Let him go home
Why was I attracted to religion and the revolution?
December 21, 2001
I got an email today from someone who knew me long ago. "Salaam.
Behrooz ro mishenaasi? Dar Iran 1980-1? Meidaane Kakh?" (Hi. Do you
remember Behrooz? In Iran 1980-1)? Kakh [Palestine] Square [in Tehran]?).
I don't remember him. But since September 11, little incidents here and
there have forced me to think about my past.
The first rude reminder came as I was following the news after the World
Trade Center attacks. One of the detained suspects was Mohammed
Jaweed. What a coincidence, I shuddered. I too was Mohammed Jaweed --
or Mohammad Javid to be exact -- for many years after the fall of the Shah.
Back then the last thing I cared about was keeping an imperial name like
My revolutionary phase is not something I like to talk about because
it's just plain embarrassing. I didn't commit any evil acts, I can assure
President Bush. But when I see John Walker -- the "American Taliban"
-- on TV, I tell myself I could have been him. And in many ways, I was.
There are too many similarities.
There's no shortage of people who like to remind me of that. If they're
really nice they'll say, "Koss khol shodeh boodi?" (Did you have
your head up your ass?) I could care less what people think or say about
me (that's not entirely true). The problem is, I can't leave myself
alone, even years since I "snapped out of it".
Feeling guilty is a normal part of my life. Christians talk about people
being born sinners. As far as I'm concerned, it's true. Not a day goes by
without putting myself on trial, accusing myself of a whole range of things:
Bad person, bad friend, bad son, bad brother, bad father, bad lover, bad
publisher, bad Iranian, bad American...
I live through it by putting on a vigorous defense. I almost always get
off the hook. But the charges never go away. A new day, a new trial, a new
defense. If only Court TV could air what goes on in my head...
Lately, a lot of these psychotic trials have involved my post-revolution
life in Iran. What I don't fully understand to this day is why I was attracted
to religion and the revolution in the first place? My family was not religious
or even anti-Shah. We were as secular and "American" as any Iranian
family could be.
As far as I know, my father, Manoochehr, was agnostic, if not downright
atheist. He was born to secular Muslim parents, fell in love with America
as a student in southern California, and did not show any personal interest
in religion. Although long after his death, I found out about his fascination
with ancient Persian religions -- Mithraism and Manicheism in particular
-- and their impact on Christianity. He was a senior PR man for the Iranian
My mother, Shirin, published the company's newsletter in English and
painted. Her father was a Bakhtiari tribesman who became a doctor in New
York and married a nurse from Idaho. For a while my mother got into Indian
religions (Hinduism?). But that was her thing. The rest of us weren't compelled
to sit cross-legged meditating in front of a little stone figure which looked
like a recoiled snake sticking its head out. (Later I found out it symbolizes
something quite else. Go mom!).
We lived in Abadan, Iran's main oil center, in an exclusive neighborhood
for families of oil company employees and executives, most of whom had studied
in Britain and the U.S. I don't think there was even a mosque in our part
of town. I had one confirmed sighting of a molla before the revolution and
that was at my sister's wedding. Religion was only a subject taught at school.
The family car was not the popular Paykan but a Shahin -- the Iranian
version of an American Motors' Rambler -- with a color never seen before
or since: light purple. Our favorite dessert was mom's cheesecake. My favorite
day of the week was when we had shrimp curry, not ghormeh sabzi. The music
most often blaring out of our house was Wagner and the Beatles, not Googoosh.
I left Abadan in 1976 to go to high school in America. You would guess
with my background, I would fit in perfectly. But I became terribly homesick.
I crawled into my Iranian shell. Within a year, my parents had ended their
turbulent marriage, my father died (he had a long history of heart disease),
my mother remarried, and we were living in Hawaii. A year after that, Iran
was in the middle of a revolution.
Then, less than two years later, Jahanshah was Mohammad, in Iran, a practicing
Muslim, picking corn to reduce the Islamic homeland's dependence on global
imperialism. I was married at 19; a father at 20. And I joined the Islamic
Republic News Agency.
What happened is a textbook example of "acting out" -- "expressing
unconscious emotional conflicts or feelings, often of hostility or love,
through overt behavior" and "the display of previously inhibited
emotions (often in actions rather than words)," according to the dictionary.
But there's more to it than that.
Children born to bi-cultural parents and/or raised in different countries
tend to go through an identity crisis which initially ends up in a decision
to cling to one culture and reject the other. I wanted to belong, to fit.
I chose Iran over America and then took it one step further by trying to
be as "authentic" an Iranian as possible by embracing Islam.
Of course I do give myself some credit. I did believe in freedom and
justice. I just chose the wrong means. And not all who joined the revolution
were young, stupid or social misfits. People had legitimate grievances and
If Iran had not been so politically under-developed, if there had been
political parties and a free press (nothing fancy or utopian, just some
means to vent and initiate change), Khomeini would have been just a disgruntled
molla, there would not have been a revolution, or a fundamnetalist Islamic
state. I would have found some other way of acting out my emotional problems,
but at least mamlekat eenjoori beh gaa nemeeraft (Iran would not
have been screwed like this).
Maybe now John Walker's actions don't seem too strange. I just hope if
he hasn't done any serious harm to anyone, they let him go home.