Iranian Users Protest Trump's Muslim Ban

Raz Zimmt discusses Iranians’ pointed criticism of the US travel ban on visitors from majority Muslim countries, which prevents Iranians from entering the United States.
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Tweet from the account of a BBC–Persian correspondent in the US. (January 29, 2017)
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Tweet from the account of a BBC–Persian correspondent in the US. (January 29, 2017)



On January 27, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order indefinitely prohibiting Syrian refugees' entry into the United States, suspending the absorption of any refugees for 120 days, and preventing visa entry from seven Muslim countries, including Iran, for 90 days. Upon publication, the order provoked a storm in the US and abroad. Iran reacted vehemently, with Tehran’s foreign ministry calling the order “an open insult to the Islamic world and the Iranian nation in particular.” He added that the move would go down in history as “a fine gift to extremists and their supporters.”[1] Iranian internet users also responded strongly, including those who, unlike supporters of the regime, usually show greater openness to the US, and including Iranian expatriates in the West. Users described the decision as unjust, injurious to innocent people, and a litmus test for Iran’s complex attitude toward the United States.

Over the first days following the implementation of the order, social networking sites (SNS) were flooded with Iranian responses using the hashtags “No to the ban on migration,” “Don’t prohibit student visas,” and “Stop the ban on Iran.” Users shared the personal experiences of dozens of Iranians, some with US permanent residency (“green card”), detained in American airports or stranded in airports around the world without being able to reach the United States. The cases that attracted the most attention were those in which Iranian students, including PhD candidates at leading American universities, were detained or prevented from entering the US after being accepted into schools or returning from holidays with their families in Iran and Europe. These cases were presented as evidence that that the order mostly harms innocent civilians, rather than potential terrorists.

In the ensuing debate about the executive order on SNS, users emphasized the contribution of Iranian immigrants in the United States. Users contended that Iranian immigrants do not endanger US security, but rather contribute to US society, economy and culture. To support their argument, users listed the names of outstanding immigrants of Iranian origin, such as Maryam Mirzakhani, 2014 winner of the Fields Medal in mathematics and professor at Stanford University; Omid Kordestani, Executive Chairman of Twitter and former Chief Business Officer of Google; and Pierre Morad Omidyar, CEO, founder, and Chairman of eBay.

Poster illustrating number of Iranian students in the U.S
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Poster illustrating number of Iranian students in the U.S (Twitter)


However, the bulk of the criticism focused on the fact that the order did not include citizens from Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt, which are considered leading “exporters of terrorism.” Notably, these were the countries of origin for most of the terrorists in the September 11 attacks. In contrast, Iran was included in the order, despite the fact that its citizens were not involved in September 11 or any of the terrorist attacks perpetrated on US soil since then. This was presented as evidence that President Trump’s decision, purported to prevent the entry of terrorists into the United States, was tainted by economic considerations related to his businesses in the Muslim countries excluded from the order. Iranians expressed similar feelings following a speech by President Bush in January 2002, which included Iran in the “axis of evil,” despite its contribution to US efforts to eradicate the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

Iranian-born celebrities also participated in the online protests against the order. One such celebrity, director Asghar Farhadi, has won Academy Awards for his films "A Separation" and "The Salesman," the latter in a ceremony held in February. Farhadi announced that he would boycott the ceremony to protest the president’s policy. Iranian actress Taraneh Alidoosti, who co-starred in Farhadi’s most recent film, joined the protest against the presidential decree. She tweeted that the order is “racist,” and announced that she too would boycott the Oscars.[2]

In counterpoint to criticism directed against President Trump, some held Iran responsible for the US administration's decision. Several users argued that the American president's opposition to Iran is unsurprising considering Iran's 38 years of US flag burnings and “Death to America” chants. They criticized Iran's contradictory attitude towards US citizens. From these users perspectives, Iranians  hypocritically express hostility towards the US public, but wish to adopt American culture and immigrate to the US, and are hurt by expressions of US hostility towards Iran. Others pointed out the irony of the Iranian regime's struggle against the US order. One user ridiculed Iranian judiciary chief, Sadeq Larijani, who condemned the ban on Muslims in the United States on the grounds that it contravenes the principles of human rights. The user wondered how a person responsible for the yearly execution of thousands of Iranian citizens could accuse the US of violating human rights.[3] Others accused the Iranians of hypocrisy in light of their contemptuous and humiliating attitude towards the Afghan refugees seeking asylum in their own country. Another responded that Iranians, whose entry into the United States was banned, would have supported the decision if it had only prohibited the entry of Arabs.[4]

Although the executive order sparked angry reactions among Iranians of varying political views, supporters of the regime made few comments. They presented the order as further evidence of the United States’ historical enmity toward Iran. The relative indifference of the regime’s supporters is perhaps due to the fact that the order mainly affects students and Iranians who belong to the educated middle class - populations often critical of the regime. Moreover, conservative right supporters of the Iranian regime are generally hostile to Iranians seeking to emigrate to the West, particularly to the United States, suspecting them of anti-revolutionary, liberal views.

Iranians perceived the restrictions on the entry of Iranian travelers to the United States as an unjust violation of their legitimate rights and an act of humiliation. As such, the order rekindled their well-known sensitivity towards displays of arrogance or insults to national pride. Widespread criticism of the executive order managed to unite residents and expatriates alike, despite the political differences that usually characterize Iranian society. Although the order was presented by the US administration as part of a comprehensive struggle against terrorism, its implementation was met by extensive Iranian opposition to a decision that, from their view, was influenced by irrelevant considerations. Iranians' strong response to the executive order demonstrates their perspective on the importance of US policy toward Iran, and their fear of escalation in bilateral relations during Trump's presidency.