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September 26, 2003

Happy birthday young lady
Iman Aghilian  [info|posts]

feet.jpg It was early August and I was in northern California visiting a friend and catching up with some friends from college. It was a sunny Saturday morning and we decided to head out to a French restaurant for lunch.
There was me, a bunch of old friends and a young Iranian couple who I met there for the first time. The guy was wearing a beard and the girl was wearing a headscarf. On the way to the restaurant I was told that that day was the young lady's birthday and people were thinking of a way of surprising her on her birthday. We had lunch, talked and talked and talked and had a very good time at a sunny Californian Saturday noon. So far so good.

After paying the bill, we stepped out of the restaurant and continued talking on the sidewalk and as the young couple was leaving in a different car and to a different destination, people were wrapping up the conversations to say goodbye to them. I thought to myself: "Hey! They're about to leave and nobody said anything about the birthday. Someone has to do something; at least say something. Tomorrow will be too late to say happy birthday to her." I whispered to a friend about the birthday and he shrugged off. So I decided to take action and in a friendly tone I said "Happy birthday!"

The girl looked down, staring at her shoes and there was a long and awkward moment of silence. After a while her husband said "Thank you!" The girl didn't say a word.

I was bothered. I didn't expect that. I didn't think an educated girl, although wearing a headscarf and apparently being religious, would stare at her shoes not to look me in the eye, and her soon to be a doctor husband would intervene to talk "for" her, to represent her.

Once again, one incident lent itself to substantiate a sad stereotype. Well I guess that's how stereotypes are formed; that's why the word exists in the dictionary. But still, I am entitled to my hopes and wishes. I wish life proved all stereotypes to be wrong and made-up. I wish it was different.

Grand Vizier at September 26, 2003 09:53 PM [permalink]:

The (wish/dream)ing stereotype! Just kidding!

AIS at September 27, 2003 04:59 AM [permalink]:

Manipulated and conditioned I said! :) (or should it be...) :'(

iranian-girl at September 27, 2003 10:02 AM [permalink]:

This is a familier sad story,, it has happened thousands of times around us... because OUR moral rules are different & strange! .. in many cases, an iranian religious girl is expected to be impolite! in order to look polite in traditional eyes!
well... we want to change this funny situations, so we will .

Ghazal at September 27, 2003 11:39 PM [permalink]:

Dear Iman,
I think you shouldn’t jump to any conclusions at all. I have so many friends who wear scarf and quite frankly I find all of them very social and polite. Some of them might not shake hands with men but I don’t think that should count as being not social because even putting aside the religious factor we have so many different rules in our society for politeness (kissing, shaking hand, standing up,...).
It might have been a coincidence for me but my experience in US has been that lot of unreligious Iranians like to prejudge religious ones and make fun of them or jump in to conclusions.
I have seen or heard so many stories of how they have reacted in different situation.
For example a friend of mine who wears scarf had gone to a funeral and a woman had started saying loudly so my friend would hear that “ if I die please only invite modern people, who don’t wear scarves” or another woman pulled the scarf of another friend in a party not respecting her beliefs at all and said “well see nothing happened!”.
This one is quite new, some friend told me in a wedding the religious friends got angry and left the party because we were dancing, so I asked my religious friend if that happened and she told me no none of us were upset at all and we didn’t leave until late and we didn’t care if they danced but it seemed some people really liked us to get upset because they kept coming and asked us if we were upset!
So please don’t categorize people because they wear scarf or not! People are different whether they wear scarf or not!

A girl with scarf at September 28, 2003 09:48 AM [permalink]:

That was an interesting post! I agree very much with Ghazal. I also like to add a point: first of all, you never know if it is the girl who decides not to answer, or his husband/father/brother, etc who doesn't want her to answer, and therefore she is forced to bahave like that, or she will be scolded! Unfortunately, this type of behaviour (ordering wives to be unsociable) is practiced by some educated guys as well.
I wear scarf, but I do look into the eyes of guys when I speak to them. You tried to say you don't want to make a prototype, but your tone was like that you were actually generalizing it to all girls with scarves.

Kaveh Kh. at September 28, 2003 10:56 AM [permalink]:

I think Iman is writing in that tone, so that everyone can see that generalization is "bad". Nonetheless categorization and stereotypes will occur because they are a part of human psychology seeking easy rules and patterns everywhere.

