A statue honoring the dock workers who shut Amsterdam down shortly after the Nazi occupation of the city. This was the only public protest against Nazi occupation anywhere.

So you want to oppose fascism...

How to become an anti-fascist

Once, I did not understand the aims or tactics of anti-fascists. They seemed childish and violent to me. Now I am an anti-fascist. How did I get here?

It was slow going.

But fascists have radicalized me. And they should radicalize you too.

Anti-fascists are loose-knit and often unorganized. (The ADL has more info you can read) There is no central leadership and no central organization. Not all political beliefs are shared. The big overlap comes in agreeing to oppose fascism.

If only the antifascists would be more peaceful, then I could support them.

The anti-fascists of the past, fighting Mussolini and Hitler, are routinely held up as heroes. In the present, every tactic is criticized.

I used to be critical as well, so I know that you can untangle your thinking. You just have to step outside yourself for a moment. Ask yourself, is a window worth more than a life? Is vandalism worse than racism? Is a harmless cup of paint thrown at the door of a fascist political party worse than spreading misinformation that leads to hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide.

And then ask yourself: are people opposing fascism really the same as fascists?

Essentially, antifascists exist on the margins of society because the center allows fascism to grow unchecked until it’s too late to turn it back. And then, in some fictional future, when millions have died in unnecessary violence, the center claims an affiliation with those who resisted. Dissent gets sanitized and idealized. (See how the civil rights struggle in the US has been idealized, as well as the resistance of Martin Luther King, Jr for details)

Questions to help you on your journey

Here are some questions I mulled over for the past few years that may help you make the transition. I won’t give you answers, just questions.

  • What happens when we start holding institutions rather than individuals responsible for theft, deprivation, and murder? (Check out what happened to a lawyer who won a court case against Chevron)
  • What happens when we no longer assign intentions to murder? What if, instead, we wonder if it really matters to the murdered whether their death was due to bad intelligence or to intentional terror?
  • What happens to most people who are victims of rape and abuse when they report the crime to authorities? What good are the authorities if they don’t protect them? Who are they really protecting and why? (You can listen to this CBC podcast tracing one woman's experiences in Canada)
  • Who is in prison and why? Why is torture acceptable in our societies? (You can start with some of the stories on mass incarceration in The Atlantic)
  • Which nations outsource their human rights abuses and why do we constantly laud them as peaceful and nice? (Listening to Jun and Mitchy Saturay talk about the violence of foreign mining companies against local populations in The Philippines changed the way I thought about human rights.)
  • Why are so many indigenous women victims of violence and murder?
  • What lies do we tell ourselves in order to justify dehumanizing others?
  • What happens when you stop thinking about marginalized people and start thinking about HOW people are marginalized? (I recommend finding disabled activists to follow. Begin with Imani Barbarin. Here's her website: Crutches and Spice)
  • What happens when you center the needs of people who are most marginalized by society?
  • What happens when borders are open to multinational corporations but closed to people fleeing the devastation brought about by those same corporations?
  • What happens when you stop justifying acts of state and capitalist violence?

My Core Values

  • Everyone deserves to age and to age safely.
  • Everyone deserves a safe place to be alone and a safe place to come together.
  • Everyone deserves enough to eat.

Compass on a blue background

Coaching Through Transitions

One Degree Changes

A change of one degree will completely alter your destination, my friend Jasmin tells me. This is the theme of her coaching work. By looking at past transitions and seeing patterns, you discover more about your current location. With her guidance, you can better understand the nudges and the leaps that marked transitional times. This helps you understand how one degree of change can alter the destination.

I am documenting the experience of being coached through these transitions in a series of posts. This is 1 of who knows how many.

Week One

Recently a friend gave me the gift of her coaching services. She's from South Africa where she was involved in conflict resolution and the anti-apartheid movement. When she moved to the Netherlands, she had to find a whole new way of being in the world, so she combined her skills in conflict resolution and transformation to helping individuals set a course towards the future.

She does this by helping you map out 3 past transitions and identify patterns. By identifying patterns in your behavior, you can identify your strengths and weaknesses and make the small changes you need to in order to meet your current goals.

I am writing this because it's been such an amazing gift. In just one week and with just one transition story, I gained more insight into myself than I expected. I've always thought of myself as a fairly open book, but I have kept secrets from myself. What a shocker!

In the first coaching session with Jasmin Nordien of One Degree Changes, I used the term “unmoored” to describe myself. She asked me spend the week leading to our following session journaling about this term.

Three white children playing on the beach, lake in the background
Me and my sisters at Miller Beach

When I was moored

There was the gentle roll of sand sometimes coming together to form a dune, sometimes collecting against the rusting barrier that held contained the grass covered yards of the people like us who called this place home. At one time this would have been the home of the Pottawatomi and not us at all, the children and grandchildren of working class immigrants, who made a living from steel and the lake.

During one particularly cold winter, the waves of the lake froze, stuck in time.

This is the place I am moored to. It holds the landscape that grips my soul and contains all that is me: the Jewish me, the American me, the optimistic and happy me, the pessimist me, and the me who is rooted in justice. This is where I was nurtured...

When I was unmoored

When I was unmoored from this place, I lost a sense of the place of home for good. I found home elsewhere: in a particular chocolate cake or a bowl of chicken soup, in an aroma or a song. But not in a place.

The entries from my week of journaling began with negatives. I was looking at what I lacked and what felt lost. When we moved from northern Indiana, I lost my sense of place. When my grandfather died, I lost my belief in God. I have lost dreams and ambitions and even irreplaceable documents.  When I moved to the Netherlands, I lost my career.

I have often felt like I was flailing, a constant potential caught in my heart, unable to escape.

And then, the morning of the second session, I woke up and wrote this:


The sense of being unmoored, is also one of being attached to something deeper and more long-lasting: the intimacy of family and siblings, the call to justice, the longing for peace.

Maybe this sense of being unmoored is how I not only weather storms but also enjoy them. Maybe it’s the gift of acceptance, of meeting people where they are.

Being unmoored is about movement. It’s what makes it possible for me to let go of bad ideas and keeps me learning and growing and changing.

So, although I sometimes feel untethered, I feel deep abiding connection to these values that cannot be broken.

The script flipped. I realized that unmoored did not mean without a core. I have a core. It burns inside me. It keeps me honest and dedicated.

So another week of thanks.

How Can Our Communities Heal from Abuses of Power?

Photo by Eduard V. Kurganov, CC 2.0
What can communities do to heal from abuses of power? How can we make leadership more accountable? Ideas from the Kink community.

What Activists Can Learn from the Kink Community about Creating Safer Spaces

When I was nineteen, I worked as a janitor. My bosses were older men who I slowly came to adore. One was also a small-town sheriff who often borrowed our colleague’s student house for trysts with married women. He was handsy and inappropriate, but my colleagues and I laughed it off. We never felt threatened.

When I told another student about my work, she insisted I was experiencing sexual harassment. I told her to get a life. I was not being sexually harassed.

Turns out , we were both right. I was not being sexually harassed because I didn’t feel sexually harassed. My job was never threatened. I was never coerced into anything. I never felt unsafe.

But over the decades, I’ve come to realize that laughing off bad behavior may have put more vulnerable people at risk. We might have been making it seem okay and normal, which could have contributed to an unsafe work environment for others.


Why are abusers protected by NDAs and still active members of the community, when the victims are no longer welcomed?

