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The age of Trump: Day 24
Day 24 in the age of T. I’m conflicted tonight. I’d really like to just share this extraordinary story of two Americans who came to Iran decades ago and started two international schools. Mr. and Mrs Irvine who are celebrating seven decades of marriage.
They led the Tehran Community School and later founded Iranzamin, both of which espoused pluralism, diversity, equality and joy in excellence and education in children from pre-K through 12th grade. I don’t know of a single person who attended Community (which was of course the better of these best schools in the world) who did not love their time there. I don’t know a single person who attended either school, who is not deeply humane, inherently global in their world views and who doesn’t strive to do their best in the world, in whatever profession they’ve chosen.
Who doesn’t remember the Mexican Hat Dance on International day in first grade or singing ‘This land is my land’ in Ms. Hopkin’s music class? Our school song was ‘It’s a small world’.
So as an ode to their love for each other, for the schools they founded and the kids they inspired – who are now mostly baby boomer or middle-aging, on this Valentine’s eve, I’d just like to share this post in their honour.
But there are a few other things going on. I know the Muslim Ban that wasn’t a ban and wasn’t really about Muslims, has now been banned because to ban Muslims is, well, unconstitutional. But there’s that other stuff too: this weekend. The folks at the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement service – ICE – were busy raiding people’s homes in the dead of night. ICE – so Orwellian, so chilling. We’re told they were looking for illegal immigrants. The media barely reports it. The White House says it’s all about criminals and drug traffickers, but really when they sweep across six states and arrest close to 700 people over the weekend, can they all be criminals? Wouldn’t the criminals be the first to hide? I’m guessing it’s the kids and moms and sick and elderly who were left hanging. There must be an awful lot of very very scared people out there tonight. CNN, which is still dithering about becoming an actual news channel again, did at least one piece on it. They showed young Somali men and two Ghanaians – one openly gay – who fled the US into Canada. For hours they trampled across fields of freezing knee deep snow to flee the land of liberty. The Ghanaian got frostbite (they didn’t know it existed because there’s no frost or snow in Ghana), and had to have their fingers on both hands amputated. They were fleeing America’s ICE, and lost their hand functions to Canada’s frost. This, my friends, is the United States of America on Valentine’s eve 2017. On our watch.
It breaks my heart and I’m not even American. So why do I care? I’ve been thinking about this issue of ‘American Exceptionalism’ all weekend. I never liked it, never bought into it. But these days I’m beginning to believe in it. Just think, in the last 16 years – since 9/11 what’s happened? Each time America had a tragedy or a triumph the world beyond its borders, cried or cheered along. On 9/11 we watched the towers explode and implode in simultaneous global transmission. That night, 9/11 From Tehran to Tokyo ordinary people lit candles to commemorate the losses. In 2008 when Obama won, the world cheered the US. Again in Iran they shouted ‘Oo ba ma’ – he with us – Norway awarded him the Nobel Prize for the potential he brought to the prospect of world peace. I’ll never forget my father’s voice down the telephone line all the way in Tehran, so bruised by other political events in his life, but for an instant in his 70s inspired again by this possibility of a Kenyan-American man becoming president. Only in America, he said, only in America.
In 2017, when American women cried out ‘let’s march’ the world’s women joined in solidarity – so many of us, in so many far corners – from mountain tops in the Dolomites to the quaint streets of Nevis. We joined, we shared, #wepersist.
None of this was because it was the first time these things had happened. Women’s march? Iranian women did that back in 1979 in Tehran. A charismatic leader? They may be few and far between, but there have been plenty of them around the world over the years. As for tragedies – Hanan Ashrawi once said very sadly, that in Palestine and Gaza, they see death and destruction on a daily basis year in year out, let alone the deaths in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Darfur, or DRC.
So why does the world care so much about these events in the US? One answer is obvious. It’s because the US is present everywhere, and a flick of its tail is like a tsunami for a small country. But it’s more than that. It is, I believe that the American ideals and values that used to be, such as meritocracy, equality, opportunity, a fair shot – have inspired all of us in our lives. As my Norwegian friends say, they grew up thinking that the US was the future. Don’t think that I’m making a declaration of blind love here. The weaponized warts that have infected our world are also American bred and spread.
But just for a moment, think of it this way – the ideals of America – the simple concept of our right as humans to pursue happiness – not just to live or survive, not just to not do evil or to do good – but to be happy – just be happy – it is revolutionary to this day. So what makes America exceptional is that its essence touches the very soul of human beings everywhere, throughout time. There is a piece of America in all of us. But by that same token, that’s why we – the peoples of the world – are here – each of us in a piece of America. They are symbiotic. America as a concept cannot exist, if it shuts its doors to this generation of dreamers and brave souls that come in pursuit of their happiness. It certainly will not exist, if it becomes the land from which people will risk freezing, for fear of being ICED.
50-60 years ago Dr and Mrs. Irvine brought the best of America to us in Iran. Now we are duty bound to return the favor – to shout out and warn our friends of what’s happening. We as Iranians and others from crisis-riven countries see it, because we have seen it all before. To my American friends who are struggling with all this. We get it. You want it to go away. You hope it will get better. But hope is not a great strategy. Turning a blind eye because it doesn’t affect you, or because you don’t want to be affected, won’t make the problem go away. Executive Orders that sound like flimsy fatwas flying out of Pennsylvania Avenue, ICE men that make grown men flee – they exist, and they will persist, if we don’t collectively and loudly and everywhere say what the judges said: #wedisagree.
Bill Clinton once said, ‘What’s right with America can fix what’s wrong in America.’ Can we be silently right? What, I wonder, do the Irvines say?
Sanam Naraghi-Anderlini is co-founder of the International Civil Action Society Network (ICAN). ICAN has established a network of women civil society leaders in the Middle East and North Africa who are at the frontline of tackling extremism and militarism, while promoting peace, rights and pluralism. She has been a leading international advocate, researcher, trainer and writer on conflict prevention and peace-building. She was among the civil society drafters of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. She provides strategic guidance and training to key UN agencies, governments and NGOs worldwide, and is the author of Women Building Peace: What they do, and why it matters.