By Ramin Mazaheri for the Saker Blog
(Author’s note: This is my first article after a 5-month sabbatical. 2019 Yellow Vests, 2020 corona/US election – I needed a break. However, I’m glad to see everything has been fixed in my absence!)
This year the Iranian Foreign Ministry announced a startling figure: 1.5 million Iranians who were born in Iran now reside in the United States. That denotes that there has been a major jump since the phony Western War on Terror began.
However, Iranians are not emigrating due to US invasion – the usual spark in the Middle East region – but because Iran produces so very many college-educated, hireable workers. The overarching theme of this trend is that these are the lucky children of the Iranian Islamic Revolution, as they grew up with the high-quality mass educational opportunities that are among the very best in Muslim history.
In 2017 the World Bank went so far as to write about “Iran’s Over-Education Crises” because the Iranian government prioritizes educating the populace so very much. In a world, with billion-sized nations, Iran produces the third-highest number of engineers in the world (70% of them women, the highest proportion of any country). These are men and women from poor backgrounds (especially going back a generation) who now have PhDs, while their class counterparts across much of the Muslim World are mired in dead-end lives even though their nations have attached such primacy to having good relations with the United States and Europe.
This long-running wave (which shows no sign of running dry) of hyper-educated, hyper-hireable immigrants is scorching proof of the redistributive socio-economic successes produced by the Iranian Revolution.
But, of course, the wilfully blind will forever maintain that the revolutionary Iranian model has failed, is a lie, is based upon outdated ideas and repression of the masses, blah blah blah.
However, it should be immediately clear that 1.5 million Iranian-born people in the US – people for whom the Iranian government has definite documentation – is obviously not even close to accounting for the entire “Iranian-American” community, no?
Deeper digging on this issue is necessary because in Western capitalist systems the only democracy is the pseudo-democracy of, “How powerful is your lobby?” So – how powerful is the Iranian-American lobby? This answer has huge implications for Iranian-US relations, and it’s an answer whose arithmetic has changed drastically in the past 20 years.
Who is an ‘Iranian-American’? Who is an ‘____-American’, for that matter?
These are serious questions, but not because of the West’s fake-leftist identity politics.
The answer is a complicated one, officially: the US considers nationality to be determined by birthplace or legal procedures (passport), whereas Iran considers nationality to be determined by parentage/blood.
So, straightaway, we know that the official numbers of both nations will be different, but I contend that the Iranian definition is the far more populist and popular rationale.
For example, across the United States there are intensely proud “Italian-Americans” whose main connection to Italian culture is American gangster movies, pizza, and an increasingly appalled relationship with the Vatican. Even more estranged from their homeland, yet even more virulently insistent, are the tens of millions of “Irish-Americans” whose families left Ireland centuries ago. Anyone who has been to Ireland knows that culturally, politically and even behaviourally the Irish have very little in common with most “Irish-Americans”.
Please be assured that I am not here to rain on anyone’s St. Patrick’s Day parade.
If you want to claim you are Iranian because your family swept the floors of the court of Darius the Great, go ahead – in fact, many Parsis from India to East Africa do just that. In fact, according to a law passed 90 years ago one could acquire Iranian citizenship simply by performing “a significant public help to Iranians” – this law implicitly recognized that nationality is a social construct which too often excludes humanity and love.
It’s easy for the West to portray the first generation of Iranian-Americans (the Center for Statistics of Iran estimates 700,000 Iranians left the nation between 1977-1987) as all having fled the oh-so-unredistributive revolution, but a major percentage of them were actually refugees from the war foisted on Iran by Western-fuelled Iraqi aggression. It’s impossible to give an exact figure, but certainly the deadliest conflict of the last quarter of the 20th century produced plenty of reluctant refugees, no? While “trapped by the war” is often heard among Iranian-Americans it isn’t a phrase the Western mainstream media ever wanted to dig into too deeply.
