THE BURNT GENERATION, OR THE DREAMS OF A YOUNG IRANIAN

By Koorosh Afshar*

TEHRAN     Iím a young Iranian. Like many of my friends, I am also a student. Shortly after the 11 September terrorist attacks, I read an article that has stuck in my mind ever since. Its message was simple: "Nowhere in today's world can we live happy lives while at the same time, in another part of it, reactionary, militant despots plot and plan against humanity and civility from their dens".

When my peers and I gather for our regular underground meetings, we often discuss that article. It helps to remember it as we plan our next moves against the 24-year-long plague that has hit our homeland, the land of the Persians.

The article did not strike me because I suddenly lost my own security after 9/11. We had no security to lose. My generation in Iran has never known security or, for that matter, real happiness. Many of my peers have been lost to the Islamic Republic's dens of torture or solitary confinement. But, as cruel as 9/11 had been for the world, it gave me hope that the tragedy in New York and Washington would mark the beginning of many changes.

I sensed that the world would finally seek to cure the illness, rather than merely treating the symptoms of a disease we, in Iran, know all too well: clerical fundamentalism and militancy.

But even as we Iranians push against our regime, we wish to share with you our story, in the hope of arousing in you an urge to lend moral support to our desire to end the mullahs' regime.

Clerical militancy has not only brought upon us the wrath of the Western world, but has also led to desperation for the many Iranians suffering under the Islamic Republic. My generation of Iranians, and there are some 32 million of us born just before or shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

I have heard that in America, our peers are known as "Generation X". But in Iran, we are called the "burnt generation". We started our political lives early. As children in kindergarten, we learned to march and beat our fists, shouting: "Down with America!" "Down with Israel!" (or from time to time, depending on the politics of the day, Britain or Russia). No one ever bothered telling us anything about why we were supposed to harbour such ill will towards the "Satan-of-the-day".

Years before the world cared about Saddam, we got to know him all too well. As children we sought refuge in our mothers' arms as his artillery and missiles rained down on our homes, day and night, for months on end. My peers all have stories about that eight-year nightmare. We lost fathers, brothers, arms and legs, cities, villages. And above all, my generation lost its innocence, to what, at the end, became the mullahs' war of political convenience.

After the New York tragedy, I remember helplessly crying when I read one day, on the Internet, about how careful Americans were to protect their children from emotional scars. Your government experts and teachers recommended that parents reinforce their love for children and keep their little ones from watching television.

When we had our tragedies, our leaders, whether "reformer" or "hardliner", sought to fill our streets with hysterical mobs carrying coffins on their shoulders and chanting war slogans. This we saw live every day, in our streets and on television, for eight long years. Can you imagine the "emotional scars" on a 6-year-old seeing the burnt skeleton of his father, his weeping mother by its side? I can. I am that child.

My family's "sacrifice" on behalf of the mullahs' "holy war" is supposed to bring me and many thousands like me certain entitlements such as food coupons, guaranteed university admittance, and employment. At first, we did receive special pensions. But today, there is little left for those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their homeland.

The "Foundation of the Oppressed" charged with protecting our interests has become a multibillion-dollar fiefdom for Tehran's Islamist thieves. Only the well-fed children and siblings of the clerical elite benefit now. They retain absolute control over every imaginable moneymaking venture in Iran. From pistachios and satellite dishes to opium and oil, anything that makes money is divvied up among the mullahs. Mr. Rafsanjani and his children can tell you. They lead the list of our Islamist thieves.

Today, however, despite our despair, we have found hope. Hope among ourselves. Hope in our numbers. Hope in the fact that the world seems to finally be caring. Hope in the fact that we may at last have a chance against the mullahs' rule.

Yet, we are nervous. Nervous of the endless debate among your opinion-makers: Shall we, or shall we not listen to the Iranian people? Is their discontent real or is it not? Should we engage moderate Islamists or should we not? Axis or no Axis?

Listen to our story. It is the story of life. It is the story of liberty. It is the story of the unalienable right to pursue happiness. It is the dream that made America, America. We have been deprived of the very basic rights that you take for granted every day in your free world. We, too, want and deserve the freedom to dress, to speak and to assemble. The freedom to love and the freedom to dream.

We do not need military intervention in Iran. We do not need clandestine operations either. We need nothing but your resolve. Lend us a hand and we will take care of the rest. How, you ask? Simple: Do not deal with our mullahs. It isn't only America's children that deserve to dream. ENDS STUDENT MEMOS 20104

Editorís note: Koorosh Afshar is a pseudonym for a student in Tehran. His name has been changed for his protection.