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Alien Nation

01 Aug 2009 14:1427 Comments


By KAMIN MOHAMMADI | 1 August 2009

'Now perhaps the world will know us better.' So said one of my cousins and best friends in Iran, my almost daily contact since the election results were announced. We agreed that it was the only real hope that we could salvage from the current situation, one that we both fear will lead to nothing but more bloodshed and misery in our country as two titans of the Islamic regime fight it out for supremacy and control of the country.

'Perhaps at last the world will realise that we are not all like Ahmadinejad. That we are normal people like them...'

It's a noble hope and one that I sincerely share. But the truth is, we are not like 'them'. The rest of the world that Iranians refer to means basically the West and we cannot ever be like the people in the West for the simple reason that they have luxuriated in their freedom for decades, even centuries, while us Iranians have instead lived through millennia of tyranny and subjugation and struggle. We continue to live under such tyranny and the fight for freedom and self-determination is as individual in my country as it is societal. Whether living in or outside Iran, we are all affected by the upheaval of the last 30 years, of the revolution that toppled the Shah and the results of centuries of Western interference in our country's affairs.

Whether living inside or outside Iran, we all -- to a greater or lesser degree -- wear a mask, have two personalities, split ourselves into public and private selves. We are, essentially, alienated from others under our charm and spirit and propensity for laughing, dancing and having fun. We are split because 'they' cannot possibly know us and what we have lived -- and continue to live -- every day. And for us it is simply too complicated to explain so instead we don the mask.

Two years ago, I spent half a year living in Iran. After a decade of shuttling back and forth, I finally stayed for longer than a few weeks. I had my own flat, a busy social life and an array of vivid silk headscarves which I learnt to wear as stylishly as the intimidatingly supermodel-like young girls strutting around town. I worked and wrote in my tower and watched Tehran's flock of bright green parrots swoop through the skies at 4 o'clock every afternoon from my desk. I visited government offices wearing open high-heeled sandals with exposed ankles and bright pink nail polish, only realising my law-breaking gaffe when the gaze of everyone who greeted me slid silently to my feet. I dated and was shocked when one of my dates tried to kiss me in the back of the cab dropping us home after a party. The driver averted his eyes and the doorman of my building never commented on how many male visitors I received -- having been brought up the West, I am used to having platonic friendships with men, but in Iran, even in liberal circles, no-one can still quite believe that a man and a woman alone could be doing anything other than having sex.

Despite a decade of frequent visits, I was still an innocent in the complex web of realities that is Iranian society, and my innocence was what got me through unscathed. But after six months in Iran and four years of Ahmadinejad's rule, even I have lost my innocence.

I returned to London with a heavy heart leaving behind someone I was passionately in love with. We had no specific plans to be together -- like many young Iranians, my lover was determined to rebuild his country from the inside, declaring that he would rather be cleaning toilets in Iran than lording it in the West -- but we had started a dialogue about the future, a conversation that continued after my return to London, one in which we were delicately examining our options. Then one day, that conversation abruptly ended, quite literally.

Soon after arriving back in London, having rushed home at the appointed hour for a phone call, I didn't hear from him. I sat in all night and tried not to be annoyed. I spent another two days trying not to be cross and insecure, trying to play it cool, until finally on the fourth day I rang him. He picked up immediately and his response to my rather snide greeting was urgent and short.

'We cannot speak,' he said quickly. 'I have wanted to tell you but I have had some trouble. Intelligence have been asking questions about me, my boss warned me the other day that I am being watched and my phone is probably tapped. I don't know why or what will happen. I am scared. I love you.' And with that he hung up.

For the next six months I had virtually no word from him. All my questions froze on my lips. I had to go against my every instinct -- to call, to agitate, to rush to Iran and spirit him out -- in order to try and protect him. Bar a couple of formal phone calls, when birthdays gave us an excuse to ring each other briefly, we didn't speak, and even when we did, I had to strain to try to interpret his banal words, which he picked carefully so I could read between the lines. It was a rude lesson in Persian subtlety and strained my Western directness and lack of nuance to its limits.

