Since moving to Qom, one of the interesting things I noticed was how enthralled Iranians would get if they found out we were from America, or that we knew English.
Of course to most of them the misconception was that being “from America” meant we were reverts to Islam. The first few times that it happened, and I was asked “how long I’ve been Muslim,” I had to explain that I was of Pakistani origin and born Muslim, and yes, all of my family is Muslim, etc. So from then on when I was asked, “where are you from?” I just started telling them I was from Pakistan.
It doesn’t help my case when my kids speak to me, or each other, in English.
I understand the “awe” factor when you see someone speaking in a different language and it’s one you might not know. Like when I had a friend who spoke French, English and Urdu, yet talked to her daughters in only French and Urdu. They didn’t know English, and I was always loved hearing their conversations in French.
But what disappoints me is when someone thinks a language or culture is superior to their own. Thanks to colonialism, this is a mindset I have seen way too often – whether it was among Pakistanis or Indians, or even now among Iranians.
One day a couple friends and I were sitting in a local park watching our children play. We were speaking in English, and before we knew it a young Iranian lady walked over to us and asked if she could join us to practice her English.
While it was a bit awkward, since we were just relaxing and being informal, nevertheless we said sure, and she sat down and asked us where we from. Two of us were from America, and one friend was from Canada.
She was quite impressed and then told us how she wished she could go to Canada because it was “so much nicer” than Iran.
So my friend told her, sure, it is a beautiful country but there is beauty in all countries, even Iran. She passed off the compliment and started complaining about all the problems there were in Iran.
Granted, there are serious economic concerns in the country, brought on by external sanctions and internal corruption, and other cultural issues. But really? You have nothing nice to say about your own motherland?
This lady, who had never been to either country, assumed both countries were like pieces of heaven on Earth. Yes, there are lovely parts of every country. I can’t deny that I love going back home. But we told her about some of the obvious problems we saw there: lack of gun control, crime, drugs, cultural issues regarding immodesty and drinking, or the abundance of inappropriate themes on television and movies for young children. She agreed that those were valid concerns, but felt that being Iranian was now a target for being hated.
She said, with an Iranian passport I’m looked at with disdain. And it doesn’t help that our kids in school are taught to hate America, and the West.
I looked at her in surprise. I felt myself heating up, and I had to calm down. You mean to tell me if another country steps into your country and facilitates a coup, or starts spying, that should be OK?
She just sat there bewildered.
I told her to look at the example of Pakistan. Always a lapdog for the U.S., and yet never given a break. It continuously aims to please the West and doesn’t get a bone in return. So, for what is this ridiculous obsession?
I asked her what do you think America would do if a country came onto their land and established a military base. Do you think America would say, “Welcome!” No. Never. They would wipe that country out with a nuclear bomb or two.
Meanwhile sovereign nations should just sit quietly by while the U.S. or England comes in and takes what they want. And if there’s even a peep – as in the case of Mossadeq – they will just take you out with a CIA-backed coup.
My slightly long retort was met with a sheepish grin and silence. Inside my heart was aching for a nation that watched so many of their young sons and daughters die for freedom. For real freedom. Freedom from the hands of the oppressors.
I told her that you should be proud of a leader who doesn’t allow anyone to come into Iran and take what they want. If that means financial burdens, then know that these burdens means you can at least live with your head held high. So you are hated because your country refuses to be oppressed. Live with dignity, and not with humiliation.
This is what the West wants to do with their sanctions and their threats. They want to make you beg for respite. They want to make you follow them around like a lapdog. And even then – as in the case of Pakistan, unfortunately – they will make you suffer. Is it worth it?
After the lady left to meet her mother, my friends and I discussed why so many are so ready to give allegiance to a country that is solely interested in wiping out their own.
“You know it’s easy to talk about how nice Iran is and how hard it is back home. Because we have a choice in the end,” my friend said.
I thought about that long and hard. It is somewhat true. Even though we also face the financial burdens here in Iran, thanks to sanctions and currency fluctuations, we also deal with our expenses differently. We might have dollars or euros saved, and most all of us have help from back home.
But it is the attitude that makes me think we have serious work to do. As foreign students, we are in the interesting position of being able to talk about both cultures and we should be able to discuss it in an unbiased, yet realistic, way.
Naturally there should be no problem in wanting to visit America, Canada, or England, etc. But to feel inferior if you can’t speak English? Or to think it’s something really great because I have an American passport? Or hate everything about Iran because you are naïve about the political issues facing your country?
I remember once being asked with awe and amazement as to how my kids knew English. I said you know how you were born in Iran and know Farsi? That’s how my kids know English. It’s just a language.
I am not Iranian, but just living in a country home to Imam Reza (as), his sister, Lady Fatima Masooma, and the many, many Shaheed who gave their lives so that their country could be safe from oppression, is an honor for me.
And I really pray that others — especially Iranians — also feel honor in this humbling association. I truly believe that the Almighty does not let the blood of a Shaheed go in vain. But we must honor that sacrifice and defend it with our blood, sweat and tears for it to last for the long haul.