Uninformed or Apathetic?

A few weeks ago I met with an elderly Iranian gentleman who had come from Tehran to visit his family in the US. Because of his affiliation with an Iranian non-governmental organization (NGO) he is involved in the political arena as well as current social and political reform movements. Because of the various risks, I choose not to mention the name of this gentleman. However, for me, his perception of the Iranian America community and the general American society was very interesting. Being born in Iran and raised in Sweden, it is relatively easy for me to act as an unbiased observer and objectively gauge the flaws of American society. Interestingly, even with our different life experiences and age difference, we seemed to be in agreement on our perspective of this country.

This very informed and experienced individual really impressed me by his open-mindedness, which is very uncommon among people of his generation – or among any generation. We spoke of my aspirations and goals in life and why I had chosen to work with NIAC. We also discussed the differences among Iranian Americans and Iranians in Europe. He said to me that he was very disappointed with the lack of engagement among Iranians here in the US with regard to the human rights issues in Iran. He was pleased with NIAC’s mission but wished that we would become more active in human rights in Iran. Yet, he also wished that more young Iranian Americans and others would get involved. He was surprised by how uninformed Iranians here in the US are about the current political and societal issues in Iran.

His perception of the American culture is that there is a lack of relevant information and legitimate sources of information provided to the public about the rest of the world. The news reports on TV seem very commercial to him, solely as a form of entertainment rather than pure and objective reporting on current events. This is something that I also have reacted on and therefore I choose to get my global news report from other sources.

The current issues in Iran that are covered in US media are more in the interest of the people of the United States rather than Iranians, he said to me. And I do agree with him. There are so many issues in Iran with regard to human rights, freedom, and justice that the people of United States are not aware of. Instead there seems to be greater attention on issues which are not crucial concerns to the majority of the Iranian public. In my view, it is important for American media, and any other media around the world, to cover the major social and political problems in Iran that actually affect the daily lives of Iranians.

In conclusion, it is evident to me that the majority of Iranian Americans, and non-Iranian Americans, are unaware of the issues concerning the daily lives of Iranians. This is, I realize, a vast generalization but the majority of Iranian Americans are extremely alienated from their motherland. The largest wave of Iranians came to the US before or during the 1979 Islamic revolution, and usually their objective was education or work. Also many were political refugees who are simply no longer able to go back and visit their relatives. The largest wave of Iranians who came to Europe however, came in the late 80’s and the beginning of 90’s. Most of them left Iran to escape the war and settled around the European continent, and so it has not been very long since they left the country. In addition to that, foreigners in Europe, including Iranians, are much less likely to assimilate to their new societies than those living in the cultural melting-pot of the United States.

Washington might be preoccupied with developing a policy regarding Iran, but usually this approach is from a realist perspective, which can sometimes be disappointing for the Iranian people because it neglects their social and individual concerns in place of national interests. Whether this unawareness is a result of inadequate sources of information or simply ignorance is very difficult to say. Personally, I would say it’s both. There are very few news reports in the US on what is going on in the rest of the world. Yet, it is also quite evident that there is a lack of interest from the general American public about other countries and cultures. I am however, very hopeful that this attitude will change through time. This attitude is not permanent, and with the advanced technology we have now, the world has become smaller than ever and people are getting much closer to each other. Therefore I have no doubt that this is going to change – because as people get closer, they will start to desire this change.

Posted By Farid Zareie

    15 Responses to “Uninformed or Apathetic?”

  1. artaxerxes says:

    FZ,

    The notion that you are an ‘unbiased observer’ is false. Europeans have a STRONGLY BIASED opinion of American society and thus the entire basis for your arguments is unfounded in reality.

    “This is, I realize, a vast generalization but the majority of Iranian Americans are extremely alienated from their motherland.”

    BEING an Iranian American, I disagree. You give too much credit to the small number who are, indeed, completely disconnected, and thus you overshadow the truth that most still believe their true homeland is Iran, and consequently follow very, very closely the goings-on of the nation (not to mention the many, many IAs who go to and from Iran on a regular basis).

    Your conclusion is also a lot longer than the intro and body… just thought I should mention that.

    Deepest regards,

    ARTAXERXES

  2. I don’t understand ths article.

    First of all how does the elderly man knows how much American media talks about Iran and what subjects? Is his English that good and spent years watching the American media?