Not too long ago, I was part of a small activist community that was scandalized by reports of abuses of power. To many, the man in the center was likable and charming. To others, he was an abuser and a charlatan.

The stories of his behavior circulated for years. Each person told was sworn to secrecy. The non-disclosure agreements guaranteed that the whisperings couldn’t go public.

Ours was a small community and the network was crucial to my work. The events it held were fun, engaging, and useful, primarily for connecting with peers.  Because of the events, we got to know the individuals behind the work and it helped us in our pursuit of common goals. Even so, I never stopped wondering what we could do to bring back those of our peers who had disappeared and had been victimized. Why was it, I wondered, that the abuser was protected by an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) and still an active member of the community, when the people he harassed were no longer welcomed?

The diagnosis

Once the abuse was publicly known, I hoped that we would openly discuss what we could do to make our community safe. I hoped that we would have rich and rewarding discussions about what had happened and why. I hoped we would interrogate ourselves. Most of all, I hoped that the organization at the center would strive to welcome back those who had been exiled.

As of this writing, there have been no organizational efforts to reach out to the people directly impacted by the abuse. Yes, they brought in a great consultant. Yes, they had an internal review process. Yes, they published statements, and yes they made their new guidelines public. But it didn’t feel like enough to me. It felt legalistic and shallow.

In order to learn more about healing networks after abuse, I began speaking to people, asking them what it would take to make the events and network feel welcoming and safe.

While talking to others, I came in contact with people in a kink community somewhere in North America. They had recently gone through an egregious breach of trust. I spoke with Carol (not her real name), who was one of the people who took on the task of reforming the community to make it feel safe again. As we spoke, it became increasingly clear that the dungeon she was a part of and our activist network had several things in common.


a) both have security issues that often require that the identities of people are protected;

b) both communities are demonized by the outside world and seen as threats to society;

c) both communities have reason to be concerned that the acts of a few can tarnish the entire group;

d) both communities are small and intimate, making it difficult for people who want to stay involved to find other networks.

In many places, being outed as belonging to a kink community can get you fired from your job and ostracized by the community. It’s true that the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey has created a more positive view of kink in the the media, but that is a very recent development.

If you think kink is demonized, try advocating for human rights. One only has to turn on the television to see how human rights activists are portrayed in popular culture. Fictional human rights activists are seen as barriers to justice or depicted as hiding their own evil natures. On screen (and in real life) human rights activists can seem shrill and annoying. In real life, human rights activists can be surveilled, stalked, tortured, killed, and imprisoned.  

It is understandable that members of both these communities are protective of identities and shy of public accountability. Both communities depend on networks of trust in order to be effective, despite the fact that this may mean extending that trust to predators.

The human rights community is especially vulnerable to divisions that would make it less effective in pursuing its end goals. It’s not unusual for outside forces to try to disrupt and discredit activist networks. For the BDSM community, consent and how it is enacted are absolutely crucial for maintaining health and well-being.

This post looks at what small networks can learn from one particular kink community about recovering from an abuse of power. It does not cover widespread systematic harrassment and abuse.

The flip-side of security

The pressure to keep a space safe from abuse needs to come from the community itself.

Both the activist and kink communities require security precautions and the protection of identity.  Taking these precautions protects community members from retribution from abusive governments and intolerant societies. At the same time, they make it especially difficult to enforce accountability.

The pressure to keep a space safe from abuse needs to come from the community itself. So the question becomes what can organizations that depend on privacy and are demonized externally do to ensure that the community remains safe?

Factors that lead to abuse

The target of abuse isn’t always as likable as the abuser. The person targeted likely had their contributions hidden, suppressed, and outright stolen. They can be less visible to the community as a whole and less likely to be protected and supported.

There are some factors that can make abuse possible:

  • The community lacks of a culture of accountability. This makes it difficult for people to understand what’s ok and what’s not okay and and means there are no guidelines for dealing with abuse, especially those types of behaviors that could have different interpretations for different individuals.
  • There is one leader who is unchecked by a board or by others on the team. Usually this person is charismatic and seen as “someone who can make things happen.” This person can be particularly good at manipulating the situation to their own benefit and making it seem as though they are indispensable.
  • The target of abuse isn’t always as likable as the abuser. Often, the person targeted may have already had their contributions hidden, suppressed, and outright stolen. This can mean that they are less visible to the community as a whole and less likely to be protected and supported.
  • The target of abuse is dependent on the abuser for funding, work, and/or community.


The challenge

Consent is key

Consent is key to the success of any kink community, as is permission for  and acceptance of difference. You join a dungeon to “let your freak flag fly.” When your freak flag includes behaviors and symbols many in the community find emotionally traumatizing, you have to find a way to respect their limits. It turns out that the line between permission and consent is not as clear to some as to others. Carol explains:

All of kink can be inherently traumatic to people - it explores power dynamics and violence. However, there are some kinks that are described as ‘taboo’ in the community because they have a higher tendency to be disturbing to swaths of the community, or make people feel attacked because of their identity. Things like raceplay, dark ageplay, or Nazi roleplay are especially sensitive. These kinks can in and of themselves be healthy to explore among consenting adults, but dungeon leaders and psychologists tend to agree that they are not for everyday shared spaces because one person’s healing cannot come at the expense of another person’s trauma. Especially if the trauma is related to unethical crimes that involve identity, like child abuse or hate crimes. Many dungeons segregate or prohibit taboo play, and those that don’t often foster very unhealthy cultures as a consequence.”

For awhile, the dungeon had been losing ethnic and religious minority members. The reasons were many, but underscoring them all was a lack of respect for boundaries and particularly for very real historical pain. The dwindling number of non-Black minorities made people of color feel especially vulnerable and without allies. Many had expressed their discomfort, only to be ignored.

Eventually Carol published a piece about the conflict in her dungeon on a popular fetish forum. She stated her case, explained how the consent of the community was violated, and demanded an end. “I was terrified of publishing the post, but I immediately got support from people around the world,” she stated.

This gave her the confidence to build alliances within her local community.

Building alliances

“The good news is that people are more loyal to sex than to taboo play.”

Crucially, there was already broad support for making the dungeon more inclusive. Most members simply did not know how to make that happen. 

The case for changing policies was brought to the owner of their local dungeon. Carol stated: “I told him: the way you handle this will determine what you will be in the future. If you don’t create safety now, the club will not be safe in the future.”

The owner had to consider a number of factors when making the decision to change the workings of the dungeon. Each decision meant losing clientele. This was particularly the case because taboo play had become normalized and those involved were very much a part of the running of the dungeon. Eventually, it was likely profit that made the difference. Would the dungeon be more profitable if it could create a safer, more inclusive atmosphere? Would it continue to lose members or would it be able to revive its community?

The owner gave Carol and those supporting her efforts for change the space to test their ideas for making the dungeon safer.

“Of course power relationships are important aspects of BDSM play, but who knew how important those same relationships would be in building alliances to change the nature of the dungeon and make it more consensual?” Carol told me.  “The good news is that people are more loyal to sex than to taboo play.”

Reaching out to those harmed

The next step was to reach out to those harmed by the abuses of consent within their community. “I’m not going to lie to you,” Carol said. “This wasn’t easy.”

Private discussions were held. People were given the space to express their grievances and together they worked out solutions for ensuring that their boundaries were respected.

