Posted by Karmel Melamed
Two years ago I had the special pleasure of interviewing Angella Nazarian, one of the Iranian Jewish community’s best-selling authors and award-winning poets. Her last book “Life As A Visitor” was indeed powerful because it revealed the difficulty she and her family faced as Jewish immigrants fleeing Iran during that country’s 1979 revolution. Nazarian is among the emerging group of highly educated and influential female writers in Southern California’s Iranian Jewish community who are making waves not only within her own community, but also beyond to other groups.
With the recent release of her new book “Pioneers of the Possible: 20 Visionary Women of the World”, Nazarian profiles some of the most incredibly powerful women of the last century. Her book takes an in depth look at how each of these women from different cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds overcame greater difficulties to transform the lives of others for the better. While “Pioneers of the Possible” does feature a Jewish woman— Golda Meir, I think what is one of the most remarkable things about the book, is the author herself. Nazarian, who despite originally coming from a country like Iran where women are today treated like second class citizens, has had the courage to compile this very honest collection of stories about incredible women worldwide. For that reason, I recently sat down with her to chat about her new book…
Your last book focused on sharing your personal experience as an immigrant from Iran to the U.S. three decades ago. What motivated the shift in the focus of your current book which profiles 20 incredible women of the modern era?
As a psychology professor, who has been leading personal development groups for women, visionary women from different backgrounds have always intrigued me. Before I knew that I would be writing this book, I found myself on a quest to discover what the essential ingredients were in making a person extremely fulfilled and successful. My passion has always been to encourage women to lead their best lives, so I started with reading biographies of inspiring women from all around the world who changed history. My notes were voluminous, and then it clicked—I found myself with the makings of my next book. “Pioneers of the Possible: Celebrating Visionary Women of the World,” was born.
How exactly did you select the ladies for your book? And have any of them had a particular impact on your career or life?
I first started reading about the women I’ve always been more curious to learn about. But I also had a system to my research: all these women must have hurdled gender or ideological or creative barriers and should have been from different cultures. Also, these visionary women should have radically changed the landscape of their discipline, whether it was dance or architecture, or being an entrepreneur or leading a country. I am happy to say that I found that women all over the world have had a tremendous impact on their community and culture at large. The past year I had the great privilege of being inspired by their lives and I hope to share their stories with everyone else. These stories of course had a positive impact on me. One thing that it validated in me is the whole idea of “following your bliss.” One of the most important things we can do for ourselves is to listen closely to what makes us happy and keep doing more of it. Following that path will surely lead us to places that we would have never known but will nonetheless bring us a sense of discovery and aliveness.
During your research into each of the women featured in the book, were there any ladies in particular that you were especially impressed with and if so, what specific facts about them really stood out for you?
All the woman featured in the book are extraordinary, but for me discovering heroes and pioneers that I had not known before was very exciting. Helen Suzman, a Jewish woman who was nominated twice for the Nobel Peace prize, was an incredible inspiration to me. For 13 years she was the only member of South Africa’s parliament who openly challenged Apartheid policy. Nelson Mandela was deeply indebted to her for visiting him while he was in prison so many years—while she fought their shared cause. On her final visit to Victor Verster Prison, six months before Mandela’s release in 1989, the world’s most famous political prisoner asked Suzman to autography a book she had brought him. He, in return, autographed “Fear No Evil”, a book by Natan Sharansky, the famous Russian dissident and activist, who was sent to the Gulags for nine years. Sharansky indeed is a hero in Israel and that I have had the distinct pleasure of meeting. How interesting to see that the biggest activists are connected in such a way. Suzman’s life much like Mandela’s or Sharansky’s—was a message for all the world to see: to stand up for your convictions, even if you are alone. Master Cheng Yen was known as the Mother Theresa of the Far East. Here was a nun with just a primary school education and five disciples in a poor, remote corner of Taiwan. She suffered from a heart condition that did not allow her to fly outside her country yet she dreamed of building hospitals and helping the needy all over the world. Today her Tzu Chi organization has 10 million members and is one of the largest non-profit organizations, with an endowment of $850 million. When asked how she could build a global organization, she calmly smiled and responded, “When the time comes, I will know exactly what to do.” She embodies the message of hope and faith to believe in our dreams. Certainly faith in our abilities is one way of combating self-doubt.
You seem to paint a very raw and realistic picture of each of these women and their power/influence in the world. I found this particularly to be true of your section on Golda Meir. Can you please shed light on the portrayal of each woman and also the section on Golda Meir?
It is easy to write a biography of people listing their accomplishments and awards but somehow I feel we miss on the true spirit of the person. The deeper lesson for me was to probe and ask: what motivated each woman to commit such a large part of their life energy to a field, who was there support them, how did they manage to succeed against such odds? Answering these questions seemed to paint a more humanistic picture of these women. Golda has always been a hero of mine and an entire country. I found that her magnetic leadership was really based on her being able to connect to ideas and people on an emotional level. She once said, “It’s not accident many accuse me of conducting public affairs with my heart instead of my head. Well, what if I do? Those who don’t know how to weep with their whole heart don’t know how to laugh either.” Golda led a country through war and one of her sparring partners was Anwar Sadat. But when one watches clips of her talking to Sadat in 1977, on the cusp of signing a peace treaty, she approaches him on a human level. She first starts out by saying how they are both grandparents, she gives him a gift, she makes him laugh, she pokes fun of her age, admonishes him in gest. But then she also tells him, with serious intent, of the importance of meeting face to face, of dialogue and the hope for having peace in the region. That clip captures it all. What the viewer sees is two real people who happen to be people interacting with each other. In a world where so much is scripted and rehearsed, polished leaders run the risk of appearing two dimensional—not resonating on a human level to people they serve. Golda had the gift of doing things wholeheartedly, but also making sure she had a human touch, or should I say, a woman’s touch.
What was your overriding objective in creating this particular book?
Our purpose in life may be large or small. In most cases, it’s multi-leveled. But no matter where we are headed, learning about the lives of other women is an inspiring way to honor who we are and to encourage each other toward greater and deeper lives.
You’ve seemed to cover significant women from various regions, cultures, religions and ethnicities. Was there a specific purpose to make this a multi-cultural focused book for everyone? Or were these women just chosen for the merit of their works?
The saying goes, “we live in a global village”. So, it was important to me to write about women from different cultures because often times books and magazines tend to have a more Western focus. And, all these women deserve recognition especially because of what they have accomplished against all odds.
Both you and your husband come from families with very strong women and female role models. Can you please share what if any of them have had an impact on your life?
I take great pride in being raised in a family where I was encouraged to pursue my love for learning. I can say that my gratitude for my mother deepens with every year. I see that she has a tremendous spirit and resilient nature. It is as if she has a commitment to being happy and there is nothing more empowering to see a mother happy in her life—it gives the message of the sweetness of life to her kids. I am also extra lucky that I have spent the past 23 years in my husband’s family. When I was thirteen years old, I once saw my future mother-in-law at a party and I was dazzled by her. I thought to myself right then and there that I one day I would like to be gracious and warm like her. Little did I know that she would become my mother-in-law. She has shown me that it is possible to nurture one’s own gifts while keeping up with a family life. She is a talented sculptor and she works with a great deal of love and passion. Last year, in her gallery exhibition she said something to an audience that has stayed with me ever since. She told a group of young women that “being feminine and soft spoken is not a sign of weakness but can be our strength.” These are just two examples of women in my family and I can list more. I think the single most important inspiration comes from personal examples of those around us and I am lucky to have so many around me.
Iranian Jewish women of the last century seem to have a tremendous amount of inner strength. Where do you see the next generation of women from the Iranian Jewish community going?
There is tremendous potential and opportunity for the next generation of Iranian Jewish women. I see so many who are striving for higher education. There are women who are now surgeons, consultants, and attorneys. There are also those who are in some way committed to their growth as a person. It is not that every woman needs to work outside of the house. I think what is more important is that every woman needs to feel that she is a positive force in the life of her family and community. As much as there are opportunities around us, great distractions abound. It is up to each and every one of us to make growth and learning a priority in our lives, and it is up to all of us to support one another towards that path. The more important question is how I, as a parent or a friend, support other’s dreams and needs. Because we come from a traditional and collective culture, we tend to have a harder time supporting those who have different ideas for a vocation, or time of marriage, etc… Not everyone can be fulfilled by one path set out before them.
With the current poor status of women in Iran, can you please comment on the significance of the fact that you as an Iranian woman have featured a book containing another well-respected Iranian woman and other women of prominence in the world?
From what I understand, more women in Iran nowadays go to college than their male counterparts. And yet, they lack many human rights. In doing my research on the brilliant and pioneering poet, Forough Farrokhzad, so many writers referred to her need to express her personal feelings as a form of unveiling. Forough paid a high price for her brilliance indeed, but she felt that pursuing her quest for her deeper self was not a choice; she had to surrender to it. In her poems she discovered herself, and in her poems she craved understanding and through the process she became a giant in Persian literature. All the women that I have showcased in the book have had to face many challenges and yet they were driven by the pure fire of a calling. Forough serves as an example for all of us, that our work in life can serve a higher purpose. There are women now in Iran who tread the same path as Forough but in a different way. I just met the brave Sussan Tahmasebi, who led the Million-Signature Campaign in Iran to ask for women’s greater rights. She too is a pioneer in the symbolic unveiling of women.