    Second, I agree with artaxerxes that despite your view, “most” IA are NOT disconnected with Iran. It used to be that many IA wouldn’t go to Iran for a visit and that was prior to Khatami’s era in the mid 90s. Since then a vast majority of them have had a chance to visit Iran and even one visit is enough to go back to your roots and understand Iran, albeit not in depth, but still enough.

    Besides, I think a problem that NIAC is having with SOME IAs is that those IAs think that advocating peace and understanding the in and outs of Iranian society and the Iranian regime somehow equates to endorsing or supporting the regime.

    The Iranian regime is a product of the 1979 revolution which was a legitmate revolution. Revolutions don’t happen every few years or decades. They come in once in every few generations and are rare.

    MOST IAs in fact do understand that Iran is a religious country which handcuffs itself in many aspects, when they can’t separate religion and state. But they do understand it and it is for this reason that they don’t want a war to replace the regime because that will only enforce and strengthen the hardliners.

    Now if the elderly Iranian thinks a war is going to solve human rights violation and bring peace to Iran and such, then he is the one alieanated, not the other way around. Just because you are IA doesn’t mean you are alienated from Iran and don’t understand it.

  3. AnIranianinMontreal says:

    well, it’s hard for me to believe that officials and specially policy makers in the U.S don’t know Iran. In contrast, they know Iran deeply, even sometimes more than the majority of us! However, it’s true that the public in the U.S is unaware of Iran’s situation, but American Intellectuals, based on my own personal experiences that might not be huge of course, know Iran very well. As far as I know, westerners, especially Britons, explored Iran’s history, culture… and until recently, they were the major sources of Iran’s history. Based on what I have read from few American policy makers regarding Iran, their information is indeed deep. So, I personally believe it’s not about the lack of information rather an act of opportunism and ignorance. As per other aspect of Iranian life and why the media doesn’t focus on those cases, the answer, I guess would be clear at least in your mind; why should they ignore such an awesome excuse that they have these days as it will give them more opportunities?

    Unfortunately, so long as the environment between the two is hostile, every attempt to show Iran’s real situation, most of time, will end up in the dialectic of supporting or rejecting Iranian system. Unfortunately, high educated Iranians are less aware of the real situation as the majority have paranoid, if not being engulfed in the wrong perception of knowing the country very well because of the fact that they are Iranians! Although, many of know the history of Iran, we rarely know the history in a political perspective. As far as I remember, reading history (in high school or whatever) was sort of fun and far distance adventure that had nothing to do with the current situation. As per Iranians-Americans, it’s indeed difficult to live here and at the same time have a clear sense of Iran. Last month that I visited Iran, it took nearly two weeks for me to get used to the situation over there. Ironically, I didn’t visit the country just for two years, even though; I was reading the news more or less…. Anyway, long story short, I appreciate your efforts in trying Iran-the U.S rapprochement to be a possible scenario.

  4. After I come back from Iran from a visit, it takes me 2 weeks to get used to the situation in US! Many of Iranian-Americans have broken all ties to Iran or don’t have any ties at all. Some are banned from going back and some are afraid and don’t even have a passport or some other reasons. So for them they want to look at Iran’s distant memory and not the current situation.

    While US Govt may know about Iran, I don’t think they know enough about it or if they do they don’t have the desire to expand upon it. Sean Penn went to Iran and learned a lot and came back and reported. Who has US Gvt sent to Iran? Last person was this Burns guy last week and he came back and said Iranians ‘are not serious’. As in they preached us about culture.

    Same thing happened with North Korea. They said NK wants attention and at first they wouldn’t give it to them and then they did and now talks are going well. Mind you NK is much much more isolated than Iran by their own account. But still.

    Many IA just don’t want to be associated with mullahs at all, even if the mullahs are pro-US. It is not chic for them. That’s all.

  5. AnIranianinMontreal says:

    In my personally view, there is no difference between Iran’s current situation and its far distant history. I believe it would be lack of political judgment to think over wise (it’s just a personal view which of course has its own clues. Nevertheless, here is not the place to elaborate the issue more). Just to lay out in Iran’s far distant history will not change anything rather it might give you an internal satisfaction, but that will not produce the history once again as you might wish.

