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imperialism & war

why are white activist ignoring middle eastern people?

Hi, im going to post this note on a lot of different IMC sites because I really do want answers. Im half Armenian and half Iranian. Ive only lived in this country for 6 years. Im 23 years old and have been involved in activism for about 3 1/2 years now.
I have always worked hard and view myself as an anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, and against globalization.
After September 11 happned, in a lot of ways I was so happy to see that finally after so many years so many of you wonderful activist that I had seen work so hard before were paying so much attention to what was going on in the Middle East. I mean I know that people have paid attention to Iraq, and Palestine over the past few years, but never in such large numbers.
As I attended services at my mosque I told fellow worshipers how these amazing activist were helping us now, and letting our voices be heard. That we could work in solidarity with you, and bring not only the struggle and plight of my Afghani brothers and sisters but also the struggle of the people from Armenia, Quatar, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Iran, Pakistan to the fore front and that finally some of you would enter our communities and get to hear, listen and touch our culture and see where our passion for life comes from
I would have to stay that overall in the past 3 monthes I have been disappointed, at times hurt, and very secluded in this whole process. What I thought would be a wonderful chance to bring our communities together and tell you and help teach you all a bit about our cultures and way of life has in a lot of ways turned into a nightmare for me and a lot of my fellow friend and family who are also of middle eastern decent.
In many ways we feel like we have been left out in your organizing, we feel like instead of asking us our opinion or ways that our community can be helped many activist have come in and told us what we need to and how we need to give our press conference and where we need to go, what protest to show up in and what meetings to attend. Please try to understand this is one of the first times in a long time that we have had to deal with such a very sad event, that we do not understand in many ways what to do next, still it's not right to tell us what to do. It seems very selfish and coming from a very looking down to attitude.
I don't know for myself what to do. I like working with many of you, but I wish sometimes you would just listen a little bit. This situation is unlike any other, sometimes it needs to be handled that way. Sometimes we feel like many of you are not even intrested in our communities that we have already built in this country. Sometimes it seems like many of you don't want to know about our history and our people and why we are here in this country to being with.
It pains me to see this going on because I know how much I want to reach out to you and show you that we are good people, that we are not all bad and that we want to work with you but we feel we are not included but instead our name is being used for all sorts of political reasons. Both the left people in this country are doing this and so are the right. It pains me.
My country and my people come from a very rich background of land and culture. We have built and survived many hardships both in our old country and now here in this country. We would like to share a bit of that with you, but it seems like nobody is even intrested. we have invited many of you to our Islamic Centers, our cultural art shows, music events and none of these people who say they are fighting for us ever come, but instead they ask us to come to meetings and show up in a press conference. I don't think our people should be used as a sort of side show. We are not one to be used in a charity case. Yes many people in Afghanistan are hurting, starving and dying right now but the Afghan culture is a beautiful rich culture that is bountyful and very very old in history. The people are wise and have worked their land and faught for the land for so long. They are not just dirt people, they are not just charity cases, they are not just for you white people in this country to feel sorry for. They are a strong great people who have been on the earty for a very long time, and have complex forms of society and civilization.
Instead of just feeling sorry for us and only wanting to go on the street and scream that you are fighting for us. Please I beg of you to come visit some of us, talk to some of us, and if you can learn of our history, the fathers and mothers who worked so hard to get to where we are today, our traditions and our culture. Please respect us a little bit and don't make such martyrs and victims of us.
We are not victims, we are your fellow human being that needs a hand right now, and please don't allow us to be exploited just like the right wing people are doing to us.
Please let go a little bit of this very strong white western mentality that your way is the only right way, and involve us, don't fear us.
We all know your hearts are in the right place, but also realize that you have alianted many of us, and we don't want that.
thank you very much my name is Shiva and you can email me.
about listening 01.Dec.2001 22:46

Heidi enji@earthlink.net

thank you for your insight. i can't really say i know much about the activist community, but i think in american society in general we are not very good at listening, to anybody. we are not good at listening to our own spouses, our own children, much less someone outside our circle of family and friends. i can certainly see this happening as you describe, that however well-meaning the people you have met who have been organizing the events, they have been more worried about their own agendas rather than hearing about what is needed. i would plea with you, forgive them, they know not what they do. perhaps with more testimony like yours, those you've encountered, and the rest of us, can become better at listening.

