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December 10, 2003

Interview with Pedram Moallemian (Part 1)
Hamid Ahmadi  [info|posts]

pedramm.jpg Pedram Moallemian is an Iranian-Canadian political blogger who lives in Southern California. Unlike many political bloggers, Pedram talks from experience as his posts are a mix of idealogy and personal experience. In less than a year at eyeranian.net, he has managed to turn his blog into a river-bed of ideas. The following is part one of the interview/conversation I had with him via email.

To start can you tell us a little about yourself? Where you grew up, and when you moved to the states?

First, thanks for the opportunity. I was born and grew up in Tehran. Can't really figure out how or why, but I became political way before it was fashionable and earlier than any child should...

Following a couple of close calls and arrests after the revolution, I left Iran in 1983 and immigrated to Canada at 16 and on my own. It may sound a bit strange to move across the globe with no relatives or support system and little language skills at such an early age, but I grew up a bit differently and was running a business, teaching a couple of classes and plastering half of the city with leaflets and graffiti by the time I was 14. I lived mostly in Canada for the next 18 years and moved to U.S. three years ago. If you are adding it up, I'm about 37 now!

As you know the majority of Iran's population was either born after the revolution or has very little memory of it. What was it really like? How did it affect you?

I think for most people, the revolution itself happened just way too fast. I remember the day my dad came home to tell us how someone was parading around the main bazaar in Tehran with a picture of Ayatollah Khomeini and the infamous article Savak had planted in E'tela'at to insult him, while asking people to recite Salavat. Not many had even heard his name at that time. Within months an aunt called to say how scared they were as the sound of gunfire had not stopped around their home near Jaleh Square for hours. That turned out to be the Black Friday. Before we knew it, there were nightly marches, the big ones on special dates like A'shura-Ta'sua and we were learning how to make really loud firecrackers by using discarded TV antennas to scare the soldiers who spoiled our demonstrations. Soon enough it was time to rally to Tehran University to greet the released Ayatollah Taleghani and then Shah left to trigger a 24 hour street party. The reaction to Khomeini's return was much more restrained as I think many were expecting he'll be killed upon return, but he wasn't and we put aside our firecrackers to make Molotov Cocktails to greet the removal of monarchy from Iran forever.

What is perhaps more significant however, may be the brief period of about two years AFTER the revolution. I believe this period has perhaps had a larger influence on our outlook on life as a nation than any other recent periods. Most remember not having a police force or proper judiciary in place, yet almost no crime took place. People would get into car accidents, jump out, hug one another and walk away. This is where perhaps for the first time, we as a nation experienced freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and a free press. I don't think you can easily forget what you experience when you encounter freedom this way and for the first time. What you see today politically, be it the exiled opposition, so called "reformist" movement and others, are all coming from the generation that lived through that experience. This has deeply affected me and the generation before me, unfortunately the new majority you are referring to never got the chance to go through that.

Interesting. Though, I would somewhat characterize the two years after Khatami's landslide victory the same way. There was a sense of victory in the air. People were happier and somewhat hopeful. We thought we were going to take it all the way this time around. But I guess history repeats itself and so do our mistakes.

I was not in Iran for that interlude, but received a pretty good feel for it in regular interactions with those inside Iran. I suppose the main difference would be the diversity of what was presented and available. For example, in tose days and at Tehran University area, you would find hundreds of tables set up by every imaginable ideology and group you can think of. There were the Communists, the Maoists, Nationalists, Muslim leftists, Anarchists, and more. And not just one or two or five, you could find 20 or 30 Communist tables with a red flag, a poster of Che and a copy of Marx's Das Kapital, each belonging to a different organization or faction.

Another memory I have is traveling through Caspian coast, where each city was "owned" and controlled by one group or another, many of them literally don't exist anymore; one town was run by Sarbedaran, another by Peikar, next you'd drive into a larger city and they were typically controlled by either Mojahedin or Hezbollahis who were called Jonbeshi and Falanje or Chomaghdar respectively at the time, then you'd enter Rahe-Kargar territory, and soon after Fadaeian. It was a never ending experience and one would get exposed to all these different people and opinions. I don't believe the 2nd of khordad period was anything close, as it relates to diversity of ideas but you mentioned "hope" and I think that is the common factor between the two periods.

Since your migration to North America, you've been very politically active. Can you account for some of the groups and organizations you've been involved with?

There are too many for even me to remember, but I separate them into two categories of Iranian and non-Iranian entities. Not unlike many hamvatans abroad, I too have gone through periods of cutting off my own community and running away from my identity, in this case submerging myself with the non-Irani affiliations.

I have been the founder and volunteer director of Canadian Iranian Center for Liberty & Equality (CIRCLE), a human rights advocacy organization, started other efforts like Stop Deportation to Iran Campaign and briefly served as President of Iranian Community Association of Ontario.

