On the way to a conference last week, I was faced with a more or less challenging situation: an intense dialogue among a few colleagues about the significance of different cultures in world history and development. This is a complex topic and it’s hard to make simple conclusions on the matter. I want to write about this experience though, not because I am after advertising or defending a particular nation or want to offend others. This is simply my way of alleviating pain after hearing highly ignorant and uneducated remarks by supposedly educated individuals in the United States.
I was faced with the question of “who contributed the most to our history” or “whose work we should look for when studying the history of art, philosophy, poetry, architecture, literature, and so on.”
I have often noticed that Europe stands out in the American version of history in many different fields. For example, I happened to take introductory courses to political philosophy and architecture history at Cornell University as an undergraduate student. I can confidently say that the majority of topics covered were related to Rome and Greece and some times Great Britain. I, like many other students, left our class thinking that these concepts were first introduced by these nations only and others were mostly followers. Plato’s Republic was introduced to us as a book that marked the beginning of philosophy and political dialogue and such ideas seemed to begin in a society where thinking and logic were encouraged for the first time. Democracy was shown to be the most mesmerizing concept in a world of chaos. We were introduced to every famous architectural piece in Europe and briefly reviewed a few others (i.e. Ancient Egypt, Japan, and India) in the last couple weeks of the class. Even specialized courses tend to be biased and negative towards eastern nations, following the language used in ancient Greek historical records.
I was faced with the same dilemma in the car last week.
Cyrus’ Cylinder: Considered as History’s First Declaration of Human Rights
in Ancient Times is today displayed at the British Museum.
©British Museum, London
Filed under Africa, America, art, culture, development, India, Iran, lessons, literature, poetry, popular culture, sociology, traditions, War
Last week the Pakistani government denied access to YouTube for a short period because some of the content was deemed offensive. According to the BBC article, reports said the content included religious cartoons that already caused worldwide outrage. Once those questionable videos were removed, YouTube was back up in Pakistan. But regardless of one’s opinion, it brings up the largely debated issue of responsibility towards society versus the rights of the individual. Should we have the individual freedom to receive any content we desire or should a sacrifice be made for the larger good of society?
This issue reminds me of a quote my middle school teacher had on a poster that read something like, “Freedom is not about having the right to do what you want, but having the ability to do what is right.” Continue reading
On our way to Iran from San Francisco, we stopped in Amsterdam to change planes. Shawhin and I got our coffee and orange juice (I’m the coffee person and he’s the healthy one) and we were on our way to find the gate for the KLM flight to Tehran. It turned out finding the gate was much easier than expected. All we had to do was to follow the large number of familiar eyes who spoke Farsi very loudly. It’s not common to speak loudly among Iranians, but somehow it seemed like we all wanted to make sure others noticed that we are Iranian, kind of like a signal, a way of communicating, a way to make sure other Iranians see us and can come to us if they are lost or need help of any sort.
I felt the excitement of going home after 8 years; it was amazing being among all those familiar eyes, familiar accents, familiar smiles, or familiar complaints. I realized in the middle of my excitement, however, that those eyes and accents were not our only guides to the right gate. It was something much more visual and obvious: the black clothes! Sadly I must acknowledge the current trend of fashion among my fellow countrymen. Black, black, black. All I could see was black, dark blue, dark gray, dark green, basically all sorts of varieties of black with different shades. I told Shawhin if he noticed that we were the only ones not wearing black at the gate while we were waiting for our flight. He laughed and nodded. I saw that his happy eyes transformed to something more like worried happy eyes. Well, I did not want to ruin this experience for him so I changed the topic. I was however deeply concerned about the effects of this color on people’s everyday life back home. Imagine living in a black city where colors are not widely accepted, are thought to be cheap, or are not even allowed in many public places. I wonder if anyone in Tehran or other big cities in Iran worries about this, but there I was waiting at the gate deeply struggling with these thoughts and emotions. I was emotional and excited with the thought of landing at the Mehrabad airport, seeing the Azadi tower when the pilot does a turn around it before landing, kissing the ground of my city, the city that really belonged to me. My fear of black, on the other hand, was constantly on my mind. I wanted to get the microphone from the flight attendant and ask all the passengers to change their outfits and wear brighter colors and was frustrated with my lack of power to do so.
A girl in Sanandaj, Iran, wearing traditional colorful costumes. Photo courtesy of Ddokosic