Interview with Davood Rahni, an Iranian-American university professor and scholar in New York.
Q -I thank you for sitting with me for this forum. The Iran-U.S. impasse seems to be entering a critical stage. The current situation places a heavy burden on the shoulders of the influential patriotic Iranian-Americans by advocating for what is the interest of the American people in the context of our constitution, while helping to safeguard the historical integrity and sovereignty of their mother country, Iran. It is in that spirit that I ask you to first provide a synopsis of your personal life and then share your perspectives about the U.S. attitude towards Iran?
First I wanted to thank you for providing the opportunity to share my perspectives, on Iran, the U.S. and the Iranian-Americans, with your readers. Although aspiring to remain an independent global scholar with broad science and education acumen, I should hasten to emphasize that I am neither a political scientist nor am I politically inclined toward any ulterior motives, except to yearn for a more just and peaceful world. What I share herein is, therefore, perspectives as a humble world citizen. In particular, I envisage the long-term aspirations American and Iranian peoples as complementary and not contradictory.
Born in Dezashib Shemiran north of Tehran in the late 50’s, I grew up in Evin. My parents, who still live there, are of Natanzi heritage, the same township in central Iran that has recently been the epicenter of much heated discussions and political rhetoric about its alleged nuclear enrichment infrastructure. Sleepy Natanz, stretching from the foothills of its 4200 meter high Karkas Mountain to the Great Desert with moving sand dunes, its most unique large sumptuous mouth watering pears called Shah-miveh aka Tohfeh Natanz, and other fruit orchards of pomegranates, figs, grapes, quince, apricots, almonds and walnuts, its many natural Kaisers, springs and Qanats, its still standing Zoroastrian temples alongside Islamic mosques such as the one in Abyaneh, and its multiple Middle Pahlavi Persian dialects, is regarded as one of the oldest cradles of the Iranian civilization. How could such a unique place with authentic original pre-Islamic names of its seventy historical villages and hamlets, like Oushteh, afoushteh, sereshk, rahan, jazan, arjeh, telepaal, saraban, dar-hole’, bagheba’, tameh, kandes, oureh, bidhand, barz, khafr, badyoun, moughar, veshveshad, tar, targh, yarand, badroud, abyazan, zavareh, delavan, kashk-khaneh, kesheh and henjen and its many Zoroastrian temple mounds such as Gonbez-e Baz, go so wrong to become vulnerable for annihilation as an irrational prelude to an apocalyptic Armageddon?! It concerns me gravely to witness its current terms of endearments by all sides where only the local inhabitants and its most unique oasis ecosystem are to be the major victims in the aftermath. Anyhow, I am pleased to inform you of my forthcoming memoir titled, “FROM NATANZ TO NEW YORK: The Odyssey of an Ordinary Persian Wanderer!” This life story, a life reflection of many Iranians my age who emigrated to the West, is narrated in the cultural and socio-political contexts of the past half-century in Iran and the Middle East, then in Europe and the Americas.
