Saturday, August 09, 2003


“I thought the banners meant that we were having another revolution,” K said when he saw all of the white banners hanging from houses. “During the revolution, there were white banners everywhere.”

When you leave Tehran and go south and west, you see white banners and strings of colored lights everywhere. Neighbors, friends, and family paint the banners to welcome back people who are now making pilgrimages to Karbala. On K’s mother’s street there are at least two families who have recently returned from a pilgrimage to Karbala. Everyone I know knows someone who has gone or someone who is going. “Why these people would go now when it is so dangerous is something I don’t understand,” a friend of ours tells me. “But my friend is going. I told him that it is dangerous. I told him that many people are being arrested as spies. Maybe they really are spies, I don’t know. But if they are arrested, no one can help them.” No one can help, because officially Iran still has a closed border with Iraq. The American military is supposed to keep the border closed as well, but from what we hear, they are welcoming the pilgrims. In fact, I have seen several young men wearing US military fatigues. I wonder if they are souvenirs.

“My grocer told me that he is sacrificing a lamb in honor of George Bush. ‘We love Bush,’ he told me,” an American woman tells me. “Sometimes he even calls him ‘W.’” The pilgrims believe that the American military has opened a door for them, and that door is Karbala. Karbala is one of three important pilgrimage sites for Shi’ites. Someone else can tell you why. For a long time now (exactly how long, I am not sure), Saddam has prevented Iranians from making pilgrimages to Karbala.

The returning pilgrims say that the American soldiers have pills that make water cold. (Is that true? At first I thought, no way. But now I have heard it from several sources. None of whom, by the way, believe the story.) They say that the American military is saying; “Khomeini good! We love Iranians.” Could they possibly be saying “Khomeini good?” Maybe they mean Hossein Khomeini (see below…)

Iranians love Americans…

…And they will continue to lover Americans if we can avoid acting on their suggestion that we “give them their freedom.”

Ken Wheaton (As I Please) sent me this quote from the grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini, Hossein Khomeini:

"In Iran, the people really need freedom and freedom must come about. Freedom is more important than bread. But if there's no way for freedom in Iran other than American intervention, I think the people would accept that. I would accept it, too, because it's in accord with my faith."

He wanted to know if I was hearing similar things. What can I say, every day I hear similar things. (K hears this even more than I do since of course his Persian is better.) Iranians also say that they do not want a revolution. “If the regime would just leave us alone, they could stay,” I hear. I also hear that the nation is ready to go to war against any invader. “If we have to, we will fight,” I hear. “The people are ready.”

The more I stay here, and the more I hear, the more I wonder what Iranians mean by freedom. What is it that they actually want? Our friend’s brother complained that when the democracy demonstrators asked people to support them by driving nearby and honking their horns, only a few cars showed up. “All you had to do was drive your car there and honk. If the police asked you why you were there, and why you were honking, you could just say that you were stuck in traffic.”

People tell me they are afraid of the regime. Trust me, I know that this regime has done terrible things, but this is not a nation of timid people afraid to speak their minds. The Iranians I meet seem more afraid to tell their host that they are thirsty than to complain about the regime. What does this all mean? I don't know. Sorry.

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