My recent photographs from the 22 Bahman rallies prompted one of my contacts to ask if I was a supporter of Hezbollah. The name itself means “Party of God”. I’m not a member of this organization nor any other which divides man into “we and they”. I just went down to the parades and took pictures of what I saw.
And I saw a lot of people smiling and laughing and so I took pictures of them. Some of them were carrying pictures of Ayatollah Khamenei. Fewer held old photos or even painted portraits of Ayatollah Khomeini. Many held placards in printed with “death to America” and “death to Israel” in Farsi and also in English - presumably for the foreign cameramen like myself. Lots of the children had made dolls to represent Uncle Sam or George Bush. It struck me that perhaps they had been given the assignment as school homework. These crude effigies were probably burned in the street as a climax to the day’s festivities but I had work in the afternoon so I went home early and missed the opportunity to confirm my suspicion.
Everyday life in Iran is strongly pervaded by dissatisfaction. When people find out that I’ve chosen both consciously and freely to live in this country, first, they want to know why, but when my answers fail to satisfy them, they very quickly start to give me their take on the country’s woes. Life in a city like Tehran especially can be a struggle.
So it was unexpected for me to see so many thousands gathering to mark Iran’s national day – the anniversary of the 1979 revolution. No one was forcing placards into anyone’s hand. Chanting was spontaneous and spirited. I can only conclude that the circles I move in represent a very small and misrepresentative portion of the whole. Artists, musicians, returned foreign exiles – these people are not the stuff of political parades.
What I was seeing was the masses. And I feel free to use this word because each and every marching, chanting, placard-holding individual there had decided for themselves to sacrifice their identity to a group phenomenon. Don’t however let us think we are so immune to this. How many of us have never bought a t-shirt with a brand logo in the upper left portion? How many of us have never shouted “come on you Reds!” at a football match? And there are surely countless more ways than this that we march to the beat of drums.
There’s comfort in unity and shared hopes even if just for a day.