After emigrating to the U.S. a few months after the 1979 Iranian revolution to complete my (post-) doctoral studies in chemistry at the University of New Orleans, I have served as a chemistry professor in New York since the mid 80’s. Like most immigrants, especially the Iranian-Americans who have found themselves between a rock and a hard place, tangled with the dichotomy of political web between the two governments of Iran and the U.S., I have striven to have a humble positive impact toward our and the broader American communities in the past nearly thirty years (hundreds of writing essays and prose are among the outcomes), while serving in additional professional affiliations. Although not a lawyer, dermatologist or neuro-psycho-pharmacologist, I have, nonetheless, served in adjunct professorships in all, yielding a recent book on Bioimaging in Neurodegeneration anchored on over a rather prolific publication list. Both my spouse and I are therefore educators for life with three children, two sons in college majoring in medicine and psychology-management, and a daughter in middle school. Although our families are by and large in Iran, we now have relatives scattered in every continent. My portfolio can be reviewed at www.DrRahni.com
I love the U.S. with its many opportunities and the can-do, pioneering and optimistic attitude to life and remain a staunch advocate for the integration of many of the good aspects of western culture with selective reformed aspects of Eastern, particularly the Iranian culture. American culture nurtures individual rights and freedoms of choice, aspiration to excellence and industry, and predictability in one’s life. In comparison, Iranian culture is family-centered, enhances one’s state of mind and spirit with its long history, esthetic literature, and a sense of belonging to one of the oldest and richest civilizations. My own life is anchored on these two complementary pillars, since I don’t see any conflict between the two. In fact, I envisage the tranquil lives of Iranian-Americans as a convergence of the two cultures. At this juncture in my life and perhaps like many of the other 75 million Iranians, 3+ million of whom are in the western Diaspora, with one million living in the U.S. alone, we envisage a homegrown independent democracy in our homeland that is anchored on educational, civil society, grassroots, cultural and religious reforms, as well as socio-economic justice and equity. In fact, one could argue for the same utopian model for the entire region, which is now viewed convolutedly as the “Middle East.” Paradoxically, the increasing interventions by the west and the U.S. in the region, viewed as an expansionist Roman Empire revisited, has only impeded such indigenous movements of reforms in the region by justifying the more radical elements to be the only melancholic force in the scene. As to our lives in the U.S., we very much anticipate fully-empowered integration into the Western way of life for the family. It is quite disheartening to note that while the most important topics of concerns for the us the Americans are domestic, namely, the economy, high taxes and jobs, education and healthcare, environment and energy, crime and corporate and community welfare, and lobbying and political reform, most of our resources, currently close to a trillion dollars are spent on military adventurism, and unilateral pre-emptive wars of no ends.
We also expect that the U.S. retains the admiration and respect in the international community, as so many of us extended respect toward the U.S. as we grew up elsewhere. The present situation of the so called, pre-emptive unilateral military intervention and economic bottlenecking of the region is alarming and disconcerting since we know of the many American ideals and noble intentions of the American people. By the time a certain foreign policy, increasingly preceded by the military might is carried out with our taxes, and under our American name and lives, the whole outcome deviates detrimentally against us, and away from our original good intent. Deja Vu it is as if where the European colonialist powers, circa 15th through 19th century, failed, the U.S. has now picked up after it. This has repeatedly occurred since the Second World War, but has intensified after September 11, 2001 when 3000 innocent civilians were killed. In retrospect, this has been become the justification for an ill-conceived policy. All in all, habeas corpus and due process under American civil law and justice for our citizens is on the back burner, while our image and credibility worldwide has steadily been tarnished to our long-term detriment and has diminished the Nation’ opportunities in the international scene. The immigrant communities from the Middle East and South Asia, especially those descended from Iran, feel particularly under scrutiny and surveillance; they are systematically denied employment and business equal opportunities due to their national origin. Ironically, there has never been even one allegation of a terrorist act by an Iranian national in Europe, in the U.S. or anywhere against Americans. The American political rhetoric will also lead to repression of the basic human rights in Iran as evidenced, for instance by the current arrest of five Iranian-Americans there with no due process whatsoever.
Q-You cited Iran as your country of birth. Could you please tell us a bit more about your personal life and Iran?
