Multiple events held our attention over this past week: tensions between the United States and Iran were at an all time high; an executive order to assassinate a top Iranian official was carried out by the United States; and a Boeing jetliner headed for Ukraine crashed shortly after takeoff, just outside of Tehran, killing all 176 people on board.
The deaths included 63 Canadian citizens. From what I’ve read, it seems that they were all Iranians.
The news was gripping from the start, yet an ironic shift occurred in the timbre of the media coverage after the tragic crash – a shift from distance to closeness. The same Iranians who were just yesterday portrayed as primitive, bloodthirsty animals, protesting on the streets of Iran while yelling “death to America!” (an unfortunate translation, btw), were now fellow Canadian citizens requiring our immediate affection.
Did you notice this?
Tonight, while driving home from the gym, I happened to catch a heart-wrenching interview on the CBC with an individual who had lost several family members in the crash. SEVERAL family members.
This man was devastated. During the interview he broke into an audible weeping heard by hundreds of thousands of Canadians. We all wept with him as he described his pain, his loss, his disbelief, and his hopelessness. We listened while his heart shattered on the radio.
Besides feeling genuine sympathy for this man, his story and the many others pouring in about the 63 Iranian-Canadians who died on that flight should cause all of us to take a moment’s pause, and to evaluate our thoughts on immigration and diversity.
We (Iranians) are not demons from the east coming to steal or destroy the Canadian way of life. We are university students and faculty members; we are hygienists and engineers; we are doctors and entrepreneurs; we are artists and innovators. We are humans, like you, struggling to make sense of a life that is often punctuated by tragedy and uncertainty.
We share in a common yearning to aspire towards a better life. This is the reality for all immigrants, this is the reality for the Indigenous People. Yet in our debates on immigration and diversity, some continue to cling to the narrative that the demonic “other” poses some collective threat to the dominant social order.
It seems to me that this narrative of us versus them is merely a fiction, which is exposed when we become acquainted with the ordinary stories of individuals. Then we are compelled to see the demonic “other” through the lens of dignity, empathy, and fairness.
Please, listen to the stories and let yourself be overwhelmed by how familiar they are. Then ask yourself whether Canada (or the United States for that matter) should open its doors to immigrants. Ask yourself whether these immigrants have contributed anything of value to this country. Do these immigrants threaten or embody our cherished national values?
In 1983, my family fled from Iran and applied for refugee status in Canada. My parents were in their 20s, a newly married couple, and I was 8-months old. With little education and hardly any money my parents took a tremendous risk, but so did the Canadian government. We were certainly not the “cream of the crop,” and had little more to offer than a promise. A promise not to take Canada’s hospitality for granted and to contribute our share to an expanding Canadian identity.
63 Canadian-Iranians died in a fatal plane crash this past week. One way that we can honour their lives is by allowing their stories to enrich our national discourses on immigration and diversity.