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A Persian-Filipino Sees Iran in a New Light

GMANews.TV, Commentary, Richard Heydarian Posted: Apr 21, 2010

Modern globalization has given birth to a new breed of humanity that shares the souls, blood, and cultures of different races.

I am a product of such an intermingling of nationalities.

Like many others, my parents found soul mates from distant lands: my fatherland is Persia (Iran) while my motherland is the Philippines.

I share the DNA of two huge, dynamic and developing nations that in their histories have gone through their own share of glory and pain.

Naturally, the dilemmas and identity issues that people of my kind share are more complex than a person with a single nationality.

Adding to the complexity of my childhood was the fact that my parents had different religions; my father is a Shiite Muslim while my mother is a Catholic. My response to such a fundamental (psychological) challenge has been forthright.

What has made me 100 percent Filipino and 100 percent Iranian is my consciousness of the history, culture and politico-economic context of my parents nations.

Instead of simply shelving aside questions of identity by claiming that I am a global citizen (as many bi-nationals tend to do), what I have tried to do was deepen my understanding of and ties to my Filipino and Persian backgrounds.

My family stayed in the Philippines until the horrifying earthquake in Baguio City ruined my parents fortunes and shattered our sense of security.

I was about four years old at the time. As a result, we moved to Iran, where I spent most of my formative years on the southern shores of the beautiful Caspian Sea.

My parents decided that I should move to the Philippines for my tertiary education. A strange and sometimes funny experience was that, back in Iran, I often used to be mistaken for an East Asian, but when I came to the Philippines people would think that I am Middle Eastern or Eurasian.

Even if the comments were simply on my physiognomy, it took years of reflection and internalizing to grapple with such contrasting views vis--vis my identity. I finally made up my mind; I began to see myself as a son of Asia".

I am proud of my heritage, because Asia is the most dynamic region of the 21st century and undoubtedly the future of humanity is going to be decided on this colossal continent.

My parents heritage: evolving in a diverse environment, converging around common principles The beauty of being a bi-national is that you evolve to become more tolerant and open-minded about human diversity.

But more importantly, your horizons tend to be broader than others. Blessed with very supportive parents, I was able to enhance my sense of discipline, which helped me throughout my life in every country, community and environment I visited.

My formative years in Iran left a strong impression on me, which I took with me when I attended college at UP Diliman. As difficult as it was to adjust to a new environment, I was able to gradually adopt new values and points of view that shaped my world view.

Psycho-emotionally, I am rooted in my formative years in Iran, but intellectually I am a mixture of what I learned during my basic education, as well as my liberal (American-style) tertiary education at UP.

Such an intellectual background has deeply influenced my views of Filipino and Iranian national dilemmas and politics. One thing I realized as I shuttled between the Philippines and Iran was that the two have so much in common.

Historically, in the first half of the 20th century, both Iran and the Philippines were the beacons of democracy and prosperity in their respective regions.

Unfortunately, in the latter half of the 20th Century, both countries fell into the traps of dictatorship, until the Iranian revolution (1979) and EDSA People Power (1986) restored the National Spirit and General Will. The 80s were very special for my parents as they saw their countries join the forces of history.

A child of the 90s, I first encountered politics in the 21st century. Although inactive in campus politics, I always came across people who talked about the struggles of student activists, intellectuals and statesmen against the authoritarian and corrupt practices of the current administration.

Back in Iran, some people had similar sentiments and that is why the June elections became so competitive. In my opinion, the reason behind the intense nature of the previous presidential elections was mainly because a section of Iranian society the young urban middle class - perceived the election as a means for change and greater deepening of certain liberal democratic principles while another huge section of the society supported the incumbents populist and more assertive foreign policies vis--vis the US.

For many supporters of Mousavi and the opposition as a whole, it was time to emphasize the Republican" aspects of the state while Ahmadinejads supporters somehow espoused the more Islamic" aspects of the Iranian state.

Perceptions of fraud fueled the post-election protests and there is no way to absolutely verify what happened back in Iran, but most likely the conservatives won the first round.

Looking at the Philippines, we had a similar controversy over the 2004 elections, where the Hello Garci" scandal seriously compromised the credibility of the electoral outcome.

