The event brought together student groups from all over campus—ranging from the Harvard Middle East Review to the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, and Supporters Alliance to the Harvard Salient, the College’s conservative monthly. “When student bodies speak as one, that’s really where we make our difference,” said Undergraduate Council President John S. Haddock ’07, who also spoke at the event.
Haddock is right. We commend the concert’s organizers on the execution of the event. Events such as the Iran Freedom Concert are good for the Harvard campus: They bring together diverse constituencies and provide a stage to highlight important issues. More significantly, they become the launching pad from which dialogue arises and ideas are exchanged.
The cause of last weekend’s concert—to raise awareness of human rights issues in Iran—is an important and worthy one. Currently, the Iranian government is a system that ascribes to the use of torture for political gain and significantly limits citizens’ rights to practice religion freely or hold certain jobs. Last year, four Iranians were publicly hung for engaging in homosexual acts. Women are prevented from holding professional positions of high power. Journalists are locked up for writing articles that are critical of the government. Some of the country’s minorities—members of the Baha’i religion, for example—are often unable to attend university or are imprisoned on the basis of their faith. The way of life we take for granted in the U.S. and other westernized countries is foreign to the people of Iran.
It is not implausible, however, that events such as this one, taking place in the context of an unstable and uncertain geopolitical rivalry between the U.S. and Iran, might cause controversy. Some critics of the event have suggested that behind the concert lay hidden motives—that an event to raise awareness of human rights issues in Iran was, in fact, a bid for a war to liberate the Middle Eastern country. The organizers of the concert have denied all such accusations—co-emcee Jack P. McCambridge ’06 said explicitly on Saturday, “[this event] is not for war”—and we are inclined to take them at their word. As event organizer Nick B. Manske ’09 wrote in an e-mail to The Crimson, “If one adopts the position that any advocacy in human rights in Iran is advocacy for war, then the international community will be paralyzed and unable to support these resisters [of the oppressive regime] inside Iran.”
Furthermore, we do not believe that this event is going to bolster war—that the concert seeks to be the event that launched a thousand aircraft, in other words. In fact, encouraging students and citizens to talk about issues in Iran, specifically human rights violations and American foreign policy toward it, seems consistent with the philosophy of multilateralism and democratic dialogue. Even a casual observer of Saturday’s concert would have perceived a decidedly dovish tenor to the sobering words said on stage.
The Iran Freedom Concert at Harvard will be repeated in coming months at other progressive colleges—Duke, Georgetown, University of Pennsylvania, and Oxford. The events are a great sign of increasing student activism and student commitment to open forum. The mantra of the concerts should be a model for students, politicians, and citizens everywhere.