By Alidad Mafinezam
The views expressed are his own.
The online opening earlier this month of the “Virtual United States Embassy, Tehran, Iran” was billed by the U.S. government as an attempt at building a “bridge between the American and Iranian people.” Since the two countries haven’t had diplomatic relations for over three decades, this could mark the beginning of a proactive approach by the U.S. government toward Iran, suggesting a new focus on engaging the Iranian people and their government, an attempt at opening a new chapter in the hitherto fraught relationship between the two countries.
Yet, true to form, the Iranian government rejected the U.S. move, immediately blocked access to the site to those inside Iran, and called the initiative an attempt at spying on Iranians. Thus the opening of what was intended as a bridge between the two countries has turned into an exercise in information warfare and cyberspace competition.
The relationship between the American and Iranian people is too important to be left to governments alone. It is the Iranian diaspora in general, especially the million-strong Iranian- American community, who constitute the main human bridge between the U.S. and Iran, and they hold many of the solutions to Iran’s currently antagonistic relationship with North America and Europe.
Over three decades after a revolution that dethroned their westernized Shah, and the passage of a full generation, hundreds of thousands of Iranian émigrés have productively integrated into their new homes. They aren’t “exiles,” since they are largely fulfilled by their careers and live outside Iran. But they still maintain their bonds to the motherland.
The sizable and growing communities of Iranian origin in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and among Iran’s neighbors in the UAE and Turkey, represent a potentially instrumental bridge to the Islamic Republic. Since they are literally situated “in-between,” the Iranian diaspora has a great stake in, and is ideally positioned to lead dialogue and engagement efforts between Iran and their new home. This is especially needed at a time when Iran is becoming progressively more closed to the outside world. Who better to help Iran understand and build bridges to the world, and vice versa?