talk iran

A Conversation with Hooman Majd

August 29, 2018 Season 1 Episode 7
talk iran
A Conversation with Hooman Majd
Chapters
talk iran
A Conversation with Hooman Majd
Aug 29, 2018 Season 1 Episode 7
Saman Askari
This is a conversation about Iran and Iranians with an Iranian-American journalist and author.
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, I speak with Hooman Majd, an Iranian-American journalist and author. Hooman and I talk about the current level of support the Islamic Republic has inside Iran, the Iranian revolution and the current struggles of the Iranian people, democracy and secularism within the Iranian context, the role of the US and the Iranian diaspora in regards to Iran, the criticism he has received because of his connections to the Islamic Republic and other topics. 



Saman Askari:
0:00
Welcome to talk Iran! This is Saman Askari. Today on the podcast: Hooman Majd.
Saman Askari:
0:23
An Iranian American journalist and author, Hooman Majd was born in Tehran, but lived abroad from infancy with his family who were in the diplomatic service. He was educated in England and the US and stayed in the United States after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Hooman had a long career in the entertainment business before devoting himself to writing and journalism full-time. His New York Times best-selling book, The Ayatollah Begs to Differ, was published in 2008 followed by his book, The Ayatollah's democracy, which was published in the Fall of 2010. His latest book, the Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay, was published in the US and the UK in November 2013. He's also written for the New York Times, The New Yorker Time, Vanity Fair, Foreign Policy and other publications too numerous to list. A keen observer of Iranian society, he details his interactions with the Iranian people from all walks of life in his writings, from supporters of the Islamic Republic and the deeply pious to the wealthy and more secular segments of society.
Saman Askari:
1:25
He also has a knack for breaking down the meaning of certain Iranian concepts and words such as 'tarof' by providing historical and anecdotal context. Hooman has at times been criticized for his connection to various figures within the Islamic Republic and for having been a translator to Iranian presidents who have visited the United States. I asked for his response to this criticism in our conversation. We also talk about the current level of support the government has inside Iran, the Iranian revolution and the current struggles of the Iranian people, democracy and secularism within the Iranian context, the role of the US and the Iranian diaspora in regards to Iran and other topics. So without further ado, let's listen in to my conversation with Hooman Majd.
Saman Askari:
2:17
So I just finished reading your book, The Ayatollah Begs to Differ. Yeah. Your first book. Uh, I know you have two more books. They're on my reading list. I found a couple of things really striking. The first thing was that you are really good at mingling with all types of different people. It was amazing to see how you went from hanging out with an ultra conservative family in Qom and then you went to these parties in North Tehran and then you came back to the US and appeared on the Bill Maher show and all of that. So that was really fascinating. I always thought of myself as being really flexible in terms of being able to be fully Iranian and fully American at the same time. But I think you take it to a whole new level. Uh, I, my, my question for you, the first question here is, given your knowledge of Iranian society, do you think there has been a shift in the level of support or in the landscape of support for the regime? Its framework and uh, all of that given recent developments. For example, we had the recent protests last month and a lot of people were chanting anti-regime slogans and these were people that weren't necessarily from north Tehran. Right. So I want to get your thoughts around, you know, how popular the regime is currently and if the tides are sort of turning.
Hooman Majd:
3:37
Well, I don't know if the size attorney, I mean certainly the regime has lost, would you want to call it a regime, a system, whatever you want to call it. The Iranians don't like to be called the regime because the regime has a negative connotation that it's undemocratic, but nonetheless in America we call it a regime. Most people do anyway. Yeah, no, I would say I would say that it's lost some credit, but I mean it's lost credibility amongst some of its supporters. Starting in 2000, I began to lose credibility starting in 2009, the green movement and the protests. Um, even though the green movement specifically at least the leaders of the green movement, we're not against the regime per se, but more against the just the election and in a more open system that were for it make it more open and more democratic society.
