Neighbors or Enemies? > Living with Hate

Chicago

Bitta Mostofi

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Voices in the Wilderness

Ali Abunimah, a community leader here in Chicago, has said, we don’t want to frighten people more, we need to listen to what communities are saying. It’s the same as Voices in the Wilderness, which has stressed listening to the Iraqi people, not the government.

We need to engage communities and listen to what they are thinking and feeling. We can’t tell people what to do without doing that.

The fear of persecution is definitely in the back of my mind, because I’ve put myself out there. I’m vulnerable because I’m an activist, because I’m a Middle Easterner. I’m also worried that I will make my parents more vulnerable because I’ve been so outspoken.

They have never asked me to step back, but I think that my mother is afraid. I was born and raised here, I identify as American as much as Iranian — but at the end of the day, does that really matter?

There is a letter circulating among Iranians, regarding visits from the FBI – because people give donations to humanitarian organizations, groups that are not even on the terror lists. They have been naturalized US citizens for more than 15 years, but still the FBI visits to ask them why. I’ve heard many of these stories.

In California, the Iranian community were almost entirely supporters of the shah, very wealthy people. After 9/11, 100,000 Iranians demonstrated in solidarity with the US. People call LA “Tehrangeles,” there are billboards there in Persian.

The community protested detention when faced with special registration. It was an awakening to them to realize they were no different. Iranians have assimilated, they identify as white. Now they are finding out that more is involved than leaving your nationality behind. You still have an accent, cultural roots, Persian names …