• 30 June 2009
  • Posted By David Elliott
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran, Iran Election 2009

Iranians have to find their own course

Cross Posted from the Cincinnati Enquirer
By R.K. Ramazani, Member of NIAC’s Board of Advisors

President Obama should not take sides in the political crisis in Iran. His critics are wrong in faulting him for not siding with the demonstrators and for not standing for the American value of freedom.

Freedom, after all, is not the only core value of the American Republic. Along with liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the American Declaration of Independence also embodies the value of life.

With more than a dozen Iranian protesters already dead, Obama is trying both to protect innocent lives and advance political freedom for Iranians. He realizes that siding with the demonstrators likely would provoke even greater bloodshed.

The tension between internal freedom and external independence in Iran’s history has persisted because no balance between the two has yet been struck. The current movement protesting the results of the recent presidential election tries to resolve it.

Aspirations for freedom have ebbed and flowed in Iran’s modern history four times:

First, they surged briefly in the 19th century, when Iran sought independence from British political and economic domination. The popular Tobacco Protest of 1891-92 forced the Qajar monarch to cancel his grant of a 50-year tobacco concession to a British company. But at the time, Iranians were unable to fight for independence from the British Empire.

Second, the desire for domestic freedom, linked with democracy, deepened as a result of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution (1906-11), which gave Iran its first parliament, the Majlis. The parliament placed limits on the monarch’s previously unfettered powers and hired Morgan Shuster, an American adviser, to reform Iran’s financial system.

But in the end, the people’s hope for freedom was dashed. Collusion by British and Russian powers forced Shuster out of the country and shut down reforms. In Shuster’s words, the imperial powers “strangled” Persia.

Third, the movement for freedom widened with the Iranian nationalist uprising led by Mohammad Musaddiq (also known as Mossadegh), the first democratically elected leader in Iran’s history. Musaddiq and other nationalist leaders tried to curtail the shah’s unconstitutional rule and wrest control of Iran’s oil industry from the British.

But the coup against the Musaddiq government, led by the CIA and backed by British intelligence, ended that effort in 1953.

Fourth, the Iranian Revolution of 1979 spoke to the political independence of Iran. It aimed to end American domination and the dictatorship of Reza Shah Pahlavi, the ruler revolutionaries called “the American shah.” The credo of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the revolution, placed national independence above domestic political freedom. He denounced Western-style democracy, instead praising “Islamic democracy.”

The revolutionaries saw freedom not only as a value of the revolution, but also as Iran’s historic goal. Subsequently, Mohammad Khatami, president from 1997 to 2005, tried to emphasize the rights of the people, but his reform efforts were blocked by religious leaders and the conservative opposition.

The current protest movement is trying to address this historical deficit of domestic freedom. Like Khatami, Hussein Moussavi, the Iranian reformist politician and presidential candidate, emphasizes the ideal of freedom through reform.

They acknowledge the revolution’s unprecedented success in empowering Iran to control its external politics, but they believe that is not enough. They aim to achieve a broader freedom by an enlightened reading of Islam and the revolution that would result in achieving democracy and freedom with justice within the framework of Islamic spirituality and morality.

Obama has taken a wise stance that provides time for Iranians to decide the future direction of their country. The crisis is Iranian. The current government is Iranian. The protest movement is Iranian. The solution must be Iranian.

R.K. Ramazani, widely considered the dean of Iranian foreign policy experts in the United States, is Edward R. Stettinius professor emeritus of government and foreign affairs at the University of Virginia. He has published extensively on Iran since 1955.

Posted By David Elliott

David Elliott is the Assistant Policy Director at the National Iranian American Council.

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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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