As Iranian youths joined in massive anti-government protests and the martyrdom of a young woman dominated the headlines, this awakening of young voices in the Middle East contrasted with headline stories about American youth on the same day in June.
The New York Times on June 23rd had two front page headlines involving youth acting out against authority and a third on American teenagers taking on reality TV on the Arts page:
Front page: In a Death Seen Around the World, a Symbol of Iranian Protests
Front page: Drug Cartels in Mexico Lure American Teenagers as Killers
Arts Section: Rich Kids, Don’t Look Now, but Your Teenage angst is Showing
The Iranian martyr was a young 26 year old woman whose family said she was not political but whose slow and bloody death was captured on videotape and soon appeared all over the web. She studied philosophy and took underground singing lessons and was trying to return home with a singing instructor when they decided to leave their car after getting caught in a clash with club wielding forces in central Tehran. She was hit by a shot from the rooftop of a private house, possibly a sniper. Her fiancé said she never supported any particular presidential candidate but wanted “freedom, feedom for everybody.”
Rosalia Reta 19 is a cold blooded killer now serving a 70 year sentence in a U.S. prison. He is only one of a growing number of impoverished American teenagers recruited by Mexican drug cartels from border towns and trained to kill in the drug wars. Reta was only 13 when he was lured across the Rio Grande from a Laredo, Texas discotheque with promises of fists full of money, fast cars, and sexy women. Another assassin serving what amounts to a life sentence is Reta’s boyhood friend Gabriel Cardona, 22. Cardona’s mother said he did well in school and wanted to be a lawyer until his alcoholic father abandoned the family and the teen started hanging out with drug users. If Cardona eventually became the brains of the American recruits, Reta was the most eager to become an assassin. And yes, he told police, he loved to kill.
Finally, a new reality show called “NYC Prep” highlights what New York Times reviewer Alessandra Stanley calls “six swaggering rich kids” on the Upper East Side. She quotes one of the two young men as saying “Everything in New York City is about pulling connections. It’s who you know, and how much money you have. And it’s really sad? And I’m not saying I’m like that? But that’s what New York is: money is power.”
As Americans watch the protests in Iran and marvel at the brutality of a totalitarian state and the courage of young Iranians speaking up against corruption, they might want to look closer at why some of their richest youngsters are not asking for more meaning than status offers them and why some of their poorest are eagerly telling drug cartels “give me the money” at any cost.