• 19 October 2010
  • Posted By Jamal Abdi
  • Events in Iran, Sanctions

Obama Shifts, Iranians Seethe

The Washington Post reported on Sunday that the Obama Administration is using sanctions to prevent Iranian civilian flights from refueling in Europe—flights that serve as “the main lifeline for Iranians with the outside world.”

This draconian step is particularly troubling since it is coming from an Administration that claimed to understand that isolating the Iranian people could “risk alienating parts of the population with which the West seeks to establish common cause”, and from a President who committed to “a more hopeful future for the Iranian people” through increased student exchanges.

But the Post explains how the Administration is working to divert and ground Iran Air flights by pressing oil companies in Europe not to refuel civilian flights.  This is a deliberate effort, according to one source in contact with the Administration, who asserts, “Be sure, the Obama administration is fully aware of the situation Iran Air is in.”

Thomas Erdbrink writes:

[The new sanctions effort] illustrates a shift away from an earlier U.S. policy of reaching out to the Iranian people and trying to target mostly state organizations central to Iran’s nuclear program. Officials now admit that the increased pressure is hurting ordinary Iranians but say they should blame their leaders for the Islamic republic’s increasing isolation.

But Erdbrink quotes a passenger on a diverted flight who takes exception:

“What do we have to do with our government?” an Iranian man asked loudly, after discovering to his surprise that the plane had landed on the Vienna tarmac. “We are becoming prisoners because of these disagreements between Iran and America.”

Stuart Levey, the top Treasury official responsible for sanctions, was asked by Charlie Rose earlier this month whether there was a concern that sanctions punishing Iranians may hurt the America’s image there and play into the Iranian government’s hands.

Levey responded, “Look, there’s an argument that says that.  I don’t think it’s an argument that’s ultimately persuasive because in this case, first of all, we don’t see the people of Iran rallying against the United States because of sanctions.”

But the perception by Iranians that they are becoming “prisoners” stuck between a repressive government that has managed to withstand popular pressure and a U.S. coalition that is indifferent to their suffering is an increasingly prevalent theme.

While President Obama explained last month on BBC Persia that Iranians should blame their own government, not the U.S., for the sanctions, that explanation left Iranians “seething”.

Jason Rezaian reports in the Global Post:

“Our connections with the outside world are diminishing every day,” said one Tehran-based photojournalist. “It feels like we’re being made into another North Korea, and it’s not just our leaders doing this, it’s the rest of the world, too.”

Similarly, an article by Rezaian in the Asia Times today reports on the reactions of Iranian citizens to the reinstated U.S. ban on Persian carpets:

“We’re wondering why the American government would do this,” said Mohammad Mehdizadeh, who comes from the renowned carpet-weaving city of Kerman and was exhibiting his wares at the international fair in Tehran. “These sanctions will only affect people in the trade. What connection does the rug business have with politics?”

The Supreme Leader, attempting to capitalize on sentiments like these, while emphasizing his own message calling for unity against outside threats, claimed today that the sanctions were aimed at creating divisions in Iran and increasing the suffering of the Iranian people.

The Administration should not be surprised by these reports.  Just nine months ago, Hillary Clinton was stating that the U.S. sought to press Iran “without contributing to the suffering of ordinary [Iranians], who deserve better than they are currently receiving.” Senior Administration officials said they had to be “deft” because “it matters how the Iranian people interpret their isolation—whether they fault the regime or are fooled into thinking we are to blame.”  But now it appears Obama is shifting away from these considerations.  Hopefully his Administration is deft enough to take its own advice before it’s too late.

Posted By Jamal Abdi

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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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