Omid Memarian

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Bolinger, AHmadinejad and freedom of Speech!

The speech given by Iranian President Ahmadinejad at Columbia University on Monday, signified three key topics: first, a remarkable ode to freedom of speech in the University; second, Ahmadinejad's weak performance in addressing some controversial questions; and third, as host and President of Columbia Lee Bollinger's distasteful and humiliating introduction of his guest.

First, Ahmadinejad's invitation to speak at Columbia University signified this country's commitment to freedom of speech: Despite his controversial rhetoric, Ahmadinejad, who is portrayed as one of the least-liked world politicians in the United States, (perhaps up there with Fidel Castro), was officially invited by one of the most prestigious universities in the U.S., to be heard and challenged directly. This extraordinary opportunity allowed students -- perhaps future leaders -- to assess a 'perceived' enemy firsthand.

Despite serious objections to the invitation, the university decided against canceling Ahmadinejad's speech, stating that it based its decision on the fact that the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of speech. I believe this is a highly impressive characteristic of the American society, and provides opportunities that many countries, including Iran, simply cannot enjoy.

In a way, inviting Ahmadinejad to New York is like inviting Richard Perle or Michael Bolton to Tehran University to share their views with Iranian students -- an impossible scenario.

Second, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech was a poor performance at best. The portion of his speech which highlighted Iran's stance towards international issues, was realistic, factual and accepted by Iranians and most non-Iranians worldwide (it not Americans)...issues such as criticism of the U.S., relations with Iran in general (regardless of political group or sect), their role in the 1953 coup, and U.S.'s blind support of Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war; he called for a peaceful nuclear program and peace in the Middle East.

However, the portion of his speech or responses which related to his government's policies or attempted to negate allegations against his government, (and partially aimed at neutralizing Lee Bollinger 's introduction) were contrived, vague, or plain wrong. Examples included his claim about the non-existence of homosexuals in Iran, and the rosy picture he portrayed of the situation of women. Despite his emphasis on 'the value of knowledge and awareness,' he made a great effort to cover up the situation of human rights in Iran.

The third and most surprising aspect of Ahmadinejad's speech, was the very distasteful manner in which Columbia's President Bollinger introduced his guest: "A petty and cruel dictator!" whose "intellectual courage": he doubted in responding to questions that he was "brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated." Regardless of political views or pressures from donors to cancel this guest, Bollinger decided to host Ahmadinejad and it was in very poor form to be disrespectful rather than pose his criticism through questions.

Although many Iranians worldwide, and most prominently in Iran, criticize Ahmadinejad for his stance on a wide range of issues, they were very disappointed in Bollinger's insulting and distrustful tone, and poor hospitality. Rather than properly pose his questions, Bollinger simply threw distasteful remarks at Ahmadinejad, without creating an academic dialogue.

Why bother engage him in dialogue if he planned to be so impolite and discourteous? Bollinger is neither the Chief of International Criminal Court, nor a politician to put Ahmadinejad on the stand; he is an academic who was commissioned to create dialogue and promote understanding. His behavior was unjustifiable, and counter-productive to the brave decision by the university against canceling the speech, despite pressures by the donors. One could speculate that Bollinger's behavior was an attempt to alleviate the situation, in response to his critics. However, he reduced himself from a true academic to a politician wannabe, feeding into the increasing tension between the two countries to probably start another war in the region.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Substitue Teachers In Oakland-Slide-Show

Monday, September 10, 2007

110 Days in Jail... To No Avail

A remarkable Iranian satirist, Ebrahim Nabavi, once said, "Iran is the only country in the world where people are erroneously imprisoned, accused of espionage, forced to sign a confession, and then set free." This commentary not only rang true for Dr. Haleh Esfandiari, an Iranian-American scholar from the Woodrow Wilson Center, but also for many journalists, intellectuals and activists who have been repeatedly accused of a wide range of charges from being a spy to endangering Iran's national security.

Dr .Esfandiari was held in prison for more than 110 days without access to a lawyer and with only very minimal contact with her mother. She was accused of endangering Iran's national security by Iranian intelligence authorities as well as ultra conservative newspapers. Eventually, she was forced to 'confess' to her intentions to participate in a 'velvet revolution' on TV; a couple of weeks after this appearance, she was released from prison on bail and fled Iran, traumatized from her horrid experience.

