IAAB 2007: Closing Remarks

Thanks to all the sponsors, and final thoughts…

We hope you found the weekend informative and enjoyable, and thank you all for engaging with us and participating.

We’ve been invigorated by this project and your valuable contributions have been very invigorating. We hope you feel this energy and that you’ll translate this energy into action. We encourage you to join us in this effort however you can, big or small.

[Flowers and applause for the coordinators now and hard-working volunteers now! Thank you so much for a great conference, IAAB!!!]

IAAB Conference Panel 6: Transnational Alliances: Collaborating Across Borders

This panel (the last one) is being moderated by Nooshin Hosseini
Kamiar Alaei, Harvard School of Public Health
Reverse Brain Drain

How can we clot Iran’s hemorrhaging brain drain? There are a lot of reports about the problem, but what’s the solution? There are three arguments: it’s impossible, it’s very hard, it needs a lot of resources/has a lot of limitations.

Some of the barriers are that the first generation prefers to forget the brain drain. The second generation lacks information. Iranians don’t have a good picture of what goes on in Iran; they visit for vacation only. The second generation is under pressure and doesn’t know if they’re Iranian or American. “Mohammads become Mikes” and “Alis become Allens.”

We have a lot of human and financial resources here, so what’s the problem? Based on my idea, Iranians live together but work alone. We wished that top students would get sick so we would replace them. So when we go to work, we have a hard time with teamwork. We are great at individual pursuits but have a hard time working together in many facets, including music and art. The problem is that we didn’t have any model of teamwork in Iran.

In the United States, you have a lot of models of teamwork and access to these models. Why don’t you do this here?

The second generation wants to know more about Iran but can’t reach that knowledge with existing resources. We want to put people together and start with health.

There are 70 million inhabitants in Iran, and 70% are under 30 years old. They all watch satellite TV and think America is a big party; how can we show them what life here is really like? There are huge sexuality related problems. I believe that, like birds who fly together, we have to work together among the young people and those who are drug users and infected with HIV/AIDS. We collaborate with Afghanistan and Tajikistan on HIV/AIDS, but we want to collaborate with Iranians and Americans and Iranian-Americans. The Aspen Institute and Asia Society are two organizations that facilitate these programs.

We have to change the process; not the goal, but the way. The second generation has to want to volunteer. Help by working in Iran. Our mission is to make second-generation North Americans think about coming to Iran to help. We had some students starting in 2002. In 2006, they conducted research projects that examined HIV/AIDS and TB. We wanted them to have partnership with the Iranian young generation, to help show them teamwork.

The first generation has to help the second generation. So many of the second generation are passionate, but the first generation is not supportive.

Nassim Assefi, Writer, Physician
What is Our Duty to Our Homeland?
This is not a talk about why we should increase our civic participation. It’s really a talk with what we, with our good education and privilege owe to those who are less fortunate.

What is homeland? As a proper noun it has ethnic connotations. But as a common noun, it simply connotes the country of origin. But what about us who live between two worlds?

I turned to pop culture and thought about David Cassidy, and his album “Home is Where the Heart Is”: this made more sense ot me, in that heart-head dichotomy. The way I work is very American, but my heart, my emotion, pumps straight out of the old country.

At least 150K educated people leave Iran every year. The loss of this kind of talent has significantly adverse impact on Iranian society.

There is a proliferation of Iranian talent in the United States. Given the level of educational and professional success here, the freedom here, it’s no surprise that many Iranians have no desire to return to Iran to live.

I’d like to approach the question of duty to the homeland from many perspectives. First, religious: the idea that it’s a moral obligation for the rich to help the poor is one that’s actually normative among all religions of the world.

Second, moral: there are many prominent individuals (Carnegie, Rockefeller) who did their work not for religion but for moral reasons.

Third, ethical: By foregoing the nonessential benefits of consumer society, we can prevent a lot of deserved suffering.

Fourth, economic: Society is responsible for much of one’s wealth. Social capital is responsible for about 90% of what people earn in wealthy societies (Simon).

Fifth, personal: Until a few years ago, I was living the American dream in debt, working as a doctor and volunteered my time. In 2003, I was invited to check out the status of women’s health in post-Taliban Afghanistan. One of every seven pregnant women died, and the situation was bad in the region. I couldn’t not go to Afghanistan. It was the closest place to Iran where they really needed my women’s health skills. Upon returning from Afghanistan, a lot of my materialist trappings became meaningless. I sold my house and car and started getting serious about my writing. I thought that stories would heal, and maybe stories could change people’s minds. I’ve figured out alternative ways of giving back, like giving away royalties of my book.

I’m trying to explore the notion of reverse brain drain, but through my novels. In my first novel, “Aria,” I explore grief across cultures and reverse journeys. My second novel is “Say I Am You,” is about an aid worker.

Most of us can’t just go back. We need some structure to reverse this brain drain. Many organizations, like the UN, have programs that repatriate people who have certain skills that they can take back. Advocacy, civil society projects, and media work can be done within the West.

Going back to Iran is the first step. As the diaspora comes of age now, Iranians abroad are constantly reconciling their dual identities. For those who still have a place in your hearts for Iran, you can give back and you don’t necessarily have to be wealthy or retired to do that. My practical advice is to figure out what your skills are. Do good, serving whatever population that most strongly touches your heart.

Yaser Kerachian, Knowledge Diffusion Network
Iranian Scientific Diaspora Networks
Brain drain is a global problem. There is no independent solution, but there are policies the government can implement, including the prevention policy (not allowing the brains to leave). The opposite is “brain gain” – the return option allows people to leave and then return, the diaspora option tries to get benefits from the brains wherever they end up.

Diaspora option: most don’t return anyway, they’re interested in helping their home country, it’s inexpensive, and the brains won’t be wasted. There has been lots of implementation of the diaspora option all over the world.

The Knowledge Diffusion Network was founded in 2003 by Sharif University of Technology alums working/studying in North America. They are a network and help organize visits of Iranian scholars and short-term research visits. They are also hoping to invite non-Iranian academics. They want to collaborate with Iranian student associations outside Iran.

Challenges include lack of understanding and cultural differences between Iranians in Iran and those living abroad. The criticisms of this organization include that people say we are increasing the brain drain – when speakers come in and “steal” students, for instance.

I see this conference as an opportunity to work with all these organizations here and extend the organization to other fields.

Alidad Mafinezam, Mosaic Institute
Diasporas and Development: The State of the Art
What’s significant about our time of diaspora is that many organizations have made it a point of public policy to see how the resources of diaspora can be harnessed. I’d like to give you a sense of how the idea of diasporas and development arose. I’m going to be Googling and clicking my way along to show you key documents.

It’s not hidden that ours is the age of globalization. The role of information technology has really transformed the idea of diaspora communities and development. Immigration to North America has been for people to utilize their skills acquired elsewhere, which is very different from past experiences of other diasporic groups.

The Chinese diaspora provides a good model for Iranians. Half of all investment into China annually comes from the Chinese diaspora. Indians abroad send to India $15B a year in remittances, which is why the Indian government has a specific division focusing on Non-Resident Indians. When people in host countries see these two groups, the perception of these populations is different – they are invaluable resources for connection to opportunities in their home countries.

We can’t leave everything to markets and the IMF in supporting other countries. When Iranians and the Iranian diaspora look at the world, they are being shaped in rapidly changing ways.

[There are some technical difficulties, so he is walking is through the tour]

If you want to do work in this space, see the following 9 organizations: the Migration Policy Institute (do a search for “diaspora”); Center for Global Development (search for “Devesh Kapur”); the World Bank (“Yevgeni Kuznetsov”); Compass at Oxford University; George Washington University (you have to go to the “Center for the Study of Globalization” and type in “diaspora”); Harvard University (the Harvard Global Equity Initiative – will publish an 800-word book on diasporas and development)… [there are others that were not mentioned because we ran out of time]

North America is very important because the U.S. and Canada are nations of immigrants. Even the right-wing never adopts anti-immigrant policies because they don’t work. For Iran, North America is crucial – it’s the bottom line for Iran.

I have a dream for the future, so I call myself a third generation Iranian. While I was here, my dream was not at rest and was not talked about. It’s as if we have forgotten there is a theocratic regime in Iran. We can’t talk to about return to Iran without talking about theocratic regime. Zahra Kazemi was killed in Iran. It’s as though there is nothing going on – there is a regime that has forced us to do such. This is just a comment.
Mafinezam: I alluded to this, and change does need to happen.
Kerachian: We have to start where we are, we can’t wait until the change happens because who knows how long we’ll have to wait.
Assefi: My personal approach is to work on human rights in a subversive way, through health and family planning.
Aliae: We have to learn from our history. If the government changes tomorrow, we still have a lot of problems. Iran is our country, not their country, so we have to have respect for our country.

