Abroad, Iranian diaspora use the means refused to them by the ayatollahs: freedom of speech. But they are hopelessly inactive when it comes to Iran’s deeds.
Refugee Ban and the Iranian Outcry
The American president’s executive order, signed on Friday 27th January, 2017, reads: Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States. It immediately barred the route of hundreds of thousands of travellers from Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and Iraq to the USA.
The Trump administration paints everyone with the same brush, even toddlers and ailing elderlies were not spared; the executive order qualified 197.2 million people, the sum of the population of the listed countries, as “terrorists”.
Within minutes of the refugee ban publication, thousands of perfectly legitimate travellers, according to American law, who were heading for the USA were caught unprepared and stranded at the airports. Among them were dual-nationals, not only of US extract but also British-Somalian, Franco-Sudanese, German-Iranian, Austro-Syrian, Iraqi-Swiss … etc. Thus, the order also undermined the sovereignty of other nations on their citizens.
However, flash reports from airport scenes, protesters with boards welcoming and helping passengers, and personal stories overwhelmed what could hardly be videoed: hundreds in refugee camps, admitted to the USA under the US refugee resettlement programme after a painstaking and lengthy process but barred from flying to the US.
Wherever you are, be it in Europe or the USA, browse through your address book, read the names on film credits, look up your neighbour’s name in a phone book, and ponder on the names of the persons elected in your home country. You will end up with, at least, one name that originated from the countries listed. Practically, it took the new US administration less than a couple of hours to put my mother (a European married to an Iranian) and my aunt, aged 94, from my father’s side in the same basket as the Daesh-ISIS filth.
The inconsistencies and ill logic behind the executive order have produced thousands of street protests, testimonies, and legal actions.
An Old List
If the order should prevent Muslims=Terrorists from entering the USA, why target only seven countries, omitting other major players in the Middle-East bedlam, Turkey, Egypt and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to name only some?
The list of the seven countries takes its root in the ‘Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act’ (US Senate, H. R. 158) accepted on 15th December 2015. Under the act, foreign visitors who had visited Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, or, Sudan since March 2011 or held dual-citizenship in one of those countries were denied access to the visa waiver programme. In February 2016, persons who had visited Libya, Somalia, and Yemen in the preceding five years were added to the list. However, dual-citizens from these three countries were allowed continued access to the waiver programme.
One does have to be very short-sighted indeed to accept both the rhetoric and the substance of the present US administration without any sense of the indecency of the two.
In recent months, it has often seemed as though Donald Trump can no longer outdo himself when it comes to demonstrating his lunacy. The preposterous wall being built along the USA and Mexico borders was the first step of xenophobia and was intended to flatter his narcissism and that of his voters.
To the outsiders, cynically more so to the population of the Middle-East, it is clear as crystal that far too many people in the United States have a selective memory, and too little information about their own country’s wrongdoings and errors in judgement in creating the conditions that let terrorism flourish.
Trump’s refugee ban has put hundreds of thousands of law-abiding citizens of Iranian origin together with the other six nations (many cannot even be qualified as refugees, since they were born and raised in the West) in unjustified turmoil, only to satisfy the monomania of the voters of the present US administration with terrorists, which has become a catch-all word for any political speech to gain favour and discredit opponents.
Would the judiciary and the rule of law in the USA be strong enough to contain damages done by a democratically elected president? Or the delicate system of check and balance, essential in any democracy, be scarified to personal interests? Neither prevented the candidate becoming president. For now, settling personal scores and carpet-seller bargains among the men and women elected to the congress and senate are in order.
As far as the governments of those countries on the refugee ban list were concerned, only Iran, both the theocratic regime and the Iranian diaspora, reacted quickly, loud and clear.
A paradoxical situation, in which the persecutor and the persecuted were in the same party. It is best pointed out by Mohammad-Reza Sotoudeh, journalist in an Iranian paper: Most of us [the Iranians] are forbidden to leave the country (ممنوع الخروج). From now on, we are also forbidden (ممنوع الدخول) to enter the United States. Till now we thought to leave Iran for good, whatever the cost; now we must stay in […] Before urgently asking Mr Trump why he does not allow the Iranians to enter the USA, we should ask a much more pressing question to Mr Rouhani: “Why are many Iranian residents in the USA forbidden to enter Iran?”
Tehran swiftly reacted to the refugee ban by a tit-for-tat measure: all USA citizens are barred from entering the country from now on.
In practice, however, this would not come to a showdown in producing chaotic scenes in the deserted Iranian airports. American tourists visiting Iran represent a mere trickle compared with the thousands of people of Iranian origin – dual-nationals, green-card holders and visa holders – travelling to the USA.
Since 1979, there has not been any direct flight between USA and Iran and passengers between the two countries fly non-US airliners. The Swiss Embassy has been in charge of American interest since the US embassy was stormed and American personnel taken hostage in November 1979.
Following the refugee ban, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tehran announced that it would provide protection to Iranian citizens and Muslims wherever they are.
The absurdity of this statement triggered the mockery of the Iranians that have fled Iran to save their lives.
To keep a long story short, the Iranian embassy’s personnel have never been a “help” to their own citizens. Usually, even for the most legitimate enquiries and paperwork, the Iranians in the West approach the consular services with apprehension and adopt a servile behaviour faced with the pious and inquisitive agents of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The ayatollahs have called the USA embassy spy nest. What about their own embassies, mole tunnels?
As for helping the Muslims … the words look nice on the grandiloquent declaration. The plight of the Afghan refugees in Iran is well documented, the Iranian regime in fanatically backing Bashar Al-Assad has brought misery to millions, advising him how to run human slaughterhouses, and in making millions homeless refugees. Iran blamed the West for the inhuman handling of the refugee crisis, but what did it do to protect the refugees? Before taking on the West, it would be better that the ayatollahs clean in front of their own porch.
In Iran, Sunnis are subjected to severe discrimination and Baha’is are persecuted.
A good citizen must be a Shia Muslim, male preferably, ready to compromise with the regime, accept the inanity of the ayatollahs, and hide his attachment to his ethnicity, culture and language. Otherwise, he is an enemy to the State, to Islam, in a word Mofesd-e fel-Arz, corrupt.
In June 2009, the rigged elections led to street protests from citizens. The Velayat-e Faqih used snipers to kill and rapists to deal with prisoners. Today, the same servants, Nowkars, are running the country in the same vein as Imam Khomeini. So much for “providing protection to Iranian citizens and Muslims wherever they are”.
Why do President H. Rouhani, the foreign minister M-J Zarif, and the head of the judiciary, Ayatollah Larijani, censor information on the dual-nationals imprisoned in Iran under false accusations – a growing number since April 2016 – awaiting a ransom to be paid for their release or less they be executed?
Why target dual-nationals living in Iran as enemy spies and deprive them of working for a living and confiscate their properties for the benefit of those who serve the theocracy?
Why are there are so many musicians, artists, cartoonists, bloggers, and social media users in prisons?
The hypocrisy of the Iranian regime is even more flagrant by the fact that the Iranian despots send their own children, “akhond-zadeh”, to the West. Many are even permanent residents or citizens of Canada and the USA, where they fully enjoy Western life on money Daddy [sic] sends from Tehran via Dubai. When in Iran, they have no scruples in committing crimes as long as their deeds can be covered up by Daddy and his acolytes. If in trouble and exposed to the public eye, often by jealousies from a rival party, they safely flee to North America and Europe to lead a quiet life.
Iran has declared the USA as the Great Satan and its sworn enemy. On their list, the UK and Israel rank second. Therefore, the populace has been fed with decades of hate, filled with anti-American and anti-Western propaganda. The propaganda is combined with a permanent domestic crackdown on critics, together with anyone from religious and ethnic minorities perceived as enemy spies.
Today, the height of any manifestation organised by the theocracy (all other forms of crowd-gathering are forbidden) is marked by stampeding and burning flags. The USA, Great Britain and Israel ones are a matter of routine. Other Western countries’ flags can be burned, if the political climate demanded it.
The Diaspora Shouts
The content and implications of Donald Trump’s refugee ban, xenophobic and autocratic, is a few days old, and there is a chance for the targeted individuals to get legal help and be heard from institutions within the USA or outside it; the European governments might speak out, if willing to brave the president of the United States.
However, the oppression and the crackdowns on Iranian citizens by the Iranian ayatollahs are forty years older than Trump’s refugee ban. The backward tyrants of Tehran have never given a chance to their critics, or anyone that breaches the Islamic Moral claptrap, the Sharia. The judiciary is there to condemn on unknown charges, then execute or place the prisoner in solitary confinement for many years. This is the prime reason why so many have become refugees and migrants to Europe as well as the USA. Today, hundreds of thousands of Iranians, from all faiths and ethnicities, are dual-nationals or have resident permits such as the USA green card.
The ideal in the back of the minds of many Iranian citizens is to leave the country, preferably get a citizenship from USA or Canada, and then visit Iran on holidays.
Upon returning home, in the West, they say how all was perfect back in Iran and what a lovely time they had; pictures of beautiful sceneries, of female and male mix parties in the privacy of homes – the Islamic Moral police raid had been avoided by bribe – are produced to bear witness.
Thus, the visitors turn their backs on what they consider as their problems, that is, the problems of those living in the country: social and political censorship, child prostitution, mass executions, unemployment, corruption, and unbound social hypocrisy.
They hardly ask themselves why either their parents or themselves left the country and why they are not prepared to go back. Political conscience takes a long time, more than a generation, to be sown and grow, if it is not forgotten before. It is easy to love Iran if it finds its expression only in rosy rhetoric and nostalgic memories, reading Hafez’s poems in English (!), eating local dishes once in a while, and hanging pictures of nature or monuments in miniature frames in the living room.
A Golden Opportunity
Far from being terrorists, as Donald Trump likes to repeat, the Iranians, together with the people from the six other countries, have become model citizens.
In a recent article, the New York Times reported: “As a whole, residents from the seven predominantly Muslim countries, especially Iranians and the small group of Libyans, are better educated than the rest of America. […] Residents from Iran, Syria and Libya, who are more likely than the population as a whole to be managers, engineers and teachers, make close to or above the median income for the entire American population.”
These observations are also valid for the residents in Europe.
One might naively believe that the growth in the number of Iranians living abroad would open up avenues in their social and political debates that would break them free from bygone traditions and sterile bickering, preparing them to combat the despotism ingrained not only in politics and the state, but worse, in the mentalities and domesticities.
It has not happened. The Iranians abroad have disputed and fought each other on a whim, and never been tempted to join forces. After four decades, the possibility of a regime changing its nature is not yet to be envisaged. The non-action, silence and indifference of the Iranian diaspora, as a whole, to the ayatollahs’ politics has shown, as a community, they have missed to develop a political conscience of their country or have, even if sketchy, a collective vision. A showy nationalism does not replace decisive actions.
The diaspora have learned how to use and be vocal on the means refused to them by the ayatollahs but ready for them to be used in the West: freedom of speech, rule of law, freedom of association and action. That is how the Iranian diaspora were quick to react to the refugee ban executive order, which has shrunk their world.
However, there has been no collective action, even a serious public debate on how the Islamic Republic of Iran is treating its own citizens, its dual-nationals held in jail for a ransom, and its own minorities deprived of civil and human rights. Or how the ayatollahs have hijacked Syria and contributed to the tragedies of that country.
The worm is to be found in our country.
American-Iranians have done well for themselves in the USA and other Western countries. Something that they could not achieve in Iran. They have grabbed the facilities offered to them and have shown their own merits. For those facilities, security and comfort, the natives worked hard before their arrival. They had united even with disputes, made concessions to their opponents, progressed as the circumstances demanded it, made errors, and learned from them. This can be democracy in its simplest form. It does not come cheap.
Adapting to live in a democracy is a half-pride.
The ingenuity of a nation shines when its population can live together and with its neighbours peacefully, have a say in the country’s running and know that emigration from it is only a deliberate personal choice.
Taming Iran is the full pride.
A constructive debate, among Iranians, lucid, realistic, and in which grandiloquence has no place, is long overdue. Donald Trump’s refugee ban is a golden opportunity to ponder on Iran’s future. This must be our job.
In writing these lines, I apologise to those of my fellow citizens that wholeheartedly, and in good faith, have put all their means, as meagre as they were, or their lives, as precious as one’s life is, into combating the various forms of despotism and fanaticism in Iran and have paid dearly in the process. They have not achieved much because those who should have heard shrugged and chose to believe in false promises.