For weeks, even months at a time, I had no idea if he was in jail, being tortured or even dead. I didn't even know if he had been taken in for questioning, if he was still working, living breathing, walking the same paths we had walked together. I didn't know and there was no way I could find out. Worst of all, I didn't know if the 'trouble' he was in was connected with me and the research he had helped me carry out, travelling together in the process in one of Iran's most dangerous regions. The only thing he had ascertained was that this 'trouble' had something to do with Western friends, and given I am also a journalist, there was a lot for me to feel guilty and responsible for.

Now that I wanted desperately to speak out and wield my pen to some good use, I had to bite my tongue and sit on my hands. To this day I don't know what happened to him in those dark months although we are confident enough now to speak occasionally although of course, the hope of our love has died in the process and we are back to being dear friends.

The worst of it was that no-one understood.

In the West, such stories smack of adventure and romance, even eroticism. But in reality they are nothing but painful. For months I went to bed in tears and woke up in tears. I spent all day trying to rein in my feverish imagination and no matter how much I tried to explain the situation to my Western friends, I could never quite satisfactorily answer their questions, or make them understand. I went through those months wearing a mask of normality, my Western persona on display, my peculiarly Iranian sadness locked up inside. It was hard.

I remember the first time soon after when I heard that one of my friends had been arrested and taken to Evin prison's notorious 209 wing -- the section reserved for political prisoners and run not by the prison authorities, but by the Intelligence Agency. She had been at a peaceful demonstration protesting the arrest of other women activists, all members of the one Million Signatures Campaign in which women -- and some men too -- took a petition calling for equality in the law for women from door to door, explaining and educating women in their rights in the process.

I was in my flat in London reading a report on the arrests when her name jumped out at me. I started to ring friends frantically, to feel rising up inside me the cocktail of fury, frustration and fear that Ahmadinejad's four years in power have made me so familiar with. What could I do? Was it better for them in jail if we spoke out on their behalf in the West, or would that just lead to more trouble for them and accusations of being Western spies? Yet again I sat on my hands, and I eventually picked myself up and took myself off to an evening class I was late for.

Walking through Soho and Covent Garden, watching the early evening drinkers gather outside pubs, laughing and drinking, I couldn't have felt more like an alien, walking the familiar streets of London while all my thoughts were in Iran. Tears poured down my face and fear for my friend gripped me, but I went to my class anyway because what else could I do? I arrived late and the teacher gave me a dirty look. I apologised for my tardiness but didn't try to explain. Because in 21st-century London, how can you explain such things?

I remember the day when I opened an email from a friend in Iran saying, 'I have a few weeks off, what are you doing this summer?' I wrote back inviting him to London and two days later, he was installed on my sofa, where he stayed for a month. I had always admired him, an Iranian like me whose family had fled during the revolution. They had gone to America and eventually, armed with his Ivy League education, he had decided to go back to live in Iran, where he had spent the last years building up a successful business and using any opportunity he could to try to better relations between his two countries, at some risk to himself.

The risk had come home to roost and after four months of interrogations by Intelligence and psychological cat-and-mouse games, he had finally swapped a paranoid life in his lovely mountain-view flat in Tehran for a month of free breathing on my lumpy sofa in London. Many nights we sat up into the early hours, talking and listening to Persian music, sometimes dancing, sometimes crying. He broke down when he told me that he was beginning to think he could no longer live in Iran, that he was contemplating giving up his dream of improving our country.

'People are changing, they are being tainted by this regime, our culture is being eroded. Everyone has a hand in everyone else's pocket and ok, we have always had corruption in Iran, but it was something people tried to hide. Now they boast of it. The mullahs have skewed our moral compass and I am not sure I want to bring children up in this society any more.'

