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‘There exists a field beyond all notions of right and wrong, I will meet you there.’

October 2, 2019 by  

From the Editorial Desk- Shahrokh Ahkami – Persian Heritage, #95, Fall 2019

A few days ago, I wrote my editorial for this issue of Persian Heritage. In it I criticized some friends and enemies, within the Iranian Diaspora community, on the way they approach and deal with Iran’s current regime and the atrocities this regime has committed. When I read the editorial to my colleagues at the magazine, they opposed printing it. They believed it was too personal. After a brief debate, I realized they were correct. The people in Iran are feeling so much pressure from the regime, closing the doors of hope for the youth, personal financial disasters due to the sanctions placed on Iran, the censorship of free speech, the incarceration of women for expressing their views (using the excuses such as the Hijab), unemployment and not receiving wages for their work and an increase in public demonstrations, how could I write about the approach of the Diaspora on the present regime and BE SILENT on the hardships that the people of Iran are enduring every day!!! Hence, I was forced to rewrite my editorial.

I decided again to write about the daily news that comes out of Iran and what I post on Persian Heritage’s website, on Instagram and other social media sites; the news of the corruption, inter marriages within the ruling families, the rushed trial of the former mayor of Tehran, for killing his wife, which was smeared to avoid the truth from being exposed by being pardoned by the victim’s brother and a woman being executed for trying to defend herself against her rapist. I reviewed these subjects in my mind and between my surgeries at the hospital, I tried to decide on what topic I would write.

During a break, I was sitting quietly. My mind was occupied with and saddened by thoughts of Iran, the place of my birth. It has been under assault for many years. My solitude was broken by a colleague and friend (a charming person, whose integrity and wisdom I admire). He began the conversation with an event he and his wife encountered while attending church services. They met an elderly woman who had just relocated to another state. She was discussing her health problems with my colleague and his wife. She was having difficulty finding a good physician to treat her ailments. Finally, she found a specialist who she believed was perfect, but there was a problem. Naturally he asked her that if she found the perfect doctor to treat her then what was her problem! In response, she stated that he is Moslem and Iranian. He looked at his wife in disbelief and surprise. In unison, they responded to the woman that it was shameful that a devout Christian like herself could make such a statement. They told her that for many years they have had the honor to have Iranian and Moslem friends in the medical field and other professions. They have always found them to be wonderful human beings in all aspects of life; their professionalism and their work ethics, their great regard for kindness, friendship and their love for family and community. They sternly informed her that in all their experiences they never saw any unethical behavior from them as friends and colleagues. They added, for educational purposes, that she should know not all Iranians are Moslem and that if they are Moslem they are mostly of the Shiite Sect of Islam. Furthermore, they told her that they have never seen any sort of brutality and/or violence in their demeanor.

He told me that the woman, by her facial expressions, was obviously surprised by their comments, but she continued to defend her position by telling them that most terrorists in the world are Moslems and so that makes them violent and brutal. My friend again calmly responded to this educated woman (who is highly regarded in her community) with the following question; in all the terrorist attacks that we have had in the United States can you tell me how many of these terrorists were from Iran? Of course, she didn’t know the answer but reinforced her point by stating that they were all Moslem! My dear friend could not stop there. He followed up with another question asking her if she knew that out of the nineteen terrorists that attacked the United States on 9/11, 15 were from Saudi Arabia and the others were from Lebanon, Egypt, Jordanetc.…but, due to these countries being specifically Arab and allies of the US their nationalities were never publicized and their religion was used as a scape goat.

The woman still trying to defend her position and show her “so called” knowledge on the subject, asked the couple if they disagreed that Iran was our enemy. My friend turned to the woman and asked her if she really believed a country and government, based on theocratic practices, such as Iran, is labeled by the United States and other countries as a terrorist nation, makes the people of that country our enemies?

He continued his education by telling her political differences between two governments has nothing to do with the people of those states. He questioned her on whether she had considered that this perfect doctor she found to treat her may be one of the millions of Iranians who left Iran after the revolution because they despised and feared the regime. He also asked her if she knew if he, like so many other Iranians, worked hard to continue their lives in the US and other parts of the world. He asked her if she knew how highly regarded these individuals are within their Diaspora communities. His final point was informing her all these individuals attended colleges and universities to become doctors and spent hours of post graduate education to learn how to treat her illness.

