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Arfa Aflatooni knew it was time to leave the country.

The government was cracking down on his religion, closing institutions run by his faith and denying jobs and university enrollment to anyone who worshiped as he did.

So in 1979, at age 23, just before the revolution, Aflatooni — part of the Baha'i faith — got a visa and left Iran for the United States of America. 

Now 61 and marking his 19th year as an instructor of sociology for Linn-Benton Community College, Aflatooni has never been back to his home country. But lately, he said, he's seeing some parallels.

A U.S. citizen since 1987, Aflatooni has an American passport and doesn't hold dual citizenship. He's not affected by President Donald Trump's executive order, signed Friday, that restricts Iranians and nationals from six other countries in the Middle East from traveling to the United States for at least the next three months.

He could go home if he wished, but said he won't. Followers of Islam see the Baha'i as a threat, he said, and treat people differently depending on their faith. 

"It's kind of ironic," he said. "What Trump is doing is what the Iranian government did to us." 

Citizens of Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen are currently on the travel ban list, along with Iran. It's an odd mix, he said, considering the exodus of Iranians during the last 40 years has left the country with a relatively young and nonreligious population. 

But the government is still based on followers of Islam, he said, and that makes it unsafe for the Baha'i, the country's largest non-Muslim minority.

Before Aflatooni emigrated, the government seized one of his family's two homes. During the revolution, Baha'is were rounded up for arrest. Imprisonment and torture followed. In the 10 years following the revolution, more than 200 Baha'is were executed, according to statistics from the Baha'i National Community.

The Baha'i faith is looked upon with suspicion and mistrust because it's different and seen as competing with the ruling faith, Aflatooni said. Yet he added he bears Muslims no ill will.

"Even though Muslims persecute us, I have sympathy for Muslims — because the same thing is happening (here)," he said.

Aflatooni said his country of origin has not resulted in any conflicts in recent weeks. In fact, he said, he can think of only three uncomfortable instances in his 38 years in America.

The first two came during the 444-day Iran hostage crisis, in which 52 Americans were held captive in Iran from Nov. 4, 1979, to Jan. 20, 1981.

Aflatooni had come to Eugene to join his younger brother, who emigrated shortly before he did. Their parents followed six months later.

Aflatooni took English classes at the University of Oregon. Immigration services, which had an office there, ordered all students of Iranian heritage to come down for fingerprinting and questioning. Aflatooni complied.

It made him feel "not good," he said, "but at that point I didn't speak too much English and I didn't know my rights. If someone did that to me now, I know what my rights are." 

Not long afterward, he recalled, he and his brother had moved to Idaho to enroll at Idaho State University. They were looking for housing.

"No one would rent us an apartment," he said. 

Finally, he said, a first-generation Italian-American — "a fellow immigrant," he said — took pity on the men and said they could have the apartment below his barber shop. 

No one said or did anything about Aflatooni's nationality following the Sept. 11 attacks, in which Iran was not involved. But he did experience an incident during the first Gulf War, roughly 1990 or 1991. 

Aflatooni was teaching at the Vancouver, Washington, branch of Washington State University, his first teaching position after achieving his doctorate in sociology. He had an office at Clark College. 

"I came to my office one day and found graffiti on the door: 'Camel jockey go home,'" he said. 

The memory makes him laugh heartily. "By the way, Iranians are not Arabs, so we don't have camels," he pointed out. "We are Persian. We speak Persian, not Arabic." 

He's found some Americans have trouble making distinctions: even Sikhs, whose faith originated in India, are mistaken for followers of Islam.

Nationally, that makes for a turmoil-filled atmosphere, which he said "is not good for our country. It's not good for humanity. We are members of the same human family." 

Being part of one big human family is a pillar of the Baha'i faith, he said. Another is the belief in one God who has had a variety of prophets through the centuries who all help interpret His word.

Another irony of the travel restriction, Aflatooni said, is that it affects not just Muslims, but Christians, Jews and Baha'is like himself who are fleeing persecution.

Nor does he think it will work, from the standpoint of evaluating human behavior as a sociologist. The human story is one of constant migration, constant relocation and reinvention, he said. "Immigration is part of human history." 

Had the travel ban been in place in 1979, Aflatooni still would have left Iran. He figures he would have wound up in Canada, where he had other family members, or possibly somewhere else in Europe. And he would have continued to pursue learning, and eventually teaching, sociology, which has always been his dream.

Aflatooni isn't worried about himself, and said he never was — even in Iran, even during the hostage crisis, even when he found the graffiti on his door.

"You can't live in fear. I've never lived my life in fear," he said.

Instead, he said, he'd characterize what he feels about recent changes in U.S. foreign policy as "disappointment, more than anything else." 

Years of studying sociology, beginning with early university days in Tehran, have taught him that the dominant groups have always persecuted those below them. It has also taught him that this, too, shall pass, Aflatooni added.

But first, he said, "There will be some pain."


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