Back in the late ’90s, I was working in Iran. There is a statement you probably don’t hear very often! I had been engaged in helping Iraqi Refugees who had fled from “chemical Ali” in Halabja, Iraq.
After working really hard that week I was resting in my hotel in Tehran. About 5 in the evening I began to hear a stirring noise with lots of yelling and chanting. I decided to go downstairs to see what it was all about. I approached the front desk and asked the receptionist what all the commotion was? He looked at me and smiled and said “it is November 3rd.” I guess he thought I should know what November 3rd was. Quickly he could tell by my quizzical expression that I was not tracking with him. “Tomorrow is November 4th,” he said. Again, seeming to believe that I knew what November 4th was, he left it at that. Again, no knowing what in the world he was talking about he said with a bit of exasperation, “It is National Day of Fight against Global Arrogance.”
“Iran will celebrate the takeover of the Embassy of the United States. Thousands of Iranians will rally in the capital, Tehran, to mark the anniversary of the United States embassy student takeover.” He said with a bit of a sarcastic smirk, knowing that I was an American.
He explained to me, On November 4, 1979, months after the toppling of Iran’s US-backed shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, students overran the embassy complex to demand Washington hand over the overthrown ruler after he was admitted to a hospital in the United States. The crisis ended after 444 days with the release of 52 US citizens. He knew it by heart.
I quizzed him. So it must be a rather important holiday in Iran? Then, his tone changed. His voice lowered to a whisper as he went on to explain in detail how the government required all students, women children and men to attend the demonstrations in support of this national holiday. He said “the excitement was pretty limited to the fact that it was a day off from school and work.”
So I then asked him, what was the importance of the 3rd of November? Everybody is practicing for the demonstration. The government wants it to be a rally with lots of enthusiasm and they want everybody to know the script for what will happen. “These things do not just happen without practice.” He said.
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