The dungeon actually changed its policies based on the content of those discussions.

What changed

The first thing to change was the education committee. It was dismantled and a new one was put in place. The new committee required that each new member go through training that not only ensures physical safety, but psychological safety as well. Carol explains:

All volunteers in positions of power or who interact with the clientele have to become aware of power structures in place in larger society that make certain individuals more vulnerable to abuse, and learn how to create an environment of safety for them. Once educated, they are held accountable for acting upon this education and can be removed for breaches.

Enforcing change

“In other subcultures, those who violate others would be thrown out. We cannot do that because our collective safety depends on people not bitterly attacking us from the outside. We have to keep everyone in, which means finding ways to incentivize good behavior and reward those who look out for others.”

It isn’t always easy to get people to change their behavior. It is crucial that leadership stand firmly behind any new policies.

“In other subcultures, those who violate others would be thrown out. We cannot do that because our collective safety depends on people not bitterly attacking us from the outside.  We have to keep everyone in, which means finding ways to incentivize good behavior and reward those who look out for others.”

Complaints process

“The people in the middle must keep management accountable while keeping the trust of the people who have a conflict. It’s a delicate balancing act. One we still don’t have right.”

The first thing to do is to ensure that there is shared leadership of the community. Ideally leaders must answer to a board and to the community. In the case of the dungeon, there was no board, so the community had to take on this role. It’s the community that has to ensure that management has a clear policy for breaches of trust and actually acts on that policy. Carol states: “The people in the middle must keep management accountable while keeping the trust of the people who have a conflict.  It’s a delicate balancing act. One we still don’t have right.”

A system for dealing with complaints must be put in place. And this is not an easy thing to do. Especially when some complaints may actually be criminal. [1]

Break down the barriers between cliques

Create opportunities for people to reach out to each other across the cliques that tend to emerge.

A very important aspect of ensuring the long-term health of a community is to actually foster friendships. Create opportunities for people to reach out to each other across the cliques that tend to emerge.

This takes work. It doesn’t happen naturally. So the community actually has to commit to reaching out and building unusual alliances. In the dungeon, that means looking at the subgroups of kinksters who are naturally more inclusive and figuring out what they’re doing right and then giving them the power to spread that attitude throughout the community.

Share leadership

Charismatic leadership is dangerous. Leadership needs to be shared with people who are NOT natural leaders.

Charismatic leadership is dangerous.

Charismatic leaders come to represent the community and are often viewed as indispensable. They can have a history of complaints against them, yet remain in power. Why? Because people seem to think that the community would fall to pieces without them.

To stay healthy, leadership needs to be shared, and it needs to be shared with people who are NOT natural leaders.[2] You want people leading who are naturally cooperative and egalitarian. And because those people are not natural leaders, you need to have a process in place ensuring they are respected and heard.

Be patient

The best intentions won’t make the community safe. Training won’t change things quickly. There will be missteps and mistakes. It’s best to acknowledge that the process of recovering from predatory actions will be difficult and painful. The community will change as a result. Some people may never feel safe enough to return. Others may not be comfortable with the changes.

Maintaining a safe space and a safe community is a continuous project. Expect challenges and blunders.


Sexual harassment is the abuse of power. It’s not misinterpreted flirtation. For this reason, it can damage the entire community, not simply the people targeted for harassment. Those people who come forward with complaints, or who leave the community entirely, are signaling a larger problem. Watch out for absences and departures from the network.

It might not be possible to avoid all abuses of power in a community, but we sure can try.

[1] For more on setting up a conflict resolution protocol, see How-to Recognize and Deal with Conflict http://www.civilsocietyhowto.org/10-tips-for-dealing-with-conflict/

[2] See Building a Network with No Masters, No Leaders: http://www.civilsocietyhowto.org/network-no-masters-no-leaders/

Love will tear us apart ... or not

On Friday, March 15, 2019, we wake up to the news of the white supremacist attack on Muslims in New Zealand. Kamran and I find ourselves one in anger and in grief, connected to people far away from us, but not far away from our own experiences of the world.

Kamran with his siblings

Kamran was born into a Muslim family in small-town Iran, and I was born into a Jewish family in small-town US. Revolution, refuge, art, and New York brought us together.

Me with my siblings

Pre 9/11 New York, of course. Today’s USA would prevent us from meeting. Today’s Muslim ban would have altered his life forever. Mine? Who knows what I would have become?

With all the forces trying to tear us apart, including our own personal idiosyncrasies, it is a testament to our incredible hardheadedness that Kamran and I remain together.

We are torn at by history, culture, and war. From our very different starting points, and our very different world views.

Kamran and I are torn at by the way the world sees us: as victim, perpetrator, pitiable, terrorist, threat, Muslim, Jew, man, woman, hateful, powerful, refugee, atheist, immigrant, revolutionary, and impossible.

We are torn about by the way the world treats us. We are torn at by the ways that treatment has been invisible to each of us.

Over the years, I have been slow to see the patterns that discriminate.

I have dismissed Kamran's experiences of being treated worse in the Netherlands because of his background. This is true even though I saw a letter from a potential employer telling him that they already had "too many foreigners" on staff.

For his part, Kamran has been slow to accept my fears that our current times rhyme with the rise of Nazi Germany. When I told him that I saw signs of growing violence that echoed the rise of the Nazis, he told me I was too worried. “The Holocaust was unique,” he told me. “Nothing can be compared to it.”

Now he says, "I was naive. I believed in western democracy. I believed in the strength of checks and balances. I was a naive immigrant."

On Friday, March 15, 2019, we share our fears. We cry as though tears matter. Kamran tells me that he is afraid that the violence will spread like a contagion.

...routine bites hard

Map of concentration camp and death camp locations
Map of concentration camp and death camp locations. Photo by Kamran Ashtary

Over the past ten years, Kamran has been researching the Holocaust, visiting sites of violence and suffering both in documents and in physical spaces.

He did not grow up in Europe. The Holocaust did not erase his history or have much of an impact on his society. Yet studying its history opened a vein of grief in him that allowed me to honor my own.

His witnessing gave me permission to unmute my generational pain. It had been bottled for so long. I felt I didn't have a right to it, that I was imagining it, that I should be grateful to have so many living relatives made safe by their good fortune.

Society says, Get Over It. And when you listen, you pack away your rage and sadness in a container too small to hold it. Eventually it breaks out. My childhood Rabbi, a Holocaust survivor, told Kamran that he built a cement wall inside his brain to keep the memories at bay. Even that didn't help. But it was the only way life was possible.

Love, love...

On Friday, March 15, 2019, Kamran whispers that he has so much reason to be optimistic. He sees the Jewish and Muslim communities in the US and New Zealand reaching out to one another in solidarity and compassion. He sees students marching for the climate, eager to make the changes we need to continue our lives on this planet. He sees love from others. Oh love...

A statue honoring the dock workers who shut Amsterdam down shortly after the Nazi occupation of the city. This was the only public protest against Nazi occupation anywhere.
A statue honoring the dock workers who shut Amsterdam down shortly after the Nazi occupation of the city. This was the only public protest against Nazi occupation anywhere.

I whisper back, Love is not enough, and think back to the dockworker strike that brought Amsterdam to a halt just after the Nazi occupation. At the time, one Jewish woman wrote in her diary that her heart sang with joy at the thought of the support of Amsterdam’s citizens.

I think back to a testimonial from a woman who survived Kristallnacht. She remembered going to school the next morning because she did not want to cower at home. She wanted to show her face. When she arrived, the other children formed a circle of protection around her and the other Jewish classmates.

This broke my heart. It somehow would have been easier to hear that the other children shunned her.

Love is what will be remembered by survivors of our hateful times. But it is not enough to stop what’s coming. It's not enough to stop what's already here.

Love is a gesture. A gesture we need. Don't stop loving.

And don't empty that gesture of meaning like Amsterdam did by projecting a flag of New Zealand on Central Station and calling it solidarity. That just hides our own complicity in platitudes. It won't stop the next attack. It won't change the gleeful cruelty we see around us. It doesn't help name the condition: supremacism.

As 16-year old climate activist Greta Thunberg says: we need to panic. We are in a burning building, and we are so afraid of naming our condition that we ignore the flames.

This is not fine by KC Green: https://thenib.com/this-is-not-fine

Tear us apart

It is so easy to destroy. Anyone who has slung a sledgehammer at a wall can tell you that it can fill you with power. It can be such fun.

Kamran and my other Iranian friends taught me the perils of revolution. How it eats its children. How using violence gives power to the violent.

And here we are. With violence in power.

...we're changin' our ways...

These are the times my elders warned me of.

Unknowingly and knowingly they taught me the omens. They taught me the signs of dehumanization and the patterns in "disorganized" violence.

They taught me how easy it is to destroy. They taught me that home can betray you.

And then they fed me chocolate cake and kugel and filled me with love.

Love, love will...

For comfort, I remind myself of the notion of Tikkun Olam: repairing the world. Imagine the big bang as a universe inside a vessel. When the vessel breaks the light of that universe goes everywhere, even into our souls. It is love, love that is torn apart. And now that love and that light lives inside us. We use it to repair what is broken. No light is too small. No repair too insignificant.

When I need to remember things can heal, I remind myself that my childhood included rivers on fire and so much pollution that we thought we'd all be walking around with oxygen tanks by now. The rivers were cleaned. The lakes were cleaned. We can repair our world. We must repair our world.

As recently as last year, I would ask my friends to imagine this Europe from the midst of World War I. It is unimaginable. Now I am not so confident in that analogy.

We must never forget how broken the world is and has been. And then we must repair our world.

The repairs will take generations. We make them. We don't finish them.

That's the best hope I can give.

Love will tear us apart


Iran Talks Give Peace a Chance

A perspective on the nuclear talks with Iran and what it means for Iranian people, human rights, and peace. This post originally appeared on Harry's Place

“Nuclear energy is our indisputable right”

Eight years ago when I last lived in Iran, the slogan: “Nuclear energy is our indisputable right” had become the punchline to a joke. When I shopped for fish at a popular market on Jordan Street in Tehran, the staff greeted me by chanting it in a friendly manner. On a trip to Kermanshah a Kurdish family asked me: “Is nuclear energy only your indisputable right, or is it also ours?” When then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited the provinces, he was met by people chanting, “A public swimming pool is our indisputable right.” During the 2009 election campaigns, people sent text messages to each other that read: “Sorry I woke you up at this time of night. It’s nothing special – I just wanted to say that nuclear energy is our indisputable right.”

Taken by Tori Egherman. Share-and-share alike with attribution.
The woman with the video camera is asking me about the right to nuclear energy. Image provided by author.

Framework agreement

On April 2, as Iranians were celebrating the closing day of their two-week New Year’s holidays, the news broke that negotiators had at last come to an understanding about the framework for a nuclear agreement. That framework includes replacing the core at the Arak heavy water plant and decreasing its stockpile of low-enriched uranium by 95%, as well as intensive inspections. It also means that Iran won’t leave the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

Vocal hardliners have been quick to point out the framework’s weaknesses, with some in the US and Israel arguing that it is too soft and those in Iran claiming the country is surrendering. Some have interpreted the celebration of Iranians as meaning that the P5+1 negotiating team cut a bad deal. This shows a lack of understanding of Iran. People there take to the streets to celebrate World Cup losses. Any opportunity for public celebration is welcomed.

What many in Iran seem to particularly long for is rapprochement with the West and with the United States in particular. According to an article by Narges Bajoghli, the majority of those in Iran’s Basij and Revolutionary Guards also look forward better ties to the West. She writes:

In over nine years of on-the-ground research with different factions of the Revolutionary Guard and Basij, I have found that an underlying concern for many, regardless of political leaning, is a desire to create an Iran with more opportunities for their children, and that means the removal of sanctions and better relations with the world.

The role of sanctions

Tough sanctions may have brought Iran to the negotiating table, but what kept them there was the knowledge that the people of Iran wanted engagement with the West. This was made clear in 2009 in the wake of the disputed and flawed presidential elections and again with the election of current president Rouhani. Iranian voters overwhelmingly rejected the candidate seen as representing the Supreme Leader’s foreign policy, then nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili. Jalili ran for office specifically on his record of standing firm on Iran’s right to its nuclear program.

There is a strong sense of nationhood and national pride among most Iranians inside and outside the country. The nuclear program, which has been a cause of so much pain and deprivation in Iran, represents accomplishment and security even to those who would seem to be its natural detractors. For a final agreement to be successful, the people of Iran need to have some evidence that their suffering under the sanctions regime was not for nothing. This means lifting sanctions that hurt them the most and making sure to do it with great fanfare. For instance lifting the sanctions on refined petroleum, which have contributed to a dramatic increase in pollution in cities like Tehran, may immediately contribute to cleaner air.

Sanctions also camouflage corruption. They allow profiteers to drive up prices on items such as medicines and create false shortages. They give power to the corrupt and dangerous in society. I saw this every day when I lived in Iran. I saw how poorly the US and Europe communicated both the scope of and the reason for the sanctions to the Iranian people.

Human rights

While most human rights advocates and Iran’s civil society welcome a negotiated agreement, there is concern that hardliners will seek to establish their control by increasing oppressive measures. Hadi Ghaemi of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran says:

Iran could be roiled in political tension in the wake of the agreement, and even more so if a more permanent agreement is reached in June. Hardliners will push to maintain political relevancy, while pent up demand for basic rights, long frozen as Iran locked horns with the West, will rise to the surface.

The Iranian government’s record on human rights is disastrous. Ethnic minorities face severe discrimination and suppression of their rights. The rate of execution per capita is the highest in the world. Religious minorities, particularly the Baha’i, suffer. The Baha’i face arrest, harassment, and barriers to education. The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, stated that pressure on Iran is especially important: “Iran is the country in the region with the biggest gap between potential [for respect for human rights] and reality.” People in Iran are ready to claim their own rights and are chipping away at the structure that limits them. As one Tehran professor recently wrote in an open letter to the spokeswoman for Iran’s foreign ministry, defending Dr. Shaheed:

The fact is, even if in all of the almost 200 member states of the UN, human rights are violated, and Western countries keep silent against all of them, violations of human rights in the 201st country are still unjustifiable.

A successful agreement that relieves the state of near-war means that civil society and human rights defenders will gain more space. The state of conflict with other powers and the isolation of the country are often used as excuses for tamping down dissent and arresting human rights defenders. They face charges such as “compromising national security” and “spreading propaganda against the state.” With a final agreement, these spurious charges will become more and more ridiculous and harder to defend. A successful agreement also means that human rights defenders can lobby other powers for support without hearing the response: “All we care about is a nuclear agreement.”

