‘Amer­ica is not the en­emy, the en­emy is right here’

While Iran’s lead­ers de­mo­nize Amer­ica, their chil­dren study here

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Tzvi Kahn

Ali Lar­i­jani, speaker of the Ira­nian par­lia­ment, has de­scribed the United States as a “threat to the en­tire world.” But his daugh­ter Fate­meh Ardeshir-Lar­i­jani is safe in Ohio, where she re­cently com­pleted the first year of her res­i­dency in in­ter­nal medicine. In rel­a­tive ob­scu­rity, she stud­ies at the Univer­sity Hos­pi­tals of Cleve­land, which U.S. News & World Re­port has ranked among the na­tion’s best.

Dr. Ardeshir-Lar­i­jani is one of sev­eral chil­dren of Ira­nian lead­ers who at­tend Amer­ica’s uni­ver­si­ties and pur­sue op­por­tu­ni­ties in U.S. job mar­kets. Nev­er­the­less, their par­ents be­long to a regime that per­sis­tently calls for Amer­ica’s de­struc­tion. Mean­while, Iran’s econ­omy floun­ders, hu­man rights abuses re­main per­va­sive, water short­ages threaten mil­lions of lives and the rul­ing mul­lahs en­rich them­selves at the ex­pense of the Ira­nian peo­ple. At the same time, when Amer­i­can stu­dents visit Iran, they may find them­selves taken hostage, like Xiyue Wang of Prince­ton Univer­sity, who re­ceived a 10-year prison sen­tence on spu­ri­ous es­pi­onage charges last year. The Lar­i­jani fam­ily oc­cu­pies a sto­ried role in Ira­nian pol­i­tics. Be­fore Mr. Ali as­sumed the speak­er­ship in 2008, he was the sec­re­tary of Iran’s na­tional se­cu­rity coun­cil and a chief nu­clear ne­go­tia­tor. One of his broth­ers, Sadegh Amoli, is the head of Iran’s ju­di­ciary, which the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion sanc­tioned in Jan­uary for com­mit­ting se­ri­ous hu­man rights abuses. An­other brother, Mo­ham­mad Javad, is the sec­re­tary of the ju­di­ciary’s in­aptly named High Coun­cil on Hu­man Rights, which seeks to dis­credit Western crit­i­cism of Iran’s hu­man rights record. All three are con­fi­dants of Iran’s supreme leader, Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei, who rou­tinely calls Amer­ica the “Great Satan” and warns about the adul­ter­at­ing in­flu­ence of Western cul­ture.

Yet even as they de­mo­nize the United States, key Ira­nian of­fi­cials of­ten fail to men­tion that their chil­dren en­joy the free­dom it pro­vides. This re­al­ity con­sti­tutes yet an­other face of the regime’s cor­rup­tion. As Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo noted in an ad­dress to Ira­nian-Amer­i­cans in July, Sadegh Amoli Lar­i­jani “is worth at least $300 mil­lion. He got this money from em­bez­zling pub­lic funds into his own bank ac­count.” Mr. Khamenei, for his part, pre­sides over a busi­ness em­pire worth ap­prox­i­mately $200 bil­lion.

Eissa Hashemi is a doc­toral stu­dent at the Los An­ge­les branch of the Chicago School of Pro­fes­sional Psy­chol­ogy. His mother is Mas­sumeh Ebteka, the vice pres­i­dent of Iran for women and fam­ily af­fairs, who first at­tained in­ter­na­tional promi­nence as a spokesper­son for the stu­dents who seized the U.S. em­bassy in Tehran in 1979, tak­ing dozens of per­son­nel hostage for 444 days. Asked by a re­porter dur­ing the cri­sis whether she could “per­son­ally lift up a gun, put it to the head of one of these peo­ple, and kill him,” Ms. Ebteka re­sponded with­out hes­i­ta­tion. “Of course,” she said. “Op­pres­sion and tyranny must be de­stroyed.”

Eh­san Nobakht Haghighi is an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of medicine at George Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity, while Niloo­far, his sis­ter, is a clin­i­cal as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of nephrol­ogy at UCLA. But their father, Ali, is a mem­ber of Iran’s par­lia­ment, while their un­cle, Mo­ham­mad Bagher, is a vice pres­i­dent of Iran and the head of the Plan and Bud­get Or­ga­ni­za­tion. Sim­i­larly, Ali Ferey­doun is a lead per­for­mance en­gi­neer at McGraw-Hill Ed­u­ca­tion in New York, ac­cord­ing to his LinkedIn pro­file. But his father, Hos­sein, is Pres­i­dent Rouhani’s brother and aide.

There are surely oth­ers, though the to­tal num­ber re­mains un­known. More­over, some prom­i­nent Ira­nian of­fi­cials them­selves stud­ied in the United States, ac­quir­ing skills that have fa­cil­i­tated their ser­vice to the regime. For­eign Min­is­ter Mo­ham­mad Javad Zarif, for ex­am­ple, earned his un­der­grad­u­ate and grad­u­ate de­grees at San Fran­cisco State Univer­sity and the Univer­sity of Den­ver. This ex­pe­ri­ence equipped him well to cloak Tehran’s ex­trem­ism in the lan­guage of tol­er­ance and hu­man­i­tar­i­an­ism. His son, Mahdi, at­tended the City Univer­sity of New York, then re­turned to

Iran in 2013. Like­wise, Ali Ak­bar Salehi, the chief of Iran’s Atomic En­ergy Or­ga­ni­za­tion and Mr. Zarif’s pre­de­ces­sor as for­eign min­is­ter, re­ceived his Ph.D. in nu­clear en­gi­neer­ing from the Mass­a­chu­setts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, al­beit be­fore the Is­lamic Repub­lic as­sumed power in 1979. Seyed Hos­sein Mousa­vian, a for­mer nu­clear ne­go­tia­tor who held a va­ri­ety of other for­eign af­fairs po­si­tions in the regime, earned his un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree in en­gi­neer­ing from Sacra­mento State Univer­sity. To­day, he is a scholar at Prince­ton. This his­tory un­der­scores a fun­da­men­tal truth about Iran’s rulers. For all their de­nun­ci­a­tions of Amer­ica and the West, they im­plic­itly rec­og­nize that Amer­ica of­fers the free­dom, pros­per­ity and op­por­tu­nity their own coun­try so des­per­ately lacks. The Ira­nian peo­ple grasp this re­al­ity, which is one rea­son they con­tinue to protest on the na­tion’s streets. Still, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion should han­dle the sit­u­a­tion cau­tiously. At a min­i­mum, the State De­part­ment should main­tain a cur­rent ros­ter of regime off­spring who study and work in the United States. Their pres­ence here is a priv­i­lege, not a right. Yet Wash­ing­ton should not visit the sins of the father upon the son. One day, if they haven’t al­ready, the chil­dren of Ira­nian lead­ers may come to see what so many protesters in Iran have re­peat­edly chanted over the past year: “Amer­ica is not the en­emy — the en­emy is right here.”

For all their de­nun­ci­a­tions of Amer­ica and the West, they im­plic­itly rec­og­nize that Amer­ica of­fers the free­dom, pros­per­ity and op­por­tu­nity their own coun­try so des­per­ately lacks.

Tzvi Kahn is a se­nior Iran an­a­lyst at the Foun­da­tion for De­fense of Democ­ra­cies.


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