“Out beyond the place of right doing and wrong doing there is a field.
I will meet you there.” Molana Jallal-e-din Rumi, 1207-1273 CE
Washington, D.C., June 25, 2004 – On the evening of Thursday, May 27, 2004, the Iranian American Political Action Committee (IAPAC) held a gala at the Washington, D.C. Ritz-Carlton Hotel celebrating the accomplishments of Iranian women and honoring Mrs. Mahnaz Afkhami, CEO of the Women’s Learning Partnership, Mrs. Mehrangiz Kar, human rights activist, and Ms. Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Laureate.
The charismatic Mrs. Azar Nafisi, author of New York Times Best Seller “Reading Lolita in Tehran,” presided over the awards ceremony and presented the honorees with an artistic replica of Cyrus the Great’s Cylinder, the first universal declaration of human rights, made by renowned Iranian artist Nasser Ovissi. Other speakers included the Honorable Senator John Corzine (D-NJ), Congressional candidate Mrs. Goli Ameri (R-OR), Miss. World First Runner-Up Nazanin Afshin-Jam and Mr. Soroush Richard Shehabi, one of IAPAC’s original 22 founding Trustees and 2004 Spring Gala Chair.
Approximately 350 distinguished guests attended the event including the Dean of Iranian academics and principal editor of the Encyclopaedia Iranica Professor Ehsan Yarshater; the Ambassadors of Sweden, Norway, Bolivia, Jordan; distinguished members of the press including Barbara Slavin from USA Today; Bill Royce from Voice of America; Richard Leiby of the Washington Post. Other distinguished guests included Nina Reese, the first Iranian American Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education; Homa Mahmoudi, the first Iranian American psychologist; artist, Rafat Mossadeghi; Kourosh Hangafarin, past president of the Iranian American Republican Council; and, Society of Iranian Studies founder, Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, who accepted the Nobel Laureate’s award in her absence.
IAPAC Trustee Soroush Richard Shehabi began the evening by highlighting the accomplishments of Iranian women. “As poet Simin Behbehani wrote,” said Shehabi “to stay alive, you must slay silence… to pay homage to being, you must sing,” noting how the Iranian women honorees have devoted their lives to giving a voice to the Iranian spirit while pushing forward the cause of civil rights and civil liberties. “For far too long, Iranian women have been making seminal contributions to history only to be shunted aside at moments when the goals are achieved. For this reason we have gathered here tonight to honor these women and pay homage to all Iranian women,” said Shehabi.
Two distinguished politicians, one Republican and one Democrat also addressed the guests. The Honorable Senator Jon Corzine (D-NJ), Chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and a strong supporter of the Iranian American community, stressed the importance of civil liberties and civil rights in the United States. Corzine encouraged IAPAC’s work and stressed the importance of promoting tolerance and participating in the political life of the United States. “We need to make sure that communities work together on common causes. We listen when you all speak with a common voice,” said Corzine, “and we have noticed that you all are pulling together and I wish you success.”
Special guest Mrs. Goli Ameri, (R-OR) who recently won the Republican nomination for a seat in the House of Representatives, expressed her appreciation for the over 700 Iranian Americans who have contributed to her campaign. Ameri commended IAPAC’s efforts and said, “I have nothing but gratitude and appreciation for these fabulous Iranian Americans who have come together to make my campaign the success that it has been. Let’s send a loud and clear message to the rest of the world that America is still a shining beacon of tolerance and freedom, [and] that many of the people in Oregon’s first district have just voted for a woman of Iranian heritage to represent them.”
The awards ceremony emcee, Mrs. Azar Nafisi, brought literary themes into play and briefly discussed her acclaimed novel amidst existential themes of women, societal tolerance and democracy. She stated, “Democracy is not a set of slogans or claims. Democracy is an attitude or style. Democracy is finding a way of tolerating those who do not agree with you.” Nafisi then introduced the honorees for exemplifying such ideals and presented them with their awards. To the dismay of gala organizers and attendees, the Nobel Laureate, Ms. Shirin Ebadi was unfortunately unable to attend the gala, but was nevertheless honored by the approximately 350 attendees.
