• 17 June 2010
  • Posted By Setareh Tabatabaie
  • 49 Comments
  • Culture, discrimination, Iranian American Life

Will the Real Iranians Please Stand Up?

In the past three decades, American perceptions of Iran have shifted dramatically.  The very people who once had an empire, who drafted the first human rights declaration, and who were one of America’s closest allies in the Middle East are now among the most misunderstood and discriminated-against populations in the country.

First, Iran was labeled as a member of the ‘axis of evil’. Then, in the movie 300, Persians were depicted as pillaging, deranged savages wearing rags. Public officials and famous politicians oftentimes make off-hand and flippant comments about killing or hating Iranians.

All of this has led much of the public to equate all Iranians in their minds with terrorists and suicide bombers.  (I actually had a World History teacher tell one of the Iranian-American kids in my class to be quiet because “All Iran exports is terrorism.”)

With Prince of Persia, we were finally portrayed in a good light. Our ancient world was being shown in romantic and mythological ways based on revered Persian literature, The Book of Kings and A Thousand and One Nights. For once, my dad said he’d actually sit through a movie without falling asleep. We were all excited.

We should have known that it wouldn’t last long…

Enter: Jersey Shore — The Persian Version.

“Two thousand years ago the Persian Empire ruled the ancient world…but they didn’t have your soundtrack, your style, or your swagger,” reads the casting call for the new reality show, seeking “anyone who uses exotic appeal to get anything or anyone [they] desire.”

For anyone who has not seen Jersey Shore, the show currently consists of a cast of young Italian Americans, whose “reality”-show lifestyle is little more than drinking and partying. They live on the beach, but refuse to tan anywhere but a tanning salon, and take an hour to get ready, with a lot of hair gel and a lot of hair spray involved. The characters either hook up, or attempt to hook up, with a sort of mad desperation.

And now they’re going to do the same thing with Iranian Americans.

A short while ago, the Iranian band Zed Bazi came out with a song called “Iranian of LA,” making fun of the very people who are chosen to represent our community in this show.  Now everyone knows that Iranians are the real origin of the hair “poof” and can party as much as anyone else. But honestly, no one wants to be represented by the type of people and lifestyles shown on Jersey Shore.

The sad thing is there are hundreds of amazing Iranian Americans who deserve some recognition: artists, fashion designers, film directors, actors, doctors, website founders, and more.  But the quiet dignity with which these people live their lives isn’t considered “good TV.”

For a moment, we thought our reputations might be saved with a last-minute addition to your nightly TV line-up: Funny in Farsi. But sadly, that show was nixed after the first episode.

Silly Iranians, we were told by Hollywood, you have three options only: terrorists, savages, or party animals. Take your pick.

Posted By Setareh Tabatabaie

    49 Responses to “Will the Real Iranians Please Stand Up?”

  1. Iranian American says:

    DAMET GARM Setareh jan. Nailed it. Keep them coming.

  2. Shimdiddy Combs says:

    Great post! I totally agree and you’re exactly right, ugh! We’re considered terrorists or high-maintenance drama queens.

  3. thecodger says:

    I don’t understand why everyone wants to be like those thugs on that Jersey Show program. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

    The Codger
    http://thecodger.wordpress.com/

  4. Sweetbearies says:

    Azadeah Moaveni is brilliant of Iranian-American origin. I highly recommend her books.

  5. midipour says:

    You summed it up for me, “terrorists, savages, or party animals” Great post, my parents weren’t too fond of the 300 movie either.

  6. To be fair, the Iranians are taking a bad rap for the same reasons we Americans are: the actions of our governments, even if you’re Iranian-american. It’s not fair, but that’s the way it is: You inherit the reputation of your nationality.

    All Iranians aren’t bad, the same as all Americans, and that’s just the joy of mass media. A person is smart, but people are stupid.

    I do agree that our mass media should be more responsible, though. I also agree that not all Iranians are bad. Otherwise I disagree with “The very people … who were one of America’s closest allies in the Middle East are now among the most misunderstood and discriminated-against populations in the country.”