Shiraz at September 28, 2003 12:25 PM [permalink]:

I once wrote something about my impressions from girls with headscarves in a previous post. Later on I had a discussion with my friend about that posting which proved I was looking at the problem in a black and white manner. My impression was that the unscarved women are being looked down by the scarved ones because they think uncovering your hair is a sin therefore the people who don’t cover their hair are committing a sin. My logic seemed to be right except for the fact that the reasons behind covering your hair is very different from one person to the other. Some girls just do it because they are told to do so.

That friend of mine explained that many times the husband/ father/ brother expects the girl to cover her hair even if she wishes otherwise. How would one decide when the family threatens to cut their ties with the girl who refuses covering her hair?? It is not an easy choice and therefore a lot of girls who have been brought up wearing headscarves continue wearing it just because they don’t want to have problems in their families. I think Iman’s example here is more about the authority of the guy rather than the impoliteness of the girl. I’m sure she would love her birthday to be celebrated more explicitly but “har chi agha befarmayand” (whatever the husband wishes).

I myself wish those young women were more audacious and believed more in their values. But how would I know what kind of pressure they go into for every small change in their life. I have heard many times the wife explaining to me why she couldn’t do such and such because after all they are a family and she doesn’t want to hurt the feelings of her husband.

Of course one can argue that men’s authority over women is also seen in other societies and even in western ones. Yes but first of all that doesn’t make the problem less important and secondly the problem in our case is that the religion gives men an extra right to manipulate their women. I know we are going towards a more democratic society but there is way to go for women to be considered equal to men.

I hope that couple’s daughter will be able to make her choices more freely. Since she will have the chance to be exposed to alternative lifestyles.

As for making fun of women with headscarves, I can also see the other scenario where one woman without headscarf and short sleeves goes in a religious gathering. I can see all the other women gossiping about her and saying how ‘sabok” (degraded) she is. I get the feeling that girls with headscarves are always introduced as the oppressed ones. Why? I don’t know. If it’s been there choice to have hijab then who cares what others may say?

Ghazal at September 28, 2003 02:02 PM [permalink]:

Dear Shiraz,
This might have been related to the man having the authority over the woman but it could be just that she has been shy, the girl hasn't been here for a long time and is not used to chatting with boys yet. This is quite natural considering the social gender segregations in Iran and it is actually true about the boys as well. Lots of them would get so nervous just talking to a girl and you probably know this is a phenomenon that is not limited to Iranian religious girls.
Anyway whether her husband forced her to do that or she was just shy I hope she can overcome her problems but if she believed in not talking to men then I think that's her personal choice and it shouldn't be generalized to other women with scarves at all. (Come on! we have women in parliament who talk more bravely than men and they are pretty religious)
About people not respecting each others' choices or making fun of each other, I agree it is a two way street and it is so unfortunate. As my friend says, it seems that we Iranians have this eliminating culture, lots of us don’t like to see people who don’t think like us. But I hope we can change it. I think we shouldn't look down at each other and get to know each other on deeper levels. For example as you said women who wear scarf have different reasons for doing that. For example I know some who wear it in United States as an identity symbol not because they don’t want their hair to be seen, or those who think it is a right thing to do for them because they have come to that conclusion but it is wrong for someone who doesn't believe in it to observe it. I don’t deny any of the problems we have in this regard but I think categorization could bring catastrophic consequences.

hazhir at September 28, 2003 02:10 PM [permalink]:

I have several friends who wear scarf, and I send them happy birthday notes, or call them on their birthdays, despite the fact that most of them are married. I have NEVER had any negative reaction in these situations, neither from my friends nor their husbands. In fact contrary to some friend in this list who treats you as cold as he can if you tell him happy birthday, these lady friends have always been very warm in such occasions.
You know, I never thought about writing a piece on being treated well when I say happy birthday to a friend with scarf! I think there is a selection bias (or self confirming observation bias) that contributes a lot to building stereotypes. May be we should write more about all the positive things that we experience in our relationships with other people, and we probably take them for granted. This way at least we build positive stereotypes, if we are building one!

saba at September 28, 2003 02:42 PM [permalink]:

you're exaggerating.may be that girl just was in such a bad mood that she wouldn't like to reply you.There are so many probabilities for the reason of that behavior and you've taken the worst.

saoshyant at September 28, 2003 04:00 PM [permalink]:

I concurr with Kaveh:

Veiled women cannot be as forthright as non-veiled women anyway. You cannot shake hands with them, you cannot look at them directly, because if you do they look other way.

