There are 65 million refugees on our planet. We are currently facing the worst displacement crisis since the second world war, and America has decided to turn away people who are fleeing their homes in search of a better life. When I read Brad Hagen’s reaction to the temporary ban on travelers and immigrants in seven Muslim countries, I had to wonder if it’s possible to encourage people to learn and explore the ways of other cultures and religions without submitting to anger. Brad’s self-directed pursuit of understanding Iranian culture moves me to believe a more inclusive world is possible.
Iran in America
By Brad Hagen
Partly due to my own curiosity, and partly from being immersed in a community of Iranians at a young age, I’ve had a long standing love for Iranian culture- from its history and artistic traditions to the contemporary aesthetic of Persian pop culture, fashion, and the fascinating events that have shaped/are shaping the Iranian identity. I’ve been planning a two week tour of Iran for a while now. I’ve been doing a ton of research, making an itinerary, contacting a plethora of tour agencies and private tour guides, and taking Persian lessons. I am SO incredibly disappointed that this will no longer be a possibility since the Iranian government, in response to Trump’s insane ‘Muslim-ban’ (that excludes Saudi Arabia, the biggest funder/source of terrorism, as well as countries which he has business ties to) is not allowing US citizens into the country.
Immeasurably worse than my own inability to visit Iran is the situation of the over one million Iranian-Americans that after having endured legally emigrating to a new country now find themselves isolated from loved ones back in Iran. It is extremely frustrating that Iranians are continuously used as political fodder to push conservative agendas and drum up defensive, militaristic agendas, especially since they are a population which has a surprising enthusiasm for Americans and American culture. Part of that enthusiasm is because SO many Iranians live here in the US. The large Iranian population in America has created millions of family ties between Iran and the US and allowed for Iranian popular culture to resettle, primarily in LA, meaning a lot of music and other facets of contemporary Iranian identity are created and exported from the US.
Sadly, Iranians are viewed through the lens of events that happened in 1979, and the vast majority of Americans are entirely oblivious of what led to the so-called Islamic revolution and establishment of the current political system in Iran. America, which is so proud of liberating itself from a king to establish the first democracy, orchestrated a coup to overthrow Iran’s first democracy in 1953 when the democratically elected president Mossadegh decided to nationalize Iran’s oil industry and redirect profits to the Iranian people. America then put in place a KING (note the hypocrisy) that was beholden to American corporate and military interests- often at the expense of his own people. America responded to the 1979 revolution against the American-backed government by fueling the war and bloodshed between Iraq and Iran in the 1980s, selling massive amounts of weapons to both sides to create weakened, vulnerable, (and oil-rich) states. It has since crippled everyday Iranian people with sanctions, and now labels them as potential terrorists from the “axis of evil.”
To be clear, the Iranian people living in the US have never committed a religiously/ideologically inspired attack against Americans WHATSOEVER. People need to look at history as a whole, and start viewing Mulsim-majority countries in a fresh way. The frustration felt by many in these countries is not some religiously-inspired insanity or macho-tribal-jealousy of America’s power. These are complex, multi-faceted, modern people with depth, ability, and the right to be self-determining. I’ve allowed myself to be the only American in large gatherings of Persians repeatedly from the age of 12 to age 23, working at the Persian Culture conference in Chicago, to age 28 when I went to the Greater KC Norooz concert. In the beginning it was awkward but repeatedly allowing that experience of vulnerability in a group I didn’t initially identify with has been healing. As I was met with love and friendship and exposed to new things my sense of self has grown to incorporate a culture and group of people that conventional wisdom would have me fear.
Allowing this vulnerability is the only way to truly overcome prejudice and ignite the empathy and emotional investment in other groups of people necessary to deeply care about their well being. So, until I can go to Iran, thank you to all the Iranian friends I’ve had who have always responded with such kindness and inclusion towards me, and encouraged my interest in their culture.