Source: Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA)
DC - On June 26, the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA),
in conjunction with Congressman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Congressman Gerald E.
Connolly (D-VA) held a panel at the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Capitol
Hill entitled "Behind the Electronic Curtain: Perspectives on
Internet Restrictions and Access to Media in Iran."
PAAIA's Executive Director Saghi Mojtabai made the opening remarks to a
packed audience of Congressional staff members from both the House of
Representatives and the Senate. Ms. Mojtabai highlighted PAAIA's initiatives
under the newly established Public Policy Center, emphasizing the Center's goal
of providing "balanced and objective information about policy issues that have
an impact on the Iranian American community and relevant to policy makers."
The panelists included cultural diplomacy expert and former U.S. Ambassador
to the Netherlands, Ambassador Cynthia Schneider; State Department diplomat
Ramin Asgard;, and senior policy advisor to Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ),
Jodi Herman. Ambassador Schneider is currently a professor of diplomacy at
Georgetown University and fellow at the Brookings Institute. Ramin Asgard
currently serves as Director of Partnerships and Strategic Communication at the
Conflict Stabilization and Operations Bureau at the State Department. Jodi
Herman is the senior policy advisor to Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) on trade
and foreign policy. The event was moderated by PAAIA's Director of Research and
analysis, Amir Bagherpour.
This issue is of internet freedom is of significant importance to the Iranian
American community, two-thirds of whom, according to the most recent PAAA Zogby
-commissioned surveys communicate with family or friends in Iran on a monthly
basis. The building of an electronic curtain that restricts information and
ideas from entering and leaving Iran reduces the quality of life for Iranians
and limits the Iranian American community's ability to communicate with loved
ones in Iran. Ramin Asgard provided his perspective on the issue stating, "The
effort by the Iranian government to cut off contact between their population and
the outside world essentially means they don't they trust their own people;
communication is particularly scrutinized and restricted between people in Iran
and the Iranian American community." Following Mr. Asgard's comments, Ambassador
Cynthia Schneider highlighted the experiences of people living in the Soviet
Union under the Iron Curtain to the current situation under Iran's Electronic
Curtain. Ambassador Schneider described the impact of the Iron Curtain on the
people in the Soviet Union, stating "We penetrated the Iron Curtain with news
casts, which told the truth about the outside world along with cultural
programming; this allowed people to know and imagine another lifestyle that was
not available to them in their living spaces." Her emphasis on connecting people
through art and culture is of salience to the current situation with the
Electronic Curtain, especially given the Iranian people's affinity for American
culture and their own focus on art.
In explaining the Congressional perspective on this issue, Jodi Herman
expanded on the Iran Sanctions Accountability and Human Rights Act of 2012 (ISAHRA)
legislation that recently passed in the Senate with a vote of 100 to 0. She
noted that one particular section of the bill addresses the Electronic Curtain
in Iran, especially as it relates to satellite jamming, a deliberate act by the
Iranian government to jam international satellite signals so that Iranian people
cannot access television broadcasts from abroad. Ms. Herman described a section
in the bill that would deny the government of Iran satellite services if they
continue to illegally disrupt satellite signals.
The panel moderator, Amir Bagherpour, posed a question regarding the recent
controversy when an Apple retail store employee denied an Iranian American
customer the right to purchase an Apple product because she spoke Farsi. The
issue brought up an interesting question regarding the sanctions policy and how
the Obama administration's guidelines for providing the Iranian people with
software for fostering better access to the internet can be reconciled with the
U.S. trade regulations that restrict the same companies from providing hardware
such as computers and mobile phone devices. Ms. Herman explained the inherent
difference between software and hardware sales as an issue of eventual use. She
noted that "hardware has dual uses and can be used for things other than just
communicating while software has just a single use." Mr. Asgard acknowledged the
rationale stating that "because of the potential dual use of hardware on other
things such as military applications, the U.S. government places tighter control
on such products."
The overall goal of the panel was to provide information about the Electronic
Curtain in a balanced manner and to assist congressional staffers, many of whom
work closely on issues that impact the Iranian American community, in better
understanding how such issues can impact the communities they represent. The
panel was received with significant enthusiasm and positive reviews.
To view a video of the panel presentation, click here.
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