Nazanin Afshin-Jam

Was there a moment when you decided to devote your life to helping others?
There was never a question what I would end up doing; the question was how. Growing up in a close-knit home taught me about giving my love, time, and support to others. One vivid childhood memory was an outing with my Sunday School class to the Downtown Eastside, to work at a soup kitchen for the day. I remember crying myself to sleep,
wondering why some had so little while others had so much.

Why are you focused on Iran these days?
The people of my homeland are in desperate need of help. They are deprived of their fundamental human rights and freedoms by a theocratic regime. Those who speak up face imprisonment, torture, and execution. After the fraudulent presidential elections in June, millions protested in an unprecedented wave of discontent. Now we mustn’t lose momentum. For stability in the Middle East and world security, Iran should be a focus for all of us.

You were raised here. In fact, you became Miss World Canada in 2003. How did you first learn about Iran? I am Canadian, but I will never lose my Persian heritage. I learned about Iran from my parents’ beautiful stories about our rich culture and contributions to civilization. In later years, I saw the ugly side of Iran upon discovering the reason for the scars on my father’s back. He was lashed for allowing music, alcohol, and dancing at the hotel he managed, which unbeknownst to him became forbidden under the new Islamist rules in 1979.

Does your work put you in danger?
The regime has blocked all of my websites and I have received death threats, too. Last week, those close to me were told that if I didn’t stop my human-rights activities for Iran, they would all be put in harm’s way.

Do the threats make you think twice about continuing?
Just the opposite. I live in a free country. Lending my voice to Iranians who suffer repression and want the same freedom I have is the least I can do. If they can silence me from across the ocean, what kind of message would I be sending to Iranians sacrificing their lives for freedom?

Do your parents approve of what you’re doing?

They’re supportive, yes—they believe in what I’m committed to. My father helps me by translating Persian news and documents for me. My mother is a mother: she’s concerned for my safety. She’d like her daughter to marry and have kids and live a so-called normal life. I tell her that when Iran is free, I’ll consider that path, but my fight against injustice is a lifelong commitment. This is what I was born to do.