

“Death to America! Death to Bush! Death to Colin Powel! Death to Elizabeth Taylor!
But I want to go and live in America.”

“A man who hits his wife or daughter on the head, saying’
Tighten your headscarf and cover yourself up’ and that man who passes a law to ban the headscarf are both pursuing
Their own ulterior motives...
Freedom is the ability to choose... in our case, a group of men is forcing us to wear it and yet elsewhere they force you to take it off!”

“Here in this forgotten corner of the world, lost in this third millennium, I am worried
About the crumbling ruins collapsing on my only child’s head...
Not far away in the civilized world, people would laugh at my deepest fears... No rubble
Will disturb their dreams... I can hear them snoring.”

“Just as the West has Romeo and Juliet and the Arabs Lailee and Majnoon, for Iranians it’s the tale of Shirin and Farhad... Lailee, The Arab girl, is a weak, shattered, distraught being and even though she loves Majnoun, she cannot bring herself to speak of their love because of her background. For solace she cries behind her veil and is even tormented by her father and brother for expressing sorrow... Oh, but our Shirin, once she feels that Farhad is her man, she mounts her horse and leaves for Tisfoon’ to be with him. Significantly, there is no father or a brother to torment her or stand in her way and when those close to her see her passion for him they encourage her to go after her Farhad.. and the rest... Yet in a deliciously cruel historic irony, centuries later, unlike Shirin, we are denied the expression of the love in our hearts...”

“Men are my guards and they guard their own property and honour ... who am I? I am my brother’s, father’s husband’s uncle’s honour and even the honour of the honourable boy next door... Who should I see , if I don’t want all these guard dogs?”

“Ardeshir Afshin-Rad was killed as he tried to escape from members of the security services... other reports say he died as a result of torture and assault at the hands of the security agents of Ansar {Hezbollah}. What can I say? I am truly sorry... My agony is more than I can express in words.”

“Parliamentarians today started handing in their resignation letters... If only they had woken up earlier... if only people still believed them.”

“I hate war. I hate the liberating soldiers that trample your soil, home, young and old under their boots. Believe me I love freedom. But that you have to make yourself free. No one else can free you.”

And in a letter to a Basiji, a blogger writes: 

“In an answer to your question, the government we Iranians want;
No government official has a job for life.
The people elect the head of our government every four years.
No power is holy or sacred.
No religious groups or races are discriminated against, even atheists.
No one can investigate your private life...
Without a doubt the worst way to solve the problems of any society is
To have a revolution. Just as the nastiest way of solving any international dispute is war.
But when a society closes all its doors to change the worst will happen.” Comment

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Fariba Amini



Democracy in Iran
History and the Quest for Liberty
by Ali Gheissari and Vali Nasr


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