By Azita Ebrahimi (Azi)
I went to Iran, the country of my birth, in November of 2009 and stayed there for two months after being away for 30 years. I had left Iran right before 1979 revolution that overthrew the Shah. Before I left for my visit back to Iran, I was feeling very agitated and depressed about the way things are here in the USA and I felt like I needed to get away for a while. My trip to Iran was a pleasant, interesting, and eye-opening trip, but at times I felt strongly the gloomy atmosphere that was overshadowing the country of my birth.
People are not happy and satisfied with the way things are, and young people especially don't have much hope for a better and more promising future. I was constantly asked this question: "How is it in the USA -- is it any better? Is it different?" And my reply was "Different? Yes. Better? I am not sure," because I felt the same gloomy and depressing atmosphere here in the USA, and I knew people in this country are also uncertain about their future and dissatisfied and unhappy about a lot of things.
At times, I felt trapped...I was hearing almost the same stories from people miles away in another continent...people not being happy with their jobs, their relationships, struggling to make ends meet, the economic hardship that they have to endure, corrupt politicians, and so on and so on...I especially felt sad for the young ones. Iran's population is more than 70 million and 75% of them are under the age of 30. The younger generation in Iran is highly educated and most of them have university degrees. I think obtaining a higher education for many of them has become a way of life! It gives them the opportunity to be independent, to have less boundaries, less limitations in their lives...and to have a glimpse of hope that someday they might see the light at the end of the dark tunnel!
I promised my new young Iranian friends (boys and girls) that I would try to stay truthful to what I heard from them and to get their message across as best as I can. Their message as one of them simply put it to me is this:
"We want to live and enjoy life and have a promising future ... a lot of us don't want to get involved in the world of politics...the world of politics is a dirty world and has nothing to do with a real change and does not leave much room for idealistic ideas!"
While I was in Iran, I lived in a girls' dormitory (filled mostly with university students from different cities of Iran) which was near Revolution Street, the street that most of the recent demonstrations passed by. Because of where I was housed, I had the opportunity to hear and watch from the balcony of the dormitory the demonstrations that took place while I was there. During my two months of stay in Iran I got the opportunity to talk to people who participated, as well as some who were heavily involved in organizing for these demonstrations. They were students, teachers, doctors, small businessmen, and even factory workers. I came out of these conversations with the understanding that there is a degree of political maturity among Iranian people and they are very courageous people with a great sense of pride. But there is no unified plan of action for people to get out in the streets, or for what the message of the demonstrations should be.
People get out in streets for different reasons to express publicly their dissatisfaction and make demands for change! And some are even willing to face the harsh and cruel consequences of their actions. By contrast, here in the United States, people for the most part have a tendency to hope for change rather than actively participate in changing things! And furthermore, people in this country believe in the current political and economic system. In their expression of dissatisfaction with social, political and economic problems, Americans never attack the governing system itself, whereas the Iranian people do!
In Iran, most of the people that I talked to openly expressed their anger and dissatisfaction about the current economic situation in Iran, about high inflation, about lack of jobs, lack of business opportunities, about the disastrous outcomes of economic, trade and scientific sanctions enforced on Iran by the US and European countries.
(for an introduction on the history of theses sanctions Wikipedia is reasonably good place to start http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U.S._sanctions_against_Iran)
My Iranian friends were surprised to hear that except for one or two organizations most progressive groups in this country have done NOTHING so far to stop these sanctions, and they were wondering if the people of this country have already forgotten the catastrophic result of the US sanctions on the Iraqi people during 1990s ??
Furthermore, Iranian people are very frustrated by the degree of corruption among their government officials, and they feel like they are being robbed of the money that should go toward providing more social services and creating more jobs for them. Many Iranians believe that there is a cold war going on between different factions of the Iranian government, and they believe these factions are at the service of countries such as US, Britain, China, Russia...
The degree of economic dissatisfaction is very high but so is social and cultural dissatisfaction. Iranians think they are also being robbed of their cultural heritage and in protest a lot of young Iranian especially young girls are learning how to play traditional musical instruments, learning Persian calligraphy, and studying Persian literature...there is a great concern among anthropologists about our historical monuments and places that are not really being taken care of...there is a cultural war going on in Iran. Being a proud nation with more than 2500 years of history, Iranians are determined to keep their cultural heritage alive. This sense of nationalism especially is very strong among young people .
While I was in Iran I promised myself that when I returned to the USA, and was asked questions about how things are in Iran, my response would be that things are very complicated and there are many layers to any given political, social, cultural and economical issue, and there are no black and white answers to any question that we might have. But here I am back in the USA and in a conversation that I had with a dear political activist a couple weeks ago, the first question that I was asked was "while I was in Iran, did I see any street demonstrations, and in my opinion, are these demonstrations being led by the people or are they being organized by foreign agents?" I was very much turned off by this question and it took me back to the meaningless conversations that I had with people before I left for Iran. To ask questions such as the one above is an attempt to simplify a political and social situation that by no means is as simple as yes-or-no answer. But here in the USA we are trained to think and operate that way!
There are a lot of nuances involved in shaping any political or social situation in any country and Iran is no different. I think people in general and the ones who want to be in the business of changing the world in particular should better educate themselves about the social and political movements of this country and other countries to understand better how any political, social change happens in any given country. The social and political consciousness of people in any given country has HISTORY and if we are serious about changing things we better know this history! Otherwise we are wasting our time and the time of others!
