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.