Sunday, May 21, 2006

Ramin Jahanbegloo

It's now been well over three weeks since Ramin Jahanbegloo was detained by the authorities in Iran while trying to leave Tehran to attend a conference. Jahanbegloo (a dual Iranian/Canadian citizen) has been held, largely incommunicado, in Iran's infamous Evin Prison ever since. I say infamous in part because the last Iranian Canadian to be shut up in Evin -- like Jahanbegloo, without being charged or granted any legal process -- wound up dead from a blow to the head, the marks of torture and sexual assault on her corpse. Iranian authorities say that Jahanbegloo is being held for having 'connections with foreigners'; the hardline Iranian press, which has close ties to the government, accuse him of being a US/Zionist spy. It's rumoured that he has produced pages of confessions; it is unlikely that these were voluntary, or that they are true. The proximate cause of his arrest seems likely to have been his criticism of Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for denying the Holocaust. More generally, though, Jahanbegloo is a voice for moderation, internationalism, and freedom of thought; values that do not seem particularly prized in Iran at present.
Jahanbegloo (who did graduate work in philosophy at the Sorbonne and in Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard) is one of Iran's leading secular intellectuals. He's published books on Hegel and Gandhi: and his own work has been, appropriately, devoted to fostering communication and reconciliation between opposing traditions and insights, and advocating non-violence and moderation. He also published a book of interviews with Isaiah Berlin which is an invaluable resource for studying that figure. I read Jahanbegloo's book of interviews shortly after I discovered Berlin; the book served as a major part of my introduction to Berlin's thought (as well as his life and personality), and as such, has had a very substantial influence on my thought -- and, indeed, my life generally. Indeed, I suppose that one can say that it changed my life -- that it has had a decisive influence on where and who I am now. So, as well as admiring Jahanbegloo, I owe him a great debt. This, however, nothing next to his importance to liberal-minded students and reformers in Iran, among whom he seems to be a major, and beneficial, intellectual influence.
At first, Jahanbegloo's friends kept quiet, hoping that he would be released. This has failed to happen, however, and reports that Jahanbegloo has been spending much of his time in Evin's medical ward -- as well as the talk about his being a foreign agent -- have not been reassuring. So an international campaign has been commenced to secure his release -- or, at the very least, open and just treatment; it has enlisted the support of figures ranging from Noam Chomsky and Jurgen Habermas to members of the American Enterprize Institute. There is a website devoted to his case here, which contains information on both Jahanbegloo and his situation; anyone interested in learning more about what's happening to him and why should check it out. There's also a petition to the EU, to apply pressure on Jahanbegloo's behalf, here, which I urge people to sign (you don't have to be a national of a member of the EU to do so). There are several letter-writing campaigns, the websites of which are here , here, and here; again, I strongly urge people to join in sending letters or emails to the Iranian authorities (being careful to be respectful, of course; the websites provide templates of the sort of thing they judge to be well-advised.
This case, of course, hits particularly close to home for political theorists -- hence it's mention here; but it's also an important case for the principles of freedom of speech and due process of law. And, of course, it's also a terrible ordeal being undergone by a good and admirable man and his family.
So please act now.
UPDATE: There's an article in today's NY Times about Jahanbegloo's case, which provides more detailed and, hopefully, accurate information on what's happening to him, and its context.

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