• 30 October 2008
  • Posted By Rebecca Schiel
  • Diplomacy, Persian Gulf

Clearly Not a Carpet-Bazaar…

Hooman Majd, author of The Ayatollah Begs to Differ, unleashed a stinging rebuke in the Huffington Post yesterday to Thomas Friedman’s New York Times op-ed, calling the columnist’s conclusions “offensively colonialist and racist generalizations.”

The piece by Friedman was an explanation as to why he believes the next US president will have more leverage in dealing with Iran. Essentially, he said that the falling price of oil gives the US badly needed leverage over Iran. He drew largely on comments made by Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, characterizing negotiations with Iran as similar to bargain shopping in the bazaar. He quoted Sadjadpour saying, “there is never a price tag on any carpet. The dealer is not looking for a fixed price, but the highest price he can get — and the ‘Iran price’ is constantly fluctuating depending on the price of oil.”

Hooman Majd is a writer for several publications including the New York Times, GQ and the New Yorker and often writes about Iranian affairs as in his latest book. He criticized Friedman for being closed-minded on Iranian affairs and for oversimplifying the facts–and rightfully so.  Speaking of the claim that Iranian motivations stem from some “carpet bazaar mentality,” Majd wrote:

[I]t is far from the truth, and if anyone in an incoming U.S. administration is inclined to believe it, they will be in for a rude surprise if and when the U.S. and Iran eventually sit down to negotiate. Carpets may be Iran’s best-known export after oil, and there is a section of the Tehran bazaar devoted to carpet sellers, but carpet salesman are viewed by Iranians much as we view car salesmen, or used-car salesman, hardly a view we would want the Iranians to consider representative of our politicians. (On second thoughts….)

Hooman Majd and Karim Sadjadpour are essentially colleagues–both are respected Iran scholars in a relatively limited field–which is why this (heated) debate is so interesting. The conclusions they draw about the state of Iranian affairs are strikingly different and beg the question: Are they even talking about the same country?

Majd criticized Friedman’s lack of understanding on the Iranian situation mainly due to his contention that oil was the sole indicator for Iranian politics and influence. This ignores Iran’s role as a regional hegemon with significant non-oil interests in the region.

Blatant oversimplifications, racist generalizations, and a real lack understanding of the US’ position vis-a-vis Iran in the Middle East… To be honest, I think Friedman is wrong on this one.  The US hasn’t just gained leverage against Iran since the price of oil has plummeted; we’ve had leverage on Iran.  Iran wants US recognition, foreign investment, an easing of sanctions, and a promise not to pursue regime change.  The list goes on. Now that’s leverage.

If you ask me, it’s unfortunate that Mr. Friedman is as influential on this subject as he is.  I would much prefer someone like Majd to have a soundboard as effective as the New York Times editorial page with which to set the record straight.

Posted By Rebecca Schiel

Leave a Reply

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: