06/22/2012 09:02 pm ET Updated Aug 22, 2012

Open Letter to Mr. Cook and Apple

It is a bedrock principle of U.S. civil rights law, applicable to businesses that operate in the United States, that no person should be discriminated against on the basis of ethnicity, national origin or religion. The recent discriminatory practices at two of Apple's Georgia branches, which refused to sell products to customers because of their Persian ethnicity, are deeply disturbing for Iranian Americans and the entire general public.

Although I believe the U.S. sanctions embargo is flawed due to the fact that it hinders access to communication tools and technologies in the very countries that need democracy the most, I understand Apple must abide by U.S sanctions that prohibit the sale of products to Iran and to anyone who intends to send those products to Iran. However, it should be noted that the governments of these countries have access technologies far more dangerous than the mighty iPad, and these types of misguided sanctions primarily hurt the general public by denying their access to communication tools that enhance the cause of democracy. If the U.S. were truly interested in promoting democracy and human rights in these countries, theywould encourage more, not less, international exchanges to empower the people. Sanctions should target governments, not regular people.

Still, until sanction laws are changed, Apple cannot sell to anyone who intends to send Apple products to Iran. However, nowhere in U.S. sanction laws does it prohibit the sale of U.S. goods to Iranian Americans or Iranian visa-holders. When an Apple employee refuses to sell a product to someone merely because they were speaking a foreign language, Apple is supporting a culture of racial profiling and discrimination. Appleshould not be singling out Persian speakers and interrogating them on how they intend to use Apple products. Does Apple ask Arabic speakers if they are from Syria or Spanish speakers if they are from Cuba? Are the same assumptions made? Would they be denied service, publicly humiliated, and sent away?

Although this may have been a misinterpretation of U.S. sanction laws by Apple employees in Alpharetta and Atlanta due to improper training, I am not alone in my opinion when I say I am deeply disappointed and hurt by the racial profiling and discrimination to which these Iranian Americans were subjected. This was a misguided violation of its customers' rights at best, and a flagrant violation of state and federal law at worst.

I urge Apple to take serious steps to ensure that Apple employees do not misinterpret US sanctions laws in the future and to prevent this from ever happening again. As a proud U.S. citizen who admires this country's ideals of democracy and equality, I hope our leading companies, like Apple, always strive to reflect these values and stamp out prejudice and discrimination in everything they do.


Gita Kashani