Photo of Daryl Pendelton and Maryam Ovissi
originally published in "Iranian
of the Day" section
Drawing the line
.. in journalism. How far can you go?
December 12, 2000
-- Termeh Rassi's comments
-- Jahanshah Javid's response
-- Termeh's follow up
-- Jahanshah's response
Termeh Rassi's comments
I have been struggling with what to write as I always do. I was caught
between two emotions - the need to defend friends, to explain what it is
to love, to comment on the ignorance of some people - and my disagreement
with iranian.com's decision to publish the comment
about Maryam and Daryl.
More importantly, as a proud member of iranian.com's board, a friend
of the magazine's publisher, a friend of Maryam and Daryl and someone who
attended their wedding - I wasn't sure how to react. I am no enemy of or
stranger to controversy. I have written about racism in the Iranian community,
about the stupid ideology around virginity and about AIDS. Hey, I love
controversy. I also do agree that some issues are not easily raised but
must be discussed if we are to move forward in this country as a community.
However, I do believe that the staff at iranian.com need to take responsibility
for choosing to raise a controversy the wrong way.
There are three reasons I can think of why a picture of Maryam and Daryl
would be featured in iranian.com. One is that Maryam, by virtue of her
work and her lineage, would be considered a "public figure."
The second is that the picture is simply of two friends (that is how the
picture was taken). The last reason is that the staff at iranian.com had
a feeling that this issue would be controversial and needed to be raised.
There is however no reason to publish a personal attack on Maryam -
who did not choose to put herself in that position. The person who made
the comments, did not have the guts to identify themselves (a personal
pet peeve of mine) and did not feel the need to explain their stance -
they just strung together in a series of insulting words.
Without condoning censorship, I think I can make the case that a community
without some order will turn into a blur of insults - a room full of noise
and little substance. By not offering a more substantive point of view,
the responsibility of publishing that point of view is off of the shoulders
of Iranian.com....and by publishing it, this magazine chose to play along
with sensational journalism....and by choosing not to frame the discussion
- it shirked its editorial responsibility.
It's often very difficult to straddle the line between freedom of expression
and censorship - and in most cases we should err on the side of freedom
of expression but not in this case. While we may at times insult while
expressing, very rarely do we manage to express while insulting.
Also as a side note, Maryam and Daryl did not choose to have their picture
published, they did not decide to participate to raise an issue. The picture
was published out of context without the benefit of an article to link
it to a larger issue. In my opinion, that is an editorial misjudgment.
In it's decision to publish the said letter, Iranian.com failed to realize
that it would not only hurt two people, but force them to publicly defend
their love to strangers who have no right to question it.
Which one of us would like to have our decision of a life mate publicly
debated by a whole community? Maryam's devotion to her community should
not require a foregoing of her personal life. We don't pay her enough for
that. In addition, by not framing the debate more carefully, an issue that
needs to be raised and discussed has led to a series of attacks and counter
attacks by bigots, Iranian liberals and personal friends - without a more
in-depth discussion of racism in the Iranians community.
This magazine is one of the few thought-provoking and civilized in the
Iranian community. This, in my very subjective opinion, makes Iranian.com
a vital part of our community. It's one thing to raise an issue in an article,
with accompanied words and logic - right or wrong. It's another to push
buttons randomly to see what the reactions are. In its noble attempt to
raise a valid issue, this magazine did the very thing that we need to get
away from - we need to learn that personal attacks are not the same as
We are the same community that has chosen at times to substitute substantive
debate with words such as "Toodei" "Taghooti" "Mojahed"
and "Mollah" - generalizations that can stop a discussion in
its tracks and are used by people to explain behaviors when they can't
actually put their thoughts in to a comprehensible frame (and I agree not
all opinions need to be expressed as verbosely as mine).
I admire what this magazine has accomplished and am honored to be associated
with it - however, I do think that it is our responsibility to very careful
how we raise issues, how we frame the discussions around the topic and
how much we intrude into people's personal lives....and remember that I
say this because I love all of you camel jockey terrorists. (see this is
an example of insluting while expressing, and a not so subtle example of
how wrong I think prejudicial comments are).
Board Member, Iranian.com
Ex-publisher, Second Generation Magazine
Jahanshah Javid's response
Basically, I published that person's racist
note about Maryam and Daryl because many Iranians are prejudiced towards
Blacks and the issue needs to be exposed and discussed.
Maybe this is not the best way to discuss it, but as you know, I do
not have the luxury of a columnist who would write about it or a staff
writer who would go out, interview people and do a feature.
Also, the letter's section is spontaneous... people love or hate something
they see or read and they fire off a comment which is often not well-thought
out or well-reasoned or pleasant, but it's their gut feeling.
In this case, that gut feeling is not just that one person's, but something
that exists among many Iranians. Such comments may hurt the feelings of
the subjects involved, but outting racists and discussing the issue raises
Termeh Rassi's follow-up
I know you don't have the luxury of a staff - and I truly do feel your
pain. I had a lot of people who were a part of Second Generation magazine
but very few that were willing to deal with tough issues.
That is the reason I think you need to be very careful - and I think
that by that person not reveling their identity they took away your ability
to "out" them and by there being no context the discussion resulted
in a few a friends attacking this person.
I am serious when I say that I admire what you have accomplished and
that I am proud to be associted with your work in anyway - that is the
reason why I felt the need to write the letter.
Jahanshah Javid's response
The main issue is not working alone or not having enough time to deal
with these kinds of issues in a better way. The issue is that racism among
Iranians is real and it must be discussed -- one way or the other. Few,
if any, racist persons will reveal their identity. No one is going to write,
"I'm so-and-so, I hate Blacks, and I hate so-and-so for marrying a
The fact that this particular person has not revealed his/her identity
does not mean that he/she should be ignored. In fact the issue should be
raised and discussed. Many faceless racists are out there. If they don't
have the guts to show their faces, fine. But I don't think we should sit
around and wait to discredit them.
And this is not a unique case. Two years ago, there were negative anonymous
reactions to someone who wrote an article about dating Blacks. Last year,
there was a big discussion about Jews. There were many persons who wrote
letters saying they don't like Jews -- without giving their identity. I
published their letters regardless. It's the thought that counts -- not
the person who says it.
Discussions on the Internet are not necessarily civilized affairs like
presidential debates. They are raw and often controversial. Often they
can be offensive and hurtful. But I don't think they should be ignored.
I think ALL speech represents a point of view and should not be ignored
-- especially when it concerns an issue as important -- and real -- as