An Open Letter to my Class

A lot of you have been checking in on me over the past few days to see how I am faring. In response, I wanted to share the letter that I read out to my classmates in yesterday's Community Solidarity Event.

Hi everyone. I want to thank each and every single one of you for being here today. Your presence is valued, your presence matters, and your presence makes a difference. Thank you for that. 

To say that the past few days have been extremely troubling, would be an understatement. There is a lot going on – in us, on this campus, in this country – that is hard to put into words. 

I therefore wanted to share three things with you. A little about me, a little about us, and a little about you. 

ME

Some of you have been following my social media over the past few days, and seen how I – as a dual citizen of Iran and Germany – have been affected by the executive order. These have been some turbulent days for me and my entire family, including my brother, who is working here in the US on a work visa. 

I came to this country 6 years ago. I came here because I was looking for a place I could call my home. And before I knew it, I did call this place my home. Over the course of the past 6 years, I have left this country 57 times. But I also came back 57 times. And every time I would cross the border, I would hear the words “Sir, welcome back home.” 

Following the events on Friday, however, I suddenly didn’t feel like I was home anymore. For many days in a row I woke up every morning, under the impression that I am imprisoned here – not able to return should I ever leave. That I am not welcome, that the past 6 years have been an illusion that I was forcefully being waken up from. And that I would not hear the words “Sir, welcome back home” for a 58th time.

Now thankfully, the situation surrounding the EO has changed drastically in my favor. My green card and my German citizenship are finally giving me the protection that I deserve and that was violated during the days following the EO. 

Nevertheless, I remain extremely worried about how the next few weeks, months and years are going to play out. Especially as a proud Iranian – as someone who has dedicated a large part of his life to portraying and promoting the real, human side of Iran – I remain particularly worried about recent developments. Over the past 48 hours, the US has repeatedly threatened Iran and put the country “on notice.” There is also a bill in the US House which specifically authorizes the president to launch a pre-emptive war on Iran at any time of his choosing and without any further Congressional oversight or input. I am afraid that before we know it, we are at war with Iran. You think it’s far-fetched? I tell you it’s not.

US

I would now like to say a few words about us as a community. Many of us came here from countries far away. In pursuit of education and a better future, we left behind all we have, we left behind our friends and families. For all those people here who did that, the GSB community is our replacement family. 

Personally, I have been extremely disappointed by the lack of public response by our Dean. I had the opportunity to talk to him 1:1 today, and I made it very clear that as the leader of this community, of this family, I find it unacceptable for him to take such impassioned stance. As a leading institution, we can’t just talk about our values – we have to act on those values. It’s despicably hypocritical if we pride ourselves with how international and diverse we are, but then don’t publicly defend all the diverse members of our community in the moment they are under attack. 

And while emotions are high among so many of us, let’s do not forget that we are all sitting in the same boat, we are all playing for the same team. GSB is family. And today, more than ever, we need to stick together and take care of each other. 

YOU

Lastly, I would like to say a few things about you. In conversations with many of you, I have learned that some of you feel helpless, confused and uncertain about what can be done. How you can make your voice heard. How you can effectuate change. Some of you are not even American citizens, so why care? 

To those among you that think that way, I want to remind you that much of the backpedaling that we saw happening after the EO went into effect, was a direct result of the demonstrations. 

We are living in times in which staying silent is not an option anymore. If we don’t speak up for ourselves, at least we have to speak up for our friends and those whose voices can't be heard – the refugees, the immigrants, the people in need. Because more often than not what matters more is the voice of the allies than the voice of those affected. 

And if you feel your presence in a demonstration doesn’t matter, you couldn’t be any more wrong. It matters to the person on your left who will feel connected when she turns around and sees you shout. And it matters to the person on your right who will feel supported when he turns around and sees you holding up a sign. Your presence is valued, your presence matters, and your presence makes a difference.

In many ways these times are a moment of truth. And I hope that years from now we will be able to look back and proudly say that we did not let this become the new norm. That we did not just talk the talk, but also walked the talk. And that we made sure, that we stepped up as the leaders that all of us, in this room, aspire to be. Thank you.