THE WORLDPOST
04/24/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Watching Obama In Tehran


The author is an Iranian student who writes under a pseudonym.

Inside Iran, it is practically a given that religious people must also be devout supporters of the Islamic state. My parents are not an exception. That a heretic like me should arise from such a conservative family has been described by a friend as a "paradigm of boomerang irony."

On Friday morning I eagerly waited for an hour while downloading President Obama's video message to the Iranian people. I was curious to see my parents' reactions. My mother, doing her cleaning rituals for Nowruz, the Persian new year, was not interested. Neither was my father: "It's not the first time they give us this line: 'You Iranians are a civilized people enslaved by evil terrorist Ayatollahs, blah blah.' Plus, It's written in English."

"It's a little different this time," I explained. "It is a video message - with Farsi subtitles."

Obama's speech was well-crafted. He spoke to both the government and the people at the same time, something his predecessors seldom did. More than once he used the country's official title, the "Islamic Republic of Iran," the way Iranian authorities prefer it to be called. Moreover, when he had to hint to Iran's support of terrorism, he dropped the -ism. This subtle ambiguity however was lost in the video my father watched, when the Farsi subtitle used the word "terror" unchanged. In Farsi the word "terror" has no emotional connotation and is only associated with acts of terrorism.

My father was quick to observe this:"Didn't I tell you?" However, he did not seem as confident in saying this as before.

A few minutes later, sitting on a couch next to me, and facing the table decorated with haft-sin for Nowruz, he asked, "What do you think?"

"Only an idiot like Khamenei can let this golden opportunity to improve things slip away!"

Actually, I only thought this. In my situation you cannot be too liberal in voicing your inner feelings.

"I don't know. What do you think?" I said.

"You know, even if he is being honest..." - the first time I heard my father apply the adjective "honest" to an American president, even just in a conditional phrase - "...there are many there that disagree with him."

"The same goes in here." I replied. "Many don't want that to happen. Just like Israel does not want rapprochement." It is hardly a compliment to remind someone they are actually standing on the same side as their "enemy" on an issue.

"You know," he mused, "when the Soviet Union wanted to warm ties with Iran, they asked Rafsanjani to ask people not to chant 'Death to the Soviets' any more. And they did it. Just like that. If the US is serious and proves its good intentions, I don't see why the same thing cannot happen to the 'Death to America.' "

My mother is even more religious than my father - and even more inflexible in her support of the state's propaganda. She did not bother to watch the video message, instead challenging me: "Are you this happy to see Rahbar's [Supreme Leader Khamenei] Nowruz speech?"

"Hell, no!" I snapped, quickly pivoting to offer a plausible explanation. "Because he does it every year, and that for almost an hour!"

Speaking of our Supreme Leader, Khamenei is a person who uses the word "enemy" in his speeches as often as we use auxiliary verbs in our sentences. Even my mother, had she watched the video, would have been hard pressed to find any trace of animosity in Obama's disarming speech. By throwing the ball into Khamenei's court in such a flattering fashion, Obama had rendered the Supreme Leader literally speechless. Not surprisingly, the state-run TV and Radio, which are directly controlled by the Supreme Leader, have not even alluded to Obama's speech.

All in all, those Iranians who can access any alternative media have been very happy about Obama's speech, but nothing is ever simple. As one news forum commenter lamented: "I presume Mr. Obama is not very familiar with the fact that our officials have a master's degree in incinerating the opportunities."

A user - perhaps a younger one - used more colloquial language commenting under the video's link in Balatarin.com: "I wish Obama were our president."