My father is a retired school staff and my mother has been a 24/7 life-long loving mom for six, caring grandmother for fifteen, and affectionate great grand mom for four! After I completed my undergraduate studies in chemistry at the National University of Iran and married a classmate, we emigrated to the U.S. first to complete our doctoral studies and then ended up permanently staying in the U.S. after the 1979 revolution. Iran or Persia as it was called for millennia by outsiders and westerners until 1935 when Reza Shah Pahlavi who had earlier been installed by the British on the Peacock throne, changed the name to read exactly as it was referred to in the native Persian language, Iran. It is an historical country with twenty-five hundred years of governance, and ten thousand years in the making. Persians/Iranians are distant Aryan relatives of all the other Aryan tribes that went west from central Asia as far back as 10,000-20,000 years ago. In fact, the word IRAN means the land of the Aryans; in Middle Pahlavi, the old word is Ӑẽr, the precursor to Aryan, the Indo-European Paleo-language (The same is also true for Ireland, which also means the land of the Aryans). Today’s Iran, has at most, over 50% Persian Aryans. It also has Azaris and Kurds (of Mede Iranian stock), Balucchis, and even an Arab minority, although almost all Iranians broadly speaking, consider themselves Iranians/Persians and not Arabs. Nonetheless, this by no means should be construed as being racially motivated, since they regard the Arabs and Jews (both of whom consider Abraham their patriarch) as distinct from them, alongside their western neighbors with their own heritage and noble cultural traditions. Persian, as a distinct Indo-European language, is still spoken or understood by nearly two hundred million people in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, the Kurds (in Iran, Iraq, and Turkey), Azerbaijan, and most of the central Asian republics.
The first monotheistic Gnosticism, based on Mithraism was actually founded in Iran. However, after the advent of Islam in Iran, there was a synthesization of the two Arab and Persian cultures through the medium of religion. And yet, both cultures remained distinct, as well. Iranians, who later adopted Shiism, believe in the succession of Prophet Mohammad through his daughter Fatima his daughter’s lineage and that of her husband Ali, and twelve Imams that followed; Mohammad had no son and Ali was his cousin. On the other hand, the Sunnis believed in a council to decide who the next successor to the Prophet was, which led to Abu-bakr, Omer, Osman and finally Ali. Islam was very appealing to the Iranian masses who were by and large the serfs. It was the first sovereign country to be overrun by the second caliph, Omer who said, “Throw away the cast system, as we are all equal and thus the same before God.” It is said Omer was later assassinated by an Iranian nationalist Firuzan aka Abu Lulu, presumably of Zoroastrian faith turned under pressure Moslem slave, who is buried in Kashan, Iran. Iran, despite repeated invasions, occupations, and meddling by the Greeks, the Arabs, the Mongols, the British, The Russians, and the Americans, has been miraculously able to preserve its cultural heritage and identity.
Q- Could you provide us with a perspective about modern Iran and how that ties to her past?
Modern Iran has struggled for true independence and democracy for almost 200 years now. The struggle has been exacerbated with the discovery of oil and natural resources in Iran, which has, in turn, enticed the western powers to intervene in the affairs of the country. On the other hand, the internal political powers in the region have exploited this as an excuse to repress any realistic and sustainable level of socio-political reform. So, improvements in women’s rights, children’s rights, minority rights, worker’s rights, etc. are still lagging. Compared to other newer nations (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the U.A.E.) of the region, however, Iran is much more advanced as whole society.
The Iranian people are generally tolerant as that has been noted in their way of life since Cyrus the Great of the Achaemenids (circa 2500 years ago) wrote it in the first Declaration of Human Rights (on display at the UN in N.Y.C.) thirteen hundred years earlier than Magna Carta. Perspolis, the first Iranian capital, manifest such glory. The Iranians have never had massacres as others had in their history despite racial and ethnic tensions at times. In Tehran, while I was growing up, we lived in peace alongside Jews, Moslems, Zoroastrians, Armenians and Assyrian Christians, Baha’is, and Azeris, Kurds, Lurs, Guilanis, etc.; we all knew one another simply as “Irani”. We were never conscious of our ethnic and/or religious diversities as so many people in the west.
On the Iranian plateau, there is historical evidence as well as archaeological artifacts excavated from as far back as ten thousand years ago. For instance, a chess set in Share sookhteh, Zabol east of Iran, and pottery for brewing and many more in northwestern Iran of 9500 years ago (now in the Smithsonian Museum) have been found. And yet, the Aryan tribes (the Medes, the Persians and the Parthians) are said to have only arrived from Central Asia, east of the Caspian Sea, as recently as 3500 years ago!
