Washington DC, 5 February, 2005
it's the 6th of february, at the Muslim Community School of the Potomac, outside of Washington DC, and i'm here to bear witness to the 25th Anniversary of the Iranian Revolution.
it was supposed to be held at the Bethesda Marriot, on Marinelli Street, but the Office of Homeland Security called up and told Marriot Management not to host the Celebration. Homeland Security couldn't actually shut down the celebration, thanks to the United States Constitution, but they could, apparently, strong-arm the Marriot.
this is DC. it's Officious.
this information of the address, for those of us that are just attendees, comes at the final hour. sweet, kind, Shirine (a friend of mine that spent a decade in an egyptian jail) picks me up at the airport in her silver sedan with a suit in the backseat that we hope will fit me (it won't), with a schedule to follow (we'll be late), and a set of directions on how to get there (that will lead us astray because the celebration's been moved). so getting a call on shirine's cellphone, and learning that we're now going to potomac instead of bethesda, in this shitty rainish cold weather, is actually okay because we're having fun catching up on our lives and saying hello as we careen through the highways of DC metro area. the trees outside claw at the sky in some deathly dance that makes me shiver, but i remind myself it's just winter on the east coast. shirine's family is one of my connections with the parallel universe known as the middle east. i've been friends with their family for over a decade and i've done everything from land jobs for their kids in san francisco to delivered letters to their cousins in baghdad. but they have done me the true favor as i now understand what the word Family means. this is the first time i've seen shirine since she got out. she's doing well, working hard, and making a living as a video editor. anyway, with all the hubbub around HOMSEC i figure we're about to walk into a room full of militant mullahs and satanic verses. it would be a dangerous pantheon of enraged iranians, pounding fiercely at the gates of our government, distributing flyers, seeding insurrections, making bombs, and determined to pull the colors out of our benevolent Red, White and Blue. it would be, well, like stepping into the HQ of an islamic revolution.
right? isn't this what you would expect? we pull up to the parking lot of the islamic school, get out, walk in, and people are serving food and talking.
i'm disappointed. not disappointed in the costumes, the flags, the food, and the instruments; they are great. the costumes are old gypsy costumes (aryan and iran have the same root), the flags are the new flag (a la 1979), and the food is fucking incredible (probably the very best lamb kebab i've ever had in my life - a subtle seasoning of cumin and curry with a good, base meat that's fixed in a bloodless kind of way, a bit like kosher, called hillal). no, these things are fine, what i'm disappointed in are the boys at the homeland security office that displaced this event. see, back in 1979 the revolution (this was the one in tehran where the US captives were taken from the embassy and the rescue attempt backfired and they finally let the hostages go on the last day of carter's term.. remember that one?) was about getting the american government out of tehran. the eisenhower and truman administrations had pretty deeply rearranged the gastro-intestinal tracts of the iranian government, replacing the shah through a long-term strategy of tangling the circulatory systems of public opinion and injecting cash at the squeaky joints that needed it most. for example, Richard Cottam, one of the CIA's leading iranian propogandists and a well-known scholar of the country, has pointed out that in the summer of 1953 four-fifths of the papers in tehran were under CIA influence. so after 26 years of this kind of thing the iranians got pissed off, overthrew the government the US had installed, took hostage the americans in the embassy, and brought in their own idea of a president; a mullah from up north named khomeini.
now, here in DC, on the banks of the Potomac where another revolution once took place (that one in the late 1700's), these guys are having a dinner celebration with paper plates, folding chairs, table cloths, and movie cameras. progress has been made, since for the first time in maybe over 2000 years iran has it's own government. it's doing things the way it wants to. that's what democracy is all about, maybe. as the speaker announces to the attendees in the room what happened (in farsi, of course), and how HOMSEC forced a reneg on a six-month perfectly legitimate contract, i watch people start talking, watch their faces change and watch, like bees leaving a nest, enemies being born. enemies of, as it were, the state. these folks would have been fine with a simple get-together at the marriot, but many people were inconvenienced when all they wanted to do was eat some dinner and catch up on local news. the women were not being whipped, the children were not doing all the work, and there was no religious fanaticism. at least not that i could tell (i only speak about 12 words of farsi, and most of them i learned after this dinner). it was just a normal dinner. listen, if you think i'm exaggerating the case, just go to a pot-luck dinner sponsored by your local christian church. then imagine if they were told they couldn't do what they wanted where they wanted to do it. you'd be in exactly the same song. only i imagine that baptists in baton rouge would be a bit more embattled than these iranians were. but my point is that the HOMSEC shouldn't have fucked with them; freedom of speech isn't for the benefit of the people. it's to secure a stable government.
the US constitution was written by insurgents and revolutionaries. these founding fathers knew what to avoid, and they wrote it down.
so i'm disappointed because the guys at HOMSEC still don't get it. if you let people do what they want, and provide them the means to do it, you secure the homeland. this is the big clue that tyrants and dictator's just don't get. but whatever. if HOMSEC can't remember back to 1979, maybe they can remember september 11, 2001.
terrorism is a response, not an initiative.
as i chew on my lamb i consider how iran is being presented in the media these days; terrorist funders, nuclear warmongers, isolationists, aggravators. as i listen to to the kids sing iranian folk songs i think it might be worth going to visit iran and find out what the place is really like. as in early 2003, before the iraq war, i just don't trust the media. it's not trustworthy.
gossip leaves me cold. and it can inspire me to find out what's really going on. especially when it's for the sake of starting a war.
(which, i s'pose, i should make some comment on, if only for the sake of consistency) DC is the distillation of the perfect protestant dream; a numerical and grey world, a world of rigorous rules, discipline, and conservative christian values. the buildings make unconscious pretensions to be european-influenced in their grandeur (go to paris for the source of these architectural inspirations) and there are joggers everywhere; a key sign of a problematic society because it means the population is either extremely inactive or extremely concerned about appearance. the cars all look alike and everyone dresses alike; another sign of social sickness for similar reasons. i find the people that live here to be among the most competitive, most unimaginative, and least colorful of populations i've ever had the misfortune of visiting. and i'm counting forty countries and four continents. it's so competitive here that even the women are mannish.
this is the place where the united states government serves up legal culture for the rest of the world.
so that last night in DC i go out with good friends, and we go to the bar on 18th street that plays excellent music, and we drink martinis and stumble around in the streets, and talk to other drunks, and i manage to wash most of the pain of that place away.
then, morningside, i plane it back to los angeles.
it's got problems, too. but at least it's sunny.
and it's starting to feel, after a year of living here, like home.