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The Iranian Identity Problem, Part I

Balatarin

 

 

As an Iranian-American, I feel like I can provide an observation on our culture. We, as a whole, have an identity problem. Blame it on Islam, on invasions, on whatever; it is there and it is real. I blame it more on familial enmeshment; perhaps it is because I'm a psychologist. Allow me to explain.

 

Politics and society are the expressions of a culture, the ways of behavior of a knit group of people- ethnicities to tribes, tribes to the family, the family to the individual. In this top-down progression, the family serves as the first door to socialization and the embedding of norms, and it is at this level where changes can be implemented to affect an entire culture. Iranian parents, for the majority, seem to have boundary problems with their children. This affects things as far up the societal ladder as a nation constantly shifting from one form of authoritarianism to another- the political history of Iran, from the Achaemenids to the regime of today.

 

How many in the Iranian youth pursue art, psychology, interior design, academia, or teaching? The numbers pale in comparison to the amount pursuing engineering, medicine, and (to a slight extent) law. It's not that the former fields aren't lucrative- one can make ends meet as a teacher or psychologist; millions do it around the world. It just takes more guts and individual drive than other fields- and the ability to swallow one's pride and realize it will be a different kind of profit- inner satisfaction; not prestige, hefty salaries and bonuses. Iranian parents control their kids in many ways- some overt ("I'm not going to pay for your school if you don't pursue pre-med!") some indirect ("You know Khaleh Fariba's son, he's a well-known engineer from MIT. He's such a good boy"). Some Iranians pick their cookie-cutter careers because three or four family members are in the field, some pick it to please parents, some pick it to compete with others or fill a void in what they believe they "should have" compared to others (fulfilling what the culture says they "ought" to do), and some pick it because they have never thought of other careers. The career, the next 40 to 50 years of your life, is but one building block of identity- yet it is a very important one.

 

Through familial enmeshment, Iranian youth become dependent. They cannot make decisions for themselves without "mashferat kardan". They cannot develop their own reason without self-doubt and lack of confidence. This enmeshment and authoritarian family system leads to eventual expression of thoughts and feelings in passive-aggressive ways and outburts from things held inside for too long. It leads to sudden and dramatic life changes. It impedes the trust of and development of the self. Like a famous Russian proverb- "leave the thinking to the geniuses"- Iranians don't give much value to the thoughts or abilities of an individual to reason and figure things out for themselves. This comes from the family system- what we were raised upon. We know how we are supposed to act, and someone out of that norm is somehow less. But we all secretly long for the ability to attain that boldness to make decisions on our own life- mainting our own, individually-developed values. We have our values handed down to us for the most part; why can't we go by what is pragmatic for us? Why not weigh the benefits and costs of these values; the costs of this control? Are security and pleasing others really worth the loss of the self and the perpetuation of this destructive pattern on our newer generations, our future sons and daughters?

 

Iranians don't exercise the right to choose for themselves because of the insecurity and lack of confidence in decision making brought about by this enmeshment of family members. When others are making decisions for you, you will lack the experience of autonomous thought and action, lack the experience of consequences, and lack the experience of establishing new patterns and routes to achieve results in your life. You will remain in a quagmire of self-doubt and will opt for whatever is secure, even if it means shortchanging your own happiness.

 

My point is: Iranian family systems are inherently authoritarian- though not in an oppressively overt way, they nonetheless still are. Many find their careers don't suit them well into their lives (though many also find they do). Many Iranian youth struggle to live up to cultural expectations, even miles away from their homeland. Parents seek to live through their children what they did not live in their lives. This is all well and human- it can be argued that it is a type of love- but it nevertheless impedes individuality and identity growth. Familial enmeshment and overprotectiveness cause late or nonexistent growth in identity development, which leads to psychological adjustment problems. Hence, Iranians have a tough time without their family network. Perhaps it is time for the new generation of abroad-living Iranians to change this cultural norm and abide by "carpe diem"- because you only live one life.

Balatarin

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AshkanJahani

AshkanJahani Nietzche summed it best.

I really loved this article. Interesting how even here Iranians have similar cultural attributes. Iranian culture seems to take over any culture, host country or passing. These are problems. Although, I became a computer engineer because I like computers and like money, not because the culture told me to do it. Kudos on the article and keep more coming, mate!

maziar58

maziar 58 Maziar

On a personal Exp. met a young 24-25 yrs old from Ohio (from Persian father a Doctor) and American mother
He was painting the house with his uncle
He was a pre med student and one evening walked in the house with a class mate returning from the mall where he got a FREE earring pierced on him
The First Reaction from his father was a slap in his front of his friend and farsi out burst followed..........
He left that house and was Happily working with his Uncle in Tennessee.

faraway

faraway

Excellent article. Many of these ideas are worthy of extensive discussion in analyzing our failure as a culture incapable of competing with the Western societies.

amirparvizforsecularmonarchy

amirparvizforsecularmonarchy I Love Waterfalls and Find One of the most humorous things in the world; is the notion that Americans are a greater force for good & more civilized than Nazi's, Mullahs and Communists.