Hooman Majd:
4:20
But I think yes, over time, and certainly in the recent, in recent days and months there has been, um, probably a cut, a diminishing of support, although it's impossible to say how many people actually do fully support the regime at any given time. I think it was always impossible to say because it hasn't been since the referendum of 1979. There hasn't been a referendum of free referendum saying, you know, what kind of system political system do you want? So 40 years later, it's kind of hard to say, but I would say that there's still a substantial support. When I say substantial, 25 percent can be substantial in a country like Iran. It may not be the majority, but it can be substantial. It's a, it's a hardcore group of people who are dependent upon the system or believed enough in the theocratic, uh, aspects. And believe that there shouldn't be a theocracy and accordance with their beliefs that that's, uh, that they're, and they're armed.
Hooman Majd:
5:24
I mean, there are people who are the best, the age and the Revolutionary Guard and these people are not that, that support could be enough to keep the system in tact for years and years and years. Um, that's also assuming that it has to be some change. I don't think there's any question that there has to be reformed in Iran in order for it to survive in the longterm because without reform, without getting rid of corruption with that or at least reducing the level of corruption which has gotten worse and worse apparently in recent years according to what we read. Um, and without fixing people's, you know, daily economic issues and there on some of their social issues, if not all of their social issues, you know, no system can, can survive for so long answer to your question. But the answer to your question is actually I don't know what the level of support.
Hooman Majd:
6:15
And I was trying to make myself sound smart by giving all of these. Um, but you know, the answer is no one really knows because there was, there wasn't a way to gauge, but we're wrong to believe that because there's protests or you know, a few hundred or a few thousand people shout even if they're from the different classes in society, I'm down with the regime or whatever. Or within those group of protesters, there are a number of subset of protesters who were shouting death with the regime. That means they're, you know, the regime has lost his base of support. I don't think that's the case at this point. And we in the diaspora is particularly those who've, you know, you lived in Iran longer than I did. Um, and I've been abroad all my life. Um, it's easy for us to think, oh well, he, Iranians, you look like you say the parties in north Tehran.
Hooman Majd:
7:00
You look at people who are secular and you go, it's easy to say, well, of course, you know, this regime is just going to, not last. People are going to want exactly what we have, we have in the west. But then you do go and witness the way people live and the religiosity and, and the way that there is a conservative strain in Iran, which always existed during the what time? And you say, well, it's not that simple. There's also, I'm an Iranian stubbornness. Um, and there's a, there's a, there's a credibility issue as well for Iran. If you have a revolution based on not being subservient to either east or west, then the minute you give into the West on something or given to the east, in other words, the Communist system where the capitalist system then your credibility as a revolution is gone. And Iran is a revolution. It's still a revolution. I mean, the supreme leader is not the supreme leader of Iran. He's the supreme leader of the Islamic Revolution. That's his title. Um, we still have a revolution or revolutionary government.
Saman Askari:
7:59
So does that mean that the system always needs an America or some other power for it to stand up against and for it to define its character against?
Hooman Majd:
8:09
If those great powers, whether it's Russia, China, or America, demand of Iran, something that Iran doesn't want to give up, and if it does give it a given to either any of those greater powers, whether it's an or even European powers, then yes, no, it can no longer be the revolution is over at that point. And I think among its own people, the revolution is over. I mean, look, even even on this nuclear deal, I'm at the Uni Judd, who was the previous president, um, derided the deal and derided his successor for having given in to the Americans. Whereas, you know, trump thinks that America gave into Iran. People like Ahmadinejad who considered themselves true revolutionaries and followers of Khomeini considered giving any kind of a concession to the Americans, uh, as, as giving it. And it's, and, and as far as. So now he's coming back into the political series.
Hooman Majd:
9:06
I don't know, you see he's tweeting, instagramming, all this stuff. Um, maybe he wants to run again for president, who knows? But anyway, the point being that, uh, yeah, the revolution is over the minute, the majority of the people who support the revolution, let's say it's 20 days, 25 or 30 percent of the entire population support, um, the system still support the system when the majority of those people think that Iran has given it on the very basic precept, which is to not be subservient to any greater power, to have full independence and rights and dignity of a nation. The great nation of Iran, as they all consider, as Iranians considered the minute that's gone, the revolution has gone. And then yes, it will collapse.
