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Reading "Guernica" in Tehran

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I often worry about my own country bombing me.

I live with my husband in Iran, and this is one of the countries on Bush’s blacklist. That wouldn’t worry me so much if it weren’t that huge swaths of the American public—not to mention my own Senators—have apparently swallowed the hype and blacklisted us, too.

Living Guernica?

If the U.S. or Israel does bomb us, not for a minute will I believe even one of their official excuses. I was here right after the revolution when the chosen puppet of the U.S. –Mr. Self-named King of Kings Mohammed Pahlavi—was thrown out. I was here when Iraq invaded and the UN Security (?!) Council couldn’t manage to condemn that act of aggression or Iraq’s subsequent use of chemical weapons. Nobody was talking back then about “tilting toward Iraq” because Iran had invested a lot of money in building nuclear power plants. No, the power elite in the USA just wanted to either get back into Iran somehow or make Iran pay big-time for having rebelled against the empire.

Which is not to say—oh ye of little independent thought—that I love the mullahs or “condoned” somebody’s flying hijacked airplanes into two skyscrapers a block from my office in New York City. I do feel very discouraged, though, to hear that so many of my fellow New Yorkers are so brainwashed that they have to make a big fuss when one particular foreign president wants to lay a wreath at Ground Zero. (Hello, it wasn’t Iran that bombed the Towers. They sent condolences. They don’t like bin Laden.)

For the last year, I’ve been the only person I know in Tehran who’s been worrying about all this. But now Israel has bombed Syria, and in the last few days high Iranian government officials have been warning the U.S. and Israel to back off. New cause for concern?

Reading “Guernica.” Life goes on regardless. Earlier this evening I was invited to a small cultural event sponsored by some writers and artists. On the way there, we passed the statue of Iran’s most revered writer, Ferdowsi. Statues of poets are common in public squares in Iran, a country where anyone—from a character in a TV situation comedy to an electrical engineer to the deputy director of a telephone company office—may quote poetry at any moment.  My 09-11-07 article describes just such an incident: http://www.opednews.com/articles/opedne_rosa_sch_070910__22blackbeard_22_bin_lad.htm

This evening’s program consisted of two short films. The first was a historical film about one of the nomadic tribes. Pretty. Then someone announced that they were going to play a 1950 black and white French film, and that this was probably the first time it had been shown in Iran. The film was Alain Resnais’ “Guernica.” The narration was in French, a poem by Paul Éluard (http://www.marseilleveyre.org/guernica1937/eluard.htm), but the shots of art by Pablo Picasso and the photographs of the town of Guernica after the Nazi bombing told it all. The slaughter of those two thousand people inspired Picasso to paint an anti-war masterpiece that hangs today in the United Nations building in New York. Engraved over the entrance to the UN is a moving poem (more beautiful in the original Persian) about human brotherhood by the Iranian poet Saadi, written during the era of the Mongol invasion:

“Regardless of color, creed, and shape of our face,
We are all members of one family: The Human Race,
If one member ails and you do not offer a solace,
In the Family of Man, you do not deserve a place.”


I wonder if Fallujah, or heaven-forbid Isfahan, will inspire another heart-rending work of art to be displayed at the United Nations?

One of the writers at tonight’s event had translated Éluard’s poem from French into Farsi (Persian). [I didn’t understand the French or the Farsi very well and couldn’t find an English translation; there are references to death, women, children, blood.] When he finished his eloquent, emotional reading, everyone clapped.

That was the end of the program. It was sunset now. Perhaps some people had been fasting all day for Ramadan and were eager to get home to eat. We had tea and pastries, socialized a little, said goodbye to everyone (in Iran you generally say hello and goodbye individually to everyone in the room, standing up), and headed for home.

My husband and I shared a cab with the man who’d translated Paul Éluard’s poem into Farsi. I asked him why we had read “Guernica” tonight. “No special reason,” he replied, continuing that he’d just finished the translation and this film was on the schedule. Then he glanced over at me and smiled for a moment, but I couldn’t tell in the dark what his look meant.

Last week, this writer’s wife and I had been comparing notes on what we’d heard about U.S./Israeli intentions to bomb Iran. We speculated on what if anything the lovely guys in office here could do differently to try to avert disaster. Neither of us are the praying type, but suddenly she sighed, “God help us.”

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Rosa Schmidt is an American married to an Iranian, hence the second last name, Azadi.  She's a long-time peace activist with a background in anthropology, education, and public health.  She's also one of the people who walked away (more...)
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