Arshavez Mozafari Headshot

Closure of Embassy, Return to Iranian Antiquity

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As Iranian embassy officials depart Canada per foreign affairs minister John Baird's Friday morning decision, Nazanin Afshin-Jam, the Iranian-Canadian wife of defence minister Peter MacKay and a human rights activist who vigorously fought for the embassy's closure over the past couple months is spreading news that she is expecting her first child with the Nova Scotian MP.

During this time of untempered jubilance when the envoy of a detested government is forced to crawl back into the womb of his originator, we, as Iranians, are made to prepare for the entry into this wretched world of the child of our diaspora's beloved daughter.

For many Iranian-Canadians, the marriage between MacKay and Afshin-Jam was meant to absolve our alienated condition as distant participants in Canada's development. Finally, we were allowed to bask in the knowledge that we were right all along: We share with old stock Canadians certain core values that are rooted in antiquity. For Afshin-Jam and her cohorts such as Sayeh Hassan and Shabnam Assadollahi, the closure of the embassy represents the full blossoming of this ancient but till now unrecognized unity. Is this unity actually real?

As the Defence Minister's wife put it, "What Canada has done along with courageous peace loving Iranians everywhere is step up the pressure to bring about positive [sic] change for freedom we all desire inside Iran." These "courageous peace loving Iranians" that she refers to represent a very vigilant and injudicious group. As I will describe, this group consists of individuals who were once (and, in actuality, still are) so filled with self-hatred and embarrassment after the 1979 Islamic Revolution that they delved into the ancient past as a way of escaping the anguish associated with being linked to a theocracy.

While the return to the ancient past -- the origins -- was meant to be a homecoming where they would be met with the purest manifestations of what it means to be Iranian (as opposed to what the "alien" theocratic apparatus in Iran has been projecting since the revolution), they discovered the ancient Persian monarch Cyrus the Great having tea with Stephen Harper! Like frightened animals, Iranians escaped to the past only to find that which they currently wish to be assimilated into. What a travesty of thought...

Do you recall all those times when we wanted to evade the imposing and dauntless veneer of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the first Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic? All those shiftless excuses that we came up with early on in the 1980s are still with us today. Do you recall the days of the 1979-80 Iran Hostage Crisis when Iranians in North America started posing as other nationalities as a cowardly way of escaping irrational criticism? We were so indolent and tired of propounding cliché and thoughtless excuses that we just started pretending to be Southern Europeans.

Now, things are a little different. After escaping ourselves in this pitiful way, the 1990s brought us enough of a respite for us to engage in an ambitious project: No longer should we escape ourselves by posing as others -- let us now begin escaping ourselves by constructing a new self. Recall all the labours that went into constructing this new identity (which amounted to just repeatedly smashing two stones against one another). The construction of "Persian Pride" indeed helped us gain some marginal respect but for all the wrong reasons.

Through a sleight of hand, we were able to reinforce the indolence of the early 1980s, the passion of assuming the identity of another. In order to escape ourselves without anyone noticing, we decided to take the ideological norms of a society we yearned so dearly to be assimilated into and implanted them into the furthest reaches of our collective history.

For instance, take a look at Afshin-Jam's much publicized book The Tale of Two Nazanins. In it, she says, "Ever since the time of Cyrus the Great the region that is now Iran has encompassed people from many cultural backgrounds. Yet they lived peacefully with each other. This balance was upset when Shia Islam became the official religion of the state. Discrimination increased further after the 1979 revolution."

Forget the fact that this is one of the most vulgar distortions of Iranian history I have ever seen in print -- focus in on the comment regarding Cyrus the Great, the ancient Persian monarch of the Achaemenid period (550-330 BCE). As a way of escaping ourselves through ourselves, we have taken a prominent liberal motif (multicultural co-habitation) and embedded it in the furthest reaches of our collective history. This is something that was not there at the time! In the same way that you cannot imagine Cyrus the Great having a cup of tea with Stephen Harper, you cannot impose liberal platitudes upon Cyrus the Great's imperial strategy. These types of uneducated impositions are completely unwarranted.

Let us end with the closure of the embassy. The only way for Baird to have made this decision so effortlessly and without debate was through the forthright consent of Iranian-Canadian human rights activists such as Afshin-Jam. This consent is partly rooted in the rationale I have just described. In order to be recognized as subjects worthy of any kind of consideration, we are to assume a position that necessitates the wholesale dismissal of ourselves.

By going back in time to the ancient past and by citing Cyrus' exploits, we find that which we wish to assimilate ourselves into -- core Canadian values and nothing Iranian whatsoever! This and other contradictions are structural, of course. While members of the Iranian-Canadian human rights industry want to constantly assert their fundamentally Canadian condition, to underpin the fact that they have brought with them to Canada only the most superficial and pliable aspects of Iranian culture, they still want to underline the fact that the essence of being Iranian is within them -- that they truly embody the radically "liberal" ideals of Cyrus the Great, the "fondly remembered" patriarch of Persian pride.