After forty years of the theocratic dictatorship and its well documented lawlessness and the human rights abuses, in all logic one may expect that Iranians, no matter if living in the country or abroad, would pay attention to their own safety and be aware of the ayatollahs’ spiderweb. However, apathy is the word.
Hard-Hearted Political Islam
When human rights are stamped on by the West, Saudi Arabia, and their allies in the Middle East, the Iranian authorities, the Shiite gang that tyrannises the country is fast to use the media artillery to pour scorn on them. However, their own wrongdoings in the same register are heavily censored in the country and Iranian readers are informed by international media websites; if they wanted to they could bypass the heavily filtered Iranian Halal internet.
When visiting the West, facing questioning by the journalists about their human rights abuses and the cases covered in the Western media, the Iranian officials use the old tricks: their English is not good enough to understand the question (H. Rouhani despite having written a PhD in English and being awarded the degree by Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU)); or they have never heard of the cases, calling them slander (M. J. Zarif).
Unfailingly, with the best defence being attack, they discuss prisoners in Abu Ghraib, in Guantánamo, and the migrants’ plight crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe. Since they have a point on these issues, the journalist, unwilling to expand, moves on to another question.
Since the JCPOA was signed, and fuelled by the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, hate speeches, the chasing of “wicked foreign hands”, spies and saboteurs, have regained a high priority on the domestic political agenda. The targeted countries have remained unchanged since 1979; only the degrees of dislike differ: USA, UK and to a lesser extent Canada and France.
The dual nationals holding a nationality from one of these countries are easy targets and valuable bargaining chips in the future international negotiations with Tehran. Remarkably guileless to the point of being exasperatingly angelic, they fall in the spiderweb of the Islamic Republic of Iran, singing all the way to Iran to visit their families.
They are arrested without scuffle, tried under vague accusations involving the state security, and sentenced to imprisonment, in a blueprint drafted by the ministries of Justice and Information. The sentence lasts till the Iranian government is satisfied it has obtained what it wants, cash or service, from the Western country home to the dual national.
Insouciance and Recklessness
After forty years of the theocratic dictatorship and its well documented lawlessness and the human rights abuses, in all logic one may expect that Iranians, no matter if living in the country or abroad, would pay attention to their own safety and be aware of the ayatollahs’ spiderweb.
The Iranian-extract citizens are thrilled about their dual nationality, which gives them the privilege of enjoying the freedom offered by the Western democracies and the possibilities of grasping both cultures. Being nurtured by two cultures is wonderful, as long as one takes the best from each and gives back something to both. Taking is easy, but giving is more rewarding, albeit frightfully difficult.
To give, each culture has to break its exclusive sphere in the mind by calling into question the rituals and beliefs of the other. The freedoms that a democracy can provide should challenge the nostalgic impression of a cheerful, welcoming and safe home. It should try to find the causes of the centuries-old rule of despotism and corruption in Iran and highlight the unfaltering need of finding a father figure, a protector in a tyrannical leader.
Instead, a distorted picture emerges when human right issues are discussed among Iranians. Their first reaction is to deny them:“It is not as bad as that.” Heads are deeply buried in the sand, and the general line of action is to believe what their ill-informed relations tell them: “No worries, the country is safe and open to all. We are not into politics. We are innocent and god fearing, who would want to harm us?”
And if one insists the truth be known by citing the cases, the standard reply is: “All lies! It cannot be like this.” They put lipstick on a pig, so to speak.
For decades the governments of the USA (presented by the Swiss Embassy in Tehran), Canada, the UK and France have warned dual nationals travelling to Iran that their double nationality is not recognised by the authorities and they cannot benefit from their services in the country. Plainly put, in Iran a dual national is considered only as an Iranian citizen. Full stop.
As far as I remember, going back to the 1980s, this was written in black and white on the travel advice sheet for Iran.
