• 4 September 2009
  • Posted By Matthew Negreanu
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran, Iran Election 2009

The Economist published a very good article today on “why the ruling ayatollahs want to keep Iran’s students under their thumb”.

This is an important question for many people these days because of the country’s universities are scheduled to restart in 2-3 weeks, and also because of the appointment of the new Minister of Science, Research and Technology, Kamran Daneshjoo.  Daneshjoo was a close ally of Ahmadinejad during the disputed election.

During the Parliament’s vote of confidence, one of the members of the Majlis who made speech against Daneshjoo, called him “a pin in the grenade” that will explode when the univerities open.

IN THE autumn of 1978 the beleaguered shah postponed the autumnal return of Iran’s politically disgruntled students to their universities by several months. But when the institutes of learning eventually opened their doors, the students soon poured furiously into the streets in their tens of thousands, until, in the growing mayhem, the shah fled and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini replaced him. Could the same process occur all over again?

Today’s authorities are loth to take any risks. Iran’s students are still seething with discontent, following the disputed presidential election of June 12th. And the government sounds reluctant to reopen universities on their due date, September 23rd. But it also wants to show that everything is back to normal after the turmoil of the two months that followed the election.

The authorities are certainly preparing to take countermeasures in case students again revolt. At a recent Friday prayer, the quiet streets around Tehran University became rallying points for clusters of conservative worshippers, many of them wearing the characteristic untucked shirts of the vast paramilitary organisation known as the baseej, which has carried out much of the thuggery against opponents of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was reinstalled as president last month. Many of Tehran’s students were prevented from taking their final examinations because of the disturbances in the election’s immediate aftermath. Now the baseejis are on alert in case, when the students do return later this month, they take their chance once more to express their disaffection in public.

In any event, the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council, the government body that oversees education, stated at the end of August that universities may stay shut in the autumn because of swine flu, just as officials had cited high pollution levels as the reason for keeping students indoors after the summer election.

In some universities the authorities have delayed registration of students for the new academic year. In Shiraz, where campuses have already reopened, the security forces are tightly controlling them, with circulars telling students not to undertake unauthorised political activities. Elsewhere, even if universities do reopen, classrooms may be packed with loyal baseejis, who may get increased quotas.

Students who have gone back say they are afraid that masked baseejis may beat them up if they step out of line. This happened in mid-June when Tehran University’s dormitories were stormed at midnight in a raid now being investigated on the orders of Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, the new head of the justice system, a tough disciplinarian. “[The regime] can’t control students easily,” says a Tehran graduate. “The only way to keep them calm is to threaten them with an attack by the baseej.”

Students played a big part in the summer protests in Tehran. They were at the forefront of demonstrations, helped organise strikes and lambasted the regime on their blogs. They also provided staff for the main opposition candidates, Mir Hosein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, handing out leaflets, knocking on doors, and arranging campus meetings. Some helped shape the opposition manifestos through the influential Office for Strengthening Unity, Iran’s main student organisation, which has remained critical of the regime.

The students at the universities in Tehran who come from the provinces and were living in those dormitories were sent home when the post-election turmoil began and universities shut. Many of them, now poised to return, are keen to revive what they missed. “Since they have no parents around them,” says an engineering student at the Islamic Azad University of South Tehran who comes from the north-western town of Qazvin, “they are free to do anything. The atmosphere is highly radical. Students right now can continue the protests in a very good way.”

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, seems rattled by the prospect of student unrest—and has hinted that the regime may purge universities of professors suspected of “unIslamic” tendencies. On August 30th he complained that the study of social science “promotes doubts and uncertainty”, telling a meeting of students and teachers that the study of liberal arts and other humanities had led to a “loss of belief in godly and Islamic knowledge.” Perhaps presaging a crackdown on teachers as well as students, Kamran Daneshjou, who ran the interior ministry’s election headquarters during the presidential poll, has been appointed minister in charge of universities.

Yet the regime is unlikely to close the universities altogether. This month it may become clearer whether the students can pep up an opposition that may, in the past month or so, have begun to flag. In any event, internecine skirmishing within the ruling establishment is still going on—ensuring that Iran’s crisis is far from over.

Posted By Matthew Negreanu

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7,350 signatures

Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.



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