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Google recently created a special “doodle” to mark the 812th birthday of the polymath Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, and attributes him to every country in the Middle East except the one where he actually comes from–Iran.
Doodles are commemorative changes in the Google homepage logo that are meant to celebrate an event or individual. In honoring al-Tusi, Google did the commendable thing of raising awareness about an individual and time many are unfamiliar with. However, Google committed one rather large disservice to the spread of accurate historical information with this doodle by attributing almost every country in the Middle East and North Africa (including Afghanistan) to him except the one he was actually from. Indeed, Nasir al-Din al-Tusi was a native of Khorasan (a region in north east modern day Iran), spoke and wrote in Persian as well as Arabic, and grew up in the Iranian cities of Tus, Hamedan, and Neishapur.
Now the reasons for why there was no attribution to Iran at all for this doodle are unclear. Many Google doodles, including this one for al-Tusi, are country specific. That is, they only show up on the Google homepages in countries that are listed under location on the page for the doodle. Iran does not even have a location page on the Google doodle website, which suggests it is simply excluded from Google doodle. Even doodles such as last year’s one for the Persian New Year exclude Iran. This begs the question of whether or not excluding Iran from these doodles is a result of Google having to blacklist Iran because of sanctions.
Google remains one of the few sites in Iran not blocked by the Iranian government, and many Iranians rely on it for email and search, and even make extensive use of the Persian language version of Google. Yet, Google does have a history of blocking certain services for Iran, citing sanctions. When Google Plus was introduced, Google first banned the service for Iranian IP addresses (calling Iran a “forbidden country”) before Iranian government filters got anywhere close to it. Google’s popular Google Play app store for Android mobile platforms has also long been blocked for Iranian customers. Google Earth, the Chrome Browser, and the photo service Picasa were also blocked for Iran until events (mostly the Green movement protests) and pressure led the U.S. government to issue a license that allowed these programs to be made available in Iran. Several organizations, including NIAC, have called in the past on Google and other tech companies to stop blocking Iranian people from accessing Internet communication tools.
It would be a huge shame if sanctions are in any way preventing Google from attributing decisively Iranian events and individuals, such as the Persian New Year and Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, to Iran. There is no doubt that it would be a huge public relations boost for Google and even the U.S. (as many Iranians would see Google’s actions or any other American company as reflective of the U.S. in general), if Iranians in Iran were to suddenly open up their web browsers and see a Google homepage that reflects a part of their heritage.
Including Iran in doodle mentions of the Persian New Year or scientists like al-Tusi should have nothing to do with sanctions. Google doodle’s should be about learning and sharing different histories and cultures within a worldwide audience. Not attributing Iran in doodles that have to do with Iranian history and culture (for whatever reason) ultimately ends up as an act of historical revisions, something that is certainly far from the purpose of Google doodles.
I have contacted Google requesting further clarification as to why Iran is excluded from Google doodles, and will provide an update as soon as I receive a response.
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