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Iranian American Life

Iranican Promotes Unity through Dialogue and Tolerance

We had the wonderful opportunity to interview the hosts behind Iranican, a non-profit, volunteer-based organization based in the Silicon Valley whose mission is to explore issues affecting “Generation Iranian-American”. This is done via radio and video interviews and shows as well as via an online blog. The Iranican team uses entertainment in order to educate and discuss communal issues.

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E Pluribus Unum

It’s no challenge trying to find an American flag and seal in the U.S. State Department. Almost every place you look, you can find our nation’s beautiful seal decorated with these powerful words, “E Pluribus Unum” meaning Out of Many One.

But the reason I went to the State Department was not just to admire the flags and phrases, but to attend a conference,  The Secretary’s Global Diaspora Forum.  As an Iranian American, I was interested to hear from Hillary Clinton about how diaspora communities like mine fit into the diverse American tapestry.

Kris Balderston opened the conference and noted that nowadays the meaning of our nation’s motto has transformed into a similar concept that we are one nation united under the precepts of being Americans working together towards common goals. No matter what country of origin, ethnicity, religion, or gender the citizens belong to, they are all striving towards the same things whether it is education, freedom, or peace. The purpose of this conference is to recognize and connect all the different Diasporas in the United States and provide them with a road map to the future full of success and achievement of common goals. Additionally, the conference encourages building bridges from the Diasporas in the U.S. to their countries of origin, via people to people interactions.

  • 8 July 2010
  • Posted By Setareh Tabatabaie
  • 3 Comments
  • Culture, Iranian American Life

Talented Iranian American Top Ranked in Film Competition

Ali Tabibnejad knew he was meant to be a film-maker since he was a child in Ahvaz. He would go into a room by himself and act out entire films. He imagined an entire film industry in his head: from different studios — different rooms in the house– to different theaters and directors. He would even imagine sales figures for the films and pick winners among them in imaginary film festivals.

Now, Tabibnejad is turning his favorite childhood game into reality. His film, “Untitled for James,” is currently ranked as one of the top six films in Openfilm’s Get It Made Competition. “Untitled for James” is about connecting to people and how technology affects that connection. It is the story of a son who has given up on his father because the father has been a technology-obsessed workaholic, working on advancing technology and its promise all his life. The son, an anti-technology musician, thinks he has figured it all out, but in actuality his life is in tatters. Through the events depicted in the film, his father succeeds in connecting with him.

The creation of the film was no small feat. Just days before production was to begin, Tabibnejad lost his lead actress. With challenging and frantic last minute rewriting, Tabibnejad did not stop rewriting until the very last edits in the post-production.

When asked about his interest in film-making, Tabibnejad stressed the social nature of art. “I hope to be a filmmaker in the tradition of Mohsen Makhmalbaf, not just because I have admired his films growing up, but also because he uses his status as an artist for social change,” he told NIAC. “I believe that the platform for expression that artists are afforded in society brings with it the responsibility to fight for the freedom of others.”

Asked whether he views himself as a role model for other Iranian-American involvement in the arts, Tabibnejad replied, “No, but I hope to be one. Iranians are a talented people, often intimidatingly so, and if my story inspires any Iranian to commit to the arts, I would count myself blessed.”

If Tabibnejad’s “Untitled for James” is still ranked as one of the top six films at the end of July, he will have the chance to turn it into a feature film. With this jumpstart to his career, Tabibnejad hopes to later revisit and explore his Iranian roots through cinema. “I don’t think any film has done justice to the richness of Iran’s recent history… and the breadth and depth of the personal stories that Iranians have been the heroes of in the last thirty to forty years.”

  • 17 June 2010
  • Posted By Setareh Tabatabaie
  • 49 Comments
  • Culture, discrimination, Iranian American Life

Will the Real Iranians Please Stand Up?

In the past three decades, American perceptions of Iran have shifted dramatically.  The very people who once had an empire, who drafted the first human rights declaration, and who were one of America’s closest allies in the Middle East are now among the most misunderstood and discriminated-against populations in the country.

First, Iran was labeled as a member of the ‘axis of evil’. Then, in the movie 300, Persians were depicted as pillaging, deranged savages wearing rags. Public officials and famous politicians oftentimes make off-hand and flippant comments about killing or hating Iranians.

