Reflecting on America in 2015 with a tapestry from Iran
In 2015 we witnessed too many acts of violence & terror the world over, names of countries & cities associated with life & joy, Tunisia, Cairo, Paris, Istanbul, Yemen, Lebanon, again Paris, San Bernardino. We have seen the Syrian refugees, victims of their own regime & of terror, being once more victims of so much indifference & fear around the world & in this country, where many, especially some among the political elite negate the words promised by the Statue of Liberty replacing them with a most vulgar & cruel rhetoric against refugees, illegal immigrant, Muslims, & minorities. As an Iranian American under the new visa waiver law approved by both the administration & houses of congress, my family & I like other Iranian Americans also feel more vulnerable in the generous country we made our home, escaping persecution by the regime in our beloved country of birth. This arrogance is only possible because of the ignorance that feeds it. Although Donald Trump has the privilege to represent the current reign of ignorance, the rest of us, especially among the political elite are not free from responsibility.
We need to take action against the dominance of fear, terror & ignorance by refusing to enter that domain, refusing to act out of the same sense of brutality & entitlement. This is where the curiosity, empathy that imagination and ideas evoke is essential to our survival. I remember Henry James, advising a friend who had lost her husband in the terror of First World War, that she should “repine & rebel” against this horror & “Feel,feel, I say–feel for all you’re worth, and even if it half kills you, for that is the only way to live at this terrible pressure, and the only way to honour & celebrate these admirable beings who are our pride & inspiration.”
In order to begin this rebellion of feeling against the rule of ignorance & arrogance I want to share with you, at the start of the new year, the beautiful tapestry at the top of the post. It is a Persian carpet at the United Nation, gift of Iranian government, that is adorned by a poem by Saadi the great 12 century Persian poet. Today more than ever do we need to remember these words. Emerson admired Saadi to the point where he compared his poetic language to that of Bible and also wrote a poem called Saadi. This is how cultures from such different times & places reach out to one another, find a common language, celebrate their common humanity. This is also how we become intimate with strangers, this is how we share our common humanity.