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Alex Shams

This category contains 26 posts

From Tehran to Newcastle: “I Am Nasrine” and the Politics of Telling Migrant Narratives

I am Nasrine is the tale of two Iranian siblings who migrate to England and find a world of rampant discrimination that looks little like what they expected. The tragedy of the film is not one that can be easily limited to English housing estates or the plight of Iranian emigres. Indeed, this tale of migrant survival and struggle is far more universal, a searing indictment of the limits of liberalism and the failure of international and local humanitarian bureaucracies — as well as receiving societies as a whole — to effectively understand migrants as complex human beings. Continue reading »

Constructing Sacred Space: An Architectural History of Mashhad’s Imam Reza Shrine

Like the city itself, the Imam Reza shrine complex grew gradually over time as political elites tried to establish their legitimacy. Rulers strove not only to appease the local religious establishment by funding elaborate building projects around the site, but also hoped to create physical testaments to their political authority. Due to the inherent political nature of these structures, the site was destroyed and subsequently rebuilt as it changed hands from dynasty to dynasty. Continue reading »

Are Iranians People of Color? Persian, Muslim, and Model Minority Race Politics

The material success that many Iranians have enjoyed in this country has obscured their connections with other discriminated groups, and instead fostered an attitude of “lay low, don’t make trouble,” that idealizes financial success as the key to realizing the American Dream. Despite the racial discrimination Iranians regularly face as a community in the United States, many continue to insist upon their own Whiteness, refusing to even consider the question, “Are Iranians People of Color?” Continue reading »

Ajam Reads: Understanding Gender Politics in Modern Iran

The gender politics of the Islamic Republic look nothing like those of the Pahlavi regime, and they look nothing like what most outside observers or Iranians would have predicted back in 1979. How did all this happen? A list of key books to help answer that question, tackling the issue of gender politics in the Islamic Republic through the questions of gender, sex, and sexuality so central to understanding modern Iran. Continue reading »

Picturing the Iranian Everyday: An Interview with the Photographers Behind “Humans of Tehran”

Humans of Tehran offers a well-needed corrective to the clashes of stereotypical images that constitutes so much of Western reporting on Iran. Founded in 2011, the Humans of Tehran project consists of street photography from across the Iranian capital that gives a refreshingly candid look at modern Iranian society. The photographs neither bask in contradiction nor attempt to present a uniform face, but instead reflect the group’s simple, elegant premise: to photograph Iranians as they live their daily lives. Continue reading »

Filming America 1979: Iranian-American Memories of the Year Our Lives Turned Upside Down

For those of us who did not experience the trauma of 1979 and the years that followed, our parents’ memories and stories have been largely inaccessible to us. The era’s legacy is primarily one of silence; Iranian-Americans have largely ignored their personal traumas and tried to move on with their lives, throwing themselves completely into the American dream and struggling to put the years of alienation behind them. Lila Yomtoob is an Iranian-American filmmaker whose latest project is entitled America 1979 and explores the experiences of an American family of Iranian heritage during the Iran Hostage Crisis. Continue reading »

A Nowruz Dedicated to the Iraqi People, 10 Years Later

Iranian-American reflections on the meaning of Nowruz, 10 years after the invasion of Iraq. May we all be inspired this year again by the rebirth and resilience of nature and of love that Nowruz signifies, and may we be reminded of the need to live freely, honorably, and bravely as the ongoing Iraqi struggle for liberation inspires us to do. Continue reading »

Seeing Through the Haze: the Politics of Reporting Sanctions and Smog in Tehran

This winter has been a particularly rough one in Tehran. For the third year in a row, air pollution has frequently reached highly unhealthy levels, and schools and other public institutions have closed for days at a time in response. Although Tehran’s air quality has been a major issue for decades, never in recent memory … Continue reading »

Ferdowsi’s Legacy: Examining Persian Nationalist Myths of the Shahnameh

A tribute to Ajam Media Collective’s name and inspiration, this post was written by Ajam’s editors, Alex Shams, Rustin Zarkar, and Beeta Baghoolizadeh. Photographs by Preethi Nallu originally published in Al Akhbar English, republished with author permission. Epic literature occupies a key role in formulating and maintaining cohesive national and cultural identities– elucidating the spirit … Continue reading »

No, Iran Didn't Just Ban Women From Universities.

I awoke yesterday morning to a barrage of excited, fearful, and shocked emails and messages demanding to understand why Iran had suddenly decided to ban women from entering university. Given that Iranian women comprise over 60% of students in upper education in Iran and that women’s rights to education is deeply embedded in both the … Continue reading »