    Iran is harboring terrorism. Iran is being defiant in the face of the international community. Iran is no longer our ally. The country of Iran is earning its reputation, the same as we did when we invaded Iraq.

    I agree changes should be made and that good Iranians are not getting the recognition they deserver, but I don’t believe Iran is “getting a bum rap.”

    • Setareh Tabatabaie says:

      Mr. Bouillon,
      Thank you for your comment. While I appreciate your view, I wholeheartedly disagree. As an Iranian and an American, I know both sides. And I have faced much more discrimination as an Iranian in America than an American in Iran.
      The Iranian people are one of the most pro-American in the entire Middle East, outside of Israel of course. And they know to separate America’s bad foreign policy in the Middle East, which began far before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, from the American people. Americans are generally very warmly received in Iran.
      Unfortunately, most Americans have not learned to do the same. The Iranian people are often grouped with a government most of them do not even want. Also, please remember that this is also a major difference between America, a democracy which gets support from its people, and the Iranian state, which the people call a dictatorship. I repeat, the Iranian state does not rely on support from its people in decision-making.
      This failure to make a distinction can greatly be seen in the media, and in everyday life. Please refer to the links I have embedded in the article to see famous politicians and public officials making derogatory statements against the Iranian people (not the Iranian state). But those are just a few examples. In response to news of the Iranian Kish Airliner air crash in the UAE in February 2004, for example, MSNBC Don Imus remarked, “When I hear stories like that, I think who cares.” In November 2009, Fox sportscasters made racially discriminatory remarks against Iranian NBA player Hamed Haddadi. These are people, not terrorists or savages.
      There is prevalent discrimination in America towards the Iranian people, not just the state of Iran, and if you need more examples, feel free to ask.

  7. rubymuse says:

    Great post. I look forward to reading more. Peace…

  8. clairela says:

    very sad. very true. great post.

  9. Good post. Its unfortunate that such prejudices exist in a world where the right amounts of information is available through the internet, films, media to everybody who actually looks for it. A similar prejudice was prevalent against Asians immediately after the 9/11 attacks. Its also sad that the reality that ‘reality shows’ portray is often far from the truth!

  10. Setareh,

    Thanks for providing me information instead of criticizing. It helps me to better understand your position, and where I’m missing information.

    I’m skeptical of your statement, “Americans are generally very warmly received in Iran.” With state-controlled media, and what they publish, I can’t imagine that has no affect on the general population. Iran has an army, and their government >must< have supporters? Can you explain this more to me?

    I think I'm your average, educated American. What I hear / read about international politics sparks my interest and I occasionally google around to get more information. I understand the oppressive nature of the Iranian government and also that Iranian-Americans are Americans and not associated with the country.

    That being said, yes, I admittedly get a little nervous when I see someone wearing middle-eastern clothing. For years we were all "trained" to be en garde for terrorists, and all we were given was that they were middle-eastern. In that sense, we Americans are also at the mercy of our media and our government, all at the expense of Iranians.

    So how does this get better? It must be more than just members of the media acting more responsibly…

    • Setareh Tabatabaie says:

      Of course, by saying that most of Iran is pro-American, I do not mean that the government and army have no support. And without a doubt, state-controlled media has some effect, as media does everywhere. Nonetheless, oftentimes the state’s manipulation of the media backfires. To see a good article on the view of the majority of Iranians today, I suggest Washington Post’s Stars (and Stripes) in Their Eyes.
      And I wish I knew how it could get better. It can’t start with the media. As most media is business trying to make more money, it tries to cater to an audience. It says and produces things the people want to hear and watch. Thus, change obviously has to start with individual people. Once people start demanding change, derogatory things about individuals won’t be said on TV and such shows and movies won’t be produced. That being said, the media is obviously not helping any.

  11. Iranian-American says:

    I must say, I’m a bit surprised by the reaction to the Persian Version of Jersey Shore. I think some of the discussions here are quite important and interesting, especially the exchange between Setareh and Robert. As and Iranian-American, I have to agree completely with Setareh on the point that the Iranian people have done a much better job at separating bad policy by the government from everyday people than the American people have.

