I had the pleasure of flying across the country to attend a beloved friend’s wedding near Washington D.C., whom I have known since my childhood in Iran. The program started with a much emotional and solemn ceremony that was preceded by recounting of the heroic acts of several relatives of the bride and the groom who were notably absent at the celebration due to either being abducted, executed, or in jail as dissidents in the Islamic republic. Most prominent was the absence of the groom’s father who never had the opportunity to meet his now broad-shouldered, handsome son, since he was abducted by the Islamic republic while the now-groom was yet to be born. After the ceremony, the crowd proceeded to the reception hall, where each guest found his assigned seats at the multiple round tables.
Once I obtained my place card and entered the reception hall, I noticed that instead of being assigned to a generic numbered table, I was assigned to “Fatemi Street,” a prominent area in Tehran, as the name of the table. Other tables were named after multiple streets and landmarks of Tehran in honor of the city the bride and the groom cherished most, and one that they, for most of their adult life, called home. Prominently displayed in the corner of the reception hall, was a multi-layered wedding cake. However, instead of the tawdry statue of a generic bride and groom holding hands, the wedding cake was crowned by a model of Azadi Square Monument, a national Iranian icon and an architectural feat of its time, to complete the picture of a Tehran-themed wedding.
The bride and the groom, both arguably from “dissident” families, would have been barred from having a mixed male and female audience wedding in their native land, and would not have been able to even obtain an civil marriage certificate there since they belong to an “unrecognized” religious minority -- the Bahá'í faith. As I watched them lock arms and fix their gaze into each other’s eyes for the first dance, I could not help but appreciate the power invested in freedom of religion, expression, and thought. The two would get to start their joint life with the same opportunity as everyone else and with protection of their rights -- and by inference their dreams, under one law applicable to all citizens in their newly adopted homeland.
Shortly after, the music escalated on the decibel scale and familiar tunes in Persian and Western music captivated the crowd and brought them to the dancing arena. I joined several friends in chanting, with much fervor, well beyond what I thought my languorous body, and larynx, was capable. Nonetheless, I found myself shouting out the lyrics to the all time American and Iranian classics such as the “Y.M.C.A”, “Beat it”, “Khodaye Asemoonha”, “Baba Karam”, and “Bari Bakh” well into the early hours of the morning.
As everyone danced and celebrated, others were capturing the memorable evening on their mobile devices. The ceremony was live-broadcast online to the bride’s mother and sister across the Atlantic, and others posted simultaneous videos of the cheering crowd. I posted one such video on social media and within seconds, our mutual friends in Iran started commenting and acknowledging clicking “like.” I remember that twenty years ago, when my aunt had sent a VHS video of a family wedding to Iran, the Department for Moral and Islamic Conduct at the post office shamelessly watched the video, deemed it inappropriate, and sent us a letter giving us a choice of erasing the tape and receiving a blank one or shipping the tape back to the sender. Desperate to see how the family had changed and what the newly-wed couple looked like, I went in to the Main Post Office in Tehran and pleaded with a worker there, bribed him equivalent of a few hundred dollars, and released the video. Now, with the advent of social media and the Internet, it is amply clear that the Iranian government has lost its once iron grip on the flow of information. The now twenty-something year olds in Iran could certainly not even imagine a time when the flow of information was so severely restricted. With this inevitable loosening of the government’s grip has emerged a more educated and informed generation of young Iranians, ones keenly aware of their rights and the outside world.
The next day, after having unwittingly abused my larynx, I lost my voice. By noontime, my voice box was thoroughly uncooperative and uttering even a few words was accompanied by pain and disappointment. Once again, I started to sympathize with those whose freedom of speech had been taken away. The inability to speak, literally or proverbially, is painful, exasperating, and goes against the very nature of any human being. Unable to speak, I felt empowered to write. I feel sympathetic to countless prisoners of conscience in the Islamic Republic of Iran whose voices have been thwarted by the all-authoritarian Iranian government with intolerance to all dissent. As Iranians abroad, empowered by access to information and freedom of expression, we must become the mouthpiece for those who cannot speak and languish in Iranian prisons. We are empowered to share their stories and their thoughts and keep them relevant to the Iranian civil discourse. The Iranian government, on the other hand, wishes to speak on behalf of dissidents by forcing “confessions,” denigrating them and their families through their state-controlled media, and alleging that the dissidents are inherently against Iran and put “enemies’” interests ahead of those of their nation. While my self-inflicted laryngitis lasted only a few painful days, the heroes and heroines of Iran have their voices suffocated for months, years, and decades, or life in Iranian prisons or on the noose that waves in the breeze in public squares.
While the the bride and groom came from families who have sacrificed and continue to sacrifice their time, resources, and even life for the betterment of their beloved Iran, their Tehran-themed wedding was but a reminder that their native motherland dwells in their very hearts and minds. Their tribute to prisoners of conscience on a day that is supposed to be characterized by tears of joy and not tears of tribulation underscores not only their wish for a better and freer Iran, but shows that they hold no antipathy against a land that has persecuted them and thwarted their growth. They appeared proactive and not resentful. They were proud of their motherland and wished only to glorify her and her heroes. Cheers to this next generation of forward thinkers and congratulations to the bride and the groom!
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