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  • 14 March 2012
  • Posted By Angie Ahmadi
  • 0 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Iran Election 2009

Iran’s Parliamentary Vote: The Beginning of the End of Ahmadinejad

Cross-posted from Huffington Post:

Last Friday, Iran held its first elections since the controversial 2009 presidential contest, after which millions of voters poured into streets of Tehran. Unrest following the announced re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad culminated in mass detention, torture and the death of many protesters. It also led to the near-elimination of pro-reform political forces in the Islamic Republic. For this very reason, the parliamentary vote last week should be viewed as an unrepresentative sham — nothing more than a selection process amongst the ruling conservative elite.

As the dispute between Supreme Leader Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad runs deeper, this election is widely interpreted as a battle between these two political heavyweights. With the ballot boxes now counted, the outcome categorically declares Khamenei as the winner — as was broadly anticipated. But placing Iran’s future policy trajectory in its proper context requires caution against reaching hasty conclusions. The results clearly show that candidates openly associated with Ahmadinejad and his chief of staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie failed to enter the parliament. However, the Islamic Revolution Durability Front, backed by ultra-conservative Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi and fairly close to Ahmadinejad, performed relatively well, thereby lessening the possibility of a solid opposition to the president emerging in the new parliament.

In Iran, It’s Fun To Be A Rebel

If one asks the majority of Iranian youths why they want democracy, their immediate answers are surprisingly not freedom of speech, free elections or even a better economy. “Fun” is what most of them desire the most. Having fun without being told their behavior is un-Islamic or an attempt to topple the regime.

Since the Islamic Revolution, and the rise and fall of various government figures, the definition of fun in Iran has changed drastically. Often mixed with Islamic ideologies, some of the most basic social activities in Iran are defined improper for the youth and met with crackdowns, criticism and even arrests.

An event that aroused attention and hype in Iran last month was the gathering of over 800 Tehrani girls and boys in Water and Fire Park playing with water guns and bottles just laughing and wetting one another. The so called “water war,” which was originally organized via Facebook, spread to other major cities and became a cool way to pass a hot summer afternoon.

But a few days later, national TV aired its infamous confessions of those arrested with blacked out faces, speaking about the social media scheme in which young people had been seduced into toppling the regime through a water game.

How to respond to such serious allegations?  A mocking, sarcastic confession video of a young man explaining his extensive water gun training in Israel and America quickly spread via the event’s Facebook page. Mass emails containing photos of happy faces and soaked-in-water youth in the park made the rounds through Iranian inboxes.  Further events were planned, such as a kite flying gathering in Isfahan that promised to bring the youth together for celebration of the end of summer.  On the kites, young people would scribble a dream before flying them in the air.

Yet perhaps the allegations are true.  What seems to most of us to be a joyful assembly of young men and women could at the same time very well be a protest against a system that constrains its youth’s most basic dreams.

Unfortunately, Iranians have witnessed or directly experienced the brutal clampdown of the regime not only after Presidential election, but also through the aid it’s believed to be giving to the neighboring country, Syria against protesters of Bashar Al-Assad’s regime. In the wake of the Arab spring , when hope for the future of Iran could rise from the ashes of 2009 turmoil, it is news like that from Syria which creates fear and intimidation for Iranians, leaving them to come up with alternative ways to voice their opposition.  What could be better than “fun?”

And what could be better than mocking–and reapproptiating–what the government legitimizes as proper. For example, each year, the Ministry of Culture holds a Festival for Twins of all ages–a night of (government-sanctioned) celebration, with music, performance and laughter. So, young people organized a slightly less official Gathering of Curly Haired Ones in Tehran’s Melat Park and, my personal favorite, the Festival of Bad Fashion. It has been through these events that larger gatherings such as water war were born.

Not every one is happy to see the youth of a country, who make up 70 percent of the population, coming together. So, the authorities will do anything to stop them–either with intimidation beforehand or constant crackdowns, which are promoted as acts of “restoring order” and “enforcing Islamic values.”