I think one of the things we need to do is mobilize the human resources in Iran. Here in the U.S. we value things beyond grades and status; we should teach them to value those things in Iran. What is our role in doing that?
Assefi: By going back and modeling and living it, we have the best chance of bringing about change.
Aliae: Some of our students are not Iranian-Americans, but Americans. There is one student who will explain why.
Student: I go to Iran and took a class and got really interested in Islam and politics, and then plunged into that interest. I’m going to Iran this summer and hopefully I can do research interviewing clerics to see what their role as politicians and religious authorities, how their views towards HIV patients propagates negative stereotypes of HIV patients.

IAAB Conference Panel 5: Going Home: Tales of Return and Departure

This panel is about Iranians who grew up outside Iran but returned for their work or art.

Ali Ghezelbash, Strategic and Political Advisor, Norsk Hydro
Having the Best of Both Worlds—how returning home changed my perspective
Having spent the past two days here, I’ve never been as proud to be an Iranian. Since leaving Iran, I’d had a keen interest in history. I wanted to gain an understanding of the culture and people. I returned to Iran in 2003 and was offered a job with Atieh Bahar consulting. I had to sort out military conscription. I also had to convince my parents in Sweden that being a political analyst in Iran was a good idea. What lay ahead was to take on my responsibilities. Other than my poli sci degree, I had no real experience. I thought I understood Iran but I needed to know a lot more. Most of the people I was supposed to manage were more experienced and older. Respect for pride and seniority was very important in Iran and I understood early on, I had to put aside my own ego, be patient, and be highly respectful. This was a metaphor for my own role in Iran’s development: patience, respect, and listening. I realized that staying just for a year, as was initially agreed, was not enough. I felt I had to stay on another year.

When I arrived in Iran, I was so concerned that I would be perceived as too liberal so when I got there I was very conserative. I had to deal with a lot of other downsides and upsides in deciding to stay. But I decided to stay. In 2005 I moved out on my own, and at the end of 2006, I decided to leave in order to again broaden my horizon.

I’d begun feeling that perhaps it was not possible to have the best of both worlds, and that if I chose Iran, I would lose the other side. But I’d connected with Iran, and so when I went back to Europe, it was difficult for me to readjust.

Now I don’t think I have to choose between Iranian or Swedish. Before I had a conflicting identity. I feel much more comfortable with my identity now; and I feel I can have the best of all the worlds I’ve been in. Also, I learned to appreciate the sacrifices of my parents for the opportunities I had. At the same time, I felt it’s important for people like us to return to Iran. We all need to give something back to our country. I realized that I was not there to preach to people, but there is a bit of a brain drain, and we can help that. I also realized that Iran is going through an evolutionary process; the pace of social and political change must be set by the Iranian people.

Most of us have the luxury of visiting Iran and going back and forth. This is an ability we should take advantage of. We have a blood-right to that country. It belongs to us all. Our advantage is that we can have the best of both worlds.

Tahereh Sariban, Atieh Bahar Consulting
Roots and Homes: choices and responsibilities
Tahereh Sariban was not able to attend the conference because of visa problems. She was going to discuss how her multicultural background has influenced her concept of roots and home.

Hushidar Mortezaie, Designer
THE NEW LOOK: The New Iranian Aesthetic
I left Iran when I was three and grew up in Marin County. I moved to New York in 1994 with Michael Sears and created the label “Michael & Hushi”… but the most important thing for me was going back to Iran. It changed my life. It was everything together. I want to show you my melange of Iran (there are models here! IAAB is going to have pics soon and we’ll link to those!)

Anna Fahr, Filmmaker
Khaneh Ma: Documenting A Journey Home
This is my first feature documentary film. I started the project in 2003; the purpose was to document my first trip to Iran in 10 years. Ultimately the theme was looking at what home means to me, and what it meant to various other family members who’d also experienced cultural separation.

I’d only been to Iran twice prior to making the film. Consequently I experienced Iran through Norooz celebrations and Farsi lessons. I have always struggled with the struggle of being caught between two worlds.

We began production in 2004 and filmed for 2 months. We also filmed in Canada and Germany. Growing up in North America, I found that Iran had an image of extremism and the Western media didn’t help. I wanted to counter that by showing my own family. The crew was myself and my French-Canadian camera man, and my family came along to participate. Keeping the film more private allowed the subjects to be more open.

[Now there's a clip being shown of the filmmaker's interview with Mamani, her grandmother - it's not on YouTube, sorry.]

We also followed the story of my cousin’s family’s emigration from Iran to Canada. [Another clip here...] The notion of rebirth and adaptation is big here; he’s mostly optimistic, which illustrates the hope most newcomers bring to their destinations.

I also went back to Iran and I was overwhelmed by my experience. We should all go back and I’m overwhelmed by this panel and this organization. We can all contribute in taking back our country. One more comment about the show; I don’t think it’s very appropriate to use the Basij theme, as it’s a para-military organization in Iran
Mortezaie: In no way was the Basij theme meant to insult women. It was simply a visual journey. It’s a piece of fabric. Basiji beauty was not to glorify them, but to cut the Basiji apart and stitch it in a different way. It’s not pro-this or pro-that. There is not a load of intellectual politics that go into my designs, and it’s just a visual journey.

I think you should not use Basijis… a lot of Iranian women have been humiliated by Basijis, don’t glorify it, don’t put the name of Basijis on your designs. Don’t use that name, it has a very negative connotation. Whatever you do with Basiji.
Mortezaei: It’s not meant to glorify. It’s a word, and you can’t censor anyone.

Where can I buy this design, and also I think it’s quite unfortunate that we are self-censoring here
Mortezaei: IAAB has my contact info, and I’m happy to give it to you myself also.

What were difficulties in filming in Iran?
I filmed in 2004, and when I went, we did it in a very small way, so it wasn’t a big production. When we filmed in the airport, we didn’t look very conspicuous. Although right now, I don’t know if it’s gotten to be a little bit more restrictive.

I moved from Iran to D.C. and I have a keen interest in going back. How do you contact Tehran? How can I do it?
Ghezelbash: Well the director of Atieh Bahar consulting is here. Other than that, it’s not so different from going to work anywhere else in the world. There are various resources and I think IAAB is doing something as well, helping you set up contacts with companies and NGOs. Other than that, use us: we have contacts and we’d be happy to help.

I really don’t follow fashion much but I saw you on the Ali G Show so I would love to know how he got you (Mortezaei was Bruno)?
Mortezaei: He just waited after my show and waited and waited and got me.

IAAB 2007 Performance: Roya Bahrami, Santur Artist

Roya Bahrami is performing santur now… some of her opening remarks: I was 16 when I came here, and the first time I heard classical Persian music I was here already. I felt a pang in my heart… this music is really very deeply in me. Then I started to study, and started realizing my Iranianness in this music, very emotionally. After the Iraq war ended, I frequently visit Iran. It really does make a difference to make a trip. This whole concept of multicultural identity became evident to me about 10 years ago… When I was driving once, I was stuck in the car with a flamenco CD, so that pushed me to Spain. I didn’t speak a word of Spanish, so I started intensively studying the language and found a flamenco school and started studying. I wondered why I was so attracted to this music. I’m interested in ethnomusicology and I found out that one of the roots of flamenco music is in Persian music in ancient times. And then, a few years ago I met Carmela Greco, who is a famous teacher and dancer in Madrid, who became my friend. I played santur for her and she asked me to be in her show, so I had to “kaleh-malagh” (do some cartwheels)… santur is difficult to tune and relative to the singer. But it was interesting that Carmela felt this deep connection with santur music.

Flamenco music started with gypsies in the East (India, Iran) who traveled and ended up in Spain. Bahrami’s album is called “Roya” – there’s no video allowed at this event so you can visit her website: royabahrami.com, for more.

IAAB Conference Open Forum: The role of the Iranian Diaspora in Political Conflict

Narges Bajoghli of IAAB is moderating this forum: The goal of this forum is to facilitate conversation between organizations represented and to engage the community in a safe and open space. We felt we couldn’t ignore the big elephant in the room: the political situation between Iran and the United States. As a community we need to discuss these issues. There will be some ground rules. We request and plead, really, that everyone be extremely courteous to one another. That doesn’t mean that we can’t debate and have disagreements, but with that, we do want to request that everyone will be respectful. Just to outline the format, it is hour-long, so it’s a short time period.

