The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) will be hosting its annual conference next week in our nation’s capital. The gathering is billed as an opportunity to discuss the most important issues concerning Iranian-Americans today. But can the pro-Tehran outfit be considered a credible voice of the Iranian-American community?
Just last week, U.S. District Court Judge John D. Bates ruled against NIAC in its protracted, three-year legal battle to silence an Iranian journalist who had charged the organization with lobbying for the mullah regime. Judge Bates concluded that NIAC president Trita Parsi’s activities are consistent “with the idea that he was first and foremost an advocate for the [Tehran] regime.” He added that “while Parsi does criticize Iran’s human rights record, his criticisms are tepid.” NIAC’s critics — who have been bullied and smeared by it for years — were finally vindicated.
Fresh on the heels of losing its defamation lawsuit, NIAC received more bad news when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that she would be removing the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), an Iranian opposition group, from the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. Although the MEK lies on the fringe of the Iranian political spectrum, NIAC devoted enormous amounts of time and energy to prevent its delisting. The effort, it now appears, was largely a red herring, distracting the community from the real challenge facing it today: supporting the Iranian people as they confront the clerical dictatorship in Tehran.
Despite these back-to-back failures, NIAC continues to display a tin ear to the aspirations of Iranian-Americans. Take their choice of keynote speaker. The organization has invited the ultimate icon of leftist anti-Americanism, Noam Chomsky, as its keynote speaker. That would be the same Noam Chomsky who has denied both the Cambodian genocide and the Serbian massacre of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica — until recently the single largest mass killing of Muslim civilians.
In a 2010 interview with a Persian-language outlet, Chomsky declared that “in the past 55 years there has not been a single day that the U.S. has not tortured the Iranian people.” Such anti-American demagoguery has little appeal for Iranian-Americans who sought refuge here from a tyrannical regime that has repeated the vile slogan “Death to America!” since its inception.
That NIAC has positioned itself far from the mainstream of Iranian-American life is self-evident. Its regime-friendly agenda doesn’t reflect the values of the Iranian-American community, the vast majority of which prefers not drawn-out, fruitless negotiations with Tehran’s despots and “gradualism,” but a fundamental democratic transformation in their ancestral homeland.
NIAC’s increasing irrelevance among Iranian-Americans and U.S. policymakers should give pause to other conference guests who might want to reconsider their RSVP to the event. Prominent Iranian-Americans, such as former New York Times reporter Nazila Fathi and former Newsweek correspondent Maziar Bahari, and academics, such as Ramin Jahanbegloo — the intellectual architect of former presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi’s “Green” strategy — can only tarnish their reputations by associating themselves with NIAC.
In a time of rising tensions between the West and Iran, the public’s attention will once again be on Iranian-Americans. Sadly, our community has had to carry the burden of burning U.S. flags, the hostage crisis, kidnappings, and suicide bombings for the past 33 years. Despite all their contributions to American society in art, medicine, business, law, and science, Iranian-Americans have never been able to completely shake off the nasty stereotypes that Ayatollah Khomeini and his followers have imposed on them.
By associating Iranian-Americans with a toxic brand such as Chomsky, NIAC only further marginalizes our community. There is no doubt that Iranian-Americans should serve as the bridge between mainstream America and pro-democratic elements within Iran. The question is: Can they? With NIAC at the community’s helm, the answer is, sadly, no.
Peter Kohanloo is a Boston-based Iranian-American activist. His writings have appeared in Foreign Policy, The Weekly Standard, and Canada’s National Post, among other publications. Follow him on Twitter @PeterKohanloo.