IAAB Conference

What is deposited in the Mother Tongue?: Making Theatre in Diaspora

Dr. Mammad Aidani (The University of Melbourne, School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, Victoria, Australia)

This presentation examines the collective collaboration of a group of Iranian migrants and refugees in the play "Remembering the Cherry Tree". The play explored perceptions of self, belonging, social and cultural connectivity and memory.

The paper examines how this community theatre project engaged the participants to search, discover and engage with a text that incorporated their perceptions and lived experiences of identity, isolation, memory, stigmatization, racism, resilience and hope. Furthermore, the paper discusses how the play which was performed in the Persian language to a largely mixed Persian and non- Persian speaking audience was used as a platform for engaging the artists, the Iranian community as well as the wider multicultural community to open up a conversation about how Iranians perceived themselves, are perceived by others and issues around co-existence. An arts project such as this play, I argue, can enable us to talk more openly and comfortably with less fear and apprehension about complex issues relating to the Other.

The Unholy Union of Immigration and Counterterrorism: Disproportionate Targeting of Middle Easterners post-9/11 and Recommendations Looking to the Second Decade

Ms. Nakkisa Akhavan (UCLA School of Law)

The current use of immigration as a counterterrorism tool poses serious constitutional and ethical concerns. This relegates diaspora communities to second-class citizen status. This paper will argue that the broad definition of Middle Eastern that the government has constructed allows counterterrorism operatives to disproportionately target Iranians, Muslims, and Middle Easterners through immigration laws since 2006. This suggests a citizen-noncitizen binary in the U.S., where a permanent resident of Middle Eastern descent has no more rights than a nonimmigrant visitor.  

This paper argues that immigration used as a counterterrorism tool is a proxy based on imprecise classifications to selectively enforce immigration policies against individuals based on a perception of their race/ethnicity rather than a belief that the tactic will identify terrorists. Furthermore, this paper will demonstrate the manner by which the government racializes communities to create a stigmatized “other” and engages in blanket tactics of selective immigration enforcement against entire communities under the guise of terrorism.

“Music Education as a Way of Fostering Linguistic Skills and Cultural Knowledge in Young Children”

Ms. Aitak Ajangzad (Columbia University)

This presentation will share innovative and creative pedagogical approaches concerning the education of children within the Iranian Diaspora. By examining the curricular approach of a music program designed for Iranian American children (1.5 - 8 year olds) practiced at “Pardis for Children” school in New York, this presentation will examine how creative, stimulating and entertaining educational approaches can motivate the development of young learners and foster cultural and linguistic understanding within a dynamic environment. Also some of the cultural struggles the children, parents, and teachers face will be examined.

Moreover I will discuss how children’s comprehension and lingual dexterity can be developed through musical and artistic activities, including singing, musical games, movement, storytelling, application of visual aids, and instrument exploration. I will explore how these settings provide children with the opportunity to express themselves, develop bonds with one another, and gain significant cultural experiences - in addition to improving their Persian vocabulary and laying the foundation for developing reading and writing skills. This presentation will conclude with pedagogical suggestions for early childhood and elementary education within the Diaspora population, with the goal of inspiring more thoughtful and creative possibilities in addressing the needs of our children from an early age.

The fixities and fluidities of home in a digital age: a virtual ethnography of second-generation Iranian Los Angeles

Ms. Donya Alinejad (Vrije Universiteit)

"This paper explores how internet media are engaged with by the children of Iranian immigrants in their processes of diasporic home-making. It addresses the question of how this generation makes home as it comes of age in a different country than their parents did, and in the presence of new networked technologies. This piece contributes to debates on the concept of “home” in contexts of transnational migrancy and with the influence of emerging media forms. It takes everyday practices of home-making as the starting point, and investigates how specific practices of internet media usage become entwined and embedded therein. This approach moves beyond ideas of internet media as either threatening the certainty of home because of their networked fluidity or uniquely facilitating the creation of “cyber homes” in a detached “virtual” realm. Instead it allows for an understanding of how integrated online/offline processes of home-making are at work.

In this paper, I understand “home” as made equally through mobility and dwelling. Hence, I highlight practices of internet media usage in subjects’ various mobile and static ways of being in place. I do this by analysing respondents’ biographical narratives about themselves and material gathered from participant observation in the field as well as from participation in internet media usage. The findings are generated from ethnographic fieldwork among second generation Iranian Americans in Los Angeles carried out over a total period of 12 months as part of an ongoing doctoral project. I argue that the ways these young people negotiate their relationships to 1) the city of LA, 2) their experiences of moving from their parental house, and 3) their experiences of “return” to Iran, involve specific media usages that shape home-making processes. And these reflect interesting moments of rupture and continuity between this generation and that of their parents."

The Largest Iranian Diasporic Cultural Festival in the world, Tirgan

Mr. Mehrdad Ariannejad (Tirgan Festival)

The purpose of this presentation is introducing Tirgan , the largest diasporic Iranian cultural festival in the world. Tirgan owes its grandness not only to the large number of visitors surpassing 100,000, but also to the fact that it encompasses a collection of the best works of Iranian cultural elite allowing all to enjoy an exceptionally high level of quality. With over 70 performances, 150 participants, 300 volunteers and a budget of $700,000, Tirgan is no doubt a major event to celebrate and strengthen the Iranian presence in North America and an

invaluable means through which bridges can be built between the Iranian community and the community at large. This presentation comprises three sections.

The first section covers background, statistics, budget, objectives of the festival, and how Tirgan started in 2006 and is proudly presenting its fourth edition in summer of 2013. It also briefly touches on content in terms of theme, various artistic disciplines, workshops, youth activities, Iranian cuisine and crafts presentations. Also discussed, is the huge impact of Tirgan on the society and the perception of the Iranian culture.

