Nostalgia, Opposition, and Indifference : The Reprise of Iranian Monarchy
TEHRAN — On a cab ride through Valiasr Avenue on a wintry day in Tehran, Hamid, my 61-year-old driver, was reminiscing about pre-revolution Iran. He first recited a litany of names referring to what each famous street used to be called prior to the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Next, he filled me in on the transformation of shops and what kinds of services they offered before “everything was destroyed.” He looked on broodingly, and every other word was uttered with a maudlin tone. “Here was a bar where we used to get mean drunk on the weekends,” he says, pointing to a baby clothing store. When I asked Hamid if he was among those who took to the streets in 1979, a grave sense of regret landed on his chubby, clean-shaven face as he was nodding. And when asked about why he felt compelled to take part in the passionate protests that culminated in the collapse of the shah, Hamid told me what I was already expecting to hear. “Everyone else was out on the streets, so I simply followed suit.” Hamid is among many who dream about the resurrection of a monarchist Iran and the return of the Pahlavis, the shah’s family. He reiterated that Iran’s only salvation is in the hands of former shah’s oldest son, the so-called Prince Reza Pahlavi.
Not everyone sides with Hamid, though. Sara, a freelance illustrator and animator, is one. She was born in 1983, in the thick of the atrocious Iran-Iraq war that resulted in half a million casualties. Sara makes modest money via creating artworks. When the topic of a potential monarchy in Iran comes up, she emphasizes the Iranian annals of glorifying individuals with scant scrutiny. Sara says Iranians have a peculiar propensity for shirking individual duty and slaughtering a hero they themselves have brought into existence: “We have a rich tradition of idolizing others because it is always easier to blame someone else.” Sara believes the return of the Pahlavis won’t be any different from the type of government Iranians are having now. “Why have a new monarchy in Iran when we already have one?” says Sara.
From Sara’s perspective, the gap between the haves and the have-nots must have been wide during the shah’s time. She says some people were probably living in miserable conditions with others reaping the benefits of the system. Sara believes it is likely some people are romanticizing the time when the shah was in power, “but if everything was really perfect, the revolution wouldn’t have taken place.” The problem, however, was that people only knew they no longer wanted the shah without a concrete idea as to what they were after. The whys and wherefores of the revolution might seem irrelevant today. Some say the times were probably changing. Others believe Iran was going through a certain phase. Whatever the reason, it strikes Sara as strange that the same people who toppled the shah paved the way for an eerily similar type of government. From Sara’s point of view, as long as Iranians are constantly seeking or creating an idol, this vicious cycle will go on: “It all goes back to the fact that Iranians are irresponsible. We’re always looking for someone to come along and solve all our problems.”
Born in 2001, Parisa has just finished her high school. She is outstandingly intelligent and has attended a school for exceptional talents, graduating with honors. Parisa’s interests include social media, writing, and fashion, but she loves nothing more than digital painting. Listening to her, you notice a numbing nonchalance, and she doubtless has no “love” for Iran. Given Parisa’s age, her account of the Islamic Revolution is all based on hearsay. And she says she couldn’t care less about who runs the country: “Whether the shah is the man in power or somebody else, I don’t give a damn.” Parisa says all she wants is more freedom and, having realized she is unlikely to find it in Iran, she has decided to leave the country to start a new life elsewhere. Granted, Parisa is among the privileged children whose parents have made it possible for them to immigrate to Europe, the US, or Canada.
Mohammad Hossein, Sara’s husband and an animation director himself, was also born in the midst of the atrocious Iran-Iraq war. He recalls a lot about life in Iran in the 80s: an eerie uniformity, with everyone having the same notebook, the same eraser, the same pen. Nobody had anything unique from what others had. Rationing was in effect. Even when purchasing a tire, people had to use a coupon. Mohammad Hossein remembers vividly how he and his brother would stand in line for hours just to get two slabs of butter. Only in the 90s were people able to buy meat from the butchery. Mohammad Hossein believes that a certain majority of Iranians are populists because “they would rather hear sweet lies than bitter truths.” This is not the only area where Mohammad Hossein has unique viewpoints. He also sees a lot of his fellow countrymen as “racist,” saying the only reason many of them are seeking Reza shah’s son out is because — in their own words — he has the blood of the shah flowing in his veins. At the same time, Mohammad Hossein believes Iran is grappling with a dictator-stricken situation. Even when it comes to Persian literature, he says, there have always been good or bad kings, but at the end of the day, there has always been a king. Mohammad Hossein doesn’t have much hope in an Iranian monarchy and says such a change might at best breathe little fresh air into Iran.
By the time Hamid, my sexagenarian driver, was dropping me off at Tajrish Square, he had told me everything about his carefree, pre-revolution life: going to the movies late at night to watch Steve McQueen, lavish sex, arriving home on the weekends while inebriated, and “how affordable life was back in the seventies.” As I was readying myself to get out of the car, he drove home one final point. “Your generation is pretty gutless,” he said. “You guys cannot take back our country.” I asked him what exactly he meant, and he smiled, rather contemptuously. “Never mind. Have a good day.”