All of this has led much of the public to equate all Iranians in their minds with terrorists and suicide bombers.  (I actually had a World History teacher tell one of the Iranian-American kids in my class to be quiet because “All Iran exports is terrorism.”)

With Prince of Persia, we were finally portrayed in a good light. Our ancient world was being shown in romantic and mythological ways based on revered Persian literature, The Book of Kings and A Thousand and One Nights. For once, my dad said he’d actually sit through a movie without falling asleep. We were all excited.

We should have known that it wouldn’t last long…

Enter: Jersey Shore — The Persian Version.

“Two thousand years ago the Persian Empire ruled the ancient world…but they didn’t have your soundtrack, your style, or your swagger,” reads the casting call for the new reality show, seeking “anyone who uses exotic appeal to get anything or anyone [they] desire.”

For anyone who has not seen Jersey Shore, the show currently consists of a cast of young Italian Americans, whose “reality”-show lifestyle is little more than drinking and partying. They live on the beach, but refuse to tan anywhere but a tanning salon, and take an hour to get ready, with a lot of hair gel and a lot of hair spray involved. The characters either hook up, or attempt to hook up, with a sort of mad desperation.

And now they’re going to do the same thing with Iranian Americans.

A short while ago, the Iranian band Zed Bazi came out with a song called “Iranian of LA,” making fun of the very people who are chosen to represent our community in this show.  Now everyone knows that Iranians are the real origin of the hair “poof” and can party as much as anyone else. But honestly, no one wants to be represented by the type of people and lifestyles shown on Jersey Shore.

The sad thing is there are hundreds of amazing Iranian Americans who deserve some recognition: artists, fashion designers, film directors, actors, doctors, website founders, and more.  But the quiet dignity with which these people live their lives isn’t considered “good TV.”

For a moment, we thought our reputations might be saved with a last-minute addition to your nightly TV line-up: Funny in Farsi. But sadly, that show was nixed after the first episode.

Silly Iranians, we were told by Hollywood, you have three options only: terrorists, savages, or party animals. Take your pick.

Amanpour: Attacked for Being Iranian

As with anything in politics, there should be room for a lively debate about Christiane Amanpour’s recent appointment to host ABC’s This Week. Legitimate arguments can be made both for and against the decision to hire an acclaimed foreign correspondent to do a Sunday morning show that previously focused on domestic issues.  And employees at ABC are well within their right to be miffed at the network’s decision to pay top dollar for a star like Amanpour at the same time they are scaling back and laying off long-time employees.

But what cannot be countenanced is accusing her of bias based only on insinuations about her Iranian heritage.  The attacks on Amanpour follow in a long line of Iranophobic attempts to keep qualified Iranian Americans out of the public sphere in America, and it should be called out for what it is: anti-Iranian bigotry.

  • 8 January 2010
  • Posted By Nayda Lakelieh
  • 3 Comments
  • Congress, Culture, Iranian American Life

Khodahafez America?

This week Congressman Greshman Barrett announced that he would like to reintroduce the Stop Terrorists Entry Program (STEP) Act, originally introduced in 2003. STEP is an attempt to “step up” national security policies by amending our nation’s current immigration policies. Basically, the STEP ACT would prohibit the admission of aliens from countries deemed to be “State Sponsors of Terrorism,” including Iran.

The United States has come a long way since the days of the Mayflower — in both good ways and bad — but our nation was ultimately founded by immigrants; everyone has immigrant roots, including Congressman Barrett.

One could say to suddenly bar all Iranians seeking to come to the US could be seen as a eugenic measure of some sort, keeping out specific groups of “aliens” from US soil, and adhering to the bigoted idea that only specific ethnic groups belong within the US. It would also deport Iranians on student visas, temporary work visas, exchange visas, and even tourist visas within 60 days. This would mean that if the STEP Act were to pass, my Calculus tutor Bijan would be deported before we even take our final exams, simply for being here on a student visa.

The STEP Act doesn’t take into account that Bijan has only twenty more credits to complete his B.S. in Biology, simply focusing on the fact that he is Iranian.

Even those seeking emergency medical treatment, political, or religious asylum will only be granted entry after “extensive federal screening.”  Anyone who has experienced the “extensive federal screening” process knows how difficult it is.

If a law like this had been implemented ten, twenty, even thirty years ago many of us Iranian-Americans would not be here today. Many of the great contributions that Iranian Americans have made to the United States — in medicine, engineering, science, and academia — would not have occurred.

