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August 13, 2006

You had their minds! Now you got their hearts too!
Arash Jalali  [info|posts]

Early August, the 4th internation reunion of the Sharif University alumni was held in Santa Clara in the US. According to the alumni association's website some 170 Sharif alumni from Iran, some along with their spouses and children, managed to obtain a visa and make arrangements to attend the gathering. On August 3, a dozen of them, arriving at different US airports, were told by the immigration officers that their visas have been revoked and that they will be deported back to Iran. Some of them, among them a lady with her children, were detained and questioned for long hours, and then transferred in chains and cuffs to prison, where they were "processed" like criminals, and spent the night with criminals, addicts, and prostitutes. The details of their ordeal is best described in their letters to the SUTA president, Dr. Hojabri.

We have had many posts on FToI describing the difficult process Iranian students have to go through to obtain a student or re-entry visa after attending a conference, and so on and so forth. My position has always been, as reflected in comments to a recent post, that one should not subject him/herself to a process where they think they will be insulted, demeaned, humiliated, or subjected to any unpleasant conditions. If one decides to proceed in spite of all that, then complaining about it would be, in my opionion, unjustified. However, this incident with Sharif alumni simply goes way beyond that.

It is understandable, and in fact maybe even justified from a "security" point of view, for the US government to deny visas to the citizens of a country the leaders of which call them the Big Satan, chant death to America, and where their flag is burned in the public as an annual ritual; allowing myself to forget for a moment that none of the people in this incident in fact belong to that group of islamist extremists. I would even go further to allow for a theoretical chance that given the current situation world-wide, with the conflict in the Middle East, it would be justified, with some major stretch of imagination, that there might be a reason to exercise the right to revoke their legally issued visas at the ports of entry, but I cannot in any way understand the mentality behind putting people through that horrible process of incarcertation, psychological torture and physical hardship. Having a relative who spent 3 years in Saddam Hussein's jails as a POW, I have heard horrible tales of torture and abuse, but I do not recall him ever saying that they were asked by the guards to pay them money for the food they were occasionally given. Americans certainly outdid themselves this time. They certainly took "the battle for the hearts and minds" to the next level.

Occasional Reader at August 13, 2006 06:09 AM [permalink]:

What purpose do SUTA unions serve really? From my understanding, it's not a scientific conference, but more like a big very Iranian party of self-congratulatory Sharif graduates, whose very existence is witness to what a failure Iran's elitist educational system has been.

Shabnam K at August 13, 2006 06:37 AM [permalink]:

I don't think that the issue is whether or not they had to pay money for their food. I think the main issue here is the fact that they were punished like criminals, without their knowledge of what had happened.

To Occasional Reader: I also don't think the fact that SUTA is useful or not, and Sharif is a good or bad institution has anything to do with this horrible and inhumane incident. There is nothing that can make what these families went through justifiable. Not SUTA's purpose of life nor America's problem with middle east. All of these people had a legal admission (called visa) from US, and even if for some reason that was evoked (which could be justified with what is happenning in middle east) these people should NOT have been treated like criminals. They could have been sent back to Iran without any psychological torture, which tehy did not deserve.

I personally think that whoever responsible for the ill treatment of these people (no matter where they were graduated from, occasional reader) should be held accountable.

Occasional Readers Returns at August 13, 2006 06:52 AM [permalink]:

Shabnam K,

I sort of agree with you, but I do not sympathize with those who were allegedly "tortured" by the US authorities.

All over the world, people always pay a price for how their leaders behave, be they Iranians or Americans or of any other nationality.

Arash Jalali at August 13, 2006 02:04 PM [permalink]:

Shabnam, I don't think the issue is the food or the money, but I think it does show something about the true intentions. You see Americans claim certain measures like fingerprinting, which in its own way is quite offensive because it makes one feel like a criminal, is part of a so-called "procedure". By the same token they could again claim handcuffing people when they are being deployed to a jail (never mind why these people had to go jail for a moment) is part of that same "procedure". But to confine them, and then tell them "give us your money and we will buy you some food" couldn't possibly be part of anyone's procedure. Not even by Saddam Hussein's standards. So it only leaves me to think that it was not about some procedure. It was not some "security" precaution. It was a deliberate act, meant to be hurtful, demeaning, insulting, and inhumane.

zohar at August 13, 2006 03:50 PM [permalink]:

Do we have any source other than this letter to verify the story?

Shabnam K at August 13, 2006 07:22 PM [permalink]:

Occational Reader,

I do not believe that poeple are meant to pay the price for the behaviour of the leader, if they DO NOT have a democracy. It is not people's choice to have a governemnt like that, or at least one can hope so. So I don't think it is fair to make people pay the price. Instead of hand cuffing civilians, may be the American government can freeze the assets of Iranian Government...


