Iranian 9/11 Hero: STEP Act a Mistake

Shahram's story became well known after Newsweek featured a photo of him.

New York – When Shahram Hashemi saw an airplane fly into the second World Trade Center building and smoke spewing from the first tower, he knew it wasn’t an accident. So Shahram, a young Iranian university student who had only been in the U.S. for three years, made a remarkable decision. As others fled the scene, Shahram found himself running toward the epicenter of the worst terrorist attack ever seen on American soil.

“A few minutes after the first tower collapsed, I found myself in a war zone,” Shahram said.  In the middle of the chaos, he began helping move shocked and confused people away from the towers to a safe place.

Seeing him in his business suit, a local fire chief threw his heavy coat over Shahram’s shoulders and handed him a mask. Just then, the second tower began to buckle and he sought refuge in the nearby AmEx Building. Emerging from the building, Shahram joined a group of civilian volunteers to extinguish fires and clear rubble for the search and rescue teams. All day he worked until the soot, dust and exhaustion took hold of him.

That day, Shahram helped save over a dozen lives – while here in America on a student visa.

Less than a year later, Shahram was distressed when he saw Congress consider the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002, which imposed new burdens on Iranians seeking visas. “The massive hardship that this possible legislation will have on Iran’s young generation and families is simply beyond measure,” he wrote to President Bush and Members of Congress. “Denying future students visas and families the right to visit their loved ones here are certainly not steps in the right direction.”

The number of visas issued to Iranians was almost cut in half in 2003, after the Act became law.

Eight years later, Shahram is even more disturbed by another piece of legislation in Congress. Congressman Gresham Barett’s (R-SC) Stop Terrorist Entry Program (STEP) Act aims to deny any and all individuals from countries designated as sponsors of terrorism – and Yemen – entry into the US, with possible exceptions for asylum and emergency medical cases.

Had the STEP Act been enacted a decade ago, Shahram would have never been admitted into the US, and would not have been here on September 11 to save those lives and help put out those fires.

And again, Shahram refuses to be silent. Only now he has a megaphone. As Treasurer and Board Member of Amnesty International USA, Shahram is part of the group that oversees the organization’s work to “protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.”

As such, Shahram – who is here on an H1 work visa – stresses the dangers of legislation like the STEP Act, and views it as a “mistake, through and through.”

Shahram calls the Act “patently insulting” to both the citizens of the countries affected and American values. He also argues the Act is “ineffectual from a policy perspective, as it would only create the illusion of security.”

But the broader message is important too, he says. “Iranian students, the core of the Green Movement, are currently shedding blood and tears to secure their civil liberties, with enormous implications for the entire Middle East. At this critical historic juncture, these noble advocates of non-violent resistance need to see America’s outstretched arms rather than her cold shoulder.”

Since Iranians are only given single-entry visas, Shahram hasn’t been able to return to his native country for 10 years. But in that time, Shahram has fought to create a better world, from the burning, twisted metal of the World Trade Center nine years ago to the Board of one of the world’s most respected human rights organizations. In his example, we can all find inspiration.

Posted By Darioush Azizi

    One Response to “Iranian 9/11 Hero: STEP Act a Mistake”

  1. Charles Prtchett says:

    EXCELLENT article! Thank for sharing Shahram-jan’s story with the world. Don’t worry, after Iran gains it’s freedom the USA will be kissing Iran’s ass!!! Don’t forget to use your aftabeh 😉

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Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.



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