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Skin deep

Savage darkies
Windfall from dominating the Middle East: trillions of dollars. The prejudice that makes it easy: priceless

December 15, 2004

Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever be able to feel like I belong living in the United States. I go back and forth trying to forget my beloved Persia and adapting to my new home. It's not easy. It's been 30 years already and my identity still hangs in the balance. Last week was no help. I took four jolts in succession that awoke in me my old insecurities.

First, the movie Alexander was released. It's hard to believe that this absurd version of history could hold any attraction in this day and age, but after the 2004 elections, I don't get surprised, I just get depressed.

Then last Saturday night I watched Lawrence of Arabia on TV. This time I looked past the fantastic acting and cinematography and took a closer look at the content. "What do these savages want?", wondered one picture-perfect, civilized, politic English gentlemen during a military campaign to take the savage's land. "Freedom," answered Lawrence, "and I'm going to give it to them." OK.

Sunday, I tried my hand at the Washington Post crossword puzzle as a distraction. No such luck. 24 down: 11 letter word for "Uncorrupted Non-European"? The clue was intriguing enough but the answer set me back considerably: "NOBLESAVAGE". That's right. Uncorrupted = NOBLE, Non-European= SAVAGE. Puzzle solved.

The fourth jolt I got was on that Monday when I read a quote from Vladimir Putin. He was warning the Ukraine not to stray too far from Russia: "I don't want ... for us to divide Europe into Westerners and Easterners, into first-class and second-class people, where the first-class people have the opportunity to live by stable, democratic laws and the second category of people are those with, to speak metaphorically, dark political skin." Somehow, I immediately knew what he meant by "dark political skin". He meant Non-Europeans, savages. He meant people like ME.

I got to thinking that these notions have been going around for a long time. Is it really out of ignorance, as I've always thought? Not likely, I realize now. Oliver Stone is an Ivy League graduate. In fact, he was President Bush's classmate at Yale. One leads Operation Iraqi Freedom; the other makes a movie about Operation Persian Freedom 2300 years earlier. T.E. Lawrence was an Oxford graduate. Washington Post is considered quite the liberal and progressive newspaper. What's going on?

I thought back to the days when I was still in college. Puzzled by the notion of "Islamic Art", I went to the Metropolitan Museum in New York. I counted 772 artifacts on display in the gallery of Islamic Art on the second floor that Sunday. More than 560 were from Persia. If there were such a thing as Islamic Art, you'd think it would have an even influence across the vast Empire. "Why 73% from Persia?", I asked Professor X of Harvard. "73%?", he replied in his usual sarcastic way, "I thought it would be more!"

Well, now I have to decide: if these prejudices are not out of ignorance, then why are they so prevalent? Who gets what out of perpetuating them? I'm getting old and, naturally, cynical. So, I have a conspiracy theory.

The spear's tip from Alexander to the British Empire and Lawrence, never delivered freedom, civilization, democracy or any higher virtue to the subjugated lands. That has always been obvious. But they did make a name for themselves, and a lot of money. A LOT! It has worked in the past, and it's still working wonders today.

If people did not think the war in Iraq was part of the war on terrorism and 9/11, George W. Bush would not have been re-elected. While there is no evidence connecting Iraq to 9/11, and even the President says so, 62% of population still thinks there is a connection. There is a connection alright, even though nobody talks about it openly. For the majority, Middle Easterners "are all the same", savages. That's the connection that makes the whole thing possible.

From the serene halls of museums and Ivy League colleges, to shock & awe, there is a connection. It's time movies like Midnight Express and Not Without My Daughter paid off. From Afghanistan to Libya, they are all savage darkies. To most, Osama bin Laden, Khomeini, Mullah Omar, King Fahd, Saddam Hussein, Yasser Arafat, Mubarak and Kaddafi sit around and eat couscous together at the end of the day.

Windfall from dominating the Middle East: trillions of dollars. The prejudice that makes it easy: priceless.

If all this is true- if any of this is true, then that'll explain why nobody ever asks for our input, even though we've lost more to Islamic fundamentalists, know them better and have hated them for longer. Seems like if they try to differentiate between us, it will slow things down too much. There is no room for gray in this black & white age. Seems like I'm worth more to my new country as a bogeyman than a participating citizen; a partner in the war against terror.

I realize now that the only way I can continue to live here and raise my family is to get used to a life without dignity.

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The Legend of Seyavash
Translated by Dick Davis

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