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  • 12 August 2010
  • Posted By Shawn Vl
  • 3 Comments
  • Uncategorized

Iranian Students Face Hardships at Home, Obstacles in the U.S.

On Monday, the NY Times published an article discussing the rising number of Iranians seeking to study int he US and the hardships they encounter in the process of applying for U.S student visa’s.  The piece suggests that more Iranians are coming to the U.S. to study because of repression at home, where Iranian students who express their political views are blacklisted from universities and forced to continue their education abroad. But troubles for Iranian students continue once they have left, since  the U.S. only permits Iranian students to obtain single-entry visas, meaning students are unable to leave the U.S. at any point during their studies–which in some cases can be for up to a decade–even for academic conferences or to visit sick family members.

It is mind boggling that the White House has procrastinated so long to alter the single-entry student visa policy vis-à-vis Iran. I say mind boggling because Washington is allowing its political confrontation to impact academic and cultural exchanges with Tehran.  A common excuse cited by the State Department to justify its single-entry policy is predicated on the principle of “reciprocity” –which is supposed to replicate the student visa procedures of the country with which we have no diplomatic relations. But ironically, Iran’s student visa posture actually allows foreigners to study in Iran without the single-entry restrictions that Washington has imposed on Iranian students. It is regrettable that the White House, which has the authority to change this burdensome policy, is managing to perpetuate a bitter divide that only exasperates tensions and limits the possibility of cultural and academic dialogue between our two nations.

Iranian students already face serious obstacles from their government to study in the west. For example, Iran’s Minister of Health, Marzieh Dastjerdi has announced that the new restrictions will apply to students seeking to study in Britain and the United States. Dastjerdi’s announcement is in line with the Supreme Leader’s wish to discourage any study abroad program that exposes Iranian students to western educational institutions. One may ask why the Ayatollah would be so afraid if Iranian students studied in Europe or the U.S. And perhaps, the best answer is that those who travel abroad may better realize how their system of governance is so authoritarian and repressive that it will entice them to demand for change.

It is in our interest to open our doors to ambitious Iranian students who desire to receive the best education the world can offer. Such an opportunity can usher a new prosperous phase in citizen diplomacy, and more importantly, would create a bridge between our cultures that will overcome decades of animosities and misconceptions.

Therefore, it is very disconcerting to learn that Washington’s reciprocity principle is based on mirroring the Islamic Republic’s indignant policy toward Iranian students which is detrimental to the advancement of human rights and democracy in Iran.

Ahmadinejad Accuses Opposition of Supporting Sanctions

Earlier this week, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reacted to the latest round of international sanctions by lashing out at his political arch nemeses, Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mir Hossein Mousavi, during a televised conference with the heads of Iran’s propaganda machine, the IRIB.  Ahmadinejad didn’t call them out by name, instead referring to them as those “who were responsible for forcing the Imam [Khomeini] to drink the poisonous chalice” — referring to UN Security Council resolution that brought an end of the Iran-Iraq War.  These individuals – Rafsanjani and Mousavi — “were complicit with the West” in imposing sanctions against Tehran and trying to “put an end to our government,” Ahmadinejad claimed.

Of course the leaders of the Green Movement have repeatedly spoken out against international sanctions.  Nevertheless, Ahmadinejad pretended as if the opposite were true – not unlike much of official Washington – in order to attack the Green Movement as treasonous.

This being Ahmadinejad, he went even further. He declared “we wanted this from God –we were waiting for them [the Green Movement] to come,” alluding to the brutal crackdown on protests that ensued after his disputed re-election.

Despite Ahmadinejad’s bellicose rhetoric, his standing is not nearly as firm as he would have the world believe.

Ahmainejad’s allegations come a week after the head of the IRGC, Ali Jafari, admitted for the first time in public that some IRGC officials are supportive of the Green Movement.  According to Rahe Sabz, top officials, such as the Supreme Leader and top IRGC officers decided to forcibly retire 250 members of the Guards who had sided with Mousavi after last year’s disputed presidential election.

These two events together show the depths of the rifts that continue to grow by the day within the Iranian government.  Ahmadinejad’s striking accusations are surprising, even for someone as strident as Ahmadinejad. He is, after all, accusing the head of one of the most powerful institutions in the Islamic establishment of colluding with the U.S against his government.  Moreover, while there was always some speculation that certain members of the IRGC were at odds with the government’s brutal reaction to the demonstrations, Jafari’s announcement further demonstrates that the IRGC is not a monolithic institution with unwavering allegiance is to the Supreme Leader.

Although the green movement may seem to be on hiatus, people in the U.S should not make the mistake of believing that the movement has been crushed by the government. While protestors have grown weary of taking to the streets to be beaten, the political schisms in Iran show no signs of healing, and only time can tell what will happen next.


Leverage Through Sanctions Not a Long-Term Strategy

Last week, the U.S took a page out of its well-worn foreign policy playbook and imposed new sanctions on North Korea. The similarities between the U.S approach to North Korea and Iran are striking, centering on a strategy of sanctions, isolation, and containment.

It can be argued that the U.S has had more success isolating North Korea — though a lot of the responsibility for that also lies with Kim Jong Il (something the hardliners in Tehran should be aware of).  But there is one crucial difference in trying to apply this same model of containment and isolation to Iran, and that is Tehran’s indispensable geostrategic importance.

The Persian Gulf is and will continue to be perhaps the most vital region in the world. Iran is the world’s fourth largest oil producer, thereby providing the government substantial oil revenue, and giving them a key opportunity to ensure that sanctions never fully seal off the country’s economy, as there will also be a buyer for Iranian oil.