For those who cannot attend these events for reasons varying from obligations to fear and suspicions, social media is a great way to rebel while having fun.

Facebook invite for the "Happy and Fun Event of Raping and Splashing Acid in Faces"

Last week, I received an invitation on Facebook for an event called Happy and Fun Event of Raping and Splashing Acid in Faces with more than fifteen hundred attending RSVPs. For the location, organizers say the event will be held in every villa, street, garden, home and even public space.

It’s a perfect example of how Iranian youth have used sarcasm and laughter against the pressure, disorder and insecurity surrounding their lives.

Even though I don’t believe the behaviors of these Iranian youth are entirely and purposefully acts of rebellion, I do believe when you live in a country where everything you do–from what you wear and who you are allowed to sit next to on the bus, to what music you can listen to–is controlled by a select few, every opportunity you take to have a little fun can be, consciously or unconsciously, a way to rebel.

  • 3 September 2010
  • Posted By Setareh Tabatabaie
  • 3 Comments
  • Human Rights in Iran, Iran Election 2009

In the Spirit of Ramadan, Attack that Cleric

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFl-5hJ6_xM]

Since Sunday, pro-government militiamen have been gathered outside Mehdi Karroubi’s home, in effort to prevent him from attending the annual Qods Day rally that took place today. Usually a state-sponsored rally to demonstrate solidarity with the Palestinian people, last year Karroubi and other opposition leaders marked the day by gathering tens of thousands of their supporters into the streets, resulting in violent clashes with security forces. Last month, Karroubi announced that he would attend the Qods rally this year as well.

Consequently, for the last five days, the plainclothes militia have been pelting stones, breaking windows, shooting guns, and spraying the walls of Karroubi’s home with paint and slogans like “Death to Karroubi.” Chants among the crowd have included  “We congratulate the union of the United States and Karroubi,” “We are responding, O Khamenei,” and “If only Khamenei would give us the order to fight.” Today’s attack, however, was more intense than all others, with Fatemeh Karroubi, Karroubi’s wife, claiming that it seemed as if the crowd wanted to kill her husband.

All the while, policemen stood by watching.

Both Fatemeh and Karroubi’s son Hossein Karroubi are attributing the continuation of the attacks to the Supreme Leader. In an open letter to Ayatollah Khamenei on Wednesday, Fatemeh Karroubi wrote, “These obvious crimes are taking place in your support and in front of the security forces who do not dare to approach these attackers.” Hossein Karroubi questioned Ayatollah Khamenei as well, saying, “You think of yourself to be just like Imam Ali [Shia’s first Imam]. Is this the way of Imam Ali? Is this the way of Ali, that you want to confront someone, have attacked the home of a 73-year-old man and have blockaded his home and set it on fire?”

One of Karroubi’s bodyguards, “Mr. Yari,” was even assaulted and is now in the hospital.  In addition, aside from being vandalized, Karroubi’s home also no longer has phone service, electricity or running water, leading Hossein Karroubi to compare it to Palestine and its occupation.

The ironic part is that despite all this effort, the Qods Day rally today still did not turn out the way the government wanted. In fact, Fars News Agency attacked both BBC and al-Arabiya for minimizing the turnout in their articles. Moreover, it seems that the story on Mehdi Karroubi has overshadowed the story on the Qods Day rally, an unintentional backfiring of the attack.

It is quite sad to see the Iranian government’s reliance on intimidation and threats in order to try to silence its critics and would-be reformers. As the late Ayatollah Montazeri said, it seems Iran is neither Islamic nor a republic. What is especially ironic, though, is that this attack took place during the holiest month in the Islamic calendar: Ramadan. Instead of gathering with family and friends to break the fast, reflecting on the self, or giving back to the community, some people instead chose to attack a 73-year old man and his home, somehow believing it was more Islamic. So tonight, when I break my fast, I will pray for them, and all the people of Iran.

Can Obama Keep His Promise to Iran’s Youth?

