• 5 March 2008
  • Posted By Babak Talebi
  • Diplomacy, Iranian American activism, Neo-Con Agenda

Disrupting Discourse

On February 22, Amnesty International hosted a panel presentation and discussion titled, “Human Rights in Iran: How to Move Forward,” in Beverly Hills, California. The event was disrupted by Mohammad Parvin’s MEHR-Iran organization, various monarchist factions, and members of the outlawed Iranian Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK); and was cancelled after the opening remarks.

Download Farsi version in PDF 

The Amnesty event featured four Iran specialists (including NIAC president, Trita Parsi), and was organized to highlight Iran’s abysmal human rights record. Amnesty International organizers hoped to use this event to initiate talks with the Iranian-American community in Southern California about Iran’s human rights situation.

The MEHR-Iran, monarchist, and MEK groups in attendance rejected Amnesty International’s extended hand of cooperation, and instead embarrassed not only themselves, but the entire Iranian-American community. By setting back the efforts of one of the world’s premiere human rights groups, these radical Iranian Americans managed to do the Iranian government’s dirty work for them.

As an extension of our working relationship with Amnesty International—including NIAC’s own July 2007 conference, “Human Rights in Iran and US Policy Options,” held on Capitol Hill (transcript here)—Trita was invited to participate on the February 22 panel. In the days prior to the panel discussion, MEHR-Iran (a self-described Human Rights organization) demanded that Amnesty exclude NIAC from the event (a tactic they tried at NIAC’s July conference as well). Their belligerent harassment of Amnesty staff in July reached so high that Amnesty’s lawyers had to step in and put a stop to it.

Still, MEHR-Iran and its friends pressed on, intent on disrupting the efforts of a leading human rights organization. They organized a counter-event in the same building as the Amnesty event. This MEHR meeting became the breeding ground for their plans to demonstrate against and disrupt Amnesty’s panel.

An Iranian-American (and former Amnesty International board member) acted as the event’s moderator. His introductory remarks (in English) were met with a loud outcry from the Iranian oppositional groups, complaining in Persian that they do not understand English and demanding that he speak in Persian. Amnesty, an American organization whose events are always in English, had six staffers present, only one of whom spoke Persian. Similarly, the audience included dozens of non-Iranian guests that had come to learn about the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran.

When the audience settled down a bit, the moderator, continuing in English, reminded the audience that Amnesty was videotaping the event, and that no other recording of the event was permissible.

Chaos commenced.

Standing up and shouting in Persian, a producer with PARS TV demanded that, “on behalf of Iranian media outlets in Los Angeles,” Amnesty International must permit PARS TV to tape the event. As he finished, a few dozen people started shouting at the top of their lungs “Maarg bar Jomhoorieh Eslami” (Death to the Islamic Republic), very reminiscent of the “Death to America” chants we still hear in some quarters in Iran. People started marching around the room with placards held high, continuing to scream and yell. A few members of the audience started yelling back. One woman came to the front and insisted, “I drove two hours from Orange County to hear this talk; you are taking away my right to listen to this panel!”

Police officers, library staff, Amnesty’s own staff from DC, and about half of the audience in the 150-seat hall were all in shock, and were not able to control the demonstrators. It was obvious that the protesters only attended to disrupt the event—not to create meaningful dialogue. Amnesty International was forced to cancel the event.

With the announcement of the event’s cancellation, the most bizarre incident of the night erupted: Sparked by some of their own chants, the demonstrators started to scream at one another. Only minutes before, these groups were on the same side of the battle. Now bitter foes, the monarchists lined the room on one side, and MEK supporters lined the room on the other side. Profanities flew, as people chanted, screamed and yelled at each other. It was absolute chaos and an absolute embarrassment to the Iranian-American community living in California.

This incident illustrates the great frustration that legitimate human rights organizations have when working on Iranian human rights issues in the United States. Instead of being able to tap into the expertise and experience of the Iranian-American community, these organizations have learned to keep a healthy distance from our community—from the radicals still mired in the mindset and tactics of a bygone era.

And it’s no wonder why.

