• 17 April 2008
  • Posted By Arash Hadjialiloo
  • Events in DC, Iranian American activism, Panel Discussion

Internal rivalries undo Iranian-American potential

When one talks about a large ethnic group, it is not unusual to hear about conflict and rival organizations vying for influence and support. The Iranian-American community is a very diverse group in the United States, with huge populations on both coasts, as well as dense clusters in the middle of the country. With an estimated population of nearly one million Iranian Americans in the US, the sheer size and quality of the community (Iranian Americans are among the most educated and wealthiest ethnic groups in the US) means that the biggest obstacle to Iranian Americans reaching their full potential is, unfortunately, Iranian Americans.

At NIAC, we are constantly faced with defending our standing as a large and legitimate Iranian-American organization from groups that claim to represent Iranian-American interests better than we do. These groups have made it their prerogative to stop any event that is related to something they oppose (for example, diplomatic relations between the US and Iran). Civil discourse has always been a strong part of American culture and a tenet that we at NIAC strongly believe in. Therefore, we refuse to stoop to disgraceful levels of mudslinging and willful disruption of organized events. There is no doubt that Iranian Americans have a wide range of beliefs and that they have a right to voice these beliefs; but the problem is that many Iranian-American groups resort to acting like petulant children–shouting obscene and empty slogans at their adversaries– instead of choosing to engage in meaningful discourse with the organizations they oppose.

This came to an unfortunate head at an event which didn’t even involve NIAC. A congressional briefing on March 13 held by the Iran Working Group and the Leadership Council for Human Rights (LCHR) –aimed at exposing Iran’s abuse of ethnic and religious minorities– became a battleground for many Iranian-American fringe groups. The event went on without much incident until a self-proclaimed Iranian-American retired FBI employee and Colonel in the Iranian Army (during the Shah’s reign) began accusing the speakers of exaggerating, and (in one case) working for a foreign oil company. The commotion that resulted was saddening, with people up in arms and several face-to-face confrontations that threatened to explode into violence.

In my opinion, the most pathetic part of the event was when LCHR president and moderator, Kathryn Porter, had to bang on the table, like a Kindergarten teacher, in an attempt to stop the commotion. But I don’t blame her. Iranian Americans habitually misbehave at official events, hurting the efforts of Iranian Americans hoping to involve themselves in politics. The actions of fringe groups also disgust those in positions of power, keeping them from taking Iranian American concerns seriously.

As an Iranian American, I am in complete favor of Iranian Americans voicing their different opinions, especially on Capitol Hill. However, I do not believe that Iranian Americans should voice these different opinions at the cost of making our entire nationality look bad. Unless we learn to protect our community from the clamoring of loud fringe minorities, I fear we will find ourselves, like at the briefing, shouting at each other as everyone who matters files out of the room in disgust.

Posted By Arash Hadjialiloo

    7 Responses to “Internal rivalries undo Iranian-American potential”

  1. Arash Hadjialiloo says:

    How do other people hear about the current stream of rival groups in our community?What is the best way to make sure all parts of the Iranian-American community are accounted for?

  2. Mark Pyruz says:

    It sounds as though the NIAC should invest in licensed private security, and that its events and the ones it participates in should be carefully crafted in advance.

    Much of the problem seems to center around the exile mentality of certain individuals and groups. This mentality should not be element of the NIAC. That is why I am critical of NIAC efforts at “improving” Iran, by means of activities relating to “pro-democracy” and human rights. All efforts regarding Iran should be made in the area of anti-war and restored relations. Other than that, I would advise the NIAC to focus more on the American side of the Iran-American experience, and to elect an Iranian-American in public office on the national level..

  3. Mehdi says:

    I think practically all these so-called opposition groups, currently, have as their purpose changing of the regime in Iran, no matter what path they take. Most of them claim that they want a better Iran but when we look closely, they are in fact motivated by a strong sense of hatred, revenge and other such negative emotions. In practice, they will sacrifice anything, including Iran, if they think that it will give them their revenge. So, these groups will object, of course, to any effort aimed at reducing tension between Iran and US or any other country. To them, Iran’s “enemies” must not have issues with Iran resolved! This is why we see the MEK, more or less directly, and the monarchists, a little less directly support any potential war between Iran and US.

    I tend to agree with Mark Pyruz here in that NIAC should stay away from any confrontation with the Iranian Government – direct or indirect. NIAC should try to take on the role of a negotiator – completely impartial – just act as a medium for communication between the two governments.

