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Interview: Soroush / سروش

Interview conducted and edited by Devon Acuña and Jack Farrell.


We sat down with Soroush to discuss the rising influence of Islamic and Middle Eastern culture on popular culture in the West, and the consequences, causes, and experiences that follow as a result.

Photo courtesy of Soroush

Soroush is a Politcal Science and Philosophy student at the University of Alberta, as well as being an immigrant, a poet, and incredibly well-spoken. Because of the length of this interview, the article has been broken into sections with subheadings that reflect the general topics that are covered. Content warning: Islamaphobia, violence against BIPOC, racism.


Devon: I guess for the sake of the interview we’ll start with a little bit of your background, you do poetry right?


Soroush: Yeah I do some poetry. I currently am a political science and philosophy student at the U of A. I used to be in computing sciences student ‘till I realized “god, I fucking hate this,” so you know, switched that up, much happier and it really helps with my writing too because English is my second language.


On the topic of that, I came to Canada with my family in 2004, I was born in Iran, and we moved around a lot just because Iran isn’t necessarily the best place to live unfortunately, so we’ve basically been immigrants our entire lives. Canada’s been the one place we’ve lived in the most, we lived in Montreal, Toronto, and now in Edmonton. Went to Montreal and learned how to speak French and came to Edmonton and learned how to speak oil.


Devon: Learned how to speak oil (laughs). Sweet, so you wanted to talk about the correlation between …


Islamic & Arabic Influences on Western Pop Media


Soroush: Right, the increase in the influence of Islamic and Middle Eastern culture on popular culture in the West, in correlation to the sharp rise in islamophobia and attacks recently. To kind of break it down, within 2020 alone, there were about 90 million displaced people, 30 million of these people being refugees, and roughly that same number, 30 million, being from Middle Eastern or Arabic countries. Unfortunately, a lot of these people are being displaced because of the violent conditions in their home countries, like Syria, and countless other places that are currently in conditions that aren’t really safe to raise families in or live in. These people are forcibly displaced. It’s not by choice that you go, “I wanna leave my house, I wanna go to a country where I don’t speak the language and don’t know the people.” What’s interesting is that 35 million of these people are children who have been put into an entirely new culture, and are forced to either adopt the new culture entirely, or, what I find happens more often, they find a synthesis between both cultures. They take aspects of their Middle Eastern culture, and again these are kids, I was a kid when I moved, so there’s only so much that I know of my culture and that I am able to remember from my childhood, that I then take and combine with my experiences here. The easiest way I could describe it for myself would be my fashion sense. My fashion sense is very street, very “hypebeast,” but I try and add parts of my own culture into it, either with jewelry or with different types of clothing, or even with designs, like I’m wearing a fucking Persian rug on my shirt right now. So it’s finding your place within it all, and a lot of these children are getting older, and we have a huge respect for art in the Middle East, and it makes sense then for a lot of these children to express themselves through their art. For example, and again just small tidbits of the influence of Middle Eastern culture on pop media, the Game of Thrones theme was written by a Persian man.


Devon: Oh, I didn’t know that.


Soroush: Yeah, the Game of Thrones theme has a distinct style of playing and instrumentation that is very Middle Eastern, but you wouldn’t really think of that when you listen to it, you would think “oh this is the Game of Thrones theme.” Because, again, a lot of western culture doesn’t really understand to what extent the Middle East has influenced pop media. Music was one of the primary ones, and beyond that, art, calligraphy is a huge aspect in the Middle East, and you’re seeing a rise in that all across the world. I’ve been following a few instagram pages, there’s this one guy who creates people’s faces and portraits of people using the calligraphy style, so he’s not writing anything down but the lines he’s drawing, it’s the same style used to write Arabic lettering.


Jack: Do you know what Instagram account that is?


