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My uncle's declaration
I hoped there wouldn't be a time when outside forces would be trying to get me to choose between being American and being Iranian

May 4, 2005

I felt like taking a long walk when I heard my uncle say that if the United States were to invade our country next after Iraq, that he would go and fight them there himself. I felt like taking a long walk and thinking about America and Americans and how if one of them had happened to be walking by as he had said it, they might conclude that he was a terrorist, and the thing that made me sad was that even though I didn't want anybody invading anybody and I didn't want anybody having to fight against anybody invading anybody, there was still a lot of beauty in a sixty-two-year-old man saying that he would go and fight against any invaders himself, and I figured that American wouldn't see any of it.

I was an American writer and I was used to sharing something beautiful when it came my way, and the logical people to share it with were Americans, and it was the first time that I had thought that no matter how well I wrote it, there would be people who wouldn't see it, and it was a crazy feeling because I had always thought that art was free. I thought that if I wrote about him the way that he was, as someone who was not at all trying to sound tough in saying something like that, but just laying out the facts, and who might in his next breath notice a bird up in a tree, then they'd know what I meant. But this was one where they might not know it even then.

Well, I thought, I guess I can write about things like flowers and trees and buildings and streets as much as I ever did, but there's going to be some difficulties when the people I am writing of and the people I am writing to don't always see each other as people. I don't know who else to write about than Iranians, considering that that's what I am myself, and I don't know who else to write to than Americans, considering that that's who I've gone out and seen each day. It's lousy to think that there might be stories that I can't tell them. We've always had a good relationship, at least since I began writing. I've never held back in anything I've told them. I didn't want to start now. But I didn't want to spend any time explaining that my uncle was not a terrorist. They ought to know that, I thought. They ought to know it and if I did, it wouldn't be art.

They wouldn't want me doing that anyway. They wouldn't want me writing as anything other than a man in the world, because the whole thing didn't seem to start with just me wanting me to be a writer. It seemed to start with me and everybody wanting me to be a writer, Iranians and Americans both. It was a joint movement. I did not want it becoming fractured. Each day of the movement was based on what they had in common, which was everything inside, everything inside me to start with. My uncle's words went straight inside me as soon as he said them, and I felt like taking a long walk because that was what I used to do with what was inside me before I began to write, when I had thought that there was nobody to tell.

But I knew that if I did take a long walk, I would just come back to the same things I already knew, which were that (1)  I did not like war, (2) I had felt proud to hear my uncle say that, and (3) I had to not be afraid in what I wrote. If it was really a joint movement, then I had to trust them that they would know that the writer of the story of my uncle did not hate anybody. I had to trust them that they would know that it was an American story, as American a story as anything I had written, as American as anything anybody had written. It was Iranian too, in ways that I probably did not understand as readily, and I liked it that way because a story was an act of peace even when it was about war, even when it was about a possible war between those I was writing of and to. Not even that could stop the movement. Not even the assumption of terrorism could stop it. The only thing that could stop it was if I did not write what I felt. That was what I had done for everything else, and there was no reason to think of what my uncle said as any different.

As for the story itself, well, he said it, and I did feel proud. My aunt did not say anything, even though she was used to having to remind him that he was sixty-two years old. My cousins and I did not even think of saying that. It felt like it would have been very rude. And we did not doubt him, or doubt how much he loved Iran, even though he had not been there in twenty years.

"You should be careful not to talk like that at work," my cousin Katti said.

"Yes," my cousin Ramin said. "They might report you."

My uncle made an expression that looked like it could only have been made by someone who already knew all about being reported on, which he did, from his days of growing up under the Shah. He seemed to be considering how much stuff he could take at sixty-two that he had been able to take at twenty.

"They would do the same thing if their country was invaded," he said. "Why would they think other people would be any different?"

We didn't know what to say to that except to appreciate him. My cousins were still worried that he would say something at the wrong time, but they looked like they were proud of him too. Outside our window was America, and the flowers and trees and buildings and streets were as much a part of us as they had ever been. And even the people were just as much a part of us. There was nothing that we were saying that we would take with us to the next American we met. There was nothing that my uncle was saying that he would take with him to his office. It just happened that if the United States invaded Iran, that's what he would do. They might think that it meant that he hated them, but hate did not have much to do with what we were talking about. What we were talking about actually felt like it had more to do with all those things we were part of.

Some time later I was talking to my brother, and I told him about what our uncle had said. I waited until I saw him in person, because it didn't seem like something I should say over the phone.

My brother smiled. "I can see him saying that," he said.

"Katti and Ramin were worried that he would say something in public."

"He shouldn't have to be concerned with that stuff," my brother said. "He's too old for that. I don't mean he's too old to handle it, I mean he's too old to have to put up with that stuff."

"Yes," I said. "He sounded young when he said it though. I wish you could've seen how young he sounded when he said it."

"I would've liked to have seen it."

When we were kids, my uncle had told us about growing up in Iran and how he had finally gotten so sick of everybody reporting everybody else that he had decided to leave. For some reason I had always thought that it was going to happen to me too. Even though I wasn't growing up in Iran, I had thought that it was going to happen to me. I just figured it was something that I was going to end up going through.

I hoped there wouldn't be a war and I hoped there wouldn't be a time when outside forces would be trying to get me to choose between being American and being Iranian. I already knew that there was a way to not have to choose, no matter what the outside forces tried to do. I knew it from the last war. I knew there was a way to wake up in the morning and sign a peace treaty inside myself before going to bed at night. But it was going to be hard if it was my own country that was invaded. It was going to be hard if it was the people who spoke my language, which was not the language that I was a writer in, but was the language that I had been a child in. It was the language whose speaking was close to writing for me, because of the way it went back to so many memories I did not know I had. They came back even just to hear it being spoken, and the thought of something like bombs falling on those who were living their lives in that language, who were saying 'mother' and 'father' in it as I had done, was a terrible one.

My brother and I didn't know what would happen if the U.S. invaded Iran and our uncle went to fight them there himself. We didn't want him to get hurt, but we didn't think we could say anything because that was the country he had grown up in. All I knew was that there would be a time when it would seem as foolish as any other war ever fought, because no matter what anybody tried to say, the distance between the two places was nothing. It was nothing and I knew it was nothing because it was the same as the distance between me and me, and there was nothing that anybody could do to change that.

For letters section
To Siamak Vossoughi

Siamak Vossoughi



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