You don’t have daughters of your own, but what message would you like young women today to be left with after reading your book?
I love this question Karmel. It is true that I don’t have daughters of my own, but I hope this book is an inspiration to my sons as well. Just recently my son, Phillip came back from college and was excited to tell me that he was reading the works of “Simone de Beauvoir”—another woman I have showcased in the book. I feel that the world is a better place when men respect and support the efforts of the women around them as well. But the overriding message of the book is that as women, we need to first look at our talents and strengths and not focus as much on our weaknesses. We are not supposed to be perfect in everyway…none of the women I have read about had a perfect life. But what research has shown me is that the most effective and successful women have managed to tailor a life that is based on their strengths and talents. Vibrant and happy women chose activities that bring meaning to their lives and nourish their inner needs. There is no true definition of the right path for we all have our unique calling and we are all capable of being pioneers in our own lives!
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March 5, 2012 | 7:52 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Many Iranian Americans of the Christian and Jewish faiths this week were shocked and baffled how President Obama publicly apologized recently for the inadvertent burning of Korans at an American base in Afghanistan, while just a year ago the President said nothing when the Iranian government officially burned thousands of bibles in a Nazi-like campaign of book burning. In recent years the evil fundamentalist Islamic regime of Iran has burned countless bibles in Iran for fear of the “spread of Christianity” among the youth in Iran. Countless Americans who are of the Judeo-Christian background cannot understand how President Obama has repeatedly expressed the need to be “sensitive” about the Islamic faith and have respect for this religion, while at the same time the President has failed to condemn radical elements in Iran and the Islamic world who show no sensitivity nor respect for religions other than Islam. Why do you have such a double standard Mr. President? Are not burnings of all holy religious scriptures by anyone a horrendous act?
What is completing idiotic about this foolish act of bible burning by Iran’s government officials is that in Islam and in the Koran, Jesus is considered a disciple of God and followers of Islam are called on to respect Christianity. The recent burning of Korans in Afghanistan were no doubt wrong. At the same time, two wrongs do not make a right— and the Iranian government’s burning of bibles does not justify burning Korans anywhere. Any kind of holy book burning for that matter should be condemned because it is a barbaric act of intolerance and those who love freedom must speak out against it.
Yet I am not at all shocked at President Obama’s silence on the Iranian government’s burning or bibles last year because it was yet another prime example of his indifference to the plight of religious minorities suffering at the hands of Iran’s regime and the President’s shameful lack of courage to speak out against heinous human rights violations committed by the Iranian regime. When the people of Iran in 2009 began marching in the streets demanding for greater freedoms, democracy and an end to the brutal dictatorship of Iran’s notorious mullahs, the President for several days did not utter a word of backing for their cries for help nor did he condemn innocent civilians being slaughtered in the main cities of Iran. Finally, following a week or so after the protestors were killed, beaten and imprisoned, President Obama gave a watered-down weak speech asking for the Iranian regime to “allow for greater freedoms” for their people. The people of Iran were disappointed with the President’s catastrophic failure to back them and their quest for true freedom. The people of Iran then showed their disappointment when they chanted in the streets; “Obama you are either with us or you are with them!” The President did nothing when he could have more vocally stepping onto the world’s stage in support of Iran’s people. The President wanted to “make nice” with the mullahs ruling Iran in an effort to lure them to the negotiating table on the nuclear issue. Well this approach clearly failed and the regime’s leadership spat in his face and refused to negotiate. What amazes Iranian Americans is the fact that the President has very vocally supported protestors demanding greater freedoms in the Arab countries of Libya, Tunsia, Egypt, Syria and Yemen and he has demanded the ouster of their dictator leaders— yet he fails to act the same when it comes to the people of Iran who are protesting against the brutal dictatorship of the mullahs in Iran! Again why is there a double standard Mr. President when it comes to the freedom loving people of Iran? Is their yearning for freedom and desire not to be killed by their oppressive regime less important than that of individuals living in the Arab world?
As Americans go to the polls this November, they need to ask themselves whether they want a courageous leader with a strong moral conviction who will speak out against intolerance and stand up to evil in the world coming from Iran’s leaders— or if they prefer a passive leader who sits on the sidelines quietly while this type of evil continues growing. I for one hope President Obama wakes up soon and strongly condemns the hate spewing from Iran’s regime and changes his policy to that of regime change in Iran before this current fundamentalist radical Islamic government in Iran spreads its evil through out the world.
March 3, 2012 | 1:55 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Earlier this week, Southern California’s Iranian Jewish community said goodbye to one of their most respected and dedicated leaders, Ebrahim Yahid who passed away at age 90. Yahid was one only three individuals from the older generation of Jewish leaders from Iran who had pulled himself up from poverty, helped the Jewish community prosper and aided Israel in every way possible from age 22 to the last days of his life. The man’s accomplishments for this community and for the State of Israel were nothing short of remarkable.