Q- The relationship between Iran and the U.S. changed in 1953 when the C.I.A. organized a coup against Dr. Mossadegh. How and why?
Two Americans, Howard Baskerville (buried in Tabriz, Iran also see) and Morgan Shuster in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, who were actively participating in the reform and struggle for modernization and democracy in Iran, just typifies the long healthy relationship between the two peoples. They are revered by the Iranians as “Iranian” vanguards of freedoms and humanitarianism. Later, there were Americans such as Harvard’s Arthur Pope, the Iranologist buried alongside Zayandeh Rood in Isfahan as per his will and his living legendary protégé Richard Nelson Fry aka Irandoost of Harvard, a grand old man with a wry wit and an affable disposition. They carefully and sensibly portrayed the Iranian culture and history and the role Iranians have played in civilization as a whole. The constitutional monarchy of 1906 and its modern Constitution, was a combination of Belgian and French legal provisions, and Iranian national and Islamic values. The first article specified that Kingship was a symbolic position (similar to today’s UK), and, as such, would never interfere in politics. And yet the Pahlavi Kings (the Mohammad Reza Shah and his father, Reza) trampled this noble constitution and ran the country as their own God-bestowed property and the citizens as their serfs! It is true that as Iran quasi-modernized, a middle class and technocrats emerged, and the general education of the people was enhanced. However, violations of human and ethnic rights, lack of transparency in administration of the country, nepotism and cronyism, the increasing meddling of Americans in the running of the country, etc. never ended, and, in fact, increased, with internal puppets.
When Dr. Massadegh, a learned aristocratic descendent of the Qajar dynasty was elected as the Prime Minister by an overwhelming direct electoral vote and formed his cabinet, the Shah became quite apprehensive of losing power. After he fled the country to Italy via Iraq and Turkey, he was forced back against his will onto the Persian Peacock Throne allegedly by the American agents. and with American finances and the British blessing leading to the house arrest of Mossadegh for life, and the execution of his cabinet members. Although Madeline Albright, the former Secretary of States during President Clinton’s administration finally acknowledged the U.S. sponsored coup against the democratically elected government of Massadegh, and after the C.I.A. documents had been declassified and even appeared in four full pages in the New York Times, no one knows as to whether her apology was personal in scope or genuinely on behalf of the U.S. administration. After all, it is reported that 72 countries have been meddled with by the US policy since 1945. Steven Colbert draws comic tragedy parallels between the two governments.
Q-Are the feelings of the Iranian people today still influenced by the anger and the bitter memories of the coup of 1953? Or is it rather more a propaganda tool of the current Iranian government?
The C.I.A. declassified 1953 Coup documents are available now. As alluded to earlier, the N.Y. Times, several years ago, ran the story of the entire American government tightly held documentation on C.I.A. Operation Ajax. The west, then led by U.S. post- World War II expansionism, had now replaced British hegemony in the region, and was, in essence, representing the multinational oil conglomerates, and not happy about Mossadegh’s nationalizing the Iranian oil and gas. When taken to the International Court in the Hague, Iran, defended by Mossadegh himself triumphed in such nationalization efforts. That led to a domino effect of oil nationalization in the entire region by other nations. Upon the Shah’s return to power, the C.I.A. helped him set up SAVAK, the Iranian secret police, nutritious for the torture and interrogation techniques and execution and assassination of political prisoners of conscience. Upon Americans directives, the Shah also implemented the “white revolution” in which land reform and other reform measures such as women’s voting rights were pursued.
Despite all this, however, the Iranians, as a whole, still feel a massive affinity with respect for the American people. This was evident by their spontaneous candlelight vigil ceremony sympathizing with the Americans in Tehran and other Iranian cities, after the September 11 attacks against civilians in US cities. The people of Iran as a whole have aspired to a homegrown and independent democracy and freedom that has its roots in the tolerant aspect of Iranian culture, whereby with educational, cultural and religious reforms and through transparent and objective processes and policies, justice and peace are served through equity. Most if not all people are against external intervention and meddling, such as seen in Afghanistan and Iraq. They aspire to “clean out the bath but not throw out the baby.”
