Currently Browsing

Posts Tagged ‘ NIAC insight ’

  • 8 August 2013
  • Posted By Caroline Cohn
  • 2 Comments
  • discrimination, Sanctions

Want to book a flight to Iran on Kayak? Sorry. But North Korea’s nice this time of year.

When Iranian Americans started reaching out to us a few weeks ago asking why websites like Kayak and Priceline were no longer allowing users to book flights to Iran, NIAC contacted the top executives of seven online travel agencies currently engaging in the practice to attempt to fix the problem. We told these companies – Orbitz, Priceline, Expedia, Tripadvisor, Cheaptickets, Hotwire, and Kayak – that, while sanctions are broad and confusing, they do not prohibit travel or the booking of travel to Iran. Since then, we’ve been contacted by Orbitz’s VP for Corporate Affairs who told us that the reason they block these sales is indeed sanctions. Or rather, the over-enforcement of sanctions that are so broad and ambiguous, private companies have been scared out of doing any business related to Iran even if it means booking flights for Iranian Americans to visit family.

Travel hurdles and restrictions aren’t a foreign concept in the U.S. You can’t simply book a flight to Cuba, either. In fact, all travel to Cuba by Americans traveling as individuals is expressly prohibited. Though, as of 2012, you can go to Cuba in a group – so long as you travel with an organization that has an official license from the U.S. State Department. In any case, given the stringent travel restrictions on Cuba, it makes sense that if you search for a flight to Havana on Tripadvisor, your attempt fails and the same error message – “we cannot complete your request…” – appears.

In the case of Iran, however, U.S. federal regulations explicitly do not restrict travel, and they certainly do not prohibit online travel agencies from facilitating Iran-related travel. And yet, as is the case with most other goods and services that are technically exempted from the sanctions, it appears that many companies are simply unaware of or unwilling to take advantage.

But what about North Korea, the country threatening war with the U.S. and our allies, and with a much more extensive nuclear war capability than Iran? Interestingly, we noticed yesterday that you actually can book flight tickets to Pyongyang, North Korea, through one of the websites, Kayak.com. Type in “Pyongyang” as your destination on Kayak, and you can find flights with no problem; although, some of the other online travel sites won’t process your request.

So why can’t you book flights to Iran? De jure technicalities aside, the de facto consequences of broad sanctions on Iran is clear. The Iran sanctions are the harshest sanctions regime ever imposed on a country during peacetime, according to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Many businesses, like many of these online travel agencies, have been convinced that zero association with Iran is a better business decision than the potential costs associated with any sort of business association. This has actually been the unofficial U.S. policy with regard to Iran sanctions for some time, to convince private actors that any business involving Iran, even if it’s perfectly legal, is simply not worth the risk. And this has also been the mission of organizations like United Against Nuclear Iran who name and shame any company doing any business with Iran, even if its legitimate.

Rouhani Raises Hopes for Diplomacy at First News Conference as President

By Samira Damavandi and Caroline Cohn

At his first press conference as Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani indicated his willingness to reengage in diplomatic talks with the West, raising hopes for finding a solution to the current standoff over Iran’s nuclear program.

Rouhani replaced outgoing President Ahmadinejad, whose bellicose anti-U.S. and anti-Israel rhetoric only exacerbated the already tense relationship between the U.S. and Iran. The election of Rouhani, a centrist candidate who pledged “constructive interaction” with the world, was a rare positive sign for a potential easing of tensions between the two estranged nations.

Of Rouhani’s news conference on Tuesday, the Washington Post noted that  “It was certainly a remarkable tonal departure from Ahmadinejad, with lots of talk about compromising with the West.” As Rouhani fielded questions from the media – which included reporters from both inside and outside of Iran, including the U.S. – he made several positive remarks indicating his plans for steering Iranian foreign and domestic policy in a more conciliatory direction.

Diplomacy

In response to several questions about his plans for renewing nuclear negotiations, many posed by Western news correspondents, Rouhani reaffirmed his plans to pursue a more diplomatic approach to foreign policy, starkly opposite from the approach of his predecessor.  “As I have said earlier, our main policy will be to have constructive interaction with the world,” said Rouhani.

