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In The Garden of Mullahs: ‘Apple,’ A Forbidden Fruit?


By now you have probably heard of the Apple versus Iranian diaspora sanctions dispute. Like most Americans, I own an iPod. I even ‘turned to the dark side’ and purchased a MacBook Pro a year ago. But when news came out about 19-year-old Sahar Sabet, a college student of Iranian descent, was denied the purchase of an iPad in Georgia, my jaw dropped. Amongst the Iranian community, lots of noise is being made but little explanation is being given to what exactly took place.

The other day, I walked into my local Apple Store in the Woodland Hills, California to do a little investigating. I simply enquired about the use of proxies on iPads and if there were any circumvention tool apps, as I would be making a visit to Iran this upcoming August and had an interest in purchasing an iPad. The employee was very helpful and said he was not knowledgeable about the use of convection tools, but referred me to someone else with no criticism of the mention of the word ‘Iran’. After understanding that it would not be possible to access Social Media since no circumvention apps existed, I casually asked about sanctions. Then Mike told me about how it is illegal to ship to countries like Iran, Syria, and North Korea and that he could not sell an Apple product if someone was frank enough to tell them they intended to use it to hack into the US government websites (Seriously, who would though?). I then asked if he knew about the incident in Georgia, Mike told me he was not informed about the incident. I had him read the article, he then told me what the employee did was not right and the customer had the right to buy an iPad. “We have Iranians who work at Apple, how could that be possible?” he asked. He seemed to sense my frustration and reassured me that he would sell me an iPad. For those who do not know, Los Angeles is a hub for the largest Iranian diaspora population.

What makes the story intricate was that it not only was a policy for Iran, but for Cuba, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria. How can companies or even the United States Department of State enforce such a policy when it is discriminating and a breach of American civil rights law? Assuming, if I walked into an Apple store and didn’t speak Persian or mention Iran, how would they know what my intentions were? Would employees of companies like Apple have to question every Spanish, Korean, and Arabic speaker of their intensions of buying such a gadget? It seems like pointless rhetoric on the part of the US government frankly, a grey area that should be avoided at all costs.

To make matters more complicated, a representative at the Department of State said, “it’s illegal to travel with the electronics to Iran without federal permission” and that he was not aware Apple was enforcing the law. According to that statement, my travelling to Iran with all the latest technology would get me into a load of trouble. This is something I had never heard of and is unclear what the consequences would be. I as well as many other Iranian-Americans have travelled and even bought electronics as gifts for family and friends in Iran. Just like Apple would not be able to monitor who is buying their products, it would be almost impossible for the Department of State to monitor who travels to Iran with electronics. Iran may be under sanctions, yet Iranians continue to purchase the latest technology within the Islamic Republic. Many use Apple products such as iPhones, iPads, iPods, and other popular brands including Sony. In Tehran, there is a 7-story building known as Paytakht or ‘Capital’ which houses stores with the latest gadgets.

Was it not the State Department under the direction of Jared Cohen who reportedly asked Twitter to halt its maintained so that Iran’s Green Movement in 2009 could thrive via social media and such? To deny technology to the Iranian people would counter exactly what the US government hopes for – change in Iran. If anything the US should help empower these people by any means possible. What is the point of the virtual American Embassy if Iranians can’t access it? Again, the US government is playing with a fire they do not know how to put out.

The only comment Apple made was by its spokesman Steve Dowling, “Our retail stores are proud to serve customers from around the world, of every ethnicity. Our store teams are multilingual and diversity is an important part of our culture. We don’t discriminate against anyone.”

Apple has yet to apologize on the matter.

From what I have garnered, it seems the Apple employees in Georgia were using good old southern bigotry to discriminate against Iranian-Americans. Regardless, this humiliating instance was a gross violation of basic human rights and I hope that we will no longer hear of such incidents in Apple stores or any other ones for that matter.


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