He was one of the lucky ones, armed with an American passport, a healthy bank account and an education that would see him walking into any job he wanted in the West. But the one job he really wanted, running the company he had spent years building, he had to walk away from. When he left to go to America I sobbed because, for all the pain of the situation, we had at least understood each other.

On my last visit to Iran, one of my uncles drove me to the airport when I was leaving. As we sat and had a final tea together, he started to talk to me about life in the Islamic Republic. This man, now a grandfather, for me will always be the handsome youth at whose wedding I was a bridesmaid in the 1970s. He had a thick moustache and wore a white suit like John Travolta's in Saturday Night Fever, his bride had cascading hair woven through with flowers and their wedding reception was held in the glitziest disco in Tehran.

She died during the Iran-Iraq war, leaving him with three small children and, after a decade alone, he married again and seemed happy in his life. He had recently been to Europe for business and had managed to take a few extra days to come to London to see us. It had been his first trip West since the revolution and, as we sipped our teas at Mehrabad Airport, he started to confide in me, much to my embarrassment and no doubt his too, proud man that he is. But confide he did, in that way I have become accustomed to Iranians doing with me, trusted family or old friend yet an outsider who would take their secrets home with me rather than sit and gossip in Tehran.

No-one really wants to do this but their hearts are so full, they must spill out some of the worries lodged there in order to go on. And what he told me was that on his visit to Europe, he had felt like an alien. Looking, walking and talking just like all the other people, but, after 30 years of Islamic rule, after all the daily compromises he has had to make with his soul, his conscience, his very being in order to survive the regime and even prosper, he felt so different to all the people living as people should -- in freedom -- that he had felt locked up inside himself, unable to break the mask, unable to relate to anyone or allow himself to be understood.

'Kamin jan,' he said to me as I tried to contain his confidences, 'we here, we look like human beings, but we are aliens. We are not like other people. I realised this in Europe. There is a gulf because they simply cannot understand what we go through every single day of our lives in order to survive this regime.'

The regime has ignored the people for so long, has so vociferously refused to listen to their hearts' desires, that they are now willing to risk arrest, injury, even death, just to lighten the load that fills their hearts. They simply can't take any more, they have spilled over. Like everyone else, the people of Iran want to walk down the street holding hands with their lover, laughing and shaking their hair in the wind. They want to have a stake in their country and a say in how it will be run. But whether inside or outside Iran, the hardships of the last 30 years, compounded by the last four years of Ahmadinejad's rule, have made sure that we Iranians, no matter how we much we integrate and succeed and prosper, we contain such extraordinary experiences that we cannot possibly be really like you.

Kamin Mohammadi's first book, a family memoir and modern history of Iran, is slated for publication in the spring of 2010.

Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau

Photo: "Love Birds." LGOIT.com

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Centuries of western interference? Hmm, do you count Alexander the Great?

MarMar / August 1, 2009 10:24 AM

If indeed what you spoke of at the end of this entry is true, it is a sad existance for any human being.

Your Uncle is correct when he says that he didn't feel like a free person while walking among others that are.

The world of the unislamic radicals see you exactly like that too.

We do assume that most followers of islam are this hell bent on the destruction of any land or people that do not follow islam.

It is a sickening thing what these people have done to your religion and your very souls.

Although, in the west we are far from a perfect society, we do, however, live the life of what you call luxury as long as we follow laws and rules.

Most of these laws and rules have been handed down in an effort to protect all people.

So we are only as free as the laws allow ..... most are within reason and common sense.

So life is better from this stand point and we can walk freely down the streets with our lovers hands in ours and we can wear our hair anyway in which one chooses and you can do anything that you want as long as you are not harming other people or breaking laws.

It is just that the laws of radical islam do not care for a different opinion or point of view.

The west and other nations see this tyranny too.

You can have what you want but there will be sacrifice and bloodshed because it is apparent that the powers in Iran are based upon radical islam and you must behead that monster to live free.

This doesn't mean that your religion cannot be a predominant part of your daily lives ... it means that you cannot punish your neighbor for not living their lives exactly like you live yours .... that is what freedom really is ...... it is the freedom to choose what is best for your own life and your family as well.

