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Under bright lights
Guilty until proven innocent

November 7, 2001
The Iranian

Despite serious concerns from civil libertarians, the signing into law of the USA-Patriot Act by President George Bush, pushed Middle Eastern Americans several steps closer to a legal status of "guilty until proven innocent". Following are a few pointers, especially for men and women who dress up in traditional Islamic or other eastern-looking attire.

* If you are on your way from work to your son's soccer match and your wife happens to be 30 minutes late, the smart thing would be not to wait for her at the soccer field. Wait in the nearest grocery store. The sight of a Middle Eastern-looking man is sure to prompt other parents to call the local authorities. You could end up waiting for her in the local FBI office.

* You are advised not to continue your periodic gatherings with a few other expatriates (usually all guys) to watch NFL football on Sundays or a an occasional soccer match. The mere sight of numerous foreign-looking men driving up to a house one after another and walking enthusiastically in with loud greetings in an obnoxious foreign tongue is sure to activate a neighbor's patriotic sense of duty, i.e. call the cops.

* When you pick up your mail at the curbside, don't spend too much time inspecting the mail. Just get them out of the box and get back in the house. Seeing you so close to any type of envelope and a mail box would make you a prime Anthrax suspect.

* Ask friends and relatives in Iran to stop sending you any dried herbs and vegetables which look suspiciously similar to mind-altering herbs. In the current atmosphere you may quickly find yourself explaining the smelly stuff under bright lights.

* Many expatriates and non-Americans like to debate hot current topics. With the broad and almost unlimited powers of the FBI and the National Security Agency to listen in and record anyone's phone calls, it is recommended that you no longer discuss politics on the phone. The mention of certain words and phrases related to Middle Eastern and Islamic countries could raise a warning flag in the surveillance software.

* The Patriot Act allows law enforcement authorities to secretly search people's homes and business records. If you have papers laying around that may be related (even remotely) to an old business deal in the old country, no matter how legitimate the deal), it would be prudent to destroy them. Even a hint of ties to organizations in the Middle East may put you in a position to prove your innocence.

* If you work in a hi-tech company and make periodic trips to your old Middle Eastern country, as do many expatriates, under no circumstances discuss similar technologies in your old country with co-workers. An Iranian-American engineer in Carrollton -- a suburb of Dallas -- was arrested and his company raided and searched, because a co-worker suspected that he was traveling to Iran to establish questionable business ties and sell hi-tech equipment to the government of Iran. The claim proved to be bogus.

* The Patriot Act allows the arrest and holding of foreign expatriates without the benefit of due process (i.e. having to be charged or being given legal representation) for days. All it takes for you to be arrested is a report from a "concerned" neighbor or co-worker. Have your affairs in order and be ready for sudden disappearances!

* Co-workers often make sarcastic remarks to Americans of Middle Eastern origin. Remarks such as "go home and hide" or "I can't believe your people did that" are better left alone. Do not attempt to engage in political debates or explain international politics at your workplace. This is the time for peaceful tolerance.

And finally, an easy remedy for all of us is to show how proud we are to be Americans. Display red, white and blue on your house, your car, your dog and your chest!

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