Iran's Cultural Revolution on Campus
Back in April, New York Magazine ran a fawning profile of the radical leftist students who last October stormed the stage during Minutemen founder Jim Gilchrist's speech at Columbia University (Sentence edited for clarity: DD, 9-22-07). Apparently, one of the reasons the trust fund totalitarians were so angry was that another speaker had recently been unable to come to campus:
The incident also exposed what left-wing students saw as corporate hypocrisy on the university’s part. Two weeks before Minuteman, Columbia stopped plans for a speech on campus by Iran’s notorious president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, citing security concerns and “logistics.” Ahmadinejad had been invited by the dean of the School of International and Public Affairs; at a time of international tension, the speech would undoubtedly have been important. Whose free speech counted? Bollinger’s critics said he had deferred to big donors out of concern for his legacy: Columbia’s planned campus in West Harlem. And now Columbia was standing up for the rights of a right-wing fringe group, the Minutemen—“a hate group—as identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center,” David Judd said on the front page of the Spectator.
So the Minutemen are "a hate group", but a Holocaust denier and anti-American fanatic who is pursuing nuclear weapons is okay with Columbia's New New Left. Good to know. BTW, Ahmadinejad may not have been able to come to campus, but Iran's UN ambassador did speak at Columbia last December. In case you're wondering, his speech was not interrupted by a mob.
Anyway, I wonder if Columbia's heroic radical dissidents have ever inquired about the status of academic freedom in Iran? If they were interested, they would have found that by last December, according to the BBC, there was "a second cultural revolution under way in the universities with scores of professors forcibly retired and politically active students being threatened with expulsion":
According to student activists 181 students have received letters warning them not to get involved in politics, while 47 student publications and 28 student organisations have been closed in the last year.
"They threatened me that if I talked to the media it might make things much worse for me," says Mehdi Aminzadeh, who has been banned from doing a masters in political science because he has been too active in politics.
"But if we keep silent it's easier for them to do the same things to other people," he says.
By June, the crackdown had only intensified:
Iranian students and professors say an unprecedented number of disciplinary cases have been brought against students in the last month.
They say 29 have been arrested in the last two months for political activism and 207 were taken before disciplinary committees in the last 40 days alone.
By comparison, just four students were disciplined a month on average under the last government.
University professors who criticise the government are also losing their jobs.
In a recent column, journalist Amir Taheri reports that such purges represent more than mere crushing of dissent. Rather, they are an integral part of Ahmadinejad's effort to turn Iranian universities into totalitarian conveyor belts of Islamist ideology:
What are the duties of a true believer on the first night of his burial? How did Ayatollah Dast-Ghayb achieve martyrdom? What was the name of the lion who cried over Imam Hussein's martyred corpse in the desert of Karbala?
These are some of the questions that young Iranians must answer before gaining admission to higher education.
The new interview system is part of a project designed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to "cleanse" Iranian higher education from what he regards as "the polluting influence of the Infidel".
He says he wants to create "a truly Islamic university."
The radical president refers to his "academic cleansing" policy as " The Second Islamic Cultural Revolution."
This "Second Islamic Cultural Revolution" will not be a happy experience if Taheri's account of the first one is to be believed:
The committee purged over 6000 university professors and lecturers, virtually destroying the Iranian academia. Dozens of academics were executed as hundreds fled into exile. The committee also expelled thousands of students on charges of monarchist or Marxist tendencies. It also censored or totally re-wrote dozens of textbooks to conform to the Khomeinist ideology.
When the universities were reopened two years later, the committee tried to fill them with students and teachers sympathetic to Khomeinism. The trick was to allocate special places for members of The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and children of families believed to be loyal to the regime.
Of course, censorship and book banning are a common thread in both cultural revolutions:
Further, it established a black list of authors and writings that has since become longer each year, reminding one of the worst days of the Inquisition in medieval Europe. The madness of censorship, supervised by the so-called Ministry of Islamic Orientation and Culture, reached a new peak this week when a new volume of Rafsanjai's memoirs was banned! The lesson is simple: if you ban someone, someone will ban you! (I must acknowledge a personal interest: my name and all my books are on the black list!)
After describing at length how Ahmadinejad's cultural revolution on campus is unfolding, Taheri ends on a cautiously optimistic note:
Hadad-Adel says the Islamic Republic must prevent "dangerous thoughts and ideas".
But, who decides what is dangerous?
In fact, the central role of the university is to allow dangerous thoughts and ideas to be expressed and measured against other thoughts and ideas. The imposition of a uniform mode of thought and prefabricated ideas is better suited to a concentration camp than a university campus.
The first "Islamic Cultural Revolution" failed to subject generations of Iranians to mass brainwashing in the name of education. The second one will also fail. One national characteristic of Iranians is curiosity, and a taste for different and dangerous thoughts and ideas.
Taheri is right in the long run. The Islamist project, like all other totalitarian efforts to reshape society and create a "new man", is ultimately destined to fail. The only question is how much damage it can inflict in the meantime. Communism managed to conquer one sixth of the earth's surface and murder up to 100 million people before finally collapsing of its own dead weight. If given the chance, the Islamists might one day manage to rival these numbers.
Taheri's point about universities is absolutely correct. I just wonder what would happen if he ever tried to express that opinion at Columbia?