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    Septembert 13, 1999

Subservient and self-depricating

My intention is by no means to insult Mr Alemi ["I was once an Iranian"]. I am sure he is an intelligent man who will appreciate honest criticism albeit criticism in a rather robust tone. Mr Alemi has written a self-indulgent piece in the worst tradition of orientalism. He reminds me of the line " Goftaa ze cheh naaleem keh az maast keh bar maast!"

He wants to be American. What is that exactly? Sure, there are flowery slogans like "the American Dream" and "the American Way of Life", but these are merely verbose masks for a migrant country's inability to define herself. Unless you are a WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) , preferably one whose ancestors arrived on the Mayflower, you can not be "American" only. You are an Italian American, a Jewish American, a Black American, an Irish American.... So why does one's Iranian ethnicity in conflict with being American? Mr Alemi confuses liberal secularism rooted in Anglosaxon historical experience with America.

Mr Alemi's JFK memories are illogical and akin to delusions of reference. It seems even when in Iran, he was so enamoured with the erroneous concept of America as a monolith that his Persian experiences are less than authentic and wreak of an inferiority complex that many of his generation felt. He wants to be "modern" and to nurture his "American self" which is threatened by Persian nostalgia and language. However who can deny that one of the most potent forces in American art and intellectualism is American Jewry. The Jews use their differences as a resource and have the sort of success that eludes the less secure ethnicities.

I am a recent and much younger migrant to Australia and my memories of Iran are far more real and current than those that have become the bane of Mr Alemi's existance and I can assure Mr Alemi that Iran is not the land portrayed by the American media or by "Not without my daughter". Instead of standing up to the obvious caricateurization of Iranians and the demonisation of Persian culture, Mr Alemi has lost his moral courage and questions his own life experiences and memories. I guess in this regard Mr Alemi is most American for he believes that what is on the television must be true.

He writes "Our culture embodies a thicket of thoughts, from empty gestures of ta'arof to our convoluted classical poetry." Again Mr Alemi is not very well educated in the ways of the Anglosaxon culture to which he so ardently aspires to. Empty gestures and excessive politeness is not only the domain of the Iranians. How illogical is it for one to pile food on the convex side of the fork to be practising the correct eating etiquette? Why is it that if you are well bred that you should use "lavatory" instead of "toilet" and "what" instead of "pardon"? In cocktail parties, rowing meets, fox hunts, ... of the good families of English heritage (who the upper classes in America try to emulate) to and fro of the most insincere yet pleasant and flowery praise intertwine themselves with greatest familiarity and polite back-slapping.... so much so that it would nauseate any Iranian. We are a polite race but it is my experience that our ta'arofs, though excessive, show genuine good will towards our fellow Iranians.

As for convoluted classical poetry, I must say that although I was a champion debator at school but only a mediocre Persian speaker, I have always found Persian classical poetry more contemporary than Shakespeare, both on linguistic and thematic grounds. But then if Mr Alemi is daunted by Persian literature he might rediscover it as an "American" in the recent upsurge of interest in Persian lierature and mysticism. I recommend Deepak Chopra and friends for example.

He also says "since migrating to this country, I have been but a most fleeting blip on society's screen, numerously reminded of my foreignness." I think the way to gain respect is not to try to be something you are not. I am an Iranian Australian. As an Iranian Australian I can interact with Asian Australians and Angloceltic Australians based on mutual respect. We have Iranians at the universtiy who think to be an Australian is to be Angloceltic. They try to prove they are no longer Iranian by demeaning Iran. What they do not realise is that the average Australian will never see them as Angloceltic or simply "Australian". The more they denegrade their own culture, the more they belittle themselves. Be Persian and be proud, succeed in life, respect others, live well and intelligently and then people will respect you for being a worthwhile member of society beit of Persian background. Do not "become", be.

Mr Alemi reminds me of the Indians and Pakistanis who go to GPS schools in Sydney. They try so hard to be more British than the British. They are all obsessed with cricket, they are staunch monarchists (Last night I was nauseated when one toasted "Gentlemen, the Queen!"), they glorify the Westminster system and all the while they speak of how their respective countries were better off under British rule. The only time they acknowledge their Indian heritage is to impress someone who is fashionably into eastern mysticism or the like. Yet they are rediculed by all. Afforded no more than the vilest contempt. I hate to think that our most educated will similarly end up subservient and self-depricating.

However to prove that I am not all pettiness, venom and malice I acknowledge the truth of Iranians living in the past. To paraphrase Gibbon, we are maintaining and perpetuating many of the prejudices of our ancestors long after we have lost their virtues. I also have to commend Mr Alemi's courage for being honest about his opinions however flawed they may be. I predict and expect a firey retort from this gentleman and look forward to it.

Arash Salardini

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