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July 22, 2008

Uninformed or Apathetic?

A few weeks ago I met with an elderly Iranian gentleman who had come from Tehran to visit his family in the US. Because of his affiliation with an Iranian non-governmental organization (NGO) he is involved in the political arena as well as current social and political reform movements. Because of the various risks, I choose not to mention the name of this gentleman. However, for me, his perception of the Iranian America community and the general American society was very interesting. Being born in Iran and raised in Sweden, it is relatively easy for me to act as an unbiased observer and objectively gauge the flaws of American society. Interestingly, even with our different life experiences and age difference, we seemed to be in agreement on our perspective of this country.

This very informed and experienced individual really impressed me by his open-mindedness, which is very uncommon among people of his generation – or among any generation. We spoke of my aspirations and goals in life and why I had chosen to work with NIAC. We also discussed the differences among Iranian Americans and Iranians in Europe. He said to me that he was very disappointed with the lack of engagement among Iranians here in the US with regard to the human rights issues in Iran. He was pleased with NIAC’s mission but wished that we would become more active in human rights in Iran. Yet, he also wished that more young Iranian Americans and others would get involved. He was surprised by how uninformed Iranians here in the US are about the current political and societal issues in Iran.

His perception of the American culture is that there is a lack of relevant information and legitimate sources of information provided to the public about the rest of the world. The news reports on TV seem very commercial to him, solely as a form of entertainment rather than pure and objective reporting on current events. This is something that I also have reacted on and therefore I choose to get my global news report from other sources.

The current issues in Iran that are covered in US media are more in the interest of the people of the United States rather than Iranians, he said to me. And I do agree with him. There are so many issues in Iran with regard to human rights, freedom, and justice that the people of United States are not aware of. Instead there seems to be greater attention on issues which are not crucial concerns to the majority of the Iranian public. In my view, it is important for American media, and any other media around the world, to cover the major social and political problems in Iran that actually affect the daily lives of Iranians.

In conclusion, it is evident to me that the majority of Iranian Americans, and non-Iranian Americans, are unaware of the issues concerning the daily lives of Iranians. This is, I realize, a vast generalization but the majority of Iranian Americans are extremely alienated from their motherland. The largest wave of Iranians came to the US before or during the 1979 Islamic revolution, and usually their objective was education or work. Also many were political refugees who are simply no longer able to go back and visit their relatives. The largest wave of Iranians who came to Europe however, came in the late 80’s and the beginning of 90’s. Most of them left Iran to escape the war and settled around the European continent, and so it has not been very long since they left the country. In addition to that, foreigners in Europe, including Iranians, are much less likely to assimilate to their new societies than those living in the cultural melting-pot of the United States.

Washington might be preoccupied with developing a policy regarding Iran, but usually this approach is from a realist perspective, which can sometimes be disappointing for the Iranian people because it neglects their social and individual concerns in place of national interests. Whether this unawareness is a result of inadequate sources of information or simply ignorance is very difficult to say. Personally, I would say it’s both. There are very few news reports in the US on what is going on in the rest of the world. Yet, it is also quite evident that there is a lack of interest from the general American public about other countries and cultures. I am however, very hopeful that this attitude will change through time. This attitude is not permanent, and with the advanced technology we have now, the world has become smaller than ever and people are getting much closer to each other. Therefore I have no doubt that this is going to change – because as people get closer, they will start to desire this change.

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