Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 22, 2007

Haleh Esfandiari

Filed under: imperialism/globalization,Iran — louisproyect @ 4:56 pm


Haleh Esfandiari

From the May 22, 2007 N.Y. Times:

The Islamic Republic of Iran yesterday accused a prominent American academic it imprisoned two weeks ago of conspiring to foment a velvet revolution there.

A statement from the Intelligence Ministry that was reported on state television said that Haleh Esfandiari and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., along with similar institutions like the Soros Foundation, had been trying to establish a network that would work “against the sovereignty of the country.”

“This is an American-designed model with an attractive appearance that seeks the soft-toppling of the country,” the statement said.

Ms. Esfandiari, 67, director of the Middle East program at the Wilson Center, went to Iran five months ago on one of her twice-annual visits to her ailing 93-year-old mother. She was prevented from leaving the country last December, then jailed in the notorious Evin prison on May 8…

“I think a very small percentage of Iran’s political elite actually believe the country’s national security is enhanced by imprisoning a 67-year-old grandmother,” said Karim Sadjadpour, an associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who follows Iranian issues. “What is undeniably clear is that the government in Tehran has only increased the ranks of those in Washington who argue that this regime in Iran is too cruel to be engaged.”

Indeed, there has been an outpouring of criticism from American academics ranging from Noam Chomsky at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to the American Association of University Professors, which issued a statement on Monday calling on Iran to respect academic freedom and release Ms. Esfandiari.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America issued a similar statement and its past president, Professor Juan Cole at the University of Michigan, announced on his widely read blog, Informed Comment, on Friday that he would not attend a Tehran conference organized by French academics in June. He also called for public protests.

“They risk returning Iran to the kind of intellectual and cultural isolation that it suffered in the Khomeini period,” Mr. Cole said in an interview.

Isn’t it remarkable that the N.Y. Times would cite Noam Chomsky and Juan Cole, two leading critics of American foreign policy? A cursory search of the newspaper’s archives produces no such call upon Chomsky as a moral authority in at least the past year. More often than not, you will find something like this written by the cruise-missile leftist Paul Berman a few months after the death of Pierre Vidal-Naquet:

In the late 1970s, Vidal-Naquet noticed that a preposterous new theory had arisen in France — a theory that Nazi crimes against the Jews were largely a hoax concocted by Zionist conspirators. Vidal-Naquet also noticed that, in the face of this theory, some mainstream journalists and intellectuals in France, not knowing how to react, instinctively accorded the theory a degree of respect, deserving of an evenhanded debate. A literature professor named Robert Faurisson championed the theory, and the American linguist Noam Chomsky, then at the height of his intellectual prestige in France, composed a statement, which ran as the preface to Faurisson’s book, describing Faurisson as a liberal and defending him against the charge of anti-Semitism.

The purpose of invoking Noam Chomsky and Juan Cole should be clear. It is meant to undermine leftist opposition to war with Iran. If these two principled scholars can line up on the same side as the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the Soros Foundation, two outfits that are for regime change, what should the average Nation Magazine reader think? If there isn’t a case for war against Iran, then at least there might be reasons not to get too worked up protesting it.

Ironically, the same tactic that Berman used–unfairly–against Chomsky was also used against the Iranian government for genuine holocaust denial. If you go to Zundelsite.org, the website commemorating the infamous neo-Nazi Ernst Zundel, you will be able to read this communication:

Dr Jawad Sharbaf, Managing Director, Neda Institute of Political Sciences (Teheran)
To Professor Robert Faurisson, December 19, 2005

Dear Professor Faurisson

I take this opportunity to express Neda Institute of Scientific-Political Research and Studies’ deep sorrow to you and all revisionists regarding the UN resolution on “Holocaust Day” [of November 1, 2005]. President Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s recent remarks doubting the “Holocaust” have created a favourable situation for revisionism. Our assumption for the time being is that the President will undoubtedly do his best if you make contact and request assistance for organising an international conference on revisionism. Should you require any help in this regard, please do not hesitate to contact me.

With the best of good wishes, Dr Jawad Sharbaf, Managing Director, Neda Institute

The overture to Faurisson and the arrest of Haleh Esfandiari have a kind of tin-eared anti-imperialism in common. They create a sense of being under siege by the West that helps to undermine the class struggle. If the West is sending spies like Haleh Esfandiari or likening Ahmadinejad to Adolph Hitler–a rhetoric that is reminiscent of the overtures to war with Saddam Hussein–then it is “counter-revolutionary” to oppose the Iranian government.

In the indispensable “Iran on the Brink” by Andreas Malm and Shora Esmailian, the authors make this observation about the furor created by the “revisionist” conference in Iran:

The rulers of the Islamic Republic see this situation as an opportunity to galvanise patriotic support for the regime and clamp down on all social and political opposition as treason. It is the Republic’s oldest trick. Thus in the latter part of 2005, Ahmadinejad used threats from the West to increase the general militarisation of Iran. One of his Pasdaran fellows, the current Commander Yahya Rahim Safavi, had already at the time of the 2003 Iraq invasion announced that the American war to dominate Islamic culture made Pasdaran’s cultural mission a top defence priority. Now the Pasdaran has taken full advantage of the heightened tension, and while their worst apprehensions have thus far not been fulfilled, Ahmadinejad has indeed used his power to step up repression. Journalism, Internet traffic, philosophers and student activists have been among the victims of attacks, carried out under the pretext of thwarting Western schemes for infiltration. And the West is indeed assisting.

In the coming months, there will be increased pressure to isolate Iran and to soften public opinion for a war. We have no way to influence the thinking of people such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who is determined at all costs to maintain mullah/bazaari rule through a combination of repression and demagogic “anti-imperialist” posturing.

For those of us who are committed to socialism and non-intervention, it is more necessary than ever to maintain an independent class position. Our credibility as critics of U.S. foreign policy will be lost if we are seen as apologists for the boneheaded blunders of Iran’s clerics and their political servants.

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