The organizations are:
The Mennonite Central Community, who worked in Iran after Bam and have started other programs since.
Enough Fear, a campaign to prevent war between the U.S. and Iran.
Network 20/20, which promotes lectures and initiatives to promote global security.
Fellowship of Reconciliation, which tries to educate people and send civilian diplomats in times of political tension and strife
Iranian American Friendship Committee – work closely with Stop War in Iran
NIAC – the National Iranian American Council
Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran, aka CASMII

Can you please speak about the role of NIAC?
One of our most important goals is capacity building in local community Iranian organizations. We want to help these organizations get more efficient and more effective. We are going to hold workshops on how to be effective, including grant-writing and staffing.

We know the Mennonites have been in Iran recently, with a coalition of religious leaders… can you please tell us about that?
We felt the U.S. was replacing Communism with Islam as an ideological enemy, and we wanted to break down stereotypes. We learned to know people in Iran who asked us to have a meeting with the president of Iran, where he invited us to Iran. It’s important to sit together and talk over issues. It’s so important for our two governments to engage each other directly. I’ve met a number of Iran desk officers in the State Department, none of whom have ever been to Iran. I’ve been there 20 times, and it’s been tremendous, the hospitality I’ve received.

Network 2020: Can you please tell us how you’ve engaged the community?
We focus on ways in which the U.S. and Iran and groups in civil society have been working together for some time. We found that there are literally hundreds of organizations that collaborate directly with counterparts in Iran. Our main focus in elevating debate has been to make sure people are taking part in academic panel discussions that they traditionally would not have been included in.

Why does CASMII do its work?
CASMII is working both with American and Iranian organizations. It’s much easier to work with American peace activists. Many Iranians consider that defending piece is defending Ahmadinejad; but the war in Iraq has made Iranians more interested and engaged. It’s not a hard job for us to show what would be the result of a war. With sanctions, the problem is that though it’s not going to blow up Persepolis, it’s still catastrophic for Iranians. We are working with peace groups in order to prevent war and sanctions, because the results are the same.

Why did Fellowship of Reconciliation send delegates to Iran?
There are very few Americans visiting Iran; just 300 each year. We try to show them humanity. They’re civil diplomats, sent to show images beyond the army or military images shown on the media. We try to make connections between different people.

What does Enough Fear hope to achieve with person-to-person work?

Why was the Iranian American Friendship Committee formed?
We were founded when some American friends came to a social event at our house [the speaker is an American woman who married an Iranian man]… and they said we don’t know anything about Iran. So we seek to educate. We work towards peace and dialogue. It is mainly educational, but we are distinctly a political organization. If you read my button, it says “U.S. Hands Off Iran” – I have seen what the U.S. policy has done to Iraq. We defend Iran in the secular community, but also because Islam has been wrongly interpreted in the media, as an American I also want to educate people about the fine history and culture in the Middle East.

Narges: For the audience, we want to know, is it desirable to be engaged as a community at all?
Ahmad Karimi Hakak, audience member: Who was the delegation that went with the Mennonites?
Mennonite organization panelist: Most of the officials and leaders are not in the very active opposition at this point, because that didn’t seem possible in this first visit.
Fellowship of Reconciliation: There was an ayatollah we wanted to visit, and we were denied permission to visit him. We had the chance to meet Mr. Khatami but not as a group.

Audience member: Is getting a visa difficult or are Americans just not interested? Also, the Iran desk in the State Department numbers eight part-time people, and as you said, none of them have ever been to Iran.
Fellowship of Reconciliation: Americans have to apply for visas via groups and organizations, it’s really hard to get a visa as an individual.
Mennonite: It’s very difficult.
Network 2020: We had a delegation of 14 people going in Fall, and eight of those got the visas when we’d already left. One way that’s easier is to engage a group, or a tour company.
Mennonite: Trying to get visas for Iranians to come to the U.S. is even more difficult.

Audience member: Before we can talk about being engaged as a community, we have to talk about how the community in the United States is disengaged, not engaged with itself.
NIAC: Part of the reason we feel so strongly about Iranian-Americans engaging is that we feel so strongly about the unique perspective of Iranians. One of the most important things we’ve noted this past year is that there’s a real thirst, a dearth of knowledge, for information about Iran among those in policymaking. It’s important to engage with civil society in the democracy we live in.
AIFC: When we founded the organization, mostly Americans were coming, but hardly any Iranians. But now there’s a shift. With sanctions, now Iranian voices are being stifled. I agree that we have to stand up for civil rights.

Audience member Pedram Moallemian: Narges, I don’t think we addressed your question at all. I think at some point our community needs to realize that we don’t have a choice; politics goes beyond -isms. It is essential, it is necessary – we need to get involved.

Audience member Diana: My question is about lending credibility to opposition to attacking Iran. I want to know which of you have reached out to Iraqis and work with them to help this movement of preventing military action.
NIAC: We have tried to engage the Arab-American community. For political reasons, they are divided on this issue and have not typically taken a strong position. The Arab-American Institute put out a statement asking the U.S. to engage with Iran and Syria to stabilize Iraq as well. We have tried; there are few Iraqi-Americans. Those who were active were supportive in the past of the war with Saddam.

Audience member Persis Karim: Has the panel parlayed any of their activities toward the 2008 presidential election?
NIAC: NIAC can’t legally take sides on legislation; our responsibility is to inform our public and our members. Since 2004, we have provided an opportunity for candidates for elected office to respond to our questionnaires and we look forward to engaging all of them. They are taking us a lot more seriously, and taking the community a lot more seriously.

Narges: How can we have a stronger presence in public life? Is it desirable, and if not, why not?
Audience member: Just an opinion for why my generation is not involved now: we were all activists in Iran, and we paid a heavy price for it. It’s wrong, we should be active. And I’m glad that the second generation has picked it up and they’re doing their part though we’re not. My question is CASMII: in my opinion, you can get a lot more support and audience and have a lot more sympathy if you could clearly make clear that you are for democracy in Iran, you are against closure of newspapers, you are against civil rights violations, and all those things. Make very clear first, and then you’ll see a lot more people that will see your cause and support it.
CASMII: The agenda for CASMII, for me as someone who works with the group, I say that I’m against war and sanctions. Are they pro or anti women’s rights? Or healthcare in Iran? We can come up with tons of issues to be pro or against. We have two things that we work on, which is anti-war and anti-sanctions. The problem with Iranian groups is that everyone wants to be non-political. Being anti-war or anti-sanctions is more a social issue than a political one; if you are anti-war, you are not becoming a political person.

Audience member Danesh Mazloomdoost: I think it’s rare to get all these civil leaders in one place, and I think in the past we’ve lacked a place to develop this kind of leadership. And we need a place to engage and develop this.

Audience member S.A.S.: I was lobbying Congress this week on a recent import sanction, HR1400
NIAC: We have had 20+ years of sanctions on Iran. These measures have not confined Iran’s behavior and have made Iran much more defiant. The sanctions argument is a ruse; it takes the attention away from the fact that we are looking at the possibility of war. We can’t just be anti-sanctions and anti-war, we have to be pro something as well, and that’s dialogue and policy to address these issues…[there are two NIAC panelists] Other NIAC panelists: …What is required of us to be successful is for us to be our own civil leaders. There are great organizations that are run by the first generation. But it’s our turn to take the reins from them; they demand it, they want us to be on their board. Are we too busy going to clubs? We need to take an active effort in taking control of the local organizations.

Narges: What would you like organizations to do to help the community?
FOR: I think it’s really important for us to stay active on the issue of sanctions, because they create isolation and destroy movements.

Audience member Roshan: It’s up to the second generation, without the baggage of the first, to start working on human rights and to be anti-imperialistic all around the globe. We’re politically conscious and it’s important for us to connect with everyone because the responsibility is on us.

Audience member: I think that, just by nature, it does not make sense to think of the Iranian community as one single community politically. I think it makes more sense for each of us to go towards our own topics of interest, in order to practice personal agendas.

Audience member: Considering that there are no free civic institutions in Iran, how would you set your priorities in order not to be influenced and to be independent of the Iranian government? Also, what about your positions on the militarism of Iran?
NIAC: The issue of working with organizations within Iran is something that needs to be addressed. It’s very difficult to obtain permission to work collaboratively with Iranian organizations. There was some slack with the Bam tragedy, but after a year those restrictions were back. The effort needs to be in NGOs; U.S. funding has a tainted image so non-governmental channels need to be taken.

