Iran’s rulers hardly need assistance to make the lives of Iranians miserable. Iranians are suffering mightily under their government’s flagrant human rights abuses, political repression, and economic mismanagement but, writing in the Hill last week, Representative Brad Sherman argued that punishing the Iranian people is exactly what the US should do.

“Critics [of the sanctions] argued that these measures will hurt the Iranian people,” Sherman writes. “Quite frankly, we need to do just that.”

That Rep. Sherman so blithely asserts we must punish Iranians (a philosophy that has previously been offered by Republicans Mark Kirk and Dana Rohrabacher) underlies the futility and confusion in Congress’ sanctions addiction and it may explain why the Iranian pro-democracy activists are distancing themselves from the US. A foreign government that seeks to punish your innocent population is not what one would want to have on one’s side.

Mehdi Karoubi, a top figure in the Green Movement, explained in a recent interview with the Guardian that the sanctions are a gift to Ahmadinejad.

“These sanctions have given an excuse to the Iranian government to suppress the opposition by blaming them for the unstable situation of the country,” Karoubi told the paper. “Look at Cuba and North Korea. Have sanctions brought democracy to their people? They have just made them more isolated and given them the opportunity to crack down on their opposition without bothering themselves about the international attention.”

Sherman pays little regard to such warnings, along with the long history of failed sanctions regimes against Cuba, Iraq, and even Iran. Instead, he (and many other Members of Congress) points to South Africa.

The South Africa sanctions were not “targeted”, Sherman says, but instead punished the entire economy and hurt “the very people we wanted to help.” “Ultimately,” Sherman explains, “Nelson Mandela thanked us for the sanctions.”

But Sherman is wrong. Nelson Mandela did not “ultimately” thank us—he and his supporters had been calling for sanctions for years in the face of opposition from Washington. It wasn’t until 1986, towards the very end of the struggle against apartheid, that Congress imposed sanctions on the apartheid government over President Reagan’s veto.

And in the South African case, the South African opposition supported sanctions.

But for Iran, the opposite is true. The leaders of Iran’s democratic opposition have unequivocally condemned sanctions as destructive to their movement and harmful to the most vulnerable Iranians.

But nobody is listening— lawmakers like Brad Sherman apparently know better than the Iranians on the front lines of the democratic struggle what is best for their movement.

Sherman neglects the Green Movement protests that were based not on economic grievances, but on the demands of Iranians for democracy and human rights. Delusions that sanctions can provide the pretext for a population to successfully demand democratic reforms fails to account for governments like Iran’s which have demonstrated themselves to be unresponsive to their populations and adept at exploiting sanctions to strengthen their grip on power. Iranians are still struggling for democracy and human rights, but the sanctions only impede that struggle.

There are other significant differences between the South Africa sanctions and the measures recently put into place against Iran. For South Africa, the US included scholarships for black students and support for human rights NGOs.

For Iran, US NGOs face so many obstacles imposed by US sanctions, not to mention obstacles posed by Tehran, that very few actually work there. And the first victims of the new sanctions were young Iranians—the vanguards of the democracy movement—hoping to study in the US who were denied the opportunity to take TOEFL tests.

Iran’s repressive rulers may not need help in punishing their own population. But if Brad Sherman is so intent on adding to the Iranian people’s suffering, I suspect that the Ahmadinejad government will be more than happy to accept his offer and will gladly give Washington more than its fair share of credit.

This post was originally published on the Hill’s Congress Blog

Posted By Jamal Abdi

    3 Responses to “Rep. Sherman Wants to Help Ahmadinejad Punish Innocent Iranians”

  1. Pirouz says:

    Jamal, why the blanket statements such as “the Iranian people” suffering from their government?

    Here’s a sample perspective from one of the nearly 63% that voted for Predisnt Ahmadinejad in the 2009 election:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=spxrC5TFIO8&feature=player_embedded

    And surely you must be aware of the WPO polls, which found little evidence the Iranian public sees their government as illegitimate:

    http://www.worldpublicopinion.org/pipa/articles/brmiddleeastnafricara/652.php?lb=brme&pnt=652&nid=&id=

    I voted Green in the 2009 election, but I accept the result. I also accept Iran for what it is, politically and socially. To do otherwise runs contrary to the wishes of the majority of Iranians living inside Iran.

    It’s okay to have a particular political persuasion in Iranian politics, if you are eligible to vote, and do in fact vote. But to press for this minority persuasion irrespective of the majority, or to misrepresent this minority as encompassing the entire “Iranian people,” is both wrong headed and dishonest.

  2. Iranian-American says:

    Pirouz,

    Too many people here have pointed out the flaws in the WPO poll and yet you stubbornly hang on to it as the only piece of evidence you have, which flies in the face of the overwhelming evidence that the Iranian people, of all social classes, are suffering under this government.

    What I would like to comment is how you must view Iran and the Iranian people. I think most Iranians would be quite insulted by what you think “Iran is socially”. With every such comment you make, I doubt more and more if you have actually ever been to Iran. To be honest, I’m not sure you would know where you were if you woke up in Tehran tomorrow morning. I think you would be surprised to see how secular and forward-thinking most Iranians, rich and poor, are in big cities like Tehran.

    The greatness of the US comes from the fact that it’s government was carefully designed by the brightest of its people. I have no doubt the brightest and most educated Iranians could do an even better job.

    You know, if you were just a little more self-aware, you might see that you are not very different than the Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell supporters here in the US. They also use the same reasoning. They would like to believe that they “accept what the US is socially”. Thanks to the forefathers of this country, the United States of America is not in the pitiful shape Iran is.

  3. While I neither support military action against Iran or adhere to any particular faith, the human rights situation in Iran should shock any individual of conscience regardless of their background. Stoning executions in general and the Ashtiani case in particular struck such a nerve in me that I wrote the following article: http://rightlegalhelp.net/blog/modern-day-human-sacrifice-iran Unfortunately, even though she may not be stoned, she is still scheduled for execution. I hope that sufficient international exposure concerning her case will compel the Iranian government to release her.

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Sign the Petition

 

7,349 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.

Sincerely,

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