Dual-nationals are naive in their belief of having the best of two worlds.
During the last forty years, the Iranian diaspora have become the supporters of the Iranian theocracy and gerontocracy by being blind nationalists.
There is no need to hold a regular support manifestation or be vocal on social media. Keeping silent, ignoring facts, and banning critics of Iran’s cultural beliefs is as efficient as holding banners in public proclaiming “long life to the ayatollahs”.
The Iranian diaspora are successful in being assimilated and accepted in their home countries in the West. They play it by the local rule, law and customs. They believe they have the best of both worlds: the Western freedom and opportunities and their Iranian heritage. However, many would not agree on the content of the heritage.
The religious authorities in Iran have well understood this point and since the 1990s have tolerated the dual-nationals with a red line: visiting Iran must be on the Iranian’s passport and Iranian must be their nationality. In other words, it must be on the terms that the ayatollahs dictate, and thus the subjects of the autocrats in Tehran are vulnerable, as is any Iranian living in the country.
The tolerance for dual nationality by the ayatollahs is a political tactic. Today, many of their extended family members and henchmen are dual-nationals and as such have an open door to the Western countries and could be used to set up apparently inoffensive businesses in the West and work toward the aims of the Tehran’s political agenda.
During the Iran–Iraq war in the 1980s, and later in the 1990s, many Iranians took refuge in the West, among them people on the payroll of the ayatollahs. The latter’s stories recounted to the officials of the harbouring countries were coherent and backed by faked evidence. The technocrats of the migration offices easily accepted their stories.
However, the confusing and undocumented stories of the “real” refugees who had left everything behind were likely to be rejected. The “real” asylum seeker had only his words and lacked hard evidence: in times of danger for one’s safety, no one can document one’s plight.
By the mid-1990s, the picture was clear for people who wanted to see it: the “refugees” on Tehran’s payroll were fast to set up a business in their Western homeland and travel regularly to Iran on an Iranian passport. They did not lack either money or contacts.
To protect their own operatives, the succeeding Iranian government left the country’s door open to all Iranians in the West. Albeit they kept a close watch on the average citizens, unrelated to their system. They kept track of their movements, CVs, and their relatives and networks in Iran. Since about ten years ago, the fast developing internet and social media have been bottomless sources of information: thus any website page can provide them with a piece of information, a picture or a personal comment.
The introduction and imposition of a digital “Kart-e Melly”, a renewable ID card, strengthened the spying on 80 million Iranians, be they in the country or abroad.
On the face of it, this little printed data item is all one needs to open a bank account or sell a house. But each individual file is connected to a large data file on which the person’s professional career, movements, foreign travels and networks are carefully noted.
In the minds of many naive dual-nationals, two lines of reasoning prevail. First, there is the belief that the Tehran’s authorities do not have the ability to run such an operation. Second, they are “reckless” in their activities outside Iran and leave their traces, to be exploited later by the Tehran’s henchmen. In these times of digital information, the traces can be kept for many years to come, if one knows how to look for them. The “recklessness” is all about what is accepted and permitted in the West and what is forbidden in Iran. For those in the Iranian Ministry of Information, any little and innocent piece of data may one day be very useful. To one’s horror, the dual-nationals held for interrogation soon uncovers this point.
Heads Buried in the Sand
Since 2001–2005, there has been a greater number of Iranian dual-nationals travelling to Iran. A thinning number is represented by the elderly refugees from the 1979 revolution; others are mostly the younger generation, born or brought up in the West, or had arrived in the West with a student’s visa and stayed after graduation.
They visit their families and instinctively keep away from reading papers or getting involved in social and political debates even in private. They are the perfect tourists sightseeing, spending money, and participating in parties in which both sexes are mixed, people are wearing fashionable and osé dresses with alcohol, listening to Western music and dancing.
For the visitor, there is little interest in knowing a bribe has been paid to keep away the Islamic moral police, or trying to analyse its implication.
For the host it is part of the mehman-navazi, as when inviting a guest you would not mention the cost of the food you are serving them. However, the host has notified the local “Ershad/Guidance” Islamic moral police and paid a hefty bribe to the agents by negotiating a “no control” clause. “I am having a party, how much to pay to leave me and my guests in peace?” Lavish bribes buy more protection, only to some extent.
A contributor to this article has witnessed parties in exclusive areas of Tehran that would shame an extravagant party in the West. Nearby side streets to the venue were guarded by the local Ershad guys, as securities would do in the West for private happenings, checking on the participants, letting only those with accreditation attend. The bribed Ershad gang has another duty: keeping out the inspection from rival teams of Ershad in search of an unprotected party to raid, pocketing money by threatening guests with arrests and court sentences such as flogging, virginity tests, etc.
However, there is always a red line, no matter how high the amount paid: one has to obey the system and keep up appearances by being a pious Muslim in all other circumstances, work or public, and snitch on others when asked to in repayment of a favour.
An accepted rotten social contract.
