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Interview With Former British Conservative MP And Former British Attorney General Dominic Grieve; Interview With UnHerd Political Editor Tom McTague; Interview With Brandeis University Professor Anita Hill; Interview With "Women We Buried, Women We Burned: A Memoir" Author Rachel Louise Snyder; Interview With Sofreh's Restaurant Chef And Owner Nasim Alikhani. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired June 19, 2023 - 13:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR. Here's what's coming up.
Tory officials party as COVID rages, then leader, Boris Johnson, faces an accountability moment. I speak to former British attorney general, Dominic
Grieve, and Johnson chronicler Tom McTague.
Plus, America celebrates Juneteenth. Civil and women's rights advocate, Anita Hill, joins me to reflect on her own family history and where the
nation stands now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RACHEL LOUISE SNYDER, AUTHOR, "WOMEN WE BURIED, WOMEN WE BURNED: A MEMOIR": I rebelled immediately. I rebelled against the religion. I rebelled against
the new family structure. I rebelled in every way I could.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: -- "Women We Buried, Women We Burned," journalist Rachel Louise Snyder exposes her own traumatic story.
And finally, finding common ground through food. Persian American chef, Nasim Alikhani, spices up the taste of her homeland in her restaurant and
her new book.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
Today, a moment of reckoning for Britain as parliament debates report condemning the former prime minister, Boris Johnson, for deliberately lying
about how his own team flouted COVID rules. The result could strengthen parliament's hand against future leader's intent on undermining the
Johnson could've faced a 90-day suspension, but he preemptively resigned last week, lashing out at what he called a kangaroo court. But a new
Partygate video obtained by the "Sunday Mirror" newspaper shows concerted aids dancing and drinking during lockdown. Partiers were even heard
laughing about bending the rules.
Let's just remember that people were still dying of COVID here in Britain at that time. Families were grieving. And a vaccine was only just coming
online. As those who were making the lockdown rules were blatantly disregarding them.
Former Tory MP Dominic Grieve says that he believes the country will be better off without Boris Johnson. And veteran political reporter, Tom
McTague, has covered Johnson extensively. Welcome both of you to the program.
Can I start by asking you about what's going on in parliament, Dominic Grieve? Are you surprised to see this accountability coming to a head if it
is right now?
DOMINIC GRIEVE, FORMER BRITISH CONSERVATIVE MP AND FORMER BRITISH ATTORNEY GENERAL: In one way, it's taken a long time to happen. In another way, it
is how president deals with people who tell them lies. It is a really serious matter under the U.K. constitutional conventions from minister to
lie to parliament. If a minister inadvertently misleads parliament, in my 22 years there, you saw minister scurrying to dispatch box to apologize and
to correct the record.
Under Johnson it just stopped happening. They just stopped doing it long before the issues over Partygate, and he just got away with it. He's
flouted convention, flouted the rules throughout his career. But of course, on this occasion, what he actually did outraged the public, and that's why
we got to the tipping point where parliamentarians finally said, this is unacceptable, because they were going to their constituencies at weekends
and being told that it was unacceptable by the public.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, to both of you then, you say it reached the tipping point that we're seeing because it became untenable for parliament -- for
minister -- parliamentarians and the elected officials. So, when he was elected, everybody knew who Boris Johnson was, he had lied, he had
dissembled, he had done all sorts -- he had been censured in his previous jobs. You know, Tom McTague is this -- you know, should we be surprised by
the way it's turned out?
TOM MCTAGUE, POLITICAL EDITOR, UNHERD: No, I don't think we should be surprised, although, I mean, I am still surprised at how partly (ph) it's
gone so quickly. But I think in his -- before he became prime minister, he was satirizing parliament and MPs. He was poking fun at them, saying to the
country, don't take these people seriously as they want to be taken, they make bad decisions, they get things wrong, they should -- we shouldn't look
at them so seriously. Ignores their rules, they don't follow them themselves.
The difference is when he is prime minister and he is setting the rules, he is the authority, you can no longer satirize yourself as prime minister.
It's not really possible. And so, I think that became the problem. He didn't want to follow the rules that he was setting, he clearly didn't want
to, he didn't really believe in them. And so, there was this fundamental tension that probably couldn't have been a crisis more unsuited to Boris
Johnson's character traits than the one he faced.
AMANPOUR: And, Dominic Grieve, but do you think the Tory Party put up with all of this, that now we're seeing revealed, because he was considered a
vote getter and only, only decided to censure him when they realized it actually was hurting the party?
GRIEVE: That's probably a fair assessment, they certainly knew that they were getting a rogue when they, the parliamentarians, decided to support
insufficiently to put him on the ballot paper with the membership. And the membership have always loved him or a significant proportion because he
makes them laugh, there's the boosterism, the optimism, the iconoclasm, touched on by Tom, the willingness to satirize other people, and it
appealed to some very deep instincts amongst some conservative party members, not necessarily the conservative voting electorate.
