“The vast majority of Iranian Americans oppose the current regime,” Babek Talebi stated at a forum of Iranian Americans in Minneapolis September 5. Talebi, the Director of Community Relations at National Iranian American Council (NIAC), also said that most Iranian Americans oppose a war with Iran.
NIAC sponsored the meeting at the First Unitarian Society in Minneapolis. Congressman Keith Ellison spoke on a panel with NIAC advocates Babek Talebi and Patrick Disney. The discussion, led by Mehr “Jay” Shahidi, focused mainly on the issue of what Iranian Americans can do about U.S. policies toward Iran.
Ellison is interested in strengthening the Iranian American community. “We must have voices of Iranian Americans at the table,” Ellison said.
Ellison, who was born in the United States, said that he believes the U.S. should be a force for peace in the world, but “the issues are complex.” Ellison is in favor of a closer relationship with Iran, but he also wants to be sure that human rights are being upheld. “Can’t we walk and chew gum at the same time?” he asked.
Ellison pointed out that, while he can work in Congress on these issues, the Iranian community needs to organize itself.
“No matter how much I study the issues,” Ellison said, “I don’t know [Iran] like you do”.
Talebi also stressed the need for organization. “Our goal is to unite the Iranian American community,” Talebi said, and explained that, while the Iranian American community comes from a diverse socio-economic background, and is in no way a monolithic culture, they can come together on key issues.
An audience member challenged Talebi’s assertion that the vast majority of Iranian Americans oppose the Iranian government. Talebi insisted that, factually, his assertion was true, although those with the minority opinion are more vociferous.
NIAC is a non-profit organization that was formed to build community and protect the interest of Iranian Americans. In 2006 they added an advocacy element to their mission, and in 2008, they added to their vision the need to promote education on human rights under the current regime.
One of NIAC’s advocacy projects right now is to oppose House Resolution 362, which is before the U.S. House of Representatives right now. Patrick Disney, NIAC’s assistant legislative director, explained that the resolution, which demands sanctions on Iran, also limits movement of all Iranian diplomats.
“If diplomats cannot move,” Disney said, “you have no dialogue, you have no international relations.”
An audience member pointed out that the issue of movement also affects students from Iran that come to the United States to study. Keith Ellison agreed that the issue of students and immigration is a problem, and said that the Republicans have put the brakes on immigration.
“America is missing out,” Ellison said, and stressed the need to keep ourselves competitive.
A tense moment in the forum occurred when an audience member brought up a series of articles written about NIAC, accusing the organization of being in the pocket of the Iranian government. Talebi rebuked these accusations and said that the defamatory articles were written by Hassan Daioleslam, a pseudonymous blogger who publishes his work at various neo-conservative websites run by Kenneth Timmerman. Talebi explained that NIAC is suing the author for slander. Ellison vouched for NIAC, and said he trusted them, but he would read the articles in question.