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My Revolutionary Friends

05 Sep 2009 17:29Comments
iranians france black & white

The Iranian jet set help support a brutal regime by looking the other way.

By SETAREH SABETY in Nice

Those who come back from Iran speak with different degrees of detail and candor about Election Day and the uprising that ensued. But their stories are more interesting in terms of revealing their true character than providing any useful information about the protests.

There are those who immediately tell me that they do not want to be quoted in any articles that I may write. There are others who are more forthcoming and allow me to tell their story without revealing their names. There are those who are so scared that they avoid me altogether. There are also those who regret having talked to me once they see their comments in black and white -- one reprimand me for quoting him even though he wanted to be quoted and was quoted anonymously at that.

My friends on Facebook who want to go back to Iran delete me, though some of those who live in Iran and are active online have remained faithful. In fact, the most overly cautious Iranians are the well off ones who have homes abroad and inside Iran. They don't want to give up their lifestyle, of living in the West and going back every year or few months for a quick nostalgia cure and vacation. They are more cautious than those who are stuck there and lack the means to travel or live abroad. Even some academic friends who were very vocal about the Gaza massacre or Obama's campaign are now suspiciously silent lest they risk those research trips back to the dusty libraries of the old country.

No Iranian coming from Iran will admit that they did not participate or witness anything during the protests. Iranians hate to be thought of as ignorant or unaware. Their arrogant and boastful nature makes them embellish or lie outright. I can usually tell if they are lying by the way they describe things, often by sticking close to the BBC or VOA script. They talk about what happened in Isfahan and Tehran University on a given night with equal authority when they could not possibly have been at both places at once. Most likely they were perched in front of their TV set, glass of Scotch in hand. The only real difference from my experience is the location of their living room, Shahrak Gharb in this instance, instead of France.

Yes, many middle class people in Iran only witness the events of historical proportion on their streets and in their prisons from the comfort of their living rooms and in front of their satellite TV screens! Fine, but that will not keep them from boasting of their active participation in those protests. I saw one middle-aged man who had recently returned from Iran at the July 25 protest here in our town. Fewer people showed up there than at my friend's birthday party. Like many at the protest, he was sporting a cap, big sunglasses and a scarf to hide his face. He stood way back and did not repeat any chants or slogans. He later boasted to me of chasing plain-clothes agents on motorbikes during the recent protests in Iran. I thought to myself: how can this guy, who worked for the foreign ministry under the Shah, who covers himself so much here in the safety of Place Massena, have had the courage to go chasing motor-biker bassijis in Tehran? When I remembered how he cheated when we played doubles last summer, I decided that perhaps he was not a good source.

Another woman in her seventies, looking more in her forties thanks to good skin and even better botox, told me in her best dramatic and poetic Forough Farokhzad high voice how she went to all the protests in Tehran with her friends in a minibus, but refused to come to the one here because, "You know, I still have my papa's factory there and have to come and go. They may have spies photographing people."

Another extremely well-aged woman in her seventies, a notorious beauty who broke up at least three marriages in her heyday, recounted how a high-ranking army officer, presumably smitten by her looks, helped her and her friends by giving them a ride home when they were stuck in the middle of a street fight. Everything for this woman still comes back to advertising her good looks and ability to seduce!

One guy, an octogenarian Azeri ex-army officer under the Shah whom the monarchists here claim was a Tudeh party member, told me that he was on the streets every day. He even claimed that on one occasion, he personally talked the basiji out of entering his street in Tehran and arresting the youth of the neighborhood. Poolside at our residence later that day, his wife told me, "We were so scared we never left the house. We watched BBC and VOA all day long!"

