I was sitting with a man on Saturday. We wandered onto the topic of Trump, immigration and foreign policy. I decided that I wanted to play the role of listener rather than speaker. This is what I learned.
“I grew up in Iran. And I was Jewish. I’m not really Jewish now, I’m not really religious, but my family was Jewish. So I’ve seen what it’s like there. I think what liberals and conservatives don’t understand is… you live in this bubble. You assume everyone around the world wants the same thing you do. You think they all look at the U.S. and want that. Liberals think, “Oh, if we are just nicer to them…” But it’s not like that. They don’t want it.”
“The conservatives here think that too,” I interjected. “The whole ‘they will greet us as liberators’ thing, right?”
“Right!” he agreed. “That was Cheney. And Bush, too, had the same idea. Look… when I was growing up, it was one of the most peaceful, most liberal–by U.S. standards–most prosperous times in Iran. It was under the Shah, who was a complete secular reformer. Rights for women, nationalization of power and water. Price stabilization. Women wearing miniskirts! It was great. But he was pushed out. Why? The people didn’t want it. And that’s what you have to understand, when they look at the United States… and they see, Brittany Spears, or whoever. They aren’t jealous of our freedom. They don’t want it. They think it’s awful.”
“I think Trump is a social moderate,” he continues. “I know he’s had some bad rhetoric in his campaign. But the thing you also have to remember is… not everyone who wants closed borders is a racist. This is so important, and I think both liberals and conservatives here have been blind to it for decades. Of course there are good Muslims here. Most of my friends are Muslim, just because of where I was born and where I am from. But over there, in the Middle East, it’s not like that. Sure, in the big cities you will find some people who, they are very culturally “urbanized” or whatever. But go outside those cities, and there are no moderate Muslims in Iran. It just doesn’t exist. These are people who look at the United States and they think it’s evil. This idea that we can just reach out to them and play nice and suddenly they will want Western civilization… it’s a fantasy. It’s a total fantasy.”
At one point in the story, I don’t remember where, he interjected this: “When I grew up I was at a Jewish school in Iran, but we had some Muslim students because we were inclusive. It was a good school, so some of the Muslims sent their kids there. But when it was raining out, the kids wouldn’t play with us. Because we were “dirty”, like dogs.”
“In Europe, all of these things are happening with these ‘refugees’ because the refugees don’t want to be there,” he continued. “They don’t like France. They don’t like the people, or the culture. They hate them. They are there looking to get an advantage. When I came to the United States, after I passed my citizenship test, I cried, because it was such an honor. And I would fight and die for this country. These refugees…. they would not. They don’t like it.”
“So, what’s the solution then?” I asked, “I mean, long-term…. what kind of world should we end up in?”
“Our interactions with the Middle East…. I mean, if it weren’t for oil….”
“OK, yeah, obviously,” I interrupted, not wanting to go down that side-line conversation, “But we’re getting more oil here at home, and we’re moving to renewable energy. So… imagine oil is out of the picture. What should we do?”
“We should treat the Middle East like any other region that has horrible stuff going on, but that we don’t care about,” he replied.
“Like North Korea?” I offered.
“Or the entire continent of Africa!” he replied. “I mean, we do some stuff, but we just don’t get that involved with them… not until it’s about to directly impact us. Every Middle Eastern policy we’ve been involved with since 1980 has been a disaster, in my view. It’s just based on a basic misguided philosophy. You all … and I don’t mean you, Greg, I mean just Americans and American politicians… you all think you can force them to have freedom and they’ll love it. Or you can just be nice to them and they’ll accept it. Nothing could be farther from the truth.”
After a short reflective pause, he finished: “Change may happen slowly over there. Very slowly. But it will have to come from them. There’s nothing we can give them to make it happen. Right now, they see what goes on in the United States, the culture and the ‘freedom’ and all of it, and they just aren’t interested.”