The second part discusses the challenges of organizing such a festival including financial, community, media, promotional, volunteering, and sustainability. The third part discusses success factors.

“Finding Ourselves? Language and Identity in the University Classroom”

Ms. Golnesa AgheshAli (George Mason University)

Grounded in my own experience at George Mason University, this presentation will explore the nature of teaching Persian language to Iranian/Iranian-American college students. Following a brief discussion of the demographic composition of the classes, I will explore different methods of sparking reflection and dialogue regarding issues of identity, considering the following: To what extent is it justified to engage in a dialogue about identity in a language course? How, if at all, do non-Iranian students benefit from such discussions? What are some advantages and disadvantages of engaging in such exercises in a language classroom?I will end with a frank discussion of my own struggle with identity as an Iranian, born and raised in the U.S., and the ways in which interactions with my students have raised a number of important personal questions: What constitutes an authentic Iranian? When engaging in a conversation about culture and identity, what exactly are we referring to? What measures can I take to guard against imposing my own definition of culture and what it means to be Iranian? It is my hope that engaging these questions will help us contribute to and continue developing a holistic approach to education in diaspora, across ages.

DIWAN: How a (socio-) cultural initiative, founded by 2nd- and 3rd- generation Iranians, can bring together Iranians of all age and Germans

Ms. Golineh Atai (DIWAN German-Iranian Encounters)

DIWAN German-Iranian Encounters, founded in 2011 by 2nd- and 3rd-generation Iranians, is a (socio-) cultural initiative that aims to bring together Iranians of all age and Germans. In a country where Iranian communities lack structure and are often without appeal to younger Iranians and Germans, DIWAN tries to reach hitherto neglected target groups. By concentrating on recent cultural developments in Iran and in the diaspora we actively build and consolidate diverse concepts of “Iranianness abroad“, a “diaspora civil society“, decision-making-structures, and our role as a sociocultural partner for the German public. Our challenges are huge: How to overcome a decades-old lack of social trust? How to bridge distances between various groups? How to reach a generation that does not have much in common except the colour of their hair and a like for Persian cuisine?

Iranian Racism: its history and the lingering legacy

Ms. Beeta Baghoolizadeh (University of Pennsylvania)

This paper discusses the development of nationalism and racism in light of the nationalist narratives and their consequences for Iranian diaspora today. During the twentieth century, the Pahlavi regime aggressively promoted the “Aryan myth,” the false belief that all Iranians are true Aryans, and geared Iranian nationalism around ancient Persian imperial history. The Pahlavi nationalist agenda directly and indirectly promoted the erasure of Iran’s ethnic and linguistic diversity, privileging Persian language and heritage above the rest. This particular narrative has had a longstanding impact on the Iranian psyche, and consequently the dialogue on race and racism in the Iranian context has been severely limited. Using various historical texts and surveys taken from Iranians and Iranian-Americans, this paper seeks to address the latent racism present in aspects of Iranian culture and history in hopes of starting a productive dialogue within the Iranian-American diaspora community.

Iranian LGBTI Asylees and Refugees

Mr. Ally Bolour (ORAM)

This presentation will introduce the saga of Iranians exiled due to their sexual orientation and gender identity with a focus on those seeking asylum in the US and those applying for refugee status through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Turkey. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) people are among the most persecuted in Iran, and the most vulnerable and isolated in the world. Banished from their homeland, they are often ostracized by communities in the diaspora. They often struggle to survive without the support of other Iranian refugees’ most important asset: their families. Ally Bolour is a legal adviser to ORAM – Organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration. ORAM represented Iranian

LGBTI refugees in Turkey since 2009, and is now concluding the first-ever pilot program to resettle these vulnerable individuals in the US. Himself an openly gay Iranian, Mr. Bolour will review the legal and practical treatmentof LGBTI Iranian refugees who apply for asylum in the US as well as those who escape to Turkey. He will draw on his sixteen years of asylum practice in the Los Angeles area as well as ORAM’s experience with numerous LGBTI Iranians traveling through Turkey and resettled in the US. This will be a rare and important glimpse into a world seldom discussed in the diaspora community.

A Brief History of Iranian Refugee Resettlement in the US

Mr. Adam Cameron (International Rescue Committee)

Iranian migration to the United States has a long history, and yet despite Iran popping up more and more in discussions about current events, relatively little is known about the process by which many Iranians have come to the United States during the past two decades. People seeking refuge enter the U.S. through one of two distinct programs, each with their own sub-categories. As Iran was designated a “Country of Particular Concern” by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in 1999, the U.S. has seen a steady stream of incoming Iranian refugees and asylees, the majority of them coming to California. The various subgroups of Iranian refugees and asylees include Iranian religious minorities such as Armenians, Zoroastrians, and Baha’is, sexual minorities, and political refugees, all with their own stories about why they were forced to leave and their journey to the United States. Refugees are resettled by agencies in contract with the Department of State to provide an array of resettlement services. The program by which the majority of refugees come to the U.S. has seen the threat of closure several times over the past few years, and its future currently hangs in the balance.

