Monday, March 15, 2004

Festivities, firecrackers, war on terror

With the Persian New Year approaching, there are quite a few firecrackers going off all around everyday. Everyone is in frenzy. Chahar-Shambe-Souri is a ritual rooted in our Zoroastrian past—with festivities normally held in the evening preceding the last Wednesday of the year. A day we congregate to jump over fire, (now that there are not too many functioning fire temples left thank to Islam) mingle, mutter nonsense and consume loads of food and dried fruits.

In anticipation, we have had to endure almost a month of loud, indiscriminate explosions—luckily only fire crackers. Sometimes, men on motorcycles use quite a large bundle as they pass crowded streets which they then time (or rather throw) to go off as some women pass by. On one occasion, a young girl simply passed out close by. Quite infuriating and also a raucous.

Can’t be quite certain as to why so many--the much vaunted “burnt generation,” so “westernized,” “freedom loving,” and forever lamenting the reign of terror of our ruling clergy--can’t quite bring themselves to comprehend the banality of frightening unsuspecting pedestrians.

You see it happening everyday as kids walk back from schools. Some nice girl passes by, a few boys and then a loud boom. Think about it, here you are walking home. Of all the things you could be doing—smiling, winking, flirting, passing phone numbers, seeking a date, complementing a nice eye, having an ice cream—what do you do? You throw a fire cracker to scare the living daylight out of some unfortunate soul…go figure!

So yesterday, having endured 3 hours of loud explosions every 10 to 15 minutes, I simply marched to a neighbor’s yard, cigarette in hand, to have a chat with some 8 year olds. They of course denied responsibility. (But it stopped) And on my way back, in the street I ran into a couple of middle aged men --business men, pious, conservative, with military background and connections.

They immediately went on the offensive, as we Persians are wont to do, to scold me asserting that while they agreed I had every right to be annoyed, I should simply also stop smoking while I am at it. Then they proceeded to lecture me for 10 minutes, boasting of how they turned down a lucrative contract with a foreign firm because a representative had smoked in their office.

I calmly listened, expressed my appreciation for their concern, and respectfully pointed out the difference between controlling the consequences of habits that adversely affect other individuals and their private spaces, and controlling the habits themselves which quite literally might be none of their business. And that if my explanation weren’t good enough, there are a few towns abroad I knew of which might be more suitable for them and that they should simply just emigrate.

Turning away, I immediately noticed my face stiffening to form a smirk. You know the type when you realize you have done something mischievous and fundamentally improper, yet utterly soothing. I thought to myself “how American of us.” Both what they said (stop smoking if the sound of fire crackers annoy you) and what I said (take a hike) sounded familiar. No wonder Iranians are the only people beside the Israelis in the Middle East who are so enamored of the U.S.

Then I got to thinking about some middle aged American men, business minded, pious, and conservative with military background and connections, as well as their notions of this war on terror

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