And as long as that seemed to work, and it took them through the 2019 election on the back of his promises and lies which he made then, yes, they
went along with it. I mean, they're going to have to reflect long and hard over their own conduct. But the reality is that -- I think the tipping
point was actually the Owen Paterson affair when he tried to save Owen Paterson from a similar censure --
AMANPOUR: This is one of his ministers.
GRIEVE: One of his ministers.
GRIEVE: An actual --
AMANPOUR: Who had flouted ethics rules.
GOLODRYGA: Yes. And that was the point where people said, excuse me, in their constituencies, but what are you think you're doing? And at that
point, they started to realize, linked to other things about him, that actually he was beginning to lose his appeal. But I'm afraid it was only
then that a lot of them actually started to grapple with the problem that they got a monster on their hands because really, in constitutional terms,
that what this country has had.
AMANPOUR: A monster on their hands. So, let me just play a little bit about what a former prime minister -- actually, his predecessor, Theresa
May, said in parliament today during this debate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THERESA MAY, FORMER BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Following an unsettling period in our political life, support for the report of Privileges Committee will
be a small but important step in restoring people's trust in members of this house and of parliament. And I also say to members of my own party,
that it is doubly important for us to show that we are prepared to act when one of our own, however senior, is found wanting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: How significant, Tom McTague, is what she said, given that, you know, she would say that, wouldn't she, because he sabotaged her and she
lost her premiership? Is it significant that she said that?
MCTAGUE: It's significant because when a former prime minister stands up and gives a speech like that, we should listen to it. I think what's more
significant, actually, is a speech made by Penny Mordaunt, who fancies herself as a future conservative party leader. Now, what has she done? She
has decided she's going to vote against Boris Johnson, she's going to sanction him, she's going to vote with the Privileges Committee with
So, where does she think the country is? What -- where do she think it's -- she should vote for her own political career, it's with the Privileges
Committee. I think that tells you something.
AMANPOUR: And Penny Mordaunt, just for our viewers, became an instant meme during the coronation because there she was in her outfit leading, you
know, the king and others during that important moment for the country, so she became very, very famous at that time.
But can I ask you, Dominic Grieve or -- and both of you, what do you make of this new party video and is that something -- I mean, that just seems to
be even over and above what we already know?
GRIEVE: It obviously took place at conservative headquarters, not at Number 10 Downing Street. But what it illustrates is what happens when at
the top, the rules are abandoned. It's perfectly obvious that the parties in Downing Street came as a result of the prime minister's complete
cavalier attitude to the rules.
So, others then started to think, well, he's isn't following the rules, why should we? And it percolated down to the special advisers, it actually
affected, I think, the junior and even middle ranking civil servants working in Number 10.
So, should we be surprised at conservative headquarters was also experiencing the same thing when he is ultimately the party leader? Not one
bit, because nobody was enforcing the rules. If somebody had wanted to say, look, this is very serious. We're in COVID. We may be working here, but
we've got to show at all times that we are following the rules, even though we are entitled to be in a work environment. None of this would've happened
in either location.
So, ultimately, it is Johnson who is directly, in my view, responsible for all this taking place. So, when he stands up, he did actually, when the
first photographs of the CCHQ party emerged and say, how disgraceful it is and how much her rejects it and how appalled he is, all this is just
verbiage, because he, in fact, set the tone, and the tone was then followed by all these people.
AMANPOUR: And you, Tom, you -- we said you chronicled him.
AMANPOUR: I mean, you were inside the bubble. You didn't see any of that, you say.
AMANPOUR: But you did report on him. What did you get from him at the time? Are you surprised at all this then transpired? And secondly, I think
to both of you, nonetheless, as awful as it is, and all the evidence shows, Britain is doing something that America hasn't yet -- I mean, they have
indicted Trump now, but the grandees of the party are very, very slow to actually condemn him.
MCTAGUE: That's right. I mean, although, Donald Trump seems to be facing a much more severe --
AMANPOUR: Obviously. Yes, it's different but nonetheless.
MCTAGUE: -- sanctions than Johnson, who's managed to sort of wriggle himself out of it, I guess. You know, he'll do fine. Although, I think his
political career probably is over now, whereas Donald Trump's evidently isn't.
When I was in Number 10 during this period, I would go in and out to write a profile of him for "The Atlantic," you did have this sense when you --
once you crossed over the boundary that it was a different world to the one outside because, you know, outside most people were not bordering --
getting on trains and going to work, they're working from home and all of this and frankly, sort of worried about going outside.
And you had this building where everyone was locked in together, every single day, working in a, you know, Georgian terrace in small rooms and I
think they clearly started to feel very blase about them, because they were sitting, you know, two feet apart.
Now, I agree with Dominic that a lot of that comes from the top. I think the real challenge for Johnson is he just didn't believe the rules he was
setting himself, but he wasn't strong enough, like he has not been strong enough, in many cases, to actually go with what his gut was telling him,
which was to follow a kind of Swedish model, don't impose any national lockdowns, make it voluntary, that's what he wanted to do, and he didn't do
it. And that's really what it's costing him.
AMANPOUR: Just last one on this, are you surprised, disappointed that Rishi Sunak, the current prime minister, and many senior ministers did not
attend and won't vote in this matter today?