On the other category, I've been part of various campaigns and efforts including acting as a delegate to a range of conventions and conferences on behalf of New Democratic Party of Canada (NDP) and was chosen by members of that party to run for a seat in Canada's Federal Parliament in 1997. Served as co-chair for election campaign for Mayor of Toronto, have worked with a number of trade-unions and labor groups, also acted on behalf of the wrongfully convicted and a few more efforts that I'm sure I am forgetting now.

How is the overall participation level among Iranians in these organizations?

Very little to non-existent. One of the reasons I ran for office was precisely because of that. I believe a large portion of our community abroad has never opened their luggage and is too pre-occupied with this real or fantasy possibility of running back home. We are so obsessed with what is going on in Iran, we never bother with the public life, politics and issues that shape our lives here, along with the lives of our current or future children.

I'm not suggesting we forget Iran or even that we will not go back, I think many of us will. But the truth is that many will not, due to life and family obligations here. Besides, it may be decades before the situation is to the point where we'd be even able to live there. Do we forget about our tax spending, education system and what our second-home is doing internationally to focus on our place of birth only? That would be insane. We need to get involved with issues of our current homes, get active in organizations and efforts here, while not forgetting our homeland too.

How as someone who reads your blog on a regular basis, it is obvious that you are a liberal (sometimes painfully so,) but what do you think is the motivation behind so many Iranian-Americans joining the GOP?

You must remember that unlike many other immigrant groups, we are not from similar backgrounds or social classes. Most Italians who immigrated to U.S. for example, came within a certain window and mostly as economical refugees from smaller cities and towns. They were attracted to jobs where their skills were needed and as such started groups and communities around industrial regions, their trade activities and the culture they all shared. Iranian immigrants on the other hand are from a very diverse set of circumstances and even varying sub-cultures. I don't expect the industrialist or major land owner who left the country with a certain financial situation to be very open to or be supportive of a socialist agenda, for example. There's very little in common between the goals or even the culture of a former royal army general and that of the university student who immigrated here a few years ago and was active in Khatami's campaign.

Furthermore, the crowd that is attracted to the policies and outlook of the Republican Party here, also holds positions of influence and money, so it is natural that you hear their side of the story much more often and with a good deal of noise. Going back to your question, do many Iranians in U.S. join or support the GOP? Yes, probably. But are they the majority or represent the views shared by most Iranians here? I highly doubt it.

I once wrote that in my view, most Iranians are socialists in nature and outlook, even if they don't identify themselves as such. Ideas of equality, respecting the environment, taking care of your neighbors and the disadvantaged and sharing the available wealth to better our communities together, are ideas most of us cherish as they are imbedded within our common culture. If you read any book attributed to the Shah, particularly ‘answer to history' or read Abbas Milani's great work on the life of Hoveyda, you will see that even these most recent symbols of right-wing capitalism and greed were infatuated with ideas that can at best be described as Social Democratic in nature more than anything else. Almost every political party and organization created in Iran over the last 100 years also shares certain economical and social programs that can be categorized as left-of-center. Some just barely on the left side of political spectrum, others all the way to the extremes. This is a reflection of the desires and positions most acceptable and favored by nearly all Iranians.

I don't believe this "survival of the fittest" and "everybody for their own" ideology of GOP and other right-wing parties appeal to many of us and even if we choose to support that party because we like the tax cut idea or blame Democrats for pushing Shah on human rights issues or any other reason, deep down we still have a different belief than what is fought for by ideologues of the right.

Comments
Seńor Gręd at December 10, 2003 06:12 PM [permalink]:

This was well-written.

P.S. What is GOP?!

Ordak D. Coward at December 10, 2003 06:16 PM [permalink]:

Seńor Gręd: Click here.

Seńor Gręd at December 10, 2003 06:23 PM [permalink]:

Confusing!

A totally confused (and disenchatned) Seńor Gręd at December 10, 2003 06:27 PM [permalink]:

I read it again, Ordak. Hmmm. So is it an acronym for the Republican Party? What a freaking misnomer!

Pedram at December 11, 2003 05:12 AM [permalink]:

GOP stands for Grand Old Party, another name for the Republican Party. See: http://www.gop.com/

Thanks Hamid and FreeThoughts for the effort in publishing this.

Seńor Gręd at December 11, 2003 01:57 PM [permalink]:

Thanks for the confirmation. I guess "Grand" is what makes it a misnomer. :-)

By the way, I'm not sure if I can totally agree with the idea that Iranians are socialist in spirit, but I find it interesting and worth exploring more.

An Iranian Student (AIS) at December 12, 2003 01:40 AM [permalink]:

I just want to remind everyone that it is precisely because of 'people' like this guy that we are in this hell today, not really becasue of islamic animal morans like Khomeini and the gang, the likes of them are found in every culture and nation, no, it is because of the gentleman above type that we are today where we are. Congratulations!

Just listen to him, the glorious first two years of revolution! really, how glorious that must have been! when people were executed day after day, like the minister of education that was killed because 'evolution theory' was taught during his office, and gigolos like this guy stood by and clapped and clapped until their own time came...and where did he go? to the Evil north Amerika! Not to the glorious USSR, glorious China, glorious Cuba, Glorious north Korea...not even to the glorious socialist 'France', no Sir, but to the mother of all evils in the world today...Why I like to know?
Or listen to him more, every city was in some idiot revolutionary moron's hand, Iran was near disintegration, there was no rule of law, and he finds that to be freedom! (sigh) typical , just SO typical!

And you think he has changed, he has repented? O No! Why should he leave such glorious ideals? just read his blog, he says little else than how Bush (and his side) is guilty for all that is wrong today!

Yes, congratulations indeed!
It's a pity Iran does not have as many genius prodigies like this guy as she should, or else what we couldn't have achieved? Going to Moon? We would be out of the solar system by now and show those nasty, evil, high nosed, imperialst americans who's the boss! Such a pity!

Visitor at December 17, 2003 08:31 PM [permalink]:

An Iranian STUDENT? student of what, stupidity? reading your comment reminded me of those Ansare Hezbollah in Iran that pretend they are university students and try to misguide others. so buddy, you aint fooling no one!

Comment Policy at December 17, 2003 11:16 PM [permalink]:

To FT on I monitors,
AIS is going to kill the civilized nature of this collective effort of dialogue and understanding, this in not his/her first time and I'm sure it wont be his/her last, s/he insulted other people and their belief in several other occasions. You had once taken out a comment because someone asked something about him/her belief. The first several times s/he his/her language of hatered and intolerance, I thought the FTI monitors had not pay attention to the it. But it seems there are double standards here.

yahya at December 18, 2003 12:54 AM [permalink]:

The language used by AIS in the comment above is inappropriate. To continue our constructive discussions in FToI, we need to use clean language and remain as logical as possible.

AIS at December 18, 2003 03:36 AM [permalink]:

I was out of line here and I do apologize for it. It's partly due to the frustration of the hell Iran has become today.
I didn't know any comments were deleted because of a question of my beliefs. If you like you can email me and ask me of that directly.
However "insulting other people's belief" is not clear and I don't understand it.

Jan at January 1, 2004 04:55 AM [permalink]:

Although the tone of the writer of the last comment above is not suitable, I as an outsider find his/her points correct in general. Maybe you can illuminate me as why you think all he/she says is so obviously wrong.

Seńor Gręd at January 1, 2004 08:36 PM [permalink]:

Whoa! I must have missed that exchange. I find FToI editors' commitment to freedom of thought (and speech) laudable. If nothing else, this forum is an exercise in tolerance for all who participate in it. Everybody who writes here, myself included, must expect to be attacked by other fellow contributors.

As for AIS, I don't really follow all her/his comments (sorry editors: because *you* should!), but as much as more often than not I disagree with her/his positions, I find his arguments to be equipped with the same "logic" that is so common among the majority of fellow Iranians that I have encountered. I think such comments like AIS's vaccinate this forum from falling into the hands of the minority of elites who cannot really speak the language of the common Iranian folk. Her/his discourse puts in front of us a vivid image of how the Iranian society 'thinks'.

Hers/his is a kind of logic, I must admit, that is hard to confront. Her/his discourse feels so right to Iranian ears. It is quite successful in provoking passion among us, Iranians. We feel like nodding and cheering to his words and repeating it to our friends in our pathetic political discussions.

Let's keep the like of AIS (as well as yours truly!) aboard as long as they haven't crossed the line. It's a blessing to have someone speak their mind. It's a blessing to have diversity of opinion. Otherwise, the forum will sink deep into banality and little good will come out of it.

Oddie at January 14, 2004 04:15 PM [permalink]:

Mr Moallemian,

What was so glorious about the first two years of revolution? Thousands of executions without even a proper trial? hanging of cops on trees and cutting their limbs and hand delivering them to their door(Tabriz Feb 1979)? dragging live soldiers on the streets while people cheered until they died (tabriz 1979). I personally witnessed these incidents and couldn't believe that people who lived in my city were capable of those horrific crimes.These were the same people who were marching on the streets everyday while I was standing on the sidewalk and thinking if we are doing the right thing or not. Shah made mistakes but once he was gone There was no need to bring home Khomeini.Khomeini didn't want a revolution to make life better for iranians, he wanted it to settle an old score with shah. Do you really believe living conditions improved for iranians? What about the freedom of speech? where is it Mr Moallemian? Corruption among mullas is so rampant that even makes old regime's thieves blush. It is sad but true that Khmoeni had brainwashed every man, woman and child that revoltuion was inevidable.