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‘Shakespeare in Tehran’

In response to:

Shakespeare in Tehran from the April 2, 2015 issue

To the Editors:

I am sorry to see an article by my colleague Professor Stephen Greenblatt in your journal titled “Shakespeare in Tehran” [NYR, April 2] whose content is a departure from the views he expressed while he was in Iran.

Thus, I am somewhat bewildered by the article especially regarding some of what I believe to be unfounded or exaggerated claims about Iran and Iranians.

Regarding the less important issue, meaning his flawed characterization of my personality and my writings (without mentioning my name), all I need to say is that his quotes were taken out of context from my articles. The central theme of my writings that he alluded to is the injustice of the sanctions imposed on the Iranian civilians largely due to the Israeli lobby in the United States. I am definitely not alone in my criticism of such fundamental violations of basic human rights against Iranian women and children.

The purpose of the Shakespeare Conference in Iran that I managed was to bring people of different nationalities together but unfortunately the professor chose to do the opposite.

However, what surprises me the most was that my colleague readily accepted my offer to lecture at the University of Tehran whereas he had full access to all my articles. And if I am what he accuses me of being, why did he accept the invitation in the first place? Perhaps he may be feeling some heat after returning home.

Dear editor, as you have published his biased article, which I see as an affront to Iran and the Iranian nation, I kindly request you to publish this note as a response to his writing.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Dr. Ismail Salami
Assistant Professor
Department of English
University of Tehran
Tehran, Iran

Stephen Greenblatt replies:

I am very happy to respond to the letter from Dr. Salami, from whose articles I quoted in my essay. Dr. Salami’s views on Israel are hardly surprising, and not only in his part of the world. It was only the extravagant rhetoric in which he couched these views—Zionism’s diabolical tentacles spreading over the globe, etc.—that gave me pause when I read his articles before I left for Tehran. And even here I only brought them up in order to contrast them to the graciousness, hospitality, and wide-ranging intellectual curiosity that I encountered in him, in his colleagues, and in the splendid, truly impressive students.

I cannot fully account for the contrast, but at least in part—or so I suggested—it has to do with the way in which Shakespeare provided a place for an open, free, and honest conversation across borders. Another part of the explanation, I recognize, might well lie in what in Persian is called t’aarof, the code of civility that I repeatedly remarked in my hosts and many others whom I met and that made my visit to Iran so deeply gratifying. I acknowledge, of course, that I may have violated that code by bringing up the sometimes painful differences in our perspectives, but how else can we hope to establish a secure basis for mutual understanding and respect?