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Listen to Jews Who Don’t Look, Act, or Vote Like You

We’ve learned lessons that can help you better understand a changing, dangerous world

Sheila Nazarian
November 09, 2023
Jewish Iranian women at a synagogue in downtown Tehran, October 30, 2023

Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Jewish Iranian women at a synagogue in downtown Tehran, October 30, 2023

Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto via Getty Images

This article is part of What Now?.
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Sir Winston Churchill, who foresaw the rise of Nazism and the threat of Hitler long before it was taken seriously by most of the world, is sometimes called the “modern Cassandra,” after the Trojan princess who was doomed to know the future but not to be believed. In fact, prescient thinkers since the Hebrew prophets have sometimes had an uncanny knack for tracing the trends of the era and understanding where history is going.

Here is a harsh truth about human beings: People naturally fear and respond to violent power. Democracies can obscure this truth, fostering peaceful development under the rule of law. But, like a jungle garden, they must be constantly tended in order to weed out encroaching dangers. The forces of dictatorship and terrorism think that the Free World has become weak and unstable. Just as in the years before World War II, aggressor powers believe the time has come for a dark upheaval.

Some of us did not need a massacre of Jews to see reality clearly. For those who did, it’s worth asking yourselves why you are shocked when others are not; why you didn’t hear what others were desperately trying to tell you; why you didn’t listen to Jews who had something important to say—something that would have helped you understand a changing, dangerous world better, in ways that could protect you, your children, your community, and more—but who maybe don’t look or act or vote like you. Because in fact, as a Persian Jew who has been writing about these issues for years, I think that’s a big part of the answer to this mystery, and—for all of our sakes—it has to stop.

When I was 6 years old, my family and I fled Iran in the back of a pickup truck across the Pakistani border. The Iranian government had taken the dynamic, sophisticated modern society with roots in millennia of Persian culture that I remember from my childhood and turned it into a dystopian theocracy where women must cover from head to toe or face rape, torture, and execution at the hands of regime thugs.

My family, who fled our ancient homeland after the ayatollahs destroyed its flourishing civic culture and turned it into a repressive theocracy, were among the first victims of a jihadi wave that is still cresting. Over the last few decades, Iran has amassed a powerful empire of jihadist militias stretching from Afghanistan to Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. Iran is notably the outstanding sponsor of the brutal Palestinian terrorist faction Hamas, which has functioned as the governing force in the Gaza Strip since 2007.

We now know that Iran coordinated and planned the Simchat Torah massacre of Israelis over a period of several weeks. When the Iranian-armed terrorists struck on Oct. 7, they didn’t just murder over 1,400 innocents; they tortured over 80% of their victims, including children. There were instances of rape so brutal that they broke the victim’s pelvis. A baby was baked alive in the family’s oven. Over 240 men, women, and children remain captives of Hamas in Gaza, undergoing G-d knows what horrors.

Iran has shown us for a long time that it perpetrates cruelty not only within its own borders but regionally. We should have listened back in 1979, when the ayatollahs began the state-mandated weekly chants of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.” In 2001, former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani declared that if “the world of Islam comes to possess the weapons currently in Israel’s possession [meaning nuclear weapons]—on that day this method of global arrogance would come to a dead end. This … is because the use of a nuclear bomb in Israel will leave nothing on the ground, whereas it will only damage the world of Islam.” In 2005, then-President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad promised to “wipe Israel off the map.”

In the ideology of the Islamic Republic, Israel is the “Little Satan” and America is the “Great Satan”; the destruction of Israel is the first step in the destruction of the West. In pursuit of this goal, Iran has sponsored a pernicious strategy of “denormalizing” Israel that has wormed its way into Western institutions, particularly in academia. According to this theory, Israel is somehow an abnormal country, and any recognition or engagement with any supporters of Jewish self-sovereignty is considered “oppressive” and illegitimate.

The fruits of the long-term campaign to delude Western youth about the Middle East conflict have been bitter indeed. In the wake of the savage, ISIS-like Hamas attacks on Israel, crazed, shrieking pro-Hamas protesters took to the streets of Western cities and fully endorsed Hamas’ genocidal goals. In Sydney, in front of the famous opera house, anti-Israel marchers chanted “gas the Jews.” In London, ISIS-like flags were carried by marchers who called for Muslim armies to invade Israel.

Some of the worst pro-Hamas activity has been on America’s college campuses. Last year, when my alma mater Columbia University hosted the blood libeler Mohammed El-Kurd, who has grotesquely accused Israelis of harvesting Palestinian organs, I warned that the school must not become a platform for antisemites. Just after the Hamas attack on Israel, an Israeli student was assaulted on Columbia’s campus with a stick. At Indiana University, pro-Hamas students interrupted a peaceful Jewish student vigil for the slain and kidnapped Israelis by chanting genocidal slogans into megaphones. At California State University in Long Beach, anti-Israel forces have been advertising themselves with images of the Hamas paragliders that were used to attack an Israeli music festival on Oct. 7, butchering 260 young people and taking more captive to Gaza.

I don’t want to say, “I told you so.” I would have given anything to have been wrong. But I was not. As I have long warned, Iran and its jihadist proxies pose a threat far beyond its borders—a threat that begins with the extermination of the Jewish state and people and ends with the destruction of the West.

The good news, to the extent that there is any in this moment, is that our wider community is blessed with coteries of Jews—from Iran and the wider Middle East, from the former Soviet Union, from Latin America—who carry closely in our hearts and minds the vital and hard lessons of history that are wildly relevant for America in this moment. We’re here to help, if you’ll only listen.

Dr. Sheila Nazarian is a physician in Los Angeles and star of the Emmy-nominated Netflix series Skin Decision: Before and After. Her family escaped to America from Iran.