Saman Askari:
9:49
So if we can go back 40 years to when the revolution happened and those principles, obviously it was a very popular revolution at the time. People felt like they were unshackling themselves from the various powers, US especially. Right? Right. And they were sort of reclaiming the Iranian identity or the Shia identity, which is sort of inextricable from the Iranian identity. But if we look at what's happening today, Iran is not exactly a bastion of freedom and opportunity and people are not necessarily happy. We can go down the list of statistics and all of that and I'm sure you're familiar with all of those. I mean, women's rights stands out. Women can't leave the country without the permission of her husband and you know, a whole host of things that people in other places would find ridiculous. Right. And even on the economic side, people are struggling. Has, we can lay the blame at the feet of America and the sanctions and we can go on and on about that. But at some point something started not going right. Is that what happened?
Hooman Majd:
11:05
No, I don't think it's something not going right. I think that, um, you know, the revolution was popular not only because of Islam and she is um, and uh, the people who support and continue to the states and conservatives who support that system. It was popular because the vast majority of Iranians at that time, living inside Iran, they wanted exactly what you said to get rid of being, you know, a greater power being subservient, degraded, in which case, in that case it was as the US, but also a dictator where they felt there was no political freedom and they couldn't express themselves politically. They were afraid of the secret police. Um, social rights were all there. They all had all the social freedoms they wanted, but they didn't have political freedoms. They didn't necessarily want what this system is. I mean, as we know from the infighting after the, after the revolution, we know that Dean were part of the revolution.
Hooman Majd:
11:56
Then Raj, it broke off, broke from, from Khomeini. I'm so not everybody was, was hoping for an Islamic system as it is today. In fact, there was huge protest by women at the very beginning of the revolution. Women, we're not obligated to wear headscarves. And then when the, when they decided, the system decided that they were obligated, there was a huge protest. Millions of women came out on the streets. So what the system evolved into, um, is not what people at the time necessarily want it. Some people did, but not everybody who, who fought against the shah or was against the Shah or sat back and said, yeah, the shock. Yeah. I'm not necessarily political, but if the chagos maybe there'll be a better democratic system. Well, why not? Why wouldn't we want a better democratic system? Why would anybody want a better democratic system?
Hooman Majd:
12:43
And so those people are disappointed obviously, and many of them such as your family left Iran because they were disappointed otherwise they wouldn't stay. Um, as we know, the $2, million plus of lyft left Iran anyway. Point being is that I, you know, uh, the system today is not what, what, what many people thought it was including many women. Um, some of the restrictive rules on women existed during the Shah's time not being able to leave the country without her husband's permission. That was a law that was in the Shah's time as well, not just so some of the laws, just inheritance laws, which were against the, a woman. Those were also from the Shah's time, these are ancient rules, uh, that, that the Islamic system didn't change, but the Islamic system changed for women was the obligatory obligatory head covering and not just tape covering hijab and modest dress in general. Plus I'm not having the ability to have certain positions, although some people are arguing against. I like, for example, a woman can't be president, although there's not clear if that's actually a law or not, but um, or a judge or stuff like that. So, um, yes, there was a diminution of, of women's rights, no question about it, but some of those rights that today people will argue, um, feminists will argue those also existed under the Shah's time. Why didn't they protest then?
Saman Askari:
14:04
Yeah. Just out of curiosity,
Hooman Majd:
14:06
why didn't foreigners protests? I don't mean Iranians. They're running has always protested. Yeah,
Saman Askari:
14:10
right. Out of curiosity that, uh, the testimony of a woman, was it worth half a man's during the Shah's team as well?
Hooman Majd:
14:17
That I don't know. I don't think so. That's an Islamic thing, right? Right, right. I see. Although the Shaws, the Shaws, uh, I don't mean particularly Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, I mean the shah's plural shaw's a rule, then rains took into account in their constitution or in their, whether they had a constitution or not in their laws took into account she, uh, she, uh, Sherry and without actually calling it sherry along.
Saman Askari:
14:45
Interesting. So you've often argued that as sort of presumptuous for us in the West to assume the best system for Iran would be, uh, a liberal democracy akin to systems that exist in Europe and us and that democratic rule can be possible within an Islamic framework. And you've sort of alluded to the fact that currently we do have a democracy in Iran, right? Right. Can you, can you elaborate on that? Because a lot of people, when they look at a system like that, they say, okay, fine, you have elections, but then at the end of the day you are, you know, operating under a system that has an unelected body that has absolute say on everything has veto power on everything, can eliminate anybody from running for office. And I mean, what does democracy mean then? Right?
Hooman Majd:
15:39
No, absolutely correct. I mean, I don't think there's any doubt what I say that there is a. it's a form of democratic rule compared to let's say, Saudi Arabia or compared to some other countries. It's not as democratic as even Turkey where we were even Turkey, which is not just backsliding, but Iran is not even as democratic. That grant. Anybody would have to grant you that. But then again, you look at the millions of people who come out and vote enthusiastically cheering and being happy about like for example, Ronnie's to elections both elections and you go, well those people aren't stupid. It's not like they don't know that there's a supreme, the. It's not like they don't know there's a guardian counsel and yet they, they, they sincerely. Or at least they believe enough that that the system can moderate change reform be different than a previous president, for example, in order for them to come out and participating in those votes.
Hooman Majd:
16:34
So that's why I say there is some form of democracy. It's some form of democratic. Well, because the system has to take into account the people's will as well. For example, in the time of Rohani there may have been, I'm, there's a lot of infighting obviously, and there's like foreigners and dual nationals who were in prison and stuff like that, which were also during, how about the time, but I think you would, other than the difficulty of the economic difficulties and other than the JCPO way issues that exist with trump and Iran, you'd be hard pressed to find an Iranian who doesn't prefer having this system than to the Ahmadinejad years, although maybe that's changing now because of all the JCPA stuff that's happening. But certainly the enthusiasm for Rouhani was there and I think there was a, uh, a more open. I haven't been to Iran since 2013 since he was elected.
Hooman Majd:
17:25
Um, but from what I hear from people who are there or do come in and they're, their biggest complaints tend to be economic and less so on social issues. There's more cafes, more restaurants, more, you know, liberalization in the, in the social space. Um, then during the shot. So I, I, I won't, I won't call it a democracy, that would be foolish to call on a pure democracy, but compared to many the other countries around surrounding it and compared to certainly many Muslim countries, uh, it is, it is perhaps more democratic. The supreme leader, the Revolutionary Guard. They all have to take into consideration the person that the people voted for. I don't think you'd have any question that if Jenny Lee had become president instead of Rouhani, the atmosphere inside rob would be very different.
Saman Askari:
18:10
But aren't we just splitting hairs at this point? I mean, when you compare Rohani to Ahmadinejad, obviously there are differences in everyday life and all of that, but if people were to be completely free and they could absolutely vote anybody into office, who do you think that person would be? Would it be someone? I guess my point is, do you think that people may vote for someone who is secular that at the same time would give them a religious freedom and all of that, but at the same time would be sort of like, okay, everybody live their own lives. You know,
Hooman Majd:
18:49
yeah, I think at this point people would vote for whoever they felt would give them economic economic benefits rather than anything else at this point because people are, are, are actually suffering and want to see, you know, sanctions and, and stuff like that more than anything else. Right now, any protest tend to be about, about sanctions, not about the economy more than anything else. Um, I don't know. I mean it's hard to say in America if we were, you know, if we didn't have a primary system and we didn't have to choose between Democrats and Republicans every single time because that's just the way it works. Now there's two party system. Would Americans vote for someone from the outside? I mean, I think, you know, maybe Bernie Sanders proved that people might be willing to go out and vote for someone who doesn't come from inside that political system.
Hooman Majd:
19:36
Um, I, yeah, I would imagine. Yes. Because I don't think the vast majority of Iranians are 100 percent satisfied with the status quo and Iran. I would have to imagine that people would, would vote for someone who, who, who says they're secular. I think under the current system that can't happen because if someone says their secretary of the account, they'd be disqualified from running if they want a secretary republic people like hot Tammy who don't say they want a second Republican but are as close to being secular in the sense that they themselves are religious but don't believe in imposing the religion. Other people, um, he probably won't be allowed to run again if you tried, you know, to, you know, I don't know. I, I don't know the answer. It's a very difficult question to answer because we don't really know. It's hard to judge, but I think within the system it wouldn't be possible because someone can't come out and say we need a secretary.
Hooman Majd:
20:28
Then you're talking about a revolution not, not reform within the system. Although I do think someone who goes further away from religiosity, if you want to call it, um, which is something that even raw raw honey has said publicly on occasion that, you know, we shouldn't impose religion. We should impose people, our beliefs, other people, which I think is part of the reason he's popular, whether he's sincere about it is another question or whether he, even if he is sincere, if he has the ability to change it to the point where you know, a woman can walk down the street without a headscarf or that a boy and girl can hold hands or do a happy video, you know, and, and not get arrested or, or do an instagram where they're dancing and not get arrested. Obviously Rohani, the Ronnie government, this government that the people voted for is for those freedoms.
Hooman Majd:
21:18
It has said so many times. It's come up against the judiciary many times. So I think the answer to your question is in the answer to how Ronnie got elected and how those young women and young men, boys and girls really came out and voted for him and celebrated on the streets of Iran. I think they because they thought within this system he was the best alternative to provide them with those freedoms and rights that, that they, that, that they desire. No question. Yeah. So what would progress look like at this point? I don't know. I don't know the answer. Where can the system go from here? I mean Iran is now facing a bunch of issues and problems that it didn't anticipate. And this is the removal of the United States from the JCPA, the imposition of sanctions. Um, the very harsh language coming from the United States.
Hooman Majd:
22:07
John Bolton is national security advisor for me policy on Iran, which is an aggressive policy. Um, and these are things that neither the government nor the people of Iran expected. Uh, and they said that's one thing. Where can it go from your, if none of those things existed, if the JCP I was delivering, if new airport craft were being delivered to Iran, if all these companies were doing business in Iran, these foreign companies, if you know, you could have an apple store and interferon, I mean, then where would it go from there? I naturally the progress, the progression would be towards a, a more, um, liberal society over time. And I think had the JCPA delivered what was promised and probably over promised by, by this government, the raw honey government to the people. I think that it was just natural that, uh, even some of the people who would be against liberalization, it would be against opening up to the West because of the fear of Western influence would, would be forced to stand back and recognize that progress for Iran. This was progress for Iran and, and, and would have to continue. Where does it go now? I mean, I think what unfortunately what we're doing is we're empowering the most hard line people in Iran right now saying told you so you can't trust the Americans. Now we got to buckle up and just get you unify and stand against America and anybody who objects as a trader.
Saman Askari:
23:29
But don't people see through that a little bit because yeah, of course America has something to do with it...
Hooman Majd:
23:36
sure a lot of people do. But it also gives an excuse to people, whether it's the Revolutionary Guard, but messenger, whatever, to crack down and, and in the name national security in America. We do things in the name of national security that a lot of people object to that we did after nine slash 11, you know, in the name of national security, you can do a lot of shit and get away with. It was. That's the main thing. You get away with it. It doesn't matter whether the majority of Iranians don't see, see through it or don't see through it. What matters is whether you can get away with it.
Saman Askari:
24:06
Yeah, so let's talk about the current administration and its Iran policy. Obviously Iranians are against foreign intervention. Part of the character of the revolution was this standing up to America and to the West as we talked about. So looking at what the Trump administration wants to do, it reinstituted a new round of sanctions, new sanctions going to effect later in the year. What is its ultimate goal with these activities?
Hooman Majd:
24:35
Well, I think there's probably. I mean, just just my guess because I don't know that we know. On the one hand you've got the trump administration spokesman, all of them, including John Bolton, say regime change is not right. They would thereafter, whether after is changing the behavior and then, you know, but I think there's different things. I think Donald Trump himself probably wants to make a deal with you. I don't think he cares very much about social freedoms. I don't think he cares about democracy that much. Uh, he, he liked to make a deal that he considers his deal a nuclear deal with Iran and would be happy to have relations with Iran. I'm talking about Donald Trump, the person, right? Right. Then you've got an administration, then you've got people like Mike Pompeo and, and, and, and John Bolton who probably would like to see regime change whether they would like to see that happen with American interference or naturally organically by putting so much pressure on the regime that it, that it collapses.
