Ahmadinejad’s Cultural Revolution: Increased Level of Repression
Since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took office, pressure on Iran’s cultural sector has been continually increased, bringing cultural life to a virtual standstill. Intellectuals and students are now publicly voicing their protest. Bahman Nirumand reports
The Iranian government has come under unusually sharp criticism by the association of Iranian Academics for its flagrant abuse of human rights. In an open letter, the authors accuse authorities of “systematically and intentionally disregarding even the most basic rights.”
Critics and dissenters have been removed from their jobs, imprisoned without any legal grounds or recourse to a lawyer, and forced to make accusatory confessions. Universities have let go of numerous liberal lecturers, while critical students have been prevented from continuing with their studies.
The government has been propagating a “highly dangerous, fundamentalist ideology,” which permits authorities to arbitrarily punish anyone with a dissenting viewpoint. The letter characterizes the growing restrictions on academic freedom and the permanent abuse of human rights as a “great crime” against future generations.
In fact, the political situation in Iran has drastically worsened since Ahmadinejad was sworn into office last July. A number of independent newspapers, such as Shargh, the largest reformist newspaper, have been banned. The tightening up of censorship, the persecution of critics, and repression of those cultural and scientific institutions and independent organizations not willing to bend to the dictates of the government are threatening to completely paralyze free cultural activity in the country.
Mahmud Doulatabadi, Iran’s most popular writer, declared during a reading in Tehran that he refuses to publish any more books out of protest against the severity of censorship. The censorship office has been sitting on his manuscripts for months now. He also spoke to a number of publishers, two of whom reported that forty of their books have still not received permission to be printed.
“Every day, the piles of books and manuscripts lying behind closed doors are growing higher and higher,” says the author. “I don’t know how this problem can be resolved. Not only are many publishing houses facing bankruptcy, but authors, poets, and non-fiction writers have lost the desire to write.” Perhaps the censors might be moved if publishers declare that they “would publish no more books and that authors would refuse to deliver manuscripts.”
Enormous economic consequences
The severe limits placed on the freedom of expression have been primarily directed against writers, journalists, and intellectuals critically opposed to the new power elite. The repression signifies not only a blow to freedom of speech, but also entails enormous economic consequences.
When a newspaper is banned, hundreds of journalists loose their jobs overnight and are left without means to support their families. When books and manuscripts are held for prolonged periods by the censorship authorities, the respective publishing houses must accept high financial loses and might even be forced out of business. Even authors, who can hardly be said to earn a living from their low royalties, often find themselves compelled to give up their profession.
And this is exactly the goal that is hoped to be achieved through stricter censorship. Authors and journalists are faced with the choice of practicing self-censorship or changing profession.
The government seems determined to use all means at its disposal to isolate and criminalize any deviation of Islamic ideology. Ahmadinejad recently called upon students to expel professors advocating liberal positions from their posts. Administrative staff at all universities and colleges has been replaced. The whole educational system has fallen under the control of militia organizations, namely, the Basij and the Revolutionary Guard, who observe the behavior of students via newly installed video cameras.
The Iranian Ministry of Education has announced plans to reintroduce separate instruction for women and men, although such an attempt in the first years following the revolution failed. Mohammad Mohammadian, representative of the Revolutionary Leader Ayatollah Khamenei for matters of higher education, criticised universities as having become “fashion houses.”
Directing his comments at rectors, he said, “A rector is not only responsible for teaching and research, but also for the belief and thoughts of the students.” He went on to say that plans by the enemies of the Islamic Republic to infiltrate Islamic culture and morals through the propagation of “filth and prostitution” must be vigorously thwarted.
Protest breaking through the gates
All this has provoked massive protest on the part of students. On December 6, Iran’s annual Students Day, thousands attended a protest demonstration on the campus of Tehran University organized by Tahkim Vahdat, the country’s largest student organization. Security forces at first tried to block entrances, but students eventually succeeded in breaking through the main gates.
“I would like to ask Revolutionary Leader Khamenei what was the justification for a student being killed in prison,” said Ali Nikunesbati, an executive committee member of Tahkim Vahdat, at the demonstration. “Ahmadinejad, the true initiator of this second cultural revolution,” is not worthy of his office. Nikunesbati demands the immediate resignation of the minister of education.
“Don’t think that our patience is unlimited”
Armin Salmasi, member of the Council of Islamic Students, said, “They have sent our professors into early retirement, prevented many students from continuing their studies, forbidden not only protest, but even the act of breathing freely, and transformed our universities into military garrisons. Don’t think that our patience is unlimited. Someday, the pot will boil over,” he warned.
Nilufar Golkar, a member of the women’s group within Tahkim Vahdat, complained about the increased level of repression aimed at women students. Women not only have to suffer from the dictatorship, but also from a society ruled under a male despotism. The women students have to confront tightened controls on Islamic dress code. It is a disgrace to put curfews on women students living in dormitories, to limit their participation in sporting and recreational activities, and to prevent them from even entering university in the first place.
Chanting students demanded the resignation of the minister of education and shouted slogans such as “down with despotism,” “the people want bread and not bombs,” “universities are not military garrisons,” and “freedom and equality are our goals.” They also condemned any attempt by foreign players to get involved in this dispute. The ISNA news agency reported that the demonstration ended with violent clashes between students and the authorities. Numerous students were injured and some were taken into custody.
© Qantara.de 2006
Translated from the German by John Bergeron