Democracy Begins at Home

How can a country be democratic if its nation does not understand the meaning of the word?


Democracy Begins at Home
by Ghahremani

During the final proof reading of my novel, Sky of Red Poppies, I came across this passage, which made me stop and think.

“My sister crossed the room and I noticed a small book sticking out of her pocket. Intrigued, I pulled it out and read the title, The Little Black Fish.  “How cute,” I said.

“Give it back,” she shouted, but before she had a chance to take the book, Pedar rose from his chair and snatched it away.

“I’ll have none of that trash in my house!” He hurled the book at a wall and it landed open on the rug. All happiness was sucked out of the room.
Mitra took a step toward her book, but my father grabbed her arm.

“It’s my book,” she said.

“Not if I have anything to say about it. Where did you get that?”

Confused by his rage, I asked him, “Isn’t it a fairy tale?” 

“A fairy tale?” Pedar grunted, then pointed to the book as if the author himself was sitting there. “In his father’s grave!”

He let go of Mitra’s arm, but neither of them moved.

“That man was nothing but a damn communist. I don’t want any of you near a word he had to write.” He glared back and forth at Mitra and me and, raising his index finger, he added, “This, young ladies, is not a request. It’s an order.”

True that a novel is mostly fiction, but this scene, extracted from my distant memory, and was too familiar. At the time, I was not conscious of the patriarchic domain in which I was raised. How natural it had seemed that my father would be the decision-maker for the entire family. We lived under one roof, where only one voice was heard. His. And yet, we all loved him to death and, like a flock of sheep, let him be our shepherd.

For education, we entered a system where the principal had all the power and the voice heard in the classroom belonged to the teacher. And finally many of us grew up to be doctors, teachers and lawyers who occupied good positions and yet had to do as the boss said.

Freedom to my generation of Iranians meant the right to go to the movies, ride bikes around the neighborhood, maybe sneaky dates or go dancing. With a majority of human desires - not to mention thoughts - being taboo, we continued to live in the bubble that our parents had provided. Back then, few saw the injustice in such a system and even fewer fought for freedom. But they all faced the dark consequences of their liberalism. Never knowing the meaning of democracy, I joined the rest of the nation and looked the other way.

Years later, I moved across the globe where I had to adjust to an entirely new lifestyle. How unreal it seemed that my thoughts mattered here. I learned for the first time that one could actually vote for whomever they desired and that each vote really did count. How wonderful it was to grasp the true meaning of choice.
My first lesson of true democracy came from an old neighbor in the early 1970’s. I was trying to explain why I felt so homesick. “Back in my town people knew me, I knew them. They would say hello on the streets and I would run into friends here and there. Many people in town knew my family. But here I’m nobody!” To which my neighbor said, “Oh, Zoe, everybody is somebody!”

Everybody is somebody. Wow!

Still, it has taken years to un-educate myself, erase the wrong lessons and come to understand that, no matter who you are, your existence is significant in some way.

Democracy can only begin at home. How can a country be democratic if its nation does not understand the meaning of the word? As long as oppression rules, and if a nation’s voice is hushed, how could one dream of freedom? Even after all these years, all that is heard across the oceans is a cry of, “Where is the hero I’ve been praying for?” In a democracy, everyone is significant and yet no one is a hero.

Always in need of a leader, they raised us to be followers. We didn’t learn to make changes, weren’t encouraged to think and were forbidden to form discussion groups. All we ever wanted was a “father” to lead the way, to shelter us and in return make decisions, a provider of small allowances who’d be kind enough to allow us tiny pleasures.

Not only were we acceptant of such power, we were also capable of showering such a dictator respect, he becomes our hero and we went as far as loving him to death.

It is now dinnertime. My daughter enters the room. “So, where are we going for dinner?” she asks. We all vote. Two to three, the soup place wins. I really don’t like soup and am no fan of this place, but I’ve lost the vote and, well... it’s a democracy!

