America must see Iran with clear eyes – New York Daily News

A picture obtained by AFP outside Iran on September 21, 2022, shows Iranian demonstrators taking to the streets of the capital Tehran during a protest for Mahsa Amini, days after she died in police custody. – Protests spread to 15 cities across Iran overnight over the death of the young woman Mahsa Amini after her arrest by the country’s morality police, state media reported today.In the fifth night of street rallies, police used tear gas and made arrests to disperse crowds of up to 1,000 people, the official IRNA news agency said. (Photo by AFP) (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images) (-/AFP via Getty Images)
In my first year in America in 1991, I made the mistake of telling my college freshman classmates I was from Iran. The room got very quiet, very nervous. Finally, one girl, trying to be polite, said, “So you know how to ride a camel?” Another, joining in, asked, “What’s it like to live in a desert?”
In my broken English, I tried to tell them about the lush vegetation on the shores of the Caspian Sea where I spent summers as a child, about the beautiful ski slopes there, about the smell of saffron in the fields, about the poets Rumi and Hafez. But no one seemed to understand.
That night, I saw Iran on the 7 o’clock news. A man in a turban, holding a machine gun, was standing next to a large rock, shouting, “Down with America!” He was in the desert, and there was a camel.
From then on, I started telling people I was “Persian,” not Iranian. They would smile, obviously not understanding that “Persian” and “Iranian” meant the same thing. But at least the conversation would move on to easier topics.
The current protests in Iran have filled immigrants like me with so many different emotions. Excitement. Inspiration. Terror. But whatever happens, one of the most beautiful outcomes of this moment is that, for the first time, many Americans are seeing Iranians as separate from their government. For the first time, they are seeing the Islamic Republic not as the soul of Iran, but as its occupying force.
Such a shift in perception can bring down governments. One of the Islamic Republic’s key strategies for preserving power has been to hide the actual people of Iran behind stereotypes.
When then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in 2007 that Iran didn’t have homosexuals, he was trying to erase not only the many queer Iranians who exist today, but also Iran’s rich history of same-sex love that inspired the great poetry of Rumi and others.
When government television plays relentless loops of people praying in mosques, it is trying to erase the fact that fewer people attend mosques in Iran than in many other Muslim countries, and are more likely to be at home watching “Friends” or Turkish soap operas via satellite TV.
When the Iranian government constantly blames America and Israel, it is trying to erase the water shortages, hour-long waits for gasoline, soaring prices and unemployment, all of which are caused by government corruption and mismanagement of resources.
On Oct. 2, Iranian security forces beat, shot and arrested students at Tehran’s Sharif University who engaged in a walkout to protest the death of Mahsa Amini. The fact that this violence happened at an elite school (“Iran’s Harvard”) is the perfect symbol for the Islamic Republic’s disregard for Iran’s own intellectual resources. The Islamic Republic doesn’t want great minds to transform Iran into a thriving nation. Like any parasite, it wants to feed on its host till death.
It is so important for Americans to understand that this goes to the heartbeat of what America stands for, freedom. Compulsory wearing of the hijab, forced upon Iranians by a repressive religious regime the people did not choose, is an attack on a woman’s right to choose. As a child, I watched a religious minority shroud the fashionable, colorful women I knew back then, in the oppressive, suffocating black chadors.
All forms of public fun were banned. No more music, no more concerts, no more dancing. Never assume that a small group of people don’t have the power to make a large group invisible. Now you are seeing young Iranian freedom fighters dying for a taste of what America stands for.
The bravery of the Iranian people can be contagious. It can and should spread to many other countries. Already, we are seeing Afghan women speak out against the Taliban, demanding education and basic human rights. Many Muslim women in other countries are speaking out about the difference between their true faith and the way it has been co-opted by fascist regimes. Memory of the Arab Spring and subsequent backlash may have faded, but the hope for a better life springs eternal.
Things are changing. To persist, this revolution also has to involve non-Iranians and non-Muslims who are willing to share stories of these Iranian protests on social media, write to their representatives to pressure them to veto any nuclear deal with the Iranian government — that would only serve to legitimate those in power — and demand that the U.S. media do a better job covering this revolution.
In 1979, we heard about the 52 Americans who were taken hostage after the Iranian Revolution in the American embassy in Tehran. There are 84 million hostages in Iran right now. The world should feel compelled to help them be free too.
Yaghmaian is an Iranian educator, writer, and therapist living in New York City.
Copyright © 2022, New York Daily News
Copyright © 2022, New York Daily News

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