The Iranian


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Sehaty Foreign Exchange


February 9, 2001

Setting a bad example

Let me start off by expressing my profound disappointment in the tactics of our new anti-discrimination group, Persian Watch Cat (PWC). It's board members and executive director have discredited themselves and the group at its inception . I was shocked to read the offensive and unprofessional letters of its current leadership. I have no faith in its ability to protect the rights of Iranians.

What started out as a debate has turned into a childish game of insults. In fact, in my mind, this is a one-sided debate. Mr. Mifrendeski vs. nobody; only because the PWC can't debate. The organization has failed miserably to articulate its postions professionally and effectively. Their members have offered "unofficial" views which are nothing more than pure jibberish. Dr. Karimi's is irrational and incomprehensible ["Persian Watch Dog"], and Mr. Sharif's surprisingly naive for a trained lawyer ["Freedom & responsibility"].

But I do have to say that Dr. Sharif's is the most disturbing. Though I respect your admirable initiatives, perhaps M.D. is not the appropriate training for this kind of work. There is something definitely lacking in your professional behavior.

On the other hand, the intellectual rigor and professionalism of Dr. Mifrendeski's articles and responses stand in stark contrast to PWC and contain valid points of argument on the issue of fingerprinting of Iranian nationals at airports ["Power of one", "Face in the mirror"]. Whether or not one agrees with him is irrelevant. Instead, what is rather sad is that PWC can't even articulate its disagreement coherently.

The debate is American national security and/or political hardball vs. human rights of immigrant communities. The question is what are we going to do to improve the situation of Iranians around the world? PWC must be armed with a powerful argument in favor of human rights and immigrant rights. It is quite obvious to the whole Iranian community now that they are not. They are blowing hot air. Why are its members acting like a bunch of babies who can't handle dissent and opposition? Why resort to intimidation and threats? And of all things, they're now threatening to sue the editor of for defamation?!! Just because you've been out-debated, don't shoot the messenger! That is a sign of weakness.

Let's get back to the debate. Seven years ago I was traveling as an Iranian-American to Cairo for a university-study abroad program. I traveled on my American passport and had the appropriate visas (secured from the Egyptian embassy in Washington). Nonetheless, I was detained at the airport in Cairo and held up for four hours in the middle of the night. I sat alone in a dirty, dark room, almost an interrogation room, with four Egyptian males who smoked cigarettes and tried to intimidate and humiliate me for four hours. National security, they said. Why? Because I was born in Mashad, Iran.

The American embassy didn't help me; I didn't call, it was four in the morning. The Iranian embassy didn't help me either because there isn't one. If anyone thinks the way I was treated was acceptable, they're dead wrong. So let me present this as an example that both positions in this debate are valid. What happened to me in Cairo shouldn't have happened. We as a nation should work to redeem the international respect of the Iranian passport, the Iranian national and the Iranian-born. Not stopping there, we should work for human rights on the whole irrespective of nationality.

Notwithstanding, my story, I think, also validates the realistic viewpoint of Dr. Mifrendeski. Politics matter, gentlemen. National security matters. LIKE IT OR NOT, RIGHT OR WRONG. IT IS REALITY. You may disagree with this reality, but say that, justify that, even change that -- that's your job as an anti-discrimination group. If you are going to tackle a problem like this, you better have the ability to tackle it from all angles. Iranian humiliation is not distinct to America, or to the Iranian passport as a document... Iranians as a nation are not in good international standing. Trying to deny that is a waste of time. Learning how to tackle that from all angles is not a waste of time.

So my advice to the PWC is to allow people like Dr. Mifrendeski to add to your debate, to learn from his legal and political training, and to use it in your fight. And I do hope cooler heads prevail at the PWC. I do not doubt the sincerity of all involved. But I do hope the PWC realizes that so far, it has set a very bad example.

Shahla Farshchi


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