Kazem’s favorite food is ham—and this was a problem during his time in Abadan. While Firoozeh was growing up, Iran was still a monarchy led by the Shah. Kazem and Nazireh loved the Shah and believed that he’d modernize the country, making use of engineers like Kazem.
Kazem isn’t especially religious, although (as Firoozeh notes elsewhere) he does consider himself a Muslim. During Kazem’s childhood, Iran under the Shah was a religious country, but historians generally agree that it was more secularized than it became after the Iranian Revolution.
Iran’s relationship with oil has been a “mixed blessing.” A century ago, the British Empire discovered oil in Iran, a potentially lucrative source of fuel. The British Petroleum Company negotiated an agreement that would give the company drilling and selling rights. But in the 1950s, Iran nationalized its oil reserves, forcing BP out of the country. Though it went through economic troubles during the 1960s, Iran was “finally reaping most of the profits from its own oil” by 1970.
The British Empire used its military might to pressure Iran into giving up the majority of its wealth to British Petroleum. Since the end of World War Two, however, Iran—along with many other Middle Eastern countries—has managed to gain control of the majority of its own oil reserves. This further escalated tensions between Iran and Western countries, since gaining access to Middle Eastern resources has long been a cornerstone of Western foreign policy.
During his time as a graduate student in America, Kazem’s love for ham grew quickly. Later, when he and his family were living in California, Kazem loved the fact that ham was widely available. However, Nazireh hated ham, and as a result, Kazem had to buy ham in secret. It wasn’t until much later that Firoozeh learned about the restrictions on eating pork in Islam. Horrified, she rushed home and told Kazem what she’d learned. Kazem explained that ham was forbidden in Islam because, when the religion was founded, people didn’t know how to cook it properly. He continues, “it’s not what we eat or don’t eat that makes us good people; it’s how we treat one another.”
Kazem’s love for ham symbolizes the divide between his own lifestyle and Iranian Muslim culture—but he still considers himself a Muslim. To practice Islam, he claims, one need only treat other people morally—furthermore, he insists that the restriction on eating ham is obsolete. It’s important to remember that Firoozeh’s memoir was published at the height of the War on Terror, so her description of her father may be pointedly directed at Americans who might stereotype all Muslims as dangerous fundamentalists. One could commend Firoozeh for offering an affectionate, warm portrayal of a Muslim American, but one could also criticize her for presenting Islam in a “neutered” form—a collection of vague statements about love and getting along.