GRIEVE: Yes, I am. I think they should've done, because it is quite an important and defining moment. Now, obviously, if they disagree with the
reports, then acting on their conscience and their judgment, they could come along and vote against it, I would understand that.
But staying away or abstaining because you just think it might be a bit embarrassing with some of your core supporters and your membership of your
constituency party is not a good reason. Really, it's not just not a good reason, it's actually an appalling reason for behaving in that fashion. And
I think that -- you know, I would say to anyone who is in the house that they have got -- they got to stand up and be counted. If they disagree with
the report, that's one thing, but just avoiding passing judgment on somebody who on the face of it overwhelming evidence has behaved very badly
is not acceptable.
AMANPOUR: Can I just switch topics for a moment, and that is to migration? There's appalling disaster in the seas of Greece, where, I mean, dozens of
bodies have been found, there might be hundreds, we don't know yet, who have been caught in this terrible shipwreck, and there is a court case
going on. Apparently, it started today.
You've written about this country's illegal migration bill, and we know that stop the boats is a campaign cry from the current government. You
wrote this month, this illegal -- I think you wrote it this month -- this illegal migration bill's very existence demonstrates that we still appear
to be incapable of a reasoned discussion on difficult subjects of this kind.
So, what do you think of the idea of shipping people off to Rwanda, denying the legal right to asylum? And again, Rishi Sunak is all over Twitter going
on, I think a cease and desist or an immigration enforcement operation?
GRIEVE: I'm a lawyer and I believe in the rule of law. If you are signed up to international treaties which say that you are going to treat asylum
seekers in a particular way, you've got to adhere to it. Of course, if you really think that the treaty is unacceptable, then you can always decide to
resile from it and take the flak that goes with it. But trying to evade your international obligations is not a proper way for a government to
behave. And the difficulty with the illegal migration bill is it seeks in certain areas to do exactly that.
And so, for that reason, it's a bad piece of law, quite about from the fact that I don't actually think it's actually going to achieve its intended
purpose anyway and it reduces and diminishes the government's standing. I don't deny, and I said it in the article, that the government has a big
problem. We actually have, collectively in Western Europe, a massive problem.
There are, and I think we have to face up to it, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people, who are living in parts of the world that they
don't really want to stay in because a whole series of issues, climate change, the environment, and they think Western Europe is quite attractive.
And I do accept there is going to be, have to be a limit to how we can cope with that or we will be potentially facing a very great crisis. But that
needs some collective thinking and this is when I come to the clarity of thought. We have to be willing to speak openly about what these challenges
mean, because without it you don't come up with a credible solution.
What you do is you try to come up with a quick fix, which looks good to the electorate but actually is untenable, and furthermore diminishes your
AMANPOUR: And, Tom, very, very quickly because you've thought about this. You know, let's face it, our greying societies need proper migration. I
agree it needs to be organized and there needs to be, you know, a proper way around it. But talk to me about how the press, and we've seen these
awful, awful headlines of demonizing migrants, demonizing refugees and asylum seekers. We've got them and we can put them up.
How does that "soften the ground" for policies that, in the end, Dominic Grieve has written against?
MCTAGUE: I think part of the problem, as Dominic has lighted on, is we're not willing to make the decisions. So, if you want to pull out of the
European Convention of Human Rights make that your policy and do it and take the flak, they the political flak. I don't think it has support. Of
course, there's enormous problems in Northern Ireland with the Good Friday Agreement and all that.
What really worries me is this -- these aren't the first time we have seen awful tragedies in Greece. I mean, we go back to the refugee crisis when
Angela Merkel was there and we have seen these important pictures of babies washing up on the shore, nothing seems to shift us, either from it being
able to do anything about it or to come up with a more humane policy. We seemed to be trapped in the worst of all worlds where we have neither.
AMANPOUR: Tom McTague, Dominic Grieve, thank you both so much for being here.
GRIEVE: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Now, today, America observes Juneteenth. It's the newest federal holiday, a bittersweet celebration of June 19, 1865, when news that slaves
were free finally reached Galveston, Texas, a full two years after Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. It is a time for celebration and
reflection in the White House and across the United States, even as an honest appraisal of black history is impossible in many school districts in
the country today.
Law professor, Anita Hill, sees Juneteenth as a moment to take stock of racial and gender rights in America. We also spoke about her own family's
historic connection to the holiday.
Anita Hill, welcome back to our program.
ANITA HILL, PROFESSOR, BRANDEIS UNIVERSITY: Thank you for having me.
AMANPOUR: So, this must be --
HILL: It's a great day.
AMANPOUR: Yes. I was going to ask you, you feel that it's a great day. It's obviously celebrating the freedom of slaves. It goes back all the way
to 1865. You say that your parents, your heritage, was in Texas where they heard last, I guess, about being free. Tell me about your -- that part of
HILL: Well, as a matter of fact, this morning I woke up trying to channel my great, great grandparents. They were living in Texas, living as slaves
in Texas in 1865. And I kept trying to think, you know, what were they thinking in the days that they found out about emancipation. You know, what
was on their minds when they thought about what freedom was going to look like and what would it mean for them in their everyday lives?