It is rare that the general public is aware of such arrests and even if informed it is hardly a subject of discussion. Over the years, a small number of dual nationals have paid some attention to the implication of the warning. Recently, the fact has started, albeit timidly, to sink in. Still the general line is: “I am going home, nothing to worry about.” Of course, most of the time, they enjoy being with family and friends, and come back even more confident in their personal safety vis-à-vis the Iranian authorities.
During their visit, as they are busy partying and sightseeing, they hardly realise how disconnected from the social oppression they are, how little they know or want to know about their own country. The local media, under heavy censorship, will only publish a byline in an article about the arrest of dual nationals. The general public, to whom Iranian newspapers are only rags filled with lies, do not read the articles in full, and a great number of young dual nationals are illiterate in Farsi. They would be satisfied deciphering the front page headlines and have no patience in hearing the full broadcast of an ayatollah’s speech.
Once in a while, for some visitors something goes wrong and their daydream turns into a nightmare. Hardly ever does the “misunderstanding” get media attention: it starts with a harsh order from a plain clothes official to wait for further commands and do as he says. Objecting to his rude behaviour would attract his wrath and more unpleasantness. This is widespread petty despotism, the foundation of the despotic regimes. After hours of anxious waiting and no information given, there is an intrusive interrogation for an act that can be considered a mere “trifle” in any open society.
By way of example, women are banned from wearing leggings. On arrival, one female dual national wearing them was taken out of the passport check line and held for hours in a bare room. Before being “released” she answered a number of personal questions, and her mobile devices were thoroughly checked, and contacts downloaded. For the story to end, one has to humbly apologise and to lay low by appealing to the clemency of the interrogator. She did.
For some dual nationals, often arrested either after a period of time spent in Iran or when they want to fly out, life itself becomes a never-ending nightmare: they are arrested and taken to solitary confinement, which is followed by a monkey trial based on fabricated accusation where they are condemned to an outrageous imprisonment sentence.
The family is not informed immediately, and once informed, after absorbing the shock of the arrest, they face a great dilemma: go public and face the judiciary wrath or keep a low profile and try to arrange things à la Iranienne?
One may argue that the number of dual nationals unlawfully facing charges and condemned in Iran, in proportion to all dual nationals visiting the country, is tiny. However, when it comes to human life, even one in a billion is precious and must be protected loud and strong. Arguing with numbers is good enough for the irresponsible lot of narrow minded pen-pushers, bureaucrats, technocrats, and apparatchiks…
The insouciance and recklessness expressed by the dual nationals travelling to Iran are serious matters and are made worse by the ill-informed, and misleadingly encouraging, views of their own family, reinforcing the climate of false safety.
Unless families experience the bitter process of being tangled in the fanatic and hard-hearted judiciary of the Islamic Republic of Iran to save a loved one, they deny facts and choose, deliberately or unconsciously, not to know more about the cases reported in the Western media or heard about in town. Their belief is: “The prisoner is surely guilty of something. No one has heard of injustice toward an innocent.”
Learning The Hard Way
With courage, since April this year when his British-Iranian wife, Nazanin, was arrested and was stranded with their baby daughter Gabriella in Iran, Richard Ratcliffe has gone public and updates the petitioners of #FreeNazanin on a regular basis. In early September, she was given a jail sentence of five years for “leading a foreign-linked hostile network”.
The updates unveil the changes taking place from the cheerfulness of a family to the fight to unite them again and the conflicting feelings of hope, disillusion, ire, gratefulness; never knowing how or when it will all end.
In an interview to Iranwire.com, the sister of Reza Shahini openly discussed the conditions and events that led to her brother, a USA-Iran dual national, being arrested and condemned to 18 years in prison. The metamorphosis from believing in a safe familial setting to the awareness of the realities of living in a hard-hearted political system comes out once more.
Moreover, the extended Iranian family circles are known to be supportive of their members; however, petty jealousies and malevolence looms in the dark, leading to denunciation of the accused by close relatives. Such a point was made by Fatemeh Shahini in her interview.
We believe that the updates must be read by all dual nationals visiting their families in Iran. They should be read sentence by sentence, pausing often to let the tenets and the consequences of the Velayat-e Faqih regime sink into their subconscious.