Give peace a chance

Some of you may think I’ve been “irantoxified” as a result of my four-year stay in Iran. I can tell you that I was, indeed, fundamentally changed by the experience. I felt real oppression for the first time in my life. I had to learn to control myself emotionally, physically and verbally. I also became passionate about human rights, not just in oppressive countries like Iran, but in free countries like the United States and the Netherlands. I saw what war does to family and friends and watched as my sister-in-law trembled uncontrollably at the news that American warships were in the Persian Gulf. I met Basiji who valued democracy, a judge who opposed the nuclear program, observant women who railed against forced hijab, a transgender man who read tea leaves, and ruthless profiteers. I was met with kindness and hospitality that were both unexpected and comforting. I buried people I loved there. I left the country wanting nothing less than the best possible future for the people who had welcomed me so unabashedly.

There will not be a linear path to reform and an opening of society. There never is anywhere. Iranians will have high expectations that an agreement will solve their economic and social woes. This is true even as they make jokes about expectations of buying whiskey in supermarkets and going into the streets in shorts.

In summation, if this agreement is to work and if the government of Iran is to be persuaded to permanently give up any efforts to build a bomb, the people of Iran need to be convinced they’ve made the best of all possible agreements. In the wake of the agreement, sanctions need to be lifted quickly and loudly. By publicly clarifying what is no longer sanctioned, the US and Europeans can give the people of Iran the information they need to hold their own government accountable for economic malaise. The sanctions will no longer be cover. The benefits of being part of the international community must be made clear to the people of Iran. They are certainly aware of the suffering that comes from isolation.

Trauma Can be Passed Down in Our Genes

Below is a post I wrote for TEDxAmsterdam. Reproduced in full:

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is something we are now accustomed to attributing to the effects of war. We used to call it "shell shock." Today we know that trauma is not only experienced individually, but shared through generations as well. Researchers have known for awhile that trauma experienced by mothers during pregnancy can affect children and even alter the way DNA is expressed without changing its sequencing. A recent study shows that it can also alter microRNA in the sperm of mice, causing anxiety and depression in offspring. The experiences of your parents and grandparents may influence the person you are today.

Speakers Dr. Megan McElheran and Annie Murphy Paul
Speakers Dr. Megan McElheran and Annie Murphy Paul

You can inherit memories

Scientists Michael Meaney and Moshe Szyf have proven that the experiences of female rats could change the DNA passed on to children without altering its sequencing. Now scientists in Zurich have shown that the father also contributes to passing on the effects of trauma to his offspring.

A recent study published in Nature Neuroscience conducted by neuroscientist Isabelle Mansuy and her colleagues at the University of Zurich in Switzerland showed that the offspring of mice who experienced high levels of trauma experienced high levels of stress and depression. The sperm of traumatized mice had a higher expression of microRNA (small RNA) linked to anxiety, depression, and stress. The scientists showed that the stress and depression were passed on genetically, rather than socially, by injecting sperm into mice who had not undergone trauma.

The notion that traumatic experiences influence the children of survivors is not entirely new. Writing in Nature, Virginia Hughes notes that:

People who were traumatized during the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia tended to have children with depression and anxiety, for example, and children of Australian veterans of the Vietnam War have higher rates of suicide than the general population.

Post 9-11 Babies Pre-Disposed to PTSD

Annie Murphy Paul

In a 2011 TED talk, Annie Murphy Paul, who investigates what we learn in the womb and how it shapes who we become, stated:

About a year after 9/11, researchers examined a group of women who were pregnant when they were exposed to the World Trade Center attack. In the babies of those women who developed post-traumatic stress syndrome, or PTSD, following their ordeal, researchers discovered a biological marker of susceptibility to PTSD -- an effect that was most pronounced in infants whose mothers experienced the catastrophe in their third trimester. In other words, the mothers with post-traumatic stress syndrome had passed on a vulnerability to the condition to their children while they were still in utero.

"Trauma is a great equalizer"

In a talk given at TEDxYYC, Dr. Megan McElheran discussed her experiences dealing with veterans returning to Canada from war in Afghanistan. She warned against the current flirtation with what she calls the "happiness myth," stating that it leads to increased alienation because of the notion that "...if you are not happy there is something wrong with you..."

She finds it important to understand the full range of human experience. "We are all capable of anything," she stated. She urged us all to operate with empathy:

If, on a day-to-day basis, we as individuals and as members participating in our communities are better able to operate from a position where all experience is valued, I think we will be healthier and better able to address the challenges in our lives from a place of being willing and able to have an experience whatever those challenges should entail.

Can PTSD also be contagious?

As the family members of veterans with PTSD increasingly show signs of the disorder themselves, researchers are asking if PTSD is contagious. In an article in Mother Jones, writes:

"Trauma is really not something that happens to an individual," says Robert Motta, a clinical psychologist and psychology professor at Hofstra University who wrote a few of the many medical-journal articles about secondary trauma in Vietnam vets' families. "Trauma is a contagious disease; it affects everyone that has close contact with a traumatized person" in some form or another, to varying degrees and for different lengths of time. "Everyone" includes children...

Trauma is not only experienced individually, but shared in families and through generations.

Dora's chocolate cake

#Recipe: My Grandmother's Chocolate Cake

My grandmother was famous for her chocolate cake. Some relatives joked that the secret ingredient was cigarette ashes, but I'm here to tell you that's not the case.

When she died, many of her loved ones still had her cakes stowed away in the freezer. One passover, my sister found what she thought was the recipe hand written inside a haggadah. It turned out to be a grocery list.

Recently one of my cousins shared the recipe with us. I admit I was a bit scared to make it the first time. I was afraid it would not live up to the memory. There was nothing for me to fear. The very act of making the cake was enough to bring my grandmother back to life. It didn't matter whether it was delicious or not.

Those of you heard the KFJC discussion between me and DJ Ruthie might be interested in the chocolate cake we talked about.

The cake (all the measurements are American style):

1 cup butter (I use about 3/4 of a block of butter for this)
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
3 cups self-rising cake flour (I find it's best when I replace one cup of flour with one cup of cocoa powder -- yum)
1 large bar (or a little more) of good quality dark chocolate -- melted (about 7 ounces--more for chocolate lovers)
5 eggs -- separated
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 mashed bananas (when I make layers, I use 3 mashed bananas and put one between the layers)

Cream together the butter and sugar
add melted chocolate (I put a little bit of olive oil in a bowl and then put in the chocolate and microwave it)
Add the buttermilk and flour
Beat the eggs separately add the yolks
Fold in the whites

Bake at 180 C/350 F

Bake a deep cake about 45 minutes
If you are making layers, 30 minutes

I am not a huge frosting fan, so I don't add any. It's delicious with raspberries or powdered sugar on top.

Prayer Goes Out; Food Goes In: Plum Chicken with Bibi Kasrai

The day I spoke with the author of The Spice Whisperer, Bibi Kasrai, she was busy with her new enterprise, a cooking camp for children. She had left a career as a corporate executive to do what she loves: cooking and teaching.

That day the children were making hummus, croque-monsieurs, and popsicles. It’s this mix of cultures that makes Bibi and her cooking special. As she describes in her book, her journey from Iran to the United States took her all over the world, learning to cook, falling in love, and encountering a wide range of cultures.

