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Are we sheep?
Why I won't vote for just any Iranian-American

April 15, 2004

It is difficult to respond to the calls that as Iranian-Americans it is incumbent upon us to vote with our Iranian side, regardless of what beliefs we hold as an American member of this community. The difficulty lies not so much in the strength of that belief as the way that the Iranian-American community has come to define itself vis-à-vis both Iran and the US. This stance draws its strength from the most interesting paradox of the Iranian psyche: That we are both better than others and that we are victims who need to assert ourselves on the international stage.

As a result, the response that one does not vote with one's ethnic (or other kinds of) identity serves little purpose. Jim S. [See: Inescapable truth] compared it to choosing a candidate on food preference and was easily struck down by Ms. Farhang [See: Foot in the door].

A more sophisticated argument of this kind of course is to compare voting with one's ethnicity with voting with one's sex. Is having a woman president in the United States important enough for one to vote for just any woman who runs? As a citizen who believes in equal rights for women, would I vote for Phyllis Schafly and more importantly, would I urge other women to do the same?

Should Goli Ameri be asked to vote for Hillary Clinton, were Hillary to run for president, in the name of the much beleaguered sisterhood? If not, then how is it different from voting for just any Iranian? Is the Iranian-American community, with its higher than average economic and educational status somehow more marginalized in this society than working class women for example?

As strong as these arguments may be, they do not address the heart of Ms. Farhang's plea to vote for Ms. Ameri regardless of one's own particular beliefs. The key to her argument lies in her second article [See: Foot in the door] when she states: "It has been over twenty six years that the fundamentalists have ruined and tortured Iran, and forced the majority of Iranians to embark on a diaspora."

Ms. Ameri's appeal to a liberal democrat like Ms. Farhang lies less in her being an American of Iranian origin than in her stance towards the "fundamentalists" in Iran. So here, the question becomes would the argument that all Iranian-Americans should always vote for an Iranian-American regardless of his/her beliefs still stand if the Iranian-American in question had a different view towards IRAN and not the US?

Let's suppose instead of Ms. Ameri, an Iranian-American Republican -- who, like Ms. Ameri believes that gay marriages are illegal, that there should not be a capital gains tax and that drug benefits should not be added to Medicare -- was to run for the US Congress with the small difference that this Iranian-American had a beard, was devoted to the Islamic Republic, and believed that the Islamic Republic of Iran was a viable government that the US should resume contact with. Should all Iranian-Americans vote for him?

My point here is that Iranian-American identity is too complex and too diverse to act as a single unifying factor for all those included within its community. Enough with these calls for forgetting one's individuality in exchange for some kind of false unity. Talk of unity is only a way to skirt the real issues and bypass the important stage of persuasion.

Asking the Iranian-American community to forget its multiple interests and individual ideals, even for a brief period until we're somehow "included" in the American process, is simplistic, retrograde, and insulting.

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By Naghmeh Sohrabi



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