The US has tried rounding up people based on where they or their families were born — Japanese internment camps during WWII being the most poignant example — and there are even some pundits in Washington who still think it was a good idea.  But even in today’s frenzied political atmosphere where teabaggers set the bounds for discourse, this has to be crossing a line, right?

If you think so, check out what NIAC is doing on this.

Congressman Introducing Legislation to Bar & Deport Iranians from U.S.

Congressman Gresham Barrett (R-SC) has announced his intention to reintroduce legislation that would prohibit “the admission of aliens from countries designated as State Sponsors of Terrorism as well as Yemen to the United States.”  The Stop Terrorist Entry Program (STEP) Act, first introduced in 2003, also would have required all persons from these countries on student visas, temporary work visas, exchange and tourist visas to leave the United States within 60 days, despite their legal status in the country.  Residents and nationals of Iran, Cuba, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen would be affected.

The bill makes an exception only in the cases of individuals who are seeking political or religious asylum, or who have immediate emergency medical needs.

Congressman Barrett said his bill came in response to the Fort Hood shooting and the Christmas-day attempt to blow up an airplane over Detroit. “While President Obama may have declared an end to the War on Terror, it is clear our enemies did not get the message. Twice in the past two months, radical Islamic terrorists have attacked our nation and the Administration has failed to adapt its national security and immigration policies to counter the renewed resolve of those who seek to harm our citizens.”

The American Army major and Nigerian alleged to have committed those attacks would not have been affected by the STEP Act.

In response to Barrett’s announcement, the National Iranian American Council has launched a campaign against the bill, saying it is “offensive to American principles, harmful to US interests, and discriminates against Iranians and Iranian Americans.”  The group also noted that no Iranian has ever committed a terrorist act on American soil.

The 2003 version of the bill is available online.  Congressman Barrett’s office did not respond to requests for comment.  Aside from the inclusion of Yemen, and a new provision to prohibit the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo Bay prison to the United States, Congressman Barrett has not indicated any further differences between his new bill and the legislation he introduced in 2003.

Green Movement and Iranian Government Clash Flares Up

While Iranian authorities continue their campaign against the growing opposition, the Green Movement does not appear to be letting up, even as some of its leaders’ efforts were thwarted from participating. Yesterday’s National Student Day protests were preempted by arrests of student activists from universities across Iran as reported by the International Campaign for Human Rights. Nevertheless, tens of thousands protested in solidarity with the Green Movement against the current Iranian government in “the biggest anti-government rallies in months.” Mir Hussein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, widely regarded as the movement’s leaders, were feared to be under house arrest.

According to AP:

Plainclothes men on motorcycles — likely Basijis — also harassed the opposition’s leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi, at his Tehran office on Tuesday. Up to 30 men on motorcycles, some in masks, blocked Mousavi as he tried to drive out of his office garage and chanted slogans against him, two opposition Web sites said, citing witnesses.

Mousavi got out of his car and shouted at them, ”You’re agents, you’ve been tasked with threatening me, beating me, killing me,” before his aides hustled him back inside, the Gooya News Web site reported. The men left several hours later and Mousavi was able to leave.

“When Mousavi’s wife Zahra Rahnavard arrived at Tehran University’s art faculty, where she is a professor, female Basij members tried to stop her and attacked her and her entourage with pepper spray, opposition Web sites reported, citing witnesses.

Protesters took some of the boldest actions yet in their demonstrations against the ruling clerics, breaking “the biggest taboo in Iran—burning pictures of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and chanting slogans against him.”

The New York Times reports further symbolic breaks from the current government as protesters “carried an Iranian flag from which the signature emblem of ‘Allah’– added after Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution— had been removed.” Iranian authorities stepped up their threats against demonstrators while attempting to barricade universities to contain protests. Iran’s top prosecutor, Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi, warned on Tuesday that the judiciary will be harsher than in the past:

“So far, we have shown restraint. From today no leniency will be applied,” Ejehi said, according to the official IRNA news agency.

Tehran’s police chief, Gen. Azizullah Rajabzadeh, announced that 204 protesters, including 39 women, were arrested in the capital during Monday’s demonstrations. They were detained for ”violating public order,” including setting fire to vehicles and chanting slogans, he said, according to the state news agency IRNA.

