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Working for civil liberties in Iran

Conversation with musician, activist Turaj Zaim: "We can no longer afford to misjudge and suspect each other rather than taking action"

While hunger strikes took place around the country between Feb 19-21, in San Francisco a small group gathered around musician and activist, Turaj Zaim, to support his symbolic hunger strike meant to focus attention to the human & civil rights abuses in Iran. Turaj announcing his first hunger strike — Photo Credit: FogCityJournal.comTuraj is no stranger to hunger strikes, having organized a successful two week strike back in the Fall of 2009 to pressure the Iranian government to release his father, Kourosh, who had been arrested in the past and released, only to be detained again within weeks of the disputed June election. Turaj and his family escaped Iran during the Iraq-Iran war, though his father remained imprisoned in Iran. Having previously met Turaj at several events, I visited him at UN Plaza in San Francisco on Saturday, Feb 20th. Settling beside him in the grass, while he sat bundled up in a folding chair with empty cup-holders, I watched as he occasionally jumped up to hand out fliers and information to interested passerby-ers. Turaj and I ended up having a very long, candid, and rewarding conversation about the diaspora at large. We danced around a lot of topics, but ultimately I think we reached a consensus that to most effectively support the Iranian people, we all have to do it together. The power of a movement is in its numbers, so regardless of affiliation or non-affiliation, work with an organization or as a solo activist, there had to be something everyone could stand behind. Right? We may have come to a point where we, all of us, networks, organizations, demonstrators etc. must check our personal beliefs, opinions, and ideologies at the door.  Without a sense of cohesion, we all risk alienating other activists, interested non-Iranians, and in this same way, risk isolating ourselves. Activists across the spectrum share common demands. It seems most of the events organized by groups around the world, even if independent of one another, focus on messages hard to refute: an immediate halt to executions, accountability for those who have committed rape, murder, and torture, the unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience, and all those other inherent guarantees that fall under the umbrella of human & civil rights. The true “good faith” effort all us can put forth is to show a unified front in our support. What remains important in the end is that the international media focuses on the message being put-forth and continues to spotlight the abuses in Iran. Even more importantly, the common aims we all make clear we are working towards can help prevent nuanced, distorted media reports in Iran meant to delegitimize the thousands and thousands of passionate supporters who have spent the last eight months dedicating their hearts and time to the cause. Turaj wrote of our meeting:

A woman from United4Iran stopped by, and took some footage, and I’ll link to as soon as she posts it, even though I’m sure it will cause some to warn me again not to associate with green this or diaspora that… Which brings me to one of the realizations I had today, if you will permit me to get it off my chest:

We can no longer afford to misjudge and suspect each other rather than taking action. It is essential to know if an action will contribute to the kind of change you want to see… Because United4Iran is too “reformist” or “green” for your tastes, should you badmouth their attempts to create a unifying platform for the majority of Iranians? Neither of these organizations is radical enough for me, which is why I haven’t associated myself with them. But have you read their mission statement? I don’t personally know a single Iranian who disagrees with their goals.

Turaj was gracious enough to let me record part of our conversation, which I’ve edited for time purposes. The video, below, elaborates on the issues of cohesion throughout the diaspora. He also gives us an update on his father, speaks on information monitoring, offers suggestions as how to keep yourself and family safe when corresponding, and shares how international support can help boost morale.


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Iranian’s Release Ends Bay Area Strike (September 2009) /2009/10/iranian%E2%80%99s-release-ends-bay-area-son%E2%80%99s-hunger-strike/ CaspianVoice.org (Turaj’s Activism Page) http://www.caspianvoice.org/ Turaj Zaim’s Music Page http://www.turaj.com/