Country: Iran (Persia, pre-1935)
Local name: Iran
Title: The Septembers of Shiraz
Author: Dalia Sofer (Iranian-American)
Published: 2007 Pages: 338
Acclaim: A New York Times Notable Book; National Bestseller
Time Period: 1981-1982, after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, during which the reigning monarchy (headed by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi) was replaced by an Islamic theocracy ruled by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Summary: When a Jewish gem dealer is arrested for profiting under the Shah’s rule, he struggles to survive the deadly and unjust prison system, his wife deals with increasing hostility from her Arab housekeeper, his daughter attempts to save others from her father’s fate and his son fights off loneliness in New York City.
My opinion: Sofer’s own experiences lend the story authenticity – her own father “disappeared” for several months and her family eventually fled Iran. Despite her tragic past and the novel’s somber plot, Sofer infuses her tale with fondness for her native country. A fast read.
In my book, or how Iran has affected me and maybe you, too:
On November 4, 1979, in the name of the Iranian Revolution and the Ayatollah Khomeini, a group of students took over the American Embassy in Tehran and held 66 Americans hostage, demanding that President Carter surrender the despised and recently overthrown Shah of Iran, who was being treated for cancer in New York.
At the time the hostages were taken, I was attending second grade on an American military base in Germany; patriotism and concern for our servicemen and women was intense. At Christmastime, we wrote letters to the hostages. In the playground, we actually asked each other who we wanted to be president – Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan (I went with Reagan, since I thought he was slightly better looking). Some kids used important-sounding big words like “republican” and “democrat” and a few of them said bad things about Carter, although I wasn’t sure why. It seemed we would never get our hostages back.
Finally on January 20, 1981 (the day Ronald Reagan took office), the 52 remaining hostages – and a collective, long-held American breath – were released.
The evil that countries do…
I don’t often listen to State of the Union addresses and when I do, I generally don’t find them memorable. However, this part of President George W. Bush’s 2002 address was an exception:
“Iran aggressively pursues these weapons [weapons of mass destruction] and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people’s hope for freedom. … States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.”
Way to pick a fight bud! Mere months after kicking off an unfinished war in Afghanistan, he’s ticking off names on a “next to be invaded” list. I expected more diplomacy from my country’s president.
Not only that, but according to Bush’s above criteria, the U.S. could have qualified as “evil” at the time:
- The U.S. was (and still is) the world’s biggest military spender and owner of the world’s largest nuclear arsenal – an aggressive pursuit of weapons if there ever was one.
- The U.S. was being run by an “unelected” leader – George W. Bush – the people had elected Al Gore.
- The previous October, Bush had kicked off Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, a war unauthorized by the United Nations. Possibly a threat of “peace to the world”?
That being said, Iran far surpasses many countries in human rights violations/evil deeds, including:
- Amputation and public flogging of criminals
- 346 executions in 2009, including two by stoning, and eight children
- Legal discrimination against women and homosexuals
- Censorship of the press
- Denial of religious freedom to the Baha’i
- Torture and mistreatment of prisoners
- Election tampering and the arrest of political dissenters
Since he was elected in 2005, Ahmadinejad has become the public face of Iran, despite the fact that he is one job title below the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei. He’s one of the few world leaders that I can identify on sight.
Ahmadinejad dials up Iran’s evil factor by insisting on developing nuclear power, declaring that the Holocaust is a myth and that Israel should be “wiped off the map”, trampling human rights and “winning” Iran’s disputed 2009 presidential election.
Three countries – Iran, Turkey and Afghanistan – claim him as their greatest poet. And after selling more than 500,000 copies of Rumi’s books in the past 15 years, America can claim him as our nation’s bestselling poet!
In a time when Iran is vilified and a nine-year war in Afghanistan drags on, how is an ancient Middle Easterner with Islamic roots be so beloved?
Preeminent Rumi scholar Majid M. Naini says, “Rumi said, ‘From love, thorns become flowers.’ … “Rumi’s visions, words, and life teach us how to reach inner peace and happiness so we can finally stop the continual stream of hostility and hatred and achieve true global peace and harmony.”
I own a copy of The Essential Rumi translated by Coleman Barks, the scholar who is credited with bringing Rumi’s works into the American mainstream. Although I haven’t read the whole book, I dip into it every now and again and always find something memorable:
“Beauty surrounds us,
but usually we need to be walking
in a garden to know it.
The body itself is a screen
to shield and partially reveal
the light that’s blazing
inside your presence.”