“You must be the change you wish to see in the world”
— Mahatma Gandhi
The Iranian diaspora finds itself in the cultural no-man's land, somewhere between the glorious nostalgic past and uncertain elements of the Western world. While first and second generation immigrants strive to safeguard the best in traditional norms and values, the inevitable clash of cultures leads to questions of self-identity.
The immigration process often involves a sudden change and breakdown in social norms, which sociologists would refer to as 'anomie'. Introduced by a French sociologist, Emile Durkheim, the concept of anomie describes a condition of deregulation, whereby individuals are left in the state of confusion following the breakdown of behavioral rules in society. Such breakdown often occurs in the immediate aftermath of revolutions and military conflicts.
One can argue that millions of Iranians, including expatriates, have experienced 'anomie' following the turmoil of post-revolutionary era with exposure to realities of economic hardships, social polarization and over-politicization of culture.
By reviewing the dictionary definition of culture, the question emerges on whether there is a phenomenon known as the 'Persian Culture'. The Webster dictionary lists the following under the definition of culture: “a set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes [a nation]”. Other definitions refer to integrated patterns of human knowledge, customary beliefs, behaviors, and material traits of a racial or social group.
In search for common cultural elements of 'being Persian', one can find traces of hope beyond the façades of polarizing, emotional, and divisive discussions. Although Iranians tend to look into their nostalgic past for moments of glory, the answer to question of their common cultural identity lies in its evolving nature. Culture is subject to evolution, as traditions, norms and values are modified in new patterns for survival in an ever changing world. The Iranian culture bears no exception.
A few years ago, academics coined the phrase 'global village' in reference to the globalization phenomenon in an interconnected world where technology erases geographic barriers between nation states. Thanks to the Internet, e-mail, satellite technology and other great inventions, the Persian culture is evolving albeit too slowly at times. One can argue that it would be in everyone's interest to adjust traditional cultural norms and values in accordance with changing times.
The answer lies in first acknowledging the need for change and subsequently creating necessary conditions for the next generation to flourish in a highly competitive global environment.
Over the past decades, first and second generations of Iranian immigrants have proven themselves worthy of admiration by overcoming challenges and reaching great heights in personal and professional endeavors. They have excelled in fields of business, technology, science, academia, sports, etc. And yet, these heroes remain largely unknown. Overshadowed by negative news headlines, they may at times hide their ethnic origins but identify themselves as hyphenated Iranians, or Iranians bearing dual or single citizenship of another country.
Isn't it time to use the language of moderation, tolerance and compassion in media and give the next generation something to cheer about?
There are many success stories about individuals who have defied all odds to fight economic hardship, overcome culture clash, study and work with a pioneering sprit. These stories need to be told in order to help today and tomorrow's youth identify with distinguished role models and cultural icons. Truly, anyone can be a deliberate or unconscious role model. But it's only through public and media recognition that personal achievements come to light.
In the information age, technology can be used to help the next generation believe in itself and demonstrate self-pride. The media bears particular responsibility to draw the public spot light on male and female role models. It's time to embrace the new generation of leaders.
Last but not least, it's time to break cultural stereotypes of Iranian women by honoring female role models who have liberated themselves from gender segregating elements to assume leadership positions in society. These women deserve special recognitions so that young girls can follow their footsteps.
With good role models, the immigrant community can build a cultural bridge between the past and the future and discover its new self-identity. The lesson learnt from past mistakes dictates a new approach, as nostalgic glory ought not to be an obstacle to cultural progress.
Visit Vancouver-based Behshad Hastibakhsh's Behshadh.com.