There I was, horrified as I watched Americans attack the U.S. Capitol Complex Wednesday, and my mind suddenly transported me back to my childhood.
I was 11 years old when the principal of our school in Tehran, Iran, urged us to carry scarves in the event militant Islamic fundamentalists decided to intentionally throw acid in our faces for not following religious rules and wearing a hijab, a veil worn by many Muslim women.
It was the summer of 1978, months before Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution, and I was a student
at an American school in the country’s capital. The Shah was still in power and dozens of young girls had been attacked by those working to overthrow the monarch’s secular regime and replace it with an Islamic State. These militants, posing as freedom fighters, would go around schools or neighborhoods and cowardly douse little girls with acid.
I still remember the green and white scarf I clutched for weeks, confused as to why little girls had to live in fear. Over that summer, I would stop wearing shorts and stay closer to home instead of venturing out to play with neighborhood kids. The scarf that I carried around for so many days, oddly, the same color as the hue that came to symbolize the 2009 failed political Green movement that attempted to remove Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
In 1978, for many Iranian children used to a western lifestyle living under strict Islamic law seemed like a foreign idea, especially for someone like myself with a Christian upbringing and an American father. Looking back, the beginning of 1978 felt like the best of times in Iran. As the year progressed, though, citizens could feel an inexplicable political chill in the air engulfing the nation.
The days leading up to the Islamic Revolution were filled with fear, uncertainty and a sort of denial that till this day I cannot describe. No one could imagine, even as Martial Law was instituted, that Iran’s government would change. Protests filled the streets and attempts were made to storm and destroy buildings. My family and I left Iran in the fall of 1978 right before Supreme Leader Khomeini overthrew the Shah’s monarchy.
On an early fall morning, we boarded an airplane with six suitcases in hand, leaving behind everything we owned, including our home and our precious pets, who were adopted by a friend. It’s been more than 40 years and we still haven’t gone back to Iran but I still vividly remember my home, my life and the smell of fresh spring flowers Iranians have cherished for centuries.
In 1979, while safe in America, we watched Iranian students storm the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and take 52 Americans hostage. My father had walked those same grounds months before in the hot summer months, as he tried to secure passports to get us out of the country.
During that same year when Americans were held captive, human rights organizations say former politicians, Army Generals and anyone who opposed the regime were imprisoned, tortured and murdered. Those of us who got out considered ourselves to be the lucky ones, privileged to set foot on American soil. To Iranian exiles, the United States represented a shining beacon of hope, a place where a little girl like me could aspire to dream and become anyone she wanted to be.
That’s why on Wednesday my heart beat a bit faster and I felt shivers running down my spine. I along with millions of Americans sat in horror, watching a reckless mob storm the U.S. Capitol Complex. The haunting images reminded me of the revolutionary events in Iran when Muslim fundamentalists took over public buildings, private homes and movie theaters. The chaos at the Capitol was also eerily similar to what happened at the American Embassy in Tehran. I remember watching the terrifying events unfold on television from our living room in Los Angeles. Iranian students climbed the walls of the American Embassy, then pushed their way inside and took American diplomats hostage. The large crowds carried pictures of Khomeini and burned American flags, chanting “death to America.” Before we knew it, the students began parading the blindfolded American diplomats they had captured.
While the thugs breaching the Capitol Complex by breaking windows and doors appeared more like cast members taking part in a frat party in a bad Hollywood movie, their violent actions should scare us all and serve as a wakeup call that we can never allow something so heinous to ever happen again.
The storming of the Capitol came not too long after President Donald Trump addressed thousands of supporters gathered to protest the false notion the November 3rd Presidential Election was rigged. The President has been relentlessly pointing to all kinds of conspiracy theories to discredit President-Elect Joe Biden’s win. While dozens of courts have struck down his cases, including the U.S. Supreme Court, staunch supporters continue to believe his untruths.
On Wednesday, Trump, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of our nation, urged supporters to walk up to the Capitol and jeer Republicans and Democrats planning on certifying Biden’s presidency.
“You can’t take back our country with weakness,” President Trump told the crowd. “You have to be strong.”
The President joked that he might even join protesters at the Capitol but never did. Instead, Trump went back to the White House as a rogue group of supporters, mostly unmasked, made their way to the Capitol Complex, then began scaling the walls of the building. The mayhem left five people dead, including a Capitol Police Officer and a California woman, who had served in the Air Force. Reports indicate she had been deeply steeped in Q-Anon conspiracy theories.
As the chaos unfolded, Lawmakers inside the Capitol could be seen running and taking cover behind chairs. New Jersey’s U.S. Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker found themselves under lock down.
“How we arrived at this moment, with domestic terrorists storming Congress and desecrating the Capitol, should be no mystery,” said Democratic Senator Menendez, whose parents escaped Communist Cuba. “For months, President Trump has fed Americans a steady diet of lies and disinformation in an effort to overthrow the November 2020 election and cling on to power. This afternoon, the President poured fuel on that fire by inciting a lawless and violent takeover of the United States Capitol.”
Condemnations came from both sides of the aisle and lawmakers vowed to go back and certify Biden’s presidency, which they did at 3:44 Thursday morning. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican who had been a staunch ally of the President, gave an impassioned speech.
“This failed insurrection only underscores how crucial the task before us is for our Republic,” McConnell said. “Our nation was founded precisely so that the free choice of the American people is what shapes our self-government and determines the destiny of our nation. Not fear, not force, but the peaceful expression of the popular will.”
“Count me out, enough is enough,” said startled Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. “The President and I have had a great ride … but Joe Biden is the legitimate President of the United States. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are lawfully elected and will become the President and Vice-President of the United States on January the 20th.”
The President, though, remained aloof throughout the extraordinary hours, appearing in a Twitter video, still not condemning the storming of the Capitol.
“This was a fraudulent election but you can’t play into the hands of these people,” Trump said in the Twitter video before his account was suspended. “We love you. You’re very special. You’ve seen what happens. You see how others are treated, who are so bad and so evil. I know how you feel but go home. Go home in peace.”
Nearly 30 hours after what both Republicans and Democrats referred to as “the insurrection,” President Trump appeared in front of cameras at the White House to condemn the violence.
“To those who engaged in acts of violence and destruction, you do not represent our country,” said Trump on Thursday, “And to those who broke the law, you will pay.”
While Democrats and some Republicans are pointing the finger at Trump, saying he fueled the fire that led to what will become one of the ugliest moments in American history, the President did not take responsibility. However, he did concede Biden will be President on January 20th and offered to help with the transition. He also indicated he might run again in 2024. The President’s changing tones have left many Americans tired.
Americans have literally been pushed to the edge for nearly a year, as they battle the Coronavirus, high unemployment rates, racial injustice, election misinformation and the collapse of small businesses and restaurants. If there’s a moment in history where Americans should attempt to come together and listen to one another — this is the time.
There was no justification for the violence on the Capitol. The police officer and the California woman
didn’t have to die. If there’s a lesson to be learned from political mistakes in developing nations, where there always seems to be an endless and violent struggle for power, it’s that we must work even harder today to preserve our democracy in the United States. You can’t achieve that goal by scaling walls, invading democratic grounds and destroying a building that stands for freedom. I promise you, the majority of Iranians, many of whom yearn for basic rights, don’t want to see Americans tear apart their political system. Our government isn’t perfect, nothing is, but preserving our system and making it even stronger, is the only way we’ll get out of this mess and stop the divisions that are tearing us apart.