Two Nazanins, one uplifting tale

Nazanin Afshin-Jam speaks with George Stroumboulopoulos in May 2012.

(Edmonton) How do two women—one in Canada, the other in Iran—become so inexorably bound together that their connection changes both their lives? It all started with an email.

So begins the tale of two Nazanins.

By the time Nazanin Afshin-Jam, an Iranian-Canadian human-rights activist, singer, model and author, heard of the case of Nazanin Mahabad Fatehi, she had already shown signs of interest in human-rights issues. She felt compelled to respond to the message marked urgent. On the other side of that message was a plea from a French interpreter to help Fatehi, an 18-year-old Iranian woman who had been convicted and sentenced to death for stabbing a man who attempted to rape her and her niece. And respond she did.

Using her personal connections and her prominence as a former Miss Canada and runner-up Miss World, she mounted a campaign to bring attention to the youth’s plight in Iran. Her Save Nazanin campaign amassed 350,000 signatures. The power of social media proved to be a major factor in that effort. Afshin-Jam also leveraged discussions with the United Nations to bring the weight of the world to bear on Iran’s misogynistic legal system.

Though they shared a name, the two Nazanins could not have been more different. Afshin-Jam, born in Iran during the Iranian revolution, was from a well-to-do family. They escaped Iran in the early 1980s and settled in Vancouver where she grew up. Fatehi, a Kurdish woman, came from a severely impoverished background. At the time of the attack, Iranian media reported that she had been disowned by her family.

In an interview with George Stroumboulopoulos in May 2012 (see video above), Afshin-Jam said that in planning her campaign and the political interventions that became part of it, she had to maintain focus on what was ultimately best to help Fatehi.

“It’s like a chess game; you have to know where to make the moves of the chess pieces and decide what’s going to hurt or help her,” she said. “There was a part of the campaign where I thought our pressure had brought her to a situation where she was going to executed imminently. That was a scary day.”

Happily, Afshin-Jam’s efforts were successful. Through continuous campaigning and fundraising, she was able to play a significant role in overturning Fatehi’s initial sentence and garnering a second trial. Part of the sentence from that trial was an obligation to pay a diyya (financial compensation, or “blood money”) to the family of the attacker, who died from the stabbing.

Afshin-Jam went on to record an album, dedicating one of the songs to Fatehi. In May of this year, she released The Tale of Two Nazanins, a book co-written with author Susan McClelland.

In her Festival of Ideas presentation, Afshin-Jam and McClelland will take to the stage to talk about how one email changed both their lives and about how one person’s actions can bring about radical, positive change in the lives of others. Join the University of Alberta's Festival of Ideas to get the rest of the story Nov. 17, 2012 at 1 p.m. in the Citadel’s Maclab Theatre.

Nazanin Afshin-Jam and Susan McClelland at the Festival of Ideas - Nov. 17

Buy Tickets