I do not agree with you on finger printing. They do this to every non-US citizen (expcept for some Canadians)... Well what I mean is they finger print almost everyone now. What they do to us, which they do not do to others is they make us register our entry and exit, which is a time consuming process (but they are very respectful while they make you wait!) I cannot say it is inhumane... It is just a little inconvenient. They actually always appologize for the wait and they offered me (at least) to apply for a waiver so Ido not have to waste my time everytime. What I mean is they do not apply a deliberate harmful action.

On the other hand, I think it makes me feel safer to know they are careful. I prefer to wait and waste some of my golden time, and be a little more certain that my plane is not going to be blown in the air.

As for what they did to SUTA visa holders, that is a different story. I do not think we should mix these together. Americans are being threatened and attacked from Iran's (so called) president everytime he opens his mouth. So, there is a certain degree of revenge going on right now, I think. Which is not justified but understandable. I think I would prefer not to travel to US for the time being...

Also, we should notice that all of these people have (most liekely) did say in their visa applications that they are going to go to SUTA reunion (as the purpose of their trip), while most of them in their letters said they wanted to visit US to see their family and have fun or go to honeymoon, or so on and so forth... I am not quite sure how that works... It is strange that all of these people pay so much money to go to a reunion in US...

So they had their own reasons to go to US, which really SUTA reunion was a cover for it (a lie in application makes it enough reason to revoke the visa, I guess).

This again doesn't justify what they have been through... But it may be a lesson to be learned. SUTA reunion did not have any purpose for me, and I for one am not willing to pay money to even travel from Canada to US for it. So what I want to know is why so many people paid so much money to travel to US for SUTA reunion? (Oh, now I sound like Occasional Reader!) But I think this is also a good point.

Arash Jalali at August 14, 2006 11:30 AM [permalink]:

I am glad you are comfortable with the finger-printing arrangements, and glad that it makes you feel safer. I am not in a position to care if their measures are effective. I guess it is none of my business.

I think the question as to why they paid so much money to go to the US is absolutely besides the point. In fact, if I may say so, it is none of our business. I am surprised you even mentioned it and more surprised that you think "this is a good point". Maybe they wanted to use the chance their to see their relatives, or close friends whom they never get to chance of seeing, or maybe they were just plainly in love and obsessed with the idea of being in "America". Who cares?

Also, I think the US consulate officers are trained enough to recognize on the spot if someone is lying. From what I have been told by those who have ever applied for a US visa, the consular officers are in fact instructed to assume the worst about your travelling intentions unless proven otherwise. So if they issued the visa in spite of that, I think it would only be fair for us not to call them liars.

Shabnam K at August 14, 2006 01:47 PM [permalink]:

Well, Arash. Guilty as charged. You are right. It is not a good point. and it is none of my business why they wanted to go to US.

Babak S at August 15, 2006 02:07 AM [permalink]:

Thanks Arash for the informative post!

This incident is an example, in my opinion, of the way ordinary people get crushed in the middle of a (seemingly) irrelevant crisis. Of course, it is reasonable to think that most of the people involved were ordinary people perhaps with no interest in the current international politics. This is collateral casualty.

As Arash points out, it is understandable that the Americans act the way they did, being primarily concerned with their security. There is not enough information right now to decide whether they have made a mistake or not from even their own perspective. There is also for sure a lot of questions to investigate regarding their treatment. I am hoping that those involved (SUTA and the individuals) have the time and resources to do so. For many of us, however, there are bigger questions and issues that come with a higher priority. Iran finds herself increasingly at the center of an international crisis, and with all that is going on, I feel that these incidents will unfortunately not be adequately addressed now.

AIS at August 15, 2006 08:30 PM [permalink]:

Shabnam K,
you said:
"I do not believe that poeple are meant to pay the price for the behaviour of the leader, if they DO NOT have a democracy."

