Flower of Culture

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

American Ignorance

When acquaintances and even friends here in the U.S. hear of my interest in Iran and Iranian culture I invariably get a response similar to the following examples, usually accompanied by either a glazed over look or a sudden scrutinizing glance that as good as says "so just when did you get here from Mars?"

Some people get an intrigued look on their face, followed by a dawn of recognition. "Oh," they exclaim, "I saw a documentary a while back about some nomads somewhere on the border with Israel--it was really interesting seeing their camels and stuff." Or "Yeah, I heard some Indian music at the mall the other day. Doesn't Iran border India or something?" And of course, "Arabic's a difficult language, isn't it? By the way, I've always wondered, why do they all wear those red checkered things in Iran?"

And those are usually the best responses. It's very depressing, especially when it hits you that a good many people here in the U.S. don't have the faintest idea where and what Iran is, let alone Iraq. (Though of course it's very convenient not to know too much about a place your country is intent on destroying anyway--it saves one from having to worry about unsettling thoughts like whether those hundreds of little bodies turning up in morgues and hospitals in Iraq might have been children just like the ones we see every day here in America.)

Frequently, any mention of interest in Iran's culture is enough to stop a conversation short, with a long awkward pause and a sudden lack of enthusiasm on the other participant's part. It's like I've just mentioned how much I enjoy scrutinizing public toilets as a hobby or spoken of a great liking for reading heavy geometry tomes as poolside relaxation. They stare at me for a moment and look around for a convenient escape, or quickly ask my opinion on the latest movie.

But far worse are the angry and vehement comments I receive more and more often these days. "We should have turned Iran into a glass parking lot long ago when they first gave us trouble," they declare (conveniently ignoring the fact that the U.S. destroyed Iran's democracy in 1953 and set in cycle the events of the past fifty years with their coup and installation of the ruthless and iron-fisted shah.) "What are we waiting for," they demand, "why not just drop a couple of nukes and send Iran back to the dark ages?"

And my blood boils inside, destroying my attempts to keep a calm exterior. The callousness and utter lack of humanity of that statement never ceases to shock me anew every time I hear it. How can people care so little that they would like to see millions of innocent people nuked to death--mothers, fathers, grandparents, children, babies, teenagers? Apparently not even that much occurs to them, let alone the fact that the U.S. has absolutely ZERO right to interfere with governments all the world when they have not attacked us.

And now I ask, why do Americans have so little interest in other cultures, in others' ways of life? They have the means to be the most educated people on earth, and yet time and again they display their wanton ignorance and prejudice before the world. Really, what would it take in a country so diverse with so many cultures and people from almost every place on the globe, to simply take the time to learn about a way of life outside of the typical white American way? And don't we have a responsibility as human beings to at least learn about the Iranian people and their way of life before we step in to destroy their country with bombs?

I'm not anti-American, before someone slams that label on me for my honest questions and criticsms. I merely wish to illuminate and hopefully help to change an aspect of American culture I find sickening and tragic. If people here took the time to learn about other cultures and peoples and even learn another language besides English, perhaps they would develop a more understanding and compassionate (and hopefully less condescending!) view of the world.

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