A Response to PAAIA: How PAAIA Fails to Meet its Mandate


by Kabriat

On June 2, 2012, Iranian.com published my blog post "The Problem with PAAIA". PAAIA's response to that posting, "Why PAAIA is Effective" was published on June 6, 2012.  Without summarizing the contents of those posts, I recommend the reader to review both in full.  PAAIA's response, purportedly written by its Executive Director Saghi Modjtabai, not only fails to address the concerns outlined in my initial article, but further demonstrates that instead of becoming an organization that works for the community, it has become an ineffective community organization that promotes the wrong values.

First, PAAIA's response is significant because it fails to address the central issues identified in my initial piece.  Instead, it mischaracterizes or recasts them in an effort to deceive the reader.  The following are notable examples:

  • My original piece notes that PAAIA claims to be an organization which supports the Iranian-American community and other organizations and promotes unity. Yet despite these claims, I note that PAAIA's leaders and Board members publicly attack leaders of other organizations (in some instances going so far as to defame the President of another organization by falsely claiming he has relationships with the Iranian government).  PAAIA does not deny this but tries to justify it, stating that its leaders have the "first amendment right to free speech without being censored by PAAIA."  PAAIA's response misses the point.  Everyone has the first amendment right to free speech.  But when you are the leader of an organization which casts itself as a force for unity, cooperation, collaboration, etc. then statements to the contrary by you (especially those which are malicious and defamatory), at minimum, reflects that the organization is not competent to fulfill its own mandate.  You cannot seek to achieve unity when your leaders preach opposite.  In the same fashion an organization which seeks to end discrimination cannot achieve its goals by being comprised of leaders who promote it.  So yes, PAAIA's leaders can say whatever they want, whenever they want.  But it also cannot sit on the moral and ethical platform it subscribes to itself when the individuals driving the organization do the opposite.

  • My original piece notes that PAAIA is self-serving and promotes the wrong values.  Specifically, I note that PAAIA does not award those who dedicate their time and life to helping their community (as opposed to other successful minority organizations which do just that).  Instead, PAAIA primarily highlights the achievements of business leaders and corporate executives that are largely part of PAAIA's Board of Directors or its large donors.  As I note, this sends the wrong message.  It equates notoriety and success to business acumen or academic prowess without any recognition to individuals who dedicate their lives, full-time, to advancing our community.  Under PAAIA's viewpoint, I could join PAAIA, dedicate my entire life to helping the community despite making a menial income, and yet still not be considered as "worthy" or "successful" as an individual who was employed by Goldman Sachs, rose up the corporate ladder, and spent their entire life accumulating their own wealth despite donating some of it to PAAIA.  That standard of "success" is wrong and misguided.  It also only serves the interests of one group of individuals: PAAIA Board of Directors and Trustees since they themselves are predominantly comprised of financially successful corporate executives, lawyers, and business owners.  In the same vein, in my original piece I note that PAAIA's signature event, the Passing of the Torch series, is largely used to highlight the achievement of PAAIA's own Board Members or large donors.  It doesn’t, for instance, highlight the achievements of members of our community who actually serve the community.  They put Faryar Shirzad, an executive at Goldman Sachs and PAAIA donor, on a pedestal; not Yalda Modabber, the founder of Golestan Kids, the first school of its kind which seeks to ensure that Iranian-American children learn about their culture and heritage from early on.  They highlight the achievements of Hamid Biglari, a Citigroup executive and a PAAIA Director; not Farshad Rastegar, the CEO and President of Relief International, a non-profit organization that provides humanitarian relief for at-risk countries around the world.  It creates the wrong standard for our youth.  It creates the wrong inspiration for our community.  And it makes celebrities out of the wrong individuals.

  • My original piece notes that Iranian-Americans are primarily concerned with U.S. foreign policy which PAAIA has an explicit policy of not addressing. On the other hand, I note that PAAIA's leaders nonetheless use their status in the organization to influence decision-makers concerning their own individual agendas regarding foreign policy and that there is no way to hold them accountable for that. The lack of transparency means that a PAAIA Board member could use his or her status as a leader in the organization to gain an audience with a Congressman and advocate a military strike on Iran and there would be no way for us to know about it.  PAAIA's response not only ignores this salient concern, it supports it.  PAAIA states that it "has declined to take positions on foreign policy" while equally noting that "PAAIA’s position that the foreign policy considerations in relation to Iran are not only complex, but are also divisive within the Iranian American community . . ."  In other words, on one hand PAAIA is telling the community it does nothing with respect to foreign policy, on the other it actually takes the position that the Iranian community is divided on what policy they want to see.  With respect to foreign policy, there is no transparency as to what PAAIA wants or is doing.  It says it takes no position, yet it does - an unclear one.  It says it will remain silent on the matter, yet its leader's don't - using their position as PAAIA Board members to influence policymakers.  Like I noted before, we might hate NIAC and other organizations for what they stand for, but at least we know where it stands.  What PAAIA does is not only wrong, it abuses its own members which sign up thinking that PAAIA is apolitical without being told of the political positions actually being taken.

