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Soul searching
Where do I stand?

By Saeed Ganji
September 17, 2001
The Iranian

I am a 44-year-old Iranian-American. I came here to study in college some 26 years ago. I have so much to be grateful here. At the very least, I have been able to have a good job, a great deal of freedom, and I try to pursue happiness as much as possible. These are all routinely denied to people living back home in one form or another.

I totally understand and love the Thanks Giving holiday, and celebrate it fully every year, ignoring my Native-American friends and their understandable criticism of it. I find Americans to be truly generous in their soul and actions, and intelligent in their outlook of life. My heart goes to all of you who have lost family or friends in this tragedy. I know what trying times these are, and I pray peace and understanding will prevail one day.

These past few days have been a time of soul searching for me. I watch surreal images of planes crashing into occupied buildings with the sole intent to kill. I see people with emotions that span the gamut. I see Palestinians dancing in the street as countless others grieve in shock and horror. I watch professional politicians spin as people nod in agreement. And I ask myself, Where do you stand?

It has been so difficult for me to explain how exactly I feel, even to myself. If there is one thing I'm sure of, it is the belief that in order to solve this emotional mystery, I have to try my best and look at things from others' point of view. I'm getting good at it!

I can even see things from the point of view of those who think we should bomb the Middle East almost indiscriminately. That logic is actually easiest to understand. I know what self-righteousness is, and I think anyone has an innate ability to ignore "distracting" thoughts and focus on revenge at times like this. Yes, they're human too, and I see many like them.

To be sure, there is one thing that separates me from most Americans: they are new to this. Most of them, the ones born after Peal Harbor, have never witnessed sudden and massive destruction on their homeland on such a scale. I have. I remember when I was at an American college, some 20 years ago, I woke up one day and learned Saddam Hussein had attacked my country.

Beautiful cities had been totally demolished. Hundreds of thousands were dead, injured, or had become homeless over night. At the time, the Iranian government was in a piss fight with the U.S. They had taken the U.S. embassy staff hostage, and no amount of negotiating had helped. Iranians were now the scourge of the world, a laughing stock, the butt of all jokes. I could understand even that. Of course. The Iranian government had kidnapped innocent civilians. What else could I expect?

But I'd be lying if I said I understood everything. There was so much inhumanity -- perpetrated by the Iraqis and condoned by what is glowingly referred to as the "Civilized World" -- that it didn't make much sense at all. I remember that the U.N. failed to condemn Saddam's attack on Iran as an act of aggression. The whole thing was white-washed.

Later I watched in horror as the West turned a blind eye to Saddam's inhumane tactics of warfare, and in fact aided him by providing the technology to wage gas warfare against Iranian soldiers. Yes, taking hostages was wrong, I knew that all along. But where in human scales can you compare that to allowing a mad man use WW I techniques that not even the Nazis used? Where was the so-called impartial U.N. when this monster, Saddam, was being created?

I also witnessed, in complete astonishment, at the end of the war, when the Iranians were almost at the verge of defeating Saddam, the U.S. went to war on the side of Saddam. Yes, it's true, check your facts. U.S. warships attacked Iranian vessels without mercy. They even, mistakenly, we were told, downed an Iranian passenger plane and killed some 213 civilians. The U.N. didn't even condemn this act, even though nobody could explain how a sophisticated U.S. warship can mistake a passenger plane for a fighter.

So, you see, I have to be honest with myself. The simple fact that I have already witnessed all these inhumanities separates me already from anyone who thinks we live in a world which is fair. Maybe they do. Maybe this is just a perceptual difference.

But I live in a world where the strong dictate their will. In my world, Palestinians are not allowed to return to their homes, where they have been living for thousands of years, because there is no room for them. Meanwhile European Jews with suitcases are given brand new housing or in some cases Palestinian homes. All this happens in a land their ancestors left a thousand years ago, and not too many wise, fair- minded people give this fact a second thought.

In the world I live, the media is biased, people are too busy to care, and tragedies of mass scale are common place. Every politician is a liar, fanaticism flourishes, and nobody is, in the truest sense of the word, "innocent". Ignorant, yes, misinformed, yes, but does that really equate to innocence?

No, I don't really know where I stand. All I know is that it is impossible to stop atrocities unless it happens on all sides, in unison. And unfortunately, this idea itself is what's at stake more and more every day.

How is one supposed to feel about all that?

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