A Corrupt Society
All this is old news. We have been reading about parties in Tehran for many years, have been amused by them and talked about the Iranian complexity, its paradoxical “one thousand and one” facets. The rule of the game is basic: the more money is exchanged, the more one is protected from the theocracy and gerontocracy crazes in the Islamic realm.
However, the false security felt by the dual nation regularly visiting Iran is shattered when the person is summoned for a few questions by the Ministry of Information personnel. They are well informed and well trained in interrogation methods.
For the informed and realistic dual-nationals (in small numbers) that ring the bells of danger, these are not to be taken lightly.
In the eyes of the Islamic Republic of Iran no one is innocent when it wants to accusations. The best hope is to evaluate one’s chances objectively and act upon the conclusion: bluff and take your chances by presenting yourself to the interrogation or leave the country very fast by crossing the Iranian borders illegally.
By going to the Ministry of Information willingly one has to keep a clear mind and try to read their intent by the nature of the questions asked. Rarely the case.
Recounts of those who kept a cool head and remembered the full details of the interrogations show that their application for a paper in the West as well as their foreign business or leisure travels on their Western passport are known to their interrogators, even in dotted lines.
For the uninformed dual national, blessed by ignorance, the convocation is a matter of “misunderstanding”, an administrative point to clear, nothing to worry about. By burying their head in the sand, they become amazingly vulnerable. They convince themselves that their innocence will save them. Faced with questioning, they are soon overwhelmed by stress, and become confused and a facile prey for the interrogating predators and their sinister agenda.
In the Islamic Republic of Iran everything is politics, and the judiciary is not a body acting independently from the central power, that is the office of the Supreme Leader.
It is in there that the price of the bargain chip, the held dual national, is fixed.
The judiciary can best be called the Ministry of Injustice and Solitary Confinement. In there no one has ever heard of habeas corpus and even if they did, would not give a toss.
Since a few months back the number of dual-nationals and Iranians in solitary confinement has soared. International petition campaigns are run for their release. Except for a few, missing from the list of the signatories are Iranians.
There is no point in warning the dual-nationals on their way to visit Iran. For them if you are innocent, you’ll not fear the Islamic Republic of Iran Tyranny. All those arrested surely had something to hide.
The last person we warned did not know, or wanted to know, about the recently arrested dual-nationals despite the media coverage. He could not care less when he was told. “This doesn’t concern me…”
So we pressed him to read his own Westerner government’s “travel advice”. That made him laugh: “Be Mamlekat-e Khodem miram/I am home to my own country.” This is very romantic, but does not serve as an insurance for his personal safety.
Presently, he has not returned from Iran. He is in solitary confinement, no charge, no lawyer. Last we heard about him was from a family member, talking about a confession signed under duress. Confessing to what?
There is a point that should testify to the gruesome Iranian politics today and bear some weight. Even if, in the aftermath of JCPOA (Iran nuclear deal), something might have shifted in Iran, those Iranian dual-nationals in international business, and well informed on domestic Iranian politics, are not queuing up to open a business in Iran or expand it, if they already have a little line of business there.
In the Iranian diaspora in the West, there are many professionals from all walks of life: lawyers, insurers, computer scientists, elected members in local politics, medical staff, journalists, cameramen, environmentalists, architects, sound recorders … you name it.
If each and every one of them would express an informed opinion on an Iranian issue in their domain, we would have a forceful diaspora. For now, their professional experience is for elsewhere and their awareness on Iran is limited to private matters, clichés, and a nostalgic past.
They all claim to be apolitical. As if being apolitical is a safeguard from the spit of the ayatollahs. As if burying one’s head in the sand and denying the facts would take the problems away. As if being in denial would make problems disappear by miracle.
The Iranians accommodate themselves to the bullies. In case of a fight they sit back till the victor is known, then they cheer him. With such an accommodating people, ayatollahs’ rule, or any other dictator’s rule, is perennial.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is a failure. Tehran’s Gerontocracy, the old men in turbans, are not there to build bridges between people and on the international scene. They can only dig deeper trenches and fill them with venom and hate. As Iranian citizens, wherever we live, we have helped them by denying the realities of our country. In practice, the silent, the “not willing to know”, the weak Iranian diaspora in the West, have become accomplices to the tyranny.
The Iranian heritage lies in the positive qualities we have in us, almost destroyed by the will of the ayatollahs, and forty years of apathy, silence, and misplaced pride.
We should have the courage to let the positive grow and thrive. Not a little matter. Not without a significant number of citizens, the Iranian diaspora included.
These pages refer to some travel and safety guidelines from various Western governments, valid in June 2016. They should be read by all wishing to travel to Iran as well as the Iranian dual-nationals. Today, Iran is brewing a summer of social discontent. Borders to the East and to the West are not safe for travellers, and even less to the inhabitants themselves. The dual citizens must be aware that Iran does not recognise dual nationality and their ability to provide consular assistance to dual-nationals is very limited.
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