By Nazenin Ansari
Wednesday 23rd March has been bitterly etched in Farhad Makanvand’s memory.
First came the news that a car had mowed down pedestrians and the driver stabbed a policeman to death outside the Houses of Parliament in London. Echoing other deadly attacks in Europe claimed by the ultra-hardline Islamists, this was one year to the day since three coordinated suicide bombings hit Brussels, killing 32 people and injuring hundreds more.
Then, Makanvand received the call from the British police. He was asked to present himself at the 6 bedroom accommodation he had rented out on Hagley Road, Birmingham. It turned out that it had been occupied by the 52-year-old British born attacker, Khaled Masood.
Makanvand, a successful Persian restaurant owner, insists the rooms had been rented out by a separate letting agent. According to TripAdvisor Shiraz, his restaurant is ranked #185 of 2186 places to eat in Birmingham, UK’s second largest city. With over 20% of residents born overseas, the city is considered one of the most culturally diverse.
“By the time I arrived, the entire area had been cordoned off, the police had broken in and made few arrests. I could not believe it was happening to me,” he told Kayhan-London.
Born in Kermanshah and now a dual Iranian-British national, Makanvand typifies a segment of the Iranian expatriate community which has taken foreign nationality or residence not because of any personal, political or religious threat in Iran. Indeed Makanvand maintains strong religious identity and ties with Iran, including pilgrimages to Mashad and Mecca.
One personal tie to Iran is Seyed Hashem Moosavi, whom he befriended while Moosavi was a Fellow at the Al-Mahdi Institute in Birmingham. Established in 1993, the institute offers Shiite religious scholarship and learning. Al-Mahdi also offers four-year religious training programme, taught in the traditional Muslim educational centers of Qum and Najaf, one of Iraq’s main religious centers.
“As a proud British citizen and British Muslim, I am appalled by the savage attack. Slaughtering innocent people goes against me as a Muslim. As a Muslim, I ask that we remain vigilant and unite to root out people who live in our communities or beliefs that goes against humanity. Whether we are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikh, Hindu or of any other faith, the voices of hate and evil should not drive us apart.”
When conversation leads to questions of religion and the upcoming elections in Iran or the situation in Syria, Makanvand shies away from expressing any views. “I’d rather not talk about politics and Iran. I am not a political person. I like to abide by the line.”
A student at the time of revolution in Iran, Makanvand came to Britain via India, where he pursued education after high school in Iran. He studied engineering at Birmingham University, married Debbie, his British-born wife and settled in Britain. Their family, comprising a son and 3 daughters follow religious practices and guidelines. “Thank God, our children have been accepting.”
“This incident has put us under the spotlight. There are those who will link this with other issues and we will be in the middle of it.”
Asked how he would reply to those who query why he chose to lead a life in Britain rather than Iran, he responded, “This is a question that goes back to thirty to forty years ago. I only think of today. I’d rather not look at my past. I don’t accept that I should stand by what I believed to the end.”