Wednesday, May 30, 2007

When is a Nonprofit Scholar a Spy?

Haleh Esfandiari Kian TajbakhshHere at EPIC, we work hard to report the truth in Iraq. We interview Iraqis, scholars and government officials, we rake through stacks of newspapers and magazines and page through blog after blog to bring you as much information as we can about the realities on the ground. But sometimes we take for granted just how lucky we are to work in a country that considers it our right to do so.

Yesterday, Iran's military intelligence formally brought charges of espionage and endangering national security against three American scholars, including EPIC friends Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and Kian Tajbakhsh of the Open Society Institute.

These are not spies. These are not even representatives of the U.S. government. These are nonprofit workers trying to improve the lives of Iranians similar to the ways in which we at EPIC are focused on Iraq. The charges against Haleh and Kian - which amount to capital crimes in Iran - are nothing short of ridiculous.

Please take a moment to read the defenses of
Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh issued by their respective organizations. We hope you will join us in supporting these scholars, and take action through Haleh's website and also through Kian's website to help us save their lives.

So when is a nonprofit scholar a spy?

When she or he operates under a government that arbitrarily says so.


Anonymous said...

Certainly a very bad situation trying to deal with the "unmovable minds" of the Iranians. This is a dangerous business when even the well-intentioned have their lives at stake.

Emily Stivers said...

Well, I don't think Iranian minds - and we must be careful to specify GOVERNMENT minds and not generalize about the Iranian people - are any less movable than those of our own government leaders. Most politicians are pretty narrow-minded, aren't they.

Nevertheless, the squabbles between our regimes have nothing to do with these, as you say, well-intentioned people. We all need to be careful not to confuse a country's people with its regime.

Roscoe said...

It frosts me that some want to open dialogue with the Iranian regime and pobably give them everything they want because they are misunderstood. That is how Neville Chamberlain treated Hitler.

B said...

We can't lose sight of Iran's "Department of 9,000" made up of Sunnis and Shias trying to destabilize Iraq. This is hapening in both the military and political arenas. The only hope for success in Iraq is to close the borders.

Bert said...

The Iranian government is probably only using the arrests as a means to create an "incident" for their own people. The government is on thin ice with the people and a revolution would be very welcome.

Anonymous said...

Please also share the web address of the Free Kian Campaign:

and sign the petition there. Thank you so much for your effors on behalf of Kian and Haleh.

Anonymous said...

The Iranians are using these innocents to trade for their terrorists being held prisoner (rightly so) now in Iraq.

Emily Stivers said...

Roscoe - there is distrust and tension on both sides leading to this perversion of justice. I believe one problem is that the dialogue is not, at this point, truly open.

Furthermore, it is absolutely inaccurate to compare the current Iranian regime to Hitler's. The differences should be obvious, and we need to avoid portraying our enemies as unreasonable demons rather than the human beings we all are.

Misunderstandings exist on both sides, clearly. Neither regime is blameless when it comes to the death count in Iraq. But distrust and demonizations only breed more of the same on the other side, so open dialogue is our only option.

Erik K. Gustafson said...

Roscoe: Not sure what Thesaurus you're using but "dialogue" and "appeasement" are not synonyms. The comparison to Neville Chamberlain's appeasement of “Hitler” is interesting. It was used by Paul Wolfowitz (among others) to justify our rush to invade Iraq as well and look where that got us.

Use of the Neville Chamberlain analogy also reminds me of a new book on the subject by Jeffrey Record: "The Specter of Munich: Reconsidering the Lessons of Appeasing Hitler (Potomac Books, 2006)." Here’s an excerpt of a recent book review:

This book is a model of how good historical analysis can usefully inform current policy debates. [Jeffrey] Record, a defense expert at the U.S. Air Force's Air War College, examines the use of the "Munich analogy" in U.S. foreign policy since World War II. He begins with a concise but sophisticated explanation of why France and the United Kingdom appeased Hitler in the 1930s. Aversion to another Great War, a misreading of Hitler's aims, the lack of appropriate military preparation, and a sense of guilt over the harsh Treaty of Versailles all played a role. Given what was known at the time, he argues, appeasement was not irrational; it failed catastrophically because Hitler proved unappeasable and enduring. Spooked by the consequences of this failure, Western leaders have since publicly invoked the Munich analogy -- applying it to conflicts in Korea, Suez, Vietnam, Grenada, Nicaragua, Kosovo, Iraq, and elsewhere -- to argue for military action. But as Record shows, the case of Nazi Germany was highly exceptional: Munich was not analogous to any of these cases, nor does it apply today. Thus he concludes bluntly, "American presidents should cease invocation of the Munich analogy to justify threatened or actual uses of force." - Phillip H. Gordon, Foreign Affairs (May/June 2007)

Roscoe said...

Those who disregard the errors of the past are forced to repeat them!

Anonymous said...

There has to be a middle ground. We can't forget the past but we can't continue the course we're on either.

Emily Stivers said...

For every example you have of negotiations not working, I can give you ten of pig-headed stubbornness not working. We don't have to give the Iranian government everything it asks for, but we do have to be willing to give a little, take a little in order to build trust and keep our people safe.

What's the alternative? We hold out, they hold out until we're forced into another military intervention?

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