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An Old Faith in the New World – Zoroastrianism in the United States

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Iranian Americans are one of the most spiritually diverse diaspora groups in the United States due to their wide range of minority religions. Although most are Shia Muslims, they are still much more diverse religiously than Iranians in Iran. An MIT poll of Iranian Americans in 2005 found that half of them identified as Muslim, while the CIA World Factbook estimates that 95% of Iranians in Iran do. In addition to Baha’is, Christians, Jews, and secularists, members of ancient Iranian religions have also found a home in the United States. Of these, perhaps the most interesting example is Zoroastrianism.

  • 24 October 2016
  • Posted By Roya Pourmand
  • 0 Comments
  • Culture, Events in DC, Sanctions

Mehdi Ghadyanloo: Beautifying Tehran One Wall at a Time

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After answering an open call for artists in 2004, Iranian muralist, Mehdi Ghadyanloo was commissioned by the Tehran City Municipality to paint over 100 colorful murals. A city once covered in political paintings, either in remembrance of Iran-Iraq War martyrs or with negative slurs regarding America, Tehran had almost 5,000 bare walls to paint. When he found out it was possible to beautify the walls of Tehran, he took his chance and began to brighten up the city with his colorful, surrealist art. As part of the Future of Iran Initiative, the Atlantic Council hosted a conversation this past Thursday with Ghadyanloo and David Furchgott, the President of International Arts & Artists.

In his murals, Ghadyanloo tries to convey a message of hope, a positive message he believes should be expressed in all public works of art. He feels that hope is a universal message. “You need hope, as an Iranian under a sanctioned country, as a country in the Middle East, or even as citizens of America. I think we all need hope and public art can create this balance,” said Ghadyanloo.

Furchgott pointed out that Ghadyanloo’s art has often been compared to Magritte, a well-known Belgian surrealist artist. However, he added that Ghadyanloo’s art “has much more of a modern sensibility and is much less connected to any particular culture, they’re very universal.” Ghadyanloo attributed his universality to reading novels and watching films from “every corner of the world” in order to gain a better understanding of certain peoples.

Although his work is universal, much of his work was influenced by his own life, growing up in Iran during the Iran-Iraq War. Contrary to the messages of hope and positivity in his public murals, Ghadyanloo channeled the memories of fear and loss experienced in the war through many of his private pieces. One of his most vivid childhood memories was seeing images of the 1988 Iran Air flight being shot down, which he represented in “Logic of Metaphysics” and “290 Wandering Souls.”

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When asked how sanctions have impacted his work, Ghadyanloo replied that the quality of paint in both his public and private art have been compromised due to sanctions. He indicated that sanctions can be felt in all corners of Iran, not only in the art industry. He told the story of farmers, such as his own father, who could not find reasonably priced pesticides due to the sanctions. Ghadyanloo also indicated that the art scene in Iran has also been constrained by H.R. 158, a recent law that bars visa-free travel to the U.S. for persons who hold dual nationality from or have traveled to a list of restricted countries, including Iran. According to Ghadyanloo, the restrictions have stopped European art collectors from visiting Iran due to their desire to travel to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program.

Ghadyanloo has been fortunate to obtain a US visa and export his works outside the country, yet the average Iranian artist may not have these privileges. Ghadyanloo is currently working on the new mural at Dewey Square Park in Boston, titled “Spaces of Hope.” This will be the fifth mural featured on the Greenway Wall, each painted by a different international artist.

Find photos of Mehdi Ghadyanloo’s works on his Instagram and Facebook page.

Learning from the Past – The Failures of Militant Counterrevolution in Iran and Cuba

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“Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” – Foundation, Isaac Asimov

Although I am not a part of the Iranian diaspora, I have seen many similarities between its history and that of a diaspora I am part of – Cuban exiles. My grandmother, aunt, and mother were born in Cuba and fled its communist government for a better life in America. Like many other Cuban exiles they hate Fidel Castro, and want few things more than to bring his regime down. How precisely to do this, however, is a point of contention – my mother favors diplomatic relations with Cuba and expanding socioeconomic exchanges to foster demand for reform. On the other hand, my grandmother and aunt oppose engagement with the regime on the grounds that dialogue would legitimize it.

What We Can Learn From Obama’s Cultural Diplomacy

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From proposed religious litmus tests for Muslim immigrants to unrelenting efforts to kill the Iran deal and thwart trade and academic exchange, this election has left many in the Iranian-American community feeling alienated. Rhetoric has only intensified fear of Muslims and immigrants and policymaking has only made escape from the mire of identity politics more inconceivable.

But as much as I’ve felt targeted by political rhetoric these past few months, negative political agendas haven’t always borne this targeting. I think back to President Obama’s annual Iftar dinner to commemorate Eid al-Fitr. He has hosted this dinner every year since he took office eight years ago. This year, in his message to Muslim-Americans at the reception, he expanded upon the contributions of Muslim-Americans throughout the U.S. history, from social justice activism to sports to service in law enforcement and the armed forces.

