The National Iranian American Council (NIAC)
by Majid Rafizadeh
June 22, 2016
I have often been asked why someone with my credentials joined the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) — a political institution, not “nonpartisan” as it sometimes suggests — and advanced the interests of Iran’s ruling clerics, who now lead the world in human rights violations, with a regime that ranks number one in executions per capita.
They also ask why one would work with an organization that is run by a director who is not even Iranian-American; not an American citizen, but holds Iranian and Swedish passports?
Before coming to the United States, I did not know about NIAC and no one I knew in Iran was aware of it either.
Although I wanted to contribute socially in helping Iranian-American communities in the U.S., I also did not want to join a partisan political organization that pretended to help the communities but instead was partisan and sought money, fame, and media attention.
At first, NIAC seemed fine: its mission statement says, “The National Iranian American Council is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening the voice of Iranian Americans and promoting greater understanding between the American and Iranian people.”
But soon after joining, I discovered several issues.
First, after joining NIAC in a voluntary and unpaid capacity, I felt as if I were back in the Islamic Republic of Iran. I began receiving calls and emails from NIAC indicating that some media outlets were introducing me as “ambassador” for NIAC. Well, one does not always get to choose what title the TV media outlets or magazine use to introduce one. Further, in many instances, journalists would Google my name and find it listed as ambassador for NIAC on its website.
I was still wondering why NIAC would be opposed to the idea that media introduces me as their ambassador. Later on, I encountered an article which said:
“NIAC’s inner contradictions never cease to surprise me, but then I guess that is the nature of Politics. Trita Parsi who staunchly opposed Western intervention in Libya virtually blaming it on Sarkozy’s warmongering and conforted [sic] in his views by the ever clueless moralist Hamid Dabashi accusing the hidden agenda’s of Western ‘Imperialism’ with his Broken record rants on European ‘Neo Colonialism’ while people were being mercilessly slaughtered by Libya’s Caligula has now added to it’s [sic] new list of Ambassador’s [sic] for 2012 an Iranian academic of Syrian heritage. But One who for a change seems to speak some sense in regard to a country he seems to understand far more deeply than NIAC understands Iran…”
It seemed most likely their opposition to me being introduced as their ambassador had to do with my personal views, which differed from those of NIAC. I criticized Iran’s political establishments, strongly condemned human right violations, criticized the Syrian regime for the bloodshed, and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) for assisting the Syrian regime.
It soon felt as if my freedom of expression were being taken away. I started to worry that a journalist somewhere might quote an interview or text and use the title “Ambassador to the National Iranian American Council,” if he might have found my name on its website. I would then have to track down the journalist, find his or her contacts, and plead with him or her to remove the title. I was also worried that I might say something on television or write something that NIAC might not like. These fears of expressing myself freely were similar to those that I grew up with having lived and worked in Iran and Syria.
I was also wondering why, if NIAC had issues with my personal views, it kept me for some months more. Perhaps, I wondered, it might have had to do with what I had mentioned to them earlier: that I knew some philanthropists who might donate money to the institution.