Power of one
The PWC will be stronger without me
February 1, 2001
Yacobo Yengema was deeply rooted in the seyyed traditions of Isfahan's influential
religious community and the bazaar establishment. Years of education in Tehran and
later in the United States, on the west coast and then and the east, had instilled
in him a wisdom that was without time or bound. When the rapacity of the 1979 revolution
hit Iran with the force of a gale, he would sit quietly and offer prophesies over
a sushi dinner that nothing good will come of any of this either. He believed that
the forces that were working for change would soon fall out among themselves.
Years later, in 1992, en route from Kigali, Rwanda, to Boston, Massachusetts,
I had a layover in Paris. Yacobo had managed to track me down and the message had
asked that I call him immediately. I did, and I was happy to be of service to him
in his quest for justice against a New York investment house. As the conversation
inevitably turned to the subject of Iran, I remarked on his prescient observations
about the course of the revolution.
I asked Yacobo how he knew what he knew when he knew it. He said, "There
are two things about Iranians that succeed in failing them every time. First, Iranians
are the strongest when they are least in number." I prodded him for an explanation.
"One Iranian," he said "is stronger than two, and two Iranians are
stronger than three, and so on." "Second," he offered, "another
thing that fails Iranians is organization. Organization requires discipline and adherence
to a set of objective goals, and thinking Iranians are incapable of both."
As we burned the midnight oil at the two ends of an expensive telephone call,
we became crystal clear in the reason why all this had such a loud ring of truth
to it: Iran, we concluded, is an accidental country, and Iranians are by nature an
improvisational lot, even in the purpose that binds them. All this explained why
the happiest thinking Iranian is the one who lives outside Iran, preferably in America
or a similarly free society, where being one is a constitutionally protected civil
My conversation with Yacobo came back to haunt me over the last few days as I
came to contemplate my future with Persian
Watch Cat (PWC), an antidiscrimination group that just recently had opted to
become formally an Organization. The group had very strong views about the mistreatment
of Iranian-origin passengers at U.S. airports, luggage searches and fingerprinting.
Demeaning as these practices were, people differed, however, in their level of disdain
or understanding of the matter. The Leadership, on the other hand, had a line and
it had to be followed. See PWC public relations office's reply See
PWC executive director's personal
An Iranian wrote a letter to this site [Ali Noshirvani's "Time
to take responsibility"] and made the valid observation that the airport
situation was the result of political differences between Iran and the United States.
In response, a sober
piece written from an American point of view and published here traced the history
of the airport regulations and their demeaning aspects.
My views about the course of American-Iranian relations and an assortment of other
issues are well known and have been in part posted on this site for many years. I
also have opined on the American policy of sniff-and-search of Iranians at the airports
[Complain to ....].
The PWC leadership disagreed with my view and voiced its displeasure the form of
a letter from one of its top members, Mr. Kamyar Kallantar ["Shocked
What baffled me was that the organization's mouth-bashing response to me also
insulted America and Americans, and trivialized the suffering of Jews in Germany
and the Japanese-Americans: it equated these atrocities with having one's suitcase
searched at the LAX, JFK, O'Hare, or Dulles airports! In expressing contempt for
me, the organization identified America as the "enemy." In expressing its
contempt for me, the organization made a castigating remark about Senator D. Feinstein
and Senator J. Liberman. The anti-American and anti-Semitic nature of these comments
leads me to conclude that this Organization is not as yet ready to fight discrimination
on behalf of others. It tolerates the same rhetoric that has led ironically to fingerprinting
and the airport searches to begin with.
I called Yacobo last night to seek his worldly advise about the future of my correspondence
with the PWC. He was brutally honest, as always. "You must understand,"
he said, "you weaken the organization, so you best leave it so it can stay strong
and on its message." "Well if enough people leave it," I said, "then
what will be left of the organization and its noble mission to fight discrimination?"
"The power of one, my friend: the fewer members it has the stronger it will
be. You are a thinking Iranian and so you cannot by definition belong to an organization
for long, especially if it is led by bigots like these characters."
A few nights ago I drafted an opinion piece examining my doubts about my continued
relationship with the organization in view of the frontal attacks, which the writer
claimed not to be of a personal nature even though he addressed me by my first name
at the start of few paragraphs. The draft, titled "Power of one," was forwarded
to the PWC with an opportunity to reply. The leadership began a whirlwind of email
shuttle diplomacy and asked me to delay or withdraw the article for the good of the
Iranian-American community. They apologized for their colleague's intemperate comments
and promised to rectify the matter publicly. In return I agreed to stop the press.
Instead, I filed my opinion space with another piece entitled "Face
in the mirror".
It was said and done and so I left my screen to go play pick-up basketball. Upon
my return, a few hours past eight o'clock, lo and behold, I found my box jammed with
letters from Mr. Kallantar, first threatening that he will expose my anti-Semitic
character by publishing all my emails on the subject; this was followed by messages
that he will sue me for this and that, followed yet by a boast that his threats forced
me to retract "Power of one." His last email offered to have removed ["Shocked and saddened"]
from the site, in return for which, he mused, I would also retract "Face in
Whatever he or others may think of this site, this is not a bulletin board in
a basement laundry room, where tenants can come and go and post and depost their
pieces as they wish. So tonight, I decided that the PWC will not be harmed and harmony
in the Iranian-American community will not be jeopardized by transparent reporting
and open discussion of issues that trouble us the most, including closet bigotry.
Neither am I critical to its existence, nor am I so destructive a force. If Akbar
Ganji's travails, trials and tribulations thousands of miles away should stand for
anything, they should be about being true to one's self. For one passing moment,
lapse of good judgment caused me to negotiate away my soul when I agreed to delay
the publication of "Power of one." For that, I profoundly apologize.
And so, tonight, once again I take Yacobo's advise for a second time and it is
with great regret that I serve with these presents notice upon the public that I
no longer am affiliated or associated with PWC. God bless.
See PWC Public Relations reply
See PWC executive director's personal
Guive Mirfendereski is a professorial lecturer in international relations and
law and practices law in Massachusetts.