Audience member Aref Riazi: Considering that money is the driving force in Washington, how are you affected by the large groups (AIPAC) and how active are your members in contributing to you?
Network 2020: In addressing the question of increasing military rhetoric, the point is that offense leads to defense. So the U.S. right now is squandering a natural cultural ally – the cultural connections between Iranians in the U.S. and in Iran is just something we’re not talking about. We tried so long to assimilate that we’re sort of wary to enhance our cultural identity and to have a lot of unity as a community.
Enough Fear: Our method for getting around problems of getting with organizations was to talk directly to people who have blogs and to communicate with them one-on-one. We’re looking for common ground between Iranians and Americans; we call on both governments to communicate directly also.
Mennonite: In our meeting with Ahmadinejad, we asked about the nuclear program. It was like preaching temperance from a bar stool.
NIAC: We relate more to the Iranian-American community, I can’t speak to activities in Iran. On AIPAC, they’re very powerful, they got a bill dropped recently by getting 400,000 people to call their representatives. You have to participate – voting is not enough. People in Iran vote – was that enough? You have to be more involved.

IAAB Conference Panel 4: Immigrant Networks: Negotiating Cultural Complexity…

Immigrant Networks: Negotiating Cultural Complexity within Modern Nation States

This panel was moderated by Shamila Dilmaghani.

Kathryn Spellman, London Middle East Institute at SOAS, University of London
Iranian Cultural Scenes in London
There are some 40K Iranians in England and Wales, not including Iranian children born in England and Wales. Generally speaking, Iranians didn’t plan to live there permanently.

Iranian businesses are proliferate. Iranian publications in London have begun to ask questions about their dislocation.

Though religion was not a focus of this research, it came up in interviews; many Iranians articulated that their religion and culture was hijacked both by the Iranian government and Muslim leaders in London, who are mainly Pakistani and Indian.

The focus in Spelman’s book is on the development of very specific Iranian religions, and she attended many meetings of both Muslim and born-again Christian Iranians. These were places to rebuild traditions and customs that existed in Iran.

In the past five years, Spelman has fallen into intermediary role between British entities and Iranian groups, leading to a patchy growth of networks. For instance, Iranian arts have been successfully carving pathways into the British mainstream.

This interaction ebbs and flows, and it’s not a straightforward task. Spelman attempted to introduce key people from the Manchester International Festival to create UK-Iranian transnational collaboration in art and sports. The collaboration was great until Ahmadinejad came into power and the ambassador from Iran to the UK changed.

Many Iranians are invisible and without a voice in the UK. Despite organizations, like those that deal with asylum seekers, it’s difficult for press and researchers to approach Iranians in order to understand the community.

There’s a need for Iranian organizations to see themselves as not only helping Iranians but also as a bridge to the British public. There should also be more civic participation.

Groups that are living in and between cultures are being seen as valuable networks throughout Europe.

There’s a widening gap between new refugees and the long-standing diaspora.

Banafsheh Akhlaghi, National Legal Sanctuary for Community Advancement
Iranian-Americans and the Impact of Post-9/11 Policies
I’m sitting along my brethren, and this is a high honor. This is something historic. I’m one of those immigrants, one of those hyphenated Iranians. I arrived with my family prior to the revolution. Being an Iranian in the United States has never been comfortable.

During the course of the special registration process in the U.S. after 9/11, I had an opportunity to become part of a conversation, a unified and not divisive conversation. I thought, as my family had said, that we’re going back to Iran one day. As a family, we were literally driving through life looking backward. It was a temporary existence up until special registration, for me. Temporary results in creating a separation, confusion, a lack of identity. You don’t have a level connectedness to the country you’re residing in.

Sixteen of my clients were placed on a plane and were missing for 72 hours in the U.S.; and they were found in a detention center in Arizona. They were our community. To see the fear in their faces and to see the disappointment in themselves, and to see that regardless of where we reside, if we don’t make our location of residence our home – not to say that we’ve turned our back to our homeland – if we don’t embrace who we are, what else could possible occur?

From representing these individuals through deportation… and seeing that there is no understanding of who we are – there is a totality to take into consideration of who we are – that drew me to look at how other immigrant groups have done it. Where did history cross paths with their ethnicity and their religion, when they had to make a decision and how to move forward? So I looked at all the different stories of immigrants. And I understood, there’s a book called “civil rights” in this country, and this is our chapter. We can either write our own chapter, or we can be victims, and our people are not victims. And so I’ve picked up a pen and and it’s just one voice, but I’m scribbling it. Last weekend, part of this chapter started to fill in like this – a U.S. citizen who’d worked for 16 years in a nuclear facility decided to go home to Iran after 30 years, where his mother was ailing. He met a woman and was married, and his expecting wife came to the U.S. He followed earlier this month and was detained at LAX, where he was placed in interrogations. He was held for 30 hours. The FBI questioned him about accessing a file on his laptop. The questions continued, leading to those about religion and war and ideology. He was taken into detention. He has been in detention since. I saw him on Sunday, and as I sat with this 49-year-old, intellectual, family man, he started to cry. He said, “If my mother knew I was here… I don’t even know how to look at my wife anymore. What have I done wrong?” We found out this Wednesday that he’s done nothing wrong, although he’s been charged under export laws. We researched and found out that because of the type of software that was accessed, he hasn’t actually committed a crime. But unfortunately, the government decided to detain until proven innocent, yet again, which has been the case so many times.

We can either sit and wonder why one of panelists was not granted a visa from Japan; why our students are being pulled out of Stanford and Berkeley; why Iranian students are not allowed to study certain fields here; why our professionals are being shunned by organizations; or we can have a dialogue. We can talk about who we’re going to be here, and how we’re going to stand together to say that this treatment is unacceptable. It’s unacceptable under the law of the United States, and it doesn’t match our dignity as human beings.

Kazem Vafadari Mehrizi, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University
The Rise of the Iranian Diaspora in Japan
Kazem Vafadari Mehrizi was not able to attend the conference because of visa issues.

Meenoo Chahbazi, Iranian-American Bar Association
Iranian Racial Identity, Racial Classifications & Civil Rights
For many here yesterday, we heard Shabnam Rezaei mention that everyone in America is searching for identity. Although race is very controversial in the Iranian community, inevitably it arises for those growing up in America. I’ll also be talking about civil rights and discrimination and the ways in which different Iranians respond to it.

After the 1979 revolution, there was quite a lot of discrimination against Iranians. Some universities expelled all their Iranian students, some restaurants wouldn’t serve them, there were hate crimes. Post-9/11, there was discrimination at airports; Iranian-American children have been beaten and faced discrimination at schools; Iranians have experienced employment discrimination; hundreds of Iranians were detained in unsanitary conditions under the special registration system.

Discrimination against Iranians has perhaps transcended national origin in the past two decades. This is perhaps because Middle Easterners have been lumped together. Discrimination now is multidimensional: religious, color, national origin, race/ethnic origin.

I think it’s important to discuss race because it comes up all the time and it arises because of the history of racial slavery, followed by many years of racial prejudice. In the American legal tradition, there’s no discrimination more outrageous than that based on race. And lawmakers have risen to combat it.

Iranian-Americans are very divided on the question of race. Here are some viewpoints:
-Some believe they are the original Aryans or Caucasians and therefore they must be white.
-Other Iranians believe they are not white.
-Some Iranians believe they are racially mixed because of mass migrations to Iran and mixing.
-Some Iranians believe they should be recognized as a race minority group like Asians or Latinos.

Some Iranian Americans believe they should minimize their differences with European Americans because they don’t want to be marginalized. Others believe they should be recognized as a minority group for protection from discrimination.

Federal Classification of Race:
Race in the U.S. is established by the Office of Management and Budget, acknowledged by them that racial classifications are “socio-political constructs.” Middle Easterners and North Africans are primarily considered white; but in the mid-90s, the OMB recognized that Middle Easterners are racially mixed. The OMB considered adding a Middle Eastern category, but declined adding it because “given the small size and geographic concentration of this population… the analytical power gained… would be minimal compared to the costs.” It would also have required more space on forms. But Middle Easterners disagree on this issue, some because it would provide advantages and others because they don’t want to be singled out.

Some underlying points are that federal race classifications are not fixed or finalized. They’re subject to change based on public comment.

What are core categorizations of Middle Eastern race?
Though Middle Eastern isn’t a recognized race, there is a statute that allows people from the ME to claim discrimination. Many courts are confused regarding the Arab ethnicity and Iranian nationals.

I have a question about Persian New Year. In many communities, people have established a presence, but is there any way to get it legally recognized as a holiday?
Akhlaghi: It’s a procedural question, which would require constituent support. Some cities are recognizing it. States have not, and we don’t yet federally. It would ultimately mean your activism. I know, for example, there’s an Iranian mayor in Beverly Hills, and they are absolutely, 100% in celebration of the Persian New Year.

