Sunday, October 14, 2007

My Day of Peace

Brooklyn for Peace invited me to give a short talk in a rally held in front of the Supreme Court in the Borough Hall in Brooklyn and at a Peace Fair in Bensonhurst, a working-class neighborhood in Brooklyn. They were small gatherings, mostly middle aged, of peace activists, a few politicians, old commies, and some academics, and almost all the women’s peace groups. The absent of young people was striking and discouraging. In contrast to our country, where, since Constitutional movement of a hundred years ago, we never had any movements which had not been initiated by or tied to the younger generation and university students, it seems that in the United State the only time students became involved in the affairs of life was during the Vietnam War when there was a draft.

In my talk, I focused chiefly on how war is a desirable and marketable commodity in this country. An attractive packaging covers war’s ugliness and an exaggerated, vilified portrait of the enemy, who might have been friend just the day before, is usually enough to legitimize war and even wins over public opinion. I told the audience that I wanted them to would see the face of the enemy which is supposed to be bombed next.

My face.

I told them of the earliest memory I had from the same very government which is involved in two unfinished wars, in Afghanistan and in Iraq, and now wants to start a third one.

When I was a child in Iran, we lived, with my parents, in a military camp which was the center for the army’s chemical industry. Parchin was a half hour drive from east of Tehran. It was located on the outskirts of the Alborz Mountains, and a river, Jajrood, ran along it. It had originally been built with the help of the Swedish government and was improved by Germans and then by British. By the time Iran was tied to the Americans, the base functioned self-sufficiently. Due to the sensitive nature of the activities there, the entry and exit were closely monitored and limited to the residents and their visitors.

One day, my father rushed home hurriedly, turned on the radio, and listened intensely. I was playing outside and followed him in, with the hope that he would pay a little attention to us now and then. He was so occupied with the news that he did not even notice me. I went outside and saw a few of our neighbors were practically running home. My mother arrived from summer school with my brothers and sister, almost everybody running. Apparently she had closed the school and had sent children home. All I knew was that something had happened, but I did not know what. Very soon, electricity was shut off, and as the air darkened, the whole camp slid into a deep silence and darkness. My mother in the kitchen, with a very grim face, was preparing food as if we were expecting lots of guests, although no announcement had been made and the house did not have the festive atmosphere which usually followed that kind of activity in the kitchen.

After nightfall, guests arrived one by one, all in uniform. It was the first time they would come to our home at night in uniform. Some of them rushed to another room and came out as women, whom I recognized as the wives of some of these officers. Since martial law had been declared, only military men were permitted out in the street, and the officers’ wives had to dress in their husbands’ uniforms. Very soon the large living room and dining room were filled with almost every military man in the camp. They sat and talked and drank. We, the children, were not allowed to walk in, but at some moment I peeked through the crack of the door and I saw that almost everyone was crying.

For much of the next day, the mood of whole camp was as grim as that night. I do not recall how long it took for life to return to normal, but it was too long to bear. There was no laughter, no joking and no teasing when playing backgammon. There were, however, more social gatherings, almost every night and all in silence. I felt that someone had died.

After a few years, though I was still a child, I learned what had happened that night. It was the 1953 CIA coup which toppled Prime Minister Dr. Mossadegh’s democratically-elected government. In the following years, much happened in the country as well as in our private lives, but I never saw my parents’ faces as grim as I saw them that night, and I never saw that crowed the way they sat down in silence and cried. Never!

Now, when we hear the news of attacking Iran and the threat of hitting the nuclear facility, particularly after Ahmadinejad’s speech at Columbia University and his denunciation as a little dictator and so on, the picture of those event some half a century ago came to mind.

While I contemplate the possibility of war, with Parchin as a prime target, all I remember is the face of my parents and their friends in that room behind the closed door, wet with tears. It was not just a loss or a failure. I think it was shame, it was the tears of humiliation, those officers had not even been given a chance to defend their country, to do the job that they had been trained for. Some foreign agents had easily smashed their entire lives’ work, all the hope for a modern state and a lawful society. Though I was only four years old that night, that story was told and retold, again and again, so often that it became part of my very being. That shame and humiliation carved into that identity forever and always comes to mind whenever Americans want to deliver and dispatch their democracy anywhere in the world and whenever they want to rescue the freedom from the hands of villains.

Ironically I’m American now, and I’m not expected to care less for the country which is day and night portrayed as “my” enemy. I feel like a centaur, half of my life I was Iranian and half American. But what does it means to me? Am I an enemy of myself? Where do I have to draw the line? That blue passport in my pocket book or the red one in my desk draw? Should I wait here and share the Thanksgiving dinner and blessing with my American family when they bomb Parchin, when the school which was built practically and physically by my mother is turned into ashes; when those families whom my father helped to become part of a modern Iran die under the ruins caused by my fellow Americans? When did all this happen? When love united me with a man who happened to have a blue passport? Did that unity divided us?

In despair, many times I asked my husband what would we do if evil appears in the guise of democracy. He did not hesitate even a second: “We will go home together.” There was not the slightest doubt in his voice. Deep in my heart I know we are not alone. There are millions of Iranians who feel that way, millions of us in whom an Iranian heart still beats.

Some half a century later, we are again losing to shame and dishonor. This time the world is gazing upon us, with all the humiliation we have to face. However, as an adult I do not look at their shame and tears from the crack of the door. I would prefer to cry with them and die among them.

1 comment:

Commie Mommie said...

That was a very beautiful post, Meena.
I was at the demonstration. Your talk was so moving and so beautiful. I really felt tears well up in me.