Stop talking war, start talking…

We’re slowly reaching a critical point in the nuclear impasse with Iran.

If you listen to Iran hawks on the right, Iran is hell bent on getting a nuclear weapon.  They just know that’s what Iran wants, despite, as Roger Cohen suggests, no evidence or logical basis supporting their conclusion.

Unfortunately, there’s been little to no push back against what sounds eerily familiar to the rhetoric coming out of neo-cons in 2002, pre-Iraq invasion.

Keeping quiet could lead us beyond the point of no return, where no matter what we do or say or what calculus we use, the end result is a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.  Of course, many Iran-hawks will portray this as a “limited strike” sortie, where only nuclear facilities are attacked.  But if “limited strike” doesn’t sound a whole lot like “slam dunk” or “cake walk,” you might not be listening closely enough.

For us to assume Iran would not respond to “limited strikes”, that Iran would slow or end its enrichment of uranium, that Iran would somehow become more pliant in its reporting, and that the rest of the Middle East would remain quiet, is recklessly naive at best.

I want to be clear before I go forward.  I don’t support an Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons.  But the fact is Iran has not decided to actually begin a nuclear weapons program.  The only conclusion we can draw from a new IAEA report is that they are still in the investigations phase, despite attempts to suggest otherwise. And Iran still hasn’t decided if they actually want a program, and, if they do, what will it look like.  As I’ve written previously, all major intelligence analysis points to this conclusion as well.

Unfortunately, some have decided, despite the fact Iran is within boundaries of international law circumscribing uranium enrichment and despite the fact Iran remains operating within the framework of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the US needs to threaten Iran for its transgressions—as Senator Lieberman’s questioning of Leon Panetta at his recent confirmation hearings would suggest.    What we have to understand is that, in many ways, the policy coming out of Tehran is in large part a response to such threats.  (Disclaimer, this doesn’t mean that Iran is helping its cause by being evasive regarding their program.)

This means that they could decide they are safer with nuclear weapons, or with people thinking they have nuclear weapons.  We have to refrain, however, from accelerating any decision by Iran to seek nuclear weapons.  Far worse, however, would be a self-fulfilling prophecy–an attack on Iran that drives them to decide to weaponize.   As my former professor Dr. Robert Farley, at the University of Kentucky’s Patterson School of Diplomacy and Commerce says, “Angels weep when we mistake pre-emptive strikes with preventative strikes.”

  • 20 October 2010
  • Posted By Setareh Tabatabaie
  • 3 Comments
  • Events in DC, Events in Iran, Sanctions

Paying for the US-Iran Feud With Blood

In the summer of 2009, in the aftermath of the elections, there was obviously a lot going on in Iran. But one of the things that I remember made everyone hold their breaths in those months is probably not what you’re assuming right now.

On July 15 2009, an Iranian passenger jet – a Russian-made Tupolev – crashed, killing all 168 people on board. Nine days later, another plane – a Russian-made Ilyushin – crashed in a local airport, killing over 20 people. The close succession of crashes frightened us all, and made us realize how vulnerable Iranians really are to sanctions.

At the time, I, along with many other Iranian Americans, was in Iran, and to get between cities and provinces I had to fly. I remember praying that nothing would go wrong as I entered each plane, before takeoff, and before landing. And I remember holding on for dear life when I heard the plane rattle the slightest bit. And I’m not scared of flying.

I remember asking my family why the crashes had occurred. Were Iranian planes just not up to par to American ones? “Sanctions,” they responded, surprised at my ignorance.

  • 29 September 2010
  • Posted By Setareh Tabatabaie
  • 3 Comments
  • US-Iran War

Military Attack on Iran: A Combination of Ignorance and Naivety

As always, those who talk about what US policy towards Iran should look like, are already prepared for failure of current US policy.

