Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Governor Mitt Romney has ordered Massachusetts state agencies to withhold all support for former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami's appearance at Harvard University this coming Sunday. Romney's order speaks more to his ambitions to run on the Republican ticket for president in 2008 than to his understanding of Iranian politics. He depends, correctly, on most Americans having an unnuanced and negative image of Iran. So any rebuff of an Iranian past or present official will ingratiate him with them. To wrap himself more firmly in the flag, Romney condemned Harvard's invitation to Khatami as "a disgrace to the memory of all Americans who have lost their lives at the hands of extremists.”

Whether on purpose or through ignorance this view focuses on Khatami as a symbol of a hated Iran than on him as a figure of the recent past in a complex political landscape. As President of Iran from 1997 - 2005, he tried to introduce reforms that would broaden freedom of expression and asssociation in Iran. Inspired by German sociologist and philosopher Jurgen Habermas's work on the public sphere, Khatami worked to strengthen public debate and civic organizations as counter weights to the dictates of the mullarchy and the state institutions. The conservative-controlled Iranian parliament blocked his efforts, and Khatami seemed to lack the resolve to rally the Iranians against it. He might best be characterized as a well-intentioned loser.

However, his critics in the US, like Romney, point to acts that happened on his watch and statements by him that indicate his support for destabilizing the Middle East. These includes arms shipments to Hezbullah and questions about Israel's right to exist. But the critics' real worry is that the visit to Harvard and other places in the US can give the American publlic a view of Iran other than the one that looks ready to be bombed. The debate on the propriety of the Khatami visit looks like a mirror image of the 2001-2002 controversy in Germany over Habermas's
visit to Iran at the invitation of the Center for Dialogue Between Civilizations, organized by Khatami. Habermas's visit was criticized as lending credibility to Iranian claims to being a democracy at a time when Iranian security agencies were cracking down on liberals and intellectuals.


Blogger David said...

Perhaps you would like to comment on this article:

Families Of Kidnapped Persian Jews Sue Khatami In US Court
Saturday September 9, 2:47 pm ET
Law suit alleges visiting Iranian implemented anti-Semitic policy of torture and imprisonment

NEW YORK, Sept. 9 /PRNewswire/ -- Seven Jewish-Iranian families have filed suit in an American federal court against former President Mohammad Khatami over charges that he is responsible for the kidnapping and torture of their missing family members. The families, currently residing in Los Angeles and Israel, contend that Khatami instituted the policy of imprisoning their relatives without trials and refusing to provide them any information concerning their whereabouts. The Jews were arrested on different occasions during the years 1994 through 1997, as they sought to leave Iran across its border with Pakistan. http://biz.yahoo.com/prnews/060909/nysa018.html?.v=24

8:39 PM  
Blogger Atik Yomin said...


khatmai was elected president in 1997. before that he was in charge of the national library of iran, hardly a place to conduct kidnapping. the families are clearly mistaken about his responsibility.

10:14 PM  
Blogger Phill H-B said...

How do we know that the missing people have not been held by the CIA as enemy combattants?

Oh yes, during the Clinton administration the US observed the rule of law and thus had the moral authority to condem abuses by others.

Should the families of the victims of Abu Graihb have the right to sue Bush administration members?

6:12 AM  

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