    Robert, I think you would only understand what Setareh means if you travelled to Iran. You may be surprised to find that you are actually treated better because you are from the US. I realize this may be surprising given how Iranians are depicted in the US media, and, to be fair, how the Iranian government behaves.

    But Jersey Shore, the Persian Version?! Based on the responses here I realize I must be in the minority, but I think it’s kind of funny and I don’t find it offensive. I don’t think the original Jersey Shore was offensive to Italians, though I know some Italians feel otherwise.

    The truth is, as silly as the Persian Version show idea is, it demonstrate how successful Iranians have become in America. So successful that many of the younger generation is spoiled, and kind of ridiculous- like Paris Hilton ridiculous. Paris Hilton has very successful, presumably hardworking parents. I think what you will find from the cast of Persian Version is a bunch of attractive spoiled brats whose parents probably are hardworking successful and educated Iranians.

    That’s America. Become so filthy rich that your kids become complete tools. There are many Iranians who have achieved that level of success. They are certainly not role models, but I don’t think this show will make people think less of Iranians. That’s my two cents.

    • Setareh Tabatabaie says:

      I suppose if there was a backdrop of common knowledge about Iranians, and they weren’t already discriminated against, then I could see this show as a mere sign of success of the Iranian-American community. If the only two options of Iranians in the media weren’t terrorist or party animal, if I could fall somewhere between the two, then I wouldn’t mind. No one thinks of Italians as the people in Jersey Shore, because most people already know more about Italians. What do most people know about Iranians but what the media tells them?

  12. Iranian-American says:

    To be fair to Robert, I think sometimes as Iranians we are quick to point out the American media’s role in painting a negative image of Iranians, but are slow to point to the Iranian governments role.

    Pictures of American flags with skulls on the walls in Tehran does not help. People in the streets yelling “Death to America” does not help. Having a day for school children to walk on the American flag does not help. These are all the fault of the Iranian government, and I would argue almost all educated Iranians, and many if not most Iranians, still do not harbor negative feelings towards American people. It is very surprising, but it is definitely my experience, and the experience of many Iranians and Americans I know.

    So Robert, I can understand why you would be skeptical, but honestly, I know some Americans who have been to Iran and they are always surprised to find just how welcome they are.

  13. Iranian-American says:

    Robert, I would recommend this article:

    http://www.commongroundnews.org/article.php?id=20263&lan=en&sid=1&sp=0

    “Iranians don’t hate America. On the contrary, many of them envy Americans to an unrealistic degree and think of the United States as a paradise, a land where no problems exist.”

  14. Shop Watch Buy says:

    “Robert, I would recommend this article:

    http://www.commongroundnews.org/article.php?id=20263&lan=en&sid=1&sp=0

    “Iranians don’t hate America. On the contrary, many of them envy Americans to an unrealistic degree and think of the United States as a paradise, a land where no problems exist.””

    Great read robert,

    I can’t agree with you more.

    Video Marketing and Video Shopping at ShopWatchBuy

  15. The problem with Iran, I say this as an Iranian, is that-like the English-we are too dependant on our History. At least, the height of their power still existed till recent times, ours ended centuries and centuries ago. However, we still hold on to it as if it is still relavent.

    Also, Hollywood makes fun of many cultures, Indians, African-Americans etc. So, it isn’t like we are alone in this boat.

    Ba Sepas.

  16. enosh74 says:

    As a country boy from Ohio I must admit I have not personally met anyone from Iran, however I have read the graphic novel Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.

    http://www.randomhouse.com/pantheon/graphicnovels/persepolis.html

    I really enjoyed the book and found it to be very eye opening. For anyone who hasn’t read it, Ms. Satrapi is basically detailing her childhood during the rise of the Islamic fundamentalists in Iran. It corroborates a lot of what’s being said here and I have always assumed it was accurate and that the majority of the Iranian people love western culture as a whole and America specifically.
    They did make a movie based on the book its sequel but apparently few people have seen it. Hopefully the fundamentalist government doesn’t go crazy with its nuclear program and harm the Iranian people more than it already has.