I had a close friendship with Yahid over the last 12 years and interviewed him frequently for articles I was working on regarding the lives of Jews under the “Pahlavi Dynasty” in Iran. This time period was by historical standards a “golden age” for Jews in Iran who gained greater personal freedoms, achieved educational and financial success and enjoyed substantial tolerance as minorities living in a country of Muslims in the majority. Contrary to their current second class status which has been in place since the 1979 revolution, Jews under the Pahlavi dynasty thrived and were able to help Iran modernize and develop rapidly because of their contacts in trade and commerce. In fact, a select few Iranian Jews helped gradually foster and forge the significant ties between Iran and Israel during this time period— a relationship which benefit for both countries. Yahid was one of those special Iranian Jews who promoted trade and political cooperation between the two countries. With both Israel and Iran sharing mutual enemies about the Arab countries in the region, their alliance was only natural. In one interview Yahid informed me how the city of Qazvin in Iran was destroyed following a horrible earthquake in the 1960s and how the Israeli government donated pre-fabricated homes for the residences of Qazvin to live in afterwards. That goodwill gesture between the two countries was brought about because of individuals like Yahid who saw the larger geo-political and trade importance of the Israeli-Iranian alliance. Interestingly enough Israeli engineering firms later helped modernize Qazvin under new urban development programs put in place by the Iranian government. More significantly, Yahid informed me that Israeli civil engineers even discovered a sweet water lake meters under the surface in Qazvin and they helped put in place a remarkable irrigation and water usage system for the city that is still in use to this day in Qazvin. This project was just one of hundreds in place between Israel and Iran during the late Shah of Iran’s reign that helped modernize Iran’s agriculture, technology, infrastructure and commerce. While the mullah’s who rule Iran today with an iron fist condemn the Iranian-Israeli relationship during the Shah’s reign as evil, historians will eventually look back on the ties between the two nations more favorably because of the substantial benefit to both countries that came about.
Yet trade was not the only contribution Yahid made to Israel and Iran. At the start of World War II, Yahid volunteered to serve in the British army based in Iran and was later promoted to the rank of Second Lieutenant in the military intelligence. During the course of his work in the British military, he was responsible for protecting the vital oil pipelines in Iran that were used by the allies against the Nazis. Yahid was also a member of the Jewish Brigade and was key in helping to transport Jewish soldiers from Poland and the former Soviet Union onto oil carrying ships from Iran that were headed for Israel. In his military capacity, Yahid was also one a small group of Iranian Jews who aided in the transport hundreds of orphaned Jewish children known as the “Tehran Children” who had fled Nazi Europe via Iran and were later sent to Israel. A true Zionist through and through, following World War II and the establishment of the State of Israel, Yahid worked voluntarily and tirelessly to support the new Jewish state as a liaison between the Israeli embassy in Tehran under Israeli Ambassador Meir Ezri and the Iranian foreign ministry. During the early 1950’s when Jews were fleeing or exiled from Iraq and traveling to Iran, Yahid was among a group of Iranian Jews who helped the Iraqi Jews immigrate to Israel. In addition, Yahid spearheaded fundraising efforts in Iran on behalf of countless Israeli non-profits including the Jewish National Fund and the Jewish Agency that was promoting Iranian Jewish emigration to Israel.
During the last 30 years a retired Yahid dedicated his life to countless causes in Southern California’s Iranian Jewish community and numerous non-profit groups based in Israel. He was one of the founders of both the “Iranian American Jewish Federation” and the “Nessah Israel Educational & Cultural Center”. He continued his fundraising efforts among local Iranian Jews on behalf of the Jewish National Fund and even into his 70’s and 80’s he was taking large tourist groups of Iranian Jews to visit Israel. He was a tremendously knowledgeable resource that I tapped into on many occasions to shed light on how Iranian Jews have changed since their arrival to the U.S. from Iran.
In the end Yahid’s impact on Iranian Jewry during the last century and support for both Iran and Israel were monumental. His loss to the Iranian American Jewish community is substantial and his void will no doubt be felt. What is more heartbreaking about the loss of Yahid is the fact that there are not very many couragous, dedicated and heavily involved leaders in the Iranian Jewish community today who are taking bold actions to strengthen the community in the U.S. and unselfishly give to the cause of Israel. Sadly most of our older leadership in Los Angeles seem to be more interested in their own private business pursuits and involvement with social gatherings rather than doing anything substantive for the community. Likewise as Israel and Iran are today on the brink of war, the warm relations which once existed between the two countries from the 1950’s to 1979 should stand as an excellent example of how countries in the Middle East of different backgrounds can prosper together and also what happens when radical fundamentalist Islamic forces, that have no tolerance for others, can do the opposite in the region.
January 9, 2012 | 8:13 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Southern California’s Iranian Jewish community has been abuzz this week after a recent press conference held by the Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca who announced that Iranian Jewish volunteer deputy Shervin Lalezary was responsible for the arrest of an alleged serial arsonist in the Hollywood area. The 30-year-old Lalezary, who is also a real estate attorney, spoke humbly at the press conference about his detection and arrest of the suspect in the case. To say that local Iranian Jews are thrilled and proud of Lalezary is an understatement. Community leaders and members I have spoken to this past week have all demanded that I give proper coverage in the L.A. Jewish Journal to Lalezary because they believe he is one of the great examples of what is right about Southern California’s Iranian Jewry.
Following last year’s conviction of former local Iranian Jewish banker Ezri Namvar and the recent arrest of Iranian Jewish radio talk show host John Farahi, many in the community have been disappointed with the lack of good news coming from those within their ranks. So this story of Lalezary comes at a great time when L.A. Iranian Jewry can proudly point to one of their own as an example of our generosity to the greater community in L.A. and our desire to bring about “Tikun Olam” or healing of the world. Iranian Jews live in a very insular and tight-knit community, often not allowing outsiders to really understand them. Sadly as a result, sometimes a few individuals from outside the community are often quick to write-off or judge the entire community based on a few rotten apples. Yet every once in a while a great example of our community’s giving nature, love of community and desire to help others shines— such was the case this week with deputy Lalezary. He is not only an educated productive contributor to the economy of L.A. but also volunteers his free time for the benefit of law enforcement and protection of all Angelinos. This blog salutes deputy Lalezary and congratulates his family for giving us an individual who has given back to the larger community unselfishly and with bravery. Again, he is what is truly right about L.A.’s Iranian Jews and a fantastic example that the new generation of young Iranian Jews can emulate.
January 3, 2012 | 8:13 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
More than two dozen Christian men, women and children celebrating Christmas earlier this week in their church located in the southern Iranian city of “Ahvaz” were promptly arrested and hauled off to a local jail. The small evangelical congregation was hauled into two buses that were waiting for them in what local witnesses described as a planned raid by the local police. What was their supposed crime? Well accordingly to Iranian officials, these families were allegedly proselytizing Christianity among Muslims in Iran which the current government considers illegal and is punishable by death! While the worshipers of this Iranian church were eventually released, their pastor, Farhad Sabokrouh and his wife still remain in jail and are being held on crimes against Islam.
This horrid Christmas day raid and arrest of innocent Christian families in Iran is yet another prime example of the pure evil nature of Iran’s regime, which despite its propaganda machine, has zero tolerance for individuals who are not from the Shiite Islamic faith. It’s a travesty that the news media in the West have given no coverage to this story and governments in Europe and the U.S. have remained silent while the Iranian regime commits this unspeakable crime on Christmas, a day of peace and holiness for billions of people worldwide. What amazes me the most is how the depraved Iranian police can handcuffed and hauled off to jail innocent children! How can this heinous Iranian regime accuse children, of all people, for proselytizing Christianity?!
What is most hypocritical of this entire fiasco is the fact that just a day earlier the speaker of the Iranian parliament, Ali Larijani sent Christmas greetings to Pope Benedict XVI. The audacity of the Iranian regime to attempt to curry favor with the Pope and attempt to “improve their tarnished image” in the world while at the same time persecuting innocent Christian families in their own country is just remarkable! Where is the outage from the international community and the Vatican for this crime against innocent Christian families in Iran? Why hasn’t the current Pope denounced the Iranian regime for this unspeakable crime committed on Christmas against families in Iran? It seems as if while Pope John Paul II had the courage to speak out against the evils of Communist regimes in Russia and Eastern Europe more than 30 years ago, the current Pope Benedict XVI lacks the same courage to speak out against the evils of Islamo-fascism spewing out of Iran.
The Christmas arrest in Iran is not the first incident of Christian persecution by the Iranian regime. The government in Iran since 1979 has systematically persecuted non-Muslims in Iran (especially Jews, Bahais and Zoroastrians) including Christians. Individuals from the Christian faith have typically been imprisoned or executed— and of them, many were former Muslims who converted to Christianity or encouraged other Muslims to convert to Christianity. For instance, in October 2009, an Iranian Christian Evangelical pastor, Youcef Nadarkhani was arrested in his home by Iranian police in the city of Rasht after seeking to register his house church. In September 2010, Nadarkhani, who is married with two children, was found guilty of abandoning Islam and sentenced to death. While his case is pending appeal, the Iranian judiciary has offered to spare Nadarkhani’s life if he denounces Christianity and returns to Islam. To the contrary, Nadarkhani has refused to leave his faith and remains imprisoned as the Iranian regime attempts to use whatever means possible to force his conversion back to Islam. Nadarkhani’s case has uniquely gained international attention with media coverage of the story in Europe and the West which has placed some pressure of Iranian’s leadership. Yet the case remains unresolved and just before Christmas this year, an Iranian court ordered Nadarkhani be imprisoned for another year before being executed.
The millions of practicing evangelical Christians and other Christians in the U.S., Canada and South America must demand that their governments and the U.N. hold Iran’s regime accountable for their Christmas crimes against innocent Christian families in Iran. The world cannot continue to remain silent while the Iranian government continues to persecute peoples of others faiths and blatantly violates human rights. What should scare the international community is the clear fact that the same Iranian regime that abuses and threatens its own Christian population would not hesitate to do the same to other countries in the world if their regime ever obtains nuclear weapons.
December 27, 2011 | 7:52 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told an audience of diplomats at the United Nations in Geneva that “gay rights are human rights” and that “it should never be a crime to be gay”. Yet what was surprising about Mrs. Clinton’s gay rights speech for many of us who have been following the Obama administration’s foreign policy on human rights was its lack of real substance. She stated the U.S. would make decisions on asylum and aid to countries based on their record of human rights towards LGBT but nothing more. Why wasn’t there a bold call to rally western nations to pursue a tougher “no nonsense” stance against regime’s who abuse or kill LGBT because of their sexual orientation? There seems to no “bite” to the Obama administration’s supposed support for human rights for LGBT around the world. Moreover Mrs. Clinton’s speech failed to mention the serious violators of LGBT rights in the Middle East like Saudi Arabia and Iran where homosexuals are routinely executed for their sexual orientation. Iran’s government follows Sharia or Islamic law that prohibits any type of sexual activity outside the realm of heterosexual marriage, and homosexuality is considered “a violation of the supreme will of God.” Specifically, in Islamic law homosexuality is referred to as “lavat,” which is Arabic for sodomy and in Iran is punishable only by death.
Those interested in reading about the Iran government’s significant human rights abuses against LGBT in Iran, can read my recent article about it in the Advocate magazine.
One is left wondering why Mrs. Clinton and the Obama administration for that matter are shying away from or frightened to call out the Iranian regime for their unspeakable crimes against LGBT living in Iran? One would think that the current U.S. administration would make sure to use almost every opportunity they come across to single out and isolate Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic regime. While many nations around the world may be swayed into believing Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful, the majority of them cannot deny that Iran’s policy of executing LGBT is utterly horrid. So why isn’t the Obama administration trying to win world support against Iran’s regime for their human rights violations instead of the nuclear issue? This move would no doubt more easily isolate Iran among the countries of the world. And if would seem that once Iran is isolated to a greater extent, it could potentially change its behavior when it comes to the nuclear issue. But it seems as if the Obama administration is fine with not doing anything of the kind when it comes to isolating Iran internationally on all issues. Yes one can argue that there are many violators of LGBT rights in the Middle East and Africa— but are any of them actively pursuing nuclear weapons and calling for their neighbors to be “wiped off the map” like Iran’s leadership has? The crimes against LGBT and humanity in general committed by Iran’s current leadership during the last 32 years are some of the most horrendous to date and cannot be ignored! For this simple reason alone, Iran must be singled out from the family of nations for their human rights abuses. And for Mrs. Clinton to avoid mentioning Iran in her very important speech, yet again I believe shows weak leadership by the Obama administration when it comes to the issue of Iran policy by the U.S.
I hate to admit it but it seems as if Mrs. Clinton’s speech was nothing more than a 2012 election ploy by the Obama administration to fire up her party’s support among LGBT in the U.S. for President Obama. If there was more substance in her speech and if she had made a real effort to call out Iran’s regime for its LGBT abuses, it would have revealed Mrs. Clinton’s true courage to stand up for real human rights and stand up to Iran for its failed human rights record. In the coming 2012 elections those who truly care about LGBT human rights should call out the Obama administration for their failure to do and say nothing about the unspeakable LGBT abuses occurring in Iran today.
December 19, 2011 | 10:30 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
The United States Senate very rarely passes votes unanimously on major legislation during the course of a year and in its long history. Yet earlier this month the U.S. Senate voted unanimously on one of the most stringent sanctions to date on Iran’s Central Bank. The legislation was spearheaded by both Democratic Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Republican Senator Mark Kirk of Illionis— indeed a very unusual occasion when both parties come agree to hammer out a bill that benefits the country and the world. But these two courageous lawmakers and the rest of the U.S. Senate clearly realized that Iran’s attaining nuclear weapons is a very serious matter and stopping that regime now with tougher economic sanctions without firing a single bullet was the right move. Despite passage of this landmark amendment known as “Menendez -Kirk” in the Senate, President Obama and his administration have for some foolish reason refused to support it!
