June 22, 2012
An American teen was unable to shop at an Apple store simply because she was speaking Farsi with her uncle. What seems to be a clear-cut case of ethnic profiling turns out to be in line with official company policy.
Sabah Sabet, a 19-year old US citizen of Iranian extraction, and a student of the University of Georgia, took her uncle to buy an iPhone and an iPad at an Apple store in a mall in Alpharetta, Georgia, local news channel WSBTV reports.
But she was in for a shocker, as the store clerk refused to sell them the devices after he found out Sabet and her uncle were speaking Farsi.
“When we said ‘Farsi, I’m from Iran,’ he said, ‘I just can’t sell this to you. Our countries have bad relations,’” Sabet recounted.
Sabet said the incident, which she describes as “discrimination” and “racial profiling,” was very hurtful and just as embarrassing.
“I actually walked out in tears,” she recalled.
Her experience is not unique. Zack Jafarzadeh was unable to buy an iPhone for his Farsi-speaking Iranian friend, studying in the US on a visa, at another Apple store in the Perimeter Mall in Atlanta, Georgia.
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“We never talked about him going back to Iran or anything like that,” he noted. “He was just speaking full-fledged Farsi and the representative came back and denied our sale.”
He also stressed that the sales clerk was only concerned with the ethnicity of their client and not where the iPhone was going.
“I feel like this is a bit of racial profiling against Iranians, and I’m appalled,” Jafarzadeh said. “I would say if you’re trying to buy an iPhone, don’t tell them anything about Iran. That would be your best bet.”
The vendors at the stores in question said the decision not to sell the products to anyone from Iran was within the framework of the company’s policy.
Apple’s policy, posted on its official website, prohibits the exportation, sale or supply of any Apple goods, technologies to Iran, as well as North Korea, Cuba, Sudan and Syria without prior authorization from the US government. The policy also applies to a “US person, wherever located.”
However, the policy doesn’t seem to be very consistent. When Sabah Sabet called corporate customer relations, an employee apologized and said she would be able to buy what she wanted online.
American Muslim and Iranian advocacy organizations have already reacted to the surprising case of discrimination.
“Unfortunately, this is part of an escalating pattern in which increasingly broad sanctions on Iran are hitting the wrong people,” said Jamal Abdi, the Policy Direct of the National Iranian American Council, “Some of it is by design of Congress and the Administration, some of it is a lack of clarity about what is permitted, and some of it is over-enforcement of sanctions by private companies worried about running afoul of the law.”
“Apple must revise its policies to ensure that customers do not face discriminatory treatment based on their religion, ethnicity or national origin,” Nahad Awad, the National Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations stressed. “If the actions of these Apple employees reflected company policy, that policy must be changed and all employees retrained.”