The figure of 1.5 million Iranian-born persons now residing in the US obviously includes long-term naturalized citizens, recent immigrants with permanent residency or work papers, students, and the children of some Iranian males (more on this soon). What isn’t included is what takes 1.5 million to this new level of consideration:
- The American-born children of Iranian men from the first wave of immigrants who have never applied for an Iranian passport are not included, thus going unrecognized by the Iranian Foreign Ministry. This is a huge and ever-growing subset of “Iranians” which the Iranian government is not calling “Iranian” simply because they have never acquired an Iranian passport. This group “enjoyed” all the post-hostage crisis Iranophobia, and also the post-9/11 Islamophobia, but their own reluctance or inability – for whatever reason – to visit Iran on an Iranian passport means they “aren’t Iranian” even though they clearly are by both Iran’s legal standards and America’s cultural standards.
- The third generation of Iranian-Americans suffer from the same problem. Maybe 2nd generation Iranian-American Baba has both Iranian and American passports, and maybe even he married an Iranian woman, but despite the 100% Iranian bloodline, his children are not “Iranian” until he gets them an Iranian passport. Also, any in the recent wave of young, educated scientists have already birthed “Iranian-American” children, but they’re solely “American” until they acquire an Iranian passport.
- Also excluded are the American sons and daughters of interracial/inter-ethnic couples where the mother is Iranian but the father is not. Extend a sorry for laughing at these very real “Fazlollah Johnsons” and “Nahid Williamsons”! While Jewish culture is matrilineal their more modern Abrahamic brethren across the Muslim World are strictly patrilineal. Clearly, a huge chunk of all second-generation and third-generation Iranian-Americans are being excluded on the basis of gender. But not any longer, actually:
According to a law change in 2019, the children of Iranian mothers are now also considered Iranian. That is a social advance, undoubtedly.
The law was passed primarily because Iran accepts so many refugees (caused by Western invasions): Iranian women were marrying Afghan men, but as of 2019 their children now have full Iranian rights. Iran has taken a modern, bold step towards gender equality and inter-ethnic/international unity, and other nations should look upon this as a human rights issue and follow suit. The change has also obviously greatly increased the official number of “Iranian-Americans” in Iran.
If the US ever stops telling its citizens that war with Iran is “on the table”, and thus makes Iran a normal and attractive destination again, Iran’s Foreign Ministry will clearly have a lot of passports to make!
So what’s the final number?
I don’t want to belabor this point so I’ll be brief, but the data makes it clear from every angle: Americans should be happy for whatever Iranians they get!
Among 67 ethnic groups studied 25% of Iranians hold a Master’s or doctoral degree, the highest rate ever found; 59% of Iranian immigrants have at least a bachelor’s degree, which is nearly double the average US rate of 33%; the US Small Business Association found that Iranian entrepreneurship is nearly the highest among all immigrant groups. Again, it’s the mass educational opportunities created by the revolution which made this possible – truly, the Iranian Islamic Revolution produced America’s “model minority” if there ever was one.
And yet, many of the first wave of Iranians were unrepentant aristocrats/autocrats who arrived with the people’s billions: 20% of Beverly Hills, California – long-considered the toniest area of the country – is estimated to be Iranian. These fleeing Romanovs brought actual capital, but the 21st-century immigration wave has brought truly advanced and modern human capital which America needs to maintain its technological and educational edge.
America is certainly the undoubted winner in this very one-sided relationship, but pointing that out appears immodest, so back to the question at hand: In 2012 it was independently estimated that there are 1.9 million Iranian-Americans, but clearly a lot has changed in a decade.
(Namely, the US and their Western clients falsely dangled the promise of fair relations for years – the JCPOA – and then illegally reneged on them; they instituted an appallingly asphyxiating blockade (“$0 in oil sales”); they applied a Nazi-level medical blockade (no medical supplies amid a once-in-a-century pandemic, much less vaccines).)
Clearly: Iranian immigration has continued, and Iran has expanded what it means to be legally Iranian, and ever more “Iranian-Americans” are being born without realizing that to Iran they are an “Iranian” who simply lacks a passport.
