Wednesday, May 17, 2006

We are family

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“T have you been to Hawaii?”

“No, but I want to go. My cousin is there, and I would love to visit him.”

“You see your cousins?”


“You mean, you have contacts with cousins?”

“Of course. When I was home I say a lot of my cousins. I attended several family events.”

“Eeehh… The mullahs always tell us that your families are broken.”

“Some are. Some are not.”

“Just like ours. They tell us that you leave home at 18.”

“Just because we leave home does not mean that we do not love and respect our families. The mullahs tell you that leaving home means that our families are broken. I tell you that’s not what it means. They tell you we care more for our cats and dogs than for our children. That’s bullshit.”

“Bullshit, yanni chi?” (What does bullshit mean?)

Yesterday the news was filled with guidelines for de-uglifying Americans. (Thank god we’re still beautiful in Iran ;-) ) The tips are simple politeness. While I agree with being polite, I do not think we should be polite to the point of letting people tell us that liberal democracy is bad, that we are decadent, and that our families are broken.

“Did you know that over 50% of all American marriages end in divorce?” K asked his sisters a couple of years ago.

“100% of Iranian marriages end in divorce,” they laughingly responded. “Only we still have to live together.”

We are often ready to let the enlightened non-West define us as decadent, selfish, and individualistic. Well, some of us are. Some of us are not. After living in Iran where Inshallah or God’s will absolves the population of responsibility, I would say that we are not alone when it comes to facing our social problems. Here, individualism is masked as community because people do not often challenge the will of the community. Iranians can be just as willfully individualistic as the best of us…They just do it in private. Many Iranians live like perpetual high school students: hiding their private lives under a mask of propriety and manners like grown-up Eddie Haskells.

Europeans and Americans (to a lesser extent) look at themselves critically on a regular basis. Let’s just talk about crime: Why do we know our crime rate? Because we examine our crime rate. We also report crimes that other cultures do not.

“A woman came before me,” an Iranian judge told us. “She was Russian and had been assaulted by a couple of men. She was terrified to tell me about it. I could tell that she did not trust me. I had to gain her trust, reassure her that she would not be punished for the crimes of the men. It took awhile before she could trust me enough to tell me what happened to her. This is what I have to fight all day: the idea that we will not help.”

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