The first honoree, Mrs. Mahnaz Afkhami, highlighted "the century old struggle of Iranian women that led to their extraordinary achievements in the 60s and 70s—a struggle that made their status unique amongst women of the region. Even though they lost much of their hard earned rights in the aftermath of the revolution, Iranian women withstood extraordinary limitations and have become successful in their respective fields with their great perseverance, courage, and stamina.” Iranian women have “been the pillars that have held families and communities together and they have led the struggle for rights and democracy regardless of cost to themselves. Iranian women have helped bring tolerance of diversity, acceptance of difference, and prevention of conflict to our communities. They have followed in the great tradition of our Sufi poet Rumi who says: ‘Beyond all talk of right doing and wrong doing there is a field… I will meet you there.’” Afkami commended IAPAC for trying to create such a bipartisan voice to unify Americans of Iranian descent and advance the cause of civil liberties, civil rights, human rights, and women’s rights in the United States.
The second honoree, Mrs. Mehrangiz Kar, a well-known attorney and activist who has made innumerable contributions and sacrifices for human rights, dedicated her award to the countless women who have protested and resisted discriminatory policies and undemocratic constraints. Mrs. Kar underscored how progress on women’s rights issues has been a collective struggle and sacrifice.
Amid the speeches, award presentations, and handshakes, classical musician Kazem Davoudian played a peaceful interlude on the dulcimer, or santur, and an Iranian Mezzo-Soprano performed an operatic musical ode in honor of the accomplishments of Iranian women. Renowned Persian chef Najmieh Batmanglij, humorously noted that she spent a week training the Ritz-Carlton kitchen to prepare Persian cuisine for the Gala dinner as a fragrant saffron aroma filled the ballroom and sated the guests.
By and large, the program not only celebrated the accomplishments of Iranian Women, but also promoted further progress among Iranian Americans June by encouraging participation in the civic and political life of the United States. IAPAC Trustee, Soroush Richard Shehabi, expressed his pride in the professional accomplishments of Americans of Iranian descent but noted the virtual non-existence of this community’s influence on the political scene. “We should not be surprised if bad things continue to happen to our community and that we continue to be among the first to be profiled and targeted by discriminatory policies,” said Shehabi, “…this will continue until we embrace the necessity of fully participating in the democratic process here at home.”
IAPAC in fact, has already made significant progress by opening doors on Capital Hill and advocating on behalf of the community. For instance, working with the Iranian American Bar Association (IABA), IAPAC has helped counteract recent legislative and regulatory developments that singled out Iranians for special scrutiny, and in a large number of cases, have unjustifiably resulted in the detention of Iranians without due process of the law. Together with the IABA and other organizations such as National Iranian American Council (NIAC), IAPAC has brought the detention of approximately 1000 Iranians to the attention of Congress and has scheduled a bipartisan briefing on Capital Hill to explore why members of our community were subjected to such treatment.
IAPAC believes that a political action committee representing our common interests has become increasingly indispensable in the face of an onslaught of discriminatory laws and policies. Moreover, our community will continue to be ignored by congressional representatives unless we raise money and support sympathetic political candidates in both parties. This is the void that IAPAC seeks to fill and is why each Trustee has committed to raising or contributing $10,000 to the cause. As such, IAPAC is focused on preventing targeting based on national origin or religion and has had considerable success working with the government and encouraging greater reliance on intelligence based criteria rather than policies based on ethnicity, religion or national origin.