Hooman Majd:
25:32
Um, I don't know. I mean they say that they're not after regime change, but what they're demanding of Iran is essentially regime change because this regime would never give. This system would never give into the demands, the demands of Peo that would be giving up your sovereignty as far as, as far as the regime men, many of it's even non supporters would, would argue, um, and wouldn't want to Iran to give up its sovereignty, but I suspect based on the language that they've used in the past before joining this administration that people like pump peo and like Bolton would like to see regime change and would be happy to have America be involved in, in bringing that about. Um, but I think the system, the American system doesn't allow that at this time. There isn't a. I mean, if trump said that's my policy regime change, like, you know, Obama's saying Assad must go, then suddenly the United States can start arming rebels in Syria.
Hooman Majd:
26:27
It can do the same thing in Iran. But that hasn't been the policy and I don't think there's an agreement on that yet. Um, so in answer to your question, I think, I think the administration hasn't figured out on Iran policy yet. I think there are people in the administration who would like to see a policy and we're going down a road which is leading to that, and then trump throws a wrench into the whole thing by saying, oh, I'll talk to real honey one on one with no preconditions. So that just, you know, is a whole big, is a whole other issue. Um, so that's why I think that trump himself may not have a specific goal in mind with the Iran other than the fact he thinks the nuclear deal is an awful deal and you can do a better one.
Saman Askari:
27:08
Yeah. Yeah. That's interesting. Let's switch gears to the role of the diaspora. You've written that thinking that the Iranian diaspora holds the solution to Iran's political problem is laughable to most people. And that sort of resonates with me because when I was in Iran in 2015 and when I would talk to people and try to understand their problems, I felt like I lived on a different planet. And for me to sort of say, no, this is. I mean, this is what you need to do and this is what you need would be really misguided
Hooman Majd:
27:47
well, the first thing, yeah, the first thing I would say is that, um, you know, this is largely a voluntary diaspora. People who bought barely left Iran large and there are people who left for political reasons obviously, and we're, you know, we would get arrested if they went back, but largely it's a political, it's a, it's a, it's a voluntary diaspora who left, not a necessarily a civil war. We're not really refugees. Iranians came here slowly, opportunity work, whatever, and I'm slowly built a life outside of Iran and their kids like yourself are pretty, pretty much American and I just don't feel I. and I've lived abroad, you know, over 60 years old and I've lived abroad my entire life. Practically. I don't give myself a right to tell the Iranian people who live there and have suffered through war, through sanctions, economic problems, you know, all those things that they have had to deal with.
Hooman Majd:
28:41
I owned myself a right to tell them what I think they the way they should live. That's the first thing. The second thing is people have talked to in Iran, people, some of them are like, you know, even the ones who despise this regime and wanted gone, if you tell them that, that you can talk about the and say if these people in La and these people in Washington, Iranians, they mean think that there were going to make a revolution and they're going to come here and suddenly get their old houses back and get all their life back. And you know, having lived in luxury over that, of course they don't know that people don't necessarily have a luxury in the west. But there's this perception, you guys are like, you think you're going to come back and rule this country? No Way. You know, we're gonna, we're gonna. This is gonna be a closed place for you guys. You guys have chosen to go now, we who we, who have suffered year, we who will fight for reform change revolution, wherever you want to call it. Um, we're the beneficiaries, not you. And I understand that. I understand that. Why? Why should we think that we're going to go back and have a say in the affairs of, of Iranians?
Saman Askari:
29:46
Yeah, but does that mean that we just can't do anything to help Iranians?
Hooman Majd:
29:52
No. That doesn't mean that at all. It means we can do a lot to help Iranians, but we can do things that I think at least I'm not a member of organization, any organization actually I'm not a member of, for example, Nyack, I know they get a lot of criticism from Iranians who believe in democracy and all that, but I think that they do some good work because their purpose is to lobby the American government or whatever you want to call it, two to in support of Iranian Americans. And it happens that Iranian Americans, many of them have family in Iran and want to help the Iranians and don't want to see them suffer. Shortage of medicine, all those kinds of stuff. So I think there is stuff we can do to, to, to, to help, um, Iran by putting pressure on our governments and if you're European, but putting pressure on your government to, to not do things that affect the ordinary people, if even if you hate the regime, do you really want ordinary Iranians to suffer?
Hooman Majd:
30:46
You really want them to not be able to fly and safe airplanes. If you want them to not have medicine, do you want them to die of cancer because they can't get radiation? I mean, if you're an Iranian who lives in Germany, put pressure on your government. If you look, if you're really rodney who lives in America, you should be able to put pressure on your government. And I think Iranians do actually appreciate that who live in Iran. And most of us have some family either distance or, or, or close family who still live in Iran and we don't want to see them suffer either. And I think when we go out and demonstrate in supportive Iranians, whether it was for the green movement in Iranians, right, to elect the president, they want. And if they believe that there's fraud that they, that, that should be investigated properly rather than throwing the leaders into prison or house arrest, then those are the kinds of support I think that Iranians abroad can do. But what I don't think we can do is say, um, let's, let's have, you know, the show return, let's have the MDK takeover, let's have whom I managed to be president as much as I was like to be. Um, I and I welcome all support as much. I don't think I have the right to ask for that. Nor do I have the right to tell the Iranian people that there should be some system that I devise or, and I say, I mean, you know, the, the Iranian diaspora devices for.
Saman Askari:
32:05
Yeah, as you know, the diaspora is really divided, right? You mentioned Reza Pahlavi, you mentioned the MEK and then there are people that are pro reform, and they sort of go at it. Um, you've received your fair share of criticism. People point to your family connection to Mohammad Khatami. You've been open about that. Uh, you've been a translator for Iranian presidents that have come to the US. You talk about how you sort of fell into that. You never received any payments from the government. Your grandfather was a prominent ayatollah. that all of that sort of makes you biased. That you may think more highly of the Islamic republic as a system than it deserves to be thought of. And you've certainly been critical of the regime at times when you need it to be. But what is your response to that kind of criticism?
Hooman Majd:
32:56
Are you going to be criticized? No matter what you do, once you're a public figure? Um, no matter what you say, uh, I can't, I can't help that I'm, am I more willing to give the Islamic system of break? No, I'm, I'm, I'm an observer. That's what I am. I don't, I don't claim to be an academic. I'm not, I'm not defending the electronic system. I'm, I do defend Iran as a nation. I believe they have a right to be. Iran has a right to be an independent nation and to be independent from, to be not dependent on another, a greater powers, but Netherlands. Um, listen, I mean in terms of family, yes, I've had family, like many Iranians, we had family on both sides of the revolution. My father was, was a, was a dismissed as an ambassador of the show. He was ambassador to Tokyo at the time of the revolution.
Hooman Majd:
33:40
We lost everything. My Dad never got another job in his life. He died, not, not penniless, but not a wealthy man at all. Living in a small bedroom, small one bedroom apartment in London, former ambassador of the shot. So if I was going to be, if I want it to be critical of the regime, the regime that fired my father never paid his retirement money. You never paid his pension? Nothing. When he worked for 40 years for the, for the government of the Chavez government or 30 years or whatever it was. Um, yeah. I have every right to be angry at the system. But you have to put aside your personal feelings. If you going to be an observer, at least in my opinion, I was going to be an observer when I started writing about Iranians can be an observer of the Iranian seen inside your rod mostly, and I do happen to have connections with some of the people in the revolutionary government because part of my family were revolutionaries.
Hooman Majd:
34:33
I'm not my father, obviously. He was on the opposite side. My uncle had to escape Iran, dressed as a woman and was, had a death sentence to get some Sony, you know, we have have that history to. This is not an excuse for what I've written because I stand by everything I've written, but I said as someone who grew up in the west, I don't give myself the right to say, oh, the Islamic system is horrible. The Islamic system has been very bad for my immediate family, my mom, my dad, my brother and my sister and me. When I say that in terms of. But it's been fine for some of my other family, including people like, you know, autonomy and people like that. Um, but I, I just don't give myself the right to, to decide what is correct for Iran. It goes without saying the fact that I live here and not in Iran. The life I live as an American in America, in Brooklyn, as you point out, means that I prefer this system. Right. Otherwise I'd go back to Iran. So my preference is to live in a secular democracy.