Response from small community activist 02.Dec.2001 09:34


In my community we are holding vigils everyday. There are no middle eastern people at these vigils because it is not safe for them to come out. We have had several forums where Middle Eastern people were the primary speakers. They have being teaching us about the culture, the religions, the politics and the history. We have heard from a representative from RAWA (Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan, we have collected blankets and other resources to send to Afghanistan. At first Middle Easterns came to our meetings but now they are not coming because it is not safe. We know that about 30 people will be targeted for FBI interviews in our community. We have let these people know that if the interviews happen we have provided legal and social support. We have contacted the ACLU for strategies. We did this for the Middle Easterners because they were afriad to make the contact for themselves. We visit Middle Easterners in their homes but do not expect them to come out in the public right now. We are doing everything we can to stop this terrible demise of Democracy in the U.S. We are doing the best we can.

Thanx Shiva 02.Dec.2001 11:16

Chantel Cherrysweet@hotmail.com

Hi my friend on a list server told me about Shivas post that she put all over the country on different IMCs and I have a response for her, so im going to post it in different places too.

Thanx.. i don't know if this post makes me sad or happy. but im glad that im not the only one feeling like this. I thought i was crazy or seeing things that were not actually there. Im always outspoken, but everytime I have opened my mouth regarding this issue all I have gotten back was negative feedback. That I was wrong, maybe Im just generelizing.. so slowely I started to shut my mouth because I started to feel that these issues were only evident in my head. After I read your post, I decided to finally sit down and write what I was feeling. I knew that I would get negative responses but I didn't even care. I had to get it out, thank you for giving me that courage. Here is what I wrote. and below it I posted your post that you wrote.

hi everyone, I know this is going to make a lot of people mad, and Im sure I'll get plenty of hate mail but at this point I don't really mind. This is kind of hard for me to write but ive found the courage to after reading Shivas letter that I posted below. She is an Iranian/Armenian girl that I do not know, but she posted something on the LA IMC site that I felt needed to be heard. Maybe even heard over and over until we start to pay attention to it and have no choice but to respond to it.
She wrote about how she feels as someone from the Middle East who feels alianated in the anti war movement and by white activist. As I was reading her letter, so many of my emotions took over and I started to cry because so much of what she was saying was true, and I comend her for opening up herself like that.
Ever since September 11 I have been in so much of a haze, I watched the horrific act that happned on that day and within minutes knew what the punishment of it would be, and knew almost instantly how those punishments would be carried out and who it would hurt. I read over 259 death and racist emails that were sent to the mosque that my dad volunteers at by 2:15 PM on the day of Sep. 11. I helped clean up shattered glass from a window down the street at th Iranian supermarket that had been targeted by racism, and saw on TV account after account of people who looked like me and my little brother get brutalized, beaten, humilitaed, jailed, thrown off planes, spit on, called names, assaulted. I watched one of my friends deny being Iranian and lie and say she was Mexican when someone asked her where she came from. I watched my mom who prides herself in being an open minded progressive feminisit buy a small US flag and attach it to her car window, when I asked her why, she said she felt safer at work that way. My dad, a man I greatly respect who gave up his job as a Biology Proffesor to help organize students in Iran in 1979 to help lead the people there in a Revolution.. I had to listen to him tell me to stop going to meetings, and he asked me to get rid off my entire "activist" newspapers and flyers from the house... because he was scared for me and the family. In all this I found a bit of hope. that hope was that finally people around the world might actually look and turn their eyes so much more on the middle east and see the struggle the people in that region of the world have had to endure over such a very very very long time. I felt really a glimmer of hope, that now with activist and countries joining together maybe, just maybe there is a way that something could be done. Not just my country but other surrounding countries could be helped and the fundamentalist regimes who have killed and spilled the blood of so many people there would finally have their grips loosned. I want my country and every country to be free, free from Imperialism, free from this fundamentalist way of life.. I want to go back home, I want to see the country that I have only seen in pictures and movies, the country my parents and I had to flee from when I was just a child.. I had hope. Those hope that I carried around in my heart the first few days after Sep 11 were killed when the first bomb was dropped in Afghanistan.
Still I had faith in the activist, I had faith that at least they would be one place for us to turn, for someone to listen and at least try to understand what our cultures and our religons were about. Again I had hope that we would be included, and that some people would for a small time not look at our cause, this war, our people, our religion as a tool to further personal political idealogy and gain, but really see us and sincerly be intrested in understanding. I guess I was naive in this way of thinking.. but I so wanted to be right. I had hope.
Now im not going to lie and say that I have not meet some amazing activist in the past few monthes who have shown so much love and care and have went out of their way to listen, aide, help, and reach out to so many in the Middle Eastern community... but inside I always thought there would be more. I see all the preperations, press conference, protests, coalitions,conference and meetings that are going on, and I have taken the time to attend a lot of them, and through it all I still see the token middle eastern person at times being used, being exploited. I sit at events and meetings and listen to "strategy" on what to do next, I listen to "how to draw in more arabs" and i wonder and sometimes say out loud... well maybe it would help if we all were not called "arabs"
It's so simple you see, but for some reason there is still a roadblock. So many claim to be fighting for us, in our name, advocating everything they can think of.. but they do so much of it without taking the time to listen, to really touch, to hear, to feel what we really need at this time is not just your screams in the air but in a lot of ways just a leanding ear...we need to know that when this is all over that you are all still there. We need for you to come shop at our stores and help us see that you care, and come to our small music shows and ask the person next to you if they can interpret what's going on stage. ask someone that speaks pashtun, farsi, or arabic to write some of your protest signs in their language, come to our events, come to our mosques and other religious centers and see for yourself the spirituality and hope that plays such a big part in the lives of our people. instead of only showing the poorest and dirty pictures you can find of Afghanistan and it's people why not also along side it show the beautiful eyes of the people, and the true beauty that Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, etc. etc holds. Yes our people are broken right now and hurt in mental and physical way, and yes they might be living in a 3rd world country.. but that does not mean they people themselves are 3rd world.. help us all to find the beauty that still DOES exist there, you can even come to our homes and see how we live.. all im really saying is to PLEASE HELP US TO ACTUALLY FEEL LIKE WE STILL BELONG HERE IN THIS COUNTRY!!!! that can only be done if you actually include us in all that you are doing in our name. I have never in my 11 years of living here felt like I don't belong here, but over the past 3 mon. that's all ive felt, and i know im not the only one that feels this way. Ive never felt so much like such an outsider, such a foreigner.
Im rambling on, and ive lost track of what i was going to say next. All I ask is that you talk to us, don't even listen to me or what I have to say but continue talking to as many middle eastern people as you can, even if they are not activists. We can't forget the people we all claim to be fighting for, we can't just make them look like victims as much as we can, and hope that by doing that all of a sudden the American public, the world will suddenly care and change their ways. Instead of making the people in our countries just another charity cases like Shiva said and asking everyone out of pity to help them, why not help empower Middle Eastern people to help themselves.

Im sleepy and have to go to bed, but I hope that you guys understand im not saying the work that you are doing is bad, Im just saying that I wish more middle eastern people were given the chance to be included and that their opinions were actually asked. Many of us and our parents have had to live through this either ourselves or have have had family live through it. I was only 5 years old and living in Iran and I clearly remember the Iran and Iraq war, i remember the bombs, the blackouts, the soldiers, and the wave of refugees moving all over the country, and all the homeless people. Im just saying that getting input from the people who are effected DIRECTLY by the things going on in the Middle East, who still have LOTS Of family who reside there would help not just the Middle eastern communities but also help ALL of us in our organizing and mobilizing. Shiva is right, lets break down this white mentality that thinks that they know best when it comes down to doing EVERYTHING and that they know best when it comes to activism, politics, and organizing. As activist we can't afford to alianate the people we claim to be fighting this struggle in.

i have a lot more to say, but I'll let you guys read the post below that Shiva put on the IMC site, she says it all pretty much.
Thanx for listening to me rant.

comment x 02.Dec.2001 13:03


The unfortunate aspect of many activist groups is that they are lead by white, middle-class people who think they are speaking for the oppressed. Your white, middle class, college-educated activist types will probably never know what it is like to be homeless or be discriminated against, yet they seem to think they have all the answers. Covert racism can seep into even the most well-meaning of activist groups. It's really sad.

Yes,we need to improve 02.Dec.2001 22:20

by striving

I agree as activists who happen to be of european descent we need to strive to expand our level of cultural understanding.Not to minimize anything,but at least some privileged,college educated,white activists are doing something,which is better than just doing the partyline amerikan thing.We should think for ourselves,get as much information on the middle east situation as we can,try and understand other cultures.It just helps everyone to realize everyone is influenced by their enviornment.Peoples conditioning causes them to behave in different manners.People in the US are conditioned to think like conformists and it is hard for people to think for themselves.So it's good some people are examining US foriegn policy.Hopefully we can improve our level of tolerance and understanding in the US. People like Shiva-keep teaching us and thank you for helping us to understand.