• 14 January 2008
  • Posted By Maryam
  • Diplomacy, Iranian American activism

The Abuse of Iran’s Student Activists

The Los Angeles Times recently published a very interesting article profiling Babak Zamanian, a 22 year old student activist attending Iran’s Amir Kabir University. In short, the article describes his imprisonment in Tehran and the price he has paid for speaking his mind. His time at Evin prison, and the physical and psychological suffering he underwent there are a disturbing but common story in Iran.

What I found most interesting about this article was the discussion of Zamanian’s sense of betrayal with the Western media, his frustration with the inconsistent rhetoric of Western governments, and his “disgust” with the satellite broadcasts of Iranian exile groups.

The article says Zamanian was able to keep himself going in prison by holding onto the belief that he was part of something bigger; a student movement for real democratic change in Iran. This belief was lost when he was released in early summer and returned from prison to an Iran in the midst of a huge crackdown on dissent and free speech. Even worse, the western media had seemingly lost interest in his plight and that of students like him.

“The same international news agencies that had enthusiastically covered the student protests hadn’t bothered to report his imprisonment, some of them fearful of losing their press accreditation in Iran. One of Zamanian’s friends had called an Italian broadcaster who reported on the student demonstrations to tell her the student she’d put on camera was now in jail. The reporter said she wasn’t interested, that story was old news.”

Even more frustrating to Zamanian were the inconsistent messages coming to Iran from western leaders about their intentions toward his homeland.

“Zamanian finds himself baffled by the West’s attitude toward Iran, speaking about democracy one day, raising the specter of armed conflict another, then offering to cut deals with the government the next.”

Finally, the article describes Zamanian’s anger at Iranian-American “exile groups” and his confusion at their motives.

“He finds himself disgusted by the Iranian exile groups, including those in Los Angeles who beam their messages to the country via satellite. They urge Iranians not to take part in the political process, in effect handing the hard-liners a victory that has resulted in a more domestically repressive and internationally belligerent Iran, he says.
What is the goal here? he wonders. What is the strategy?”

I think what this article is trying to suggest is that Babak Zamanian (and by extension the young, educated youth of Iran) has been taken for a ride – by the western media, by western governments, and by Iranian American exile groups. Everyone wants to tell his story when and how it is convenient for them, with the ultimate goal of advancing their own differing political agendas. We have all seen them: the articles and emails which describe the abuses suffered by an ordinary Iranian citizen followed by not-so-subtle calls for regime change by force.

The article omits any reference to the Iranian American mainstream, which as most evidence suggests, opposes war with Iran precisely because it would be so dangerous for the ordinary Iranian, and because it would set back the prospects of real reform by decades.

NIAC works hard to represent this segment of the Iranian American population, which seems to be growing everyday. Hopefully soon, when law makers and journalists think of the “Iranian American Community” they will think first of the moderate majority and not the radical minority.

Posted By Maryam

    3 Responses to “The Abuse of Iran’s Student Activists”

  1. Shabnam Sahandy says:

    In the interest of full disclosure, I want to let the readers of this blog know that I am a young Iranian American (born and raised in the U.S.) and I am by no means an Iran expert: my knowledge of the lives of young people in Iran comes from family anecdotes and articles like these (which I recognize to be mediated texts). The purpose of this post is simply to spark some discussion about Iranian students and their perceptions of “the West” (and in particular Iranian American groups). I hope that it doesn’t come off as an attack on any particular group, it is not meant to be.

  2. Azadeh says:

    Zamanian himself has called for a boycott of all the sham elections in the Islamic Republic. Anyone reading this post would think Zamanian supports NIAC. absolute misleading garbage as usual from the very suspect NIAC.

  3. Shamie says:

    Hi Azadeh – I no longer work at NIAC, but I just wanted to point out the the quotation above (about Zamanian being disgusted by Iranian exile groups in LA who call for election boycotts in Iran” came directly from the LA Times article by Borzou Daragahi.

    This post was based just on my reading of the article, not any personal additional knowledge about Zamanian, which I think I made clear in my first comment. I apologize if it was misleading.

    In retrospect (I posted that blog entry when I was working at NIAC over a year ago) I agree even more firmly with what I was trying to communicate back then. Boycotting elections in order to somehow deny the IRI legitimacy doesn’t seem to accomplish much. Showing up in great numbers and forcing them to obviously falsify election results seems to apply real pressure.

    Thanks for commenting.

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7,350 signatures

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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