The destructive and disruptive behavior exhibited by MEHR Iran, an isolated human rights organization, does not legitimize the cause. Instead, by stifling the ability of internationally recognized human rights organizations to function in our community, these groups are actually providing a cover and a service to the very same Iranian theocracy they profess to oppose.

The February 22 Amnesty event, though shameful and tragic for the Iranian oppositional groups involved, has revived our conviction that NIAC has to step up to the plate. We have to work twice as hard with organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch—as well as with groups in our own community who legitimately work for human rights—to correct the wrongs of groups like MEHR-Iran, radical monarchists, and the MEK.

NIAC urges the Iranian American community to engage in the same kind of pluralistic discourse we all wish to institute inside Iran. We can, indeed, make a difference. First, however, it seems we have to institute these democratic values inside our own community here in America.


Posted By Babak Talebi

    23 Responses to “Disrupting Discourse”

  1. Babak Talebi says:

    This article was also picked up by Iranian.com. I do hope one day, these marginal characters in our community will be truly irrelevant.


    Unfortunately, these people still have a lot of influence on Capitol Hill, and most Iranians Americans do not realize that these characters still run around and portray themselves as the representative of majority opinion in our community.

  2. azadeh says:

    That is the reason many Iranian Americans stay away from any event as such. This minority group are loud and shameless. They have no respect, no tolerance for opinions different from thiers. They tend to intimidate anyone who is for peaceful resolution of the conflict between Iran and the U.S. by resorting to character terror techniques. I salute Mr. Parsi and NIAC for the courage to stand up to these bullies.

  3. nader says:

    must find a way to filter out these discusting people from future events.

  4. Michael Mahyar Hojjatie says:

    Just another tragic schism in our culture. Notice how (just to name a few examples) Chinese, Mexicans, and Jews look at someone’s last name and IMMEDIATELY go to the ends of the earth for them? Instead with us, it’s immediately a reason of intolerace. Some people even go so far as to look into a mirror to determine their loyalties. With us, any excuse to be hostile to our own. Be it religious, political, socio-economic, where we are geographically located, or any number of petty differences. Yes, the past three decades especially have been tumultuous for us (in Iran and outside), but if we can learn to unite, we can work through it and slowly but surely overcome our adversities. If not, we won’t be around forever even though our civilization is amongst the oldest. The surest way to destroy a culture is from within.

  5. farzadn says:

    of all the ‘opposition groups’ the mek are the lowest of the low. and thats saying a lot.

    continue the good work niac.

  6. Michael Mahyar Hojjatie says:

    Of course, then there’s the never-ending dilemma of whether to call ourselves “Persian” or “Iranian”, and the motivations behind each.

  7. Babak Talebi says:

    Thank you all for your comments – the good news is that the vast majority of Iranian Americans do not subscribe to these types of tactics.

    A few items to clear up – the event was an Amnesty event and NIAC was invited to be on the panel. Since it was not our event, we did not have control over the security.

    The truth is, and azadeh pointed to this, is that over the past 30 years very few have dared stand up to these MKO-type bullies. And anyone who has disagreed with them has been subjected to character-assassination of the first order. None-the-less, it has to be done, and NIAC is proud to have our members and a majority of Iranian-Americans standing with us as we reject these tactics.

    One thing we are working on, is creating a ‘internet-response’ team so when these people post on blogs etc, we can have our people there to refute their lies.

  8. Michael Mahyar Hojjatie says:

    Ekhtiar dari, Aghayeh Babak.

  9. Behnam says:

    Unfortunately, what could be our broad support base is carrying the psychological scars of an abused orphan…silently observing and afraid to speak up. The ones who speak up are the misinformed (monarchists) and the stupid (MEK).

  10. azadeh says:

    Can we counter the bullies with legal action, if they dare again to disrupt a lawfully planned event. It is not fair for the majority to be victimized by these ill intentioned minorities in our community. After all nobody forces anyone to attend a meeting that they don’t like and coming to an event with the intention of creating chaos cannot be ignorned. These people should be dealt with legally. If you go to a concert and few people decide to create chaos, they won’t cancel the concert but security people escort these individuals out of the hall.

