Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Post #57 - The Other Among Us

"For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country... " (Matthew 25:14)

The first Iranian-American killed in the Iraq War was a paramedic. Omead Razani had told his older sister, Nooshin, before his death that he saw his tour in Iraq as chance to “treat both Americans and Iraqis.” Both, he said, were “people he cared about.” He died 10 miles west of Falujah, thousands of miles from home, but only a hundred miles from Iraq's border with the land of his parents' birth.

In Speaking of Faith, Krista Tippett writes about Muslims in America as a part of a larger ferment within Islam:

"At its core, Islam is a remarkably egalitarian faith, and this helps to explain the profound and complex roots it has been able to sink in multitudinous cultures. I believe it also helps to explain the vibrant and peaceable integration of a growing Muslim faith in U.S. culture, a phenomenon that has gone largely unremarked alongside news coverage of Islamic unrest in other parts of the world. In 2006, the Islamic Society of North America elected a woman as its president -- a Canadian convert to Islam, a supremely articulate and confident scholar, Ingrid Mattson. Omid Safi has become a leading voice in an energetic convergence of idea and action that calls itself 'progressive Islam.' And new generations of educated and empowered Islamic women -- some of them daughters of previous generations of Islami elites -- are fashioning a way of life that incorporates religious tradition with a commitment to realizing the egalitarian impulse at the heart of Islam."

Tippett quotes Egyptian-American scholar Leila Ahmed as wondering at the fact that so many question her about the hijab (not actually typical of Muslim women the world over), but so few, if any, ask her, "Why is it that Islam has produced seven women prime ministers or heads of state and Europe only two or three?"

Persians in America

The diversity, toleration and secularism of modern-day U.S. culture mean that a less "traditional" face of Islam is especially evident here. It has been pointed out that American Iranians tend in many ways to be an unrepresentative sampling of the population from which they came. This is due partly to the self-selection of most immigrants, and partly because of factors that act to limit emigration -- chiefly economics. We would do well, however, to know much better this community that can potentially provide a critical bridge between America and Iran.

Thousands of Iranians received their higher education (and exposure to Western culture) in the United States during the mid-20th century, including a man who recently served as Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, who earned his doctorate in international relations from the University of Denver. The Iranian cohort reached a high of of over 60,000 students in the
Davar Ardalan, NPR Sen. Producer
United States in 1977. Many, perhaps a million, current U.S. residents (many of them American citizens) have family roots in and emotional ties to Iran; they tend to be well-educated and economically successful. One thinks of tennis great Andre Agassi, CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour, entrepreneur Pierre Omidyar (CEO of E-Bay), or Jimmy Delshad, elected in 2007 as Mayor of one of America's glitziest communities -- Beverly Hills, California.

The Iranian Studies Group at MIT did a report entitled “An Overview of Socioeconomic Characteristics of the Iranian-American Community based on the 2000 U.S. Census” in February 2004. They found that those in the community who had earned a BA degree or higher were 57.2% (compared with 24.4% for the rest of the U.S. Population); 27% of the survey group had a graduate degree. Per capita income among them was some 50% higher than that of the U.S. as a whole. Interestingly, only 3% of Iranian-Americans live in unmarried households, compared to 7% national.

Matt Ghaffari, Olympic silver medalist
Another study (“Who Are We?: the Iranian-American Community” showed that most of those who consider themselves Iranian-American arrived in the period 1970-1979 or in the decade following. Some 77% were ethnic Persian, 10% Azeri and the rest a mix of the eight or ten other ethnic groups represented in the Iranian population. Only half are Muslim (most non-practicing), as opposed to almost 98% Muslim within Iran itself; 3% each are Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian and Baha’i, while 21% described themselves as “spiritual”, but with no organized religious affiliation and 18% agnostic or atheist. Less than half of those who are married have an Iranian spouse.

(More on the situation of Iranian-Americans in my next post.)

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