United Middle East
Crawl out of the mental
cocoon and see the bigger vision
August 12, 2004
Many hours at a time, I have wondered about the purpose of the
thousands of Iranian groups active in cities around the world. This is in reference
to the numerous local television stations, Persian poetry and literature societies,
political clubs, music venues and artists, and not to mention the countless
professional and academic groups. As with other ethnic immigrants, the immediate
aim of such
activities would seem to be the preservation of one’s heritage in a foreign
environment. However, with the advent of the Internet and satellite television
in recent years, it is not surprising to find these cultural or political groups
attempting bravely to reach beyond their local proximity while hoping to arrive
at the Iranian heartland, ultimately.
Now, recalling our previous discussion about representation or
misrepresentation of contemporary Iranian society through media at large, it
makes sense to consider
the effective role of the recently mushrooming Iranian media outside the
borders of Iran. That is, comparing what the media wants to achieve and what
achieving. More specifically, let us examine the impression that the media
makes on the target audience. I am not aware of any academic studies with
respect to the effects of these media on its audience or its role in general.
together with my observations and educated guesses I can assert with some
certainty that the effects on the Iranian audience living in Iran are not
as great as
one might wish or even expect. These groups or gatherings seem to be merely
a meeting point for Iranians abroad where they are essentially reminded
of their cultural heritage. That in itself has a definite social value and
be fully supported, however, any hopes of having a direct affect on Iranians
in Iran would be more or less futile.
Consider Iranian.com for example. Firstly due to the language barrier the
readership from Iran is minimal. Because of the regime’s closed-door
policy Iranians are not exposed to foreigners, especially leisure tourists
through whom, normally, natives would
become familiar with an international or a foreign language. Therefore, mainly
Persian language websites are accessed.
One may argue that there are hundreds
of professional and academic Iranian online forums that are not only bringing
together the Iranian academia and experts for exchanging ideas but promoting
mutual co-operation with their counterparts in Iran. Part of my counter-argument
is explained next and the other part is that the number of such forums and
resources are so miniscule in comparison to the needs of the country that
their effects are scarcely felt by the general populace.
Secondly, Internet is an active medium, in contrast to radio or television
being passive media requiring very limited technical skills to operate. Because
of this, E-magazines or any website in any language, other than Persian, will
have a tough time competing for Iranian eyeballs, when compared to the more
passive media such as satellite television. Meanwhile, of the roughly 20 Persian
language television stations available via satellite in the Middle East, perhaps
only one or two have managed to acquire a significant audience in Iran. One
must admit though, that despite the poor picture quality and the bad taste
in content, the non-political stations have maintained an undeniable following
I believe the most significant effect they have had is owed to their sponsorship
and co-ordination of the various concert and entertainment events in the region.
Such events have created an attractive reason for Iranians to explore and discover
their neighbors in the Middle East like never before. These experiences have
had a noticeable change in their view of the world around them. As compared
to any other activity sponsored by any Iranian groups abroad I firmly contend
that these entertainment events together with the prospering tourism industry
in parts of the Middle East are having the most measurable effect on individual
Regardless of the popularity of any of these expatriate operated media and
entertainment events, one of the underlying messages relayed through them reflects
the glint of hope in the minds of many Iranians living abroad. The message,
or more correctly the dream, is that someday in the foreseeable future, Iran
will magically become the glorious Persia it once was and Iranians will return
there and live happily ever after.
Well, I hate to shatter people’s dreams but when my sense of realism
dominates I feel obliged to make some drastic statements. As sad as it may
be, once an Iranian leaves the immediate orbit of Iran, the chances of him/her
returning and living as before in Iran are nominal. The further away they go
and the longer they stay outside the chances of them returning permanently
becomes increasingly less. With some caution I can claim that the only Iranians
who may be tolerant of the system and be able to live there for an indefinite
period are those ordinary residents that have never left Iran and have no choice
but to accept the system as is.
If Iranian immigrants rarely return to their homeland and long distance media
operated by expatriates has limited effect on positive human growth and development
of Iranians in Iran, then the question asked is: “Where and how can self-respecting
Iranians be exposed to their counterparts to exchange progressive ideas and
to aid in the development of their country?”
For this we must allow a shift in paradigm. If I may exaggerate a bit, Iranians
generally seem to think that there is Iran, and then there is America and then
there is nothing else. Perhaps if we drop the egotistical and tribal mentality
and begin thinking not in terms of just Iran by itself but also take into account
the region just outside of Iran, more commonly called the Middle East, then
there may be some hope for implementing social, business, cultural and various
other programs that would normally be impossible to realize in Iran and if
implemented outside of the Middle East it would be out of reach of most Iranians.
After all, “ancient Persia” was all of the Middle East and more.
In Cyrus’s times you would have to embrace an Egyptian, an Iraqi, an
Israeli, an Afghani, a Turk and many others, as your compatriots. Perhaps advocates
of “ancient Persia” should pay less lip service to it and more
attention to its implications. Not to sound patronizing but it is upsetting
when I hear Iranians talk non-stop about their wonderful ancient king, who
was responsible for uniting the various ethnic groups, supposedly in a just
manner, while they hypocritically whisper slanderous and racist remarks when
visiting any of their neighboring countries as tourists, including Turkey and
the Persian Gulf states.
Furthermore, many people blame the failures of the contemporary regimes in
Iran on the vast ethnicity variation in Iran. I would tend to put the blame
on the designers of the governments for not promoting a pluralistic society
by way of giving sufficient voice to the various ethnic groups.
Iran is not the only country that has had to deal with the problem of harmonizing
different voices under the same roof. The good old U.S. of A. was faced with
a similar problem when the Framers, like Thomas Jefferson, were designing their
government and its constitution in the 1700’s. In order to ensure a powerful
voice in the government, each state was to be represented by two Senators in
the Congress, regardless of the size and population of the state.
to say, America has had to overcome many obstacles in its political evolution,
one of which was the very same problem of harmonizing different tunes under
the same roof. This was achieved only because their people, in time, came
to agree that each tune had a right to be played and heard and it was guaranteed
by the constitution. The keyword here is “time”, with a subtle
emphasis on “education”.
Keeping that in mind and going back to Iran, and “ancient Persia”,
which includes the many different ethnic groups still living in the region,
the new and plausible endeavor could be to bring this region only slightly
closer to what it once was, not glorious just peaceful. This means
1. Get a map of the Middle East
2. Stop calling arabs “alligator eaters” (soosmar khor)
3. Discover the different tunes played by other Middle Easterners
People in this region must understand that their future depends on each other
and their astuteness in discovering their commonalities and investing in them
wisely will only improve their lives and the lives of their future generations,
whatever their ethnicity may be.
Taking into account all the recent changes that have taken place in the Middle
East both good and bad, an optimistic vision for its future may seem a mere
dream. However, if the reader would bypass the bad publicity and the pessimistic
view presented to the world through most media, then researches and discovers
the positive developments, especially in the smaller Persian Gulf countries,
I am certain a sparkle of hope will appear. Despite the chaos that is so clearly
in some parts of the region, order does exist in many areas but needs to be
propagated to rest of the region.
Considering the role of the Iranians in all this, I believe there are many
opportunities for them to establish themselves in most of the neighboring countries
where they can operate in a more civil environment yet remain close enough
to maintain an interactive relationship with Iran. What is even more important
is the fact that this will bring about an occasion for modern Iranians to become
familiar with their neighbors, promote mutual understanding and growth, create
a financial interdependence and thus secure the political future of all parties
in the Middle East.
In my opinion, political activists from the different countries in the region,
especially those of Iranian descent, should spend less time on overthrowing
their governments. And instead, spend more time on educating their people to
overcome ignorance and tribalism and to promote active financial co-operation
and cultural exchange with the different ethnic groups in the region. In this
way, there may be hope for future generations to understand and internalize
democracy and to naturally implement it themselves, as opposed to having it
forcibly imported with unpredictable consequences.
It would be unfair to deny the enormous effect that the recent developments
in the Gulf countries, especially in the United Arab Emirates, has had on the
people of the Middle East, with Iranians being among the top beneficiaries.
The stability, modernity and the peace of mind provided by the Emirate of Dubai,
has allowed many Iranians from Iran to experience a peaceful, orderly and respectable
life, some for the first time in their lives.
In addition, the possibility
of higher education in reputable universities, job placement in international
corporations, decent housing, proper medical system, fine entertainment of
all kinds and most important of all personal freedom and dignity, a rare
commodity in Iran, has created a prime location for many Iranians to seek permanent
While other Gulf countries are using UAE, and Dubai specifically, as a model
to follow, Afghanistan and the Moslem ex-soviet republics are opening up
as well and attempting to attract foreign investors. All of this is inadvertently
placing much pressure on the more closed societies such as Iran who is losing
citizens and potential business clients to its more stable and globally aware
In my opinion, any form of legal activity whereby progress is induced into
any of the neighboring societies will have a direct adverse affect on the ailing
system in Iran, while highlighting its weaknesses. Contrary to the pessimism
that is reflected in the media there are plenty of opportunities for expatriates
to bring forth their knowledge and financial power to rebuild many parts of
For those who are interested in rebuilding “ancient Persia” here
is an example of an upcoming event in a “former” part of that empire.
This will describe what those “soosmar khors” are up to these
An example of what one local Iranian businessman in Dubai is doing quietly
to support the Iranian youth is reflected in his company recruiting policy.
Although he has access to a large pool of international technical skill, he
opts to hire Iranians from Iran. The cost and efforts of acquiring work visa
for an Iranian employee is many times higher than for an Indian employee. However,
he feels responsible to carry out his part in promoting Iranian skill and to
give back to his native land.
There are many cultural and entertainment activities in the region that are
proving to be successful in drawing Iranians and exposing them to a community
that is economically healthy and globally conscious. This can only help to,
at least, raise their standards of living and expectations of themselves and
of their society.
I believe that decisions and tangible social commitments which are based
on long term vision and realism, as opposed to mindless and deafening rhetoric,
will have deeper influence on today’s youth and tomorrows leaders. Moreover,
the recent terrorist activities only reflect how desperate the region is for
reform in thinking by its inhabitants. Developing a strong and healthy middle
class in the region is the only way to nullify such shows of desperation and
regain a sense of dignity and build a better life.
Perhaps if the people of the Middle East would crawl out of their mental
cocoon, discover themselves and each other, and see the bigger vision of the
Middle East, they would be able to channel their energies in a more constructive
fashion and help in building a more peaceful and prosperous environment for
themselves and their future generations. Perhaps one day we will do to the
Middle East what the Europeans did to Europe and become, UME, United Middle
goodbye to spam!