For better or worse, the Philippines is also grappling with its own political battles now and the action is just beginning to heat up.

Back in Iran, millions voted for change as they sought an alternative to President Ahmadinejads four years of leadership.

In the Philippines, the majority are excited to see President Arroyo out of power and finally welcome a new conscientious president who could restore the nations dignity. Whether in Tehran or Manila, I continued to experience this general sense of political excitement; political maturity is emerging in both countries and people are beginning to demand more accountability from their elected leaders.

Public expectations are on the rise and underneath lies discontent over a whole spectrum of issues; political change - whatever it might mean for each person has been the hope of many I encountered, both in Tehran and in Manila.

In Iran, I saw a more economically equitable and developed society, but complaints over staggering inflation and unemployment coupled with a craving for more liberal reform fueled the spirit of the opposition.

Here in the Philippines, immense poverty, wide economic disparity and growing democratic reversal will most likely continue to serve as rallying points for a growing opposition to the incumbent and her allies as well as to the status quo.

The biggest question for me is that, if the elections are stolen or perceived as such - through mass cheating, irregularities and fraud, will the nation experience what occurred in Iran? Or will people simply deal with it the same way they did back in 2004?

That remains to be seen.

Being both Filipino and Iranian has given me a unique vantage point from two distant points on the globe to assess the value of elections to a peoples aspirations.

But in Iran, I was constantly worried that they would think I was a foreigner or an agent of the foreign powers."

In 2009, came "the moment" for my generation. I decided to leave the comfortable shores of Manila Bay to visit my Fatherland, Iran.

May 30th, 2009

The weather was still cool and we were approaching the end of the spring season. Flowers fully blossomed and their scent filled the streets of Tehran.

President Obamas election was still the talk of the town as people cautiously celebrated the end of the Bush era. We were all sick and tired of the war on terrorism" and wholeheartedly welcomed Obamas more sober tone.

Just a few months before, President Obama in an unprecedented manner greeted the Iranian nation during the Nowrouz Eve (Irans new year). I was away from Iran for half a decade and was somehow recovering from the trauma caused by Bushs years of constant threat of invasion of Iran.

I wished for nothing but the security of my fatherland and its citizens; I lamented, with all my heart, the siege mentality that Bushs rhetoric of war created for millions of ordinary Iranians.

A few days before my return to Manila, my Iranian friends and I drove across the northern districts of Tehran (uptown); the June elections were swiftly approaching and it was Persians turn to elect their next president.

The whole world was waiting for us to respond to Obamas call for reconciliation, cooperation and, perhaps, eventual rapprochement. In every intersection, we saw young women and men handing out leaflets, campaign slogans and also silky green materials (headbands, armbands and wristbands).

Never did I see Iran as politically energized and excited over a presidential election," said an older friend of mine who used to shun politics as a hopeless game for attaining power. A few hours before, I was in Tehran University (hotbed of student activism) and met some professors from the university. Outside the University, on Enghelab (revolution) St., the story was even more intense; hundreds of people wearing the colors designated for their candidates (i.e. Green for Mousavi) walked around and distributed election materials.

Some of them started screaming slogans and agitating the opposite side. Scenes of fights between partisans became common as Election Day approached. After the elections, the scene became immensely violent and confrontations led to the deaths and injuries of many individuals.

You could not avoid observing the heat of the moment; the political environment was extremely energized with signs of growing polarization.

There were four candidates standing for elections and their supporters were spread across the vast city of Tehran (biggest city in the Middle East), as well as the world (courting absentee votes). As I sniffed the scent of the spring flowers in the cool breeze of Tehrans north, I looked forward to an exciting election that could send waves across the world (as the Iranian revolution did in 1979). Change" was in the air.

Filled with overflowing optimism and sense of pride, I headed back to Manila. I had no qualms about being an absentee voter, since I could watch every second of Election Day on the net and satellite; the worlds biggest media outlets poured into Iran while Twitter, Facebook and other Internet sites provided the most recent updates on the Iranian elections. I had no problems maintaining connections with the events back in my fatherland.