It has been quite refreshing to see the unrest in the streets in Teheran ..... hoping that a reversal of the radical islamic revolution of the 70's can be acheived.

People in the west want to know you and your culture and traditions but we stand back because of your leaders and thier views of anything unislamic.

It is a beautiful day in Texas today and I am free to type this .... I am free to go out and take pictures ..... I am free to operate my video camera ..... I am free to walk down the street and speak my mind as long as I am not causing harm to any other person or property .... yes, I am free to do all of these things as long as I follow our laws too.


Lover of Freedom / August 1, 2009 11:04 AM

I do not wish in any way to demean the suffering you speak of, which is palpable and very moving. But I think it would be quite wrong, and damaging to you, to think you cannot possibly be like me or whoever. From reading your piece, it strikes me you are indeed very much like me, but more pertinently like a lot of people in Burma, quite a lot in China, not a few in North Korea, a fair number who suffered under the Nazis (and I'm not just talking of the Jews), indeed like millions upon millions of people everywhere who have suffered or continue to suffer terrible oppression. And (imho) their hope, and the hope of humanity is that they ARE like each other and therefore can reach out to each other and form bonds that strengthen and break the bands of tyranny, tight and tough as they are. That is how I see the current battle in Iran. It's not just about Khamenei v Rafsanjani or whoever. It is about the people of Iran and those throughout the world who share their pain and the desire to be themselves, versus those zealots who believe the world is all about them and no one else. Before, technology did not let us do anything to help the beleaguered people of Hungary or Czechoslavakia when they were brutally trampled underfoot (or even Vietnam come to that). Now it does and we should all grasp it with both hands. (sorry for rabbiting on ... )

Tony / August 1, 2009 11:07 AM

Iran must now be the world's most wretched place to live; where beautiful young people like (Neda.RIP) can't even in a future believe. I hope I'm wrong...because right now only the birds are able to sing. But one thing's for sure; this government will soon be destroyed & damned to "Hell"!

Jaker / August 1, 2009 11:54 AM

Thanks for your article. I tend to agree with Tony. I am born and living in the West, but as many people here, I lived in a family where there was a lot of violence. The school where I went to was, culturally and socially speaking, very different from the environment I lived in at home, and talking about what happened at home was impossible because nobody could understand. The result? I too felt (and feel) constantly an alien when I am with people who never have been confronted with repeated and still continuing violence. They simply do not have that need to do something about it, nor the persisting frustration to feel that often you can't, or can do only so little. So I too feel 'split' into two persons, the laughing one when I'm with friends, and the one who knows that terrible things are going on next door still today and who desperately wants to find a way to do something about it.

Of course, witnessing violence in your family is not AT ALL the same thing as living in an unfree society. I am certain that I do not know how it must feel to walk in a Western street when you have grown up in Iran, and reading your articles will help me understand it better, but I will probably never be able to feel what you feel.

But I think Tony is right to say that people who have been subject to violence, any kind of violence, do have something in common, and that is 1) the feeling of being an alien amidst people who never have seen violence in their own life (even if each type of violence is different and cannot be imagined by those who didn't live it), and 2) the absolute will to use our lives to change the world into a better place, and to join with other people to find a way to attain this goal, knowing that there are thousands and thousands of people in this situation.

The past has proven that dictatorships sooner or later die. The recent events in Iran can only make that happen sooner than what could have been expected before the elections. In the meanwhile, a new phenomenon has taken place: the world is watching... !

Beatrice / August 1, 2009 12:17 PM

Maybe it's different in the U.S. But I left Iran in 1973 and I feel more American than I do Iranian. I do not feel the way this woman does in any way.

I am, however, totally interested in what is going on in Iran, maybe it's because I am a political junky anyway. I was as obssessed with Obama's election. I totally gave myself to the election, I am doing the same with Iranian situation.

Kamin writes:

"People are changing, they are being tainted by this regime, our culture is being eroded. Everyone has a hand in everyone else's pocket and ok, we have always had corruption in Iran, but it was something people tried to hide. Now they boast of it. The mullahs have skewed our moral compass and I am not sure I want to bring children up in this society any more.'"

Well, it was worse under the Shah. When I left Iran, I did not want to have anything to do with the Shah and his Savak. The Shah was as bad ad A-jad, he was not religious, but boy, he was a despot.

I really do think it's different in America. In the States, everyone is from another country (or their grand-parents were), so I feel totally at home. I actually do not like the Iranian culture of "if you are from a "good" family, then you are someone". I have made a great life in the U.S. I am very successful. It would have been impossible to do what I'm doing here had I stayed in Iran. My husband is Jewish, I was born a to moslem family. I can go on about my life, but I can just tell those who read this that I feel more American than Iranian. I hope the best for Iran, but I feel lucky that I was able to leave when I did and make a great life for myself here. It's the American story and I am proud of it.

I hope Iranians in Iran be able to get rid of this regime. However, the cycle of violence must stop or Iran will never be able to move one.

jaleh / August 1, 2009 12:43 PM

"Iran must now be the world's most wretched place to live"

I wish it was, but horrible as Iran is, there is more hope there than in North Korea, Burma or Libya.

As for the "Islamic" part, I don't believe the regime is religious at all. They are using religion as an excuse for violence and tyranny, as Stalin used Communism.

Likewise all the false talk about "The Revolution". After 30 years, it is no longer a revolution, it is an entrenched establishment. And if Khameini has his way and is succeeded by his son, it will become a monarchy, like Syria.

Don Cox / August 1, 2009 12:48 PM

The Iranian people are just like those of us in the west, particularly in America. I know the impression that many have of America and Americans, but many of us share your heritage of oppression. I am a first generation American. My father and his family came to America for political and religious freedom -- they could not change their country so they came to America to build another. Yes, those of us who are first generation Americans have always been free, but the stories our parents tell us still have life.

Your friend is admirable for wanting so desperately to live in Iran and change his country. But I tell you this: You have one life to live. You may choose to stay and fight to pave the way for future generations to take control from your oppressors. Or you may choose to simply leave Iran and live your life simply and happily with someone you love and who loves you. Both paths are noble. Both paths have honor. You will only get one chance at this thing we call life. Think about how you will feel at the end of it -- just before you close your eyes for the last time. Which path will leave you at peace? That is the path to take and no one can find fault with it.

Delia / August 1, 2009 12:54 PM

Thanks for writing. I hope that your country, and the people of your country, find freedom from both the ones dictating how they act in public and the things dictating how they feel in their hearts.

College Kid / August 1, 2009 1:06 PM

To all of you who have replied..Your thoughts, your stories, your experiences and your prayers of hope for all oppressed people only reinforces my belief that the world is full of so many good people no matter what religion, nationality or differences we all may have. There is so much we can learn from one another respecting each of our differences and enriching each of our lives. Thankyou!

Teney an American / August 1, 2009 1:14 PM

A long article about people not understanding what it's like to live in Iran but nothing in the article about what it's like to live in Iran.

Dave In America / August 1, 2009 1:19 PM

@ Dave in America

this article and its comments clearly say something about what it's like to live outside Iran as an Iranian, but to me it seems to be rather difficult to conclude that at the same time it doesn't say anything about how it is to live in Iran. Just some examples:

- in Iran, women cannot wear shoes that expose their ankles without being gazed at

- in Iran, if a woman does something alone with a man (e.g. simply taking a cab), she is supposed to want to have sex with him

- in Iran, journalists can be emprisoned without being able to explain even to their own partner what is going on

- ...

Beatrice / August 1, 2009 2:08 PM


The things you cite from the article only tell what you're not supposed to do in Iran and even those are more social taboos than tyranny. The government doesn't look at you strange if you're a woman with a little too much ankle showing. The people do. But other than strange looks, what is the cost of going against the established norms in Iranian society? Is there a government reaction to showing ankles? Could an Iranian woman get into trouble for it? Or are strange looks the most you'll get? For instance, I wasn't supposed to have premarital sex when I was teen but I did. Why? Because I knew nothing would happen if I got caught. This article doesn't really tell what it's like to "go through every single day of our lives in order to survive this regime."

There is an Al Jazeera video where the reporter is interviewing three young Iranian women in alley during the protests. They had to duck down an alley for fear of being seen talking to a reporter. All three were constantly looking around, scared to talk too loud for fear someone would hear them. When they saw what looked like plain-clothes security, they all adjusted their headscarves, as if to be "in accordance." You could see the fear in their eyes. I doubt the author was ever in that kind of fear about showing her ankles.

I guess a few things bother me about the article. One, like I've said, not enough info. Second, it's as if she's saying "if you're not from Iran, you wouldn't understand." Well, it's not like she lived there her whole life. She "lived" there for six months. Don't get me wrong. I know she is considered an expert on Iran, mainly because she goes there a lot. But she always knew she could leave whenever she wanted to if she ever felt she was is in danger. Another thing that bothers me is she keeps saying "we" but who is "we?" She didn't grow up there. She doesn't live in fear of going to Evin or worse. She hasn' lived her whole life under tyranny. She's not trapped there. She gets to go home to her nice, comfortable flat in London if the things get too hot. And lastly this kind of stuff is a great way to divide people. The article was a good, old-fasioned "us and them" bit of commentary. In her estimation, there are only people who "understand" and those of us who don't. Instead of trying to divide, how about doing a better job of explaining what life is like in Iran. I think that would serve as a better way of uniting us. But if you go around saying "you wouldn't understand. You're not one of us" you're going to push people away.

Dave In America / August 1, 2009 3:27 PM

@ Dave in America

Thanks for your explanations. You say the article doesn't say what it is to live every day life in Iran, and that's true. The article clearly wanted to say how it feels to live abroad as an Iranian, or as the Iranian the author is. In the meanwhile, other Iranians living abroad have commented explaining that they see their life abroad differently than the author does. I'm not an Iranian, and I've never lived in Iran, so to me, all these kinds of stories are interesting. If you can witness how life is for those living inside Iran day to day, that's great, but I don't see how that could be an argument 'against' this article?

The article does say that the author feels that she has experienced things, as an Iranian living mostly out of Iran but with family and friends still living there, that she cannot communicate to people living in the West. I think this is a very recurrent experience amongst those who have witnessed violence first-hand (that is, who have been subjected to it themselves or have relatives or close friends who have). You always feel an alien amidst people who were able to live a life without violence.

But of course, if you yourself were present in the recent demonstrations, you will have experienced something DIFFERENT than what the author of this article has ever experienced too. Telling us, who are non Iranian and living abroad, what you all experience can only enrich our way of seeing and thus understanding the Iranian society.

Beatrice / August 1, 2009 4:11 PM

Dave in America, that wasn't the point of the article. The article also didn't say how it is to live in Iran right now with all these protests. Do you want to bring that up to?

Great piece. I sometimes find myself thinking like you do. I moved to Canada when I was 16. That was 10 years ago. But I've been back to Iran almost every summer. My thoughts and heart are often in Iran, and sometimes I do feel like an alien in this country, but not always. Every laugh with my non-Iranian friends is not a mask.

But I can see from your perspective, and it pains me.

IranianCanadian / August 1, 2009 4:52 PM

i relate to this piece on so many levels, having a similar background and personal experience. i can understand that some the article and remarking that it doesn't try to explain 'what it's like,' or that the author shouldn't be so absolute as to think that westerners really don't understand. however, i believe that this a political take on the issue. approached more....anthropologically, i can (and do) see where ms. mohammadi is coming from. to the female readers: can you ever expect a man, despite however much explaining and objectivity, to ever understand what it is like to be a woman? as feminist male, i'd posit that i will never be able to understand the personal experiences of being a woman -- be it in the west or in the east. in the same vein, i urge those readers who are either ethnically western or those whose parents are from abroad but who grew up stateside to understand that the experience (and personal molding) is similar.

mass / August 1, 2009 5:06 PM

"We continue to live under such tyranny and the fight for freedom and self-determination is as individual in my country as it is societal."

"We?" Who is "we?" Doesn't she live in London? Since when is Britain a tyranny? She is not one of them.

And she wasn't just talking about life in Iran during the protests. She was talking about living under tyranny in Iran. And she doesn't just talk about life for an Iranian living outside Iran. She talks about life in Iran. So? Give some details.

And at a time when we need to be uniting people all around the world for the cause, the author draws a line between what I guess she considers real Iranians and the rest of us. I guess, by her standards, I'm just a fake Iranian. It also makes it seem as though she thinks it's their fight alone. I guess that's what bothers me the most about this article. She makes it seems as if it's not my fight too. If it's not, someone please let me know and I'll go back to my life before the protests began.

But yeah. Whatever. Let's start making distinctions. There will be the "real" Iranians and the "fake" ones. She is part of the "real" and I'll go on being one of the fake ones. I'm obviously not a real Iranian because I'll "never understand." Yes, my father was Iranian but who cares, right? Afterall, I was raised in America by my American mother (my father died a month before I was born), I don't know any of his family members (my mother lost contact after the Revolution), and no, I've never been to Iran. But I have spent my life absorbing everything about Iran I could get my hands on. I've watched from afar with a longing I never understood. I'm half-German but I've never felt about Germany the way I do about Iran. In the 80's in America, when it was not a good idea to announce you were Iranian, I was proud to say it. But who cares, right? I'm still not one of the real Iranians, right?

But then again, neither is the author.

Dave In America / August 1, 2009 5:48 PM

I want to apologize to everyone. I overreacted. I'm probably more sensitive about not being considered a "real" Iranian than most. Sorry.

Dave In America / August 1, 2009 6:30 PM

@ Dave in America

I don't think the article talks about who's a 'real' Iranian and who's not. That simply wasn't the point.

As to the word 'tyranny': I think the author gave enough details in the article to understand what she meant by that.

If your experience about Iran is different than the one the author is describing (and if you've never been to Iran nor have any contact with family overthere, it's normal that your experience is different), why not just tell us how you see Iran? That will surely be more interesting than to know who thinks who's the most 'Iranian', no?

If tomorrow a member of the Basijs would arrive on this site, we surely would read a rather different story about what's going on in Iran than that told by people who want to partly reform the country. That wouldn't make him more or less 'Iranian' than any other Iranian. Reading his point of view would help us to better understand the complex situation of Iranians today, whether they live in Iran or abroad or in-between.

Beatrice / August 1, 2009 6:45 PM

@ Dave in America

my previous message was written before having read your last one.

Beatrice / August 1, 2009 6:47 PM

I think Lover of Freedom did the best job of summarizing what you said and my reaction. Only those I know in China, Burma, and N. Korea would be able to cry with you and feel with you as deeply as you do. I am so grateful Iranian people have opened up after so many years of silence. The cost has been horrible, but Iranian people now have friends in the West that truly love them and are willing to do anything they can to stand with them. I know the West will never be the same, thank goodness. I hope Iranians will know they will never be alone again.



Deveney / August 1, 2009 9:26 PM

Thank you, Kamin, for sharing this very personal piece. It is clearly evident that you fear that doing so may have some repercussions for those you know and care for in Iran - that is a painful dilemma. And yet, for those of us in the West, we all share that dilemma as we agonise about how to react to current events underway in Iran...

I'm an American who lived abroad in India and Australia for 2 years - so I can relate to some of the broad themes you bring up. Alienation is part of the expat and immigrant experience - no matter how long you have lived in a place, it can be a struggle to fit in and finding yourself feeling out of place or different is not unusual. It is very hard to be apart from family and friends who live elsewhere - contacts are segmented into different worlds that many times do not cross and people in one place often do not have the proper context to understand your life and experiences in another.

