January 5, 2021

Roqe Read #r: Negin re U.S. Election: Change or Same Old for Iran?



U.S. Election: Change or Same Old for Iran?

Roqe Read #r: Negin re U.S. Election: Change or Same Old for Iran?

There is little doubt that the majority of Iranian people are unhappy with the dire social, political and economic situation inside Iran. Iranian are tired of the political restrictions, sanctions, and its economic fallout. They certainly do not want their country to remain in isolation or in constant propaganda war with the West. But even though they have a lot of grievances with the status quo, would the Iranian people embrace change by outside influence? Would they allow the western world (U.S. in particular) to be the instigator of change?

I find myself asking these questions after listening to the engaging
discussion that took place on Roqe, Episode #59.

On this episode, acclaimed author and academic, Dr. Mehrzad
Boroujerdi, and broadcaster and political analyst, Reza Goharzad
joined Jian in an informative chat amidst the confusing aftermath of the U.S. election. What I learned from their conversation was that, regardless of what Iranians inside Iran may want, the Iranian-American community is just as polarized as the rest of the American population about a prescription for change – a point that was made repeatedly on the show.

some Iranian-Americans praise Donald Trump

It may surprise some non-Iranians – given the Travel Ban, the
rhetoric, and bluster we have heard from the current administration –
that there is a healthy 

contingent of Iranian-Americans who praise the current President, Donald Trump, for his hard-line stance against the Iranian regime. What is also true, is that a majority of others support Biden because they believe, for example, that the sanctions imposed by Trump only hurt the ordinary citizens of Iran and further entrench the regime.

Evidently, the US sanctions have had a deleterious effect on the Iran-
ian economy and have contributed to the sharp currency devaluation and high inflation. Iran has recently experienced record-breaking un- employment rates, as well as shortages of food and basic staples. This dire situation has only seemingly entrenched the polarization of the Iranian community.

Again, some Iranians believe that another four years with Trump in the White House would mean the continuation of his “maximum pressure” policy, which could further damage Iran’s economy and stop the country from exporting its crude oil. And of course all of this only hurts the Iranian middle-class and strengthens the hardliners.

For these folks, Biden’s election is a relief as they hope his presiden-
cy might avert the risks of a U.S.- Iran conflict, partially ease the sanctions, and improve the living condition of ordinary Iranians. This group even hopes for a renegotiation of the nuclear deal (JCPOA) and the possibility of future deals to boost Iran’s economy. 

Some Iranian-American Trump supporters on the other hand, would like to see even more sanctions and pressure imposed on Iran. Their ratio-nale is that Trump’s strict policies push Iran into a deeper recession.

Iranian Politics discussed in Roqe They believe that as the regime is economically suffocated, it will
project the pressure onto its own people for survival. An example of
this was when the Iranian government lifted the gasoline subsidies,
which lead to nation-wide protests in November of last year in Iran.

Trump supporters believe that these sporadic protests could poten-
tially lead to a nationwide uprising and that drastic measures from outside are the only way to achieve change inside Iran.

is the notion of a U.S.-influenced change in Iran a fantasy

Having listened to both sides of the argument, I still cannot help but
wonder if the notion of a U.S.-influenced change is nothing but sheer fantasy. It is important to remember that Iran and U.S. have a long and complicated history, going back to the 1953 coup and later the 1979-1981 hostage crisis. Indeed, maybe Iranian politics is more complex than American policymakers fathom. And even though Iranians are hungry for more social and economic freedom than their leaders permit, they are nationalistic people and can clearly see evidence all around them that foreign-instigated change can come with catastrophic results.

And this brings me to my questions:

a) Do you believe that the Iranian people will ultimately be the win-
ners if there is a foreign-instigated regime change, especially if the U.S. is the main actor in making the change?;

b) Will the essence of U.S. foreign policy be any different with a new
administration, or is it more of a change in optics but pretty much be
the same old, same old?

