Ceremony of Innocence
Today is the birthday of Princess Leila Pahlavi who was born on 27 March 1970, and died tragically in London in June 2001. In the past week I have been reminded by many Iranians that her birthday is approaching. The following few words, with all their inadequacy of expression are an attempt to reach out in solidarity to all those who remember their lovely princess on her birthday. It is to honour the feelings of those Iranians who follow their own heart, and not the media of the clerical dictatorship in choosing significant days in their annual calendar.
In an Orwellian political atmosphere like that of the Islamic Republic, where values are turned upside down and occasions of horror and destruction are paraded as days of celebration, deciding which days and events are important to us individually can be an act of resistance to the ongoing political travesty. William Butler Yeats, the great Irish poet describing the signs of a chaotic, violent world where ‘things fall apart’ writes of how in the midst of this disintegration the ‘ceremony of innocence is drowned.’
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
The ceremony of innocence is the honouring of what is beautiful and the giving of one’s attention to that which is fine, lovely and pure. Violence and catastrophe have a tendency to distract us from noticing and acknowledging what is meaningful. When anarchy prevails, the harrowing forces of darkness can overwhelm us to such an extent that we can think of nothing but our mere survival. A constant state of crisis, economic deprivation, and political dictatorship cannot but take a heavy toll on our emotional stability. Accordingly, the observance of what is dear and significant to us can act like a pause for renewal and reflection. In the carnage and cruelty of a war, thinking of a sweetheart or a loved one infuses soldiers with hope; reminding them that life has not always been like that, and will not stay as such forever.
Today, beyond the apparent security and peace in the Islamic Republic, a silent war is being waged against the consciousness of the country’s citizens. Recently, news headlines told us that Akbar Ganji the Iranian journalist ‘is a free man today.’ His pictures were published making phone calls to his friends after being sent home from prison. A look at his bewildered eyes however was enough for us to realize the heavy mental and psychological price paid for his release. His freedom, like the freedom of the rest of Iranians does not include inalienable rights to mental peace, happiness and dignity. Akbar Ganji, instead of giving his full attention to the development of his personal and professional talents, has to use the bulk of his energy fighting for what is taken for granted by any free citizen of any civilized country: his mere liberty. He has to live under the constant threat of being taken back to prison.
Those patriotic Iranians who cling to the memory of Princess Leila and many other events unrecognized, discouraged or prohibited by the clerical dictatorship, wittingly or unwittingly contribute to the endurance of the ceremony of innocence and rejection of a culture of hatred promoted by their country’s dictatorial establishment. They endeavour to preserve their sanity by focusing on that which reminds them of truth, unselfishness and love. In the throes of a spiteful battle waged by anti-Iranian Mullahs against their national interests, it restores people’s hope to think of a young princess who yearned for reunion with her homeland and was devoted to her country’s culture and civilization. The ceremony of innocence is kept alive when Iranians defy their tyrannical rulers and celebrate feasts going back to the roots of their national identity and heritage.
The large numbers of Iranians who visit the grave of Leila Pahlavi every year testify to the fact that remembrance of this lovely princess does not depend on the ups and downs of political fortunes and the outcome of the diplomatic poker played between Moscow, Tehran Washington and others. She has earned her own special place in the hearts and minds of her compatriots. Her peacefulness, compassion and beauty are tokens of those fragile cultural treasures, which throughout the ages and under the cruel swords or artilleries of their invaders, Iranians have fought tooth and nail to preserve.
To publicly remember Leila Pahlavi’s birthday, one has to brace oneself against many accusations. One will be branded as a celebrity worshipper, a sentimental nostalgist or worse still, a sycophant. These accusations will be hurled by foes as well as many so-called friends.
But so what? To suffer such slanders one will begin to acquire a sense of empathy with an emotionally wounded princess whose anguish of exile was exacerbated by spiteful words and vicious comments she could not help but to hear about her beloved father and her closest kin; words that gnawed away at her sensitive soul and tormented her loyal and loving character.
Today is a day of celebration and remembrance of a princess who loved her country to death. A princess whose tragic fate jolted at least some of her compatriots into the recognition that beneath all the jockeying and blood letting of political animals in our national scene, a human innocence is being silently stifled and buried. It brought home to them the vulnerability and suffering of the youth of our country whose dreams of living in a free homeland have been turned into a long lasting nightmare.
Looking at the history of human existence, one realizes how so many civilizations have flourished and disappeared and how many valuable treasures have been buried forever beyond any possibility of redemption. Sometimes all one can do is to commemorate and intelligently remember. To observe the ceremony of innocence is to remind oneself that in spite of all the evidence that might point to the contrary, life has great possibilities for hope, humanity and love where in the words of the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas: ‘… death shall have no dominion’.