Large demonstrations are expected to occur on December 12th, the 6-month anniversary of the disputed June 12th elections. Hadi Ghaemi of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran is spreading the word about the Global Day of Arts in Support of Iran’s Civil Rights Movement on December 12th, when activists and artists will come together under the banner of ArtsUnited4Iran. Sponsors of associated worldwide events will include Reporters without Borders, Human Rights Watch, the Nobel Women’s Initiative, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, ARTICLE 19, and Front Line. More detailed information can be found at United4Iran:

Iran experts and activists speaking out in support of the civil rights movement in Iran include Hamid Dabashi, Columbia University Professor and CNN commentator; Hadi Ghaemi, Director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran; Firuzeh Mahmoudi, United4Iran’s International Coordinator; Omid Memarian, Iran expert for Human Rights Watch; and Reza Moini, Iran expert for Reporters without Borders (RSF).

Following the UN General Assembly’s resolution on the situation of human rights in Iran on November 20, 2009, members of the international community are calling on the Iranian government to:

  • Respect Freedom of Assembly, Expression, and Press,
  • Free all Prisoners of Conscience,
  • End Rape and Torture in Prisons,
  • Hold Those Responsible for Committing Human Rights Crimes Accountable.
  • Iranian Government Targets Opposition Worldwide

    The Wall Street Journal reported today on an extremely troubling development in the Iranian government’s efforts to silence its critics in the continued aftermath of the disputed June elections–the regime is reportedly attempting to extend its crackdown beyond Iran’s borders to the Iranian diaspora abroad.

    “Interviews with roughly 90 ordinary Iranians abroad — college students, housewives, doctors, lawyers, businesspeople — in New York, London, Dubai, Sweden, Los Angeles and other places indicate that people who criticize Iran’s regime online or in public demonstrations are facing threats intended to silence them.”

    “Although it wasn’t possible to independently verify their claims, interviewees provided consistently similar descriptions of harassment techniques world-wide.”

    In one case, a young Iranian-American engineering student received an email threatening his family should he continue to criticize the Iranian government. He dismissed the threat as a joke until his father was arrested at his home in Tehran and told his son could “no longer safely return to Iran.

    Other interviewees said they were questioned at airports, scrutinized at passport control in Iran about their foreign ties, forced to log in to their Facebook accounts, and some had their passports confiscated for their criticisms of the Iranian government’s handling of this summer’s elections.

    This shameful campaign is further evidence that the Iranian government is mindful of lessons learned from the Shah’s upheaval:

    “During Iran’s historic 1979 Islamic revolution, Iranians abroad played an instrumental role in transforming the movement from a fringe idea led by a frail cleric, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, into a global force that eventually toppled the monarchy of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Iranians abroad flocked to Mr. Khomeini’s side, lending his movement language skills, money and, ultimately, global legitimacy.”

    “In the current crisis, Iran is eager to prevent a similar scenario.”

    • 20 October 2009
    • Posted By Matt Sugrue
    • 1 Comments
    • Civil Rights Legislation, Congress, Iranian American Life

    Failure to Launch: The Terrorist Watchlist

    Erich Scherfen was an infantryman in the first Gulf War and then a National Guard helicopter pilot. In total, his career with the U.S. military covered thirteen years. After leaving the military with an honorable discharge, Scherfen became a pilot for the regional airline Colgan Air Inc. Despite his history of exemplary service, Scherfen discovered in 2008 that he was in danger of losing his job because his name appeared on the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Terrorist Watchlist. Scherfen had no clue why his name was on the Watchlist, and discovered that there was no system for removing his name. As a result, Scherfen was forced to take the DHS to court in an ongoing bid to clear his name.

    Unfortunately, Erich Scherfen’s story is not an unfamiliar one, especially to persons of Middle Eastern descent. Far too many American citizens find themselves on the Watchlist after being incorrectly labeled as terrorists or even victims of mistaken identity. People who are misidentified as terrorists cannot check-in to flights online or use the automated check-in booths. Instead, they must take extra time and have an agent at the ticket counter confirm that they are an average person and not a terrorist, and are also subject to repeated security searches.

    On February 4th, 2009, the House of Representatives passed a bill allowing people wrongly placed on DHS’s Terrorist Watchlist to file an appeal to have their name removed. The bill, The Fair, Accurate, Secure and Timely (FAST) Redress Act of 2009, was introduced by Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY) on January 15, 2009. It passed through the House with a vote of 413 – 3. Since that time, the FAST Act has wallowed in legislative limbo.