Now I definitely agree with this, but on the other hand this is the way "our" state is behaving in the world. So I have this idea. One way the Americand and teh West in general can reduce the injustice of ordinary decent people being punished for the crimes of the other group og fanatic terriorist criminals who rule over them by force and intimidation is this: check the Iranian IDs of people. If they have a stamp of participating in an election, reject them visas. This of course does not solve all teh problem neither is sufficient for security purposes, but it does increase the chance of getting a fair treatment by the decent people of Iran, at least a bit. They can also monitor those already in America or the West and in annual security checkings taht I think citizens of certain countries have to go to, check for such iranian election stamps and deport any one having it. After all by participating in an election within this system teh person is officially acknowledging the legitimiacy of all its conducts. He or she is announcing tyaht it considers it to be his/her true government regardless of who wins in that election.
There should also be consequences for those who actively campaign for these ecelctions, hire buses, join in pro-Hizbollah or other terrorist grousp rallies and so on.
After all by f=doing this they are also maing their links to this regime offcial.
It is a bit of thinking out of the box, but these are dire time.s Then again even now they reject a visa for having acriminal offence or being part of a terrorist group. If you actively vote and campaign for a state who has killed thousands through terrorist acts, US marines, Jews in Argentina and elesewhere, Iranian dissidents in Europe, Americans in Arabia and now in Iraq.....then you are indirectly share some of the responsiblity.

It would also be agood move politically: many vote in Iran out of fear or for personal gain, there is no retribution for it. And all people do not have character integrity. SO now if there are losses as well, in terms of never being able to enter the US... then some people may think twice before rushing to the ballots.

there has been more than one source for this. See here:

Shabnam K at August 15, 2006 08:58 PM [permalink]:


As always you have some extreme way to deal with things...
While what you are saying may be a start of what can be done, I hope it never goes that way. First of all, I for one do not want a Canadian or American offical go through my documents every year... That is discrimination. I am soooo against it. Second of all, voting in that system doens't necessarily imply that people are FOR the regime... Look at how many people who opposed the regime voted for Khatami. Third, this is not a thing that can be a law. There are so many other constranits preventing this to bcome a law. Such as personal freedom (which is th base that these countries are standing upon). Now, I hope you do not want to imply that ANYONE who votes is a threat to security, do you?

AIS at August 15, 2006 10:53 PM [permalink]:

I always try to deal with cases in the right way, extreme or not extreme is irrelevant. . Show me where I have dealt with issues in an extreme way?

"voting in that system doens't necessarily imply that people are FOR the regime..."

Yes it does. There are no two ways about it. When you vote in such a regime as Iran it is a vote cast for the totality of this regime.

Anyone who votes in a terrorist state for one of its candidates is a an accomplice to all that the totality of that regime does. No doubt about it. even if you want to reform a state it means you accept it in its fundamentals as legitimate and valid, as your state. Then you have to bear the responsibilities that goes with such a choice.

The checking date could be from the previous elections that brought Ahmadinejad to power as planned. It is also good public relations.

It is discrimination. Of course because we coem from a country whose leaders say publicly and act publicly by attacking and killing the members and foundatiosn of the places where we want to live in. What did you expect? the point is, not all people are supporters of the regime. In fact most aren't. This is one way to be more just to them a bit. After all in the last elections, even with all teh fraud only 30% participated in the elecetions. That means 70% already pass my test.

jennifer at August 15, 2006 11:08 PM [permalink]:

The bottom line is that it is racial profiling on behalf of the customs and immigration people of the US. As a Canadian, it seems obvious to me that the treatment of these people (denying visas) is directly related to the fear mongering which the media has perpetuated. Ignorance breeds mistreatment of people. Historically and more recently, the US government has been treating anyone from any Middle Eastern country with much disrespect. I have heard of many people being treated this way...

I find it horrible and wish that this mistreatment could be reversed. However, we all know that this is among MANY situations and will easily be lost and forgotten. It saddens me that our world has become so disrespectful.


AsdolaMirza at August 18, 2006 02:19 AM [permalink]:

What has happened in those airports can be very offending. But what's wrong with getting offended? In fact no one has the right not to get offended. Or at least Iranians are very used to the idea of turning a blind eye on getting offended especially when they can call themselves smart by bribing their way out of a problem. I guess if the deported Iranians were given a chance to bribe the immigration officers they would never post these complaints. Let's be frank; being frisked and taken to prison for no reason is not a new phenomenon to Iranians. I'm sure almost everyone has been stopped by some Basiji looking for nonsense excuse to make you beg or bribe or else be handcuffed; the GHAPPUNI style. Two things have sparked my curiosity for the longest times: At first, constant whining of Iranians. However, they would only express their complaints when they are allowed to. Second, all of a sudden Iranians transform from primitive savages with no idea of having rights and become educated and civilized who practice any rights that not necessarily belong to them. It's amazing how they can switch from a life style of cutting in lines, faking faith, stealing from work, copying from each other to be law abiding citizens in western countries. Seems like if they don't like the system they don't do anything to change it therefore they look for a better system. I believe Iranians demands for the free world are too high, expecting US to be the most perfect dreamland. Even Ahmadinezhad in his recent interview on "60 Minute" expected US to have better medical insurance, like he's looking up to his older brother as his role model. Maybe Iranians believe they can improve US or feel comfortable criticizing it while they don't even care to do something about their own government.