Soroush: I can find it for you yeah (@_medeio_), and then again you have the obvious examples of fucking Drake speaking Arabic in his song and you think to yourself “why all of a sudden did Drake decide to speak Arabic.” Because Middle Eastern culture is huge with youths of today in Toronto, Persian culture is huge there. Even in Vancouver I’m noticing it, I walk around and I see it around me, more so than I’ve ever heard it in Edmonton, it’s a little jarring at first, but also, there’s something so familiar about it, the sense of satisfaction I get from hearing my mother tongue is unmatched.



Displacement, Refugees & Immigration


Devon: So you were saying the rise in Arabic culture in pop media is driven by people from that culture getting involved in arts and entertainment?


Soroush: Driven partially by the refugee crisis. No one wants to leave their home land, but when you have these people leaving it they have to create a version of their homes for themselves wherever they go.


Jack: The diaspora.


Soroush: Exactly yeah, the diaspora, and that translates into it becoming more and more ingrained into western culture, like London (England) has a huge Arabic scene, and you can see Middle Eastern influences in a lot of the music styles and how they rap with the beat rather than on the beat. How does this correlate to the rise of islamophobia, you ask yourself “why is that happening?” I’ve been told by too many people in my life, “this is not your country you should go home.” And my response to people is, “I can’t, I genuinely can’t, I legitimately can’t” because imperialism and colonialism have made it so my home is inaccessible to me. If I were, today, to want to go to my home country, I would be arrested.


But then I think, in relation to the islamophobia, the reason we’ve seen such an increase is because western culture is -- I’m not gonna say white people, I don’t really wanna say white people -- but I think the western population is realizing how much of an influence [Middle Eastern culture] is having on them, and how little they themselves have control over their culture and their media, and it brings about fear, which is completely reasonable; all of a sudden there’s a whole bunch of people from other countries coming into your own country which you consider your own and you’re confused. More often than not confusion gets represented as violence. At the same time, realistically, all immigrants ever really wanted to do was integrate themselves into society and be able to have a home to call their own.


Jack: Yeah, just live their own fucking life.


Soroush: Yeah just live their own fucking life. It’s been statistically shown that immigrants are beneficial for the economy of any country that they go into because when they’re there they want to work, they want to develop their skills, use their skills that they have to ensure that their family is safe. But when you look at that fact that 30 million of the displaced people are refugees and 4.2 to 4.5 million of these people are just stateless people, which means they have no nationality, which translates to they have no sort of healthcare, they have no sort of guarantee, they don’t have the right to vote, they don’t have the right to anything, they are less than human at that point, because to be human you have to have a nationality in today's society. You have to be able to say “I’m from this country and this country represents me.” If that country doesn’t exist anymore, essentially you don’t either.


Jack: I think you said something like, immigrants are useful, I think useful was the word you used, but it’s way past useful, an example is Mexican immigrants in the United States are so integral…


Soroush: Essential!


Jack: Yeah, the agricultural system in the U.S. would not exist without the labor of Mexican immigrants and most of them are “illegal immigrants.” Like all of the berry pickers in California, Oregon, and I think even Washington, it would not exist without the complete exploitation of illegal immigrants from Mexico.


Soroush: You call it exploitation and that’s exactly what it is and we think to ourselves “why do we value labor jobs so little, why do we value hard work so little?” and it’s strictly because the people who are doing this hard work, who spend day in and day out in the sun slaving away for the sake of western society are not white people, therefore why should we care. And I don’t say that as a justification, but if you look at it from their lense and perspectives you get a better understanding as to why there is so much animosity towards them and a lot of it is a racial thing, unfortunately. I’m trying to approach it a little bit deeper than that and not call it just a race thing, I’d like to describe it as a fear of change because at least that way there is a way of getting past it. I try to give the benefit of the doubt in most of these situations but, yo, if a random motherfucker comes up to me and calls me an ISIS member I’m not gonna be like “dude it’s okay you’re just afraid of me, let’s be friends, let’s go have a drink.”


