I recently heard a talk by an Iranian-American writer, Angella Nazarian, who like many other immigrants has a sad story to tell. In her book, Life As A Visitor, she describes her emigration from Iran at age eleven. While I found her to be a skilled speaker in command of her audience, I saw a much bigger picture and a nagging question prevented me from enjoying the event. “What about all the others?”
Too many Iranians have suffered the aftermath of the last four decades’ political and social changes. While one can’t be indifferent to human suffering, Nazarian’s story had a better ending than many others that I had heard. Prior to sending their youngest two children to the US, the author’s parents had bought a house for the older siblings who were attending school here and they also provided financial support for them. When the parents finally succeeded to exit Iran through the Pakistan border, the smugglers robbed them of all valuables. Lucky for them, the Jewish organizations were in place to offer them the needed assistance.
As heartwarming as the speaker’s story was, I couldn’t brush away the images in my head. I saw millions who had no hope of escaping, thousands who lost their lives and the lucky ones who left on their own, with no visa, no money, and no one to rescue them. What would have been Angella Nazarian’s fate if she had been born to Muslim parents? Who would have helped them reach safety?
It is amazing how little compassion the Iranian Muslims receive, not to mention no community support, despite the fact that many of them have suffered as much, if not more. Many outsiders may believe that since it was an Islamic revolution, these people are guilty of having brought the misfortune on themselves and therefore shouldn’t expect help. They could not be further from the truth.
Islam brought down the first strike on our nation when our Zoroastrian ancestors were forced to forsake their ancient belief, but now strikes back on those who are not “good Muslims.” Since the revolution, the Iranians of other religious groups - be it Christians, Jews, Bahaiis or Zoroastrians - have grown more united, which ultimately gives them strength. They provide shelters for other members, help them to find jobs, and above all, are each other’s compassionate comrades. But the moderate Muslims are left alone to do for themselves because they were not trained to unite and help each other.
As a child, I had little knowledge of the sufferings among religious minorities in Iran. I wasn’t expected to practice Islam and was simply told to put Islam above all other faiths. I grew up believing in one God for all. My playmates in our alley were neighbors’ children: Violet, Lia, Forooz and Nazli. It was years later when I would learn the fact that they each had a label attached, that the society saw them as Violet the Christian, Lia the Jew, Forooz the fanatic Muslim and Nazli the Bahai.
After high school, my family moved and I lost contact with my childhood buddies. Years later, in an attempt to overcome my nostalgia, I searched and found a couple of them here in the US. Alas, they no longer were interested in maintaining a relationship. At the time I attributed this to the fact that we had grown apart, that our different experiences made it hard to share good times. Only now do I sadly see the possibility of a “reversed prejudice” against Zohreh the Nonbeliever!
A bell rang in my head when I heard Angela Nazarian’s soft voice saying, “In the US, for the first time saying I was a Jew was to my benefit because no sooner had I said it than different Jewish organizations came to our aid.”
An Iranian Muslim would never experience this. I was sadly reminded of a Persian saying, “Az inja rondeh va az oonja mondeh!” Which simply translated means, “Being run out of here and left out of there!”
Why didn’t this occur to me before? The unity that Nazarian speaks of is nothing new. I’ve seen it among the Bahaiis, the remaining Zoroastrians, and the Armenians. Even at the JCC, while walking through the aisles of a wonderful Book Fair, I saw a bond between writers of Jewish. There are books of all genres, regardless of their relation to Judism. Had this been a Muslim book fair, they would only be interested in Islamic books and only the “approved” ones among those.
Days of unsettling thoughts brought me to a search through the Internet. I figured, as long as I could still be active, I might as well do something to benefit somebody else. By this I don’t mean charitable work, for I have done that and will continue to do plenty more. I searched for an organization that helped our community but one that wouldn’t manifest a preference for any particular group. I especially wanted to be sure it had no affiliation with any religious organization. After all, I may have changed a lot, but “One God For All” is a tough belief to get rid of!
It all comes to a good ending, as I seem to have found the “home” I wished for. Now a new member of PAAIA, the more I read about them, the more appropriate my choice seems. I’m not going into any details because my intention is not to influence others. We each must do our own research and find the place that is right for us.
My favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, is around the corner. In today’s world, saying “Thanks” hardly qualifies as “giving” enough. Chances are I may have finally found a way to do my share. Have you?
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