Facilitating an Iranian voice
September 10, 2004
As long as we are to distinguish ourselves as Iranians-Americans,
the stigma associated with Iranians in US foreign policy, including
general social stereotypes, will inhibit our abilities to be
a factor in policy making. Unless we can humanize the "Iranian" voice,
the "Iranian-American" has little chance of effectuating
political or social change.
Rather, as a community, the "Iranian-American" will
need to resort to internal adaptation, or assimilation, rather
than external appreciation. That is, instead of the average American
being capable of associating with and understanding the "Iranian",
our voice will only be reasonable through assimilation and rejection
of the "Iranian" self. Of course, there are those
who would disagree with this statement, but it is for such reason
that I write this piece.
The effectiveness of any lobby group is to make the general community
understand its grievances. In particular, by using methods of association,
the general public is capable of understanding the plight of minority
groups and persuading them to support their opinions. Without association,
the general public cannot relate to the minority. Therefore, the
most effective method of gaining support is by having the majority
relate to the grievances of the minority.
It is for such reason that Israeli lobbying groups in America
are effective. The average American can "understand" the
hardships and pains Israeli's go through with post-9/11 terrorism.
They can relate to their pains and as such Israeli lobbying groups
can push for policies against Palestinians, who are considered
For the most part, "Iranian-Americans" have appropriated
the role of speaking for "Iranians." As if to say,
at least in passing, that "Iranians" do not have a
voice worth listening to. I always find it ironic that we praise
"Iranians" for their intelligence, strength, and courage, and ultimately
allow their voices to resonate in the United States.
How many of
our political institutions translate the works of authors and
scholars in Iran? How many of our lobbying groups have representatives
Iran in order to proliferate "Iranian" points of view?
And if so, how many of those "connections" with student
groups contain one-sided political perspectives. One would expect
that with the diversity of Iranian opinion, there would be diverse
voices. Yet, rarely, if ever, do we find Iranian academic journals
or even newspapers that are translated and distributed in America.
There's a secondary problem with not facilitating the "Iranian"
voice, we assume that the Iranian in America speaks for the "Iranian."
fallacy of this argument has been described in passing. Simply
put, the Diaspora, by its very definition, does not live in Iran.
Yes, we care for the issues facing Iran. Yes, the human rights
problem is horrendous and the political autocracy is atrocious.
However, we do not live in Iran. And until we do, one cannot fully
understand the needs of Iranians.
I have heard many stories from
those in the Diaspora who visit Iran for 2-3 weeks or months,
and come back with a revelation of what the people must want. Ultimately,
however, those opinions are never based on fact, but rather subjective
association. The circumstances of ones specific surroundings
lend weight to their "political opinion" about Iran.
If on a visit, my family lives in Niavaran, takes me to darband,
and gives me daily tours to Tajrish Square, I am sure two conclusions
will be drawn: one that Iranian women are extremely beautiful
and two that the country is fairly modern and developed. Clearly,
in Qom or Kashan would extend different perspectives. Can
we say residency in Oklahoma versus California would change our
views on American diversity? Absolutely, and the same applies
As such, the Diaspora should not dictate policies against Iran.
Lastly, as Iranian-Americans we must be conscious of our American
selves. We live and receive benefits and freedoms protected by
the law here. Reciprocally we owe an allegiance to this country.
This is not to say, "it is our way or no way." Rather,
that our objective should never be to push for policies intended
to the detriment of America. Rather to push policies in which
will allow America to better understand the conditions of Iranians.
It is in America's interest to help Iran to become a more
free and democratic country. However, that transformation can
be accomplished with a deeper sense of understanding of how
Iranian politics and society functions, than of what "Iranian-Americans"
think should occur.
Nema Milaninia is a law student in Southern California
and owner of the weblog Iranian
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