Iranian-Americans and a war on Iran

David Rahni
14 May 2006

The United States, and its United Nations security council allies France and the United Kingdom, is exerting heavy pressure on the diplomatic consultations over whether Iran should be ordered to suspend its nuclear-enrichment programme. A resolution agreed under chapter VII of the UN charter, which addresses threats to peace and acts of aggression, would likely lead to sanctions against Tehran. Such a resolution would also pave the way for possible US military action by conventional or tactical-nuclear air-strikes, or through all-out military attack. Currently, veto-holding China and Russia are opposed to any resolution under chapter VII.

The approximately one million Iranian-Americans (part of a worldwide Iranian diaspora of 4 million) are keenly interested in this debate. They have been largely apolitical since their exodus from Iran in the late 1970s, when the monarchy was overthrown in a popular revolution that led to the establishment of the Islamic republic. But in the present crisis, many Iranian-Americans are organising to promote non-military ways of resolving the nuclear dispute, while yearning for a homegrown process of democratic reform that could finally bring Iranians the freedom and fairness for which they have struggled since the constitutional movement of 1906.

The consensus view of Iranian-American is congruent with US public opinion in regarding the rhetoric of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, on certain foreign-policy matters as belligerent and reprehensible. Yet they believe that this, in and of itself, would not justify penalising an entire nation, which would be the effect of a military assault.

This is the latest article in a growing openDemocracy debate about how war with Iran can be avoided:

Kaveh Ehsani, "On the brink: the Great Satan vs the Axis of Evil"
(3 May 2006)

Mary Walsh, " The Iran crisis: a United Nations solution" (8 May 2006)

Trita Parsi, " The United States's double-vision in Iran" (9 May 2006)

Raymond Barrett, " Iran through Arab eyes"
(10 May 2006)

Scilla Elworthy, "If diplomacy fails"
(11 May 2006)

Hazem Saghieh, "Iran's politics: constants and variables"
(12 May 2006)

For an overview of the debate, click here

A mobilised community

Iranian-Americans form one of the most vibrant, educated and affluent immigrant communities in the United States. They are recognised for their substantial contributions to the betterment of the US, and affirm their allegiance to the US first and foremost. In fact, it is precisely due to such conviction that they oppose US government policies that would result in the waste of human lives and material resources, while tarnishing US stature and credibility in the international community.

Iran, a sovereign country, is a signatory to the treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons (NPT) and other agreements under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Iran, notwithstanding its alleged non-disclosure up to this point of certain of its nuclear facilities (such as at Natanz), has allowed nearly 2,000 days of inspections of its facilities in the past four years alone.

In any case, many scholars and environmental advocates assert that nuclear technology is neither cost-effective nor safe, especially for developing countries such as Iran. They argue that Iran should not pursue the nuclear option when other renewable energy resources – solar, fuel-cells, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric – can be utilised. However, the current US stance with respect to Iran's nuclear-energy programme is fundamentally flawed, especially as it was the US administration of Gerald Ford that, in 1976, encouraged and assisted Iran in pursuing nuclear energy.

Many Iranian-Americans oppose any form of sanctions against Iran, as they believe this would only bolster the hardliners in Iran, while delaying fundamental changes that much of the country desires. The position taken by many Iranians in the diaspora is consistent with the struggle as articulated by the civil and political activists inside Iran and as exemplified by statements of the Nobel peace laureate, Shirin Ebadi. Many Iranian scholars, both inside and outside the country, believe that the true safeguard of Iran's territorial integrity against aggression is the empowering of its 70 million citizens through fundamental socio-political reforms within the country.

Iranian-Americans have become active in the political arenas of their adopted land, in concerted efforts to prevent war and destruction in Iran:

  • organising and participating in anti-war coalition rallies
  • signing internet-based petitions which are routed to their elected congressional representatives in Washington and to the White House
  • visiting officials to register their concerns
  • producing an open letter to President George W Bush, signed by thousands of academicians and scholars
  • writing articles and letters
  • debating in numerous blogs, chatrooms, and online forums
  • organising conferences and lectures
  • urging Iranian officials to tone down their own rhetoric and take constructive steps to resolve the issue.

Iranian-Americans are also channeling their anti-war efforts through a host of non-for-profit organisations, such as:

These and other groups are a showcase of the activities of this young, energetic community.

Iranian-Americans' belief that the US must devise innovative, non-interfering ways of resolving the current impasse resonates with the majority of Americans (a poll for CNN by the Opinion Research Corporation published on 6 May 2006 found that 63% of respondents thought the US should resort to diplomatic and economic efforts, rather than military action, to get Iran to shut down its nuclear programme).

Further, Iranian-Americans advocate the restoration to the people of Iran of the power to achieve an internally-generated, independent democracy based on the rule of law, freedom, justice, security and progress. This ambition leads them to oppose any level of military action in their motherland. Rather, most envisage direct, transparent negotiations, based on mutual respect, in which the US and Iran resolve their disputes, concerns and misunderstandings through dialogue.

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