Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Why Iran Matters to Microkhan

June 16th, 2009 · 5 Comments

iranhostages
We tend to blog best when we’re focused on relative esoterica like competitive eating, bootleg cigarettes, and the films of Klaus Kinski. But as noted in Microkhan’s mission statement, we—okay, I—reserve the right to tackle more mainstream topics when the situation warrants. And the ongoing tumult in Iran is just such an occasion.

I can’t shake the Iran story because the country is so integral to one of my formative memories: The 1979-80 hostage crisis at the American embassy in Tehran. I was five years old at the time, and had obviously never heard of Iran before. But when I saw terrifying newspaper photographs like the one above, I could only conclude that the nation was a sinister place, as dark and foreboding as fairy-tale forests. And when first impressions are made in a child’s mind, they can be tough to shake.

Over the years, of course, I’ve slowly come to discover the complexities and contradictions of Iran—the passion for science amidst theocracy, the genuine interest in democratic institutions despite the Supreme Leader’s political omnipotence, the flourishing arts amidst a climate of intellectual repression. But somewhere in the back of my mind, the five-year-old still exists. And he still can’t help but view Iran as the epitome of all that’s frightening about the world.

And so to see the streets of Tehran flooded with people demanding a most basic right—that their leaders live up to a sacred promise—has been a somewhat overwhelming emotional experience for me—even more so than watching the Berlin Wall crumble. And that’s despite the fact that the endgame is still far away, and no one—absolutely no one—can say for certain what Iran will look like a week hence.

This is basically a case of millions of brave souls exorcising some of my own childhood demons—proving to my inner kindergartner that hope can flicker anywhere. As a result, the photo at the top of this post doesn’t scare me as much as it did yesterday, or the day before. Instead, I now view it with some measure of nostalgia—a symbol of a fear that’s suddenly seems archaic. The last vestiges of my Iran-as-dark-forest viewpoint have been extinguished, thanks to images such as this and this.

There are so many reasons to be optimistic about what Iran’s movement will mean in the long run. But we also need to steel ourselves for moments of despair in the coming days. Because even though Iran will be irrevocably changed by the events of the past few days, linear progress is far from guaranteed. Tyranny does not melt away easily, because those who enforce it are so scared of change, of the unknown.

Sort of like five-year-olds, come to think of it. The future does not belong to them.

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5 Comments so far ↓

  • scottstev

    You’ve probably already read it, but Mark Bowden’s book, in which he interviewed some of the hostage takers themselves is a refreshing take on the complexity that was Revolutionary Iran at the time.

    Basically, the hostage-taking was a way for the Islamists to start taking control over the Leftists. It was the Jacobin Phase. The US was left without a negotiating partner as the Iranian Gov’t collapsed during the events. That’s part of the reason the hostage crisis lasted so long.

    Of course to a nation already frustrated with Carter, it looked like fecklessness. Bowden does good work in rehabilitating Carter’s reputation during the Crisis.

    I was a young lad during the 80’s myself. And the impression left to me about Beruit, Iran and Northern Ireland from the nightly newscasts still stick.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @scottstev: Need to read that–putting it in the queue, right behind Papillon.

    I remember the cover photo on the L.A. Times the day after the rescue mission failed. It was perhaps my earliest encounter with the concept that the U.S. was not, indeed, infallible.

    The Beirut barracks bombing sticks in my mind, too, as does the hijacking of TWA Flight 847. Funny, guess I was just born a news junkie–with an attraction to grim stories, to boot.

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