January 14, 2008

The Abuse of Iran’s Student Activists

The Los Angeles Times recently published a very interesting article profiling Babak Zamanian, a 22 year old student activist attending Iran’s Amir Kabir University. In short, the article describes his imprisonment in Tehran and the price he has paid for speaking his mind. His time at Evin prison, and the physical and psychological suffering he underwent there are a disturbing but common story in Iran.

What I found most interesting about this article was the discussion of Zamanian’s sense of betrayal with the Western media, his frustration with the inconsistent rhetoric of Western governments, and his “disgust” with the satellite broadcasts of Iranian exile groups.

The article says Zamanian was able to keep himself going in prison by holding onto the belief that he was part of something bigger; a student movement for real democratic change in Iran. This belief was lost when he was released in early summer and returned from prison to an Iran in the midst of a huge crackdown on dissent and free speech. Even worse, the western media had seemingly lost interest in his plight and that of students like him.

“The same international news agencies that had enthusiastically covered the student protests hadn’t bothered to report his imprisonment, some of them fearful of losing their press accreditation in Iran. One of Zamanian’s friends had called an Italian broadcaster who reported on the student demonstrations to tell her the student she’d put on camera was now in jail. The reporter said she wasn’t interested, that story was old news.”

Even more frustrating to Zamanian were the inconsistent messages coming to Iran from western leaders about their intentions toward his homeland.

“Zamanian finds himself baffled by the West’s attitude toward Iran, speaking about democracy one day, raising the specter of armed conflict another, then offering to cut deals with the government the next.”

Finally, the article describes Zamanian’s anger at Iranian-American “exile groups” and his confusion at their motives.

“He finds himself disgusted by the Iranian exile groups, including those in Los Angeles who beam their messages to the country via satellite. They urge Iranians not to take part in the political process, in effect handing the hard-liners a victory that has resulted in a more domestically repressive and internationally belligerent Iran, he says.
What is the goal here? he wonders. What is the strategy?”

I think what this article is trying to suggest is that Babak Zamanian (and by extension the young, educated youth of Iran) has been taken for a ride – by the western media, by western governments, and by Iranian American exile groups. Everyone wants to tell his story when and how it is convenient for them, with the ultimate goal of advancing their own differing political agendas. We have all seen them: the articles and emails which describe the abuses suffered by an ordinary Iranian citizen followed by not-so-subtle calls for regime change by force.

The article omits any reference to the Iranian American mainstream, which as most evidence suggests, opposes war with Iran precisely because it would be so dangerous for the ordinary Iranian, and because it would set back the prospects of real reform by decades.

NIAC works hard to represent this segment of the Iranian American population, which seems to be growing everyday. Hopefully soon, when law makers and journalists think of the “Iranian American Community” they will think first of the moderate majority and not the radical minority.

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