September 02, 2010

Why Don’t NIAC and PAAIA Cooperate?

Dear Friends,

I’d like to share with you a recent email exchange about PAAIA’s relationship with NIAC that was initiated by one of our members, Afsaneh Mirfendereski.  It followed a Q&A we posted in the newsletter about the U.S. sanctions, and she later agreed for us to publish the conversation.  If you have any related questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to contact me at info@ and I’d be happy to elaborate further.

Have a great Thursday,

Mahasti Afshar
Executive Director, PAAIA

P.S.- Please visit our new website and sign up as a member again.  It’s free!

From: Afsaneh Mirfendereski
Sent: Thursday, August 05, 2010 10:40 AM
To: PAAIA Information
Subject: Re: Qs&As: All You Need To Know About U.S. Sanctions Against Iran


I admire much of you do. However, when PAAIA was being launched, it was presented as a body that looks after the interests of Iranian-Americans, and does not get involved in Iran-US relations.

For that reason, I would often donate to NIAC more – as I do believe that Iran-US relations also affect Iranian-Americans.

I think both groups do admirable work – but can PAAIA better explain if its priorities have also shifted? If so, the whole idea was that you 2 organizations may have different focuses – if you don’t, then why not put aside our national Achilles heal of not being able to cooperate with each other, and just have one body representing all the broad interests of the community?

Just a suggestion – and I can guarantee you that if I’m saying it, others are thinking it – so I hope the comments are to your benefit. Many friends get tired of simultaneous e-mails from PAAIA and NIAC, always covering the same issue.

It resonates deep feelings of angst in the community, that even our representatives can’t properly get along.

Please do keep up the good work, and again, I hope these insights serve some purpose here, as their intention is to seek a positive outcome.

Many thanks,
Afsaneh Mirfendereski BA M Arch
Chevy Chase

—–Original Message—–

From: Mahasti Afshar
Sent: Saturday, August 07, 2010 12:16 PM
To: Afsaneh Mirfendereski
Subject: Your e-mail to PAAIA

Dear Afsaneh –

Thanks so much for your kind and thoughtful e-mail. I don’t know if mine will do the job, but I’ll do my best.

I actually believe in variety and look forward to the day when we as a community fully subscribe to democracy, not just in thought but in action.

Democracy is all about respecting and negotiating varieties and differences while valuing and nurturing a community’s common ground–such a noble thought. We Iranians have a long history of building monolithic, one-party systems, and I don’t mean only political parties; I mean the claim that only one value system is good and true–culturally, socially, politically, spiritually–and we feel threatened by differences.

As an Iranian American, I would much rather see several, not just two, organizations voice our community’s perspectives and concerns and act on its behalf. To me, the idea of one organization representing all of us is not only arrogant but false and autocratic. We’ve left our beloved homeland and come to a country built on the premise that people can thrive and progress in spite of, or more accurately, because of their differences. Let’s exercise that philosophy and take advantage of the opportunity to be different, but then come together to achieve shared goals. (Did you know that there are more than 30 Cuban American organizations in the U.S. dedicated to a similar, though nuanced, set of socio-political ends? There are more; the 30+ are only the “moderate” ones. The same applies to Jewish organizations that are many and varied as well, some with fiercely different positions on issues.)

NIAC’s charter allows it to address US-Iran foreign relations. PAAIA’s charter limits it to tackling Iranian American concerns within the US borders; we can only deal with domestic issues while NIAC has no such restrictions. That is a major difference between the two; we ought to respect that rather than condemn it, and actually appreciate the value in it.

Difference does not always mean disagreement; sometimes it does; at other times it means a difference in emphasis, or in style, and in the case of nonprofits, a difference in their reach and donor base.

PAAIA cannot take any political action in matters related to US foreign relations, the US sanctions against Iran being one such case. What we can do, on the other hand, is commission reports about the implications and the complexities of the law, and disseminate them so that our community can make educated, informed decisions. That is service.

As for domestic [U.S.] issues where both PAAIA and NIAC are active, speaking for PAAIA, we want our community to be protected from any form of discrimination or manipulation, and to be recognized for its heritage as well as its contributions to U.S. society. We strive to be thoughtful, respectful and informative, give credit where credit is due, and be constructive where criticism is due. We believe in collaboration; that’s why PAAIA initiated the Census Project in 2009, which grew into a coalition of 47 Iranian American organizations in 2010. More collective efforts of that nature will help us achieve more for the community while allowing each to grow in singular ways. We should all come together around causes that benefit the community as a whole, and we at PAAIA will certainly do all we can in that regard.

Going forward — and I hope you’ll check out our website in September to know what I mean — PAAIA will increase its community building activities with a special focus on youth; we will also continue to encourage and support Iranian Americans to run for political office to strengthen our voice. We want to have real impact and be there as a support system for our community not just today, but in the future. That challenge, in a nutshell, is what gets me out of bed in the morning. I won’t lose heart just because obstacles get in our way, some self-imposed, others out of our control, and I hope you won’t either. Stay with us, keep sharing your good thoughts and ideas, and we’ll grow stronger as a community and find more opportunities to act in solidarity as time goes by.

Don’t let differences frighten you. It takes variety to make a garden.

With best regards,


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