Monday, September 07, 2009

Iran’s Universities Punish Students Who Disputed Vote

Iran’s Universities Punish Students Who Disputed Vote -
Iranian universities have begun disciplining and suspending students who took part in street protests after the disputed presidential election in June, reformist Web sites reported Friday and Saturday.

The new disciplinary actions came as officials reported that a presidential panel has begun an investigation of the humanities curriculums at universities, the semiofficial Mehr news agency reported. Although the panel was formed a year ago, it did not start work until after recent calls to purge universities of professors and curriculums deemed “un-Islamic,” based on the fear that the teaching of secular concepts helped fuel the political unrest following the June 12 election.

The investigation will report its findings directly to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Mehr reported.

For weeks, the authorities have voiced concern about the possibility of renewed protests as students return for the fall semester, which begins Sept. 23. Some of the worst clashes during the post-election protests took place at universities in Tehran and elsewhere. Last week, five students at the University of Mashad who had openly supported an opposition candidate were arrested with no official explanation, several Web sites reported.
I've been an employee at a University for 15 years, and as such I have been very aware of the tongue-in-cheek axiom that "... this would be a nice place to work, if it was not for the students".

Students are ... difficult. They are irreverent, headstrong, and they think they know it all even if they flunked "History of Western Civilization" in their first term at school.

Both of those comments are, of course, offered tongue in cheek.

The fact is, the University (or College) is usually the first opportunity for young people be challenged by concepts which had not occurred to them in what may have been a sheltered life in a provincial culture.

As I walk across campus on my way to lunch, or just taking a strol as a break from my geekish labors, I sometimes encounter groups of students offering petitions, interviewing people for polls, handing out pamphlets or just standing silent vigil ... such as staking thousands of crosses in the ground to exemplify the numbers of babies killed in abortions during the past year, or the number of Iranians killed during the past year.

Those of us who encounter university students as part of our daily environment are often challenged by what seems to us to be contrary, often radical thoughts. It is part of the maturation process that young people try on various societal and political stances before they eventually find one that works for them. I agree with few of them, and sometimes they are obnoxious in their surety that their viewpoints are more valid than mine. I've had a half-century more experience to establish my opinions than they have theirs, but you just can't try to win an argument with them.

Okay, so you can ... but it's a lost cause and a waste of time. They are almost invariably confident that, although they may only convinced of this 'one thing' they are absolutely convinced that they know what must be done to make the world a better place.


Perhaps they're right; perhaps they're wrong. Either way, this part of the educational experience. They need to win a few arguments to teach them confidence. They need to lose a few arguments to teach them that, although they are clear in their opinions and they are able to voice their arguments clearly, that doesn't mean that they are always going to convince others to change their minds.

It's part of the education process that sometimes the most valuable lessons you learn at University are not taught in a classroom.

Which brings us back to the original news report.

Iran held a Presidential Election, and charges were made that the election was rigged. Students protested, as students will. Students were arrested, assaulted ... one was murdered. (Apologies for inappropriate commercial preceding the vide.)

The Strong-Arm National Government "won", in the sense that student protests were treated as riots and in the end, only the Government has guns.

There's a lesson there, but it's not the point.

The Government just couldn't leave it alone. Not content with merely "putting down student riots, with unfortunate collateral damage", the Government of Iran has initiated a policy of following up on intelligence gathered during the demonstrations. They have identified student leaders, and have initiated a concerted campaign to punish these individuals.

The new disciplinary actions have taken place at universities in Tehran, Tabriz and Shiraz, where the Intelligence Ministry forwarded the names of politically active students to the university authorities, according to a report on the Peykiran Web site that named several students.

Some were suspended for up to two years, while others were barred from dormitories or subjected to disciplinary proceedings, the report said. At Tehran University, 50 students living in the dormitories were questioned for hours by a disciplinary committee, according to Advar News, a student-run Web site.

Politically active students have long been vulnerable to disciplinary measures or outright bans from universities, but such exclusions have become more common in the past three years.

Meanwhile, political pressure to further Islamize Iran’s higher education establishment has intensified in recent days, with more leading clerics warning about the danger of subversive and secular ideas.
It seems to me that the Iranian Government has just made a major mis-step. The penalties being imposed upon dissenters may not be terribly burdonsome ... after all, the students are not being converted into ground meat by tree-limb chippers, as Sadaam Hussein's enforcers are notoriously said to do. So why is this such a bad thing?

As I said earlier, the University is how young people learn, and not all of the most important lessons are learned in the classroom.

What is the Iranian Government teaching these students?

  • You do not have a voice in your government.
  • You are not free; you are not citizens. You are an embarrassment, because you dared to speak out.
  • Your country ... or at least, your government ... will allow you to learn only those lessons which are pre-approved
  • You are not allowed to think for yourself. You are only allowed to adhere to the party line
  • When you protest the official Government line, you become vulnerable to arbitrary and unilateral punishment against which you have no right to defend yourself.
This is, I think, the policy and doctrine of a Government which cannot defend itself. And it will eventually come back against the Iranian Government and kick them in the ass. Hard. Eventually, it will be the downfall of this particular government, and some day these students will become influential members of this government ... if they do not indeed become the Iranian Government.

It has been forty years since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, and the current regime has had ample time to exemplify a theocracy gone wild. For several years there has been much unrest among the citizens of Iran. They are beginning to see that an Islamic Nation has no room for free thinkers.

Perhaps today, the next generation of Iranians can see that unless they cleave to the politics and the religion of their fathers, they will have no say in the future of their nation. This is grounds for a New Revolution.

It may not happen immediately.

China had a mini-revolution in 1989, culminating in the events in Tiananmen Square.

The Chinese Government has not been overthrown, and perhaps it is this example which encourages the Iranians to impose draconian solutions to their own popular unrest.

Still, for the moment it may be sufficient that Iran has demonstrated their inability to evince popular support for the official Government position.

The next step is either increasingly draconian solutions to "student riots", or increasing popular dissatisfaction with the Iranian Government, or both. Probably both.

Revolution hasn't worked in China, to bring down an unpopular government. Yet. And it may take another 40 years before it works in Iran.

One thing is clear; the Iranian Government has just drawn a line in the sand, and they are waiting breathlessly to see if it works.

It may work ... today. Probably it will work tomorrow. Students are reluctant to accept limitations on their new-found philosophical and political freedom, and as long as their country permits no legal redress from governmental excess, it will remain a festering boil on the hide of the Iranian people.

These are not just Iranians, they are Aryans , they are Persians. They are a proud people, a culture of fighters. They are the people of Herodotus, Cyrus and Xenophon. Soldiers and scholars. They are the people who invented the Parthian Shot ... they do not yield easily, and even in retreat they have shown themselves to still be a threat to their enemy.

The Iranian Government may learn to regret their intemperate actions.

Let us hope this will come to be.

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