When Democratic Solidarity Went Abroad: A Study of Formal Interactive Talk in the Iranian Diaspora

Mr. Arash Davari (UCLA)

This paper draws on participant observation at public discussion groups in Southern California to consider formal interactive talk between Iranian expatriates. Drawing on participants’ own references to the need for democratic dialogue, I account for the ways in which the various modes of discursive interaction at these sites reflected attempts—and often failures—at implementing this ideal. My paper offers an explanation for these failures. I take this data as the basis for a new conception of solidarity within contemporary democratic theory. This study investigates how democratic subjectivity (Norval, 2008) may occur under conditions of deep ideological difference; as scholars of political theory have argued, this subjectivity is integral to the establishment and maintenance of solidarity (Hooker, 2009). Yet rather than constrict our analysis to the borders of nation-states, I claim that the contemporary transnational arena displaces plural forms of identification—which may be grounds for civil conflict within “states”—onto diasporas. I contend that a politics of democratic solidarity can only emerge under these conditions if and when participants risk a fundamental shift in how they see the world. My study of formal talk within the Iranian diaspora demonstrates how precarious these kinds of epistemological shifts are in practice.

Coming of Age Post-9/11: Reflections on an Era of Discrimination and Our Role in the Pursuit of Justice

Ms. Mitra Ebadolahi (ACLU)

Since September 11, a variety of local, state, and national laws and policies have been enacted, ostensibly, to improve national security. Many of these laws and policies, however, have perpetuated discrimination, particularly against racial, ethnic, and religious minorities. Members of the Iranian diaspora share many of the labels often affixed to these persecuted groups – we are also immigrants, Muslims, minorities, Middle Easterners, “others.” Yet the number of Iranian- Americans engaged in civil rights and civil liberties advocacy remains woefully small. This presentation explores the post-9/11 landscape and raises a series of questions about the role Iranian-Americans can, and should, play in pursuing a more just future. “Know Your Rights” materials will also be made available to audience members.

Crossing Tehran Avenue: The Convergence of Digital, Urban, and Diasporic Iranian Spaces

Dr. Babak Elahi (Rochester Institute of Technology)

In a recent issue of ArteEast, Media Farzin interviewed Sohrab Mahdavi,

one of the co-creators of TehranAvenue.com (TA). The two former colleagues discussed an event that took place in Damavand in 2007: a party that brought together “expats” and “pats,” resulting in some tension around differences between Iranian nationals and returning expatriates. This event highlights the limits to discourses of diaspora, and the significance of locatedness in situating subject position.

By referring back to my own article “Crossing Tehran Avenue,” by responding to Farzin’s interview with Mahdavi, and through email correspondence and phone interviews with Mahdavi and other TA writers, this presentation explores the limits of digital technology as a way of resolving the paradox between urban situatedness and diasporic nomadism. I seek to answer or at least explore the following question: what happens when the central urban hub of the nation begins to seem like one of the nodes in the wider exilic network? The paper will challenge

easy distinctions between “pat” and “expat,” or center and margin by exploring the

ways in which a Tehran-based website began to be experienced as an exilic location.

Finding a way: How Iranians reach for news and information

Dr. Mahmood Enayat (Oxford Internet Institute)

Iranian media have attracted the attention of Western scholars afterthe contested 2009 elections, which generated discussion on the newmedia’s potential to promote citizen participation in Iran. Yet,existing research on general media use in Iran – similarly to that in

other non-democratic countries – has been limited given the variouschallenges of conducting surveys in such contexts. In thispresentation, Mahmood Enayat will review the results of two recentgeneral media use surveys in Iran , carried out by Gallup on behalf ofthe Broadcasting Board of Governors’ International Audience ResearchProgram (IARP) and Iran Media Program of Annenberg School ofCommunication at University of Pennsylvania. The results andmethodological challenges of these two surveys will be reviewed, witha particular focus on emerging media use trends in Iran.

Persian as a Heritage Language in the United States

Mr. Aria Fani (Iranian School of San Diego)

Persian, the lingua franca of Iran, is an essential component of what constitutes the personal identity of language learners of Iranian heritage. Heritage learners of Persian in the United States are raised in homes where Persian is spoken to some degree; they speak or merely understand Persian, and are to some degree bilingual, or in some cases multilingual. This paper explores the profile, pedagogical specificities, and appropriate curricula geared towards teaching advanced Persian to heritage learners of Iranian heritage.  

Tehrangeles Portal

Mr. Pouya Jahanshahi (Laguna College of Art and Design) and Mr. Jeff Knowlton (34 North 118 West)

Tehrangeles Portal is a Transmedia work by Pouya Jahanshahi and Jeff Knowlton, that invites local and global users to explore, and create relationships to the often unseen layers of the Persian community in Los Angeles, often called Little Persia.

Through an integrated web-based mobile application, TehranGeles Portal, examines the uniqueness of the different waves of Persian emigration to Los Angeles and the ripples that spread from each of these waves. Who are the emigrants ? Why did they choose Los Angeles and how have they shaped this city? How do the generations differ from one another?  What is the importance of this presence of in the current political framework?

Tehrangeles Portal is a location-based application and website exploring Westwood and Little Persia via mobile media, triggered by the user's physical location on streets and sidewalks.

From political protests of 1980‘s and soccer broadcasts in local cafes, Tehrangeles Portal presents sites, sounds, and textual content of Little Persia; inviting users to experience the various flavors of the immigrant Persian culture.

Tehrangeles Portal was conceptualized with intent of helping to explore a community and belief that with knowledge and understanding, comes acceptance and peace."