Faced with the gross charges and the tribunal sentences, claiming the innocence, honesty and kindness of the condemned, or calling for justice, has no effect. Dictatorship is aloof to innocence; the judiciary in a hard-hearted political system has no ears to hear the cry for justice. The judiciary even tramples on the rudimentary rights of the arrested with the satisfaction of a job well done.
If the ayatollahs were well meaning, during the last decades, they could have built a strong economy, a confident society open to the world by tolerance and creativity. They choose to spend billions on a destructive technology by stealth and buy allies in the Middle East. The costs of their “cultural diplomacy” in Syria, i.e. redoing the Sayyida Zeinab shrine and having an excuse to further back their brother, Bashar al-Assad, would have built more modern schools in the province of Sistan and Baloutchestan (south-east of Iran) than needed. But then this province is Sunni and unworthy of development as any ayatollah unashamedly admits.
Change of Behaviour? Unlikely
However, we would be naive if we hoped for a change of behaviour from the dual nationals, even if they read all the arrest accounts or learn by heart the travel advice, as long as they believe they are returning home to warmth and safety when visiting Iran, and as long as their nostalgic impressions of Iran and their Western education are kept apart and there is no inner dialogue between them.
Thousands of them enjoy their visits, posting happy pictures on social media and writing about Iran’s natural beauty on their return. Few are those who open their eyes to what matters most: the social and political panorama needing observation with a pair of open eyes. Their lives in the West have ill-prepared them to face and see the facts of living in Iran. Pleasant childhood memories, and the family’s apolitical talk, add shiny colours to their views.
If we were to draw the timelines of the recent cases of dual nationals arrested, we would realise that the cases of those previously arrested were already covered by international media outlets long before the next dual nationals would be imprisoned. If the latter knew about the former, what were their views and thoughts?
Being passionate about Iran and willing to help the population are the characteristics of the second generation of dual nationals born or mostly grown up in the West after 1979. They are ready to put their motivation and energy into noble projects in Iran. However, is the local population consciously looking for and actively seeking the help that reflects a paternalistic view? Or how much energy are the locals willing to put into any teamwork project?
Going back to 1979, the revolutionaries in those days did not need help either and made it understood to many who had run away from the oppression of the late Shah to the West in the 1970s. The passion about Iran among the “returnees”, wrapped in a paternalistic desire to help, took them back to where they legitimately considered home. However, they overlooked two factors. First the Revolution was Islamic and ideologically closed to any social progress (using a mobile and writing codes for the internet are not social progress); second their expertise and help were certainly not wanted. The message from the Hezbollahis to them could not be clearer: “Stay and be hanged or run for your life!” They ran …
Now, the young generation who were children in the 1980s, or were born years after in the West, long to go back to Iran. However, they should remember that the Shiite Islamic Republic is not a fortuitous creation, a historical trap; it is a mirror reflecting the image of a political culture that the majority of Iranians deem acceptable and have accepted.
As long as the ayatollahs rule Iran, we will be invited to sign more petitions and read the same stories of arrests, fake confessions and imprisonment. Things will not change unless we do something to cure our insouciance and recklessness, fully realising that we have to struggle with the hard-hearted Political Islam. The theocracy has no use for people from outside their own circles, no matter how much these people love their country and naively want to improve things. Iran is a despotic and lawless state, no matter how sweet is to be with one’s family.
The Iranians, wherever they are, must realise that the theocracy adjusts when it deems it necessary but would not change a comma from the lines written by Khomeini in 1979. There is no credible political force to challenge the ayatollahs. Unless they are outed and defeated, we, all Iranians, are at the mercy of a bunch of bigoted and greedy henchmen.
Individually, the majority of the Iranian-extract citizens in the West belong to the educated entrepreneur class. Many are renowned professionals.
But as a collective diaspora among which democratic political forces are understood and organised, these Iranians are frightfully incompetent and as weak as kittens.