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  #1  
Old 10-21-2007, 09:06 PM
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Don't promote democracy

When Promoting Democracy Is Counterproductive

By HALEH ESFANDIARI and ROBERT S. LITWAK

When President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran addressed faculty members and students at Columbia University last month, he invited everyone present to visit Iran and to engage the faculty members and students at its 400 universities. He failed to mention that Iran's academics refrain from accepting invitations to attend conferences abroad, for fear of being arrested and accused of belonging to networks recruited to bring about regime change in their country. Indeed, Iran's own minister of intelligence warned students, scholars, and intellectuals this year not to accept such invitations, because, while abroad, they would be recruited for the work of regime change.

While in New York, President Ahmadinejad, at a dinner arranged by the Iranian Mission to the United Nations, met with American scholars who work on U.S.-Iranian relations and with representatives of nongovernmental organizations. Yet the Iranian president failed to explain why he was inviting comments from this group even as his government was curtailing the activities of Iranian NGO's and preventing their members from attending workshops outside Iran. The Ahmadinejad government's broad crackdown on Iran's civil society, described by some observers as a cultural revolution, has essentially criminalized the activities of academics, journalists, and activists for women's rights and human rights.

The United States has begun a $75-million program to promote democracy by supporting Iranian NGO's. That program, coupled with loose talk about regime change from members of Congress, commentators close to the administration, and individuals within the administration, has fed a sense of vulnerability and paranoia among elements of Iran's ruling regime. Those elements believe that the United States, entangled in Iraq and Afghanistan, is no longer capable of a military intervention in Iran. Rather, they believe, it is seeking to overthrow the regime through a "velvet revolution," similar to the peaceful revolutions that brought about regime change in Ukraine, Georgia, and other former republics of the Soviet Union. Intellectuals, women's groups, and members of the news media in those countries were empowered through attendance at workshops and conferences in the West on democracy, freedom of speech, women's rights, and the like. Iran's rulers believe that those influential opinion makers were, in turn, at the forefront of the movements for democratic reform that led to regime change.

The Iranian Intelligence Ministry is dedicated to uncovering a comparable "plot" for "soft" revolution in Iran and producing evidence of it for both senior government officials and the larger public. In the ministry's version of reality, American and European think tanks, foundations, and universities, and their proxies in the region, play the principal role in promoting what is, at bottom, a policy of the U.S. government. Iranian scholars and NGO activists are lured abroad with fellowships, research grants, and university appointments, and then put in touch with American and European policy makers, members of intelligence agencies, and democracy activists. According to the Intelligence Ministry, the Iranians invited abroad are handpicked for their potential as political activists rather than for their scholarly achievement. They are part of a foreign plot to create networks of like-minded Iranians who will then push for a change of regime through peaceful means.

That line of thinking explains official Iranian suspicion of the grant-giving programs of American foundations, universities, and think tanks. From the perspective of Tehran, the transparency of those foreign organizations, along with the presence on their staffs of members of former and future U.S. administrations, merely reinforces the conviction that there is a hidden agenda: The institutions are closely linked to the U.S. government and carry out its policies. That is especially the case when the institutions, including our own Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, are partially or fully supported by Congress. The idea that wealthy families set up foundations for philanthropic and scholarly purposes is a concept alien to the Iranian regime. In its view, all of these institutions carry out a mandate set for them by the U.S. government.

The repercussions of such a state of mind for exchanges among Iranians and Americans or Europeans are far-reaching. Iranians feel at risk attending conferences and workshops or accepting fellowships and grants and for good reason. Iranian and Iranian-American scholars have been arrested in Iran and accused of conspiring against the regime for such activities. Perhaps Iranian think tanks and universities will, as President Ahmadinejad suggested, invite their American and European counterparts to functions in Iran. But that will be because Iranians believe they can manage and control the one-way street of Americans invited to Iran. In contrast, Iranians who accept invitations from abroad will continue to be suspect and liable to punishment. That is no formula for real dialogue between the two countries.

more at: http://chronicle.com/cgi2-bin/printable.cgi?article=http://chronicle.com/free/v54/i08/08b00701.htm

