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  • 21 February 2013
  • Posted By Sina Toossi
  • 1 Comments
  • Sanctions

Are Google “doodles” sanctioned?

Google recently created a special “doodle” to mark the 812th birthday of the polymath Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, and attributes him to every country in the Middle East except the one where he actually comes from–Iran.

Doodles are commemorative changes in the Google homepage logo that are meant to celebrate an event or individual. In honoring al-Tusi, Google did the commendable thing of raising awareness about an individual and time many are unfamiliar with. However, Google committed one rather large disservice to the spread of accurate historical information with this doodle by attributing almost every country in the Middle East and North Africa (including Afghanistan) to him except the one he was actually from. Indeed, Nasir al-Din al-Tusi was a native of Khorasan (a region in north east modern day Iran), spoke and wrote in Persian as well as Arabic, and grew up in the Iranian cities of Tus, Hamedan, and Neishapur.

Now the reasons for why there was no attribution to Iran at all for this doodle are unclear. Many Google doodles, including this one for al-Tusi, are country specific. That is, they only show up on the Google homepages in countries that are listed under location on the page for the doodle. Iran does not even have a location page on the Google doodle website, which suggests it is simply excluded from Google doodle. Even doodles such as last year’s one for the Persian New Year exclude Iran. This begs the question of whether or not excluding Iran from these doodles is a result of Google having to blacklist Iran because of sanctions.

Google remains one of the few sites in Iran not blocked by the Iranian government, and many Iranians rely on it for email and search, and even make extensive use of the Persian language version of Google. Yet, Google does have a history of blocking certain services for Iran, citing sanctions. When Google Plus was introduced, Google first banned the service for Iranian IP addresses (calling Iran a “forbidden country”) before Iranian government filters got anywhere close to it. Google’s popular Google Play app store for Android mobile platforms has also long been blocked for Iranian customers. Google Earth, the Chrome Browser, and the photo service Picasa were also blocked for Iran until events (mostly the Green movement protests) and pressure led the U.S. government to issue a license that allowed these programs to be made available in Iran. Several organizations, including NIAC, have called in the past on Google and other tech companies to stop blocking Iranian people from accessing Internet communication tools.

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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