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AJU Panel Unpacks Iranian Unrest

Rabbi Tarlan Rabizadeh, vice president of Jewish engagement at AJU and an Iranian American, moderated the discussion, which was organized following approximately 80 consecutive days of demonstrations in Iran.  
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December 8, 2022
A panel on unrest in Iran featured (from left) Tarlan Rabizadeh, Moj Mahdara, Houman Sarshar and Elica Le Bon. Photo by Ryan Torok

Elica Le Bon, a British-born Iranian attorney, believes this pivotal moment in Iran — in which the death of a young woman for not properly wearing her headscarf has caused widespread unrest — resembles what happened here after the police-involved death of George Floyd. 

When Floyd was killed due to a police officer’s prolonged kneeling on his neck, the thousands of protestors in the streets were not merely reacting to his death — they were responding to hundreds of years of mistreatment of this country’s Black people, Le Bon said.

Similarly in Iran, while 22-year-old Mahsa Amini’s death in the custody of the morality police surely triggered the country’s current protest movement, the demonstrators are emboldened not just by her murder but by decades of human rights abuses perpetuated by the hardline Iranian government. 

Le Bon offered her take on Nov. 4 during a timely panel discussion – titled “Baraye Iran,” or “For Iran” – at American Jewish University (AJU).

Rabbi Tarlan Rabizadeh, vice president of Jewish engagement at AJU and an Iranian American, moderated the discussion, which was organized following approximately 80 consecutive days of demonstrations in Iran.  

According to media reports, since protests began in September against the Iranian regime, which governs in accordance with strict Islamic law, thousands of people have been injured; hundreds of Iranians have been killed; and there have been accounts of sexual violence against detainees.

Although the number of Jews currently living in Iran is relatively few, the David vs. Goliath circumstances are resonating with this city’s Jewish community, particularly the sizable local Iranian population, many of whom fled Iran, or had parents who did so, and thus are sympathetic to the plight of those living under oppressive mullah rule. 

Much of the diaspora activism on behalf of on-the-ground demonstrators has taken place over social media. Moj Mahdara, one of the three panelists on Sunday night, spoke about her ongoing advocacy campaign supporting regime change in Iran. 

“We’re going to ‘cancel’ the Islamic Republic,” Mahdara said, describing virtual efforts to erase the entity from existence. Mahdara, a digital entrepreneur, is the founder of the Iranian Diaspora Collective, a nonpartisan group committed to amplifying Iranian voices. 

Houman Sarshar, another of the panelists, is a contributor author to Encyclopedia Iranica. On Sunday, he provided an overview of social grievances in Iran, discussing the 1979 Iranian revolution and the moment when the Iranian supreme leader replaced those who dissented from his point of view with religious clerics willing to follow orders unquestioningly.

Rabizadeh asked the trio of speakers, “Why aren’t more people paying attention to the story?”

Near the conclusion of the hourlong discussion, Rabizadeh asked the trio of speakers in the Gindi Auditorium, “Why aren’t mainstream news sources covering unrest in Iran as much as they could be? Why aren’t more people paying attention to the story?”

Le Bon, who has spoken out about events in Iran on TikTok and has a significant following on the platform, attributed ignorance about the situation to an active misinformation campaign. She said people on the extreme left are parroting talking points from the Iranian government. And as an example, she pointed to Sunday’s news, reported by outlets including the New York Times, that Iran’s morality police — a feared law enforcement body responsible for implementing Iran’s hijab law — had been abolished, when that hadn’t been confirmed. 

About 200 people turned out for the conversation, which was free and open to the community. A dessert reception in the AJU lobby began the program. Around 6 p.m., attendees, including Rabbis Noah Farkas, Yoshi Zweiback and Erez Sherman, entered the auditorium. 

Evening co-organizers included 30 Years After, The European Leadership Network (ELNET) and the Iranian American Jewish Federation.

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