Iran: Thirty Years After the Shah
I was six and half years old when the Iranian revolution happened. Aside from hearing some gunshots, I don't remember much.
Events after the revolution are more vivid. Within one year after coming to power, Ayatollah Khomeini's forces turned their guns against their former allies, the Mujahedin-e-Khalq Organization (MEK). The regime was doing its best to root out their hidden cells in Tehran. During a shopping trip to assist my grandmother, one such establishment was suddenly attacked by the members of the security forces belonging to the local Islamic committee.
We were pinned against the wall as a hail of bullets were fired into it. We slowly made it back to my grandmother's house, and there we saw Saeed. Nicknamed nardeboon (ladder in Persian) by my mother and uncles for his height, Saeed started to calm us all down. His family, devout Shiites, had been my grandmother's neighbors for more than two decades. They were very close to my mother's family.
After the revolution, Saeed suddenly became a devout follower of Khomeini, and there he was directing the attacks against the Mujahedeen cell with the rest of his comrades, while simultaneously reassuring us that we were in safe hands.
The killings between the two sides continued unabated. I encountered it once again after I was run over by a car while doing what I loved - playing football on the streets of Tehran. The bumper of the car hit the edge of my left eye. A couple more centimeters and it would have hit my temple, perhaps leaving me dead. That night the ambulance that shuttled me was turned away from three different hospitals, because they were overflowing with people who had been shot and injured in a massive confrontation between MEK and government forces. The fourth hospital accepted me. My parents were already panicking by then, especially once I began vomiting blood.
Thankfully, I survived and lived on to play more football on the streets of Tehran, and to be run over again - twice more, to be exact.
Saeed was not so lucky. He went on to do what he loved and lost his life to an artillery shell defending Iran against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. I wasn't allowed to participate in his funeral procession. I had to watch from the window as his brother Mehdi led the participants. Beating his chest, he chanted baradare shaheedam, shahadatat mobarak: my martyred brother, congratulations for your martyrdom. Thoughts of revenge overtook me. A few days later I asked my father if I could join the army so I could go and kill Iraqis. Not a customary request from a 10-year-old Jewish boy from Tehran.
Memories of those days will always stay with me: memories of a close friend who swore revenge for the torture and murder of his father at the hands of the Islamic regime because he belonged to the Tudeh (Iranian communist) movement; an 11-year-old who used to work out every day so that one day he could go and kill government agents. I used to aid him by jump on his stomach, because he wanted to increase his pain threshold. I was very thin and light, and thankfully he had very tough stomach muscles. I never found out if he succeeded. We soon lost touch after my family left Iran.
I was only a young spectator. My experiences pale in comparison to what others had to go through: People whose family members were killed and their bodies dismembered. If they were lucky, they received the parts in a bag. Others were not even allowed to see the bodies of their loved ones. Others were raped, both men and women.
Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi died 30 years ago this year. To commemorate, BBC Persian has been running programs looking back on the Shah's life, and I have spent every minute wondering whether life has become better or worse since the revolution and his death. The Shah was of course no democrat. He also tortured. He was also corrupt.
The revolution was supposed to change all that. But in reality it has been a failure. After 31 years, the Islamic Republic and its rulers have made life far worse for most of the 67 million citizens. Iran today is going through one of its darkest periods, both internally and abroad. Under the current regime, leaders have become masters of killing their own and pillaging the country to line their pockets. The Islamic Republic has killed and tortured more than the Shah, and despite its religious exterior, it is more corrupt. Far more.
When comparing the two, I find that an increasing number of people now look back on the Shah's regime as better. Between the Islamic Republic and an Imperial Iran, I would choose the latter any day. Let's hope that future offers Iranian more choices, including the best choice of all: democracy.