The US will likely never officially accept – and nor do they have to – Iran’s cultural choice that the children of Iranian men and women are also Iranians. However, whoever said the US had a rational relationship with immigration to begin with?
Certainly, American government figures are – on point of well-implemented neoliberal dogma – both underfunded and compiled by incompetents. Official US census figures claim only 400,000 Iranian immigrants are in the US but that’s riddled with fundamental flaws. Do you think immigrants from the “Axis of Evil” respond to US-run surveys openly? Until 9/11 what mattered primarily to the US was what airport you flew in from – but there hasn’t been direct flights from the US to Iran since 1979, so many Iranians were always considered immigrants from countries other than Iran.
I didn’t even mention another group well-known among Iranian-Americans: those who overstayed their visas and never returned.
We should believe there are millions of illegal Latinos in the US but out of an estimated few million Iranian-Americans there aren’t at least a few hundred thousand of uncounted illegals? You think Baba and Maman Joon (Grandpa and Grandma) who overstayed their tourist visa to visit their children in the US simply must have a Social Security number at age 70 (their children are likely doctors or engineers, after all)? This group actually extends back to the first-ever wave of student immigrants in the early 1970s – many didn’t go back when their student visa expired, and by the time the war was over they had already built a new immigrant’s life.
Culturally, the definition of “Iranian-American” should follow America’s historic “one drop” rule – for centuries one drop of Black blood made one Black. As far as I can tell it still does, the difference now being that “one-drop Blacks” (the very light-skinned African-Americans) are now proud to be Black. (And why shouldn’t they be? And yet I also wonder if all their other drops aren’t getting short shrift for no fair reason?) If one drop is “good enough” for Blackness, why isn’t it “good enough” for Iranian-ness?! (Such are the regular and never-ending absurdities and socio-political distractions of America’s racial/identity obsessions….) In an amusing reflection: is there any doubt that an Iranian walking in the antebellum South would be treated as a slave and not a free person?
Add up all the uncounted groups and 1% of the US, or 3.3 million Iranian-Americans, is definitely an undercounting from an American cultural level, which is to say from a living and breathing level. From an official Iranian level, 3.3 million seems low as well – it misses a huge number of second-generation Iranian-Americans and all the children of Iranian mothers/American fathers.
Estimating that 1% of the US is now Iranian-American is not only fair but even conservative – who in 1979 would have imagined that?!
Tehran and Washington can differ on figures all they want, but one can’t so easily hide that Iranian hair, nose, skin and unique sensibility. Iranian-Americans shouldn’t hide the knowledge/admission/happiness that extremely successful socioeconomic redistribution efforts have soared in Iran since 1979. Of course, they often do just that.
Will the Iranian-American community stand up for Iran, given all they have taken?
In the end, the Iranian government clearly has faith: that emigration to the US will create a lobby influence which will prove to be a force for Iran’s good. The perniciousness of this “brain drain” on Iran is obviously enormous – Iranian resources are taxed by incredibly unjust political pressures which no non-revolutionary country could survive long under, much less thrive – but Iran does not close the immigration spigot because, in the long run, mass public education is for the public good, is popularly demanded, is part of any post-1917 political revolution and is morally the only public policy possible.
The hardest economic reality is that the Iranian Islamic Revolution has produced a world-beating number of graduates, but in a state of constant war and sanctions the economy simply cannot handle the influx. This leads to underemployment, and renders it natural and necessary to allow Iranians to take their skills overseas to nations where college costs $75k/year.
Iran also clearly believes in the leftist idea of “open borders” as much as any nation in the world! Iran is regularly a top-5 nation in accepting refugees, and the 2019 Iranian Nationality Law is further proof of Iranian internationalism.
