Yeah it's wrong regardless, but....
By Roozbeh Shirazi
September 20, 2001
I agree with the idea that we should not feel guilty nor be held accountable
in the eyes of the public for the acts of a few madmen that happen to be
of the same ethnicity/religion. But it seems that the point of Professor
Najmabadi's article, "Wrong,
regardless", is to say, "Don't disagree and do not explain
-- don't rock the boat."
What confuses me about the article in The Iranian is the following:
You feel by trying to explain a Middle Eastern/Iranian perspective to
Americans on why this event happened, you implicate yourself in what has
happened? That somehow you, by virtue of having a similar name, skin color,
religion, etc, are in the same league as someone like Khomeini, Saddam
Hussein, or currently, Bin Laden? And that for this reason, you should
not attempt to give an American your perspective? Or worse, give an answer
because it seems to be the acceptable one?
You propose an alternative to giving a culturally relevant explanation
-- by condemning the act no matter what might have precipitated such a violent
reaction; by avoiding the causes and blindly denouncing the effects. I
agree that we must strongly condemn the terrorist acts, but it is just as
important to openly examine what might have led the terrorists to commit
such an extreme act.
I was an eyewitness to the tragedy in New York last week, so I had an
extremely visceral reaction towards the terrorists and the incredible damage
they inflicted on the lives of thousands. Like most people, I feel the
victims deserve justice, and the perpetrators of this crime should be punished.
But yet, I think before we begin to bomb more innocent people, before we
point fingers at anyone, let's ask WHY this might have happened.
I absolutely codemn the violence, but it would be naive of all of us
to say we do not understand that many are angry at America. It seems that
the majority of the American population lives in oblivion to that idea.
Saying that should not mean that we condone the events of last week. It
should not implicate us for remembering history as it has happened to us,
and understanding that a century of destabilization, violent intervention,
and illegal covert operations by the US across the globe does not come without
As Iranians, this should be an obvious point to us all. Professor Najmabadi
points to this as well, when she discusses the hostage crisis of 1979-80.
Many of us spend a lot of time rehashing Mossadegh, and ultimately blaming
the current woes of Iran on that coup the C.I.A. staged in 1953. Such a
conclusion is debatable, but still, that argument has very convincing elements.
Had the Revolution not occured for the reasons it did, or not ultimately
led to the birth of the Islamic Republic, how many Iranians would have lived
outside Iran? What if the Mossadegh government was not destabilized by
direct C.I.A. action? Our lives would have turned out profoundly different.
For that reason, many Iranians might always harbor a bit of bitterness
towards the US, and be able to empathize with other indirect victims of
US foreign policy.
The majority of Americans will never learn about that unless it is explained
to them. By avoiding an explanation when given the chance, by refusing
to challenge the status quo and established notions of what we are fed by
the mouth of the media and government, is to render yourself useless.
Personally, I don't feel like I should be the mouthpiece for Iranians/Middle
Easterners to an ignorant American population, but the reality of the situation
is that we are forced into this role.
Whether or not we choose to illuminate something we know intimately about,
opinions will be formed by society. And if someone stops me on the street
to tell me to go back to my country, or when I am "lucky" enough
to pass as someone not Middle Eastern and I hear a remark about how "all
those people should be blown off the face of the Earth", in essence,
is that not as ugly as the mindset of the terrorist? This has happened
to many of us, and we know that in the minds of such bigots, we have already
been indicted. The reason why we are forced to explain, the reason we are
forced to say "yeah, but...", is because we are already implicated
in these acts in the minds of many Americans. Of course, we could also
be judged, convicted, and hung if we stay silent.
I don't like it, but unfortunately, it is a cross that many of us have
Sympathy for the victims of this horrendous tragedy does not preclude
one from investigating the factors that caused this event to happen. In
fact, the best way to show sympathy for the victims is to understand as
best we can why such madness happened--so that we can prevent it from happening
in the future. It is a task independent of empathizing with the American
people, or the families of those who perished in New York and Washington,
and a task ultimately done in honor of them. Our role in this process could
be to help shed light on the role of the US in the history of the Middle
East. We can demonstrate that many of the conflicts, inequities, atrocities,
and contradictions of the Middle East in the 20th century were caused by
US policies. And this starts in any discussion with a coworker, a stranger
on the street, or over dinner--when someone says something ignorant, it
is your job to say, "yeah, but..."
So when the question that looms largest on everyone's mind is asked,
"Why did this happen?", I feel we often can begin to clarify the
often infamous role of the US government to its own citizens. Who else
will do that? Not the societal institutions of this country. This is a
major failure of the American education system and media, which paint history
and current events in the most reassuring and homogenized colors, and often
do not question the policies that the US has pursued. Consequently, this
responsibility falls on a small minority -- and though it is unglamorous
and difficult work to question an "official story", it is unequivocably
necessary for us to do so.
Explaining a different side does not mean I am against Americans, nor
that I am for terrorism. I am Iranian-American, born and raised in America,
more than ever aware of the American roots inside of me. My heart goes
out to all those who lost loved ones, and it has left a deep scar on my
own mind that my two favorite buildings in the city no longer greet me from
my living room window as I walk by.
Let's not let this terrible moment deter us from pursuing and disseminating
the truth. If anything, there is a new urgency to this task. There is
too much at stake here to remain silent and become victims of our own indifference
(or fear?). Just a thought.