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Friday, Nov. 25, 2005 at 7:21 PM
More than 27 years after a series of world-shaking events, another weakened and unpopular hardline regime is threatening to again cause bloodshed in the streets of Iran. Only this time there's no proxy involved, and the violent administration is located unequivocally in Washington.
WELCOME TO THE AXIS OF EVIL HOLIDAY INN:
A visit to George W. Bush's favorite menace and probable next target zone. Just don't forget about the 70 million people who might get in the way.
(Tehran) -- A murder of crows clamored ominously over Shohada Square last week while the gritty terrace swarmed with careering passenger cars, overloaded trucks, noisy motorbikes, book-toting children, browsing shoppers, white-gloved gendarmes, and loitering jobless men.
Apparently nothing but the name, translating as Martyrs Square, was left to remind busy passersby in this teeming super-metropolis of at least 20 million that the site was the violent epicenter of the start of the Iranian Revolution. On September 8, 1978 (17 Shahrivar 1357 in the Persian calendar) troops of the US-installed and supported Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi opened fire on peaceful demonstrators in what was then known as Jaleh Square. Hundreds reportedly were killed that day throughout the capital, most of them students.
Many more protestors were killed by the Iranian military in the aftermath, which resulted in a general strike that October. The Shah fled the country within weeks on January 16 with Ayatollah Khomeini returning from exile on February 1, 1979 to take control of the multi-faceted revolutionary forces.
More than 27 years after that series of world-shaking events, another weakened and unpopular hardline regime is threatening to cause bloodshed again in the streets of Iran. Only this time there is no proxy involved, and the violent administration is located unequivocally in Washington.
A CHANGE IN THE STREETS . . .
Despite its tough no-nonsense reputation, the social atmosphere in Iran, at least in the capital, has noticeably loosened in recent years. The government apparently doesn't much care what people do, as long as they don't get involved in politics, remarked a 57-year-old civil servant. The police here even ignore the prostitution where it's clearly on the streets at night.
The strong possibility of an American invasion of Iran obviously received a strong shot in the arm with the recent anti-Israel demagoguery at an anti-Zionist conference by Iranian President Mauhamod Amahjaenidad. That coupled with the ongoing diplomatic tensions over Iran's nuclear program -- is it for energy or weapons or both? -- have provided George W. Bush with all the reasons he needs to justify an attack to a pliable constituency. Compared to the nonexistent evidence offered by Washington for its unprovoked invasion and occupation of Iraq, the case for war against the Islamic Republic of Iran as a clear and present threat to GOP American business interests is, as was once famously proclaimed, a slam-dunk certainty.
Let's be honest here. Anyone who was paying attention in 2002/2003 saw the Bush invasion of Iraq coming from a mile away. It was clearly going to happen no matter what bottled masquerade Colin Powell fingered past the United Nations or what mushroom cloud smoke Condi Rice huffed and puffed our way. Administration watchers are beginning to feel the same way now about Washingtons intentions toward Iran. Those infamously real men and women wanting to hummer-step their way into the jammed roadways, blind alleys and walled neighborhoods of Tehran are becoming ever more ascendant.
NO SUPPORT . . .
In a discussion about the tough economy here where her husband was unable to find work for the past year, a 42-year-old shop clerk told me about her perception of the lack of government support, especially for older women who had no husbands and no hope for a decent job. "The government doesn't love the people," she explained with a deep sadness in her eyes. "The government kills the people," she quickly added while mimicking a rifle shot with her hands and arms.
The human cost of a US invasion would be unimaginable and on a scale sure to compare with the Japanese attack on and occupation of China. And American forces will undoubtedly resort to widespread slaughter once the Iranian military puts up a fight. Realizing that conventional shock and awe attempts at intimidation didn't work in Iraq and are sadly outdated now, look for the US officer corps to willingly resort to radical elimination of any population centers that threaten to bog them down, making Fallujah look like a measured use of restrained force by comparison. Tactical nuclear weapons, especially for an overtaxed hegemon, begin to look awfully tempting to a military that has already created plans and devised rationalizations for their use: "We saved the lives of X number of our men and women by using the bomb." Simply insert whatever amount serves your era and purpose.
