Washington, DC (NIAC ) - Presidential candidate Senator John McCain , in response to a question about a survey showing increased U.S. exports to Iran -- mostly of cigarettes -- replied by saying, "Maybe that's a way of killing them ." Despite his initial backpedaling by saying "I meant that as a joke," Senator McCain's comment is unacceptable and very troubling for the Iranian-American community.
As one of the most well-educated and affluent immigrant populations in the United States, the Iranian-American community is proud of its contributions to American culture. Unfortunately, Senator McCain overlooked this attribute when he made this statement, and NIAC has expressed its concerns through a letter sent to the McCain campaign Wednesday.
This is Senator McCain's second inflammatory and insensitive comment about Iran during the campaign (his last comment used the theme of the Beach Boys' "Barbara Ann" to sing "Bomb, Bomb Iran "). Many people feel his comments undermine the need for fresh thinking to resolve the current conflict with Iran, and risk alienating his Iranian-American supporters within the Republican Party.
"With rising tensions and talk of war between the U.S. and Iran, what we need is constructive, not destructive, dialogue from the candidates -- dialogue that differentiates between the people and the policies of the Iranian government," said Reza Firouzbakht, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Iranian American Council .
Despite Senator McCain's long and distinguished career in public service and the support he currently has within our community, his comment yesterday is being viewed as careless and insensitive, with the potential to strongly jeopardize the support from those who wish to vote for him in November.
"We hope, through an apology for these unfortunate remarks, the Senator can clearly demonstrate his respect for Americans of Iranian descent and repair the damage done in the eyes of our community," said Trita Parsi, NIAC President.
Below is a copy of a letter NIAC sent to Senator McCain's campaign headquarters expressing concerns about his comment and requesting an apology on behalf of all Iranian Americans.
Dear Senator McCain,
The Iranian-American community is disappointed and disturbed by your comment yesterday about US exports of cigarettes to Iran as "a way of killing" Iranians.
This statement was insensitive, callous, and counterproductive. We are proud Americans, and grateful for the blessings of liberty and democracy not available in our country of origin. Our community is also proud of its Iranian heritage, and deeply protective of our family, culture, and traditions; we hope that you hold us in higher regard than your comments seem to indicate.
Your remark yesterday recalls a previous campaign event in 2007 in which you sang "Bomb, Bomb Iran." For the second time during this Presidential election, you made the unfortunate choice to disparage people of Iranian descent, which is a fact that one million Iranian Americans find unacceptable.
Members of our community have historically been strong supporters of the Republican Party. Your statements have had the unintended effect of alienating the Iranian-American community from your party and putting in jeopardy Iranian-American support for your campaign.
While our community overwhelmingly opposes the government in Iran, we strongly oppose a military confrontation between the two countries and believe the current state of US-Iran relations requires an intelligent and constructive dialogue, which your comment directly undermined.
We know that as a decorated military hero, you would not unnecessarily bring our service men and women in harm's way. We hope you will reconsider making light of the current tensions with Iran and instead take the lead to secure a peaceful resolution to the US-Iran standoff.
Finally, we ask you to apologize for your unfortunate remarks, and to acknowledge the valuable contribution the Iranian-American community makes to American society. As you know, Iranians tend to be the most pro-American population in the Middle East. Our policy cannot be to alienate the people of Iran, with whom America has no and should have no enmity.
We hope, through this gesture, you can clearly demonstrate your respect for Americans of Iranian descent and repair the damage done in the eyes of Iranian Americans by your recent comment.
Dr. Trita Parsi, President
Babak Talebi is Director of Community Relations at NIAC .