• 28 July 2008
  • Posted By Darioush Azizi
  • Diplomacy

Cultural Exchanges Cannot be Ignored, Part 2

By normalizing relations, the US and Iran can help foster more official cultural exchanges. For now, however, it is difficult for outsiders to get into Iran and for Iranians to get out of Iran, but there have been a considerable number of success stories of unofficial exchanges – some of which I touched on in Part 1, and others which are detailed here, in Part 2.

Music has always been (and continues to be) a very, very important part of Persian culture. Right now, however, artists in Iran are unable to express themselves freely. Says Beyond Persia (BP) co-founder and Executive Director Lale’ Welsh on artistic freedoms, “The Islamic law is oppressive in this regard, which can be detrimental to the creative process – it’s a real problem when people can’t express themselves artistically.”

BP, a “self funded, self sustaining non-profit organization dedicated to the exposure of contemporary Persian culture, outside the borders of Iran,” has successfully brought a number of Iranian artists, musicians and filmmakers to the US to exhibit their work. The team was founded and is currently operated by Iranian-Americans in the San Francisco Bay Area. Recently they’ve been promoting an Iranian punk band called Sad-o-Beestohaft (127), helping them produce a batch of CD’s they couldn’t afford to. At this time, the BP team is trying to bring artist Pouya Mahmoudi to the US from Iran.

In September, BP is bringing Mohsen Namjoo to the US for a solo six-city tour. Namjoo has become a living legend in Iran, combining a unique singing style with traditional, poetic lyrics. Some have lauded him as Iran’s Bob Dylan.

Late last year, the government of the Islamic Republic approved a proposal for the first Western artist to hold a joint concert with a band in Tehran. Irish singer Chris De Burgh travelled to Tehran earlier this year to play a gig with Tehran’s first co-ed band, Arian Band. He had recorded a song with them, called Nori Ta Abadiat (Doostet Daram) that was featured on Arian’s latest album ‘Bi To Baa To’ (literally, ‘Without You With You’).

Other organizations such as The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) offer a medium for outsiders to travel to Iran. FOR ‘works at the grass roots and policy levels to replace violence, war, racism, and economic injustice with nonviolence, peace, and justice.’ They state that they have ‘built a relationship with the Iranian government’; their aim is to use grassroots civilian diplomacy to achieve a better understanding and shift the US’s policy towards Iran. They advocate diplomatic engagement to address the nuclear program and help stabilize Iraq.  Their next trip – the ‘Iran Civilian Diplomacy Delegation’ – is scheduled for August 5th.

This past week, the national Iranian basketball team was partaking in the annual Rocky Mountain Revue tournament in Utah. Since the Iranians were last year’s FIBA Asian Champions they were invited to play. The visit was organized by the NBA through the State Department.

Also last week the Iranians Nasim Yousefi and Jafar Edrisi, who are biking around the world in an effort to promote peace, cooperation and understanding, arrived in Southern California. Along the way, they have given lectures and held seminars at such institutions as Columbia University. They appeared at the Ebn-e-Sina Cultural and Educational Foundation in Irvine, CA yesterday to share their story and present a slideshow of their journey.

On 17 July the president of Peace Action Maine and Bates College professor Eric Hooglund returned from his most recent trip to Iran. He called for diplomatic negotiations between the US and Iran, and expressed his concern of the naval blockade bills in the House and Senate. He also stated that “There is much irony in how Iranians view the ‘confrontation’ with the United States. First most Iranians tend to have a positive view of Americans and American culture. Second, Iranians are concerned about the hostile rhetoric that comes from the Bush administration and are perplexed by allegations that their country poses a threat to the United States. Third, the majority of Iranians with whom I spoke recognize how militarily weak their country is against the United States and fear the damage and destruction that possible US air-strikes could do to their towns.”

Although I have only touched on a few of the examples, these unofficial cultural exchanges are unfortunately few and far between. It is a shame because these exchanges do promote a greater level of understanding between cultures. They can help our Iranian-American community expose our Persian culture to non-Iranian Americans.

Posted By Darioush Azizi

    3 Responses to “Cultural Exchanges Cannot be Ignored, Part 2”

  1. These cultural exchanges are great and it is a refreshing escape from the politics of the day. Hope to see more of these stories.

  2. Thanks for noting the Fellowship of Reconciliation’s peace delegations to Iran. As you mentioned, our eighth delegation is leaving next week! Folks who are interested in following their progress can read our blog at http://FORpeace.net/tag/iran

  3. Interesting link. I especially liked “cost of the war in Iraq” clock ticker on the right hand side.

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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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