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Iranian Student Reflects On Islamic Revolution's 30-Year Anniversary

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"As the Demon leaves, the Angel enters."

My studies in the library were interrupted for the third time as the refrain of this revolutionary anthem blared from the university PA system. Nearly all government buildings in Iran seem to come equipped with a set of outdoor loudspeakers, put to good use for public propaganda on major occasions. Tuesday's thirtieth anniversary of the Islamic Revolution would be no exception.

My generation of course did not experience this watershed event. But we have countless times heard of the remarkable events that foretold its advent. There was, for instance, the alleged January 1979 sighting of Khomeini's face on the moon. Everyone heard the rumor and few dared dismiss it as nonsense. "Did you see it?" replaced the usual greetings. Farewells were exchanged while heads gaped at the sky.

Not even the cold could prevent men from pouring out of public baths into the night air searching for Ayatollah's face on the moon. Many found it, and perhaps its mesmerizing effect caused a towel or two to drop. Tears filled the eyes and men the mosques to thank God for placing His reassuring omen where all could see.

A few days later, Khomeini's plane landed on the tarmac of Mehr-Abad airport, from which the Shah and his Queen had fled two weeks earlier. The contrast could not be more striking. In one of history's biggest gatherings, millions swarmed to Tehran to witness the old man on the moon step to Earth. This contrast became the refrain of the revolutionary song:

"As the Demon leaves, the Angel enters."

Revolutionary songs would be re-broadcast everywhere during the anniversary celebrations for decades to come. My elementary school was no exception. I cannot help smiling when recalling how back then these songs would move us to fight for a spot on the platform closest to the loudspeakers. Once we got there all we did was to stand proudly with a self-conscious smile on our faces and savor the sensation of having the speakers thump out our little hearts with the rhythm of the music:

"As the Demon leaves, the Angel enters."

While still on the Air France flight to Tehran, a journalist asked Khomeini how he felt about returning after being banished for fifteen years as throngs waited impatiently for his arrival. Ayatollah replied: "Nothing!"

In high school, our physics teacher - who later became a cleric - cited this incident as evidence of Imam's godliness: "The serenity a man of God achieves through his faith in the Almighty and repudiation of the temporary material world is too deep to be disturbed with either good or bad luck."

Outside the airport, the black Mercedes carrying Ayatollah inched its way through the human tide, which surged against the car windows to glimpse the moon man. As the sheer pressure of the people made progress impossible, the old man had become airborne, not on heavenly wings, but in a US-manufactured helicopter. The helicopter flew over the tiny heads to Behesht-e-Zahra (Zahra's Garden), Tehran's largest cemetery, where Khomeini spoke to a massive crowd. The historic speech, though, has rarely been re-broadcast whole, in part because of passages like this:

Let us assume that a nation at a particular time votes for someone to become their sultan. It is their life and they can do anything they want with it. But what gives them the right to make decisions for their children, for the nation yet to come? Even if all the Iranians voted for Reza-Shah - an absurd assumption - what gives them the right to make his son the king over our heads? ...This traitor has wrecked our country and the cemeteries are the only place left untouched by his hands.

Last month, on January 5, the state ran bulldozers through Khavaran cemetery - "the Damned Town" as the regime supporters call it. This is where thousands of political prisoners, mostly leftists killed during the summary executions of 1988, have been buried anonymously, usually in mass graves.

With no choice in the matter, my generation has inherited our parents' 'lunatic' decision to welcome the moon man's rule and accept the continued reign of his clerical progeny. To mark the anniversary of this fateful moment, my state-owned SIM-card operator sends a text message to my cell phone: "Congratulations on 30 years of glory, integrity, and resolution." TV channels feature constant running subtitles encouraging viewers to attend celebratory rallies.

After three decades of angels and demons, though, most young Iranians are not attending.

The writer, who uses a pseudonym for his own safety, is a university student in Iran.