Hooman Majd:
35:38
That doesn't mean just because it's my preference. It should, it has to be the preference of every Irani. So that's the only thing I can say. But no, in terms of criticism, sure. It gives people in there, you know, lobby supporters who troll me or Mek troll me on, on, on twitter and you know, say how awful I am on the regime apologists. That's a nice thing they say about you apologize. Otherwise I'm an agent who's got money and you know, drives a Ferrari courtesy of the foreign minister of Iran, stuff like that. I mean, what can you say to those people? I can't say anything to them. They're just as intolerant as far as I'm concerned. They're just as intolerant of any other opinion as some people back in Iran are in the government, are intolerant of other people's opinion. Um, I've just tried throughout the time that I've either done journalism or been an author of books on Iran.
Hooman Majd:
36:30
I've just tried to, um, present, you know, what I see more than the girls wouldn't. You said earlier on, you asked me earlier on. It's interesting how I have all kinds of people that go and see. And Iran is because I want to show all of Iran, not just one side, you know, I don't want to just see the people in Guam are, don't just want to see only the political figures and then talk about how great the political system is. I want to say this is Iran with all its, you know, the title, the subtitle of my book was the paradox of your own. I don't like that word that much because too many people use it like Iranian paradox and all that. Um, and I didn't come up with that title is publisher always comes up with a subtitle. Um, but, um, my editors did, but, but my point is that, you know, I just want to show what, what, what I want it to show with my first book, what Iran, Iran was from that sort of social and political aspect. And then, you know, my second book was highly critical and around Islamic democracy was um, uh, the isos democracy was very critical of because it was written about the green movement more than anything else. Very critical of the system. So, but I can't help it if people don't like what I say.
Saman Askari:
37:36
Yeah. So you mentioned that you haven't been back since 2013. Is there a reason for that?
Hooman Majd:
37:42
I can't go, yeah. Can you share why not? I don't know. W I think you'd have to ask the authorities. Um, yeah, I've been told I shouldn't go. I shouldn't say it that way because of the, because of books. Yeah. And writings and I'm, you know, I'm, I'm accused of the same thing. So the, in the Iranian diaspora accused me of being an agent of the Islamic republic. Some people in Iran accused me being an agent of the United States, so that's a good sign. You get it from all sides. One does get it from all sides, you know, when they start accusing Jason Rezaian being an agent of the Islamic republic, can you really know what kind of people we're dealing with in the US? In the diaspora? Um, but no, uh, yeah, it's probably, I mean, I, I don't know. I've been interrogated in the past. I've written about it in my book that I've been interrogated the neuron. I've had situations in Iran, but I've been told I shouldn't go.
Saman Askari:
38:41
Yeah. So before I let you go, any new projects you're working on now?
Hooman Majd:
38:47
Specific projects you're working on. I'm working on a nonfiction fiction books, so I've written some nonfiction. I do, I've written short stories, have been published, but this will be a hopefully a longer form, but yeah, that's it. You Jack of all trades. We're quite a fashion icon as well. A master master of none. I'm not a fashion icon.
Saman Askari:
39:14
Alright, Hooman, you've been very generous with your time. Really appreciate it.
Hooman Majd:
39:20
Nice to talk to you. Good to meet you as well. Good luck with this. Thank you. I appreciate it. Take care. Hope to run into you again.
Saman Askari:
39:35
All right. I hope you enjoyed that conversation. Before we end the episode, I wanted to ask something of those of you who listened in today. In order for me to keep working on this podcast and for it to be sustainable, I would need it to reach a critical mass of listeners, so if you in fact find it to be interesting and productive and would like to see it grow and evolve, please share it on social media, blog about it, review it, or simply tell others about it. My goal is to keep things interesting and not just focus on current events. That is what I'm focusing on right now because there's a lot happening with Iran as you know, but at some point I would like to invite people with different backgrounds to discuss Iran and Iranians from cultural, historical, and other perspectives as well. So your support in sharing and talking about this project would be highly appreciated and it would really help me along that path. So, thanks again for your continued support and take care.
×

Listen to this podcast on