Last week, Congress took the unprecedented step to recognize the Iranian New Year, Norooz. The House passed resolution H.Res.267, sponsored by Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA) and wished the Iranian-American community, as well as the Iranian people, a happy New Year. The resolution was as uncontroversial as could be -- just a sign of America's humanity. Oddly enough though, two lawmakers from Florida, Congressmen Jeff Miller (R-FL) and Bill Posey (R-FL), chose to vote against it, effectively stating that they don't wish 300 million Norooz celebrators worldwide a happy new year.
At the National Iranian American Council, we were very dismayed by this decision and decided to reach out to the Florida lawmakers in the hopes that they wouldn't punish the Iranian people for the errors of the Iranian government. The text of the letter is below.
Dear Representatives Miller and Posey,
On Saturday, March 20, Iranian-Americans joined with their friends and family to celebrate Norooz, the Iranian New Year, a joyous occasion in which we put the trials and tribulations of the passing year behind us and looked forward with our friends and family to a year full of new beginnings.
This year, we took special pride knowing that for the first time in history, we have achieved recognition for Norooz in the House of Representatives. H.Res.267, wishing the people of Iran and Iranian-Americans a happy new year, passed the House last Monday by an overwhelming 384-2 vote. It is not often that American politics provides opportunities for Iranian-Americans to celebrate their heritage, as often the conflicts and tensions between the U.S. and Iran's current government overshadow our rich culture and history.
We are grateful to the 384 Members of Congress who, in the spirit of Norooz, honored our treasured Iranian traditions and heritage with grace and appreciation. But we are also concerned that two Members of Congress decided to vote against wishing Iranians and Iranian-Americans a happy new year.
When NIAC reached out to your offices to inquire why you voted this way, Mr. Posey provided the following explanation:
"The resolution does not make the distinction between peace-loving Iranians, including many Americans of Iranian descent and, Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad has no respect for the basic humans (sic) rights of Iranians or anyone else and I do not wish him a prosperous new year."
Mr. Posey also said that "We shouldn't pretend that everything with Iran is smooth and happy." Rep. Miller explained his opposition similarly, stating that "the language fails to exclude terrorists and dictators like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad."
Norooz is a time when we momentarily put aside our troubles--and this past year has been especially difficult as many of us have watched with heavy hearts the suffering of our friends and family in Iran. With your votes and with your explanations, you have once again permitted rulers like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to impose themselves on our lives, even at our most cherished moment of respite.
Your reason for opposing this measure is that it did not distinguish between "peace-loving Iranians" and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But in voting against wishing Iranians and Iranian-Americans a happy New Year, you have reduced 70 million Iranians down to one man who is not even their rightfully elected representative. Perhaps some think only of Ahmadinejad when they hear the word "Iran", but for us, there is far more to our heritage than Iran's disputed president.
3,000 years of history cannot be obscured by one small man's shadow.
You seem to imply that the President, the Secretary of State, the House of Representatives, and possibly soon the Senate, are playing into the hands of Ahmadinejad by wishing the people of Iran and Iranian-Americans a happy new year. But it is actions like yours that confer upon Ahmadinejad an authority that he could never attain on his own. Your refusal to vote in favor of the Norooz resolution elevates this man's status at the expense of all people of Iranian descent and three millennia of one of the world's great cultures. You have placed one temporal ruler--who is still struggling to regain order after falsely claiming 25 million supporters last June--equal to the timeless tradition of Norooz that has been celebrated by millions of people for ages.
Congressmen, our culture and history does not belong to the politicians that rule Iran by force, it belongs to the Iranian people. And this is the distinction--this inherent distinction--that allows Iranians and Iranian-Americans to celebrate our heritage and our traditions without regard for Iran's current rulers.
I ask you to reconsider your position. Norooz transcends politics, nations, religions, ethnicity, and ideology. Zoroastrians, Muslims, Baha'is, Jews, Christians, atheists and agnostics all celebrate Norooz. People across national and ethnic boundaries celebrate Norooz, not only in Iran, but also in countries and regions including Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Kashmir, Kyrgzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Turkmenistan. Even Republicans and Democrats were brought together to recognize this special tradition.
In the spirit of Norooz, we are sending flowers to your office, a symbol of new beginnings and goodwill, as well as a copy of Funny in Farsi, by noted Iranian-American author Firoozeh Dumas, to serve as an introduction for you to the Iranian-American community.
We are eager to hear back from both of you regarding your decision to vote against the Norooz Resolution and I look forward to your response. I thank you for your time and wish you a pleasant spring and a prosperous and happy Norooz.
President, National Iranian American Council
Follow Trita Parsi on Twitter: www.twitter.com/tparsi