It is without a doubt that Iranians are some of the most patriotic and proud people on this planet. As such, it comes to no surprise that we see Iranians across the globe supporting, discussing and wishing to participate in reform or in some cases revolution.
However, while most “Iranian-others” discuss about current events and their desires, few actually know what role to play in the events unfolding in Iran. That is to say, we are Iranians but we do not live in Iran.
We are not under threat of torture or imprisonment when protesting on the streets of Tehran, nor are we the ones who risk our life when publishing stories of freedom or corruption in “liberal” papers.
However, Iranians around the globe do not need to be on the streets to play an important role. In fact they have an important role in their country of residence and I will take the example of Iranian-Americans to demonstrate my point.
The first major point we must assume is that we are more then just Iranians. We are German-Iranians, Swedish-Iranians, or in my case Iranian-American. Many of us who aspire reform and change in Iran have been born and have grown up in countries outside of Iran.
Even when we consider Reza Pahlavi has lived more years in the United States then in Iran one can justify how many Iranians feel he is out of touch with the desires of most Iranians. This does not mean we do not love Iran as much as those who live there. It simply means we must always keep that within our point of view, specifically when we discuss “what Iranians want” or “how Iranians think.”
On the other hand, being an Iranian-American, or an Iranian-other, demonstrates the dual obligations we have. As an American, for example, I have the obligation and the right to vote, speak, write and express my opinions in a manner which does not violate the rights of others.
The National Iranian American Council ought to be applauded for their efforts in establishing a viable Iranian-American political voice but most of all in reminding us the importance of gaining a political voice. As an Iranian, I feel as if I have a duty to make sure my opinions are heard so that our government does not discriminate against Iranians, or initiate policies directly attacking us based on our country of origin.
Keeping these obligations in mind, we can turn to the current shape of Iranian life. As I read across headlines depicting the protests currently going on in Iran, it is easy to assume that these events have erupted only within the past few days.
Nevertheless we must always remember that Iranians have been protesting for years and that the demonstrations on the streets have resulted from brewed frustration and most importantly dialogue that has fermented opinion against the government and inspired thoughts of change.
Dialogue between ourselves, the general public, and internationally is the most important form of reformation and change that we could ever hope for. It inspires debate, which in turn leads us to truth. In the case of Iran, dialogue reconfirms what it is one can have and how they can attain it.
More importantly, I believe, is that as an Iranian-American it is important that Iranian opinion is heard when America is initiating policies with respect to Iran, whether they are sanctions, trade agreements, etc… It happens too often that when organizations discuss what is best for Iranians you have a lack of a viable Iranian opinion. You generally have defense analysts; exiles associated with the Shah, or loaded voices from think tanks like American Enterprise Institute.
Generally, Iranian-others can help Iranians in Iran by participating in their resident governments and opening up the consciousness of their country to the Iranian opinion. Without helping others understand us, or people we care for in Iran, hope for reform carried out by Iranians might be forever damaged.
Nema Milaninia is a Graduate Student, International Human Rights Law at the American University in Cairo.