Saturday, May 07, 2005

Iranian politicos

Ladan Afrasiabi, who has been very active in Iranian diasporic groups in the Bay Area, has asked me to post her article on my blog. I met Ladan a few years ago when the Iranian Women Studies Foundation Conference was being held in Berkeley. We were both among the volunteers who helped with different organizing committees. In one of my recent posts, I had pointed to the uncritical celebration of "success" among the Iranian diaspora. Ladan's article also addresses this issue and is a critique of one of the Iranian diasporic organizations (Iranian American Political Action Committee).

By the way, another Iranian diasporic organization (NIAC) is running a phone campaign this Tuesday in response to the "Iran Freedom Act," which Ladan has mentioned in her article. A reincarnation of last year's "Iran democracy Act," this act is extremely dangerous and needs to be stopped. So, visit NIAC's campaign page to see what you may be able to do. I am not sure if I can follow the "do and don'ts" in NIAC's "General Tips" section. I guess I am having a hard time becoming that nice docile subject! In any case, read more about "Iran Freedom Act," (H.R. 282; S. 333) which proposes "to hold the current regime in Iran accountable for its threatening behavior and to support a transition to democracy in Iran." As I have said before, I am against this horrifying bill, but I do not necessarily agree with all the arguments provided by NIAC in opposition to this bill either. But, regardless of my critique of NIAC, they do have organizing power and are an important lobbying organization. Perhaps at some point, I will write my critique of NIAC's politics of representation (which is one of the topics I talked about in the Iranian diaspora conference in Washington). But to reiterate what I have mentioned before, to critique a group is not to reject it wholesale.

By the way, don't you love how "freedom" and "democracy" are resignified in these bills to mean U.S. expansionism? Oh, why am I surprised??? Haven't we seen OIL (Operation Iraqi Liberation)?... oops! I meant Operation Iraqi Freedom! Yes, "freedom" and "democracy" are the confetti being thrown around along with U.S. bombs and bullets. Get used to it! Freedom and democracy come at a cost these days: death of the other. And the ones who keep selling and buying it in this neo-liberal market of open exports and imports, are the ones who are really concerned about the "people!" Yes we know...

So after this long post, here is Ladan's article:

Political Action Committees
The Lost Gem

By Ladan Afrasiabi

In recent years, Iranians have been making headlines across the globe, especially in the US, wining accolades in the fields of technology, medicine, academia, cinema and visual arts. These surges of recent accomplishments have created a sense of pride and hope among Iranian ex-patriats. The new wave of successes has generated an ever-growing interest in showcasing the “successes” of Iranians, as well as, inspiring some with the opportunity to congregate and project these financial and social influences into the political arena.

Not surprisingly then, names of a few Iranians have popped up as candidates for political offices, and some Iranians have displayed financial/political muscle by contributing large sum of money to various political campaigns. Yet a few of these wealthy ex-patriats have strived to organize and mobilize the “rank and file” Iranians living abroad around their mission to harness this untapped new pool of financial and social influence, and to exert political power. One of these organizations is a lobby group called the Iranian American Political Action Committee (IAPAC), formed by a number of Silicon Valley and East Coast new millionaires, driven by a strong desire to monopolize this bank of wealth and talent.

To begin with, I am skeptical when groups of business people, who seem to have suddenly woken up to their forgotten heritage, announce that they are going to fight for Iranian’s civil rights, change legislations, and influence US Immigration and Naturalization laws. They claim that they will do so through their newly developed political connections and by contributing to the so-called “Iran Friendly” lawmakers, who are yet to come out of the closet.

IAPAC has been able to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Iranian community at large based on such feeble premises, while never taking a stand on any issues relating to Iran or the US-Iran relations in particular. IAPAC claims that it is possible to change legislations, and alter laws affecting Iranians, without ever having to step out of the comfort zone of “non political” or “anti-political” mindset. In my opinion IAPAC lacks specific political agendas and suffers from the absence of clear direction, simply to appease its politically diverse constituency, so to make IAPAC a successful fundraising entity, with a dubious agenda.

IAPAC inventors seem to think that they can, as the Zen master once asked, “Get the gem from the bottom of the pool without getting wet”.

The sudden emergence of this lobby group, incidentally the group was formed following a group resignation/ coup d'état of Hassan Nemazee, Akbar Ghahari and Faraj Aaalie from the American Iranian Council (AIC), to form IAPAC, requires us to draw a distinction between a lobby group and traditional grass root organizations in the Iranian Diaspora communities.

Ever since 1970’s formation and then the fall of the Confederation of the Iranian Students, many grass root organizations have come to existence, promoting cultural, civic and political participation in our communities in the US and across the globe. Some groups, to this day, have stayed true to their original political platforms (Right, Left or Center) and others have devoted their resources to social, cultural and civic activities.

As an activist since late 70’s, I am a believer in any and all organic and grass root organizations and have much hope for cultural and professional groups such as Women’s groups, Iranian Studies, NIPOC, SIP, Persian Center, Payvand, or political groups such as NIAC, BAYAT, BAYVOTER, where they encourage and bring forth a new culture of social and political consciousness, and promote civic duties with an intrinsic structures for sharing the organization’s authority and responsibilities. These organizations are pillars of the democratic expressions of citizenry and are the training grounds for our future leaders.