I have always been impressed with my friend’s spirituality. He is dedicated to his religion and always applies the teachings of Jesus and Christianity in his life especially, to be kind to thy neighbor. He concluded his conversation with the woman by suggesting that as a highly-educated person and world traveler, she could learn everything she wanted to know about her doctor from her computer and Google. While she was doing this, he further suggested she read about Iran’s history, its culture and contributions they as people (not a government) contributed to society for thousands of years. He told her to enjoy this additional education.; it will reveal that despite past and present hardships the people of Iran are pressing on, that Iranian Diaspora in the United States have enjoyed contributing to society over the past 40 years, in medicine, the arts, business, finance … etc. and how Iranians, who are Caucasians, are recognized as one of the most successful ethnic groups who have migrated to the United States He directed her to research NASA where she will find that out of 25,000 employees approximately 300 are Iranian-Americans and hold high-ranking positions. Finally exhausted he suggested before she ever makes such an uneducated statement again about Moslems, Iranians or any other group of people or religion that she research the matter first. In a final question, he asked her if she knew that the first woman to receive an award, equivalent to the Noble Prize in Mathematics, was an Iranian woman, who unfortunately passed away at a very young age from cancer, sadly never to enjoy the fruits of her labor.

I looked at my friend and was moved and proud by his defense of the Iranian people. He told me that he and his wife were astonished a woman in her position and high scholastic education level could be so ignorant and so influenced by the media and government propaganda. He was disappointed that their conversation wasn’t a mere difference of opinion on a subject, but rather her uneducated opinion, which was clearly a baseless bias and misperception of an entire people, in this case Iran. He thought perhaps he and his wife got through to her as she promised to do more research on her own and avoid the influence of the media on Iran, Iranians and especially her physician.

With the end of our conversation I heard them call me over the loud speaker to report to the operating room (OR) for my next case. This was perfect timing for me as I needed to be relieved from such an emotional conversation. His words to this woman were so powerful and disturbing. While I was proud of his and his wife’s response to this woman I was angered that the conversation was even possible, How could this woman truly have believed her position? I felt like I was hit on the head!

As we headed to the OR together, I wiped my forehead and took a deep breath. I looked at my friend and thought how he, in such a gentle manner, was able to correct this woman’s misconception about Iranians. I don’t know if I could have controlled my temper. Entering the OR, I closed the chapter on our conversation and began taking care of my patient, who was my present responsibility. I focused on her and was clearly happy she didn’t (or at least I hope she didn’t) question or care about my religion or origin but was simply confident in my medical expertise.

That evening, as I made my way back home, I reflected on the earlier conversation I had with my friend. I felt anxiety in my stomach thinking of how Iranians in Iran or elsewhere have been the subject of unfair treatment and labels based on slanted propaganda by the governments and media. I realized this had to be reiterated in my present editorial; there is a difference between the people who make up a country and its government. This is a critical part of education, we the people of the world, need to understand, before any other goals for peace, climate etc. can be achieved. These divisional tactics have no place in world society especially when the truth can be found at our fingertips, instead of in front of a television.

People, regardless of their birthplace, need to be treated equally, even though their achievements may be different. An example of this is the treatment of the Cuban people. Since the early 1960’s the American government had its differences with the Cuban government, Fidel Castro and his allies, but the US made it a point to treat Cubans in and out of the US with dignity and respect. The Cuban people are not the enemy of America or Americans, nor are Iranians. Why then, unfortunately, are Americans directed to think differently of Iranians, to view them and the country as enemies? This is a dangerous, unfair and ignorant view that is in the minds of not all, but too many Americans regarding Iran. This is also a dangerous, unfair and ignorant view for anyone to have against any group of people or country. We need to learn to direct our animosity towards a country’s government, not its people and soil.

This subject has many sub topics. that can be discussed, and I will continue to discuss it in my editorials until the day Iran and Iranians are once again respected and understood. A day when I can focus on the joy and love, friendship and peace and the absence of pain and suffering for Iranians and Iran. A day when political executions do not exist, human rights are plentiful, free speech is welcomed not feared and Iranians no longer must flee from their families and land in order to thrive and survive.

In the hopes that this day is soon a reality for the world we live in, I bid you best wishes until the next time.

 

In the words of Molana:

‘There exists a field beyond all notions of right and wrong, I will meet you there.’

 

These words are also tattooed on the arm of the actor Brad Pitt

 

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