Monday, July 12, 2004

Rage of Silence

The weather has been unseasonably cool lately, with thunder and rain blessing us for three consecutive days making the experience of our pollution poisoning feel a little more leisurely. There is even less of the usual frenzy evident in the streets.

The much ballyhooed revolution the expatriate satellite programs clamored about never materialized of course, which was not much of a surprise really. Over a million students were out taking the university entrance exams on the 18th of Tir and all returned home safely, and quietly; well almost all though most, I am guessing, have been permanently bruised by their experience of those absurd, stultifying exams.

Incidentally, it has been heart wrenching to watch students especially this past month. You wouldn’t believe the numbers who attended the final exams with a bucket and towels. Some were so anxious, they couldn’t stop throwing up. And they call this education. More like endless torture and torment.

What I thought we had here until recently was a classic case of a stalemate. But it has changed—just ever so slightly. A wise friend calls it the rage of silence. And right he is. A great deal of anger simmers below only to burst out occasionally in the shouting matches between family members, colleagues or neighbors, and in the often rude exchanges with the grocers, butchers, fruit vendors, and in those seemingly omnipresent fist fights on the streets. Of course, the relentless insults against the ruling clergy continue unabated.

Even the army guys and the police aren’t spared. You can’t miss any of the loud, belligerent encounters and the regular punches or kicks thrown their way every now and again. As I have maintained for months, ours is not the profile of a petrified, defeated citizenry-- docile and passive. For an authoritarian society, we are some of the most belligerent, pigheaded, unyielding and lawless citizens you’ll encounter anywhere on the planet.

Iranian society is highly traumatized for now with citizens being profoundly disappointed and disillusioned. This past twenty five years, people have lived a perpetual nightmare here. We have had a civil war, a campaign of terror coupled with fiendish government crackdown claiming anywhere between 30-100,000 lives.

And the long war against our unfortunate Iraqi neighbors took a very substantial toll on the country’s infrastructure and on our society generally, with human losses numbering around a million dead and wounded. Thus the blood lust, evident is certain North American circles, is simply just not present here. (I am not crediting the source because I’d like to think the sweet, thoughtful person I once knew was having a bad day when he approvingly linked to this piece of hair curling rubbish!)
Most have lost stomach for widespread murder and mayhem here.

Iranians have also become cynical. Most have had it with endless babble and ideological campaigns. Revolution promised heavenly justice and prosperity for all, and instead, created a wretched, abusive society, delivering only to the obscene gluttony/avarice of a minority. Then there was the reform movement whose leaders rode the wave of enthusiasm for change only to stuff their own pockets delivering in return almost zilch. So in a sense we have all become, quite literally, Americans here.

To want to remold the entire Middle East, imagine, without so much as missing a beat in daily chores…working, shopping, drinking, partying, shopping, shopping, shopping. (or “terrorists will have won,” with young soldiers quietly dying in far away places and/or systematically killing those nasty Arabs. Fight them in Baghdad so no one has to fight them in Boston, ey? Well, this is the unspoken consensus here as well. “Let them fight it out and we’ll safeguard what little peace there is to continue our shopping.”

The ultimate irony of Iraq, you could say. Just as Iranians thought it couldn’t possibly get any worse; all were reminded again that war, terrorism, blackouts, photographed torture, plundering expats, and troops roaming the streets with tanks and numerous checkpoints aren’t really anyone’s idea of a better future.

In the meanwhile, those with the means here continue to load up with money, land, shiny new cars, clothing, furniture, stocks, foreign currency, etc, so they won’t fall behind the neighbors or friends and those unfortunate poor bastards….the needy, the unemployed, the impoverished?

Well, the last time they trusted someone with direct access to the Almighty, they got shafted and are still paying for their gullibility. They are not about to become anyone else’s cannon fodder, not anytime soon any way. No one is ready to fall for a new scam this time around. The hustle is going to have to be pretty damn promising before anyone makes a move.

See the world through the prism of some hard working, cunning survivor for a minute. Does it make sense, for instance, to put all your eggs in the Monarchists’ basket? For now, our monarchists have decided to completely align themselves with the Bush leaguers and the Likudniks--down to the minutia of the insults (“self-hating Iranians” sounds funny, doesn’t it?)

Domestically, if as Mrs. Pahlavi admits “everything at the end is really about money,” why should anyone support a new group who has been out of power for 25 years? Especially since they deserted the country once with all their belongings and treasures, managing as well not to have done a single honest day’s work since. Even more damning, aren’t they really almost out of money anyways? Wouldn’t they want to do first what (and the only thing) all puppets in the Middle East are exceedingly proficient at….filling their own coffers at the expense of their subjects?

At least this reigning group of bandits could have had their fill by now, and perhaps they’ll begin to throw some bones at others, though I am highly skeptical myself. The avarice and acquisitive frenzy in today’s Iran, I have not encountered in many places around the globe. It is absolutely astonishing.

What about freedom? Dignity? Human Rights? Equal opportunity? You may wonder. Well, judge for yourselves the occupation models, such as they are. If you have been stung repeatedly by those who promise big, yet fail to delivered, would you really move a single step if some one told you to jump?

Remember this is a society whose members literally walked on mines to defend their homes and yet some of the same families find themselves without shelter as pimple faced youngsters with gel soaked hair ride in shiny new cars picking up whores, partying, doing ecstasy, drinking and playing techno loudly. This society can explode quicker than you can blink an eye. But not just yet! No one is in a hurry to fall for silly promises again.

And the concerned global community? We have all heard from them before as well. The last time we checked, with the exception of the Israelis and the Syrians, their whole damned establishment ganged up and profited handsomely from murder and mass poisoning of our relatives and friends. Would you really blame anyone here for being so cynical?

Iranians are generally cable of much decency, sacrifice and heroism, but they have retreated within for now. They have been abused, taken advantage of, and hustled one too many times. They blame others, but above all by their inaction and inquietude, they seem to signal a measure of guilt and responsibility. Most are acting prudently and are being circumspect. They have become savvy enough to look out for the numero uno, for now!

And so, in effect, they are mostly withholding all their creative energies from the regime they live under and focus instead on collecting stuff for the household, making money and having fun….however selfishly and mindlessly.

But this state can’t last long, if you ask me. The hardliners in power have been full of initiatives and show all the enthusiasm of a newly minted manager at a not so profitable firm. There is a new creepiness about them. My hunch is, they want to clamp down on ostentations, and some visible corruption. They are moving slowly to lay down some new guidelines: “do what you want in private, but don’t disrespect our authority in public…or you’ll pay.” Law and Order, with capital letters, has been on the agenda.

And in another ominous sign of the things to come, the thirteenth Congress of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran just voted to abandon its long held strategic objective, “Democracy for Iran, Autonomy for Kurdistan,” in favor of a new found passion for federalism, of sorts! KDPI also appointed a new Chief: Mr. Mustafa Hejri. A different front seems to have suddenly opened (again) in the ongoing saga of the Greater Middle East initiative.

A development worth watching closely especially in light of the recent clashes between the Army and the Turkish Kurds.

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