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Interview with NIAC: Iranian-Americans are double stake-holders in peace between US and Iran

Interview by Payvand Iran News



Founded in early 2002, the
National Iranian-American Council is a non-partisan and non-profit organization dedicated to promoting Iranian-American participation in American civic life. It is one of the most active Iranian-American organizations in Washington DC seeking to prevent war between the US and Iran.



We talk with Trita Parsi, the President of NIAC.


Q: What currently occupies Iranian-Americans’ minds is the worries that their adopted country will go into war with their home country. The overwhelming majority of them are against this war. The majority of Americans are against this war. The world is against this war. Yet, there is a high likelihood this unpopular war may actually happen. What are your thoughts on this?


A: I think the vast majority of Iranian Americans in the US are very concerned about the risk for war. In a way, Iranian Americans are double-stakeholders in situation. As Americans, they do not wish to see any of their American friends, neighbors and relatives die in an unnecessary conflict. And as Americans of Iranian descent, they don’t want to see their grandmothers bombed in Iran. So Iranian Americans have plenty of incentives to see a peaceful solution to the stand-off.


Currently, there is a lot of speculation that the Bush Administration may be seeking a conflict with Iran. But even if it isn’t, the tensions in Iraq and the policy of arresting Iranian officials and diplomats create a very explosive situation. Next time an Iranian office in Iraq is raided, an accident may occur and an American soldier may get killed. Hawks in Washington are likely to use that as a pretext to escalate the tensions into a full-blown conflict. So there are reasons for concern, because we are basically just one bullet away from a major conflict.



Q: But opponents of talks say that dialogue between the US and Iran will only prolong the government in Iran? Are you afraid that NIAC’s activities will be seen as or will in effect aid the Iranian government?


First of all, I think that right now, the vast majority of Iranian Americans are far more concerned about Tehran turning into another Baghdad. Iranian Americans watch the images of the daily slaughters in Iraq and they are terrified of the thought that this could repeat itself in Iran.


We have to keep in mind that in the United States, Iranian Americans are the primary victims of the Iranian government’s human rights abuses. The majority of our community members are here precisely because they faced great difficulties in Iran. So we are a community that has more reasons to oppose the policies in Tehran than anyone else in the US. We have more reasons than anyone else to wish for change.


Still, the policies the US has pursued in the past 27 years – mainly confrontation, isolation and sanctions – have not yielded any positive results. If they had, we wouldn’t be facing the current situation. If anything, the tensions have benefited those in Tehran who sought an excuse to clamp down on internal dissent.


The idea that dialogue between the US and Iran will aid the Iranian government simply lacks empirical evidence.

Many of those who oppose talks do so because they favor a military confrontation, seeing that as the only way that they themselves can be put in power in Iran. They argue that a US-Iran dialogue will basically guarantee the survival of the Iranian government. I would disagree with that notion. The United States is in no position to guarantee the survival of any government in Iran – neither this one nor the next one. The future of Iran does not lie in the hands of the US; it lies in the hands of the Iranian people.


For instance, the Shah had great relations with the US. Still, once the Iranian people turned against him, Washington’s friendship mattered little. The US couldn’t do anything to save his reign.


Those who together with NIAC seek a peaceful solution to the US-Iran stand-off are doing so because they see war as the worst of all options. Their love for the US, Iran and peace outweighs their dislike of the government in Tehran.



Q: What is NIAC, as an Iranian-American organization doing against this war?


A: NIAC is pursuing a peaceful solution to the stand-off through numerous avenues. We are working with a coalition of 50+ organizations on Capitol Hill – both liberal and conservative groups – to create a stronger momentum for diplomacy in Congress. As such, we are providing analysis and advice to numerous Congressional offices, including key lawmakers. Our recent full day conference on Capitol Hill addressing US-Iran relations was a huge success. 


We also set up meetings between our own members nationwide and their lawmakers to give them the chance to express their views and concerns about the situation. This type of pressure from constituents is very effective in getting the message across.


In addition, we spend a considerable amount of time educating the media about the subject in order to ensure that they ask the right questions at the right time. This is important because in the Iraq case, the media’s passivity was a key contributing factor as to why so little scrutiny took place of the war efforts. We are in contact on a daily basis with almost all major networks and newspapers, educating them in order to ensure more accurate and balanced coverage.



Q: While some Iranian-American organizations are participating in anti-war efforts, the majority of the community seems to be silent. Do you think this is the case and why?


A: The vast majority of the community wants to be active, but they don’t know exactly how to be active and how to channel their concerns. Participating in mass rallies has little appeal in our community and should not be seen as an indication of the community’s dedication to a peaceful solution. Besides, mass rallies are hardly the most effective way of affecting policy.


This is part of the reason why NIAC has been working to educate the Iranian-American community about civic participation for the last five years. Only when our civic education levels are high enough will people be aware of how they can be active so that they channel their concerns and energy in the most constructive way.



Q: How can the community be engaged and participate effectively in anti-war activities?


A: There is a lot the community can do. First of all, they need to express their concerns directly to members of Congress. They need to set up meetings with them and discuss these issues. If they don’t know how to, they can join NIAC and we will help them. This is really important because even though Iranian Americans tend to vote in the elections, very few people know about the “Iranian-American vote.” Since they don’t communicate with lawmakers, their votes are not leveraged. They need to make sure that their representatives know that they have voted and what their views are. “Loud” votes count a lot. Silent votes don’t count at all.


Furthermore, they can write op-eds to their local newspapers, or write letters to the editor whenever they see an article that they find unbalanced or inaccurate. They need to be out there. They need to be seen in order to affect the debate in the US.



Q: Do you think such engagement will be effective? The Bush administration is ignoring the calls of the majority of Americans. It’s ignoring the calls of Congress. How can a small minority make a difference?


A: Iranian American may be a small minority in the US, but opponents of war and proponents of dialogue are a vast majority in the US. Iranian American groups must connect with the larger organizations in the US that agree on this issue. Look at the presidential candidates – more than half of them have argued in favor of US-Iran talks as a solution. This is not a position of the minority. The first step towards defeat is the belief that victory cannot be achieved.



Q: Let’s say the community won’t do anything to stop the war because they feel they cannot make any difference. And let’s say war actually breaks out. Judging from the magnitude of death and destruction in Iraq, we can speculate a comparable or perhaps worse scenario in Iran. In the worst case, there may even be nuclear disasters. Won’t we forever wonder what if we had tried?


A: Absolutely. The stakes are too high to sit on the sidelines. War will be devastating for the US. It will be devastating for Iran, and it will be devastating for everyone else. This is not the time to sit silent, it’s the time to speak out and be counted. War will affect Iranian Americans in a very direct way, besides the problems it will cause for their American countrymen and Iranian relatives. Almost all of the civil rights and immigration problems Iranian Americans face in the US have a foreign policy root. They are rooted in foreign policy considerations and the tensions between the US and Iran. Addressing the civil rights issues directly without addressing the root cause – the dysfunctional relationship between the US and Iran – has proven futile. If war occurs, then naturally, the problems Iranian Americans will face in the US will increase significantly.



... Payvand News - 2/27/07 ... --

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