Fitting In: Iranian Diasporic Experiences

This panel was compiled by the Conference Program Team from independently submitted paper proposals.

Discussant

Ali-Akbar Mahdi
California State University, Northridge

Presentations

by Camron Michael Amin / University of Michigan-Dearborn

During his murder trial in Williamsport Pennsylvania in 2006, Brian (born Hosayn) Yasipour's words came back to haunt him. In August 2001, he had killed his four-year-old daughter Susan. In 2002, his wife Millie (Amaneh Jabbari) sued for divorce. In the course of those 2002 proceedings, Brian uttered his loathsome statement to make the point -- incorrectly-- that under Iranian law he could not even be held accountable for the murder, let alone be considered to have committed a fault under which he could be divorced from his wife against his will. Prosecutors seized on the statement during his 2006 murder trial to argue that Brian was calculating that, in Iran (where they alleged he planned to flee), he would be immune from prosecution for the murder of Susan by law or by custom. However, an analysis of court transcripts, interviews, and media coverage of the Yasipour case and contemporary Iranian discussions of filicide illustrates that similar assessments of guilt, sanity, and proportional punishment existed in the Iranian and American contexts. In 2001, it so happened, the Iranian government was reviewing its laws relating to filicide and published a report comparing Iranian laws relating those of other countries (in particular, Mohammad Ishaqi, Mojazat-i pedar va madar dar jorm-e koshtan-i farzand: maddeh-e 220 qanun-i mojazat-e eslami [Tehran: Safir-i Subh, 2001]). This tragedy and this report provide an opportunity to compare the legal and cultural frameworks in the US and Iran regarding the persistent and universal crime of filicide. The essential similarities observed do not imply real or perceived equivalence in how this sort of crime was contextualized. There were meaningful differences between the US and Iranian discourses on filicide. In the US, there was an observable Orientalist gaze that, at times, highlighted what Brian did as an honor crime that would have "made sense" in his "other," original, Iranian culture. While Iranian discussions of filicide at this time saw it as an ill to be remedied, in part, by the reassertion of "dynamic" Twelver Islamic jurisprudence with respect to Iran's criminal code, rather adapting a Western solution. The Iranian criminal code was revised in 2012. The punishment Brian received in the United States – murder in the 3rd degree – was, for all the differences in culture, legal procedure and legal philosophy, quite similar to what he might have expected under Iranian law as it was and is written.

by Vahideddin Namazi / Université de Montréal

This paper presents the life experience and the professional trajectories of forty immigrants working as drivers at a Montreal taxi company. Their previous failures in forming successful business partnerships with other Iranian immigrants due to a lack of technical expertise and business management has led them to find a well-managed, ethnic taxi company. The results reveal that the majority of the interviewed immigrants are not satisfied with their current jobs; however they face significant difficulties in making the decision to try other venues. While some still dream of continuing their studies, the risks associated with pursuing other careers or opening a new enterprise contribute to prevent them from exploring other options.

by Shawhin Roudbari / University of California, Berkeley

Iranian architects have radically transformed their profession in the past decade. Despite stark isolation following the 1979 revolution, today architecture practice in Iran is becoming transnationalized with growing attention from the international design community. Institutional actors such as educators, magazine editors and organizers of design workshops in Iran have leveraged the movements of people across Iran’s borders to enact this transformation; the results of which are either praised as launching a new age in Iranian architecture practice or lamented as a new era of colonization reinforced by dependence on foreign institutional structures.

To understand this transformation, I investigate the role of migrant architects in shaping the profession by drawing from literature in migration studies, economic geography, and the globalization of architecture. My method builds on in-depth interviews with transnational migrants and on primary sources such as magazines, weblogs, and individuals’ and firms’ resumes. I present my findings as a sequence of five movements: The first movement is the Iranian architects’ gaze abroad. In the context of post-revolutionary Iran, this gaze was not trivial. Broadcast media was tightly controlled by the state and what foreign media that made its way into Iran was often censored. The second movement is the travel or emigration of architects from Iran, primarily to cities in North America and Europe. This movement became easier as Iran’s isolationist foreign policies thawed in the late 1990s. The third movement is a return migration to Iran. The motivations for return were described variously as a sense of duty or the opportunity for professional advancement in Iran with foreign experience on a resume. The fourth movement is the gaze of foreign architects to Iran. I use foreign magazine issues on Iran and look at the networks of Iranian and non-Iranian individuals that collectively draw that gaze. The fifth movement is the travel of foreign architects to Iran, a growing number of who lead design workshops for Iranian architects or attempt to enter Iran’s lucrative building industry. Significant in these movements is the range of formal and informal practices that architects engage, which collectively drive the transnational transformation of the architecture profession that is not told in studies of the globalization of architecture.

by Amin Moghadam / Sciences Po Paris

The region of Lârestan, in the south of Iran, maintained continuous relations with the southern shore of the Persian Gulf well before the 20th century, most notably in the form of migratory flows which had their influence on both home and host countries. On the creation of the Arab states along the southern shore of the Gulf, the great majority of individuals originating from the region were granted the new states’ nationalities. In the United Arab Emirates, after the creation of the country in 1971, and in Dubai in particular, new migrants, now defined as “temporary workers” to reflect policies restricting access to Emirati nationality, joined those already settled, and others have continued to do so since. While the ensuing difference in administrative status between Lârestani-born residents in Dubai is now giving rise to new rifts within the one community, it has not, however, prevented them from keeping up links with their country of origin through a variety of trans-national fields, whether social, political or cultural, enabling the emergence of a genuine trans-national community. This presentation will attempt to explore identity-related issues arising within the Larestani community, in relation with the trans-national dynamics in which they participate. It will be illustrated with examples such as the creation of a theatre group, of a trans-national press, of charitable networks, and active participation in the political life of the home country.