But again, you said exploitation. My father is a medical physicist, so I was very, very fortunate because we had the means to be able to legally and appropriately be immigrants. We had the means to be able to have some sort of life here. We were dirt poor when we moved here, we were fucking dirt poor. It was me, my sister, my mother, we lived in a one bedroom apartment for like 5 to 6 years while my father just didn’t even live in the country because he couldn’t afford to move himself. But, that’s still the best case scenario for an immigrant. That is still the ideal outcome ‘cause when you look at 30 plus million people that just don’t have anything, I have to consider myself very lucky. For those people who don’t have those prestigious lines of work who are more labour workers, who use their hands and their skills, it becomes harder and harder for them to #1 leave, and #2 be taken seriously in any country.


Devon: I think that’s part of why that type of work is looked down upon that way too, because it’s seen as unskilled labour not because it’s unskilled, but because people are being forced into those jobs, basically. There’s no bargaining power so there’s no kind of leverage. I also feel that that kind of plays into the rise of representations of people doing that work because there’s that disconnect there, where people just subconsciously don’t realize it, like “why are people living such hard lives in our country that we think is so good?” and there’s that reactionary portrayal of trying to redirect the narrative a little bit.


Soroush: Right, I say America but Canada lays claim to the same problems, but “if America is so great why isn’t everyone living in luxury,” because the reality is that America is not, and in the face of that hard nationalists would rather say America is not the problem it’s you, you’re obviously not working hard enough or you probably did it illegally, that’s why you can’t get good work when in reality these people, their homelands were destroyed for the sake of war, they come here trying to find something to do but America doesn’t consider a lot of these refugees legitimate. Even from Mexico, America has stopped taking asylum seekers and they just throw them in prison which is not how it should work. It helps feed the narrative that people from other countries are dangerous and that’s why we're putting them in prisons, and it’s not America that’s the problem, it's them.


Jack: That’s right out of the Reagan era war on drugs shit, “the foreigners are bringing in all this shit” and that’s a narrative that’s been used for years and years and it’s never been the truth ever.



Islamophobia


Soroush: Refugees are convenient scapegoats because #1 a lot of them don’t have the language skills to be able to defend themselves, and #2 they don’t want to start trouble. They don’t want to put themselves in any more danger than they need to be. I experienced this with my father and my mother a lot, where whenever we had interactions with anybody that was racist they’d walk on and be like “it’s not worth it.” The term that was used a lot for me, and something that I have tried very, very hard to get out of my head throughout the years was “this is the price you have to pay to be here.” As a child I believed it. I believed that racism was the price I had to pay to be able to live in a different country that wasn’t my own. But that doesn’t make sense, that doesn’t fucking work, when it’s not even my own fault that I’m here, when it is because of these countries, because of western society I have to be displaced and now I have to accept the consequences of that. That’s why I think you’re also seeing a larger level of outrage towards islamophobia, which I’ve been very, very happy to see. As much as I am not a huge fucking Instagram activist, occasionaly I’ll share something that I find interesting, but I’ve seen a lot more people who do share a posts that are conversations about islamophobia and I’ve been surprisingly happy to see that this has become more and more a topic on people's minds. Because it’s only going to get worse, with climate change, with the continuation of the conflicts in the Middle East and with this fact that we now expect the Middle East to constantly be in a state of conflict, the number of refugees is only going to go up. Unless we find a way to kind of nip this islamophobia in the bud, it’s only going to go up with that same rate.


Devon: I do think that there’s this kind of cyclical effect, the state has a vested interest in maintaining islamophobia because if these refugees are allowed to become like doctors and lawyers and shit then there’s people who have a legitimized voice in speaking out against islamophobia, then all of sudden it will be like “wait why are we invading the Middle East every year?”