And that's -- you know, they were enslaved there. They had come from other states, but Texas was their home. And in some ways, it was the last bastion
of slavery because it was always moving westward to find some kind of protection. But Emancipation Day came. And so, I think that my parents, my
great, great, great, great, great grandparents and their children must have been thinking about how are they going to find work? What's it going to be
like when the only people who they've worked for have been their enslavers? What will education mean for their children? And what will their voting
rights be? Will they be able to even register to vote? And if they are voting, will their votes be counted?
I also -- you know, I also think about black women though at that time because, you know, I was thinking about the rape and harassment and assault
that they went through in slavery. And for them, freedom involved being free from that kind of behavior. And I don't know if it was always on their
minds that morning, or when they found it out, but I'm really sure that all of those things were up for grabs in terms of their imagining what their
freedom would be.
AMANPOUR: Well, it's so interesting because you list a whole load of major and, obviously, vital issues that, frankly, are still on the table and
still haven't been fully resolved. You yourself are an activist for civil rights, for women's rights. So, I want to ask you, today, of all those
things you listed, what concerns you the most? Is it the assault on voting rights, the reversal of women's rights, the issue about, you know, domestic
abuse, those kinds of things?
HILL: Well, you know, I can't rank them because I realize that all of them are important. And if we don't you know, if we don't address all of them
and each of them then we are never going to be fully free. We're never going to reach that point where we can say everyone comes into our legal
systems or into our society as free people and that justice will prevail throughout their lives.
You know, I think about, for example, the voting rights cases that we have had recently but even in the past few years, many of them have been
restrictive. The affirmative action cases that we have coming up in universities and where we're going to be deciding what's going to happen
with education in the future, you know, are case -- are areas where the rights that we have developed are at risk, the legal precedents that have
expanded rights and protected rights are really subject to being reversed dramatically. But the same is true when it comes to gender, that these
reversals are happening.
So, we are at a very troublesome time in the -- in terms of what the courts are doing and what states are doing throughout the country.
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, to talk -- let's talk about affirmative action because it's almost incredible that this law that allowed, you know, black
people and other minorities to come to higher education may be reversed. Justices Thomas and Alito actually keep asking what does diversity even
mean, and there is a fear that they may, the court, might reverse this.
Now, it's -- it involved Harvard, the University of North Carolina. But Justice Kagan says that she's worried and she voiced her worries in a
dissent about, you know, how it could affect black and Latino students. Let's just play what she said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELENA KAGAN, U.S. SUPREME COURT ASSOCIATE JUSTICE: I mean, I guess what I'm saying is your brief -- and this is very explicit in your brief -- is,
like, it just doesn't matter if our institutions look like America. You say this on page 11 in your reply brief, and I guess what I'm asking you is,
doesn't it? I mean, doesn't it? These are the pipelines to leadership in our society.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, that's a very pointed question, Anita Hill. And I just wonder what you think the consequences would be and why are these two --
well, this court, why is it set potentially to reverse affirmative action?
HILL: Well, I think they're set to reverse affirmative action because they are relying on this very faulty logic that, you know, the time is up for
it. I mean, there is a part of Justice O'Connor's opinion in the (INAUDIBLE) case that said, in 25 years, maybe we won't need affirmative
action. And they're relying on that to say, OK, you've had your chance, but what they are not recognizing is that the problems of getting school
equality, equal access to higher education, have not been resolved.
You know, we are in this period of time where we are starting to see positive impacts, they are not enough. But now, there are members of the
court, like Alito and Thomas, who just want to say, OK, let's put an end to the policies and procedures that have actually helped us get to where we
are. And it makes absolutely no sense when we look back -- you know, when we look at the entire context of where we are in terms of education.
Justice Kagan who's right, leadership will be lost. It will revert back to where we were, you know, decades before. And we need to continue
affirmative action as well as other policies that will help students of color become leaders and will help the entire society to become more equal
AMANPOUR: You know, it does seem extraordinary, this relentless attack on civil rights, whether it is voting rights, what you're just talking about -
- well, we're just talking about affirmative action and many, many others. But I want you to comment on a recent Supreme Court vote regarding the
Alabama case of redistricting.
Essentially, they upheld and they said that basically, they ordered the state to redraw the congressional map, allow, you know, the additional
district to make sure that the black majority district accounts for the fact that it is in fact, you know, 27 percent black.
So, does that -- is that positive? And why do you think the chief justice, you know, who's previously worked to restrict voting rights, changed his
HILL: Well, I think what -- it is a positive outcome, but what it shows is that the holding in the Shelby -- the Holder v. Shelby County case should
never have happened. That redistricting may not ever have happened if, in fact, we still had Article 5 in effect in the voting rights -- under voting
rights. If we still Article 5 we would've had a preclearance for that particular redistricting. And it may never have gone into effect and had to
go to the Supreme Court to be reversed.
