For most of the last two decades, I felt strange when I was asked if my sons speak Farsi. When it was too late to change anything, I felt vaguely embarrassed for not having taught them my native language. I wondered silently if I'd cheated them or betrayed my heritage by not sending them to weekend Persian language schools that exist in my city, Washington. But I'm getting over those feelings lately, and it's not only because they are delightful young adults now. Rather, I'm comforted because I look around me in the expatriate community and I realize that my sons have learned something equally valuable, if less tangible. Their social consciousness goes well beyond accepting superficial tales of American virtue. Like me, they want this country to move towards its professed ideals before issuing judgment on human rights elsewhere.
Recently my older son heard about an opportunity to meet with President Ahmadinejad in New York this September. He spontaneously and enthusiastically wants to sign up. Not to go shake a finger at the Iranian leader, but to welcome him and express solidarity with Iran.
Would the young man be so charitable if he lived in Iran? Probably not, but we live in the United States, where demonizing Iran is the ruling elite's latest trick to distract Americans from home foreclosures, outsourced jobs and declining standard of living. Knowing that the U.S. military budget (for killing, let's face it) equals the rest of the world's combined, my son feels it would be irresponsible to join U.S. war profiteers as they magnify every shortcoming of Iran. I'm proud of his wisdom.
I wasn't half as smart when I was his age. I grew up in Iran during the Cold War with a father who fled the Russian Revolution and had nothing good to say about socialism of any kind. The curious youth that I was, I read most everything he brought home, including countless government-issued translations of Western exaggerations about horrors of life in Soviet Bloc countries. And I was fascinated even more than he was with the full color monthly mailed to us by the U.S. embassy while the Vietnam War raged on. My education about the civilizing mission of the White Man was rounded by the translated U.S. comics strip that portrayed Tarzan and Jane as bringing enlightenment to Africa. (My son, by contrast, finished reading Malcolm X's full autobiography before he was a teenager!)
Despite his best intentions, my immigrant father missed a prime opportunity in 1959 to teach me about human rights. That was when my elementary school and others closed for a day so students could line the streets of Shiraz to cheer President Eisenhower's motorcade (and a year earlier or later, Queen Elizabeth's motorcade). I proudly showed my father the black and white photos that I took of the "Free World" leaders waving from their open limousines in the direction of my class. He didn't dare tell me about the Anglo-American coup that had only a few years earlier brought back the Shah and established the SAVAK.
My father had an eventful army life, which made him extra cautious about politics. He'd been put in prison (for months?) along with other Iranian officers by the invading Soviet army during the Second World War as the Reds struggled to defeat fascist Germany. Later he was a junior aide to prime minister Ali Razmara, who was assassinated by an Islamist extremist in 1951. I'm sure he never dreamed that even after retirement he'd be taken away and nearly executed by a local revolutionary "Komiteh" after Khomeini's return in 1979.
Anyhow, I grew up believing everything horrible that I heard about the Soviet bloc, not realizing that Western capitalism has left a far bloodier trail of death and destruction while pretending to promote "human rights." For as long as he lived, my immigrant father loved for the rest of my family to speak Azerbaijani Turkish like him, and we did. I am thankful for that. But the "American democracy" fairy tale that he thought Iran should copy was patently false. And when I realized that after I arrived on these shores, I decided I wouldn't pass it on to my children.
My sons know that the "Soviet enemy" strength was exaggerated in the U.S. not in order to protect American citizens, but to silence dissent and undermine democracy in this country. And I know that thousands of immigrants from Eastern Europe with questionable backgrounds were recruited, in some cases unknowingly, to spread poisonous propaganda in the West for the "liberation" of their homelands. A similar campaign is now under way to use fear of Iran (and Islam) to suppress dissent here at a time of sharply rising bankruptcies, health care crisis, and rising social inequality. "Patriotic" advocates of ever increasing U.S. military budgets at the expense of public services couldn't be happier.
Political opportunism is not uncommon anywhere, but when it happens here it infects the whole world. Around the time when Iran's national hero, Mohammad Mossadegh, was overthrown by the CIA, hundreds of U.S. citizens were caught in a dragnet initiated by Senator Joseph McCarthy for alleged communist leanings. Most lost their reputations, livelihoods, or both. That episode cast a long shadow on how history and social studies are taught in schools and what the media dare to publish, with public opinion to follow. Democracy has never recovered here from the resulting corruption and paranoia, with the near-impeachment of Richard Nixon being an exception.
I encouraged my son when he said he wanted to greet Iran's president in New York three weeks from now. Some others may boycott the meeting out of concern for democracy in Iran. But my sons are American citizens and have a responsibility to protect democracy in the U.S. from McCarthy-style witch hunts in this country, the kind that Columbia University, Zionist organizations, and some Iranian fugitives subjected the Iranian president to last September. As long as we support the American war machine, however reluctantly, with our taxes, we have a solemn duty to dissent from the prevailing myth that Iran is a danger to the world and should be isolated.
I'd be happier if my sons spoke Farsi in addition to being defenders of democracy for Americans. But realistically at this point I don't think both my wishes will come true.