On Being Labelled 'Cutting-Edge': How to Own the Margins of the Marginalized

Ms. Porochista Khakpour

The Iranian Diaspora is just about as old as I am (three decades and some change), so how am I--an Iranian-American novelist and essayist, journalist and professor--allowed to speak for it? In my talk I will briefly outline my career trajectory from a struggling former arts-journalist debut novelist in 2007 to a frequent New York Times essayist and academic from 2008 on, and the shifts in my own voice in wearing those different hats, all under the label of "Iranian-American," of course. To what degree are any of us meant to be representative voices of a people? And what if we don't relate to the people we are supposed to represent? What does it mean to speak for a community that has at times even rejected or remained oblivious to you? I'll propose that truly original and even iconoclastic voices do more for the formulation of an emergent identity than the crude melding of distinct ideologies, aesthetics, philosophies, and allegiances to represent some semblance of an easily digestible whole. I'll draw on my work as an artist (the novel) and cultural commentator (the essays) as well as my experience being pushed into minor public-figure-dom to represent all sorts of shades of Iranian diasporic identities from Muslims to Zoroastrians, to Gen-Xers to Milllenials, immigrants to first-generation-folk, etc.-- all of whom I feel varying degrees of little-to-no connection to.

Iranian Refugee Rights & Challenges Before the United Nations / Immigration Rights & Challenges in the United States

Ms. Niloufar Khonsari (OMID Advocates for Human Rights)

Iranian refugees arriving in Turkey, Malaysia, India or other countries have fled Iran for a wide range of reasons. These refugees face many challenges such as many months of wait prior to case processing times, limited resettlement options, language barriers, mental trauma, no work authorization during the waiting period, and young children’s inability to go to school during this waiting period.

Omid Advocates for Human Rights (“Omid Advocates”) provides pro bono representation before the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) abroad, addressing the challenges faced by Iranian refugees. Omid’s members generally provide free direct services to refugees from the moment a refugee contacts the organization and through their UN-interviews, processing within other agencies and consulates, and resettlement. A delegation of Omid Advocates members conducts research and publishes reports on the situation of refugees in Turkey on a bi-annual basis, with the next research mission being conducted April-May 2012. Iranian immigrants in the United States have a plethora of legal services needs. These include requests for direct representation in filing for asylum, applications for family peitions to bring family members to the United States, adjustments of status from LPR to citizen. Costs of representation in these areas are very high, and culturally and linguistically competent services are limited. In addition, Iranians often are unaware of the various paths to legal status in the United States that are available to them. Organizations like Omid Advocates provide free legal servies through legal clinics and assit Iranians in asserting their immigration rights in the United States. A more detailed overview of such rights and challenges will be presented in this conference.

Internet Cinema—a Cinema of Embodied Protest

Dr. Hamid Naficy (Northwestern University)

Internet cinema is a third mechanism and process— after video and satellite—by which Iranians have challenged the state’s broadcasting monopoly and monologism inside the country. However, this cinema is a new legitimate, artistic, and expressive form regardless of its political uses. Iranian cosmopolitanism, the financial wealth of the country, the widespread penetration of the Internet and its various modalities of connectivity and interactivity, and the presence of sophisticated media savvy population in the diaspora drove the emergence of this cinema. 

Identifying with Film-Farsi

Mr. Ayat Najafi

For the first generation of Iranians who grew up in post-revolutionary Iran, Film-Farsi has two very different functions. First it represents the decadence of Iranian culture in pre-revolution Iran, amplified by the propaganda of the new government. Film-Farsi also associates this generation with this country – a country which does not exist anymore. The old streets, clubs, colors, lifestyles and sounds disappeared in the blink of an eye.

In my presentation I will review story of Shahrzad, formerly a star of Film-Farsi and a famous dancer in the bars of Tehran, who is now homeless in Tehran. In an imaginary film sequence I will try to connect the streets on which Shahrzad lives today to the famous sequences of Film-Farsi. My goal is to challenge the image of Iran we hold today.

The Tehran Bureau. Digital News on Iran and the Iranian Diaspora

Ms. Golnoush Niknejad (TehranBureau.com)

The Internet has been a powerful means of opening up new avenues ofcommunication and allowing new voices to be heard. As a journalist, Ithought I could give those voices a platform to improve ourunderstanding of a complex and closed society. I believe ourjournalism for the first time gave an accurate picture of what wasgoing on in Iran, and our perspectives ran deep.

Tehran Bureau has established a new model of digital reporting aboutthe world, in a way that produces authentic and unique material from apartly closed society where conventional journalism is restricted.

Since its inception about four years ago, Tehran Bureau has become animportant source of news and analysis about Iran during a tumultuousperiod in the country’s history. More recently, in a timespan that hasincluded a year of revolt and governmental overthrow in surroundingnations fueled by 2011’s Arab Spring, Tehran Bureau has continued toprovide critical information and perspectives missing from the mediaat large.

Tehran Bureau is unique among digital sites that focus on Iran,providing journalism and not associated with government-fundednstitutes, think-tanks or an ideological point of view.

“Documenting Visual Histories of Everyday Iranian Lives on ShahreFarang.com”

Mr. Sourena Parham (ShahreFarang.com)

ShahreFarang is a bilingual website in Persian and English whose focus is on collecting, documenting, and presenting visual material from Iranian daily life and culture. While ShahreFarang does share and comment upon official Iranian high art, the majority of its posts are about subjects of daily life (like the design and packages of Iranian cigarettes) and documentation of mundane everyday practices (such as ways of using motorcycles). Every post on ShahreFarang has a main subject described in a few sentences. The rest of the post consists of several pictures (mostly between 5 to 25) that give the viewer a visual sense of the subject.

