An interview with Nazanin Afshin-Jam


SCE Campaign
by SCE Campaign

Source: BR Special


On February 1, 1979 exiled Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran after 14
years in exile. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, 78, was imprisoned by the Shah in 1963 for his opposition to reforms and was expelled the following year to Iraq - via Turkey. Only 10 days after Khomeini's triumphant return to Iran from exile in Paris, the army returned to their barracks and gave up the fight to defend the regime of Prime Minister Shahpour Bakhtiar who resigned and soon went into exile and was later assassinated in Paris in 1991.

On the first of April, 1979 Ayatollah Khomeini declared Iran an Islamic Republic. Khomeini presided over a brutal and repressive regime which pursued the war with Iraq from 1980 until 1988 with a religious fervour. He regarded Saddam Hussein as the infidel leader of the country which had expelled him back in 1978.

On November 4, 1979, Iranian militants stormed the United States Embassy in Tehran and took approximately seventy Americans captive. This triggered the most embarrassing crisis for the Carter presidency after dragging on for 444 days.

On September 20, 1980 a war broke out between Iran and Iraq after three weeks of border clashes. Iraq bombed several Iranian air and military supply bases, including Tehran's International Airport. This escalation in hostilities came after Iraq tore up a 1975 border agreement with Iran over sovereignty of the Shatt al-Arab waterway.

Nazanin Afshin-Jam was born in the midst of all this turmoil in Tehran, Iran in 1979 and later immigrated to Canada with her family in 1981. As a young girl, Nazanin was enthralled with the workings of the world and self-educated herself in global issues. It was with this passion for global awareness she went on to acquire a Double Major Degree in International Relations and Political Science at the University of British Columbia. Later she received scholarships to study at the prestigious L'Institut d'Etudes Politiques in Paris and at the International Study Center at Herstmonceux Castle in England. She also became a Royal Canadian Air Cadet, rising to the highest rank of Warrant Officer First Class, where she became licensed to fly both conventional aircraft and gliders.

Have we mentioned yet that Nazanin is a singer, songwriter, international human rights activist, model, musician, actress and the former Miss World Canada, as well as the 1st runner up in the Miss World Pageant?
It would seem likely that the difficulties her family endured must have had a profound impact on Nazanin and has played a role in shaping the remarkable woman she has become.

First, thank you Nazanin for taking what precious little time you must have for yourself, to do this interview.

It's obvious that the events of the late 70's in Iran were the reason your family immigrated to Canada. Do you consider Canada your native home, or is your Iranian heritage still the stronger of the two?

First and foremost I see myself as a citizen of the world. Borders for me are socially constructed but that said I am proud to have been born amongst a people that have made so many significant contributions to the world throughout history. We are descendents of Cyrus the Great, the founding father of Persia who introduced the first declaration of human rights, promoted freedom of religion and advocated for the abolishment of slavery. I am happy to have been brought up in a culture that values the importance of family and the importance of a good education. On the other hand, due to the fact that Iranians do not live in freedom today, I feel blessed to have lived most of my life in Canada. Having been exposed to the richness of multiculturalism has opened my eyes to the beauty and strength of all cultures. It has also made me sensitive to the plight of people who do not have the same opportunities that I have had growing up and this is what drives me to try and make the world a little bit more just and fair.

The turmoil and chaos in Iran and your subsequent departure must have played a large role in your interest in global issues, but was it also the motivating force behind the other successes you have had in academics, acting, beauty pageants, and now in music?

I am sure that on a subconscious level, our departure from our homeland and separation from other family members must have had an impact on my entire life. When there is unnecessary man made suffering, I ask myself “why”? Why should we have been separated from our family members because of someone else’s political agenda? I try not to take anything for granted and I try to use all my blessings to advance humanity. I have always strived to do my best. Competing at Miss World and getting into the music industry were vehicles for me to try and make my voice stronger in order to raise awareness on various human rights and humanitarian issues close to my heart.

You were no more than 2 years old when your family left Iran and immigrated to Canada. Have you ever returned and what is your impression of the mood or mindset of the majority of the Iranian people?

It is a dream for me to one day go back, tour Iran and visit family members I have never met before. Unfortunately it is too dangerous for me to go back especially since I have been outspoken on women’s rights and the extremist interpretation of Sharia law that they use in Iran’s penal code including the punishment of stoning for adultery and child executions.

While I have not been back, I keep in close contact with Iranians via internet. I receive thousands of emails from the Iranian people confiding in me the abuses they face on a daily basis under the current regime like the persecution of ethnic and religious minorities, gender discrimination and imprisonment of prisoners of conscience.

When we have some more time at a later date I would love to explain the intricacies, because Iran is a land of paradoxes and this short review would not do the complexities justice.

