how the world sees america

Iranian Americans

August 24, 2007 1:00 PM

Iranian Americans: Art Intimidates Life

Perhaps because he’s an artist Behn speaks openly even though his story is not an easy or a safe one to tell. “They could grab my father whenever they want...and start torturing him again,” Behn says. Even at home in Los Angeles, Behn fears Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. I watch as censorship transcends borders.

His studio.
Back in May before launching off to England, I visited Los Angeles, or “Tehrangeles” as some interviewees called it. I wanted to practice video-blogging and hoped to visit Iran sometime soon. I figured they'd have strong perspectives to explore.

So I spent two weeks talking with taxi drivers, artists, comedians, fashion designers, politicians, communists, and tortured revolutionaries. I found America was central to their vision for a better Iran.

Now in DC planning which countries to visit next, I thought it would be a good time to publish this material and explore the sentiments of this unique community with you. Let's start with Behn.

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August 28, 2007 1:01 PM

Young Iranian Americans Fear War With Themselves

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When the U.S. and Iran rattle sabers at each other on the world's stage, young Iranian Americans in Los Angeles get shaken up in very personal ways. “Every time there's conflict, like the hostage crisis, Desert Storm, 9-11, now Iran, we feel it here. We’re called 'bin Ladens' or '[Expletive] Iranians' in school and told to go home," says a young, earnest LA rapper who calls himself “The Poet.”

He and his colleague "Basic" prefer to use their artist names. Their identity is fluid, they say; birth names can't keep up. "We're a bridge between Iran and America," they claim, hoping somebody will use them.

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August 30, 2007 12:00 PM

How the World Sees Jack Bauer

"24" Season 4; 12:00pm-1:00pm. Two-dozen Muslim hostiles toting semi-automatics hold the U.S. Secretary of Defense hostage in a bunker outside Los Angeles. Within the hour they plan to execute him for war crimes. Why? “It’s Jihad,” explains the terrorist mastermind. Suddenly, U.S. agent Jack Bauer emerges through shadow and hurls a knife through the terrorist's neck. 24 and its hero Bauer, played by Keifer Sutherland, make for popular TV, with fifteen million U.S. viewers. But actor Maz Jobrani, who wouldn’t take the role of the terrorist mastermind, says the show is bad for him and for America.

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Maz, a bald, mustached Iranian American, grew up playing Li'l Abner and Batman in high school. In college, his Iranian parents pushed him to political science, which he dabbled in before deciding he liked the camera more than the lectern. But in the real world of Hollywood, auditions started coming in “for terrorist role after terrorist role” -- and “generic” terrorists at that “with no emotional or psychological complexity.” For an actor, it was boring. For an Iranian, belittling. And for Americans, Maz says, it's dangerously oversimplifying.

According to Maz, the problem with TV like this is that when average American viewers see a white American villain on screen, they think “‘Wow, that American’s crazy,’” but when they see a Middle Eastern or Iranian villain on screen they say, “‘Man those Iranians are crazy.’ They don’t distinguish.”

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September 3, 2007 10:00 PM

A Scientist, a Father and the B-2 Bomber

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For decades Najmedin Meshkati proudly designed advanced technologies for America, including support for the B-2 stealth bomber. Now he has nightmares of this aircraft attacking his homeland, Iran. Worse still, he fears his young American son won't know or care when the aerial strike begins.

If you were casting an epic tragedy in Hollywood, you probably wouldn't pick Meshkati, a bald, soft-spoken Iranian American engineer to play the lead. But this is Irvine, not Hollywood. And Meshkati insists that if war erupts between the two nations, his life would become a "tragedy of Homeric proportions…one fit for all the ages.”

In 1976, Meshkati left Tehran for Los Angeles to pursue advanced studies. He quickly climbed departmental ranks, detailing the human capacities required to operate advanced machinery. His work contributed to civilian and military technologies -- from nuclear power plants to flight control towers to war crafts, the most notable of which was the stealth bomber.

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September 6, 2007 11:38 AM

Bush & Fakhravar: Fates Entwined

Fakhravar and Bush.

George Bush isn't talking to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But he is speaking to Iranian student dissident Amir Abbas Fakhravar. And Fakhravar's dead set on keeping it that way.

The thirty-two-year-old looks the part of a revolutionary. To embrace cliche, he has the fierce green eyes of a panther, and an eerie confidence that makes you wonder if he sees something you can't. Dressed in mesh shorts and a T-shirt, he ushers me into his bare D.C. apartment late one night. There's a desk flooded with papers in one corner. On the wall hang a pre-revolutionary Iranian flag and a cowboy hat.

The flag is for Iran's past and future, he says, and the cowboy hat is for his greatest hero: George Bush. "Bush and I were both born on July 6, within the same hour" he says. And because of this cosmic occurrence, "[we] are both hard line, passionate people" who want to rapidly, unabashedly change the world. But far more than a birthday and a cowboy ethos bonds the two men.

His favorite hat.

Last year Bush's neo-conservative confidant, Richard Perle, former head of the Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee who advocated invading Iraq, helped Fakhravar flee Iran's jails for the U.S. Once in D.C., Fakhravar found more allies in the White House who supported an aggressive stance toward Iran. He made the rounds, speaking out at senate hearings, democracy conferences and conservative think tanks. This led some Iranians, including student dissidents like Kouroush Sahati, to ask: is this really fate or just opportunism?

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September 17, 2007 12:30 PM

U.S. Engage or Isolate Iran?

No Thank You, Say Iranian Americans

Flying home from Los Angeles, I work to fit together the pieces of my visit with Iranian Americans there. It's more complicated than I expected. There are some constants: Everyone I spoke to wanted the current theocracy in Iran to loosen up on its own people and open up to the world, including America. At the same time, they opposed war vehemently, saying it'd be catastrophic for both nations.

The agreement ends there and a passionate debate begins over how to change (or reform) the Iranian regime short of war. Put simply, should America isolate or engage Iran? Different viewpoints split demographics, and even families. "Put three Iranians in a room and get five political parties in an hour," quips PostGlobal panelist Ali Ettefagh. Here's my glimpse in the parlor room.

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PostGlobal is an interactive conversation on global issues moderated by Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria and David Ignatius of The Washington Post. It is produced jointly by Newsweek and, as is On Faith, a conversation on religion. Please send your comments, questions and suggestions for PostGlobal to Lauren Keane, its editor and producer.