Ali Reza's Death and a Diaspora Divided
by ARASH KARAMI
09 Jan 2011 19:02
[ opinion ] If the expat Iranian community can glean one lesson from the 2009 presidential elections, it is that they are divided about their aspirations for the future of Iran.
Immediately after the results of the elections were announced, many Iranians dug out of their closets any item of a greenish hue and attended local rallies in support of the Green Movement. While others dusted off their old lion-and-sun flags and attended Green rallies stubbornly waving their banners in support of the Pahlavi monarchy.
Anyone lucky, or misfortunate, enough to attend one of these rallies could witness the comedy, and tragedy, unfold before their eyes.
The Greens accused the monarchists of capitalizing on the democratic aspirations of Iran's youth by waving their flags at pro-reform demonstrations. The monarchists accused the Greens of being blind to the reality that Iran's government is beyond reform. When words didn't suffice, men and women cursed, punched, and even spat at each other in order to convey the depth of their convictions.
It seemed Iranian expats believed that if they didn't rain contempt on their opposition and endeavor to tear down the other side's banners, it would somehow jeopardize the future of their homeland. That's certainly how they acted -- as if the urgency of the moment demanded incivility.
The suicide of the late Shah's youngest son, Ali Reza Pahlavi, on January 4, 2011, was another reminder that expat Iranians are always just one tragic event away from shedding their polite demeanors full of Persian niceties and dishing out insults at their ideological adversaries. This time, though, the lesson learned (or learned again) is that the Iranian expat community is divided not only about the future, but about the past, as well.
Within hours of the news breaking that the 44-year-old Pahlavi had killed himself with a gunshot to the head in his Boston brownstone, many Iranian expats unzipped their old baggage and proudly put it on full display, albeit this time mostly via the Internet.
No doubt, the Pahlavi dynasty conjures many memories for Iranians outside of the homeland. No matter how the dynasty is described in any given circumstance, that description is sure to offend one or another group. For many, the name Pahlavi or the phrase zaman'e shah (the time of the Shah) recalls an era when Iran was on its way to becoming a Western, modernized country, one not loathed in America and Western Europe. Pictures of a smiling Shah at ease with his family adorned many Western publications and Iranians could easily acquire visas to almost anywhere in the world (if they could afford to travel, that is) and students were welcomed in droves to study in the United States.
For this group, the sorrow and tears were perhaps not only for Ali Reza Pahlavi but also for themselves, the lives they left behind, and the lives they could have had, were it not for the Revolution that tore them from their homeland.
There are others, however, for whom the good ol' days weren't quite so good. For them, the dynasty signifies a privileged family's unencumbered access to Iran's national treasury and the constant fear that SAVAK agents would come knocking at the door, all while the gap between rich and poor grew deeper as many of the Shah's economic policies backfired. Many in this group facilitated the downfall of the Shah but for various reasons were unable to live with the Revolution's aftermath, and thus they doubly blamed the Shah, both for his regime and the one that followed.
To be fair, many of these still sympathized with the pain felt by the Shah's widow for having lost a second child to depression and suicide. Others advocated respect for the dead, regardless of who the father was. Some, though, reprimanded the official site of Reza Pahlavi, the Shah's eldest son, for not taking the opportunity to highlight the struggles of those who suffer from depression and instead relating Ali Reza's death to the political situation in Iran (though in subsequent statements Reza did discuss his younger brother's psychological struggles).
Then, of course, there was that asinine bunch who wondered how the owner of a Porsche could be so depressed as to kill himself, a group surely comprising those who managed to fail Psych 101 as sophomores.
Sadly, we can be sure that this event will not be the last to jolt the Iranian expat community into staking out opposing sides. However, perhaps we can use this moment to learn an altogether different lesson.
Iran will certainly continue to remain very close to the hearts of the expat community. But we are not necessarily a diaspora any longer, as a friend recently pointed out to me. Regardless of the government in Iran, the vast majority of us will never return there permanently. We have developed lives outside of our homeland and we are planted firmly in our new countries. Many of us have married outside of the race to spouses who hardly speak the tongue. And regardless of how many Saturday school Persian classes each successive generation of children are forced to attend, the result will inevitably be that with great focus our children may squeeze out a salaam or hale shoma before they are old enough to decide that they'd rather spend their Saturdays playing basketball than learning some language only their grandparents speak.
It's time that the Iranian expat community moves on past this political limbo once and for all and finally sheds the ghosts of the past. Perhaps one day we can remark the passing of someone like Ali Reza Pahlavi as the death neither of a "beloved Prince" nor the "son of a traitor," but rather mourn the passing of an Iranian, like millions of others living outside the mother country.
Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau