On June 2, 2012, Iranian.com posted a blog entitled “The Problem with PAAIA,” signed by Kabriat (a pseudonym). Unfortunately, the blog is rife with misinformation and factual inaccuracies. While it is not PAAIA’s policy to respond to every blog or attack piece – especially ones made by individuals posting anonymously – we welcome the opportunity to correct the record so that readers may make their own informed and independent assessment as to whether PAAIA has been effective in fulfilling its mission. The author’s criticism of PAAIA is threefold: (i) PAAIA is ineffective because it does not take positions on U.S. foreign policy towards Iran; (ii) PAAIA fosters division within the community; and (iii) PAAIA discourages civic participation.
Since its inception, PAAIA has declined to take positions on foreign policy. Instead, our goal has been and continues to be to educate Iranian Americans, policy and lawmakers, and the general public about the views of our community in an unbiased and reasoned manner. We do so by providing accurate and balanced information without resorting to scorching op-eds or shrill political tirades. Though there are a number of Iranian American organizations that represent particular constituencies and views in regards to U.S.-Iran relations, and many more that provide much needed social service, legal, or philanthropic services, PAAIA provides a unique service by offering objective and reliable information about a wide array of issues impacting our community.
PAAIA’s four annual scientific polls, conducted by Zogby Research Services, and, ironically, quoted in the article to support the author’s views, have been presented to the U.S. Congress, the White House, and the State Department. They have been quoted in state resolutions, opinion pieces and newspaper articles, and various panel presentations. The 2011 Survey results show that, while Iranian Americans want to see a democratic Iran that respects human rights, they differ on how the foregoing aspirations can be achieved (38% believe in diplomacy and establishing diplomatic relations while 32% believe in regime change). Such results support 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, thus validating the importance of providing unbiased information.
In addition, PAAIA’s biannual Congressional Scorecards educate Iranian Americans about members of Congress and their positions on specific issues as well as about policy developments of interest. Similarly, PAAIA has proactively brought issues of interest to the Iranian American community before the U.S. Congress and the Administration, including initiating discussions with, helping draft, and building bipartisan support for the Nowruz Resolution, which passed both chambers of Congress in March 2010 with over 70 co-sponsors. Also, following 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.
Furthermore, PAAIA’s Public Policy Center, launched in April 2012, aggregates and provides information on the needs and beliefs of our community in a balanced manner through a variety of modalities. The Center has quickly become a reliable source of credible information regarding our community for policy and lawmakers.
The author’s second point of contention is that PAAIA fosters divisions within our community. We are proud of the diversity of our organization, our Trustees, board of directors and employees. As an organization that values a democratic process, we ensure that our stakeholders can and are able to exercise their first amendment right to free speech without being censored by PAAIA. In contrast to the author who demands transparency yet hides behind a mask of anonymity, we cherish transparency. We also deliberate before making organizational decisions while ensuring that, unlike some other organizations, one voice does not drown all others. We proudly stand by these decisions and the fact that our very diverse, well-educated, and established stakeholders stand up and exercise their right to free speech within their personal lives.
We are similarly proud of our signature program, Passing the Torch of Success (PTT), which, contrary to the author’s assertions of being self-promoting events, is used as opportunities to educate, empower, and inspire the younger generation. Though guests have included some of PAAIA’s board members and donors, they have included, in large proportion, Iranian Americans from all walks of life with distinguished careers, including Dr. Pardis Sabeti, Assistant Professor at Harvard University, world-renowned pianist, Tara Kamangar, well-known author, Firouzeh Dumas, Dr. Nariman Farvardin, President of Stevens Institute of Technology, Ramin Asgard, most tenured foreign service officer in the State Department, Mahvash Yazdi, Chief Information Officer at Edison International, physicians and philanthropists Dr. Vishtab Broumand and Dr. Sean Dadmanesh, and proudly, Faryar Shirzad, who prior to joining Goldman Sachs, had completed a long and distinguished career in public service, serving at the White House and the U.S. Congress. Moreover, many PTT Speakers serve as mentors under the PAAIA Mentorship Program. One of PAAIA’s core tenets is to invest in the new generation by capitalizing on our top assets, our community, and professional leaders. To date, the mentorship program has benefitted over 70 individuals who have participated in our program.
The author’s final criticism is that PAAIA does not participate in civic activities. To the contrary, PAAIA has been extremely active and successful in the area of civic participation. IAPAC, PAAIA’s connected Political Action Committee, has not only supported 25 Iranian Americans, such as Congressional candidates Milad Pooran and Goli Ameri, as well as the Mayor of Beverly Hills, Jimmy Delshad, Cyrus Habib (candidate for Washington State legislature), and City Council Members Farrah Douglas (Carlsbad, CA) and Amir Omar (Richardson, TX), but has also helped raise additional funds for them by encouraging community members to donate to their campaigns. PAAIA’s CHIP Program is focused on serving young Iranian American college students/recent graduates who seek to increase their professional experiences in the legislative and political arena. Additionally, in collaboration with other community organizations, PAAIA has held numerous town hall/panels on various issues of interest to community, allowing Iranian Americans to directly interact with government officials and policy experts, including OFAC Update: Iran Sanctions; Outreach Events with State Department; and Panels on U.S. Foreign Policy Towards Iran are only a few of these events.
PAAIA is an organization built through the generosity of its well-established Iranian American Trustees – individuals who believe in strengthening our community, our voice, and our image, inspiring our youth, and giving back to America as it has given to us. It is a dream most likely shared by a preponderance of Iranian Americans. Because of the active support of our Trustees, members, and staff, PAAIA has become the credible, balanced and reasoned voice of the Iranian American community in the United States. We accept this distinction with pride, accept the inevitable unfounded criticisms, and are honored to be able to, in a small way, bring the Iranian American community further into the tapestry of American social and political life.