Soroush: Totally, and the government is trying to maintain narratives to make sure their own best interests are kept because, realistically, it pays to go to war, but at the same time it comes at the cost of everybody’s lives. What do you prioritize in these situations, and unfortunately in a capitalistic society we prioritize war.


You’ve seen a sharp rise in nationalism in some of the countries that have been the biggest receivers of refugees, for example there’s been a large rise in racism and nationalism in Germany. We are seeing signs of a reemergence of a new nazi movement. We see it in London, we see it in Edmonton. This year alone, I think I’ve seen like 4–5 different articles of just women in Hijabs being attacked.


Jack: There’s been 8 since January.


Soroush: That’s worse! 8 since January!


Jack: And that’s just reported, ‘cause you know that number is higher ‘cause those are just the people that were brave enough to take that step of going to the cops.


Soroush: Because more often than not our experiences with cops are negative. In Edmonton specifically, a large amount of the Middle Eastern and Muslim community are people of colour, and already we know the relationship between people of colour and the police, so why would we want to poke the bear any more than we have to. Then you have those people who accept the fact that this is reality, that the racism they experience is just part of their daily life.


You have to find ways of fighting it. I honestly believe that the continuation of the influence of Middle Eastern culture on media will be the best way to combat it, because while racism exists you find that it mainly exists in the older generation and, while the younger generation does have its key proponents, I’ve been seeing a lot more understanding. For example, on Tik Tok I see people talking about Palestine and their appreciation of Palestinian culture. It’s crazy to me. The Dabke, it’s a dance, I’m seeing people wanting to learn the dance and do the dance and I’m like, “this is crazy.” I wish there was more of this culture we could show you, more of this that we could share for you ‘cause so much of it has already been destroyed that whatever is left we have to cherish.


I do believe it will get better. With 35 million children, eventually these children will be adults, and when they do become adults, hopefully then they’ll be able to be outspoken voices for their communities.


Devon: Do you think that beyond representation, involvement in the arts and entertainment industry, do you think that’s a path towards having that voice, beyond the art that you’re making?


Soroush: Absolutely, because art is a means of expression, and I’ve seen a lot of really interesting art coming out of refugees who are trying to depict their pain in a matter that is both widely understandable but also very personal. I think once people realize they can tell their personal stories and their personal stories have value, we’ll see an emergence of larger understanding. Myself specifically, I’ve only started telling people I am an immigrant in the past 2 years. It’s not been something I necessarily flaunt to people, because at the time I wouldn’t have considered it a badge of honour, but as I grow older and as I understand what that represents, not only to me but to millions of other immigrants in the world, I’m like “no this has to be something that is talked about.” This has to be something that is discussed in society because when you make negative comments about immigrants I hope that every immigrant in that place would stand up and be like “you’re talking about me.” Only through that can we see any sort of change, the active efforts of not only the immigrants themselves who are fortunate enough to not be refugees or displaced but also of their friends, people within their communities. In the sense of art, if you go to a poetry show or an art show and you see someone talking about their experiences honestly, just give them the time of day and see what they are saying, maybe there is something from this that I can take away from, maybe the pain that they are expressing can represent some version of my pain.


Jack: Do you think that kind of self-confidence you have in yourself in the last 2 years kind of stems from more years of lived experiences as an immigrant and that kind of cycle of, like, it’s a new thing for you then you reach acceptance, you know what I’m trying to say?


Soroush: 100%, the only reason I started calling myself an immigrant was in the face of islamophobia. I actively started calling myself an immigrant because I don’t do it for acceptance, I do it for awareness, because I need people to know that we’re here. We’re all around you, whether you can recognize it or not. Because I don’t have an accent, you wouldn’t look at me and think I was born in another country and that’s why these things need to be made very, very obvious. Realistically, if islamophobia wasn’t as big of an issue as it was, I wouldn’t really focus on it too much, because, you know, it doesn’t matter. When it matters you have to make it matter more.