Feel free to leave your thoughts and comments below…

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November 16, 2020

Roqe Read #r: Negin re Episode #55, Shima Mehri



An Iranian Female Biker Riding into History

Iranian Female Biker Shima MehriHave women in contemporary Iran become the primary agents of social change? And if so, what are we doing in the diaspora- men and women alike- to support them? Is it possible to completely break away from our conditioning rooted in a society with monolithic gender stereotypes?

These questions come to mind when listening to Shima Mehri’s very candid interview on Episode #55 of Roqe.

I found her talk with Jian to be inspiring. As an Iranian female biker and the first female Head Road Captain for Harley Davidson, Shima symbolizes the courageous young women of contemporary Iran, who are redefining traditional female roles despite cultural barriers.

Shima was born in 1980 in Tehran to a Muslim family. When she was only ten years old, she traveled to Austria with her father. She recalled seeing a group of female bikers and being instantly inspired to one day become like one of them. Under the Islamic law, women are not (at least, officially) allowed to ride bicycles and motorcycles in public. Therefore, Shima’s dream would not be realized until much later and only after she had left Iran. She obtained her first riding license following a move to Dubai in 2008. In 2012 Shima rode 805 Km in 12 hours non-stop and became the first woman to do such challenge and won the GCC (Golden Cycling Club) award. In 2014, she got the title of Road Captain for Harley Davidson and in 2015 she did her second challenge and rode 1700 Km in 19 hours non-stop. In May of 2016, and only two months after a road accident that lead to a spinal fracture, Shima became the first woman to ever achieve the title of the Head Road Captain for Harley Davidson.

Shima Mehri on Roqe With Jian Ghomeshi

Her interview with Jian resonated with me as an Iranian woman who grew up in post revolutionary Iran of ‘80s and ‘90s. At that time, Iran was a society with a rigid dichotomy of gender roles (not that it is drastically different now). Women were marginalized and faced inequitable laws surrounding family, employment, political participation, and personal rights and security. Simply put, men were continuously exalted and women were de- valued. Like Shima, I had to leave Iran to realize my dream of having equal rights and equal access to opportunities. I live in hope that things have changed – or are evolving – but it is clearly a long road

In recent years, Iranian women inside Iran have been at the forefront of social and cultural change, but this has come at a great cost in that many have been imprisoned, silenced by intimidation, or simply driven out. I believe that those of us, like Shima, that have found a path to our dreams and freedom outside of Iran have an obligation to help those fighting for their dreams inside Iran.

Shime Mehri Iranian Female Biker

Even though Shima did not openly call herself a feminist or a women’s rights activist in this interview, and does not seem to see herself as a formal kind of “activist”, her actions are challenging gender norms and perceptions about what a woman can or cannot do. Women like Shima, each in their own right, are blazing the path for change toward female empowerment. They are softening the lines that define gender roles and stereotypes.

Of course, many fundamental structures and institutions must be changed according to Iranian women’s needs and demands inside of Iran. And this brings me to my first question. Does the Iranian diaspora have a responsibility to  support Iranian women inside Iran in their endeavor for gender equality? And if so, what are some of the changes you have implemented in your own family unit to challenge patriarchal values and stereotyped gender roles? More specifically perhaps, to the Iranians out there, would you support your daughter or wife if she decided to be a biker?

Feel free to leave me your thoughts and comments below

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October 26, 2020

Roqe Read #3: Negin re Episode #54, Reza Rohani




Reza Rohani and The Flight of Talent​

What price is to be paid for not being able to follow your passion in your own home country? Is it always exodus? And do talented people, and those who push the boundaries and think outside of the box, always have to leave Iran to be authentic and successful? And what does that leave behind in the place of ancestry of so many of us in the diaspora?

in-depth interview with Reza Rohani

This comes to mind upon hearing Episode #54 of Roqe and the story of Reza Rohani.

Reza is the son of the famous composer and pianist, Maestro Anoushiravan Rohani. Like his father, Reza is a pianist, a musician, and a composer. But unlike his more traditional dad, it seems Reza ultimately had to leave Iran simply because his music transcended acceptable thresholds set forth by Iranian authorities.

