Thursday, February 16, 2012

Post #187 - What became of little Babak?

“Biya, bacheh! [come, child!]”, I said.   Babak coyly hid behind his father’s knee.  I was really beginning to feel something for this little guy, after having only visited a few times in his home, which was at the end of a narrow, winding alley of adobe houses near the creek.  Interacting with someone who knew even less Persian than I did was a kind of comfort to me!  Far from home and family, only able to read about the Johnson-Goldwater race and rioting in the streets of U.S. cities in the Iranian newspapers a day or two after the events had occurred, I was was feeling a bit isolated and lonely.

Fast-forward to 2006.  Twenty-two of us Americans landed in Tehran one night in May, not knowing what we’d find.  Friends and family feared for our safety.  Strangers thought we were nuts to go, and said as much.  Others gave me a very odd sort of look, as if I said “Oh, by the way, I’m wearing ladies’ underwear” in the middle of a  City Council meeting.

What we found was:  Iranians love us.  Wait, don’t change the channel – it’s true; everyone we met, without exception, was warm and welcoming.  Of course, some were convinced Bush is going to bomb Iran (as I'm sure they feel that Israel may do so any day now), and all thought sanctions were a unwelcome burden (they hadn't seen anything yet...), but after almost thirty years, they had become used to them.  Though some agreed with Bush about a lot of things, none of them thought outside intervention was a good idea…yet, incredibly, they didn’t seem to hold the threat of it against us.  (Perhaps they are wiser than we are about politicians -- versus real people.)

We went to Tehran, Shiraz, Esfahan, Qom and back to Tehran, with enough tourism for us to appreciate what a really ancient civilization looks like; our mere few hundred years seems, in comparison, like an IPO of a civilization (our stock is high, but for how long?).  We talked with students, profs, storekeepers, waiters and families out for a picnic.  If the point was to “put a human face on the enemy”, we put dozens of different faces on Iran.

From the way they acted, you would not think that we had exploited their oil, overthrown their government, built bases on all sides of them and invaded a couple or three of their neighbors.  There was nary a sign they had heard our officials threatening to use The Bomb on them for the first time since Hiroshima.  Life seemed to be about getting to know one another and enjoying simple pleasures like tea and poetry.

Okay, I hear you grumbling “What about women and human rights? What about Israel? What’s up with Hezbollah anyway?”  The hejab (“Islamic” clothing) is alive and well, but my how it has evolved – the cover-ups we saw some places in Tehran are about as effective as Bush White House attempts to hide leaks about Plame’s employment (not enough showing to prosecute, but not enough hidden to fool anyone).  Human rights are important to them, and they many are not happy with their government on that score, but they seem to want to work it out for themselves.  Israel is definitely one of the “Great Satans” to some Iranians, but they will tell you that it’s not about Jewishness; it’s the character of the Zionist state they do not accept.  To them it spells occupation, subjugation and military might (the Iranian on the street thinks it would be lunacy to attack a country like Israel, just as most of us would cross the street to avoid a man who is yelling at the top of his lungs at passersby).  Jews who live in Iran have little to do with Israel -- they came there from Babylon many centuries ago. Hezbollah is seen as a group that got Israel out of Lebanon, Hamas as a group that is feeding Palestinians when no one else is.  When it comes to the topic of suicide bombers, it is probably tied up with the fact that – so many of their young men walked into minefields, knowing it was sure death, to defend their country against Iraq – Saddam’s Iraq, backed up by Uncle Sam.  Yes, the Palestinian bombers take civilians with them; but so does our sanitized, remote-controlled war-making, in much larger numbers.  A recent Pew poll showed that Muslims in country after country are not as supportive of suicide bombers as Westerners believe they are, so part of the problem is skewed perceptions.

You may wonder if I forgot about Babak, the kid mentioned in the title.  When I played with him at his dad’s house, he was a toddler.  His father taught school with me; I was twenty-two and a Peace Corps Volunteer.  Since Babak would have been twenty when the war began, I can assume he went to the Iraq front.  It occurred to me that my tax dollars paid for the government that paid for the materials that went into the chemical weapons that might have snuffed out Babak.  The hell of it is, I will probably never know.  But I’m not 22 and naïve anymore and I can do something about this time – and so can you.

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