Life before Politics
Karimi was born in Iran. She attended the primary education and secondary education in Teheran between 1966 and 1978. In 1978 she went to the Isfahan University of Technology to study industrial design. From the age fifteen Karimi became interested in progressive interpretations of Islam of Shariati. Since her youth Karimi has been involved in resistance against Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. Karimi saw the Iranian Revolution as moment to put a form of Islamic socialism into practice. Instead the Iranian revolution, brought, in Karimi’s eyes, a conservative government into power.
In 1980 Karimi left the university to join the Mojahedin-e Khalgh, a left-Islamistic resistance movement against the Islamic government. For the Mojahedin-e Khalgh she worked on secretely listening to police communication. In 1983 she fled from Iraq to Germany. In Germany she got political asylum on a partially untrue story. Between 1985 and 1986 Karimi worked for the Mojahedin-e Khalgh in Paris where she developed untrue stories for refugees. In 1986 Karimi broke with the Mojahedin-e Khalgh. In her 2005 book The Secret of Fire Karimi describes her political developmnet in her youth, her experiences with the Mojahedin-e Khalgh and her break with the organization. The Mojahedin-e Khalgh is considered a terrorist organization by the European Union and the United States of America. Karimi currently considers the organization a “criminal sect.”
In Hamburg, Germany, Karimi attended a college for foreign students in 1985. Between 1986 and 1988 mathematics and information science at University of Kiel. Between 1983 and 1988 Karimi was active in different refugee groups in Germany and France. Her sister Farzanah remained active in the Mojahedin-e Khalgh, which cost her her life.
In 1989 Karimi went to the Netherlands with her family. At the University of Groningen Karimi studied “Policy and Governance in International Organizations”. She also obtained the Dutch nationality. In 1993 Karimi began to work in the semi-public sector. between 1993 and 1994 she began to work for the foundation Probe in Hoogezand-Sappemeer. Since 1994 she worked as a coordinator for Aisa, a project for the emancipation and support of black, migrant and refugee women. In 1997 she became a member of GreenLeft. In April 1998 she became a member of the party board of GreenLeft. In 1998 she was a briefly national project leader for “Heel de Buurt” of the Dutch Institute for Care and Welfare. Karimi was also active in civil society. Between 1991 and 2001 she was member of the Board of Vluchtelingenorganisaties Nederland.
In 1998 elections Karimi was elected to the House of Representatives for GreenLeft. When she became active in GreenLeft, she did not reveal her past in the Mojahedin-e Khalgh. In the House of Representatives, she was involved in foreign affairs, development cooperation, European affairs and defense. As such she was vice chair of the permanent committee for European Affairs. She also was member of the committee for justice. In 1999 she was one of two MPs (the other one was Ineke van Gent) who voted in favour of a motion of Harry van Bommel to end the NATO bombings which were part of the Kosovo War.
In 2003 she proposed together with Niesco Dubbelboer of the PvdA and Boris van der Ham of the D66 to hold a referendum on the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe. The proposal became law in 2005. She also asked question to Minister Jozias van Aartsen on the American Service-Members’ Protection Act, which obliges the American government to free American citizens who are brought to the International Criminal Court in The Hague -even with the use of violence- and Minister Ben Bot on the Dutch support for the Iraq War. She also took an initiative to support free Iranian Media, Rooz and Radio Zamaneh, with 15 million euro. This was accepted by the House of Representatives at the end of 2004. Karimi did not put herself forward as a candidate in the 2006 elections.
For her work Karimi traveled extensively to many conflict regions. In May 2005 she visited the opposition in Iran. She was interrogated at the Teheran airport and information was copied from her diary. This led to a formal protests by Minister Bot to the Iranian ambassador.
The main themes of her work in the House of Representatives were human rights and international law in foreign relations of the Netherlands. She spend particular attention on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and the developments in Afghanistan en Iran. She wrote about it in her books Battlefield Afghanistan and The Secret of Fire.
Life after politics
Early 2007 Karimi worked for the United Nations Development Programme. She was senior consultant for the UNDP in in Afghanistan for project SEAL (Support to the Establishment of the Afghan Legislator): she taught and supported candidate-members of National Assembly of Afghanistan. In November 2007 she was appointed general director of Oxfam Novib. She succeeded Sylvia Borren.
Karimi is also active in civil society. She writes for Rooz, a free, Persian, online newspaper. Since 2004 she is member of the Board of Advice of the International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World in Leiden. Since 2006 she is founder-president of Bridging the Gulf, a foundation for human security in the Middle East. Between 2006 and 2007 she was member of the board of Parliamentarians for Global Action in New York.