Reza rohani in roqe with Jian Ghomeshi

As an active and culturally-interested member of the Iranian diaspora, I find myself regularly torn between nostalgia for the familiar, and an urge for a novel and foreign experience. Persian jazz and jazz fusion music somehow seems to satisfy those conflicting interests. I’m a fan of jazz and was aware of Reza Rohani.

in depth conversation with Reza rohani

Mind you, I have to admit that before hearing this interview, I had heard some of Reza’s jazz but mostly knew him as the protégé of his father, and one of the judges of the Stage program on Manoto. This interview gave me insight into Reza’s life and challenges. It was a warm and connected conversation with Jian. But the takeaway as well for me was that I learned that despite his hopeful and positive disposition, there were many obstacles in his musical career. Some of which involved making music that just doesn’t “fit” with Iran under the current regime.

Reza rohani in Roqe , roqe read

Reza was born in 1977 into a family of musicians who cradled him with love for music. Naturally, Reza started playing the piano from a young age under the guidance and mentorship of his father. At the age of fifteen he left Iran and was sent to Germany to study classical music. While attending the Bavarian College of music, Reza took a keen interest in jazz music, which today has become a distinguishing trait of Reza’s compositions and performances. When Reza finished his musical education and returned to Iran, he soon found himself caught between his creative aspirations and the harsh reality of being a progressive musician in Iran. Many of Reza’s songs were banned in Iran, and in order to pursue his musical dreams and vision, he left Iran to find a place with a more fertile and diverse and open music industry.

Iranian Jazz Fusion, Reza Rohani

Reza Rohani now lives in California and creates music, which in his own words is not simply Iranian or western music, but a new genre that entails critical elements of both cultures. When I heard Reza’s life journey, I could not help but to feel sad. Reza is a successful artist with a positive outlook on life and from a good lineage.

He deserves to be praised and recognized in his home country. And he clearly is not unhappy with his disposition. But even when faced with a success story like Reza Rohani, I am still confronted with the reality of someone having to leave their homeland in order to find their dreams. And it invites questions…if the creative and progressive talents are always in flight, what is left behind? And do we thereby define “Iranian culture” by some of the wealth of talent, like Reza Rohani, we have in the diaspora? And if so, what is left for “culture” inside Iran?

I invite comments or thoughts on this. Feel free to leave your words below…

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October 1, 2020

Roqe Read #2: Navan re Episode #44, Farid Zoland

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Navan. 23


Major Streams, Minor Dollars

Hello friends! I am Navan and this is the second Roqe Read.
As a singer and songwriter, I will never forget the first song I wrote; when I listened to it for the first time, the head rush was unexplainable; It made me feel as though I had created an art piece. Ever since, for the majority of songs that I write I get the same sense within me. Listening back, I can’t resist closing my eyes, swinging my head, and feeling the love and emotions I put into writing it.

Like most younger singers, I did not choose this path for its monetary aspect; I chose it for the sensation that I get from singing and writing songs. This is especially common in the Persian music industry, and specifically for those living in the diaspora. An artist can write a song and it can get millions of views from different platforms like Telegram and Radio Javan, but the monetary return is minor or often zero.
This is not at all the case in Western music where composers and writers get full credit and compensation. So why is this the case with us? Simply, because royalty and copyright laws are almost absent in the Persian music industry.

Farid Zoland On Roqe with Jian Ghomeshi

The 44 th episode of Roqe, with the legendary composer Farid Zoland, made me realize that our love of great songs is rich among Iranian artists and audiences, but so are royalty and copyright violations.

If you know any popular Iranian music, and you were to sit down and think about ten of your favourite Persian songs of all time, whether from Ebi, Hayedeh, Dariush, Googoosh or any other legendary singers, it’s entirely likely that at least a couple of those songs have emerged from the brilliant creativity of Farid Zoland.

Farid Zoland is a one-of-a-kind composer who has written more than 261 popular songs (many of them mega-hits) for the most well-known performers to come from Iran over the past 50 years. The 44 th Episode of Roqe is an epic and compelling conversation between Mr. Zoland and Jian. It is an interview that gives the audience a fiesta of feelings…from laughter to anger.

Faird Zoland Iranian legendary Composer

Now, you may be reading the first parts of this piece thinking, “Farid who?” And that is part of the focus of the interview. Most Western artists and composers are known for a couple songs that took off and made them millions of dollars; Farid Zoland, just like many other Iranian composers, has made virtually nothing from royalty fees for songs that have millions of streams online (let alone being played on the radio, TV or in concerts).

To put this into perspective, let us use Spotify and YouTube, two music streaming platforms, as examples. 1,000,000 views on Spotify generates approximately $7,000 for the composer (CNBC, 2018) ; YouTube can generate anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 for the same amount of streams. Farid Zoland’s “Atre To”, performed by Ebi, has 1.9 million views on YouTube, uploaded from Ebi’s official account. In the credit section, there is no mention of the name of the composer nor the Lyricist, Shahyar Ghanbari.
This likely means that neither of them has received a cent from this song through YouTube. What saddened me the most was Shahyar Ghanbari’s own comment under the video on YouTube “ LYRICS: SHAHYAR GHANBARI – MUSIC FARID ZOLAND” ( YouTube ).

In-depth interview With Farid Zoland Roqe- Iranian Diaspora- Farid ZolandJian Ghomeshi, Farid Zoland Roqe

In this interview, Farid Zoland’s words are heartbreaking. I could hear the anger and sadness in his expressions. He and several iconic composers and lyricists like Hassan Shamaezadeh, Ardalan Sarfaraz, and Iraj Janati Ataei have joined to take the legal route to collect their financial rights. Farid explains to Jian that the singers he is involved in suing for compensation are his friends. Or were. And yet, they refuse to pay the portion of the rights belonging to other parties involved in the song. Zoland describes the endless hours and the sea of emotions he pours into composing his songs for these singers; millions of streams, millions of memories for millions of people. But Farid Zoland now hates to hear those songs because of the pain of his rights being violated and a general lack of recognition.

Music Composer Farid Zoland on roqe

Of course, this violation of international copyrights for Iranian composer and writers is not just about Farid Zoland alone. This is a systematic issue running into every thread of the Persian music industry. It may be true that copyright laws are not well respected and enforced in Iran; yet, when mega-artists, now living in the U.S, who receive $250,000 or the like for private performances, fail to respect the fair remuneration of the songwriters and the lyricists, a sense of outrage fills my mind.

Roqe Episode With Farid Zoland

As a singer and lyricist myself, with each day, I am learning the importance of copyright and giving credit to all people involved in the production process of a song. Farid Zoland is an iconic composer with hundreds of millions of streams and dozens of huge hit songs ranging from the 1970s to today. The same Farid Zoland is paying thousands of dollars in legal costs to simply ask artists to pay the royalty fees that belong to him. Unfairness is understatement for this kind of treatment. The absence of royalty rights is likely a top factor discouraging brilliant young Iranian talents to put their passion into use. I strongly hope for a thorough systematic change in the way composers and lyricists’ right are respected and hope artists like Farid Zoland can collect their royalty rights in a near future.

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September 7, 2020

Roqe Read #1: Navan re Episode #38, Abbas Milani

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Navan. 23


The Brainwashed Me

Hi. Welcome. This is our first Roqe Read! My name is Navan. I am a singer, songwriter and a musician who also happens to have an enthusiasm for writing. Aside from my creative side, I am a recent graduate with a commerce degree. For some reason, the fancy parts of my field of study didn’t interest me enough so I ended up majoring in Business Law. I moved to Canada when I was twelve from Tehran. I recently decided to put my writing passion into practice which is why I will provide you with a quick read outlining parts of the Roqe podcast that I think are a “must listen”. In this and (hopefully!) future blogs, I will reference the minute of the episode for your convenience to go and check it out. To make it even easier for you, I will embed the link in each reference so that you are only a click away from accessingthe episode.

Where is Home?

I left Iran ten years ago as a youth who was full of pride and hope for his home country. A decade later, I have a crippling pride; one that makes me run away from my deep Persian roots. Over the last ten years I have distanced myself from reading news about Iran - the place where I passed the sweetest years of my childhood. Every written piece with the name of my country- my home- is often entrenched with negativity and heartbreaking sadness. I remember when I heard the news of the airplane getting shot down by Iranian authorities earlier this year, I was anxiously walking back and forth in my room thinking “what are they doing to my people?”. Ever since, my hope towards a democratic Iran has faded, forcefully making me pretend that maybe Canada is my home; Maybe Toronto is my city…that is…until I heard the latest Roqe episode with Abbas Milani ( YouTube ).

in depth interview With Abbas Milani

The Iranian Revolution, an Absolute Failure I surprised myself by how much this interview affected me. I found the episode so interesting that I listened to it twice. Today, the global population constantly questions traditional views towards historical figures and events, causing protests where participants destroy centuries’ old monuments.

Abbas Milani in roqe with Jian Ghomeshi
The conversation between Jian and Abbas Milani questions the common notions towards the Shah and the Islamic regime, keeping me engaged until the last second. Roqe’s episode 38, sheds light on an era that often-whether negative or positive, is spoken with bias. Milani calls the Iranian revolution “an absolute failure”, considering the initial stated objectives of Khomeini; he further elaborates that the Islamic leader’s goal was to have a solid Islamic society rather than an economically strong one. Despite this failure, Milani suggests a second revolution within forty years may be “too much to expect” from Iranians; especially when Iran’s population is consistently being monitored with the great intellectual technologies that the regime harnesses ( 1:13:45 ).

Iranian Politic and Culture in Roqe

The Shy Shah?

I studied in Iran until the age of twelve and the history taught in schools was extremely biased against the Pahlavi’s, or frankly against all monarchies before the Islamic regime. I often wondered why the Shah was consistently called a “violent leader” or a “U.S Puppet”. Jian and Mr. Milani extensively discuss the character of the Shah where the guest suggests he was too timid, at times, to use violence against his own people. Recent declassified documents also demonstrate Mohammad Reza Shah’s independence from the U.S and the British, where he initiated nuclear energy plants against the foreign leaders’ wishes. These notions made me rethink my socialized views towards the last Pahlavi leader and encouraged me to question my traditional perspective towards my home country ( 00:19:00 ). I cannot be sure exactly what the Shah was like. But I am now more inspired to ask questions about all that I had learned.

Iranian Culture, politics and art

The Sweet Moment of Pride

Aside from all the intellectual questions, the last couple minutes of this conversation made me tear up. Jian asks, “what does being an Iranian means to Abbas Milani?” Milani speaks with pride about his country of origin, saying that Iran is “one of the most remarkable civilizations that the world has ever known; this is a culture that’s given us Zoroastrianism, one of the most influential religions in the world”; he speaks of Iranians creating multicultural empires that promoted human rights and about Irangifting the world with some of the greatest architects. On the other hand, Milani also mentions that our history contains a mixture of barbarian deeds referencing the killing of many by Persian historical figures; nevertheless, he emphasizes that this combination should carefully be taken into consideration.

Jian Ghomeshi, Abbas Milani, Iranian Diaspora
Milani encourages Iranians to take a stance against the current views towards Iran, informing the world that this regime does not represent our Iran and says, “Iran is Iran”. Abbas Milani’s one-minute response made me take a deep breath. Strangely, I had a slight smile on my face while tears were running from my eyes. Maybe it is best for us to reflect on our past more than what we see on our social media feeds.
Maybe we are victims of historical brainwashing? Maybe we should take a pause from living in a denial of our roots and speak up against stereotypical views? Maybe all of that. I am re-learning that we originated in a rich soil where the greatest empires took shape    ( 1:25:50 ). Maybe that’s worth a lot.

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April 16, 2020

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