Prof. William O. Beeman is the head of anthropology department at the University of Minnesota. His inimitable and unprecedented approach toward the current affairs of Iran, one of the most controversial countries of the world, resembles the attitude of Noam Chomsky in terms of perspective and mindset and has cost him his reputation, professional credit.
Regrettably, he was insulted and attacked by a number of American mainstream media and fanatic neoconservatives over the past years and even his academic colleagues blamed him for what they called his support for the main pivot of the “axis of evil”.
Prof. Beeman, who speaks the Persian language fluently, believes that Iranian people should not be treated with disdain and arrogance as their ancient superiority and historical backgrounds causes them to be impervious toward the hostile rhetoric and inimical literature.
He says that it’s not justifiable with any conscious and knowledgeable mind to allow Israel to accumulate an arsenal of 200 atomic warheads while putting lethal pressure on Iran to suspend its civilian nuclear program.
Passing a few days of the anniversary of Iranian Revolution, I talked to Prof. Beeman on a variety of Iran-involved topics including the media propaganda, nuclear dossier and the prospect of revolution.
The Islamic Revolution of Iran emerged alongside a series of brisk transformations and makeovers in the arrangement of international deals and equations. One of these prominent contributions was the permanent dissolution of CENTO pact. How do you perceive that? How did the Iranian Revolution of 1979 impact upon the formation of international relations?
The Islamic movement has been active for more than 100 years. One of the most important figures, Jamal ed-Din al-Afghani, (Asadabadi for most Iranians) was very influential throughout the Islamic world. The Islamic world was suffering from military and economic oppression from Europe, largely because of the advantages the West gained through the Industrial Revolution. He urged the following remedies:
1. Purification of Islam–He claimed that the Islamic world had lapsed because faith in Islam had lapsed. Renewed faith and practice in Islam was necessary.
2. Reform–He urged Islamic leaders to re-examine Shari’a Law and practice to modernize in conformity with the modern world. One of his followers, Mohammad Abduh of Egypt, “opened the door of ‘Ijtehad” to enact legal reform.
3. Resistance–He urged Muslims everywhere to resist colonial influence. This led to groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, and indirectly to the Iranian Revolution.
All three of these elements were active in the Iranian Revolution. The Iranian revolution was the first revolution in the Middle East to oppose Western colonialism in the name of Islam. This was a complete fulfillment of the promise of the Islamic movement. It was very inspirational for the rest of the Islamic world. There was one difficulty–the Sunni world was uncomfortable that it was undertaken by the Shi’a community, but Ayatollah Khomeini’s picture was on the walls of Muslim homes everywhere in the Islamic world from Morocco to the Philippines.
So, do you believe that the new government of Iran managed to polarize the distribution of political power by giving birth to a new regional hub and fading the hegemony of the U.S. and Russia?
Yes, I agree. However, just as the original Islamic movement identified the alliance between corrupt Middle Eastern leaders and European colonial power as the basis for misery in the Middle East in the 19th and 20th Centuries, so today do the leaders of some Middle Eastern nations, who are allied with the West, decry Iran. However, the people of the Islamic World respect and admire Iran’s willingness to carry out the philosophy of “Neither East nor West.” So there is a distinction between leaders of Islamic States, many of whom are even afraid of the Iranian philosophy, and the people, who admire the Iranian philosophy. Again, this distinction is more than 150 years old.
Was the omnipotent catchphrase of Iranian revolutionary thinking, i.e. the supportive umbrella for the oppressed nations and subjugated people of the world, a major factor in the ultimate victory of anti-Western movement of Iranians in 1979 which was spearheaded by Imam Khomeini?
Yes, actually Imam Khomeini’s philosophy was inspirational for many people throughout the world; I certainly support this ideal. This has been one of the hallmarks of the Iranian Revolution as it goes forward. However, I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit that this ideal has not been completely realized in Iran. Iran’s support for downtrodden people in Lebanon and the Palestinian world shows the power of this philosophy. It is an ideal toward which we all must strive. Consequently, people must continually make their leaders aware of these ideals, and hold them to those ideals. This should be a theme in the next Iranian elections, in my opinion.
Nevertheless, Iran has been grappling with a huge amount of black propaganda and soft attacks vindicated by the corporate and the so-called independent media of the West since the overthrow of the U.S.-backed Shah. How do you perceive that?
Unfortunately, Iran has become the most popular villain for American politicians. Both Democrats like Representative Gary Ackerman and Republicans like Senator Sam Brownback can attack Iran and become popular. In fact no American politician ever lost a vote by attacking Iran. Partly, Americans are still mad about the American hostages in 1979-80. They are also mad about Iranian opposition to Israel, which is largely supported in the U.S. It wasn’t always so. In the 1980’s the universal villain was Libya, and the rhetoric against Iran today is almost exactly the same as the rhetoric against Libya. There is a practical reason for this. Lobbying groups, such as AIPAC have enormous influence in the United States They review all candidates for election, and have influence over every newspaper, television and radio station. Their sponsored organizations, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) have millions of dollars behind them, and large publicity agencies working for them, their opinions and editorials appear in every U.S. media outlet every day. It is very difficult to counteract these people. They are actively working to promote attacks on Iran.
As you implied, the root of anti-Iranian rhetoric lies in the nuclear activities of the country, somehow similar to what had happened to Libya. So what do you think about it? Should Iran pursue its nuclear programs under the current pressures?
Iran is granted the “inalienable right” to the development of peaceful nuclear energy under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The United States and some European powers want to claim that Iran should be different, and should have its treaty rights denied, because some people thought that Iran “might” be making weapons. There is absolutely no evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, and it should be allowed to continue to exercise its rights under the Treaty.
How should the Western powers deal with Iran regarding its nuclear program? Will the continuation of current “stick and carrot” approach be fruitful in this framework?
Iranians will grant legitimate respect to those who deserve it–to honorable leaders, virtuous scholars and wise teachers. They hate “ghodrat talabi” (Desire for illegal power) when people try to exercise power without legitimacy. Yazid is an example of such a person. Just as Imam Hossein would not yield to the illegitimate authority of Yazid, so will the Iranian people not yield to the illegitimate authority of, for example, George W. Bush. The strong sense of spiritual purity and justice is a characteristic of Iranian life, and Iranians will resist injustice and illegitimate exercise of power, even if they must die for it.