Now Senator Joe Lieberman is preparing to “up the rhetorical ante” on Iran and endorse military actions if sanctions fail

In an excerpt of what his staff has labeled a “major policy address” to be delivered at the Council on Foreign Relations later today, Lieberman states:

It is time to retire our ambiguous mantra about all options remaining on the table. Our message to our friends and enemies in the region needs to become clearer: namely, that we will prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability — by peaceful means if we possibly can, but with military force if we absolutely must.

This comes after  Senator Lindsey Graham last week called for direct military intervention for the purpose of regime change in Iran.  “From my point of view,” Graham said, “if we engage in military operations as a last resort, the United States should have in mind the goal of changing the regime…not by invading (Iran), but by launching a military strike by air and sea.”

Obviously, many things come to mind at their proposal: the question of whether or not Iran is even developing nuclear weapons, the mess we have created and left behind in Iraq, and the chaos we find ourselves in in Afghanistan. Even leaving all this aside, however, I am still left confused and bewildered by the increasing call for military action against Iran by some of our nation’s so-called leaders and experts.

Perhaps most dangerous is the effect military strikes would have inside Iran on the prospects for change. Those who advocate a military attack argue that it will lead to a revolution and possible regime change. These idealistic hopes could not be farther from the truth. As Shawn Amoei wrote, “To believe this is to seriously misunderstand nationalism, the Iranian people, and Iranian history.” See the Iran-Iraq War as the perfect example of how the Iranian people will come together, even under an undesirable regime, in the face of foreign invasion.

A military attack will have a detrimental effect on those within the opposition and civil rights movements within Iran, who already fear being tainted by the US. As insideIran.org researcher Shayan Ghajar eloquently explained:

“Foreign attack on Iran would lead to further marginalization of internal opposition movements by the central government, or would cause a surge of nationalism that temporarily erases domestic disputes. O’Hanlon and Riedel agree, saying, “Nor is a strike by an outside power likely to help the cause of Iranian reformists.” … Mir Hossein Moussavi, the most prominent politician in the Green Movement, has repeatedly argued against… “foreign domination.” …Human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, too, opposes any form of military action. Politician Ataollah Mohajerani, who has ties to numerous opposition leaders, said that any attack on Iran would serve only to strengthen the Iranian military and distract the public from their internal divisions.

In other words, rather than fomenting change, a military attack on Iran would do just the opposite.

In the aftermath of the June 2009 presidential elections in Iran, Joe Lieberman said, “We have to do everything we can… to support the people of Iran.” Now, just a little over a year later, he is explicitly endorsing bombing Iran. I’m sorry, but you can’t have it both ways.  But  it sounds like Lieberman will be joining his friend Lindsey Graham and assert that they know what’s best for the Iranian people, that Iran’s opposition leaders and human rights defenders are wrong, and that the people of Iran will greet us as liberators.

  • 8 July 2010
  • Posted By Setareh Tabatabaie
  • 2 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran, Iranian Youth

Bad Hair Days Now Mandatory

In Iran, summer came with a severe crackdown on the Islamic dress code.

Said Tehran’s police chief Hossein Sajedinia on the recent crackdown:

The public expects us to act firmly and swiftly if we see any social misbehavior by women, and men, who defy our Islamic values… In some areas of north Tehran we can see many suntanned women and young girls who look like walking mannequins.

The photo above, from Iran Focus, shows a fine of 22,500 Toman handed down by Iran’s morality police to a woman for wearing nail polish in public. The ticket also shows a list of other offenses and their respective fines:

Glasses over the hair: 18,000 Toman
Short manteau: 25,000 Toman
Bright manteau (green or red color): 25,000 Toman
Nail polish per finger: 5,000 Toman
Tan: 25,000 Toman
Light hair (depending on the color):  From 50,000 to 150,000 Toman

Like many others, when I first saw this photo, several questions came to mind. What if you are a natural blonde? Why is having a tan un-Islamic? Isn’t it only natural to put your sunglasses on top of your head when you’re not wearing them? How can they ban wearing a green manteau, when green is the color of Islam?

I thought it couldn’t get much more ridiculous.

