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Same old story
A snake, fear can crawl inside the dark corners of one’s soul and hide where least suspected

May 11, 2007

As I put my shoes, watch, and neck chain in a bin, I pray that I have not left out anything that might trigger the sensors at the airport security. I am painfully reminded of an old phrase, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” I look back at the long road that has brought me here, and sadly smile at the futility of my quest for true freedom.

My first lesson in maintaining peace came at the young age of ten, when Father advised me of the advantages of keeping my mouth shut. Growing up with an imperialist Khan for a father, and pro-Mossaddegh older siblings, I had witnessed passionate debates that invariably ended with my father’s rage. As the years went by, I faced even more restrictions both at home, and out in public. In time, the taboo subjects, the banned books, and hushed voices multiplied to a point where rumor had it that one out of three on the street was a SAVAK informer. Fear of being found out, of someone knowing what one thought, said, or did, grew and grew until I reached a stage when I wished my own shadow would stop following me.

Considering the individual perception, fear can mean different things to different people, giving it a million faces. It is an indescribable emotion, and once deeply set, nothing seems to make it go away. While a child can simply be afraid of parent’s reprimand, the dark, or a stranger, to a mature mind fear is more complex. Not only are we unable to let go of some childhood phobias, but we also continue to add on and build new horrors. As parents, we worry for the safety of our children, and fear for their obscure futures, possible illnesses, and losses.

Human nature finds fear in most situations, and when all else fails, we are simply afraid of the unknown. However, you had to be raised in Iran to understand the variety of fright that could be packed into one acronym: SAVAK.

I grew up in Mashad, a city named for the martyrdom of Imam Reza, but thirteen centuries later, the city once again lived up to its name as it became home to many more martyrs. In the 1960s, numerous young people from Mashad rose against the social injustice, and many lost their lives to the brutality of the Shah’s secret police. Fear kept the city’s population in its silent grip while we hid in the shadows and watched. Few dared to talk about the events, some even denied their association with the victims, and no one attempted to stop the violence.

A snake, fear can crawl inside the dark corners of one’s soul and hide where least suspected. SAVAK was in our classrooms, in a taxi, inside the telephone line, and even under the bed. I’m not sure if I indeed lacked interest in politics or if that was the excuse of a coward. Whatever the reason, I never became involved. So, I ask myself, why is it that after decades of life in the free world, the name SAVAK can still make the hair on my arm stand?

A stranger listening to my conversations makes my heart skip a beat, when the security check takes longer to search my purse I feel danger, and I admit, there have been times I wished I was invisible. Fear is so close I can sometimes taste it and the taste makes me wonder if I have indeed reached freedom.

Make no mistake, I would love nothing more than to feel ‘secure’ in my new ‘homeland’. What are immigrations if not man’s attempt to reach a safe haven? Immigrants, we all dream the same dream: peace today, a better world tomorrow. But regardless of the efforts and despite the overwhelming propaganda, the more they do to protect us, the less protected I feel. It looks as if too many agents are busy watching my kind and me, and I can’t help wondering just who is minding the real criminals? With our phones tapped and our homes checked, it seems as if we have imported our good-old SAVAK after all, or was it the other way around?

Those in charge of the so-called Homeland Security are far smarter than they are willing to admit. In a country where nothing is a secret, where you know that they know everything about you, the average citizen with a clean record is not their true suspect. The authorities know exactly who to look for. It isn’t you, and it isn’t me. But perhaps in this wild hunting game, we just happen to provide the perfect decoy. Comment

Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani gave up dentistry to be a full-time writer. She lives in San Diego, California. Her latest book is "Sharik-e Gham" (see excerpt). Visit her site

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Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani



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