Re: Michael Jackson. A note from the Iranian home front, in Appalachia
Once again I’m recycling a post from dailykos.com. Not so much because I think it’s a great piece of writing, nor because I imagine it to be especially insightful — nor even welcome here, particularly. But because last night whatever happened in Tehran happened in Tehran, and I have no idea what it was because every single network — including the BBC — covered nothing but the demise of Michael Jackson.
Now. Michael Jackson is a sad story, and he was a major figure in music. I am tempted to argue that his significance was more commercial than artistic, but I suspect that same critique can be leveled against Elvis, and that I would disagree. So be it.
My fundamental critique is that, past a five-minute homage to his life and his significance, and some careful reporting about the still uncertain circumstances of Jackson’s death, the rest of what dominated the newswaves last night was not news. Was not necessary. And that it became a diversion, taking our attention away from the various necessary things on our national agenda. Like health care. And Iran. And so…to this…
Mostly they call home Persia, the couple who lives next door to us. He teaches at the state college in our town, on the edge of Appalachia, and she has her own small business. I know their stories only in pieces, in part because I do not often ask, in part because her English is sometimes difficult.
Their son — their youngest child — went back to Iran with his wife and their two-year-old a couple weeks ago, meaning to stay for a month or two. Where they live is, apparently, in the neighborhood where much of the action takes place in Tehran, but his mother-in-law has forbade him leaving home, and so he describes his stay as house arrest. It is not clear now when and if they will be allowed to leave.
Communications, of course, are bad. Spotty. Worrisome. I talked some to his mother this afternoon, and because what I do is tell stories, I will tell her stories. Because I offered to help in any way I can help, this is how I will start.
The professor next door served in some middling capacity in the Shah’s Air Force, I’ve been told. He is a kind man who cannot resist hugging our six-year-old when he sees her, and a technocrat, and so I assume he was simply what he seems to be: an educated man working for the government.
They were obliged to leave Iran in 1979, and he has not been allowed back — not even for his mother’s funeral. (His wife has been back a couple times. I do not pretend to understand how these things work. I assume by caprice.) One day she told me a little about their leaving, how they got across the border and had to pay $1 a day so as not to be kidnapped and taken back across the border, to be executed. All of them, the whole family. A time of long months in a resettlement camp in Italy. Landing in the American Midwest, where he was obliged to go through the Ph.D. process a second time because his records were either insufficient or could not be verified.
Their oldest daughter is married to a reservist who has served two tours in Iraq.
The boy, who I know slightly, will not use his language skills to translate for the U.S. government because his loyalties are conflicted, and he knows it. Even though it would pay three times what he makes as a beginning teacher.
This weekend the entire family spent locked in their homes at their computers, slowly, painstakingly downloading footage from people they don’t know back in Iran, and forwarding it to CNN. Maybe hundreds or thousands of people are doing this, and CNN is being flooded by the same footage. Maybe the are the only tendril of hope to the people trying to upload these images. There’s no telling.
The professor next door, he knows he can never go back, not unless something miraculous happens and his name is scrubbed from whatever book it’s in. This is a man who works 16-hour days even when school is not in session, and yet he spent his entire weekend at the computer nursing files. Doing what he can do. Trying.
We want to make the events in Iran like something else: like Selma, or Tiananmen Square, or Prague. Like something we know, because in this way we can try to understand how it will end, how the U.S. should play its hand.
The U.S. doesn’t have a hand. It is not that we are impotent. It is simply that this is an internal matter for the people of Iran to solve, and when it is done, when it is resolved, then we will see what we can do. The analogy which works for me, presently, is that we know our friend needs help, but until s/he wants or needs that help, nothing we say can be heard, nor listened to, nor acted upon.
And, as my neighbor said, anything the U.S. says will be held against the demonstrators. And they will be killed, she said. She does not hope for one side to win, she hopes that nobody else will be killed.
This is a small thing, a modest entry. But it is what I can do.