E Pluribus Unum

It’s no challenge trying to find an American flag and seal in the U.S. State Department. Almost every place you look, you can find our nation’s beautiful seal decorated with these powerful words, “E Pluribus Unum” meaning Out of Many One.

But the reason I went to the State Department was not just to admire the flags and phrases, but to attend a conference,  The Secretary’s Global Diaspora Forum.  As an Iranian American, I was interested to hear from Hillary Clinton about how diaspora communities like mine fit into the diverse American tapestry.

Kris Balderston opened the conference and noted that nowadays the meaning of our nation’s motto has transformed into a similar concept that we are one nation united under the precepts of being Americans working together towards common goals. No matter what country of origin, ethnicity, religion, or gender the citizens belong to, they are all striving towards the same things whether it is education, freedom, or peace. The purpose of this conference is to recognize and connect all the different Diasporas in the United States and provide them with a road map to the future full of success and achievement of common goals. Additionally, the conference encourages building bridges from the Diasporas in the U.S. to their countries of origin, via people to people interactions.

Did you know that over the past 45 years, the number of people living outside their county of origin has almost tripled from 76 million to 215 million? How about that the global Diaspora has sent over 351 billion dollars to their families in developing countries which is more than governments spends on foreign aid? Or how about that the U.S. has the largest global Diaspora members of any country, with 60 million first or second generation Americans?  Diaspora communities are very important in our country. Hundreds of thousands of people immigrate to the United States in pursuit of a happiness, better life, and freedom.

Then it was time for the keynote speaker, U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.  “We all believe Diaspora communities have enormous potential to solve issues in their countries of origin,” Clinton said.  There is only so much the government can do to try and fix relationships between countries or resolve problems within other countries, but there is so much more the empathetic Diaspora members can do whether they are Latino-American, Chinese-American, Irish-American, or even Iranian-American.

So, what was conspicuously absent was the lack of the Iranian-American Diaspora’s presence at this conference, though there were a few individuals in attendance. Due to the broad and indiscriminate sanctions in place that restricts just about any cooperation or transaction with Iran, many of the lessons preached at the conference were simply not applicable to the Iranian-American community.

However, Ms. Clinton’s speech, while not directed to the Iranian Diaspora per se, could still be applied to Iranian Americans who are working towards greater unity, mentorship, networking, participation in the greatest democracy in the world by voting, and hopefully affecting the broad sanction policy that limits even simple interactions like people to people exchanges.

One story shared by Secretary Clinton that really hit home was about her recent trip to Ireland. She said she sat down with two Irish women who had never spoken, not because of their location or another reason, but solely their religious beliefs. One was Protestant and the other was Catholic. When asked what they were most afraid of, their answers were quite surprising. One answered saying she was afraid her husband would go to work and not make it back home. The other woman said she was afraid that her son would not make it back alive from school each morning. Their concerns were the same. Ms. Clinton said, “There has to be a way to reach across the divide of history together and unite them knowing their husbands, sons, daughters, and loved ones would make it home safely.”

Although this is taking place in Ireland, it can apply to a lot of things near and dear to our hearts even more broadly in the Middle East or even throughout the world. It doesn’t matter if we live in Washington DC, Dublin, or even Tehran, we are “wasting the great gift god has given us,” according to Ms. Clinton, by arguing and fighting over irrelevant topics and issues that are history.

Instead, as Tara Shoeshine, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs said wisely, “It is the people to people connections, heritage, and feeling very warm and positive towards another cultures that last beyond layers of time.”

Posted By Denna Nazem

    One Response to “E Pluribus Unum”

  1. Cynthia Chen says:

    Great article!

    We are more the same than we are different.

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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.



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