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To Be Iranian in Colorado Today: with Ibrahim Kazerooni and Rob Prince. KGNU – Hemispheres, Middle East Dialogues. July 23, 2019 – Transcript, Part One

July 24, 2019

Afshin Shariate and his lawyer, Denver’s legendary (no exaggeration) defense lawyer Walter Gerash

“To Be An Iranian in Colorado” Transcript – KGNU – Hemispheres, Middle East Dialogues. July 23, 2019. TranscriptPart One.

What was the Iran nuclear deal?

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the Iran Nuclear Deal) was an attempt to normalize U.S.-Iranian relations after decades of mistrust and hostility. That normalization had – or was meant to have – consequences far beyond Iran. The normalization of relations with Iran could have been the first step for making peace with Syria; there was even talk – you can read it in the news of the day – that the improved U.S.- Iranian relations would give momentum to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. It seemed “the sky was the limit”. So that agreement was not simply about whether or not the Iranians would put a lid on the enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of sanctions (which never happened). The JCPOA was a statement – Iran exists, it’s not going away, it won’t be defeated militarily, the U.S. might as well negotiate.

Jim Nelson: This evening on Hemispheres we continue the Middle East Dialogues and as always joining me from Dearborn Michigan is Ibrahim Kazerooni. Rob Prince is with us in the studio. We have a special guest in the studio this evening, Kevin Amerihsani. Kevin analyzes the politics and economics of Iran for the Economist Intelligence Unit. He is also the head of the Colorado chapter of the National American-Iranian Council, or NIAC as well as a current board member of the Abrahamic Initiative, a Denver based organization committed to increasing interfaith understanding through understanding

Ibrahim Kazerooni: It (the Abrahamic Initiative) is the same organization I used to head up for four whole years during the good old days when I lived in Denver, Colorado. It was based at the Episcopal Church.

Jim Nelson: So let’s get started. This evening’s discussion topic is about Islamophobia, specifically its manifestations targeting Iranians in Colorado and the United States as a whole.

Looking back historically, one can find many examples of the roots of the current Islamophobia in the West. I was first made aware of it by reading Edward Said’s book, Orientalism. Said points out that the world “oriental” has had a long deep dark history in the West. We’ll be getting into some of that history later in the program.

The more recent history for Iranians living in the United States is the overthrow of the Shah and the impact of (1979) Iranian Revolution. Since then Iran has experienced forty years of verbal as well as military aggression. This has had a racist impact on Iranians living here in the United States.

More recently the Obama Administration signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the Iran Nuclear Deal), resulting in a breakthrough in some respects. This appeared to be a watershed breakthrough in U.S.-Iranian relations, the beginning of a normalization of those diplomatic relations, a easing of tensions to some degree. But then Donald Trump was elected U.S. president in 2016 and the situation soured once again, with Trump withdrawing from the agreement. Now we’re back to Reagan-era levels of verbal and military threats, possibly even worse than in the past.

All the while Iranians and other Middle Easterners living in the United States have had to deal with a great deal of hatred that the actions that the United States government’s actions inspires. It leads to the incitement of individuals and hate groups to attack individuals as well as religious sites, against what they wrongly perceive as an enemy.

With that, let’s turn the program over to Rob.

Rob Prince: To begin with, as always, nice to be here, glad to have Kevin among us.

Tonight we’re going to talk about a subject that is rarely covered, “off the radar” and we’re going to try to put it “on the radar.” The essence of the program is “What is it like to be an Iranian in Colorado?” that is the main theme, Given that, we look at how local hatred has been used, misused and projected internationally as a pretext for war-making.

I wanted to start off by citing two incidents that are kind of “book ends’ for anti-Iranian prejudice in America – one that comes just after the Iranian Revolution of 1979 on the one hand. For those of you who were in Colorado at that time I think you might remember it.

The other “book end’ is a message that was sent of all places to my blog in response to the announcement of this program earlier today.

In December of 1980 there was a significant trial in Denver. The trial entailed the accusation of first degree murder against a man named Afshin Shariati. He was a young Iranian – for those of you familiar with Denver – living down by Loretto Heights College. Six days after Iranian students seized the U.S. Embassy in Teheran, a number of Denver teenagers had gotten drunk and went off on an anti-Iranian rampage. Three of them went  “to find Iranians”. They were looking at garden apartment mailboxes for names that they thought were Iranian. At this one garden apartment they found the name “Shariati” – I seriously doubt they knew what an Iranian name was, but they happened to have been right. They headed for Shariati’s second floor garden apartment and proceeded to smash in Shariati’s living room window with baseball bats. Terrified, Shariati happened to have a gun (if I remember correctly a rifle). In (what a jury determined was) self defense, he killed one of the intruders and wounded the two others. Shortly thereafter Shariati was indicted on second degree murder charges for killing one of the intruders, Paul Moritzky, aged 15.

For those of you who weren’t in Denver at the time, what you want to keep in mind is the level of anti-Iranian hysteria that had burst forth nationwide in the period after the Iranian Revolution had begun, after the hostages were seized at the American Embassy. I remember thinking of how that hostility had burst forth seemingly out of nowhere; it was very intense. In those days I remember traveling across the country and seeing graffiti – of a kind I had never seen before – “Nuke Iran”, “F-ck Iran.” So this case was tried in a moment of great (anti-Iranian) hysteria. Shariati’s defense lawyer was – and I don’t use the word lightly – a legendary Denver defense lawyer, Walter Gerash. Shariati was found not-guilty on all charges, which given the environment at the time was impressive.

I mention this case because it marks the outset of the anti-Iranian hysteria.

More recently, today, I got this beautiful note, admittedly from a friend of mine, on my blog. It’s from Mike Wilzock, who has a long history of social activism, most particularly in the trade union movement. I want to read it to you.

“My daughter is half Chicana, and sensitive to folks who look and sound differently than white bread gringos. She innocently asked her hair stylist where she was from. In a barely audible voice, she said Iran, and my daughter followed up with some questions about that experience. A tear came to her eyes, and my daughter apologized and asked what was wrong. She replied that just her accent and darker skin was increasingly subjecting her to verbal and non-verbal harassment. And if her country of origin came up, she feared for her safety. Even for those of us who act in solidarity with these struggles, fully comprehending the breadth and depth of this disease and the damage caused is hard to truly fathom. So much more is needed from us to turn this around.”

Thank you for that comment, Mike. So from the beginning of 1980 until this morning, nearly forty years later, we see an unending pattern, the targeting of hatred against people of Iranian background. It matters not at all if they defend or oppose the government in power there.

We’re going to come back to this comment – and look at what it means to be Iranian in the USA today…but before that, some context…

President Trump has essentially opened his 2020 campaign with a fullblown racist offensive; his campaign is going to be based heavily on playing the race card. This campaign will be expressed in different ways, but one of the key cutting edges is an attack on immigrants. Nothing new – both racism and attacks on immigrants have been a part and parcel of his political program from the beginning…

Most recently Trump has fixated on four female, non-white members of the House of Representatives – telling them “If you are not happy here, you can leave”… Targeted are Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna S. Pressley, Rashida Tlaib. This attack combines people from the world over: a Latino, a Somali and Palestinian woman both Muslim, an Afro-American Black, – a generic attack on non-whites whose roots are in the Third World – racist and misogynistic.

The fact that he has actually stepped up his attack on these four, repeating it already several times in a week, suggests the degree to which racism will figure large in the upcoming presidential contest and that Trump will play the race card to the hilt.

Trump’s use of racism domestically connects, if you like, to the use of racism abroad, as a pretext for war-making. Our country has used this pretext repeatedly. As Ibrahim noted in one of our earlier conversations prior to the program, the United States has played this racist card repeatedly through time, whether we’re talking about the ethnic cleansing of Native Americans, discrimination against Germans during World War One, the rounding up of Japanese into concentration camps during World War II… many KGNU listeners are familiar with the pattern. Islamophobia and the targeting of Iranians, thus is a part of a larger historical pattern for this country; it’s simply the most recent example of playing this race card, used domestically as a pretext for going to war internationally.

Concerning Islamophobia – it’s a broad term that is not only about Iran obviously. Islamophobia as it effects Iran has a certain history – we’ve already referred to it. It emerges “up from the depths” after the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and has been with us ever since. We’ve talked about this on the Hemispheres frequently and I’m not going to repeat all that other than to say that it was hardly a factor until 1979.

What intensified Islamophobia was of course 9-11. President Bush referred to a “crusade” against Islam – even though he withdrew the accusation, it was out there, in the air and remains so.

More recently I would simply point out the consequences of Trump’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or as it is more commonly known, the Iran nuclear deal. Jim was talking about this at the outset. Keep this in mind.

What was the Iran nuclear deal?

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the Iran Nuclear Deal) was an attempt to normalize U.S.-Iranian relations after decades of mistrust and hostility. That normalization had – or was meant to have – consequences far beyond Iran. The normalization of relations with Iran could have been the first step for making peace with Syria; there was even talk – you can read it in the news of the day – that the improved U.S.- Iranian relations would give momentum to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. It seemed “the sky was the limit”. So that agreement was not simply about whether or not the Iranians would put a lid on the enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of sanctions (which never happened). The JCPOA was a statement – Iran exists, it’s not going away, it won’t be defeated militarily, the U.S. might as well negotiate.

A very reasonable response to the geo-political realities of the day, and a step towards reducing regional tensions.

By withdrawing from that agreement, we go in the opposite direction. Much of the tension that exists today is based on the Trump Administration tearing up that agreement. Unfortunately, if Washington is not working on normalizing relations and working towards peace, well, the opposite its taking place: working towards war. In a country that is working toward war, it is commonplace to hear a great deal of racist commentary, half truths, lies, whatever (about Iran) in the media and from the government spokespersons.

With that in mind, “to be an Iranian in Colorado” – Kevin, what’s it like.

End Part One – to be continued.

Part Two, Three

 

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