how the world sees america

Young Iranian Americans Fear War With Themselves

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When the U.S. and Iran rattle sabers at each other on the world's stage, young Iranian Americans in Los Angeles get shaken up in very personal ways. “Every time there's conflict, like the hostage crisis, Desert Storm, 9-11, now Iran, we feel it here. We’re called 'bin Ladens' or '[Expletive] Iranians' in school and told to go home," says a young, earnest LA rapper who calls himself “The Poet.”

He and his colleague "Basic" prefer to use their artist names. Their identity is fluid, they say; birth names can't keep up. "We're a bridge between Iran and America," they claim, hoping somebody will use them.

Basic, who was born in Southern California, named himself after a cigarette brand when he was fifteen. The Poet was born in Iran but came to a SoCal suburb as a small child after the revolution. His artist name came to him in a musical trance.

The two met at a big Iranian festival where they were pumping their respective CDs, and hit it off. Together they've embraced hip-hop, calling it the music of mixed America -- of those dealing with the frustrations of split belongings. Both rappers lace their rhymes with allusions to Persian poets and work through song to combat negative stereotypes.

Not far up Sunset Boulevard, another young artist named Ali who studied film at school meets with me at the swanky Mondrian Hotel to divulge his inner torment at the prospect of an Iran-U.S. war. With sallow cheeks and languid eyes that seem to see the world their own way -- probably at a slower pace and in kaleidoscopic colors -- Ali recounts his apocalyptic dreams of war and then tells me about a film he plans to shoot:

American B-2 bombers are blitzing Tehran. In the middle of it, an Iranian-American spy working undercover for the U.S. is hit by a massive bomb blast in Tehran. Weeks later he wakes up in an American military hospital. His memory is gone. His face is severely disfigured. And all that remains of his former identity is his fluency in Persian and English, and his brown skin.

American forces pull him from the rubble and interrogate him, often brutally, accusing him of being a member of the Revolutionary Guard. They're sure of it. But after months of interrogation, the protagonist reveals nothing. Sensing something amiss, the American officer in charge of the case calls a psychologist to look for another explanation.

The shrink succeeds, helping the Iranian-American remember his past through mortifying flash backs in which the protagonist tortures Iranian suspects for information, betrays his Iranian friends and sacrifices loved ones to advance America’s interests abroad.

How could his Iranian half do this to his American half? he asks himself in the final moments of the film. The spy-turned-prisoner finds his loyalty to the U.S. shattered and when he is released from prison, he doesn't know where to go other than out into the world's wilderness to die.

Ali doesn't consider the Iranian government America's enemy. In fact, like many young people I spoke to, he is far more sympathetic to the Iranian regime than his parents are. He opposes the Islamic Republic's brutality, but not religious rule.

Meanwhile, kids from his generation in America are being called up by the U.S. government to help deal with Iran. Fluent in Persian and English, young Iranian Americans are valuable to U.S. agencies. But tensions emerge for young ones trying to place themselves between two hostile nations. Over coffee I spoke anonymously to an Iranian American student who turned down a job with a U.S. agency saying he just couldn’t bring himself to work for America if there was any possibility of war with Iran. His grandparents are there, after all.

While the filmmaker and rappers in this article want to steer clear of politics and security issues, they feel trapped within the antagonism between Iran and the U.S. History has thrust itself upon them. And they want to fight back, not with bullets but through the film "Inner War" and the album "Basic Poetry."

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Comments (41)

Tantor:

Ali E. in Tehran: "This is a clear demonstration that Iranians are not hateful people."

Your hateful screed is evidence to the contrary.

Ali E. in Tehran: "Moreover, it must be accepted by Americans that there was a revolution in Iran and no matter how much America tries, it cannot move the clock backwards for 29 years to create a creampuff puppet to suit American aims or the wishes of a certain powerful lobby in Washington."

Nor has America tried to undo the Iranian revoluton of 1979. It is ironic that you believe your mullah's claim that America wants to turn the Iranian clock back 29 years when your mullahs want to turn the Iranian clock back 1300 years. Simply put, we Americans believe the Iranian Revolution is its own worst enemy. The worst thing we can do to you is nothing. You Iranians can inflict more suffering upon yourselves than American could ever inflict, even if we had the desire.

Ali E. in Tehran: "The Lobby, as it is known in Washington, subcribes to a militarist, war-war, mentality as it uses some obscure words from ancient, highly subjective words from the Old Testiment."

I live and work in Washington. I've never heard of The Lobby, probably because it only exists in your feverish imagination. And actually, it is your own Ahmadinejad who subscribes to a war mentality in threatening his neighors with nukes and declaring his intention to annihilate them.