It’s insightful to compare Iran with the enormous Lebanese diaspora:
For decades the exodus of Lebanese to all parts of the globe has been the sign of Lebanese failure, which seems to reach new lows daily, unfortunately. Lebanon, of course, was never a genuine nation: Lebanon was hacked off from Syria a century ago by the French, who wanted to create divide-and-conquer identity politics by fabricating a regional state specifically for Christians. Lebanon’s role as the illegal banking center for Western imperialists has been superseded by Persian Gulf states, and now Lebanon is shrinking into nothingness (excepting vigorous Hezbollah). Contrarily, the Iranian-American diaspora (and we can include the likely 1+ million Iranian-Canadian contingent (Iran’s Foreign Ministry in 2021: 400,000 Iranian passport holders in Canada) is a sign of Iranian success, planning, and unity – Iran shows no sign of being unable to satisfy these two countries’ voracious appetite for many of our best and brightest. Not unless the West moves from sanctioning oil and coronavirus vaccines to sanctioning textbooks and calculators….
So Iran does not need financial remittances from their diaspora in the upper half of the North America continent, like a Latin American country, but principled political stands in favor of peace and tolerance. Is that impossible?
In many ways it is – the capitalist, imperialist, Zionist and Islamophobic lobbies all certainly overwhelm the Iranian-American community across Anglo-America. It’s apathetic to say that nothing can be reasonably expected when you are only 1-2% of the whole country, and apathy will certainly turn to acceptance of imperialism, Zionism, Islamophobia, poverty, inequality, etc. so there is no other choice for those with knowledge and awareness.
To repeat: Will the Iranian-American community stand up for Iran, given all they have taken?
Ultimately, they will, as long as proofs of the success of the Iranian Islamic Revolution continue to be furnished. And as long as the ideals of the Revolution are maintained and refreshed, they will certainly continue to furnish worthy proofs.
I give a good example from France from 2017, during the time of Iran’s election: a news program held a 4-person panel on whither Iran, and the only anti-Iran person was an Iranian woman nearing 70. The other younger panelists, including a member of Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche party, repeatedly dismissed the elder’s outdated slanders of the Islamic Republic. People like her are not just leaving the political scene – they have been factually disproven.
The normalization of Iran will only increase with more success and more time – just as the USSR and China were once invaded (and fought off), sanctioned for decades, and then allowed to breathe relatively freely.
Talk to the post-2003 generation of Iranian-Americans: they will complain about problems in Iran, which is right and necessary, but they agree on almost all the fundamental policies of Iran. I refer to the defense of Palestine and Syria, socio-economic redistribution efforts, the rights of Iran to sovereignly pursue its own welfare, and the absolute absurdity that American politics are anything but nonsense aimed at a propaganda-stuffed local population. This generation of 30- and 40-somethings know they have profited from the Revolution – only the most arrogant of them think it was all due to their own efforts (they are already too Westernized, in this sense).
As Iranian-Americans stay longer in the US, and become more “American” – well, who knows how America will progress? Perhaps these children of recent immigration will defend Iran with the rabid self-centredness required by phony Western “identity politics”. Or, like others in the American blender of anti-leftism, perhaps they will become ardent defenders of Western liberal democratic values such as neo-aristocracy, false meritocracy, two-faced secularism, consumerism, and total class unconsciousness.
Or perhaps they will have the courage to state the obvious: there are more ways than just “the American Way”, and the Iranian Way has proven its bonafides.
(It is interesting to read that even Superman has just replaced his motto of “Truth, justice and the American way” with “Truth, justice and a better tomorrow”. I think the ever-delaying “tomorrow” is typical of Western reformism’s sloth and conservatism (why not a “better today”?), but it is better than what apparently was the alternative: “Truth, just and a better tomorrow, but not for those damned I-ranians!”.)
Several decades later the initial 700,000 wave of Iranian immigration has surprisingly increased multiple times for one fundamental reason: Iran keeps producing – they keep admiring. It’s an undeniable proof of the socio-economic redistribution efforts put in place since 1979, something which must be repeatedly stated.
Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for PressTV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. He is the author of ‘Socialism’s Ignored Success: Iranian Islamic Socialism’ as well as ‘I’ll Ruin Everything You Are: Ending Western Propaganda on Red China’, which is also available in simplified and traditional Chinese.