West of Middle East


In Season II of West of Middle East, we hear from people from the Middle East diaspora who are changemakers working in and around the field of education- be it through traditional academia, technology, the arts, advocacy or movement-building.

Each episode shines a spotlight on changemakers doing everything from the ordinary to the extraordinary, humanizing their triumphs and struggles and offering a more real narrative of what it means to be human.

Episode 1: Persis Karim
Episode 2: Zahra Billoo
Episode 3: Dany Doueiri
Episode 4: Taraneh Hemami
Episode 5: Mana Kharrazi
Episode 6: Pirronne Yousefzadeh
Episode 7: Reza Fakhari
Episode 8: Azadeh Shahshahani
Episode 9: Parto Aram

Award-winning comparative literature scholar and poet Dr. Persis Karim pioneers the first-of-its-kind Center For Iranian Diaspora Studies at San Francisco State University, exploring culture, communities and identity.

Civil rights attorney Zahra Billoo is a courageous voice for change amidst rising national tensions, working to build bridges with allies on civil and human rights issues for the American Muslim community.

Leaving a war behind, Professor Dany Doueiri developed the only B.A. program in Arabic in the California State University system with a mission to help students examine global events with an understanding of Arab culture.

Iranian-American visual artist Taraneh Hamami creates connections through experimental projects between artists, writers and scholars, while inspiring the next generation to explore essential topics from identity to the reflections of the everyday.

Exploring culture, identity and community, Mana Kharrazi serves as the Executive Director of Iranian Alliances Across Borders (IAAB), a 501(c) 3 national nonprofit organization that aims to strengthen the Iranian diaspora community and empower its youth through holistic learning.

Episode Update: IAAB’s Legal Battle Against the Muslim Ban

On Saturday, January 28th, 2017, IAAB staff and alumni showed up at airports in LA, New York, Boston, San Francisco, and Virginia to support efforts reuniting families affected by the ban. IAAB shared those stories of affected families in its first amicus brief, filed by Goodwin Procter LLP, which was cited twice in the Ninth Circuit’s ruling against the second Muslim ban.

In October, IAAB and six unnamed individual plaintiffs sued the Trump administration in the Fourth Circuit over the third Muslim ban, with help of civil rights lawyers at Muslim Advocates and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, as well as Covington Burling LLP. IAAB v. Trump was the first major lawsuit in the country brought against President Trump’s Muslim Ban 3.0, and succeeded in obtaining an injunction temporarily blocking the ban in a Maryland district court early on October 18th, the day the ban was scheduled to go into effect. The government appealed, and in December, the Supreme Court reinstated the ban. At every IAAB v Trump hearing, IAAB youth and alumni joined the staff both inside and outside the courtroom to bring visibility to the families and communities around the world impacted by the ban.

On February 15th, 2018 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the district court’s order blocking the Muslim ban, which was a significant victory. Following IAAB v Trump’s victory in February, Muslim Advocates and Americans United filed a petition to the Supreme Court so that their case may be heard along with Hawaii v Trump, but were unsuccessful. The legal team filed IAAB’s second amicus brief to the Supreme Court as part of April’s oral arguments for Hawaii v Trump. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court upheld the Muslim ban on June 26th, 2018.

About IAAB v Trump’s Fourth Circuit victory
Mana explains why she sued on behalf of IAAB
IAABers supported Hashemi family efforts
After the October hearing
After the December hearing

Pirronne Yousefzadeh is an Iranian-American Brooklyn based theatre arts director, writer, and educator working to deepen communication between audience and artform, spotlighting new narratives, identities and cultures while mentoring the next generation of actors in the art and craft of the stage.

From educating for religious pluralism and inclusive citizenship to advocating for international human rights, educator and Amnesty International board member Reza Fakhari emphasizes equitable and inclusive community engagement.

As the Legal & Advocacy Director for Project South, Azadeh Shahshahani works to protect the human rights of immigrants and Muslim, Middle Eastern, and South Asian communities in the American South.

Parto Aram founded Inspire-Tech in 2008 – a non-profit organization working to bring equity in the technology sector. Following 15 years of experience in the high-tech field as a computer hardware designer and marketing manager, Parto established the nonprofit dedicated to providing STEM workshops to underserved girls of color through an arts-meets-science approach.


In Season 1 of West of Middle East, we hear from people from the Middle East diaspora who are changemakers in a variety of unique ways: fighting for indigenous rights in the Amazon, advocating for LGBTQ refugee support, or making movies about Afghan rock stars and the diaspora experience. Each episode of West of Middle East provides a window into who these Middle East diaspora changemakers are, and how they’re creating a positive impact in the West. We explore what it means to be a part of a diaspora with pervasive stereotypes, and how being a part of that same diaspora propels a desire for social justice.

Bonus Content: Keely Badger
Episode 1: Subhi Nahas
Episode 2: Alia Shawkat
Episode 3: Maz Jobrani
Episode 4: Sulyman Qardash
Episode 5: Atossa Soltani
Episode 6: Yalda Modabber
Episode 7: Neda Nobari

Keely Badger, Executive Director of Neda Nobari Foundation, talks about the inspiration behind producing a podcast like West of Middle East, today.


A Syrian refugee in San Francisco works to educate communities in the Middle East about LGBTQ rights issues, while teaching people here in the West about what it means to be a Middle Eastern refugee.

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Iraqi-American actress Alia Shawkat became famous for her roles as Maeby Fünke in the award-winning T.V. show Arrested Development. Now she’s using her platform in Hollywood to show millennials a different side of women and Arabs on television.

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We go to West Hollywood to see how comedy can be a tool to educate people and dispel ugly myths about the Middle East diaspora.

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The singer of Afghanistan’s first rock band, now an immigrant in Oakland, California, talks about how music can bring communities together.

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An Iranian immigrant loses her heart in the Amazon Rainforest when she realizes community goes beyond diaspora, community is global.

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An Iranian immigrant is creating a new generation of mindful change-makers inside of a Farsi-language preschool in Berkeley, California.

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An Iranian immigrant who became a millionaire in the U.S. is using her resources to support arts, education and podcasts like this one, that help create understanding about the Middle East diaspora.

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