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An Open Letter to President Khatami

January 1, 2000

Dear President Khatami,

In light of your invitation for a dialogue among civilizations, a dialogue informed by a spirit of good will and mutual respect between the People of the United States and the People of Iran, we would like to express our deep appreciation for the academic, intellectual, scientific, and literary achievements of the Iranian people, both inside Iran and at universities, corporations, and institutions in the United States.

As university presidents, professors, and educators, we recognize and celebrate the depth of the historic bonds of friendship between our peoples, bonds formed out of the Iranian and American peoples’ passion for the advancement of knowledge, dedication to the service of humankind, and devotion to the celebration of the divine gift of life. The deeper principles that have made education central to the development and progress of our nations reflect the genius and generosity of our peoples. Such qualities of the mind and the heart are not only evident in the classics of our civilizations, but they are also indicative of the creative potential and promise of all of our students.

Although our mission is far from complete, the university is where we seek to translate our ideals into conduct and practices that reflect our noblest aspirations and intentions. We strive to create a learning environment where students can benefit from the wealth of ideas, resources, challenges, and opportunities generated by our civilization, as well as other great civilizations. All our students, including young men and women of Iranian origin, are encouraged to explore, express, and exchange ideas about themselves and the world without fear of discrimination, retaliation, or persecution based on their racial and ethnic origins, political or religious beliefs, economic status, sexual orientation, or physical limitations. Our success as a civilization depends on our ability to protect and promote the welfare of students and faculty in the classrooms, laboratories, dormitories, and playing fields of the university.

It is in this light that we wish to express our deep concern over the storming of a student dormitory at Tehran University on the night of Thursday, July 8, 1999, and the subsequent arrest and detention of hundreds of students on charges of violating public order and national security. We are alarmed about reports of imprisonment, torture, secret trials, televised confessions, and calls for the execution of student leaders, all in violation of the legal and ethical principles enshrined in the Iranian Constitution and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Extra-legal and unilateral acts of violence and transgression undermine respect for religion, civil society, and the rule of law.

We believe that such assaults upon students and universities imperil your civilization—its past as well as its future—and urge you and the Iranian people to take every reasonable step to condemn and punish any person or party, including members of the security forces and judiciary, who threatens the life, liberty, and property of students and faculty inside or around any university campus. We believe that threats of violence and the use of force against students and scholars constitute a grave hazard to a remarkable civilization that has produced some of the world’s finest poets, theologians, scientists, and artists and urge our friends inside Iran and in the international community to protect the spiritual and intellectual reservoirs of faith and freedom that have been the sources of your civilization’s flowering.

No matter what the political interests, religious differences, and cultural tensions separating our governments, the good will and friendly relations between the people of Iran and of the United States allow us to transcend and transform the politics of hatred and violence. We wish to express our solidarity and support for the students and faculty of Iranian universities, and we look forward to opportunities for greater academic cooperation, further dialogue, and new friendships between Iranian and American educators, scholars, and students.

Leila Ahmed, Harvard University
Kenneth Anderson, American University
George Andreopoulos, CUNY
K. Anthony Appiah, HarvardUniversity
David Baltimore, California Institute of Technology
Louis B. Barnes, Harvard University
Saul Bellow, Boston University
Robert M. Berdahl, University of California, Berkeley
Paul Berg, Stanford University
Peter Berger, Boston University
Hans A. Bethe, Cornell University
Henry S. Bienen, Northwestern University
Günter Blobel, The Rockefeller University
Carolyn Patty Blum, University of California, Berkeley
Derek Bok, Harvard University
William M. Chace, Emory University
Noam Chomsky, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Richard Pierre Claude, University of Maryland
Juan R.I. Cole, University of Michigan
David Dapice, Tufts University
Robert Darnton, Princeton University
Angela Y. Davis, University of California, Santa Cruz
Natalie Zemon Davis, Princeton University
Daniel Dennett, Tufts University
Jack Donnelly, University of Denver
Tom J. Farer, University of Denver
Val L. Fitch, Princeton University
Jerome I. Friedman, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Henry Louis Gates Jr., Harvard University
Tom Gerety, Amherst College
Michael Geyer, University of Chicago
Sol Gittleman, Tufts University
Hanna H. Gray, University of Chicago
Hurst Hannum, Tufts University
Gilbert Harman, Princeton University
J. Brian Hehir, Harvard University
Louis Henkin, Columbia University
Judith Herman, Harvard University
Patrice Higonnet, Harvard University
Stanley Hoffman, Harvard University
A.E. Dick Howard, University of Virginia
Thomas H. Kean, Drew University
Paul Kennedy, Yale University
Nannerl O. Keohane, Duke University
Daniel J. Kevles, California Institute of Technology
Rashid Khalidi, University of Chicago
Robert H. Kirschner, University of Chicago
Robert Jay Lifton, CUNY at John Jay College of Criminal Law and Graduate School
Charles Lindholm, Boston University
Kanan Makiya, Harvard University
Beatrice F. Manz, Tufts University
David A. Martin, University of Virginia
J. Paul Martin, Columbia University
Carolyn Marvin, University of Pennsylvania
Herbert Mason, Boston University
Everett Mendelsohn, Harvard University
William Miller, University of Michigan
Timothy Mitchell, New York University
Daniel Mulholland, Tufts University
Makao Mutua, State University of New York
Victor Navasky, Columbia University
Joseph Nye, Harvard University
Douglas D. Osheroff, Stanford University
Julie Stone Peters, Columbia University
Otto Piene, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Robert Pinsky, Boston University
Mitchel Resnick, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Naomi Roht-Arriaza, University of California, Hastings College of Law
Peter Rosenblum, Harvard University
Alfred P. Rubin, Tufts University
Neil L. Rudenstine,Harvard University
George Rupp, Columbia University
Edward W. Said, Columbia University
Jeswald Salacuse, Tufts University
Oscar Schacter, Columbia University
Orville Schell, University of California, Berkeley
Stephen I. Schlesinger, The New School University
Martin Sherwin, Tufts University
John Silber, Boston University
James J. Silk, Yale University
Eugene B. Skolnikoff, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Tony Smith, Tufts University
Ervin Staub, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Henry J. Steiner, Harvard University
Eric Stover, University of California, Berkeley
Sherman Teichman, Tufts University
Seymour Topping, Columbia University
Daniel C. Tosteson, Harvard University
Laurence Tribe, Harvard University
Daniel C. Tsui, Princeton University
Joseph Turow, University of Pennsylvania
Richard H. Ullman, Princeton University
Charles Vest, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Steven Weinberg, University of Texas, Austin
Cornel West, Harvard University
Jon Westling, Boston University
Elie Wiesel, Boston University
Torsten N. Wiesel, The Rockefeller University
E.O. Wilson, Harvard University
Morton Winston, College of New Jersey
James Wright, Dartmouth College
Philip Zelikow, University of Virginia

This is an abridged list of signers. All institutional affiliations are for identification purposes only. For a full-length listing of signers and additional information, please visit the website www.blueinitiative.com.

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