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Iran Boycott; An Exchange

To the Editors:

In light of Reza Baraheni’s courageous testimony before the Subcommittee on International Organizations, House Committee on International Relations (NYR, October 28), I thought that this would be a good opportunity to raise the issue of that other, supposedly more benign form of involvement by the United States in Iran: I refer to the collaboration that the Shah’s regime receives from intellectuals and artists who willingly teach, perform, or allow the products of their labor to be presented at educational institutions, museums, art festivals, etc. in Teheran, Shiraz, and other major centers within the Irani police state. Granted, there exists a minority of individuals who protest this sort of intellectual and artistic pandering, either by turning down invitations to lecture or teach (in some cases invitations merely to do research), or, for example, by refusing to participate in the Teheran Film Festival; nevertheless, many hundreds of US (as well as other Western) intellectuals and artists regularly serve to legitimize the Shah’s dictatorship either directly or indirectly by providing their services (generally for a good price, but often merely in the spirit of artistic freedom) as educators, scientists, creators—i.e., as possessors of scarce “goods” which the regime desperately needs in its struggle on all fronts: it needs to further bolster its positive image in the international arena, needs to educate and develop its inchoate bourgeoisie, and it needs to further suppress the active dissent within its own borders. Thus, US military and other (more sub rosa) aid is not the only sort of assistance presently contributing to the situation as Baraheni describes it—no, the torturers are made to appear as benevolent, as knowledgeable and cultured, as having an awareness of “the more important things in life” which serve to distinguish the savage from the civilized in the eyes of the West (thus, Farah assures that monies will go toward beautification of the more visible urban centers, such as Kerman, where US landscape architects design traffic circles and monuments rather than much-needed housing).

During my two summers in Iran while I was an undergraduate studying archaeology at Harvard, I became aware of a vast current of dissent which cuts across all class lines—it encompasses members of the Department of Antiquities as well as peasants in the countryside. If this dissent is to be given the support it needs, the least that can be done here in the US is for there to be an active boycott on the part of the intellectual and artistic community: any direct or indirect involvement with the Irani regime should cease—where it continues to occur it should be actively exposed and condemned. Too often a naïve belief in artistic freedom and intellectual or scientific “objectivity” has served the oppressor in Iran—rarely has it contributed to the realization of the true interests of the Iranian people.

Gregg E. Gorton

Associate Editor, Praxis

Cincinnati, Ohio

Reza Baraheni replies:

I quite agree with Mr. Gregg E. Gorton. There should “be an active boycott on the part of the intellectual and artistic community” in the United States and Europe so that the Shah, his queen, and his numerous sisters and brothers will not pass for a glorious breed of gods, angels, and mermaids in the West. Some actions have been taken in the direction of boycotting the Shah’s festivals which deserve attention:

I told Mr. Nat Hentoff in an interview (The Village Voice, February 2, 1976): “I would urge all artists who believe in freedom for others as well as for themselves to boycott Iran.” In response to a question dealing with an overall boycott, I said: “Those Americans who agree with us that Iran should be free, can bring pressure on their government not to sell arms to Iran. And they themselves can boycott Iran—as businessmen, as lawyers and other professionals, and as tourists. They can say we will not come to your country until we see that all your political prisoners have been released.”

In a meeting we held on repression in Iran on the campus of Columbia University, one of the panelists, the late Ivan Morris of Amnesty International, suggested that tourists should boycott going to Iran, and Mr. Eric Bentley, another panelist, recommended the boycotting of the Shiraz Art Festival. Later the Committee for Artistic and Intellectual Freedom in Iran (CAIFI, Room 414, 853 Broadway, New York City) sponsored a statement on the boycott by Mr. Bentley, and a whole series of discussions followed in The Village Voice and The Soho Weekly News, with comments from many outstanding artists from the New York area.

I met with Mr. John Cage and Mr. Merce Cunningham, and after a long discussion we had on repression in Iran and the plight of the Iranian artists and writers, both Americans decided they would boycott the Art Festival in Shiraz to which they had been invited. A few weeks later, Mr. Cunningham gave a statement on his reasons for boycotting, which was printed in several papers in New York. The boycott was effective. The Shah’s press wrote: “The giants are not coming this year!”

CAIFI took another initiative in March and gathered signatures to expose a philosophy conference at the Biltmore Hotel which was sponsored by Baruch College but subsidized by the Iranian government. The Shah’s intellectual goons appeared in this conference posing as experts on Avicenna and other Middle East sages. But they were exposed, and a conference of a similar nature would now be impossible in New York.

There are other Iranian involvements in this country which should be exposed. The Aspen Institute has accepted money from the Shah and admitted Queen Farah among its board of directors. Imagine sitting beside Hitler’s consort, Eva Braun, and attending to the business of humanities and social sciences in the world. Most of the American universities, including Harvard, MIT, Georgetown, Princeton, UCLA, and a score of others, receive money from the Shah without the smallest sign of compunction. Their main excuse is that they are training engineers, physicians, business administrators, and teachers of English, and these will, in the long run, democratize the Shah’s police state, as if the number of doctors and engineers in Germany prevented Hitler from gaining power and drowning the world in blood.

And one may ask: “Are the Iranian doctors and engineers going back?” The answer is simply, No! The number of Iranian doctors in New York is higher than the number of Iranian doctors in all parts of Iran, excluding the city of Tehran. Persian is the second language at Berkeley, because the dictatorship has no room for engineers who have some knowledge of democracy as well. The people the Shah has shot during the last four years were mostly engineers and physicians, or students who were receiving training to become engineers and physicians. Poets, artists, journalists, and musicians stay in the same cells with engineers and business administrators. We taught the guards who had tied us to the Shah’s torture beds how to read and write in prison. In fact the American universities are providing the Shah with the inmates of his future prisons.

One other factor that contributes to the polishing up of the Shah’s image around the world is orientology, and a small branch of it called Iranology. Scattered in some of the most important centers of learning in this country, the Iranologists have shown themselves incapable of knowing their fields, but make up for their ignorance through appearing in the guise of sycophants, attending the Shah’s congresses on poetry, humanities, and political sciences when Iranian writers themselves had either refused to attend or had been excluded by the Shah’s secret police. There are a few excellent exceptions among the Iranologists, but the rest deserve the curse of all Iranian writers. They received not only travel tickets from the Shah to attend his 2500th anniversary of the Iranian kingship, but also stupendous pocket money to spend on their way to and from Iran. They are the ones who wash down Iranian caviar with American whiskey at fabulous parties held by the Iranian embassy, and make up for it by publishing laudatory treatises on the Shah’s White Revolution, and try to polish up the Shah’s tarnished image. One such Iranologist includes the Shah’s name among the most outstanding contemporary writers of Iran; and another uses the Shah’s White Revolution as a textbook in Illinois; and at the recommendation of these men and women of learning (!) and the multinational corporations, the Shah, the Queen, and Princess Ashraf receive honorary doctorates from UCLA, Georgetown, and Johns Hopkins. Such atrocities take place here in the US.

So I agree with Mr. Gorton. The whole world should be invited to boycott Iran on all levels—militarily, economically, culturally, artistically, and academically. Such a boycott will have the full support of the people of Iran.

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