Of course, the government in Iran exploits such internal nationalistic and proud sentiments to their own advantage. They selectively blow out of proportion those past aspects of the U.S. or the British foreign policy ills that Iranians abhor, while discounting the many noble aspects that Iranians admire in the west and western cultures and have, in essence, incorporated into their own ways.
Q- What are the main concerns of the Iranian people today? And what is their opinion of the Islamic regime?
This question is quite challenging, I must confess. I suppose it can only be answered through an independent referendum in Iran. Many of us travel frequently to Iran as we still have strong cultural and family ties there. The answer to this question may have been eluded to earlier, has it not?!
The consensus is that the majority of the Iranian people are still religious in heart and varying levels of practice, although religious reformation had already begun through its Shiite Iranian style a hundred years ago, and only accelerated post 1979. However, if a referendum were to be held in Iran, many anticipate that the people would vote for a democratic federal republican system of government, where although “reformed” Islam remains at its central core in people’s personal daily lives, Islam and its professional clergies would not play such a direct day-to-day role as currently. It is envisaged that such a popular government would commit to a more equitable distribution of wealth and resources among ALL 70 million constituents, a strong inclusive federalist nationalism that respects the various internal ethnicities as well as the of the surrounding neighbors, and the protection of human, women, children, minority, ethnic, and religious rights for all constituencies.
Q- What is the main source of the Sunni and the Shiite conflict?
This was also mentioned, at least, in part in the preamble. Although there are some settled minor differences between the two main branches of Islam, such divergences are not as broad as those that exist between Catholicism, Protestantism and Russian Orthodoxy in Christianity or to the extent the west wishes to portray it. Both Sunnis and Shiites believe in the same almighty universal God and his “last” holy Book the Qur’an, adhere to the same essential daily rituals, prayers and codes of conduct, and follow through the same set of religious expectations and traditions. The difference is deciphered in the political aspects of its interpretations, although if one speaks with a conservative fundamentalist from either side, he would demand that you agree that his side is the righteous one and the other side has deviated from the “truth”, and could therefore be labeled as blasphemous. In Iran, Shiisim which has existed in a mild manner since the late first millennium became intertwined with Iranian nationalism in the 16th century, when used as the official religion of state by the Safavid dynasty. During this era, the Vatican and Europe, who had just rid themselves of the seven hundred years of Moslem domination in Spain (in 1492 King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella unified the country and expelled both the Moslems and the Jews), were horrified by the new Ottoman Caliphs, Sallahuddin and Suleiman the Magnificent, who seemed set to re-conquer Europe. This led the Europeans, through the still influential Vatican, to open up a dialog with the Iranians, providing them “modern, HOT” guns and cannons for the first time. The Iranian SHIITES, more zealous and politically inclined at this juncture than earlier, were encouraged to open up an eastern front against the Sunni Ottomans so as to divert the Ottoman military resources. As a result, the Ottomans were defeated at the gates of Vienna in the west. One cannot help but recognize a degree of self-flagellation and self-mutilation that then crept into the annual Shiite rituals of Ashura, commemorating the day Hossein, Mohammad’s grandson was martyred by his own ‘step’ cousin, Yazid. The Shiite fervor annually recreates the event as if it only happened yesterday through self-beating with chains and even swords, while following religious images and flags, reminding one of the same types of processions in Catholicism, especially in Spain. Besides the probable influence of Catholicism on Shiite rituals, the farm more influence on it is the historically rich Persian cultural aspects that precede Islam by a few millennia. In fact, one can hardly find any aspects of the Islamic world, that at one point included southern Europe, that is not influenced immensely by the Persian art and architecture, Persian literature and philosophy, etc.
