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Rock and no roll
Insisting on contentious issues does not bring unity

February 22, 2002
The Iranian

Why is it that Pahlavi apologists cannot let Cyrus the Great rest in peace? Does Mr. Nassehi ["The ultra-motive"] really think we will buy his logic that the 2500th anniversary celebrations were a great public relations triumph? The ceremonies were a public relations gaffe, both inside and outside the country. Reviving them is also a gaffe on the part of the monarchists, or even Reza Pahlavi Referendumists, if they rather be called that.

At the time Westerners who were meant to be impressed by this pageantry looked at these ceremonies as over the top nouveau richisms at best. Many of those invited -- close allies -- did not show up because of the stigma attached to attending a Third World dictator's laughable little side show. So regardless of how much was spent or not spent, these ceremonies, from the start looked ridiculous and failed to achieve the goal of impressing Western nations and media.

Another problem when looking at official figures is that they hide the incredible theft that went on even if they are accurate -- which would be a miracle. How many middlemen became rich as the result of these ceremonies? Fiscal corruption and nepotism were rampant in Pahlavi Iran. They are rampant now as well but this does not lessen corruption back then. One could write a book on Pahlavi era fiscal corruption.

Plus, the whole Pahlavi mentality that sought to validate us by seeking acceptance in the eyes of Western nations was inherently wrong. It began with the mistaken premise that we need to show Westerners that we can be like them. It began with the wrong assumption, or hang-up, that we had to catch up with the West, not just technologically, but culturally as well. That assumption did much to damage relations later on with the West. It also did much to add to the national identity crises that blue jeans and Rock and Roll mixed with repressive dictatorship had created.

You see if you want blue jeans and Rock and Roll to bloom into freedom-seeking democratic adulthood in a nation, you better get rid of the dictatorship as well or there will be a bloody revolution. It happened once in Iran. It happened in the Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe. It will happen again in Iran. The demographics will do it. The power of the liberating message of blue jeans and Rock and Roll or other variations on the theme cannot be underestimated in a society that is boiling with youthful hormone levels.

In Pahlavi Iran, unfortunately blue jeans and Rock and Roll, or freedom of individual and sexual expression, came to be associated with the hated regime. That cost a lot, especially for us women. The Pahlavis we could live without but the youthful promise of freedom embodied in a pair of jeans and a Pop song is what we are still seeking. As for the roads and infrastructure improvements brought about by the 2500th anniversary, my question is, Could they not have done the good works and skipped the gaudy party? Could they not have promoted tourism without throwing this lavish party?

I, also, am amazed at how people go on and on about us having been proud of being Iranians those days. It was shameful, period. All this talk of Ahura Mazda and Darius and pride in our ancient heritage is either incredibly naive or downright reactionary. It is like the Italians of today going on and on about the Roman Empire in the context of their contemporary politics. I think only the extreme right in Italy may harp back to the days of the Roman Empire, like Mussolini did. Are we going to hear about racial superiority of the Persians next?

We even have people calling those of us not bedding with the newly invigorated monarchist movement: Arabs. As if that is a term that should automatically give offense. I cannot stand all this talk about Persian heritage and purity. It reminds me of a Pakistani professor at Boston University, who taught us much about Farsi and Urdu poetry over curry he cooked in his office. He used to tell us that we Iranians are a very arrogant -- always thinking we are superior to all in the region. I personally prefer a blood that is all mixed up -- like a cocktail. Purity is for fascists.

The Iranian revolution gave us pride like the 2500 anniversary never could because it came from below instead of being imposed by the fancy of someone from above. It made the world see a people taking his/her own destiny in hand even if it were for those few moments after the revolution's triumph. But more importantly it showed us how we could rise as a people.

I am not proud of this theocratic regime and I pray for its fall -- but please do not try to sell us the 2500 ceremonies. They were a mistake that cost the Shah the most. These ceremonies will go in the history books as the beginning of the end of Pahlavi rule in Iran. I do not understand why the monarchists insist of reviving them.

As for seeking freedom and democracy in Iran, it seems if someone wants to unite Iranians they would do better not dwell on a topic that is a thorn in the side of many. The 2500 ceremonies are not a good historical event to act as a unifying umbrella. If you want to find a unifying event use the coming to power of Mossadegh instead. I do not know any Iranians who do not like him or who regret his existence.

The 2500 ceremonies where more about the person of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi than anything else. As such they contributed to the cult of personality of the Shah, which brought about the fall of the regime. You see, when you turn a leader into a God who can converse with the illustrious dead -- then the only way for a people to change things is to topple the leader and his regime and everything he stood for with one blow. Iconoclasm is the punishment reserved for man-made Gods. When you want to get rid of a God you have to break him to make sure that he is breakable -- that he is indeed not God.

The very ritual or anti-ritual of breaking an icon or a God or a Shah is itself a test of the power of things being broken. That is the psychology of iconoclasm. Fear of an oversized Godlike despot makes eliminating everything associated with him a psychological necessity for those seeking to overthrow him. In this way the Iranian people lost a lot of what was positive about the old regime namely and foremost: a barely formed, half-born secular culture. Out went the jeans and Rock and Roll and freedom for women with the Shah himself. They were seen as so many accouterments of the King that had to be brought down and broken with him.

If you want unity Mr. Nassehi, stop talking about the horrendous mistakes of the Shah. They make some of us cringe and thank God we do not actually have to choose between a crown and an ammameh even if it does mean remaining in exile. If you want to unite Iranians start talking about the terrible economy. That is something most people agree with. I say to you with utmost civility the term coined by the Clinton election team, "It's the economy stupid!''

People in Iran are not clamoring for change because they are worried about our image in the West. They want jobs and the freedom to wear blue jeans and listen to loud music. They want opportunity and freedom. Nothing less. They want a government that shows them the bills. They want a system that functions on merit. The young people in Iran do not care what Paris Match thinks of their leaders -- they want freedom. Nothing less.

And if you really need to find a historic event that brings Iranians together look at Mossadegh or the Constitutional Revolution or some other event that most of us look to with pride. Leave the Shah's mistakes to rest and avoid them like the plague.

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment for the writer Setareh Sabety

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