    What I said about IAs was something totally different from what you have concluded. I say, even though they were going there regularly, they would hardly adopt these two different worldviews, lifestyle and so on. I have talked about the issue on a social perspective but not in political one.

    As I said, it’s indeed naive to think that the policy makers in the U.S don’t know Iran and Iranians. There are many in the U.S gov. who know the system, and its real intention which is (was) the intention of Iran and Iranian for thousand years (that is simply it’s righteous quest of dominating the Mideast, regardless of the ruling elite, Islamists, Secular, Monarch whatever…. it’s sort of crisis of identity that needs to be overcomed by that status) very well. Although, politicians would not say clearly what do they know, but still from their few writings about Iran, you would be able to draw the line to reach their knowledge about Iran. Kenneth Polack’s writings as an example would be a good start, I think. You can continue discovering their knowledge about yourself accordingly!

    Technocrats are ruling contemporary Iran mainly, but not mullah fully (Just in case if don’t know or have not been in the country for a while). However, Mullahs are part of our culture and society. They didn’t come from outside world. If anything is wrong with them, you and those IAs reluctant to go to Iran, better find the roots in the Iranian culture, society, and history.

  6. Michael Mahyar Hojjatie says:

    I’m curious as to which non-mainstream news sources you regularly seek. Please share a site or two with the class. I personally like ipsnews.net.

  7. Babak Talebi says:

    Farid – you certainly sparked a much needed conversation it seems 🙂 I’m going to throw in my 2 cents, and I’m curious about your own responses to this discussion…

    IranianMontreal talking about policy-maker’s conception of Iran caught my attention and I wanted to address that first. based on my own interactions with lawmakers and their staff, I can tell you that with very few exceptions they are ill-informed about almost everything. Each of them might have one or two areas of real expertise in foreign relations out of litterally hundreds of thousands of different issues.

    There are think-tank “Iran specialists” like Kenneth Polack, stephen kinzer, or (dare-I-say) even patrick clawson… but many of them do view Iran through either an ideological prism, or a very narrow US-policy worldview… the true “Ironologists” are mostly academics or authors who, in all honesty, have very little effect on lawmakers.

    This is exactly why its important for Iranian Americans to reach out and TALK with their members of congress – because our perspective is a resource they NEED. That’s also why NIAC’s briefings and conferences on Capitol hill are so imparative, because it provides these lawmakers and staff with bite-sized opportunities to learn about Iran and introduces them to experts they would otherwise not even know exist.

    On the other point about the geopolitical interests of Iran driving its regional policies, I agree with you whole-heartedly. ideology does have a role, but it is a far more subserviant role than many realize or care to admit.

    As for anonymousjoon (and to Farid and artexerxes as well) – we have to remember that IA’s are not monolithic. In my estimation/research/study – there were 4 distinct waves of Iranian immigrants to the US, each with their own distinct political and social characteristics – these 4 ‘waves’ have starkly differing views on Iran and that is reflected in their attitudes towards all things Iranian (including their attitudes towards NIAC). There is also a 5th set – which is basically the children of those 4 waves who really had no choice in the emigration from Iran, but are fully content in being ‘American’ with a healthy dash of Iranian identity…

    maybe at some point I’ll talk about these ‘waves’ and get everyone’s thoughts…

    but good discussion.

    oh… Michael – on Iran I let google alerts (both news and blogs) help me out – and I’m part of a few email lists where selected Iran news clips are sent etc… but def. the british sources – IHT, Guardian, BBC.

  8. Iran’s desire to dominate the region manifests itself how? Compare that to the domination of US in the region with it’s Naval armada in Persian Gulf and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. If they leave Iran alone, what kind of domination would Iran have? Would they be sending armies to neighboring countries? I wouldn’t say so.

    The only influence I can attribute would be sending arms and funding to Hezbollah and Hamas in Lebanon and Gaza. That I don’t appreciate and I think we should stay away from it and pay attention to our own problems in Iran, which are plenty. However, compare those arms and funding to the arms and funding that Israel receives from US.

    So in my opinion the way to curb Iran’s enthusiasm (so to speak 🙂 is to talk to them directly and reach a mutual understanding about the politics of the middle east. Iran can play a dominating role in terms of industry. They do have stuff they can export to these countries at cheaper prices, such as energy or automobiles.