  17. gregw89 says:

    This is an interesting take and I am glad I’m able to hear an Iranian-American’s view of our culture’s perception of Iranians. I personally don’t know any Iranians, but I am not discriminatory and don’t believe any country is full of terrorists.

    I must say from my personal experience that my view of Iran is that they are building nuclear weapons and they want to bomb other countries. Of course this is just what I’ve heard from the government, so I don’t know how credible that is. But being that I don’t have any personal experience with Iranians, I can’t make a judgment of people I haven’t met.

    http://myperfectgovernment.wordpress.com

  18. kmariej says:

    BRAVO. “But the quiet dignity with which these people live their lives isn’t considered ‘good TV.'” Indeed, but that quiet dignity and sharp intelligence has made and continues to make: brilliant films, powerful and courageous literature, beautiful music, and REAL lessons in how to survive the brutalities of life with an open heart, a sense of humor, and as you said a quiet but thorough dignity.

    Ten years ago I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to learn Farsi. The closer I got to the language, the more I wanted to learn about Iranian history, literature, art, and people. The more I learned about those things, the more apparent it became to me just how destructive the “choose one of three depictions of the other” mentality is. Iranians have SO much to offer the world, hopefully more people will look through the stereotypes and start listening.

    I LOVE this post.

    Tah bad!
    Kelly

  19. Setareh Tabatabaie says:

    Kelly Joon,
    I love people like you, who learn about Iran and Iranians out of pure interest. Mersi for your comment 🙂

    enosh74,
    I keep meaning to read that book, everyone is telling me to! I read her book Chicken and Plums though, which was quite good. I recommend reading Firouzeh Dumas’s Funny in Farsi as well, it is very entertaining.

  20. gadgetboi says:

    i guess the best thing that Iranians can do is to buy all the media become a media mogul and re-write all that false information 😆 you know, just like what the Jewish did :mrgreen: Media is very important my friend, that’s why majority media owned by “certain people” … you know what happens in twitter .. flotila should be a trend topic in there but the twitter’s dude some how shut it down all the topic concerning flotila’s tragedy …

  21. Taylor Smith says:

    And let me be one more voice to encourage you to read “Persepolis”!

    It proves all the points that you are making in your post and in your responses to comments.

    I have just finished reading it and wrote a post on the theme of the veil throughout the graphic novel.
    ( http://straplesscrayon.wordpress.com/ )
    It is a short look at the story and I think you would enjoy it. At the end of the post, I mention my views, and the injustice of our countries reputations negatively influencing the people who live there.

    Also, the story shows Iranian teenagers rocking high-top sneakers and listening to American music, furthering your point of the Iranian people envying America to an extent.

  22. soratothamax says:

    The three cultural minorities in America that are misrepresented: Eastern Asian, Middle Eastern, and Native Americans. Native Americans are far less represented in America than the former, and the US was their country to begin with. No one America honors the natives.

    Blacks had to work hard for years to achieve any recognition. But the reason we did is because we started a lot of the trends that continue, especially music&Dance-wise, fashion-wise, and modern slang wise. Latin Americans are deemed as “pretty people” by the world, so they get by on their looks. White Americans are the majority, and always have been, so they’ve established a foundation in the US.

    The others…they have to work extra hard to remove the barriers to their success.

    http://soratothamax.wordpress.com/2010/06/16/the-root-of-all-evil/

    http://soratothamax.wordpress.com/2009/04/11/asian-artists-in-the-music-industry-for-this-journal/

    These are about prejudices and minorities not getting their shot in the US because of negativity presented about them to the American public. It’s sad.

  23. It’s refreshing to participate in a forum with mature contributors 🙂 I’ve learned a lot today. Thanks 🙂

    These statements really kind of wove things together for me:

    “…not least because liking the United States is also a way for Iranians to register their frustration with their own firebrand president…”

    Interesting that it could be said the Iranian government is inadvertently fueling one of the few pockets of American sentiment in the middle-east. Irony at its best. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

    “I suppose if there was a backdrop of common knowledge about Iranians, and they weren’t already discriminated against, then I could see this show as a mere sign of success of the Iranian-American community…”

    I think there should be a proper backdrop of knowledge overall with regards to Iran. Honestly I think Americans should take international culture more seriously (especially with regards to other religions, but that’s another rant 🙂 I think that needs to start with out education system.

