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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
The Iranian

-- 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's decision to publish the comment about Maryam and Daryl.

More importantly, as a proud member of'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 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 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 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 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, 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 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 articulated ideology.

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).


Termeh Rassi
Board Member,
Ex-publisher, Second Generation Magazine

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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 awareness.

Jahanshah Javid

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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.

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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 Black."

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 racism.

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