    As far as US Govt’s knowledge about Iran, compare that to their knowledge about Iraq which by the way had US having a no-fly zone in Iraq plus a decade of military superiority following the first Gulf war and a much smaller country than Iran. Do you think if US knew what she knows now about Sunnis and Shiites and Iran for that matter and other stuff, they’d have ventured in Iraq. I as an Iranian didn’t know Sunnis and Shiites would kill each other like this.

    So their knowledge is limited to what their “allies” such as Israel tell them, which is a lot of misinformation. Then the US Govt doesn’t even bother to do their own research and have their own view. How much do you think Obama for example knows? He is now saying Iran is a grave threat, adding a “nuclear” Iran is a grave threat is just to make sure Iran is a threat, nuclear would be much worse. So yes they know but who do they get their knowledge from? Iran’s friends of foes?

    As far as IA meshing with Iran socially, yes I agree it is hard to move there for living for example, but there are people who do it but they are in minority. The 2nd generation IA will have less interest in going back. So the 1st generation is really the only one that knows about Iran and they are split too. Many are killing themselves and cutting their collars just to say they despize IRI and NIAC for example is an IRI puppet! So it is a mish mash, but by far since many IA have had a chance to go back to Iran they don’t want a war, especially after Iraq war. There are those who want it and wouldn’t care if millions were killed as a result. They’ll say there will be a “free Iran” after those killings. What we need is peace and dialogue, not for our own individual egos or opinions but for Iran’s future.

  9. AnIranianinMontreal says:

    Well, when I read Clawson’s writings, I think he knows exactly what he says about Iran. It’s his political wisdom that writes that way. He is trying hard to make Iranian problem as a problem in an international level. I don’t blame him for that matter as he does not suppose to write in Iran’s favor. Though, he sometimes doesn’t’ do it in the U.S favor either. It seems, he is more Israeli nationalist than even the American one.

    Let me ask you a basic question. Are you sure we (you, I, many Iranians around us) know Iran clearly? If you give even a small portion of probability to this assumption, then you might get to the point that American experts may know Iran sometimes very well. It’s a highly divided nation. You can hardly find few Iranians being agreed in a single issue. I am not sure of myself that I know Iran clearly. In numerous occasions that I thought I know Iran, I was totally mistaken. During Khatami’s era that I was in Iran (before that I was a kid and didn’t think actually!!), I was thinking I know Iran very well. Later on, I reached to the point that those perceptions were more or less paranoid rather than a clear understanding of what I want. When I got to the U.S three years ago, I was again in the same path. And the story goes.

    Iranians are in search for an identity in the modern era. It’s really difficult to give a true, what we might think is true itself is a matter of controversy, picture of Iran these days, and as I read history of Iran more, I get the impression that it was the case in many unstable situations like this in the past (either before Islam or after that).

    Anyhow, I personally believe your job is a good one, and I do support you heartily. That Iran-U.S relation to be a peaceful one will give Iranians time to think, and alternatively they might be able to overcome their difficulties. Surely, current violated situation will end up nowhere, not for sure human rights, and democracy, as many of those naïve Iranians abroad, including many IAs, might think is achievable. So long as Iranians don’t see politics in the prism of power, they will always be in a false dream that the U.S (the West in general or whatsoever the superpower may be) will bring human rights, and democracy (well democracy itself is a matter controversy in a philosophical perspective) to their country. We might not necessarily need to give Americans an exact picture of Iran (as many of us like to do) as that might be really confusing, especially in the case of Iranian society which is a very high complex one. To prove that their interests will be satisfied, in a non violated situation with Iran, in one way or another would be enough for them, I think. They might not also need to know another country, and all aspects of its society, very clearly.

  10. Well do you think the ruling people in Iran know Iran clearly too?! Iran is changing and it goes from Khatami to Ahmadinejad to maybe Ahmadinjad again because 2 term is kinda norm for Iran. They go from $30 a barrel of oil to $150 a barrel and things get worse economically instead of better! AND despite the promises of Ahmadinejad that oil should be distributed more equally. That was his campaign message and the platform by which he got elected.

