“By the time they are six, Iranian children are already schizophrenic,” a young friend tells me and my friend. “I mean, when we were six, we already knew there were two worlds: one at home and one at school. We knew that we could not talk about what went on at home with our classmates. We knew how to keep secrets. Soon, we understood who we could joke with and who we had to tell that our parents prayed 100 times a day. In school, we had to learn to pray and we would look at each other and laugh. We had to chant “Death to America” every morning, and to pass each grade we had to talk about how much we hated America and how much we loved Mohammad. It’s crazy. That’s why Iranians develop such a good sense of humor. We make a joke about everything.”
“Are things still that way?” another friend asks.
“I don’t know. It was during the war with Iraq then. It was a more intense time.”
“Keivan’s niece still has to hate America and pass Koran classes. They don’t chant Down with America at her school, but some schools do. When she was younger they chanted every morning.” Sometimes I think it is good. Knowledge of the Koran means that they do not depend on the mullahs for interpretation. Iran’s youth are much better versed in the ambiguities of the Koran than their parents.
When I am out with children, they do not let me tell people that I am from America. Given the warm response I have received from almost every Iranian I have met, I wondered what they were so nervous about. Now I know: it’s school that makes them worried.