  11. Ramin Davoodi says:

    As humiliating as that event was, it’s par for the course as far as Iranian (general Iranian, and not just Iranian-American) political maturity goes. What do you expect from a chronic, paternalistically-oriented people who, whether under a monarchy, theocracy or (Western) democracy, are kept as far away – or prefer to keep as far away – from reasoned public discourse as possible?

    It’s telling that US/UK/Israeli Neoconservatives, relying on the lessons of Leo Strauss and Walter Lippmann, seem to be relying on theocratic/totalitarian means for eventual governance of a distracted populace. Or, was it the other way around, especially considering that the Shah was effectively replaced by Khomeini courtesy of Trilateral Commission-laden ‘advisors’ who relied on Bernard Lewis’ mid-to-late-1970s geopolitical designs (read “A Century of War” by German historian William Engdahl — specifically, pages 170-190)?

    Iranians must learn from the Jews on how to *tacitly and esoterically* arrange their vested affairs…

  12. Katya says:

    With the possibility that a Democratic win in November could provide a semi-clean slate where international relations are concerned, are NIAC and other interested parties actively trying to engage with the candidates, to alert them to the agenda of these most vocal fringe players? After all, traitorous Iraqis like Chalabi did much did legitimize the Bush administration’s case for war, and it’s not difficult to envision groups like these playing a similar role.

  13. Fereydoun says:

    There is a concerted effort by what I believe is a small however laud group that have made it their mission to discredit NIAC by baseless accusations and innuendoes, I am all for free speech to the maximum, however we can not stay silent we need to protest and stand up for what is right. They are all envious of NIAC’s success and it’s grass root support. I heard one group that is slandering NIAC and is openly supporting McCain while declaring their neutrality, claimed that they have a huge support because they got over 30,000 page views! This is a sad state of affair and I wonder how much lower some Iranians will stoop.

  14. Reza says:

    MEHR as well as MEK are dicredited organizations with no obvious appeal to the hundreds of thousands of the Iranian Americans living across the nation. They are opportunist, lonely voices, that would support destructive policies of the Administration for personal and organizational gains. No wonder, they have had number of Congressional supporters, mainly Republicans, counting on them to wage war on the peopole of Iran. No Iranian American in right mind would support MEK, or MEHR’s poplitical platform. Having said that, they must have the freedom to express their point of views, however, diplomatically. Mr. Parvin must remember that the era of the “Confederation of the Iranian Students” is over, where shouting matches, and altercations were the fashion of the day!!
    NIAC, must stand for the truth, and be the voice of the Iranian American communities.

  15. Babak Talebi says:

    Michael – Mokhles ham hastim 😉

    Behnam – I liked your adjectives – but you do have a very solid point – an absolute majority of Iranians and Iranian Americans do bear these scars, some of them very very deep. And I can certainly understand how that may lead some to want to lash out in revenge (bomb Iran) or to never forgive (MEK sympathizers).

    A friend of mine once told me though – “history judges our humanity by our capacity to forgive”. Thats why the globe places people like Ghandi and Mandela on such a pedestal. Hopefully one day, our people can have our own hero to help heal our many scars.

    Azadeh – yes. and we are in the process of legal action in some cases. In this particular case, either Amnesty or one of the attendees would have “standing” I think. And I think you are right – the legal tactic must be employed.

    Ramin – two very salient points. The first about the ‘culture’ of democracy is one that I have heard every Iranian lament. This ‘culture’ will only change when individuals take action and educate their fellow Iranians (both here and in Iran). That is what NIAC tries to do. and that is what each of you is doing.

    the second point – I must admit goes a bit over my head as I am not as immersed as I wish I was in governance theory. Maybe others can chime in.

  16. Babak Talebi says:

    Katya – yes. But remember one very important thing – we can not do this alone. that is why we are helping set up in-district meetings for our members with their Senators. We need our members to be involved in this process, because Congressmen/women listen to their constituents.

    Let me tell you something – I have a very close friend who works for one of the Democratic leaders in the House. This friend tells me that every single week, she sees a group of about 15-20 Iranians walking the halls and in the cafeteria. EVERY week. Guess who these people are?

    When she asks them, they wont giver her an organization name (because the MEK/MKO is an illegal terrorist organization) but their material (professionally printed) and their talking points are MEK/MKO talking points.

    so long story short, these people are on the Hill every day. The majority of Iranian Americans need to be as well.