    I was a little disappointed when, recently, Trita signed some petition regarding human rights violations in Iran. I think that causes the Iranian government to consider NIAC part of the broad range of all who attack them. And that weakens NIAC’s position as a medium for communication between two sides.

    I think Iran, both its government and people are showing strong signs of desire to resolve issues and normalize relations with US as well as the rest of the world. That can do far more for human rights in Iran than any direct confrontational approach. There is more than enough groups outside of Iran involved, one way or another, in making normalization of relations more difficult. We need at least one group, one force, bringing the two sides together and not push them further apart.

  4. Behnam says:

    I don’t feel responsible for the actions of other Iranian-Americans within our community. We are not the official ambassadors of every Iranian who has immigrated to the U.S.

    So what if some people are disruptive during events? There are plenty of non-hyphenated Americans who disrupt any event. Disruptive individuals should be escorted out of the event. In our case, we should be well prepared to deal with disruptive individuals.

    We should only speak for our organization as our legitimacy will be validated by the size of our membership. We will continue to attract more members as long as we stay the course. Let’s not get entangled with the mess and dragged down with it.

  5. Mehdi,

    Thank you for your comment. I agree with you that it is important for NIAC to remain neutral. NIAC is not in the business of supporting or opposing governments. However, we do believe– and strongly so– that government policies deserve criticisms.

    NIAC has been vocally critical of both Iran’s policies and US policies– specifically, Washington’s unwillingness to negotiate with Iran without preconditions.

    Similarly, we believe that it is important for NIAC to be vocal on foreign policy issues. This includes both the prospect of a US-Iran war and the human rights situation inside Iran.

    Our decision to be vocal on these two points, in particular, comes directly from our members. NIAC members mandated in January 2006 for the organization to speak out in favor of diplomacy between the US and Iran. Similarly, in February 2008 NIAC members mandated that NIAC speak out against Iran’s abysmal human rights record.

    On a very personal level, I love my heritage as much as the next Iranian American. And that’s why I think it’s important for Iran to clean up its human rights act. I also don’t want to see the US enter into another war while its still entangled in a heavy war in Iraq; or see the Iranian people pay the price of a military confrontation between Iran and the largest country in the world, the United States.

  6. Babak Talebi says:

    Good conversation – this is what this Blog was meant to be. Thank you all for the input…

    Arash – great article man. we will miss you. Arash was one of our interns this semester. He is likely to re-join us in the summer as a paid intern and I hope it all works out. I also hope you have all enjoyed his articles and blog posts as much as I have.

    ok – one by one…

    Mark – I think we are pretty much on the same page actually. On the security thing – we have not had to resort to private security because the Capitol police have been cooperative for our events – and we have had volunteers to help with the crowd control. I can say we have gotten much better over the years and none of our events have been disrupted – fund raisers, conferences, briefings or panels. On the Iran issue – I think Shadee addressed it and my answer to Mehdi may be helpful too…

    Mehdi – Obviously our #1 goal, and that of our membership, is to prevent war with Iran. part of that requires us to criticize US policies that are leading towards confrontation, including sanctions, the ‘regime change slush fund’ as we call it, and the saber-rattling rhetoric that is counter-productive. But at the same time, we take the view that we should not shy away from criticizing the Iranian policies that also affect these issues. The Human Rights issue in particular is a touchy one, you are right. But at the same time, it is VERY important to most of our members as well as the Iranian American community at large. In the end, NIAC’s fear is that if it is not included in the context of diplomacy, it may be swept under the rug as it has been in regards to US policy towards Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the other “moderate” Arab countries around the world and in the ME.

    I just don’t think that ignoring it will make it go away. And I also don’t think it increases the likelihood of an American attack – there are far bigger dangers in that regard.

    Behnam – Absolutely the right attitude I think. Very key for our community to help distinguish the rotten apples. The only problem is that the members of Congress and their staff don’t know this stuff – so we do have to educate them.

    Shadee – good points about the 501c(3) requirements and of course our member’s votes.

  7. Michael Mahyar Hojjatie says:

    Ugh, the old “Iranians are their own worst enemies” dilemma rears its ugly head yet again. Great article Arash, and great responses from everybody. This is one of the biggest challenges to our culture that I want to see fully elminated in my lifetime, that of the pettiness stemming from butting heads over religious and political beliefs to caring about what kind of car your fellow Iranians are driving and what designer clothes are in their closet.

    I am delighted to be a NIAC member and I fully support the goals the goals, objectives, and dare I say attitudes of the board members and other members. Truly, I feel like this is an organization I belong to.

Leave a ReplyLeave a Reply to Babak Talebi

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Sign the Petition


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.



Share this with your friends: