January 8, 2001
Ban on parties may make us think
On the arrest of party-goers in Tehran [News,
When I saw the news of the arrests on New Years Eve I said to myself,
well maybe now people will stop and think a little. I must say as awful
as it might sound I was not altogether unhappy. There was in fact a little
inner smile that betrayed a certain meanness that I rarely see in myself.
How can you be amused at the arrest of fellow Iranians? I asked myself.
Here is what I came up with.
At the beginning of our exile we all had differences of political opinion
and different theories about what went wrong with our country. Some of
us believed the wrongs and short sighted policies of the Shah's dictatorial
regime had led to a revolution that was necessary. The revolution had
not gone the way many of us wanted it; but somehow the cleansing effect
was seen as moving in the right direction at least historically.
Having read about other 'great' revolutions we stood by patiently for
the 'terror' to pass - dismissing the excess' of the new regime as unavoidable
growing pains. Disregarding our different interpretations of our recent
history we shared a common concern for the country we had recently to a
more or less literal degree fled. Whatever our background or ideology,
we all shared a certain longing to go back.
But now some 20 years later we find ourselves in the midst of a 'Perestioka
manque'. A chance at openness and reform missed. In these twenty plus
years new differences have emerged. There is less talk of ideology and
more of the dollar. Those of us who stayed abroad especially in the U.S
found ourselves joining the consumer economy with vigor. As we grew older
the old country seemed farther and immediate needs and realizable goals
took precedence in our concerns.
Meanwhile in Iran many a pocket became full of black-market profits.
And soon the exile community became a community of expatriates -no longer
made up of those of us who left out of fear but of all kinds of fellow
countrymen. With the 'thawing' of the hard-line stance in Iran that appeared
first with the presidency of Rafsanjani and then Khatami we started hearing
the first defenses of the regime by expatriates.
People would come and go freely and they always sang praises of how
great life still was in Tehran. "As if the revolution never happened"
was a common refrain, as if that would be a good thing. People started
gushing about the luxurious lifestyle and relative availability of everything
The ideological differences took back stage and in their place came
economic ones. In the post cold war phase we all came to poo-poo ideology.
"It's the economy, stupid" was what we too perhaps not too wrongly
came to believe. Let capitalism reign and all will fall into place. This
suited the new rich as well as the old who could now use their never taxed
dollars without shame. Now they could use their dollar strength to ski
in Shemshak, dance in Tehran and tan in Cannes. The difference between
us became that of those with dollars to spend on both sides and those without.
The only people who could not benefit from the new situation where those
who never had or made enough dollars and those who were still active in
their opposition like the Mojahedin or a few often mocked Pahlavi loyalists.
Many an Ambassador in the Shah's employ returned to Iran and sang praises
of his new found life back home. Many a young professional from the States
went back and raved about being able to have noon-e-sangak by day and dance
to the latest Madonna by night. And when you said, "Yes but the humiliation
and hypocrisy of having to veil yourself daily against your will,"
they would laugh as if you were the only communist left standing!
For the past few years we have witnessed these people coming and going
without an iota of concern about the real life situation of our country.
As long as you can buy scotch and go to parties in Tehran everyone considered
it progress. You too have a chance to go back they would tell us. No matter
the laws. No matter the treatment of political prisoners etc.. you can
get any video you like in Tehran!
Those of us who still harbored some ideological hope for our country
were treated as dinosaurs - an old fashioned breed bogged down by what
must be our lack of personal or dollar success. "Get over it"
we were told not knowing if they meant the revolution or Iran itself-as
if twenty years is enough in the life of an ancient place to make one forget
it. Iran became a place where some of us partied and some of us terribly
missed. It became a place where some of us made a lot of money and some
of us lost everything and others of us went for little ethnic vacations.
But now that party going has become a problem again, maybe now those
of us who weren't shaken by the serial murders, the arrest and imprisonment
of students and the shutting down of publications will finally wake up
and realize that a great chance at reform was missed. That in Iran we still
live under tyranny. Maybe then we all will finally see that the prerequisite
for peace and comfort and even frivolous fun is democracy. That we need
to free our students and writers and women before we can boast of throwing
great parties. That whether we have high ideological aspirations for Iran
or just want to visit and live there freely we need democracy first. Maybe
that need will unite us once again as it did for that fleeting moment between
the fall of the Shah and the establishment of theocracy.