Observations from George W. Bush’s favorite menace and probable next target zone, just don’t mind the 70 million people who might be in the way.

 

A murder of crows clamored over Tehran’s Shohada Square while the gritty terrace swarmed with passenger cars, overloaded trucks, noisy motorbikes, book-toting children, browsing shoppers, white-gloved gendarmes, and loitering jobless men.

Apparently nothing but the name, translating as Martyrs Square, was left to remind busy passersby in this teeming super-metropolis of at least 20 million that the site was the violent epicenter of the start of the Iranian Revolution. On September 8, 1978 (17 Shahrivar 1357 in the Persian calendar) troops of the US-installed and supported Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi opened fire on peaceful demonstrators in what was then known as Jaleh Square. Hundreds reportedly were killed that day throughout the capital, most of them students.

Many more protesters were killed by the Iranian military in the aftermath, which resulted in a general strike that October. The Shah fled the country within weeks on January 16, with Ayatollah Khomeini returning from exile on February 1, 1979 to take control of the multi-faceted revolutionary forces. Almost three decades after that series of world-shaking events, another weakened and unpopular hardline regime is threatening to cause bloodshed again in the streets of Iran. Only this time there is no proxy involved, and the aggressor is located squarely in Washington.

A CHANGE IN THE STREETS…

The strong possibility of an American attack or invasion of Iran obviously has received much needed cover with the anti-Israel demagoguery by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. That coupled with the ongoing diplomatic tensions over Iran’s nuclear program -- is it for energy or weapons or both -- have provided George W. Bush with all the reasons he needs to justify an attack to a pliable constituency. Compared to the so-called evidence offered by Washington for its unprovoked invasion and occupation of Iraq, the case for war against the Islamic Republic of Iran as a clear and present threat to GOP business and religious interests, not to mention our so-called Israeli allies, is a slam-dunk certainty.

Let’s be honest here. Anyone who was paying attention in 2002/2003 saw the Bush invasion of Iraq coming from a mile away. It was clearly going to happen no matter what bottled masquerade Colin Powell finger paraded past the United Nations or what mushroom cloud Condi Rice huffed and puffed up our collective skirts. Too many administration watchers see the same stuff happening again in Washington’s actions toward Iran.

Those infamous real men and women wanting to hummer-step their way into the jammed roadways, blind alleys and walled neighborhoods of the Persian capital -- the neocons reportedly boosted prior to the Iraqi mess “Everybody wants to go to Baghdad, but only real men want to go to Tehran” -- are becoming ever more ascendant.

In a discussion about the tough economy here, her husband was unable to find work for the past year, a 42-year-old shop clerk was equally as interested in bashing the ruling clerics, especially in regards to older women who had no providing husbands and no hope for a decent job. “The government doesn’t love the people,” she explained with a deep sadness. “The government kills the people,” she quickly added while mimicking a rifle shot with her hands and arms.

During a festive reception I attended at a wedding hall in Tehran, very much a publicly accessible space, several middle-age women took off their headscarves as if they were at home. This was also true at the private wedding ceremony in a separate room at the same hall attended by a white turbaned cleric who sung a Koranic blessing. People mentioned that he didn’t say a thing about the uncovered female hair.

Despite its tough reputation for crackdowns on public displays of affection and femininity, the social atmosphere in Iran, at least in the capital, has noticeably loosened in recent years. The government doesn’t much care what people do, as long as they don’t get involved in politics, remarked a 57-year-old civil servant. The police there even ignore the open prostitution where it’s clearly back on the streets of the capital at night.

IN A STATE OF FLUX…

Most of the Tehran’s streets are nightmarishly crowded everyday between the morning rush hour and 10pm. Still, pedestrians unflinchingly wade into traffic whenever and wherever they need to cross. But the continual mix of vehicles and people in the roadways somehow allows enough flexibility to keep nearly everyone moving and upright.

