Previous posts on Diasporas:
- The Iranian Diasporas: Pity the Nation
- The Making of the Diasporas
- Martyrdom: The Faked Identity
- Economy of Resistance and Emigration
- The Toxic Patchwork of The Diasporas
Foreword to a Faery Exile: Diaspora and Diasporas
Emigration – fleeing from the country in the millions – allows us, the Iranians, to indulge in things we can only dream of in our country: fearlessness in our chosen ways of life, freedom to speak our mind, respect for our rights.
In the past forty years, as long as the migrants could settle peacefully in a harbouring country and later visit the homeland, there have been few or no qualms in leaving it. In Iran, as is the case elsewhere in the Middle-East, death is cheap. Trying to survive unharmed from authorities’ unfounded accusations and brutal behaviour is what matters most.
It is over a century that emigrants have left the Modern Iran in a steady flow. In the earlier parts of the 20th century, the migration was made of a trickle of the elite. Since 1979, it has become a stream in which Iranians from all walks of life, backgrounds and situations take part in numbers, including the members of clerics’ families.
The legal or illegal migration creates what is broadly called a diaspora in a given country, or diasporas in different parts of the world. The integration into the customs and social behaviours of the countries harbouring them paints different portraits of the people from one country: Iran.
Each and every migrant takes with oneself baggage of invisible wealth and burden, credits and liabilities, inherited from one’s ancestors and shaped by personal experiences. The Iranians call this intangible baggage, the Iranian identity. However, the Iranian diasporas have failed to create noticeable communities which would benefit from the dynamics of the Iranian identity.
It seems that no one manages to fully embrace or identify with what is the Iranian Identity. In Iran, since the political Islam took over as a new form of ruthless Shiite dictatorship among the Persians, a sense of bewilderment has shaken the social fabric.
Has this monster of absolutist political tradition surfaced from the infinite depths beneath us? Have we let it grow in our entrails?
Accepting the answers, yes in both cases, is still not within our reach. As things at home develop into a higher state of bedlam, we try to fade out of the scene, thus avoiding the questions. Often, we change the track of the conversation. We cling to food, music, poetry and fashion as ingredients of the Iranian identity, or any other apolitical concept, all fairly useless in fighting the theocratic monsters.
Strong in Beliefs, Poor in Arguments
The total number of Iranian migrants around the world, or nationals from Iranian descent, is in the range of 5 to 6 million and growing. In Bahrain, Canada, Germany, Malaysia, and the United States, the diasporas exceed 100,000 people in each country. The Iranian communities abroad do not exist, since among the Iranians the lack of connections between social groups, made of people from all walks of life, is noticeable. Avoiding other Iranians is a reflex carefully cultivated. Therefore, the Iranian identity is no more than sharing a leap of faith resembling an epic poem aligning beautiful words describing an imaginary nation.
Scattered all over the world, the Iranians try to project the image of an above average educated and professionally successful middle class, serene and law abiding. Yet, this needs to be checked. However, they carefully keep away from local social agitations and communal claims in the harbouring country. There are strong misgivings to engage with fellow citizens and participate in collective activities. This is verified.
Donald Trump’s Travel Ban in 2017 targeting several Muslim-majority countries, including Iran, made it clear that the Iranian diaspora in the USA, the largest in the world, were not grouped in a few recognisable communities and could not make a collective and united move in order to react to the political decisions. They were weak in their reactions and puny in arguing the issue. Those to the centre-right were generally more vocal in their opinions and blamed Donald Trump and his administration. The state of the Iranian regime functioning was hardly scrutinised, neither was the poor state of democratic values and disrespect for human rights in the listed Muslim-majority countries that have prepared the path to migration.
The self-produced media of the Iranian-Americans exhibit them as successful and chic moneymakers, The Iranian Identity, as they claim it, has the flavours of a stage direction written in Tehran’s vernacular and set in Northern Tehran. Glitter is present, but the substance is missing. They are shallow in reflection, intellectually weak in their awareness on the issues of racism, poverty, homophobia, and any other problem, not only related to the refugees, which affects them as well, but also to matters at the core of Iranian society.