  17. Babak Talebi says:

    Fereydoun – you are talking about PersianPac right?

    yes, NIAC does face a loud and boisterous opposition – and we have only started hearing from them since we stepped up our anti-war efforts. so make your own conclusions. BUT we can and will fight back.

    We need the help of our members and supporters to respond online when these people put up defamatory info on YouTube or Iranian.com or elsewhere.

    Reza – thank you. It is unfortunate how so many of these individuals are truly stuck in the mindset of the mid-70s. you hit the nail on the head about Mr. Parvin.

  18. Saeed says:

    Why didn’t NIAC allow local Iranian TVs to broadcast this event? It seems to me that given sensitivities regarding NIAC’s supporting position regarding the Islamic Republic the right thing to do would be to allow them to broadcast the event.

    There are some genuine opposition to the regime in Iran and to label them as outlaws, agents of Israel and Monarchists….etc… is a disservice to all Iranians who wish to see their homeland free. Like all of you, they are Iranians too………

    Finally, this seems to be a happy group all of the same opinions. I would be curious to see if my comments will be published in this blog.

  19. Babak Talebi says:


    Of course we will allow any comment that is civil and reasoned to be published, Even if it disagrees with us. So allow me to start by thanking you for your civil tone and honest questions.

    But I think you are under a few misconceptions.

    First – the event was organized by Amnesty International, so NIAC did not have a final say in their rules. And I am positive the reason that Amnesty did not want people like PARS TV there was because of the ad-hoc agenda-driven editing that these self described “journalists” engage in.

    Second – the accusation that NIAC “supporting position regarding the Islamic Republic” is not only false, but bordering on illegal. Supporting dialogue is not equivalent to supporting the IRI. opposing war is not equal to supporting the IRI. The false equivalence that some are attempting to manufacture defies even basic logic.

    Third – Opposition to the government in Tehran is not unique to MEK members as you point out. NIAC has never labeled opposition to the Iranian regime as ‘outlaws’, ‘agents of Israel’, or ‘not genuine’. Where did you get that from?

    There are literally dozens of “organized” opposition groups including some Monarchist groups, some leftist and communist groups, some nationalist groups, and even some terrorist groups (Jindullah, MEK, etc.) NIAC is not an opposition group. That is not our function nor our role. And just because we don’t oppose a government, does not mean we support it either. This is a false choice.

    But as you point out, a vast majority of Iranians (including Iranian-Americans) oppose the Iranian government (or at the very least their actions). The question for NIAC is one of effectiveness and relevance. As Iranian-Americans we have a foot in each society and responsibilities in both. As Americans it is important for us to participate in American political life and to help educate and be a resource to our government here (through Congress).

    As Iranians, we have a responsibility to help the Human Rights suffering that our hamvataanan are going through. We can most effectively do that through helping change US policy since we have no leverage on the Iranian government from the US (take a look at the last 30 years).

    So I hope these answers clarified misconceptions that others have tried to put out there. I don’t know your position regarding NIAC, but this blog is primarily a resource for our members. Others are welcome to join us with civil comments and questions, and i welcome you to ask any other questions you may have.

  20. Saeed says:

    Thanks Babak. I appreciate you taking the time to respond. Best to you.

  21. Alireza says:

    I just saw the tape. What a disgrace. Are these the LA Iranians that are going to come and save us in Iran from the akhonds? Frankly, I couldn’t see a difference between these guys and the hezbollahis at Tehran University who disrupt our events there. I have seen Mohammad Parvin on Pars TV here. He has no credibility or following – he seems to be doing these embarrassing things to create a name for himself – while embarrassing all sane Iranians.

  22. shadrouz says:

    saeed wrote that we seem to be a “happy group all of the same opinion”. I don’t know about a “happy group”, but I know that we are not all of the same opinion. On the conterary what makes NIAC unique is that we are of many opinions, but we believe in peace, humanity, sanctity of life, civility, and reason.

  23. Michael Mahyar Hojjatie says:

    Beh omideh khodah, ONE flag, ONE national anthem, ONE united ethnic group working to make this world a better place.


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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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