Peter Kohanloo, 7.20.2012
Having previously served as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s personal translator, Majd now portrays himself as an independent journalist and astute Iran observer. Consistent with this persona, he has made the media rounds, publishing in prestigious publications such as Foreign Affairs. There are, however, numerous visible blemishes on Majd’s image.
The Iranian embassy in Ottawa has found itself embroiled in controversy over inflammatory comments made by one of its staff members. In a recent interview with a Tehran-sponsored website, the embassy’s cultural counselor Hamid Mohammadi urged Iranian-Canadians to “resist being melted into the dominant Canadian culture.” The Iranian regime’s message is clear: Iranians should eliminate any thoughts of embracing Canadian values. This vile admonition is harmful to not only Iranian-Canadians but to all Iranians living in the diaspora. Iranians who have chosen to start their new lives in Canada typically have been generally well integrated. Most are productive and patriotic citizens who embrace liberal, democratic values alongside their fellow Canadians. Now the regime is telling them to create a resentful community in perpetual conflict with its neighbors.
Leading Iranian-Canadian voices immediately rejected the embassy’s call. Last Friday, human rights advocate Nazanin Afshin-Jam – an Iranian-Canadian married to Defense Minister Peter McKay – said the embassy “uses cultural events as an excuse to spread their own propaganda” and “does not represent our voices.” Naturally, she became a victim of vicious attacks from pro-Tehran quarters for her principled stance against Iran’s theocratic despots. U.S. Iranian-American writer Hooman Majd took direct aim at her in his Twitter account. “Fucking a Canadian minister doesn’t make you a Canadian, my dear,” he wrote. “Come back to papa.” (The tweet has since been taken down.) Echoing the Iranian cultural counsellor, Majd assaulted her identity as a Canadian and ridiculed her loyalty to her adopted homeland.
Majd’s unsavory words make sense when viewed in a wider geopolitical context. The rising cost of crippling economic sanctions threatens the clerical regime’s grip on power. Cornered like an alley cat, it reacts sharply to challenges from its opponents through its surrogates abroad. Having previously served as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s personal translator, Majd now portrays himself as an independent journalist and astute Iran observer. Consistent with this persona, he has made the media rounds, publishing in prestigious publications such as Foreign Affairs. He even testified before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the summer of 2009 as millions of Iranians poured in the streets demanding democratic change.
There are, however, numerous visible blemishes on Majd’s image. In May 2012, for example, he participated in a Tehran conference sponsored by a former Iranian ambassador to the U.N. It is rare – if not impossible – for an individual to receive such an invitation without being able to toe the ayatollahs’ line. That Majd can comfortably mingle with various factions in the clerical establishment reveals his basic commitment to the Khomeinist dictatorship and damages any credibility he once may have enjoyed with Western audiences.
The embassy incident is but one example of a greater struggle that exists between those elements of the Iranian diaspora that resist the regime’s divisive rhetoric and Iranian apologists who attempt to usurp its leadership. Regime proponents usually equate Iranian authenticity with support for the mullahs’ political agenda as a way to bully Iranians into falling in line. In reality, the exact opposite is true: Most people inside Iran have successfully differentiated their identity from that of their rulers.
Ironically, it is the pro-Western, liberal segments of Iran’s population that have been most successful at maintaining their multifaceted Iranian identity in the face of decades of government brainwashing. Iranians, for example, continue to brave arrests and beatings at the hands of armed basij militiamen to publicly celebrate the ancient fire festival before Nowruz, the Persian New Year. They have also managed to repel the regime’s efforts at replacing Nowruz as the most important national holiday on the calendar.
The challenge that Iranian-Canadians presently face is being able to thwart any future inroads made by the Tehran regime in their community. Whether they succeed or not will help shape Iran’s destiny. By emulating their brothers and sisters inside Iran, Iranian-Canadians will not only be able to preserve their Iranian identity, but also effectively support their fight for a democratic future. The next time the Iranian people stand up for their fundamental rights, Iranian-Canadians will be ready.
Peter Kohanloo is an activist in the U.S. Iranian-American community.
Source: National Post