Returning to Iran: The state re-consolidating its base as millions came out to show support for the regime Feb 11, 2010 After visiting Egypt for about 2 weeks on anther mission, I headed towards Iran to visit family and also catch up on the events back in my fatherland. Determined to know the truth for myself, I stopped relying on western media for info and analyses on the post-election protests and the whole political impasse that raised questions in our troubled hearts and worried minds. When I arrived, the country was in a state of calm and business moved ahead as usual (although the macroeconomic situation was shaky). The Ashura day protests occurred while I was in Egypt (late December) and when I visited Iran, the situation did not seem as unstable as foreign media indicated; yet, the political atmosphere was as tense as I anticipated. I was still reflecting on the state of affairs of the country and thought about the changes that transpired after I left the country, just before the elections, in early June 2009. It was the 31st anniversary of the revolution; millions came out in support of the regime.

There were minimal anti-government protests, but those that chose to come out and join the protests had to face the overpowering force of the state.

Millions came out to celebrate the anniversary of the Iranian Revolution It was judgment day," as many wanted to put it.

The world wanted to see if Iran was still a unified nation in the face of growing international pressure over Irans nuclear program and internal pressure over the post-election events. Early morning, together with friends, we drove around the city again and witnessed an impeccable security apparatus.

At every intersection, and strategic point, now as compared to before (June), we saw security, intelligence and Revolutionary Guard forces.

The whole city was under tight control; the government was determined to ensure that the day was solely about the anniversary of the revolution and no opposition protesters; anarchists, hooligans and foreign-backed terrorists would compromise the sanctity of such a huge and central event. Despite receiving stern warnings from friends and family to stay at home for they feared I would be mistaken for an opposition supporter or foreigner, due to my looks and appearance I decided to go out and visit the Enghelab (Revolution) street.

Erring on the side of caution, I went out at a later time, but could see waves of people returning from the rally as they headed home. It was an ocean of humanity; my senses were overwhelmed. At the same time, I constantly looked around to ensure that I did not invite unnecessary suspicion. The heavy security atmosphere intimidated me, but I pushed along and walked through the street and waves of people and security forces. It was a strange, yet exhilarating experience.

I was constantly worried that they would think I was a foreigner or an agent of the foreign powers." I had a camera with me and that began to worry me. You would rarely see so many people and security forces along a single street. As I moved forward, thoughts and emotions began to intensify inside me. My heartbeat increased, but my mind was determined to move forward; I wanted to fully enjoy the privileged vantage point of witnessing such a spectacle.

Beyond the issues of elections and domestic politics, I saw a nation unifying under growing pressure from the outside world. Russia, Irans traditional ally, joined the United States, Australia and Europe to push for more crippling sanctions against Iran. As a result, Iran was more isolated than ever. I saw a classic case of Der Primat Der Aussenpolitik, the primacy of foreign policy. A huge section of the society, if not most of it, was now united behind the states foreign policy; at least, that was the feeling it evoked in me and was impressed upon the world audience.

For almost a century, Iran has been at the center of imperial maneuvering, mainly because it holds the second largest reserves of oil and gas on earth. Any event in Iran will have a direct bearing on global energy prices, including those in he Philippines.

I remembered the days back in Manila when I would watch the U.S. on the news persistently threatening war against Iran.

In Tehran, I saw a state which substantially reconsolidated its base and prepared to project itself as the embodiment of the Rousseauian General Will. Suddenly, my sense of nationalism was more acute than ever; I saw Irans national spirit in action. I closed my eyes and felt I was part of history. A few days later, I headed back to Manila and wondered what was going to happen in the 2010 presidential elections. Will people be as excited and political?

Being 100 percent Filipino and 100 percent Iranian has been a blessing coupled with a profound responsibility, to know as much as I can about both nationalities.

That goal has led me to the political ferment in both Tehran and Manila, giving me a unique vantage point from two distant points on the globe to assess the value of elections to a peoples aspirations. I am an observer with a stake in two nations so different yet also so very much alike.

The author works as a congressional aide to Rep. Walden Bello and writes articles on Middle Eastern affairs. He is a Political Science graduate of the University of the Philippines in Diliman.

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