Of course, I was proven wrong yet again. This week, Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance issued a series of photographs of approved Muslim hairstyles in effort to ban the country of “decadent Western cuts.”  According to the guide, ponytails, elaborate spikes, long hair, and mullets are now illegal.

“The proposed styles are inspired by Iranians’ complexion, culture and religion, and Islamic law,” said Jaleh Khodayar, who is in charge of the Modesty and Veil Festival at which the guide will be promoted later this month.  Yet while Iranian complexion is quite diverse, the choice of hairstyles is not. With little sideburns and limited use of gel allowed, almost all models in the guide sport very similar 80s-like hairstyles.

With increased international isolation, it seems Iran has been increasingly turning within itself, and the Iranian people have been left to deal with the repercussions. And one of the many consequences will be that Iranian men will be having bad hair days more often.

  • 8 July 2010
  • Posted By Setareh Tabatabaie
  • 3 Comments
  • Culture, Iranian American Life

Talented Iranian American Top Ranked in Film Competition

Ali Tabibnejad knew he was meant to be a film-maker since he was a child in Ahvaz. He would go into a room by himself and act out entire films. He imagined an entire film industry in his head: from different studios — different rooms in the house– to different theaters and directors. He would even imagine sales figures for the films and pick winners among them in imaginary film festivals.

Now, Tabibnejad is turning his favorite childhood game into reality. His film, “Untitled for James,” is currently ranked as one of the top six films in Openfilm’s Get It Made Competition. “Untitled for James” is about connecting to people and how technology affects that connection. It is the story of a son who has given up on his father because the father has been a technology-obsessed workaholic, working on advancing technology and its promise all his life. The son, an anti-technology musician, thinks he has figured it all out, but in actuality his life is in tatters. Through the events depicted in the film, his father succeeds in connecting with him.

The creation of the film was no small feat. Just days before production was to begin, Tabibnejad lost his lead actress. With challenging and frantic last minute rewriting, Tabibnejad did not stop rewriting until the very last edits in the post-production.

When asked about his interest in film-making, Tabibnejad stressed the social nature of art. “I hope to be a filmmaker in the tradition of Mohsen Makhmalbaf, not just because I have admired his films growing up, but also because he uses his status as an artist for social change,” he told NIAC. “I believe that the platform for expression that artists are afforded in society brings with it the responsibility to fight for the freedom of others.”

Asked whether he views himself as a role model for other Iranian-American involvement in the arts, Tabibnejad replied, “No, but I hope to be one. Iranians are a talented people, often intimidatingly so, and if my story inspires any Iranian to commit to the arts, I would count myself blessed.”

If Tabibnejad’s “Untitled for James” is still ranked as one of the top six films at the end of July, he will have the chance to turn it into a feature film. With this jumpstart to his career, Tabibnejad hopes to later revisit and explore his Iranian roots through cinema. “I don’t think any film has done justice to the richness of Iran’s recent history… and the breadth and depth of the personal stories that Iranians have been the heroes of in the last thirty to forty years.”

  • 1 July 2010
  • Posted By Setareh Tabatabaie
  • 3 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran

A Half-Hearted Attempt at Accountability

A military court in Iran sentenced two men on Wednesday to death and nine others to jail for the torture of three protesters which resulted in their death last summer at the notorious Kahrizak detention center.  According to the report on Jahan News, an additional 33 others  were also accused of attacking a student dormitory in Tehran.  Despite this development, however, many human rights violations in Iran continue.

Following is a list of some of the many ongoing human rights abuses in Iran that should not be overlooked.  Unfortunately, this isn’t an exhaustive list.

-Currently, Zeinab Jalalian is on death row for 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.

-On June 26, approximately 50 houses owned by Baha’is were demolished in a village northeast of Tehran. According to an eyewitness, the houses were set on fire and then demolished by four bulldozers. “We informed the governor’s office that they were destroying our houses, but they did nothing to prevent it,” he said.