The majority of Iranian people want freedom and democracy, the separation between religion and the state, the rule of law and better human rights. They are fed up with those that are in power like President Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that do not represent their opinions and voices. The problem is when they try to rise up and say anything anti-regime they are imprisoned, tortured or killed. Those in power instill fear on the population so many people shy away from getting political and are more concerned about having food on their table for their families. Despite the rich and fertile land with oil,
the economic situation is sour and many have to work three jobs just to make ends meet. Many are unemployed with a huge increase in drug abuse,
prostitution and HIV/AIDS. Seventy percent of the population is under the age of 30, they are freedom loving people, hip, and tech savvy and very interested in making good connections with the west. With this young demographic and strong women’s rights movement, labour unions and the overall discontent, I think it is inevitable that change will come sooner than later.

You played a very important role in the release of Nazanin Fatehi , who was previously sentenced to death by hanging for killing a man who had assaulted and tried to rape her. Are there many more just like her awaiting similar fates? Or has the public alarm that you so well sounded put the Iranian Judiciary on guard?

There are many more “Nazanin Fatehi’s” out there. Currently there are over 100 minors on death row that we have recorded on our campaign website Stop Child Executions at although the Chief of Police in Iran suspects there are over 170.

We have noticed time and time again, the children who are exposed in the
media or where diplomatic and international pressure has been ensued on their behalf, are the ones who are not executed in the end. The ones who are unknown are quickly disposed of.

Our campaign’s aim is to put a permanent end to the situation so that we don’t have to keep trying to save one life at a time. Iran is signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Charter of the Rights of the Child which forbids the execution of those who have committed an offence before the age of 18. Under Iran’s interpretation of Sharia law, it spells out that a girl is an adult at age 9 and a boy is an adult at age 15 and therefore are criminally responsible for their actions. They bastardize International human rights law by saying “fine, we won’t execute the 9 year old now, but we will keep her in prison until she turns 18 and then we will carry out the execution”. This is why it is imperative for regular people, like you and me, to speak out. Each signature on a petition, or better yet personal letters written to the Iranian officials has an impact.

For those reading this article please go to: , sign the petition and learn how you can help... you could potentially be saving a human life!

You have been very outspoken on China's human rights violations. What can individuals thousands of miles away from China do about affecting a government like the one in Beijing that are effective and net results?

International pressure. Encourage your head of state not to partake in the opening ceremonies of Beijing’s 2008 Olympics. Other than that, one can get involved in traditional campaigning methods like writing to
your government officials, writing to the China’s President, organizing talks and rallies at local schools and universities. Let your media know that you are interested in learning more about this topic. Be creative…use your talents in a unique way to raise awareness. For example you can write a song, a poem or paint a picture. We all have the capacity to contribute in our own way. You can watch my music video for my song “Someday” where I try to bring hope to those who live under tyrannical regimes that stifle voices and liberty.

Would you say there is any negligible difference in the way women are treated in some middle-eastern countries after there are large-scale outcries from international organizations and concerned individuals
like yourself?

The power of the individual is strong, but united we are even stronger.
There is a women’s rights group in Iran called “The One million signatures campaign” calling for a change to discriminatory laws.
Through public support they have made some headway improving the life and conditions of women in the country. One of the members of this campaign, Shadi Sadr, also leads the “Stop Stoning Forever Campaign”,
where they have been successful in saving several women from the fate of being buried to their neck and stoned to death. International organizations are part of support group, drops of water that lead to the creation of an ocean of change.

How on earth do you become a recording artist, write and perform music when so many want you to speak about human rights, women’s rights, and animal rights being abused around the world? There seems hardly enough hours in a day.

You are absolutely right about that. It is overwhelming at times. Music acts as an art for me whereby I can release all the stress pent up from
working on daunting human rights cases. It is a means by which I can spread some of my messages on world issues. You could say that music is more of a part time job, while my human rights work takes precedence
over everything else in my life. There will be plenty of time when I am 90 years old to catch up on sleep ;)

Should we be able to look ten years into the future, what would you most like having us see Nazanin doing?

I am not sure exactly what I will be doing in 10 years from now but I am sure it will involve working on human rights and humanitarian issues in one capacity or another. I don’t know whether I will continue to do public speaking and raising awareness, singing or documentary filmmaking. Whatever I do, I know I will try to be a voice for the voiceless whether it is animals, women in the Middle East or general populations under oppressive regimes. By then I also hope to be married and raising a family. Life changes from one minute to the next, so I will leave it up to God how I should be guided J

As much as we appreciate the precious time you have so graciously given us, it is time to say thank you for this interview and for the tremendous efforts you make on behalf of those that cannot voice their own stories. Thanks Nazanin. The world is a far better place with bright lights like you in it, so keep right on shining...


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