Since for most of the discrimination cases, the common denominator is religion, Islam, are you active with the Muslim organization that helps also?
Akhlaghi: I’m really glad you asked that question. None of our cases are religion-based. They’re just national origin-based. The pretext is religion, but we have Bahai, Zoroastrian, Jewish clients, not to mention the agnostics and atheists. They’re looking to see “Where were you born?” Tamoom shod, that’s it. This applies even if you’re now a citizen of another nation. With respect to various councils, no, we don’t really work in tandem with organizations that are religious-based. But we work some with an Arab organization, because there are 24 nations that we represent. So we represent all of those individuals on the special registration list. We’re a human-rights, civil-rights, American organization – that’s the root of our word. I take the foundation and premise of the legal foundation of the U.S., and cases don’t match it, we hold the court accountable and responsible. If there’s a religion question involved, then we do seek knowledge and expertise on it. But our work is solely based on the governance of this country.

Was there more discrimination in areas with lots of Persians vs. few or urban vs. suburban?
Chahbazi: That’s a very good question. I would imagine that it’s suburban, but I don’t have research.
Akhlaghi: The discrimination calls we get are not really geographically specific; they’re national. In early 2005, when our office began the Know Your Rights campaign, we went to various cities to bring the knowledge of the rights to individuals in various cities. We haven’t gone to smaller areas or rural areas. We haven’t gone to Oklahoma, for instance. We haven’t gone into those smaller pockets to hear what Iranian-Americans are facing. But from what we’re hearing in the places we’ve been, it’s got to be quite horrendous because they don’t have an infrastructure and a large community to latch on to.

NIAC is working with a coalition of organizations to get one line added to the Census that asks about ancestry. We’re having a lot of trouble. The economy of space is the main problem we face. The question I wanted to ask is how relevant is that information to your work in the civil rights arena? Would it help you in your cases? And also, have you had similar experiences in England with census questions, are you familiar with that?
Chahbazi: The more information we can have about Iranian ancestry would be better. In section 1981 cases, it would help.
Spellman: Yes, the same questions come up in the UK. Iranians are in the “Other-Other” group. When I started my research, I saw that there was nothing done at all in the UK, not a single thing published. I asked for statistics, and the majority of councils had nothing. It was really patchy. There’s a great increase of Iranians trying to remain in the UK and the UK is just shutting the doors to Iranians.

Dr. Spelman, do older Iranians have any leadership roles in creating communities in the UK?
Spelman: I’ve spent so much time with Iranian elderly women, particularly in their homes. They’ve been very informally active. There are invisible but very important networks in keeping an Iranian presence in their children’s households. I wanted to talk about how many elderly Iranians do want to go to Iran; perhaps it’s the proximity. Also, Dubai: Dubai is a very important place for Iranians. It is the modern-day port. That’s where Iranians are passing through, and a lot of Iranians are retiring there.

What kind of a role do Iranian media play in discrimination cases right now?
Akhlaghi: Media is a crucial part of this. It’s not a one-base approach, in my opinion. You have the case, the human being that has been impacted. What do you do with the person? How do you start finding solutions? One way is via the legal channel. But the law and the court systems are more often than not, not in our favor. We often don’t have a judge who can maneuver and move cases as they should. So what do you do? The other aspect is policy. That’s where the census and the numbers come in. We don’t exist; without numbers you won’t have voter turnout in your direction, etc. The numbers are crucial in identifying the community. Media takes that and magnifies it. Media takes that one story and brings it to the entire globe, and that’s power. The impact of that is extraordinary. “Where is the Iranian media?” is a different question. Not only do I take cases to American media, but when it goes to Iranian media, I personally have to start teasing out whether the media is propaganda-driven, monarchist, Islamic, and so forth. Which of these would be the best source that we can go to and use as a platform? What is media for? In this context, it’s public education. We want to create a sourcing. We need people who can be unbiased and bring information solidly without their own interest in the community.

Can you talk about special registration? We’re prone to defining ourselves as what we’re not as Iranians; Iranian but not Arab, etc. Can you talk about solidarity?
Chahbazi: I think that’s a wonderful point, and part of the American experience is finding common ground and groups. Part of the American obligation is to engage in community, and part of that process is looking at other ethnic minorities in America and looking at their experiences and seeing their approach to countering discrimination. People are not as willing to listen to us when we’re discriminated against if we don’t listen to them.
Akhlaghi: Perfect question. When the first registrations occurred, there were five countries on the list, and the individuals were housed and shackled and chained together. Without that base of coming together, because our numbers are large but they’re not at the point where we can effect change, so we need to come together. The coming together of 24 nations – a third of the world – rendered in the U.S. as suspect, brings together financial resources, a voting block… the Lebanese community is an integral part of this community. They have members in Congress. How have others done it? There’s a formula and all we have to do is plug things in. We have to incorporate other hyphenate experiences into our learnings. I don’t think I have been more impacted as a human being than witnessing what I witnessed. I’m getting a little emotional… because what do you say to a 16-year-old in shackles, waiting for his father to pull $10,000 together to get him out on bond, when he asks “Is my only crime the place that I was born?” So what you can say to that is bonding together and standing together.

IAAB Conference Panel 3: Faces of the Diaspora—The Dilemma of Perception and Representation

This panel was moderated by Shayda Naficy.

Journalist Kamin Mohammadi: The Intimate Outsider: The Challenges of Representing Modern Iran to Western Media and the Iranian Diaspora
A few years ago, Mohammadi received a phone call from a British journalist friend writing a paper about women in Iran for a large British paper. The paper that resulted left Mohammadi dismayed; obviously the paper hadn’t picked up the mistakes because the paper had no idea how Iran worked. Mohammadi had shied away from writing about Iran until this time. In her twenties, she got interested in her roots and visited, and fell in love with Iran. She wondered if seeing more realistic images of Iran would have encouraged her curiosity sooner.

Skewered images of Iran are not just put forth by Western media, but by Iranian diaspora media as well. Mohammadi felt a responsibility to change the image of Iran. She pulled away from her previous writing, which was uncontroversial travel writing, and started writing about the Iran she didn’t see represented in the West.

She realized she would never look at Iran through purely Western eyes, but also, by living in the West for many years, she was an outsider in Iran as well: an “intimate outsider.” This compelled her to write about Iran.

The people of Iran also compelled her to write: the awful war with Iraq, which is little documented in the West and also informs so much of what happens in Iran, and the tensions of daily life. Iran is having a debate about how to marry tradition and modernization. Mohammadi found a lot of eager people who wanted to speak to her about their lives. She felt it incumbent to bring stories she was hearing out of Iran and give the people she was speaking to a voice in the West. It’s incumbent on all hyphenated Iranians, to some extent, to bridge gaps.

There are risks in writing about Iran. Mohammadi struggles with censorship daily. She is not an Iranian journalist, dealing with Iran’s red lines. But she has an Iranian passport and can come and go as she pleases. But she struggles with self-censorship because the Islamic regime’s reach is far.

There is great media interest in Iran now; not just propaganda, but in filling in the gaps. However, it’s still quite hard to break the bias of editors in the West, who have such visceral perceptions about Iran and the Middle East and Islam. The presumption of editors is that Iran is a backwards country. But there’s an awful lot coming out of Iran (blogestan) and you just have to look for it.

Stories that she’s covered include drug addiction, HIV/AIDS, the continuing effects of the war with Iraq, and even the fashion for phone sex (!) in Iran.

Statistics are changing Iranian society, but they’re dry, and so Mohammadi looks for examples and includes herself to bring the statistics alive.

It’s vitally important for Iranian voices containing, as they do, nuance and complexity and love, to be heard.

Cinema/software professional Ahmad Kiarostami
Kiarostami notes that the Iranian community is very successful, but as a group we’re not so strong. He says: “There’s a word I want to use and I was told it’s not polite (the audience yells that he should say it)… well as a group, we suck.”

He started to think about this disconnection in the Iranian society here. The first disconnection is geographical. But it is a little more than usual geographical disconnection. Many people can’t return to Iran, some people don’t feel safe, some don’t have the time, some haven’t been there for a long time and there’s emotional content that’s too strong for them to handle. Some people say they’d love to go but don’t feel ready to face their homeland. And some people go there and just see family every night when they visit; they don’t go to see the real Iran. You can’t really do that in two weeks.

The second level is historical disconnect. This is something in our culture, the historical problem. In our textbooks in Iran, we don’t have much about Iranian history. In America, the only thing we have are several boring textbooks, some things for children, but there’s not much. Some people like to tell stories, but stories change and people just talk about what they want to remember. Inside Iran, stories change based on taste. For instance, names of streets and schools change with regimes and fashions.

Outside of Iran, people have more reasons to fabricate stories. They want to get respect. There’s historical naivete. Outside of Iran, our country was called “Persia” and in 1935, it was changed to Iran. People here still identify as Persians, though. Being Persian is more exotic. It reminds you of the cat, or the empire. “Iran” reminds you of the hostage crisis, or mullahs.

Another disconnect is informational. Mr. Naficy earlier today said that there are several tens of thousands Iranians in California; I personally know more than that. The point is that there are a lot of statistics and a lot are conflicting.

A big source of information is the blogosphere, which is a great thing in Iran, but it’s just limited to the upper and middle classes. But the nature of weblogs is not academic, and people just write whatever they want. Of course, there are good weblogs, but it’s not a reliable source of information.

The other disconnect is lingual. It’s difficult to keep language alive. And language within Iran is changing. Here Kiarostami lists a bunch of new Iranian lingo that gets a lot of laughs.

The fifth disconnect is cultural. The biggest reason is our own fault: the older generation isn’t building quickly enough for the next generation. The younger generation knows more about Christmas than Norooz.

The last disconnect is one of reality. Being far from Iran, some people are disconnected from the reality of Iran. Iranian satellite TV is full of conspiracy theories. One guy said that Iranian filmmakers were all in with the mullahs and he said they should become plumbers. One friend tried to change the culture in Iran by launching a website. Unfortunately these things are far from Iranian reality, but these are the voices of our community.

From every point of disconnection, there are countless avenues for reconnection.

Now there’s a screening of Kiarostami’s video he made for Kiosk’s song Eshgh-e Sorat. Click here to see it:

MIT Iranian Studies Group project manager Sara Sarkhili: What Defines Iranian-Americans: Perception of Iranians of the Iranian-American Community
The Iranian Studies Group at MIT (ISG) runs a lot of surveys about Iranians. Their survey regarding defining Iranian-Americans was performed online. There are several questions Sarkhili presents:

The first is: What factors determine how Iranians in the U.S. introduce themselves?
Sarkhili shows slides with various factors. For instance, West Coast, older Iranians identify as Persian. East Coast atheists identify as Iranian. Subsequent questions regarding Iranians’ perceptions about their own community are very interesting, drawing from various demographic criteria [I believe these slides will be on the IAAB website after the conference - will link soon if that's the case].

For Kamin Mohammadi: As you enter the Iran, do you ever have problems going in and out of the country?
I never have any problems.

In your interactions with Iranians in Iran, is there a need for Iranians in Iran to change the public perception of Iranians in the world?
Kiarostami: I just hang out with my aunt and uncle when I go to Iran, so I don’t really know.
Mohammadi: People in Iran ask me what the West thinks of them. They’re very concerned with their image here.

Editors in major papers in the West have their stereotypes; is there any initiative to get them together and take these editors to Iran, guided by journalists like you?
Mohammadi: Editors tend to sit in the office and send people out. Practically everyone at the BBC thinks they’re never going to be able to get a visa and get in, and if they can, think they’ll be manipulated.

Considering that sensational news sells, what do you think is the responsibility of the journalist to talk about positive things?
Mohammadi: I don’t think the realities of Iran are necessarily negative. Iran’s government has one of the most enlightened drug policies in the world, for instance. Having said that, I’m concerned about not emphasizing negative stereotypes. Of course, you write these things and they do get sensationalized, it’s not always in your hands, but I try as much as I can to bring out positive stories. Lots of editors think that Iran is medieval, so it’s good to bring out different aspects.
Kiarostami: The best way to do this is to show a real image, not just a good image. A real image connects with people. When we put the Kiosk video online, and got 100,000 hits in 10 days. The right thing to do is to show the real image, not a good or bad image, but reality.

When you go to Iran and talk to people, what is the perception of truth and honesty coming out of Western media as opposed to Iranian media?
Mohammadi: Most people consume all the news they can get. To a large extent, people in Iran are quite sophisticated in terms of their consumption of news. They’re used to negotiating their way through propaganda.
Kiarostami: I’m hesitant to talk about Iranian society; I only know about one portion of Iranians, about upper class Iranians living in Tehran.

What are the reasons for and implications of strong tie Iranians abroad feel to pre-Islamic Iran and why do they use the term “Persian” to self-identify?
Mohammadi: Some people perceive negative connotations with “Iran” and they feel “Persia” to be more acceptable. I don’t really know beyond that.

I’m very sensitive to Persian/Iranian. Persian culture isn’t just Iranian. There are people outside Iran who identify as Persian.

Can you speak to your experiences in building community and making connections/networking?
Sarkhili: I could see from my own experience that there were no problems between myself and second-generation Iranians. They had different perceptions of Iran, and so there was a bit of disconnect. But those who did travel to Iran, I feel that they are very aware of what’s going on in Iran and they understand it much better.
Kiarostami: I talk to people and there are certain topics I find totally disconnected: when I talk to people who want to bring back monarchy, for example. One thing that’s the opposite is art – there’s no disconnect there. No one is angry about music, for example, and we can talk about it. When we talk about literature, music, movies, it’s a good way to communicate, even if we disagree.
Mohammadi: It’s a different experience being a journalist inside versus outside Iran. I have enormous admiration for Iranian journalists and they negotiate tricky rules all the time. I’ve had nothing but fantastic experiences with them and I collaborate with many of them.

Regarding cultural disconnect, as a second-generation Iranian-American, I disagree in that as I get older, I find myself connecting more with Iran and being proactive… I do also find myself connecting with the traditions and cultures. I wonder if you noted the connections that we are making?
Kiarostami: First of all, these are just my observations; they’re not facts. The second generation looks for identity, but because they don’t have a real image of Iran, when they visit, their reactions are different. They get totally disappointed because they have this imaginary world in their minds. I hope that’s not the case with you but I’m curious to know what you’d feel if you visited Iran.

As a researcher and parent, I’m proud of this generation and how it’s speaking about itself. Regarding identity, one must make sure there is such a thing as identity and having an identity and being conscious and knowledgeable about it. In the U.S., you’ve got to struggle, have a sense of identity, and a sense of humor… so I’m glad you’re adding that. We are also expecting too much of this community – it’s very young and not at all liberated.
Kiarostami: Today someone said young is 18-25, and I’m 36!

What is the connection between Persopedia and Encyclopedia Iranica?
Kiarostami: Persopedia is a personal project of Iranian poetry. Stanford is working on an archival project and will use Persopedia for their project.

How did you get all those people to speak for the video?
Kiarostami: I just asked people. I told them I was making a “ke-lip” and they did it. The only problem I had was with one religious guy, so I basically told him he had to do it and that it was really important. There was also another guy, the guy with the salt, and I begged him and begged him.

IAAB 2007: Children of Persia Workshop

Slides from these presentations will be available on the IAAB website soon! For now:

This workshop is by Dr. Mahnaz Motevalli, VP of Children of Persia. Motevalli is a teacher at Johns Hopkins’ medical school.

The first 45 minutes will be formal, and at the end there will be discussion.

Children of Persia (COP) intro:
The organization was started in 1999. It’s non-profit and charitable, and the mission is to “promote the well-being of needy Iranian children by dedicating to provide health care, education, and social services.”

It is run by volunteers who pay to participate.

Health projects:
1. Construction of medical facilities in Zabol, chosen because the need for a medical center was greatest there… World Health funding provided to Iran is for re-building, and there were no pre-existing centers there.
2. Medical assistance and networks: creating channels for health care for Iranians who need it.
3. Medicine drive
4. Mobile medical unit
5. Health education in Iran and the U.S.
6. Medical expense fund

1. Educational assistance in Iran
2. Educational supplies in Iran and the U.S.
3. College fund in Iran and the U.S.

Social Services:
1. Families in Crisis: working and street kids in Iran, food and clothing drives worldwide, and disaster relief in Sri Lanka and Iran

Economic sanctions mean that all resources can’t be spent in Iran, but there is an internship project in Iran for the Zabol clinic and the Iranian working and street kids project. The Zabol process was a pilot project for a year.

What are the challenges and strengths of interning in Iran?

Question: Was just COP building the Zabol facility or was it done collaboratively?
Motevalli: Started working with an NGO but now are working with Zabol University medical school to sustain the project.

First group of interns:
Yousef Tehrani: These interns worked at “Khane-Ye-Mehr” (House of Kindness), a school for working and street children. The time-frame in Iran was challenging because things happen more slowly in Iran – logistics are different, interns have no set roles and interns have to step up and self-determine their experiences.
Sara Khaki: We had to be self-starters and came up with plans. Storytelling was a successful one; the best way we found to get closer to the kids, an icebreaker. Even outside the classroom, some students asked us to read stories to them. We asked kids to paint after they heard stories. Throuhg their paintings, the way they used and applied colors, we found that most of them tended to support themselves. In order to improve cooperation and make the school more attractive, we had them garden. English classes fulfilled the curiosity of the children. We needed to be flexible, in case they were not engaged. Interns should keep an eye open about the environment in which their internship is taking place. Interns need to be open-minded about the roles of religion, tradition, and poverty. Clothing can have a major impact on the way children perceive interns.
Shima Khaki: Not having a set plan gave us the good experience of working in a less structured environment. A trial-and-error experience made us more courageous. We also made effective networking connections between outsiders and the school. No matter what the area of your concentration, having a good network opens new horizons of opportunities. Feeling and living the situation had a big impact on us. Being there gave us a new sense of reality. We’ve seen street kids and heard a lot about them before. We thought they would be harsh and hard to work with, but when we got there, we found them very friendly, very sweet, they wanted to communicate and play games. This dispelled stereotypes for us.
Ramin Ostadhosseini: One of the aspects of the internship is what we get out of it. It’s a huge challenge for us. One big thing was awareness of your surroundings. One of the games we played with the kids was “Zoo” in which all the children were assigned an animal – that didn’t go over too well [the connotations are different in Persian]. On our first day, the COP liaison in Iran told us about Safi, an 8-year-old who was sold off to work as a shepherd. The school worked to bring this child back and place him in the school. Since he returned, he’d changed and become very aggressive. The first day I got here, he drew a picture of me; he drew huge ears on me, then big eyes, and so forth, until he’d scribbled out the whole drawing. This sort of underlying aggression was surprising to me, and as we interacted with him, his behavior changed. On the last day, he gave me a drawing he’d made of me, teaching class with a flower in my hand. To see this transformation, that was one of the most rewarding experiences. I’d realized I’d actually been able to do something, change a life. I don’t want to make it sound so big. To wrap it up, despite all the challenges associated with internships in Iran, it’s definitely difficult, the rewards are definitely worth it.

Sarvnaz Lotfi: Promoting International Collaboration Between Iranian
Ten Iranian-Americans went to Tehran in Summer 2006. Each morning they went to Masih Daneshvari Hospital in Tehran, which is a public hospital that serves primarily low-income Iranians. They worked in various clinics, offices, and hospitals in the city. Research among the interns included HIV/AIDS research, a documentary of Iranians with TB, understanding health policy in post-revolutionary Iran, and analysis of several addictions and dieases from 1900 – present, and more.

Being Iranian-American is very different from being just Iranian, but traveling daily gave me confidence. At the end of our research, a lot of us found that we have a great will to return to Iran. At the end of my time in Iran, I didn’t even care to return to America, but I felt the privileges of the Iranian diaspora. I became aware of how lucky I am to be able to leave Iran and have opportunities.

After going to the Tehran office of the UN, the group worked to create a network that would send students from North America to the Eastern Mediterranean region. They met with students in Iran to collaborate and set up a board of students in Iran to work with students in America. Sharif, Amir Kabir, and Tehran University were included. The network is REACH: http://www.ghinmeca.com/reach.shtml.

This year, 20 students are going to Iran. Within the next 10 years, the group hopes to build a strong North American-Iranian network.

Danesh Mazloomdoost: Information Seeking Behaviors of Physicians-in-Training in Iran
Mazloomdoost worked independently, and will outline how he accomplished his project. Short term objectives were to look at physicians-in-training and how they seek information. Long-term goals include improving systems and access in medicine in Iran.

In Iran, travel is about a reference system and word-of-mouth – that analogy will recur in this talk. Mazloomdoost’s background is in business and moving into medicine, he was surprised by the inefficiency of the medical system in the U.S.

In planning, finding mentorship, getting through redtape, and finding funding were huge issues. Politically, it was hard to get project approved; Johns Hopkins was reluctant to let him go. Ultimately, they withheld salary for a month and penalized Mazloomdoost. Mentors also backed out. Redtape was difficult in the U.S. and Iran; if you don’t know the right people in Iran, you can get caught in a loop and spend a lot of time trying to get somewhere. There are also language and cultural barriers: a word of advice he got was to brag and boast about his accomplishments instead of being modest. There are problems with power struggles as well. But ultimately the project was done and is in the process of submission.

The benefit of the project, beyond its conclusion, were the contacts and friends made, future liaisons, and courage gained in the process.

Interning in Iran:
Presenting work from Summer 2006 in Iran; they worked at the National Institute of TB and Lung Diseases in Tehran.
Atieh Novin: We’re all interested in pursuing research in the field of public health and medicine. As part of the preparation process, we decided to find research projects and got funding from Children of Persia. We worked on two different projects. Logistics were helped by the website daftar.org.
Jasmine Ainetchian: We all spent from two to three months in Iran, and stayed with our immediate or extended families, though in some instances it’s possible to arrange alternative housing. The transportation factor was a big deal – in Tehran it takes forever to get anywhere. Taxis are ubiquitous and there are official and unofficial taxis; you have to be careful in what cab you’re hailing and where you’re going. We did experience the Metro, which was a really good experience for us. It goes a lot of places and it’s brand-new and cheap. On our first time on the Metro, we learned a lot about why women don’t ride it, because we were seated in the men’s section.
Narges Alipanah: Our activities consisted on working on our own separate research projects as well as attending events given at our center. There were doctors from Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Iraq and we also watched surgeries. Atieh and I worked on TB and TB/HIV. We studied the socioeconomic status of patients, reviewing their files and interacting with the workers. All the workers were volunteers and the patients were mostly Afghan refugees.
Jasmine: Sarvenaz and I worked in Southern Tehran, at AIDS clinics.
Atieh: Narges and I worked in Zabol with Afghan refugees; there is a lot of TB and congo fever, a high incidence of infectious diseases.
Sarvenaz Nouri: We also got a chance to go to various sites in different cities. One was Isfahan Cardiovascular Research Center. The other was the IVF Center in Yazd, one of the frontrunners in Middle Eastern reproductive medicine. We faced a lot of challenges in Iran. We weren’t familiar with the working environment in Iran; the timelines in Iran are longer, the pace of work is slower. When approvals in Iran are granted, they can be taken away without explanation. We also had to hide that we were foreigners. On a positive note, we all completed our research and reconnected with our roots, and then founded REACH [see above for link]. It’s important to be well connected to go to Iran for independent research. We weren’t so prepared, but now we realize that the prep process should include researching ongoing projects and creating relationships with mentors in Iran. It is now becoming very trendy for students to go to Iran to conduct internships. There’s a difference between visiting Iran and working in Iran, though; we have to direct the trend to promote productive connection between Iranian and American professionals and research.

What are your thoughts on how we can connect U.S. student groups with those in Iran?
Sarvnaz Lotfi: REACH exists to help people go to Iran to do research.
Motevalli: Selecting interns that are willing to go to places that are perhaps not so desirable is difficult. But it’s important to be selective in picking interns. We are not going there to “improve lives.” They know a lot in Iran; so the contribution and knowledge of the intern is really important. The first step is to educate groups here and then set up networks. Networks have to be sustainable. And funding is important.

How did girls in Iran feel limited in their research, particularly outside Tehran?
Jasmine: Teaming up with someone with stronger language skills helped me, but being a girl working in Iran was not such a limiting factor. Sometimes there were people or climates who were not as welcoming, but I think that could happen anywhere. When we were in Kermanshah, which is smaller, we didn’t run into any problems, probably because people really wanted to talk about their problems.

Do you all hold Iranian passports? What are logistics?
All the panelists had Iranian passports. There are no concerns in getting visas if you’re American; if you’re Iranian you need to get an Iranian passport.

Is there an impact now because of the U.S. approach to Iran on sanctions on your work?
Danesh: Absolutely. It’s easier when you’re going with an established organization. When you’re donig it alone, it’s extremely challenging. Public institutions can’t endorse anything to do with Iran because of sanctions. There are means of circumventing, you just have to be persistent. Demonstrating academic credibility will cause doors to open.

Did anyone take Farsi classes in Iran? Also, I didn’t quite understand about boasting within Iran?
Yousef: Dehkhoda Language Institute is a really great place to learn.
Sarvnaz: Rosetta Stone forces Farsi on you in a nice way.

