And then the dictates of the Iranian mullahs clamped down on that flowering of joy and delight -- and Hakakian and her Jewish Persian family ended up unwilling emigrants to the Great Satan, to the United States. For many years, she didn't talk about her early life, until coaxed to speak when hints of "moderation" periodically peeked out from the Iranian present. A radio talk (with Terry Gross on NPR, naturally) last summer alerted me to this fascinating memoir.
I think I risk being one of Hakakian's "misguided Americans." She explains she seldom spoke of her life because...
I don't want to be one of those, though perhaps I am. More than many in the United States, I was aware of the horrors of the Shah's pre-1979 regime: families like Hakakian's sent their sons to northern California for college -- and to get them out of the political cross hairs. I remember spending Thanksgiving evening in 1967 in Berkeley with three young (as they called themselves) Persian Jewish guys who were both literally and metaphorically intoxicated on this holiday in a strange land they found marvelously free. I was vaguely aware that the U.S. CIA had short-circuited Iranian progress toward democratic self-government in the 1950s and imposed the Shah.
As a proper liberal young insurgent of the 1960s, I had no doubt that U.S. meddling in Iran had been an evil thing.
And so, in 1979 and thereafter, I did give the mullahs some benefit of the doubt. But mostly, I gave them the pass that I think U.S. progressives pretty much have to give to most states in most of the world. It's an awful truth that United States intervention can't help. Indigenous governments may treat their own people terribly -- but the easiest way to cement their legitimacy is for the superpower of the day to challenge their behavior. Hard as it is for us to to see here, this empire's government -- with its invasions and occupations and renditions and torture chambers -- has no moral standing to critique the human rights violations of others.
Individual citizens of this country can take a harder line -- and agitate -- via international organizations. But our first responsibility is to rein in our own government. The very considerable freedoms we enjoy create an ethical imperative to use them. At this time, our responsibility is to get the U.S. out of Iraq and Afghanistan. We also need to continue to discourage our government from making aggressive moves against Iran.