1979: A Hostile Nation

Daniel Kuhlman, Guest Writer

The warm August air whipped through the empty street in the East Village. I sat on the front steps of our new apartment building locked out again with no key. Taking liberties upon myself, I purchased a newspaper from the CVS down on the corner of East 9th Street and Avenue D. Nothing had grabbed at my attention except an anecdote about a medical procedure discovered by American doctors in the early 70s. However, I was on a mission. I quickly thumbed to a story I had been following for months. On the back page, a small article read out in bold print:


As I began to read I reminded myself of the home Bita and I had left behind. Feelings of resentment swelled within me. The massive demonstrations taking over Tehran had ripped my country at the seams.

Bita looked at me and silently uttered the words, “She’s asleep, for now.”

“For now,” I chuckled and looked at the beautiful child asleep in Bita’s lap. Out the window, I could see the Elburz Mountains disappearing beneath the clouds as Iran Air’s Boeing 747 lifted us above Tehran. Bita and I looked at each other and we could both see the mix of fear and excitement in each other’s eyes.

My eyes continued to scan the paper. Suddenly I saw the words, “Ervin Tehrani, a student at the University of Tehran…”

“Farhad! Farhad what are you doing out here it’s freezing!”

Bita walked down the sidewalk with Jaleh in her arms and a expression of worry across her face.

“Bita, I must have lost my key again. I know this appears clumsy, but you have to believe me. I got here, reached in my coat pocket for the key, and couldn’t find it, so I’ve waited for someone to come by and help me out.”

“Please, Farhad, I don’t need you getting sick. If you get sick, then I’ll go next. If I go then who will take care of Jaleh? If Jaleh get sick, then….”

“Bita, Bita, calm down,” I could see the worry spreading throughout her body and attempted to assuage it with a reassuring smile. “Now, let’s first open the door and then we won’t have to worry about anyone getting sick.”


“Bita, have you seen this yet?” I held up the issue of The New York Times I had purchased.

“Of course not. Farhad, why would I want to remind myself of home. I already know that Tehran is tearing itself apart.”

I pursued my lips at the obvious disinterest but quickly countered, “Bita, Ervin is mentioned in it”.

Bita’s head emerged from the textbook she had been reading and slowly got up from the kitchen table. In a trance-like motion, she walked over and sat on the arm of my chair. The paper brought back memories of our home and how long we had actually been away. Protests had began while we had still been in Iran. Iranians had become disenfranchised with the heavily pro-Western politics of the Shah and brutal tactics of his secret police, the SAVAK. A new leader, the Ayatollah Khomeini, had urged students and loyal Iranians to rebel against the “tyrannical” puppet Shah. Who are the bad people here. Is it the Shah who has done so much for Bita and I? Is it this new man, Ayatollah Khomeini, who has seemingly sparked this revolution.

“The Ayatollah is a radical,” Bita looked again at the article, “I don’t see why Ervin has clung so highly to Khomeini’s ideals. The way Ervin speaks in there,” Bita pointed toward the paper, “it, it worries me Farhad.” There right there in the paper was a quote directly from Ervin’s mouth. Infused with heavy anti-Shah rhetoric there could be no doubt to who Ervin aligned himself with.


“Many of you need to turn in your research papers by Friday to be considered for the head residency position at Vagelos.”

 I wrote my paper on the growth of tumors within the brain in pre-adolescent boys and it had been my obsession since January. I walked to the front of the auditorium to hand in my paper to Dr. Joseph Mercola but as I walked down the aisle I could sense an undeniable hatred filling the classroom. I quickly set the paper down, ran out of the classroom and made my way down the hallway. The air felt suffocating as if every eye was pushing down on my lungs. Ten Blocks. Three Turns. Fifteen Minutes. I hastily recreated the walk home in my head, silently worried about the invisible event which I knew had happened.

 Ervin looked me seemingly both straight in the eyes and as if  I wasn’t even standing in front of him.

“Th-Thanks Ervin. I still think you should come in a few years, maybe after your father finally moves here.”

Ervin registered every word I was telling him but I knew he would never leave Iran. Every other place, especially America, was too secular, too foreign, too hostile, everything that Ervin detested.  I had no idea how to continue the conversation. The two of us, brothers a year ago and now strangers. Suddenly, my solemn thoughts were interrupted by Bita, “Come love, the flight leaves at 10 we better get going.”

