My heart rests with the people who suffer in New York. The recent tragedy returns me to a time when I was only eight-years old, and the first bombs began to fall. I remember the scream of the sirens, the darkness of our basement where we took cover, and the loud explosions. I remember moments of terror, wondering “Will it be our house this time?” It continued for eight years — half of my young life in Iran.
Millions more have lived with fear and anxiety after the Iran-Iraq War. Since depleting its coffers in war, Iran, like many nations in the Middle East, has been coping with a poverty aggravated by power struggles between reformism and fundamentalism, UN sanctions, constant inflation, and possibly worst of all, an exodus of its people. Most of those who could, left their country and sought refuge and a better life in the West. My 1996 immigration to Canada opened the door to a beautiful future, but it hasn't locked away the dark memories of my past.
And so I, like most immigrants in the Western world, am forever trying to hold two ends of a tug-of-war together. How do I show my devotion to my new country without forsaking the people I have left behind? This exercise becomes most difficult during a crisis such as the World Trade Center attack.
I am as much of a target for a terrorist as any other Canadian. Of course, I deplore terrorists and want their networks shut down. I was also born in Iran, and know what the majority of people in that part of the world continue to experience. I know that they are peace-loving people who persevere through one regime after another, without opportunity. People who do not support terrorism. People who are seldom heard by the West.
I often thank God that I am Iranian and am lucky to have endured less pain than Iran's neighbours to the east and west. An Iraqi friend, with tearful eyes, tells me of the Iraqi people, punished from within by Saddam's brutal government, and punished from without by sanctions. The devastation of the Gulf War, a decade of the toughest, most comprehensive sanctions in history, and more Western enforcement in 1998, have taken its toll on the Iraqi people.
A 1999 UN Security Council report described Iraq's infant mortality rates among the highest in the world, along with low infant birth weights, and chronic malnutrition. Only 41% of the population had regular access to clean water, and 83% of all schools needed substantial repairs. Two years later, Saddam is even stronger as his people become further incapacitated and remain voiceless.
To the east in Afghanistan, life is exceptionally bad after several decades of war. Afghani refugees in Iran will accept any hard job with any salary, as long as they can survive. Afghanis have been through civil war in the 1970's, Soviet invasion in the 1980's, and another civil war in the 1990's.
Under the Taliban, the majority are kept poor and illiterate, women are oppressed. Innocent people starved by drought, by sanctions, and by ruthless fundamentalists. And now, another horror: the WTC and Pentagon attacks. This was not a joyous event for Afghanis. It leaves an Afghani in Toronto to tell me, “There is no hope left for life in Afghanistan.”
Last week, Americans received a spoonful of what the ordinary people of my part of the world have experienced for decades. Again, wonderful, innocent people dead, buried in the rubble. But the American story is different. These victims have a voice. A powerful voice which stirs a frenzy for war, ostensibly against terrorism, but which also fuels an indiscriminate hatred for immigrants.
This powerful voice is calling for war. Against whom? At what cost? Will bombs and troops solve the problem? Will referring to the religion of millions of people around the world as a “tribal culture built on blood and revenge” solve the problem? Planting hatred and intolerance in Western hearts will only be matched by hatred in Eastern hearts. Vengeance, neither a Christian nor an Islamic value, offers no exit from the circle of violence.
What is the solution? The solution is not a simple job for a sledgehammer, but a complicated task for jeweller's forceps. A task that will take many years and extensive cooperation between nations. A task that must include raising, not further lowering, the standard of living in all countries to remove the breeding grounds of hatred. A novel solution that will make the world a better, not worse, place for us all.