Thursday, 7 July 2011

Where the Persian cat sleeps ...

In her book ‘The Golden Cage, Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi compares the lives of 3 Iranian brothers; an Islamist, a communist and a royalist. While hailing from the same family, residing in the same country, each chooses a dramatically divergent path, only to be brought together in the end by their sister Pari’s innate understanding that each path would ultimately lead to ruin, simply by nature of its exclusive separatism!
The book, based on a true story, offers an incredibly accurate portrayal of the challenges and ethical dilemmas facing contemporary Iranians today. It is a very welcome departure from the Iranian exiles who have cashed in on the West’s appetite for novels documenting how awful Iran is (lipstick Jihad being an excellent case in point!). The book traces the tightrope between honesty and resignation, between culture and religion, between individuality and conformity; questions that Reza and I have begun asking ourselves, and on behalf of our unborn children!
The challenge for us, and arguably for all exiles; is how to depict the culture of the homeland accurately and without dubiety, especially when we have so obviously made a conscious decision not to live there! Will frequent visits home do the country justice? Is Persian TV really enough? Or do these sanitised experiences only further marginalize and showcase the country, reducing it to nothing more than a pastime, an old tradition observed with no apparent rhyme or reason!

It would be fine if we hated Iran or had chosen to reject all that it stands for. Similarly, it would be easy to confined Iran if we were choosing an Iranian life outside of the country! There is an entire Iran located in North London, and that seems to work for most people! The thing is; despite the many social/political, ethical and economic barriers that ostracise so many Iranians today, my husband loves his country! Sure he recognises the things that are wrong with it; and makes no secret of those when discussing Iran; but all the same, he is passionately patriotic about his homeland. He keeps up with the news, he adores the Persian language, literature, music, poetry and arts. He encapsulates the values that underpin the real essence of Iran; and, while our relationship would have meant that Iran would always be on my radar, I don’t think I would have adopted it with such love, or been so adamant about taking Iranian Nationality were it not for that passion! Of course; much of my understanding comes through my family lens; a perspective that can easily be past on to our children. By creating a home full of Persian art, food, language and beauty as we have done, would almost certainly create a pure fluffy image of the Persian cat that is home! Only, just how real would that be! I’m all for celebrating the positives, but keeping it real is more important to me! It is frankly impossible to talk about the beauty of Iran, without acknowledging all that has gone wrong! Just the same as its impossible to criticise Iran without recognising the wonder contained within it.
At the beginning of this post, I recognised that many exiles face this problem, however I notice that within most Muslim communities there is a tendency to celebrate culture through expressions of faith. This can bring its own problems (i.e., adopting practises in the name of Islam which are not actually requirements of faith), however it can bring many positives as well! This is not really an avenue open to us. For a start, Iran was never an exclusively Muslim country! Though the extremists hate to acknowledge it, Iran is made up of Christians, Jews, Baha’is, Zoroastrians, suni/shia Muslims and a number of other religious sects on top of that! Iranian culture is not necessarily Islamic culture, as some Arab cultures may claim to be, and the government in their wisdom (or lack thereof), tried to integrate Islam in to the core fabric of Iranian political conscious by eradicating aspects of Persian culture! Sure; I’ll be raising my children Muslim, but there is a strong prerequisite that demands Iran and Islam are kept as far away from one another as possible! Many Iranians now reject Islam because their lack of knowledge has lead them to believe that adherence is equal to support for the regime!
Iran doesn’t enjoy a fantastic place in the Western media spectrum at present! Sure this may change, but doesn’t it only make my praise for the Nation seem fake and misplaced? I have lots of logical, thought-out answers for my children, but kids don’t want/grasp rhetoric; they can only do realism; vibrant, lived examples!
When thinking about why I chose to take on Iranian Nationality; it was primarily for convenience! With an Iranian passport, I could come and go to the country as I liked without headaches over visas and continual pitch battles with the Embassy! My children and I would always share one common nationality, wherever we ended up living, and, though I hate to think about it, if any thing unthinkable separated Reza and I, no one could force me from the country! The issue of not living there however, is one we’ve also had to challenge! We are not living there now; and it doesn’t feel neither safe nor practical to do so right now. If our visa application is rejected, we may need to review our stance! And even if we do settle more permanently in Scotland, I don’t want Iran to be the place we visit, maybe, twice in a lifetime! In my experience the children who adjust well in mixed race marriages are those who flit seamlessly between the 2 countries and cultures. Both are fully incorporated in to the fabric of their every day lives. I may even want to take my children to Iran for a few years, so that they regard it as home, just as Scotland is home! But having said that, I need to get more “homely” with Iran myself! I’m learning Farsi and that helps, but I haven’t found a niche for myself in Iran yet, as I did in Pakistan! Now that Iran is covered, what about Scotland? While this country might be more developed in terms of human rights, disability equality etc, it has its own problems! There isn’t a vibrant Muslim community to speak of, the weather is awful, we have a massive sectarian issue (catholic/protestant), and a world-famous drink problem! Scotland, too, may not be the best place to raise our children! Reza may not even like it! its home to me, but not necessarily to him! Home may end up being some neutral corner, where we both start over fresh, on more of an equal footing. It may be that our children buy in to one culture more than the other, and one of us may lose out! I don’t necessarily mind that, just so long as I know that I’ve not closed any doors on them and have given them an ‘access all areas in to both! I think mixed race children often find themselves lost in a curious fusion sub-culture that is unique to them and makes sense only to them. I’ve seen a good few visually impaired people doing the same thing and don’t think its particularly helpful! This is the real world; it’s the real deal and its all we have got! Carving a place in it doesn’t only come through autonomy or having a face that fits, rather it has much more to do with confidence and a sense of belonging! That is what we have to somehow inculcate in to our children! Shirin Ebadi doesn’t describe the golden cage with a door! Its easy to get in to, but will take a lifetime to get out of if at all! I pray we can give our children golden wings (well, they’ll save on flights!), but above all, they’ll learn that the air that holds them up remains the same, wherever they are; and they’ll learn that home is as much about what they bring with them, as what they find, both above and beneath those wings!

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