Unless you happen to be on the north side of the city where the opulence, architecture and fashionistas are similar to the high rent districts of Beirut and Istanbul, Tehran appears to be in a state of flux. Much of it is grimy and blackened with decades of neglect. Amazingly, ubiquitous legions of uniformed street sweepers, men in dirty overalls literally sweeping trash from the sidewalks into free flowing gutter streams, actually succeed in keeping the walkways relatively unobstructed and litter free.

But alongside decrepit commercial buildings strangled by decades of unburned third-world hydrocarbons are more and more bright and clean high-rise housing units. The new living spaces are inevitably winning the heightened battle for ever more valuable real estate and are beginning to finally transform the city. Too much of the city, though, remains similar to the worst parts of abandoned urban centers in Chicago, New York or San Francisco of recent years prior to their own real estate re-investment pressures taking hold.

No one I met had any animosity for me as an American. In fact it was just the opposite. Imagine that. People in the Middle East not receiving US economic “aid” who remain welcoming to Americans. It’s almost unbelievable. And it’s not like they’ve forgotten the fact that the US planned and supported a coup to overthrow the elected government here in the early 1950’s when Washington re-installed the Shah. At worst, people simply ignored my obvious Western appearance and language. Just another carpetbagging gringo using the people and the place for his own selfish reasons. So what else is new?

A retired dentist informed me “George Bush is good! Bush is good!” and proceeded to adamantly condemn the ruling clerics. He clearly wanted help from Washington in changing the regime in Tehran. I answered that the Iranian people should do it themselves. That if the US went there many people would be killed. All you had to do is look at Iraq. Was it better off now than before the US occupation? He had no reply.

Naturally, the most important assets and resources for this ancient cultured nation are its living and breathing people. 70 million strong with a majority of the population below 35, Iranians are fiercely proud of their heritage, which has withstood centuries of clashes, invasions and occupations by no less than Alexander the Great and his Greeks, Genghis Khan and his Mongols, Muslim Arabs, and Turkic Ottomans. Throw in empire-minded Victorian English along with Czarist and Soviet-era Russians and you begin to get a picture of the renowned Persian resiliency. Remember, too, that Iran has not invaded anyone for quite a few centuries.

A WARM INVITATION…

Warm and hospitable to a fault, I have never entered an Iranian household where I was not offered food, drink and the utmost generosity of everyone present. One of the highest personal honors you can receive there is a request to dine at an Iranian’s home. They take it as a personal responsibility to ensure the comfort of their guests.

So what about all those death chants at Friday mosque gatherings and anniversaries of the infamous 1979/80 US hostage incident? When people bring that up, I always remind them that all our people were released. For an anti-American action that no one in North America can seem to forgive, due mainly to the high embarrassment factor, the outcome could have been so much worse. And yes, I’m sure there are people who believe the Death to America! calls and wish us harm. No doubt about that. But I’m always reminded of a story of marching demonstrators denouncing the west, when one of them turns to a foreign reporter and says, “But I want to take my family to Disney World!”

The human cost of a US invasion would be unimaginable. Think something like the Japanese occupation of Manchurian China in the 1930s. Plus, American forces will undoubtedly resort to widespread slaughter in the event the Iranian military puts up a stiff fight. Then look for the US officer corps to willingly resort to radical eliminations of any population centers that threaten to bog them down, making Fallujah look like a measured use of restrained force by comparison.

Tactical nuclear weapons, especially for an overtaxed hegemon, begin to look awfully tempting to a military that has already created plans and devised rationalizations for their use. The US nuking of Iran is becoming more probable every day as more decision-makers realize that conventional bombing will never be enough to destroy or cripple a well-hidden Iranian nuclear program.

Until very recently I believed that the insurgents in neighboring Iraq were enough to tie down US forces there and pretty much negate the chance for an attack on Iran. But now it’s clear to me there is probably nothing that can restrain Washington from a violent assault on this ancient, bustling and robust civilization.

Back in Shohada Square, unknowable numbers of men, women and children continued to labor under a cool blue sky still shrouded by those menacing birds.

November 2005
Photo by LJM.