Iran’s cultural prison

Rasool Nafisi in openDemocracy:

The detention of Haleh Esfandiari, a senior Iranian scholar based in the United States who had returned to Iran to visit her elderly mother and to touch the roots of her beloved country, has refocused the attention of political analysts on the Islamic Republic of Iran’s motives. In seeking an explanation for the new wave of arrests – of which Esfandiari’s is only one – some western observers have repeated the threadbare argument that American policy toward Iran is itself the culprit.

This line of thinking identifies the $75 million programme request from the US state department to promote democracy in Iran, unveiled in February 2006, as the trigger for Tehran’s crackdown on various groups of activists and intellectuals. The problem with such an analysis is twofold: first, it focuses principally on Washington (without being necessarily convincing even about that) rather than on Tehran’s own agency; second, it assumes that the Iranian government needs threats of regime change from the Bush administration to perpetrate such violations.