“All right Bita I’m coming. Ervin, Ervin! Thank you brother. Ma’ Al-Salamah”

For the first time since arriving at the airport Ervin said something, “Al-wada”

No one had confronted me on my walk, no run, home but that didn’t mean much. Most of our neighbors were drunks or invalids, the perfect people because they remained in the American bars most of the time. As I walked into our apartment I could hear a voice on the box television. I found Bita fixated on the screen. The moment she sensed that I arrived her head turned and in a low voice she said, “ Farhad…” In utter disbelief she could not create a cohesive sentence. We watched the NBC news anchor report the news:


“Breaking News out of Iran. Iranian students have stormed the American Embassy in Tehran. The students have taken 90 civilians hostage including 66 American embassy workers. The Ayatollah Khomeini has issued a statement praising the students’ efforts. This act of aggression protests recent actions taken by the United States allowing asylum and medical care to the deposed Shah. The students demand the Shah be extradited to Iran and have said they will hold the hostages until their conditions are met.

There it was, on the screen in all its glory. There could be no denial, there could be no refusal of the truth. As Bita and I watched footage of protesters blindfolding innocent Americans and burning flags, we began recognizing faces. Those among the crowd included many familiar friends.  Aman the butcher. Bita’s old neighbor, Babar. Jahan my grade-school teacher. Ervin the ‘brother’. The words, “Al-wada,”  silently slid off my lips as I watched Ervin escort a blindfolded hostage toward a parked car. My soul dropped into my gut, it hurt for my country, for my brother, and for the arrested Americans.

“Wha-wha-what do we do now?  Why did they do this? These protestors have finally ruined our lives too. Farhad, I thought we had escaped just in time but it’s finally reached us. Now where do we go? Where are we supposed to go Farhad? We know our people, those hostages aren’t going to die but America wi-wi-will torture us.”

“Bita, come sit down please. Sit down, rest. America, America will not desert us.”

“And why not!? Why do they have any reason to protect us!? They have no obligation to us, we have no right to their constitution. They will not fight for us why would they when they see us as the enemy. Americans are too ‘morally just’ to ever be kind to their perceived enemies.”

“Bita, please, we still are students here, and they would not hurt a child. This-this crisis will not last long and everything will go back to normal eventually.”

“No, Farhad no. You’re wrong, you may see the glimmering future of our family here in America but I see the reality of our family here. We will never be wanted.”


Four notes the first day that said, “We’re gonna kill your child”.

A doll painted brown with a knife stuck through its eye.

A broken window, smashed by a brick with the note, “GO BACK OR WE’LL KILL YOU”

Graffiti blasted on our front door that read, “ GET OUT OF OUR COUNTRY COMMIES”

One thousand murderous states.

Too many explvities to count.


Bita and I walked into the immigration offices in New York City. President Carter and his administration had passed Executive Order 12172 ordering all Iranian students to report to immigration offices to determine if we had violated our visa terms. As we walked into the building we only felt exposed and embarrassed. The security official sitting behind the desk requested all our papers and information on how long we’d been in America, why we were here, if we had any family in America, and a thousand other questions to prod our already dejected bodies. At the end of the interrogation, the man straightened and asked, “If you had still been back there, would you guys have walked through those gates?”

“No sir, if I had still been Iran I would have remained still.”

The man nodded his head a few times and waved us through the exit obviously troubled by the answer from his ‘enemy’. Walking through the hallways, Bita and I passed the same slogans and signs we had adored when we saw them for the first time.



As we walked out of the immigration building our heads were hung low and toward the sidewalk. Jaleh had begun to cry in the cold December air and Bita’s cheeks were turning rosey. Walking in the silence, wind, and cold we seemed to not even know where we were, America or Purgatory. Two blocks away from our apartment it happened. The man had walked out of an alley, drunk and impaired. Brandishing a petty pocket knife, the man stumbled across the sidewalk. Once he saw the same people walking down the street who had burned his flag and captured his ambassador he became consumed by animosity.. I do not know why his knife did not go for me and it is only by grace that his blade did not harm Jaleh. However, I do know that hate murdered my wife. Obviously, the American police would not classify it as race-based. It was simply an assault. With my eyes wide open I did not know what to look at, Bita on the ground clutching her side or the man running down the street and into a far-gone alley. This was my unofficial welcome to America, not the America I believe in or came to admire, but the America that Bita had always foreseen and would always be a victim of.




Berlatsky, Noah. Perspectives on Modern History: The Iranian Revolution. Greenhaven Press, 2012. Print.

Bozorgmehr, Mehdi. “No Solidarity: Iranians in the U.S.” THE IRANIAN:     Study, Iranians in. U.S., Mehdi Bozorgmehr, BRIIFS, 2 May 2001, iranian.com/Opinion/2001/May/Iranians/index.html?site=archive#3a.

DeGregorio, William. The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents: From George Washington to George Bush. Random House, 1984. Print.

“The Iranian Hostage Crisis.” U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of State, history.state.gov/departmenthistory/short-history/.   iraniancrises.

Gage, Nicholas. “PROTESTORS MARCH FOR 2D DAY IN IRAN;    VIOLENCE IS LIMITED.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 12 Dec. 1978, www.nytimes.com/1978/12/12archives/protestors-march-2d-day-in-iran-violence-is-limited-halfmillion.html.