Using participant observation, oral history interviews, and a study of court transcripts, Internet chats, and press coverage of a 2006 murder trial of an Iranian-American man in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, we can better appreciate the dynamic intersection of ethnicity, religion, and gender in constructing the social identity of Iranian-Americans. Brian Hosayn Yasipour, who immigrated to the United States in 1969, was convicted of murder in the third degree for killing his four-year-old daughter in 2001 during a custody dispute with his estranged, Iranian-born wife. He managed to avoid the death penalty. Debates about his guilt in America
hinged on assessments of his mental state at the time of the crime and this, in turn, hinged on debates about how normative his actions would have been in Iran
. Until his arrest, Brian had led a highly mobile life—moving back and forth between America, where he lived as a Christian, and Iran, where he visited as a Muslim. Was he a calculating Iranian-Islamic patriarch, outraged at the defiance of his wife and the attitudes of American courts toward his paternal rights? Or was he, per the court transcripts, a “white Christian” and survivor of childhood rape back in Iran, who lapsed into madness under the strain of his second divorce? Brian actively blurred these issues in court appearances before and after the murder—often expressing his agency in terms of preserving his imaginary and physical mobility.
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