A Flamenco lesson for Michael Howard
Persian Jew condemns British Conservative leader's
April 20, 2005
Last week, Federico Mazandarani phoned up Conservative Party
leader Michael Howard
- who hopes to oust Blair’s Labour government from power at the UK's general
election on 5 May - on a radio talk show.
"I would like to say to Mr Howard that, like his grandfather,
I am a Jew who is a refugee in this country. But unlike Mr Howard,
I have dark skin and dark hair. And every time Mr Howard opens
his mouth and talks about foreigners who are invading this country
in the way that he does, life for me and people like me who are
working extremely hard... he is making life impossible for us,
because he is pandering to the xenophobic readers of the Daily
Mail, or to the hunting lobby or the shire county places where
hardly any foreigners live," he said. UK newspaper The
Independent splashed these words across its front page on Saturday (16 April)
against a silhouette of Howard's head with the title: "The
day Michael Howard met his match".
Mazandarani, a 51-year-old Jewish
resident of London who arrived from Iran in 1972, was objecting
to the Conservative Party's focus
on immigration in its election campaign. "I am sick and tired
of politicians inflating this issue," Mazandarani told the Independent. "If I had any power I would throw him out of
When I speak to him a few days later he is still angry:
"What right has Howard to deny anyone the right to emigrate
here? Jews have been emigrating for thousands of years - it's the
most natural thing for a Jew to do. If it's good for Jews, it's
good for everybody else.
"Howard shouldn't call himself a Jew. He should call himself
a born-again Christian. Jews by their very nature are emigrants.
A Jew is a wanderer, a gypsy. What would have happened to Jews
in history if the world was run by people like him?
"I am both a Persian and from Jewish stock. Howard doesn't
realise that the majority of Jews don't look or talk like him."
Mazandarani is a tango instructor and holds lessons for people "aged
18 to 80" across London every night. He left his job as a
mathematics teacher in 1996 to pursue a career as a flamenco dancer.
There was no way he could have done this, he insists, with the
Persian name which he has long-since jettisoned. Now a tango expert,
he says dancers visit him from Argentina to hone their skills,
and though surprised that he does not speak Spanish, they are accepting.
Referring to his students, he says: "You know who has the
most problems? Iranians. As soon as they realise I am Iranian,
I don't see them again." When people are surprised that he
is not from a Latin country, he tells them he is from "the
birthplace of flamenco."
"According to Ferdowsi," he explains, "flamenco
started under the Jamsheed regime of 1,500 years ago when the Persian
emperor realised that his people did not have enough money to pay
professional musicians and entertainers at festival times. So he
asked his son-in-law, who was king of Kashmir or somewhere in India,
to send entertainers, and he did - 12,000 of them came to Persia.
Then they became travellers and gypsies. The roots of flamenco
were a mystery until a linguist who was writing his PhD on it discovered
As I absorb this, he adds: "I didn't know poker was a Persian
invention. One of the top players in the world told me - he was
Back to the interview, and I ask if he believes in a sense of
"Politics," he says, "is the artery through which
our lives flow. You cannot deny that everything in your everyday
life has political implications. If you have a choice between buying
an orange from Israel and buying an orange from the Caribbean,
you are likely to buy Israeli because it's cheaper. You are then
helping the state of Israel as opposed to a third world country
where people are starving. The Israeli orange is subsidized but
the third world country’s government is probably too bankrupt
"Israel is a construct, manufactured entirely by Western
powers who want to spread influence all over the Middle East." Many
would beg to differ.
"I don't want to support a cruel regime," he continues. "I
have no love for Islam but I have nothing against Palestinians
He has not been back to Iran because he does not want to see "morons" who
oppress women "destroying the place. Give woman a chance and
she'll get a PhD," he says.
I ask if the racism he says he encounters might be due to his
"I don't need to open my mouth to suffer racism: they take
a look at me and say ‘he's a foreigner here’, and they
take liberties. I don't need to tell anybody about any religion
I might have, or about my politics. My physical appearance attracts
racism. I am critical of any party that puts issues of race and
immigration at the top of an election agenda. In 1964 the Conservatives
[in Birmingham] distributed leaflets saying 'If you want a nigger
as a neighbour vote Liberal or Labour.' That could come back again."