President Obama has prioritized not only religious outreach, but also cultural, particularly to Iranian Americans. Eight years ago, he expanded the White House tradition of addressing the Iranian-American community on the Persian New Year, otherwise known as Eid Norooz. Former President George H.W. Bush was the first U.S. President to commemorate Norooz. In 1992, he released a short written message, greeting and honoring “Iranian immigrants.”

Bill Clinton would carry on the practice, delivering a videotaped message in 1998, in which he said that he “regrets the estrangement of our two nations.”

In 2002, George W. Bush released a statement thanking millions of Iranian-Americans for “condemning the terrorist acts, participating in rescue efforts at Ground Zero, and offering help and support to the victims, who included individuals of Persian heritage.” In 2008, we even got a glimpse of the State Dining Room, which featured a beautiful Norooz spread, or Haft Sin. Bush also conducted an interview with Voice of America Persian, in which he sent a message to the Iranian regime on nuclear energy research and foreign policy.

Ever since taking office in 2008, President Obama has delivered a heartfelt message on Norooz each year. In 2015, he hosted a Norooz reception for the first time in the White House amidst the nuclear talks, aided by the First Lady. In her remarks, Michelle Obama addressed influential leaders in the Iranian-American community – business owners, artists, academics, and public officials.

Obama’s messages have served as a testament to long-standing traditions in the Iranian culture. He has celebrated the cultural, literary, and achievements of Iranian-Americans – both as a historical civilization and as part of the larger U.S. community today. He has wished Iranians a Happy New Year in Farsi and even quoted renowned Persian poets Hafiz, Saadi, and Behbehani.

As I look back on Obama’s final Nowruz message and traditional feast in the White House, an auspicious sign of inclusivity and unity in the face of divisive rhetoric, I realize that truly “oo ba ma’st,” a play on words which translates to, “He is with us.”

And he always has been with us, with our Iranian-American community and culture, throughout and after negotiations with Iran. He has set an important standard for engagement between the U.S. and Iran, culturally and politically, a standard I hope our next President will follow.

This level of positive, notably apolitical, outreach to Iranian-Americans – and Muslim-Americans as a whole – is unprecedented. As we get ready to elect the next President, amidst calls to ban Muslim immigration to propositions of extra sanctions and even military action against Iran, I hope the President will remember that Iran is more than just a political challenge, but a country with a great history that spawns millennia, rich culture, literature and art and an entire people. And by heeding and celebrating our shared humanity, hopefully we can overcome that political challenge.

Men in Iran are Wearing Hijabs in Support of Women’s Rights

The fight against the forced hijab has been documented since it began immediately after the 1979 Iranian revolution. Iranian women have gone so far as to shave their heads in protest of wearing the hijab. Last week, however, the fight against forced hijab took a new turn. Iranian men have begun wearing the hijab in public, as well as in social media posts, in protest of the13882194_1455418324472257_9184109751125894604_n forced covering.

The campaign began on the Facebook group My Stealthy Freedom, which has been at the forefront of the fight against forced hijab. One of the submitted posts states “Compulsion is not a good feeling. I hate when they used morality police in order to force my wife to wear compulsory hijab. There are a lot of men in Iran who have respect for women’s freedom of choice, so those conservatives that are not happy with our wives’ “bad hijab”, are not representative of Iranian men at all.”

Masih Alinejad, an Iranian journalist and activist living in New York, is behind the widely popular Facebook group which encourages Iranian women, and now men, to post photos of themselves without their hijabs along with a caption of why they oppose the forced practice. Over one million people have liked the movement on Facebook. Prior to the #meninhijab campaign, the page has almost exclusively been contributed to by brave Iranian women submitting pictures of themselves without their hijab.

  • 29 July 2016
  • Posted By Karina Bakhshi-Azar
  • 0 Comments
  • Culture, Iranian American Life, Iranian Youth, Updates

Top 5 Iranian Teams/Athletes to Watch for During the Summer Olympics

For a moment, absolve your mind of Iran: the politically charged and hotly contested nation that is so often the target of criticism in the news, and engulf yourself in Iran: the nation whose athletes led the Middle East in the most Olympic medals in the 2012 summer games and are hungry to prove themselves again.

Excluding 1980 and 1984, Iran has participated in every summer Olympic Games since 1948 and holds claim to 60 Olympic medals. Iran’s Olympic team is currently ranked 39th in the world. The team for this year’s games is made up of 64 athletes that will compete in 14 different sporting events. While all of these respective athletes have accomplished incredible feats to participate in this year’s Olympics, here are some key competitors who are sure to put Iran in the spotlight.

Men’s Volleyball Team:

As one of Iran’s most popular sports, the men’s volleyball team is sure to make a splash at the games. Iran’s volleyball team won the last Asian games in 2014 and is being called the dark horse of the competit16_Iran Volleyball Goes to 2016 Rio Olympicsion. However, they will have to work particularly hard in order to take home a medal in the event as they have been placed in group B alongside London 2012 gold medalist Russia, World Championship 2014 winner Poland, Argentina, Cuba and Egypt. However, blocker Mohammad Mousavi is confident in the team’s abilities. “This is a very tough job but we have the chance and we’ve shown our quality in the past. We have the quality to beat any team and win the gold medal,” he said. Mousavi is regarded as one of the best blockers in the world. Iran will play its first match against Argentina on August 7 at 9:30 p.m.

