As unrest simmers, Scotland’s Iranian diaspora look on

As unrest simmers, Scotland’s Iranian diaspora look on
From Al Jazeera - February 21, 2018

Glasgow, Scotland - "I was not a dangerous person. I was not very active but in my community, there was a group of girls who were very active and together we just wanted some very basic things," says Tarooneh, who found herself in Glasgow in October 2007 after five months spent in London on a short-term visa.

With a two-year-old son, she sought political asylum from her homeland after her husband informed on her to the intelligence and judicial services for her beliefs and political activities.

Tarooneh, who is withholding her last name to protect her family, was not in a political party but worked with friends, other students, writers and cartoonists, seeking gaps in the Islamic Republic's political space to open discussions about individual liberties in the country they love.

But she was branded subversive and had to choose between imprisonment and a flight with her son to Scotland.

She is now among around 6,000 Iranians who live in Scotland.

Protests that have spread across Iran made memories of escape and homesickness flood back to the mathematics doctorate, who had to move nine times and had her son protected by Scottish police as he attended primary school.

Hers is a story that represents the most recent of the waves of migration to Scotland for the community, which is made up of old emigres who fled in 1979, dual nationals, political refugees and second and third-generation Scots.

For Tarooneh, who lives in Glasgow as a mathematician with her now 12-year-old son, the same things she fought remain important.

"We wanted to challenge the divorce rights and laws, the rules surrounding the hijab and freedom of practise and the right to change your faith," she says.

"We wanted the government to allow more rights for people with different faiths - even no faith," she says.

'Reform? It is possible but '

Ayatollah Khomeini's revolution in 1979 was in many ways a rejection of the liberal Western narrative of women's rights as the bedrock of modernisation.

His earlier objections to the Shah's White Revolution of reforms were that they disturbed the family and gave women a say in the political life of the country.

Yet the Islamic Republic permits women the right to vote in elections and stand for the Iranian parliament, or Majles.

However, Tarooneh is cautious about reform in the light of the recent protests, which she says are rooted in economic and social concerns.

Figures from the country's interior ministry claim more than 230 demonstrations took place in 80 towns and cities nationwide in December and January, with a majority in Tehran, Isfahan and Khuzestan.

Of more than 100,000 participants, 94 percent were men. Analysts have claimed this was because harsher punishments were handed to women.

Some 30 percent of slogans were about economics and 70 percent targeted the political structure, the ministry said.

Saeed Hajjarian, a leading reformist strategist, predicted more anti-government protests over the next three years, saying the failure of reformist politics could spell a serious long-term threat.

"Reform? It is possible but the fundamentals need to change, they need to change these things," says Tarooneh.

"You can say that the republic changed from religious righteousness to pure politics."

Claiming that she did not "support the monarchy", Tarooneh explains: "What is important is you do not hear the same thing from Iranians. There is incredible political diversity."

'I am Glaswegian, but 75 percent of my thoughts are still in Iran'


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