For that and other reasons, a policy that depends on isolation and  containment as the sole approach for dealing with Iran is doomed to fail.

By looking into the history of sanctions imposed on Iran, and by spending time in Iran, it’s not difficult to realize that sanctions are not as persuasive as many in Washington might like to believe. Under nearly three decades of sanctions, Iran went from having no enrichment capacity, to creating an indigenous reactor and installing more than 8000 centrifuges. Three rounds of international sanctions did not stymie their efforts to build the planned enrichment facility in Qom. Sanctions did not impede the IRGC’s ballistic missile program that is continually evolving.

Washington’s motto: “Leverage through Sanctions” clearly isn’t working — and it’s not because we haven’t made sanctions “crippling” enough.  It’s because Iran refuses to be bludgeoned into submission.  If a country like Iran faces a choice between economic hardship and absolute humiliation, it’s likely to choose hardship every time.  But if given a chance to save face, it’s very likely that Iran will play ball.  Diplomatic engagement offers a better way forward than sanctions ever will, precisely because diplomacy offers a chance to convey privately all of the ways Iran stands to gain by acceding to the demands of the international community.  It will be a give and take, with concessions on both sides, but it offers a much greater chance of success than sanctions, pressure, and bullying.

What’s more, a diplomatic solution offers a long-term strategy, while sanctions — even if successful — only offer a short-term change of behavior.  Think about it: if the US can make sanctions so painful that Iran gives up its nuclear program, isn’t it likely that future generations will resent that outside pressure being forced upon their country?  Throughout history, this pattern of behavior has given rise to nationalist movements that produce greater degrees of instability in the long run than the original conflict ever would have.

Alternatively, negotiated settlements offer the chance of a win-win, with no loss of national prestige and possibly even a net benefit for the country overall.

  • 1 July 2010
  • Posted By Shawn Vl
  • 1 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran, Iranian Youth

Iranian-Kurdish Activist Faces Threat of Imminent Execution

Note: NIAC is Urging President Obama to Publicly Press Iran to Halt the  Execution of Zeinab Jalalian

Zeinab JalalianZeinab Jalalian, a 27 year old Iranian-Kurdish activist, is reportedly in imminent danger of being executed after being convicted of Moharebeh, or waging war against God, in a trial that has been roundly condemned as unfair and unjust by human rights defenders in Iran and around the world.

Reports indicate that Jalalian’s trial lasted only minutes, she was denied access to a lawyer, and no evidence was presented against Jalalian during her trial.

“The entire case is so full of irregularities that the authorities are obligated immediately to investigate the circumstances of her detention and trial,” said Hadi Ghami, spokesperson for the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI). “The life of a young woman hangs in the balance; her execution will be interpreted as another state-sanctioned murder in cold blood.”

  • 25 June 2010
  • Posted By Shawn Vl
  • 2 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Iran Election 2009, Persian Gulf

Iran’s Hardliners Continue Splitting

Tensions are boiling in Iran’s parliament over the government’s demand to take control over the assets of Azad University, which amounts to over $200 billion. This feud between the parliament and Ahmadinejad’s administration reflects the ongoing battles between the camps of Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad. (Azad University was one of the most successful pet projects and legacies of the Rafsanjani era.)

Recently, the hardliners organized a mob of Basijis to demonstrate against the parliament in order to make the MPs succumb to the government’s demands for changing the Azad University’s Board of Directors that are part of the Rafsanjani coterie. The mob chanted offensive slogans, like “Death to the hypocrites” and “Shame on this disgraceful assembly.”

But this intimidation actually backfired. In response, many conservative MP’s lashed out at the government of Ahmadinejad for instigating “such insolence.” This response is reflective of an emerging third conservative faction that has become disillusioned with the hard-liners like Ahmadinejad and is increasingly distancing themselves from their hostile policies. Prominent conservative elements of the Majlis, like Motahari and Larijani, are also fed up with the political tactics of intimidation employed by Ahmadinejad supporters.

Obviously, this rift in the establishment is the product of last year’s presidential elections. The post-election turmoil sparked an internal power struggle that is continuously fluctuating in its intensity. Without this constant struggle, it is unlikely that such a sensitive matter that would have so embroiled the different chambers of the Iranian government, and then have surfaced for the entire Iranian nation to see as well.

  • 15 June 2010
  • Posted By Shawn Vl
  • 9 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran, Iran Election 2009, MEK

Whitewashing Neda’s Death

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This state-produced propaganda video was broadcast on the anniversary of the June 12th election, alleging that Neda Agha Soltan was not murdered by a Basij militiamember but rather by members of the Iranian government’s favorite scapegoat: the MEK.

In an interview with the suspect who is widely believed to have been behind Neda’s shooting, the video attempts to portray the Basiji as an innocent victim wrongly convicted in the court of public opinion. But when the filmmakers approached Neda’s sister to get her support for their version of events, she would have nothing of it.

What amazes me about this propaganda piece is not the fact that the regime is trying to cover up Neda’s death, but how they are trying to use Neda’s death as cover for the hundreds of other people that were also killed or went missing during the post-election uproar. Somehow, the government is under the impression that if they rid themselves of Neda’s death, then all their other crimes against the public will also be wiped clean. But it won’t work.

Neda is indeed a symbol of the Green Movement, but her death also bears witness to the other victims of the government’s brutality. If the hardliners want to truly redeem themselves, they need to come clean about the hundreds of other killings they’re responsible for, and the thousands of other crimes they’ve committed — not just this one.

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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