A letter from an Iranian American to Charleston 


My heart breaks on a daily basis. I swing from anger to sadness and back again as I witness the avalanche of inequality, lack of sympathy, and excuses for pain. I have been isolated from people I called family and friends. I fall to my knees and am fortunate to find grace and love there and I can keep on. The sun comes up again, though, and the struggle resumes anew.

I cannot keep up with the injustices that have besieged the people of this country and this world because of our current administration. Donald Trump has successfully turned families against each other. I have seen people claim love for me, a half-Persian, half-Latino, first-generation American, while cheering for walls and Muslim bans. The "leader of the free world" makes a mockery of the heroes of the African-American experience while reading a speech before referencing Frederick Douglass and falling just short of promising to invite him to the White House. So I must quote Mr. Douglass here:

"The law on the side of freedom is of great advantage only when there is power to make that law respected."

The source of my anxiety lies in that quote. Up until now, no matter who was in office, there was a sense that the law of this land was bound by ideals of equality and forward progress. Trump has shown us how weak those bindings were. I feel powerless. Where is the power to make equality respected? Why do we have to not only excuse, but reward, blatant racism, sexism, and narcissism?

I see the disgusting abuse of Native Americans and the environment continuing in middle America by the will of Trump. I see fear mongering that justifies turning our backs on refugees and immigrants. I see people support the handcuffing of a five-year-old Iranian at an American airport because it makes us "safer." I see a country that has been a beacon of hope for much of the world, despite many missteps, threaten war with neighbors. Every day the towers of hate and fear seem to grow taller and more numerous until the sun disappears altogether.

I have been repulsed by the waves of support born from a sea of hate, racism, and selfishness. It has been easy for me to pen words of logic. However, I have realized that many of the words that I must claim have been laced with venom. Fighting fire with fire only yields more fire. So, I fall back to my knees and find, once again, love. While I am here, I must write.

I look around and see the steeples which give Charleston the moniker, Holy City. I am aware of the history of this place. There's a genuine reason there is an old slave market building downtown. Our closest experience with a terrorist, or lone wolf (depending on your stance), was a white man who killed nine African-Americans worshipping beneath one of those steeples. If we are being fair, a ban on interstate travel for white Southerners who haven't been vetted and subjected to an ideology survey would actually make more sense. Of course, that's only if you are a person of color. After the terrorist attack (let's call it what it was), I remember hearing family members of the victims forgive that young man. Yet, banning Middle Easterners makes us feel safer. I suppose that depends on who is "us."

Who are we? This question has become difficult to answer. We have become compartmentalized as a country. But I believe our biggest division is caused by irrational fear. Perhaps, I am ignorant, though. Maybe I didn't notice people crossing the street because they saw me coming and thought I might have an explosive device in my backpack. Are most of you so afraid on a daily basis of being killed that banning Middle Easterners, so long as they don't have business ties with Trump, makes sense? Do you constantly stare at the sky looking for falling airplanes? Although you're more likely to be struck by lightning, can you justify weeping families and children being held for hours in handcuffs in airports because they are Middle Eastern? I can't imagine living that way. Therefore, I will sacrifice my freedom for your sense of security. I will move to another country if that makes you more comfortable. However, I'd just as soon shake your hand and share a beer. I'm really into sours these days. I like spicy food. I cheer for the Carolina Panthers. Although I grew up in North Carolina, I was happy to see Clemson represent the ACC and take down Alabama. I'm just your regular, neighborhood Iranian and I love you. Let's meet before it's too late. Let's ban fear instead.

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