Five years after the revolution in Iran, when Bibi was a teenager, her family went into hiding. An arrest warrant had been issued for her father, the well-known and well-loved poet Siavosh Kasrai. The family moved from house to house, not wishing to put friends and supporters in danger.

“My family had helped the Jews, the Baha’is and royalist friends escape, but now it was our turn," she writes in The Spice Whisperer. "My mother came up with a plan to hire smugglers that would hopefully take us to France where all our European dreams would come true; except we ended up in Moscow via Afghanistan.”

Before they left Iran, as a last refuge when they had nowhere else to hide, her maternal grandmother took them in, saying, “If they are going to take you, let them take all of us.”

“My grandma was comfort,” Bibi recalls. “She was pure love.... Even when she wanted to teach a lesson, she was mild. Like she would say to me, ‘Bibi, you have a hot temper. When you get really angry take a glass of water and hold it in your mouth.’ I asked, ‘Why?’ And she said, ‘Because when water is in your mouth, you cannot say anything.’”

Read the entire article on The Guardian

Plum Chicken photographed by Sanam Salehian

Cooking Aubergine Stew with Halleh Ghorashi

(Or as we Americans call it: Eggplant)


Before going to Iran, I had eaten only stale, tasteless turmeric that added colour rather than flavour. On my first full day in Iran, I had a dish of eggplant stuffed with ground lamb, topped with unripe grapes, and seasoned with turmeric. I thought it was cinnamon, even writing in my diary that it was a different kind of cinnamon, "deeper and more earthy tasting. It isn't as light or sweet. I guess you could say that it tastes as though it was grown with cumin..."

Now, every time I taste turmeric, I think of those early days in Iran, when I hadn't yet overdosed on kebab and hospitality, and every meal was rife with new flavours and observations.

Food is a bridge to the past, and the best dishes come accompanied by good stories. This week, I cooked a stew of eggplant and chicken with Halleh Ghorashi, an influential scholar in the Netherlands, who I know came there as a refugee. Among her friends, however, she is more known for her cooking than for any of her academic accomplishments.

"When I cook, I cook with love," she said. "I think of it like a painting that I compose with care."

The dish she chose to cook was one that provided an enduring link with her mother and her own troubled childhood. When she cooks her eggplant dish, Halleh can't help but remember the strain of growing up with a mother who suffered from schizophrenia.

"It was always a painful relationship. Her life was dominated by her sickness and there was a direct connection between her miserable life and me, since her schizophrenia emerged with my birth. From that moment, my mom was never normal like other moms. I was often embarrassed of her sickness. She was fighting all the time with her family, with the neighbours, with my father, with everyone."

Read the whole article on Tehran Bureau, The Guardian

The Beauty Regime

When I first started living in Iran, I was a kind of an illiterate, exotic creature who had to learn the alphabet from scratch and could have meaningful conversations only with toddlers. I was tolerated and coddled in equal measures, which made life easier for me. My mistakes were cute and lovable instead of breaches of protocol that could cause catastrophic rifts in the delicate political balance of the family.

It wasn't just language that messed with me. I was a fashion disaster, ill-mannered and coarse. I must have seemed an oaf to people who'd practiced good manners for millennia.

Nothing made me feel more oafish than the women surrounding me. Most wouldn't dream of leaving the house looking less than perfect. Their nails were exactingly manicured, their hair straightened and dyed, their bracelets gold, their eyes carefully outlined. At parties they wore low-cut, form-fitting dresses. They danced with flair as though their hips were unhinged, while my moves had been learned in proto-mosh pits. I could slam with the best of them, but anything more refined required concentration.

On top of that, my eyebrows had never been trimmed and my hair was unruly. I had never quite outgrown my tomboy phase and the longest time I'd spent in heels was about two hours: long enough to dance at a friend's wedding.

In the cafés in North Tehran, women let the obligatory headscarves slip to their shoulders, making a great show of lifting them up over exquisitely coiffed hair. They balanced on heels high enough to make me dizzy, navigating the uneven pavement with grace.

Read more at Tehran Bureau.

You Can't Say That in School

At the end of September, children all over Iran begin their first day of school. It’s an exciting time, filled with hope and the promise of new friends and new experiences. For many children it’s also about learning how different the world of the family is from the world outside the family. Many people were interviewed for this article. Some had come of age during the darkest days after the revolution, during the war with Iraq. Some had children who had recently begun school.

My daughter begged us to move back to Iran,” a woman I met at a party in north Tehran told me. “For her life in Iran was all about cousins and family and staying up late. What could be more fun for a five year-old?” The woman had recently moved back with her husband and daughter after several years of living and studying in the United States. She had four sisters still living in Iran and two others living in North America. Like many others, she thought raising a child would be easier in Iran with family all around her than it had been in the US with one sister more than 2000 miles away and the other not much closer.Everything changed after her daughter’s first week of school. In kindergarten she was already hearing chants of “Down with America” as part of the morning school assembly. After the first week, she was coming home crying, asking her mother why her schoolmates were chanting against her. “Why do they hate me?” she wept. For most children her age, the words were meaningless. They were just words strung together like misheard lyrics. Still, this one little girl understood them and took them personally. She felt scared and hurt. A few months later, for a number of reasons, the family moved back to the U.S. The girl is now sixteen and an Iranian-American. I often find myself wondering if she experienced anti-Iranian sentiment at her school in Virginia like so many immigrant children did in years past. If she did, how did she deal with it?

First Day of School

The first of the Iranian month of Mehr, which in 2014 fell on September 23, is the first day of school in Iran. For children and their families all over the world, the first day of school is a big step. Everywhere, children learn that the world of their home and of their family is very different from that of school. They can be confused by all the new rules and norms they encounter. For many families in Iran, that normal process is exaggerated. Preparing children for school in Iran involves more than buying pencils and notebooks. Many parents are faced with the challenge of explaining complex rules of behavior to children emotionally incapable of understanding them.

During the first years of the revolution special teachers who were part of the Revolutionary Guards could come to the schools at any time to pry information from the children. This is a special kind of horror for parents and children alike. “It was quite normal for the regime,” Kevan says. “They were ready to kill their own children for the sake of the revolution. They had no shame in trying to get other’s children to inform on their own families. It may be salt on the wound to say this. But it is a wound.

You Have to Conform

Kambiz1 (31) stated, “From the first day you have to conform.” He went on to discuss his first day of school:

I was so excited to go to school. I want to go to school. I want to go to school. I demanded. The first day I woke up early. After that first day, I wasn’t so excited to wake up and go to school. Before I went, my mother told me, ‘You have to tell people that your father is on a business trip.’ I thought, why should I tell them that when I know he is in prison?

It was three weeks before anyone asked Kambiz about his father. He responded that his father was away on business and did not return until very late. “It made me feel so bad,” he said. “It is such a paradox for a child to know you are lying. I couldn’t understand why I had to do it.

The first years of school for Kambiz corresponded with the end of the Iran-Iraq war and the death of Khomeini. “It was unusual to have a relative who was a political prisoner then,” he said. This was especially true in his neighborhood where many of his schoolmates had relatives who had gained power after the revolution. “I could not talk about it with anyone.

Politicized Religion

Maryam lived in the United States until she was nine, where she went to a predominantly African-American Sunni mosque and attended weekly Shia discussion circles. She describes her family as “religious intellectuals,” explaining that as a result they had fewer taboos than many other families.

… I learned to draw a line between the religion we had and the state religion/religious propaganda. Frankly that’s the only way that any religion can be saved in Iran if you are not brainwashed. I learned to be suspicious of whatever religious and historic education we got at school.

She was suspicious of the “ultra-Shia stuff” they were taught in school but rarely discussed this with her teachers.

Later, in college, I would sometimes argue with religious teachers and even the lady at the door telling us we were not dressed appropriately from a ‘fellow Muslim’ perspective. I tried to convince them that their lifestyle is not the only Muslim lifestyle out there. However I wouldn’t mention my unconventional-for-a-Shia beliefs. About politics, there was always a line not to cross publicly. I think I was very aware of it from 11 or 12 years, if not earlier.

Don’t Talk About the VCR

The first time Payam (31) understood that he could not talk about things that happened inside the house, outside the house was the day before his first day of school.

Before my first day of school, my father told me not to talk about our VCR. We exchanged videos in the neighborhood and had family movie nights with neighbors. Of course, this was forbidden when I was a child. My father told me that teachers might draw pictures of the VCR and ask if anyone in the class knows what it is. He warned me not to volunteer that I knew. ‘I don’t want you to lie,’ he told me. ‘Just remain silent. If they know, they will come to take away the VCR,’ my father told me. ‘And they might take me away as well.’ I had a hard time understanding why there were things we couldn’t talk about outside the house, but I didn’t want my father to be taken away.

A year later, special teachers assigned by the Revolutionary Guards did come to the school to try to get information from the students, now six and seven years old. Payam was silent, but other children in the class did volunteer information. “I was very quiet in school. Even though I participated in discussions, I did not easily make friends, and I did not talk very much outside of structured discussions.

For many of the people I spoke with for this article, especially those in their thirties, the need to hide information was tied to a sense of fear. Mostafa explains, “For me it was about danger, not lying.

The Way We Live

On Aida’s first day of pre-school in Tehran just two years ago, she lifted a glass of water to toast the health of her new friends. “Salam-a-ti,” she said happily. “To your health.” Alcohol is illegal in Iran and some could connect her toast to her family’s private actions. That afternoon, Aida’s mother was forced to explain that there were things that could be said at home that absolutely could not be repeated in public. At just three-and-a-half years of age, Aida could not understand why she had to keep some things quiet, just that she needed to. Her father laughed when he recounted the story and then added, “She was upset, but that is the way we live in Iran.

Things have changed a great deal in thirty years. Rooftops all over Iran are covered with illegal satellite dishes. The regime continues its fruitless battle to isolate the population from the outside world, currently doing battle with messaging apps and arresting people for spreading jokes or making videos.

Even with all the changes, Payam cannot imagine raising a child in Iran today. “I don’t know how I could protect my child or explain why some things are okay to talk about and why some things are not. It’s hard for me to imagine.

They say that a mark of intelligence is the ability to hold contradictory ideas without having your head explode. For many of Iran’s youth, this is the only way to stay sane and safe every single day.

1 All names have been changed to protect identities


نخستین درس برای دانش آموزان کوچک ایرانی: در مدرسه نمی توانید "اسمش" را بیاورید

خانمی که در یک مهمانی در شمال تهران ملاقات کردم به من گفت: "دخترم به ما التماس کرد که به ایران برگردیم، زیرا زندگی او در ایران خلاصه می شد به وقت گذراندن با خانواده و خویشاوندان و بیدار ماندن تا دیروقت. چه چیزی می تواند برای یک کودک پنج ساله جذاب تر از این باشد؟". این خانم اخیرأ پس از سال ها زندگی و تحصیل در امریکا به وطن برگشته بود. او چهار خواهر داشت که هنوز در ایران زندگی می کردند و دو خواهرش نیز ساکن امریکای شمالی بودند. مانند بسیاری دیگر او نیز دریافته است که تربیت فرزندان در ایران بسیار ساده تر از امریکا است، زیرا در اینجا تمام خانواده در اطراف او هستند در حالی که در امریکا یکی از خواهرانش ۲۰۰۰ مایل از او فاصله دارد و خواهر دیگرش نیز چندان نزدیک تر از این نیست.

اما همه چیز پس از نخستین هفته تحصیل دختر وی در مدرسه تغییر کرد. او در مدرسه و در مراسم صبحگاهی شعار "مرگ بر امریکا" را می شنید. پس از هفته اول گریان به خانه برگشت و از مادرش پرسید چرا دانش آموزان مدرسه بر علیه او شعار می دهند. او در حالی که می گریست پرسید: "چرا آن ها از من متنفرند؟". این کلمات برای اکثر دانش آموزان هم سن او بی معنی بودند. این ها تنها کلماتی بودند که مانند کلمات یک شعر نادرست به هم متصل شده بودند. اما این دختربچه کلمات را درک کرده و معنای آن را خطاب به شخص خود برداشت کرده بود. او احساس ترس و آسیب دیدن داشت. چند ماه بعد این خانواده به دلایلی به امریکا بازگشت. دختربچه اکنون شانزده ساله و فردی ایرانی-امریکایی است. اغلب از خود میپرسم آیا او هم مانند بسیاری از کودکان در گذشته احساسات ضد ایرانی را در مدرسه خود در ویرجینیا تجربه کرده است یا خیر. اگر چنین باشد، چطور با مسئله کنار آمده است؟

نخستین روز مدرسه

نخستین روز ماه مهر در ایران، که در سال ۲۰۱۴ مترادف با روز ۲۳ سپتامبر بود، نخستین روز مدرسه برای ایرانیان است. نخستین روز مدرسه برای کودکان و خانواده های آن ها در سراسر جهان مرحله مهمی در زندگی به شمار می آید. در همه جای جهان کودکان می آموزند که دنیای خانه و خانواده با دنیای مدرسه تفاوت زیادی دارد. آن ها ممکن است در برخورد با قوانین و هنجارهای مختلف دچار سردرگمی شوند. این فرایند طبیعی برای بسیاری از خانواده ها در ایران حالتی اغراق شده دارد. آماده کردن کودکان برای مدرسه چیزی فراتر از خریدن دفترچه و مداد برای آن ها است. بسیاری از والدین با چالش توضیح دادن قوانین رفتاری پیچیده ای مواجهند که کودکان از لحاظ احساسی قادر به درک آن ها نیستند.

در نخستین سال های انقلاب مربیان خاصی از سوی سپاه پاسداران می توانستند در هر زمانی به مدارس رفته و سؤالاتی را از کودکان بپرسند. این امر موجب القای نوع خاصی از ترس برای والدین و کودکان می شد. کیوان می گوید: "این کار برای رژیم کاملأ عادی بود. آن ها حاضر بودند فرزندان خود را برای انقلاب بکشند. آن ها بدون هیچ شرمی از کودکان می خواستند تا اطلاعاتی را درباره خانواده های خود در اختیارشان قرار دهند. گفتن این ممکن است مثل نمک پاشیدن روی زخم باشد، اما این زخم حقیقی است."

