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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Free us from double standards

    Shurid Sencolumnist
    Shurid Sen
    columnist

    It is understandable to see a child cupping both hands over his ears screaming “”LA!-LA!-LA!-LA!”” in an attempt to block out a nagging mother telling him to eat more vegetables at the dinner table. It is much less understandable, and much more childish, to do so in the realm of foreign policy. However, this was the response of many during former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami’s U.S. visit last week.

    Khatami is the highest-ranking government official from Iran to visit the U.S. since the Iranian revolution in 1979. His speech to Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government on Sunday elicited some disturbing reactions.

    The Boston Herald called him an “”Islamofascist,”” while the New York Sun opined, “”What a disgusting way for Harvard to mark the fifth anniversary of the outbreak of a war that has claimed thousands of American lives,”” linking Khatami to the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

    Massachusetts’ Republican Gov. Mitt Romney decried Harvard’s decision to invite Khatami as “”a disgrace”” and called him “”a terrorist,”” banning state security detail. Fortunately, the Bush administration offered a security detail to match the visa that was issued him.

    Linking Khatami to Sept. 11 and an ambiguous global crusade against “”Islamic fascists”” is irresponsibly wrong and ignores much of Khatami’s own history. First, he had nothing to do with the attacks on the twin towers, which were executed by Al-Qaida, not the government of Iran. Second, labeling him a “”terrorist”” and making 9/11 connections because he is a prominent Middle Eastern figure is blatantly bigoted.

    Elected in 1997, Khatami was seen as a progressive reformer when elected, offering hope to much of the Iranian public looking to get out from under the thumb of an oppressive regime. Unfortunately, many of his goals for moderation domestically within Iran, as well as enhanced relations with the United States, were smothered and vetoed by radical clerics in whom the government’s real power is vested.

    The malaise that affected the Iranian voters of 2005 was a direct result of Khatami’s inability to implement the reforms he suggested over the Iranian clerics, opening the door for hard-liners such as current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

    Resultant voter frustration, combined with the disqualification of hundreds of reformist candidates in the 2005 election, produced drastic declines in voting, down from 2000 when 67 percent of eligible voters cast ballots (more than the U.S. voter turnout in 2004).

    Worse yet, ideologies among bodies of elected officials have undergone a major regression. It would then follow that it is in U.S. interest to dialogue with more moderate officials than letting those opposed to radicalism within Iran lose that struggle.

    While the Bush administration has done its part to make sure that Khatami has been free to come to the U.S. and is safe while he is here, more needs to be done.

    Would Iran let any top U.S. official into its country? No. But we are not here to follow Iran’s example.

    Khatami’s two weeks in the U.S. have been about increasing relations between the two governments. That’s what should have happened, however political pressure on both sides of the aisle and on Khatami at home kept him out of direct talks.

    The importance of discussions on the world stage at this time is more crucial than the demagoguery that some would offer. The tensions that have been rising for months between the U.S. and Iran over their nuclear program cannot be resolved by pretending that their leaders do not exist.

    Relations can be remedied through discussion and open debate, not outright denunciation. Those who claim that we must not listen to the ideas or words of those with whom we don’t agree, such as Romney, would cup their ears and shout as children rather than realize there is value to be gained in the free exchange of ideas.

    Khatami’s visit to Harvard and other U.S. institutions does more than just open communication between the two countries; it helps to show other nations what we stand for as a country in providing a forum for the leaders of nations we disagree with. Try to imagine Bill Clinton in Iran right now giving a talk at the University of Tehran. Difficult to see that one happening.

    By providing examples of the freedoms we espouse around the world, we can show we practice what we preach, rather than turning our back on our own principles.

    Shurid Sen is a political science senior. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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