TELOSscope: The Telos Press Blog

Khatami, Again: From Harvard to St. Andrews

The real impact of the Khatami lecture at Harvard, discussed previously in this blog, is now clear: he has been invited to deliver an address and receive an honorary doctorate at St. Andrews in Scotland. The Harvard gig, in other words, was a vehicle to lend him credibility as the poster boy of the Iranian regime. Whitewashed in Cambridge, he can now move on to the European lecture circuit. One more pretty face? The point was never to engage in a genuine dialogue of cultures, as the useful idiots explained his visit; it has only been about the propagandistic outreach from Teheran and the variously motivated western factions who are eager to collaborate.

To those who misrepresent Khatami as a reformist, one can only ask: where has he ever criticized the current regime directly? When has he called for a release of the political prisoners, including student leaders (for whom, arguably, university communities might have a particular interest)? Or—as proposed here earlier—had he wished sincerely for reconciliation with the United States, why did he not visit the survivors of the 1979 embassy seizure and ask for their forgiveness? But: no truth and no reconciliation.

Khatami and Ahmadinejad

The London Times reports plans for large student demonstrations against Khatami. At least in Scotland—if not at Harvard—a spirit of democratic solidarity with the Iranian resistance and exiles prevails.

Student leaders are organising a mass protest over St Andrews University’s decision to award an honorary degree to a former Iranian president who praised Hezbollah.

[ . . . ]

The decision to confer the honour on Khatami has provoked criticism from human rights groups who claim thousands of Iranian citizens were jailed and tortured for their political beliefs during his eight-year term that ended last year with the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The National Union of Students wants his invitation withdrawn unless Ahmad Batebi, a student jailed in 1999 during a pro-democracy protest, is freed.

“There will definitely be a protest,” said Sofie Buckland of the students’ national executive. “We have a duty of solidarity with the democratic opposition in Iran.”

A refreshing attitude indeed. In the US academy, democratic politics appears to have been eviscerated by multiculturalism in the sense that the measure of value is exoticism or “alterity,” not liberty. Hence a predisposition to admire other cultures, simply for their difference, while avoiding any inquiry into the standing of liberal freedoms—which are dismissed as western fictions, not “human rights.” If only those who rally against Guantanamo under the banner of due process would also measure Teheran by the same standard. And why won’t they? Because some prisoners are more equal than others? Because prisoners held in Teheran deserve worse treatment than enemy combatants seized in Afghanistan? There’s the rub: loyalty to the values of freedom has shattered on the rocks of anti-imperialism. If a country, such as Iran, is viewed as an opponent of the United States, it suddenly becomes immune to criticism in its treatment of dissidents, labor organizers, women, minorities, homosexuals and the list goes on. The celebration of Khatami exposes the hypocrisy of the “progressive” camp.

At least in Britain some criticism is being articulated:

Stephen Brown, the union’s national secretary, said: “We are appalled that Batebi continues to suffer imprisonment for his role in the student movement. We hope that academics and students at that institution will urge Khatami to use his influence to have Batebi released.”

The Board of Deputies of British Jews and Lord Janner, its past president, have criticised Campbell for agreeing to meet Khatami, who likened Hezbollah, the Lebanese terror group, to a “shining sun which warms up all oppressed Muslims”.

Although Khatami has a reputation as a reformer, observers say he maintains close links with Ahmadinejad’s hardline regime. “It’s clear Khatami is being used as a tool of diplomacy which is designed to capitalise on his reputation as a reformist president,” said Mark Thomas of the Royal United Services Institute.

The Iranian exile community is irate, and a protest petition is circulating.

Iranian exiles are drawing up a petition demanding St Andrews withdraw the invitation. “Thousands of people are seething about this,” said Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi, a New York-based Iranian organising the petition. “How can a man who imprisoned and oppressed thousands of students in Iran be given a degree by an academic institution?”

So while Khatami jet sets to Scotland, Iranian students remain jailed. As Iran Press News recently reported:

The students’ committee of human rights reporters announced that due to the regime’s typical vicious obstructionism, student leader Ahmad Batebi who had been re-arrested on July 29th, remains in prison, despite a bail agreement that should have been posted for a 48 hour furlough.

On Monday morning, October 9th, the Batebi family appeared in court to consign a $45,000 bail however at the least minute the Mullah judge decided to change the bail amount to $120,000. The judge knew full well that the Batebi family could not afford such a sum and would never be able to meet this demand.

Ahmad Batebi has spent 70 days, since his re-arrest in solitary confinement in the infamous ward 209 of Evin prison which is controlled by the most notorious torturers and interrogators of the ministry of intelligence and security.

Ahmad Batebi

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