What’s in a name? When it comes to the Persian Gulf, aka the Arabian Gulf to Arabs or just the Gulf, you’ll upset someone no matter what combination of names you use. Iran bans goods that have “Arabian Gulf” stamped on them, and the UAE bans textbooks that label it as “Persian Gulf”. (Source: Wikipedia)
“The Gulf” won’t do either, the Economist has found out when Iran banned the publication for calling it just that, nor does “Arabian Gulf” in parentheses behind “Persian Gulf” cut it, as National Geographic found out.
Sure, historically the Gulf has been known as the Persian Gulf, and that’s what I call it too, mainly because it is good for everyone to agree on calling it something. But the entire Southern half of the Persian Gulf lies in Arab waters (there are no international waters there), so if the Arabs want to call it the Arabian Gulf, I don’t have a problem with that. Arabian, Persian — it’s not like anyone is trying to call it Qatari Gulf, Sunni Gulf or Iranian Gulf, now is it?
Google’s solution for Google Earth — to label it both as Persian and Arabian, with a usage note — is sensible. If you search for Arabian Gulf in Google Earth, say because you are an Qatari schoolboy and don’t know any better, you’ll find it, together with that usage note. That’s a feature, not a bug. Those who feel strongly about the matter have also made good use of Google Earth Community to “add more speech” to the speech they don’t agree with:
That works for me too — Google Earth as a neutral canvas onto which anyone can publish their toponymic opinions, whether they be popular or controversial, clever or dumb. Just like the web.
Nevertheless, Google’s editorial policy earned it the displeasure of the National Iranian American Council two weeks ago, which wrote to Google CEO Eric Schmidt to tell him that showing both names is just not good enough. Now comes another volley by irate Iranian toponymicists, in the form of a petition that begins:
We, the undersigned, through this letter, protest your irresponsible, unscientific actions, and demand an immediate and unconditional deletion of “Arabian Gulf” from Google Earth.
Arbitrarily designating the Persian Gulf as the Arabian Gulf is an irresponsible violation of all historical and International standards and would undermine the integrity of Google Earth.
The petition, now signed by 12,792 people and counting, fails to mention that Google gives preference to “Persian Gulf”, though nuance is not usually a strong point of petitions. It then spends several paragraphs unhelpfully explaining that the term ‘Persia’ “has always been used to describe the nation of Iran, its people, and its ancient empires since 600 BC.” That, if anything, backs the Arab argument for naming the Gulf “Arabian” lest the Iranians get any ideas about further territorial claims on it; it is a place where the settling of maritime boundaries has been a long and difficult process, and where the sovereignty of some islands is still very much in dispute.
Let’s not kid ourselves, this dispute is not about “accuracy” or “science”, it is about not giving an inch when there’s oil involved, and it is a game being played by all sides. The problem is that it’s impossible not to play — no position is considered neutral by all the parties. Even acknowledging that dissent exists on the name (without making a judgment on the issue) is seen as bias by some, and that is just silly. (Via Global Voices)
PS: My suggestion for a solution: Stop calling it the Gulf and start calling it the Puddle — the thing’s so shallow anyway. Then whoever wants to name it after themselves is welcome to it.