‘Cos you like to love me: Iran and its diaspora
Tehran is a city of apartment buildings. They clamber over each other, elbow each other, desperately scraping out a space for themselves in this dense and crowded metropolis. From within this forest of concrete giants, lights glitter into the smoky Tehran night. And from their rooftops rings the sound of hundreds – thousands – of voices. They proclaim only this: Allah-u Akbar. God is great.
In orchestrating what is emerging to be a phony election of epic proportions, Ahmadinejad took a gamble. Its successes hinged on two insidious assumptions: that Iranians would be cowed into submission by an ostensibly robust and popularly supported mandate, and that the social, religious, and political fissures deeply riveted in Iranian society would remove the possibility of a unified rejoinder to Ahmadinejad’s manufactured election results.
Iranians in Tehran and countless other cities are testimony; Ahmadinejad’s gamble has failed. What ever the result of the political turmoil that has unfolded in Iran, Iranians have proved to themselves – and the world – that the spirit that moved mountains 30 years ago is still living. It has endured a horrific war of attrition, corruption, mismanagement, violence, and now blatant vote-rigging. It has been smothered by countless news articles and policy papers that reify the world’s perception of Iran’s youth as apathetic, superficial drones who despondently dream of a life in the West. But it did not die.
I believe that the waves of protest that has engulfed Iran are in many ways cathartic: when else would an upper middle class professional from the north of Tehran walk side by side down Vali Asr with a street cleaner from the south? When else would secular and religious Iranians alike proclaim in unison, God is great? Together, Iranians are once again feeling their own strength, sloughing off the thick skin of cynicism that the Islamic Republic has consciously or unconsciously infused in its citizens.
It is my hope that the Iranian diaspora will also able to purge – if only for a moment – the residue of resentment and disaffection that dogs our community. Amongst younger generations, the prejudices handed down from our parents have too often been re-born as ugly, petty, and blind contempt for the political opinions and lifestyles of our fellow hyphenated Iranians. Or worse still, they have sapped up any form of idealism and replaced it with apathy and disinterest. Iran becomes a distant and altogether confusing land, Iranian culture becomes a fount of greasy kabob and bad pop music.
My own anecdotal evidence suggests that perhaps the Iranian community abroad is moving in this direction. I was shocked at the marked difference in atmosphere between a anti-war protest I attended several years ago in Toronto (where I was derided for waving Iran’s current flag) and the one that took place in London last Sunday. Sure, a monarchist flag or two peaked from the sea of green outside the Iranian embassy. And of course, the sound of “the People, the People!” occasionally wafted from the Workers Party’s crackly megaphone (which had, a mere two days earlier, been employed to hurl insults at the hundreds of Iranians voting at the consulate). But there was no acrimony or bitterness. Just a community who wanted a fair vote, the chance to choose.
It is too naïve to suggest that all past differences will be put aside, and too early tell whether the protests taking place both inside and outside of Iran will affect real change. But if the diaspora can take even the smallest dose of the political courage and maturity demonstrated by those marching in Tehran, Tabriz, and Esfahan today, if it can see the luxuries it has enjoyed outside of Iran as injunctions to stop whining and start thinking critically, if it can be moved by solidarity rather than agenda-pushing, then it is infinitely better poised to play a constructive role in supporting democracy and justice in Iran.
Sara Mojtehedzadeh is a student at the London School of Economics, focusing on Middle Eastern and Iranian politics. She enjoys the usual: travelling, art, reading, writing – with a helping of greasy kabob on the side.