Opinion – International Herald Tribune
January 29, 2007
I watched with anxiety President George W. Bush’s seventh State of the Union address, hoping for words that would ease my fear that America would soon bomb Iran, my place of birth. The address however re- affirmed my worse nightmares.
Another war seems imminent, a war that will only weaken the fragile democracy movement in Iran and strengthen the regime that Washington hopes to change. This will be America’s second regime change in Iran, the second time it sacrifices democracy and human rights in my country. The first regime change was the American- backed coup d’état in 1953.
I am a child of that coup. I was born a few days after the United States helped overthrow the popular democratic government of Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953. Not long before my birth, facing nationwide protests, the shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was forced to abdicate and flee the country. My mother told me how people celebrated in the streets of Tehran. Strangers gave one another flowers and sweets, crying with joy that the shah had gone.
The celebration did not last long. In a few days, the political landscape changed. Men paid by American agents roamed Tehran with their batons and chains, assaulting Mossadegh’s supporters. Soon the shah returned, Mosaddegh was put under house arrest, and I opened my eyes to this world. As I would find out as an adult, I had been cheated by America.
As a child, I was afraid of the shah and of America. My father forbade us to mention them in family gatherings. He feared being spied on by the shah’s secret police, our neighbors, or strangers. As I grew older, the fear took on a different meaning. I understood my father’s worries.
As the years passed, frequent anti- shah and anti-American protests occurred in Tehran. I would see police officers in helmets, swinging their truncheons outside the campus of Tehran University, beating the protesting students. Some of my classmates would disappear for weeks or months. No one asked why. Everyone knew they were taken away by the secret police. When they returned, we still did not ask questions.
In 1976, I left Iran for my graduate studies in the United States. Three years later, on Feb. 9, 1979, an Islamic government replaced the shah’s regime. I watched the rallies and shootings in Tehran on television. Once again, there were tanks in the streets, and people chanted “death to the shah,” and “death to America.” Praising another man who scared me as a child, Iranians cried “Long Live Khomeini,” the ayatollah who led the revolution that forced the shah to flee. I was happy to see him go.
With a new government in Tehran, America no longer controlled Iran, but Iranians remained under its spell. The Islamic Republic declared the United States Iran’s No. 1 enemy. Once a valuable ally, America was now called the “Great Satan.” Then came the hostage crisis, the war with Iraq, and the presidency of Ronald Reagan.
It was the beginning of a new era. Accusing its critics of spying for America, the government jailed, tortured and executed them. The struggle against the “Great Satan” was now a pretext to imprison journalists, writers and student activists — anyone who challenged the Islamic Republic. They were called “enemies of the state,” agents of America.
In the United States, Iran’s status was changed from an ally to an enemy. I was attending Fordham University in the Bronx during the hostage crisis, when Reagan called Iranians “barbarians.” While I was hurt and angered, the Iranian government welcomed the declaration, the best proof of America’s “animosity toward the Islamic Revolution.”
Years later, President George W. Bush declared Iran part of an “axis of evil.” Meanwhile the U.S. government’s increased rhetoric against Iran gave the Islamic Republic more ammunition for repressing ordinary Iranians and anyone who advocated civil liberties.
During the shah’s regime, my friends ended up in jail and were tortured for opposing America and its role in Iran. Years later, the Iranians are still jailed and tortured, charged with sympathy toward America and being its voice in Iran. Iranians remain hostage to the relationship between Iran and America.
Will a day come when no one will be jailed in Iran because of America? On that day, the Iranians will forget the past, and many will become friends of America.