Thursday, December 30, 2004

"youth crisis"

Every time I talk to my nieces in Iran, a feeling of joy and hopefulness occupies every cell of my body. Not because they are my nieces and I am biased about their achievements (I am biased, I won't deny), but because I am constantly amazed by how they and their friends are so well-read and politically aware. They are in early years of college in Iran and yes, they complain about the problems they face as young women, and as students. But, they also, very playfully, talk about the way they fight against restrictive conventions that they face in school, on the streets, or at home. Some time ago, after having a discussion on a Yahoo chatroom with a young American, my niece asked me if Americans really thought that the U.S. was liberating Iraq! We talked about what it means to generalize and say "all Americans think like this, or all Iranians are like this." I digress...
I think of my nieces, and other Iranian youth whom I met in my last trip to Turkey, as anything but docile. The level of political awareness and self-motivated eagerness to learn among this group of youth has been amazing to me. I guess, when you don't have certain privileges, you do not take them for granted...
So, I was quite surprised, to say the least, when I read this article on SF Gate today. I frowned when I read Ms. Enssani's suggestion about the United States encouraging Iran to invest in its youth. One has to think of the United States as the big brother (let's call him Uncle Sam) who has mastered the art of parenting its youth, for one to ask Uncle Sam to give advice to the Iranian state about its youth! For the purposes of this blog post, let's put aside the problematic view of nation as family and state as father, which is implicit in Enssani's article. Let me go along with Enssani's rhetoric for a moment. I live in Berkeley where countless homeless youth sleep in the nearby park; where in neighboring Oakland, black youth are killed as the result of gang violence, drugs, and police brutality on a daily basis. And is the government (state or federal) showing any sympathy? Apathy is what I have seen during my 15 years of residence in the Bay Area. 6 of these years were spent on doing crisis-intervention work in San Francisco, where a large percantage of kids in Bay View Hunter's Point suffer from serious health problems caused by factory waste.
I am not denying that Iranian youth are facing apathy, and believe me, I have heard about the rising problem of addiction among Iranian youth. But Ms. Enssani seems to assume that Iranian youth are helpless victims, waiting for some invisible hand to rescue them! "Let them be young," Ms. Enssani suggests. What does it mean to be young, any way? Watching Disney films and playing war-simulated video-games? I have been a teaching assistant in a few U.S. universities, including Stanford and Berkeley, which I suppose are among the good ones. To me, the level of ignorance and lack of knowledge about the rest of the world among some youth who are raised in the U.S. is disheartening. At Harvard, after watching the Russian Ark for a film class, an art student asked if there had been a revolution in Russia... all I could do was to force myself to smile.
This post is getting too long again. Let me suffice by saying that the decay of nationalism, which Ms. Enssani is so worried about, should be the least of our concerns. Nationalism (be it Iranian nationalism or American nationalism) is well and alive, and that, for me is a source of concern!


The sidebar image is taken from Mahmoud Pakzad's "Old Tehran", Did Publishers, 1994. Thanks to Jahanshah Javid (www.iranian.com) for sharing it.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com