-According to Human Rights Watch, there are 16 Iranian-Kurds on death row in the notorious Evin prison. Their names are Rostam Arkia, Hossein Khezri, Anvar Rostami, Mohammad Amin Abdolahi, Ghader Mohammadzadeh, Habibollah Latifi, Sherko Moarefi, Mostafa Salimi, Hassan Tali, Iraj Mohammadi, Rashid Akhkandi, Mohammad Amin Agoushi, Ahmad Pouladkhani, Sayed Sami Hosseini, Sayed Jamal Mohammadi, and Aziz Mohammadzadeh.

-Majid Tavakoli, a renowned Iranian student activist, is currently suffering from a rapidly deteriorating physical condition in Evin Prison. According to Human Rights House of Iran, Tavakoli is suffering from abdominal bleeding.

Despite the concerns raised by Tavakoli’s prison mates, prison officials have yet to transfer him to the infirmary at Evin.  Tavakoli’s physical condition has deteriorated to the extent that he is no longer able to speak on the phone.  After days of no news, although he contacted his mother briefly today, he was unfortunately unable to speak to her for long due to his incessant coughing.

-Isa Saharkhiz is an imprisoned journalist who has been in prison for a period of one year without due process. He is suffering from hypotension and low blood pressure and recently collapsed for the second time. Prison officials have refused to transfer him to the prison infirmary despite his deteriorating condition.

-There is no news of political activist Mehdi Ale-Ziarat who was originally detained on June 10, 2010. He is a member of “Tose’eye Melli” (National Development) student publication and has worked on a number of articles and photos which were to be used in the first issue of this journal.

These are but a few of the many human rights abuses still going on in Iran.  This list could be far longer.  While news of the Iranian government finally punishing some of those responsible for such abuses is welcome, continued human rights violations show that the government is half-hearted at best in its attempt to display some accountability here.

  • 29 June 2010
  • Posted By Setareh Tabatabaie
  • 2 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran

A Majlis of the IRGC, by the IRGC, and for the IRGC



The recent battle over Azad University and its assets is not only a sign of a growing division in Iran’s hardliners. If one looks more closely, the growing importance of the IRGC in Iranian politics is also becoming clearer.

Originally created by Ayatollah Khomeini to be the Supreme Leader’s personal militia, the IRGC acts independently from the official armed forces. While it already controls a large segment of the Iranian economy, in the last decade the IRGC has also been increasingly acting like an independent branch in the government.

In recent decades, the IRGC has been used to suppress Iran’s rapidly developing civil society and student movement. Over the last two years, though, it has reached a boiling point: Hillary Clinton said Iran is becomming a “military dictatorship,” and the disputed electoral victory for Ahmadinejad last June was labeled a military coup.

“It is not a theocracy anymore,” said Rasool Nafisi, an expert in Iranian affairs and co-author of an exhaustive study of the IRGC. “It is a regular military security government with a facade of a Shiite clerical system.”

Now, the IRGC’s ascendancy is playing out in a battle over Azad University, its board, its 1.5 million students, and its billions of dollars worth of assets.

On June 19, Azad University’s board secured a temporary injunction preventing the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution (SCCR) from enforcing its revision of the university’s charter. In support of Azad University, on June 20 a bill was rushed through the 270-member Majlis that allowed universities to endow their properties to the public, thus circumventing the government takeover of the University.

As all political moves in Iran are protested by one group or another, shortly thereafter Basijis and Ahmadinejad loyalists protested outside Majlis, claiming the bill was against Khamenei’s will. Protesters threatened to place the Majlis “under fire” unless it backed away from its bill.

What is interesting to note is that the Basij and Ahmadinejad loyalists were not actually acting in the name of the Supreme Leader as they claimed. In fact, Khamenei came out and called for unity, saying “I object to any comment, move, action, or written text that leads to division and rift…We need to promote consolidation.” It thus seems that the Basij have actually developed a position of their own, independent of the Supreme Leader.

As a result of the heated protests, 100 legislators voted for emergency discussion of legislation that would support the SCCR’s authority in the matter. In other words, this discussion could overturn the endowment bill passed earlier on June 20.