The early verdict on the new Iran sanctions is that even the “smart” sanctions have proven to be, well, dumb. Instead of targeting Iranian government officials connected to the nuclear program or who are complicit in human rights abuses, the new sanctions are punishing young Iranians who have been the greatest allies of democracy, human rights, and accountability in Iran.

Late last week, it was revealed that young Iranians looking to attend college abroad are now facing serious impediments because of new sanctions. The Educational Testing Service–the US-based company that provides standardized tests necessary to apply for college, like the GRE and the TOEFL–announced that it was suspending tests for hopeful students in Iran in order to comply with recently passed UN sanctions.

Back in March, President Obama recorded a statement to Iran for Norooz–the Iranian New Year–in which he promised to “sustain our commitment to a more hopeful future for the Iranian people,” which he said would include “increasing opportunities for educational exchanges so that Iranian students can come to our colleges and universities…”

But with the announcement that standardized testing has been suspended in Iran due to sanctions, President Obama has failed to live up to that commitment.

This President claimed that he could walk and chew gum at the same time. But in placing “pressure” at the center of his Iran policy, every other element of the President’s Iran strategy is being subsumed by a singular focus on punitive actions, including the President’s “outstretched hand” promises to the critical demographic of Iranian youth.

For those keeping score, the UN passed multilateral sanctions against Iran on June 9, which were then followed by more stringent, unilateral sanctions passed by Congress and signed into law by the President on July 1.

In the weeks that have passed, Iranian civilian jets have been denied access to European airports and, because Congress’ sanctions specifically forbid companies from providing jet fuel to Iran, Iranian passenger planes are struggling to find ways to refuel, doubling the cost of travel for Iranians. Meanwhile, many of the same Iranians who were taking part in protests and fighting brutal government repression last year are now feeling the crunch of sanctions as the prices for most goods rise steeply.

And now, young Iranians who want to travel the world and study in universities in America and Europe are finding that US-led sanctions are denying them that opportunity.

President Obama seems to understand to the importance of connecting Iran’s youth to the world, given that he has placed an emphasis in his outreach efforts on student exchanges and opening up the Internet. Iran is a country of young people–60% of Iranians are under thirty. All of these youth were born after 1979, post-Islamic Revolution, post-hostage crisis, and many even post-Khomeini. They have only lived under the broken promises of the Revolution and yearn for greater rights, more opportunities to express themselves, and increased interaction with the outside world. They are not moved by the Iranian government’s propaganda and don’t find relevance in the anti-Americanism that many in Iran’s government claim as its raison d’être.

Young Iranians hold the greatest hope for a democratic Iran that has positive relations with the US and its neighbors. But by punishing these young Iranians and providing reasons to resent and distrust America, we play into the hands of those in Iran’s government who are more comfortable with isolated, dejected young population than with a vibrant youth that is connected to the outside world and adamant about their rights and aspirations.

President Obama isn’t the only one who understands the importance and power of Iran’s youth. Ahmadinejad’s government is increasingly exerting pressure on young Iranians, a continuation of the crackdowns at university campuses that has been central to Iran’s efforts to suppress dissent over the years. There are instances of increasing cultural repression–such the policing of haircuts and nail polish, and new restrictions on movies and music. There are also expanding attempts to infiltrate and influence young Iranians through schools and universities, including a recent announcement that the government would be dispatching clerics to schools this fall to counter Western influence in classrooms.

Clearly Iran’s government understands that Iran’s young people are the locus for change in Iran. But the US will only alienate these young people by telling them they can’t study in America or even take the GRE.

Obama Administration officials said for months that they only sought sanctions that would punish Iran’s government, not its people. But it’s unclear if any actions were actually taken in this regard. Sanctions are rife with unintended consequences–just look at how US sanctions last June blocked American communication software from being legally available in Iran, even as Iranians depended on Internet communication tools to broadcast their protests to the outside world. Those sanctions have thankfully been repealed, but not until the damage had already been done.

President Obama may not have intended to ban Iranian students from studying abroad. But until he reconciles his stated intentions towards the Iranian people with his Administration’s prioritization of pressure, a pattern of contradictions will continue to emerge between what the President promises on Iran and what policies are actually being pursued.

Urge President Obama to keep his promise to Iranian students

This post originally appeared at the Huffington Post.

  • 16 June 2010
  • Posted By Shawn Amoei
  • 1 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran, Iran Election 2009

One Year Later: Are We Missing the Real Story?

Much attention has been given to the absence of large street protests on the anniversary of Iran’s disputed elections. This focus on street protests however, largely misses the point of the opposition movement today.

“A government that is scared of a corpse is a weak government,” Shirin Ebadi said, referring to the government’s decision to bar families of killed protesters from holding public funerals. Attacks on Mehdi Karroubi and  raids on the offices of Grand Ayatollahs Saane’i and Montazeri show the increasing desperation of Iran’s rulers. Every website managed by WordPress (the most popular blog hosting platform on the web) has been filtered since this past weekend in Iran (including this blog), and the Revolutionary Guards have even set up a “Facebook Espionage Division.”

All of this indicates that the Islamic Republic is a regime that has become afraid of its own shadow.  And this is the real story of the past year.

Pundits in the West have been quick to write obituaries for the Green Movement because it’s been unable to maintain the mass protests we last saw on Ashura. They ignore the fact that the regime has now become permanently on edge, and every crackdown against the opposition is a testimony to this.

One year on, the real story is that a pro-democracy movement that had long been simmering under the surface has finally been thrust into the spotlight.

Those who expected to see the toppling of the mullahs within a year failed to grasp the difficulty of such a task in an authoritarian state. Ayatollah Khamenei understands better than anyone the fragility of his authority, and his actions in recent weeks are the best indication of this.

Movements in pursuit of democracy and independence are long, protracted struggles. At times, the efforts of the people manifest themselves in public displays of strength. But even more important are the times in between where ordinary citizens retreat to their homes and places of worship to discuss the future of their country, and to engage in a spirited discourse about the future of their political system. And this has been the most fundamental achievement of the Green Movement: to craft an alternative narrative for Iran’s future that abandons the status quo.

Once that idea catches on in the minds of the people, it’s only a matter of time before it becomes a reality.

Opposition leader Mir-Hossein Moussavi points out in the Green Movement charter issued on the anniversary:

“By rejecting the ruling establishment, by going back to their own homes and developing and expanding their social networks, strong and reliable relations between the various strata of the nation have been established. The social networks have created miracles in the area of informing [the nation] of political-social and cultural [developments]. All we need to do to understand this is to glance at their artistic productions, the amount of news and information that is exchanged, and the analyses that are going on in a completely democratic way. The Green Movement has created a powerful wave of debate and discussion concerning the critical problems among the people that is unique in our recent history.”

This debate — more than the number of people out on the streets or in the jails — is the true measure of the movement. Those who ignore this are missing the biggest story of the past year. “Just because there are less people on the streets does not mean that the movement has weakened, but that the criticism has taken a different form,” Shirin Ebadi said on Tuesday.

Joe Klein of Time Magazine said in reference to Iran on Sunday that “this is the greatest mismatch between a people and a government of any country in the world.” Very true. And that mismatch — not displays of strength on the street — is what will ultimately bring about the change Iranians have long been waiting for.

  • 16 June 2010
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • 1 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran, Iran Election 2009

What Mousavi’s Charter Means for the Green Movement

Mir Hosein Mousavi’s latest statement — called a “charter” for the Green Movement — is the clearest sign yet that the Iranian opposition is transforming from a purely reformist movement to one demanding more fundamental change to the political system.

Mousavi made a strong case for the separation of church and state in Iran — a direct challenge to the Supreme Leader’s religious and political authority — asserting that that “Laws of the land including the constitution are not eternal and unchangeable.”

“The constitution is not engraved in stone,” He said.

This proclamation can be interpreted as a warning to the ruling elites — that the opposition will not stand idle in the face of political persecution, and will be compelled to take more forceful measures against the government if their demands for the rule of law continue to be rebuffed.

Another leading figure, Sayed Mostafa Tajzadeh, who was jailed during the post-election turmoil, has written an important analysis of the current state of affairs in Iran, apologizing for the “mistakes of the first decade of the Revolution,” which included violence and repression on the part of many leading opposition figures today.

We all made many mistakes at that time but, today, instead of continuing the positive aspects of what we did, [the rulers] are continuing the same mistakes…Let me state it as clearly as possible, that our consenting silence regarding the [the actions of the] revolutionary courts [in the 1980s] was our mistake; but mass arrests of law-abiding critics, rendering the protesting citizens “Kahrizaki” and shooting at them directly are so repugnant that they can no longer be referred to as “mistakes.”

Tajzadeh echoed the Ayatollah Khomeini’s declaration that “every generation must decide its own fate,” continuing:

We cannot claim to be adherents of the Paris declaration [by Ayatollah Khomeini in the fall of 1978] about democracy, human rights, freedom of expression, the press, political parties and the Voice and Visage, women’s and ethnic rights, free elections, and republicanism and its link with Islam, but not speak out against the root cause, reasons, impediments, and mistakes that prevent these from materializing.

Some may argue that the opposition is no longer viable, and that the hard-liners have solidified their hold on power since last year.  But the tactics they have used to remain in power have in fact created more and more opposition. By ruling through fear; by outlawing normal political activity; by employing cruel methods to silence dissent, Iran’s hardliners are only swelling the ranks of opposition and increasing popular disaffection.

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

Whitewashing Neda’s Death

[vodpod id=Video.3838962&w=425&h=350&fv=]

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.

  • 28 May 2010
  • Posted By Setareh Tabatabaie
  • 2 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran, Iran Election 2009

Regime doth protest too much

It seems that despite any claims to the contrary, the Islamic Republic is still at least a little bit fearful for its safety and survival with the upcoming anniversary of the June 2009 elections.

This can be seen in the detaining of artists, hikers, Canadian journalists, and French academics (among many others). It can be seen in the execution of Kurds, Afghans, Bahai’s, and election protesters. However, perhaps the most controversial, the most offensive, and the most un-Islamic, is the recent declaration of a documentary to be released by Iran’s Intelligence Ministry to “complete the removal of ambiguities surrounding the murder of Neda Agha Soltan” and provide “new evidence” about the West’s version of events. In other words, to prove that Neda’s murder was staged.

I understand the obsession with Western conspiracies, as there have been many in Iran’s history. I myself am often the first to point to an underlying conspiracy as an explanation for things. Nonetheless, it is clear to any reasonable person that Neda’s death is not a conspiracy. If the initial evidence was not enough to prove it, the regime’s reaction was.

Neda’s family was threatened to make false confessions attributing her death to the West. Her family was prohibited from holding a funeral for her, despite funerals being very important in Iranian and especially Muslim culture. Neda’s fiancé and the doctor who tried to save her life in the video, both scared for their lives, left the country. Her grave was desecrated by supporters of the regime. And now, after all this time, the regime brings it up, yet again, by pointing its finger to others.

But I do not want to argue that Neda’s death was indeed the work of the Islamic Republic, because there are many others who have done that before me. Rather, I would like to point out the regime’s psychological insecurity, at bringing up a death from nearly a year ago. This documentary, like the recent arrests, executions, and detentions, is to be released shortly before the one-year anniversary of the June 12 elections. These events all happening in the span of a few days are more than a coincidence; they are to continuously dissuade people from participating in expected protests. This documentary is likely meant to undermine the powerful symbol she has become as well as the legitimacy of the opposition movement in Iran.

But how long is a family to suffer? The Islamic Republic ought to stop exploiting and hurting the Iranian people simply to allay its own fears and insecurities. Besides, who is really going to believe that the blood coming from Neda’s death was from a ketchup bottle?

