The Iranian


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Sehaty Foreign Exchange


February 7, 2001

We do not value human rights as much

With regards to the recent exchange of words on the fingerprinting of Iranians ["Power of one", "Shocked and saddened"], I found certain articles comparing this with the holocaust or the Japanese camps absurd and hysterically exaggerated. With all the talk about back stabbing and what-not, hype, high emotions and name calling certainly take away from the message itself. And somehow I failed to understand why someone would want to work and live in a country full of "enemies"?

But I sympathize with the Persian Watch Cat's point of view. Iranians must stand up for their rights and not allow racial or ethnic discrimination. I can understand being suspicious of a young unknown male from a hostile country, but fingerprinting grandmothers and Olympic athletes who are not anonymous figures doesn't make sense. It is blatantly racist and no other ethnic minority would tolerate it. Take into account the recent debates going on about racial profiling. This is exactly the same thing. If you feel violated, you should not sit back, smile and just take it. Do something.

But it is very easy to criticize the US government. There is no fear of repercussion or retaliation. Civil liberties of citizens and even non citizens are protected, so go around and make as much fun of George Bush as you want. Curse Feinstein and call her a bigot and ignorant. But don't mess with Iran. I wonder if any of the writers, directors, and sportsmen who came to the US and were fingerprinted and then went around complaining about this "barbaric" act to their US audiences have ever used their audience in Iran to complain about something. Or the ones who returned to Iran to a hero's welcome without subjecting themselves to this indignity ever refused to perform in Iran based on principle.

Does anyone complain to the customs service in Mehrabad because of the disrespectful actions of its employees? Waiting in the airport for hours on the way in or out, having your entire luggage opened up in front of you and having a total stranger go through your underwear as if you are a terrorist or drug dealer. Has anyone filed any complaint with the police because its officers at the airport are rude and abrupt making returning to your country - which should be joyful and relaxing - an experience associated with anxiety and anger?

Talking to my American friends about the situation in Iran, I often hear " How can you take it? Why don't you complain?" I have to explain that we don't do that, its too dangerous and impractical. We go home, feel violated, sour and bitter, sit around with close friends and bitch about it for hours without end. Then we go back to the same routine. Look at the situation in the Iranian bureaucracy.

Ask anyone about going to any of the governmental offices. All you hear is about the corruption and inefficiency, but everyone will pay the bribe to get his work done. The most "zebel" and "zerang" of us will get it done through connections without paying the money. Just because they know that if they try anything else the only consequence will be further delays and no one has the time for that. Little do we know we are paying a far higher price by doing so. Rarely does someone stand by their principles and they are generally known as "halloo".

We prefer to get along without the hassle and inconvenience of having to stand for our rights. We wiggle and maneuver our way through life and don't really care if we swerve and deviate from the road as long as we get to our destination. We are very resourseful and find it easier to go around an obstacle than actually try to remove it. Forget about the people who might come after us.

If we don't give any significance to our rights as Iranians why do we expect others to do so? I have often felt critical of the US stance in international affairs, which is often associated with a certain arrogance and assumption that US life is in someway superior to the life of other nationals. But I realize that this is what the US citizens expect and demand from their government, to protect them and fight for their rights. They assume –correctly in many instances- that the other side is doing the same for their nationals. Its sad to realize we can feel exhilarated by hearing that on the most recent trip to Iran our friend was not hassled or humiliated by the customs official in Tehran, as if it is somehow a blessing and not a right.

We do not attach the same value to our human rights as the Americans, and we often criticize them for valuing their lives too much! Iranian's deserve respect, not just from Americans, but from everyone including other Iranians, and we are the ones who need to demand it. It's a tough and unfair world, and respect is earned, not handed out on a silver platter.

Mahmood Kanani


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