Lingering applause dominated the overcrowded room Thursday as award-winning author and journalist Hooman Majd finished his speech at Santa Barbara City College.
Based in New York and a frequent visitor to Iran, the Iranian-American Majd said his goal is to inform people about the antagonistic relationship between Iran and the United States since the Islamic revolution in 1979, and try to present a way to begin to understand the intentions and needs of both countries.
When Iranian President Hassan Rouhani replaced Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, “who was perhaps the most destructive force in Iranian politics in a generation” earlier this year, Majd said, Iran began wishing for hope and change, just like America five years ago. The author says to give the Iranians a chance.
“I believe everything can be solved through dialogue,” he said. “You have to apologize sometimes. You have to say you’re sorry. But we haven’t yet been willing to do so, on both sides.”
Majd presented the 90-minute speech, titled “The Iran Conundrum — Who the Iranians Are, What They Want and the Future of US-Iran Relations,” followed by a Q&A session and book signing of his second recently published book, Ayatollah’s Democracy: An Iranian Challenge.
He explained that Iran wants change, but also wants to keep its Islamic traditions and culture. It does not want to become a Western country, which Majd said is one of the misconceptions of the United States.
Majd gave examples of Iranians suffering from high inflation. He brought up facts such as people dying because they don’t have medicine and can’t afford to buy wheat.
“Despite that hardship, they’re still not willing to give up their rights,” he said "They’re still not willing to exchange for having a better life … to have the president of the United States tell our president how to do his job.”
Students and faculty stood in the corners and sat on the floor as the 120 seats in the Administration Building on East Campus filled up quickly.
Majd was invited by professor Manoutchehr Eskandari-Qajar, director of SBCC’s Middle Eastern Club and political science department chair, and agreed to reduce his normal speaking fee.
“It’s important to come to not just Ivy League colleges or top universities, but I think it’s also important to go to community colleges,” Majd said in an interview with Noozhawk. “I feel that it’s important to reach a broad audience.”
He’s been published in various publications such as The New York Times, The New Yorker, GQ, the New York Observer, The Huffington Post, Interview Magazine and Salon.com, and served as an advisor and translator for two Iranian presidents, Mohammad Khatami and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on their trips to the United States and the United Nations.
“My highest hope is that (Iran and the U.S) have actual full relations at some point in the future,” Majd said. “That’s a long, long way, but I think it’s possible.”
When the speech was over, students and faculty could be heard praising it.
“It’s so refreshing to finally hear some diplomatic opinions about this ... from someone who knows what he’s talking about,” one student said to another as they left the building to join the author in the outside patio for coffee, snacks, mingling and book signing.
The event was funded by the Santa Barbara City College Foundation and the Pedotti Fund. It was co-sponsored by the political science department, the Middle Eastern studies program, Phi Theta Kappa, the global studies program and A Year Without War.