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

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.

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.

  • 27 May 2016
  • Posted By Emily Salwen
  • 0 Comments
  • Iranian Youth, Sanctions

Why is Google Analytics blocking Iranians? Thank the embargo

When Google products that have been blocked for Iranians by the U.S. economic embargo suddenly became available in early May, many Iranians felt a glimmer of hope. For a brief moment, it appeared that Google Analytics, Google Developers and Android’s website for developers would join products like Gmail and the Google Play store that had been made accessible for Iranians over the past few years. Iranians reacted with excitement and positivity on twitter:

But just a few days later these products were once again inaccessible:

The reason for the reimposition of the ban is most likely the U.S. economic embargo on Iran. While many Google products have been exempted from the embargo over the past six years as part of an effort to ensure the sanctions no longer interfered with online communications, the trade embargo still remains in place for communications tools that have commercial applications.

Google Analytics is a service that tracks and records a website’s traffic and provides statistical analysis to help users understand and accommodate their user demographic. Google Developers, another commercial initiative, is a site that provides a forum for software developers, bringing together blogs, discussion groups and tools to encourage innovation and collaboration among users.

Due to sanctions, access to communications technology in Iran has been unstable. During Iran’s Green Movement, citizens mobilized using Facebook and Twitter, yet many of the tools that were being used were technically blocked by the U.S.. On one hand, American officials and lawmakers in 2009 were extolling the virtues of Internet freedom and criticizing the Iranian government’s crackdown on free expression, on the other hand the U.S. policy was to actually prohibit many of the tools necessary for such communications. Iranians were forced to circumvent not just their own government’s repression, but also the economic embargo.

In late 2009, the State and Treasury Departments began to address this contradiction by lifting the embargo on free communications software and offering a more streamlined policy for licensing the export of certain communications tools. It was a small but important step.

However, many of the sanctions remained in place — including not just on services like web hosting or paid software, but on hardware like laptops and phones. And especially as the U.S. expanded economic sanctions on Iran in 2012, there were further instances of communications technology being blocked. There were even several cases of Apple Store employees refusing to sell iPhones or iPads to Iranian Americans because of suspicions that they were going to be sent to family in Iran in violation of the embargo.

As the Apple incidents show, sanctions greatly impact businesses’ decision-making. In 2012, many applications were exempted from the embargo but were still unavailable in Iran because businesses still feared the repercussions of sanctions violations. Recognizing this, the State and Treasury Departments subsequently issued General License D in 2013, explicitly allowing the export of even paid-for personal communications hardware, software and services. The license also made it legal to export devices like mobile phones, satellite phones and computers to Iran. In 2014, this license was expanded and clarified to allow non-U.S. companies to re-export U.S.-made software and hardware from outside the U.S., and U.S. companies to export applicable foreign-made products from third countries.

But even with these welcome steps, there are still barriers in place. In 2016, nuclear-related sanctions have been lifted, yet services like Google Analytics, Google Developers and even Facebook Ads are not allowed in Iran because they are for commercial use. At a time when Iran is beginning to reintegrate into the global economy, and the U.S. and European governments are actually encouraging such reintegration, the embargo on commercial communications services does not add up.

President Obama himself has extolled the benefits of Iran’s economy opening and “young Iranians who dream of making their mark in the world” having an opportunity to do so. Lifting the remaining communications sanctions would be a step in the right direction that would particularly benefit young Iranian entrepreneurs. The U.S. should go further and lift restrictions against investment and mentoring for the professional development of Iranian tech entrepreneurs. The Iranian tech industry is steadily growing and Iranians will benefit greatly from access to U.S. commercial technologies. Hopefully, the U.S. government will work together to make these important changes a reality.

Rouhani Raises Hopes for Diplomacy at First News Conference as President

By Samira Damavandi and Caroline Cohn

At his first press conference as Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani indicated his willingness to reengage in diplomatic talks with the West, raising hopes for finding a solution to the current standoff over Iran’s nuclear program.

Rouhani replaced outgoing President Ahmadinejad, whose bellicose anti-U.S. and anti-Israel rhetoric only exacerbated the already tense relationship between the U.S. and Iran. The election of Rouhani, a centrist candidate who pledged “constructive interaction” with the world, was a rare positive sign for a potential easing of tensions between the two estranged nations.

Of Rouhani’s news conference on Tuesday, the Washington Post noted that  “It was certainly a remarkable tonal departure from Ahmadinejad, with lots of talk about compromising with the West.” As Rouhani fielded questions from the media – which included reporters from both inside and outside of Iran, including the U.S. – he made several positive remarks indicating his plans for steering Iranian foreign and domestic policy in a more conciliatory direction.

Diplomacy

In response to several questions about his plans for renewing nuclear negotiations, many posed by Western news correspondents, Rouhani reaffirmed his plans to pursue a more diplomatic approach to foreign policy, starkly opposite from the approach of his predecessor.  “As I have said earlier, our main policy will be to have constructive interaction with the world,” said Rouhani.

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.

Play
  • 19 September 2012
  • Posted By Dylan Zehr
  • 0 Comments
  • Iranian Youth, Sanctions

Sanctions contribute to rising unemployment in Iran

The negative effects of sanctions on average Iranians are growing clearer and clearer. The latest piece on the issue, from Reuters, highlights the fact that the unemployment rate is still rising throughout the Iranian economy.

