Despite the seemingly easily available answers, some questions are perpetually asked. Why does a community not grow and reach political maturity? Why do despots continuously rule a nation? I believe the answer is simple; it is us who foster and promote these kinds of unprincipled tyrants to behave the way they do by being apathetic, oblivious, passive, and inactive.
During the last days of March (March 28 - 30, 2003), Center for Iranian Research and Analysis (CIRA) held its twenty first annual conference in California State University - Northridge. Unfortunately, unlike previous years, the normal peaceful environment that surrounded CIRA conferences in previous years was absent. This year's conference was held under a shadow of deceit, lies, and malicious propaganda of some locals. Therefore, a great number of patrons of scholarship who usually attend CIRA conferences avoided it and, as a result, they did not benefit from the fruits of years of research by the presenters, speakers, and community activists who attended the conference.
Before I provide a narration of the unfortunate confrontation, I would like to make a couple of points about CIRA's financial resources and also about the privileges that are afforded to the media:
Los Angeles was an exception to the rule:
CIRA faced a few unfortunate problems, which could have been avoided if there were an ounce of good will. Here are the important ones:
As I mentioned above, universities help CIRA by providing it with facilities and at times paying for some of its conference expenses. However, in order to prevent abuse of this availability, they provide it for nonprofit entities. This way they provide their faculty an opportunity to be involved in their communities and enhance the reputation of the university. CIRA is a non-profit academic institution but since its finances are almost negligible, it is not registered as a non-profit by the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and it does not have a Federal ID number. It is only registered in the state of New Jersey as a nonprofit institution. Until this year, no one asked for a Federal ID. However, UC-Northridge demanded such a number. Since CIRA did not have the needed number, American Iranian Council (AIC) was asked to sponsor the conference and lend its federal ID to be used by the University.
However, there are some people who are against AIC for political reasons that are beyond this note to explain. So rather than contacting CIRA and inquiring about the nonexistent relationship between CIRA and AIC, they started a two prong propaganda against the conference and its affiliation with AIC. They attacked CIRA conference through phone calls and letter writing to the University and simultaneously called and intimidated speakers and presenters listed on the program. CIRA, in order to resolve the issue and eliminate the fractious sore point agreed with the University to drop AIC from the list of sponsors. This ended AIC's relationship with the conference in any way, form, or shape and should have ended the sore point. Did that end the problem for LA crowd? The answer is no.
Now that the issue of AIC was not present, they resorted to another tactic. They spread a rumor that CIRA is being financed by Dr. Mike Mirahmadi, (I do not personally know him and I am told, he is a physician practicing in Beverly Hills, California), someone who has never been even a member and, as far as I know, has never been a patron of CIRA conferences, has paid CIRA conference expenses. Something totally and categorically false and needs no elaboration.
After the resolution of the AIC concern, it was thought, the rest of the conference will go smoother. This was not to be. The LA crowd had another idea. They did not want the conference to go on peacefully without harassment under any circumstance.
About 9:00 a.m. on March 28, when the first meeting of the conference started I noticed that a camera crew is present. We initially thought that they have come to cover the conference and this gave us a false sense of relief and satisfaction that we are going to have a normal conference after all. This was not to be. We were unaware of behind the scene activities.
After I notice the camera, after the introductory first meeting and before the first speaker took the podium, I approached the cameraman and asked him to ask each presenter and obtain his/her permission to be taped. There might be a couple of people, including one in the very first session, who do not want to be taped. Initially he agreed and there was no problem. However, after a minute or so someone (I was told later that he was Mr. Zia Atabay of NITV) came up to me and asked me to repeat what I had told the cameraman. I repeated my request. At this point he unexpectedly became load and vociferous. He showed me a card that he had hanging from his neck, a card other than what CIRA provided the participants, and asked me if I knew what it was and who he was. I answered no. He said "I am a reporter and this media card (I presume it was a trade membership card) entitles me to tape anyone at the conference without any permission." He continued "I am going to tape everyone and if you do not want me to broadcast them, go to court and sue me and obtain an injunction to stop me." I explained again that some of the speakers are unwilling to do so because of political and security reasons, please do not tape those who are in that precarious position.
At this time Dean Alden Reimonenq, Dean of UC-Northridge Humanities Department who was present intervened and told Mr. Atabay to get permission from each and every one of the speakers before taping them. Mr. Atabay was not willing to oblige. At this time, I angrily told him to get of the room and walked away from him. At this time the University police asked them to leave the room and we started the conference. It is interesting to note that one of the attendees who had traveled thousands of miles from Iran to participate in the conference showed what Iranian magnanimity is meant to be. We could and must learn from this generous gesture. He suggested he would skip his presentation so we could stop this irrationality.
In any case, after some give and take and consultation with the University's Public Relations Department, the University informed Mr. Atabay to go back in the rooms and tape whatever they wanted. In my opinion, his intention was different. He wanted an issue to attack the conference and its participants and nothing else. So, he angrily left the conference. This was the beginning of his venomous attacks on the conference and its participants. According to friends who own the satellite dish necessary to watch NITV, he is continually making many baseless accusations against honest and decent scholars who attended the conference. If even some of his programs are similar to what he reported about the conference and its attendees, and if there are people who depend on this TV station for news, God help us.
Since I was saddened by what had happened and also did not want to leave Mr. Atabay's baseless lies, propaganda, and unfair accusations unanswered, when the opportunity presented itself, I went to PARS TV and participated in a conversation with one of their political analysts. The opportunity was provided by Mr. Sa'adati, a resident of the LA area, someone I had not known until that day. He participated in most of the sessions of the conference and is an acquaintance of both PARS and NITV management.
After my initial interview with PARS TV, Mr. Atabay called Mr. Sa'adati and questioned his loyalty and honesty. He threatened Mr. Sa'adati that "he will take care of him tomorrow."
In any case, since Mr. Sa'adati was trying to put a fire out, he told Mr. Atabay that I, Hamid Zangeneh, am willing to go to his station, discuss and resolve the matter. He accepted and we departed for his station. About the time we reached his station, he called and canceled the appointment. He for some reason changed his mind. He needed the issue and not the truth for his tirades and propaganda that have continued since day one.
In my opinion, this is a sad story of the Iranian community that, at least in the Southern California, is becoming more and more like the Cuban community in Miami, Florida. If we continue our apathy, if we give our hard earned dollars to support such behavior, and if we allow a TV station to, without any supporting evidence, accuse our best of the best to be agents of governments, we do deserve to be ruled by the despots. We will not grow and will not join the civilized world even if we live in them.
I hope that the Iranian community gets rid of unprincipled parasites that do not feel any responsibility toward personal and political security and freedoms of individuals in the community. We need to have a safe, congenial, friendly, cooperative, and cordial environment where scholarship could be fostered and we could grow individually and collectively. With a wish for better days ahead for all.
Hamid Zangeneh, Ph.D.
Professor of Economics and Editor
Journal of Iranian Research and Analysis
... Payvand News - 4/8/03 ... --