In the cultural baggage of an Iranian immigrant, a deep-seated understanding of the civil society and the means of achieving one by devising a consensual social contract are missing.
In Iran, the concepts of civil society and citizenship are not part of the education and socialisation. They are experimental and blurred in the minds.
The Islamic Republic is scared of citizens’ civil demands and kills in the bud any move involving a syndicate of individuals which could undermine its absolute authority. But, this is only one aspect of the shortcomings. A tribalism education, some say traditional, made of the unfounded views and beliefs of the family and friends, is another. The lesson to internalise is: a stranger, بیگانه (external to the tribe) always lies, no matter what is said. Reject the idea.
The social activists in Iran try to gather as many people as they possibly can around a tangible common cause, simple to define. By creating NGOs, in any domain, they claim leeway with the fear and the feeling of being outlawed tomorrow. Despite their demands being widely shared, they have very little support from either the general public or other NGOs with similar demands.
The emerging civil society, clumsy and inexperienced, is under pressure from frequent waves of crackdown and arbitrary arrests met with the public’s silence.
In the diaspora, even when obtaining dual nationality is involved, the prospect of applying the codes of civil society to an Iranian ecosystem seems ludicrous to the migrant.
Hostile Feelings Toward Solidarity
What is particularly striking is how, during the last four decades, the five to six million Iranian migrants have dramatically failed to create and expand genuine interconnected structures among themselves. Instead of building bridges of trust and care, they have erected impenetrable walls of distrust and contempt between various tribalist circles. Minuscule self-absorbed groups excel in recreating the piffling small talk and self-congratulation.
Nevertheless, the Iranian diasporas have a few points in common. They glamorise their imaginary bonds with Iran, describe a culture and traditions that only dwell in their minds and stem from family memories. Instead of trying to resolve issues related to homeland or giving a helping hand to a newly arrived migrant, they point to someone/something to blame and to find faults in.
Often, the migrant displays hostility toward solidarity, tolerance and pragmatism. Fierce competition among Iranian asylum seekers is the substitute for mutual support; parochialism, downright arrogance and loutish behaviour toward new fellow migrants is sadly too common.
I have lost count of the number of times I have heard an Iranian or an Iranian descendant referring to a fellow refugee as a wretched political refugee/a hungry beggar گدای گرسنه/ پناهنده سیاسی بدبخت.
In Europe, an experience is shared among many senior volunteers who have also helped the Iranians with their application for asylum. They have noticed that the asylum seekers looking for a permanent right to stay were consistently present in the meetings or the events organised to call attention to the rights of refugees. They were heedful of their own rights and predisposed to ask for more, albeit rarely wanting to share the “little extra” with others. Also, they were very vocal if they were objects of the slightest administrative errors or inaccuracies.
But, as soon as their right to stay was secured, they stopped showing interest in the plight of those whose rights had been violated. Moreover, they made up self-aggrandising stories on how they had arrived in the country; tales as far as possible from their true narratives as refugees.
Unshared Faery Exile
A faery exile for an Iranian is a land in which they are welcomed and the problems of integration/assimilation do not exist or fade by magic. A land in which one has not to make choices, and understand the whys of what is offered in exile, but refused in the homeland: freedom vs despotism, individual responsibility vs mass obedience.
Once the Iranian migrants feel secure enough in the harbouring country, they believe they are privileged in having the best of the two cultures and the two worlds. They become haughty, and practise the art of subterfuge and deception toward others as is practised in Iran to survive.
However, trying to keep the equilibrium between the two cultures is similar to sitting on two chairs, each with a leg missing. The swings between internal conflict and external realities never end.
Taking from the two cultures is fine, but partial as long as something, as trifling as it might seem, is not given back to each from the other. Only the acts of taking and giving, bundled together in a mix of two cultures, would be a stout lifeline to confront the outside world.