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Sat 20 July 2019
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Tina Gharavi launches her new regular column on Tribalism with a tour of the Iranian Revolution, Exile, The Smashing Pumpkins, and how Brexit is making Britain an alien place.

“Eeeee…. You’re that American!,” she said before I had a chance to correct her… Iranian I wanted to say. But before I could, this glorious plump woman in Ashington was handing me a free ice-cream. I was a minor celebrity in Ashington, in 1996 when I moved to the UK after many years living in the US. It was a time when being “foreign”, at least in the North, wasn’t a bad thing. In that more optimistic age, my hyphenated identity wasn’t so problematic and the Daily Mail hadn’t yet started their relentless campaign against asylum seekers (code for foreigner hate).

Zipper blues is the depression of someone who is constantly moving from one place to another or not able to stay in one place

I was welcomed, not least because I could teach ex-miners kids filmmaking (though perhaps only helping them get from one failing industry into another), but because I chose to be there, I was welcome. I fell in love with the place and over 20 years later, I am still here. However, my story with the UK began much earlier and in fact preceded my birth. In truth, my destiny intertwined with these islands from 1953, more than 20 years before my birth.

The classic Smashing Pumpkin’s track – 1979, is about adolescent longing, desire for belonging, and a melancholic reflection on life and meaning. It is an incongruous anthem for summing up perfectly my reflections on exile and home.

Zipper blues is the depression of someone who is constantly moving from one place to another or not able to stay in one place (as in having to keep zipping up ones jacket because of constant mobility and always having to leave).

I don’t want to justify myself as what Sajid Javid might term the “good immigrant” but to remember that my own appearance was due, in large part, to the CIA and MI6

February and March mark the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and my appearance, as one of the huddled masses on the shores of the UK. 40 years on and despite living in over 15 houses across four continents I’m rooted here in Newcastle, my city of re-birth.

Newcastle is the World

Tina as a child in Iran

Newcastle is indeed the world. Or at least the world belongs to it…. The coal, the football team, Newcastle Brown Ale, the steam engine and Paul Gascoigne are renouned with  around the world. “Newcastle is Peru” or the world, the poet Tony Harrison declared.

With Brexit looming on the horizon, I’m forced contemplate what makes me British and of this place. I can’t help but think of how I got here. One of the few. The fortunate refugees who at the time was a desirable, even exotic “exile”.

I don’t want to justify myself as what Sajid Javid might term the “good immigrant” but to remember that my own appearance was due, in large part, to the CIA and MI6 inspired 1953 coup that brought down Mohammed Mossadegh, the first democratically-elected leader of Iran, the backlash of which lead directly to the events of 1979 and the Iranian regime as the world knows it today.

That fact always makes me want to shout at bigots (with The Daily Mail tucked under their arms): “I didn’t choose to be here, you fool, YOUR country conspired to the downfall of mine.” I am here, because you were THERE. There trying to protect your oil wells.

Scan the headlines and today’s world doesn’t look so very different from 1979. Or indeed 1953. A new cold war on the horizon. Instability and blowback in the Middle East. In South America, the US engineering regime change in another major oil producer; this time in Caracas instead of Tehran. Bodies blown like dust filament around the world. More instability. Fresh waves of refugees. What have we learnt?

As for me…

I am here, because you were there!

Brexit and Belonging

Brexit, in part, is a look at how we see ourselves in the world. Who belongs here, who should be allowed to stay. Would it be wrong to ask if Brexit is as much about empire and migration and national identity as it is about economic benefit (has anyone actually found any). What does “taking your country back” mean when your country has pulled apart so many others?

Brexit will turn the UK into a foreign land again, a place where I might no longer recognise my people

But I am also STILL here because of the goodness of the people of the North East. The people who are now my community.  And also because I have decided to throw my lot in with this sodden grey island. I am here now by choice. I’m a British citizen, a filmmaker and storyteller, proud to be one of its’ foot soldiers trying to figure out this mess. Everything I’ve got and everything I have become. I made it here…

But I would throw it all away in a heart-beat for a chance to be able to go back to my mother country and the land of my birth. To set eyes again on my grandmother’s tiny village house and to shake the pear and walnut trees in the small orchard for their gifts. For, you see, she is always a beautiful haunting. Home.

Like the nostalgic teenager, belonging to neither here nor there and the road so painfully open, Brexit will turn the UK into a foreign land again, a place where I might no longer recognise my people; rendering me an exile again and leaves me questioning what place I can now call home.

This new column for Byline will be my missives on belonging, identity, and how we create inside/outsider groups. All views are completely ripped off from FB memes and I reserve the right to change my mind at any minute and in ever instance.

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