March 2, 2001
In France too
I would like to draw your attention to the following regarding Behrooz
Parsa's article, "I'm
the Shah here": I read the article with great attention, and I
believe every word he said. I would't go as far as to say the generals
were gods everywhere in Iran but such power abuse must have been common
in a totally bureacratic country Iran had become, even though Behrooz also
mentions that it is not neccessarily better today. However he does mention
the following fact "Students were from all over the country with different
backgrounds. The one thing we had in common was that we were not rich kids.
Anybody who could afford to go to a regular high school would not want
to put up with the torturous condition of this military school. However,
since it was free, there were plenty of applicants and it was rather hard
to get in. It was not such a bad deal for someone who didn't mind the restrictions
and military discipline."
I personally had a similar experience but in a democratic country, the
country that claims to be the country of human rights. On many aspects
theyt have acheived this goal, after over 200 years. Reading Behrooz' article
brought back personal painful souveniers to me (I could totally relate
to the frustrations of the 15 candidates who coarageosly fought for their
rights after succeding at their exams) not only about Iran but on the way
education is conceived in general (sorry couldn't find another word than
general). In France to become an engineer, in order to enter the top engineering
schools you can either pass it as a free candidate, "candidat libre",
with little luck to succeed, unless you are very brilliant, or do two types
of Prep schools, the best in this case is "The Prepa-intégré"
that means you enter the engineering school of your choice, but you spend
a year being prepared for the type of exams dealing with concrete subjects
related to the requirements of the school. Thus allowing the student to
learn on the spot his lessons and become familiar with the environment
of the engineering school in question. The other solution is to integrate
a "Prep school" or "Math-Sup" for engineers, and "Prepa
HEC" for economists. The students are selected in all cases on their
grades, as well as a motivation letter and not on their social background.
In that sense it was a tough but egalitarian system. My sister did "Math-Sup"
and "Math-Spe" and entered one of the toppest electronic schools
in France, and I am proud of her acheivments.
However, to my personal dissapointment, being much too naïve at
the time, and despite, my parents recommendations not to postulate for
such a tough system, my stubberness to belong to an elite class of engineers
like Polytechnique or another school, was to prove fatal. Unlike my sister,
I had not grasped the artificial training approach of the Prepa school,
which consisted of provoking the student and see how calmly he could continue
to think, and respond to the teachers aggressive question on mathematics
or physics. For the adult I have become, or anybody else, all this seems
like child play, But back then it seemed like Hell at least for me. The
teasing between us or people who had successfully passed the first year
examinations was more funny than, serious. But again it depended on each
persons sense of humor. I had enough sense of humor to turn the situation
in my favor, by virtually joking with the seniors. Then we would share
each others experience, and ask questions on the exams and so forth.
However back in class it was totally a different atmosphere. I was stupid
enough to question the teacher as if he was their to be a counselor or
friend. Everyone else was silent or took their distances. I ended up being
the teachers ass and victime, for the whole semester. In the international
school I attended in Shiraz and in the american school system or at the
university it seemed natural to ask questions to the teacher. Hey sir I
don't understand this, or that could you be more specific? But not in a
Prep school. You know the answer, you answer, otherwise you shut your big
mouth! I was free to leave but, giving up was like accepting a humiliating
defeat. But I would say the worst for a 19 or 20 year old boy, was not
that. Before each oral examination that is twice a week, we had a litterature
course, In French which consisted of reading and analyzing excerpts of
a japanese writer, called Yukio Mishima. He was a Fascist, homosexual,
and fanatic, who commited suicide as a sign of alleigence to the tradition
of japanese sumuraïs. Ok I know what you who are going to read this
letter may think. This was just another way of psychologically make us
stronger, and not be influenced by what we read.
But what was extraordinary was the fact that all this so-called litterary
work, served no specific purpose if not to destabilize us before an exam,
and test our resistance. Needless to say I ended up by getting a nervous
breakdown, and it took me a good number of years to overcome it. Precious
years, which could have allowed me to enjoy life and today look back and
say "Oh those good years when as a youth I could have fallen in love,
enjoy the freedom and know its limits in a democratic society. Ever since
I ended up by learning the meaning of the word Democracy: For me it means
being responsible, and assuming your decisions be them good or bad, but
at least you have the free choice. However I find it scandalous, and criminal
on behalf of the government, at that time, to have imposed in the scholastic
program this sort of litterature whose only goal was to impose on the young,
innocent and ambitious students we were the so-called virtues of a writer
whose writings were far from being dedicated to democratic values. Paradoxically
shortly after Math-Sup which I failed, I was enrolled in the French Army,
I probably saw more humanity, in that environment than in the "Prep-Schools"
probably also because it represented a new challenge for me, and I must
admit it allowed me to do a great deal of sport and I got rid of my depressing
thoughts on my "Prep-School" humilating experience. Now you may
say that indeed I was very naïve at the age of twenty, my sister was
wiser, and morally stronger than me, and immediately saw the ridiculousness
of the situation, and didn't take all this so seriously.
True I had the choice of leaving, but what probably most shocked me
was that I was brought up with the notions of Human Rights, Democracy,
and Freedom, and that in the Prep-School they were promoting other values
which were unconciously being imposed on us. My Mothers father, fought
against the Nazi troops, and spent five years in a prison camp in Germany.
I was all the more confused to see that in a Democratic State like France,
the elite school system was promoting such litterature to a very young
generation (many were younger than me) who in the future were meant to
be elite members of the society, people who are to play major roles and
take important decisions, such as as engineers, politicians and or company
managers, to be totally manipulated by such brainwashing. As an adult,
and as someone who curious of movies, books and any artistic form of expression
I wouldn't even censor that japanese ass hole books (But I wouldn't promote
nor recommend them either) However I would protect my children from being
exposed to things they are not ready to read or see. I am against censorship,
abuse of power in government, but it is not enough. The press and each
citizen should have the right to express themselves. It is not enough to
say ok we have a democratic system therefore everything is good and nice
in our country. The Press brought down Nixon, in the watergate affaire
and forced Clinton to explain on his scandalous attitude in the White House,
even if I am sure on this aspect, other presidents have not been totally
innocent. I found a parrallel between Behrooz's story and mine, eventhough
it is very different. But they have one thing in common. Too much bureacracy,
is responsible for all kinds of abuses.
In dictatorships, the tendancy is to construct a pyramidal hiearchy,
and that explains why it is so difficult to reach the real decision makers.
However the same can be said in free and totally secular democracies. I
am not saying that everything is bad in a secular democratic system, I
say that the common denominator between let us say dictatorships, totalitarian
states, and our rosy democracies (which is the form of government I prefer,
regardless of its shortcomings), is bureacracy. It is natural and part
of human nature to want and desire for a better future, and a better life.
True democracy, do not have the same form in different countries but at
least they share, and or try to share a few essential things in common,
or at least they try to do so, and that is the respect of human rights,
the freedom of the press, free elections, the freedom of expression as
long as it doesn't bring prejudice to another persons faith, or dignity.
However the counterpart is to be alert, aware and not to take democracy
for something granted. People whatever their opinions have given there
lives for it, throughout History, and not only in Ancient Greece. I hope
that the future generations will here and understand this message (and
I am not a preacher, nor an idealist), whatever their political convictions.
Regards to you Behrooz, and I hope that our country and our own kids
will benefite from the fruits of Freedom and Democracy without having to
pay the price with there lives.