By Leyla Ebrahimi, Op-Ed Contributor
Who am I? I think about this question constantly. How does one define oneself? My name is Leyla, and I define myself as an American, born and raised in the United States, but I am also a first generation Iranian American.
This year, I decided to write and perform a Ted Talk concerning my personal relationship with Iran. I wanted to project and possibly educate an audience on a country that has been portrayed negatively by the public media. I wanted to speak on the misconceptions and misperceptions that are commonly associated with Iran, a country I consider beautiful, a country I refer to as home. I wanted to provide a new perspective on a place that harbors grace and beauty, quite unlike the violent, abhorrent, and deadly aspect that is often rendered to the public.
To me, Iran was always portrayed as a magical place. I began to see the country through my parents eyes, decorated with culture, dancing, poetry, and music. Iran has constructed up to 2500 years of culture, and also created the first human rights doctrine in history, known as the Cyrus Cylinder. The Persian Empire is still today the largest empire in the history of the world. Iran is a place where education is valued, where women’s rights is progressing, where traditions are sacred. With all of this information, I have come to the conclusion that Iran is my essence, the fundamental basis of all I am, and will always remain at the heart of who I will become.
I grew up hearing only the good about Iran. I grew up surrounded by those fiercely devoted to their roots. I grew up influenced by a culture I deemed beautiful. But as I grew older, things started to change. I noticed hostility towards the place I had learned to love. I began to notice something deeper, something that scared me. And suddenly, all I knew about Iran was exposed as being “incorrect”. So you might ask: How did it feel as a child realizing that the one place you found invincible was viewed as a menace by the rest of the world?
It was devastating.
I began to realize that the Iran I know, is remarkably different from the Iran that you know. What Americans see is hatred, anger, the axis of evil, disorder, chaos, fundamentalism, dictatorships, and on and on the list will go. But these statistics, these theories, these negative political terminologies, they are WRONG. But WHY is there a disconnect between my reality, and your perception? The answer is simple. Our opinions, our formulations, our information all stems from the public media.
Living in the United States, the news we receive concerning Iran is a constant monotonous drone of negative information. Never do we see the beauty of the country, only bleak images, anti Americanism, and accusations of terrorism. But WHY do we ignore all that is good and positive in Iran? Why do we only see the negative? This Iran that is portrayed to you represents only a fraction of the population. Is it fair to condemn ALL Iranians because of outlying incidents? Did all Germans support the Holocaust? Did all Americans support the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? NO. But why is it that the Iran and its people are included in the axis of evil? Why is it that this country is only publicized on television when something deplorable has happened? Why has the Muslim religion become associated with the word terrorism? And finally, why has the global community failed to recognize this as a morally incorrect mindset?
Terrorism is defined as “The use of violence and intimidation.” This definition has nothing to do with the Islamic religion, and it has nothing to do with Iran. Terrorism exists all over the world. The Sandy Hook School shooting, The Oklahoma City bombing, and the Charleston Church Shooting are all examples of terrorist attacks. This word “terrorism” is thrown around casually now, and many associate the term with countries such as Iran, or anywhere in the Middle East really, not stopping to realize that this association is in fact, incorrect. Stereotypical views that have slowly embedded themselves into the fabric of society, victimizing men with beards, women that wear scarves, those with brown skin.
The United States is a powerful country, an influential country, a country brimming with leadership. It is up to us to discontinue the negative flow of information concerning Iran. We have to modernize our views on other parts of the world as well, and recognize that terrorism does not ONLY exist in Iran, as well as the Middle East. We have to stop associating places like Iran with only negative histories, or even current events. It is not fair to only judge one fraction of a whole.
So now, in my journey to adulthood, I am being exposed to many parts of Iran I was unaware of. But the Iran in my mind still exists in vibrant colors, and beautiful images. I am aware that the United States has not had a consistently smooth relationship with Iran. Events such as the hostage crisis (1979) and Iran’s usage of enrichment uranium have given Americans enough reason to question the country's integrity. I would like you to take these instances, remember them, and set them aside. Take a moment to look deeper into a country that you so earnestly find immediate fault with. Understand that there is more than what the news displays. Iran is not what you think. It is not what you perceive.
Did you know that in Iran, women are doctors, business owners, ministers, members of parliament, CEO’s, attorneys, and even vice presidents? Did you know that 60% of all university students in Iran are women? Did you know that Iran has the largest Jewish population in the Middle East outside of Israel? Did you know that there are 600 churches, that serve a large Christian community, and that both Jews and Christians have representatives in parliament? No, we don’t know, and if I was not an Iranian American, I would not know either. It is our perceptions that keep us in the dark from the truth, the truth about the other side of the world.
My challenge to America, my dream for the future, is that these misperceptions and falsities are terminated. We must start with awareness, awareness of the fact that what the media portrays is rarely the entire truth. Small fragments that are many times, twisted, exacerbated, one sided. Performing my Ted Talk this year was a small step in my journey to educate those on my country, a country that exemplifies beauty, culture, and history. I challenge you to speak up, speak out, and seek the truth.