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The Shah and His Great University With a Little Help From His Friends

By Nasrim Pakizegi

The $1.5 million that Harvard would receive from the Iranian government in return for its assistance in planning Reza Shah Kabir University (RSKU) would undoubtably benefit Harvard's faculty and students. Many people believe that because RSKU would function as a research center, it would benefit not only Harvard, but the Iranian populace as well. To correct these misconceptions I would like to explain briefly how the Iranian educational system operates, and what benefits the Iranian and United States governments would receive from Harvard's participation in a research center.

According to estimates of organizations such as the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, there are now 100,000 political prisoners in Iran, most of whom have been jailed for criticizing or otherwise opposing the dictatorship of Shah Reza Pahlavi. Many of these prisoners are Iran's most gifted writers, artists, poets, intellectuals and university professors.

It is especially important for students and faculty at Harvard to know the case of Vida Tabrizi, a former sociologist at the University of Tehran who, according to the Committee for Artistic and Intellectual Freedom in Iran (CAIFI), had been doing research in the rural areas of Iran. For the crime of researching the situation of Iran's peasantry, she was arrested and sentenced to eight years in prison. CAIFI reports that in the past three years Tabrizi has been severely tortured; a large international outcry has apparently put an end to her torture, although she has not been released from prison.

Harvard's plans for RSKU assume that students will study conditions in Iran, engaging in research and conducting interviews. The case of Vida Tabrizi suggests these are not realistic expectations and that potential RSKU students await her fate. Harvard students and faculty in Iran would learn that the Shah is not anxious to eliminate the nation's massive poverty or reduce its 65-per-cent illiteracy rate (the government's own statistics). Wouldn't Harvard only be training the future Vida Tabrizi's of Iran?

In the speech which appears on this page, Dr. Reza Baraheni discusses the power of Iran's secret police force (SAVAK). People who wonder what the members of a 70,000 member secret police force do in a nation with a 35,000,000 population are often surprised to learn that there is a member of SAVAK in every university classroom to single out students whose opinions differ with those expressed in the conventional texts.

In the past few years, increasing student protest has turned the universities into military outposts. Le Monde reports that the universities are now closed at least four out of the nine months in each school year. All student protests are met with police force arrests; many times students are shot, or imprisoned and tortured. Most of the equipment used to torture prisoners has been purchased from the United States.

Clearly, Shah Reza Pahlavi has much to gain through Harvard's cooperation in an Iranian research center. The Shah hopes that by dealing with prestigious American universities such as Harvard he can promote his own image, and that of his nation as being democratic, freedom-loving and in favor of economic and social development.

The United States government is also anxious to improve relations with Iran through programs such as RSKU. U.S. oil companies especially derive great benefits from continued access to Iran's oil, and from the role Iran's army is currently playing in maintaining U.S. interests by throttling the independence movement of the Dhofari people in Oman.

Recent events have shown that student and faculty protest can successfully oppose U.S. government cooperation with Iran's oppressive regime. Last November, a government contract that called for the training of 1000 U.S. Navy troops at Southeastern Massachusetts University was cancelled due to on-campus protests by students and faculty. The U.S. Defense Department has since tried unsuccessfully to relocate the program on another campus. Hopefully, student and faculty protest at Harvard would not only end the University's involvement in Iran, but also reduce the involvement of the U.S. government, which is now Iran's principle supporter.

The Committee for Artistic and Intellectual Freedom in Iran [CAIFI] was formed in 1973 in response to the new wave of arrests of Iran's foremost writers and poets. Iranians and Americans formed CAIFI to publicize cases of intellectuals and artists victimized by the Shah's government and to defend the rights of the victims. Its purpose is to work for freedom of artistic and intellectual expression in Iran, to bring the issues of the defense of victimized writers and poets in Iran to public attention and to raise funds for legal and publicity expenses.

Nasrim Pakizegi, an employee at the School of Education, represents CAIFI's Boston chapter.

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