A startling split in the Iranian American community

While brave young women are being shot by police in Iran, their compatriots in America are being attacked for even suggesting negotiations with the regime.

Don’t bother showing up for the lecture that a prominent Iranian-American author was supposed to give at Harvard this month. It’s been “postponed.” Harvard acted after being bombarded with protests and threatened with a large-scale demonstration.

That gave me a free evening, since I was supposed to introduce the lecturer, Trita Parsi, author of three books about Iran. It also fits into a startling pattern of harassment and threats that has passionately split the Iranian American community. Those who favor negotiation with Iran, including a new nuclear deal, are being bitterly attacked by compatriots who reject any contact with the mullahs’ regime while brave girls and women are being shot by police back home.

Harvard’s cancellation was just the latest of several over the last few weeks. The first came on Oct. 18, when the University of Chicago canceled an appearance by the Iranian American journalist Negar Mortazavi after receiving a bomb threat. She and other female journalists who write about Iran have been barraged with chillingly explicit threats. After The New York Times published a story suggesting that American sanctions played a role in sparking the current uprising in Iran, it received a petition with 15,000 signatures denouncing the story’s author, Farnaz Fassihi, as “part of the dictatorial regime.” More than 100 scholars responded with a statement declaring that “these online smear and harassment campaigns falsely accuse female journalists of being agents or mouthpieces of the Iranian government, are often misogynistic and sexist in nature, and increasingly threaten physical harm or call for violence against these women.”

Men are also affected, minus the rape threats. This month a group in Seattle that was hosting the popular author Reza Aslan cancelled the event, citing “credible threats of disruption.” That was the third cancellation in a matter of days for Aslan, who is promoting his wonderful new book, “An American Martyr in Persia: The Epic Life and Tragic Death of Howard Baskerville.” He said the venues that wanted to host him had received hundreds of “cut and paste” emails denouncing him as an apologist for Iran’s government. A similar campaign has been launched against the National Iranian American Council, a pro-diplomacy lobby in Washington.

The wave of protests shaking Iran has dramatically sharpened the anger that now divides Iranian Americans. One group believes that only engagement will gradually draw the Islamic Republic toward moderation — and that in any case the value of a nuclear deal is so immense that negotiations must proceed regardless of domestic disturbances. Their militant critics believe that the current upheaval in Iran may be the Islamic Republic’s death knell, and that total isolation would hasten its collapse. They favor harsh sanctions on Iran, an end to nuclear diplomacy, the expulsion of Iranian diplomats from foreign capitals, and even the ejection of Iran’s soccer team from the forthcoming World Cup. (Mark your calendar: barring an ejection, Iran plays the United States on Nov. 29.)

Some Iranian Americans who believe the Islamic Republic is on the brink of collapse seem to be jockeying for positions in the next regime — much as Cuban exiles in Miami did for decades. An exile group formerly designated by the United States as terrorist, Mujahedin-e-Khalq, has been accused of mobilizing “bot armies” to foment hate campaigns against supporters of diplomacy. Even Iran’s “crown prince,” Reza Pahlavi, son of the deposed Shah, has jumped into the competition. At a press conference in Washington last month, he described the protests in Iran as a “national revolution” and called for formation of an “interim government.”

The female-led civic rebellion that has set off this frenzy is a product of Iran’s torturous history. Given its millennia of cultural and political achievement, its size and location, and the sophistication of its people, Iran should be one of the world’s leading nations. Instead it is poor, isolated, and torn by anger. What happened?

The answer takes us back to the traumatic hostage crisis of 1979-80, which is the subject of a deep-dive PBS documentary, “Taken Hostage,” that premieres Monday and Tuesday. (I appear briefly in it.) As this documentary shows, the overthrow of the Shah in 1979 did not guarantee the rise of a repressive religious regime. After radical students seized the US embassy in Tehran, though, Ayatollah Khomeini embraced their cause and purged his government of all who disagreed. That allowed him to consolidate religious power and create a political system that is not only brutal, incompetent, and corrupt but also insists on closely policing the private lives of citizens.

The PBS documentary takes modern Iran’s story farther back, to its true roots. In 1953 American and British agents organized a coup that deposed Iran’s democratic government, which had nationalized the oil industry. That coup set off a series of astonishing events: the Shah returned to power, revolutionaries deposed him after 25 years, and harsh religious rule followed.

The young women now braving bullets on Iranian streets are rebelling against all of this painful history. One of their movement’s glaring weaknesses is that it has no coherent leadership. Some Iranian Americans hope to provide it. The intolerance they are showing toward others suggests that they have fallen into the same mentality that has imprisoned generations of Iranians in an authoritarian cage.

Stephen Kinzer is a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University.

One Response

  1. Jason Crupper
    Jason Crupper at | | Reply

    Do any of these revolutionaries remember Mossadegh? They might want to learn something from the Congo’s history. They too suffered a series of intolerant regimes, in this case unrelated to religion but sheer authoritarianism. They had their revolution. They had leadership. They remembered Lumumba. There are Lumumba family members still existing who supported the revolution. They got a reasonable leader named Tshisekedi. They are struggling with Rwanda and the US deep state which keep sending them terrorists. There are unreasonable critics who blame Tshisekedi for not doing enough under these trying circumstances. Amini Cishugi seems to be a Congolese capitalist with an interesting blog that is 100% free of racialism, and my interactions with him have been positive. I found out from Congo My Country that Lumumba had conservative views about race.

    The Shah’s son might be a part of the solution if he concedes to limited constitutional monarchy. Wikipedia says that Mossadegh and Pahlavi agreed about secularism and nationalization but disagreed about limited constitutional monarchy. Is there anyone connected to Mossadegh who could lead a successful revolution as Prime Minister?

    I suspect that the left could be infiltrating the revolution to sabotage it by staging the bomb threats, much like they threatened the Capitol disguised as MAGA on 1/6. The left created a suspicious group called Women Hold Up Half the World, which tries to hijack the revolution. They demonize Republicans and pro-lifers. They push LGBTQCIA up the wazoo. Other leftist groups meanwhile apologize for the regime.

    The UN has also been known as a corrupt organization. They are funding terrorists in the DRC and South Sudan. They apologize for the regime and reportedly practice discrimination against the revolutionaries. The UN and the CIA are probably related.

    Do not stop with western organizations. The Boulé is worth investigating. They have reportedly canceled Marcus Garvey. They are also identified as the Black Underground by Fela Kuti and as the black bourgeoisie by Maurice Carney. They had a hand in the assassination of Sankara. Their members include George Padmore and WEB Dubois, who worked for Kwame Nkrumah. Nkrumah is a member for sure. Kimberly Ann Lawson reports that Nkrumah had his own secret society. The assassination of Lumumba is surrounded by suspicious circumstances that implicate Nkrumah as a collaborator. Ghanaian soldiers that Nkrumah had sent turned him over to Tshombe. Ralph Bunche called Lumumba a loose cannon when Lumumba was protesting the UN’s incompetence. Nkrumah himself made a similar insult, condescendingly telling Lumumba to be tactical. Unlike Nkrumah, Lumumba was not willing to sacrifice his country on the altar of Pan-Africanism. Nkrumah gave bauxite interests a sweetheart deal, contrary to his ideology. And his ideology is One Unified Socialist Africa, which is garbage.

    You say that democratic leaders were easy to overthrow and that authoritarian leaders were difficult to overthrow. Nkrumah was an authoritarian leader who was easy to overthrow in 1966. The CPP disappeared from the face of the earth. They looked for it and could not find it. My research leads me to conclude that Nkrumah was a CIA asset. The bauxite deal made him desirable. He was so unpopular that the CIA and the regime combined could not stop the coup. CIA intelligence had gathered that information and decided to coopt the coup in order to replace a puppet with a puppet and to ensure that future generations would demonize the coup. Many Africans are sentimental Nkrumaists who do not follow the socialism aspect today. What we are seeing in Iran could be a similar phenomenon. Iranians are getting tired of hero worship and want good governance. The western left would like nothing better than to sabotage the revolutions and install more puppets.

    It turns out that most third world revolutionists do not blame the west but blame their own leaders first. Their bad leaders have Western Derangement Syndrome and use the sordid history of neocolonialism as propaganda. Nkrumah used the Lumumba assassination as communist propaganda to justify the one party dictatorship. Hichilema apparently got help from Biden, liberated Zambia, and fooled the globalists. He now sympathizes with Lulu da Silva. He apparently dislikes Bolsonaro. The revolutionaries once again look up to us, and the deep state stabs them in the back. The cycle repeats.

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