If you have been keeping up with the news lately, I am sure you have heard of Roxana Saberi, an American journalist who has been imprisoned in Iran with a sentence of 8 years for spying for the US government. However, these allegations are said to be unfounded.
Saberi is a freelance journalist who has been living in Iran for six years. She’s worked for top news organizations like NPR and the BBC, and grew up in Fargo, North Dakota. She has a diverse family background: her father is Iranian and her mother is Japanese. She was chosen as Miss North Dakota in 1997, and went on to get Master’s degrees from Northwestern and Cambridge.
Since I’m a current Northwestern student, I have to say I deeply empathize with her situation, and hope she is freed soon. I am sure the immense pressure on the Iranian government will help Roxana’s cause. After all, the campaign to “Free Roxana” has gained a lot of traction via Twitter, freeroxana.net, and the international news media. Most impressive, Iranian President Ahmadinejad made a statement that Saberi should be allowed to offer a full defense at her appeal. President Obama has publicly called for her release, expressing concern for her safety.
But why does Saberi get all the attention of heads of state and news media around the world? I say: because she is American. People rally behind her cause mostly because she’s American.
But what about Iranian people suffering under their government? Rarely is their plight so publicized, and rarely do Americans fight for the rights of an Iranian. Why is no one fighting for Mohammad Khamami, who has been sentenced to death by stoning by Iranian authorities? Oh, and how about two brothers – Arash Alaei and Kamiar Alaei - doctors specialized in treating HIV/AIDS, who were tried and sentenced in January for plotting to overthrow the Iranian government – but were not given a fair trial by international standards? Hmm…maybe it’s because their names are hard to spell, and of course, because they don’t have any connection to America. And US media would never talk about the fact that Iran has arrested and tortured many Iranians who attempted to visit the Ashraf Camp in Iraq in order to visit their relatives; women as old as 85 have been punished.
One positive development: Recently there has been a lot of support for 20 year old Iranian Delara Darabi, who has been sentenced to public hanging for a murder that occurred when she was 17 years old. At that time, her 19 year old boyfriend had forced Delara to falsely confess to the murder of a relative – to protect him from execution. Despite the evidence to the contrary, she’s on death row. The good thing is, her execution was postponed 2 months in part because of international pressure. Still, she has only 403 followers on Twitter, compared to Roxana Saberi’s 3602 followers. That’s a big difference. And the US news media definitely hasn’t written about her as much. Mostly because she’s not American.
Sure, it’s natural for people to support those they feel an affinity with — and Americans emphatize more strongly with Roxana Saberi. But this narrow-minded Western focus becomes a problem when it completely ignores the plight of local Iranians – and nationals of other countries as well. Saberi is lucky; she has the political connection to America and thus is having her voice heard. But most local Iranians are not so lucky to have such a network or such connections, and their problems get completely ignored. Americans have a powerful voice and with that voice, can cause international outcry that can save lives. But inevitably, the US media selectively ignores many of those situations that don’t endanger Americans, leaving more marginalized populations to struggle alone just because they don’t have that connection to the US. Americans, along with the Western world as a whole need to look past their biases and understand that there is more going on than simply the abuse of one American journalist. With great power comes great responsibility, and this responsibility needs to be fulfilled.