At the beginning of the year, the Iran Census Centre statistics pointed to an urban unemployment rate of 12.5%. Among the young, the official rate was much higher, at 29.1%. These numbers, like the reported inflation rate, are judged by most experts to be far below the true figures. Abbas Vatanpour, a former Iranian representative at the International Labor Organization, thinks youth unemployment could be as high as 50 per cent, while Mehrdad Emadi, an Iranian-born economic adviser to the European Union, believes the headline unemployment figure is above 20 percent.

According to The Telegraph, “rising joblessness is being fuelled by Iran’s exclusion last March from the Swift banking system, preventing businessmen from carrying out international transactions.” In some cases, this measure has led to factory closure due to an inability to obtain components. In others, the costs of components have soared, driving up the final price to a point that consumer demand drops. These mechanisms have reduced production in the automotive sector by 30% in the past six months, a figure reported by Iranian media.

In raw numbers, “Iran-based economists and members of parliament critical of the government, estimate that 500,000-800,000 Iranians have lost their jobs in the past year.” In September 2011, former Minister of Labor Abdolreza Sheikholeslami declared that university graduates were 10 times more likely to be unemployed than those with less education.  Indeed, while these losses are hitting all job sectors, they are disproportionately punishing the educated sector and undermining the Iranian middle class “that has been at the center of the democracy movement.”

  • 16 July 2012
  • Posted By Jamal Abdi
  • 0 Comments
  • Iranian Youth, Sanctions

Morality police raids go hand in hand with sanctions

Over the weekend, Iranian officers and morality police raided and shut down 87 cafes in Tehran for not following Islamic values.  As Reuters reports:

Coffee shop culture has flourished in Iran in recent years, offering wireless Internet, snacks, hot drinks, and a place to hang out for Iranian youth in a country where there are no bars or Western chain restaurants or cafes.

But that trend has been criticized by conservative Iranians who consider it a cultural imposition from the West and incompatible with Islamic values. The government periodically cracks down on behavior it considers un-Islamic, including mingling between the sexes outside of marriage.

The shameful actions by Iranian authorities further illuminates how the goals of the state’s hardliners are actually aided by broad sanction policies designed to isolate Iranians from the world outside of Iran.

Just last Friday, Milad Jokar wrote a post on how Iranians manage to circumvent the sanctions and enjoy Western products in spite of U.S. efforts to block them–buying iPhones, DVDs, Nikes, and even eating at restaurants that are clones of Starbucks and McDonalds.

And Iranian hardliners, as demonstrated by these most recent raids, don’t like it one bit.

But the fact is, we have our own hardliners in the U.S. who also don’t want Iranians getting Western goods.  How will we make Iranians angry enough to take up arms against the regime if they still have access to Happy Meals?

Salamatian on society, state, and sanctions in Iran

The following is a transcription from an interview with Ahmad Salamatian on the French radio France Culture (on February 20, 2012). Mr. Salamatian, a political analyst who served in the Islamic Republic’s first government under Bani Sadr and cofounded the Committee for the Defense of Freedom and Human Rights, explains the evolution of  Iranian society and the fracture between the State and the society that led to the 2009 massive demonstrations. According to him, Iranian society suffers from the populist mismanagement of the economy, but he argues that Western sanctions reinforce the Iranian State while slowing down the internal fracture between “the societal Iran” and “the Iranian State”.

Ahmad Salamatian: Iranian Society, Power and the West

Two sides of Iran: “societal Iran” Vs. “the Iranian State”

What happened in 2009 was the revelation of a situation which has been brewing for three decades in Iran.

What we have today is an Iran split in two parts. On the one hand, there is what I call a “societal Iran”. On the other hand, there is an “Iran of power”. They are increasingly far apart and they are increasingly anachronistic to one another.

In 1979 – with regard to his mental and his imaginary– Ayatollah Khomeini was the most in-phase with the Iranian society of that time. It was among those who were familiar with Khomeini that his slogans, symbols and discourses were the most in-phase with people’s imaginary because Iran was transitioning from a rural society to an urban one. The Iranian cities were filled with villagers and other people who lived in the country. They started the process of becoming literate, of learning politics; and with such violence! With a revolution! A fundamental change of everything!

In 2009, you have a society where the city is constituted and advanced. People did not only become literate; they have made steps forward in the shaping of the individual. Iran has somewhat entered history in 1979, with acceleration toward modernity. Though this move is jerky and from time to time shut-off, there is an incontrovertible and irreversible move toward modernity.

The different transitions – demographic, geographic, urban, economic, related to family ties, and cultural – have been accumulated and we have reached the threshold of democratic and political transition.

Transitionally, 2009 was important.

Iran News Roundup 12/19

Talks accelerate on a potential embargo on Iran

In what could be a precursor to an embargo on Iran, a “coalition of like-minded countries” including U.S., EU, Arab, and Asian states will meet in Rome tomorrow for talks on how to maintain stable global energy markets in the midst of increased Iran sanctions (Wall Street Journal 12/19).

Meanwhile, Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Iran has prepared for “the worst case scenario” and has a “road map” circumvent Western sanctions targeting Iran’s central bank and oil exports(AFP 12/16).

U.S. drone saga continues

U.S. cyber-warfare experts have questioned Iran’s ability to hijack the spy drone by overwhelming the drone’s GPS signal (Christian Science Monitor 12/16).  Additionally, U.S. officials say the drone actually crashed, further refuting Iran’s claims (Wall Street Journal 12/16).  On Saturday, Iran’s foreign minister said that Iran deliberately delayed its announcement that it had captured the American surveillance drone to test U.S. reaction (Huffington Post 12/17).

Sign the Petition

 

7,349 signatures

Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.

Sincerely,

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