Last week, US Senator Lindsey Graham insulted Iranians when he claimed that "Iranians lie and cheat." As a proud Iranian-American, I reject this type of stereotyping. As a broader but certainly not a comprehensive community response, a number of Iranian-American groups have organized to express their outrage. It's certainly an unfortunate situation when a statesman uses his stature to make such comments.
But it's even more tragic when statesmen with arguably greater political influence violate the rights of Iranian people and lie about them - and we, as Iranian-Americans, fail to call them out.
To be specific, when Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif visited the U.S. last April, he enjoyed the privileges of freedom of speech and our free press as laid out by the Framers in our constitution. FM Zarif then abused these freedoms to lie about the state of human rights in Iran and the welfare of our brothers and sisters living in the Islamic Republic, stating that his government does "not jail people for their opinions" and justified the Supreme Leader's vehement anti-American sentiments as representation of the "will of the Iranian people."
Despite these baseless assertions, after FM Zarif spoke, many Iranian-Americans and NGOs stayed quiet. No group involved in the current campaign demanded a correction or apology. Perhaps some gasped in embarrassment or disagreed behind closed doors, but no one organized a "gotcha" campaign.
And how did the Islamic Republic of Iran respond to this affirmative silence? They returned the favor with even more marginalization, repression, and executions.
Since the Zarif visit, dozens more civilians have been arrested across Iran for a litany of crimes such as educating their children, expressing opinions, or celebrating at a party. Reports indicate that nearly 100 individuals have been executed in that time. So, did the Iranians within the borders of their country receive the same level of advocacy and support as their counterparts in the US? I am afraid not.
Ask yourself - what is more intolerable - making a reckless statement in the press or imprisoning journalists, educators, religious leaders, and ordinary citizens for what they write? how they pray? who they love?
As Iranians, we have a strong sense of "gheirat" or honor that compels us to defend our people when insulted. I am proud that Iranian-Americans are flexing our civic muscles and organizing to speak for our community. And, as I stated earlier, we should call out those who question our integrity and slander our people inside and outside of Iran's borders.
But we should honor ourselves and our culture by applying at least an equal if not a greater standard when the words are spoken by Iranians themselves. The responses need to be consistent. The voices need to be clear. Those who claim to represent us need to speak out when any of our people have been insulted or their rights have been violated.
Selective pressure on one leader to apologize for a comment about lying, while tacitly tolerating the undeniable lies of another leader is, at best, a sign of our political immaturity. Some might call it dishonesty. Either way, it's a double standard that we need to correct if we hope to build broad credibility as a community.
As Iranian-Americans, we and our community leaders should have the self-confidence to speak out against all forms of injustice perpetrated against the Iranian people, especially when lives are at stake. That is a unifying cause worthy all of us.