The fact that protest by the Basij led many Majlis members to change their mind is a sign of their growing power.  According to U.S.-based political analyst Reza Fani Yazdi:

“It seems that from now on any bill that is due to be ratified by the parliament [must] be approved by the security military forces, otherwise the same thing will happen and they will bring their pressure groups to the streets and force the parliament not to make any independent decisions— even the current parliament, which includes many former members of the [Revolutionary Guard] and close aides of Ahmadinejad’s government.

As NIAC Advisory Board Member Reza Aslan said shortly after the June elections, “There is a genuine fear… that Iran is beginning to resemble Egypt or Pakistan, countries in which the military controls the apparatus of government.” If the IRGC begins to control the Majlis as well, Aslan will have proven to be right.

It is important to note, of course, that the IRGC is far from a monolithic organization. Members voted for various political candidates in the elections and of course do not all support Ahmadinejad. In fact, many former members denounced the regime’s brutal crackdown following the June 2009 elections. The effects of this great diversity on the battle over Azad University remains to be seen.

For now,  if the Ahmadinejad camp wins this political battle, they will control the billions of dollars of assets belonging to the university. The university’s campuses will be controlled by the government’s security and military apparatus. But most important, and perhaps most frightening, their victory will also serve as a precedent for the IRGC to effectively control the Majlis in the future through intimidation and violence, thus permanently overshadowing the most representative branch of the Iranian government. And with such a diverse IRGC, who knows what will happen next?

Photo Credit: Radio Farda

  • 17 June 2010
  • Posted By Setareh Tabatabaie
  • 49 Comments
  • Culture, discrimination, Iranian American Life

Will the Real Iranians Please Stand Up?

In the past three decades, American perceptions of Iran have shifted dramatically.  The very people who once had an empire, who drafted the first human rights declaration, and who were one of America’s closest allies in the Middle East are now among the most misunderstood and discriminated-against populations in the country.

First, Iran was labeled as a member of the ‘axis of evil’. Then, in the movie 300, Persians were depicted as pillaging, deranged savages wearing rags. Public officials and famous politicians oftentimes make off-hand and flippant comments about killing or hating Iranians.

All of this has led much of the public to equate all Iranians in their minds with terrorists and suicide bombers.  (I actually had a World History teacher tell one of the Iranian-American kids in my class to be quiet because “All Iran exports is terrorism.”)

With Prince of Persia, we were finally portrayed in a good light. Our ancient world was being shown in romantic and mythological ways based on revered Persian literature, The Book of Kings and A Thousand and One Nights. For once, my dad said he’d actually sit through a movie without falling asleep. We were all excited.

We should have known that it wouldn’t last long…

Enter: Jersey Shore — The Persian Version.

“Two thousand years ago the Persian Empire ruled the ancient world…but they didn’t have your soundtrack, your style, or your swagger,” reads the casting call for the new reality show, seeking “anyone who uses exotic appeal to get anything or anyone [they] desire.”

For anyone who has not seen Jersey Shore, the show currently consists of a cast of young Italian Americans, whose “reality”-show lifestyle is little more than drinking and partying. They live on the beach, but refuse to tan anywhere but a tanning salon, and take an hour to get ready, with a lot of hair gel and a lot of hair spray involved. The characters either hook up, or attempt to hook up, with a sort of mad desperation.

And now they’re going to do the same thing with Iranian Americans.

A short while ago, the Iranian band Zed Bazi came out with a song called “Iranian of LA,” making fun of the very people who are chosen to represent our community in this show.  Now everyone knows that Iranians are the real origin of the hair “poof” and can party as much as anyone else. But honestly, no one wants to be represented by the type of people and lifestyles shown on Jersey Shore.

The sad thing is there are hundreds of amazing Iranian Americans who deserve some recognition: artists, fashion designers, film directors, actors, doctors, website founders, and more.  But the quiet dignity with which these people live their lives isn’t considered “good TV.”

For a moment, we thought our reputations might be saved with a last-minute addition to your nightly TV line-up: Funny in Farsi. But sadly, that show was nixed after the first episode.

Silly Iranians, we were told by Hollywood, you have three options only: terrorists, savages, or party animals. Take your pick.

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,

[signature]

Share this with your friends: