Cultural Crossover on a Sword's Edge

Brian Hicks

Updated February 28, 2007

In the critically acclaimed film "Letters from Iwo Jima," the central character is an embattled Japanese general with an intimate understanding of the Americans he is about to fight. But having traveled throughout the United States, Tadamichi Kuribayashi’s sense of cultural amity doesn’t prevent him from doing his military duty.

When it comes to warfare, intense familiarity with one’s opponent is essential not only to peace but to victory as well. The Islamic Republic of Iran’s position at loggerheads with the United States and Israel is a modern example of the tenuous nature of intercultural ties when war is looming.

Shaul Mofaz, Israel’s defense minister from 2002-2006, was born in the Iranian capital Tehran. The Jewish state’s president, Moshe Katzav, is also an Iranian immigrant. Dan Halutz, Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces during the 2006 war with Hizbullah, is the son of an Iranian father and Iraqi mother. They all speak the Persian language, Farsi.

Despite their linguistic affinity to Persian culture, these men are included in Iranian Ahmedinejad’s calls to wipe their adopted home off the map, at least politically. And since they are the top brass of the "Zionist entity," they are considered ultimately treacherous.

Then there is the Great Satan, the United States, home to hundreds of thousands of self-identifying Iranian-Americans (338,000 according to the 2000 census, nearly 700,000 according to a 2004 estimate by Iranian PhD candidates at MIT).

"Tehrangeles" is the way many refer to L.A.’s sizable Iranian-American community. Farsi signs grace storefronts and shops even in affluent areas like Beverly Hills, not just in the working-class enclaves that have been an uneasy home to many waves of immigrants to the States.

The affluence of Southern California’s Iranian exiles bears out the MIT group’s research. The Iranian Studies Group found that 26.2% of Iranian-Americans hold a master’s degree or higher, ranking number one among all US ethnic groups. The community’s median income is also 20% higher than the national average at some $42,000 per year.

Per capita GDP for Americans is around $42,000 as well, compared to around $8,000 in Iran.

Whatever their reasons for leaving, would most Iranian-born U.S. citizens return to that life? Knowing that they would be in the upper crust of society probably helps the case for repatriation, but Iran, Cuba and other countries whose huddled masses have flocked Stateside over the years would have to wage one heck of an incentive campaign in order to encourage a reverse migration.

As Ahmedinejad extols his country’s nuclear program as a train "without brakes and a reverse gear," and the US Navy beefs up its presence in the Straits of Hormuz, Iranian-Americans are closer than ever to a lamentable decision: where is home?

In World War II, Japanese-American "nisei" (second generation) soldiers bravely fought for their adopted patria, even while their families were interned in the middle of the desert because of D.C.’s misguided sense of security.

Fortunately, the mosques and markets of Dearborn, Michigan’s Arab-American community are bustling, and Tehrangeles’s prosperous Persians are not in danger of being rounded up.

While soldiers prepare and diplomats negotiate, there are plenty of people in between who just want to get by. They call home wherever they can create a better life for themselves and their children. They are the buffer between the hotlines of the embassies and the last ditches of defense.

And they should be any leader’s top priority.



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