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These were the questions opening our second round table talks of “Otaghe-Gerd” (The Circular Room). Here you can read the report of someone attending the session:
I have been raised in Germany, being in my mid-thirties, and joining the round table talks for the first time. Initially, I thought “there are just nine people showing up. Well, the summer has just started and your mind is kept busy with other things. Most of the other participants are older than me, more eloquent than me, and the topic as such is much too broad for me, and actually I don’t know much about it.” As if! I was listening and arguing, trying to find good arguments and putting up theses and, by that, not realizing how quickly those two hours of discussions passed by. To my own surprise, I suddenly became really excited about debating and asking questions. I had a lot of fun listening to other peoples’ opinions and exchanging my own thoughts with them – an exchange based on strict rules which you can only hold on to by having patience and discipline.
At the beginning we racked our brains in order to define what culture actually means. The key words:
Further questions arose from that discussion quickly: What kind of culture do we want to preserve and pass on when living abroad? Do we have a choice at all? And looking at it from the opposite side: Are we taken seriously by Iranians still living inside Iran? Do they actually want to learn something from us? And what does “learning” mean in that context?
One female participant said: “If you live and work in Germany, you cannot hold on to the Persian way of time handling. You would lose your job rather quickly. But on the other hand I want to preserve Iranian hospitality for my children and myself.” She was also quite convinced that Iranians in Germany do have something they can pass over to Iranians in Iran: “On the one hand, there is the culture of non-violence. On the other hand, there is the German environmental awareness, which is actually growing in Iran as well – among other things, also caused by the exchange with the Iranian Diaspora, that is made a lot easier through modern tools of communication. And yes, Iranians living in Iran do notice the Diaspora’s ‘culture of carved in stone’ and ‘culture carved in goat cheese’. There is a dominating view and impression that Iranians who emigrated to the West are successful and that they do make use of given opportunities.”
“But there are also a lot of Iranians still thinking in categories from back in the seventies, having carved their world view into stone – some people call them “Fossil Iranians”. They neither belong to the Iranian culture of today nor to the German culture. Why are they stuck in this no man’s land? What are the psychological consequences?” We shortly discussed gender- as well as parent-child relations. One stated opinion was: “There are Iranian families here who have adopted a lot of values of this society and are not just living by these but also passing them over. At the same time, they also teach their children about supposedly cultural values that are questioned within the Iranian society of today’s Iran. A society that has (among other things) experienced a sexual revolution which allows people to express sexual needs much more than it was possible during the seventies. Those parents simply ignore the right of self-determination of women, the right to independently choose their way of life, even though they would theoretically agree to all of these things.”
We noticed that there has never been a time of so much cultural intermingling as it is now. Just take the city of Cologne which is a perfect example for that.
We came up with three approaches to deal with this mixing of cultures: First we had to accept the fact that there is not just the one Iranian identity but many different identities. Second it was said to be important to be reasonable when it comes to the practice of culture – reason is supposed to be a global language, a global value that automatically rules out such ‘garbage’ as an obsolete perception of women. Third globalization also has its impact on Iran, where individual rights are being expressed more and more. Caused by the world wide web, a global medium, we are much more connected than during the eighties for example.
“The fact that women have the right of self-determination and the right to independently choose their way of life is simply ignored by these parents, even though they would theoretically agree to all of these things.” But how are we able to draw a benefit from globalization for us? Why does the Iranian Diaspora – in contrast to other minorities – not have any common structures, bodies or organizations? Why do they succeed as individuals but not as a group? And to which part of the society in Iran could they reach out to at all? Maybe to the middle class, but most certainly not to the traditionally religious class, is it?
One brought up the example of the solid structures of the sixties and seventies during the discussion: the Iranian students’ confederation. Another one replied that the solidarity within this confederation was only held together by a unifying utopia of one generation – and forty years later, there are no utopias left but more different generations. From the viewpoint of one participant, the ‘green movement’ in Iran has caused Iranians to rally and to get closer to each other and also to get to know each other better instead of getting more separated as they used to do before. Another stated opinion was that structures like the DIWAN could help to reach out between “us here and them over there”. One debater was convinced that the reason for the lack of common structures would lie in the self perception of all Iranians, caused by the Shiite tradition, being the “source of imitation” – a way of thinking that is in line with the ideology of classic Shiite clerics.
The words that stayed in my mind after the debate were: “Culture is what makes us to be human beings” and “the most important thing is a culture of hope, in a time in Iran that is characterized by cultural hopelessness”. The time passed so quickly that night but I keep thinking about the questions raised. I would very much appreciate discussing these things in future meetings!
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