My Father the Refugee

The threat of a storm is gathering in the East, yet we in the West remain oblivious. Tensions between Iran and Israel are edging the two nations closer to a conflict, yet a sense of political apathy has overtaken the populace.

Despite several mentions in the news, the topic is only lingering in the back our collective social consciousness. Whatever we may think, the possibility of war will have a global effect. Even McDaniel students aren’t immune to it. One of the many citizens of our country that has a personal stake in this war happens to be someone very close to me- my father.

Born as part of the Bakhitari tribe in the small town of Parsumash in 1962, my father fondly recalled having “a very fulfilling childhood” growing up with seven brothers and two sisters in an Iran ruled by the Shah. Despite the fact that he grew up in a small town, my father was gifted with an awareness of his homeland’s political consciousness.

Parsumash was funded by one of the National Oil Companies located in Iran, and a good portion of my father’s relatives and neighbors worked for the company. “We were much more influenced by Western Culture”, my father recounted to me. “We were more aware of current affairs than the rest of the country. And there were a lot of things happening based on the oil.”

Yet this seeming paradise was built upon the foundations of imperialism, thanks in large part to the Shah of Iran, who became increasingly unpopular with the people. It wouldn’t be until the Islamic Revolution of 1979 that the Shah would be overthrown and exiled from the country, never to return.

As a teenager during the revolution, my father reasoned that, “the psyche of the Shah was ingrained in us. He had chances to do better, and he didn’t.” Yet the worst was yet to come when the Ayatollah Khomeini made his return from exile to claim supreme leadership of the country.

“When the time came with this Khomeini stuff, people didn’t get up for Khomeini for a religious purpose,” my father said, his voice carrying hints of bitterness. “I’m not saying everybody did, and I don’t think anybody did in the beginning. Even after the Shah left, it wasn’t clear that it was going to be an Islamic Revolution.” Yet that was exactly what happened, and for many Iranians like my father, their country had become even worse than before the revolution.

A classmate of my father, his brother, and sister were all arrested by the new regime without being given a trial, and all three were swiftly executed soon after. I asked my father what their crime was.

“That they were Communists, or they were Socialists, or they were something from the West. They weren’t Muslim,” he said.

It wasn’t long before my father himself was arrested by the forces of the new Government for distributing political literature. Even now when I talk to him about his time in prison, his gaze darkens, and he can barely say a few words before changing the subject.

He was drafted into the Iranian Army during the Iran-Iraq War, but thanks in part to some of his friends; he was smuggled out of the country. He traveled north to Denmark where he met my mother and would eventually move with her to the United States. Not once during this period has my father ever returned to his country, nor does he plan on returning anytime soon. And now, with the threat of war between his homeland and Israel hovering in the political subconscious, my father’s hopes of returning are even smaller.

“It’s not a very simple thing to go and hit them, ‘them’ meaning the Iranian regime. “Even though I want them gone, I don’t think this is the way, especially in this kind of situation. They will take advantage of [an attack], and they will strengthen themselves.”

As a college student, I asked my father why I should care about the possibility of a war that is waged by an older generation. He told me that college students “are much more aware of political/social things that happen rather than your normal day-in, day-out workers… they’re getting this education, and they start asking different questions, and when you ask different questions, you look at different angles….” Ultimately, what my father argued is that a political awareness of the events happening now would prevent something like another Iraq War taking place.

“People who were college students during 2001-2002 are now in their thirties, and they don’t…have jobs right now,” he said, adding that “some of them recognize the reason we have a bad economy is because we spend $5 trillion on war.” Now, my generation has a chance to amend for the mistakes of the past.

I’ve asked my father countless times about the prospect of returning to his home one day, and he’s always been cautiously optimistic. Going back, he says, would help rid him of the “live ghosts” that haunt him. Yet as the fog of war thickens, it seems like the ghosts will continue to linger for my father and for the Iranians who can never go home.