They don’t want our culture, they don’t want our freedom

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.”

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  1. I remember when the Vietnamese boat people came to Canada. My family was pretty poor, we lived in university housing, but we helped sponsor a family. I gave my (only) teddy bear to the little kids :)… And they were happy to be here, and grateful. Because where they came from, we saw pictures of political prisoners with numbers nailed to their chests. We heard the stories of torture and death. These “refugee” Muslims are not fleeing anything – they are opportunists who destroy and don’t respect our laws or culture or traditions. I watched a video of the German Christmas parades, carefully guarded by armed militia because the Muslims have to wreck everything that’s not Allah… Those Muslims are not refugees, and they should not be welcomed.

  2. B. J. Murphy says:

    I actually agree with him. As much as I loved President Obama, and was rooting on Hillary Clinton during the general election, I knew that both’s foreign policies were akin to former President Bush’s. This absurd idea that we can liberate a country and then just play nice with them is an absurd and historically erroneous position (most of the time).

    I say most of the time because, ironically, the man mentions how great Iran was socio-economically under the Shah, but then neglects to mention exactly how the Shah were re-installed into power to begin with – U.S. intervention.

    Iran was a secular democracy under Mohammad Mosaddegh. And remained secular even after his overthrowing with the help of the CIA. But let’s not ignore where its secularism originated from. It would be like arguing that Afghanistan was _only_ a secular “democracy” under the PDPA, despite the fact that it was originally a secular democracy before the PDPA violently overthrew Mohammed Daoud Khan.

    But I digress. I believe we could learn a lot from what Germany is currently going through. Germany tried doing the right thing by bringing in a lot of refugees (something even I supported at the time). But then it became clear that a lot of them weren’t prepared to assimilate under German culture and society. As a result, this made Angela Merkel look bad and thus caused a huge division among the German people.

    Today, the far-right in Germany are closer than ever before to coming back to power – of which was predicated on the Chancellor’s good intentions. It’s time that the left recognized its failures, admit that their previous beliefs in this regard were wrong, and proceed on correcting them.

  3. Tom Crean says:

    I like how this guy thinks. I’m against nation-building in the Middle East for his very reasons.

  4. mirella says:

    It’s also a generational matter. True, democracy means many things to many people.

    I live in Beirut, in a sort of cross-communities position – that is to show that it’s neither a religious nor a cultural issue (Lebanese are very cross-cultural. I teach at academic level. While the old generation democracy equals to chaos and all that this brings – and we don’t run short on examples around here, the young ones are hungry for it. Only, democracy has come to mean the wall behind which corruption and inept politicians are hiding.

  5. Osama says:

    I really do not think there is a better choice when it comes to the Middle East:
    Iraq where the US interfered with full force to change the regime.
    Libya where the US provided limited air support.
    Syria where the US did not get involved.
    All three of them are now failed states that became terrorism sources to the world. The Middle East is now going through this chaotic era that will not end until the people decide have enough of war and decide its time to live in peace. Kind of like Europe after WWII

  6. Jules says:

    Super interesting to read

  7. Jeffery Anderson-Burgos says:

    This story reminds me of a couple things. I organized a TEDx event at my community college a couple years ago. One of my speakers had a couple different ideas for her planned talked. One of the topics – one she didn’t choose to go with – centered on the concept of the platinum rule. We all know the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The platinum rule goes like this: do unto others as they would have you do unto them. The premise is to stop thinking what you would want is also what they would want. You’re right in that we tend to do this on micro and macro levels, including in international affairs.
    My other thought comes from a class I took in the fall 0f 2015. The first month of the course included 20 students from the ASEAN nations. Through some enlightening conversations with one student from Myanmar, a very new democracy, I developed a new perspective on democracy. Among other roles, democracy is a tool. We in the U.S. have grown up with this tool. We are comfortable with it, are familiar with free speech and how to express ourselves without fear (relatively). Our arrogance has led us into attempting to introduce democracy into other countries, expecting them to be able to utilize this new tool as if on instinct. The gentleman is right. As much as we may provide a certain level of exposure to our way of life, they have to really want it and be willing to fight for it to successfully integrate such profound societal changes…and it will take time.