Sunday, October 5, 2014

A Philosopher In Iranian Prison

Totalitarian States

Ramin Jahanbegloo: “My writings talk only about nonviolent change and reform. My interrogators would say that nonviolent reform is the same thing as a velvet revolution, but for me there is a distinction. How could I convince these men that I was innocent; that what they had interpreted as wrongdoing was merely my wish to see my country do better, to treat its citizens with respect and dignity, to show that reform did not necessitate a complete change of government or a swing toward subservience and the foreign domination we had endured in the past? But there was nothing to say. In their eyes, I was already guilty.”
Photo Credit: Basso Cannarsa, LUZphoto, Redux
Source: Chronicle of Higher Education

An article, by Ramin Jahanbegloo, in The Chronicle of Higher Education, gives a first-person account of  the time in 2006 that he spent in an Iranian prison, accused of spying for Israel and the United States. Many of the interrogation methods used by the Iranian regime bring to mind the methods of the Soviet Union, notably during the days when Stalin was its undisputed leader. Both the language and the methods are similar.

Jahanbegloo, an Iranian philosopher, writes in “I am not a spy, I am a philosopher.”
"Why do you have so many Jewish friends, Mr. Jahanbegloo?" my interrogator asked.

"What do you mean? I’ve had many colleagues and acquaintances throughout my years in academe and outside it, and some of them happen to be Jewish."

"Yes, but too many of them are Jewish," he said.

"I have no idea what you mean. I don’t see what their religion or ethnicity has to do with it. As I’ve tried to tell you, we are all scholars. Our job is to educate." I knew what he was going to say next.

"Merely to educate? No, I don’t believe that’s it at all. You claim that you want to educate, but educate whom and for what? Look at this list of your past associates—Isaiah Berlin, George Steiner, Noam Chomsky, and all these others. You think we don’t know who these people are and what they do? They are all dangerous thinkers, and they all have an agenda."

"If you actually read the writings of those men, you’d know how wrong you are," I said, immediately regretting it.

"Oh, so you think you have all the knowledge here? You have all the right interpretations and we know nothing? Watch how you speak to me. If you start to get aggressive with us, believe me, it won’t turn out well for you. We have many other methods to employ."

A dead silence. They hadn’t tortured me physically, but there was nothing to stop them.

"All I was trying to say is that there are different ways of understanding the writings of certain thinkers, and you have chosen to see them in one particular way. If you look at them another way, they may not seem as harmful as you think."

"Who are you to decide what is harmful or not? Have you not written papers in support of the Zionists?"

"Of course not," I replied. "What do you mean?"

"Look at this article here, for example, about your visit to Auschwitz. Do you not realize that in writing this article you have criticized the president’s views and given the Zionists credibility?"

Ahmadinejad was and is a Holocaust denier. The paper I had written spelled out the fact that millions of Jews had been killed by the Nazis, and that the death camp at Auschwitz was a center of inhumanity and cruelty.

"But I never refer in any place to the president and his views. I wrote about a place that I visited and saw with my own eyes, and I wrote about my reaction to it."

"Yes, and in so doing you give ammunition to the Zionists to legitimize their claims and strengthen their grip over those they oppress. Have you ever been to Israel, Mr. Jahanbegloo?" he asked, his tone implying that he already knew the answer.

"I ... when I was a child, yes. I couldn’t have been more than five or six years old. I remember only the huge grapefruits on the trees."
Having Chomsky on the list of “past associates” presents some irony that was lost to the interrogator.  Nevertheless, Jahanbegloo spent 125 days in Evin Prison in Tehran, and like all such individuals under intense interrogation, he was compelled to “confess” to crimes against the state. As a result of International pressure, however, he was fortunately released. Others are not so fortunate, and Iran’s human-rights record is well-known and well-documented.

For example, in an interview with Faraz Sanei, a researcher, Amy Braunschweiger of Human Rights Watch writes: “Many of Iran’s political prisoners are journalists or bloggers, rights defenders, or minority or religious activists. Some are members of the opposition. Many were simply peaceful protesters–like the ones who hit the streets in 2009 to demonstrate against presidential election results they thought were fraudulent. They are often charged with propaganda or collusion against the state. Together these two charges often result in four- to six-year prison sentences. Other charges we see include “insulting” the supreme leader, president or other government officials–which should never be a crime but is punished in Iran with prison sentences of up to two years.”

Ramin Jahanbegloo is now a professor of political science at York University in Toronto.

For more, go to [ChronHighEd]

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