It simply made sense at the time. This was pre-9/11- American relations were as warm with the country as they’d ever been since the fall of the Shah. My mother never stopped telling me how beautiful Tehran is, how modern and wonderful and- and she wanted to go back. She loved dad too much to tell him, because he would have taken it personally. The country was looking for scholars, and that’s what I was at the time. I didn’t tell either of them until my plane arrived; dad just stopped talking at that point, and handed the phone to mom, and I could tell she was hiding her exuberance as best she could.
I was just starting my Junior year when September 11th happened. And at first it was surprising to see the upwell of support from everyone- even the French. Teachers, friends, anyone who knew me well enough checked to see that I was okay. For a still moment it felt like the world was at peace.
Usually it’s a few rotten apples that ruin the barrel; a group of students organized a rally- in support of the murder of Americans. I cried. I spent the better part of a week in my room, not because I was afraid- enough people knew I was American that hiding wouldn't have helped- but I was just… crippled. America was where I was born, but because of my mother, I had always felt this was my home- and my home had become a place without compassion.
I didn’t leave. Imperfect though it was, what the country needed was strong citizens, willing and courageous enough to stay and work for reform- and a world where this kind of hate earned the revulsion it deserved. Patriotism doesn’t end at defending your country from foreign influences- it’s greatest necessity is fighting for tomorrow, often against your own countrymen.
I graduated near the top of my class, and got hired on as an assistant at the university, working towards a full teaching position of my own. I was there when the government captured the British Marines, shocked at the steps we were willing to take to provoke an anti-western movement. I was outraged when the government arrested a pair of educators and a journalist as spies. I wrote a letter to the President outlining why this was absolutely the wrong way to go about this. I received a rather threatening visit from the local police chief, but nothing more ever came from it.
I was at the university when a cleric was named chancellor. I was there when the students protested this, and I was there when he purged 45 teachers as part of a push for secularization of the schools. I was there when several three star students were arrested and removed from the political science program for being overly active in politics. I staid when the first professor was arrested, even though I did not believe them when they said it was an isolated affair. Against my judgment I staid when the next professor simply disappeared. But that was the end. I recognized that the power and corruption and determination of those in power was too strong; it would not allow reasoned discourse, and could therefore never be reformed by it. It was a moment of weakness, but also a recognition of the futility inherent in my effort, as I did what so many intellectuals had done, before and since: