Haleh Esfandiari and Robert S. Litwak: 'Soft' Power in Iran Is Counterproductive

Historians in the News

When President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran addressed faculty members and students at Columbia University last month, he invited everyone present to visit Iran and to engage the faculty members and students at its 400 universities. He failed to mention that Iran's academics refrain from accepting invitations to attend conferences abroad, for fear of being arrested and accused of belonging to networks recruited to bring about regime change in their country. Indeed, Iran's own minister of intelligence warned students, scholars, and intellectuals this year not to accept such invitations, because, while abroad, they would be recruited for the work of regime change.

While in New York, President Ahmadinejad, at a dinner arranged by the Iranian Mission to the United Nations, met with American scholars who work on U.S.-Iranian relations and with representatives of nongovernmental organizations. Yet the Iranian president failed to explain why he was inviting comments from this group even as his government was curtailing the activities of Iranian NGO's and preventing their members from attending workshops outside Iran. The Ahmadinejad government's broad crackdown on Iran's civil society, described by some observers as a cultural revolution, has essentially criminalized the activities of academics, journalists, and activists for women's rights and human rights.

The United States has begun a $75-million program to promote democracy by supporting Iranian NGO's....

[But according] to the Intelligence Ministry, the Iranians invited abroad are handpicked for their potential as political activists rather than for their scholarly achievement. They are part of a foreign plot to create networks of like-minded Iranians who will then push for a change of regime through peaceful means.

That line of thinking explains official Iranian suspicion of the grant-giving programs of American foundations, universities, and think tanks....

Read entire article at Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE)

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