On the John
Why I care about Iran
Originally posted on the readjack.com blog, June 27, 2009
As we marched around the Picasso last Saturday, I made eyes with a round, white woman who seemed in her 70’s. She was sitting on a picnic bench, eyeing us with focused suspicion. She mouthed to me, “U.S.A.! America!” I nodded kindly: Yes ma’am, I love America too.
She correctly interpreted my silent statement and responded: “No, no. America! Not them.” She pointed a thumbs down at the Iranians with whom I was marching. “America!”
My instinct in these situations is to talk. But I was deep in the moment, and I figured her mind was set, as often happens when people age. My grandfather was among the most caring and thoughtful folk I have ever known, yet when I got my ear pierced at the end of 8th grade, nothing I told him could earn his acceptance. Eventually he just learned to ignore.
It did not bother me that this woman seemed so let down by her hypothetical American grandson. I understood why she felt as she did, and was not threatened or disappointed by her. It did not seem worth to explain my position. I smiled and carried on with the march.
This is why the current Iran situation matters to me.
Beyond following the events through The News, my initial involvement came in the early hours of June 15th. The protests and violence were heating up, and I decided to take advantage of our world’s connectedness by contacting Iranians through facebook in order to document and write about their experiences. That was how it started.
As it happened, people were eager to share their stories. So we began a conversation. And over the course of the week, the Iran conflict changed for me. Ordinarily, this would have been yet one more case of That Thing Happening Over There, in which my only human association came from the anonymous faces of youtube footage. Now it had become personal. Those anonymous faces may have belonged to the people with whom I was in regular discussion, the people who had given me their stories and their trust, the people who wished to be heard.
So I grew motivated to seek out every story, every bit of news, every great resource. Now I was thinking: OK, writing is fine, but what should I be doing? So I decided to seek out rallies in Chicago, finding one for last Saturday at Daley Plaza.
I set out as a documenter but soon became a muted participant. Being there, I was reminded of how much I enjoy time with those invested in something of full personal consequence. It became distressing to think of all the hours in my day I give to activities that hardly matter to me, much less a nation.
So I have become involved in the Iran situation because as a life activity, I find it more fulfilling than, for example, watching reruns of Seinfeld. I am involved because it matters to these people with whom I have formed a relationship.
I am involved because the more time I spend caring about a conflict not directly affecting me, the more I am motivated to examine my own conflicts. I think: “All this time I am giving to Iran and its people…have I given this much time to my community? To my people?” I needn’t look across oceans to find people in need of help.
I am involved because it reminds me that the people across those oceans are real people, and not my enemies.
I am involved because you don’t have to know a lick about Iranian politics to care about government brutality.
I am involved because it motivates me to learn more about the rest of the world, a subject I know frighteningly little about.
I am involved because just seven years ago, the President of my country denounced Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as an “Axis of Evil.” At the time, I knew very little about Iran and North Korea, and all I knew of Iraq came from war. Did I believe that Iranians, North Koreans, and Iraqis were evil? No, not exactly. But I sure didn’t have any man with a microphone standing up and declaring them the Foundation of Friendship.
Seven years later, as I spoke for the first time with Persians upon Persians as Persians, I was embarrassed to remember a day in which I may have looked at these people and known nothing more than, “This man is Iranian, and Iran is one third of the Axis of Evil.”
I am involved because I don’t want anyone to look at me and think “He’s an American, so he must be an evil, racist nut job,” and I don’t want to look at Iranians or anyone else and think the same.
I am involved because I want to care about your problems, and I want you to care about mine.
I am involved because I choose to live in a world in which humans are valued more than either Americans or Iranians.
I am involved because even when something does not involve me, it does.
Copyright 2009, jm silverstein
For all of my coverage and following of the current Iran situation, click here