همرنگ جماعت شو

کامبیز[1] (۳۱ ساله) چنین می گوید: "از نخستین روز باید همرنگ جماعت شوید". او صحبت هایش را با توضیح نخستین روز مدرسه ادامه داد:

"خیلی هیجان داشتم که به مدرسه می روم. من می خواهم به مدرسه بروم. من می خواهم به مدرسه بروم. این خواسته من بود. نخستین روز خیلی زود از خواب بیدار شدم. اما پس از آن روز اشتیاق خاصی برای بیدار شدن و رفتن به مدرسه نداشتم. پیش از آن که به مدرسه بروم مادرم گفت "باید به مردم بگویی که پدرم به یک مأموریت کاری رفته است" با خودم فکر کردم چرا باید این حرف را به آن ها بزنم، در صورتی که می دانم پدرم در زندان است."

این ماجرا مربوط به سه هفته قبل از آن بود که کسی از کامبیز چیزی درباره پدرش بپرسد. او پاسخ داد که پدرش به مأموریت کاری رفته و تا به این زودی ها به خانه برنمی گردد. او چنین می گوید" این کار باعث شد احساس بدی داشته باشم. به عنوان یک کودک دانستن این که داری دروغ می گویی، تناقض بزرگی است. نمی دانستم چرا باید دروغ بگویم."

نخستین روزهای مدرسه برای کامبیز مصادف بود با پایان جنگ ایران و عراق و مرگ خمینی. به گفته او: "در آن زمان زندانی بودن یکی از خویشاوندان مسئله ای غیرعادی بود". این امر خصوصأ در محله اقامت کامبیز صادق بود، زیرا بسیاری از هم مدرسه ای های وی خویشاوندانی داشتند که پس از انقلاب به قدرت رسیده بودند. "نمی توانستم درباره این مسئله با هیچکس حرف بزنم."

دین سیاسی شده

مریم تا نه سالگی در امریکا زندگی می کرد. وی در آنجا به یک مسجد افریقایی-امریکایی بزرگ اهل تسنن می رفت و در جلسات هفتگی محافل اهل تشیع شرکت می کرد. او خانواده خود را "روشنفکر مذهبی" توصیف کرده و توضیح داد که در نتیجه این امر تابوهای آن ها کمتر از بسیاری خانواده های دیگر بوده است.

"...یاد گرفتم بین دینی که داشتیم و دین دولتی تمایز قایل شوم. اگر شستشوی مغزی نشده باشید، این تنها راهی است که می توانید دین خود را نجات دهید. یاد گرفتم نسبت به آموزه های تاریخی و مذهبی مدرسه مشکوک باشم."

او نسبت به "مفاهیم متعصبانه شیعه" که در مدرسه آموزش داده می شد مشکوک بود اما کمتر پیش می آمد که درباره این مسئله با مربیانش بحث کند.

"بعدها گاهی اوقات در دانشگاه با اساتید مذهبی بحث می کردم، حتی با آن خانم دم در که به ما می گفت از دیدگاه یک "فرد مسلمان" پوشش مناسبی نداریم نیز بحث می کردم. سعی کردم آن ها را متقاعد کنم که سبک زندگیشان تنها سبک زندگی اسلامی نیست. اما به عقاید خود، که برای یک فرد شیعه خلاف عرف بودند، اشاره ای نمی کردم. در حوزه سیاست همواره خطی وجود داشت که نباید به طور علنی از آن عبور می کردم. فکر می کنم از ۱۱ یا ۱۲ سالگی، یا حتی زودتر از این سن، نسبت به خط مذکور آگاهی داشتم."

درباره دستگاه ویدئو حرف نزن

نخستین بار که پیام (۳۱ ساله) فهمید نباید در خارج از خانه درباره اتفاقات درون خانه صحبت کند، روز قبل از نخستین روز مدرسه وی بود.

"پیش از نخستین روز مدرسه پدرم به من گفت درباره دستگاه ویدئو حرفی نزنم. ما در محله خود فیلم های ویدئویی را رد و بدل می کردیم و بعضی شب ها با همسایگان فیلم می دیدیم. زمانی که بچه بودم این کار ممنوع بود. پدرم گفت ممکن است معلم ها تصویر یک دستگاه ویدئو را بکشند و بپرسند آیا کسی می داند این چیست. او به من هشدار داد که در پاسخ نگویم که می دانم این دستگاه چیست. او به من گفت: "نمی خواهم که دروغ بگویی، فقط چیزی نگو. اگر متوجه شوند دستگاه ویدئوی ما را خواهند گرفت. ممکن است حتی من را هم ببرند." نمی دانستم چرا چیزهایی وجود دارند که نباید بیرون از خانه درباره آن ها حرف بزنم، اما نمی خواستم پدرم را ببرند."

یک سال بعد برخی معلمان که از سوی سپاه پاسداران استخدام شده بودند به مدرسه آمدند تا اطلاعاتی را از دانش آموزان گردآوری کنند. در این هنگام پیام شش یا هفت سال سن داشت. پیام چیزی نگفت، اما برخی دیگر از دانش آموزان کلاس به طور داوطلبانه اطلاعاتی را ارائه کردند. "من در مدرسه خیلی ساکت بودم. حتی با این که در بحث ها شرکت می کردم، اما به سادگی با کسی دوست نمی شدم و خارج از بحث های تعیین شده زیاد حرف نمی زدم."

بسیاری از افرادی که برای نوشتن این مقاله با آن ها مصاحبه کردم، خصوصأ آن هایی که در دهه چهارم زندگیشان بودند، نیاز به مخفی کردن اطلاعات همراه با نوعی ترس بود. مصطفی چنین توضیح می دهد: "من احساس خطر می کردم، نه احساس دروغ گفتن."

باید این طور زندگی کرددو سال پیش آیدا در نخستین روز دوره پیش دبستانی خود یک لیوان آب را به سلامتی دوستان جدید خود بلند کرد. او با شادی گفت: "به سلامتی". مصرف الکل در ایران ممنوع است و این عمل وی ممکن بود به فعالیت های خصوصی خانواده وی ارتباط داده شود. عصر آن روز مادر آیدا مجبور شد برای او توضیح دهد که بعضی گفته های درون خانه را به هیچ عنوان نمی توان نزد عموم تکرار کرد. آیدا که فقط سه سال و نیم سن داشت نمی توانست بفهمد که چرا باید درباره بعضی چیزها ساکت بماند. پدر آیدا در هنگام تعریف کردن مجدد این داستان خندید و گفت: "مادرت مضطرب بوده، اما در ایران باید این طور زندگی کرد."

اوضاع در این سی سال بسیار تغییر کرده است. سقف خانه ها در ایران پوشیده از دیش های ماهواره غیرقانونی است. رژیم نبرد بی نتیجه خود را برای جدا نگه داشتن مردم از دنیای خارج ادامه می دهد. در حال حاضر رژیم در حال مبارزه با برنامه های پیام دهی و دستگیر کردن مردم به جرم ساختن لطیفه و ساختن ویدئو است.

حتی با وجود تمام این تغییرات، پیام نمی تواند بزرگ کردن و تربیت فرزند در ایران را تصور کند. "نمی دانم چگونه باید از فرزندم محافظت کنم و توضیح دهم که چرا بعضی حرف ها را می شود زد و بعضی حرف ها را خیر. تصور این برای من مشکل است."

می گویند نشانه هوش و ذکاوت فرد این است که بتواند ایده های متناقض را نزد خود نگه داشته و گرفتار سردرگمی نشود. برای بسیاری از جوانان ایران، این تنها راه حفظ ایمنی و سلامت ذهنی در زندگی روزمره است.

[1] تمام نام ها برای محافظت از هویت افراد تغییر داده شده اند