Devon: I feel like that puts a large part of the responsibility on the immigrant or the refugee or whoever it is because if, in that moment, you can’t really stand up and be like “well he’s a fuckin immigrant you’re talking about him.”


Soroush: Yeah, no, don’t point out to your immigrant friends and be like there they are! That’s not it but if there’s a sense of respect for it, if someone starts fucking bad-mouthing immigrants like “no some of my best friends are immigrants what the fuck are you saying.” It’s small actions like that or if you see active acts of islamophobia or not even active because islamophobia has become so nuanced; for example, how many of the Call of Duty antagonists were either Middle Eastern or Russian. How many movies have you seen where it’s a war zone somewhere in the Middle East? It’s trying to push for what truly is the norm, which is that we’re just normal people.


Devon: I don’t know if this is good or bad but even the people that are racist as shit, everybody grew up with “racism is bad,” everybody takes that for granted, so now in some ways it’s not as outright generally. Plenty of racist people will say “I’m not racist, racism is bad” and then they’ll have all these buts and ifs.


Soroush: Microaggressions and systemic issues, yeah.


Devon: Way harder to actually address meaningfully unless you just stand up and say it like that. Then you have to explain it to people who don’t have the groundwork to understand why they’re even being racist.


Soroush: Which is why the first step in a lot of this has to be honesty. For example, and I’m gonna speak very, very honestly about myself here, when I first moved to Canada I was definitely racist towards Indigenous people. Because the representation of Indigenous people and the image of them that had been shown to me throughout my early education in Canada was not a positive light. The only interactions I ever had were with drunk people on the street. That took a lot of unlearning, and a lot of honesty with myself. It’s only in accepting that in fact this was the person that I was that then I can now actively try to not be that person. In the case of Islamophobia, if you are afraid of people from the Middle East, afraid of Islam as a religion, it is only in accepting that and admitting that can you then look to try and change it. This is for people who do want to change, of course there are people who say “oh I fucking hate Islam, Islam is the worst religion ever” and they don’t have any intentions of changing their opinion of that.


Devon: I think that relates to the representation in pop media as well, the people who hate Islam or who have no intention of changing, you don’t have to unlearn it if your never bombarded with these horrible stereotypes and shit. It makes it a better jumping off point.


Soroush: Exactly, if my first few years in Canada were spent teaching me the rich history of Indigenous people but also the struggles of Indigenous people in modern Canada, I would have had a completely different perspective. Because it was only through learning that I was able to go “ok this is why they’re in this state.” It’s the same thing, like why are refugees in the state they are? It’s because their country is constantly in a state of war because of western influences. Then, when you understand that, you can go “ok, it’s not their fault, so we shouldn’t blame them for this, in fact we should try and help them.” If you want to stop the refugee crisis then just stop war. It’s super simplified but if you don’t want to have to worry about refugees then stop going to their home country.


Jack: Yeah, quit bombing them.


Devon: Absolutely.


Jack: I’ve got a question, little bit of a switch in topic, but going into pop media, I was reading an article the other day -- kind of how you mentioned a lot of Middle Eastern villains in movies are just typecast . There’s no definitions, and they made so many of those fucking movies and TV shows and just endless shit and what that ended up creating in the eyes of western white people for the most part is that complete lack of understanding of any sort of differences between people, like the fact that Arabic and Islamic culture is not the same thing, such a basic fucking fact that so many people don’t know and that can largely be attributed to the racist movies that were made endlessly about the Iraq war and the constant wars.


Soroush: So, in Iran our alphabet is the same as Arabic but we speak Farsi, we don’t speak Arabic. Unless you ever came into contact with these cultures you would never know the difference, you would just see the writing and it would all look the same to you in the same way that before I learned how to speak French, French and English looked the same. But why do so many people now know that French is such a different language than English, right? It’s just coming into contact with it in a positive way through media. We romanticize so many places in Europe and we call French the language of love, when I would honestly argue that Arabic is so much hotter. When I hear it, it is so much more pleasant to listen to and that’s coming from someone who speaks French.


