Friday, September 08, 2006

Khatami’s Trip: A New York Perspective

Khatami’s arrival in New York was an event which surprised me. He arrived and received a red carpet reception, an unusual treatment in New York City for someone who is no longer a head of state. I had heard about it through the American press, but I was expecting to hear more details through the Iranian authorities or in Iranian online news.

I contacted the Office of the Iranian Delegation to the UN to find out more about Khatami’s schedule, but I never received a reply.

I have never seen such a degree of respect for any Iranian official here in United State except for that which had been accorded Sayyed Mohammad Khatami himself in his previous trip to New York. For those of us who live in this country, the gathering of twenty five thousand American for a speech, and not a baseball or football game, is very significant. And the fact that speaker is an Iranian substantially adds to the significance. In just a few days he captivated the people here. Great emphasize is placed upon the Muslim Americans. His respectful manner, his dignity, his knowledge and wisdom are not missed by observers from the media. In just a few days he explained Iran with all its complexity to Americans so well that one wonders what made the clerics back home a few years ago to stop his negotiations with the US. I’m not going to be surprised if the West comes to see him as the only hope for peace in the Middle East.

I felt that we all should go wherever he is and welcome him even if we do not agree with him totally. After all, he is here to portray us as we are: good people, intelligent, rational, with great sense of humanity and peace. I thought I wanted to be somewhere close to that message to wash off all the shames which had been brought to us by the declarations of the ignoramuses which were mostly only for domestic consumption but still got carried to these shores like dust.

I called the office of our delegation in the UN; the switchboard operator had no idea when Khatami would be coming to New York. He transferred me to another person who was not in his office. After a while, I called back naively thinking that the operator, being embarrassed, found the time and the place of lecture. Alas, he said I should leave a message and wait for someone to contact me with the information. I asked if there was someone else is in the office who might know about it. This time I was connected to a lady who did not know any thing either. She said it is not her job to know and was indeed surprised that an educated person who has been here and studied here and knows there is always a division of labor has such an unreasonable demand that a person who works in the office of Iranian Delegation in the UN might possibly know where and when Khatami is speaking! I was amazed by the lack of interest shown by our officials and those who are here to represent us. I do not believe that any thing could have had happened this week in the United State which could have been more important or interesting to us Iranians than Khatami’s trip besides the very matters of our private lives.

During the last five years that Dr. Mohammad Javad Zarif represented Iran in the UN, many of us Iranians who live in New York City developed a closer relationship with our country’s representative. Those from my generation may identify with this feeling that under the Shah, many of us did not have this kind of affinity with our government officials for the simple reason that they were not our government. With Khatami’s presidency, this feeling changed drastically. When he came here the last time and was interviewed by Charlie Rose on PBS, when he very courageously and honestly, without the slightest manipulation, answered the questions without evasion, it was so refreshing that one could forget that he or she was listening to a politician.

Whenever Dr. Zarif appeared on TV for an interview, we could all breathe and not be worried about the common nonsense of the “death to America” variety.

I do recall one evening coming back from work and seeing several security police guarding the motorcade of our Foreign Minister, then Mr. Kamal Kharazi, in front of the local bookstore. I could not resist and followed him inside just to say hello. He left his books and came towards me. I thought he noticed how happy and proud I was when I wished him well in his negotiation in the UN. That night, I thought, was a turning point in my relationship with our country. And I fully came to know that yes, we Iranians have a respectable government now and have officials whom we are not embarrassed by. And even more importantly, they became part of Iran for me because they are us. But it seems that that’s over now. It seems that that was a dream. Our representatives now just do their jobs. Khatami does not bring them any honor or pride or anything of that nature. They are just busy doing their job, and Khatami is not their job. The lady from the Iranian mission with whom I had spoken said she had a job to do, it was not her responsibility to know where he talks. No, lady, and no, Mr. Operator, we all know where Mt. Alborz is even if it is not part of our job to know it. And we all have a few photographs of our loved ones somewhere in our homes even if we don’t have any direct interest in photography and every so often we listen to the news even if we have no material interest in the days’ events. Limiting our knowing to our jobs alone sounds more like an excuse to deny ourselves the most splendid gifts that human being could ever have: the ability to perceive and react to life freely and voluntarily beyond what is dictated to us by our paychecks and our employers. It is reducing ourselves to robots. That was the official reaction of Iranian delegation to the UN to Khatami’s trip.

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