Second, mixed into PAAIA’s response are overt attacks against other community organizations – precisely the issue I highlight in my initial piece.  Take the following:

  • PAAIA writes that they provide “accurate and balanced information without resorting to scorching op-eds or shrill political tirades."  This is clearly an indirect attack on other organizations and individuals which do publish op-eds or take political positions.  Organizations like NIAC for one.

  • PAAIA writes "We also deliberate before making organizational decisions while ensuring that, unlike some other organizations, one voice does not drown all others." Again, an attack on other organizations.

Not only is PAAIA seeking to bring itself up by trying to knock others down, in its piece it falsely takes exclusive credit for actions contributed by numerous organizations.  Take the following:

  • "[F]ollowing an effort by several of its Board members and Trustees with direct access to influential members of Congress and the Administration, PAAIA was proud to see the fruits of its direct appeal complement community efforts and bring change to the visa policy for Iranian students announced by the Obama Administration in May of 2011.”  What PAAIA omits is the significant role played by multiple organizations who lobbied the government to obtain reform of U.S. visa policies, not limited to NIAC and the Sharif University of Technology Association and currently the Iranian Students and Graduates Association in the United States.

PAAIA's mission, as noted on its website, is to "Unite the Iranian American community".  For an organization purportedly dedicated to that goal, it clearly fails to achieve it by indirectly and explicitly attacking other organizations and failing to give credit for joint and collaborative programs.

Lastly, PAAIA launches personal attacks against this author for using a pseudonym to downplay the credibility of my opinion (and thus the significance of my comments).  For an organization with seeks to serve our community and advance our interests, its unusual to see it attack an individual whose entire article relates to problems it sees with our community organizations in hopes that we may remedy them. 


more from Kabriat
Banafsheh Zolfaghari

When to whack them into Shame?

by Banafsheh Zolfaghari on

Why is it that self-centeredness and self-promotions comes as a shock to anyone within our heritage group? Organizations within our diaspora, civic or political, have rarely been anything but vehicles for individuals to self-launch and self-promote.

Whether it is PAAIA, NIAC, MEK, the Foundation for “this,” or
Professional Society for “that,” they are all without exception "false beards" promoting interests of the p-e-r-s-o-n or people behind them.

After all, they put all the time and (in the case of PAAIA + certain humanitarian foundations) money, so why no cash in on the glory?  No matter how 'tasteless?!'  

Calling it 'shameful' or 'less than honorable' because of our fall pretense and less than genuine assumption of altruism as the basis of such efforts is the real issues.

Like it or not it will be a while, a generation or more, before we
embrace and put to practice true altruism.

For now, lets take it for face value and for what it is.  Our ‘community leaders’ (organizational or individual) do things exclusively to take individual and personal credit, sometimes ill-motivated,
but quite often quite harmless.  

It is when a person or persons hide behind faux fronts, promoting
dubious agenda’s outside our collective interests that we must come together and whack (I mean whack) them into shame.  

Self-glorification in itself is not a bad thing. It is afterall, life in the Persian neighborhood.

(If you must respond, be kind and gentle.) 



by Kabriat on

I agree and I'm confident we aren't the only ones who believe that PAAIA has only functioned to promote its Board and Trustees. 

See here for instance where in the midst of the Green Movement protests, PAAIA circulated a request to its members to email Andrew Sullivan to plug "successful" Iranian-Americans, most of which comprised individuals on PAAIA Board of Directors and Trustees.


See also here where PAAIA claims to be creating a PBS documentary about the Iranian-American community.   Four out of five of the individuals being interviewed are PAAIA Board members or large donors.  If they truly cared about highlighting the story of "Iranians in the United States" why are they only highlighing themselves?  How much more self-serving can an organization get.


The PAAIA Pitfall

by bahmani on

Thanks K for having the courage to question ideas. Critique and opinion, in fact is not detrimental. It is required. Good to see someone understand America's "other benefits" for a change.

PAAIA is nothing more than NIAC lite. Or NIAC 2.0. NIAC without the secret chamber. It is still weird and strange, but thankfully less so than NIAC.

Most of the founders/runners of PAAIA left NIAC to out NIAC, NIAC, but soon realized funders won't pay for that as easily. They also bought out IAPAC, a "Real Iranian-America Lobby". Don't get me started on that one.

The main problem with PAAIA I think you are really illustrating is the "Build a Sheep Shearing station, and the Sheep will come". Or the usual insulting assumption that Iranians have a genetic/socio-cultural pre-disposition to being "lead". Especially by unelected, self-appointed "well intentioned tyrants". Their assumption is that a good Dictator is Good. So what's the harm? Most PAAIA advocates offer this up as their mode d'emploi.

Regarding the Zogby fiasco:

Having project managed the FIRST Iranian American survey in 2004, with the open partnership of over 20 community groups across the US, after working with survey experts (not Iranian or Arab), I can tell you NONE of the ZOGBY surveys are either scientific or relevant. Because they have albeit unintended but still nevertheless, polluting bias.

The bias is, you cannot call an Iranian home in the middle of the night and ask them what their religion is, the last time they went to Iran, and when they intend to visit Iran. That's bias.

You specifically cannot do this by phone. At night. For obvious reasons.

You also cannot ask Iranians about Iranian politics, or US/Iran policy that involves Iran, danger, fear, and death. Like military strikes and Nuclear war. That creates bias. This should be obvious.

When you have introduced bias, your data is Polluted.

Why this happens with other mainstream America surveys? Simple, 99% of all surveys are not actually for the science. They are for changing or affecting public opinion. That is why the Marketing industry invented them. Is PAAIA therefore trying to affect Iranian-American public opinion? No. They are not that bright. I mean look at them for God's sake. Are the Zogby polls biased? Absolutely. Is Zogby a name-brand like Louis Vuitton? Absolutely. Do rich Iranians like and lean towards name-brand stuff when they aren't sure what to do, or which one to buy?

(I'm not even going to answer that one)

Finally regarding the 2010 Census. I was on the PAAIA committee and promptly pulled the Bay Area contingent off it, when it became clear it was heading south, not to LA, to disaster.

The point of my 2004 project was to convince the US Census folks that we were a valid and valuable demographic, and that question 5 and 6 were flawed not just for us, but for everyone in the US.

Question 5 is a Hispanic-only question. That is unfair to give one ethnic minority their own question. No surprise Hispanics are getting more power in the US. It might be justified, but this question unfairly tilts in their favor.

Question 6 asks your Race, but separates Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Pilipino, Viet namese and many others with their own check box. Are they not all racially Asian? So why the separation?

This shows special treatment by the Census. So I wanted us to get that same consideration. Or, a box to mark as "Iranian". Not "Persian", because that includes over 100,000 Parsis from India who are in the US. Additionally some Iranians are not ethnically Persian either. Me specifically.

You see Iranians are both White, and ethnically Iranian. Chinese are both Asian and Chinese. We were forced to skip over the "White" check box, and expected to hand write "Iranian" in the field "Some Other Race". Which if you still don't see it, I'll tell you looks exactly like "Some Other Dirty Race Not Worthy of a Checkbox". Or insulting.

I wanted us to "lobby" the Census to fix this problem for EVERYONE. Not just Iranians. PAAIA did not get that and instead went for putting their efforts and their insufficient money into the "power" and mesmerizing "magic" of Maz Jobrani's not insignificant comedic ability to convince us and entertain us to overlook the greater racial slur and insult of the form. Then they ran the ads like twice. OK, maybe 3 times. 2 weeks before the Census. Not 90 days, the minimum for a major marketing effort like this needed.

No surprise, most of us filled out "White". And we are now blissfully blended into that creamy concoction until 2020.

Most as I predicted, did not hand write "Iranian" in "Some Other Race".

The disastrous result of this mis-managed project by an insistent yet altogether incompetent "leading" org like PAAIA? The under counting of Iranians in the US. Almost a full 100,000 below the already artificially low number from 2000. (because question 6 was flawed in 2000 too)

The disaster? Simple, now there is less reason to fund Universities to offer Iranian Studies programs (not enough population to justify it), less reason for Persian literature in Libraries, less reason to include Ancient Persia in middle school history text books (we are not in there now, even though we spanned Ancient China, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and the Inca and Maya cultures SIMULTANEOUSLY!!!). No Persian language training for cops and firefighters either.

The not small taxes we pay will now go for what "White" folks needs are. We will be lucky to get picnic permits for Sizdah Bedar after this.

But the biggest problem with the PAAIAs and NIACs is that as much as they desperately want to do the things they think we should obviously want them to do, we don't need them to do. Especially this badly.

If I am discriminated as an Iranian, the last thing I need is PAAIA's help. I can get a civil rights lawyer for that myself. Even an Iranian one.

That's what's wrong with PAAIA.

Proof is this survey question: Is Shahs of Sunset Helpful or Harmful to the Iranian-American image?

