Iranians of all ages have to taken to the streets to challenge those who have coerced them into silence for over three decades. After 30 years of having their call for democracy drowned out by fanatics who hijacked the dreams of an entire people, Iranians are once again showing their resilience.
As the news unfolds, I cannot help recalling my family's experiences during the 1979 revolution. The events that transpired forever changed the life of my father and his family. At the age of 20, my father, like so many young Iranians, put everything on the line in order to brighten the future of his people. Like the Iranians who now march through the streets of Tehran, he risked his life because he believed in Iranian democracy. My father's generation now hopes that the current movement will bring the freedom that they couldn't.
My father was born in Kermanshah, Iran. Unlike like most Jews in the 1970s, he actively protested against the Shah's dictatorial regime. Despite the fact that Iran's Jewish population enjoyed economic prosperity living under the Shah's protection, he became involved in the student-socialist movement and regularly marched to challenge the Shah's authority.
During his senior year at Tehran University, my father was arrested during a demonstration. Police claimed he was attempting to incite rioting by demonstrating without a permit on campus. He was convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the Shah's government and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. He was driven towards Iran's notorious Evin Prison, located just outside Tehran. On his way to jail, he bribed the guards who were overseeing his transport. He was released in exchange for 10,000 toumans -- approximately $10,000 at the time. My father left for America one week later, and has not returned to his homeland since 1975.
As my father made a new life for himself in the United States, he left behind both parents, two brothers, and a sister in Iran. My grandfather, a businessman who ran a winery, was unwilling to abandon the only life he had ever known. Yoseph loved his country with a passion, even serving in the Iranian army as a combat soldier for 8 years. And yet, he was also aware of the fact that Iran was no place to raise a Jewish family.
After three years of working as a dishwasher, my father earned enough money to send for his siblings. Each of them gladly accepted the opportunity of a fresh start, working hard to learn English. All eventually graduated college.
Over the course of the next year, the Shah's overthrow became imminent. Concerned more about safety than wealth, my grandfather and my grandmother abandoned their beloved country. They left behind the beautiful winery that had been the pride of the family for as long as anyone could remember. In order to avoid drawing attention, they left their bank accounts untouched and their businesses intact. Friends and neighbors pledged to look after their property.
The Shah was exiled and was replaced by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Islamic extremism became the rule of law, and any hope of establishing a democracy disappeared. The American embassy was taken over and the hostage crisis ensued. All the while, the many Iranians that had fought for true change looked on in despair.
Our vineyard was confiscated by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and the house was transformed into a military base. My father received reports that soldiers enjoyed bathing in his family's bathtub -- the first bathtub he had ever bathed in. Bank accounts were frozen, and
people stripped of all their assets. For the past 34 years, my family has built its way up from the bottom. And, my grandfather--a survivor of two strokes who has difficulty walking upstairs to his bedroom-- has no money to move to a house that better suits his needs.
My family's story is not unique for the children of the revolution. Every person who fought to remove the Shah in the hopes of bringing freedom has a similar story to tell. Their voices were silenced. They were either killed or exiled.
As the Iranian people gather and march in silence throughout Iran's public squares, my father and I are hopeful that real democratic change is on the horizon. Today's revolution is different than the movement that swept the country thirty years ago. The pictures and footage from Iran that continue to be flashed across televisions all over the world show young men and women standing on rooftops screaming "Allah-Akbar"--God is Great. Religion, and Islam in particular, is not the enemy of those who seek greater freedom; it is their catalyst.
They have taken the symbols and motos of an oppressive government and have adopted them as their own. The leaders of Iran's current movement are trying to show their own people that it is God who is encouraging them to carry on. Today's revolutionaries are not fighting for just themselves--they are also carrying on the torch that their parents lit three decades ago. It is my father's hope, as well as that of an entire generation, that they can succeed in creating a more just Iran.