200 demonstrators gather outside of the Los Angeles Federal Building, dozens of flags floating in the air, each piece of cloth boldly declaring support for movements in Iran and Libya.
As protests go, the one held on February 20th was small compared to one’s held in previous weeks for Egypt and Tunisia, yet it’s sometimes the smallest of events, the moments people tend to overlook, that can impact a community in ground-breaking ways. That is, if its people have enough courage to evaluate themselves.
For the Iranians, the protest took place on a day meant to commemorate the death of two student protesters killed in Iran’s February 14th demonstrations, with several cities in Iran, Europe, and America also holding protests to mark this day.
Protesters of both ethnicities (Libyan and Iranian) appeared to be supportive of each other, repeating and cheering for each other’s chants.
“Libyans would chant for change in Iran and Iranians would chant for change in Libya. It was going back and forth and it was actually really nice to see,” says a twenty-three year old Iranian protester, who recently graduated from UCLA.
Despite this show of support, however, the physical separation between these groups, with the Libyans and Iranians standing apart from each other, along with the homogeneous composition of these two sides, points to the existence of division amongst these demonstrators along ethnic lines.
Such a divide can also be seen in the MSA setting and our community at large, where for the past few weeks since protests in the Middle East began, members have come out strong to support their ‘brothers and sisters’ in the Middle East and their struggles for freedom.
Yet in the midst of all of the duas and prayers made for the people of Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain, etc, Iran has consistently been left unmentioned, seemingly forever destined to remain in the ‘etc’ category, never mentioned by name.
The causes for this and their implications for our community are worth a deeper look, because the movements and causes we support say a great deal about where we are as a community.
Is Iran left out of the equation simply because of ignorance? Yet how can the community remain almost completely ignorant about one of the most populated nations in the Middle East, with over 70 million people? This is especially strange given the enormous Iranian-American population in Los Angeles, numbering in the hundreds of thousands and by some counts, over a million.
Or could the cause be more ethnic in nature, and therefore more troubling, where certain groups (such as nearly all Black-African nations) don’t even register in the community’s ‘struggles abroad’ radar? Do people subconsciously categorize Iran as ‘other’ because it is a Shia majority nation and should just deal with its own problems?
Whatever the case may be, the community needs to broaden their scope beyond Arabic-speaking countries in order to truly be supportive of their brothers and sisters worldwide.