Daily Wire staff writer Josh Yasmeh spoke to the UC Irvine's Conservative Student Union through Skype on Wednesday about his family’s history in Iran, Islam and Middle East politics in general.
Yasmeh began with his family’s story. They’re Iranian Jews from Shiraz, Iran, who were “treated as second-class citizens” under the Shah in Iran. His dad told him stories about how “he would go to grocery stores as a child, he would touch some produce, they would slap his hand away and tell him because he’s a Jew, he’s haram, he’s dirty.”
“It wasn’t discrimination by law, it was societal discrimination,” Yasmeh added.
Yasmeh pointed out that the Shah was an authoritarian ruler who imprisoned enemies – Yasmeh’s uncle was even one of the Shah's prisoners in the 1960's – and instituted nepotism and procedures that prevented poorer families from entering prestigious universities. But he focused more on establishing “modernity” in Iran. The Shah also had a “working relationship” with the United States.
In the mid-1970's, Yasmeh’s father observed “social unrest” toward the Shah.
“You had communists, you had Marxists, you had student activists, you had secular activists, you had all this kind of eclectic web of democracy-oriented individuals who were kind of vying for power … in a new liberated form of Iran,” Yasmeh said.
However, the Islamists “hijacked” the anti-Shah movement.
“Eventually, they consolidated a movement around an Islamist theocratic social movement,” Yasmeh said. “While other groups were up for deliberation and debate, the Islamists … they wanted absolute power.”
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who spent time in France in exile from Iran, emerged as the Islamist’s leader in the anti-Shah movement. Khomeini pledged to implement reforms to decentralize power from the Shah’s authoritarianism, but instead he led an “age of Islamist revivalism.”
“This was a semi-Westernized society – guys and girls were going out, there was drinking – there was just everything that young people in America were doing, and that all changed,” Yasmeh said. “That all changed because a fanatic came to power.”
Yasmeh’s father left Iran after he saw gays being hanged from cranes in the late 1970's and noticed his work colleagues refusing to go out drinking once Khomeini became a powerful figure.
Khomeini’s revolution ushered in a wave of Islamism throughout the Middle East.
During the Q&A, Yasmeh noted that many in the West think Iran’s populace is filled with “fanatics,” but it’s not true.
“There is a tapestry of cultural identities in Iran, whether it’s religious, cultural, ethnic,” Yasmeh said.
He also noted there are “pockets of resistance” to the Iranian regime. The regime violently suppresses people who advocate for freedom, with the 2009 Green Revolution being a prime example.
“They were beaten like wild dogs,” Yasmeh said.
Yasmeh stated that the U.S. should be cautious about entering diplomatic relations with the “duplicitous” regime in Tehran and that the Iran deal didn’t touch on the regime’s military threat and support for terror groups like Hezbollah.
He also disputed the notion that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was a moderate.
“Moderate in Iran means something very different than what it means in the West,” Yasmeh said. “Under President Rouhani, executions have skyrocketed. There’s been little economic relief. He’s still in league with the mullahs".
“Could you say that perhaps he’s better than somebody like Ahmadinejad, the previous president, who used to hold annual Holocaust denial conferences and who would host neo-Nazi types? Sure. But that’s not saying much.”
Yasmeh also pointed out that elections in Iran are not truly democratic because the regime will only allow candidates who are in line with their Islamist fanaticism to run in the elections.
“You can only vote for who they want you to vote for,” Yasmeh said.
Ultimately, Islamism can only truly be stopped if there is a reformation of Islam, but it’s going to be difficult because it started “in a place of power.”
“There has to be this disentangling of public Islam and private Islam,” Yasmeh said, pointing to the Sufis as an example of focusing on the spiritual side of Islam rather than the political aspects of it.
Yasmeh also hammered the Left for railing against the “patriarchy” in the West but remaining silent on the brutal treatment of women in Islamic countries.
“They don’t care, and that’s a huge, huge problem because you have millions upon millions of women who are suffering,” Yasmeh said.
He also pointed to multiculturalism as a key factor in radicalizing those in Western countries toward terror groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda, as the result is self-segregated communities that receive funding from Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia.
“There’s almost this patronizing attitude that the political Left in Europe has toward these immigrant communities that says, we respect you so much that we don’t want to impose our ‘culture,’ our ‘values’ on you. We’ll let you do your own thing even if you starve and become radicalized,” Yasmeh said. “And that’s what’s been happening, this hyper-political correctness that refuses to acknowledge that there is a problem of radicalization in these self-segregated communities.”
Assimilation is what sets the U.S. apart from Europe, but the Left has been trying to undermine that, he opined.
“The reason why my dad was able to make it here is because he decided to learn the language,” Yasmeh said. “He decided to embrace the work ethic. He decided to make this his home. But when you tell people that no, actually this isn’t your home, you don’t need to learn English, you don’t need to do all these things, you don’t need to take active steps to assimilate … you’re essentially telling them that they’re still foreigners in the country. They’re still ‘other,’ and they become resentful and they start hating the majority society that is taking them.”
Yasmeh noted that the Left is making excuses for those who believe in female genital mutilation by comparing it to circumcision to men, a truly asinine comparison.
“If you want more radicalization, if you want more extremism, we’ll keep indulging these idiots that think they’re being so tolerant that they’re tolerating intolerance,” Yasmeh said, “and that’s fundamentally the problem.”
The session concluded with Yasmeh discussing how Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is an Islamist theocrat who has imprisoned numerous people who are opposed to his regime. His bodyguards have also assaulted protesters and journalists on American soil.
“This is a dictator who feels emboldened, who has done whatever he’s wanted in his own country, so he’s like, why not export these kinds of autocratic tendencies abroad because nobody’s going to call me out?” Yasmeh said.
However, Turkey is an essential country in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in fighting terrorism and stemming the tide of refugees into Europe, which makes it difficult for Western countries to call out Erdogan tightening the grip of authoritarian Islamism.
The full event can be heard below:
This article has been corrected to state that Yasmeh was speaking with the Conservative Student Union.