The Iranian Hostage Crisis The Iranian Hostage Crisis was a horrific event in which many American were captured and held hostage in the Iranian American embassy. In America, this was met with shock; spurring newfound hatred of Iranians. In the book Funny in Farsi, the author and her family, Iranian immigrants living in Southern California, are subjected to the scrutiny and prejudice of the people around them for that reason.
At the end of the 1970’s, a new wave ushered America into a new decade; fear, disgust, and loathing spread as quickly as the news that almost ninety civilians had been captured in an American embassy in Iran’s capital city by an insurgent group of students. Across the nation, people from all walks of life joined together in their agreement that the unjust actions of the captors would not be tolerated. Everyone wanted to assure that all the hostages would return to America unscathed, sooner than later.
Newscast viewership increased to an unprecedented high as each American nervously watched, hoping for a positive update. Historian Gaddis Smith went as far as to say that the crisis had “more extensive coverage on television and in the press than any other event since World War II” (“Iranian” 1). The American demand for information created a need for more media outlets to cover the event, but also created pressure on the American political system to quickly find a solution.
Just like the other citizens, the author’s family shared similar sentiment about the crisis in Iran. The president at the time, Jimmy Carter, tried many varied methods to return the American hostages: Iranian assets in the United States were frozen, sanctions were places on oil and other Iranian exports, and various diplomatic methods such as negotiation. Besides having a political obligation to assure the safe return of all of the hostages, it was clear that he also felt a deep personal obligation to return them safely.
Hope and morale lifted for all when the Iranians released a small group of the hostages, but it quickly fell as the rescue mission supposedly destined to rescue the remaining hostages, Desert One, crashed, killing eight and injuring three. As American efforts to free the hostages continued to fail, Carter’s popularity as a president began to fall. Perhaps his personal investment in the solution of the crisis made his lack of success and loss of popularity sting even more.
American not only put focus on the event through media, but also on its own elected officials. As the crisis continued without significant change, American citizens grew more displeased with their government and their president. While trying to campaign for his second term of presidency, Jimmy Carter watched as his opponent gathered exponentially more support each day while Carter’s best efforts to resolve the situation in Iran during his presidency continued to fail.
Finally, on “the day of President Reagan’s inauguration, the United States released almost $8 billion in Iranian assets and the hostages were freed after 444 days in Iranian detention” (“Iran” 1). The concern and passion about the situation that once had supported the President Carter and his action, now turned against him. In American, the people all rallied behind the common cry to bring home the hostages from Iran. This strong sentiment among the citizens would lead Carter’s loss in the presidential elections due to the lack of results in the situation during his tenure at the Whitehouse.
One of his advisors even went as far as to say that the American public felt that because of his less severe foreign policy and his later inaction, that he had essentially allowed their captors to waltz into the embassy and mock America (“ Iranian” 3). The Iranian Hostage Crisis led to a drastic change in American culture. From politicians to Iranian immigrants, the people of America were in unanimous agreement to bring home the people imprisoned in the middle of revolutionary Iran.
America was not the only nation that had a radical change in its iew of Iranians; international reactions were spurred by the same event. The majority felt disgust and fear due to the capture and imprisonment of the hostages. The perception of Iranians was greatly changed even within the Middle East; from Saudi Arabia to Iraq, Iranians were unwelcome. Firoozeh’s father was turned down from a job simply for being an Iranian man. After being interviewed and working through various negotiations, he was finally offered a position at the company urned down because “the government of Saudi Arabia does not accept Iranians at this time.
We thought you were an Arab” (Dumas 120). The mistreatment and discrimination of Iranians abroad did not stop in Saudi Arabia, but continued throughout the Middle East and the world. Iraq never had particularly great relations with its neighbor, Iran, but after the hostage crisis began in Tehran, a war erupted between the two nations. The change in Iranian political and social ideologies during the Islamic Revolution placed more strain on the already-tense relationship. After the hostages were take, Iraq responded to the immoral action of taking the Americans hostage.
One family among hundreds of families of Iranian immigrants spread globally, has had its struggles during the Iranian Hostage Crisis chronicled; in Funny in Farsi, Firoozeh Dumas explains how the fervor for justice for the hostages in Iran lead to the discrimination, either intentionally or unintentionally, of Iranian-Americans who were equally appalled by the events taking place in their home country. Despite being treated as second-rate citizens in the country that they lived in, the family of Iranian immigrants simply said that when people “asked us what we thought of the hostage situation. It’s awful,’ we always said” (Dumas 39).