 

Men’s Wrestling Team:

Iran is also expected to shine in the wrestling portion of the competition. Iran won 3 gold, 2 silver and 3 bronze medals in wrestling in the London 2012 games. In June, Iran won its fifth consecutive Freestyle World Cup title soundly defeating Russia 5-3 in the championship. Four-time world medalist Hassan Rahimi  is ranked second in the world in freestyle wrestling and is a favorite to receive a medal at the games. Iran will have participants in both the freestyle and Greco Roman style wrestling events which will go from August 14-August 21.

 

Taekwondo: Farzan Ashourzadeh, Mahdi Khodabakhshi, Kimia Alizadeh Zenoorin

Iranian competitor Farzan Ashourzadeh is currently ranked 1st in the world in the sport and is a strong favorite to win gold at the games. Ashourzadeh recently won the gold medal227f7f22-a40c-4edb-b271-8b161445db3d in the flyweight division at the 2014 Asian Games. Another Iranian favorite is Mahdi Khodabakhshi wh
o is the current world champion in the lightweight series. Kimia Alizadeh Zenoorin also hopes to bring glory to Iran in taekwondo. She won a gold medal in the women’s 63-kg at the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games and defeated London 2012 gold medalist Jade Jones at the 2015 World Championship. The 18-year-old is one of nine females on the Iranian Olympic team. The entire Iranian Taekwondo team as well as
these three particular members have received widespread praise from other coaches and athletes throughout the world. The Taekwondo events will be held from August 17-20.

 

Men’s Weightlifting: Behdad Salimi

At 6-foot-6 and 364 lbs Behdad Salimi is referred to by many across the world as the Iranian weightlifting power house. He competes in the +105 kg class which holds the true heavyweights of the weightlifting competition. These men are considered the strongest in the world and Salimi aims to maintain his title after his gold medal performance in the 2012 London Olympic Games. There, Salimi lifted a total of 455 kg, 208 in the snatch and 247 in the clean and jerk. He was forced to miss the 2015 world championships because of a torn ACL but has made a full recovery for the games this year. You can watch Salimi on August 16.

 

Shooting: Golnoush Sebghatollahi

Iran is sending four female shooters to the games this year. Golnoush Sebghatollahi has already begun to make her presence known on the Olympic stage as she earned a silver medal at the Olympic Games Training Camp in France earlier this summer in the 25-meter pistol competition. She will be competing in this category on August 9. Sebghatollahi will also be competing in the 10-meter air pistol competition where she came in 4th in the event at the Dr. Karni Singh Shooting Range in New Delhi. She will be competing in this category on August 7-8.

 

So grab your friends, order some chelo kebab, and break out your best green, white and red clothing because this Iranian Olympic team is definitely worth cheering for.

 

All of the members of Iran’s team as well as their respective events can be found here.

  • 9 August 2012
  • Posted By Lily Samimi
  • 0 Comments
  • Culture, Diplomacy, Let's Talk Iran, Uncategorized

Justine Shapiro & “Our Summer in Tehran”

In this episode, we speak with Jewish-American filmmaker Justine Shapiro. Justine is the former host of the travel series GlobeTrekker and was nominated for an Oscar for her documentary called “Promises,” which gave us a look into the lives of Palestinian and Israeli children in and around Jerusalem. Justine’s newest documentary, “Our Summer in Tehran” shows us the seldom seen realm of middle class family life in Iran. In the film, Justine and her 6-year-old son Mateo go to Tehran to spend the summer with 3 families: a religious family with ties to the government; a cosmopolitan, secular family; and a single mom who is an actress.

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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.

  • 5 April 2012
  • Posted By Lily Samimi
  • 1 Comments
  • Culture, Diplomacy, Israel, Let's Talk Iran, US-Iran War

Building Bridges Between Two Communities

What is often forgotten or ignored in the talks of war with Iran are the two communities who are at the center of many of the debates – the Iranian-American and Jewish-American community. In this episode, we talk with Rabbi Marc Gopin, Director of George Mason University’s Center on Religion, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution, on how our two communities can learn from one another and dispel the fears on both sides. Rabbi Gopin focuses on the role of religion and culture in not sparking conflict, but as a critical component to reaching lasting resolutions between peoples and nations.

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  • 7 March 2012
  • Posted By Lily Samimi
  • 0 Comments
  • Culture, Events in Iran, Let's Talk Iran, Uncategorized

Remembering Bam

Jahangir Golestan-ParastIn this episode, we chat with Jahangir Golestan-Parast, producer & director of the documentary film “Bam.6.6”. Nine years after a devastating earthquake struck the ancient city of Bam, this film not only remembers the 40,000 plus victims that were lost but also creates a humanitarian bridge between cultures and breaks down stereotypical images fostered by political agenda.

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