An Iranian weighs in

By Mina Tehrani

In case you didn’t get a chance to look at Alex Park’s editorial in last week’s Mac Weekly, I’ll give you an overview. If you know anything about Iran, the senselessly disrespectful language would have made you shudder. If you don’t know so much, it would have given you the impression that the president of Iran is a crazed tyrant who regularly kills innocent children, that Iran is a “terrorist” state, and that the Iranian people are generally not a factor outside of their being oppressed.I have unfortunately heard such language before, as it has for some reason become acceptable to use when talking about Iran. The core problem here is the lack of respect: the knee-jerk dismissal of people who don’t speak and think the same way as us.

An Iranian blogger is quoted in the Sept. 30 New York Times as saying, “Insulting the president of a country, no matter how unacceptable his point of view, is synonymous to insulting a nation.” The Iranians I know are deeply offended by what they have heard in the American media. And the last thing the world needs is more insulted, angry people.

For me, an Iranian American who grew up in New York and Tehran, what happened when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Columbia, and the way the press covered his visit, struck very close to home. But most upsetting was what I found in my own college newspaper.

At Macalester, we pride ourselves on being culturally sensitive and politically correct. So perhaps Mr. Park did not realize that some would find his editorial offensive. Or, like Lee Bollinger, perhaps he noticed that his view was the popular one, and that whatever his opponent said would be laughed at and booed.

But remember that in the Middle East, much of the developing world, and among his own country’s working class, Ahmadinejad is immeasurably popular. There’s no point in being dismissive and mocking, or in labeling as “fanatics” people who strongly disagree with us; indeed, there’s no excuse for it. What Americans need to do is to listen carefully to what millions of people are saying about Israel, America, nuclear bombs, and injustice. Americans need to have the respect to consider how our editorials and news stories sound from these people’s perspective. From many of the things I’ve read, it’s clear that many of us have no idea – if we did, we would talk and write in a different way.

Over the past several years, I have worked with five non-governmental social reform organizations in the country Mr. Park calls “one of the most unpredictable, dangerous, and oppressive in the world today,” and have seen that it indeed does have social issues. However, they are complicated and old. Iranians are actively working toward reform, and the last things they need are simplistic generalizations about their problems from people who are misinformed or trying to further their own agendas.

If twelve year olds are “routinely rounded up and executed,” as Mr. Park claims, if Iranian women are oppressed, end of story, and if Ahmadinejad is really such a “great supporter of terror,” I would like to see strong evidence of it, because these are weighty, dangerous, and debatable assertions.

I’m not sure what motivates Alex Park and others to use such disrespectful and misleading language. My agenda is not to counter their words by defending what Ahmadinejad personally thinks about women or homosexuals. All I want to do is help prevent my parents from being bombed, and Macalester students from thinking that it’s ok.

Contact Mina Tehrani ’11 at [email protected]