Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Lisa Daftari, a journalist specializing in Iranian affairs. She is a guest contributor on Fox News and has been published in Frontpage Magazine, Washington Post, CBS.com, NBC, Voice of America, and PBS. She communicates with individuals living in Iran and tells their stories. In 2006, she was invited to show her documentary on bringing regime change to Iran to a subcommittee of Congress.
FP: Lisa Daftari, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Tell us about your work in regards to Iran and what inspires you to engage in it.
Daftari: As a journalist, I am drawn to human stories, particularly ones that demonstrate the effects that society and politics have on ordinary peoples’ lives. In the case of Iran, these stories are quite numerous and revealing. Whether it is a story about a young girl who was arrested for her voicing her political views or a father of two who is forced to work four jobs just to put food on the table, I think these stories are the best ways to understand the struggles of the Iran people right now. It is a well-known fact that the Islamic Republic is a radical, fundamentalist and unjust government, but through talking to the Iranian people and understanding their lives can we better grasp how this regime plays a role in daily routine of the people.
FP: What has drawn you to Iran?
Daftari: Obviously my background, as an Iranian-American, has played a significant role in fostering my passion and interest in the area. Every time I had a research assignment or paper in school, I would find some way to do my project on Iran. Growing up, I was incredibly cognizant of the Iranian Revolution of 1979, or the Enghelab, the word for revolution in Farsi. I knew that it had changed the fate of my family significantly and that is how we found ourselves living in this country. My family, like many other Iranian families, shared these conversations and anecdotes at the dinner table. My siblings and I felt a deep nostalgia for a time period we did not live through and yearned to understand and experience that time for ourselves. Later when I became a journalist, I wanted to tell human stories in the backdrop of larger social, political and cultural issues. Clearly, starting with my own people felt most natural, particularly when the Iranian people experienced their most crucial historic moment only 30 years ago.
FP: Tell us a bit about the radical, fundamentalist and unjust government that rules over Iranians.
Daftari: The Iranian people see their government as an imported entity; a group of fundamentalists whose beliefs in radical Islam are stronger than their nationalistic ties to the country. This clashes strongly against a large population of Iranians who consider themselves extremely patriotic. We also have to remember that Iran is made up of a rich cross section of various religions, cultures and dialects. Obviously there is no government that can represent them all, yet they share and celebrate the Iranian culture and old heritage they have in common.
Above all, this regime, cloaked in religious fundamentalism, angers the people with its hypocritical actions. They deny the people so many of their basic rights, yet we have extensive evidence of their own indulgent lifestyles. We know of their lavish vacations around the world, their lucrative real estate portfolios, their international bank accounts storing millions of dollars, and their access to some of the world’s best universities for their children. The people of Iran are savvy and resent the double standards.
FP: You have researched the Iranian American community and its evolvement over the last 30 years. Can you enlighten us a bit on your findings and observations?
Daftari: The Iranian American community has developed an extremely unique dual identity. Over the last thirty years, many of these Iranians had lost hope in ever going back to their homeland, and likewise in ever seeing this government change. The result has been an Iranian American community that has emerged quite successfully. They are represented in all types of occupations and areas of business. They have excelled in politics, music, film, fashion, real estate and technology. They have raised their American born children to share an unwavering allegiance to the United States. In June however, it was remarkable to see how invested even American born Iranians were in the fate of their inherited homeland. In large cities across the U.S., Iranians and Iranian Americans gathered by the thousands to stand in solidarity with the protestors in Iran. They felt a real glimmer of hope with this political impetus that really moved the community. They had been waiting for such a moment for a long time.
FP: We know of course that Iranians are still bravely protesting and being tortured every day. The fascists who rule the country are cracked down on the protests and continue to crack down viciously and sadistically. Your thoughts? What’s coming up?
Daftari: Many describe the Iranian people at the time of the protests as a pot that boiled over. The impetus, or better yet, the excuse, was frustration over a fraudulent election, but the reality was that the Iranian people, both in Iran and abroad, had been waiting three decades for such a moment. With every breach of justice, with every hanging, with every whip that slashed down on an innocent woman’s arm, for every stone that was violently hurled at a young Iranian’s head, the grievances had amassed.
Since last June, Iranians came out in protest during holidays and other commemorative days, particularly those momentous to the regime. They came out on these days to show that their grievances are directly against the regime. By protesting on Islamic holidays and on days special to the Islamic Republic, they made a stand against the government and what it stands for. The people of Iran are incredibly nationalistic. They are patriotic and their Iranian heritage runs deeper and stronger than anything else.
We are coming up on the one-year anniversary of those protests, and Iranians are organizing for smaller demonstrations. We are seeing an evolving Iranian force, partly as a result of the threats that the regime has made against those who come out and partly because the Iranians realize that to be shot at, beaten and rounded up and taken to prison is not going to be the avenue to freedom. The main issue for the protestors is and has been a lack of leadership and strategy.
FP: Why is it, in your perspective, important to talk about Iran in the context of its people and their experiences and disenchantment?
Daftari: In the case of Iran, it is imperative to get to know the people, their struggles, their experiences and what they really want going forward. The Iranian people are multi-faceted. Iran is such a vast country that has varying religions, dialects and sub-cultures that create a rich cross-section of Iranian culture. In the past, many would erroneously group together the Iranian people together with their regime, but since the elections, I think it has become quite clear that that is not the case. The people of Iran have a 30-year-old story to tell. Everyone in Iran is and has been dramatically affected by the political landscape in the country; just as the lives of Iranian Americans and Iranians living anywhere else in the world have been remarkably shaped by the political on-goings of the last three decades.
FP: What are the chances that the Iranian people can overthrow the despots who have them imprisoned? How can we best help the Iranian people to do so?
Daftari: If we were to look at the Iranian dilemma as a social one in addition to a political one, it has become obvious that the people of Iran have and will continue to further out-grow their government. Although this regime has only been around for 30 years, as a result of the Ayatollah Khomeini-backed baby boom following the Iran Iraq War, almost 70% of Iran’s population was born under this regime. That is a very significant statistic. It means that an overwhelming majority of the country is young, modern, and under the age of 30. Even though living under the confines of a theocracy is the only life they know, many of these young people are overtly disenchanted with their government. Overthrowing, or maybe better stated, shaking this government is inevitable. Their grievances are specific and prevent them from living a normal life on a daily basis. They just want to live normal lives and be free to blog, to sign onto Yahoo or Google, to walk down the street with their boyfriends and girlfriends, to go to college despite not having any connections to the clergy, etc.
There is a lot of pressure on the youth of Iran, and that is what is propelling them to go out to the streets in demonstration. They want better, and they know it is out there. The Iranian people are smart, savvy, intellectual people who refuse to be represented by fundamentalist, tyrannical leaders who are holding them back. Whether it is through demonstrations or any other way they can voice their frustrations, they will continue to do so until change is brought about. There’s a lot of hopelessness, and that’s what this struggle is about.
The question that is frequently asked of the Iranian people is: What can the rest of the world do to support them in this struggle? I think the answer has always been to unconditionally support them. It would mean to educate oneself about what is going on in the region, to ask for Iran stories when the subject suddenly escapes the media, to ask questions of elected government officials, and as taxpayers, to interrogate the United Nations on not taking a serious stance on Iran and its nuclear agenda.
FP: Lisa Daftari, thank you for joining us.