Since Election Day and the uprising that ensued those who come back from Iran speak with different degrees of detail and candor about the events. Their stories are more interesting in terms of revealing their character than of revealing any useful information regarding 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 name. There are those who are so scared that they avoid me altogether. There are also those who regret having talked to me when they see their comments in black and white -- I had one person reprimand me after I had quoted him anonymously and published the article even though he initially wanted to be quoted. My friends on Facebook who want to go back to Iran delete me although some of those who live in Iran and are active online have been faithful.
The most overly cautious Iranians are the ones who have homes abroad and inside Iran. They just don’t want to give up their lifestyle of living in Western cities and going back, every year or few months, for a quick nostalgia cure and vacation, to Iran. They are more cautious than those who are stuck there and do not have 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 not wanting to 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. The way I can tell if they are lying or not is if they describe things like bbc or voa would. They talk about what happened in Isphahan and Tehran University on a given night with equal authority when they could not possibly have been at both places at once and were most likely in front of their TV, glass of Scotch in hand, their only difference from me being that their living room is in Shahrak Gharb and mine here in France.
Many people in Iran only witness what is going on in the streets and prisons from the comfort of their living rooms and in front of their satellite TV screens! Yet they boast of their active participation in the protests. One middle aged man, came back recently from Iran, I saw him at the July 25th protest here in our town where less people showed up than at my friend’s birthday party. Like many others that day he was wearing a cap, big sunglasses and scarf to hide his face, he stood way back and did not repeat any chants or slogans, he boasted to me of chasing plain clothes men 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 but looking more like in her forties thanks to the good skin and better botox, told me in a dramatic, poetic, Forough Farokhzad high voice, about 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.”
One other extremely well-aged woman in her seventies, who was a notorious beauty and in her heyday had broken up at least three marriages, 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 street every day and once he, personally, talked the basiji out of entering his street in Tehran and arresting the youth of the neighborhood. His wife told me a little later that day, by the pool in our residence, “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 and how we are so blind to the real suffering taking place in Iran, how we are all ‘talk and no action’, how we have no ‘roots’ in Iran and do not understand the plight of ordinary Iranians. She complained about how those of us living outside Iran refuse to take risks while the youth inside was daily risking life and limb. When I agreed with her and asked her 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 replied meekly, “yes, but I will not use your name.” She went on to say, “no I rather not take the risk.”
Even the useful sources that have given me the one or two real street level accounts of what is happening seem to begrudge me having written about it. One such person was so offended by one of the comments, expressing doubt, below one of my articles that she stopped communicating altogether. Another one wrote to me, “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 in Dubai at her father’s villa.
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, 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 how while this election uprising expressed their plight it also expressed ours. They cannot perceive that someone like me who lives in another country, 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 their opulent cocoons. They have maids and drivers, they have 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 aware that the people I know are not the majority; I also know that there are genuine freedom fighters outside and inside Iran. I love and admire those dead, in jail or actively engaged in the movement. What peeves me 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. They are poseurs even in a time of great national emergency they worry more about how they seem than whom 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 about these types of compatriots is the fact that they think those who do not think or act like them are idiots!
A few times I have been praised for courage in putting my own name to my writings about the uprising. Usually, though, people either think I am stupid for risking not being able to go back or they think that since all 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 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 worse thing that has happened these thirty years is that Iranians have become callous and bazaari pragmatism has replaced that sense of empathy that gives Iranians their signature tolerance and hospitality. This is not a nation that values love and courage it is rather a nation that only respects shrewdness: where as before we looked up to the likes of Golesorkhi now we admire Rafsanjani!
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