Serving Two Masters: A Spirit Divided

By Greg O’Brien, Codfish Press

I met Neda the other day. She says she’s one of the “lucky” ones. “I have two dumb presidents,” she declares in a thick Persian accent.

Born and raised in Tehran and now living and working in Boston with a dual U.S. citizenship obtained in a coincidental twist of irony on September 11, 2005, Neda Ahanin today finds herself straddling the balance beam of two polar opposites, her two presidents— trenchant Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and unbending George Bush. Loyal to the ancient and founding principles of both countries, Ahanin is a study of wrenching conflicts and contrasts, and yet she embodies the notion that the people of a nation often do not reflect the leadership du jour. A member of a traditional Persian sect who has attended an evangelical church in America, a woman who is as at ease in a chador as she is in a sundress, a nationalist of both an Islamic republic in Bush’s Axis of Evil and the foremost democracy in the world, Ahanin rebuffs our collective penchant to stereotype, bluntly stating, “the world is too quick to judge.” Her eclectic views defy political profiling.

On this peaceful Sunday morning, she sits in a small office in the Stony Brook section of Brewster, the air outside heavy and moist, and recoils at the headline of the day, threatening Armageddon in the Middle East—AHMADINEJAD: ISRAEL SOON DESTROYED. “Ahmadinejad is a nut,” winces Ahanin, who works as assistant to Boston Metro publisher Stuart Layne.  “He’s not a civilized person. He’s dangerously dumb.”

Ahmadinejad, she says, rules out of fear, and draws power from a country paralyzed by apathy, economic pressures and widespread drug use. “Iranians are good, family-centered people, but many of them feel trapped, and take a course of least resistance,” says Ahanin, 27, who lived in Tehran during the Iran-Iraq War and speaks fluent Farsi and Arabic. “It’s easier and cheaper for a person in Iran to buy opium or heroin, than it is to buy books. It’s a purposeful decision by the government, I believe, to keep the country sedated. If a person can’t think, they can’t resist and make decisions.”

Ahanin doesn’t mince words about her other president, either—reproving Bush, as she does Ahmadinejad, for using religion to maneuver a nation in his narrow political footsteps. “And Bush is not very smart, as well,” she says. “I’m still learning English, and my sentence structure is better than his. His aides write it for him, put it in front of him, and he still can’t read the cue cards. It’s embarrassing. I feel so sad when he talks that he’s the person speaking for this country.” Both Bush and Ahmadinejad, she notes, do a dreadful job of representing the various cross-sections of opinions in their countries.

Locked in what appears to be an unending identity crisis, Ahanin insists she has not lost touch with her values. “I am Persian,” she says, an obvious reference to an empire that no longer exists. “I am proud of that. My only identity crisis is to make others understand the difference between my people and its government.”

As to smart presidents, Ahanin says she would be happy with two presidents who had a half brain. “Then it would be one brain, and that would be a good start!”

 

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