I think it’s important to lay out what the amendment truly calls for in order for one to realize how totally ludicrous it would be for any U.S. lawmaker to oppose it. The amendment does the following…
“Prohibits the opening or maintaining in the U.S. of a correspondent account or a payable-through account on foreign financial institutions engaged in non-petroleum-related transactions with the Central Bank of Iran after 60 days. In addition, it imposes sanctions on foreign financial institutions, including central banks, engaged in petroleum-related transactions with the Central Bank of Iran after 180 days with 180-day special exemptions tied to the availability of non-Iranian oil on the market and a country’s significant reduction in purchases of Iranian oil. Likewise it provides a humanitarian exception for food, medicine and medical devices. Lastly it allows the president with an unclassified national security waiver authority every 120 days”.
Now those of us who are well aware of the serious threat a nuclear Iran is to the free world and also believe the military option is not the right route to take against Iran, are simply baffled at why President Obama will not sign this amendment into law! We all know that a key component that is keeping Iran’s radical fundamentalist Islamic regime surviving is its financial lifeline— which is now a shaky economy. So one is left wondering why the President who has said “a nuclear Iran is not acceptable” has failed to take a solid step in squeezing Iran’s lifeline? Moreover one is shocked at how the President has failed to sign Menendez –Kirk, even though it was unanimously passed in the Senate by both Democrats and Republicans? How can President Obama oppose Menendez –Kirk that also gives him both a national security waiver and a waiver to avoid international difficulties to the flow of oil in the world? Mr. President what is stopping you from delivering a strong blow to Iran’s regime without taking the military option? Mr. President what more do you need to sign this necessary bill that could expedite demise of the Islamic Republic of Iran with firing a single shot?
I contacted the White House press office a few times via e-mail and asked for a legitimate answer as to why the President refuses to sign Menendez –Kirk, but never heard back from them. Yet I’m not the only one frustrated by the President’s failure in taking a strong leadership role on Iran policy and this amendment, just listen to U.S. Senator Menendez, who is from the President’s political party, expressing his disappointment and outrage at President Obama’s lack of support for this powerful amendment…
The President’s refusal to support this amendment is yet another prime example of a golden opportunity that the President has passed on in effectively stopping Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons without taking military steps. President Obama’s first passed up golden opportunity to help stop Iran’s regime came in the summer of 2009 when the brave people of Iran began protesting in the streets of Iran against the rigged presidential elections. The people of Iran began marching in the streets demanding for greater freedoms, democracy and an end to the brutal dictatorship of Iran’s notorious mullahs. What did the President do in response to the Iranian people’s cries for help? For several days he did nothing! He did not utter a word of backing for their cries for help. Finally after a week or so when the protestors were killed, beaten and imprisoned, President Obama gave a watered-down weak speech asking for the Iranian regime to “allow for greater freedoms” for their people. The people of Iran were disappointed with the President’s catastrophic failure to back them and their quest for true freedom— and they showed this disappointment when they chanted in the streets; “Obama you are either with us or you are with them!” The President did nothing when he could have more vocally stepping onto the world’s stage in support of Iran’s people. The President wanted to “make nice” with the mullahs ruling Iran in an effort to lure them to the negotiating table on the nuclear issue. Well this approach clearly failed and the regime’s leadership spat in his face and refused to negotiate. President Obama instead could have pledged economic and diplomatic support for the people of Iran’s desires to be free from their oppressive regime. He could have urged the people of Iran to topple their bloodthirsty oppressors by promising support from the U.S. All of this potential help from the President could have possibly helped start the demise of Iran’s current regime and Iran’s nuclear weapons program without a single bullet or missile fired by the U.S. or any other country. Yet in the end the President missed this golden opportunity and proved that his approach and policy of dealing with Iran is an utter failure.
Lastly what continues to baffle me about the President’s failure to sign this stringent sanction on Iran’s Central Bank is the fact that the European governments, whom have more trade with Iran and purchase Iran’s oil in larger volumes, are now considering similar tough sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank— while we in the U.S. who do not trade with Iran and do not purchase Iranian oil are doing nothing! It just doesn’t make sense for us here in the U.S. not to stop Iran’s financial lifeline when we have little if nothing to loose financially from doing so!
Readers of this blog often e-mail me or post comments asking why I am so critical of President Obama’s approach on Iran. Well his failure to take courageous and effective leadership steps (without taking military steps) as I’ve listed above are prime examples of why this U.S. President is either a complete fool when it comes to dealing with Iran, or surrounded by fools who are advising him poorly on Iran, or just completely incompetent when it comes to serious foreign policy issues relating to Iran and the Middle East! The President’s lack of effective leadership on the Iran issue should put into question his competency to be the commander-in-chief of this great nation in next year’s presidential election. My only hope is that average Americans and the media will ask the President the tough questions when it comes to his lack of leadership on the Iran issue and ask him why he refused to sign the bi-partisan supported Menendez –Kirk amendment that could have helped stop Iran’s nuclear program without firing a single bullet! If Iran ever obtains nuclear weapons during President Obama’s watch, he will go down in history as the president who brought both America and the world closer to nuclear annihilation.
December 13, 2011 | 1:52 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Los Angeles area Iranian Jewish radio talk show host and financial investment manager, John Farahi last week was charged in U.S. Federal District Court in downtown Los Angeles with allegedly defrauding more than 100 local Iranian American investors and various financial institutions of nearly $20 million through an elaborate Ponzi scheme he carried out for nearly five years.
The 41-count indictment stated that 54-year-old Farahi misled investors by telling them their funds were being invested by his Beverly Hills firm, NewPoint Financial Services Inc., in unsecured corporate bonds, FDIC-insured certificates of deposit, government bonds, and corporate bonds issued by companies backed by funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). Yet the indictment alleges that Farahi did not make these investments for his clients but instead used the funds to make Ponzi payments to his firm’s earlier clients, traded in high-risk future options trading and used the funds for his own personal use and to support his family’s lavish lifestyle.
“Starting in 2008 Farahi allegedly failed to tell NewPoint Financial Services investors that he had lost at least $15 million through his undisclosed options trading— even as he continued to solicit investors for NewPoint Financial Services,” indicated a recently released U.S. Department of Justice statement about the case.
In addition, the indictment states that since 2003, Farahi used his radio program, “The Economy Today,” featured on the Studio City-based Farsi-language Radio Iran KIRN 670 AM, to target members of L.A.’s Iranian American community— many of whom were Iranian Jews, recommending they make appointments at his firm. According to the indictment, Farahi also allegedly lied to major banks about his financial condition in order to drawn funds from lines credit he had with the banks.
In April 2009, following the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigation into Farahi and his firm, the indictment states that Farahi allegedly conspired with his Century City attorney, David Tamman, to cover up his fraud scheme from the SEC. As a result Tamman was also recently indicted for his alleged involvement with the cover up of Farahi’s supposed Ponzi scheme.
According to U.S. Federal statutes, if convicted on all 41 criminal counts, Farahi could face a maximum sentence of more than 700 years in federal prison and Tamman could face a maximum sentence of 190 years in federal prison.
Farahi’s indictment has only added to the local Iranian Jewish community’s embarrassment as it comes on the heals of the recent conviction of Ezri Namvar, another local Iranian Jewish investment banker and real estate developer. Namvar was sentenced in October to seven years in federal prison for stealing about $20 million from four clients who had given money to his company to facilitate1031 exchanges— transactions in which property sellers defer paying taxes by parking proceeds with an intermediary until they find another property to buy.
In late 2008, two dozen creditors — most of them from Southern California’s Iranian Jewish community — filed an involuntary bankruptcy petition against Namvar and his Namco Capital Group company, accusing him of losing as much as $500 million loaned to him in an alleged Ponzi scheme. While that case is still ongoing, a substantial number of local Iranian Jewish victims of Namvar’s alleged scheme have been financially devastated.
A. David Youssefyeh, a local Iranian Jewish attorney representing nearly a dozen former Namvar investors, said Farahi’s indictment has only further shaken the trust among the tight-knit local Iranian Jewish community who once closed business deals with handshakes alone.
“Farahi’s indictment is another blow to our community, but hopefully out of all of this we will rise with even higher ethical standards in our business dealings, said Youssefyeh. “Although 99.9 percent of our community has had no issues in their business dealings, hopefully Mr. Namvar’s conviction and Mr. Farahi’s indictment will be warning to those who may be tempted to take the easy road in the future”.
In January 2010 the SEC filed a lawsuit against Farahi, his company, his wife, Gissou Rastegar Farahi, and the firm’s controller, Elaheh Amouei for allegedly misleading and defrauding individuals working with his financial investment firm. While the SEC suit has been placed on hold pending the current criminal charges against Farahi, the suit alleged that Farahi’s investors’ money was transferred into personal accounts controlled by Farahi and his wife to build their mansion in Beverly Hills.
Both Farahi and his wife moved in high-end social circles within the local Iranian Jewish community and were involved in organizing fundraising events at the West Hollywood-based Temple Beth El, which is owned and operated by the Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF). Farahi’s wife, a former IAJF board member, also helped organize high-profile fundraising events in the community for Hilary Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid.
The Justice Department statement indicated that after voluntarily surrendering to authorities and being arraigned on December 9th, Farahi was taken into custody. A spokesperson for the Justice Department indicated that bail was denied for Farahi who still remains in custody.