The Revolution in Retrospect
09 Feb 2009 14:09
Bottom photo: On 12 Bahman 1357 (Feb. 1, 1979) Ayatollah Khomeini returns to Iran from exile. Top: Tehran's philharmonic orchestra marks that day's 30th anniversary at Mehrabad International Airport earlier this month.
Children of the Revolution
By FARIBA PAJOOH in Tehran
[Tehran Bureau] Ruholla, a young man in his late 20s, owes his very name to the essence of the revolution--Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. His family's revolutionary credentials are impeccable. From the basement of the family compound on Iran Street, in Tehran, his father dubbed cassettes of Ayatollah Khomeini's speeches and distributed them along with anti-Shah pamphlets to the masses he helped mobilize. His father was badly injured in a demonstration, and even to this day, according to his son, the scars remain visible. Contrary to many former revolutionaries whose fervor may have faded over three decades, Ruhollah's father's remains strong.
On the other end of the spectrum, Simin, 45, who skipped classes to take part in the demonstrations, grew disillusioned long ago. "If I knew what just the first five years after the revolution would have looked like," she said, "I would not have supported it." At that time however, she admits there was much to protest: "Under the Shah, there was no political freedom. Class divisions were sharp. The Shah had no knowledge or understanding of the lives of the people over whom he dictated. And more importantly, he had no bond with them, he had no respect for them or some of their religious values."
As the Islamic Revolution marks its 30-year anniversary this week, what do Ruhollah and those in his generation think? Most of them were not around or too young to remember the revolution. But they came of age when the first 10 days of February were marked by nationwide celebrations. In school they made newspaper clippings of their own articles hailing Ayatollah Khomeini's return and the Shah's departure. Many in this generation know by heart this poem by Mostafa Rahmandoost: That day was like a blossom, a blossom that flowered even in the cold of February, on a dried up tree... With more than 60 percent of Iran's 75 million population under 30, the revolution's future may well be in their hands.
"I love Khomeini intimately," said Ruhollah. "I have never wished for a moment that there had been no revolution." But, he adds, "I may not endorse some of the things that happened afterward. I may not be in agreement with some aspects of those events, some of the details; but, I believe this is a revolution that had to take place."
Some of the biggest problems Iran faces today may have been as a result of certain excesses and hard-line policies implemented, he said. "I still believe with all the difficulties we have today, we are better off than we would have been under the Pahlavis. From a cultural and international standpoint, I'm happy the revolution put an end to that dynasty. At least today we're not at the mercy of some foreign power."
Ruhollah said if he were old enough in 1978, he too would have joined the ranks like his father.
Omid, a 25-year-old electrical engineer, wasn't around for the revolution either. But he gets an earful from his older siblings about those days. Upon Mr. Khomeini's command, that Iranians "should not watch the Shah's television programs," their father had purged his household of its TV set. Omid's father was a bread-maker. He was arrested for refusing to shut down his bakery on the orders of royal authorities.
"Iranians are highly emotional people with many beautiful and lofty ideals. Sometimes, under certain circumstances, those emotions overflow," Omid said, referring to those days. "With the charismatic leadership of Imam Khomeini, I too would have probably been moved to action."
Omid, whose name means hope, continued, "The past is the past. 30 years have gone by. I believe we should try harder to achieve the goals that my father and so many others paid a price for. We should try to convey the ideals and reasons for the revolution to my generation, and to the people of other nations, in a more dignified manner, just as our former President Mohammad Khatami tried to do."
Because of certain excesses after the revolution, there are those among this generation who have reinvented the image of the Shah in their own thinking and speak wistfully of some of the social freedoms that existed under his rule.
But Alireza, who is 47, and a beneficiary in his youth of those social freedoms, did not think it was a viable alternative. "The Shah was very self-centered, members of his government were supremely arrogant and foreigners had a strong hand in our affairs. This was unacceptable," he said.
In the years 1978-79, Alireza was very active in his local mosque. When the oil refinery workers went on strike, he joined the economic mobilization front which distributed food and provisions to the needy. As the revolution picked up steam, he and neighborhood pals were tasked with collecting old tires and getting themselves to Maydaneh Enghelab (Revolution Square). "We ignited the rubbers and hid behind them as we shouted revolutionary slogans," he said.
As Alireza explains, revolutions are a major upheaval that shatter an oppressive status quo. In the mayhem that follows, anything can happen. The future of a revolution is unpredictable. Even though Alireza has immigrated to Canada with his family, he says he would rebel against the Pahlavi regime again, if given a chance.
"The revolution was a monumental movement 100 years in the making," he said.