As with anything in politics, there should be room for a lively debate about Christiane Amanpour’s recent appointment to host ABC’s This Week. Legitimate arguments can be made both for and against the decision to hire an acclaimed foreign correspondent to do a Sunday morning show that previously focused on domestic issues. And employees at ABC are well within their right to be miffed at the network’s decision to pay top dollar for a star like Amanpour at the same time they are scaling back and laying off long-time employees.
But what cannot be countenanced is accusing her of bias based only on insinuations about her Iranian heritage. The attacks on Amanpour follow in a long line of Iranophobic attempts to keep qualified Iranian Americans out of the public sphere in America, and it should be called out for what it is: anti-Iranian bigotry.
As one of the most prominent and well-respected Americans of Iranian descent, the attacks on Amanpour are offensive to the entire Iranian-American community. Iranian Americans are proud of her accomplishments and her integrity, and have stepped up to defend her against attacks rooted in ignorance and bigotry.
Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales started this dust-up when he derided Amanpour as “the opposite of the perfect candidate” based on what he perceived as her lack of objectivity regarding Israel. As Glenn Greenwald and Adam Serwer have pointed out, Shales bolstered his claim with the supposedly incriminating evidence of Amanpour’s Iranian heritage. For many in the Iranian-American community, this is all-too-familiar territory.
Since the hostage crisis in 1979, Iranian Americans have experienced the scorn and derision of bigots who reduce a proud and ancient heritage to the reprehensible actions of Iran’s theocratic government. Despite this, Iranian Americans have distinguished the majority of Americans from this bigoted minority. No country has been more welcoming for Iranians fleeing Iran than the United States. Yet, making that same distinction – that is, separating Iranian Americans from the Iranian government – is something these small, vocal critics are incapable of doing.
There has been an ongoing campaign by these extremists to prevent Iranian Americans from partaking in America’s public life. Martin Kramer, the controversial Harvard professor, warned about the dangers of allowing Iranian Americans to get too close to power during last year’s AIPAC conference:
…Iran can have behind the scenes leverage over Iranian Americans, many of whom occupy key positions in the think tanks and are even being brought now into the administration…What this means is that we have to be extremely cautious about what we take away from Iranian diaspora communities when it comes to understanding Iran.
If Kramer and Shales had it their way, Iranian Americans would not be permitted to work on domestic issues because of their “international perspective,” nor could they cover Iran because they are “untrustworthy” and “incapable of objectivity.” In short, Kramer and Shales’ end goal is to have Iranian Americans shut out of the picture entirely.
In their ideal world, Iranian Americans may be permitted to exist, but they should not be permitted to have a voice.
Fortunately, those seeking to engineer a sort of “moral panic” about the Iranian-American community have and will continue to fail. Their insults and accusations only marginalize their message.
Most Americans recognize that the Iranian-American community has enriched America in the cultural sphere, contributed significantly to our economy (e-Bay’s founder, Pierre Omidyar, is an Iranian American), in the public sphere with talented journalists like Amanpour, and even in sports – both Andre Agassi and Ali Farokhmanesh (the dead-eyed Northern Iowa basketball star behind last week’s upset against Kansas in the NCAA tournament) are children of Iranian national sports heroes.
Every once in a while, some discriminatory policy or legislation will pop up, or a hateful attack against the community will be aired. But episodes like the Amanpour story serve as a reminder that America is united with the Iranian-American community. We join together to combat the bigots who wish to silence and exclude this diverse and valued community. And I, for one, join my Iranian-American friends in celebrating Amanpour’s success, and wish her the best of luck.
This post also appeared on the HuffingtonPost