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Time to speak out on Iran (Source: Philadelphia Inquirer)

By , December 11, 2009 6:56 am

An article published in the Philadelphia Inquirer mentions Kian’s case:

“…Iran’s opposition “green” movement – which started as a protest against election fraud – has grown into a much broader civil rights movement. Monday’s demonstrations – documented on YouTube despite the regime’s media ban – showed that Iranians both young and old are increasingly inflamed by the government’s brutality toward its own people.

So why is President Obama so quiet about Iran’s human rights abuses?

Yes, U.S. officials have raised the case of three American hikers imprisoned after straying across the border in Iraqi Kurdistan. And they have protested the jailing of Iranian American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh. But the White House has been noticeably reluctant to raise wider human rights concerns with Tehran.

The administration seems to fear that criticism of Tehran’s human rights violations would impede talks on curbing Iran’s nuclear program. But those talks have stalled since Iran backed off a promising compromise proposal. The impasse is linked to Iran’s repression of human rights.

Iran is going through an internal power struggle that is far from over and has paralyzed its domestic politics. This will make it extremely difficult to do a deal with Tehran in the near term.

The heart of the problem: The hard-line core of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard military force wants to consolidate power and crush any political opposition. The Revolutionary Guards, who are directing the crackdown in the country, resisted a compromise on the Iranian nuclear program (even though their man, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, seemed to endorse it).

“They want to put the country on a war footing,” said Hadi Ghaemi, coordinator of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, “because they see this as the easiest way for them to consolidate power inside Iran.” So, says Ghaemi, there is no point in our keeping mum on Iran’s crackdown on its growing civil rights movement: “The Obama administration has to recognize that the Iranian protest movement is an undeniable reality that is not going way.”

Ghaemi and other Iran experts stress that Obama should take an approach different from the Bush administration’s. The latter linked support for the Iranian opposition to calls for “regime change” and provided funds for regime opponents. This gave Tehran a handy excuse to brand all Iranian civil-society groups as spies.

Rather than offer material support, says Ghaemi, Obama should be a moral voice. He should hold Iran to account at the United Nations for international conventions it has signed calling for freedom of expression and assembly…”

[Full Article]

Social Science on Trial in Tehran (Source: Chronicle of Higher Education)

By , November 4, 2009 8:26 am

Professor Charles Kurzman has published the account “Reading Weber in Tehran” on the persecution of social scientists in Iran, particularly those who participate in and study civil society and the public sphere:

“An unlikely suspect was fingered at the recent show trials of Iranian dissidents: Max Weber, whose ideas on rational authority were blamed for fomenting a “velvet revolution” against the Islamic Republic. “Theories of the human sciences contain ideological weapons that can be converted into strategies and tactics and mustered against the country’s official ideology,” Saeed Hajjarian, a leading strategist in the Iranian reform movement, explained in his forced confession.

A political scientist by training, Hajjarian “admitted” that Weber’s notion of patrimonial government wasn’t applicable to Iran. The theory, Hajjarian declared, is relevant only in countries where “people are treated as subjects and deprived of all citizenship rights,” which is “completely incompatible with and unrelated to current conditions in Iran.”

Hajjarian’s coerced denunciation of Weber is ludicrous but unsurprising. Since the disputed presidential elections of June 12, the hard-line government in Tehran has started a broad campaign against social scientists. This crackdown is not altogether new. Over the past decade, one or two prominent social scientists have been arrested each year for supposedly plotting against the state. Those scholars were typically detained for several months and then released after making videotaped “confessions.” This year, however, after the surprisingly popular presidential campaign of Mir Hussein Moussavi, and widespread protests over the official results, the number of social scientists in Iranian prisons has multiplied. At least a dozen sociologists, political scientists, and economists were put on trial, and many more have been named in court as unindicted co-conspirators…

Khamenei portrayed professors as “commanders” on the front lines of “soft warfare”—the term that hard-liners in Iran use to describe Western efforts to sway and organize Iranian youth. Professors, he suggested, have a responsibility to teach their students to avoid Western influences, and limit their “specialized discussions” in the social sciences to “qualified persons within safe environments.” To do otherwise, Khamenei said, risked “damaging the social environment.”

Such rhetoric has fueled calls for a purge of the universities, with special scrutiny on the social sciences. “The human sciences should not be taught in the Western style in the country’s universities,” Ayatollah Mohammad Emami-Kashani, a senior member of Iran’s Assembly of Experts, declared in a nationally televised sermon in September.

Max Weber is not alone in being blamed for the unrest in Iran. Other social theorists, like Jürgen Habermas, John Keane, Talcott Parsons, Richard Rorty, and unspecified feminists and poststructuralists have also been accused of “threatening national security and shaking the pillars of economic development.”

What links this group of scholars, it appears, is their belief that an independent civil society, beyond the reach of the state, is necessary for the development of democracy and human rights. This view is particularly pronounced in Habermas’s concept of the public sphere: free spaces for the exchange of ideas among autonomous institutions and individuals. Where the public sphere is weak, society is vulnerable to domination by the state—a concern that Habermas borrowed from Weber…

Iranian social scientists are being harassed and imprisoned both for their participation in the public sphere and for their study of the public sphere. The Iranian government’s goal, it seems, is to undermine not only the institutions of civil society, but the very idea of it.”

[Full article]

Statement by President Barack Obama on Iran (Source: White House)

By , November 4, 2009 7:17 am

The United States president has issued a statement on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the seizure of U.S. hostages from the American Embassy in Tehran:

“Thirty years ago today, the American Embassy in Tehran was seized. The 444 days that began on November 4, 1979 deeply affected the lives of courageous Americans who were unjustly held hostage, and we owe these Americans and their families our gratitude for their extraordinary service and sacrifice.

This event helped set the United States and Iran on a path of sustained suspicion, mistrust, and confrontation. I have made it clear that the United States of America wants to move beyond this past, and seeks a relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran based upon mutual interests and mutual respect…

…We have heard for thirty years what the Iranian government is against; the question, now, is what kind of future it is for. The American people have great respect for the people of Iran and their rich history. The world continues to bear witness to their powerful calls for justice, and their courageous pursuit of universal rights. It is time for the Iranian government to decide whether it wants to focus on the past, or whether it will make the choices that will open the door to greater opportunity, prosperity, and justice for its people.”

[Full statement]

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