A Response to PAAIA: How PAAIA Fails to Meet its Mandate
by Kabriat 06-Jun-2012
On June 2, 2012, Iranian.com published my blog post "The Problem with PAAIA". PAAIA's response to that posting, "Why PAAIA is Effective" was published on June 6, 2012. Without summarizing the contents of those posts, I recommend the reader to review both in full. PAAIA's response, purportedly written by its Executive Director Saghi Modjtabai, not only fails to address the concerns outlined in my initial article, but further demonstrates that instead of becoming an organization that works for the community, it has become an ineffective community organization that promotes the wrong values.
First, PAAIA's response is significant because it fails to address the central issues identified in my initial piece. Instead, it mischaracterizes or recasts them in an effort to deceive the reader. The following are notable examples:
- My original piece notes that PAAIA claims to be an organization which supports the Iranian-American community and other organizations and promotes unity. Yet despite these claims, I note that PAAIA's leaders and Board members publicly attack leaders of other organizations (in some instances going so far as to defame the President of another organization by falsely claiming he has relationships with the Iranian government). PAAIA does not deny this but tries to justify it, stating that its leaders have the "first amendment right to free speech without being censored by PAAIA." PAAIA's response misses the point. Everyone has the first amendment right to free speech. But when you are the leader of an organization which casts itself as a force for unity, cooperation, collaboration, etc. then statements to the contrary by you (especially those which are malicious and defamatory), at minimum, reflects that the organization is not competent to fulfill its own mandate. You cannot seek to achieve unity when your leaders preach opposite. In the same fashion an organization which seeks to end discrimination cannot achieve its goals by being comprised of leaders who promote it. So yes, PAAIA's leaders can say whatever they want, whenever they want. But it also cannot sit on the moral and ethical platform it subscribes to itself when the individuals driving the organization do the opposite.
- My original piece notes that PAAIA is self-serving and promotes the wrong values. Specifically, I note that PAAIA does not award those who dedicate their time and life to helping their community (as opposed to other successful minority organizations which do just that). Instead, PAAIA primarily highlights the achievements of business leaders and corporate executives that are largely part of PAAIA's Board of Directors or its large donors. As I note, this sends the wrong message. It equates notoriety and success to business acumen or academic prowess without any recognition to individuals who dedicate their lives, full-time, to advancing our community. Under PAAIA's viewpoint, I could join PAAIA, dedicate my entire life to helping the community despite making a menial income, and yet still not be considered as "worthy" or "successful" as an individual who was employed by Goldman Sachs, rose up the corporate ladder, and spent their entire life accumulating their own wealth despite donating some of it to PAAIA. That standard of "success" is wrong and misguided. It also only serves the interests of one group of individuals: PAAIA Board of Directors and Trustees since they themselves are predominantly comprised of financially successful corporate executives, lawyers, and business owners. In the same vein, in my original piece I note that PAAIA's signature event, the Passing of the Torch series, is largely used to highlight the achievement of PAAIA's own Board Members or large donors. It doesn’t, for instance, highlight the achievements of members of our community who actually serve the community. They put Faryar Shirzad, an executive at Goldman Sachs and PAAIA donor, on a pedestal; not Yalda Modabber, the founder of Golestan Kids, the first school of its kind which seeks to ensure that Iranian-American children learn about their culture and heritage from early on. They highlight the achievements of Hamid Biglari, a Citigroup executive and a PAAIA Director; not Farshad Rastegar, the CEO and President of Relief International, a non-profit organization that provides humanitarian relief for at-risk countries around the world. It creates the wrong standard for our youth. It creates the wrong inspiration for our community. And it makes celebrities out of the wrong individuals.
- My original piece notes that Iranian-Americans are primarily concerned with U.S. foreign policy which PAAIA has an explicit policy of not addressing. On the other hand, I note that PAAIA's leaders nonetheless use their status in the organization to influence decision-makers concerning their own individual agendas regarding foreign policy and that there is no way to hold them accountable for that. The lack of transparency means that a PAAIA Board member could use his or her status as a leader in the organization to gain an audience with a Congressman and advocate a military strike on Iran and there would be no way for us to know about it. PAAIA's response not only ignores this salient concern, it supports it. PAAIA states that it "has declined to take positions on foreign policy" while equally noting that "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 . . ." In other words, on one hand PAAIA is telling the community it does nothing with respect to foreign policy, on the other it actually takes the position that the Iranian community is divided on what policy they want to see. With respect to foreign policy, there is no transparency as to what PAAIA wants or is doing. It says it takes no position, yet it does - an unclear one. It says it will remain silent on the matter, yet its leader's don't - using their position as PAAIA Board members to influence policymakers. Like I noted before, we might hate NIAC and other organizations for what they stand for, but at least we know where it stands. What PAAIA does is not only wrong, it abuses its own members which sign up thinking that PAAIA is apolitical without being told of the political positions actually being taken.
Second, mixed into PAAIA’s response are overt attacks against other community organizations – precisely the issue I highlight in my initial piece. Take the following:
- PAAIA writes that they provide “accurate and balanced information without resorting to scorching op-eds or shrill political tirades." This is clearly an indirect attack on other organizations and individuals which do publish op-eds or take political positions. Organizations like NIAC for one.
- PAAIA writes "We also deliberate before making organizational decisions while ensuring that, unlike some other organizations, one voice does not drown all others." Again, an attack on other organizations.
Not only is PAAIA seeking to bring itself up by trying to knock others down, in its piece it falsely takes exclusive credit for actions contributed by numerous organizations. Take the following:
- "[F]ollowing 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.” What PAAIA omits is the significant role played by multiple organizations who lobbied the government to obtain reform of U.S. visa policies, not limited to NIAC and the Sharif University of Technology Association and currently the Iranian Students and Graduates Association in the United States.
PAAIA's mission, as noted on its website, is to "Unite the Iranian American community". For an organization purportedly dedicated to that goal, it clearly fails to achieve it by indirectly and explicitly attacking other organizations and failing to give credit for joint and collaborative programs.
Lastly, PAAIA launches personal attacks against this author for using a pseudonym to downplay the credibility of my opinion (and thus the significance of my comments). For an organization with seeks to serve our community and advance our interests, its unusual to see it attack an individual whose entire article relates to problems it sees with our community organizations in hopes that we may remedy them.