Three decades ago, my grandfather agreed to give my father my mother’s hand in marriage, on one condition: that he would move his family from Iran to the United States and provide them with “better.” My father agreed and within two years, he moved his wife and newborn to the US. Like my grandfather, my mother hoped for better, and believed she could achieve this despite having only a high school education and rudimentary English language skills. To her, America promised respite from suffocating repression; from the devastation of war; and from the scars of having given birth to me in the midst of the Iran-Iraq war via a botched C-section without anesthesia. It promised better.
But earlier this month, when Republican Senators Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz, and Mike Braun sent a letter to the Department of Justice attacking my organization, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), that promise of better faltered.
The letter accuses me and my colleagues of dual-loyalty and purports that our work to build civic power for the Iranian-American community amounts to “conducting lobbying and public relations activities in coordination with or on behalf of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” It further claims that our “innocuous public branding” is nothing more than some good PR. The head of the hawkish organization driving Trump’s failed Iran policy quickly seized on the letter and put out a call to expel “America haters” affiliated with the regime — before backpedaling as blue checkmarks descended upon his racist rhetoric.
The Senators’ letter was received by an administration that has already been exposed for using tax-payer dollars to fund groups amplifying attacks on pro-diplomacy Iranian Americans — including by attempting to discredit them by labeling them “agents of the regime.” And while that organization has since been shut down, the abuse continues. NIAC’s female staff, in particular, have been subject to gendered harassment and threats of rape. This network has gone so far as to insist our queer staff be deported to Iran so they can buy “front-row tickets” to the executions.
The crackdown my community faces today more closely resembles policies belonging to the Islamic Republic than to a country founded on the rights to free speech and political participation. This is not the “better” to which my grandfather had entrusted his daughter and her infant.
The notion that we are agents of or apologists for the Iranian regime would be laughable if the accusation weren’t so dangerous. But unfortunately, the Cotton et al. letter falls in line with this administration’s three-year-long assault on the Iranian-American community. In his first week in office, Trump imposed a “Muslim ban” barring my family in Iran from visiting me here — just as the Islamic Republic has banned me from visiting my family there. It spit in the face of a multilateral agreement in favor of razing the roads to reengagement with crippling sanctions.
The crackdown my community faces today more closely resembles policies belonging to the Islamic Republic than to a country founded on the rights to free speech and political participation. This is not the “better” to which my grandfather had entrusted his daughter and her infant. He wanted me free from a government that cracked down on criticism and punished dissent; free from the fear of being “otherized” by my own government; and free to raise my voice against unjust policies harming my compatriots.
My grandfather passed away suddenly in 2015, and in some ways, it is a relief that he will never bear witness to the country he had so eagerly relinquished his granddaughter to turning on itself. Many of us chose the United States as our home because we wanted to escape a country ravaged by war, repression, and revolution in favor of one with endless opportunities. And our dissent makes us no less American: we pay taxes, we vote in elections, and we too have received unwanted jury summonses.
The letter sent to DOJ reveals nothing about NIAC and everything about an administration terrified by a rising generation of pro-diplomacy Iranian Americans challenging policies that harm our community here and loved ones abroad. Yet despite the attack, I remain heartened by the outpouring of support from those in peace, security, and civil rights fields who have promised to stand with NIAC as this administration tries, and ultimately fails, to silence us.
I’ve already watched my family escape a country ravaged by war and revolution — a privilege that has ingrained in me a deep appreciation for the freedoms I could never have been afforded in Iran. It has catalyzed in me the desire for better, just as my grandfather wanted. Better, not just for me — but for my community, my country of birth, and for every American who still believes in the promise of liberty and justice for all.
Mana Mostatabi is the Communications Director at the National Iranian American Council (NIAC). She holds a Masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown University and a Bachelor’s in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of California, Santa Barbara.