Translator’s note: The study of the humanities has become a major focus of Iranian university students during the past decade. Over half of Iran’s 3.5 million university students are enrolled in various branches of this field. In order to combat the effects of this field of study on the minds of young students, the Iranian government has launched a campaign against the humanities. At the recent shows trials of reformists, the prosecution specifically attacked western philosophers and academics for supposedly having instigated the latest protest movement. On August 30, Ayatollah Khamenei also addressed a gathering of professors and university administrators with a stern warning. He blamed the humanities for Iranian students’ “lack of faith,” and called on professors to “identify the enemy” and to revise this field of study. Below is a response from a student at Amir Kabir University in Tehran. Amir Kabir University has been the site of several important human rights protests during the past few years.
Why Is the Islamic Republic Afraid of the Humanities?
Translated by Frieda Afary
The teaching of the humanities is often under scrutiny by governments and statesmen in various countries. It is under particular surveillance by those rulers and statesmen who are constantly afraid of the of dissemination of beliefs contrary to theirs. They do their utmost to set the direction and outlook of this field.
The humanities embody theories, perspectives and various political, social or philosophical schools of thought. These schools of thought develop in the context of the humanities and ultimately permeate various sectors of society.
Sociologists, legal scholars, economists, etc. are all products of the humanities. The type of government and school of thought upon which a society is based determines its laws, lifestyles, individual-social activities, and plans. Perhaps this is why rulers and statesmen with a weak power base and intolerant of dissident views are afraid of the dissemination of the humanities. From time to time, they attack or seek to revise this field.
In Iran, academics, whether students or professors, have always been highly scrutinized. If we examine contemporary Iranian history, we will see that in the past and the present, the university has been the site of critique, of opposition to , and struggles against the rulers. A great deal could be said about the influence that academics exert upon society and its political environment. However, it needs to be emphasized that this wise sector of society is constantly a source of fear for Iran’s rulers and statesmen. There is an added concern with regard to academics who represent the humanities. Rulers come to the conclusion that this sector should be either eliminated or cleansed. They [academics — tr.] should be prevented from moving in a direction contrary to that of the rulers.
In a government like the Islamic Republic, freedom of speech and opinion only exist within the framework of the beliefs and interests held by the rulers and the system. There is no need for a person studying law, sociology, philosophy, etc. to become familiar with different philosophic schools of thought, with theories held by various intellectuals, with law as practiced in other countries, or with human rights, etc. After all, isn’t it true that in an Islamic state, all should follow a single school of thought and a single belief? And that is the school of Islam, of course as interpreted by the state authorities.
Therefore, rulers should see to it that no one strays from the path or thinks differently. And if the rulers don’t begin the surveillance at the university, the task of controlling dissident and diverse beliefs and theories in the society as a whole becomes very difficult, if not impossible. This explains why those who rule the system are concerned about the increasing numbers of students in the humanities and their own inability to control them.
Likewise, in the latest show trials, the attacks have been aimed at the humanities, intellectuals and philosophers. Even Saeed Hajjarian [former advisor to president Mohammad Khatami — tr. ] says the following in his confessions (which are not really his own words): “Teaching the theories of the humanities in Iran’s universities has been a factor leading to waste and destruction of public property after the recent election.”
For years, the Islamic Republic has attempted to dismantle the field of humanities, and to limit it or teach it in a selective way. Years ago, it started to cleanse the universities devoted to the study of the humanities. Great scholars in various fields like sociology, psychology, law, literature, political science, etc. were expelled or forced to resign. Many students were denied an education. Many limitations were imposed on the universities. Now, the Islamic Republic is making an ultimate effort to further limit the teaching of the humanities in order to deny future Iranian society the presence of thinkers, philosophers, intellectuals, and scholars.
September 2, 2009