Bearded guys are like that towards women who do not have a loose scarf. They find them rude and impolite and often immoral. ( I think that was one of Yasser's fantastic postings).

Stereotyping goes both ways and the question is not veil or non-veil, the question is the values attached to them and those who say she could be in a bad mood cannot offer a better explanation either and/or offer a way to break through the stereotype.

Not responding is impolite anyway, could not she just have said: "merci" and that is it?

saoshyant at September 28, 2003 04:45 PM [permalink]:

sorry I did not mean the "not" to be left there, I meant: Bearded guys are like that towards women who do have a loose scarf...."

negar at September 28, 2003 07:35 PM [permalink]:

Dear Ghazal,
I don't think Iman is generalizing this to all women who wear the veil.
I don't see how you would think that after he so elaborately details that "single incidence".

It's just another, sad but true, example of how everyday life encounters feed into the existing stereotypes.
that's all.

p.s.Also, if her husband was forcing her not to speak, which I don't think was the case, the blame is still on her for allowing it.

hajir at September 30, 2003 08:22 PM [permalink]:

Well I think Iman you should have thought twice before saying "Happy Birthday" to someone you don't know! Specially a veiled woman and Specially after you whispered into your friends' ears and they shrugged, you should have gotten the clue! Maybe they knew something that you didn't know. So if it was me before judging others I would try to get lessons from that incident. And thank you for sharing your experience with us!

Veiled women are different from other women, hence must be treated differently with respect to their religion. We must educate ourselves with this regard (if it really matters to us) to save ourselves from such bad situations.

People are different and hence deserve different treatment. About talking or any kind of relationship with a veiled woman, what I can give you as a brotherly advice is that you try not to start the conversation or the relationship; if she goes first then still be cautious.

yahya at September 30, 2003 08:52 PM [permalink]:

hajir, if we start treating veiled women differently based on what you said, wouldn't that in itself be a kind of stereotyping?

I am simply puzzled:)

saoshyant at September 30, 2003 09:15 PM [permalink]:

Yahya, don't be puzzled, I have your answer, as
I agree with Hajir, you have to stereotype; after all, women who do not have veil do not adhere to the idea of decency that is premised upon the concept of hijab.

And after all, all those "bearded people" are those who have a better idea of what it means to be decent.

For the rest, they are a handful of seculars whose idea of decency is less good, if not completely worse than theirs. After all, they put the beard on in an Islamic to be stereotyped as good, holy, and faith abiding, unless that beard is "Rish Satari" or an instrument of hypocrisy.

hajir at September 30, 2003 10:43 PM [permalink]:

soshyant wrote:

"After all, they put the beard on in an Islamic to be stereotyped as good, holy, and faith abiding, unless that beard is "Rish Satari" or an instrument of hypocrisy."

Muslim men wear beard as Sunnah. Prophet Mohammad had beard and as his followers we would like to imitate his way of life for he is the best example for us. If one shaves it's his choice; beard is not obligatory but it's better for a muslim man to have beard.
Hijab on the other hand is obligatory upon every muslimah. If one doesn't observe Hijab it's her choice again and still a muslimah as long as the obligation is not proved to her and Allah knows our intentions best.

Decency of a human being is what only Allah can judge. I personally never look down at a muslim woman who doesn't have proper Hijab. I just think she is wrong! There are many Hijabis who are not decent and there are many Non-Hijabis who are decent.

The word Stereotype has a negative meaning to it. I don't see how having restricted relationship with the opposite sex is negative! As long as she doesn't bother us and lives her life why should we keep anything against her?
Stereotyping is not correct because it forgets our essence which is humanity. We are human before being iranian or muslim or whatever else. Any human is unique in his/her own.
Some veiled women are also social and have many male friends just like 'normal' women.
So what I am saying is that don't generalize but at the same time be smart enough to stay away from embarassing situations.

BHS at October 1, 2003 12:58 AM [permalink]:

I agree with hajir on his last sentence: "be smart enough to stay away from embarassing situations. " It's only that i think it was embarassing since the woman ws not even polite enough to answer a simple "happy birthday" of someone with whom she'd just had lunch. The embarassment lies nnot with Iman, whose comments are conspicuously absent in the comments section, by the way.

Oh, and I can't understand how such a shallow way of setting someone as a model of life as putting on a beard just because he is said to have had one, and such a deep sense of submission as "decency of a human being can only be judged by Allah" can be brought under one umbrella. Any help, hajir?

Ali Mahani at October 1, 2003 04:21 AM [permalink]:

Hajir: "Muslim men wear beard as Sunnah. Prophet Mohammad had beard and as his followers we would like to imitate his way of life for he is the best example for us."

The preceding statement begs the question of whether a person’s “way of life” necessarily includes their appearance, personal habits and choices. To me that’s Taliban logic through and through: Just because Muhammad wore a beard, all Muslims are supposed to do so. Now I'd like to add a few other "Sunnahs”: he got about in a long “deshdasha” - with no underpants - and a traditional Arab headgear, he rode a camel and drank water out of a goatskin...

According to the Hadeeth, a woman must cover her head and keep close to the walls when she is walking in the street. When talking to a man she must put a cherry (or something like that) under her tongue, stare at the ground and refrain from looking the man in the face.

So Muslims of the 21st century should follow suit and repeat all these sunnahs for good measure, shouldn't they? that will make them look more like the prophet, right?

Jesus too is often depicted as a bearded man, but I haven't seen many priests with beards...seems they are not such good Christians after all. Maybe it's time the Pope began to revive Christ's sunnah and order all Christians (Roman Catholics at least) to grow their beards, (starting by himself).

The point is, Muhammad didn't become a messenger of God, an accomplished human being, a mob raiser or whatever you'd call him... because of his BEARD!! It's down to his QUALITIES (eg, honesty, courage, determination, social skills, generosity...) and not his appearance: After all, Abu-Sufian, Moaviah and Yazid all wore beards and we shouldn't be emulating THEM, should we?

Anyway, thanks for the laugh chaps.

ata at October 1, 2003 08:07 AM [permalink]:

hi iman
I am surprised about the number of comments
about the scarf and the related problems around it.

hajir at October 1, 2003 08:18 PM [permalink]:

Ali Mahani, brother you have not understood the meaning of Sunnah. Pick up any book about the Sunnah of prophet or visit any website and you find the answer to the questions you have.

About beard; it's not only prophet's appearence but his order too:

Narrated Ibn 'Umar:

Allah's Apostle said, "Cut the moustaches short and leave the beard (as it is)."

Yes, Prophet was not the messenger of god because of his appearence but your appearence has something to do with what you harbor in your heart.

21st century is just another century. Men have always had beard in any given century. Sexual attraction between male and female has always been there and human attributes and weaknesses have not changed just because we are in 21st century.

Julian Watson at October 5, 2003 11:12 PM [permalink]:

you know, people's personal affairs is nobody else but thier own business.

Sara Rohani at October 6, 2003 12:30 AM [permalink]:

You know!? In fact I feel sympathetic to Iman (A). Although I agree that trying to avoid such situations might be the most rational thing to do, however there are moments when we actually want to break norms, give some reign to our human desire for discovery and realize some facts for ourselves. And well, oops! we sometimes get embarrased. But why? Why do some people make us feel embarrased? I mean (away from religion, culture, dress codes, whatever) don't we actually realize it that we've embarrased someone? Not even if for one moment we would imagine/ put ourselves in his/her shoes?
But at the same time, I feel sympathetic to the lady on her birthday too. You know!? I think different people at different times have different abilities in using their emotional intelligence. Maybe the lady, just after having seen you in that siituation, would have thought to herself that she shouldn't have acted like this, but it's been too late. Maybe a thousand other scenarios, I don't know!? But I feel sympathetic to her, because no matter what the reason, she hasn't been able to take advantage of this situation and she's been judged by someone, which I think is okay :) After all we're human beings and we can understand! Isn't it!? {sorry, this is my first time giving commets on this website, so please accept my apologies if there were any rules to which I did not abide, thanks}

Layla at October 7, 2003 04:31 PM [permalink]:

What was your purpose Iman? Did you think the girl would be sorry that nobody wished her a happy birthday? From your prose, it appears that she had no idea that others even knew it was her birthday. Sometimes we do things for ourselves or to impress friends, and that's when we get into trouble especially when it involves negotiating the sensibilities of people we barely know. I imagine you were successful in surprising her, but you created an uncomfortable situation since you mentioned yourself that you had never met these people before that afternoon.