A lot of people just paint the Middle East with the same brush. You could go from literally one town to another and it’s an entirely different culture. India is a great representation of this and I know India isn’t necessarily Islamic or Middle Eastern but they are one of the most diverse countries in terms of culture because you can start from the bottom and go to the top and you will experience an entirely different country the entire way you go.


Jack: That’s also not a well known piece of knowledge is that India has a very large population of Muslims, and I think a lot of western white people would not even care to know that.


Soroush: Unfortunately, when it comes to India, their president, Modi, doesn’t have a particularly favourable view of Muslims and this is a global trend. If you look at China and the Uyghur massacre, this is specifically a group of Muslim people, and I don’t want to equate it to the Holocaust, I’m just gonna call it a genocide, but the Holocaust gets so much light, we look at that like “oh my god this is such a tragedy we can never let this happen again, this was one of the lowest points of humanity,” but it’s happening in front of us again right now. We’ve been telling ourselves we would stop it, but no one is doing anything. I can’t help but feel that that has something to do with the fact that these people are Muslim. As far as the world’s concerned, these are the enemies. So I wonder then in a few years if we will look back on the countless number of genocides that are happening in the Middle East in the same light.


Jack: I’ve got another question for you, similar topic kind of, I was also wondering -- ‘cause you mentioned Drake -- was it in a certain song that you mentioned that he had an Arabic verse?


Soroush: I think it was Only You Freestyle. He talks about this “Arabic ting” and then he literally speaks Arabic in it. You think to yourself “wow if Drake is speaking Arabic in a song that must mean he at least recognizes that a large part of his audience will understand it.” And at this point I think one of the biggest consumers of pop culture in the west is not white people, it’s everybody else, and now artists are understanding how much of an audience they have from these other countries and they’re trying to reach out to them


Jack: I’m wondering if you consider colourism done by white people as a major factor in the sharp rise in islamophobia, while at the same time there is the greater indulgence in Arabic and Islamic culture in pop media, like that proximity to whiteness thing; Drake is a celebrated figure but there’s tons of people that do what Drake does but in a way that’s truer to their own culture instead of a western pop overarching head.


Soroush: Right, instead of just being an Arabic line, a lot of their art and media is based on them being Middle Eastern or Islamic or Arabic. 100%, and you brought up colourism which I think is very important because the most accepted Muslims are the white passing ones, specifically if you look toward places in Africa where Islam is the religion, I feel like they’re in worse situations simply because they’re also black. Now not only do they have to worry about the ways the world views black people, but they have to worry about the ways society views people from the Middle East and Islamic countries, and it’s this entirely other level of struggle that I can’t speak to myself. I wouldn’t call myself white passing but I’m not a particularly dark person. I do recognize that gives me some level of privilege ‘cause a lot of the time people won’t look at me and go “oh you’re fuckin Middle Eastern.” They’ll eventually get it, they’ll look at my nose and look at my facial hairs and go “waaaait a second you’re not from here.” But I do think that what we’ll first see is a larger acceptance of Saudi Arabia, and that type of Arabic and Islam before we see an acceptance of places like Sudan or places in Africa which practice Islam, which, again, most of the islamophobic hate crimes in Edmonton were on black women. The issue is extremely complicated, but only because western society is such a fucking mess.


Jack: With just a complete refusal to try even to learn the basic minimum. Just complete erasure.



