My pledge to America

This afternoon I will raise my right hand, recite an oath to protect the constitution, and become an American citizen. This moment, I have been anticipating for the last decade of my life.

As a citizen of the Islamic Republic of Iran, my passport is my identity. It materializes the walls and borders, invisible to the citizens of the free world, that separate me and millions like me from most parts of this planet. My passport compels me to be fearful of publicly speaking my mind about the rulers of my home country, who can harm my loved ones, even though I live halfway across the globe. My passport reminds me of the collective pain of millions of my brothers and sisters, who have paid the price for freedom with their blood and sometimes lives but never experienced it.

I am a lucky immigrant. I had a happier childhood than most of the Iranian children of my generation. It was even happy at times. Besides the occasional airstrike siren, warning of Saddam’s incoming bombs, my experiences were happy. The war was terrible, but my family did not lose everything. We were not displaced permanently. We did not go to prison for our political viewpoints. We just slowly sank with the rest of the middle class. I was lucky, I came to this country with more than just clothes on my back.

Many others did go to prison. Many others lost everything. Many others came here sick and tired and poor.

I remember I was still a teenager when I realized there were other countries that had freedom. Prior to that my views were shaped by indoctrinations of our fascist religious government. At the school in my home town, the “holy” city of Qom, symbols of American culture were considered an Imperialist ploy against our proud culture. It was forbidden to wear blue jeans at school — they represented your cultural war against Islam.

When I was six, my Iranian public school taught me that Allah created the world in seven days. It taught me to idolize Hossein, our 13 year-old war hero who strapped grenades to himself and jumped under the Iraqi tank to sacrifice himself for his country. Many of my school friends grew up to reach the political ranks of Shi’ism. Many grew up to believe we, the Iranian Shias, representing Allah, were in an ideological war with the west. A few are even eager to give their lives for that cause in martyrdom seeking operations, aka suicide bombing.

I was lucky not to turn out like that! Luck is the only explanation I have found.

I was lucky that we had a bookshelf at home. I was lucky that my parents were educated and bought us books. I was lucky to learn English early on in my life. I was lucky that Voice of America was on the radio and opened our eyes. I was lucky to have a window to the outside world.

I am not alone. Many other Iranians of my generation share this experience. Every year, tens of thousands of them, young and educated, make the same journey across the ocean to come to this land in search of opportunity and freedom. Not this year though. This year Mr. Trump’s travel ban will cause the vast majority of them to go to Canada and Australia. United States loses a high quality, and virtually free, supply of highly skilled workforce. The economy will suffer.

I’ve been on this soil for eight years, and still am surprised and shocked by the extreme contrasts of the American way of life. It is astounding how seemingly polar opposites can live side by side and often within the same individual. I remember I could not comprehend it the first time I met a gay American who was deeply Christian. to me being American is this spirit of being free. The notion of American identity is not defined by a passport but by the individual’s freedom of expression. Americans speak their mind and live life the way they like, I think that is beautiful. This quality makes America unique, it also makes the image of America the worst nightmare of authoritarian rulers like the ones at my ancestral home. The audacity to dream is contagious and corrodes tyranny.

I am proud to call myself American, but I am also alarmed by what is happening in my new home. I love the sense of freedom I enjoy but around me I see canaries dying.

Above all I am worried for American children. I am frightened by voucher policies that aim to subsidise religious education. American children deserve to choose their own religious journey rather than having one shoved down their throats at the age of six.

I am worried about policies that restrict immigration and trade and isolate us as a country. I’ve seen how people in isolated communities build a cocoon of fear around themselves and become xenophobic.

I am concerned about the malignant movements that are trying to establish a national identity in America. Being American is about being free, and one cannot be free under a government that endorses a national identity. We are American because we can dream.

Those who have hijacked my home country and those who are trying to push this Agenda in the US are of the same breed. They both use religion as a tool to control the masses. They both want to cut us off from the rest of humanity. They both keep telling us that the other side is evil. They are equal enemies standing in the way of freedom. I we replace their Shi’ism with some other religion, and their turbans with neckties, they look very much like Bannon, Miller, Pence, Trump, and Sessions. I know these individuals are not full blown autocrats, but they are testing the water.

Let’s call autocrats for what they are, and not get distracted by their embellishments. Their assault on our republic is deep rooted. They’ve been weakening the roots of our democracy for a very long time. They have turned our elections into a multi-billion dollar industry of untraceable funds that power a propoganda machine that poisons our minds. They have successfully replaced intellectual debate and civil society with cheap political ads that are engineered to provoke our darkest demons. They appeal to our fear of unknown to close our borders and make us less free. They appeal to our desire for safety to curb the rights of others to practice their religion. They have redrawn the congressional districts so that instead of voters choosing their politicians, politicians choose their voters. These people are waging a war against the spirit America. For every right they take away from us, we become a little less American.

I feel many feelings when I think of myself as an American, but above all I feel empowered. Empowered to dream. Empowered not to be defined by my passport. I feel empowered to fight for those who don’t enjoy the freedom I now enjoy. American children deserve not to be fed religion at school. Immigrant Americans deserve better not to have their dreams deported because they lack some documents. Americans deserve the American dream, not low-paying factory jobs.

I know I am not alone. Thousands like me become American citizens every single day. We all lock our arms with yours, you who are reading this, no matter where you are, we will march side by side. We will vote. We will fight. We will run for office. We will give our lives if we have to. This is the land of the free and home of the brave! We will work hard to keep it that way.