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Old 10-21-2007, 09:16 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Botnst View Post
When Promoting Democracy Is Counterproductive

By HALEH ESFANDIARI and ROBERT S. LITWAK
The United States has begun a $75-million program to promote democracy by supporting Iranian NGO's. That program, coupled with loose talk about regime change from members of Congress, commentators close to the administration, and individuals within the administration, has fed a sense of vulnerability and paranoia among elements of Iran's ruling regime. Those elements believe that the United States, entangled in Iraq and Afghanistan, is no longer capable of a military intervention in Iran. Rather, they believe, it is seeking to overthrow the regime through a "velvet revolution," similar to the peaceful revolutions that brought about regime change in Ukraine, Georgia, and other former republics of the Soviet Union. Intellectuals, women's groups, and members of the news media in those countries were empowered through attendance at workshops and conferences in the West on democracy, freedom of speech, women's rights, and the like. Iran's rulers believe that those influential opinion makers were, in turn, at the forefront of the movements for democratic reform that led to regime change.

The Iranian Intelligence Ministry is dedicated to uncovering a comparable "plot" for "soft" revolution in Iran and producing evidence of it for both senior government officials and the larger public. In the ministry's version of reality, American and European think tanks, foundations, and universities, and their proxies in the region, play the principal role in promoting what is, at bottom, a policy of the U.S. government. Iranian scholars and NGO activists are lured abroad with fellowships, research grants, and university appointments, and then put in touch with American and European policy makers, members of intelligence agencies, and democracy activists. According to the Intelligence Ministry, the Iranians invited abroad are handpicked for their potential as political activists rather than for their scholarly achievement. They are part of a foreign plot to create networks of like-minded Iranians who will then push for a change of regime through peaceful means.

That line of thinking explains official Iranian suspicion of the grant-giving programs of American foundations, universities, and think tanks. From the perspective of Tehran, the transparency of those foreign organizations, along with the presence on their staffs of members of former and future U.S. administrations, merely reinforces the conviction that there is a hidden agenda: The institutions are closely linked to the U.S. government and carry out its policies. That is especially the case when the institutions, including our own Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, are partially or fully supported by Congress. The idea that wealthy families set up foundations for philanthropic and scholarly purposes is a concept alien to the Iranian regime. In its view, all of these institutions carry out a mandate set for them by the U.S. government.

The repercussions of such a state of mind for exchanges among Iranians and Americans or Europeans are far-reaching. Iranians feel at risk attending conferences and workshops or accepting fellowships and grants and for good reason. Iranian and Iranian-American scholars have been arrested in Iran and accused of conspiring against the regime for such activities. Perhaps Iranian think tanks and universities will, as President Ahmadinejad suggested, invite their American and European counterparts to functions in Iran. But that will be because Iranians believe they can manage and control the one-way street of Americans invited to Iran. In contrast, Iranians who accept invitations from abroad will continue to be suspect and liable to punishment. That is no formula for real dialogue between the two countries.

more at: http://chronicle.com/cgi2-bin/printable.cgi?article=http://chronicle.com/free/v54/i08/08b00701.htm
Is it paranoia if they're right?
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Old 10-21-2007, 09:19 PM
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It amuses me that very smart people think that the best way to promote the fruits of freedom is by self-censorship of that which brings the most freedom to the most people.

Rephrased, "I got mine. Good luck getting yours."

B
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Old 10-21-2007, 09:23 PM
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Why would Iranians think that the US was interested in undermining the choices of Iranian voters?
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Old 10-21-2007, 09:40 PM
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I might say that a government is a machine that, inherently, has little to do with freedom, and that no government can make it's citizens free. Men and women must look around their world, and judge what needs addressed. Only then can the machine be put to use in service of their vision... and not until there is a determination to act.
"Governments don't make men free."

Edit: Machines can be used to do the job, and some are better than others. Without the right machine some jobs can't be done, but if there is no operator, they are of no use. Freedom does entail thechoice.

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Last edited by A264172; 10-22-2007 at 01:07 AM.
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