I have three identities: I’m Iranian, I’m American, and I’m Israeli. Historically, what that has meant is that there are very few places in the world that I’ve found where all my identities have been welcome. Actually, through my extensive travels, including Afghanistan, North Korea, South Sudan and many other countries, the only place where all my sides were liked was Kurdistan, Northern Iraq. The Iraqi Kurds love the U.S. for granting them protection and semi-autonomy from Saddam; love Iran, because many who fled Saddam’s attempted genocide were welcomed into Iran and allowed to take refuge there; and quietly, they love Israel (maybe admire is a better word) because Israel secured a homeland that is now powerful and irrefutable.
[Yebri: Stop this deal, get a better one]
While the rest of the world has had a hard time coming to terms with my multiple identities, for most of my life, I’ve lived in a place of blissful internal peace. Iran is my country of birth, culture, language and food — my tribal identity, you might say; the U.S. is my home and the country of my children’s future, my intellectual core and humanistic belief system, my individualistic identity; and Israel is my spiritual home, my link to my heritage, my people, my roots, my clan identity.
So there has been harmony in my life, until now. Today, I’m battling an internal war of identities, where all three of my selves are fighting one other and the P5+1 deal with Iran is the culprit.
When I sit with my Iranian-Jewish family, with a collective memory of 2,700 years, I hear talk of historic brutal anti-Semitism, being treated as second-class citizens, labeled unclean and confined to ghettos. After being granted some liberties and achieving some economic stability, my family, like so many Jews, was forced into exile at the hands of the mullahs. So, as a reaction to the deal, I hear of mistrust of a regime exhibiting patterns of deceit and maniacal plans for regional domination. I nod my head and have sympathy for the anger spewed at President Barack Obama for having made this deal with the devil.
When I listen to my Israeli friends, I hear of fear and undeniable trepidation from a people whose existence has been threatened by masterful charlatans, and for whom the Islamic regime represents the core of all evil. Israelis agree on little else except their unanimous enmity toward a regime for which the annihilation of the State of Israel is part of its explicit rhetoric, one that cannot be underestimated for its capacity to cause devastation. My body shivers as I empathize.
When I sit with my American pro-Obama liberal academic colleagues, I hear of hopeful windows of opportunity that we cannot afford to miss, or an inspection regime that will safeguard transparency better that any nondeal status; a president who understands what is at stake for the region (a nuclear arms race); and a people who are fatigued and want to avoid another war at any cost. I close my eyes and take a leap of faith, thinking a not-perfect deal is better than no deal.
And when I listen to my Iranian-American friends from all religious backgrounds — Muslims, Zoroastrians, seculars — I hear them talk of the deal as a historic agreement ending an unfair policy of collective punishment, strengthening the hands of the moderates and bringing Iran back into the fold of the international community. I bite my lip and say maybe.
Despite my internal turmoil, one thing has become clear to me, and that is that no one can claim that the deal will be a success or failure at this point. This deal is not the last step in this thorny and complex process. But we cannot become blinded by our own emotional positions, because in truth, we really don’t know what lies ahead. Instead, we need to manage our anxieties and recognize that our unrestrained emotions can distort our clear judgment. Whether this deal is historic or not, the deal is a change in the landscape, an unprecedented one with enormous repercussions. And we all know that the landscape can change over night. Neither fear mongering nor premature optimism can serve as the best instruments to navigate these uncharted and turbulent waters.
What we do need is vigilance, sober honesty, levelheaded pragmatism, responsibility and some dosage of empathy. It won’t be easy, but we must try. This way, we can be part of the solution, not the problem. And I, for one, am hoping that I can once again regain my internal harmony of identities.
Sharon Nazarian is president of the Y&S Nazarian Family Foundation.