Most of the streets of Tehran are nightmarishly crowded between the morning rush hour and 10pm every day. Pedestrians unflinchingly wade into traffic whenever and wherever they need to cross, but the continual mix of vehicles and people in the roadways somehow allows enough flexibility to keep nearly everyone moving and upright.
During a festive reception I attended at a commercial wedding hall in Tehran, very much a publicly accessible space, several middle-age women took off their headscarves as if they were at home. This was also true at the private wedding ceremony in a separate room at the same hall attended by a white turbaned cleric who sung a Koranic blessing. People mentioned that he didn't say a thing about the uncovered female hair.
IN A STATE OF FLUX . . .
Unless you happen to be on the north side of the city where the opulence, architecture and fashionistas are similar to the high rent districts of Beirut and Istanbul, Tehran appears to be in a state of flux. Much of it is grimy and blackened with decades of neglect. However, the ubiquitous legions of uniformed street sweepers, men in dirty uniforms literally sweeping trash from the sidewalks into free flowing gutter streams, actually succeed in keeping the walkways relatively unobstructed and litter free.
But alongside decrepit commercial buildings strangled by decades of unburned third world hydrocarbons are more and more bright and clean high-rise housing units. The new living spaces are inevitably winning the heightened battle for ever more valuable real estate and are beginning to finally transform the city irregardless of whatever government programs exist. Still, too much of the city looks like the worst parts of semi-abandoned urban centers in Chicago, New York or San Francisco during the 1950s, 60s and 70s prior to their own real estate re-investment pressures taking hold.
No one I met had any animosity for me as an American. In fact it was just the opposite. Imagine that. People in the Middle East who aren't receiving our economic aid, in fact just the opposite, who remain welcoming to Americans in 2005. It's almost unbelievable. And it's not like they've forgotten the fact that the US planned and supported a coup to overthrow the elected government here in 1953 when we installed the Shah. At worst, people simply ignored my obvious Western appearance and language. Just another carpetbagging gringo using the people and the place for his own selfish reasons. So what else is new?
A retired dentist informed me "George Bush is good! Bush is good!" and proceeded to adamantly condemn the ruling clerics. He clearly wanted help from Washington in changing the regime in Tehran. I answered that the Iranian people should do it themselves. That if the US came here many people would be killed, and all you had to do is look at Iraq. Was it better off now than before the US occupation? He had no reply.
Naturally, the most important assets and resources for this ancient cultured nation are its living and breathing people. 70 million strong with a majority of the population below 35, Iranians are fiercely proud of their heritage, which has withstood centuries of clashes, invasions and occupations by no less than Alexander the Great and his Greeks, Genghis Khan and the Mongol hordes, Muslim Arabs, and Turkic Ottomans. Throw in empire-minded Victorian English along with Czarist and Soviet-era Russians and you begin to get a picture of the renowned Persian resiliency and the inextinguishable passion for life.
A WARM INVITATION . . .
Warm and hospitable to a fault, I have never entered an Iranian household where I was not immediately offered food, drink and the utmost generosity of everyone present. One of the highest personal honors you can receive here is a request to dine at an Iranian's home. This simple act is nothing less than an invitation to share in everything the individual or family has to offer.
So what about all those death chants at Friday mosque gatherings and anniversaries of the infamous 1979/80 US hostage incident? When people bring that one up, I always remind them that all our people were released. For an anti-American action that no one in North America can seem to forgive, due mainly to the high embarrassment factor, the outcome could have been so much worse. And yes, Im sure there are people who believe the Death to America! calls and wish us harm. No doubt about that. But I'm always reminded of a story of marching demonstrators denouncing the west, when one of them turns to a foreign reporter and says, "But I want to take my family to Disney World."
Back in Shohada Square, thousands of people streaming through these streets continued to labor under a cool blue sky vacated for the moment by those dark menacing birds. I wondered if many here considered that if not for the dark insurgent menace in neighboring Iraq tying down US forces that the streets in Iran might soon be renamed with a new era of martyrs.
XXX returned from Iran a few days ago and resides in Portland.
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