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Magda Hassan
02-10-2011, 12:19 PM
University challenges

WikiLeaks has worked its magic again, illuminating US efforts to promote change in Iran – and explaining recent goings-on (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/feb/10/iranian-funding-durham-university-boycott) at Durham University. Its proposals for exchanges with Iranian media, academic, civil society and clerical sectors are set out in a "confidential" cable from the US embassy in London in April 2008. Ideas include conferences on NGOs and women, with Persian transcripts to be disseminated via podcasts or videoclips posted on YouTube or in VOA Persian TV broadcasts. It would offer "US and USG [US government] observers a useful look inside Iranian politics at a grassroots level".
The embassy was impressed by the "political cover" among contacts within Iran that Durham was apparently able to generate, even allowing it to invite an academic and cleric associated with the Revolutionary Guard. And there was praise for an "innovative and arguably groundbreaking proposal" (needing £57,000 in funding) for workshops for students from seminaries in Qom and Mashhad with US and UK academics, to emphasise themes of human rights, democracy, accountability and rule of law.
The embassy made a persuasive case:

"There has been only limited western interaction with the clerical sector, portions of which have … provided intellectual and political resistance both to the former Pahlavi regime as well as to the current regime's ideology of velayat-e faqih (rule of Islamic jurists), which, though based on the writings of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, is nevertheless theologically repugnant to many Shi'ite thinkers and believers … Outreach to Iranian Shi'ite seminarians could complement USG and western interaction with the more secular, western-oriented elements of Iran's political class."In Durham there has long been concern among students that followers of Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohammad-Taqi_Mesbah-Yazdi), an extremist religious authority, were getting publicity and legitimacy for their views because of the prestigious association with the university. Now there is unhappiness, but little surprise, that secret US funding was involved.
There was anger, too, at Durham's long silence over its own student, doctoral candidate Ehsan Abdoh-Tabrizi, sentenced to seven years for taking part in anti-government demonstrations in Tehran after the disputed 2009 elections. The university was "extremely disappointed" to hear of his conviction last month. It insisted this week that it has "established processes for the management of academic income and receives funding from a broad range of research and education partners while remaining true to the principles of independent academic discovery" – and confirmed to the Guardian that this included US government support.
The Palatinate, its student newspaper, responded (http://www.palatinate.org.uk/?p=10679): "Any Iranian students travelling to Durham for the seminars are unlikely to have been aware of how they were funded."

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/feb/10/wikileaks-durham-university-iran-us-embassy