So what nationality am I?

I was not pushed into any field, given total freedom and support, and did not pursue law despite it being recommended after doing a personality test saying it was a good career for me based on my strengths. It may be possible to say that on a National scale Iranians are suffering from deficiencies, but this is not true for all Iranians, even from the previous generation. I'm sure you are not clear about the causes behind indecent behaviors among Iranians today, the most obvious one is the tyranny of thought and the inability to express ones self freely. It comes directly from religion and no where else. It goes against Iran's Recorded thoughts, Historic Culture and Society.

sayyad.shaer

Sayyad Sha'er visit: www.sayyadshaer.com

I didn't accuse you of being a different nationality. Perhaps being quick to taking offense is another Iranian quality. We Iranians need to shed our blind national pride and the tendency to blame foreigners- blaming the Arabic religion is another manifestation of our xenophobia (though Shi'a Islam in Iran came about when an Iranian dynasty, the Safavids, made it a state religion to gain power and imperial consolidation vis-a-vis the Ottomans). The Islamic invasion resulted in Persianized Islam with many influences from Zoroastrianism, just as any foreigner who invades Iran adopts Iranian culture- in that sense our culture is dominant. Many of the Abbasid caliphs were figureheads while Iranian generals were pulling the strings. It's simple politics to leave administration of a foreign land to a like-minded representative from their own people, we did it for a long time as well and we're humans just like the Arabs are. But I digress...

Just because you weren't pushed into any field- or let's take it up one step further- just because you do not see these qualities in our culture, does not mean the argument doesn't stand. Neither did I say all Iranians suffer from these- I implied that this is a general phenomenon in our culture; whether or not some individuals have these qualities doesn't pertain to the argument. Many, if not most, do; it's just the structure of Iranian families. Now some families have this less than others, but it is still there- and other cultures, for instance, many Indian cultures, Chinese culture, Japanese culture, seem to have similar attributes. It is prevalent in Eastern cultures. Even Arabs and Turks have this aspect of culture. Your argument is understandable, but doesn't stand firm due to its use of a personal anecdote to refute a general phenomenon.

Many of Iran's bad qualities come from ancient times as well, for instance the black-and-white thinking can be traced to Manichaeism and Zoroastrianism (as well as centuries of absolute authoritarian rule). It is not just Islam, and though Islam is a negative influence (IMO), that's just a cop-out, a form of denial of our own social problems. It just places the blame on others, something we do on a personal level as well. Thanks for your input.

amirparvizforsecularmonarchy

amirparvizforsecularmonarchy I Love Waterfalls and Find One of the most humorous things in the world; is the notion that Americans are a greater force for good & more civilized than Nazi's, Mullahs and Communists.

just because you do not see these qualities in our culture, does not mean the argument doesn't stand.

I Never said these qualities don't exist in our culture, I know Iranians people for which it applies and others for which it doesn't. I see this in other communities that have long been a part of American Society at least 2 centuries and they have a similar issue, Russian and Jewish communities come to mind. I am thinking these behaviors exist also at smaller rate even among other communities.

We need to be clear about what we are defining as culture and what we are defining as behavior, which is not always based on cultural norms. Regarding Culture today Shia Islam is the largest influences on Iranian Culture.

sayyad.shaer

Sayyad Sha'er visit: www.sayyadshaer.com

Other cultures do have similar issues; yet the mixture of issues in Iranian culture has led us to the problems we face today as a nation as well as a diaspora.

I would say the Iranian interpretation of Shi'a Islam is a lot more Iranian than say, the Shi'a Islam of the Fatimids. Islam was Persianized and it grew with the aid of certain aspects of our culture that were already there before Islamization. It also shaped the culture afterward. These are Iranian problems though, and not external. Even a criticism of religion must use cultural relativism to arrive at a fitting conclusion. Thanks for your reply.

trawetsdor

trawetsdor


aldayus,
Welcome. It's good to see fresh thoughts on IC. I see you have already got a taste of what goes around here. Thanks to Azadeh who stole my speech!

I have to add my own worries to the pot. I have been reading blogs written by Iranian youth in the past ten years and have grasped how much they have tried to break off from the chain of Iranian-style traditional thought process. It seems they have very well caught the symptoms of the ill and are complaining about it. Yet they do not look as if they have reached the root to attack it. So our diagnosis is yet stalled let alone the treatment.

Islam entered Iran whether or not we or our ancestors liked it. But we transformed it into Shia and embraced it. Shia is a philosophy that we are in it deep because it suits our mind process. Shia mind set is not limited to the Pasdar's father or Bisiji's mother. You can squeeze a bucket of Shia out of any of us be it a university professor, an intellectual, even the Marxist Khosrow Ruzbeh. In his second trial when his life is at stake and he knows that he is done, KR screams that discos, where Iranian youth are dancing, have taken away honors of our daughters and sons (virginity). By making example of KR I am trying to highlight my point about Iranian mind set and do not intend to resort into old conspiracy theories of commies-islamist, etc. (With his execution another human being lost his life.) As you see our shot at thinking subconsciously led us to drag the variety of thought into our realm which was compatible with our notion of “purity”. After all Stalinism rose from Russian Orthodox Christianity which share similarities with Shia specially in its views about women. Due to lack of objectivity when facing entities we stubbornly try to confirm our own biases.

