I agree with the idea that we should not feel guilty nor be held accountable in the eyes of the public for the acts of a few madmen that happen to be of the same ethnicity/religion. But it seems that the point of Professor Najmabadi's article, “Wrong, regardless”, is to say, “Don't disagree and do not explain — don't rock the boat.”
You feel by trying to explain a Middle Eastern/Iranian perspective to Americans on why this event happened, you implicate yourself in what has happened? That somehow you, by virtue of having a similar name, skin color, religion, etc, are in the same league as someone like Khomeini, Saddam Hussein, or currently, Bin Laden? And that for this reason, you should not attempt to give an American your perspective? Or worse, give an answer because it seems to be the acceptable one?
You propose an alternative to giving a culturally relevant explanation — by condemning the act no matter what might have precipitated such a violent reaction; by avoiding the causes and blindly denouncing the effects. I agree that we must strongly condemn the terrorist acts, but it is just as important to openly examine what might have led the terrorists to commit such an extreme act.
I was an eyewitness to the tragedy in New York last week, so I had an extremely visceral reaction towards the terrorists and the incredible damage they inflicted on the lives of thousands. Like most people, I feel the victims deserve justice, and the perpetrators of this crime should be punished. But yet, I think before we begin to bomb more innocent people, before we point fingers at anyone, let's ask WHY this might have happened.
I absolutely codemn the violence, but it would be naive of all of us to say we do not understand that many are angry at America. It seems that the majority of the American population lives in oblivion to that idea. Saying that should not mean that we condone the events of last week. It should not implicate us for remembering history as it has happened to us, and understanding that a century of destabilization, violent intervention, and illegal covert operations by the US across the globe does not come without consequences.
As Iranians, this should be an obvious point to us all. Professor Najmabadi points to this as well, when she discusses the hostage crisis of 1979-80. Many of us spend a lot of time rehashing Mossadegh, and ultimately blaming the current woes of Iran on that coup the C.I.A. staged in 1953. Such a conclusion is debatable, but still, that argument has very convincing elements.
Had the Revolution not occured for the reasons it did, or not ultimately led to the birth of the Islamic Republic, how many Iranians would have lived outside Iran? What if the Mossadegh government was not destabilized by direct C.I.A. action? Our lives would have turned out profoundly different. For that reason, many Iranians might always harbor a bit of bitterness towards the US, and be able to empathize with other indirect victims of US foreign policy.
The majority of Americans will never learn about that unless it is explained to them. By avoiding an explanation when given the chance, by refusing to challenge the status quo and established notions of what we are fed by the mouth of the media and government, is to render yourself useless.
Personally, I don't feel like I should be the mouthpiece for Iranians/Middle Easterners to an ignorant American population, but the reality of the situation is that we are forced into this role.
Whether or not we choose to illuminate something we know intimately about, opinions will be formed by society. And if someone stops me on the street to tell me to go back to my country, or when I am “lucky” enough to pass as someone not Middle Eastern and I hear a remark about how “all those people should be blown off the face of the Earth”, in essence, is that not as ugly as the mindset of the terrorist? This has happened to many of us, and we know that in the minds of such bigots, we have already been indicted. The reason why we are forced to explain, the reason we are forced to say “yeah, but…”, is because we are already implicated in these acts in the minds of many Americans. Of course, we could also be judged, convicted, and hung if we stay silent.
I don't like it, but unfortunately, it is a cross that many of us have to bear.
Sympathy for the victims of this horrendous tragedy does not preclude one from investigating the factors that caused this event to happen. In fact, the best way to show sympathy for the victims is to understand as best we can why such madness happened–so that we can prevent it from happening in the future. It is a task independent of empathizing with the American people, or the families of those who perished in New York and Washington, and a task ultimately done in honor of them. Our role in this process could be to help shed light on the role of the US in the history of the Middle East. We can demonstrate that many of the conflicts, inequities, atrocities, and contradictions of the Middle East in the 20th century were caused by US policies. And this starts in any discussion with a coworker, a stranger on the street, or over dinner–when someone says something ignorant, it is your job to say, “yeah, but…”
So when the question that looms largest on everyone's mind is asked, “Why did this happen?”, I feel we often can begin to clarify the often infamous role of the US government to its own citizens. Who else will do that? Not the societal institutions of this country. This is a major failure of the American education system and media, which paint history and current events in the most reassuring and homogenized colors, and often do not question the policies that the US has pursued. Consequently, this responsibility falls on a small minority — and though it is unglamorous and difficult work to question an “official story”, it is unequivocably necessary for us to do so.
Explaining a different side does not mean I am against Americans, nor that I am for terrorism. I am Iranian-American, born and raised in America, more than ever aware of the American roots inside of me. My heart goes out to all those who lost loved ones, and it has left a deep scar on my own mind that my two favorite buildings in the city no longer greet me from my living room window as I walk by.
Let's not let this terrible moment deter us from pursuing and disseminating the truth. If anything, there is a new urgency to this task. There is too much at stake here to remain silent and become victims of our own indifference (or fear?). Just a thought.