Religion


Soroush: That’s a very important point, just learning the basic minimum. So, I am not a practicing Muslim anymore. I have changed my faith, I have made it a bit more of a personal relationship with a higher power, instead of an institutionalized relationship. So, I am very critical of Islam, but that’s because I’ve lived Islam. I studied it, I read the Quran, it was where I grew up and I feel as though, with this level of education, I am allowed to be critical of Islam. But if someone who has never looked at the Quran says “Islam is a religion of violence,” where are they coming from? Where’s that information coming from? There is a legitimate way and illegitimate way of criticizing religion, and one of them is islamophobic, and the other one is an actual conversation designed to push religion forward. We see Christianity has evolved significantly throughout the years just because it’s been a topic of conversation. You’ve got gay Christians, which a few years ago you would never have even said. And I know a lot of gay Muslims, but unfortunately they don’t want to label themselves as that because of the implications with their religion, so I’ve seen a lot of those people are now also -- they’re not leaving Islam, but they’re changing it to match their beliefs which I see as the natural evolution of any religion.


Jack: The modernization.


Soroush: 100% modernizing. I know a lot of people who still want to wear the Hijab, and I know people who hate wearing the Hijab. My sister, herself, never wanted to wear it. We had to get a photo for [her] Iranian passport, we had to photoshop one on for her because of how adamantly against it she is. But at the same time, I wouldn’t say her rejection of the Hijab is islamophobic, it comes from a place of her having to have worn it. But then if Karen from the store says “don’t wear the Hijab it’s oppression to women,” where is that coming from? There’s legitimate criticisms of religions and then there’s just bigotry.


Devon: I think that you see this a lot also of other things like “I’m gonna do my own research and critique everything,” and one of them comes from a place of wanting that thing to be better and one of them comes from a place of like…


Soroush: I want to stay in my bubble.


Devon: Yeah, exactly.


Soroush: Yeah, there’s two ways of doing research, you either read the same articles over and over again or you try and find new ones. And until you actually try to look out and see what is there, truly you’re missing out. There is so much the Middle East can offer to the rest of the world and there is so much it has offered. So much of medicine, so much of math, fuckin, the numbers right? All of these, they fuckin came from the East, and there is so much more that we could offer, if we were just given the opportunity to live in peace.


Devon: It would never occur to the people who take the different types of Christianity for granted, you know, [people] hate Mormon’s too but [they] don’t think Mormons represent all Christian people.


Soroush: I won’t look at every Christian and think “oh this guy is probably a Mormon,” and as crazy as ISIS is you don’t go to every single Muslim and think “oh this guy is part of ISIS,” right. And again, the joke is that ISIS was literally armed and trained by America, but that’s a huge topic for another day.


Devon: If my understanding is correct, they were able to get the power that they have through a vacuum created by fucking coups and shit.


Soroush: Yeah, if you ever have the opportunity to look at the documentaries on the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq, it’s very eye-opening to see how much of it was controlled by the west. You look at the conflicts in the Middle East and you try and label an oppressor and oppressed, and ISIS is the oppressor and the people in Syria are the oppressed, but at the same time, when you find out the United States is literally feeding both sides of them, you kind of wonder what’s the objective here, and realistically it’s maintaining the civil unrest in the Middle East, because it’s what works for them.


Photos of Aleppo, Syria, before and after the Syrian Civil War

Activism


Soroush: Right, so Iran currently is in a bit of a shit show. They’ve elected a new hardline president, they are still under sanctions by the United States, so the people are still suffering and they’re currently in a water shortage. And there are protests going on at this very moment and people are actually being shot by the government for protesting. I never thought I would say this, but it’s a privilege to be able to protest in Canada and not have to worry about being gunned down by your government, whereas if you were to protest in Iran right now there are helicopters flying around with people up there with machine guns just railing you. And you will have western people look at this and be like “oh my god we need to do something” but no, no you need to do nothing.


Devon: We need to stop doing something.


