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Passion & tolerance
We must elevate to the higher plains of tolerance in political debates

By Behrouz Enayati
April 16, 2001
The Iranian

As Iran prepares to vote in the upcoming presidential election, there is a noticeable change in the temperature of the political discourse amongst Iranians abroad. It is as though we can all sense what's at stake and what hangs in the balance. In gatherings large and small, formal and informal, people are beginning to engage in lively exchanges on the current and future state of affairs in Iran.

Those who had for years expressed little interest in politics (myself included) are once again drawn into the debate. What are we to make of this seemingly sudden resurgence of political interest amongst the diaspora? It is in some respects reminiscent of the heated discussions and high tension that marked the events leading to the revolution itself.

I am not suggesting that we are on the verge of another mass uprising. I simply do not have the wisdom or the foresight to make such bold predictions, and would much rather leave all of that to the career politicians and the self-assured political analysts that can be found even in the smallest of Persian gatherings.

Instead what I am prepared to say with some degree of certainty is that many of us still care -- and care deeply -- about what is happening in Iran.

We all know many of us have become intellectually and emotionally desensitized or perhaps even disconnected from all the developments and happenings in Iran. But in the quiet privacy of our own thoughts and feelings, where there is no social or egotistical pressures to come across as wise and intelligent, how do we really view our own identity: who we are, where and how we live, what our goals and aspirations are. How do we reconcile all that with our publicly held views, opinions, slogans and speeches on the socio-economic conditions and the prevailing politics in our homeland?

I do realize that over the years we have found the turn of events simply too painful to talk about and have grown silent. Some saw the futility of all they were willing or able to put forth and have withdrawn quietly. And then, there are those who genuinely couldn't care less. In spite of all that, there are many signs of a growing desire to enter into meaningful discussions about our roles and responsibilities toward our country of origin and the people we love and care about.

So how do we engage in this process?

Despite our rich history and cultural achievements throughout the ages, our political discourse, as a vehicle for social progress and consensus building, remains rudimentary. I feel it is incumbent upon each and every one of us to recognize our own ability to influence the evolutionary path of political discourse through our own behavior, and to face the social obligations and responsibilities that are born out of this recognition.

Given the social and the political shifts that are underway in our country, we may be put to test again sooner than we think. How will we fare this time around? Unfortunately our history is replete with examples of our weakness in this area. What strikes me as ironic is that we are endowed with above average social skills, especially when it comes to interacting with each other.

Our passionate and highly visible (and often painfully theatrical) display of our respect for each other is exemplary. Enter politics and these culturally rich protocols for mutual respect, which often seem to be indelibly etched on our brain cells responsible for social etiquette, are suddenly deleted from our consciousness.

Just make a few benign and somewhat factual comments on the power struggle in Iran and you are summarily and unequivocally branded as "uninformed", "out of touch", and "helping the enemy by playing into their hands". All of this from the gentleman who only minutes earlier was bowing before you and forcefully insisting that you enter the room ahead of him; and once in the room would not sit down until you were seated first.

It is as though we have been hard wired to be combative within a three-mile radius of a political conversation. Sometimes the mere introduction of a political topic is enough to transform the most amicable exchange of pleasantries into an antagonistic showdown of verbal karate. I am also fearful that this kind of behavior may be developing into some kind of a genetic disposition, which God forbid, will get passed on from one generation to the next. Let's hope, for posterity's sake, that I am just being too paranoid.

Cut through the noise of all the commentaries, opinions, analyses, and the regurgitated hyperbole, and sometimes one can actually hear the cries of pain, anger and frustration. Instead of knee-jerk reactions, we may choose to look beyond the overt statements (in a non-dismissive manner) and try tuning into each other's hopes and fears.

And so next time we come across the ones who make authoritative statements and issue pronouncements and fatwas on what should and should not be happening in Iran, we could perhaps consider the possibility that what they are really trying to say is that: "I don't quite understand what's going on; all I know is that I love my country and I wish I could do something to make a difference.''

We may well be witnessing one of the most defining periods in our history. Each one of us, either directly or through a few degrees of separation, is a participant in this process. Thus we may be charged, by our own sense of organic responsibility, to act as the trustees and the custodians of certain values and principles, and not just their mere advocates.

As we come together and interact in our efforts to discharge our social and historical obligations, we must actively search for a new posture. One that seeks to understand rather than undermine. We must abandon the barren terrain of contention and self-righteousness and elevate ourselves to the higher, fecund plains of tolerance where exchanges are refreshing, and where our breath is not wasted in infantile bickering.

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment for the writer Behrouz Enayati


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