“Reaching Forward, Looking Back”
September 24, 2013
While walking in a park in a park in Tehran a few evenings ago, we encountered several scenes that have enabled me to think about young people and their lives in Iran’s past and present. And, there is a very good reason to consider these particular young people and their basic age range. At least 70% of Iranians are under 30 years of age.
How will they draw from Iran’s past and contemporary era? What key insights do they have about life in modern Iran can they offer to their elders?
When we came upon them they were sketching plans for some graffiti writing they hoped to do, listening to music, and generally celebrating the last night before they resumed high school for the new academic year. They were within earshot of both the prayer commemoration for the war between Iran and Iraq between 1980 and 1988, and teen age girls rollerblading on a cement course. We weren’t completely sure which group had caught more of their attention. There is after all compulsory military service for young men. Elsewhere in Tehran and also in Yazd, we saw more of the commemorative exhibits, developed and installed with money had been set up from Iranian governmental sources.
At the Reza Museum, named for Reza Abbasi, an important 19th century miniaturist, a painting of an old man and a young man set me to wondering how the older person and generation transfer knowledge and tradition to the younger group? And, does the communication go both ways?
Did the many thousands who travelled to Persepolis in the time of Cyrus the Great talk about business, politics, social news? What did the young people think who were there? What did the youths have to say to each other who had also come long distances?
What about future Iranian generations? If we were very quiet, we could imagine the people depicted in those court paintings speaking in French, the language of the elite.
Also at the Reza Museum, another artifact caught my eye and imagination. A pottery bowl, crafted in the 9th century CE in Nayashabur, one of Persia’s northern regions, had been inscribed with this Kufic sentence: “He who has patience, possesses ability, one who is content, possibility.”
Did ancient Persian people show more patience or more contentment? Is it clear which was more highly prized? What about now…?
As for my visiting at this historical moment, when Iran’s new president is visiting the United States, I am charged to trade places with him, even for a few seconds…. As those young boys in the park grow into manhood, and into who they will be as adults, how will they draw from their past and present? Can our American youth reach across the cultural and political divide to meet them half way? What will it mean for those youth to Iranize their futures, solving the dilemmas of providing water, creating bridges with their neighbors near and far, and meeting other challenges? As ancient Persians adopted and adapted the Arabic alphabet to their own use, adding several letters to make it their own, how will Iranian boys and girls adapt, innovate, reach out?