The Islamic Republic of Iran became the governing body of Iran after the Shah was overthrown in response to the genuine dissatisfaction of Iranian people with the way things were. This dissatisfaction was less evident among the middle class and upper class people of Iran than it was among the working class people and poor sections of the country. When the Islamic Republic of Iran became the governing body of Iran and so called Islamic rules were enforced upon people, radical changes started to take place in all aspects of Iranians' life and the country went through a social and cultural changes as well as political changes.
But 30 years later, one can clearly observe (and not just in big cities but also in small towns) that these rules and restrictions on the Iranian people on how to live, dress, or conduct one's day to day business are not being followed by many! In the past 30 years, average and ordinary Iranians gradually have changed their situation and have broken some of these rules and restrictions whenever and however it was possible for them to do so. Ultimately forcing the government officials to leave them alone in some aspects of their personal lives if not all! But when it comes to change the resistance does not always come from the ruling powers and sometimes the resistance to change comes from different groups of people within the society and as result creates tension among them. I felt this tension at times during my two months in Iran. That is why I feel like at this point, Iran is a country of opposite forces (socially, politically, culturally) coexisting side by side and pushing and pulling the country in different direction. But how long these opposite forces can continue living side by side? I am not sure.
What happened right after the June 2009 presidential election on the streets of Iran was a representative of a desire among some Iranian people, especially the younger generation, for some radical changes in the political and social system of their country. What is being attacked in recent demonstrations goes beyond attacking individuals who currently represent the system. They are attacking the system itself...That is why in recent demonstrations you will hear people say: Death to the Dictator, Death to the supreme leader of Islamic Republic of Iran, and We say no to the West; we say no to the East; we want an Independent Republic of Iran. When I heard it myself in the last demonstration that took place in Iran, I could not help myself from shouting it as loud as I could from the balcony of our dormitory as demonstrators were passing by and being violently attacked by Revolutionary Guards and Basij military forces ...
Some of the people whom I talked to think the current government should be replaced by a secular type of government. I found it very surprising that even among young practitioners of Islam, there is this strong belief in separation of religion from politics now. Some are suggesting the type of government that exists in Moslem countries such as Turkey or the type of governments that exists in countries such as Sweden or Norway. Some people are very clear as to what sort of government should replace the current government of Iran and some are not ...but what is clear is that they want a democratic system that will be at the service of the people.
In the past 30 years, Iranian people in their attempt to create a more democratic and just society have made some progress through their civic organizations, their own personal resistance to rules and civil disobedience activities. Iranian people know that in their struggle for change not only they have to deal with resistance from their own government officials but also they have to deal with manipulation of their struggle by agents of foreign countries, political groups in Iran or outside of Iran. Of course, knowing that through different means of operation, superpowers always want to interfere with the affairs of Third World countries and manipulate their struggle for independence, freedom and democracy in way that it will serve their interests...DOES NOT undermine the genuine struggle of people of these countries...
The bottom line is that the ruling power whether in this country or Iran have no regard for the will and needs of their people...otherwise we would live in societies that people were more content and happier with their lives and less worried about their future, the future of their children and their grandchildren. Here in this country people are losing their jobs, their homes and their livelihoods and there is still talk about sending more troops to the Middle East or other parts of the world to wage more wars. Anyone who thinks that here in the USA people are enjoying more than a superficial degree of political freedom and democracy better read the following article: Democracy in America Is a Useful Fiction by Chris Hedges
As I have told my new friends in Iran, people in USA have more personal freedom than people in Iran, but there is a big difference between having a personal freedom and having a political freedom which I don't think exists in this country. And of course, one should expect some degree of personal freedom in a country that consider itself a model for freedom and democracy for the rest of the world! So I hope American people will put their focus more on their own struggle for freedom and democracy in this country and let the rest of us in other countries worry about freedom and democracy in our countries.
In conclusion I have to say, overall as a conscientious citizen of this world and a mother two boys, I am tormented by the ways things are in this country or Iran or other parts of the world. Let us try for a second to see the big picture here for a change; let us try to see humanity as whole for a change; let us try to see in ourselves others for the change...the homeless people, the poor, the orphans, the ones that they have been cut up in the wars that are destroying their lives and their countries, the ones that are being tortured and the ones that are being kicked out of their homes, the ones who don't have money to pay for their medical bills, the ones that have nothing to eat and eat mud cakes to survive... the ones that are being denied medial supplies because of sanctions on their countries...the ones that are committing suicide because they have no hope for future...the ones that have lost their children in wars waged by powers at hand to serve their interests with no regards for human life...to them we are ALL collateral damage and we will remain collateral damage if we stay silent.
In the past couple of months, I have been thinking a lot about what pushes a society to go through some meaningful changes and how do these changes take place. How do we go about creating democratic societies that will respond to the basic needs of ALL their citizens and in ALL aspects of their lives. How does a governing body of any society become a TRUE representation of ALL its citizens ?
Please post your comments and your questions on my blog http://theblogs.net/onehumanfamily/.
Azita Ebrahimi (Azi) - Jan. 2010
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