Imagine for one moment what the world would be like if everyones' point of departure were not: why did that person do what they did, as though we had no part in their actions. Every action has a reaction and we, as members of a society, affect the actions of people that we come into contact with, however brief. What if our point of departure involved instead a concerted effort to understand the sensibilities of others. Some women wear the scarf, in part, as an identifier so that people will know that they are muslim and along with that identification goes some well-known social norms. There is no judgement (positive or negative) in tolerance and understanding.

On a lighter note: I'm sure your picture doesn't depict the dress she was wearing... :)

From N. California at November 7, 2003 12:36 AM [permalink]:

[comment removed due to inappropriate use of language (rule 4)]

M from NC at November 7, 2003 01:19 AM [permalink]:

[comment removed due to inappropriate use of language (rule 4)]

same dude at November 7, 2003 03:02 AM [permalink]:

F you and your rules!

Pouya at November 7, 2003 03:19 AM [permalink]:

Thanks for your "thoughtful" concern. You know, I especially liked this one: "an educated girl,
although wearing a headscarf and apparently being religious ...". What is that "although" doing there? Is the "education" you are seeking at odds with religion and headscarf? Even so, didn't "they" teach you to know your place and don't tell whatever seems "right" to you to someone you were introduced just couple minutes before (let aside the fact that you were just a guest in a group who knew each other well and ...). Tell me and please be honest: what were you thinking when you acted that way? Were you trying to prove how "cool" you are, or how "bad" the other friends are not to say "happy birthday"? Or you tried to act like
that movie character who impressed everyone with his ____ acts?
Well, I wish you best of luck in your education...

Birthday lady! at November 7, 2003 07:22 PM [permalink]:

Salaam to all,

Mr. Aghilian, first of all your story was really offending. You misjudged an occasion because of your background thoughts about anybody who wears scarf or beard. You did not give a single doubt to your memory of that STORY, although you have written about it after about one and a half months. I am the "young birthday lady". At that time, I was just surprised for a moment. Any other person would be surprised to hear happy birthday from a totally stranger person. That does not mean he or she is impolite. I clearly remember that I did thank you! My husband said, "thank you" just because he understood I was surprised and did not want you to feel uncomfortable. After him I said thank you. I even remember that you asked me about my age after that.

I do look to people when I talk to them, but I do not STARE in their eyes! If that makes you uncomfortable, I'm sorry but there is nothing I can do about it.

My husband usually does not wear a beard. That day, he had beard, just because I had asked him to. I am explaining this just to show how wrong you are. However, I have to emphasize that wearing beard does not show anything bad or good about the person. I know and have seen lots of Americans who wear beard. Are all of them traditional, aggressive men who are controlling their wives??? I doubt it!

Who gave you the right to judge my husband and me during a one-hour meeting?? Did we judge you??? I do not want to think you selected just a part (maybe 2 or 3 seconds) of that whole one-hour gathering to gain some attention, and make some "cool" statements about "weak” and “poor religious" women. At the same time I do not see you in a position to be worried about US, and by us I mean, "educated [women], although wearing a headscarf ”.

Second, I want to say that although it was offending, but I learned a lot from Mr. Aghilian's story. I saw and felt how each of us can be offended by others misjudgments. I really observed the degree of which one person’s prejudgment can turn to be wrong. I personally will be more careful to avoid judging others solely based on their appearances.

At the end I want to thank all the others who commented on this story. However, I do feel sad that some did not ask about the truth and without any doubts agreed with the writer. Even if I had chosen not to reply on purpose (which I did not!), it would have been my own choice. I don't see why others should be worried about it? Would you have the same reaction if I wasn't wearing a scarf? Or if my husband didn't have bead at that time? Even if the choice I make is differenet than what you expect, you should at least give me the credibility that “I” have made that decision. Mr. Aghilian did not give this credit to any scarf-wearing woman who acts in a different way than what he likes.

yahya at November 7, 2003 09:01 PM [permalink]:

Dear Birthday Lady!

