Sunday, December 10, 2006

Words vs. Actions

To be fair, I should note that not every individual who tries to speak at Columbia University is harassed by radical leftists. One speaker who was spared such disruptions is Iran's UN ambassador, Javad Zarif. However, when asked some tough questions by his audience this past Wednesday night, Mr. Zarif responded angrily. Fox News quotes the ambassador as follows:

"Do I have a right to freedom of expression?" Zarif challenged. "I'm answering. If you want to stifle the right of people to freedom of expression, that's your problem, not mine."

I'm pleased to see that Mr. Zarif is such a champion of freedom of expression. Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, adopted a similar position in his recent letter to the American people:

We all deplore injustice, the trampling of peoples' rights and the intimidation and humiliation of human beings.

We all detest darkness, deceit, lies and distortion, and seek and admire salvation, enlightenment, sincerity and honesty.

In light of the comments of Ambassador Zarif and President Ahmadinejad, I thought it might be worthwhile to look at the Iranian regime's actual record on free expression. In a December 6th analysis, MEMRI summarized this record as follows:

On September 5, 2006, during a meeting with students on the Iranian National Youth Day, Ahmadinejad called to purge the Iranian universities of reformist and secular lecturers, saying: "Today, students have every right to criticize their president for the presence of liberal and secular lecturers at [the Iranian] universities... The task of replacing the secular lecturers has already begun... but bringing this change is very difficult... Our education system has been influenced by 150 years of secular thought... Changing the system is not easy, and we must accomplish it together." [1]

This statement followed a purge of the Iranian universities in May-June 2006. During this time, the regime forced dozens of lecturers whose views did not align with its policies to retire. University and faculty heads were replaced by associates of President Ahmadinejad, many of them lacking experience in academic administration. These moves evoked widespread protest on the part of university students and faculty, which have been brutally suppressed by the regime. [2] Today, a second wave of dismissals appears to be underway at the Iranian universities. [3]

In the past months, the regime has also targeted numerous websites and online papers affiliated with intellectuals and reformist dissidents. For example, the online dailies Sharq and Rouzegar and the monthly Nameh have been closed down, while the website Entekhab and the women's monthly Meidan-e Zanan have been blocked to readers inside Iran.

On December 4th, the Guardian reported that:

Iran yesterday shut down access to some of the world's most popular websites. Users were unable to open popular sites including and YouTube following instructions to service providers to filter them.

Similar edicts have been issued against Wikipedia, the internet encyclopaedia,, an online film database, and the New York Times site. Attempts to open the sites are met with a page reading: "The requested page is forbidden."

The clampdown was ordered by senior judiciary officials in the latest phase of a campaign that has seen high-speed broadband facilities banned in an attempt to impede "corrupting" foreign films and music. It is in line with a campaign by Iran's Islamist president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to purge the country of western cultural influences.

(According to Reporters Sans Frontieres, the New York Times site has since been unblocked.)

In a related development, Reporters Sans Frontieres revealed on November 27th "that all websites dealing with Iran will have to register with the culture ministry in the next two months."

The Iranian regime's obsession with censoring the Internet is easily explained by the spread of blogs and other web sites. It is estimated that there are anywhere from 70,000-100,000 Iranian blogs, many of which express dissenting viewpoints. In the words of John Naughton of the Observer, blogging has become "the only channel for free expression in Iran."

Still, the Ahmadinejad regime has not neglected more old fashioned forms of censorship, such as book banning:

Newly banned books include Farsi translations of Tracy Chevalier's best-seller Girl With a Pearl Earring and Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, the latter for upsetting clerics within Iran's tiny Christian community. Chevalier's novel has completed six print runs in Iran and earned hefty profits for its local publisher, Cheshme.

Another publishing house has been banned from selling a successful series of books featuring lyrics by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Doors, Black Sabbath, Queen and Guns n' Roses. Stores were told to remove the books or face closure. Permission was subsequently denied for the publisher to reprint.

The crackdown also covers classics, such as William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, and scores of works by Iranian authors.

I should note that there are some forms of free expression that are encouraged in Iran, such as anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. Overall, though, Iran's Islamist regime has gone to great and brutal lengths to deny its citizens the rights of free speech and expression that we take for granted. While Ambassador Zarif undoubtedly knows a great deal about how to "stifle the right of people to freedom of expression", his own claims of victimization in this regard are nauseating and dishonest.


Post a Comment

<< Home