On Iranophobia & Prejudice

Prejudice against Iranians in Scotland and the UK is under-reported and under-investigated as a whole. Azita Jabbari-Arabzadeh, who has lived here for over 20 years, argues Iranophobia is a genuine problem, citing research into opportunities for ethnic groups and her own experiences with racism and prejudice…

Prejudice: Stopping opportunities to contribute

Prejudice can take various forms. It can appear as racism – Islamophobia or even Iranophobia. In today’s UK society, I’d argue prejudice manifests differently for different BME groups. In my experience (and of many other Iranian diaspora living in the UK since the Iranian Islamic revolution), when an Iranian person answers the questions ‘where are you originally from?’, they are subjected to multiple layers of racism and prejudice.

At a societal level, Iranians don’t have equal opportunities when it comes to gaining employment. Even if after much difficulty they manage to secure a job they’re usually over-qualified for, they don’t get the same opportunities as their colleagues to get promoted or hit the glass ceiling in their career. If they’ve shown competency levels higher than colleagues or, on rare occasions, been promoted to higher ranks, they’re still not immune of prejudice. This was illustrated in the case of Professor Jahangiri, a woman of Iranian origin and the first female cardiac surgeon in Europe, who has been subjected to ‘witch-hunting’, a ‘campaign of bullying’, targeted emails and even a suspension from work. Recently, Jahangiri won her case in the high court and is out of suspension, but her case is not yet closed.

Several members of my community, including me, have been subjected to similar ‘campaigns’ at work places for similar reasons, both in England and Scotland, which at times resulted in me leaving my jobs, voluntarily or not. Iranians haven’t even been integrated into the society – it seems we’re under almost constant suspicion by the majority of the public and not trusted in many situations. A very sad example of this extreme mistrust is the case of Bijan Ebrahimi, a disabled Iranian refugee who was murdered and set on fire in Bristol in 2013 by his neighbours after being falsely accused of attention-seeking and paedophilia. an independent inquiry on the murder stated: “The IPCC said he had been treated ‘consistently differently from his neighbours’ in what could be ‘racial bias, conscious or unconscious’.”

Another milder example is from when I was using gym classes in London a few years ago. A few women who had found out I was ‘originally’ from Iran started speaking loudly nearby me, saying: ‘I hope I won’t get blown up into pieces now!”. My jaw dropped as I thought: ‘How stupid considering there have never been any Iranian suicide bombers in the West’. I recall then smiling and forgiving these women – I can’t blame the public for having such prejudiced and unfounded beliefs because the majority of the media was doing such an effective job in brainwashing them. I should also mention I don’t even wear traditional Islamic wear, nor had I been talking to the women or anyone else in the gym for that matter about anything religion or politics-related.

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There are many other examples of people being called ‘terrorists’, ‘ISIS lovers’ or other similar names on a daily basis. I conducted research a few years ago in relation to the employment level of the Iranian diaspora in the UK as opposed to some other BME groups, and also their employment rate in the USA or Canada, in order to prepare an essay for my course in human rights. I also conducted a literature review and collected some secondary data. As a result of my research and my personal experiences as an Iranian migrant in the UK for over 20 years, I’ve come to believe the majority of Iranian migrants haven’t been able to get integrated or fulfill their potential in the UK, unlike Iranian migrants to the US and Canada or even Asian or Afro-Caribbean migrants in the UK.

Utilising statistics from the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) 2007 report, a review of the success of Iranian migrants in the UK in comparison to three other sample migrant communities in the UK raises the following disparities: Iranians rank 26th in the unemployment table (representing higher unemployment), while Turks and Jamaicans rank equal 19th and Indians eight; when it comes to completing full time education, Iranians rank second, while Turks rank 18th, Indians 9th and Jamaicans 25th; considering gross hourly pay, Iranians rank 19th, while Turks rank 23rd, Indians 12th and Jamaicans 11th. Shirin Hakimzadeh says the following in relation to Iranians:

“According to the 2000 census, the Iranian ancestral group in the United States - meaning those who claim Iranian ancestry - is among the most highly educated in the country. More than one in four Iranian Americans over the age of 25 hold a graduate degree or above, the highest rate among 67 ethnic groups, according to the Iranian Studies Group. In addition, their per capita average income is 50 percent higher than that of the US population overall. Like Iranians in the United States, Iranians in Canada are a highly skilled immigrant group with relatively high levels of education. In contrast to the US community, most of Canada's Iranian immigrants were admitted between 1996 and 2001.”

An analysis of the above statistics suggests that although Iranians are among the most educated in the UK (as they are in the USA and Canada), the unemployment rate (considering their education level) is much higher than the other sample migrant groups (albeit unemployment level is much higher among all BME groups than white people in the UK). Although the same report shows Iranians rank thirdin self-employment in the UK, this doesn’t necessarily indicate that Iranians choose self-employment. In my experience, this is more down to a lack of other employment opportunities in the market. This probability has also been noted by the authors of the aforementioned IPPR article.

The above disparities suggest deeper research, followed with effective policies, into the reasons behind the high unemployment and low earnings of Iranians in the UK is required to explore the factors involved. We must consider the possibility that the UK, as a society, hasn’t been successful in integrating Iranian migrants. There’s no doubt Iran has possessed a special geo-political position within the past few decades: after being labelled one of the ‘axis of evil’ countries by George W. Bush, Iran was entreated by several Western political leaders to help eradicate ISIS, which it has already played an important role in doing.

This mixed message indicates that Iran has been treated like a ‘special’ country by the UK and the West more widely – one to be wary of. My argument is that the Iranian diaspora have received the same treatment. It is time to treat Iranians the same as other BME groups in this country and allow us to contribute and benefit our host country, just as we have in Canada, the USA and other European nations such as Germany.