I write as an American student studying in Egypt. I write as an Iranian Muslim. Most importantly I write as a man struck with pride, loyalty, and fear to his culture and heritage. No doubt iranian.com is read by many of you who reside in the US, who may or may not keep up with the war against Iraq, and for the most part receive your information through CNN, Fox News, ABC and so on.
What you may not see, is what I have the unfortunate privilege of witnessing. Al-Jazeera and other arab networks save no time televising Iraqi bodies bloodied, torn, mangled, and shot. Protests, which wage every day with thousands of people, ranging from students of the elite to fundamentalist such as Muslim Brotherhood, calling together for an end to war, an end to occupation and an end to Saddam. Most of all I am not restrained from witnessing the destruction bombs cause on buildings built over years and artifacts sustained for centuries only to be destroyed in a second. In so many words, I see war and what the word truly means.
If we, and I speak of Iranians around the world, were born any other time, any other place, maybe we would understand the realities of such an occasion as war and why, as so many diplomats and politicians say, “war must be a last resort.” Beyond all this, it is clear we live in a very interesting time. A decisive turning point where we have the opportunity to make great things happen and to shape not only our futures but those of our families and friends. We live in a time where war wages next door and threatens to pull us in. In a time where hundreds of our family and friends are denied entry into our country. Where talks of reform are shouted louder every day against a government run by a minority and backed by a minority. Most importantly, we live in a time where it has become crucial that we unite and become vocal in our countries.
Iranians, has too long been apathetic. It is a shame on two fronts. One because we deny our intelligence and opinion to the world around us when we have proven to be the more educated, if not the most, minority in the US and abroad. Second, because through our lethargy we bring prolonged suffering. Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph. And still we remain a silent.
I will argue that our silence comes from our fear. Iranians, specifically us living in the US, are afraid to discuss politics. We believe that is a dividing force and that it breeds animosity instead of friendship. If there is any evidence of how benign Iranians are, it is certainly through their persistence in avoiding anything which would allow tension or anger.
However, let me say now, there is no fear in discussing politics. I have been told too many times that politics divide instead of unite. Despite the arguments, tensions, and divisions political discourse brings we must allow ourselves to participate peacefully and respectfully. If we cannot discuss politics without remaining united how do we plan on ever bridging our differences? More importantly, how can we ever strive for truth? It is only through discussion of those things we hold most true that we can either discover their faults or reaffirm our beliefs. It is time for us to embrace politics and not be afraid of confrontation.
Yes, it is difficult. Today, debate rises anew about the role of Islam in democracy, and the role of Islam in Iran. There are divides amongst those who support the emergence of a constitutional monarchy and those who are disgusted with the idea of a new “shah”. And of course there is a more recent debate amongst those who want a US war against Iran, and others, like myself, who are afraid of its very possibility.
There is a war in Iraq and it teaches us lessons that we should never forget. It teaches us that unless we take hold of our fate, and those of our family, friends, and culture, someone else will and dictate it their own way. I ask you to always remember that it only through discussion of our differences that we can unite and that it is only through our unity that we can ever progress. We must look to Iraq and remember what it means to be Iranian and American. More importantly we must look to remember why we must be resolved to unite for it is only through this unity that we can ever prevent Tehran from becoming another Baghdad.
Nema Milaninia is a Graduate Student, International Human Rights Law at the American University in Cairo.