As one of the many who cried upon watching Neda’s death, I can only imagine how her family must feel. My advice to the Islamic Republic: show a little Muslim compassion, it is what we are best known for. Let the dead rest in peace. And let the living finally move on.

The Bastions of the Paramilitary

Hossein Sajedi, Tehran’s police chief, said yesterday that despite the fact that “some media” (read: Mousavi and Karroubi) have called for rallies on June 12, Iranian security forces will confront any “illegal” demonstrations. “Police will confront any illegal gatherings … police are vigilant and in charge of public order and security,” he said.

My question to Mr. Sajedi is: what is the definition of an illegal demonstration? Is it one that involves students staging a sit-in at their university? Is that illegal? Are singing and holding up peace signs also a threat to national security?

On Saturday and Sunday, students at Tehran’s Islamic Azad University staged a sit-in as protest against the fraudulent June 2009 presidential elections and calling for the release of their classmates who had been imprisoned in the months after the election.

Apparently, this was deemed illegal, as security forces broke up the protests. According to Daneshjoo News, at least four students who were critically injured by Basij forces, rather than receiving medical attention, have been arrested.

I fear for a government which violates its own constitution in arresting those partaking in peaceful protests. Of even bigger concern though, is the way the government has transformed the country’s bastions of knowledge into bastions of the paramilitary. As a result of the sit-in and the attacking security forces, afternoon classes were canceled, reminiscent of the way classes were often canceled for the same reason shortly after the 1979 revolution. In addition, security forces threatened students with harsh sentences from the university’s disciplinary committee, a clear violation of university rules.

When the university officials become involved in oppressing their own students, the very nature of the university as a free and safe atmosphere is threatened. Not only is the canceling of classes obviously detrimental to the students’ learning, but this oppression will undoubtedly negatively affect many students’ forms of thinking at an age when they are most receptive to new ideas. While this may be the aim of the regime, this generation is the very future of the country. And to attack one’s future generation and their chance of flourishing is not only stupid, it is also self-destructive.

Why Rafsanjani is so important for the Greens

Six months ago in Mashad, Iran, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani delivered a speech to a group of Iranian student activists saying: “If people want us, we will govern; and if they don’t, we will have to go.”

This might have seemed like nothing new, but it wasn’t coming from just anyone — it was said by Hashemi Rafsanjani,  Iranian cleric and a two-term Iranian president.  Still to this day known as one of the most powerful individuals in Iranian politics, Rafsanjani leads the body that has the power to unseat the Supreme Leader.

This one statement, coming from Rafsanjani, cracked the entire foundation of Velayat- e- Faghih — the rule of God’s representative over man and country.

Just a few days ago, Rafsanjani reiterated his statement when delivering a speech at the anniversary of a religious ceremony in Tehran. After welcoming his guests, Rafsanjani started speaking about the will of the people and how people are in charge of their own destiny. He said God will not take anyone to Heaven by force who doesn’t want to go himself; each person has the right to choose for him or herself the path he/she will take.

“We have to find the path of God ourselves with our own will. Our own will and that is what is important.”

These subtle political messages are common among Iranian clergies, and they regularly communicate with each other through speeches at different sermons, which can be extremely frustrating to an outsider. Rafsanjani later said:

“The path of good vs. evil has existed since the beginning of time and will continue to be around until the end of time. Humans have been and must continue to be responsible and free to choose their own path in this world.”

No wonder the hard-line conservatives have been severely attacking Rafsanjani lately. He has been around even before the Iranian revolution and has actively been one of the main pillars of the Islamic Republic establishment since its inception. At this point in time, though, he is coming to realize the incompatibility of the current establishment with the new Iranian generation and the democratic world.

He is aware that significant reforms will be needed in order for modern Iran to survive, which is exactly what the Green Movement has been saying for the past year. If the system does not bend with the demands of its people, then it will be just like what Rafsanjani said, but perhaps much harsher.

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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