Loving your culture doesn’t equate to supporting its politics

My ethnicity was once a heavy chain around my neck: something I carried around with a sense of dread. I’ll concede a part of my identity issues came from growing up in the South, where it was clear that the average Joe was not a fan of Middle Eastern people. Nonetheless, a great deal of my shame came from the politics and human rights issues that were occurring in my home country. Still, as time has passed, I’ve learned that the politics of a country are not equal to the cultural values of a nation. 

In the past month, Iran has been undergoing a revolutionary phase caused by human rights violations against women. I’m not going to sit here and tell you the details of what exactly is happening. Partially because there are specialized publications reporting on the uprisings that are spurring across the globe against the Islamic regime. But mainly because it hurts too much to tell — the brutal killings, threats against women, filtering of communication software and other massive violations of civil liberties which are too sad to think about, much less write about. 

Illustration by Carsen Goltz

As a Persian, my heart breaks for the destruction of my country. But as a young woman, my heart breaks for my fellow women who aren’t given the freedom to live as they please. Women who don’t get to cut their hair but are also restricted from showing it and are expected to sit silently and obey the Islamic regime like good girls. For a long time, I felt torn, unable to recognize that I could feel desolate for my country and for those who are affected by the human rights crisis that has been ensuing for the past 40 years. 

I acknowledge that Iran is arguably a broken nation; it has the second-highest number of civilian executions, a 52 percent inflation rate, widespread government corruption and no freedom of speech, religion or assembly. These factors have impacts all across the globe which the average American sees as unfavorable. According to a British Broadcasting Corporation World Service poll, 87 percent of Americans expressed a negative view of Iran’s global influence, the most unfavorable perception of Iran in the world. It is undoubtedly clear that the country has fallen far from the great global empire it used to be.

Yet, for some reason, it seems as though the Iranian people are blamed for the actions of the Islamic regime, one that less than 50 percent of Iran agrees with, according to Gallup News. There seems to be a gross misunderstanding between Americans and mass media regarding who is in support of the regime (hint: generally not the oppressed women who are harassed to no end). As a result, hundreds of Iranian-American girls are reporting instances of assault, from being called “terrorists” and “bombers” to being the victim of physical altercations solely due to wearing their headdresses in public. These women aren’t anomalies, they are representative of almost every Iranian woman in America. Hundreds of Persian citizens have shared their own stories of being harassed by airport security and being told to go back to their “dirty” country, simply because their last name sounds Middle Eastern. They hold the same shame in their name as I used to, but I got over mine by realizing that I love Iran for what it has given me. I’d like to make something clear: I, in no way, support the actions of the Iranian government — as a matter of fact, I’m disgusted by them — but, I will also not take any blame for it. Me being proud of my heritage is not synonymous with believing in the regime. For as long as I can remember, I have been hiding being my true self because I was ashamed of the political horrors that occur in my home country, but no more. I am Iranian and I am proud.