Iranian Americans Increasingly at the Center of Systematic Discrimination Across the U.S.
Today we learned that the federal officers who inexplicably gunned down a young Iranian-American man at point blank range will not be held accountable. Bijan Ghaisar’s parents and family have sought answers for over two years and have been stonewalled by their own government. Bijan’s murder is just one part of a larger trend of state-sanctioned violence being carried out by American police forces against primarily black but increasingly also against brown men. For Iranian Americans who looked on as other men of color—including Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice—were killed by police officers and thought it would never happen to us, Bijan’s death is a wakeup call.
Iranian Americans are caught in the crosshairs of some of the most urgent national political and social challenges America faces today. From police violence to family separation owed to draconian immigration policies at home to brutal imperialism abroad, our community has a duty—and a unique opportunity—to fight back and protect the values we believe in for ourselves and our fellow Americans.
Today’s despairing announcement came on the heels of another official release concerning a civil servant, Sahar Nowruzzadeh, who was targeted by her bosses at the State Department and ultimately demoted because of her Iranian heritage. This is the same state department that illegally funded IranDisinfo—a group that attacked Iranian American journalists, organizations, and human rights activists with taxpayer dollars.
The department’s inspector general released its findings from an investigation into the matter and found conclusively that Brian Hook—the lead official charged with formulating Iran policy under Trump and Pompeo— discriminated against Sahar because he believed she was born in Iran. Will there be any accountability for Hook’s actions? Or will he too be let off the hook and become just one more perpetrator not held accountable for his offenses against Iranian Americans?
As Americans, we entrust authorities with powers on the promise that they will not be abused— and if they are, we the people hold the ultimate authority to take that power back. In looking at just the above two examples, Iranian Americans can connect the dots as to a whole host of trends underscoring how the authorities who we have elected into office and paid for with our tax dollars are abusing those powers. State sanctioned violence at home is matched by the eagerness to use state sanctioned violence against powerless populations abroad.
The targeting of a civil servant based on her perceived national origin is a symptom of the same sickness that has produced a Muslim Ban against all Iranian nationals abroad. The securitization of how police treat black and brown men is part of the same phenomenon that has led us to separate children from their mothers and fathers at the border in the name of national security.
We have a responsibility to grapple with these challenges beyond wringing our hands or lamenting how this impacts our community. We must do something about it in coalition with and support of all communities. Building political power for Iranian Americans should top our community’s list of priorities, particularly for those who see the trends and believe enough is enough.
Iranian Americans are being targeted, but we also are a community of immense privilege and we owe it not just to ourselves, but also to our compatriots facing similar challenges, to put that privilege to use in service of justice. If we organize—pull together our political giving, organize our communities locally and nationally to communicate with our elected officials and hold them accountable, and educate ourselves and the broader public about political engagement—Iranian Americans can make a major impact in restoring justice and accountability. With 2020 around the corner, we must not simply internalize the outrage of Bijan’s murder or the scandal of the targeting of Iranian American civil servants. We need to fight back.