restricted access Introduction: Iranian Diaspora
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Iranian Diaspora

As we enter the fourth decade of Iran’s revolution and continue to study the sweeping changes that such a historic event brought to that nation, it is also fitting that we identify and study the ways that those Iranians who left their homeland in the period between 1979 and 1988 (the establishment of the Islamic Republic and the end of the Iran-Iraq war) and immigrated to other locations have manifest their own unique experience of what we identify as the “Iranian diaspora.” 1 While we use the term diaspora, we are aware of the critical tensions among this word and the terms exile, transnational, and, for that matter, immigration and immigrant. Indeed, essays included in this collection also use the term transnational, but we use diaspora as well partly because of the critical questions it engenders and partly to invoke a term that suggests Iranians’ continuing migration out of Iran because of the political situation inside that nation—most notably the contested 2009 presidential elections and the ongoing tensions between the clerical regime of the Islamic Republic and Iran’s emerging “green movement.”

In using the term diaspora, we employ, in part, Stéphane Dufoix’s notion of diaspora:

Relieved of its heavy burden of misery, persecution, and punishment, the word nicely fits the changes in the relationship to distance, in view of the quasi disappearance of time in its relationship to space . . . . Whether “diaspora” is a common word, a scientifically constructed concept, or a rallying cry that gives meaning to a collective reality, it is highly contemporary. Denying this would be pointless. It is more important to try to understand what this updating of an ancient term involves.2

Dufoix’s critical etymology allows us at once to deploy the term and to be wary of its illusions and limitations. We also recognize that the particular context for the Iranian diaspora has been studied mostly from the point of view of the largest population living outside of Iran: that in the United States. Iranians can also be found in significant populations scattered throughout Canada, Europe, Asia, and Australia. These Iranian immigrants and their second-generation, and now third-generation, children and grandchildren reflect diverse experiences and cultural contexts depending on when they left Iran and how they have been greeted or represented in their host nations. Indeed, the goal of this special section is to reflect the diverse experiences, perspectives, and cultures of the Iranian diaspora in a global context [End Page 381] and to represent the ways that Iranians have articulated a response to their circumstances of immigration and, more important, reinvented themselves as a distinct national and ethnic group outside of Iran.

Twenty years ago, Asghar Fathi edited a groundbreaking volume on Iranian exiles, published by Mazda and titled Iranian Refugees and Exiles since Khomeini. This was a milestone in Iranian studies because it brought a multidisciplinary set of scholars to a seemingly novel situation but one that identified a new phase in a longer history of Iranians’ encounters with Western Europe and North America since, at least, the Qajar era. The articles Fathi brought together ranged from sociological analysis of Iranian women’s informal economy in Montreal to a communications analysis of the history of Iranian exilic media in Europe to literary analysis of Iranian exilic literature. Moreover, Fathi’s volume ranged from analysis of Los Angeles’s Iranians to an exploration of Iranians in France and Germany, from formal sociological research to a photo essay of Iranian demonstrations. Throughout this work, the terms refugee, exile, and immigrant were operative. The term diaspora did not appear at all. But the key notion of a complex experience is there, and the keywords and their uses shift as other scholars join the conversation and as some of these same scholars included in Fathi’s work continue to conduct and publish research on overseas Iranians.

In the intervening years, the terms refugee and exile, which were central to Fathi’s framing of the collection, have been replaced by the term diaspora.3 In his introductory remarks, Fathi relied on Jacob Eichenbaum’s matrix of four different...