So, that, again, is one of those areas where we have reversal of a policy that was doing what we needed it to do and that shows us that more and more
cases are going to have to go to the Supreme Court as opposed to being evaluated and really treat it before we even put them in place. That's been
a history of the Voting Rights Act in this country, and it should continue.
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about Clarence Thomas himself. Obviously, your history is closely aligned with that awful time all those decades ago. Now,
you know, that there are ethics question swirling around him. A senate panel last week is focusing on a bill that would implement a range of
ethics and transparency reforms at the Supreme Court after reports of a patent of Thomas's nondisclosure on his financial report for years and
having taken significant gifts, the allegations from a rich benefactor.
Does this surprise you? And especially that the court's credibility and trust is about -- you know, down to about 59 percent of Americans who
disapprove of the job the court is doing?
HILL: You know, I think, you know, this being Juneteenth, we have to look back over at history. We have -- we must, in fact, understand that --
especially when it comes to marginalized people, under-resourced people, we have always relied on the court and believed in the integrity of the court
to hear our cases, to hear our claims before the court and deal fairly without any sense that some organization or some individual behind is
funding members of the court, and therefore, they're going to vote in favor of what those people want to happen in this society.
We are at this point now where the American public has lost confidence in the Supreme Court. When that happens, we've lost confidence in our laws.
HILL: And we can't just allow that to continue without somebody intervening to really respond to what I think are reasonable claims for
some kind of investigation and actually holding the Supreme Court members to the same standard that other federal courts judges are being held to.
AMANPOUR: Anita Hill, thank you so much for being with us on this very important day.
HILL: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Now, our next guest has extensively reported on domestic violence, and is now sharing her own painful story. Rachel Louise Snyder is
an award-winning author and journalism professor. She's chronicling her dark past and the lessons she's learned in a new memoir. And she's joining
Michel Martin to explore that life story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHEL MARTIN, CONTRIBUTOR: Thank you, Christiane. Rachel Louise Snyder, thank you so much for talking with us.
RACHEL LOUISE SNYDER, AUTHOR, "WOMEN WE BURIED, WOMEN WE BURNED: A MEMOIR": Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: You know, you are a distinguished writer and journalist who has written about some difficult issues, particularly domestic violence. What
made this the time to dig into your own story?
SNYDER: I think that anybody who has known me for any period of time at all would've expected that this would've been my first book. I mean, I
always knew that I had an unconventional life and an unconventional background, but I just was more interested in being a writer, seeing the
world, learning the stories of other people.
And I think my -- you know, my stepmother passed away and some sort of big life changes happened that just put me in a reflective place and it seemed
like the time was right.
MARTIN: So, let's talk about the things that is, I guess, most attention getting about your book.
SNYDER: What is most -- I don't actually know what's most attention.
MARTIN: Well, the most attention getting thing, I think, for a lot of people is that your life changed in an instant with the death of your
mother. Is that -- you were -- your mom is Jewish. Just a classic, loving mom. You know, a hugging mom that made you feel great. But she died really
early in your life from breast cancer. Your dad then marries someone who is involved with this very strict evangelical church. And you -- and then,
sort of brings you into this kind of radically different existence.
Could you talk a little bit about that? And I have to tell you that it's painful to read.
MARTIN: And so, it had to have been painful to live.
SNYDER: I mean, of course I'm tempted to crack a joke because that's my way of kind of dealing with things, right? I'm like, oh, yes. So, it's
really hard, but what doesn't destroy make makes me better writer.
But it was hard. And you would think that the death of my mother, I was eight, she was 35, would be the big thing, and it was in certain ways, but
it kind of set in motion this total upheaval. We moved across the country. We no longer went to temple or celebrated any of the high holidays. We no
longer had the support system of our neighborhood and our family in Pennsylvania where we lived at the time. We had moved to Illinois.
And I think, for me, the most disruptive was this woman really kind of immediately becoming, I was supposed to make her a stand-in for my mother.
I was pubescent when they married, I was about 11, so I was just on the verge of, you know, what are really big changes for girls. And, you know, I
didn't feel like I could talk to her about any of that.
The morning of the wedding, which was two months after they started dating, you know, my father brought me down to the church basement and said,
Rachel, meet your new mother. And it's easy for us to look at that now, especially now that I'm a parent myself and say, wow, that was
spectacularly bad parenting. But I also think that, in 1979, my father must have felt this intense pressure to not be a single father, like he must
have felt that he was inadequate.
And everything changed. And I rebelled immediately. I rebelled against the religion. I rebelled against the new family structure. I rebelled in every
way I could.
MARTIN: You and the other kids were immediately subjected to this kind of regiment of corporal punishment. You called this ritualized corporal
punishment. And you talk about how, you know, your parents would line you up over this oversized, I guess, sofa in the living room and then, you'd
assume the position, leaning over, and you'd be spanked in an assembly line. And, you know, what was that about?
SNYDER: Yes. Corporal punishment was mandated by the church. You know, they believed they would "spare the rod, spoil the child." And I -- you
know, I have since learned -- only very recently, I've learned that there are something like 18 states in the U.S. where corporal punishment is
allowed in public schools. So, you know, we can talk about that after my next book, but I mean, I am horrified by that, absolutely horrified.
