Sunday, January 18, 2004


Remembering the past can be quite taxing and somewhat insidious. Hard as we try to have a balanced perspective, our memories unexpectedly bedazzle, wreaking havoc even on our best and most sincere efforts to cast judgment on the events that nurtured the roots of our present predicament.

One needs look no further than one’s last relationship to get a sense for how treacherous the business of putting a former time in its true context can be. For, depending on one’s moods, and the allure or the repugnance of the present, one’s notions of the past also alters. If only more of us could have attained the pensive, gentle spirit evinced by Shakespeare sonnet XXX! But hey, even I know better!

So, it has been 25 years today since the last king left our country. With his departure, came the end to an era and the vanishing of an institution dating back to more than 2500 years. In just a few short weeks, this nation will celebrate a quarter of a century of Republicanism, albeit of a particularly peculiar variety.

Hard as it is to even pretend to be able to characterize the dominant predispositions of a nation of 70 million, I am, nonetheless, going to venture to do exactly that. I often think us a nation of Nestors. He is an interesting old man in Homer’s Iliad, and just as wise-- in a foolish sort of way, as he is boastful.

His notion of the past is slightly over exaggerated and glamorized. And so it is with us that it doesn’t really matter where in the spectrum of the political persuasions we may find ourselves as Iranians. The result is practically always the same. The same fear of the truth is manifest in the delusional attempt to find the ravishing in an invented fiction.
Our ancestors were always larger and stronger, and the tasks more daunting, achievements more gargantuan and failures more insubstantial.

Our epic is stunning evocation of the golden past. Our rulers console us our present misery by incessantly harping on the purported Golden Age of Islam. Even our few remaining communists are still out there ready to reduplicate the Golden Age of the Soviet Revolution. And thus I am not at all surprised when I encounter an increasing number of people who reminisce fondly about our good, omniscient, and omnipresent gentle father-- the one who preceded the last know it all, who himself in turn, was naturally succeeded by the Almighty’s latest plenipotentiary satrap guarding over our myriad desires.

We are a nation adrift as we oscillate between understanding the past in its own terms or in terms of present. We fear to admit the worst about ourselves and are thus unable to find our strengths. We flutter between cunning prudence, and reckless audacity. We boast of our past, lamenting its loss while rushing to abandon anything that smacks of tradition just as soon as we encounter the latest fashionable, “progressive,” in thing to emulate. Our paralysis is one rooted in cynicism, our timidity in false hope, and our brutality is ultimately due to our appetites run amok. But you tell me: what else is new?

What can I expect? Obviously I have the same set of hopes about the future that any other reasonably insane character may have in these unsettling times. But the real distress for me comes with the realization that I am having an increasing visceral appreciation for Burke’s axiom that, “when ancient opinions and rules of life are taken away, the loss cannot possibly be estimated. From that moment we have no compass to govern us.” A possible boon? Only Zurvan (father time) can tell!

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