Another woman in her forties, looking hard for a third husband and doing business in Iran, was down right aggressive. She lashed out at me about the uselessness of those of us who live abroad. Unlike them, we were 'all talk and no action'; we had no 'roots' in Iran and did not understand the plight of ordinary Iranians. She complained about how those of us living outside Iran refused to take risks while the youth inside were risking life and limb daily. When I agreed with her and asked if I could quote her she snapped, "No, no, I have to go back soon. I have a big deal coming through with the Koreans!" I meekly replied that I would not use her name. "No, I rather not take the risk," she said.

Even the useful sources that have given me the one or two real street-level accounts of what was happening seem to begrudge me for having written about it. One such person was so offended by one of the comments appearing below one of my articles expressing doubt that she stopped communicating altogether. Another one wrote to me saying, "You who live comfortable lives in Europe and the U.S will never know what it feels like to live here. I will never leave Iran while so many are perishing in the prisons." Two weeks later she was at her father's villa in Dubai.

What many Iranians inside Iran don't seem to comprehend is how some of us outside Iran are still very attached to the motherland. They think that life here is a bed of roses. They do not realize that you can live in Nice in the south of France and be poor and unhappy. They don't realize that some of us never recuperated from the damage inflicted upon us by the '79 Revolution. They cannot fathom that we still cry about Iran, that we feel a loss so great that nothing can replace it. They cannot understand how the dream of living a simple life in Iran, going to work and raising our children there has been denied us. They cannot see how much we have suffered in these past thirty years from our absence in a place we still feel belongs to us. They refuse to grasp that while this election uprising expressed their plight, it also expressed ours. They cannot perceive that someone like me who lives in another country and writes in another language can still have such a painful and real yearning to go back, to belong to that place, to make it once again her own.

I lived in Iran a few years ago for four years which was long enough to see how many inside Iran live luxurious, tax-free lives in opulent cocoons. They have maids and drivers, and lavish parties, even during these protests. I know of at least two huge weddings and three wild parties that have taken place in Tehran. I personally know more people who attended these gatherings than those who took to the streets to protest!

There are also those friends living abroad who simply do not want to talk about Iran because it will ruin their mood. People here are tired of me and look the other way if they see me at a party or near the pool. I have come to embody our collective tragedy. This 'election uprising' has gone on too long and they simply do not want to be bothered with it. One friend on the phone recently cut me short and said, "Let's talk about nice things!"

I'm well aware that the people I know do not represent the majority; I also know that there are genuine freedom fighters outside and inside Iran. I deeply love and admire those who are dead, in jail or actively engaged in the movement. What peeves me on the other hand is another kind of Iranian whom I think is in many ways responsible for the mess we are in: the one who thinks first of personal profit and safety; the one who poses as a patriot and a revolutionary while he lies and collaborates, kowtowing to the regime when it suits him; the one who criticizes those of us living in the West while he himself thinks only of his own welfare and security, never stepping foot outside his luxury apartment in Tehran to attend a demonstration.

These kinds of compatriots refuse to see that we have a simple and common goal: a democratic Iran. Even in a time of great national emergency, these poseurs worry more about how they come across than who they are or for what they fight. They mistrust, feel superior and resent in a very Iranian way everyone else's intentions and are oblivious to the need for a collective consciousness. What is incredibly annoying is that they think those of us who do not think or act like them are idiots!

A few times I have been praised for having the courage to put my own name to my writings about the uprising. Usually though, people either think I am stupid for risking my chances for going back to Iran safely, or they think that because all of my inheritance has already been confiscated, I have no real reason to want to go back. They do not consider that I have a mother who is old and whom I badly want to be able to visit, especially should she fall ill. They do not realize that I simply love that place we all call home and the thought of never seeing her is unbearably heart wrenching.

Iranians sneer at this kind of sentimentality. The worst thing that has happened over the past thirty years is that Iranians have become callous. Bazaari pragmatism has replaced that sense of empathy that gave Iranians their signature tolerance and hospitality. This is not a nation that values love and courage. It is a nation that only respects shrewdness. Where as before we looked up to the likes of Golesorkhi, we now admire Rafsanjani!

This story first appeared on Iranian.com.

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