Arshavez Mozafari Headshot

The Iranian-Canadian Industry of Human Rights

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In The Tale of Two Nazanins (2012), Nazanin Afshin-Jam, a prominent Iranian-Canadian human rights activist and former Miss Canada pageant winner (2003), narrates how she chose to commit herself to the case of Nazanin Fatehi--a young Iranian woman who was sentenced to death in early 2006 for killing a would-be rapist in self-defence--as a result of being drawn to the coincidence of their names. Can this nominal identity help us discern the implicit function of Iranian-Canadian human rights activism relative to Canada's acrimonious stance towards the Islamic Republic of Iran?

While the Iranian-Canadian industry of human rights activism has been on solid footing for a few years now, the electoral successes achieved by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's conservatives during the last parliamentary elections has cast the belligerent interventions of this industry in a particularly daunting light.

In fact, a number of activists have recently spotlighted a few cases that are generating interest among the nation's conservative press and Harper's government.

On August 15, Sayeh Hassan contributed to a National Post piece on the Al-Quds Day rally that was held a few days ago in front of the provincial legislature in Toronto in which it is stated that this Pro-Palestinian event was part of the Iranian government's attempts to "spread its ideology and influence throughout Canadian society, particularly via Iranian ex-pats," an "abhorrent" and "hate-filled ideology" at that.

This paranoiac stance concerning the activities of the Iranian embassy in particular became pronounced after the 2010 establishment of the 'Center for Iranian Studies' in Toronto, an institute that--though nominally mandated to engage in independent scholarship -- has been connected to the embassy.

More recently, activists Shabnam Assadollahi and Shadi Paveh of the Ottawa area attempted to alert the federal government of the embassy's attempts at recruiting Iranian-Canadians to fulfill supposedly nefarious designs, such as the infiltration of "high-level ... positions" in Canada.

This latest attack against Iran's activities in Canada runs on the coattails of a few recent events sponsored by the embassy, such as the June 2 conference "The Contemporary Awakening and Imam Khomeini's Thoughts" at Carleton University. In a letter to the university, the institution is described as having become the "site of a celebration of human rights violations, gender inequality and anti-Semitism."

The Iranian government's reach has also been detected near the site of Canada's 'primordial crime', i.e. the topic of aboriginal oppression. In July, Afshin-Jam is said to have "pleaded" with Manitoba chief Terry Nelson to disengage from all interactions with the Islamic Republic because she fears that "they might be trying to use them [Native Canadians] in a way to benefit their own advantage."

Another move that caught Afshin-Jam's attention was TD Bank's July decision to close down a number of accounts registered to Iranian-Canadians throughout the country due to the pre-existing regime of sanctions established by the Canadian government. In reaction, she stated that the bank "unintentionally misrepresented" the actual targets of the sanctions and that if the institution had conducted "more investigation rather than harming innocent Iranian Canadians," we would not be in the predicament that we are in today.

While it is of paramount importance to actively struggle against conspicuous violations of the most seriously thought out and radical ethical systems, this industry of human rights activism constantly puts Iranians in terribly compromising positions by encouraging the federal government to enforce retrogressive measures.

One perfect example is rooted in the Khavari Petition that was circulated late last year. While the activists behind the petition were completely in the right in terms of their efforts to highlight the former head of Iran's National Bank Mahmoud Reza Khavari's involvement in the "largest financial embezzlement in Iranian history," their encouragement of Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to "utilize legislation introduced in 2010 to better protect the values of Canadian citizenship by streamlining the revocation process" seeks to reinforce, according to Shadi Chaleshtoori and Justin Podur, a "securitized discourse" that threatens the residency status of unfortunate Iranians and non-Iranians who are in a state of "legal limbo" in the country.

What is truly astounding is that university professors, otherwise respectable notables and rigorous scholars who take care to think through matters methodically and critically, are many times supportive of these activist-based projects.

While their intentions may at times be wholesome, what is clearly patent is how the lack of critical discernment and the trappings of scholarship and a disposition that reeks of intellectual laziness of not only Afshin-Jam, but also activists such as Hassan and Assadollahi, has resulted in the production (or 'borrowing' for that matter because there is not much thinking going on) and deployment of the most generalized and superficial liberal platitudes that, rather than lending to a serious and generative engagement concerning the future of Iran, has resulted in the much needed 'insider' support (implicit at times) for Western warmongering and other abrasive measures.

*The complete version of this post is available to read on the author's blog