On May 3rd, The Persian Society hosted a lecture by Professor Abbas Edalat, founder of CASMII and Professor of computer science and mathematics at Imperial College London, titled “Mutual Respect: The Paradigm Shift Required to Resolve the US-Iran Standoff” at Trinity College, Cambridge. I would like to thank the University of Cambridge for continually upholding a dignified adherence to dialogue, debate, and collaborative thinking, and also the University of Cambridge Persian Society for hosting an ostensibly political lecture series on US-Iran relations.
Edalat began his lecture by pointing out that there is a historical precedent for the present US-Iran standoff which dates back to Prime Minister Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq’s leadership in nationalizing Iranian oil, illustrating the imperial backdrop to the new phase of American confrontation of Iran. During this transformative period in Iranian history, the United States, Great Britain and France argued that nationalization of Iranian oil was a threat to peace and global security as expressed in the draft resolution submitted by Great Britain, with support from France and the US, to the UN Security Council on 12 October, 1951. These unfounded allegations served as the background to the US-UK coup d’etat of 1953 against the popular nationalist government which reinstated the Shah’s dictatorial rule in Iran.
Edalat argued that, as in the run-up to the illegal and criminal invasion of Iraq in 2003, the US neo-conservatives, with the highly active and effective support of the Israeli lobby, are intent on using a number of accusations, including an alleged covert nuclear weapon programme in Iran, to impose wider sanctions on the country to pave the ground for a military intervention in Iran. Their agenda is to instigate a regime change and replace the defiant Islamic Republic with a puppet regime in Iran in order to control the energy resources of the country.
Edalat addressed Iran’s legal rights under international law to pursue a peaceful nuclear energy program, reiterating that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have continuously documented the program as aiming to generate nuclear energy for civilian purposes, and not in pursuit of nuclear weapons. However, following President Bush’s State of the Union speech in 2002, which marked Iran as a member of the “axis of evil,” the nuclear program, Iranian state, and Iranian people are projected by Western media, government, and academic outlets as an imminent danger to global security in what is in a way reminiscent of their attitude to Iran under the premiership of Dr Mossadeq.
The vital importance of building a campaign against the US war drive on Iran was emphasized. Edalat argued that if it had not been for the remarkable turnouts against the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in the UK and across the globe and the resistance and opposition in Iraq against the occupation, a comprehensive military attack against Iran would have already been carried out. He also brought the current debate of international relations and political power into perspective by quoting Dr Mohammad Elbradei, the Director General of the IAEA, who has equated nuclear weapons with genocide and slavery; Edalat called on the international community and concerned citizens to work toward dismantling the programs already in existence in Israel and elsewhere instead of chasing imaginary nuclear programs in Iran.
Edalat stressed in particular the important role Iranians in the Diaspora can play in halting not only a military confrontation between Iran and the United States, but also in establishing mutually respectful relations between the West and Iran. Edalat noted that one of the legacies of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq will be the significantly damaging role played by Iraqis in the West, some of whom intellectually and morally supported the war efforts of the Bush administration, while others placed their weight behind self-interested, domineering, individuals heading political organizations in exile.
According to Edalat, it is within the context of opposing the US war drive that the struggle for human rights and democratic rights should be conducted in Iran. Respect for these rights will strengthen the unity of Iranian people in the face of US-Israeli threats, while violation of these rights is divisive and plays into the hands of warmongers for military intervention and covert operations aimed at regime change. By championing the cause of defence of Iran’s sovereignty against US interference, human rights and democracy activists in Iran can on the one hand disarm the imperialist warmongers who cover up their real agenda in Iran under their “democratization” project and on the other hand disarm the anti-democratic forces in Iran who under the guise of the “foreign threat” justify their repressive policies in the country.
While Edalat’s lecture was informative and engaging, the question-and-answer session is noteworthy, for it was here that the lack of information on Iran and the eagerness among students and non-students alike to gain an understanding of this often discussed and rarely understood country came to light. Although the University of Cambridge is amidst finals at this time, the turnout to the event was surprisingly high.
The audience was diverse, ranging from Iranians raised in the UK with very little knowledge of the nuclear dispute to Israeli students hoping to understand a country labeled an archenemy with a nuclear program deemed by Western propaganda machines as being minutes away from their destruction, and Muslim students who believe they are yet again watching another country in their region come under military attack. Students who represent women’s rights and human rights concerns were also present, and current domestic dilemmas in Iran were addressed.
The questions vacillated from the 1979 revolution to President Ahmadinejad’s comments regarding the Holocaust, and the current relationship between women, students, workers and the state. Audience members asked forthright and erudite questions, making clear that efforts on behalf of international warmongers to create divisions within the world, and hence among peoples, is far from effective.
Three points became clear from the question-and-answer session. First, in spite of the popularity of any writing having to do with Iran – from Persian cooking to the nuclear program – this is a country that continues to be a mystery for many living in the West. Second, even within this context of confusion, promotion of half-truths, and myths, the majority of people are willing and interested to learn more about Iran and participate in efforts toward reconciliation. This was not an ideologically stern audience; rather, it was an audience willing to listen and debate while maintaining its political integrity along the way. The global community would certainly be a much safer place if American leaders implemented some of the dispositions exemplified during the lecture, further elucidating the American refusal to engage in unrestricted dialogue with Iranian diplomats as comical and elementary. Lastly, despite extensive efforts on behalf of Western governments, dissident organizations in the West, American media sources, lobbyists and academics to halt critical debates regarding the Middle East, citizens dedicated to knowledge, the production of accurate analyses, learning, and working toward peace, can nevertheless manage to collaborate in an effort to reconstruct the current state of global relations.
The audiotape of the speech and the ensuing discussions can be listened to by selecting the files below.
About the author: Shirin Saeidi is a Ph.D. student in the Centre of International Studies at the University of Cambridge, and a UK Board Member of CASMII.