THIS past winter in Iran, I searched in vain to find Iranian art films by Kiarostami, Makhmalbaaf, and others in Tehran's movie stores. I found a great deal that was pirated and Hollywood, and an increasing number of Hindi movies. But it was impossible, literally impossible, to find our Iranian films anywhere in Tehran. But here in Bangladesh, Iranian films, including ones I have never heard of, are available in many stores. On my last shopping excursion, I bought a copy of "Secret Ballot," an Iranian comedy about our ridiculous elections and burgeoning democracy.
The Iranian community in Dhaka is small, tight-knit, and eccentric to the last. One gentlemen had been here for the last 35 years, grumbling about this place, railing against its every nook and cranny, but somehow so in love that he learned Urdu, Sanskrit, Hindi, and (as he claimed, but I refused to believe) became the first Iranian to learn to read Bengali. Then there was the tea magnate who had lived here for 50 years, and the petro-man, and the one who imported carpets and handicrafts into Bangladesh.
We all sat around eating watermelon and imported kharboozeh, arguing intensely over whether khiaar was Arabic for cucumber, or whether it was really related to ikhtiyaar and hence never originally the name of a fruit. We then proceeded to find every last word (there are about 17,000) in common between Bengali and Persian, scratching our heads over why z's became j's and s's became sh's and finally, revealing that Mumtaz Mahal was actually an Iranian from Yazd.
I never, not in my wildest dreams, imagined that the first time I would vote in an Iranian election, I would be doing it in Bangladesh. On June 12, 2009, I voted at the Iranian embassy in Dhaka. I was proud to play my part, proud to ride a wave of hope that was sweeping our world. More than anything, I believed that this election would bring us a more just, humane, and representative government.
The days that followed revealed in no ambiguous terms that the Iranian government had declared war on our people. The officials who were charged with representing us, and the police who were sworn to protect us, have betrayed our trust. No matter what your political beliefs, or what you think of the Iran elections, no government has the right to treat us this way.
No government has the right to fire on us with live ammunition as we march peacefully in the streets, to drop chemicals on our heads from helicopters, to beat us like animals because we defy their demands to shut up and stay home. No one has the right to imprison us without cause, without trial and without end for no other crime than saying and writing what we believe.
My grandfather, Ibrahim Yazdi, was pulled from his hospital bed and taken to jail for his political views, his colleagues are still in prison, scores of students are dead in the streets and there is no end in sight.
I am an Iranian student, in Bangladesh to learn about this country, her people, and her proud history. And I know these people, the sons and daughters of the Mukhti Bahini, of democracy activists and freedom fighters will stand with us. I am asking all of you, as human beings, please stand with my people. A show of solidarity from Dhaka would show students in Iran that Bangladeshis have heard their voice and that they stand with them against oppression, no matter the form or the place.
We Iranians know as well as anyone the dangers of western intervention and imperialism. Every Iranian can recite the events of 1953, when a CIA coup overthrew the democratic government of Mosaddegh. But fighting against Western Imperialism does not mean submitting to government brutality at home.
We Iranians will never accept that that we must choose between domestic tyranny and foreign domination. This is a false dichotomy created by people who wish to divert attention away from the real issues. No Iranian and no Bangladeshi should ever feel compelled to make such a choice.
We can fight for greater democracy and openness at home, while guarding against Western intervention. Those in the Iranian state media who are calling the street protestors "Western agents" are insulting the Iranian people's genuine and indigenous hunger for greater democracy and rights.
I have encountered in Bangladesh the kindest, most compassionate and genuine people I have ever met. Strangers pay for my bus fare, offer me their poems, and their houses for me to live in without a second thought. They walk long distances to get me to where I need to go and invite me into their lives without reservation. It is this caring for others that forms the beating heart of Bangladesh, a people who embody the philosophy of Shaikh Saadi who wrote in the thirteenth century:
Adam's children are limbs of one another,
Who, in their creation, are from one essence.
If one day a limb is pained,
The other limbs cannot remain at peace.
You who are unmoved by the suffering of others;
Let it not be that they name you "Human."
Hanif Yazdi is an Iranian student.
There will be a symbolic human chain supporting Iranian students' right to demonstrate peacefully for their rights today at 5:30pm, in front of Jatiyo Jadughar, Shahbag.