When I was in my early 20s and naïve, and I would lament petty things to my mother, she would say, "Why don't you go back and live in Iran for two years, and then let me hear you complain." It was her attempt to tell me, harshly but lovingly, that we had it good because everything in America was better than the restrictions we had left behind in Iran, especially as women.
Growing up in Iran until the age of 10, it was already clear to me that women were not free to speak their minds, and that everything from the makeup on their faces to the clothing they wore was under constant and harsh scrutiny. Even as a little girl in elementary school, I had to follow strict rules: we were not to run in recess—it was deemed inappropriate for little women—we could not have long or painted fingernails, and of course under Islamic law, we had to cover our hair with headscarves and wear a uniform that did not bare an inch of skin. These were just a few of many rules that the school guardians had forced upon us.
It was a very different world for me in Iran, and even more so for adults. Dissent in Iran can easily have the consequence of imprisonment, and my family, specifically my mother, experienced that in her fight for Iranian liberation before my birth; she endured five years in prison. So one might imagine my mother's perspective in an America that promised her more than her birth country ever did in her 50 years. In a sense, America also provided her a cultural shift, an escape from her traditional upbringing that had led her to an early marriage and crushed her dream of going to college.
Today though, this America is ever more dissatisfying and distasteful, as its sins unravel before our eyes: a history of violence and insidious crimes against humanity that affect not just our people, but the peoples of the world.
It's easy and even natural to arrive as a new immigrant with rose-colored glasses to a country that claims it's governed by "democracy" for all. I wore those glasses for a long time, and so did my mother. However, once one reckons with how it is that a minority few have utmost power, prestige and privilege while others suffer immensely, once one reckons with capitalism's insatiable hunger for power and growth, it then becomes an obvious choice to fight back with a clearer vision, alert and awake.
The American empire breeds on violence upon the people. Lately, I can't help but notice the grotesque display of billboards showcasing sweet baby faces with "heartbeat 18 days" texts running across. The global pandemic with 1 Million deaths in the U.S. was one of the most shameful disregards of human life I have witnessed here. Instead of working together to save lives, our society was obsessed with individual freedom and a mask debate.
Yet individual freedoms don't seem to be relevant when it comes to women's lives and their bodily autonomies. Women are criticized and judged for their right to an abortion, while not promised a safe and dignified life for their children. What hypocrisy in such a deplorable disregard of life without guarantee to accessible and quality healthcare, education, livable wages, or even safety in schools. How easily individual rights are protected to open carry guns and assault rifles in a society obsessed with individualism and freedom without responsibility to others.
The American empire is filled with proclamations, anthems, and performative actions—our politicians are really good at partaking in those—about freedom and democracy, but it fails to protect humanity. It's a facade of democracy, for it does not govern in a democratic manner. There is no fair democratic participation of citizens making decisions on how their society is to be governed, how their economy should be run. There is not even democracy in the workplace.
When I lament to my mother these days, it is not of petty matters but of the grief I and everyone around me carry daily. My mother's response is a heavy silence. It's an understanding and empathetic silence; it's a kind silence. And in my grief, I wonder how different Iran would have been without America meddling in its political affairs. I wonder how different this entire world would be without America's claws wrapped around it, preying on each and every corner.
This country was born out of violence and it will continue to commit violence against all of us and our earth, upon other nations with its addiction to and provocation of endless wars. It is our responsibility then to transform this nation, and abolish all that brings injustice upon us and the earth we inhabit. It's up to us to create a democratic nation.
Crossposted from Common Dreams