If these authorities had a shred of proper evidence against her, they would not have released her or allowed her to leave the country; no sane administration releases people who undermine its national security. They would have held a trial, proven her guilt, and convicted her. So the accusations against her--'involvement in preparation for velvet revolution' in particular, or, 'espionage' as the hardliner newspaper Kayhan
put it, was the fabrication of a paranoid intelligence service. The true intention seemed to be intimidation of the Iranian middle class and intelligentsia with access to foreign organizations and funds intended to strengthen civil society activities. I believe that the US policies toward so-called support of democracy in Iran through allocation of funds, has been terribly harmful to the Iranian civil society, but even such a reckless policy shouldn't be an excuse for the Iranian government to violate the basic rights of its own people.

On the other hand, while journalists, activists and intellectuals are facing the same treatment on a regular basis, Haleh Esfandiari's case, which received widespread international coverage, reflected the dire situation of justice in Iran. Actually, while the aim of Iranian authorities was to teach a lesson to Americans so as not to support Iran's civil society activists, their efforts seem to have backfired by giving worldwide attention to the way
Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and its Judiciary branch operate. That's why Haleh's case draws a terrifying picture of the situation of justice in Iran. Though in many countries, such as the US, judicial systems are continually criticized, the condition of justice in Iran appears appalling.

While the Judiciary should operate independently to monitor the activities of other branches of the government such as the Executive Branch which includes Ministry of Intelligence, it is clearly evident that the intelligence services are dominant over the Judiciary and they can do whatever they want with prisoners without any accountability.

This immunity has continually enabled them to violate the basic rights of Iranian citizens. It includes actions such as arrests without any clear evidence, mistreatment of prisoners through prolonged solitary confinement, denying them access to lawyers, preventing their communication with their families, forcing them to appear on TV, and large scale efforts to defame citizens.

Haleh Esfandiari's release from detention a few weeks ago, and her
last week's departure from Iran is a lesson for those who during her detention defended the behavior of these institutions unconditionally for whatever reason. While the situation of Human Rights in Iran, comparatively speaking, is better than many countries in the Middle East, no one can deny the shortcomings, violations, and abuses happening in the Iran Judicial system.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Art and Soul Festival

This is an audio slideshow taken at the Art and Soul Festival in downtown Oakland California by Beth Huffman, Liza Pickoff-White, and me.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Haleh Esfandiari Left Iran

Good news! After more than three months detention and three months of house arrest, finally, Dr. Haleh Esfandiari left Iran.

Iranian-American Scholar Leaves Iran- The Associated Press - TEHRAN, Iran (AP)
US-Iranian scholar leaves Iran - AFP
Released US academic leaves Iran - BBC News
Iranian-American scholar leaves Iran - San Jose Mercury News
Scholar Detained in Iran Allowed to Retun to US- Washington Post

Saturday, September 01, 2007

10 Indications that the U.S. is Planning Military Action Against Iran

"The United States is headed toward a serious confrontation with the Iran’s hardliner government. The administration is positioning itself for battle by shifting the focus of its dispute from Iran’s nuclear program to winning the “War on Terror.” What may ignite the fire is the possible labeling of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps(IRGC) as a ‘terrorist group’ by U.S. officials.

Despite all its challenges in stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. has its eye on Iran: It has tried to mobilize Iranian opposition, pressure the UN Security Council members to adopt economic sanctions against Iran, marginalize Iran in the region by inflaming/exacerbating the anti-Iranian sentiment, expand its military presence in the Persian Gulf, and encourage an arms race in the region. And, of course, the only way to seal a grand bargain with Iran for this administration is through military action versus diplomatic negotiation. (Continue....)

Time- Intimidation In Tehran

"By Azadeh Moaveni- On a sunny day earlier this summer, I took my 8-month-old baby boy Hourmazd for a walk in the foothills of Tehran's Alborz Mountains. Families and young people crowded the tree-lined path ahead, chatting leisurely and snacking on crepes and barbecued corn. As I pushed the stroller along, a policewoman in a black chador blocked my way. She fingered my plain cotton head scarf, pronounced it too thin and directed me toward a parked minibus. It took a full minute for me to realize that she meant to arrest me. "I've been wearing this veil for over five years," I pleaded. "Surely it can't be that unacceptable?" My husband soon caught up with us and began berating the policewoman for harassing a young mother. The commotion drew the attention of a bearded superior officer, who came over to inspect me. "The problems are not few," he said, frowning at my sleeves, which fell a few inches above my unsteady wrists. He ordered me to sign a ta'ahod, a commitment that I would not repeat my mistake. "Now go home," he said. "Go home, and don't come back." (Continue...)