Again, although there are some settled differences between Shiism and Sunnism, none is as dramatic as what transpired after the 16th century. The conflict was further exacerbated less than three hundred years ago when the Salafi Wahabi sect of Sunnism took root in Mecca Najd, as there was no country called Saudi Arabia until later in the mid 20th century when it was founded after the oil discovery. This sect regarded the Shiites as staunch “blasphemous enemies” of Islam, and decreed that their annihilation was an expeditious route to paradise. The Saudi royal family that now includes 10,000 families belongs to the Vahabi sect. Iran annually sends 25% of the three million plus annual pilgrims to Mecca and Medina that yields the Saudis billions of dollars of revenues. The Iranian pilgrims are regarded as the most orderly and law abiding as admitted by the Saudi authorities; and yet, they are constantly harassed and intimidated by the Saudi “shorteh” the police, for bowing and kissing the black rock of Ka’abeh or the shrine of Mohammad in Medina, as the Saudis frown on such practices. Ironically, there is undeniable evidence where more than half of the so called suicide IED driven insurgents in Iraq are Saudis with their finances, whereby the rest are from other Arab nations and Pakistan but not even one from Iran.
Q-Was it the aggressive invasion by the Arabs in 650 AD? Or the attitude of the Arabs to the Iranian people in all those centuries that has generated animosity?
The Arabs in today’s Iraq, then the Arab Caldeans, Babylonian and Assyrians, or the Canaanites in Palestine, the Phoenicians or the people of Syrian heritage or had older civilizations than the Persian east, or the Medean Aryan Kurds in the north (non-Arab) of Iranian stock. The sparsely populated Arabian Peninsula, however, had not yet established an urban, more civilized state as their distant brethren to the north, and the west, or even the south (Yemenis). Mecca was an annual place of gathering for the worship of idols and a place of trade for these unsophisticated tribes. Every tribe worshiped its own idol which led to competition among them. The contributions of people in the region are increasingly missing from the western literature or with would only appear by the commissioning of lucratively remunerated contracts to freelance writers; nonetheless, it is attributed to “Arab” scientists and philosophers post the 7th century Islamic inception, whereas they were mostly of non-Arab and by and large Persian origins (Algorithm, Avicenna, Biruni, Khayyam, Rhazes, and Rumi to name a few).
The Iranians had an advanced state of civilization before the 7th century, having queens ruling the nation (e.g., Atoosa, Amestris and Esther), a sophisticated state of tax system, transportation, etc. The society was based on a caste system, where the majority of the people served as in essence serfs and could not be educated or marry into a higher caste. Islam, which came into Iran in 642 CE, though was not as violent as the Alexander’s or the Mongol’s invasions of the 5th century BCE or the 13th century, it, nonetheless, had its own level of destructive aggression. Women were taken as war spoils, personal and royal state proprieties were confiscated, books were burned and national treasures destroyed. The Islamic appealing message was: We are all the same in the eye of God. Later it was found that while in theory that may have been true, in practice, it deviated far from it.
The ‘fire under the ash in the brazier” animosity between the Arabs and the Persians/Iranian since antiquity, was exacerbated in 642 with the takeover of Iran in the name of Islam, and even amplified in 1979. Saddam Hussein referred to the 7th century defeat of the Persians in the Battle of “Ghadessieh” (Iranian know the place as Ctesiphon aka Madaen, the core of civilizations) to mobilize Arab public opinion when he invaded Iran in 1980. The war led to the killing of over a million, millions of injured, and an economic loss for both sides of one trillion dollars!
The west and the US were excluded from Iran at this point. The American Embassy employees were taken hostage for 444 days, and the U.S. was humiliated. Next the U.S. and Europeans backed Saddam for a full invasion and occupation of Iran. The Iranians, however, somehow miraculously swept the Iraqis out of Iran’s western frontiers and survived an imposed war eight years; although many, in retrospect, concluded that Iran should have accepted a favorable peace offer made by the Arabs after two years. Others think it lasted because of provocative Ayatollah Khomeini’s statement of exporting the Islamic revolution to the majority Shiite Iraq. The latter had lived in exile and under restriction in Iraq for fifteen years and felt justified in exerting pressure against Saddam. Some believe elements in the Iranian regime had wanted to keep the war “hot” in order to consolidate its power.