On the other side of the spectrum we have political organizations such as American Iranian Council (AIC), which for over a decade has attempted to address the politics of US-Iran relation, and successfully assisted in the partial lift of the sanctions against Iran during the Clinton era. AIC has not changed its course despite much pressure from the organized loyalists in Los Angeles and despite many labels of “pro IRI” and “spy” of the government in Iran. As such, it may have had a challenge in recruiting the otherwise anti-politics generation of Iranians, who take pride in staying out of politics, although their lives are very much affected by the very same politics.

And then we have a group of new self-made multimillionaires, such as Kamran Elahian, thrilled by their own business successes, who have suddenly surfaced, announcing that they are going to enhance the image of Iranians by creating a “Successful Iranian Network” through vehicles such as Silicone-Iran. This for-profit entity has unsuccessfully tried to breath and live in the shadow of other non-profit community organizations, although it has somewhat managed to bank on the recent successes of Iranians in the hi-tech and financial sectors.

As for a lobby group(s), I believe, IAPAC, which interestingly enough shares much of its leadership portfolio with that of Elahian’s Silicone-Iran, is built on false illusions. Their doctrine is that there can be an Iranian lobby group focused on some very politically driven issues, which are undoubtedly embedded in the US-Iran relations, without any need to have a political position on the source of these problems.

These mega millionaires’ financial ecstasy seems to have taken them to a wonderland when reality check is not required.

I recently wrote to IAPC, asking them about the their position on the “Iran Freedom Support Act”, (H.R. 282 / S. 333) a Bill that would make regime change the official U.S. policy on Iran and eliminate the sunset provision on existing sanctions on Iran. The response was yet another “Party Line” delivered by one of their board members who stated, and I quote. “The political situation in Iran as well as U.S.-Iran relations are strictly and completely beyond the scope of our mission and activities. Our objective is to focus exclusively on the issues of importance to Iranian Americans living in the United States.” Is IAPAC stating that none of us Iranians living in the US is deeply concerned about this Bill, which can authorize executing “Iraq blue print” in our motherland? Is IPAPAC asserting that this Bill is in no way affecting the very same immigration issues it has sited as the focus of their mission??

Let us then forget, for a moment, legislations legalizing interference and even invasion of Iran. Let us assume that millions of Iranians living in the US have no concern about their motherland and don’t care about the future of their country, and let us assume that we could close our eyes to some Senators and Generals in Washington DC, deciding the destiny of 75 Million Iranians by holding a similar “democratic election” in Iran. Let us give likes of Nemazee the benefit of the doubt that they have no interest in becoming the Iranian version of Iraq’s Chalabi.

Let us momentarily grant IAPAC the wish to completely ignore this critical Bill and simply as they wish, review the Immigration and Visa issues as the core of their activities, and evaluate their position that “IAPAC is working with members of Congress to ensure that Section 306 of the Enhanced Border Security & Visa Entry Reform Act does not pose an unnecessary and undue burden on Iranian Americans”.

But have they ever read from the US government and INS regulators that states as follows, “Section 306 restricts the issuance of nonimmigrant visas to aliens who are nationals of countries that are state sponsors of international terrorism……………………… The government of US has currently determined that Cuba, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria are countries that are state sponsors of international terrorism”.

Therefore, isn’t it naïve, if not conning, to proclaim that IAPAC is lobbying against section 306 without it ever having to take a position on Iran_US relations? They conveniently miss the fact that Libya was recently removed from this list, only following its compliance with US government on WMD. Now all sanctions on Libya has been lifted and Libyan immigrants are no longer subject to above referenced Section 306.

In my view, IAPAC inventors are hallucinating thinking that IAPAC can lobby successfully against the fingerprinting of Iranian visitors, ban on the Student Visa, restrictions on Iranian scientists’ publications, etc, etc without ever having to address the Iran’s status as one of the “axis of evil” and lifting the sanctions on Iran; regardless of who is the recipient of their new-found money on the Capital Hill.

Therefore, I strongly believe that any Iranian lobby group cannot avoid having a position on Iran if in fact it wants to change the legislations such as Section 306. IAPAC may choose to precede the triumphant path of American Jews, who lobbied successfully for laws in favor of the state of Israel and the Jews in the US, or they can follow Cuban- Exiles model of promoting the overthrow of the existing regime and replacing it with a pro-US government. However, IAPAC with the colorful composition of its members (some are pro Islamic Republic and some are Loyalists), coupled with many politically –shy members, and with the strategy to please everyone, is not capable of such clear declaration.

IAPAC with the current position on issues or I should say, lack of any position on the root cause of issues , has put itself in an identity crisis, and has limited itself to throwing lavish galas, rubbing shoulders with some political celebrities, and of course, always eager to collect money for something they can not possibly deliver.

In conclusion, promoting civic and political participation in our community, as NIAC, Bayvoter, AIC and others have been preaching, is one thing. But to create a false illusions that there can be an Iranian lobby group without any political preference is a path leading to mistrust and demoralization for those putting their genuine hopes and support behind such prophesy, all while the beneficiaries of such a doctrine, are a mere few.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Ladan Afrasiabi is a community activist, co-founder of Persian Center in N. California, past President and Chair of the Board of Directors at the Society of Iranian Professionals. She is serving as the Commissionaire to the State of the World Forum, Mission on Globalization, a brainchild of Michael Ghorbachev and is on the advisory board of Japan’s Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research.


The sidebar image is taken from Mahmoud Pakzad's "Old Tehran", Did Publishers, 1994. Thanks to Jahanshah Javid (www.iranian.com) for sharing it.

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