L.A.'s Jewish and Muslim Iranians Have Common Ground in the Age of Trump

Protesters descended on LAX Jan. 29 to speak out against Trump's so-called Muslim ban.
Protesters descended on LAX Jan. 29 to speak out against Trump's so-called Muslim ban.
Ted Soqui

Greater Los Angeles has more residents who hail from countries covered by President Trump's so-called Muslim ban than any other metropolitan area. The region is home to 160,800 immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, according to U.S. Census Bureau data analyzed by the Brookings Institution.

In fact, the metro area with the second-highest number of people from those countries, Detroit, has less than half the number (64,300) that Greater L.A. does. UCLA sociology Professor Kevan Harris, whose book A Social Revolution: Politics and the Welfare State in Iran is scheduled to be published this year, says the L.A. number could be even higher; the census defines Greater L.A.’s metropolitan statistical area as only including L.A. and Orange counties and not as encompassing other connected areas, such as the Inland Empire.

The vast majority of Angelenos from Trump-banned countries are from Iran — 136,000 of the 160,800. The Westside’s Iranian-American community, whose members often self-identify as Persian, took root following the 1979 revolution that overthrew the U.S.-backed shah and instituted an Islamic Republic of Iran. Jewish Iranians fled for their lives and brought their money, skills and education with them, settling in places like Beverly Hills, where it's been said that at least one-fifth of the population is of Iranian descent. A healthy swath of the Westside, where the knee-weakening stew fensenjan is easy to find, is often affectionately called Tehrangeles.

UCLA's Harris says little is known about the number of Iranian Muslims here — and that the Iranians who more recently are coming to America are more likely to be of the Islamic faith than Jewish.

"The current ratio of Iran-born Jews to Iran-born Christians/Muslims in L.A. is not well documented," he says via email. "But given recent immigration to the area over the past two decades, it is safe to say that Iran-born Jews are a declining segment of L.A.'s growing Iranian community. ... So the [president's] executive order would have its main effect on migration and visa approval for Iranians ... who tend to be Muslim or secular."

Seen as rivals in the past, Iranian Jews and Muslims have some common cultural ground in the age of Trump. Even if many of the Iranian-American families here won't be affected directly by Trump's ban, they could still see it as discriminatory.

"As Trump is perceived of adding more and more U.S.-based communities to his growing 'enemies list,'" Harris says, "the solidarity among affected groups could increase as people see themselves connected in opposition to U.S. administration policies."

He adds that the solidarity could extend to those not just of different faiths but from different countries: "The old nationalist trope [is] that Iranians are not Arabs, and so we've got nothing in common. Well, with Trump's executive order, we do now."


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