Ali E. in Tehran: "It has already led USA to a big failure and mistake called Iraq, where every prediction, plan and assumption has badly failed."

Ali, we're winning in Iraq. Not losing. Winning.

Ali E. in Tehran: "These second generation Iranian immigrants in USA are searching for their roots and those roots are set in thousands of years of history and humanity, even though the top soil might be a hodge-podge of aimless American confusion."

Is this silly rant another "clear demonstration that Iranians are not hateful people"?

Nonsense like this is why we don't respect you nor take anything you say seriously. It's like listening to a mad dog bark.

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Toos:

Sharia: "Iran and Islam- the beacons of compassion, tolerance for all humanity!!!!"

And Sharia is of course very knowledgeable, rational, and speaks from a position far from extremism (compassionate too). Sharia in Iran minorities don't have walls built around them and with their lands and properties taken from them.
Unbeknownst to you, Jews have been living and are living in Iran, and they are Iranian. But maybe that's a conspiracy and they're just faking it (for many centuries), you never know, after all the majority of Iranians are muslims, whoooo. (LOL)

Susan:

There is a very large population of Iranian Jews in the Los Angeles area. I'm not sure where they fit in. I know that an Iranian Jew living in LA was picked up mistakenly by the US government as an Islamic terrorist.

CTAATGT:

I wonder if anyone has ever considered that US security services post on sites like these?

Sharia:

Shahnameh,
These 30,000 Jews may be safer in Iran since your president- Nehmajihad- threatens to massacre whole of Israel including millions of civilians.

Paul :

Lonewolf = loner = LOSER

Shahnameh:

Iran has 30,000 Jews who refuse to emigrate despite numerous incentives given by Israel. There is also a Zoraostrian minority in the country.

Sharia:

Iran and Islam- the beacons of compassion, tolerance for all humanity!!!!

Iran, just like any other Islamic nation has killed and driven off all minorities. Also they continue to torture and bloody themselves on a regular basis.

JRLR:

For ANAHITA from Umberto Eco (in Chris Hedges, "American Fascists: The Christian Right and The War on America", N.Y. Free Press, Simon and Schuster, 2006):

I think it is possible to outline a list of features that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism...

1. The cult of tradition... TRUTH ALREADY HAS BEEN SPELLED OUT ONCE AND FOR ALL ...

2. Traditionalism implies the rejection of modernism... The ENLIGHTENMENT, the Age of Reason, IS SEEN AS THE BEGINNING OF MODERN DEPRAVITY. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.

3. Irrationalism depends on the cult of action for action's sake... DISTRUST OF THE INTELLECTUAL WORLD has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism (Goering quoting Hanns Johst: "When I hear the word "culture" I reach for my gun")...

4. To make distinctions, as the critical spirit does, is a sign of modernism. DISAGREEMENT IS TREASON.

5. Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. The first appeal of a fascist... is an APPEAL AGAINST THE INTRUDERS.

6. Ur-Fascism derives from individual or social frustration... one of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the APPEAL TO A FRUSTRATED MIDDLE CLASS...In our time, ... the fascism of tomorrow will find its audience in this new majority.

7. To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that THEIR ONLY PRIVILEGE IS the most common one, TO BE BORN IN THE SAME COUNTRY. This is the origin of nationalism... At the root... the OBSESSION WITH A PLOT, POSSIBLY AN INTERNATIONAL ONE. The followers MUST FEEL BESIEGED. The easiest way to solve the plot is the APPEAL TO XENOPHOBIA.

8. The followers must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies... However, the followers of Ur-Fascism must also be convinced that they can overwhelm the enemies. Thus... THE ENEMIES ARE AT THE SAME TIME TOO STRONG AND TOO WEAK.

9. For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life, but, rather, LIFE IS LIVED FOR STRUGGLE. Thus, PACIFISM IS TRAFFICKING WITH THE ENEMY. It is bad because LIFE IS PERMANENT WARFARE.

10. Ur-Fascism's aristocratic and militaristic popular elitism cruelly implies CONTEMPT FOR THE WEAK. EVERY CITIZEN BELONGS TO THE BEST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD...

11. In such a perspective everybody is educated to become a HERO.

12. The Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power to sexual matters. This is the origin of machismo... the Ur-Fascist hero tends to PLAY WITH WEAPONS -- doing so becomes an ersatz phallic exercise.