    So no neither me nor you nor us know Iran clearly. But I can safely say that MOST of us inside and outside Iran want peace and not war. So as long as this threat of war is looming all our energies combined will be put together in our OWN ways to fight it. One way or another.

    Fanatics and neocon Iranians will fight to have a war and the rest will fight to avert it. This is all our focus. So if you take this war out of discussion and let Iran move forward without this threat, where do you think we’ll be? In a better place. I think it is all about how we as Iranians and more importantly US as the leader of the free world approach this issue and their overall foreign policy approach.

    It can be better. It got worse during Bush and US lost all its credibility. Hopefully if Obama is the next president, it will be a bit better. But if US and Israel want to get better and achieve peace, they need to integrate Israel into the region. Iran has always been there and will be there. This is what all Arab states including Saudis are saying. You can’t force Israel down our throats. Have a real discussion and a real approach. If you don’t, it’ll be the same old same old.

  11. Patrick Disney says:

    As a reminder: please refrain from engaging in personal attacks in the comments section of our blog. This is a place for robust debate, and we encourage lively discussions such as this, but we will not provide a forum for derogatory remarks to be made about other niacINsight readers. Thank you for your understanding and cooperation.

    -NIAC

  12. Babak Talebi says:

    A couple of quick points – first about patrick’s comments. There were a few comments we decided not to approve because of a few personal attacks. It was a difficult decision because the content of both those posts were pretty constructive, but the few words alone made it inappropriate for us to post them. I would encourage both commenters to re-submit their comment as they added to the discussion.

    Moving forward…. Modern Iran is a very complex and complicated country, the society, culture, and government are all very much in a state of dynamic flux. This should not be surprising considering how Iran is in the crossroads of so many cultures and has a very dynamic and intellectually curious population.

    Added to this societal and individual complexity – we have had a century of political upheaval – from the 1906 constitutional revolution (the first constitution in the ME) through a dynastic change from Qajars to Pahlavis, tangential participation in WWII, the rise of a parliamentary system and a leader that truly changed the world (though he receives far too little credit – its no joke being on the cover of TIME twice) – and the fall of that leader and system due to direct external activity.

    and all this before the Islamic revolution and Iran-Iraq war – both of which were unique earthquakes that shook the entire globe.

    All this to say, there is good reason why we are such a complex society and culture… this also has resulted in various political veins of thought – some of which, though fossilized, have been preserved in an amber-like mentality derived from a 30-year distance with the country. There are far too many Iranians who truly have no clue what the country is like right now… a country where 60% of the population were not even born before these expats left.

    In any case – the question though – as Farid pointed out, is whether those same expatriots are willing to listen to the voices from inside the country who are reaching out to them. Are they willing to put aside their own perceptions and long-preserved nostalgic images from a bygone era?

    As for Patrick Clawson, having heard him on many occasions and having met him and talked to him directly on a few, I can say without a doubt in my mind that he is intentionally deluding his listeners about the realities in Iran. He understands the complexity of the Iranian people and the country, and in my opinion, intentionally simplifies his arguments to serve a narrow political purpose. That is of course his right – and his job at the Washington Institute – but to me, it is disingenuous and worst – counterproductive to creating a constructive American policy and detrimental to the aspirations of the Iranian people for a better life.

  13. One day the majority of Iranian-Americans will be 2nd and 3rd generations and their connections to Iran will be much more limited than it is now. As 1st generation, I’d like to help leave them something to look up to. I’d like to have all the fightings and nuclear questions answered and done with so there is actually an Iran left for the 2nd and 3rd generation.

    Technically there are what about 3000 Iranians who win the green cadr lottery each year? That plus the new ones who come here through families, refugees or other ways, so there is a flow of Iranians still coming here. I thought a while back that there will be less and less of us, but they are coming.

    I have my own view about what percentages of Iranians inside and outside Iran share the same ideals, on the important issues. On THE most important issue of war and a forced regime change. I think on these 2 issues, majority agree they don’t want it. I know there are some both inside and outside Iran who want it and that is a shame.

    There are neocons and those who know enough about Iran to manipulate it using IRI’s own shortcomings and keep the war fire burning. The media has nothing good to say about Iran and when there is anything good like the Iranian basketball team visiting or another cultural or sports exchange, it is burried and no on notices it cares.

