Author: Negin Alavie

January 5, 2021

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

Negin 

Toronto

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

Negin 

Toronto

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

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Negin 

Toronto

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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