13. The Ur-Fascism is based upon selective populism... citizens do not act, they are only called on to play the role of the People. There is in our future a TV OR INTERNET POPULISM, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the VOICE OF THE PEOPLE.

14. Ur-Fascism SPEAKS NEWSPEAK... we must be ready to identify other kinds of Newspeak, even if they take the apparently innnocent form of a popular talk show.

Ur-Fascism is still around us, sometimes in plainclothes... Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances -- every day, in every part of the world. Franklin Roosevelt's words of November 4, 1938, are worth recalling: "If American democracy ceases to move forward as a living force, seeking day and night by peaceful means to better the lot of our citizens, fascism will grow in strength in our land." Freedom and liberation are an unending task.


Rick:

Actually you are quite right to fear a war with Iran.

Our Moron In Chief, who is in bed with the Jewish led neocons and Israeli Lobby, who misled us into Iraq, and continues to support its occupation and that of Palestine, is just itching to bomb the hell out of Tehran.

Compared to the hundreds of thousands of innocent Muslim women and children slaughtered by the Butcher of Washington, and the millions of Palestinian and Iraqi families forced into concentration camps in neighboring countries, the Muslim backed terror condemned by Bush is trifling and more than justified.

Surely the Iraqi oil fields could not be motivating the actions of our beloved leader and his puppeteers.

Anahita:

would you please post us the difinition of fascism on your front page editorial .. regades
comity for protection of women and childern in iraq.

Shahnameh:

Robert of LA is a complete liar. The 100,000 number is the number of recent Iraqi refugees, not from the 1990's. These right-wing types continue their lying to get their way.BTW, how many Iraqi refugees have the US taken in, from the 1990's or 2000's?

Robert of Los Angeles:

Meant to be provocative, which it has been, but not ironic, at least in the sarcastic sense you must mean and while I understand Niebuhr's "Irony of American History" I disagree with its conclusion that a strong Amercican global presence tends to work against itself and against us. To the contrary, it has improved our social system (though perhaps in ironic manner as I outlined above in the matter of race relations in the crucible of war) and was key to striking death blows to Fascism and at least the Soviet brand of communism.

As I wrote to a friend but in the context of religion " I do not deny but readily admit that much of history is ironic – unintended consequences, the dialectic of “good’ and “bad” forces combining in unexpected ways. This is due from the fact that in any nation, the understanding of societal “good” is spread between classes of people, various factions of religious or non-religious belief and behavior, educated and uneducated, or among ethnic and other groupings; and further that the implementation of the “good” is transmuted by real life conditions from ideal values into actual laws and cultural norms by means of compromise, corruption and confusion"

I just happen to think by theory and experience that the American system uniquely responds to those ironic currents of history, and by its very existence, not just current policy, urges the world to progress against primitivism and totalitarianism.

Niall:

"NIALL, lighten up on the occasional pro-America hyperbole, willya? Haven't you ever spoken with someone from Ireland, France or a UK royalist?"

I've never met a person from any of those countries willing to say something like what Robert said.

At least, not while they were sober.

Perhaps, Robert was typing in an ironic tone. For some reason, I seem to have missed it.

Robert of Los Angeles:

Point of clarification on Shahnameh re Sweden - the 100,000 Iraqis can be broken down so far to 75,000 mostly Kurds from the 1990s
25,000 mostly Sunni Arabs 2005 to present

As part of the burgeoning Muslim population in cities like Malmo (25% percent, perhaps 50% of school registration), is a reaction due similar to what the Netherlands has gone thru, is going thru?

Shahnameh:

Idiots like Robert of LA rule this country. Jordan and Syria have admitted more than a million refugees. Sweden has admitted 100000. How many has the US taken in.

Robert of Los Angeles:

Practically speaking, the key word is "after".
Before or during is an invitation to disaster.
We John Wayne types aren't in to self-fulfilling prophecies.

Also how can there be 2 million refugees and no mass refugee camps and Tsunami and Katrina like response? Could there be exaggeration going on?? NO! Couldn't be. Read : http://iraqthemodel.blogspot.com/2007/08/crossing-anbar.html

Certainly a lot of mostly Sunni businessmen and professionals have moved capital and expertise and family, especially elders and children, across the border to Jordan, due to discrimination (perhaps justifiable from Baathist era) and extortion by both Sadrist militia and fellow tribesmen. Do we do anyone a favor by validating that? Europe ended up discouraging the white flight of capital and people from South Africa, etc. This is similar. Most doctors and bankers are Sunni. Any Iraq will need them.

Shahnameh:

Question for Robert of LA. If the US is such a beacon of freedom to the world, why hasn't the US let in any Iraqi refugees, like we let in Vietnamese refugees after the Vietnam fiasco? Even Iraqis who helped the Americans have not been allowed in.

Robert of Los Angeles:

Quick clarification - Of course I mean the all powerful Iranian Council. The SCIRI of Iraq has gone a long way under the "quietist" Ayatollah Sistani to that more secular role.

Robert of Los Angeles:

If you think Cheney is the "butcher of Baghdad", you are the one morally confused.

Apologies to everyone, I unfortunately graduated from a liberal American university with my my moral compass still stuck to silly John Wayne war movies where we actually won against the bad guy.
Unfortunately for Robert James, I bet there are a lot of Crocodile Dundee types in Australia who think the same way.

I have "shut down" no one's freedom of speech and the rumors that Bush / Cheney / Gonzales did so are of course exaggerated unless you deal in dirty bombs and like to think of Taliban training in Khowst as "summer camp".

It looks like Moqtada Sadr knows he overstepped violating the sanctity of Najaf and Karbala. When will the Supreme Council realize they have overstepped becoming a corrupt, fascist caricature of what real ulama (Muslim scholars) should be??? Not that I think that in this age, the umma (people) should have anything other than the primary role of creating a secular democracy and religious councils should have only a consultive role at most.

Anonymous:

"That guy is not very bright and he has exposed himself as another airhead"

"Statements like that are nauseating and insulting."

Yes, they are, no matter who is making them, especially under the umbrella of free speech.

Consider this a 7th grade teaching moment.

Robert James:

I do not have Iranian roots but I have no trouble telling anyone what I think. Iranian Americans should tell Bush to go to hell if that is how they feel. It is called free speech. Of course, why should anyone have to prove to another that they are 'loyal and patriotic Americans' by saying something that they do not believe.

If this is a pluralistic society then there will be a diversity of views and no one should apologise to anyone because they have a contrary point of view.

Robert from LA is blinded by his silly slogans. I am an Australian and I have never been convinced that the USA is the greatest place on earth. Statements like that are nauseating and insulting.

He should acquaint himself with the notion of Liberty. It means being free from the chains that he seeks to impose on people. Nothing that he has written is overpoweringly convincing. His rhetoric is as silly as George the Village Idiot can muster. That nutter says Iran is dangerous but I say that the USA is dangerous and when I heard Bush on CNN explaining that he went to Iraq because he wanted to secure oil I was sickened by his callousness. Yes, that's right it was on CNN but they oulled it. I guess they didn't want the American public to hear the truth.

George Bush said: 'You are with us or against us.' I guess he got that from a bad John Wayne script. It is imperative that a society has a diversity of views and that debate is not stifled by silly people like Robert of LA who think that they alone know what others should think.

That guy is not very bright and he has exposed himself as another airhead.

Kam-Korder:

Hi Rock:
I agree with you. You are a typical eaxmple of the good and open minded folks who far outnumber the rest.

Anonymous:

"These second generation Iranian immigrants in USA are searching for their roots and those roots are set in thousands of years of history and humanity, even though the top soil might be a hodge-podge of aimless American confusion."

No, not aimless American confusion, but an enlightenment-born liberal society that enables the choices of which Robert speaks.

NIALL, lighten up on the occasional pro-America hyperbole, willya? Haven't you ever spoken with someone from Ireland, France or a UK royalist?

James:

It is very practical, logical, caring and humane to question and challenge things we do not agree with regardless of where they maybe.
Questioning, objecting and challenging evil as being "demonstrated and exercised" by the American administration, particularly Bush and Chaney (the butchers of Baghdad), does not make you anti American, it makes you a good human.
Blind obedience or blind compliance does not equate to a good patriot! it demonstrates a fundamental lack of education and stunted evolution and humanity!
It is promising to see that the young Iranian-Americans have continued to build on their rich Iranian culture and develop as human beings, which is why they care about both nations!
It is equally sad that some of their American compatriots do not seem capable of telling right from wrong!

Ali E., in Tehran:

This is a clear demonstration that Iranians are not hateful people. Moreover, it must be accepted by Americans that there was a revolution in Iran and no matter how much America tries, it cannot move the clock backwards for 29 years to create a creampuff puppet to suit American aims or the wishes of a certain powerful lobby in Washington. The Lobby, as it is known in Washington, subcribes to a militarist, war-war, mentality as it uses some obscure words from ancient, highly subjective words from the Old Testiment. It has already led USA to a big failure and mistake called Iraq, where every prediction, plan and assumption has badly failed.