Zohreh Ghahremani is the author of Sky of Red Poppies, available now. U.S. book tour stops and information here.


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maziar 58


by maziar 58 on

It's nice to read different meaning of values ( eastern vs. western) ya roomi  ya zanghi.

I've read that little black fish along with 24 sa'aat dar khab va bidari

and in my age then I couldn't read the subliminal mssges. from Mr. Behranghi.

Aziz nessin was my favorite too along with Alberto moravia they were all from 3 different nation with a similar pain......putting it on paper.


Veiled Prophet of Khorasan


by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


I read your post and parts of it do sound familiar. However I like to raise some points:

  • You are making the same mistakes many Iranians do. Putting Americans on a pedestal and giving them too much credit. They are just as dictatorial as the worst I have seen in Iran. They are just better at sugar coating it.
  • Democracy is not the same a freedom. In my home my children have freedom but we do not vote on everything. I ask their opinion but decsisions for kides before teen are made by their parents. We take their needs into account but no democracy.
  • For a really funny satire on abuse of democray read the story "Az Emrooz Democracy Mogoof" by Aziz Nassin. 


Democracy and whati it means

by Kooshan on

I honestly thnk that cradle of democracy is in the familial level as depicted in the excellent quotation in the article.


But, I'm puzzled about democracy. I think one needs to put this in a context ...without a context, democracy has no meening.


Unlike some think of democracy a western idea, I beleive democracy is a priliminary oxymoronic concept that existed right prior to Big Bang:Democracy is an objective that can never be implemented due to limited human ability in achieving it.So, mankind is always in a constant protest against his/her physical limitations that bar him from achieving what he wants (playing God). it is a matter of selfish urge to rise and shine. If the self interest overshadows everything else, it will sacrifice all the external factors for self satisfaction. We have seen a clear example of this in Stock market deregulation lately.


The point is:

Should a nation allow some to use their geniuses to do what they wish and them punish them i fthey go  too far? Or, should a nation have some checks & balances to prevent the road to destruction for some selfish players (and unfortunately also sacrifice the road to excellence for some free souls)?


My answer is yes BUT with checks & balances. And unfortunately the real art and mankind roole is to understand and implement these checks & balance....and that is where we fail!


Babak K.

Banoo Zohreh Great

by Babak K. on

Banoo Zohreh

Great writing with a greater point made.  I hope that a lot of my fellow Iranians get chance to read this, it can be very educational.

Thank you. Please write more.

Babak K.


"Democracy begins at home."

by Princess on

Mrs. Ghahremani,

This is the second time in 7 days that I have heard this from an Iranian residing in a democracy. The first time it was Samaan in Dabashi's interview with Kambiz and Samaan from VOA's Prazit and now from you.

I can't tell you how happy it makes me to hear Iranians say this. And I love how you have elaborated on this point through your personal anecdotes.

Happy writing and I look forward to reading your upcoming book.


Democracy is

by Iraniandudee3 on

Dremocracy is what people want it to be, infact i would use the word freedom rather than democracy, cause democracy is just a system, and Iranians want enough freedom to live their life happily and prosper without being kept down by this regime, that's all, none wants a American version of democracy, and the people that do are deluded by some holy image to think that American democracy and way of life is the best, while we all know from living in this country that it's a joke.


I have a dream

by aya-toilet1 on

To form a government in Exile ...from the 5 million or so expats that are abroad.

The key here is to demonstrate democracy and oust the regime by providing an alternate “system” rather than an individual (a father figure as you put it) who can take full control of the reigns (as in the past).

Iranians seem to be looking for a knight to ride in on a white horse and save the country, when in fact they should be asking themselves what they can do to participate in the establishment of a viable government in exile.

The proposal is utilize the internet, and professional election monitoring agencies to properly elect a representative body abroad that can draft a new interim constitution and nominate a speaker, nominate an interim leader and ministers that can present a viable alternative to Iranians. This group will then be tasked with continuing the elective process, and the unification of Iranians in opposition to the regime in Iran, and developing innovative strategies to oust the regime in Iran. Such an effort must prove that Iranians can hold civilized debate, agree to disagree, and ultimately come to terms on a viable plan for Iran’s future.


Such an election could literally happen within months, once candidates for specific regions are nominated. My proposal is to establish an assembly, with one member for every 75,000 Iranians in specific countries or regions abroad. This would translate roughly into the following representations (based on the best or most accurate census or population data I have been able to find).



        10 - 20 REPS

l      APPROX 400000 -500000 IRANIANS IN UAE

        7 REPS


        3 REPS

l      APPROX 95000 – 125,000 IRANIANS IN CANADA

        2 REP


        2 REP


        2 REP

l      KUWAIT 100000 (IRANIAN BORN)

        1 REP

l      QATAR 73,000 (IRANIAN BORN)

        1 REP


        1 REP


        1 REP


        1 REP


l      RUSSIA 50000 (IRANIAN BORN)






All voters can register to vote via an internet site. They must be able to provide sufficient details for election monitors to verify their ‘age’, ‘existence’, and ‘connection with Iran’. Voters will need to self identify the ‘region’ within which they will vote. Election monitors may need to call places of employment, look up residential phone listings, and also verify birth certificates or passport numbers or parenthood etc. This can all be done via the internet with high security features to protect voter identity from fraud.


All Candidates must be registered to vote, and provide 100 signatures of other registered voters in order to be able to qualify to stand. Candidates will be required to sign a terms of service agreement outlining their obligations, and willingness to financially support their participation (travel etc). If the candidate represents a political party, the political party must also sign the terms of service document. Candidates may be required to provide input for the election web site such as youtube videos and positions on key issues.


There are 19 different election monitoring agencies that can be contracted for this work. There are organizations now that specialize in internet voting security and processes.


Micromata has developed a system called Polyas, which is Germany’s first legally binding online voting system used by many organisations, associations and societies.


There is another company called eVoting based out of Austria that can provide overall election supervision and consulting.


There is also the Organisation for Security and cooperation in Europe OSCE that has a specialized office ODIHR: Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights that provides independent monitoring of elections. They have observed and reported on elections in Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan etc.


The Iranian Press abroad can also take a constructive role and provide impartial open forums for civilized debate, and support the whole process.


Once the election is conducted, elected representatives will meet at a central destination (possibly New York or London) and establish a forum for drafting drafting a new constitution and government in exile. Ministers do not need to be elected representatives but must be approved by the assembly.


Assembly can then decide how often to meet and on what basis to meet. It is perfectly feasible that legistlative conferences can be conducted via the internet (Skype's new conferencing capability); and even be televised accordingly.

It is conceivable that elected representatives can also act as ‘ambassadors’ for Iran’s Government in Exile (IGIE), and represent specific policies and actions as they are developed by the government.

Such a system could lead to creating a true democratic framework and eventually the toppling of the regime. 

Sargord Pirouz

Sounds like you've become

by Sargord Pirouz on

Sounds like you've become liberalized in your Western surroundings. That's a good thing.

It happened to my Iranian dad, too, but not fully so until we were adults. Then, upon making it to grandfather, he became quite a pussy cat! I couldn't believe it. But that was good, too. Now, we miss him.


I really don’t like soup

by benross on

I really don’t like soup and am no fan of this place, but I’ve lost the vote and, well... it’s a democracy!

What? You went to that Soup Nazi place? WHO GAVE YOU PERMISSION TO DO THAT? NO SOUP FOR YOU.


Darius Kadivar

Very interesting insights Zoe Jaan

by Darius Kadivar on

I look forward to reading your book Zoe Jaan.

Loved this excerpt very much and rings very true about our collective mindsets indeed !

Warm regards,


Maryam Hojjat

Great Lesson Zohreh!

by Maryam Hojjat on

I always enjoy your stories.