Q-How do the Iranians feel today about Russia? It looks like Russia seeks a new ally in Iran?
The Russians and the British have played many, [mostly conniving] roles in Iranian affairs for the past 200 years. In fact, Iran was never colonized by either of them, and only partially occupied for brief periods during the World Wars. On the other hand, the historical role of the Dutch, the Belgians, the Germans, the French and even the Americans before World War I was more benign. The communist U.S.S.R. had wanted to annex a considerable part of northwestern Iran, as this had actualized by the Russian Czars in two unilaterally imposed treaties of more than 150 years ago, when most of current Central Asia and the Caucuses were dismembered from Iran and annexed by Russia. Iran, for the past two hundred years used dual or multi-lateral alliances with the Russians and the British and others until Word War II. In fact, the peoples of these regions on both sides of the Caspian Sea have mush more cultural and historical commonality with Iran than they do with Russia. To sum it up, there is an intrinsic level of mistrust against Russian intentions in Iran, although the two nations share an immense amount of historical and cultural elements, especially with the southern Russian republics. A linguist had once speculated that up to one-fifth of the Russian vocabulary had Persian roots as well!
Q- Is there still animosity against Britain, for having “colonized” or meddled in Iran during last centuries?
There is an old saying in Iran that everyone uses when something goes wrong in the country. “Kar, Kare inglis-hast,” which translates, “Gone wrong? It is the English’s doing.” The same sentiment is prevalent among the former British colonies of India and Pakistan as well as Arab countries, many successors to the dismembered Ottoman Empire by the 1921 British mandate. The Iranians attribute this to the English and not necessarily to the British (a term which includes Scotland, Wales, and Ireland.) “Divide and conquer” rule, is strongly attributed to the English in the region. However, the Iran-British relationship is a love-hate relationship in that while the people admire the technological advances, British civility in its society, their calmness and reserve, but have never forgotten the malicious, ill-conceived, and deliberate English policies of intervention in other nations, Iran included, in the name of regional security and stability for self-interest.
Some even wish that Iran had been fully colonized like India, because this would have truly awakened the Iranian conscience to stronger stride for independence and self-Reliance, for reformation and modernization. The region has become more and more unstable, thanks to external hegemonic interventions, and repressive conservative internal forces, which exploit outside meddling as a means of quenching any sustainable level of socio-cultural, political, religious and economic reforms. The last “rapture” the region of Iran needs is another military intervention, as currently contemplated by the U.S. policies. As President Carter has repeatedly stated, the policies of the current U.S. administration, somewhat supported by the English government, have not worked, but instead, have tarnished U.S. stature among all the allies in Europe and the world. Less than 30% of Americans give a cautious, conditional temporary OK to the continuation of war in Iraq, while hoping direly for an expeditious way of saving “face” and getting out. The region, in the long run, can live with several regional powers, Israel, Iraq, and Iran, as long as their sovereignty is not denied, and the aspirations of their peoples preserved.
As to Israel, the Iranians as a nation, notwithstanding the infrequent provocative statements by a few in leadership roles, have NO quarrel with either Jews or the Israelis; if anything they have had historical and fundamentally cultural ties with the Jews. In fact, Iran currently has the third highest number of Jews, after the U.S. and Israel, and even those hundred thousand Iranian Jews who left Iran for Israel or the U.S. after 1979 still have strong cultural ties to Iran. They observe the Persian cultural way of life and hold celebrations like Norouz, the Persian new-year close to their hearts! In addition to Jews, there are still several other religious minorities including Zoroastrians, Armenian and Assyrian Christians of several hundred thousands, all recognized by the Iranian constitution, which assigns at least one seat in the Parliament to each of them. The Bahai’s, not officially recognized by the government in Iran or the constitution, and persecuted harshly at times, are quasi-tolerated. Iran, against all internal odds and despite numerous external predicaments, will again achieve its deserved stature in the region and the world as it has persevered through the past several millennia from various invasions.