Thanks for sharing your side of story with us. I, as one of the readers of this story, looked at this story as a generic situation when our prejudice about someone or a group of people interferes with our interaction with them.
Your side of story shows how judging others based on prejudices can be misleading and dangerous.


Saba at November 8, 2003 05:24 AM [permalink]:

thank you young lady;great!
I wish all discussions had such interesting ends like this one.
It was sth more than just a misunderestandig.A "judgment based on prejudice",as Yahya said.

Iman Aghilian at November 8, 2003 11:17 AM [permalink]:

Dear Birthday Lady,

I like to begin with expressing my wholehearted apologies. I am personally very saddened and distressed to realize that you have been hurt, the last thing I would have intended. I sincerely plead with you to accept my earnest apologies. That would mean a lot.

I understand that after reading the piece, you feel that some facts have been presented in an unreal way, you feel you have been hastily judged and you are hurt. Being in your position perhaps, I would have felt the same way.

I think when people want to write about cultural and social issues, they get started from their own experiences and everyday life observations. They leave out anything that connects the story to a particular person or group of people - any names, addresses, dates, descriptions, as I believe I have done - and try to write on it on a broader level. How would you write on a cultural or social issue like stereotyping ?

It seems like I haven't been able to get my point through. Maybe it's my poor command of English. I am a science major, you know. And it seems I am accused of doing the very same thing I am criticizing. The piece is about stereotyping and the mechanisms of how stereotypes are formed. Stereotyping - or generalizing a behavior of a few people to a larger society of people who appear to be like them or have something in common with them: race, nationality, appearance - is being criticized as a social pitfall.

Like many of the other writers, my only purpose of writing for this website is to share a thought and start a debate on something I am concerned about. I am concerned about stereotyping. I hate it to hear "Middle-easterners are fundamentalists.", "Isfahanis are tightfisted.", "Women with headscarves are traditional or biased." That is why I bother to write, sign it with my own name and make myself exposed to the public to read what I have written, perhaps judge me and get back to me with their comments and sometimes harsh or coarse language. I think the only thing that is personal about this story is the words of the author next to his name.

You might notice that the writer is not saying that "I saw the guy wearing a beard and the lady wearing a headscarf and based on their appearance I concluded that they have certain characteristics and behave in a certain way." The writer is not saying that he assumed something about her a priori and acted on that. He is saying that he congratulated her birthday the way he would have congratulated anyone else's birthday, with or without a scarf. He is upset that micro-judgements like that - which as your comments show, are not necessarily tied to reality - form the stereotypes on the macro level. He is trying to exemplify how people correlate two things and generalize it.

On this subject, it seems you are feeling the same way. I am trying to say stereotyping is bad, you are saying stereotyping is bad. And I am very eager to trace back to find out what is that make us sound at opposite ends. There is something missing here which I would like to see. I feel committed to dialog and would never back away from it. And I will be asking these questions from myself over and over and waiting for people to add to a shared reservoir of understanding.

I hope this would help ameliorate part of the unhappiness my previous writing has provoked.

Iman Aghilian

puffy at November 9, 2003 02:38 AM [permalink]:

Mr. A,
Even your apology is a lousy one... just look at what you wrote again:
"I didn't think an educated girl, ALTHOUGH wearing a headscarf and apparently being religious"

"Once again, one incident lent itself to SUBSTANTIATE a sad stereotype."
Why don't you just make a sincere apology admitting that you are wrong? If you can't figure out why, the reason why you and the Birthday Lady are on "opposite ends" is because you used a twisted version of the story to "SUBSTANTIATE" something you had in your mind. Although you were right about your command of English being poor, I think everybody interpreted the article as you intended them to, however you probably didn't expect that the Birthday Girl herself would ever read it and show everybody that you...nevermind. anyway, as a wise man once said, "there are two sides to every story, but only one is the truth"!

Pouya at November 9, 2003 05:23 AM [permalink]:

Mr. Aghilian,
1- As “puffy” pointed out, you have insulted not only a respectful specific young lady, but also all “educated girl, ALTHOUGH wearing a headscarf and apparently being religious”, men wearing beard and …. So a personal apology to the “birthday lady” does not help ameliorate the “unhappiness [your] previous writing has provoked” very much.
2- Your “poor command of English” doesn’t justify the emptiness of any logic in your piece. Exactly because you are a science major, we expected to see more logic in your piece. Telling a story (I don’t care here how much of it was real) and then jumping into a weak “conclusion”, which generalizes something not true even for the special case discussed, IS NOT science.
3- Personally I couldn’t find anywhere in your piece as a proof for your saying that “I am trying to say stereotyping is bad”. What I hear is this: guys wearing a beard and girls wearing a headscarf should be avoided. Perhaps you want to explain this more in your later comments.
4- I hope you haven’t taken these comments much personally. After all, you wrote: “I feel committed to dialog and would never back away from it”. So I hope to see your next post.

Confused Observer at November 9, 2003 12:11 PM [permalink]:

Okay. What's going on here?

I have a feeling Pouya and "puffy" are "the same dude." I don't know why, but certainly an old post shouldn't be receiving such hostile comments all of a sudden after so long from totally different commenters, eh?

I read Birthday Lady's comment and Iman's reply. Perhaps reading a sensitive post about onself is hard. But look there, really carefully. Iman not only apologizes, points out he did not mean any harm, etc., he says he had been trying to say "stereotyping" is bad. Iman had not put any comments after his post, so there is no way but to accept his claim and judge it against his own words: the only conclusion I can find in his post is this,

"...Well I guess that's how stereotypes are formed; that's why the word exists in the dictionary. But still, I am entitled to my hopes and wishes. I wish life proved all stereotypes to be wrong and made-up. I wish it was different."

I don't see this conclusion at odds with Iman's claim.

Pouya at November 9, 2003 02:48 PM [permalink]:

Confused Observer,
1-Don't be confused. For your information, I am neither Puffy nor "the same dude". But why you are looking for the names and why does it make a difference? I don't understand why you like to catogorize the comments based on the names. Isn't it the same "sad story" in different appearance?
2-Yeah, I guess everybody can see that 2-line you selected out of the 20-line piece is saying that Mr.Aghilian is wishing there were no stereotypes. But when I am reading the whole essay, this 2-line is translated like this: I wish there were no educated girl, ALTHOUGH wearing a headscarf and apparently being religious....
That's why I asked Mr.Aghilian's clarification.

cK at November 9, 2003 03:20 PM [permalink]:

why can't you guys just get over it?

Confused Observer at November 9, 2003 04:12 PM [permalink]:

Well, you last line is but not true, Pouya. I can't speak for Iman but "stereotype" is a concept, a behaviour, not a person. Iman's wishing that there were no stereotypes would simply mean he wishes a random behaviour, seemingly offending on his end, would not be connected to a totally irrelavant factor, that is wearing headscarf or having a beard.

This oversimplified, misleading, connection between two independent traits is the definitoion of the word "stereotype". Here is, for instance, what google finds around the web as the definition, define: steretypeo.

puffy at November 9, 2003 05:29 PM [permalink]:

Yo Mr. Confused,
As Pouya said, I'm not Pouya and Pouya is not Puffy or "same dude"...

Read Mr. A's last paragraph again...
"Once again, one incident lent itself to substantiate a sad stereotype. Well I guess that's how stereotypes are formed; that's why the word exists in the dictionary. "

Mr. A had a stereotype in his mind about "bearded men and women with headscarf"... He thought this twisted version of the story was enough to "SUBSTANTIATE" it. I don't know why this is so hard for you to understand.. nothing more to say.
ps I hope you're not confused any more.

Senior Grad at November 9, 2003 09:11 PM [permalink]:

Just after reading Birthday Lady's comment:

Well, I would say there's really no room for taking offence, BL, because Iman had kept you anonymous! Let me spell it out: We, the readers of Iman's stories, do not know who you are, BL! (Neither do many of us care, or should care, for that matter.) Neither do we know whether Iman (or any other writer here) fabriactes these stories to make a point or narrates the story as it has actually happened, nor again, do we really care.

I guess you could've just emailed him instead and explained (or complained) to him, or enter your comment as another comment-writer, suggesting another possibility, that is, your side of the story. We Iranians, we are so good at being easily offended. :-)

Senior Grad at November 9, 2003 09:30 PM [permalink]:

Also, what is really important, IMHO, is not what *exactly* happened at that particular occasion in that particular time, because, as I just said, no names were mentioned. What *is* important, again IMHO, is that the story was credible enough. In other words, such an event *could* have happened. And in yet other words, for those of us who have lived in Iran, this is not an extraordinary and isolated kind of behavior. Quite the contrary, what seems to be extraordinary is the claim that BL's husband doesnt sport a beard usually (and why does this even merit to be mentioned, let me ask!) but he happened to have on that particular day, and to add to the hilarity of the situation, not out of his free will, but upon BL's request.

Come ON.

Soon to be a doctor husband! at November 10, 2003 06:17 AM [permalink]:

Dear Senior Grad,

You and I are probably from different planets! :)

I don't see why my wife should've written her comments as "another comment-writer" and not as herself. I don't understand why it is ok for someone to "fabricate" a story, but someone else doesn't have the right to tell the truth. After all, the fact that birthday lady (who was not even aware of the existence of this web-site) has responded to this story shows that there are people who have identified her, right?

I don't understand why after Iman's appology, you still try to convince the birth lady that she shouldn't be offended.

I can't see why it is "extraordinary" for a man to grow beard because his wife likes to see how it looks. Obviously, despite what you think, I didn't consider it against my free will either.

Any way, I understand Iman's concern and personally appreciate him for that. As far as I'm aware of, what offended my wife wasn't what he was trying to say, but the way he said it. After all, when you are trying to criticize stereotyping you shouldn't stereotype!

I wish you all the best and hope that these comments stop soon! I am sure, if I keep reading these comments all the time, I will not be a doctor that soon!! :-))

Take it easy and have a nice day!

Senior Grad at November 10, 2003 07:37 AM [permalink]:


I'm in fact not from another planet, man. I am sure I am closer to you in terms of background that you could have imagined. And why doesn't BL respond to my comments herself? Hmmm. Yet another stereotype? I've got to wonder.

Let me make it clear that I am not of the same opinion (or impression, or judgement) of Mr. Aghilian (let me be respectful to people for once). In fact I think he did wrong by saying, out of the blue, Happy Birthday to a stranger, especially a hijab-clad one. What I'm saying is, his narrating the story does NOT warrant an apology, although on second thought, I realize that he should've been more discreet and changed the specifications a little bit, to "protect" the anonymity of the ones involved. (For example, he could've said Italian restaurant instead of French, or Southern California, or a beautiful rainy day ;-) instead of Northern California and so on and so far. He can in fact be reproached for not having done so.)

Also, I did NOT say that BL shouldn't have said the truth (read my comments more carefully, please). It's free thoughts and free speech, after all. :-) What I said was her bemoaning of being accused of such and such was unwarranted, because, let me reiterate, as far as we, the not-so-fozool readers of this forum, are concerned, she was be just another one of an admittedly rare kind of Iranians, who despite their being religious enough to stick to their Islamic attire and style and thus subjecting himself to stigmas and stereotypes, for as-of-yet-to-me-unfathomable reasons, seem to love the experience of living in America. (I personally do not think that Propher Muhammad would approve of that, meaning, muslims immigrating to America, the land of "corruption", unless it was for a nobler cause of serving his ummah, but that's just my opinion.)

Anyway, if prior to your wife's comment she was more or less anonymous, now she's made herself vulnerable to our dear compatriots' sniffings to find out who she is.

You guys have a sunny day now. :-)

Senior Grad at November 10, 2003 07:40 AM [permalink]:

Sorry guys... A lot of grammatical errors in my previous comment, but not anything that you cannot correct yourself. Gotta go...

Saeed at November 10, 2003 09:51 AM [permalink]:

[ comment removed because of violation of the Rule 4 of the comment policy. ]

Senior Grad at November 10, 2003 09:58 AM [permalink]:

I shall reply to your angry comment when I am in a more serene happy mood. And yes, in this very column. :-) I'll also leave it to others to judge for themselves how relevant it is, my dear Saeed.

FToI Editorial Board at November 10, 2003 11:02 AM [permalink]:

Because of personal sensitivity of the issue, we decided to close the comment section of this story.

Please contant editors at free[AT]freethoughts[DOT]com if you have any concern.