Obsession with the Great American
Project is not a sign of
advanced democratic consciousness
May 17, 2004
It appears that a nerve was struck in some people
after reading my letter [That
arrogant reporter] to New York Times reporter Nicholas
friendly Iranians] last week. I received a number
of emails, many of encouragement and
that I wish
responded to, but have been unable to because of time constraints.
Let me now extend to all of you my heartfelt thanks.
I also received many emails that were decidedly unsupportive,
critical, and downright hostile, attacking me personally and even
threats of bodily harm. I do not mind criticism nor do I think
anyone else should when it is constructive and well-founded; after
all, we have a right to our own opinions and as some respondents
pointedly reminded me, this is a free country. Criticism helps
us grow, as well as lets one see the strengths and weaknesses of
an arguments. I also wish thank all the people who took the time
to read my thoughts and challenge my views in emails they sent.
However, I do mind it when people seek to insult, threaten, or
degrade others simply for having a different opinion. I find it
ironic that many of the people who took it upon themselves to attack
me did so in the 'defense of democracy and freedom' in
Iran; it appears we need a civic education program for some members
of our community. Perhaps it is due to this reason that these same
people invoked George W. Bush's name and policies so enthusiastically
in their emails, because they actually believe it is possible to
begin wars for peace, and that there can be some kind of "freedom"
in a (second) American coup and subsequent occupation of Iran.
Think anything you want, it is a free country, right?
With that, I wish to respond to three specific types of reactions
I encountered while reading responses to my piece.
Some really strange, ultranationalist, racist Saltanat-talab people
who insist on their own distorted views of Iranian history and
somehow feel Iran is "different" (read: better) in the
eyes of America than Iraq or Afghanistan (and I am not making a
blanket accusation against ALL monarchists, just the extremists
who emailed me)
The aforementioned people who want to give you some sort of label,
like communist, mordeh khor, etc...
The "Who are you to speak for Iranians/why are you bringing
up old shit/when was the last time you were in Iran? Times have
changed/You are out of touch with Iranian youth" types
The first two are easy-- since they were more concerned with name
calling and insulting me and had nothing intelligent to say. The
third group however, raises some interesting points and valid criticisms
of my positions.
In fairness, I will begin by saying that I have yet to go to
Iran, and not for lack of desire. That said, I will add that I
frequently with my family
in Iran, as well as with my friends who travel there often. Yet I don't
think that this is a reason to dismiss all that I have said. Knowledge of your
culture, language, and history make one's observations more relevant. I
have all of these.
Those who asked me how in touch I am should ask themselves
if they feel that they are able to speak with Iranians of all walks of life
when they go to Iran. They should ask themselves if they truly
transcend the tight
boundaries of their own socio-economic environment while they are in Iran,
or if they only pretend to. I recognize that there is a great diversity
in Iran, and that I cannot assume to understand all of it -- however, I am
not alone is this regard.
Second, while I do not ever claim to speak for all Iranians nor
would ever attempt to do so, I do believe that it is my duty as
an Iranian to point out that it
is definitely not for Mr. Kristof to decide how Iranians think. I draw attention
to the fact that there is a history of this not just in his other columns,
but in many American media (e.g. Thomas Friedman) and Western academia
well. Ultimately, there is a problem when the most cited 'experts' on
Iran and the rest of the Middle East are non-Iranian and non-Middle Eastern.
As a matter of fact, I would recommend to all of the "Persian"
bigots who wrote me to pick up an "Arab" book, Orientalism, by Edward
Said. He explains far more eloquently and persuasively than I ever could how
Kristof (and Western scholars of the Near East historically) creates the concept
of the "Other"; that is, the practice of defining people against
who you are (in Kristof's case, defining Iran against an upper-class white
American male) and what values you have. It sets up a social evolutionary chart,
in which Iranians want the progress that is embodied in their love of America.
Iranians consequently become more "modern" and "progressive" as
they adopt what Kristof sees as modern and progressive. The people of Iran
are not monkeys climbing up some evolutionary tree to reach the banana of American
Moreover, Kristof, and a lot of other reporters like him, make
these asinine causal links between how modern and democratic a
place is with how high the
skirts rise and how tight the blouses are. Another of his dispatches from
Iran is called, "Those
Sexy Iranians." In it, Kristof excitedly refers to tighter manteaus
that accentuate the breasts and show the hips as a death blow to the theocracy.
While I am opposed to many of the social, economic, and political
in Iran, and think that people should have the right to dress, associate,
speak, travel, and think as they please, being obsessed with the Great American
Project (including J-Lo, reality TV, Maxim, McDonald's) is not a sign of
advanced democratic consciousness or modernity. This statement should not
be seen as a defense of Islamic fundamentalism, and I feel sorry for those
it this way. Iranians want their freedoms, and they may very well want democracy
as well. However, being democratic does not mean wanting to be like America,
which shouldn't be a knee jerk mental association in the first place.
As for those who accuse me of being out of touch with current
events, please note George W. Bush & American Democracy + Iraq and how that is going--I
believe there are many very telling photos of American & Iraqi encounters
available for public viewing. If anything, associating the US with some
Holy Grail of democracy is just as Cold War-programmed as it is wrong,
when most of the world currently associates it with an indignant moral
hypocrisy and military arrogance. No other President has done more to make
as "un-American" as the current usurper in the White House.
My intent was never to say how Iranians feel. If anything, I
argue why not let them decide that their own way. Kristof's valid
obliviously), was that people reject what the Islamic government says
out of principle now,
so their affinity for America is more telling of their rebelliousness
and absolute disdain for the clerical regime and. In Iran, America
same way countless American youth wear Che Guevara shirts -- it doesn't
mean a generation of Americans are Marxist guerillas. Drawing these conclusions
is wrong and simplistic. But hey, it is a free country right?
Finally, I have a note to those who wonder why I mentioned Mossadegh,
the 1953 coup, and other events in modern Iranian history. There is
George Orwell's book, 1984, which says "He who controls the past,
controls the present. He who controls the present controls the future." History
matters. Information matters. It was Sir Francis Bacon, an English
courtier of Queen Elizabeth I who said, "knowledge is power."
can now be disseminated as quickly and widely as rumors. This is why
governments strive to conceal information, this is why Iran kills its
and this is why George W. Bush cannot, and will not, speak in more
than simple single sentence bursts about what America is doing
in the Middle
History is mentioned not to justify the Islamic regime, but rather
because it seems some of our own have forgotten the path Iran has
100 years or so. Iranians don't need America to realize their dreams
of democracy; we have our own dream planted almost 100 years ago
Constitutional Revolution, to which the people of Iran are moving.
The destiny of Iranian
democracy was altered once in 1953; there is again an organic process
going on, which does
not need altering by outside forces.
History matters because if left unchecked, it is bound to repeat
itself. The same way that the grins of the American soldiers at
look eerily like the festive shots of Klansmen celebrating a lynching
And we should remember what has happened when America has brought
'freedom' to other countries -- Guatemala, Chile, Vietnam, Indonesia,
Iraq -- before we encourage the mantle of American democracy to
be draped across Iran, and with it, all its moral values as celebrated
Since it is now a crime to remember our history or point out America's,
necklines plunge lower and our skirts climb higher, so that we
can at least better understand modernity and progress -- God Bless
May is Mamnoon
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