Founded approximately one year ago, IAPAC has grown at a rapid rate because of the dedication and support of a broad bipartisan and geographically diverse group of Americans of Iranian descent, including businessmen, doctors, attorneys, activists, home-makers, academics. Thus far, IAPAC has contributed to five Members of Congress, including Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), and is in the process of making its next $20,000 in contributions to political candidates that support its mission by June 30, 2004. The approximately $100,000 of proceeds grossed at the IAPAC Spring Gala along with the dedication of a host of new Trustees and volunteers guarantees that IAPAC will remain a bipartisan and diverse group that includes some of the most active donors to both the Bush and Kerry Campaigns. This group has found common ground on domestic policy issues that unify our community. There are plenty of other organizations that focus on US foreign policy towards Iran so the twenty-two founding Trustees decided to focus IAPAC on domestic policy issues such as civil liberties and civil rights here at home.
Shehabi closed the evening by urging Americans of Iranian descent to actively participate in the electoral process, to vote, to run for political office, to raise money for political candidates, and to use the resources made available by IAPAC and other civic organizations to create a voice for Americans of Iranian descent in the civic and political life of the United States. “IAPAC will continue to be a success a year from now only if a large segment of the community considers it to be their organization, truly representing their domestic interests and voicing their concerns in the political arena,” said Shehabi. With this Spring Gala, IAPAC anticipates renewed civic involvement by our community. With congressional, senatorial and presidential Elections only months away, Americans of Iranian decent have an opportunity to truly slay silence and articulate a unified voice in the field imagined by Rumi.
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IAPAC would like to recognize the participation of sixteen of our Trustees who participated and helped make this event a success including Cyrus Amir-Mokri, Esmail Amid-Houzor, Nina Ansary, Robert Babayi, Fereshteh Bekhrad, Dr. Michael Etessami, Amir Farazad, Dr. Amir Farman-Farma, Dr. Akbar Ghahary, Sassan Ghahramani, Dr. Jamshid Ghajar, Hormoz Hekmat, Babak Hoghooghi, Bijan Khosravi, Hassan Nemazee, Soroush Richard Shehabi, and Babak Yaghmaie. We would also like to recognize the hard work and support of our host committee as well as our volunteers, supporters and many distinguished guests who purchased tables and tickets, including, Michael Akbar, Mastaneh Badii & Farrokh Alemi, Sarira Alexander, Fariba Amini , Kouros Amouzgar, Abol Ardalan, Pejman Asgarpour, Bahman Atefi, Nazanine Atabaki, Marjun Ayati, Nancy Reynolds Bagley, Parinaz Bahadori, Ladan Basiri, Gilan Tocco Corn, Professor Houchang Chehabi, Dr. Olga Davidson , Dr. Nilofar Ziai & Mr. Hamid Ebrahimi, Judy & Ahmad Esfandiary, Dr. Parvaneh Modaber & Hamid Esfandiary, Robert Fardi, Faramarz Fardshisheh, Dokhi Fassihian, Golnaz Feiz, Susan & Dr. Mohsen Gharib, Gazaleh Hashimian, Maryam Iman, Sarah Ingersoll, Suzy & Madi Jalinous, Leila Kashani, Lalleh & Fardad Kazemzadeh, Faezah Khalili, Reza Khadiri, Roya Hakimi Kingdom, Fred Korangy, Dadi Mahlouji, Sheila Matini, Faranak Mirghahary, Honorable Mary Mochary, Sholeh & Babak Mossadeghi, Majid Naderkhani, Nazanin Nazhand, Narges & Farhad Nourbakhsh, Nima Sepasy, Katayoun & Shahram Sadeghian, Mrs. Shiela Saleh, Farnoosh Shahrokhi, Bahareh & Emad Sharghi, Narges Noelle Topetzes, Amir Yazdanpanah, Parastoo & Hamid Zahedi, and Yasmin Zand, and most of all Morad Ghorban and his wife Sharlene, without whom the evening would not have been a success.
Paid for by the Iranian American Political Action Committee (IAPAC). This communication is not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee. Contributions are not tax-deductible as charitable deductions for federal tax purposes.
IAPAC is a registered bi-partisan federal political committee that contributes to candidates for federal office who are attuned to the domestic needs of the Iranian American community. IAPAC focuses exclusively on domestic policy issues such as civil rights and civil liberties, and encourages Iranian Americans to actively participate in the electoral process, to vote and run for political office.