8:00 AM, Nov 10, 2011 • By LEE SMITH
Hakakian: I’m astounded by how much Americans don’t know about what has happened in Iran, Also I’m surprised that the exile community has failed to communicate basic information. Iranian exiles in the U.S. have been so humiliated by the regime that we’ve put up a front—we keep saying we belong to a glorious civilization, which makes us wrongly busy about who we are and where we come from, which means we’ve not communicated enough about what we’ve suffered. This Persian nationalism has gotten in the way of communicating what the Islamic Republic has done.
Let’s get over the idea that as Iranians we have to tell Americans we come from a great civilization. In a way we are disowning the most contemporary and relevant fact about what we suffered. Part of the reason why we haven’t told these stories is that we are ashamed of them. These stories are ugly things that you don’t show strangers. We are afraid of looking bad. The dislike for Ahmadinejad, for instance, is so strong that we find ourselves defending our own image. We worry about fixing our image without worrying about how to get rid of him.
TWS: Does the Green movement in Iran suffer from the same issues as the exile community?
Hakakian: One thing yet to happen is for everyone to reject regime on every front, in every sense. A part of why we are stuck with the regime is that we have been unable to create our own narrative, our own independent version of history. That leaves the protest movement capable of presenting itself as political opposition, but not as cultural and historical opposition.
With the opposition to the Shah, the Pahlavi regime was rejected in every possible way— its penchant for modernity, its affiliation with the U.S., everything that the Shah’s regime represented was rejected. Everyone knew about what happened under the Savak, the Shah’s secret police. Leftists/Marxists could agree with the mullahs about the narrative.
But the current protest movement has not yet articulated a position as widespread as the revolution’s. It’s not enough to say women are against the veil. Movement against theocracy is of such magnitude that it needs a historical and cultural context. We don’t have that yet. The protest movement doesn’t even have its own vocabulary yet. The green movement shouted “Allahu akbar,” but this what they shouted against the Shah. Granted, this other narrative is harder to construct because now it is going against the people who say they represent God. But if you look at Egypt and others now toying with theocracy, it’s the narrative the Middle East as a region needs to construct. Until we turn the narrative upside down, we will not have what it takes to fight the regime.