I’m an Iranian, Not a Terrorist or a Muslim


by Maryam Bighash


In my early adult life, I have struggled with one common question: Where am I from, and who do I belong to? I was born in Iran, and left the country when I was eight years old to avoid religious, or maybe I should say, political persecution. At that time my family fled to France, where I lived until I was 15 years old.


I began to love France, just as much as I loved Iran. We stayed in France for almost seven years, relocating at least twice a year. Then, just as I was feeling settled, a dramatic change occurred again in my life. In February 2012, my father moved us all to the United States so that our family could finally be reunited. This change was exciting, but difficult too. For the second time in my childhood, I was ripped away from what I felt was my home.


This perplexed me on many levels. I reflected on when I was in Iran. I loved Iran as a child. It was all I knew. Even so, I knew everything was not as it should be. Yes, I was really young, but still I developed a hatred for “fake” politics and “fake” democracy (such as existed in Iran). Then came France, which I fell in love with. It is where I spent over half of my childhood.


In France, I learned to love this idea of being free, maybe too much (“Too much freedom kills freedom;” I learned recently). So, I thought on this all on my way to America. The U.S. was full of unknowns to me. Quickly, I developed a strong passion for public speaking and debate. I began to long for opportunities to exercise my voice – knowing that my voice could and would be heard; something so very new to me!


Today, I am free, maybe almost. I still have to carry more than one identity. I don’t know if you read the news, but today something pretty important happened in Sydney, Australia: An armed Iranian refugee held approximately 30 people hostage in a coffee shop. This is truly a shame. Today is one of these days that, if people were going to ask where I am from, I would probably rather answer them that I am French. My mother, as soon as she learned about the situation on Radio Farda, called me and started laughing. I knew that she was hiding her sincere disappointment with such action. She told me: “Maryam, we lost our last opportunity to not be treated as terrorists. A few hours ago, we could proudly say that we are anti-terrorist because we, as a nation, are contributing to fight ISIS. What about if this whole situation is an anti-Iranian refugee thing going on? Why do people mess around with such things?”


As I was listening to her, I had tears dropping on my final  paper, which explored aspects of a liberal arts education. I didn’t have an answer to her worries. I didn’t know what to tell her to comfort her.


It is ironic that my uncle, a refugee for more than four years now, is leaving the UN refugee centers in Turkey to come to the U.S. today. His case was approved few weeks ago, however, he had to leave his ‘a month old new bride’ to start his life from zero. What will happen to us? Is a same situation as 1979 [after the Islamic Revolution in Iran] going to hit my family and I? What if my uncle never gets here? What about if all these refugees, especially Iranian ones, never find a way out of this hell? I honestly don’t know any answers to these questions, but I hope that everything will be all right. Yes, that`s all I hope, naively.


I still don’t have an answer to my core question, but, all I do have relationships with my family, my parents, sister, and uncles which will help me come to the answer.