February 24, 2020

Give Thanks That You’re Not in Iran

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

I’ve always liked the Yiddish word “kvetch,” which means to complain. No one surpasses my stupefying ability to kvetch, not only until the cows come home, but until they take a running dive off a pastoral cliff in order to find respite from my incessant complaining.

I like kvetch, but I love the Persian version, which is more pejorative: “zehr zadan.” No one can out-zehr me.

But as I’ve watched the recent eruption of historic and deadly protests unfold in Iran, I haven’t felt like complaining.

On Nov. 15, one day after the Iranian government announced it would slash gasoline subsidies, which would result in a nearly 300% upsurge in fuel prices, thousands poured into the streets. But unlike the 2009 post-election Green Revolution protests, which consisted primarily of the middle-class chanting, “Death to the dictator!” these angry, working-class Iranians were calling out the supreme leader by name, fervently screaming “Death to Khamenei!”

I know California gas prices are no picnic, but let’s maintain some perspective the next time we complain about topping off our tanks.

Protesters burned down more than 100 banks and attacked government offices. They also set fire to images of Khamenei.

The regime alleged the protesters weren’t Iranian but anti-government forces “pre-planned by the reactionary regional regimes, the Zionists and the Americans.”

This assertion speaks to how insecure the regime is about outside capabilities to oust leaders from power, whether through sanctions, public diplomacy or all-out force.

Iranians have taught us lessons in bravery and the value of life, but they also remind us of our sheer bounty.

Many schools were closed, which hasn’t happened since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. And then, the government shut down the internet. … for days. Let’s think about that this Thanksgiving as we mindlessly scroll through our phones at the dinner table. In one country, residents use the internet to score half-price off slow cookers on Black Friday. In another, brutalized citizens tried (and failed) to use social media to receive news on the ground about where helicopters reportedly were mowing down protesters with machine guns.

Thank God the only thing we have to worry about in the U.S. is misdirected drones that take wrong turns and snap lovely photos of farms rather than weddings.

Protests of such magnitude haven’t occurred in Iran since the revolution, which ironically called for the end of another regime — that of the shah and the Pahlavi dynasty. As of the Journal’s press time, 200 people have been killed and more than 3,000 have been injured. In Iran, some would rather be dead than arrested, and there have been more than 5,000 arrests.

The Iranian people have taught us lessons in bravery and the value of life, but they also remind us of our sheer bounty. The rial’s value dropped more than 60% last year, making access to items ranging from medicine to meat excruciatingly expensive. Iran soon is expected to reach a 40% inflation rate.

Let me try to describe what that would mean in U.S. terms, where inflation hovers around 1.9%: We’d be able to afford “luxuries” such as meat once every few months, buying eggs might even be out of the question and diapers would cost up to $7.

Not $7 per package, but $7 per diaper.

Does the U.S. have a hand in the economic struggles faced by the average Iranian? Yes. But is the campaign of maximum pressure working so effectively that the U.S. government is helping the regime push itself off a pastoral cliff? Absolutely.

This Thanksgiving, there’ll be no kvetching or zehr for me. I’ll fill my car with reasonably priced gas to drive to one store for pumpkin pie and another for Persian ice cream with saffron and rosewater, per my mother’s annual Thanksgiving menu. I’ll have the freedom to use the internet, although, let’s face it, I’ll probably spend three hours looking for the perfect waffle iron. And the only helicopter around will be the battery-operated toy our toddler continues to fly into my head and my back. Truly, what’s there to complain about?

Tabby Refael is a Los Angeles-based writer and speaker.