    “That’s America. Become so filthy rich that your kids become complete tools. ”

    ^^^ I like that because honestly “The Jersey Shore” is almost a parody of American life. What makes it sad, though, is that it’s not a parody at all. These are real people who take their persona’s very seriously.

    Again, I’ve learned a lot today. I’ve got a lot to chew on. Thanks 🙂 The political world theater is a forever changing landscape, and I do hope that some good eventually comes from this ever-growing rift that is forming between the east and west. In the mean time, you definitely changed on person’s view on Iran.

  24. kmariej says:

    Setareh and enosh74, Marjane Satrapi is wonderful! She’s brilliant! Have you seen Persepolis yet? The movie and the two graphic novels it is based on are wonderful. My stepdaughter found the books on my shelves when she was only 10-years-old and read them both, back-to-back, in just one sitting. I must admit, it’s a bit of a relief that she didn’t read Satrapi’s Embroideries…as I imagine that may have led to a difficult conversation (as if Persepolis one and two weren’t intense enough!).

    Imagine how many people have stories similar to Marjane’s. I think of her each time I visit Vienna.

    Take care!
    Kelly

  25. One thing, you never trust hollywood again! You Iranians are indeed Beautiful. I lived in Miami for a while and met some Iranians there. They are hard working, fun, humble, cooperative, very united, and so down to earth. Society is crazy out there, but in my heart Iranians would always have a great real state….HUGE! lOVE YOU All!
    ~Great Love to YOU,
    Mirian from peelingtheorange.

  26. charcasmic says:

    I am a Filipino and I kind of feel short of our achievements as Filipinos. We push harder to keep our dignities up but noone still sees us more than domestic helpers and American wives. Manny Pacquiao and Charis Pempengco was able to please the worldwide crowd, but then, we’re still better off for the cast of the house cleaner and American whores. It sucks you know? So I have to say I kind of feel for you.

    BTW, I love the Persian/Iran culture! It’s really rich, exotic, and very respectable.

  27. diar says:

    they weren’t the ones to draft the first code of human rights, those were iraqi’s. hammurabi

  28. diar says:

    neither did they write thousand and one nights, you keep mistaking persian culture for arabian or babylonian culture.

    • Setareh Tabatabaie says:

      Diar,
      One thousand and One Nights, while written in Arabic, does have famous Persian literature in it, such as the story of Shahryar and Scheherezade. And I apologize for the human rights document, I should have written “one of the first”- I was referring to Cyrus’s cylinder from the 6th century BC not the Code of Hammurabi.

  29. truelovelife says:

    I love Iranians- the food, culture, people, music- everything. It’s so beautiful. Too bad others don’t see it that way. 🙁

  30. this was on the wordpress homepage 🙂

  31. goldenpast says:

    Probably one of the BEST post I have read on wordpress!

    I think the media itself is doing a horrible job in representing Iranians, arabs and in general the muslim/middle eastern world. If only people could start thinking for themselves and not believe EVERYTHING the newspapers and news channels told them… the world would be more positive and human friendly.

    I agree with you a hundred and one percent!
    Amazing work!
    I’ll definitely be coming back for more articles!

  32. eeburrah says:

    i liked your post but can you explain how “iranians are the origin of the real hair ‘poof'”?

    • Setareh Tabatabaie says:

      eeburrah,
      It was a joke 🙂 I was talking about how Iranians poof their hair a lot of time, like the characters on the Jersey Shore. My friends and I joke about how it started with Iranians, not Italians.

      Summer,
      Completely agreed.

  33. Summer says:

    Wow, this post is really moving..

    I’m not Iranian. I’m a Muslim Arab and let me tell u one thing: Arabs and Muslims in general are facing the same problem Iranians do. They all think we’re either: “terrorists, savages, or party animals”. It is very sad.

  34. Nao says:

    Even with Prince of Persia, I was pretty disappointed that they couldn’t find an actual Persian person to play the main roles, but I guess you can’t ask for too much out of Hollywood at once.