One of the goals of Shahrefarang is to provide non-Iranians with a source of visual information about Iranian daily life and culture especially during the last 150 years. But the main goal of ShahreFarang is to inform its Iranian visitors about the hidden or ignored parts of their culture, and to make the visitors sensitive to the changes and transformations in Iranian culture and life. ShahreFarang tries to make the visitors recognize the importance of documenting and preserving these changes and encourages them to submit their material to the site for public presentation. Pictures of birthday parties, weddings, travels, and picnics in people's personal albums, objects such as an old box of tea, or a collection of old post cards or match boxes can all be visual material to show the transformation  of Iranian culture during the last two centuries.

My Homeland, My Diaspora: Iranian Jewish Identity in Modern Times

Ms. Orly Rahimiyan (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)

In this paper, the identity of Iranian Jews under the Iranian Islamic Republic will be examined. The Western observer has a tendency to conceive of Iranian Jews as living under a tyrannical regime which makes their lives so miserable they are forced to seek refuge abroad. In this study I plan to refute this sweeping claim and to assert, in its stead, that the relationship between Iranian Jews and the Iranian state and culture constitutes dialectic far more complex than the superficial picture presented thus far. It is not simply that issues of ‘diapora’ and ‘homeland’ are topics of discussion among the Jews of Iran, but that non-Jewish Iranians themselves also take part in such conversations, especially in the wake of the 1979 revolution. The lecture will also touch on the methods of representation utilized by Iranian Jews outside Iran that stem from erroneous perceptions in the attitude towards Iranian Jews in Israel and the West. On the basis of the research I have conducted this far, applying theories of diaspora and homeland to the case of Iran, it has come to light that at least some Iranian Jews saw themselves as autochthonous Iranians residing in their homeland. No less important, however, are Iranian Muslim perceptions: i.e. the image of Iranian Jews as native sons of the Iranian soil and heritage, not a group living in exile. We should keep in mind that most theories of nationalism recognize the presence of the "other" and its significant role in forging and defining national identity. Therefore, my research will also try to gauge the otherness of Iranian Jews; do they serve as the “other” for Muslim Iranians in shaping their Iranian identity?

Israelis and Iranians: Get a Room!: Love, Hate and Transnational Politics

from the Israel loves Iran and Iran loves Israel campaigns

Ms. Sanaz Raji (University of Leeds)

In this paper, we examine the 'Israel loves Iran/Iran loves Israel campaign that sprang on Facebook in March 2012. Looking at the Israeli, the Iranian and the international components of the campaign as well as at the many responses it generated, we ask: what does politics of transnational love entail? Who can voice it and at what expense? This online initiative set up by Israeli graphic designer, Ronny Edry came about to link pro-peace Israelis and Iranians together. The campaign has generated much fanfare both on social media groups and mainstream media. While moved by the powerful messages sent by so many Facebook participants across the globe and across political divides, we wish to critically unpack the ‘Israeli-Iranian Facebook love affair’. We argue that although these campaigns generated much needed exposure for voices of peace, the debates contained in both groups did not evolve further from love and at times, hate. While love and hate seemed to have mirrored each other (one was embraced, the other rejected), some voices were privileged over others (race, religion, location, etc.), while yet others were missing altogether – such as, for example, the question of Palestine.

The Role of Diasporas in Establishing Transnational Activism: The Case of Iran

Dr. Paola Rivetti (School of Law and Government, Dublin City University)

This paper analyses how transnational political practices come into existence by investigating the connections between Iranians inside Iran and in the Diaspora, and thus contributes to the studies on Diasporas and international politics. In particular, the Diaspora’s roles in (1) establishing a community of transnational activists within Iran and (2) orienting Iranians’ political engagement towards transnationalism are examined. The article contends that Diasporas are not simply ‘transnational in nature,’ and sheds light on how such transnationalism is reproduced and strengthened.

Out of the country, still trapped in the closet: homophobia and the widespread intolerance of sexual diversity in Iran's diaspora communities

Dr. Bronwen Robertson (Small Media)

“If I said I saw myself as being part of this society, I’d be telling the biggest lie of my life. I don’t see myself as part of this society at all … I usually refer to Iran as ‘your country’ instead of ‘my country’ or ‘our country’” (26-year-old gay male from Bandar Anzali).

Persecuted by their government and ostracized by their society, many LGBT Iranians have fled Iran in the hope of being embraced by non-familiar cultures and societies. But in diaspora many find themselves lost in the folds of culture shock, seeking out communities of Iranians in diaspora in an attempt to reconnect with the homeland. They seek sanctuary in diaspora but are instead confronted with homophobia and transphobia.

LGBT Iranians living within Iran’s geographical borders are in ‘exile’ at home, but are LGBT Iranians living outside the repression of Iranian state and society really at ‘home’ in exile? This paper presents multi-dimensional audio-visual case studies of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Iranians living in diaspora. These first-hand testimonies reveal how LGBT Iranians feel when confronted with discrimination in their everyday lives and describe their aspirations and hopes for the future.

Beyond "Shahs of Sunset:" Feminist and Activist Narratives from the Iranian Diaspora in Southern California

Dr. Catherine Sameh (Barnard Center for Research on Women)

This paper explores the promises and dilemmas of transnational activism among diasporic Iranians in Southern California. Based on qualitative interviews with activists in the One Million Signatures Campaign, I consider what it means for Iranian activists living outside of Iran to participate in the campaign as they negotiate several distinct phenomena: their location in the U.S. vis-à-vis their counterparts in Iran; attention from Western feminists; and the elision of Iranian women’s agency, both by some segments of the Iranian diaspora and by Western (mis)understandings of women in Iran. I examine the ways in which Iranian activists in the diaspora rupture essentialist notions of Iranian culture, and neo-colonial discourses of rescue and saving. I argue that the democratic structure of the campaign, and the non-ideological and pragmatic practice of its participants have created new transnational political cultures that are both effective, i.e., have achieved concrete successes, and affective, i.e., have produced new spaces of hope and possibility that radically destabilize hegemonic framings of Iran, Iranian women and Islam. I also claim that the One Million Signatures Campaign network not only draws from but also significantly shapes transnational feminist praxis. Finally, I place the discourses and practices of campaigners in the diaspora against popular tropes of "the Iranian diaspora," and consider the extent to which these activists offer a counterhegemonic feminist and activist praxis.

Oral History Projects of Iranians in Diaspora

Ms. Homa Sarshar

The project of oral history consists of the compilation of original documents and the recording of different individuals’ personal history as retold during interviews.  The majority of these individuals were involved, to various degrees, whether in federal and governmental decision-making processes or in academic, cultural or social organizations.  As such, these individuals are first hand witnesses of historically significant events, which makes their stories very important.  Moreover, these interviews also include sociologically valuable information on the artistic, social, and cultural lives in Iran.  These individuals’ oral memoirs are initially recorded during prescheduled interviews and subsequently archived for the research use of future scholars.

To this day four different Oral History Projects have been conducted by Iranians in diaspora. This lecture consists of information about these projects and will explore their importance.

Romance and Revolution: Narratives of the past by former Iranian communists in Oslo, Norway

Ms. Pardis Shafafi (University of St. Andrews)

While historical sources tend to reproduce deterministic analyses of political events such as the 1979 Iranian revolution, ethnography provides a means by which to approach so called “axial periods” in time from the perspective of those who enacted them. My informants were once members of radical left wing, Marxist organisations and now reside in Norway. They are just one piece of the sprawling, political diaspora puzzle. These activists succeeded in initiating a new political order, albeit one that they did not expect, nor desire. How do they revisit the events which lead up to what would become the very basis of their exile? This paper examines the narratives and self-told (his)stories of a group of provincially and politically distinct group of Iranians in Oslo, Norway. Unsurprisingly, gender plays the most substantial role of all in informants’ narratives of the past. What remains remarkable however, is the significance of revolutionary romance within these narratives, and how men and women (some of whom were married to each other), re-imagined and reconstructed their romantic relationships in the context of the revolution and their own political activism. This is both fascinating and telling, of an intimate Diasporic community, and the changing tides of their political affiliations and indeed affections towards each other.

Connecting Activists: Challenges to Collaboration in Iranian Transnational Activism

Mr. Sadra Shahab (Pratt Institute Programs for Sustainable Planning and Development)

An Iranian civil rights activist and urban planner who has recently moved to the U.S., Sadra Shahab will discuss the challenges of connecting Iranian diaspora activists and their efforts -- which take place across borders -- to human and civil rights activists and social movements inside Iran. Through an examination of successful instances of constructive collaboration between the two groups and other examples of auspicious acts of solidarity taking place outside of Iran, Shahab will elaborate on the importance of time and context in addressing a handful of controversial connotations that have sparked disagreements and misunderstandings between inside/outside activists. His own encounters with some of the pitfalls of transnational activism will be discussed, specifically areas that may hamper constructive collaboration such as physical distance between activists, their different cultural understandings, and breathing in dissimilar political settings.  Finally, Shahab will highlight some of the alternative ways that could be utilized to minimize the unproductive effects of this physical distance and cultural gap between the activist groups and individuals, with the aim of joining together these forces by means of defining specific and practical projects and reachable goals.

The Faculty of Substitution

Slavs and Tatars Artist Collective

From the monobrow to the antimodern, triangulation to sacred hospitality, The Faculty of Substitution is the third cycle of work in Slavs and Tatars’ practice. Today, we not only need intellectual acrobatics but metaphysical ones: Substitution requires us to cultivate the agility, coordination, and balance necessary to tell one tale through another, to adopt the innermost thoughts, experiences, beliefs, and sensations of others as our own, in an effort to challenge the very notion of distance (and subsequently self-knowledge) as the shortest length between two points. To understand contemporary Iran, we look at Poland and Solidarność (Friendship of Nations: Polish Shi’ite Showbiz); to grasp the nature of political agency in the twenty-first century, we study Muharram and the 1300-year-old Shiite ritual of perpetual protest (Reverse Joy); to demystify Islam, we turn to Communism (Not Moscow Not Mecca); and it is through mysticism that we intend to address the legacy of modernity (Beyonsense).

Parya Trillium Foundation: The First Iranian Community Centre in the World

Mr. Ahmad Reza Tabrizi (Parya Trillium Foundation, Toronto)

Parya Trillium Foundation is a lively and inclusive community centre that hosts educational, social, cultural, art and recreational activities to meet the needs of Greater Toronto’s Persian speaking community and the community at large. Parya was founded in 2000, and became officially registered as a non-profit charity organization in 2002. In 2007, Parya opened its doors and began offering community programs to Iranians in Toronto. And in 2011, after years of fundraising, Parya completed construction and renovation of its new community centre. Through its new centre, Parya aims to provide the following services to Iranian-Canadians: recent immigrant, settlement and integration services, seniors activity programs, health and wellness promotion, artistic programs, sports and recreation, community mentoring, educational programs, and scholarship programs. This presentation will address the past, present, and future of Parya.

Who’s Afraid of Hussein, or Playing Cowboys and Iranians:  The Trope of Colorblindness in the Age of Obama

Mr. John Tehranian (Southwestern Law School)

This presentation critiques the trope of colorblindness that has permeated legal and political discourse in recent years and assesses its impact on Iranian-Americans, individuals of Middle Eastern descent and minority groups in general.  

Despite the trumpets of post-racialism that have sounded since the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency in 2008, color consciousness remains alive and well. While the Supreme Court may have embraced grandiloquent and absolutist language about the dictates of our colorblind Constitution when dealing with such issues as affirmative action, our legal system has continued to bless the government’s invidious, rather than remedial, use of race in numerous contexts, including immigration, criminal and national security matters.  While observers have rightfully hailed the historic strides made by minority groups in recent years, we continue to witness social and political discourse suffused with troubling racial subtexts.  

In short, race’s mediating power has not diminished in importance; racial politics have simply changed.  Certain discourses—such as direct, overt attacks against blackness—may have become verboten.  However, subordination practices aimed at minority groups have continued unabated through a powerful xenophobic discourse that has—post 9/11—found fertile ground in leveling attacks against the specter of Middle Eastern or Islamic influence. From the continuing resonance of the Birther movement and recent revelations about the NYPD’s undercover operations focusing on ‘ancestries of interest’ from the Middle East to the continued public display of an Iranian lynching poster in a Houston barbeque joint and the recent refusal of Apple Computers to sell iPads to individuals who speak Persian, the myth of colorblindness has served as a red herring to distract from the recoding of color and its serious implications for the civil rights and civil liberties of all Americans in the twenty-first century.

Iranians continue to be persecuted after fleeing Iran: Australia’s human rights dilemma

Dr. Omid Tofighian (University of Western Sydney/University of Wollongong)

"The Australian government has set up several enclosed detention camps across the country to detain men, women and children fleeing persecution from places such as Iran.  One example of Australia’s immigration detention system is situated in the quiet Sydney suburb of Villawood. It is a short drive from Sydney’s various ethnic communities, restaurants, stores, function centres and places of worship which are frequented by Sydney’s Iranian population. However, the names, stories and situation of the people in Villawood are almost unbeknown to the majority of Iranians. The depressing reality is that detainees sometimes spend one to five years in detention.  Some have had their cases rejected two or three times and have had to wait months before receiving feedback or answers. They experience humiliation at the hands of some case officers, case managers and detention centre staff who often patronize asylum seekers as if they were recalcitrant children. Detainees experience numerous hardships during their time in detention including severe psychological trauma. This is due to being detained for simply seeking asylum in a country that has pledged to protect them. In addition, they are made to live under constant fear of being sent back where their fate will be either imprisonment or death.

This paper will describe the state of Iranians detained in Australia's immigration detention centres with special focus on Sydney's Villawood detention centre. Specific cases will be selected for analysis with reference to mental health, negligence, different forms of abuse, beurocratic failure and suicide. Finally the study will address integration and identity problems faced by Iranians released from immigration detention."

Cultural Production, Solidarity, and the Arts at Camp Ayandeh and Camp Javan: A Pedagogy of Questions

Dr. Shirin Vossoughi (Stanford university)

This presentation will explicate the pedagogical approaches that inform two summer programs: Camp Ayandeh (high school) and Camp Javan (middle school). These programs provide a positive, inclusive environment where Iranian American youth can learn about their shared histories and build solidarity across difference. Through cultural, historical, and artistic workshops, community building activities and critical dialogue, participants work with young adult staff to identify and collectively respond to the issues they see effecting young people in the Iranian Diaspora.

Drawing on my own pedagogical experiences, I will look closely at the unique learning environment created in and through 1) cultural production and the arts 2) the generation of solidarity within and across communities and 3) the open development and articulation of questions. I will consider how play, artistic creativity, and imagination provide powerful resources for young people to craft nuanced questions, make sense of and affirm their bi-cultural experiences and develop open forms of dialogue on discrimination, identity, and cultural assimilation. This includes reflecting on my own experiences working with other immigrant communities to create educational spaces where students can experience cultural and linguistic hybridity as strengths rather than deficits, and develop cultural pride without reproducing hierarchy.

From Home to Host Country: The role of ethnic media in weaving local and global communities

Ms. Sima Sahar Zerehi (Shahrvand Newspaper)

The role of ethnic media in the age of social networking and digital publications has drastically changed. Today's ethnic media outlets reach out to not only local communities but also to global audiences across the diaspora, as well as audiences residing in the home country.

In this paper I will be examining the role of Shahrvand Publications in the aftermath of the 2009 fraudulent Iranian election. I will discuss the multifaceted role of this bi-lingual English/Farsi publication in bridging the dialogue regarding the socio-political situation in Iran amongst the Iranian-Canadian community, other Iranians residing in the diaspora, Iranians residing in Iran, as well as mainstream media outlets and political institutions in Canada.

 

Workshops

Supporting the Rights of Iranian Refugees

Building on the panel, “Iranian Refugees & Asylees: Rights, Challenges, and Advocacy,” this workshop offers participants first-hand accounts of volunteer and internship experiences with refugee advocacy and relief organizations. Representatives from four different organizations will be on hand to offer opportunities for supporting the rights of Iranian refugees worldwide.

What are the Impacts of sanctions on Iranian Americans? (Q&A)

Mr. Ronald Meltzer is a partner in WilmerHale’s Regulatory and Government Affairs Department, and a member of the Defense, National Security and Government Contracts and International Trade, Investment and Market Access Practice Groups. Mr. Meltzer has represented clients on all aspects of US export control and economic sanctions law, including the Export Administration Regulations, anti-boycott provisions, OFAC sanctions requirements, and the International Traffic in Arms Regulations. He has extensive experience dealing with the US Department of State, US Department of Commerce and OFAC and will bring this experience to address the impacts of sanctions on Iranian Americans, and to answer questions you may have regarding American economic sanctions on Iran.

Social Services and the Iranian American Community

In this workshop led by Ms. Mastaneh Moghadam, LSW, participants will be given an overview of social services available to the Iranians in the Los Angeles community, as well as her assessment of barriers to overcome and needs yet unmet, with recommendations for future social service programs.Ms. Moghadam is currently the Iranian Outreach and Engagement Coordinator at Jewish Family Service (JFS), and she previously developed and implemented the “Yaran: Iranian Peer Counselors and Advocates” program of JFS. Ms. Moghadam has worked extensively in the area of Domestic Violence, providing outreach and education to the Iranian community as well as facilitating trainings and presentations for various organizations including the West Hollywood and Beverly Hills Police Departments.

Immigration: Undocumented Experiences, Challenges, and Paths Forward

An interactive workshop designed to educate its attendees on the realities of the undocumented experience in the post-9/11 era. We will bring to light stories of members of our community who are often ostracized due to their immigration status and discuss ways to be better allies to the Iranian and greater undocumented community. (This is a safe and open space)

 

Roundtables

Of Home, Exile, and Other Fictions: Iranian Diaspora Writers’ Roundtable

This roundtable will foreground new work by acclaimed writers of the Iranian American diaspora. Even as contemporary Iranian American writers have challenged the static view of Iran that has dominated the Western media since the Hostage Crisis, their writing has been indelibly shaped by an American readership’s expectations about Iran and Iranians. In recent years, Iranian American writers have emerged as principal agents in framing how American understand the history, politics, and culture of not just Iran but of the greater Middle East. Iranian American writers have also received increased scholarly attention. While recent literary scholarship has brought much-needed attention to the politics of literary production and reception, too often Iranian American writers are discussed in isolation from each other. This roundtable will foster a spirited exchange between three writers whose work reflects the ever-increasing multiplicity of Iranian American literature over the last decade.

Iranian Community Centers: Lessons Learned, Models, and Challenges

This roundtable meeting will bring together Iranian community centers and Iranian diaspora cultural organizations in North America that either already have established physical centers, who are in any stage of planning and/or fundraising for such a center, or who have tabled previous plans for a physical center. Our aim is to bring these representatives together from across the US and Canada to share their experiences and lessons learned, identify common challenges, and work towards shared solutions.  

The Roles of Iranian Student Organizations: Advocacy vs. Cultural Programming?

This workshop will provide a forum for representatives from Iranian student groups to discuss the current and future roles they can and do play on their respective campuses and in their communities. What should these roles be? How can groups best work to balance social and advocacy roles while also responding to current events, adjusting to shifts in group leadership, and maintain access to resources and group status on campus? Workshop participants will share and learn from each other's experiences while gaining useful tools for the future that will aid in balancing these important roles.

Filmmakers’ Roundtable

What are the goals, challenges, and experiences of filmmakers in the Iranian diaspora? This roundtable invites the directors of the films participating in our EXILE film series to explore these issues and discuss their films and experiences in filmmaking. Be sure to see their films, screening multiple times on both days of the conference.

Human Sciences and Iranian Diaspora Studies

This roundtable hopes to generate a discussion and a dialogue about the role of Iranian Studies in relations to emerging diaspora studies. In the context of a tense US/Iran relationship on the one hand, and a political assault on the human sciences both in Iran and the US on the other hand, this roundtable will discuss the following pressing questions:

- What role area studies (Iranian Studies) can play in mediating knowledges between Iran and the US, in terms of local and global imports?

- Instances of cultural productions, in forms of visual material, memoirs, and novels, on the one hand, and historical, political, and socio-cultural discourses and commentaries, on the other hand, have circulated between Iran and its diaspora in the transnational public sphere. To what extent can both diaspora studies and Iranian studies can contribute to these public knowledges?

- What are some disciplinary advantages in Iranian studies that diaspora studies can benefit from, such as language, history, literature, visual culture, and anthropological knowledge? How can diaspora studies be attentive to these forms of knowledge and yet generate a critically action oriented discourse?

 

Video Art Screening, Art Display & Interactive Exhibits

New Constellations: Contemporary Iranian Video Art

New Constellations programmed by Amirali Ghasemi and Sanaz Mazinani, is the first screening of contemporary Iranian video art in Los Angeles of its kind. This program highlights works by artists of Iranian descent living outside of the country, and is culled from an ongoing archive of vibrant new wave video art collected and catalogued by Ghasemi of Parkingallery in Tehran since 2004. 

Imminent Infinite -- Sanaz Mazinani

Imminent Infinite is a series of photographs that takes as its focus Islamic architecture in the cities of Esfahan, Kashan, Neyshābūr,Persepolis , and Shirazin Iran. The project explores the relationship between cultural heritage and contemporary cultural production.

A diaspora can be described as a group who maintains a myth or collective memory of their homeland. Diasporic communities need to have a constant amidst the displacement felt as a result of their move. With this need for continuity, nostalgia for the past sets in. The desire is not only for returning to a geographic location, but also to a temporal past, a particular time in one’s history. However, without transformation the production of visual culture will be frozen anachronistically. By photographing these architectural sites, and then visually manipulating and digitally contemporizing the source, I aim to imagine the future of tradition, and in the process re-contextualize visual culture for a new generation.

The Cat and the Coup -- Mr. Peter Brinson and Mr. Kurosh ValaNejad

"The Cat and the Coup" is a documentary videogame in which you play the cat of Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh, the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran. During the summer of 1953, the CIA engineered a coup to bring about his downfall. As a player, you coax Mossadegh back through significant events of his life by knocking objects off of shelves, scattering his papers, jumping on his lap and scratching him.