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Dr. Ahmadinejad is blowing up (my identity)
I feel it's difficult to discuss pride when Dr. A and others in that regime choose policies that are hurting Iran's reputation and its people

Nazanin Ghassemian
April 12, 2007

This foreign policy stuff is frustrating. -- George W. Bush

As Iranians outside the native state, we have all suffered the challenges brought with immigrating and/or growing up abroad. Establishing my identity has been a major challenge, growing up in the United States after a brief fling in Kudakestan (preschool) during the chic, Iranian eighties. I realize every person experiences the identity challenge, immigrant or not. It is more difficult For Iranians since the native state is lead by people who do not represent or share our values. That is why we left Iran, after all. No matter how hard we try to distance ourselves and build identities separate from the actions of Iran's leaders, they draw us back to them.

Images and speeches about the diplomatic conflicts shown on television and print make it harder. We are drafted as ambassadors by our colleagues, classmates and taxi drivers. Iran is a complex nation with complex identities, history and geography all of which constitute an enigma that has intrigued people for generations. But people are naturally curious, and Iranians are naturally talkative.

Unfortunately the convenience of saying "Iranian policies are complicated. I don't know. We have great food and art, though" seldom satisfies the inquiries or me. I want people to think highly of Iran, because it is a great place, the land of our ancestors. I don't tolerate people who think negatively about Iran, unless they are basing that judgment on facts. Media coverage about Iran, especially media in Iran, doesn't make help.

Maybe it's too bad for us, but it may have nothing to do with immigrant identity. Part of being patriotic is explaining what's wrong, not just discussing the easy topics. And even though it's not easy to argue for Iran lately, most Iranians are doing their best. For me, I feel it's difficult to discuss pride when Dr. A and others in that regime choose policies that are hurting Iran's reputation and its people.

The questions aren't fair and there is already so much false information floating around. But if we don't answer and try to explain that Iran is much more valuable than centrifuge, naughty Islam or holocaust cartoons, I worry what people might assume.

To begin, the only battles I fought during the Iran-Iraq war were diaper rash and teething. Left to the sidelines of battle in northern Iran hardly puts me in a position to be a judge of anything except the many ABBA albums my family forced on me during car trips. I can't tell my teachers and colleagues this when they ask me about the war and how I felt toward Saddam Hussein. Instead, I tell them it was a terrible, long war and a hard time for my family. We left Tehran for a safe farm where we slept on the floor and worried about the availability eggs and milk. But these are all obscure memories.

There is a clear memory that recent controversies and Dr. A bring to mind: Samir, my Iraqi classmate and a war child in my first grade section. When I had first arrived in the US and enrolled in school, Samir's citizenship had been newly settled. I even remember the miniature polyester flag he planted on his desk courtesy of INS the day he made the announcement that he'd become an American. I also remember him as a kickball mate (I was a tomboy). But most of all, I remember Samir's response to people who asked him "Where are you from?" He would fire back so quickly, his chubby cheeks would jiggle with "I'm from Iraq . But I hate my president." It was a declaration I heard Samir make many times over the course of 9 months. I wonder if it was because he had to say the opposite in Iraq, or if he understood that Saddam Hussein's Iraq caused his family to leave. Maybe he was doing what many Iranians are doing now because of Dr. A and his camp: establishing an identity separate from what most Americans perceive about the native state. At the time, Iraqis were famous for invading Kuwait and killing Kurds. Iranians today are famous for different reasons, but the implications of that awkward fame have the serious implications for Iran's future.

In the West, the 'Smiths', 'McDonalds' and 'Johnsons' are experiencing chilly receptions too, especially in and from the Middle East.  It's not because of the hormones in the chicken, either. Of course, for Americans abroad, it is messy and quite dangerous. There have been investigative pieces with titles like 'Why They Hate Us,' to explain mistrust and the suffering of the US reputation because of (decades accumulating) dirt beneath the government's fingernails.

History is a nasty, X-rated soap opera and everyone is suffering because of it. On trips overseas I notice US embassies are heavily guarded, even in western countries like the UK. In Iran, it is inconvenient to make the arrangements to simply visit a US embassy. When you arrive, I've been told how the US puts well the 'ass' in embassy.

As for the Iranians who make it here, they're free. They also make sure to take advantage of this freedom to strengthen ties to their heritage.  We participate in celebrations, parades and concerts that rarely (legally) take place in Iran but draw big crowds. It may seem ridiculous, but even the Black Cats or a restaurant can be a great deal of Iranian culture for the people who may have never traveled to Iran, but speak Persian at home. Supporting these singers or a Iranian university chapter does a lot to support Iranian culture and build an Iranian group identity. But I'd bet if Dr. A were invited to any of these celebrations, he would decline, even if he resided within 5 miles of the venues. Iranians are complicated, indeed.