When you did survey research, did you administer that in Farsi? Did you need to explain questions? Did you have a translator?
Jasmine: We wrote in English and translated to Farsi.

If you’re doing outcome studies, how did you gather data prior to your research?
Jasmine: We did literary research initially and utilized our mentor, who had done preliminary research and that really helped.

Danesh: There are a lot of excellent professional organizations, and that is a good place to start to network.

IAAB Conference Panel 2: Growing Pains: Addressing our Communities’ Changing Needs

This panel is being moderated by Nasim Hurd.

Children of Persia’s Brian Oliner: Civic Participation: Where the Community is and Where it Needs to Be

Civic participation is a key factor for working for the Iranian community. What is civic participation? One aspect is voting, but Oliner will not talk about this today. Civic participation is not just political; it’s much more than that. It is the key to the creation and sustainability of civil society. It is personal, particular to community, global, etc.

Where is the community?
Several hundred thousands of Iranians claim primary and secondary Iranian ancestry in the United States. The Iranian-American population is one of the most educated immigrant groups in the United States.

There are existing Iranian-American organizations. But civic participation remains “family and friends centric.” There is no component for assimilation or integration into greater American community. Iranians should cross-participate and this will promote cross-cultural understanding.

How do we get there?
Identify the Iranian traditions that are strengths or barriers to effecting change and creating civic participation. We must also create a system of education.

Final thoughts: Creating civic organization now will precipitate success for future generations.

Norooz Productions managing partner Shabnam Rezaei: Culture Through Entertainment: The Quest for Connecting Iran’s Children to their Past

Rezaei started Persian Mirror, an online Iranian culture magazine. Through Persian Mirror, she met Dustin Ellis, a half-Iranian animator working in Los Angeles. He dreamed of having a Charlie Brown Christmas Special for Norooz; Ellis tried to find funding and reached out to Persian Mirror.

Rezaei decided to partner with Ellis to create this film, establishing Norooz Productions. They went to actors like Shohreh Aghdashloo and Parviz Sayyad, prominent Iranians, for the voices.

It was important to them to create a high-quality product. The project is also multi-lingual, in Persian and English.

Rezaie is showing clips of the film; see YouTube for press coverage that includes clips:

The product was produced on DVD and came with a story book (to discourage piracy). Sadaf and Persian grocery stores were iniitial distributors; 20K copies were sold this way, but it wasn’t enough to cover the cost. It was also sold online, and they tried to reach out to the non-Iranian community as well. Apple showed the film in its stores, and various museums around the world created “Iran Day” and showed the film (more on the Norooz Productions website). The concept also won their team a business competition at NYU Stern.

Community involvement:
“Babak to School” – a campaign to bring the film to schools and teach children around the U.S. about Norooz

Participation in the NYC Persian New Year Parade

There has been a lot of positive feedback from both Iranians and non-Iranians, both parents and children.

Unfortunately the Iranian community has not been able to rally behind this company strongly enough, so Norooz Productions came up with a multicultural series to obtain funding.

Rezaei encourages the group to think globally and put aside differences in order to work more collaboratively.

Santa Clara University anthropology professor Mary Elaine Hegland: Iranian Grandparents Facing Cultural Change and Making New Lives
Hegland starts her presentation with a photo of an older Iranian female friend dancing with her American husband, who she met in ballroom classes. In older age, her friend “blossomed.” This friend is an example of a “successful ager”; able to transcend a traditional Iranian script of how an older person should behave.

Hegland studied in Iran during 1978 and 1979; she’s returned three times in the last few years, working with the elderly in Iran. She also works with Iranian-American elderly populations in Northern California.

Older Iranians who left Iran have lost their place to age. Iranian elders deeply value each other because of language barriers in their new homes and feelings of rejection from the non-Iranian elderly. Many Iranian elderly grieve for their old identities. Their home is no longer their home; where is it? There are emotional, economical, and social problems for the Iranian elderly of the diaspora; they miss their family interaction and culture that existed in Iran.

The Iranian elderly in NorCal has established a “Grandparents’ Club”; an Iranian couple has opened up a senior daycare center (the Kindness Center)for the Iranian elderly. Older Iranians have found these avenues for connection with each other. The elderly need as much support as possible to form these connections with each other.

Researcher Abbas Zeineddin: Needs Assessment of Atlanta’s Iranian-American Community

Zeineddin grew up in Atlanta, and feels he has a very different experience from the Iranian diaspora outside the South. He moved to California six years ago.

He has designed community meetings to determine Iranians’ needs in Atlanta. There are many Iranians in two Atlanta-area counties. The community meetings will consist of a brief presentation, then break into smaller groups that are demographically divided. There will also be an anonymous survey. The results of these meetings will be analyzed and submitted to the Atlanta regional commission, which includes the city of Atlanta and ten surrounding counties, and will be used to show that the Iranian community in Atlanta has specific needs and needs resources. The governing bodies of Atlanta have asked for this information.

The challenges that Zeineddin is facing include hesitation from community leaders that don’t understand the motive for his project.

Closing thoughts: engage in your community, get involved as a world citizen in a broader context.

What are some of the hurdles that exist for first-generation Iranians? Can the second generation influence their parents and do you find them to be more involved?
Oliner: Hurdles for the first generation include their reasons for why they’re here; frequently these reasons are political and so they are reluctant to participate politically. The second hurdle is their American peers’ reactions to Iran – they were here during the hostage crisis and there are wounds there. The second generation is more active – they’re putting on this conference. A good portion of the faces here are the first generation.

Rezaie: I would echo that, but I’d add that what I’ve seen a lot of is that the generation after me, in their 20s, don’t know enough about the country. Many haven’t been to Iran and I encourage them to go. We need to make the connection to Iranians in Iran. Until we start dialogue, we can’t connect and help improve things in Iran. We have to put the past behind us and we need to connect with each other more

We try to come to terms with Farsi vs. Persian. Not to confuse Babak, I would recommend that you not use Persian and Iranian interchangeably, as Persian is an ethnic designation. Also, “Norooz” is not correct, and “Nowruz” is… it’s important for us to agree on some terms.
Rezaie: I get a lot of comments about Iranian vs. Persian and about Norooz vs. Nowruz; we do a lot of research before we do what we do. On the spelling of Norooz, we did a second-generation spelling and the results were that “Nowruz” was a non-Iranian word and not phonetically correct. I respect what you’re saying and I welcome your opinions. We try to be balanced but what I would say to your comments are that I’d urge you that you engage in the community. Instead of spending time telling me how it should be, maybe we should work together to influence the products that we put out.

Regarding the murder in Virginia Tech… the Asian community felt that they would be discriminated against and began talking about it. What should Iranians do in a situation like this, to avoid stereotype? What is our responsibility?
Oliner: The person who did this was really an American, even if his citizenship was South Korean. The response is to get out there and the key is to talk about what being Iranian is; include non-Iranians in Iranian things to show them what the culture and people are about. Engage the community; we all have to suffer with extremism, but it’s not our event. Don’t wait until events happen; engage now and get involved so people know who Iranians are.

What is the difference between assimiliation and integration?
Oliner: The purpose is to add to the mix without losing your identification. You can’t abandon who and what you are and what brought you here. But you can take that and make that part of your community and part of what you have evolved into being. By living in the U.S. or Canada you’ve made a choice to be in this community; you have to involve yourself in the new community – I guess that’s more an integration. You don’t want to assimilate to the point of losing your own identity.

What was the name of the village you worked in, in Shiraz?
Hegland: We anthropologists normally use pseudonyms for places and people to preserve the safety and privacy of the people involved. I finished my Ph.D. coursework and got a grant to go to Iran. I was going to study agricultural credit in a village, but I feel uncomfortable giving the name because I’m finally going to publish my dissertation after 30 years and it’s still sensitive. I was able to be a participant observer, that’s what anthropologists do. My daughter was a year old when we got here, Persian is her mother tongue and in that time, her first sentence was “Marg bar Amrika” and she wanted to wear a chador. It was just an accident that when I finished my Ph.D. [that the revolution happened]. The sense of hope and optimism and union was very exciting. I went to demonstrations in Shiraz [here Hegland gets a big laugh from the crowd as she recites an old anti-Shah slogan].

In our culture, we have a big thing of owning everything. In venture capitalism, you have to give up some ownership. Would Norooz Productions be willing to take VC funding?
Rezaei: We are not interested in that at the present time.

IAAB 2007: Camp Ayandeh Video

We’ve just finished lunch and are watching a video about IAAB’s awesome camp – Camp Ayandeh. Check out the video here: