Iranians Face a Cloud of Uncertainty During the Muslim Ban

We spoke with four Iranians about Trump’s executive order. Here’s what they said.

By Sara Afzal

We spoke with four Iranians about Trump’s executive order. Here’s what they said.

On Friday, Jan. 27, President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily prohibiting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. The travel ban comes as a shock to many Iranians after the diplomacy of President Barack Obama, who opened up U.S.-Iran relations after 36 years, with the signing of the 2015 nuclear deal. In the days following Trump’s order, Iran issued its own travel ban preventing Americans from coming into the country. There have been reports of a ballistic missile test by Iran; shortly after the U.S. imposed new sanctions on the country and Trump said that military action is not “off the table.”

Trump’s Muslim ban serves as a catalyst for renewed complications and tensions between two nations with an already tumultuous history–caught in the middle are the Iranian people who now have to deal with the fear and distress of an uncertain future.

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Saira Rafiee featured on the #GetSairaHome Facebook event page.

Saira Rafiee, a Ph. D. candidate in New York City

Saira Rafiee, who is on a student visa, was on her way home to New York after visiting Iran when she was prevented from boarding a connecting flight in Abu Dhabi. After 18 hours at the airport, she was sent back to Tehran. “You can probably imagine how humiliated one might feel when her whole future, and the future of so many other people, is changed just by a stroke of a pen,” Rafiee said.

“I am very much worried that what has happened is just the first step towards more horrifying policies. I am truly concerned about the future of the U.S. and the world,” Rafiee said. “I think not only Iran, but all the countries that rightly hold that this ban is inhumane, illegal, and against human rights should take every action within the limits of human rights and international laws to oppose this policy.” Rafiee studies political science at City University of New York.  

Rafiee returned to the U.S. on Saturday, Feb. 4, after a federal judge temporarily halted the executive order on Friday. She has not responded to a request for comment since then.

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Photo taken by Joubeen Mireskandari.

Emir Mohsseni, a musician in Tehran

Emir Mohsseni, of The Muckers, most recently completed a visa application for artists invited to perform in the U.S. After years of backgrounds checks and paperwork, Trump’s executive order has imperiled the status of his visa.

“To be honest, I have no idea what will happen to my case,” Mohsseni, whose band was invited to perform at SXSW, said.

“The reason that I’m trying to play my music in the U.S. is because of my love for Western music and American musicians. It’s inspired me my whole life. I remember when I was 5 years old, I was playing air guitar in front of the TV to Bryan Adams,” Mohsseni said.

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Photo provided by Shahab Paranj featuring his mother (on top left) as well as his nieces and nephews.

Shahab Paranj, a Ph.D. candidate in Los Angeles, and his mother, Azam

Shahab Paranj, who is finishing his doctorate in music composition at UCLA, said he spent a year and a half and about $10,000 on his mother Azam’s green card application. The money went towards lawyer fees and travel costs for his mother’s vetting at a foreign embassy he said. (Iran has not had a U.S. Embassy since the 1979 Islamic Revolution). After the order was signed, Azam was held for 10 days in Ankara, Turkey, where she was waiting for her application to be processed. Her passport was also taken away.

“Even the Trump administration doesn’t know really what the process is,” Shahab said. “There is no proper guidance.”

Ultimately, Azam’s green card was not issued during her trip to Turkey. Following a federal judge’s nationwide injunction on the ban, the Paranj family is now waiting for an update. In the meantime, Azam has returned to Iran.

“I am afraid about what is going to happen in the future. We don’t have a wise leader. These reactions are coming from a dictator,” Shahab said. “I have experience with seeing dictators growing up in Iran, and I know how they react. This is not good news for the U.S., the Middle East, and the world.”

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©NYU Photo Bureau: Heuer

Azi Amiri, an art educator in New York

Azi Amiri is a green card holder who has been living in the U.S. for 9 years. She is planning on traveling to Iran in mid-February, for her niece’s first birthday, but says she is worried about being able to return to America.

“We didn’t expect it to happen to Iranians,” Amiri said. “We have learned to resist. We do our best to keep our rights. We belong to the second wave of Iranians that were born after the Islamic Revolution. We have learned how to resist and how to keep our rights as much as we can.”

Amiri says she immigrated to the U.S. to escape the instability of their home country after war and to secure better job opportunities. As a teacher, she describes herself and her husband, who is an engineer, as hard working. “It is not fair. We feel that we have been betrayed after this ban,” she says.

Single With a Side of “Torshideh”

For Iranian women, the pressure of marriage comes with a sour twist.

By Sara Afzal

 

All the children sit around the table as their grandmother prepares the traditional Iranian feast. The pickled sour vegetable garnish known as torshi is placed alongside the steaming saffron rice with green beans and beef. The youngest girl finishes everything on her plate except the green mush. “Sara, eat your torshi!” the grandmother commands.

As a child, I never really liked torshi. It looked like a dark green compote with the occasional carrot and tasted too sour and vinegary. As a twenty something woman, torshi became less about questionable veggie spread, and more about the word torshideh–literally meaning soured, but used to describe an unmarried woman whose clock is ticking into her 30s. Think of it as the Iranian term for “spinster.”

The term torshideh haunted most Iranian women who suffered through tremendous marriage pressure from their families. My parents pushed me less in that department, a positive side effect from their divorce. Still, I was not immune to the term. My older male cousins threw the jabs as soon as I was in my early 20s. “Sara, you don’t want to become torshideh now. Learn how to cook Iranian food so you can be a good wife. Oh, and go pour us some tea.”

Think of it as the Iranian term for “spinster.”

The pressure to get married is overt for all young Iranian men and women, but the taboo is especially faced by unmarried women, as the word torshideh demonstrates. Yet, while women are encouraged to marry young, divorce is still frowned upon. In Iran, women are not legally permitted to attain a divorce as Sharia law gives men the sole right. In the U.S., about 40 to 50 percent of marriages ended in divorce, and in Iran, about 20 percent of marriages result in divorce. Of course these stats don’t imply that marriages in Iran work better than in the US, it just means it’s harder for women to get out of them.

Luckily, my parents were far from traditional. They left Iran during the tumultuous political years that would soon tip into the chaos of the 1978-1979 Islamic Revolution, and they were determined to build a new life in America. My mom, Nahid, was raised by Muslim parents who disapproved of her living with my dad, Ali, without being married. So the two students studying art and film at UT Austin decided to tie the knot spontaneously with no planned wedding ceremony. They got hitched wearing faded Wrangler jeans at the courthouse in Austin, Texas. On their wedding day, instead of a traditional ring, Ali gave Nahid a set of multicolored plastic bands that was later passed down to me. The retro pink, red, blue, and white rings once all worn on my mother’s ring finger sit inside of a small jewelry box I still have today. The rings may have lasted, but the marriage didn’t.

In Iran, about 60 percent of its 80 million people are younger than the age of 30.

My parents’ unorthodox marriage and eventual divorce has given me a complicated relationship with the Iranian way of looking at marriage. Like most children of a failed union, I can’t think about marriage without thinking about divorce. The truth is I’d rather be labeled torshideh like expired milk than get married for the wrong reasons, and I think this is a modern concept that is not accepted by an older generation of Iranians. Arranged marriages are still common in Iran, but at the same time, there has been a strong shift towards dating around and marrying at an older age, much like in the U.S. These contradictions between the modern and traditional are very apparent in Iran, a country where about 60 percent of its 80 million people are younger than the age of 30. The emergence of this youth population has been linked to the loss of young men fighting during the eight year war with Iraq in the 1980s, and also the government’s encouragement of larger families during the beginning of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Living in the U.S. makes it easier to avoid the anxiety of being called torshideh. Surrounded by powerful women who look at marriage as an option and not a compulsion has empowered me to feel confident in my own hesitation. It’s more of a “if it happens, it happens” with no impulse to dream up a wedding day fantasy. I’m most thankful that my parents have not adhered to the norm and pressured me to marry “a nice Iranian boy,” but that doesn’t mean the rest of my family is as lax. The last time I went to Iran my grandmother, who loves to arrange marriages, said, “If you come back again, I will find you a husband.” I haven’t been back since.