Wednesday, August 05, 2015

"Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran"

The politics of the Iran deal discussions interest me so much that I even follow the administration's Twitter feed on that, which has a Twitter ID that says exactly what it is about, unlike my Twitter ID.

It bothers me a great deal when the Obama administration and the opponents alike convey to the American people--and to the rest of the world--that Iran is like a cancerous blob out there and that the entire region and the world is in jeopardy if we don't act now.  It bothers me because to the average person listening to all that, or reading about it, Iran all the more becomes a distant and abstract entity, instead of the nearly 80 million people living there. A population that is almost twenty times Oregon's but we have plenty who laugh with--and not at--the crazies like "bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran."

Does it not matter anymore that a country's government is different from its people?  Shouldn't we be respectful of the nearly 80 million people in that country, and those of Iranian descent who live in the US and in other countries?  Imagine me bashing the billion Indians just because I disagree with Modi's politics.  Or, lumping together the billion Chinese into one blob because I hate the Communist Party and its politics.  It depresses me that we are completely dehumanizing the nearly 80 million people of Iran and making demons out of them.

That kind of an atrocious representation of Iran always makes me think of a friend. An old friend, who died a few years ago. Cancer got him :(

Shahab was from Iran, and was one of the many who were forced to exit the country after the theocratic revolution in 1979.  His exit was a story of struggling his way through sympathetic Eastern European countries, then to Western Europe, and finally to the US.

We had quite a few lunches together, and occasional dinners too.  I learnt a lot about Iran and some of the cultural aspects there.  Through Shahab, I even came to know about a religion called "Mithraism," which apparently was a serious competitor to Christianity back in Rome. It was fascinating to find out how much Mithraism, Hinduism, and the Zorastrian faith have/had in common, and how Christianity itself has a lot of common ground with Mithraism.

Shahab's parents--his mother, in particular--were big fans of Indian movies, even from their years in Tehran. He said something along the lines of: "my mother could not understand a word uttered in the movies.  But, she laughed when the heroine laughed and cried when the heroine cried, and enjoyed the songs."  Of course, the older Hindi songs were unlike the contemporary ones--the older songs in Hindi often reflected the Persian cultural heritage that the Mughals brought with them.  His parents were also rice eaters and Shahab joked that if there was no rice served at parties that his parents went to, well, after they returned home they would eat a little bit of rice :)   

Shahab was more a creative arts person than the architect/planner that he was in his day job.  I suspect that he enjoyed the arts infinitely more.  I remember going to the exhibition that he had of his photographs, in the library at Beverly Hills.  The guy was in his elements, and significantly different from his persona at work, and more like the person he was at the lunches and coffees we had.  One of the sites still has links to some of his works, along with an email address to contact him. (That is from where I grabbed the photo.)  I suppose you never cease to exist in the internet.

The next time you hear somebody bashing Iran, ask yourself whether "all options are on the table" appeals to you anymore and, if it does, then find out whether the 80 million there do not matter to you.  Think about Shahab.  Picture him in your mind.


Ramesh said...

Bashing a whole country is quite a dumb thing to do. But the issue with Iran's nuclear deal is a very nuanced one. It is not with the Iranian people but with the Iranian government.

I can understand the US administration's point of view. This may not be the best deal, but there is no better deal. Anything that postpones the Iranian government's nuclear ambitions is a good thing. Its a multilateral, global deal with almost full global sort.

I can also understand the unease. The Iranian government actively foments trouble in every country in the Middle East. The self assumed mantle of aggressive Shia leadership has fuelled the Shia-Sunni battle raging on everywhere. And the deal only postpones Iranian nuclear ambition; not eliminate it. Much as I detest Netanyahu, he has a point when he says a nuclear armed Iran is a fundamental threat to the world.

So, a tough issue on which less rhetoric and more careful debate would be good (that could be said of almost everything). But your title of the post is, of course, the worst possible blah blah, mouthed by irresponsible crazies.

Sriram Khé said...

Ah yes, the Iranian government as the problem in the Middle East. Nope. It is one of the many problems, not "the" problem.
1. Shall we talk about the systematic marginalizing, exclusion, of the Palestinian people since 1948, and the land-grabbing by a country that shall not be named, which pretty much is like an apartheid regime now? Surely that does not foment any trouble in the Middle East?
2. Shall we talk about the country that was the home to all but one of the 9/11 hijackers? That country, which shall not be named, which actively funds schools all over the world in order to spread a highly fundamentalist interpretation of the religion? Surely that does not foment any trouble in the Middle East and elsewhere?
3. Shall we talk about the two countries who actively toppled the democratically elected government of Iran and installed the Shah as their puppet, which then really activated the religious politics that later brought the Ayatollahs? Surely that did not not foment any trouble in the Middle East?
4. ...
5. ...
The list is endless.

My point is this: Iran's government is not the only bad actor there. Everybody is. Including the US.

But, we get all pumped up and bash up the Iranian government. The Muslim-bashing doesn't help either. The politicians have so pumped all these up so much that an average citizen believes that people in Iran are some primitive cave-dwelling neanderthals.

BTW, here is an interesting incident on how who is good or bad depends on the beholder. in 2004, when I visited Dubai, a local Arab called me a terrorist after our introductions. I was shocked. His logic was that I am from America. Wherever the US goes there is violence and wars and, therefore, I was bad guy in his view! Yep, I--mr. peace--was labeled a terrorist!!!

Anne in Salem said...

So many thoughts . . .

I heard one snippet of Obama's speech today in which he referred to Iran by its proper name, the Islamic Republic of Iran. My first thought was that, if he wants to sell this deal to the public and to Congress, he better refrain from the full name and stick to calling it Iran.

Second, Ramesh, I respectfully disagree. This is not a good deal. Any "deal that only postpones Iranian nuclear ambition; not eliminate it" is a bad deal. The global community should demand cessation of any programs that could lead to nuclear weapons, no negotiating.

Third, Sriram, haven't countries for centuries ascribed the actions of the government to the people? It happened to you in Dubai, it happened to German citizens in both world wars, it happened to Americans of Japanese descent in WWII. You write as if this were a new phenomenon, but it is not. It is this fact that makes spontaneous events like the Christmas truce so remarkable and so important. When the enemy is humanized, it is much harder to kill him.

Sriram Khé said...

If we three have such different views on the same set of issues, hey, no wonder then that the Iran Deal, and everything else that makes up politics, becomes one messy venture.

That comment about the "Islamic Republic of Iran" says a lot about how much the American citizenry (and the non-Muslim world too) had been brainwashed about Islam and Muslims, right? I agree with Anne that Obama might have to mute those words if he wants to sell this. Especially given that he is a Muslim who was born in Kenya ;)

Yes, we people are stupid. We say all Germans are Nazis. That all Russians are like Stalin. Which is all the more why then I expect, I wish for, politicians to be statesmen who will use responsible rhetoric. But that is a dream that will apparently never come true :(

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