Your heritage should be a source of pride, but sometimes, we feel responsible for the sins of others
This is part 2 in my series on Insecurities.
I was born in Iran in March 1978 to Muslim parents. We weren’t religious and I’d say I grew up atheist, today I consider myself agnostic out of respect for others who believe.
From January to October 1978, the Iranian revolution toppled the monarchy, which was a regime friendly to the West. Then during the hostage crisis (November 1979 to January 1981), Iranians stormed the American embassy to avenge Operation Ajax and held fifty-two Americans hostage. Suffice to say, hostage taking is unequivocally wrong, as is attacking an embassy or the seat of a legislative branch of a government).
Months later on September 22nd 1980, Iraq invaded Iran. The war lasted nearly eight years, killed over a million people and ended in a stalemate on August 20th 1988 when Iran accepted a UN-brokered ceasefire. The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini died on June 3, 1989. I’m guessing that was a Saturday, because on Sunday morning I woke up and walked in to turn on the television, only to see my father watching the news reporting of his death. Iran’s grievances – that the UK and USA toppled the democratically elected (& Time magazine’s Man of the Year in 1952) Mohammad Mosaddegh and that Western forces were providing WMDs to Iraq during the 1980’s Iran-Iraq war were valid and fair – but nonetheless, history books are selective in memory.
Overnight in 1979, Iran – one of the greatest original empires of the world – became somewhat of a pariah state. Not losing sight of our privilege, we left Tehran somewhat comfortably in 1983 thanks to my father’s occupation for the Spanish embassy. We moved to Madrid, Spain. A year later, we settled in Montreal. I grew up in Canada from the age of 6. While my Nurture vs Nature manifest traits of Persian culture, I grew up as Canadian as someone who’d move to the country at such a young age. Over the ensuing decade, I immersed myself in American culture (via television) and global history (via my trusted collection of World Book encyclopedia).
Once I went to college to complete a degree in finance, influenced partly by my older brother’s career in consulting (and his magazine subscriptions to The Economist, Business Week & Fortune), I developed an American business mindset (I’ll cover American vs Canadian business styles in #AnotherArticle).
“What did you do?”
If that were all she wrote, I’d still have a chip on my shoulder.
Enter 9/11. Nineteen hijackers affiliated with al-Qaeda from four countries hijacked four commercial jumbo jets and slammed them into seminal symbols of American financial prowess and military might.
Of the nineteen, fifteen were citizens of Saudi Arabia, two were from the United Arab Emirates, one was from Lebanon, and the last was from Egypt. None were from Iran.
Nonetheless, overnight, “Muslims became the new Blacks” – meaning a propensity to be accused of guilt without being given the benefit of doubt, and right of innocence. That Tuesday morning, one of my best friends (who happened to be Jewish) called me and joked “what did you do?” As the “Muslim and the Jew,” we joked like that all the time (and considered making a radio show out of it, shockingly that didn’t go far), but that was foreshadowing a feeling that would follow me in the years to come. FWIW, while Arab and Jewish people are Semitic; as Indo-Europeans Iranians are considered white. That factual nuance aside, from that day onward, I couldn’t have felt like more an an outsider, which might put my staunch support of the MeToo and BLM movements and amplification of LGBTQ voices in context. It’s not that I am pretending to wrap myself up in the flag of those whose fights I didn’t directly fight on behalf of, but more a genuine desire to root for the underdogs who are fighting for justice, equality and respect. For two decades, I repressed much of these feelings and thoughts, but when during the BLM movement some of my white colleagues asked me what our policy should be, I began to experience and articulate emotions and ideas that helped me overcome some of the insecurities that both held me back, propped me up, but ultimately shaped my personal and professional development. You can read the article or follow the tweetstorm, below.
Admittedly, the insurrection at the US Capitol thawed more sentiments, which I will touch on mainly in the context of one’s development, to help you channel yours to accelerate your course to success.
To be clear, I don’t however adhere to the other extreme argument either: that everything bad in life is due to “male toxicity” or that “white people are to blame for everything.” Life is a bit more nuanced than that, and me understanding such grey areas helped me in my career.
Having graduating in finance but veered into a career in media, I knew my life and career trajectory would forever be changed. How so? Read the next instalment in this series.