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What Else Can Iranian Americans Learn From Successful Minorities?

By Nader Habibi

Photo: Iranian-Americans' Norouz Parade In San Jose, California (April 2008)

In a 2012 article titled Iranian Americans, Take a Lesson, Trita Parsi invited the Iranian American Community to learn three lessons from the Jewish American community. These three lessons are: 1) Jewish Americans invest a large amount of financial resources and time into ethnic and religious organizations and institutions that serve the Jewish community. These organizations in turn provide considerable support for members of the Jewish community and strengthen their political influence at local and national level.  2) Jewish Americans have a strong democratic tradition that allows them to resolve internal differences and make collective decisions that benefit the community. 3) Jewish Americans are very active in all types of political activities such as voting, political fundraisings, public debates and running for office. This high level of political and civic participation has enhanced the political influence of their community.

I believe there are many other lessons that we can learn from successful minorities such as Jewish Americans and in here I like to discuss two of them:

1) Offering support to other minorities:  Instead of focusing only on the interests of their own community successful minorities also support the causes of other minorities. By doing so they gain friendship and support of that minority for their own cause. Many Jewish civil rights advocates, for example, actively participated in struggle of African Americans against racism and racial discrimination in 1950s and 1960s and continue to do so today.  This support led to good relationship and mutual support between the two communities. When Jewish organizations campaigned against the persecution of Soviet Jewry in the 1980s for example, they received support from African American community.

Most Iranian Americans not only shy away from civil and political activity on behalf of their own community but they rarely participate in the causes of other ethnic groups. I estimate that at least 1000 Iranians live in metropolitan Saint Louis area. During the recent protests by African Americans in Ferguson one could see many white participants but hardly any Iranian Americans or members of other minorities. This is unfortunate because, the negative image of Iran in American society causes occasional ethnic discrimination and mistreatment of Iranian Americans. If we do not support the civil rights protests of other minorities, they will not offer any support to us when we need to initiate a political protest.

2) Active participation in Internet and social media: Most Iranian Americans are very interested in conditions of Iran and the Middle East. They follow the news and spend several hours per week online, reading the news and commentaries about the region. This is a passive behavior and the hours spent reading online make no contribution to the objectives of the community. Successful minorities, on the other hand, actively try to influence public opinion about issues that matter to them by writing comments at the end of relevant news reports and editorial articles. Most news websites such as CNN or Yahoo provide a comments section at the end of each article. This action is more effective than posting a link to an online report on your Facebook or Twitter account. When you post something on your account you are bringing it to the attention of your online friends who, most likely, share your views and values already. What matters is to influence the opinion of those who are indifferent or hold opposite views. So, now that you have finished reading this article you have three options: You can move on, you can post a link to it on your Facebook page or you can leave a comment! 

Nader Habibi teaches economics in Brandeis University. His current research topic is overeducation His latest publication is Three Stories one Middle East.


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