Laila Rahbari is a sophomore in the ILR School with a minor in Near Eastern Studies. On campus, she works in the Einhorn Center as the Senior Manager of Student Programs and President of the Einhorn Leadership Council. Laila is fluent in Farsi, the official language of Iran, and has previously interned for Florida House Representative Anna Eskamani, one of only five Iranians who hold public office in the United States. Upon graduation, Laila plans on attending law school. On May 1, 2023, she sat down with me to discuss her heritage and experience as an Iranian-American woman.
As an Iranian American graduate student at Cornell and the son of Iranian immigrants, I have bitten my tongue as I watch the likes of Michael Johns ’20 be given a platform for their anti-Iran hysteria. But I can no longer contain my annoyance over the gross inaccuracies, historical revisionism and American exceptionalism emanating from The Sun because of him. Johns loves to criticize the Iranian government. And in fact, there is nothing wrong with good faith criticism of any government or political system. I would know this.
Yesterday, Jacob Brown grad, a columnist at The Sun, published a polemical piece bearing the puzzling title “Terrorism: Propaganda Versus Reality.” It took direct aim at a column of mine from some eight months ago, “Reining In Iran’s Brutal Regime,” an attempt to review the nation’s horrific human rights violations and offer policies to challenge its immoral leadership as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. In his column, Brown holds the extraordinary premise that the United States is the real leading state sponsor of terrorism — a declaration so extreme, almost no one but the Iranian Foreign Ministry itself has found the audacity to make it. Anti-Americanism, unfortunately, often traffics in this kind of rhetoric, feebly attempting to flip the script on foreign policy experts by intentionally conflating difficult policy choices or historical policy mistakes with the sinister efforts by Tehran and others to commit deliberate acts of extreme violence against civilians. Criticizing bad choices can be important — but Brown was wrong to make the indefensible claim that the U.S. lacks “any sense of moral high ground” over the brutal Iranian regime. Brown begins by discussing the Yemeni Civil War, an ongoing proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia that is having undeniably catastrophic effects on civilians and regional security.
Editor’s Note: This piece is part of a new dueling columns feature. In this feature, Michael Johns ’20 and Giancarlo Valdetaro ’21 debate, “Forty years after the Iranian Revolution, what posture should the U.S. take on the Islamic Republic?” Read the counterpart column here. A nation of over 80 million people, Iran has been a belligerent boogeyman for U.S. politicians to rail against ever since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and ensuing Iran Hostage Crisis. In the four decades since, the response to this initial attack on U.S. citizens and its continuing rhetorical accompaniments has ranged from aiding Iraq in a war against their Farsi-speaking neighbors to sending humanitarian aid to those same neighbors in the wake of a December 2003 earthquake. Today, as President Trump meets in Vietnam for a summit with the totalitarian leader of North Korea, another oppressive regime posing a nuclear threat to the U.S. and its allies across the globe, he and the U.S. foreign policy establishment should recognize that protecting Americans and liberating Iranians are not mutually exclusive aims. In fact, by rejoining the Iran deal, the U.S. can not only reduce the threat of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon, but can drastically improve the chances of Iran’s population achieving the democracy they have so long deserved.
Editor’s Note: This piece is part of a new dueling columns feature. In this feature, Michael Johns ’20 and Giancarlo Valdetaro ’21 debate, “Forty years after the Iranian Revolution, what posture should the U.S. take on the Islamic Republic?” Read the counterpart column here. An unidentified man was publicly hanged in the Iranian city of Kazeroon last month, one of thousands of Iranians executed on charges of homosexuality in the country since its 1979 Islamic Revolution. Iran’s despotic legal system and practice of secret executions make it easy to underestimate the magnitude of Iran’s human rights abuses, which also have targeted political opponents and religious minorities. Yet, while numbers are hard to come by, human rights experts are nearly unanimous in placing Iran among the world’s worst human rights violators.
I only recently turned around and noticed the contrast between myself and the Iran I was thrown against. Somehow, when I was younger my legs were longer, or the middle space between the two circles of the venn diagram was smaller, and I managed to barely stretch across the pervasive gap. Now, I struggle to engage intellectually and socially with Iran — the actual one, not my own construction — because I’m left grasping at language and culture from which I’ve fallen behind.
Maybe it’s because Michael Jackson has died—it’s a sad and unnerving feeling to think that he’s gone—but today has had a very peculiar quality to it. Even for Iran, today was rather strange.
Let’s look at what’s happened.
Seems like Iran is in a state of flux, alternating between days of horrific violence and tense calm. Today is the major exam day of Iran, during which the Konkoor—Iran’s college entrance exam—is administered. It’s of a different mode than the SATs.
Much to my dismay, it looks like I’d spoken too soon about things appearing relatively calm in Iran. Today was chaotic.
The major point of incidence in Iran was at Baharestan in Tehran. Baharestan is where the Iranian Parliament (Majlis) meets. Protesters amassed there today (the 24th) in an effort to again show their rejection of the election results that had President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad overwhelming reelected to the presidency. As is now frequently the case in Iran, where there are protesters there are Basij paramilitary forces. And where there are Basiji there is sure to be violence.