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Too smart for ourselves
When it comes to being experts, nothing escapes the critical eyes of the smart Persian


July 10, 2005

I guess one could say that I am more of a reader than a writer. No doubt, there’s much more in this world to read than there are new subjects to write about. For the past thirty-something years, living abroad has enabled me to not only read what concerns me and my nationality, but also pay closer attention to what other nations do or say. My little knowledge of other languages enables me to be more in touch with the rest of the world and I’m happy to reach a stage where I can say, “The more I know, the more I realize how little I know.”

When I read articles by my fellow countrymen, and in comparison with other publications, one aspect of the Iranian reader becomes noteworthy: We don’t read to learn, but rather to teach, and we don’t write our critiques, we shout them! This is so intense that lately the mere act of writing for our ethnic publications has turned into a daring act.

After my articles go to print, I avoid the reader’s responses and delete messages of people I don’t know before they’ve had a chance to hurt my writer’s feelings. No need to mention that I often avoid reading that particular publication until the flames of my reader’s rage have died down and my article has become ancient news. The irony is that mine are the least political, least insulting and perhaps more affectionate than most others.

Iranians thrive on argument and we especially love to disagree with writers. When we read an article, we become instant critics and are inspired to write back and let the writer know how unqualified they are and how much more we know. The condescending undertone in such critiques is so loud and clear, sometimes it’s enough to push a writer to retirement.

The responses not only prove that the readers are more informed, but they introduce to the world a whole pack of better writers. Rarely will anyone write back to thank a writer for spending time to share their thoughts, and almost never are we proud to have enjoyed someone’s hard work. Instead, we want writers to know their flaws and we go through pages and pages hoping to find ONE little error and turn that into the rope to hang the writer with.

This is true of speakers, too. Recently, I attended a one day conference. The speaker happened to be highly educated and well read. Considering that I’m entering early stages of senility, including the short memory that goes with it, I listened to the man and marveled at the volume of knowledge stored in the brains of someone my own age.

During the question and answer session, they might have as well provided WMD’s because those who got up to ask questions had only the intention to destroy. Most questions took more time than the answer because the one who asked them wanted the crowd to be aware that, compared to the guest speaker, he knew much more and was a far better lecturer. Furthermore, the questions sounded more like, “This is my chance at the podium”, a long statement that came across so strongly that they left no room for silly arguments.

When it comes to being experts, nothing escapes the critical eyes of the smart Persian, not even art. One of my children is an accomplished artist who, much to my disappointment and that of her father, has stopped her big, showy, productions. No more portraits that we can display in our living room and no big oil paintings to show off to our guests, now she does her little designs that look like child's play! Her “own style” she calls them and lo-and-behold, she has been discovered as major magazines, galleries and online fans have brought her overnight success. But ever since an Iranian publication printed her work, she has been getting hate mail from her parent's nation who unanimously recommend, “Don't give up your day job!”

We Iranians are a peculiar group of audience. We invite speakers not to learn from them, but with the distinct intention to prove how little they know. We read only to let the writer know how well informed we are, and we criticize, not to improve anything, but to let the world know how nothing has really improved. We even go to concerts just to let everyone see how much better our sing along sounds, not to mention what good dancers we are!

Recent events in our homeland have brought on a whole new wave of discussions that reflect our strong disapproval.

From the looks of whoever is elected down to where the votes came from once more the accusing fingers of those of us living in the West are pointed to the East, saying, “Well, people get what they deserve!” How easy it is to put the blame on an innocent nation who has in fact never gotten what they deserve, and how unfair it is to judge what we know nothing about.

The sad part is that the unwanted man is also one of us and it is us who breed and raise the ugly and put him on a pedestal. We do nothing but complain and blame others and it is this division among us which leads to defeat. How can we criticize when we’ve done nothing to help and how can we live in comfort and deny the fact that discomfort is not earned but it is given?

I am sadly reminded of an old Persian poem about the eagle who found out the arrow that shot him was made of an eagle’s feather and his poignant conclusion that, “It is from us to ourselves!”

Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani is a retired dentist and a freelance writer. She lives in San Diego, California. Her latest book is "Sharik-e Gham" (see excerpt). Visit her site

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