Nazanin Afshin-Jam is not just another pretty face. This former Miss World Canada–2003 runner-up to the Miss World pageant–who will have her first album out this summer, has much more on her mind than her music and her cosmetics bag. Nazanin is a native of Iran. She recently heard about a young woman–with whom she shares both a nativeland and a name–who has been sentenced to death in Iran for killing a man in self-defense when she and her niece were being assaulted (the men were trying to rape them). Nazanin has since adopted the cause of her namesake.
Nazanin recently spoke to National Review Online editor Kathryn Lopez about young Nazanin–who Lopez wrote about here
–and the plight of the Iranian people, as well as Ms. Afshin-Jam’s career and Persian roots.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Why are you worrying yourself with this Iranian girl, Nazanin’s, fate?
Nazanin: When I first heard about Nazanin I was horrified. I instinctively thought, “It could have been me”. If three men tried to rape my 16-year-old niece and me and I had possession of a knife I would have defended myself in the same way. The only difference is that I thankfully live in a country that understands JUSTICE. I feel terrible that a victim of attempted rape is being treated as a first rate criminal.
I do not only worry about the case of Nazanin, since she represents a larger problem. She is just one of many people being wrongfully tried in Iran, Pakistan, and around the world. Nazanin’s case is particularly concerning because Iran is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and is therefore under obligation NOT to impose the death penalty on those under the age of 18. Nevertheless, Amnesty International has recorded 18 executions of child offenders in Iran since 1990. In 2005 alone, at least eight executions of child offenders were recorded. Nazanin was 17 years old at the time of commission of the offense and therefore Iran is in breach. If Iran is in breach of this treaty could they do the same for other treaties particularly those in relation to nuclear energy?
Lopez: Why did your family leave Iran?
Nazanin: We left to escape political persecution due to the Revolution. We could not tolerate the brutally of the regime and political, social and economic instability, not to mention a judicial system based on sharia law that spells out that a woman’s life is worth half that of a man’s
Nazanin: Why was your father tortured?
Lopez: The Islamic Fundamentalists forbid music and mingling between men and women. My father was the General Manager of the Sheraton Hotel in Iran, so he allowed for these to take place. They shaved his head, brutally lashed and tortured him until he could no longer stand. He was to be put before a firing squad, but by miraculous intervention through a mutual acquaintance he was released. He almost died due to his injuries but thank God he is with us today. He was one among thousands and thousands to be subject to such torture.
Lopez: Do you remember anything about Iran?
Nazanin: I left when I was only one, so unfortunately, the only memories I have are from pictures in my photo album.
Lopez: Do you ever think about what your life would be like if your family stayed there?
Nazanin: All the time. This is why I am so dedicated to helping those stuck in such a repressive regime.
Lopez: Does your family keep in touch with people in Iran still? If so what do they say about the situation there–politically, culturally?
Nazanin: People in Iran are afraid that their newly elected President Ahmadinejad is jeopardizing the quality of life of the Iranian people through his abuse of power and derogatory remarks on the international stage. They fear economic sanctions and/or war by the West. In other words they fear a repeat of Iraq on Iran.
Lopez: Have you ever been back? Do you hope to go back?
Nazanin: I have never been back; however my dream is to one day be able to visit my homeland. It would be such an honor to visit a country with such an ancient and rich culture. I think I will wait until things calm down in the region before packing any bags.
Lopez: You do some singing in Persian, don’t you? Do Iranians ever get to hear your music?
Nazanin: Most of my music is in English; however I have one song in French, others with Spanish influence and one traditional Persian song. My song “Someday: the revolution song” is in English but speaks of Iran. I have samples of my music on my website, www.nazanin.ca and my album will be out for worldwide release in July.
Lopez: What’s the message of “Someday”?
Nazanin: Generally, “Someday” is a song of hope. It speaks to those who have had to change their life due to political or social injustices. It speaks about staying strong, rising above and driving forward to free oneself from the shackles that bind.
Specifically, I sing to the oppressed youth of Iran–who have been witness to a “regressive revolution”–not to give up because “someday we will find a way.”
Full lyrics can be found next to where my music plays on my website.
Lopez: Where can people go to hear more of your music?
Nazanin: www.nazanin.ca or www.myspace.com/nazaninmusic.
Lopez: What kinds of doors are opened to a Miss World Canada–to pursue political issues, for instance?
Nazanin: Having won the Miss World Canada title and having come runner up at Miss World in a television broadcast of over 2.2 billion people has certainly helped in giving me a platform to speak on issues close to my heart. During my reign I had the opportunity to travel the world and be a spokesperson for various charities; naturally I gained a lot of contacts which is now helping me gain momentum in the efforts to help save young Nazanin and in pursuing other humanitarian issues.
Lopez: I’m guessing Iran doesn’t participate in Miss World, right?
Nazanin: No, “the Islamic Republic of Iran” does not participate in Miss World. During my year I felt like I was a direct ambassador of Canada and an indirect ambassador of Iran.
Lopez: Have you been able to talk to anyone about Nazanin’s case?
Nazanin: Yes, I am getting support from people in my local community including Negar Azmudeh–an immigration lawyer that focuses on human rights issues. We are in the process of trying to get a hold of young Nazanin’s lawyer in Iran to get more details about the case and ask them what is needed to help save her life.
In the meantime we have started a petition.
Amnesty International will be getting back to me in a few days about the next steps of action.
Once we have all the necessary information we will be forming coalitions with various Women’s Rights groups and Human Rights NGOs and compassionate Islamic groups to move forward. We will also be contacting the media.
Lopez: What is your hope for women like Nazanin and for the Iranian people in general?
Nazanin: I hope that women in the Middle East will be respected and recognized as equals. Iran is a strong country with a highly educated population; the only thing missing is opportunity. Iranians are recognized at the top of their schools and fields worldwide. My hope is for Iranians (and all citizens of the world) to have access to capabilities to follow all their dreams without fear of persecution. I hope Iran realizes its full potential soon under a free and democratic system.