Personally, I am tired of being asked why Iran's leaders behave the way they do or why Iranians traded a sharply dressed bully for a more religious, less chic one. I was not yet born. Once out of frustration I told someone 'Its the eyebrows,' i.e. Ayatollah Khomeini was the only man with eyebrows as big as the shah. History has yet to judge the revolution and Iran's regime is still very new, as are most of its constituents. I usually read 70% as being under 30!

Now that I am older, the issues have changed somewhat, but the amount of intrigue hasn't. Dr. A has drawn more attention to Iran than Ayatollah Khomeini, and people are wondering why years later, Iranians elected a man who denies the holocaust and encourages (and rewards) cartooning it for spite. In these cases, I try to tell them what little I know about the Iranian election process: the pickings are slim.

Dr. A's UN visit in 2005 also demanded a lot of me. Clearly, Dr. A didn't learn the lesson Colin Powell did (the hard way) in 2003: UN officials won't help you when you serve them fancy bologna. Dr A would have seen better support for his presentation had he used hair gel and designated 'Atomic' (Blondie) as the campaign's theme song. Two that have gathered serious European support for decades.

I also could have done without the British sailors in captivity, but boundaries were made to be crossed. I was happy to read about their release. But that brought little relief. The sailors came out wearing poorly tailored suits, while the only female in the group was wearing a strange outfit which didn't agree with the Chanel or her colleagues. They were treated like guests, given souvenir totes and a game room with Italian coffee service. Their release though, was a gift. It was a bizarre affair, to say the least.

Iranian's leadership seems pretty lonely in considering Dr. A's announcement benevolent gesture, except a few in the Israeli military. For those hungry to maroon Iran more so than it already has been by the current regime and the international media, I'm sure Dr. A is a jackpot of fun. But it brings me to ask how come he and other policy makers in Iran refuse to deliver a fraction from benevolence pot for the prisoners in Iran, especially those who 'confess' to political crimes under pressure.

President Bush told the New York Daily News in 2002, "this foreign policy stuff is a little frustrating." He's right and I'm sure Dr. A would agree. Many have parted with our parents, grandmothers and friends for a better life. Most have settled West, the places the leaders of our native state wish to do away with in business, politics and religion. But we have invested in the West deeply: we're not just transplants in schools, hospitals or businesses. But often, we are viewed as agents so there lies the challenge.

As for Iranians, they seem to find domestic affairs more critical and Iran 's foreign policy discussion too frenzied with talk of Israel and Palestine.  Although Dr. A is a trying to discuss Israeli-Arab conflict and the holocaust in the context of peace and justice and promote Iranians as people as valuing these, it doesn't seem to be working.

Even if he disregards the foreign governments who do not approve of him, he could (if he is truly "one with the people" as he says) give others a chance to speak for themselves rather than ending sentences with "and the Iranian people understand this/that."

He harms more than he helps when he uses this approach. And although he probably does not worry about the difficulties he presents for Iranians abroad, they are left to explain his riddled statements, speeches and actions. Meanwhile, their identity is entangled in his statements as well because many are seeing that as a conflict is emerging with Iran, some may have to choose sides. And although a violent confrontation between Iran and its enemies is only a bad dream for now, it would help if Iranians outside Iran could launch a preemptive strike of their own by demonstrating the ability to engage a productive dialogue. By productive, I mean the end of fishing for apologies and searching for perfect leaders. They don't exist, unless you are in a cult. But I do see how cults can be an attractive option for some frustrated Iranians.

Cults, even in Iran, are seldom able to maintain their power unless you count Pink Floyd. And since the designated diplomats don't seem to be doing a good job, it's left to Iranians outside who still have patience and aren't fed up with Iran's leadership.

I'll continue to watch for news about Iran and when I miss it, the people I work and study with will certainly fill me on what I miss, because it seems I am an agent (non secret kind). Silly, if you consider my proposal for resolution to the future conflict with Iran. Cultural diplomacy with a tasty twist: First Dr. A's wife could send him to work in New York next time with ghorme sabzi for the Security Council (a bit of marijuana could added for good measure). By using 'Atomic' (Blondie) as a theme song, ghorme sabzi as the way to the heart of the officials (especially the fat Russians), the main course is sure to be peace, or at least a non-binding treaty and/or resolution to save Iran from the war on poorly tailored suits worn by the delegation.

While he probably doesn't intend it, Dr. A's misunderstood atomic, anti-Zionist campaign is costing many Iranians their hard-built identities and forcing a lot of Iranians to do explaining. Although my proposal will likely never materialize, I'll continue watching and playing my newest part, thanks to Dr. A: Mary Poppins in Octopussy. Comment

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