Where do I stand?
By Saeed Ganji
September 17, 2001
I am a 44-year-old Iranian-American. I came here to study in college
some 26 years ago. I have so much to be grateful here. At the very least,
I have been able to have a good job, a great deal of freedom, and I try
to pursue happiness as much as possible. These are all routinely denied
to people living back home in one form or another.
I totally understand and love the Thanks Giving holiday, and celebrate
it fully every year, ignoring my Native-American friends and their understandable
criticism of it. I find Americans to be truly generous in their soul and
actions, and intelligent in their outlook of life. My heart goes to all
of you who have lost family or friends in this tragedy. I know what trying
times these are, and I pray peace and understanding will prevail one day.
These past few days have been a time of soul searching for me. I watch
surreal images of planes crashing into occupied buildings with the sole
intent to kill. I see people with emotions that span the gamut. I see Palestinians
dancing in the street as countless others grieve in shock and horror. I
watch professional politicians spin as people nod in agreement. And I ask
myself, Where do you stand?
It has been so difficult for me to explain how exactly I feel, even to
myself. If there is one thing I'm sure of, it is the belief that in order
to solve this emotional mystery, I have to try my best and look at things
from others' point of view. I'm getting good at it!
I can even see things from the point of view of those who think we should
bomb the Middle East almost indiscriminately. That logic is actually easiest
to understand. I know what self-righteousness is, and I think anyone has
an innate ability to ignore "distracting" thoughts and focus on
revenge at times like this. Yes, they're human too, and I see many like
To be sure, there is one thing that separates me from most Americans:
they are new to this. Most of them, the ones born after Peal Harbor, have
never witnessed sudden and massive destruction on their homeland on such
a scale. I have. I remember when I was at an American college, some 20 years
ago, I woke up one day and learned Saddam Hussein had attacked my country.
Beautiful cities had been totally demolished. Hundreds of thousands were
dead, injured, or had become homeless over night. At the time, the Iranian
government was in a piss fight with the U.S. They had taken the U.S. embassy
staff hostage, and no amount of negotiating had helped. Iranians were now
the scourge of the world, a laughing stock, the butt of all jokes. I could
understand even that. Of course. The Iranian government had kidnapped innocent
civilians. What else could I expect?
But I'd be lying if I said I understood everything. There was so much
inhumanity -- perpetrated by the Iraqis and condoned by what is glowingly
referred to as the "Civilized World" -- that it didn't make much
sense at all. I remember that the U.N. failed to condemn Saddam's attack
on Iran as an act of aggression. The whole thing was white-washed.
Later I watched in horror as the West turned a blind eye to Saddam's
inhumane tactics of warfare, and in fact aided him by providing the technology
to wage gas warfare against Iranian soldiers. Yes, taking hostages was wrong,
I knew that all along. But where in human scales can you compare that to
allowing a mad man use WW I techniques that not even the Nazis used? Where
was the so-called impartial U.N. when this monster, Saddam, was being created?
I also witnessed, in complete astonishment, at the end of the war, when
the Iranians were almost at the verge of defeating Saddam, the U.S. went
to war on the side of Saddam. Yes, it's true, check your facts. U.S. warships
attacked Iranian vessels without mercy. They even, mistakenly, we were told,
downed an Iranian passenger plane and killed some 213 civilians. The U.N.
didn't even condemn this act, even though nobody could explain how a sophisticated
U.S. warship can mistake a passenger plane for a fighter.
So, you see, I have to be honest with myself. The simple fact that I
have already witnessed all these inhumanities separates me already from
anyone who thinks we live in a world which is fair. Maybe they do. Maybe
this is just a perceptual difference.
But I live in a world where the strong dictate their will. In my world,
Palestinians are not allowed to return to their homes, where they have been
living for thousands of years, because there is no room for them. Meanwhile
European Jews with suitcases are given brand new housing or in some cases
Palestinian homes. All this happens in a land their ancestors left a thousand
years ago, and not too many wise, fair- minded people give this fact a second
In the world I live, the media is biased, people are too busy to care,
and tragedies of mass scale are common place. Every politician is a liar,
fanaticism flourishes, and nobody is, in the truest sense of the word, "innocent".
Ignorant, yes, misinformed, yes, but does that really equate to innocence?
No, I don't really know where I stand. All I know is that it is impossible
to stop atrocities unless it happens on all sides, in unison. And unfortunately,
this idea itself is what's at stake more and more every day.
How is one supposed to feel about all that?