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Iranian American activism

Akbar Ganji: “The Worst Scenario for Iran: A Different Look”


On June 15, 2011, Akbar Ganji published an article,"The Worst Scenario for Iran: A Different Look," on BBC Persian, examining the economy of Iran and the effects of the international sanctions on it. NIAC's Ali Tayebi and Sahar Fahimi have translated this article from Ganji's original pen, Persian, to English.  

“The Worst Scenario for Iran: A Different Look”

Two factors could open a small breathing space and create opportunities for the opposition within the upcoming year; first- the dispute between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s team and the other conservatives; second- the creation of targeted subsidies and its consequences.

In mid-April, the dispute between the conservatives and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad began to escalate, and, in the past few weeks, the majority of political news has been dominated by this topic. In these circumstances, less attention was paid to the economic conditions; a circumstance that is due to structural issues, creation of targeted subsidies, and economic sanctions. This article discusses the second matter and its political outcomes.

The Quest for Nuclear Immensity

Manners and methods of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic, has and continues to display that he is not willing to back down from his stance. His strategy in every situation is offensive. For example, in the case of the United Nations, he advises that instead of awaiting the feedback and criticism of Western governments and civil societies of human rights violations in Iran (the passive approach), Iran should be on the offense, because Western governments are the largest actors in human rights violations of people and governments (the active approach). Or, in the case of women, instead of the West condemning and questioning us for ‘restricting’ our women, we will condemn and question the Western world, for objectifying their women.

In the past 23 years, the supreme leader’s “quest for nuclear immensity” has been activelty persued. He has been firmly against retreating on this matter, and has always commanded the active persuit of this project. He instructed Mohammad Khatami, at the end of his presidential term, to abolish the uranium enrichment suspention agreement with European nations and begin production. Thus, he is not open to compromise and agreement on this matter.

What has been the reaction of Western governmnets? They have passed a few sanctions on Iran through the United Nations. Aside from the international boycotts, the United States and the European Union have independently put more sanctions on Iran. These sanctions have been followed by political ones, the latest of which was an American sanction on June 19,2011, against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, Basij paramilitary, Iran’s national police and its chief, Esmael Ahmadi Moghadam due to major human rights violations.

  • 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.

  • 10 June 2010
  • Posted By Shawn Amoei
  • 0 Comments
  • Iranian American activism, Iranian Youth

The Iranian Diaspora’s New Political Awakening

There is change afoot in Iranian communities all across the globe.

The Iranian Diaspora is coming of age politically, and nothing has helped propel this change more than the disputed presidential elections of June 2009 and the young Iranians who led the post-election unrest. Whereas once the Diaspora communities were psychologically fractured and plagued with ideological differences, the events of last summer have managed to forge a degree of unity unseen in the past 30 years.

Rallies to raise awareness about the Green Movement are planned in cities as diverse and far apart as São Paulo, Tokyo and Johannesburg. With hundreds of rallies scheduled for the anniversary of the June 12th election, global attention will once again be focused on the Iranian struggle for democracy. One key group, United4Iran, is coordinating over 60 demonstrations on June 12th across six continents. They aim to show the world that the thirst for freedom and the desire to have a meaningful say in one’s own affairs is an Iranian struggle over a century old, dating back to the Tobacco Protest of the 1890s.

A significant development, though largely unnoticed, is the impact students of Iranian descent are having in leading these efforts. This young college population can best be described as pragmatic, with a keen understanding of how to appeal to non-Iranians and attract them to this cause.

Iranian-American author Reza Aslan explains the difference between the outlook of younger and older generation Iranians in the Diaspora. The younger generation does not

carry the baggage of their parents. The generation that was forced out of Iran and into exile…has quite understandably a very emotional resonance when it comes to the Islamic Republic, and unfortunately as a result is not always a rational voice for dealing with Iran as a problem.

Not having that baggage puts them in a much better position to deal with the reality of Iran.

This generation of socially active and politically conscious youth can be credited for much of the unity seen today. Although some older activists still remain entrenched in the ideologies they have held since even before the Islamic Revolution, many others are now finding common cause realizing that they all share the same end goal. This new Iranian pragmatism is cause for great hope. As Nietzsche once said, “Many are stubborn in pursuit of the path they have chosen, few in pursuit of the goal.”

Young Iranians across the globe are making sure that that is no longer the case.