It must be even more difficult when your home country undergoes such changes.

After I left India, I read a book called Temptations of the West: How to be modern in India, Pakistan, and Beyond by Pankaj Mishra. It covered the struggles that those countries and so many developing countries are going through. It's a gross oversimplification no doubt, but looking at the struggles in Iran both now and throughout the last 100 years is, for me, to see it through a similar lense - many societies are going through the same transition, trying to come to grasp with modernity without losing sight of culture, tradition, and religion. Just as the Shah imposed a forced modernization and secularisation on the Iranian nation, now so do the hard-line clerics in power impose a forced reactionary conservatism on the very same population. Given that 70% of Iranians are under 30 and have not known life before the revolution, many of the young are disillusioned and have a strong desire for change. I don't know how current circumstances will play out, but I can only hope it will be a better result than in 1979 when the hopes of so many were ultimately shattered.

I am touched by the pain you feel and the pain of your loved ones having lived through these difficult events. I can only hope that the future will be brighter and others will not need to endure similar suffering. My thoughts are with you and all Iranians in these difficult times.

Scott / August 2, 2009 2:11 AM

Saying Iran is a better place than Burma or North Korea, I don't think is very comforting to the Iranian people. It's like telling a paralized person you also could've been blind.

I read and hear a lot of talk about reforming the Iranian system. How do you reform a regime that is rotten to the core and hated by it's people. How much reform do we expect to get from a regime that kills, beats and arrests it's citizens for voicing their opinion, just so it can stay in power.

The oppostion leaders inside Iran claim that they don't want a regime change, just reform within the system. Please somebody tell me how you can reform a system that is rulled by theocracy?

The truth is that the Iranian people inside Iran don't really have a leader, at least not anyone that is visible or known. They want their basic rights and freedom and a secular government. Iranians outside the country must help and support in anyway they can to help them achieve this goal. ( Thank you Tehran Bureau)

The current regime is dying and it knows it. As things get worse for them, the more brutal they will get. I wish the young Iranians courage and strength.

"Piroozi ba shomast"

Armen / August 2, 2009 7:47 AM

Do the opposition leaders just say they don't want to do away with the Islamic regime because they would be cut down almost immediately if they were say otherwise? Or do they really believe the system is sound and that it just needs a few changes?

Dave In America / August 3, 2009 12:29 AM

Thank you, Kamin Mohammadi, for sharing such painful but important experiences and views, to help us understand what is happening.

Comments seem to reflect a growing consensus that the Iranian government is corrupt, arrogant and dedicated to keeping itself in power, using Islam as the hammer and club to force compliance with its dictates. They are even so arrogant as to put on an embarrassingly amateurish "show trial," but that may cause so much upset as to undo them.

They are close to having nuclear power (bombs as well as electrical generation), thanks to Russian assistance, and that is an intoxicating beverage, so they cannot conceive of giving up power to a reformist leadership.

I am afraid that gradual reformation will not succeed in the near future.

Mahmoud "Landslide" Ahmadinejad will not give up power willingly.

Is that roar I hear, the sound of impending violence?

Roger / August 3, 2009 5:48 PM

Thank you Kamin Mohammadi for this very thoughtful and heartfelt article. Thank you Tehran Bureau for bringing us this kind of writing, and this insight into the lives of Iranians, that we do not have in the US from traditional media.

John B / August 4, 2009 12:35 AM

I wish i knew the answer to your question Dave. It's obvious that if they do speak of a regime change, they'll be hanged tomorrow. I think the opposition is trying to slowly push the clerics out by trying to reform the system.

Unfortunately, this was tried before and it failed. First, by the first administration after the revolution and later by Khatami.

The clerics know too well that reforms mean the eventual fall of the regime and they will never allow it to happen.

Armen / August 4, 2009 4:30 AM