If the bias-free results of this are "Harmful", "WE" would organize and then go and get the show cancelled.

PAAIA doesn't seem to understand how this works. Or maybe like me, thinks the show is actually pretty good.

To read more bahmani posts visit: //brucebahmani.blogspot.com/


Two points

by Kabriat on

(1) I believe my pieces were used to open an honest debate (frankly, it was the unprofessional response by PAAIA that made the debate personal, both to the author and to other Iranian-American organizations).


(2) PAAIA claims to "represents the community before U.S. policymakers and the American public at large."  In that sense, knowing what they are representing before these leaders is all the more important.  Thats the note on the importance of transparency and accountability that I put in the articles.

Veiled Prophet of Khorasan

Nothing will please all of you

by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


PAAIA; or any other organization will have detractors. One because it does not get into foreign policy ther other because it does. If PAAIA did then it would get someone mad as NIAC has done.

I say you must understand that no organization represents us all. Often they only partially represent any person. You might agree with one thing but not another. This is the way it is.

Instead of spending your energy trashing them use it to honestly debate issues. Or present your sides without attacking the other one. You might want to start your own organization and bring out your point of view. Otherwise all I see is people trying to tear down whatever is there no matter which side they are on. 

Esfand Aashena

The job of "improving Iranian image" is no easy task!

by Esfand Aashena on

I am not sure if we can improve our "image" in any specific way.  Our image is so screwed up that it can't be washed with a ton of rose water! Is that same as "baby bath water" COP?! not sure I had heard that expression before. 

Everyone is trying with their own capacity anyway they can.  Some bleach their hair and put on blue contacts and forget all about it.  Some try to push the "successful" Iranian guys!  And many on this website find solace in cursing Islamic Republic with the most profane language they can find day in and day out!  Others praise the Islamic Republic and try to improve ITS image! 

There is no one formula.  We just have to be who we are and proud of our history with all its shortcomings.  Even our 34 year history with Islamic Republic is filled with fighting for equality, freedom and injustice.  So we are either proud of ourselves as a whole or not. 

Everything is sacred



by Cost-of-Progress on

your  "baby with bath water" complex is very interesting and an indication of how divided we are and how we will never change and perhaps (likely) get even worse....... you Eyranian you.



by Kabriat on

Interesting point.  Not sure if I agree.  First, I don't actually think PAAIA does anything to better the image of the Iranian community in the US.  All of its image-building events are aimed at Iranians, not Americans.  Thats why my critique is all the more central.  They are displaying the wrong message to our community.  In fact, PAAIA appears to do little if anything about actually dispelling stereotypes about Iranians before the US media.

Esfand Aashena

PAAIA does indeed fancy the "successful" Iranians.

by Esfand Aashena on

I've been to few events (such as 13 bedar or Norooz celebrations at local colleges) where PAAIA had a part and some of their directors or members or supporters, such as Rudi Bakhtiar for example, went on stage and said their usual line that they want the conversation about Iran and Iranians be focused on "successful Iranians" such as the NASA guy or the Space Lady or the eBay guy and other Iranian luminaries whose names escapes me now!

It is a joke to think that the successful Iranians are known or will be known to Americans simply by PAAIA (or other Iranians) balghoor their names here and there.

Take Koreans for example.  They are far more successful and "brainier" than Iranians.  Or Indians for example, their numbers are far more than Iranian-Americans.  Yet we don't know of any "successful" Korean-Americans or Indian-Americans.  No one knows of any.  If there are any famous Koreans or Indians or other hyphenated Americans they're celebrities from Hollywood.

Another example would be the father of all successful Americans, Steve Jobs.  How many of us know he had a Syrian father?  Though he was left for adoption.  If Steve Jobs was an adopted Iranian, PAAIA would kill for that and would run his name and picture as their avatar and logo all over the place!  Anyway, no one knew of his Syrian heritage until when he was dying or after his death when people started reading about his personal life.

None of these "successful" Iranians advertise their Iranianness anyway.  They mostly mention it awkwardly and under questioning!

In any event, bottom line and as far as PAAIA is concerned, regardless of whether they are effective or not, their motto is to moos moos "successful Iranian-Americans".  That's not going to change and they'e not going to admit it but you can see it in all their events and speeches.

It is a fun subject to talk about though, when some Iranian (PAAIA related or not) moos mooses about successful Iranian-Americans or calls themselves Purrrrrrrssssssian!

For those of you who want to call themselves Purrrrrrsssssians, @rezafarahan (another successful PAAIA worthy Iranian? ;-) had a good explanation for it in his CNN interview, where he said he'll call himself an Iranian when you [Americans] can pronounce the name correctly as Iranians not Eye-ran-ians!

Everything is sacred