Iranian youth have been hailed as the true wealth of Iran. I am concerned about who raised them and how: Parents of culture of Ta'arof in the land of taghieh (dissimulation). We need to reexamine our options. It is quite often emphasized that IR lost touch with the young generation. I beg to differ. Our children are constantly bombarded with ways of Shia thought process via government propaganda and through compulsory education to name a few. This remark has been sarcastically made that the Iranian youth gave their third finger to the mullah's by tuning into Maddona's music on satellite and only followed the dress code outside. Does this mean we have won over IR? What kind of children have we raised in Iran? If you constantly praise your child for deceiving authority (government) don't you think lying and cheating become their way of life? How do you guarantee that this generation won't use its expertise in lying to the authority at home (their parents)? Haven't they?

*Partons are allowed to delete their comment and I did delete my previous one because it was not complete.

trawetsdor

trawetsdor

IC didn't delete it. We can and I did because I wasn't done. C U.

sayyad.shaer

Sayyad Sha'er visit: www.sayyadshaer.com

Thanks trawetsdor. Again IC deleted your comment. IDK whats up with the site!

Azadeh..Azad

Dr.Azadeh.Azad http://legacy.iranian.com/main/member/azadeh-azad

I read your response. I totally agree with you that there is a transformation in the new generation towards individuality. They are, even among the youth of the country, a minority, but a minority other young people idealize and like to imitate.

Azadeh..Azad

Dr.Azadeh.Azad http://legacy.iranian.com/main/member/azadeh-azad

That was an accident :-). I was writing on this window when everything disappeared. So, I began writing again on WORD to avoid what happened. So, here it is:


Dear Aldayus:

This is a very important issue, and I would say it is the core of our social and political failures and inability to advance. The Iranian culture, not in its appearances, but in its essence and functions, is a TRIBAL SOCIETY. The authoritarian nature of such society comes from its PATRIARCHAL SYSTEM. Iran is a PATRIARCHAL TRIBAL SOCIETY with ISLAM as its most perversely important institution.

“Ta’aarof” is representative of this system. Ta’aarof puts people and their relationships into boxes and takes away people’s individuality. If you follow this Tribal Tradition, you cannot greet people the way you’d like and according to your temperament or other people’s behavior.


Ta’aarof is not only a BOX, it is also a MASK.


In this and other Iranian websites, many individuals (mostly men) use the foulest language with each other, because they have learnt, since childhood, to wear a mask, never be authentic and *never really respect other people.* (Because historically the “Other” has always been the enemy of the tribe or clan.)
While in the West, most people relate respect to love (or have this idea in their minds), in Iran respect is related to fear. Hence the inauthenticity of respect among Iranians. Once there is no fear, there is no respect either. This is very well-rooted in the Iranian people’s psyche.


So, when ironically the Internet puts another type of mask on the Iranian’s whole identity, that is when the Internet actually UNMASKS people, you read and see the real character of Iranians: mostly the character of a LUMPEN, because they had not have the opportunity to develop their personalities as self-respecting individuals who also respect others as in a mirror.


Another aspect of the patriarchal tribal system is AGEISM. One has to respect “those older than I”, because in a tribe, the older you are the wiser you get (not true, we know) and deserve more respect. So, in the 21st century, one HAS TO have respect for the other based on his age and not his character. Again, the concept of respect is detached from the reality of both individuals, that is, it is false.


These are two examples of a complex society like Iran where, generally and not in an absolute meaning, individuality in the sense of distinct identity and self-actualization does not exist. Hence the presence of so many Iranian engineers around the world, a sample of whom has demonstrated their lumpenism on Iranian.com since 1995. This is an ugly truth that is easily researchable by having access to the IranianDotCom archives.


As I said before, the topic of your article is extremely important, more than what an average person realizes. So, thank you for this eloquently-written article and please do continue writing about the important issues you have brought up.


Azadeh

sayyad.shaer

Sayyad Sha'er visit: www.sayyadshaer.com

Thank you, Dr. Azadeh (I don't know why your comment was deleted, though). I read it on my Activity page.

"The authoritarian nature of such society comes from its PATRIARCHAL SYSTEM. Iran is a PATRIARCHAL TRIBAL SOCIETY"

This is very true and also is manifested in tazahorat, khastegary, aberu, nang/namoos, parti-bazi and other big Iranian cultural practices. I do notice in the youth generation more of the individualism that is important for Iranian society to evolve, for instance in Quf's song "Sobhe Masnavi" where he encourages youth to not let anyone force them into a particular career path. More of this is important to keep Iran in a positive trajectory. I appreciated your comment very much, please continue posting.