Arash Jalali at August 18, 2006 03:01 AM [permalink]:

You have a very good point there in your last sentence. Yet, your argument with respect to "the right to complain" is flawed. To apply your argument to similar circumstances, it is ok to be offensive, no make that savagely insulting and unfair, to Americans in all airports just because Americans re-elected Bush and did nothing effective about the Patriot Act, which severly limits their own personal liberties? Or would it have been ok for the people of South Africa during the Apartheid to be harrassed in other countries simply because they should have been "used to it" by then in their own home land? How about the people in Burma, Ivory Coast, Kongo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kurds in Turkey, Kosovar Albanians, and all the other troubled spots in the world? Seems like your criterion for being eligible for the UN charter for human rights
makes the list of qualified candidates pretty short! Respect for humans rights and the dignity of human beings is universal. Advocates of affirmative action even argue that those who have been less fortunate to enjoy it should even be put on a higher priority. You seem to be thinking otherwise.

I understand and in fact share your view that we have done little to make things right in our own homeland but I do not think it makes us less eligible to be treated with dignity in other parts of the world. In fact, I think this maltreatment of normal individuals not only does nothing to help the Iranian cause for establishing democracy, whom the US government openly claims to be supporting, but it also provides ample ammunition for the likes of Ahmadinejad both in and outside Iran. He's got the perfect upper hand now when interviewed by likes of CBS, and his Basiji thugs have ample excuse to tell those, who in their eyes are the lackeys and followers of "the Big Satan", that "there you go! is that the democracy you are so crazy about?"

AIS at August 22, 2006 06:13 PM [permalink]:

Well, Well Well!
it seems the wonderful state department who refuses visas to Iranian students and/or deports them has absolutely no problem to issue US visa to a piece of islamist filth, a hozbollah loving prostitute clown, mohammad filthy Khatami to enter US.
Isn't that nice?!
The same pathetic state department says (only says) it considers Hizbullah to be a terrorist group, and now this pice of filth, Khatami, who has state departmenst love letters issues to his stinking house all the time has visited Hizbollah and greetd by Nasrollah as a revered mentor a couple of years ago and also has said this about Hizbollah just recently:

And he is not alone. His entire pathetic filth of "reform" movement are all like this

One more thing. Are all the "progressives" among us here, those who voted for such filth in Iran, those who made a fuss about US denying visas or deportations ready to write and protest against such shameful double standards if the US state department?

(And seriously. Bush should really hurry up and dump Condelizaa Rice. She is a disgrace. Something lower than the level of Chamberlain.)

Arash Jalali at August 24, 2006 05:12 AM [permalink]:

Letting Khatami in is the least of such super-bloopers. While they are talking about the justifiability of "racial profiling" in western countries' airports, likes of Mesbah-Yazdi get to visit EU countries and then they get to write about it, on how well they were received there and how much fun they had there. This is the guy who has apparently issued a decree in favor of using nukes.

AIS at August 26, 2006 04:03 AM [permalink]:

you are absolutely right! As for Mesbah in Europe, what can be said? First of all thanks for letting us know about it.I knew europe is a moral wasteland over and over, but to sink this low?! Mesbah? The guy who advocates the merits of slavery?! The break their records of sinking in their swamp day by day it seems!
When did this take place? was it 2001?
the funniest thing is that it seems to have been part of Khatami's dialogue of civilzations crap...if so this was the only part most becoming.
Says it all.

Ali at September 19, 2006 05:30 AM [permalink]:

Arash, Shabnam, Babak, and the snubbed, abused, tortured Sharif alumni:

I'm in perfect agreement with the Occasional Reader- Well said, mate!

Asking "Why should people suffer because of their leaders' behaviour?" is actually putting the question the wrong way round. Ask yourself "Why should US citizens be exposed to unnecessary risk of death and terror so that you can have a good chat with your former college pals?" Given the Iranians' collective character, I believe that the FBI and the Immigration Department must be given every benefit of the doubt.

So, if the US authorities think you may be a terrorist, then you may indeed be a terrorist, simple as that.

What's all the fuss about?

Arash Jalali at September 22, 2006 11:17 AM [permalink]:

Good to have you back Ali.

I see you're still in the habit of not being that much interested in reading what exactly other people have written and very much interested in being as cynical as possible. Certainly exhibiting the shining corners of that "collective character", I would say. I can't say Sadegh Hedayat would be very proud though. Oh I miss Senior Grad so much!