  • 15 April 2010
  • Posted By David Elliott
  • 6 Comments
  • Immigration Policy, Iranian American activism, Legislative Agenda

Tell President Obama to Fix the Single-Entry Visa Policy for Iranian Students in the US

So many Iranian Americans began their journey in the U.S. as students, but now that path is becoming increasingly closed. Not only is it more difficult for Iranians to obtain visas to study in the U.S., but Iranian students are only eligible for single-entry visas.

This means that Iranians studying in the U.S. cannot visit their family or travel abroad without losing their student visa. Even in emergencies—such as if a family member falls ill—or academic opportunities—such as an international conference—Iranian students who leave the U.S. cannot come back unless they start the entire application process over again and obtain a brand new visa.

President Obama stated in his recent Norooz message that he is “committed to increasing opportunities for educational exchanges so that Iranian students can come to our colleges and universities.”

We should thank the President for this commitment, but we must also take this opportunity to say: Mr. President, please fix the “single-entry only” student visa policy that unnecessarily burdens all Iranians studying in the U.S.

Send a letter urging President Obama to address the single-entry only policy so that Iranian students in the U.S. can visit their families, attend international conferences, and travel abroad for personal and educational purposes.

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.

JARAS: Tajbakhsh to be Released from Prison

According to the Jaras website, the most prominent Iranian opposition website, Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh, top researcher and sociology professor from Columbia University will be released from prison for Norooz, most likely by the end of today.

Citing an unnamed source, Jaras is reporting that Dr. Tajbakhsh will be released by tonight or tomorrow. It appears that the Iranian government is releasing a large number of its political prisoners for Norooz, though the judiciary has set outrageous bail amounts for each detainee. It is reported that Dr. Tajbakhsh’s bail is set at $500,000 US.

Dr. Tajbakhsh, an Iranian American who holds dual citizenship, was arrested in the aftermath of June 2009 disputed election, and has been sentenced to five years in prison for his alleged political activities against the establishment. Following the great international outcry by a variety of human rights organizations, Tajbakhsh’s original sentencing of fifteen years was reconsidered by an appellate court and was later reduced to five years instead.

NIAC has repeatedly called for Tajbakhsh release, as well as for the release of all political prisoners in Iran.

Iranian Women Band Together, Caution Against Broad Sanctions

March 8th, International Women’s Day, was celebrated with even more passion this year in Tehran.

Zahra Rahnavard – the outspoken wife of the presidential election challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi -  issued a statement at a meeting with members of the women’s rights movement in Iran praising all the brave women of the Green Movement for their struggles during the past nine months.  She referred to the Green Movement as a very diverse network of ethnic groups, unions, students and of course women.

Rahnavard referred to the women’s movement in Iran as one of the most constructive approaches in shaping the future of freedom and democracy under the umbrella of the newly born Green Movement.  Representatives from Mothers for Peace – another organization formed after the disputed June 2009 elections that actively supports the Green Movement — joined Rahnavard in expressing alarm about the potential for the democratic movement to be derailed by punitive economic sanctions imposed by the west.

Non-violence in a civil disobedience struggle is a major principle for Mothers for Peace. Violence has many faces, and we identify economic-sanctions as a vivid face of violence. Sanctions are a silent war against any nation that has risen up for democracy. Sanctions will exacerbate violence and crackdowns. Women and children are always the first group suffering from sanctions.

Iranian 9/11 Hero: STEP Act a Mistake

Shahram's story became well known after Newsweek featured a photo of him.

New York – When Shahram Hashemi saw an airplane fly into the second World Trade Center building and smoke spewing from the first tower, he knew it wasn’t an accident. So Shahram, a young Iranian university student who had only been in the U.S. for three years, made a remarkable decision. As others fled the scene, Shahram found himself running toward the epicenter of the worst terrorist attack ever seen on American soil.

“A few minutes after the first tower collapsed, I found myself in a war zone,” Shahram said.  In the middle of the chaos, he began helping move shocked and confused people away from the towers to a safe place.

Seeing him in his business suit, a local fire chief threw his heavy coat over Shahram’s shoulders and handed him a mask. Just then, the second tower began to buckle and he sought refuge in the nearby AmEx Building. Emerging from the building, Shahram joined a group of civilian volunteers to extinguish fires and clear rubble for the search and rescue teams. All day he worked until the soot, dust and exhaustion took hold of him.

That day, Shahram helped save over a dozen lives – while here in America on a student visa.

  • 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.