And I didn't -- you know, it was so normalized in my house that all it did was make me angry. It didn't cause me to reflect, it didn't make me respect
my parents more or follow God, it did none of the things that it was supposed to do. And it was a form of ritualized torture.
I'll tell you something that I'm reticent to say because I just did this last week. But I was in Chicago having dinner with a woman who I've used as
a source in many domestic violence stories in my previous book. And we were drinking martinis. And I said to her, was I -- do you think I was a victim
of domestic violence? Like, I had never thought about myself that way because it was so orderly and ritualized. And she said, of course,
absolutely. And it's shaken me. It's been like 10 days since that conversation and I'm thinking about that like every hour.
MARTIN: One of the things that strikes me about your book is that you talk about these just really horrifying, to me, things, but your description of
it is so beautiful. I mean, you -- your writing is so exquisite. And just - - let me just read this where you talk about being spanked in an assembly line. You say, I never remember what we had done to earn this punishment,
only the punishment itself. The anger that swelled like a contagion, from one of us to the next, with each blow. Palpable as mud under your toes. It
snaked its way inside me, curled itself around my stomach and into my cells, molded itself into a permanent occupant that I carried like an
When did you figure that out? Did you know that even then?
SNYDER: I knew then that it would -- that it made me angry. I didn't have the language for the complexity, and I didn't have the power to be able to
sort of fight back intellectually, right? I would say things like, well, nowhere in the bible does it say the teenagers shouldn't smoke cigarettes.
You know, I would say things like that. But I recognized that anger and it just stayed in me for years and years.
And, you know, one of the things about writing both this book and my previous book is they're emotionally intense books, and the writing of them
is emotionally intense. And I could only read poetry while I was doing the actual writing. And I think it's something about holding a narrative in
your head, like there's only room in there for one.
And so, some of that language might come from the fact that, like, all I'm reading for months on end is poetry. And poetry gives you this economy of
language, you don't have to judge, right? The judgment comes from the imagery and the way you have constructed some things. So -- but it is --
yes, even hearing you read that, it's really -- it brings me right back.
MARTIN: This is where your story takes this crazy turn. You were kicked out of school and then you were kicked out of your house at 16.
MARTIN: The inevitable happened, you were homeless. You stumble into being the manager of a heavy metal band at 17. You went to the Barbizon Modeling
School. You get your GED. You go to college. You got to grad school. But -- and then you -- somewhere in there, you traveled all around the world.
SNYDER: Yes. All of those unlikely events, it really added up to something, to me, that was like a life in which you didn't have to have
normal boundaries. You didn't have to have -- you could look at that life and say, oh, my gosh, terrible things have happened, yes, and that is true
and I'm not minimizing those terrible things that have happened to me, but I also am like, yes, but they freed me. They freed me to define all kinds
of things in less traditional ways.
There are all kinds of ways that we cage each other in, we define what something is supposed to be according to a definition that comes from
somewhere outside of us. And for me, I think having all of those crazy turns just meant, like, oh, I could just keep turning.
MARTIN: You spent years in Cambodia. And you write about a time in Cambodia when your mother's ghost appeared to you and gave you an important
message. And I was wondering if I could get you to read just a portion of that story.
SNYDER: I thought of all those times when I imagined that having a mother would have infused me with some knowledge, unraveled some feminine mystery,
answered my many questions, questions about dating, romance, love, relationships, womanhood, children. That's the question. The only question
I really had now. I might someday regret not having one, a terrible reason to have a child. And when you've lost one part to death and another into
religion, you understand in a gut deep way that there's no guarantee you'll make it through the pivotal years of your own child's life. So, what do you
do? This, this has to be one of those important moments a mother can help with.
And here was my mother, my actual real mother, and I didn't know how long she'd stay and so I asked her this crucial question, perhaps the most
pressing question of any woman facing down the finish line of her reproductive years. I wish you were here, I said, to help me decide if I
should have a child.
And I heard her like I could hear, you know, the train behind my house. I heard her say, even if I were there, I couldn't help you with that. And I
had spent my whole life defining myself against the deficits of having a mother figure. I would know how to walk in heels if I had a mother. I would
know when somebody was hitting on me if I had had a mother. And here was my own mother sayin, you wouldn't know that any more than you do know if I
MARTIN: The other thing that I think stands out about her story is that I'm struck by what you said about how so much, you know, for men, you know,
finding safety in the world is not considered a priority, right, that men are presumed to be safe until they are not, right?
MARTIN: And women are presumed to be unsafe until they are. Your story is so much of one of where it was forced to be sure, you were forced into it,
but you're seeking of adventure, of your embracing the world is what brought to safety.
MARTIN: And I think there's something very different about that. I just wondered if you thought about that?
SNYDER: After my mother died, we grew up sort of being told over and over that we -- that the world was an unsafe place. It was full of people who
were searching, people who were empty, you know, that their souls were yearning for God, and we not only grew up in a place where we were lucky
enough to access that, but we grew up the chosen ones in that place. In other words, America.
And once I began to travel, I went on Semester at Sea, which some viewers might know is a semester long program where you're on a ship and you travel
route from country to country, and you're not traveling like to like Rome and Paris, those are wonderful places, but you're traveling to places like,
you know, Mumbai and Johannesburg and, you know, places that are edgier and certainly, more foreign, right? There's a very different foreign feeling to
Kyoto than there is to London, if you are an American.
And so, it upended completely everything I thought I knew about being an American. You know, one of the things I learned being out there in the big
wide world is that culture is everything. Culture is not just the food you eat and the entertainment you imbibe, it's the -- your sense of justice.
It's your sense of right and wrong. It's your moral underpinning. And, you know, it's everything from jurisprudence to philosophy.
And so, being able to kind of disentangle that was so freeing for me because I was able to just say, oh, this is -- you know, this is the box
that I call culture and my way of looking at it is my way, but it doesn't mean it's the right way or only way.
MARTIN: We have so much we could talk about, because there's so many ideas in it. But I'm going to ask to kind of conclude where we started which is
you lost two mothers, your biological mother, your mom, when you were eight and then, your stepmother, who, frankly, was one of the people who one
could argue tortured you. Toward the end of her life, you took care of her. Can you just talk a little bit about that? How is it possible for you to
offer, you know, that forgiveness to someone who had hurt you so much?
SNYDER: Yes. It's tough. I've had so many people write to me and say, I could've never done that. She was also being oppressed in her way by that
church and by my father who were, you know, constantly reminding her as a woman that she was sort of second tier and that she was subjugated to him
because he was the head of the house.
They both changed by the time they both died, I have to say. My father was doing all of the cooking and all the cleaning. And she did none of it. And
that's just one example. There's many other examples. But when I had a child -- my daughter was born in Bangkok, and when I had a child I really
thought about my parents in the way that you do and thought, you know, that was really terrible parenting that I had. But why is that my daughter's
fault, right? I'm not going to pass along whatever residual anger I feel to her. If she doesn't want to have a relationship with them, that is fine,
but it's not my decision to keep her from them. And so, she was close to them, especially my father who died right at the start of COVID.
And so, bringing her into their lives once or twice a year, I would go out and visit them, you know, brought us back to someplace where we could find
some common ground. We didn't agree with each other religiously, politically, socially, a lot of different ways, but we loved each other.
And when she got sick, she had colorectal cancer, I don't really know why but I'm the kid they called. They could've called her -- she had two kids
from her first marriage. I'm the one they called. And I think it was something about having lost a mother. She wanted to allow me the space to
find her in a way, like not in a conscious way, but I just -- I remember sitting down with her nine months before she died and I said, can I ask you
what cancer feels like in your body?
And this is a woman who was very quiet, really shy, and she talked for two hours without stopping that night. It's the most I'd heard her talk in
probably years combined. And I realized she needs to talk about this and she's also giving me a gift of connecting as women, connecting through
generational pain. I felt in some way like she was connected to my real mother. And we talked for the next nine months. I would sit with my
computer and take notes.
And I think I asked all those questions that you never get to ask someone who is dying, like, are you scared of death? What do you see right now in
front of you? All of those -- that just every artifice was gone, and I guess it's something about going into Dante's, you know, seventh or eighth
circle and coming back out and finding breath again.
MARTIN: Well, thank you for sharing this gift with us. Rachel Louise Snyder, thank you so much for talking with us today.
SNYDER: Thank you. It was really a pleasure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And finally, tonight, comfort and culture. A modern spin on classic Persian cuisine. Iranian American chef Nasim Alikhani's career is
heating up. Since opening her restaurant, Sofreh, in 2018, she's taken the New York food scene by storm. She was recently nominated for a James Beard
Award as best chef in New York, one of the industry's highest honors, and she was a guest chef for the White House in March.
Now, she's created her first cookbook, which is out later this month. And Nasim is joining us now from that restaurant in Brooklyn. Welcome to the
It's great to have you here. And as a fellow traveler and Iranian myself, of course, I am really thrilled to be able to talk to you about this. But
let's just start with your journey. You were born in Iran. And then, you know, you came to America. You had wanted to be a judge. What's brought you
to America and to food?
NASIM ALIKHANI, CHEF AND OWNER, SOFREH'S RESTAURANT: Hi, Christiane. Thank you so much for having me here. It's such an honor to talk to you.
I -- life is a mystery. And I honestly don't know how to explain, like, 30 or 40 years of journey, but I know that one thing is, yes, I want to be a
judge, I want to be a lot of things. I also studied international affairs. I wanted to become ambassador of something to the U.N., I don't even know
what, but I always loved cooking and I always found quietness in the action of cooking and I found amazing joy in sharing my creations, whatever that
was, a simple (INAUDIBLE) or, you know, lavish meal, it didn't matter, or just feed a bunch of kids and my kid's friends at a play date.
But it's just -- it brought amazing joy, quietness, connection. It just make me whole, this action.
ALIKHANI: This -- and it's a complete action because when you cook, you need an audience. You cannot just cook for the heck of it. You need an
audience, and that audience, how they receive the food, completes the circle. And --
ALIKHANI: And, Nasim, Iranian food is absolutely fantastic, as I know, and I've been, full disclosure, to your restaurant when it opened in 2018, and
it is fantastic. But always offer Iranian food to guest as well. What is it about it, do you think, that is so welcome and so beloved, really, by many,
you know, who have no sort of their tastebuds aren't used to that?
ALIKHANI: Yes. I think what it is -- because Iran has been always a land that other people came to it, and brought their culture and their cuisine.
Like we've got the spices from India. We got so much from everybody. And thousands of years of history and culture, it's woven in our food. It's so
organic that it's just almost acceptable easily by all palettes, even people who have never tasted it, nothing is foreign because it has a little
bit of everything in that region.
Also, Iran itself is so varied from north to south. As you know, we have different cuisine, different climate, different ingredients and we utilize
all of it in that one pot of food that we give. And I also experience every time I cook something, I entertain, people are like, you have to open a
restaurant. And my husband is like, please, don't encourage her. Please. And eventually, it happened.
AMANPOUR: So, are you -- I mean, your whole -- you and your whole family, I mean, can you even wrap your head around, you know, the five or so years
since you opened it --
AMANPOUR: -- you know, guest chef at the White House, at the Met, you know, The James Beard nomination, the book?
ALIKHANI: Yes, yes. And I constantly want to smack myself, just like, is this real or it's just, am I dreaming? Even with the White House when my
husband came and told me the news, I was at the service, crazy night, and he said, there's an e-mail from the White House. I'm like, don't open it,
it's a scam. Because I had just never thought like what the White House could do with it, like I'm just a humble cook in a corner of Brooklyn.
And yes. No, I don't -- and -- or James Beard, highest industry standard comes and value -- first of all, credit to them, to start expanding their
horizon. They start noticing people like us that we don't come from traditional route, but we pay our dues. We do -- you know, we do what we do
and we are good at it. But it's time that they are noticing us.
And I was just -- but again, I'm shocked. Even talking to you, I don't know what happened, what triggered you to talk to me. I just --
AMANPOUR: Well, you know, I like to food.
AMANPOUR: I'm proud of a fellow traveler and it's great to be able to share this. As your brother who also works --
ALIKHANI: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: -- in your restaurant said, the place is like an extension of your home, the sanctuary, hospitality, it's a very Persian characteristic.
Tell me about what everybody always asks me, wow, I want that burnt rice, the tahdig. It's very difficult to make especially in restaurants for a lot
of people. But you do it, right?
ALIKHANI: Yes, I do. And they always complain that my portions are small or why do I run out at like 9:00 before the last guests are seating,
because I just can make a limited amount and it is difficult, but I noticed also -- traveling around the world for food, I noticed so many cultures
have it. Koreans, Colombians, Brazilians, I can go on and on and on, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, they all have that, or Colombians, but Iranians, I
think, took it to a whole different level in terms of how obsessive they are with their tahdig.
AMANPOUR: Yes, yes.
ALIKHANI: And we can turn anything to crispy rice, any vegetable, nuts, herbs, anything. Anything, anything can become a tahdig. And I do a
simplified version of it because in a restaurant setting, I can do more, but I occasionally do specials and I can only do like 16 per weekend. It
creates a problem with those who think they didn't get it, but it's delicious.
It's like rice has a sweetness, and when it burns it caramelizes. And if you do take care of it with the ratio of the oil and the salt and saffron
and everything else you put in, you can create magic. Who doesn't like something semi sweet, crispy, glistening.
ALIKHANI: I mean, just like -- yes.
AMANPOUR: So, do you know --
ALIKHANI: When we were kids --
ALIKHANI: When we were kids there was always a fight --
AMANPOUR: Go ahead.
ALIKHANI: Go ahead. No, go ahead.
AMANPOUR: No, no. You go ahead. Go ahead.
ALIKHANI: No. I was just saying, when we were kids there was always like, you know, in Iranian culture, respect to adults. That means kids never get
tahdig because it's just like -- and we were all like wondering, especially if we had guests. So, I want to make sure that, first of all, tahdig is cut
in a small way, because after all, it's not very healthiest of Iranian food. It's kind of greasy. But also, I want to make sure that everybody
gets to enjoy a little bit of it.
And it's an honor. It's also such a joy to see. You open TikTok -- I'm not a TikTok person, but I see what's -- it's an explosion of tahdig on TikTok,
on Instagram. It's just fascinating how far we have come as a nation from hostage takers to, to pioneer of a current food trend. That's big.
AMANPOUR: That is one way to put it, from hostage takers to good food. Nasim Alikhani, owner and chef at Sofreh, thank you very much indeed.
And that is it for us for now. A quick preview of what's on the show tomorrow, we'll evaluate whether U.S. China relations can be reset after
Secretary of State Antony Blinken's meeting with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping.
I will be discussing with Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Harry B. Harris Jr., former U.S. ambassador to South Korea.
Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.