Monday, July 9, 2007
As young progressives ramp up their efforts to end the war in Iraq, fear is in the air regarding growing tensions with Iran, and the rhetoric is sounding eerily familiar.
In the most recent Republican debate, frontrunner Rudy Giuliani suggested that a nuclear strike against the country should not be off the table. And earlier this month, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) advocated a missile strike against Iran if the country does not suspend its nuclear program immediately.
As tensions intensify between the U.S. and Iranian governments, it’s important to hear from those caught in the middle of all the geopolitical posturing. With emotional and actual ties to both Iran and the United States, Iranian-American college students offer a unique perspective that digs deeper than the Western media’s often superficial take.
According to a 2004 report by the Iranian Studies Group at M.I.T., there are 691,000 Iranian-Americans living in the United States. A largely successful group, the report found that more than one in four have a master’s or doctoral degree and that the average family income is 20 percent higher than the national average.
They’re a group living the American dream. But many Iranian-American students find worrying misconceptions in the American media’s depiction of the conflict.
It’s easy to see why these students feel there is ignorance in Western thinking about Iran. How many Americans know, for example, that Iranians are largely Persian, not Arab? How many could identify their language as Farsi rather than Arabic? It is also not clear from most reports on the country that it is incredibly diverse and culturally rich, with over a dozen different ethnic populations and religious minorities including Christian, Jewish, Hindu, and Zoroastrian.
The lack of knowledge that most bothered those interviewed, however, didn’t concern demographics, but the attitudes of the Iranian people.
“Right now my mom is living in Iran, and what they say in the media is totally not representative of what’s happening there,” said Adam Bejan Parast, a 2007 graduate of the University of Washington whose father, like many Iranians, came to America for college. “The thing about people in Iran, everybody wants to come to the U.S. Everybody wants to live here and they all love Americans, but if you tell someone that here, they’re shocked.”
They shouldn’t be. After Sept. 11, 2001, when many in the Muslim world were celebrating in the streets, thousands of Iranians also took to the streets–in solidarity with the United States. The tragic war in Iraq has certainly helped to sour many Iranians’ feelings towards America. However, according to a recent poll by World Public Opinion, more Iranians have a favorable impression of the American people than the American people do of Iranians–45 percent and 29 percent respectively.