Despite his support for American efforts to return the hostages and his American patriotism, the author’s father, Kazem, was laid off at an American oil company shortly after the Iranian Hostage Crisis. It is clear that the company was unable to separate Kazem’s nation of origin from the events in Iran. After being fired, he was unable to find a legitimate job with another company until well after the crisis had ended. He was turned down in Saudi Arabia and could not find a job anywhere else; global perceptions of Iranians had been tarnished during the Hostage Crisis.
Firoozeh’s father was not the only one in the family subjected to scrutiny, her mother was equally impacted by the rabid hatred of Americans toward Iranians. Firoozeh explains that “People would hear my mother’s thick accent and ask us, ‘Where are you from? ‘ [… ] Many Iranians suddenly became Turkish, Russian, or French” (Dumas 117). Many Iranian immigrant living in the United States, including the author’s mother, had to lie about their heritage in order to escape from the scrutiny of Americans who developed a “hatred not just of the hostage takers but of all Iranians” (Dumas 117).
The antiIranian sentiment in America not only alienated the community of Iranian immigrants, but spurred a wave of negative reporting on Iranians in America and merchandise with slogans advocating the deportation and murder of the group. In Funny in Farsi, there are several times that Firoozeh mentions how during the crisis “Vendors started selling T-shirts and bumper stickers that said “Iranians Go Home” and “Wanted: Iranians, for Target Practice” (Dumas 117). The media did nothing but fan the flames.
In the local paper, the family read” the screaming headline ‘Iranian Robs Grocery Store. ‘ Iran has as many fruits and nuts as the next country, but it seemed as if every lowlife who happened to be Iranian was now getting his fifteen minutes of fame” (Dumas 117). The American culture of hatred towards Iranians led to the discrimination and alienation of the community in the workplace and everywhere else. The concern that all Americans felt soon evolved into rabid fanaticism.
Originally well-intentioned people began interrogating Middle Eastern immigrants to see if they were guilty of the perceived crime of being Iranian. For Iranians, their ethnicity became a constant risk. Being fired, being insulted or assaulted, being made to feel lesser than everyone else were all common happenings for these immigrants during this time. The entire Iranian community, including the author’s family, felt a massive strain from the discriminatory attitudes of many Americans. However, the author was specifically affected as a young immigrant with a brand-new anglicized name and no accent.
Although she was not subjected to the same scrutiny as her parents and her fellow immigrants, she was still able to observe people’s degradation of her nation from inside circles of the very people who hated her country and her parents. After ch her name her name to Julie before attending her new school, most of her new classmates assumes that with an anglicized name and an American accent, she must be American too. During the Iranian Revolution and the Hostage Crisis, she became exposed to unsavory opinions of her so-called friends and their parents.
She saw their “real feelings about those ‘damn I-raynians. ‘ It was like having those X-ray glasses that let you see people naked, except that what I was seeing was far uglier than people’s underwear. It dawned on me that these people would have probably never invited me to their house had they known me as Firoozeh” (Dumas 65). It is very hurtful for her to listen to these negative views about her culture and her heritage, especially from the people who were supposed to be her friends; it is far easier to discount the words of an aggressive stranger, but much harder when a friend speaks the same words.
Even after the hostage crisis had ended, Firoozeh still struggled to again accept her culture due in part to the hatred she was exposed to then, but also due to the prejudice that Iranian people still face today. People usually place strong judgments on the author, “People see me and think of hostages” (Dumas 41). She continued to use her anglicized name during school and while searching for a job in order to make her life easier than it was while she used a distinctly ethnic name. Decades later, the author returned to unanimously going by her real name, Firoozeh.
After enduring years of hatred, prejudice, and discrimination for being Iranian, she was finally able to embrace her heritage and culture regardless of what others thought. Firoozeh was subjected to the same harmful views that the people around her had during the Iranian Hostage Crisis, but in a significantly different way than her parents. Going by the typical name Julie, she masqueraded as a non-Iranian citizen. Many of the people that she met told her about their terrible views of Iranians. Unsuspectingly, they told their her that she was an insurgent, a terrorist, and a criminal.
The marks of the harsh remarks took years to leave her entirely. She didn’t return to using her given name until she had young children of her own. The book Funny in Farsi by Firoozeh Dumas chronicles her life as an Iranian immigrant growing up in California. Although she had lived alongside her family in America for years, her life was thrown into discord after a group of insurgent student in Iran took over the American embassy and held those inside hostage. As soon as America became aware of the news, life for Iranians in America became far more difficult.
Due to the crisis, her father was fired from his job and unable to find a new one and her mother had to lie about being Turkish in order to protect herself and her family from the rampant hatred towards Iranians. The actions of people thousands of miles away radically changed her life; people’s connection of the author’s family with the radical groups in Iran was unfair because they also believed that the events of the hostage crisis were equally terrifying and wrong, yet they were still ostracized for something they couldn’t help: their heritage.