UJP, Dorchester People for Peace, and the Boston University Antiwar Coalition cosponsored a teach-in on April 28 hosted by the Suffolk University Government Department at the Suffolk Law School in Boston. Entitled "New War in the Middle East? A Teach-in on Iran," the ambitious program featured two panels with several university professors, students and a public official. Following are some highlights from the afternoon.
The first panel was entitled, "US tensions with Iran and the possibility of a new war in the Middle East." Prof. Afshin Razani from Berkeley College in NJ provided historical context by pointing out that Western powers have been trying to control Iran at least since the discovery of oil and Iran's Constitutional Revolution over 100 years ago. Razani sees the current US effort to achieve a friendly government in Tehran as part of this long history, and this policy will continue even if the nuclear crisis is resolved. Razani also emphasized the behind the scenes power of the Iranian revolutionary guard.
Elaine Hagopian, professor emerita of Simmons College, pointed out that a defacto alliance of Iran-Syria-Hizbollah has been the main obstacle to US-Israeli expansion of influence and domination in the region, and pressure on Iran (or Syria) is an effort to break that alliance. Hagopian also touched on the importance of understanding Israel's role as a major source of tension and talk of war. Tufts physics professor Gary Goldstein gave a briefing on the technical requirements of building a nuclear bomb: the scientific and engineering expertise, raw materials, sophisticated equipment such as centrifuges, and ability to miniaturize the bomb and deliver on target by guided missiles. He might have added maintaining security from computer virus attacks and preventing assassinations of scientists. Iran's nuclear program is decades old and has made steady but slow progress; but all the evidence says a decision to build a weapon has not been made and would take considerable time to accomplish in any event.
Prof. Andrew Bacevich of Boston University addressed the issue from the strategic perspective of the US military and government; he argued that a US/Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear installations is very unlikely in the near future for several reasons: 1) a war with Iran is counter to Obama's reelection strategy; 2) many military strategists in the US and Israel oppose such an attack, citing the complexity and difficulty of achieving the mission; 3) Iran has numerous options for a damaging counterattack; 4) the recent disastrous experience of the Iraq War in particular demonstrates to US policymakers the futility of the use of force to obtain US policy goals in the region.
The second panel was entitled, "The Politics of Opposing a War with Iran and building a movement to stop it." Prof. Irene Gendzier of Boston University concentrated on the economic sanctions against Iran, a current focus of US strategy Iran. She read through a long list of what the sanctions consist of, concluding that they are among the harshest sanctions ever imposed on a country. The sanctions seem intended to bring down the Iranian economy and government. She added that popular opinion in the region opposes any US/Israeli attack.
Massachusetts State Representative Denise Provost followed up on the sanctions theme by describing the push in the Massachusetts legislature to enact a bill divesting pension funds from Iranian related investments. This well organized effort was orchestrated by pro-Israel forces with considerable influence in the statehouse. The Mass. divestment bill, temporarily blocked but now passed, is part of a nationwide campaign run by AIPAC (America Israel Political Action Committee), a campaign that often meets little opposition.
Shahrzad Noorbaloochi, an Iranian-American student, told about her recent trip to Iran where the effects of sanctions has already caused huge increases in lthe price of eggs and other foodstuffs. The Iranian people are well aware that the US is causing the rapid inflation, which is hurting the living standards of the Iranian people -- but ironically may actually strengthen the position of the rulers of the Islamic Republic. Shahrzad also presented slides of her family and described the bitter experiences during the long war with Iraq, which was also backed by the US.
Alex Shams, a Harvard graduate student, raised the importance of communicating a more diverse and accurate picture of the Iranian people, which has been simplified by US media to the picture of Ahmadinejad. Culture is an important way to do this, such as the recent success of the film, A Separation. Shams raised the question of solidarity, suggesting three slogans for American activists to support: No War, No Sanctions, No Repression. It was clarified that no repression does not mean that US activists should call for regime change.
The extended question and discussion sessions were energetic and informed, people considered how the US movement can oppose war and work for peace in such a complex situation as presented by US/Israel/Iran in the Middle East context. Many speakers cited the UN resolution calling for a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East as providing a way for all countries to have security. Israel would have to give up its nuclear arsenal, the US keep its weapons out of the area and no country could build a new nuclear bomb. Strengthening the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty was discussed, which would start by the US taking initiative to reduce its vast stockpile. The UFPJ pledge of resistance will build a national network to respond to a crisis and many people have signed on. Pressure on public officials is necessary. Public education on the issues, including letters to the press, is a critical element; programs such as the successful teach-in are an invaluable contribution to public education. The sponsoring organizations are considering appropriate followup activities as the danger of a war with Iran will be with us for some time.