posted 2012-11-21 22:30:05

The Future of Iran

CUNY BA hosts conference to discuss Iran    

Michelle Balon

Contributing Writer

On Oct. 17th, the CUNY Baccalaureate for Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies program brought together a range of unique voices to discuss the political, social and economic future of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Moderated by Leili Kashani from the Center for Constitutional Rights, speakers included the New Yorker’s Laura Secor, the director of the Undergraduate Studies for the Department of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at NYU, professor Arang Keshavarzian, Baruch College professor Ervand Abrahamian, Barry Rosen, who was the State Department Press Attache in Tahran in 1979 and hostage during the 1979-80 crisis, and finally, Iranian journalist and political dissident Roozbeh MirEbrahimi.

The conference dealt with topics such as the Iranian reformist movements, to the crippling effect of sanctions, to both pessimistic and optimistic predictions for Iran’s social, political and economic future.

Roozbeh MirEbrahimi attempted to give the audience hope with his comparison of the 2005 reformist movement and the 2009 Green Movement. The mistake of both movements being that, while organizers were able to bring voters to the polls, they failed to mobilize them for popular movements. However, unlike the 2005 reformist, the Green Movement learned from this mistake, and began taking to the streets. MirEbrahimi said, “Each time, Iranian reform movements are improving. This is the only way I see Iran changing for the better.”

Professor Abrahamian instructed the audience to, while being optimistic, retain a bit of pessimism about Iran’s future. His optimism constituted in his statement that “Iran is eager for some form of pluralistic democracy. This is visible in big elections where 70% of the electorate, 80% of which voted, voted for reformers.” However, this  eagerness isn’t enough, as Abrahamian stressed. The pessimism, or weariness, is important because, “these attitudes and desires are not directly transferred to political change. You need to build up civil society, and transfer attitudes to the political arena, Abrahamian said.
The discussion of Iran’s nuclear program and sanctions was less optimistic. According to Professor Abrahamian,

there is a historical gap in perceptions of the current crisis. The Americans see the nuclear issue “through the eyes of Israel, Israel through prism of the Holocaust, and Iran through prism of the 1951 & 1953 oil crisis.”

“The logic of sanctions is quite frightening,” stated Laura Secor. She emphasized that such sanctions, as those currently being enforced in Iran, are not meant to be lived with, but they are “meant to be brutal, intense, and short.” They must continue to intensify until the desired policy, Ahmadinajad’s nuclear program, is changed.

The effect of sanctions on the livelihoods of Iranian people is devastating. Professor Keshavarzian explained that it is not the political class, or Ahmadinajad, who are suffering. The middle, working class is. Keshavarzian insisted that analysts and activists refrain from defining Iranian politics as a relationship between “the state,” “the leader,” or “the people,” but instead using detailed, human categories such as “pensioners” and “working class.”

He explained that inflation rates are increasing, and in the manufacturing and agricultural sector, large numbers of industrial workers and farmers are going without pay or work. Furthermore, those who were working full-time, are now being hired as part-time, contractual laborers. Sanctions have dramatically hurt those on a fixed wage, including state employees and state pensioners. These sanctions are paralyzing, so can they be stopped?

According to professor Abrahamian, the two goals of sanctions are: first, to force Iran to the negotiating table, and second, to get Iran to say that, “they give up all nuclear technology and will do everything you (America) say.” In regards to coming to the table – there is nothing proving that Iran is not already there. Abrahamian referred to the UN agreements and treaties, which state that you have to tell the United Nations six months before you start introducing uranium enrichment; surprisingly, Iran hadn’t started working with Uranium when the United States found their “secret” facilities, meaning they were completely in line with international standards.
According to Barry Rosen, it is not a matter of coming to the table, but a matter of transparency. He claimed that there is a lack of trust in Iran. Since 2001, the United States has rebuked Iran for not being open enough. Rosen’s advice to Iran is: “If you have nothing to hide, go hire PR agencies and do very well like everyone else!”

Roozbeh MirEbrahimi agrees with Rosen that there is lack of trust, and stated: “How can the West trust Iran,

if Iranians cannot trust their own government?” However, bringing up the 1951/’53 oil nationalization crisis, he claims that Iran has the right to nationalize, as well as the right to nuclear technology.

Professor Abrahamian reminds the audience that during the 1951/’53 crisis, the United States and Britain stated that they accept the idea of nationalization. However, when the parties came to negotiations, the two Western states asserted that “Iran should not have control over their own oil resources.” They were pro-nationalization in theory, but not in practice.
A similar phenomenon is happening today in regard to Iran’s nuclear crisis, however, Abrahamian has hope. With what might’ve been a an electoral push, he claimed that, of the two American presidential candidates, “one is able to live with some Uranium enrichment, and one is not.” If the United States is able

to live with some Iranian capability of enrichment, there is room for negotiation, and therefore hope for a peaceful solution to the crisis.

According to Barry Rosen, Netanyahu is simply “throwing up a cloud of dust,” and Israel had no reason to attack Iran at all. If Professor Abrahamian’s claim that, America’s reasoning for sanctions is based in fear of Israeli reprisal (if Iran manages to keep some nuclear technology), and Israel has no direct reason to attack Iran, imminent war may likely be a sensationalist product of the media.

Laura Secor is “generally optimistic that military confrontation will be avoided.” Looking at the cost and benefits of war between the US and Iran, and of that between Israel and Iran, using every means short of ground invasion, the nuclear plan may be set back four years. However, it would also dramatically increase Iran’s drive to create a nuclear weapon. Secor asserted that, “war is not in anyone’s interest.”

The conclusion was not so bleak.

There is hope that the lively and engaged Iranian people, with their “commitment to changing what is wrong,” in Secor’s words, will make a change.

As seen with the sanctions, it is the people who have the most at stake, and it is they who have the power to improve their situation, and change the world.

For more information, visit http://cunyba.gc.cuny.edu/blog/cuny-ba- conference-on-the-political-future-of-iran/