‘I wish that people didn’t have to be scared anymore. I want them to ask questions, even the inappropriate ones . Poles ask me from which part of Iraq I am, so that I can answer back and tell them that I’m from Iran and not Iraq. And I like that. This helps us start a dialogue and get to know each other better. Those who don’t know are scared’. An interview with Farid, an Iranian living in Poland for 11 years
No one should face loneliness
Since I started living in Poland, I have never spent Christmas alone. The Polish people are very hospitable. My Polish friends often invite me over to their houses. They say: ‘Farid, we celebrate Christmas. Do you want to come over?’. During the first year of my university journey, one of my classmates said: ‘It’s Christmas time. There is a Christmas tradition we have here in Poland. It says that no one should spend Christmas alone. I know you are Muslim, but would you like to come and join us?’ I replied: ‘You invited me to your house, that’s very kind of you. Of course, I will; it will be a pleasure’.
I have lived here for 11 years and each Christmas, I have been invited to sit at someone’s table. A drunk person returning from a football match often told me: ‘welcome to my country’. The state does what it does because they aim to obtain voter support. In the media during the electoral campaign, everything may look different. However, in the social sphere, people are kind and understanding.
‘Welcome to my country’?
Some Europeans and European governments disapproved of people migrating from Muslim-majority countries. I think it was caused by fear. I understand that some could justify such behaviour to some extent. However, we can’t justify people who spread fear campaigns against migrants. Who kills the most Muslims? Muslims. Who incites fear in Europeans? The Europeans.
If 20 out of 60 million inhabitants of my country are scared, for some, it’s not 20 million frightened people, but 20 million voices. The government looks at the numbers. They couldn’t care less about what will happen with a particular group of people. All that matters is to achieve their goal of becoming president or prime-minister.
When houses of Syrian people were bombed and they began to flee the country, many officials said they were trying to attack us. Because of spreading fear, they managed to become presidents or influential politicians. While at the same time, a Syrian doesn’t have a home to return to.
Should I confess that I’m Muslim?
I came to Poland legally; on a student visa. However, I knew that my Polish friends, with whom I played football regularly, and met once or twice every week, were writing on Facebook that Muslims shouldn’t be coming to Poland.
I thought to myself: God, should I answer them back? Should I say: ‘I’m a Muslim and we are not all the same?’. Then I thought to myself: ‘No, why should I care?’. I felt alienated, lonely and scared back then. I was afraid of going out. There were those short video clips which appeared online back then. One of them was inspired by the ‘Terminator’ movie. Schwarzenegger’s character says, ‘It doesn’t have feelings, it doesn’t feel sorry for you, it’s here solely to kill you’.
It was an extended dialogue. Someone put it over a clip of fleeing refugees. The movie is about a non-existent robot. A robot who is supposed to kill humans. It’s about a terminator, not a human who runs away from bullets.
Islam has had lots of ups and downs. Just like in any other religion, there is a lot of space for abuse. In my opinion, religion, the worship of God, is an excellent form of therapy. When my mum died, I remember how my life no longer mattered. It ended. I stopped going to work. I didn’t want to be in a relationship anymore; everything became black and white for me; everything was colourless. At some point, my sister told me that we must be way more responsible.
Mum is in heaven. That is why we must be good people; if not, we won’t see her ever again. You could think, especially if you don’t believe in God, ‘that’s ridiculous; your mum is dead, and that’s it’. On the other hand, it’s therapeutic. I think there is a way for us to communicate better.
The media in the role of a judge
The media plays a significant role. Fifteen years ago, two men couldn’t hold hands in public because they could be beaten up. Two women couldn’t kiss. Nowadays, the situation has changed. That’s because, for example, in the Modern Family TV series, a homosexual couple appeared. Various artists started to speak up about the topic. There has been a rise in the production of movies that include LGBTQ characters, showing that they are normal human beings and have the same struggles as everyone else. When the media supports a particular cause and decides to change people’s minds, that’s what happens. Unfortunately, it is not always the case.
When talking about refugees, the media could say: ‘That’s Fatima and Mohammad. They are from Syria, Fatima is a teacher, and Mohammad is a doctor. They came to Poland, were granted asylum and bought an apartment. Fatima teaches, and Mohammad continues his medical school to become a doctor’. That’s how my Polish friends look at me. Even ones whom I’ve seen once or twice. We have a lot of mutual respect towards each other. One’s who don’t have the knowledge are the ones that are scared. If I could give advice to the Iranian people, it would be: Don’t stay indoors. Poland is beautiful. Please try to get to know the Poles; they are truly good people.
That’s the best advice I can think of. Don’t go straight home from class. In Poland, you can meet truly amazing people.
Getting out of the house
I wish that people didn’t have to be scared anymore. I want them to ask questions, even the inappropriate ones. Poles ask me from which part of Iraq I am, so that I can answer back and tell them that I’m from Iran and not Iraq. And I like that. This helps us to start a dialogue and get to know each other better. Some get offended when Iranians are called Arabs. If someone tells me that I speak Arabic, I clarify that I speak Persian.
There is no reason to be offended. The worst thing that can happen is when someone doesn’t ask questions out of fear of offending someone. Then they won’t ask and will never know the answer, they won’t get closer to another person. I have a suggestion for the Polish people. If you spot someone from abroad on the street, ask them where they come from and what they are doing in Poland.
I swear, we love being asked that. Ask if you could help them somehow. Even if you won’t be able to do it, the act of asking that question matters. Don’t be scared, ask.
Usually, when someone arrives in a new country, the first thing they want to do is to find their place. On their first day, everyone feels lonely. Anyone can be scared of the unknown.
Farid was interviewed by Elias Smurzyński.
Elias Smurzyński – Iranian Studies and Law student at Jagiellonian University of Krakow; fan of criminal law, Thai box, and gonzo journalism.