Lately, a lot of people have been asking me about the Ajam Media Collective and my involvement in it. Ajam is an online space that deals with all things “Ajam”—sure, it’s main focus is Iran, but we push borders beyond the typical Persianate world. But really, you could read just the “about us” and “why ajam?” pages on the website.
My involvement, however, isn’t really discussed on the Ajam page. People keep asking me if I helped found it. I didn’t. I’m not one of the co-founders. I knew about the idea from the get-go, and I was even asked to be involved at the beginning. But I didn’t join.
After years of putting my energy into different orgs, I’ve become selfish with my time. I won’t participate in an org or even an event unless I feel like it’s truly worth it. So I waited to see what Ajam would come up with. The site was up and running for six months before I submitted my first article to the editors. After that, it still took me a couple months before I decided I wanted a greater role in it. Since then, Ajam’s become one of my favorite things to work on.
As an Iranian-American and a graduate student, I feel like I come from a place of privilege, and working with Ajam has become my way of addressing that. Part of this privilege is intuitively knowing a little bit more about the region and having to answer questions about it. Non-Iranians (and perhaps, non-Middle Easterners) don’t understand how many banal questions we get on the regular.
“Does everyone get an arranged marriage?” “Women can’t go to school in Iran, right?” ”Do they have cell phones over there??????”
Answering these questions and dispelling stereotypes has become the birthright of those born to immigrant families.
As a graduate student, I recognize that I have access to more information than the average civilian. With Ajam, I feel like I can apply my resources to address these questions and help people think beyond these cliche questions and broaden their idea of what the world of Ajam consists of. That’s why I work with Ajam. It’s about the transmission of information between a collective and community of people who are interested in this oft-misunderstood part of the world. It’s about educating and questioning—not these inane questions, but deeper ones, ones that get at the critical questions about social, cultural, and political issues.
Anyway, if you managed to read through this, you owe it to yourself to check out Ajam’s latest photo essay here.