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Compatriot or Traitor

Opinion article by Issa Saharkhiz (source: Rooz Online)

What happened in Germany last week and two foreign-born individuals reached the highest government and party echelons in the country, begs the question why is it that there is room for everybody in the major democracies while in countries like Iran, the majority of citizens, and particularly minorities, cannot attain even normal government posts in the political, ethnic or even religious sectors.

Read related article by Shargh daily on Iran's Brain Drain
150,000 Iranians immigrate to the West each year

Perhaps a more prudent question is that why is it that other countries encourage the use of capable, skillful, knowledgeable and productive foreigners and are immigrant-welcome countries while in countries like Iran the opposite trend is the norm where there is a severe brain-drain. When Iranian emigrants return to their home country they are mostly stigmatized as being traitors and spies?

Last Monday the news reports indicated that during a special session of the social democratic party in Germany (SPD), an Iranian-born woman, Yasmin Fahimi was elected as the general secretary of the party. A few hours later, another news report was even more astounding: Susan Shibli who is a woman of Palestinian descent was appointed as the spokesperson for the Germany foreign ministry. Ms Shibli was the eleventh child in a family of fifteen and was born in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon and is the sister of a Muslim cleric in Germany.

Such news are of course not few and there are many Iranians or individuals of Iranian descent who have attained senior positions in foreign countries, particularly in administrative and more recently in political quarters which must be interpreted positively. We have all heard of Andre Agassi, the former world tennis champion, Christian Amanpour, the senior journalist in CNN, Farah Karimi a former member of the Dutch parliament, and others who have joined the ranks of the world prominent. But in recent days we have also heard of newer successful names such as Minoo Akhtarzand, the head of Swedish railways, Maria Khazand a manager at Sony-Ericsson and Azadeh Tabarzadeh a scientist at NASA’s international space. I suspect if someone did even a simple search on the Internet they would come up with thousands of other Iranians who have attained high achievements in various areas.

It is because of this that as time passes and individuals of Iranian descent gain roots in foreign countries and establish new lives in their new homes the debate over “dual citizenship” takes a more meaningful form and a new generation of people remain suspended between being Iranian or a foreigner.

This issue of course is not limited to Iranians. The citizens of other countries have documented such duality in their writings, and even in the language of their new country and have written about the conflicts of such a generation which some believe results in not having a mother tongue or at the least inability to write in their mother tongue.

Iranians continue to attain new accomplishments in the world, a trend that accelerated since the collapse of the Pahlavi regime and the establishment of the Islamic Republic but in particular since the aftermath of the 2009 presidential elections in Iran.

What exacerbates this issue is the ideological view that Iranian rulers have on this issue, particularly in recent years through which they believe that anyone who is not with them is their enemy and a traitor. This is particularly through about they view those Iranians who have left the country and who were active in political and cultural spheres.

There was a time when Iranians living abroad hid their identity as a way to avoid the penalty that Iranian officials imposed on those who took up a new life abroad. The issue took a dramatic positive turn when Mohammad Khatami became president and being an Iranian or having an Iranian identity was a source of pride. This was particularly true for the newer generation of Iranians who were born in foreign lands. They began to proudly broadcast their Iranian heritage and the name of Iran or Persian and even pressured their family members to send them to Iran during Nowruz (New Year) holidays or during summer school breaks.

But this trend slowed down and so when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to office, the trend reversed itself again. A new wave of Iranian immigrants arrived in foreign lands, and reached their height after the violently disputed 2009 presidential elections that reinstated Ahmadinejad. In reality, the previous Iranian administration created such a centripetal force that forced a vast number of Iranians to leave the country, something whose effects still reverberate and the efforts of Mohammad Rouhani’s administration have only succeeded in slowing the trend, not reversing it.

The issue today is what the current government of Rouhani can do to attract Iranians who live abroad and what kind of a relationship can it create with them. How will it treat those Iranians who have no desire to return to Iran for professional, financial and other reasons and want to live their lives abroad but who at the same time want to visit Iran and act in Iran’s national interest as they deem appropriate?

It is clear and understandable that such Iranians have the right to choose the priorities of their lives and respect the considerations of their new home country, particularly those are active in political affairs or those that have attained high offices in the new countries.

Ms Yasmin Fahimi is among such individuals. She had publicly declared that her priority is on the national interests of Germany, rather than the country of her origin. But there is no doubt that she has a special interest in Iran as well and shall do everything to expand the relations between Berlin and Tehran. But there is a condition tied to this: That she not be accused or stigmatized as a spy just because she is the secretary general secretary of the German SPD party and a partner in the country’s current coalition government.

Related Article:

German-Iranian woman set to head co-ruling Social Democratic Party

- Berlin - Yasmin Fahimi, A German-Iranian woman, is tipped to become the next secretary general of Germanyˈs co-governing Social Democratic Party (SPD), the Frankfurt-based daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said Wednesday. - 1/9/14


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