    The negative publicity about Iran is so much that the US presidential candidates are trying to beat each other to it. During the future debates, I’m sure reporters are going to beat each other more to see who can portray a worse picture of Iran.

    So it is not unusual to see the impact of such negativity both inside and outside Iran. It is not a crime to be swayed by such negative advertising. I for one have been used to this for the past 30+ years living in America. I do my part by not adding fuel to fire. I don’t go with the flow on this and many other subjects. I make up my own mind and try to inform my coworkers and friends about having a peaceful relations and being Iranian is not bad.

    It’s like that old Saturday Night Live parody with Stuart Smiley doing motivational gestures, who is now by the way running for Minnesota’s Senate seat on the Democractic side. I hope he wins, he being Al Franken also the author of “Rush Limbaugh is a big fat idiot” and Fair and balanced something about Fox News. Anyway, he used to say; look at the mirror, I am good enough, I am pretty enough, and darn gone it, people like me!

  14. AnIranianinMontreal says:

    First of all, I am so sorry for my reckless speaking. I didn’t really want to insult anybody, and I understand the right of your readers not to be attacked. To me, having deferent perspectives and ideologies is ok, but it makes me really frustrated to see somebody who doesn’t really know what he/she stands for (don’t make it personal please!), one has not read a single book in politics maybe, one who in spite of his genuinely in other fields is unable to even know his country even partly. I understand them truly, however. I know they blame whoever they could find, either Monarchy or Islamic Republic…, which is of course due to their genuine concern about their country, and the life of their countrymen. But that is not the way of doing so. What I said was simply this: that politics is a science, It’s not for fun. While one is not a politician or even political activist, one should be extremely cautious from making clear cut arguments. For that friend, just a simple example, engineers make car and consequently advertise it for the consumer (I am an engineer, so I make a practical example here!). You as a consumer may not necessarily know what it is made of exactly. Most of the time, you can simply talk about the usefulness or therewise of the car. If in case you were interested in changing the course, you must take the path already being taken by those engineers. While you are in a consumer level, you can make arguments in maximum tactical levels, but not strategic ones!. Pretty much the same argument can be applied for politics. Politics is an area of “siasat gozari”. To get to that path in the area of politics, you may later need a clear ideology, and of course an extensive study of different critical issues for policy making such as economics, history, and sociology (sometimes even philosophy)…, as well as theories of politics. As the one has read some of the above areas extensively, though he is still a beginner, I recommend you take this step. As you read, you may then notice that many of those words that you want to say, already being said by others, so you do not need to spend your energy (and even anger!) in that way. You may also keep your previous comments in this discussion board!

    At some point these kind of ill thinking will end up collaborating with Mr. Clawson in that institute! When I see these stuff and go back to history of Iran, I see a lot of similarities between these false thinking and numerous occasions in the past. Salman (Pirouz) Parsi’s role in defeating the army of Susanaid might be a case in point. Am I mistaken?

    I personally think, the phenomena, that you says, should be looked at another perspective as well; that we have not defined our national interests clearly yet. You might say, the national interests of modern nation states are relatively dynamic, but even a highly dynamic phenomena should not make that divergence that we see in today’s Iran and among Iranians (in Iran of last 100 years or whatever period you may extend).

    As the one who was born after the revolution, I personally don’t think the complexity of Iranian society is solely for the modern period. Modernity and modernization have clearly added new dimension to an existing complexity. There are something solely Iranian. That is what makes Iranian culture more or less unique, at least in that part of the world.

  15. I agree with your last paragraph. On the other hand, as someone who was born before the revolution and has followed the events of the last 30+ years with interest, and read few articles and books (blogs were not available back then :-), and lived through these events first hand, I’d like to think I do know a thing or 2 about politicts and by extension the US foreign policy.

    Politics is not a monopoly. As soon as someone shares his/her ideas or go to the voting booth, you’re in politics. We can always agree to disagree and that is the most civilized thing we can do.

    Some subjects such as looming war on Iran or failed US and Israeli politics in the region can be emotional. We can speak with passion and at times be harsh on each other, with respect, but that doesn’t mean we don’t know politics or if we’re an engineer or doctor then we’re not good at politics.

    As an IA I love both countries and want peace and prosperity for both. I don’t want war and I’m here talking about it.

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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.

Sincerely,

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