I am a fifth-year doctoral student in the History of Religious (Comparative Religion) at the Harvard Divinity School. My area of specialization is Islamic studies. For three and a half years I have lived in the Center for the Study of World Religions. One year, 1977-78, my wife and I lived in Cairo, where I pursued my work in Arabic and Islamic studies.
While Ms. Safa is associated with the Divinity School as a visiting scholar this year, it should be noted that she and I have met only in passing. We have not discussed any subjects of mutual concern. In short, we know almost nothing about one another.
The fact-finding group of which I was a part set forth the following goals: to comprehend more accurately the facts of the Iranian point of view; to both hear and share points of view with Iranian people, especially with Islamic leaders; to explore means of dealing with the issue of the hostages, their condition, and release; and to further interreligious and intercultural understanding in hope of reaffirming and restoring friendship between American and Iranian peoples. During the 11 days we were in Iran, we were in complete control of our own schedules. We determined what we would do, whom we would see and when. We made every effort to talk with as many people from as many segments of society as was physically possible.
Since returning to the U.S., I have stressed continually the importance of following press accounts with a critical eye. My parents, like most Americans who depend largely on the TV media for news, had a distinct and, I think, distorted view of Iran and the Iranian people. In fact, I did reassure them before departing for Iran. Unfortunately, a number of Ms. Safa's remarks and accusations are based on false assumptions about me, my moral standards, my academic competence and my intellectual capabilities. I fear that she had "read in" a good deal more than is in the article.
Ms. Safa's critique about my remark, "virtually everyone had been touched by the brutality of the Shah's regime," is a valid one given the way the quotation appeared in the article. In the interview, I stated that "virtually everyone I talked with had been touched--some told of relatives who had disappeared, some talked of friends and neighbors who were shot and killed during the revolution, some shared stories about incidents during the time of the revolution, for example, the massacre at Jaleh Square, the Rex Cinema fire, unprovoked attacks by the military and so on, some could and did pull open the shirt or pull up the pants and say "Look what SAVAK did to me." The point remains the same. Virtually everyone I met had been touched, physically and/or emotionally, in a very profound way by the brutality of SAVAK and the military under the previous regime.
We will all benefit from careful and critical examination of the information which comes through the print, television and radio media. This includes articles about my experience in Iran as well as articles like that of Ms. Safa.
Reverend Charles Kimball
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