Recent stories about U.S. plans to carpet bomb Iran on or about April 6 have forced me to compare my own American sensibilities with those of Iranians I live among here in Tehran. I’ve been suffering from flashbacks of 9-11 and the anthrax scare. I keep checking the internet for “news” that will help me decide if we need to start planning our escape to a safer out-of-town refuge.
Yesterday we were celebrating the last day of the Persian New Year holiday with a large group of relatives. Feeling out of sorts, I felt obliged to tell a few people about the reported threat that the U.S. might bomb us this coming Friday. They all laughed. “Don’t worry, Rosa. It’s not going to happen. I promise you! Just relax.” That from someone who’s been through, shall we say, a lot.
Why don’t my relatives—who are perfectly willing to admit that they lose sleep over other kinds of usual human worries—become nervous basket cases like so many of us New Yorkers did during the anthrax scare? Why are Iranians, as some commentators have noted, “in denial” about the U.S. threats, even with these aircraft carrier groups right off the coast and U.S. and British boats and planes taunting Iranian border patrols? Why do people say that this is just psychological warfare?
Well, for one thing, these people have experience with taunts and threats. A good many Iranians—top government officials, lower-level bureaucrats, labor organizers, students, intellectuals (including several people I know)—have been political prisoners under the Shah’s regime. Others have put in jail time under the Islamic Republic. Some have been in and out of detention under both governments. Anyone who’s been in jail here has learned to recognize empty threats, stand up to torture (both psychological and physical), and resist intimidation.
Add to that the fact that everyone in Iran over age 25 has lived through an earthshaking revolution and then through a devastating war with Iraq that killed a million people overall. Graves of the dead, as well as wounded survivors, are part of everyone’s surroundings. (Enthusiasm for another revolution seems to hover somewhere below zero percent.) Also, living in the Islamic Republic has not exactly been a cakewalk all these years, either.
What do survivors of dictatorship, revolution, war, and possibly prison have that make America’s threats to bomb Iran useless? Nerves of steel.
Rationally speaking, now that I’ve started to “get a grip,” I too must admit that the threat of a real attack looks quite unlikely from this part of the world. “With what army?” folks might ask. Iran is a lot bigger than Iraq, so ... well, do the math.
Of course, some folks aren’t worried because they have the impression, possibly from personal experience, that we Americans are basically nice people who wouldn't do this to them. I’ve met folks who overdo it—they seem to imagine that Bush’s “smart missiles” would neatly target just certain objectionable mullahs, thereby magically restoring “freedom.” But I think fewer people believe this now that they’ve seen what happened to Iraq.
In the final analysis, with or without nerves of steel, Iranians can’t be easily intimidated because of their historically deep culture, which has survived the Mongol invasion and the Arab invasion and the various modern imperialisms. Iranians fully expect, and intend, for their beloved culture to survive any new threats. With a culture rich in poetry and in knowledge of human relationships and emotions, Iranians can face—and help each other through—death and grief better than any other people I’ve met. With a history stretching back thousands of years, they view the U.S. as relatively young and inexperienced. The world’s strongest man, Hossein Rezazadeh, lives in a proud land of weightlifters, wrestlers, mountain climbers, skiers, artisans, artists, poets, chess players, and mathematical geniuses.
Give it up, Mr. Bush. You can’t beat these people. And there’s no reason to try, anyway.