Recently, as an Iranian attending college in Indiana and feeling homesick, I searched the word “Iran” on YouTube. Out of the top 10 search results on this particular day in October, eight of them were Fox News videos commenting on how awful Iran and the Iranian government is.
I was raised in Iran. I do not need a reminder about how cruel my government can be; how women’s rights have no meaning in the system; how there is limited freedom of speech; how there are multiple embezzlements by government officials revealed seemingly every other month. I already know all that.
But a country is more than its government and political leaders. Does the world think the whole country of United States is unwelcoming because they also think its president is unwelcoming? No. That does not stop people from eagerly planning their visit to the U.S. In other parts of the world, when you say “United States,” people think about New York City’s high-class lifestyle, Los Angeles’ Hollywood and Las Vegas’ casinos. Why can’t Iran be viewed with a similar generous sweep?
Iran, or as it is officially known, the Islamic Republic of Iran, is a country with more than 2,500 years of history. Iran is the land of great rulers such as Cyrus the Great, who ruled in his glorious capital, Persepolis, around 550 B.C. Iran emerged from the Great Persian Empire. Persia was one of the biggest empires in history, stretching from Europe’s Balkan Peninsula in the West to India’s Indus Valley in the East.
Three years ago, when I was a freshman at Goshen College and someone would hear me say I am from Iran, they would rarely know where Iran was located. I would say, “I am from Iran (correctly pronounced like E-Ron)” and would get a confused look. I would continue by asking, “Do you know where that is? Or maybe you know it by Iran (wrong pronunciation: I-ran)?” This was when I realized how unknown Iran is to the world.
Only about three years later, every single person I have met knows about Iran, and I do not even need to pronounce it the common American way. Now, one might argue that this is a good thing. Maybe people’s world education level has risen, and people know more about different parts of our world. That would be an amazing phenomenon. But only if it was true.
The news and entertainment media are the great educators of our time; they play a strong role in shaping what we know and think about other countries and cultures. I think there is nothing stronger and more effective than the media in delivering visual and written information to people across the world.
Movies and the elements they portray are one of the biggest influences in painting an image in people’s minds. Based on my own personal experience, when one talks about the United States to people outside of the U.S., one realizes that all that comes to people’s minds are big cities with high technologies and people with happy, perfect lives. Americans have high standards and parties 24/7! This is all mostly because what they have seen through the Hollywood movies portrays and encourages such a life.
Comparing this American screen ideal to movies that depict Iran, I realize how everything is turned around. One of the great examples of that is the movie “300” (2006). With its dark and bloody poster image, the Persians and their kings are portrayed as brutal and far from humanity. After watching such movies, I can attest that they are not true to a correct portrayal of Iran at all. Persian culture is known for hospitality, literature, fine art and metal work in jewelry and coins, and beautiful high quality rugs.
Such characters in movies impact our unconscious visions of people. As an Iranian, I do feel self-conscious when I step off of my campus. Being a student at Goshen College, I have been blessed to feel safe here on campus. I personally have not faced direct racism here. But I see shootings, racism, Islamophobia and so much hate on the news every day. I barely go off campus; and when I do, I try to watch my actions and what I say. I try to avoid telling people where I am from or what my religious background is. I do not feel safe.
In a Gallup survey taken earlier this year, about 82% of Americans conveyed a mostly unfavorable or very unfavorable view of Iran. That represented a 3% increase from a similar survey in 2016. This shows a bias towards a view of Iran based on politics, not culture. Learning about the “unknown” and always asking questions are critical parts of media consumption. We should not base our understanding of other cultures on what the news decides to tell us.
Iran is a land of rich literature, poetry and art. Iranian traditional miniature painting, dated from the 13th century, is an example of exquisite delicacy. World literature was influenced by the extraordinary and delightful poetry of Persians such as Ferdowsi, Sa’di, Hafiz, Attar, Nezami, Rumi and Omar Khayyam. Iranian deluxe cuisine is full of heavenly tastes and variety of dishes. Iran is one of the top producers of the priciest spice, saffron and the sweetest and most delightful nuts, pistachios.
With a variety of ethnicities and languages in Iran, Farsi, also known as Persian, is the national language spoken in Iran. Farsi is not an Arabic language. In fact Farsi is rooted in Indo-European languages just like English. Spoken mainly in Iran, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, more than 162 million people speak Farsi/Persian with different dialects and accents in the world.
These people who the media call “terrorists” are my people. I am a part of that country and everything that comes with it. Iran is more than unjust government. Iran is Fesenjan, Dolme, Kabab koobideh, Ash, Halim and all the best cuisine in the world. Iran is Milad Tower, the sixth tallest tower in the world. Iran is the Persian Empire and The Great Cyrus. Iran is the old and long crowded bazaars in different cities. Iran is the amazing bridge that connects East Asia to Europe through the Silk Road. Lastly, Iran is me, my family, my being and existence.