February 1, 2019 marks the 40th year of Ayatollah Khomeini’s return to Iran from exile. What does this mean to the rest of the world?
Many leaders in the Middle East placated the West by calling for democracy and modernization—while at the same time maintaining a regime of suppression and human right abuse. Today we can point to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, colloquially known as MbS. In the 1970s America supported Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran. In 1979 the Shah abdicated his throne and Ayatollah Khomeini helped establish the Islamic Republic.
So what does this have to do with Appalachia, with Cloud of Witnesses? Though Cloud of Witnesses feels contemporary, it is a historical novel set 1979/1980. A sub-story in the novel has to do with a young foreign student, Hassan, from Tehran in Iran. His father came to Athens to work on the faculty of Ohio University. While in Athens the Iran Hostage Takeover (November 1979) occurs, and the resulting Crisis consumes the American media and presidential race. The day Ronald Reagan is sworn in the 52 hostages are released. As alien as his story seems from Roland’s, they are actually more alike than different. Both feel like strangers to their surroundings, each feels a bit like they are in exile from their true home, where they are supposed to be. For Hassan that would be Tehran, where the family can no longer return, and for Roland—he feels as if his destiny is to one day leave the foothills.
For many of us, we feel the same. Not always are we at “home.” Some of us yearn for something out of reach—out “there.”
At this point, after 40 years, America and Iran are still at a diplomatic impasse.