Q-And my last question deals with your perspectives on the aspiration and status of Iranians abroad especially those in the U.S.?
There are three million Iranians living abroad who have mostly emigrated after 1979. They are primarily present in central and Western Europe (London, Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Rome and Berlin) as well as a million in North America (Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, Washington, D.C., Boston and San Francisco). After having endured a rather harsh struggle to acclimate through educational achievements and capitals so successfully into the fabrics of their adopted homes, and despite their terms of endearments for some discriminatory practices against them by the government where they are denied of senior positions for which they are qualified, it is unlikely that a considerable number of them will ever return to Iran irrespective of whether or not a more democratic and hospitable government emerges there. In fact, more than half such population are born or raised outside Iran. Notwithstanding, however, the Iranians in Diaspora have been valiantly able to integrate the many aspects of their historical Persian cultures and those acquired in the west. The parents do not any longer persuade their children to become physicians or engineers as they themselves were pushed by their parents back home, but, instead, an increasing cohort are now in law, business, the arts and entertainment, etc. It is envisaged that the Iranian-American community for instance, will witness a blossoming of its ranks joining the political endeavors in the U.S. as evidenced by ever increasing presence in community and political driven projects. A number of this young, vibrant, highly educated, law abiding and financially affluent community members-that its contributions toward the U.S. annual gross domestic products (GDP) is estimated at several hundred billion dollars- aspires to be actively engaged gratis in an aspect of moving the society forward. Such activities encompass from the urgent needs of the community itself, to reaching out to the broader American or global society at-large. There is also an increasing participation subject to laws, of reaching out to the NGOs and educational institutions and the health systems back in Iran.
Moreover, it is realistic to expect from the Iranian-Americans a number of congressmen and senators as well as a higher than currently present members of the government senior executives emerge including cabinet members in U.S. in the next decade or so. The inauguration and growth of the multitude of non-for-profit organizations and institutions and the presence of thousands of American and Canadian professors and scholars of Iranian heritage will facilitate the process of achieving the above objectives. The Iranian Zoroastrians have, for fear of persecutions, emigrated in two mass exoduses to Gujarat and Mumbai on the western coast of India in the past fifteen hundred years. As an ethno-religious, highly educated and affluent minority of less than one hundred thousand there, they are regarded as Parsi aka Persians with esteemed respect and admirations by the one billion Indians; nonetheless, Yazd in Iran remains their most sacred pilgrimage site. They still preserve many aspects of their Persian heritage and pass it on to subsequent generations. In fact, the less than fifty thousand Zoroastrians in Iran are revered by the broader Iranian Moslems due to their honesty, work ethics, and their stewardship of pre-Islamic heritage. The Iranian American community or the Iranians in Diaspora will undoubtedly emulate their Zoroastrian Parsi brethrens.
To sum it up, one might surmise that the members of the Iranian-American Community seem to be living less hypocritical, more forthright with themselves and the broader society, healthier and more at peace and ease than their compatriots back home. And as to the U.S. and is role worldwide, the Americans are resilient and fair-minded people, whereby they effectively exploit the tinkering processes built into the political system to ensure that their grassroots objectives coincide with those of others’ worldwide leading to an ultimate equitable level of peace and prosperity for humanity. It is anticipated that the fully acclimated Iranian-Americans will play a vital role for bridging the east and the west together.
Q-I thank you very much for sharing your thoughts and wish you and your Community all the best.
You are welcome; I thank you for having provided the opportunity.
About the interviewer: Johanna Sterbin, Esq. is a Human/Women’s Rights activist and Iranologist, well regarded through the various U.N. Agencies and NGOs. She practices law and mediation/conflict resolution, and teaches college mathematics in New York.
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