These second generation Iranian immigrants in USA are searching for their roots and those roots are set in thousands of years of history and humanity, even though the top soil might be a hodge-podge of aimless American confusion.


Krzysztof:

Hello, I am an immigrant but not from the Middle East. The primary reason why there are Iranians in USA is this; in 1979, there was a revolution in Iran and because of that, Iran today is a theocratic religious dictatorship. Thousands emigrated to the USA and other places in the world. That happened because they intended to save themselves from the prosecution by their own fellow compatriots who became Islamic fundamentalist & fanatics.
I do not consider that these people are same kind viable bridge to these fanatics, but they may provide a cultural bridge to Iranians as whole people.
Let us not forget that Iran had a regime that made Iran reliable ally from 1953 to 1979 and that was during the Cold War years. And Iran had common border with the Soviet Union. USA became a save haven for the Iranians who worked together with Americans during those years.

Robert of Los Angeles:

You cannot really have it both ways. But I appreciate Rock's story. Consider now Hussein Mohamed Farah Aideed's story from Marine to warlord to leader (and now rebel again as of this summer)in Somalia -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hussein_Mohamed_Farrah

In contrast, despite the grim outlook of the proposed film, many are fighting the terror in their own country and paying the price. Others, immigrants to this country, have been unsung heroes and may have already paid a high price in dangerous missions.

Niall:

"Hasn't fate placed them in the best (why did their parents come here) greatest (America helped save the world from tyranny at least twice in the 20th century) place for a reason?"

Have you ever listened to yourself?

This would be comedy gold if it wasn't such a problem. Grow up.

Rock:

Robert,
The Persian dudes don't have to choose anything, anymore than the rest of us immigrants have to. My great-great grandfather came in from Scotland and married a Choctaw in Alabama, and my great-great grandmothers' people came in on the bottom of a slave ship. No, I don't want to go back to England or Africa (I perfer the Choctaw if given a choice). Racism and closed minded, simplstic anedotes/replies for dissent by immigrants reveal how small our individual worldview is. I hate when I hear people say "if you don't like it, go back". Well i live here (served 20 years in military)and don't like a lot of things, but I'm not looking to go anywhere. Change is hard for most of us, but stupidity and ignorance is a choice. I've traveled throughout the world and will say that our people are basiclly good, and there are jerks in every corner and culture. Persian dudes, this is America: and we have our share of jerks. Hang in there, for the good and open minded far outnumber the rest.

shvitz:

More brilliant insight from the ever wise Lonewolf. I hate Bush/Cheney too, but you honestly think they're no different from the Nazis? Read a book, you ignorant schmuck.

Robert of Los Angeles:

I could also add that it is the service of immigrants and oppressed minorities, especially in the last 60 years, in the most difficult circumstances that have brought about the most dramatic social change to fulfill our ideals. I speak of course of the Japanese Americans taken from detention camps and becoming the most decorated battalion, and the progress from Truman's army integration orders to Colin Powell's saga from Vietnam to the Cabinet.

The rappers speak of being a bridge. I hardly think their song would resonate with either George or Mahmoud. Popularly, all it does is reinforce negative stereotypes with a gangsta sound.

lonewolf:

this is strictly the fault of george bush and the fscists that reside at 1600 pennsylvania. i haven't got a single bad thing to say about persians living in america. i attended college with a number of iranians and the only problem i had was understanding the cultural differences. but bridging the gap is not difficult provided an open mind is available for use. george bush and dick cheney are no different than the nazis of the third reich. they are just itching for some ethnic cleansing at the expense of the iranian people. they are just simply delusional and are intent on leading us down the road to disaster on an unimajinable scale. they are just out to steal the oil and gas fron the people of central asia and iraq. and they will do whatever it takes despite the protestations of the american people. i hope our troops are fully prepared for the horrendous consequences ahead. i know the american people are not.

DC Dude:

In response to Robert of LA's comments; what is great with America that has attracted millions of immigrants, including, conceivably, Robert's parents or grandparents or great-grandparents (u catch my drift) has lots to do with the people, the historical background and less to do with specific policies of a certain administration. America is great and spectacular but not flawless and certainly ignorant, misinformed and simplistic at times. I submit to you that this is one of those times... assuming there is minimal showmanship and games... (which is a rarely valid assumption in politics)

Robert of Los Angeles:

I pose a question in response to "My Country". Hasn't fate placed them in the best (why did their parents come here) greatest (America helped save the world from tyranny at least twice in the 20th century) place for a reason? Before them is a choice. It isn't the first time that this has happened and it won't be last, so grow up and choose.

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