|Act as a community
We want to project positive, truthful images of Iranian-Americans
By Jahanshah Javid
May 10, 2002
Email interview with Trita Parsi, Acting President of the newly-formed National Iranian-American Council
and Shadi Sadeghi, a NIAC volunteer. Parsi is a Ph.D. student at Johns Hopkins University's
School of Advanced International Studies under Professor Francis Fukuyama, while
working part-time as a policy advisor to Chairman Robert Ney (Republican Member of
Congress from Ohio) on the Middle East and Iran. Parsi worked as Director of the
headed by former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Pelletreau. Mr. Parsi has
been very active in the Iranian community and in 1997, he founded Iranians
for International Cooperation, one of the first Iranian advocacy groups
promoting Iranian-American interests.
Why did you feel there was a need for a new Iranian-American group?
Trita Parsi: Iranian-Americans are extremely successful as individuals,
but our efforts have not been geared towards having a prominent effect upon American
society as a community. This creates a problem for the Iranian-American
youth who, upon entering a society built upon the backbone of multiple established
communities, find themselves without the benefits of a supportive network of their
These strong established communities together constitute an important part of America's
quilt work, and NIAC's aim is to ensure that our next generation will not have to
face the same struggles their parents faced due to the lack of an organized Iranian-American
community to lean on.
What are your short and long term plans?
Shadi Sadeghi: NIAC's long-term vision is to significantly increase Iranian-American
participation in American civic life. There are three primary short-term tactics
that we will use in hopes of accomplishing our goal. Our first initiative will be
to create a comprehensive database of Iranian-American organizations through which
Iranian-Americans can channel their efforts toward achieving unity and, ultimately,
more effective advocacy.
Our second task is to enhance the organizational effectiveness and professional development
of Iranian-American organizations to strengthen their capacity within American society.
And as the American public has had very limited exposure to Iranian culture and our
NIAC's third tactic is to enable the Iranian-American community to establish its
own image by supporting efforts for broader national recognition and education
through arts and media. These tactics serve as rungs on the ladder leading us to
the ultimate vision of creating a continuing positive influence upon American society,
and integrating the Iranian-American community into American civic life.
We are currently organizing tailor-made workshops for Iranian-American organizations
in the East coast, addressing the concerns that they rank as their main challenges.
We will also organize workshops on civic participation and political advocacy, in
which former lawmakers and people in government will discuss the decision making
processes in America and why it is important for Iranian-Americans to make their
It is important to note, however, that NIAC's aim is not be the voice of Iranian-Americans.
Rather, our aim is to help create the circumstances that will enable the Iranian-American
community to act as a community. There are many good organizations out there trying
to defend the interest of our community, but our community does not have the readiness
as of yet to be able to take advantage of these organizations' good work and good
intentions. Our aim is to help create this readiness so that the work of other organizations
can become more effective.
Who are your leading members? What are their backgrounds?
Shadi Sadeghi: NIAC is led by a diverse and dedicated team that has the
qualifications and experience to successfully promote Iranian-American participation
in American civic life. Our leaders have considerable exposure and experience working
with and in Iranian-American organizations, international NGO's, US-based non-profit
organizations, the US government, and with the media. Detailed background descriptions
of the current Board of Directors can be viewed at www.niacouncil.org/board.htm.
Where do you get your financial support?
Shadi Sadeghi: NIAC is supported financially through donations from private
individuals, private enterprises and foundation grants. So far, we have mainly received
donations from private individuals and Iranian-owned companies, but we are quickly
reaching the stage where we will be able to primarily rely on foundation grants and
It seems Iranian-Americans are far behind in learning the art of lobbying. What
have NIAC members learned from experience as well as other lobby groups?
Trita Parsi: The NIAC members have educational and experimental knowledge
on the lobbying process and politics in America. In order for an Iranian-American
advocacy organization to be successful, it needs the ability to mobilize large groups
of Iranian-Americans, and also requires understanding of the decision-making processes
on Capitol Hill.
Unfortunately, due to the absence of a comprehensive database of all Iranian-American
organizations, national advocacy has been unfeasible for us Iranians. Other ethnic
lobbies have started off by organizing their community in order to be able to mobilize
the. One of NIAC's main priorities is to create such a comprehensive database in
order to assemble a dependable communication network amongst the Iranian groups across
Other ethnic groups have also educated their communities
about the decision-making processes of the US. To give Iranian-American organizations
the opportunity to develop the necessary understanding of the legislative process,
which can be very complicated, NIAC is establishing capacity-building workshops for
Iranian-American organizations with former lawmakers and lobbyists. These workshops
will provide the informational tools and educational drive to tear down the wall
of suspicion that our community has built between itself and political and civic
life in the United States.
In addition, as Iranian-Americans, we must establish connections on Capitol
Hill to establish early-warning systems about proposed votes or bills that
may oppose the best interests of Iranian-Americans. NIAC's capacity-building workshops
will give our community the ability to slowly but surely participate more actively
in American politics.
Why don't Iranian-Americans get involved in U.S. domestic politics?
Shadi Sadeghi: A majority of Iranian-Americans in the United States have
the tendency to avoid politics because politics is the exact reason they currently
reside here. For over two decades, the media has been a dominant factor in how Iranians
have been negatively portrayed in America and abroad, thus causing disillusionment
and discouraging Iranian-Americans from engaging in American political issues.
Our goal, which we will achieve through educational, artistic, and media-directed
methods, includes clearing up this smeared image of Iranians that others have created
and controlling the ways in which we want to project positive, truthful images
of Iranian-American attitudes, contributions, culture, and lifestyles.
Once Iranian-American culture is presented to the American public in a more positive
light, Iranian-Americans will find greater ease and comfort in domestic political
involvement. NIAC wants to actively encourage Iranian-Americans to understand the
benefits and greater opportunities that exist in domestic political activism so that,
as a community, we will acquire an effective voice that will influence decisions
on Capitol Hill regarding Iranian-Americans in the United States.
What does the NIAC consider the best way to counter new measures to curb Iranians
from visiting the U.S.?
Trita Parsi: NIAC has a long-term strategy for our community's self-representation.
By addressing the lack of a comprehensive database on the whereabouts of our community
and by educating our community on the decision making processes of the US, we will
remedy the structural disadvantages that have caused earlier efforts to influence
legislation to be limited in success.
But while our focus must to a large extent be on long-term solutions, we should not
neglect the pressing needs of today.
The Enhanced Border Security Act will now go to the
President for his signature. Then, the State Department and the Justice Department
must decide how the law will be implemented by agreeing on new regulations. At this
stage, the most constructive measures our community can is to consult these two departments
and ensure that the negative effects of the new regulations are minimized. Alternatively,
the language of Section 306 may be able to be made more lenient through an amendment
to an entirely new bill. Both these options should be explored by our community organizations,
as a step towards greater focus on high-effect but low-visibility measures.
How can interested Iranian-Americans contact you?
Shadi Sadeghi: We encourage comments, questions, and inquiries. We are
accessible via mail, phone, fax, email, and Internet.
National Iranian American Council
1219 Connecticut Avenue, NW Suite 400
Washington, DC 20036
Tel. 202-785 3444
Fax 202-785 4447