Why the Personal Has Always Been Political: an Iranian-American reflects on the Trump executive order on refugees

Middle East
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Last thing I saw before I shut it all off were video clips showing swarms of people protesting at airports around the country chanting “Let them in!” and “No Ban! No fear! Refugees are welcome here!” Watching people waiting for their loved ones to emerge from Customs and Immigration was an all-too-familiar scene. I have waited there in the arrivals area, worrying about my deaf father making it out of immigration after a 24-hour journey; or my eighty-year-old mother, making that exhausting journey after open-heart surgery.

This morning, I watched again, weeping, as they wheeled out a detained Iranian woman in her 80s whose grandchildren had been waiting for her amongst the protestors, holding a sign that read “We want Grandma!” Reporters descended on them and asked her “What is your message to the American people?” She listened as her granddaughter translated, and responded “Doosteshoon daram!” “I love them.” That’s when I lost it and began to weep.

After the Trump inauguration, I got a post on my Facebook wall last week from a high school friend whom I haven’t seen since 1978, saying she was going to unfollow me because I was too political. Great, I thought, go ahead. Then I started thinking about it. It’s always been a joke in our family that watching the news is a contact sport for us and we yell at the TV like other people yell when they watch football. I told this person on Facebook that I wish I could just turn it off and have a politics-free day once-in-while like she does. I also said it was a sign of her privilege that she could go through life not worrying about politics because it didn’t intrude into her day-to-day life.

The author on her birthday in first grade, 1965 Iran

I was born in Iran in 1960 into a family where politics was ubiquitous and permeated every layer of life. My father was a political prisoner under the last Shah’s regime; he had been rounded up with many writers and intellectuals after the 1953 CIA coup, which brought blowback in 1979 with the Iranian Revolution. And my maternal grandmother was a child survivor of the Armenian Genocide in 1915, when she ended up a refugee in Iran. She lived out her life there, while her siblings scattered in the Soviet Union.

In a family with this kind of story, the news – or politics – was the air we breathed. As a child in the Sixties, I loved visiting my grandma in Tehran-Pars, a then far suburb which was almost bucolic compared to the bustling city and downtown. She had a beautiful Persian garden with a central shallow pool surrounded by many fragrant rose bushes that she had tended for years. We loved splashing around in the pool and just having fun doing things we were not allowed to do anywhere else. She loved us unconditionally and spoiled us, as grandmas should. But without fail, at the top of the hour, her radio sitting up on the verandah would blast the news alert tone and everything would stop. She would yell, “The News! The News!” And run up to her chair on the verandah and sit for the five-minute report, as if the whole world had changed in the last hour.

The author’s grandmother, Osanna, as a child in 1910. She escaped the Armenian Genocide in 1915 and was a refugee in Iran. Inset, Osanna with her first grandchild in 1958.

This habit was burned into my memory and persona and I have become my grandma now, checking online for news constantly. I check Twitter on my phone all day for the latest trending news, searching hashtags to find the most current coverage. Under Bush #41, I had watched the “First Gulf War” on TV, never wanting to miss anything that happened; I even brought our little Sony Watchman TV into the bathroom, so I could watch the war and bathe my baby and toddler at the same time. After 9/11, my kids learned to cope with my news junky habits, and excused me or ignored me for being news-obsessed. When my in-laws in Minnesota supported Bush #43 in his war on the wrong country in my part of the world, I felt they had turned their backs on me after knowing me for over twenty years. I sent a Tom Friedman article to the Minnesota in-laws, thinking he might convince them about the wrongness of this war. Instead, it widened the gulf between us with one of them blasting me for “taking pot shots at my president.” Never mind that I thought family ties should run deeper than his allegiance to the president. I was woefully wrong.

I had lost my family and over the next few years, life became overly complicated and uncomfortable for us, especially for my husband who didn’t really know how to deal with so much conflict in a conflict-averse Anglo family and was in a no-man’s land between me and them. Like many families with members who can now be sorted into Red and Blue voters, our family began to drift apart. We celebrated holidays more and more with friends and the meaning of family began to change.

Having no family at all on the East Coast, we understood at a visceral level what it meant to lose your family to ideology. Our Minnesota family was part of the America that was at war with President Obama. Our high-held hopes for the country to come together in the Obama era after an ill-advised, wrong-headed and very costly war never came to fruition. In fact, after eight years of the family basically retreating to their own corners, the Trump inauguration has given cause for the Red voters to flex their muscles and make their positions known, in case we had forgotten who they really are.

Last week, a sister-in-law posted on Facebook that she was compelled to say that Trump “will be known for one of the greatest presidents that ever served our country” and that she just knew that “God put him here” and “he will accomplish many great things for our country.” She is what our family calls a single-issue voter. Her issue is abortion. It didn’t take much for my kids to call this out as fundamentally at odds with our progressive-thinking family. Other Minnesota family members have become Christian Zionists who “go to prophecy conferences” where they have learned that “every time the U.S. does something to harm Israel, something bad happens to America.” They believe that until all the land of ancient Israel is under Jewish control, the Messiah cannot return. These are not easily-bridged divides.

Noushin Darya Framke came to the U.S. as a college student in 1978; her freshman year turned out to be the year of the Iranian Revolution. Noushin has been a U.S. citizen since 1986 and has worked on Palestinian human rights with IPMN, the Israel Palestine Mission Network of the in the Presbyterian Church (USA) since 2006. Here she is on a visit to Iran in 2013.

My now-grown daughters, each of whom attended a seven-sisters school, have become laser-focused outspoken feminist advocates for civil rights and human rights. This time around, I don’t feel as alone as the months and years following 9/11. Their understanding of the issues and rights at stake under the regressive Trump era has been a shot in the arm for me. I even got an apology for their indifference in the Bush years about what I went through “with Dad’s family.” Really, though, it was an apology I didn’t want or need because I want them to see their father’s family as family, and not as some ideologically extreme, far away relatives. They are after all, the only immediate family we have here.

Meantime, I will keep checking the news like my Mez-Mama and sound the alert to whoever will listen about what happens when we turn back refugees. I ran across a new Twitter account called St. Louis Manifest, tweeting as @Stl_Manifest. This account is tweeting names and pictures of refugees on the ship, the St. Louis. The passengers were “the victims of Naziism turned away at the doorstep of America in 1939,” the account says. Here is one of the hundreds of tweets they have sent out this month, each about a different passenger on the ship’s manifest. I am hoping someone in the White House will listen: “My name is Max Wolff. The US turned me away at the border in 1939. I was murdered in Auschwitz.”

About Noushin Framke

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17 Responses

  1. Marnie
    January 31, 2017, 12:59 am

    Thank you for sharing some of your history here. It’s something when we come to realize that ‘family’ doesn’t have to have blood as it’s bond. That bond isn’t very strong after all when it’s tested by the world we live in.

  2. Annie Robbins
    January 31, 2017, 12:26 pm

    thank you so much Noushin Framke. i’m a news junkie too, i know what you mean about family. congrats on passing your passion on to your daughters. and i love your photos.

  3. Stogumber
    January 31, 2017, 1:05 pm

    Has anyone observed how similar modern Cosmopolitanism is to early Zionism?
    Early Zionists felt like a Volk ohne Land, and their eyes fell on Palestine because “it has always been Jewish”.
    Modern Cosmopolitans feel like a Volk ohne Land, and their eyes fall on the U.S. because “they have always been Cosmopolitan”.
    Early Zionists believed that the Arab population would, in one way or other, blend into their state or melt away. That led to a lot of trouble.
    Modern Cosmopolitans believe that the distinct American nation in the U.S. will blend into their state or melt away. This will lead to a lot of trouble.
    If only Cosmopolitans were prepared to divide the country and claim only a part of it! A two-state solution might yet be possible in this case.

    • Mooser
      January 31, 2017, 6:23 pm

      “Modern Cosmopolitans believe that the distinct American nation in the U.S will blend into their state or melt away.”

      Stop right there “Sogummedup” and tell us what the ” the distinct American nation in the U.S” is. Who is in it?

      Well? What is the composition of the “distinct American nation in the US” Who’s in it?

      I assume you are talking about the Native Americans, right? Okay, you are right, they make all the rest of us “Modern Cosmopolitans” by comparison.

      “Early Zionists believed that the Arab population would, in one way or other, blend into their state or melt away”

      But let me get this straight, you are comparing the Zionist colonization of Palestine to the immigrants and equal-rights proponents (the “Modern Cosmopolitans”) in the US today? And saying they are the same!! Ho-kay.

  4. Stogumber
    February 1, 2017, 2:19 pm

    The distinct American nation comprises all the people who want to be a distinct American nation. It’s as simple as that. (The motives are of course different, some more tribalistic, some more ideological. But the good will is decisive, not the motives behind it.)

    The modern Cosmopolitans indeed believe that this distinct nation will simply disappear. That’s the same delusion as with the early Zionists. I don’t extend the comparison to the way how later Zionists coped with the fact that their delusion didn’t come true – modern Cosmopolitans are yet in the early state of unshattered and naive delusion, as innocent as the first Zionist settlers.

    And I would emphasize that I propose a working solution in which Cosmopolitans and nationalists can live peacefully side by side (but not together).

    • Mooser
      February 1, 2017, 4:24 pm

      Stogumber, why don’t you look up Communism’s eager embrace of the same term(I think they called it “rootless cosmopolitians”

      Rootless cosmopolitan (Russian: безродный космополит, bezrodnyi kosmopolit) was a pejorative label used during the anti-Semitic campaign in the Soviet Union after World War II.[1] Cosmopolitans were intellectuals who were accused of expressing pro-Western feelings and lack of patriotism. The term “rootless cosmopolitan” referred to Jewish intellectuals. It was popularized during the campaign in a Pravda article condemning a group of theatrical critics.[2] Wiki.

      • Stogumber
        February 4, 2017, 1:47 pm

        I don’t see why the temporary Russian use of the term should be relevant. Cosmopolitans called themselves Cosmopolitans a long time before, with pride, so it is completely fair to give them the name they gave themselves. But of course (as my guru Karl Popper would say) we can formulate the content (the dilemma) as well by using different terms (like “anti-nationalists” or “open borders fanatics”).

        The dilemma is, in any case, that an international group of persons wants to make a definite territory (the Unites States) their own territory – without accepting that another group (the American nationalists) has at least as much right to lay claim to this territory for themselves.

      • Mooser
        February 4, 2017, 6:33 pm

        ” without accepting that another group (the American nationalists) has at least as much right to lay claim to this territory”

        I get it. You are trying to say America would be better off without the Constitution or Bill of Rights. Instead, we’ll depend on “the American Nationalists” to protect us from the “cosmopolitans”?

        Jeez, “stopgumber” if you want to argue for a fascist, racist America, try and do a little better.

  5. Mayhem
    February 3, 2017, 11:20 pm

    Not a word of concern over the fact that most of the countries covered by the Trump ban have a total exclusion on the admission of Israeli citizens. The sheer hypocrisy of the anti-Trump brigade is rife.

    Israeli citizens are currently banned from entering 16 states including Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen and Libya. Mr Trump’s executive order temporarily barred travel to the US from all of those countries.
    The other countries which ban Israeli citizens are Algeria, Bangladesh, Brunei, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Oman, Pakistan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

    • eljay
      February 4, 2017, 9:25 am

      || Mayhem: Not a word of concern over the fact that most of the countries covered by the Trump ban have a total exclusion on the admission of Israeli citizens. The sheer hypocrisy of the anti-Trump brigade is rife. ||

      I think it’s shameful that so many countries ban Israeli citizens from their territories, presumably for no good reason. But I wasn’t aware that Trump was the leader of those countries.

      Oh, wait a minute, I get it now: You’re just saying – as you Zionists always do – that murderers exist so it’s OK to rape.

      • Mayhem
        February 5, 2017, 5:35 pm

        The point is that the MW troops muster to complain about the Trump edict about refugees but have never winced at the fact that 16 Muslim nations have banned Israelis from entering their countries for years. The MW hypocrisy and double standards are clear.

      • eljay
        February 5, 2017, 6:25 pm

        || Mayhem: The point is that the MW troops muster to complain about the Trump edict about refugees but have never winced at the fact that 16 Muslim nations have banned Israelis from entering their countries for years. The MW hypocrisy and double standards are clear. ||

        Meanwhile, Zionist troops muster to complain that 16 Muslim nations have banned foreigners from Israel from entering their countries but have never winced at the fact that Israel refuses to allow its refugees – its own people – to return to their homes and lands. The Zionist hypocrisy and double standards are clear.

      • Keith
        February 5, 2017, 6:37 pm

        MAYHEM- “The point is that the MW troops muster to complain about the Trump edict about refugees but have never winced at the fact that 16 Muslim nations have banned Israelis from entering their countries for years.”

        Could you give us some idea of how many Israeli REFUGEES have been turned away?

    • just
      February 4, 2017, 10:43 am

      Oh NO, Mahem! Not KSA, Algeria, Bangladesh, Brunei, Kuwait, Malaysia, Oman, UAE, and Pakistan, too!!! Give Jared, Friedman, Gaffney, Giuliani, Conway, Bannon, and Trump your list~ pronto. Immediately! None of those countries are on Trump’s list yet…

      Israel has been ‘banning’ (killing and ethnically cleansing) Palestinians from Palestine for nigh on a century. As a proud Israeli, you most certainly have mirrors in your home and car. Take a good and long look into them and yourself. Look to your evil ‘checkpoints’ and Ben- Gurion airport, too.

      Thanks.

    • Mooser
      February 4, 2017, 1:16 pm

      “Not a word of concern over the fact that most of the countries covered by the Trump ban have a total exclusion on the admission of Israeli citizens.”

      That’s Israel’s problem.

    • talknic
      February 5, 2017, 7:45 pm

      @ Mayhem February 3, 2017, 11:20 pm

      “Not a word of concern over the fact that most of the countries covered by the Trump ban have a total exclusion on the admission of Israeli citizens.”

      You’re yabbering at the wrong people you stupid stupid person Israeli emergency law since 1948 has prohibited the entry of Israeli citizens and residents from entering the territories of hostile states.

      ” The sheer hypocrisy of the anti-Trump brigade is rife.”

      Stupid Ziopoop arguments are rife, smelly and nonsense

    • talknic
      February 5, 2017, 8:04 pm

      But they don’t ban Jews from ANY of the countries you named. Like most countries, they rarely if ever ask about one’s religion or ethnicity

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