As Thanksgiving rolled around this year, I thought back to my years at the state university I was attending. It was international week, so, during a break in my classes, I made my way over to the Student Union building.
It was only a few years after Iran had taken over our embassy, taking those who worked there as hostages. The memory of that injustice against our people in the embassy, by those of the Iranian government who had committed to protect them, but instead allowed and promoted the attack, still burned in me.
Thus it was with great surprise I walked in to find a table by Iranian students. What bothered me was not their literature that promoted an understanding of their culture, but the fact that they had propaganda against the United States.
When I questioned them about it, one young man glared at me. “Well, it is obvious that your country is a miserable excuse for humanity. We need to show you the right way.”
I could feel my blood starting to boil, but I kept my anger controlled as I questioned him further. “If you think our country is so inferior to your own, what are you doing here going to school?”
He shook his head and rolled his eyes. “Because the universities here provide much better education.”
“Because we have more important things to spend money for in my country.”
“Like making sure people learn and obey the Islamic law.”
“You mean, making women second class citizens and treating them like property?”
He glared at me as he answered. “I can see that you are an ignorant, stupid American and don’t know anything at all. We treat women how they are meant to be treated.”
“Right,” I said sarcastically. Seeing we weren’t going to get anywhere on that discussion, I decided to change the subject.
“So what are you going to do back in your country with the education you get here?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, once you get your education, what do you plan to do with it back in Iran? Do you plan to help increase the education levels there to make universities more like here? You did say our education was better?”
“Who said I was going back?”
I was shocked. “What do you plan to do then?”
“I am trying to get citizenship here so I can raise my family in the U.S.”
“Because we have more freedom here.”
The hypocrisy of what he was saying, compared to his actions, didn’t seem to bother him, but it bothered me a lot. “You are saying you want to stay here in our country, and yet here you are bad mouthing it. You are claiming your country is so much better. Why don’t you just go back to your country and set up a table like this and try to get your government to allow more freedom?”
He again rolled his eyes. “You are such a dumb American. In my country, a person would be killed if he said such things.”
I could feel my frustration rising and I spoke my exasperation. “And yet you say your country is better?!”
I don’t know if the contradictions of his words versus his actions finally settled on him or what it was, but he simply said, “You are just too stupid and I don’t want to talk to you anymore.”
As I walked away, shaking my head, I felt a gratitude for this country. I know our country isn’t perfect, but perhaps the most important indication of how great a country truly is can be seen in its allowance of dissent. For only when a country allows differences of opinion are its people truly free.
Thank you, America, for allowing us to truly be free.
(Daris Howard, award-winning, syndicated columnist, playwright, and author, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit his website at http://www.darishoward.com)