07 February 2005

Free to Protest, and Nobody Cares

In 1997, Robert Kaplan found the boundary that divides Cascadia into two nations to be a fading anachronism.
YET WHEN I went to dinner at the Portland home of an Iranian immigrant, Jim (Jamsheed) Ameri, it was as if Sousa's patriotic march music had jumped in volume, as if mid century Industrial Age America had never receded. Jim is a real estate developer and lives with his wife, Goli, in Tigard, on the southwestern fringe of Portland, in an opulent home at the head of the Willamette Valley. From their impeccable lawn, punctuated with majestic Douglas firs in a fine, pellucid mist, the valley, its homes and its gardens, unfurled. This was the bountiful Pacific Northwest as seen by the first pioneers, now savored by this latest migration of Oregon settlers. Jim and Goli had invited a number of their Iranian friends to dinner to discuss their experiences as very successful immigrants in America.

Sipping drinks on the porch in the sunset, Farsheed Shomloo, an immigration lawyer, pointed to a book on the patio table and told Jim, "You should read this new book about Iran, it's really interesting." Jim replied:

"I don't want to read it. I know the outcome already. In Iran, there is beautiful poetry and everything turns out a disaster. Here the poetry is not so beautiful, but people are free to discover the best in themselves; that's why America has happy endings. Here it's a negative system: there is no entrenched depotism, no will to dominate. We immigrants can remake the whole country if we want to. It's ours for the taking, as if there is a perpetual clean slate where nobody is ever owed anything. I'll tell you, the Iranian revolution was a disaster for Iran and a success for America, because it brought a lot of talented, ambitious Iranians here. Every time there is a disaster in the Third World, it's a good thing for America, since the best of the middle class finds its way here."

Farsheed agreed. "What is this country that sucks you up and draws out the best in you, and allows you for the first time to be yourself?" he asked passionately. "Periodically I reread the Constitution. I am amazed. What is this incredible system built by pessimists, yet built so as to unleash the human spirit? You know why I chose to live in Oregon? I looked in a book and saw that there was no sales tax here. In Iran I was oppressed by taxes and everything else. At the University of Oregon in Eugene I used to participate in protests against the shah [in the 1970s]. Then I realized that nobody in Oregon gave a damn about the shah or about me protesting. I was free to criticize U.S. government policy, and nobody cared! You cannot imagine what a revelation that was for somebody from Iran. That's when I stopped focusing on Iran and truly became an American."
SOURCE: An Empire Wilderness: Travels into America's Future, by Robert D. Kaplan (Vintage, 1998), pp. 336-337

But look at it from the point of view of someone whose principal involvement in politics is to participate in protest demonstrations and political fund-raising. How discouraging is it to stage more demonstrations and raise more money and still lose elections? Free to protest, and nobody cares!

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