Iranian Defectors, Or, Goodbye To All That 



There have been several high-profile defectors from Iran recently. There is a female chess umpire, Shohreh Bayat (above), who was videotaped doing her job at an international tournament. At one point, she removed her hijab – and then put it back on – but she was caught on camera without the hijab; there was an outcry over this offense to morals, and death threats, too. Bayat  has chosen not to return to Iran where, she says, she would be in danger for her life.

In December, the Iran Chess Federation announced that their top-rated champion Alireza Firouzja had decided not to play for the Islamic Republic over its informal ban on competing against Israeli players. He has not defected, but he will no longer be representing Iran in international competitions, a great blow to its standing.

In September, Saeid Mollaei, an Iranian judoka champion, left Iran for Germany over fears for his safety, after he ignored orders to pull out of fights to avoid a potential final matchup with an Israeli fighter, according to reports.

Alireza Faghani, an Iranian international soccer referee, also left Iran for Australia last year.

And now there is Iran’s first female Olympic medalist, winner of a Bronze in Taekwondo, Kimia Alizadeh, who has defected from Iran to Germany, and once safely in Europe, placed on Twitter for her hundreds of thousands of followers to read, a blistering attack on the Islamic Republic:

“I am one of the millions of oppressed women in Iran whom they’ve been playing for years… I wore whatever they told me and repeated whatever they ordered. Every sentence they ordered I repeated,” she wrote.

Alizadeh knew the script. She praised to foreign reporters the sheer wonderfulness of the Islamic Republic. She lauded the wisdom of Ayatollah Khamenei. She was grateful for a system that allowed her to remain modest – wearing a hijab – while competing. And wearing that hijab surely must have helped her. She deplored the motiveless malignity of the Great and Little Satans, America and Israel. Whatever the Iranian authorities wanted her to write or say, she dutifully complied.

This need always to lie enraged her. And she was particularly infuriated by the Islamic Republic’s authorities, who had attributed her success to their management and the fact that she wore the Islamic veil.

She decided not to endure this any longer. She refuses to lie any more. She isn’t crediting her medal to wise male managers or wearing a hijab. She’s not wearing a hijab any more. And she’s not coming home; the next time she competes in an Olympics, it will be for another country.

Kimia Alizadeh has announced that she wants to compete for Germany as soon as the next Olympic Games in Tokyo, but regardless of whether she achieves that ambition, she never expects to return to her home country.

Asked if she could ever imagine returning to Iran, Alizadeh replied: “No.”

Very little attention has been given in the Western media to these Iranian defectors (and those who remain in Iran but refuse to collaborate). But they deserve to be held up as examples of Iranians who are willing to give up their homeland in order to be free of the lies they not only had to endure, but to participate in telling. Kimia Alizadeh, winner of an Olympic Bronze in Taekwondo, the first Iranian female to win an Olympic medal, was sick of hearing that she owed her success to her male managers, and to the fact that she wore a hijab. She was sick of all the lies she had to tell, about the wonderfulness of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and how grateful she was to the regime for its support.

For  the Iranian champion judoka Saeid Mollaei, the final straw was when he was told that he had to throw a match so as not to find himself facing an Israeli competitor; he refused to follow orders, and as a result, he does not dare to return to Iran.

Iran’s top-rated chess champion Alireza Firouzja did not defect, but did decide not to play for the Islamic Republic in international competitions as a protest of its informal ban on competing against Israeli players.

A female chess umpire, Shohrah Bayat, who was photographed while – very briefly — not wearing a hijab, is now terrified of returning home, and as a result, has decided to remain in the West.

None of these examples has been discussed on American television or radio. This strikes me as strange; defectors from Communist countries were always widely covered in the American media.during the Cold War. It would be very useful if a network decided to convey the story of Iran’s repression of its own citizens by interviewing these half-dozen defectors and dissidents on a program like CBS’s 60 Minutes or NPR’s Frontline. Let the American audience learn about the kind of punishments that are meted out to those who don’t wear the hijab, or the insistence, by the clerical rulers of the regime, that under no conditions may an Iranian athlete go head-to-head with an Israeli competitor, even if it means deliberately throwing a match. That kind of behavior shows the depth of the Iranian obsession with, and hatred for, the Jewish state. It would also be useful to have articulate dissenters appear on television to disabuse the naïve of their dreamy misconceptions about Iran, a state that rivals in villainy, if not in power, the Soviet Union. By their defectors shall ye know them.

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