Eleven months ago, I drove by the historic Iranian Parliament in Tehran on a trip to see my family. Three days ago, the building came under fire. Shooters from the Islamic State group massacred 17 civilians and wounded an additional 43 people in two simultaneous attacks. Fortunately, officials caught the attackers before they could carry out their third attack.
Perhaps you did not hear about the Tehran attack, although I am sure you heard about the attacks on Paris and Brussels when they took place. It is funny that all your friends changed their profile pictures to show solidarity with the French. It is a shame that the Middle East does not get that same publicity.
As an Iranian-American with a strong handful of Persian friends, I did see some profile pictures change among my fellow Persians, as well as some news shares among Berkeley peers. The hashtags #FuckTerrorism and #PrayforTehran circulated, following the pattern set up by #PrayforParis. The “#Prayfor___” hashtags always circulate with various city names when establishments people care for are attacked. Your average Eurocentric American? Of course they prayed for Paris. They love Paris. (What a beautiful and cultured city!) My fellow Persians? Of course they prayed for Tehran. (The Persians have been there, and unlike the typical American, they know that Tehran, too, is beautiful and cultured.)
But where are the prayers for the cities that ISIL attacked before and will continue to attack after Paris and Tehran? Why is it that my Facebook friends do not implement filters on their photos and circulate hashtags for Karbala, Baghdad, Tikrit, Tuz and Kirkuk? Where are their prayers for the impoverished young people who are coerced into joining ISIL under the threat of violence and in the absence of education, jobs and political stability? Where are the prayers to end the conditions that create terrorism? Where are the prayers for the entire nations plagued by terrorism?
There are no prayers for Iraq because when the Islamic State is not attacking Iraqi cities, the United States is occupying the region. There are no prayers for Karbala because the West’s image of the city is not of a historic cultural epicenter with breathtaking architecture, but of a barren desert wasteland. While we see beloved Parisians in romantic films and fine dining magazines, we only see Iraqis on the news and in Hollywood films where they are portrayed as villains.
The circulated hashtags, filters and prayers reflect whose lives our society values and whose lives we do not care for. Though well-intentioned, these posts reflect racial hierarchy and nationalist sentiment in a globalized society. #PrayforTehran undermines the struggle occupied territories have been going through for months in some cases, years, and even decades in others. It completely ignores the need for remediation and reduces terrorism to a binary “good guy” versus “bad guy” situation without acknowledging its roots. Ultimately, the #PrayforTehran hashtag is shaped by Western bias, just as the attack on Tehran is shaped by global inequality and political violence. Your hashtag is not going to heal the wounds of occupations, assassinations and back door arms deals. I will not #PrayforTehran.
Instead, I will pray for a society that mourns hundreds of deaths in a city they have never heard of more than handfuls of deaths in a city they like. I will pray for the safety of my father who pulls down the blinds when it is time for salat in fear of hate crimes. I will pray for my classmate who generalizes Iranians as terrorists when Iranians are victims. I will pray for my professor who lives in fear thinking that Iranians want to nuke the United States. I will pray that my white friends’ families who welcome me into their homes on Christmas will stop wishing war on my relatives in hijab and Sikhs in turbans. I will pray for my Brown and Black sisters and brothers every time they are stopped or followed by authorities and racially profiled. I will pray that those who pray do not leave the burden of change on their religious saviors, but feel empowered to take on challenges themselves. And I pray that one day we will value and mourn the lives of Brown and Black victims with the magnitude with which the world prayed for Paris.
Heliya Izadpanah is a rising third-year studying society and environment with a concentration in justice and sustainability. She can be reached at [email protected]