Jack: Yeah


Soroush: You need to leave! You need to give these people the opportunity to figure out their own shit because, until the solution comes from within, there will be no solution. Every single time America has brought in somebody to assist a country, it’s gotten worse. So, we had a king, that king was brought in by the CIA, and then he moved away from what the CIA’s intentions were, and the CIA was like “no no no we can’t have this happen,” so they staged a religious revolution, and the religious leader was paid by the CIA to be there. Now it has gotten out of control again, because now the religious leaders are like “well we don’t want to give a shit about what America says, we want to start doing our own thing,” and we’re gonna get back to the cycle of “well now we’re gonna have to find someone to replace them.” And throughout this entire process the people just continue to suffer and suffer and suffer, and the quality of life deteriorates, deteriorates, and deteriorates, to the point where there’s no point in being alive anymore. And as climate change worsens, drought, famine, will worsen alongside it. Yemen is currently going through one of the biggest famines known to man to the point where a child literally dies every 60 seconds of hunger. So, unfortunately we’ve been in this meeting for 51 minutes, 51 children have died, because of the lack of care and the overly negative influence that the west has had on the Middle East.


With that being said, and it feels hopeless a lot of the time, I do believe there is hope because I’ve been seeing a lot more outspokenness in western society towards the problems. It was very interesting to see the amount of attention Palestine got, and while unfortunately the attention has died down at this point and while Palestine is still under attack by Israel, it was interesting to see that people took a moment to give a shit. And I’m hoping that we can take those small moments that we’ve been experiencing throughout this whole pandemic and extend those to some legitimate change. You can bring about as much awareness as you want, but until you start fucking putting your money where your mouth is, nothing will happen.


Jack: That conflict has been going on for years and years, it’s not a new thing, not to discount most of the stuff that happened in Edmonton, like all the protests and stuff were organized by young Palestinian women and they definitely deserve their fuckin flowers cause they did a hell of a job.


Devon: I do think one thing about news cycle activism, as much as a bunch of people who had never heard of Palestine or gave a shit before -- I think what it is missing now is that the issues now all have the same root cause, you know, like in the Middle East, in Palestine, in Africa, in Latin America, its western imperialism-


Soroush: Right, the abuse of other nations for the sake of a big one. And you’re right, the root cause of it is western society, or at least European/western society, because when you say western a lot of the times places like the UK get left out when they are the big daddy of it all.


Devon: Yeah, they made the blueprint.


Soroush: I think there is hope, and I have to continue to think that there is hope because if I myself as an immigrant were to ever give up hope on my home country then who else would there ever be to give a shit about it. We will see a continuation of the increase of the presence of Middle Eastern culture in Media and I hope it continues to the point where it becomes such a norm that society then goes “hey lets maybe stop bombing them.”


Jack: Such an unfortunate way to say that, you know.


Soroush: You have to be realistic.


Devon: It’s true. It’s brutally true at the same time.


Jack: Are there any Middle Eastern artists in pop media now that you wanna give a shoutout to?


Soroush: One of my favourite Iranian, specifically trap music artists, his name is ASADI, he makes fantastic music, it fills me with so much fucking joy listening to his shit ‘cause it’s nostalgic to both sides of me. It’s nostalgic to my Iranian culture and it’s also nostalgic to my place in western society. The synthesis of this culture, it satisfies me like nothing else, but he’s one of the biggest artists I personally have really been enjoying. It’s a small place to start, but there are countless numbers, even within Edmonton there are so many people doing such good work that to name them all I’d have to give you a list this long.


Devon: Is there anything you wanted to touch on that we didn’t quite get too?


Soroush: Keep the Middle East in your thoughts. Keep the Middle East in your thoughts, keep it in your mind, and not the version of the Middle East that you see today that is a war zone, but do yourself a favour and look up some photos of what the Middle East looked like in the 90’s and have that version in your mind whenever you think of it.


Devon: Absolutely.


Soroush: Some before and after pictures, I think it does the best job in representing to what extent these places were just destroyed.


Devon: Thank you so much man this was a fantastic conversation.


Soroush: Yeah I really enjoyed this, pleasure to speak with both of you.



The Absurd Collective is a collective of young artists that operates in Amiskwaciwâskahikan on Treaty 6 land.

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