Saturday, August 01, 2009

Alienation in Tehran, and abroad

Tehran Bureau has a moving personal essay by a young woman of Iranian descent, living in London but with lots of family and friends in Iran, which she's visited often. Kamin Mohammadi traces through the experience of friends and family, as well as herself, the alienation, or schizophrenia, induced by living under an oppressive regime (or being closely bound to those who do). She ends with the confession of an uncle she had long admired:
as we sipped our teas at Mehrabad Airport, he started to confide in me, much to my embarrassment and no doubt his too, proud man that he is. But confide he did, in that way I have become accustomed to Iranians doing with me, trusted family or old friend yet an outsider who would take their secrets home with me rather than sit and gossip in Tehran.

And what he told me was that on his visit to Europe, he had felt like an alien. Looking, walking and talking just like all the other people, but, after 30 years of Islamic rule, after all the daily compromises he has had to make with his soul, his conscience, his very being in order to survive the regime and even prosper, he felt so different to all the people living as people should — in freedom — that he had felt locked up inside himself, unable to break the mask, unable to relate to anyone or allow himself to be understood.

‘Kamin jan,’ he said to me as I tried to contain his confidences, ‘we here, we look like human beings, but we are aliens. We are not like other people. I realised this in Europe. There is a gulf because they simply cannot understand what we go through every single day of our lives in order to survive this regime.’

The experiences Mohammadi chronicles recall those of eastern Europeans in the latter days of the Soviet empire, forced always in public life to do obeisance to an ideology nearly everyone recognized as bankrupt. State terror comes in many flavors, but the alienation it induces is recognizable across wide cultural gulfs.

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