  35. Tiff says:

    Hmmm…this is an interesting post. The same thing has happened to African American and Black people for the past 100 years.

  36. Little Fire says:

    Hi, I’m an Irish-Persian, raised in Ireland.

    I very much enjoyed your article. While in mainland Europe people seem more aware about Persian culture and the total disconnect between Iranians and their government, Ireland has been slower to catch up.

    I have lived in America too and definitely surprised people who firstly didn’t expect a white girl with an Irish accent to be part Persian, and secondly with my views on my Persian heritage. It is wonderful to be part of these great, informative dialogues, they are much appreciated, thank you!

    Also, I can’t remember, but is National Military Service still mandatory for boys in Iran? (just wondering because of a comment made earlier suggesting that the government/military must have support from the people. Is it really support if service is mandatory?)

    Parisa

    • Setareh Tabatabaie says:

      Nao,
      I was disappointed at first too, but I think it’s still pretty amazing that they got a very famous actor to play in this movie.

      Parisa Joon,
      Thanks for your insight. And yes, National Military Service is mandatory for everyone who has an Iranian father. I am sure that the government and military does have support from some of the people who serve, but like you said, since it is mandatory there is no way that all of them do.

  37. njaiswal says:

    True that. I myself can never quite understand why all Indians are always portrayed as super-science geeks with awful strained accents. Stereotyping is ingrained in all of us in some way or the other, I guess!

    Take a look at one such group I picked up, which love and hold on to their stereotypes. 🙂

    http://njaiswal.wordpress.com/2010/06/10/macho-much/

    Again, great post!

  38. jonathan says:

    Ok, i’m blaffed, that teacher shouldn’t have a licence right now!

  39. Farrokh Bulsara says:

    Mashallah, it is clear that the Iranian-American youth has been very well-educated. Bravo to you, Setareh, for a very well-written article.

    I hope that my own Iranian-American children will one day aspire to write such articles honoring their heritage.

    With great thanks,
    Farrokh

  40. sid A says:

    I came to LA as a child and grew up in Hollywood California. I think its great that they are going to do a show about the Irani-American Culture developed over time in California and in particular in LA/OC area. Sure it has its faults and there was a time we all loved to have a BMW and look cool with our shades and hair cuts. But for all the critics out there that is the culture that was developed by the people that lived there for ourself to represent the young Iranian culture in California. It was something new which was both Iranian and definitly Californian. I cherish what we have started and the fact that we have created our own Californian Iranian identity in the much larger Iranian American. I hope the show’s a whole lot of Tehran-gelesy with he poofed up hair riding up and down sunset and westwood with BMW’s they can’t afford, I would love to see it and it is nothing wrong with it. I’ll be Socal-Irani till the day I die and don’t need to prove anything about my culture to the Anglo Americans or give two bits about the glory of long gone Persain empire, it does not represent me.

  41. Jose Schue says:

    I see your blog is going up, congrats 🙂

  42. Koorosh says:

    One does not have to be brainwashed to support the Islamic Republic. Perhaps you may want to be associated with Western culture and morality, but not everyone shares your opinion. Instead of simply labeling IR supporters like me and millions of others like me as uneducated and brainwashed, be mature and accept there are informed people out there with different radically different opinions than you.

    And sentiments about Iran being “openly defiant” of the international community are ludicrous. Iran has been openly threatened of a military invasion almost every day for the past decade by the United States and Israel. Yesterday the G8 blatantly said they think Israel will attack Iran and didn’t even condemn this. We are not going to sit around and just let our country be destroyed by madmen in the Washington DC and Tel Aviv. This most basic rule for any kind of coexistence for an “international community” to exist is that all people can live in peace without the constant threat of war from others just because they are stronger. (And please don’t give me any nonsense about ‘Wiping Israel Off the Map’. Anyone with a 3rd grade understanding of Farsi will know no one ever mentioned anyone be ‘wiped off the map’. Iran’s leaders have repeatedly said they have no intention of a military invasion of Israel. Whereas American and Israeli leaders refuse to take the possibility of a nuclear attack on Iran ‘off the table’)

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Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
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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.

Sincerely,

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