Persian culture & role models
for the next generation
September 22, 2004
"You must be the change you wish to see in the
-- Mahatma Gandhi
The Iranian diaspora finds itself in the cultural
no-man's land, somewhere between the glorious nostalgic past and
of the Western world.
first and second generation immigrants strive to safeguard the best in traditional
norms and values, the inevitable clash of cultures leads to questions
The immigration process often involves a sudden change and breakdown in social
norms, which sociologists would refer to as 'anomie'. Introduced by a French
sociologist, Emile Durkheim, the concept of anomie describes a condition
of deregulation, whereby individuals are left in the state of confusion following
of behavioral rules in society. Such breakdown often occurs in the immediate
aftermath of revolutions and military conflicts.
One can argue that millions of Iranians, including expatriates, have experienced
'anomie' following the turmoil of post-revolutionary era with exposure to
realities of economic
hardships, social polarization and over-politicization of culture.
By reviewing the dictionary definition of culture, the question emerges on
whether there is a phenomenon known as the 'Persian Culture'. The Webster
dictionary lists the following under the definition of culture: "a set of shared attitudes,
values, goals, and practices that characterizes [a nation]". Other definitions
refer to integrated patterns of human knowledge, customary beliefs, behaviors,
and material traits of a racial or social group.
In search for common cultural elements of 'being Persian', one can find traces
of hope beyond the façades of polarizing, emotional, and divisive discussions.
Although Iranians tend to look into their nostalgic past for moments of glory,
the answer to question of their common cultural identity lies in its evolving
nature. Culture is subject to evolution, as traditions, norms and values are
modified in new patterns for survival in an ever changing world. The Iranian
culture bears no exception.
A few years ago, academics coined the phrase 'global village' in reference
to the globalization phenomenon in an interconnected world where technology
geographic barriers between nation states. Thanks to the Internet, e-mail,
satellite technology and other great inventions, the Persian culture is evolving
too slowly at times. One can argue that it would be in everyone's interest
to adjust traditional cultural norms and values in accordance with changing
The answer lies in first acknowledging the need for change and subsequently
creating necessary conditions for the next generation to flourish in a highly
Over the past decades, first and second generations of Iranian immigrants
have proven themselves worthy of admiration by overcoming challenges and
great heights in personal and professional endeavors. They have excelled
in fields of business, technology, science, academia, sports, etc. And yet,
remain largely unknown. Overshadowed by negative news headlines, they may
at times hide their ethnic origins but identify themselves as hyphenated
or Iranians bearing dual or single citizenship of another country.
Isn't it time to use the language of moderation, tolerance and compassion
in media and give the next generation something to cheer about?
There are many success stories about individuals who have defied all odds
to fight economic hardship, overcome culture clash, study and work with a
sprit. These stories need to be told in order to help today and tomorrow's
youth identify with distinguished role models and cultural icons. Truly,
be a deliberate or unconscious role model. But it's only through public and
media recognition that personal achievements come to light.
In the information age, technology can be used to help the next generation
believe in itself and demonstrate self-pride. The media bears particular
responsibility to draw the public spot light on male and female role models.
It's time to
the new generation of leaders.
Last but not least, it's time to break cultural stereotypes of Iranian women
by honoring female role models who have liberated themselves from gender
segregating elements to assume leadership positions in society. These women
recognitions so that young girls can follow their footsteps.
With good role models, the immigrant community can build a cultural bridge
between the past and the future and discover its new self-identity. The lesson
from past mistakes dictates a new approach, as nostalgic glory ought not
to be an obstacle to cultural progress.
Visit Vancouver-based Behshad Hastibakhsh's Behshadh.com.