“Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.”
–  Foundation, Isaac Asimov

Brigade 2506 Flag
Although I am not a part of the Iranian diaspora, I have seen many similarities between its history and that of a diaspora I am part of – Cuban exiles. My grandmother, aunt, and mother were born in Cuba and fled its communist government for a better life in America. Like many other Cuban exiles they hate Fidel Castro, and want few things more than to bring his regime down. How precisely to do this, however, is a point of contention – my mother favors diplomatic relations with Cuba and expanding socioeconomic exchanges to foster demand for reform. On the other hand, my grandmother and aunt oppose engagement with the regime on the grounds that dialogue would legitimize it.

During the 1960s, there used to be serious discussion of a third policy – sparking a counterrevolution against Castro. Such talk did not seem completely unrealistic at the time: Castro was still fighting anti-communist guerillas, had alienated commercial interests with his nationalization policies, and there were several Cuban groups that wanted to overthrow him. The US agreed to provide logistical support for one of these groups, Brigade 2506, to overthrow the communists. This culminated in the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961; Brigade 2506 attempted for three days to seize the port town Bay of Pigs, but were routed by Castro. They had severely underestimated local support for Castro, and were repelled by communist militias in the area. The attack backfired in the worst ways possible: Castro proved that he could hold Cuba, framed his opponents as American puppets, and garnered domestic and international support. Although the US held military sway in the rest of Latin America, Cuba has remained a thorn in its side even after the collapse of communism in the rest of the world.

The aftermath of the 1979 Revolution in Iran bore many similarities to the aftermath of Castro’s takeover. Tens of thousands of Iranians fled abroad, including royalist military officials that wanted to reinstate the Shah, and Marxists targeted by the Ayatollah Khomeini. The main leaders of these factions were general Bahram Aryana, founder of the monarchist militant group Azadegan, and Massoud Rajavi, founder of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK). At the peak of their activities, the royalists had members stationed in Turkey and Iran itself and even managed to seize an Iranian naval ship in 1981. Alas, their plans never bore fruit – the death of prominent leaders, often in assassinations organized by the Ayatollah, threw them into disarray. Meanwhile, the MEK organized many reckless bombings against the Ayatollah and allied with Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War, which rallied Iranians to the new regime and against the MEK. Although there was no one incident like the Bay of Pigs that decisively discredited the militants, Khomeini’s accumulated victories against the exiles gave his regime new life and dispirited its opponents.

The parallels between Iran and Cuba clearly show that exiles trying to bring change in their respective homelands cannot place all their hopes on military adventurism. In fact, adventurism is generally counterproductive: In both Iran and Cuba, attacks by outside actors focused the new regimes, gave them purpose when they were struggling to define themselves, and rallied the general populace to them. Furthermore, using violence against a government often gives it license to use violence back. Ayatollah Khomeini framed his activities against dissidents abroad as defense against royalist sedition, even in cases where the activists were nonviolent and not loyal to the Shah. Even if counterrevolutionaries briefly take territory as Brigade 2506 did, they seldom possess the resources to hold it. Of course, they can seek foreign assistance towards this end, as 2506 did with the US, but this can and will be used to discredit their legitimacy.

The disastrous ends of militant exiles make clear that America should encourage change in Iran, Cuba and other post-revolutionary states diplomatically. Direct offensives invariably let brutal dictators paint themselves as victims of foreign aggression. First generation Cuban exiles like my grandmother and older Iranians tried hardline policies against the new regimes, and then isolation. Decades after both the Cuban and Iranian revolutions, this has plainly failed to bring change in both countries. By contrast, diplomacy and other direct exchanges spread new ideas and demand for reform, putting autocrats like the Castro brothers and Ayatollah Khamenei on the defensive against their own people. In countries that have been consistently failed by revolution,  nonviolent evolution offers a sustainable path to a free society.

Posted By Christian Jepsen

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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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