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Let's not Perpetuate the Habits that Divide Us

By Rostam Pourzal

Before it expanded beyond the 250-word mark, the following was intended as a letter to the Editor of Washington Post to comment on a report dated 10-31-2004. You may view the report at:

The emergence of Iranian American civil right groups is encouraging, and I offer two additional points. First, contrary to what my fellow activists told your reporter, a few million among Iranians /Are/ ethnic Arabs. To deny that is to sidestep a hot debate about discrimination /within/ our country of origin and our immigrant community. With that prejudice, the groups named in your story do not, to their detriment, work with their larger and more experienced Arab American counterparts.

Nor are they inspired by the superior record of Jewish American rights advocates (considered a model by every immigrant group) in defense of all who are left behind in America. Your description of my fellow expatriates as prosperous wearers of "silk ties" and "fashionable heels" reminded me of an experience I had this year. It involved one of the featured Iranian lobbies in Washington, which sponsors meetings with lawmakers.

When I and a dozen other members met with the group president and our senator, George Allen [R-Va.], half of our allotted meeting time was taken by physicians pleading for a cap on liability suits (medical malpractice awards). In the urgent debate on health care reform in America, this remedy is not the one advocated by public interest groups, the bright lights of the fight for equal rights.

The two issues which I had submitted beforehand (as requested) for possible inclusion in the meeting agenda -- Washington, DC's lack of Congressional representation and Northern Virginia's lack of affordable housing -- were dropped. (We had been instructed earlier to choose domestic issues and, if I remember correctly, timely snow removal was mentioned as an example.) My attempt after the meeting to draw the attention of my lobby group's president to that day's unexplained selectivity was not addressed.

I have no problem with affluence per se, as I am a successful businessman. But when opportunities for our citizens to raise their concerns before their policy makers are scheduled on workdays and costs $40, naturally the constituents who need the most help are the ones who cannot attend. If I am not allowed to, and no other participant is interested in, raising their concerns, who will pursue the interests of those Iranian Americans? Clearly not any of the existing Iranian American rights groups, who have not even bothered to schedule a meeting with DC's own Eleanor Holmes Norton.

I believe a lobby group should not misrepresent itself as a campaign for equal rights if it tolerates discrimination against some populations or helps promote one-sided solutions when the people most affected are not welcome at the table.

... Payvand News - 11/7/04 ... --

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