Neocon Upstart Attacks Academic Freedom

Smearing those who attempt to fairly represent Iranian Americans


Neocon Upstart Attacks Academic Freedom
by Beheshteh Farshneshani

I thought it would be a typical Thursday at work last week, but as soon as I arrived to the office, an associate pulled me aside and pointed to a series of defamatory tweets against me and the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), the organization for which I intern.

The tweets were directed at me by neoconservative upstarts Sohrab Ahmari and Peter Kohanloo in response to comments I tweeted (here and here) regarding an article written by Ahmari demonizing American academics who had recently traveled to Iran.

At the time, I was completely unaware of the author's ideological affiliation and only later was it revealed to me that Ahmari is a fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, a neocon think tank in London. In a recent article, MJ Rosenberg provides a wonderful exposé revealing the agendas of Ahmari and some of his associates:

"Ahmari, the neocons' favorite Iranian, is very much in the mold of the neocons' favorite Iraqi. During the run-up to the 2003 invasion Ahmed Chalabi was their darling because, as an Iraqi émigré, he was thought to have unique credibility. Neocons loved hearing an Iraqi say that invading Iraq would not only prove successful but would be welcomed by his fellow Iraqis. Unfortunately, he turned out to be a fake, whose agenda was almost entirely personal. The war he and his friends promoted was an infamous catastrophe. And, to put it mildly, the invasion he told us that Iraqis would welcome was not welcomed."

To neoconservatives' disappointment, Iranian Americans, including myself, are unlikely to be familiar with the names of Ahmari or Kohanloo, let alone give those who argue for war on their motherland any credibility. As Rosenberg correctly observers, "Neither of these spokesmen [Ahmari and Kohanloo] have a following, either among Iranian Americans or Iranians, a fact that probably makes them deeply resentful of the Iranian-American organization that does, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC)."

It is no wonder Ahmari was so quick to take my personal tweets and turn them into a diatribe against NIAC. I simply assumed he was either an angry neo-royalist or an amateur journalist fixed on very superficial notions of liberty which, as an Iranian American, I felt compelled to confront. Therefore my comments were and proudly remain to be a reflection of my own views, not NIAC's or anyone else.

In his article, Ahmari condemns three American professors, stating that "all three should be ashamed" for participating in a conference on the Occupy Wall Street movement held at Tehran University in Iran. "The mere presence of intellectuals from the free world," Ahmari says "allows tyrants to burnish their otherwise stained reputations and overcome their sense of isolation."

Arguments of this nature which seek to limit the scope of academic freedom are very familiar to me. As a graduate student at Columbia University, I recall similar arguments made by various conservative groups against the University's decision to invite Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to speak at a public forum in 2007. I was appalled by these arguments, not because I supported what President Ahmadinejad had to say, but because I did not think merely listening to ideas we deplore translated to our endorsement of those ideas. Similarly, I do not condemn these professors for maximizing on the academic freedom granted to them in this country, which in fact sets America's democracy apart from Iran's authoritative theocracy. Unlike Ahmari, I have faith in the strength of the American democratic resolve to resist even the most warped ideas.

Among the professors that partook in the conference was Dr. Heather Gautney, an assistant professor of sociology at Fordham University, and steadfast supporter of the Occupy Wall Street movement, who upon returning from the conference, published a piece on recounting her experience in Iran.

In her piece, Dr. Gautney breaks many of the anti-American stereotypes attributed to Iranians and conveys a nuanced account of her experience in Iran. She portrays academics and students at Tehran University in a pro-American light with "desires to know America, study in its universities, and experience its unique culture."

In reproaching her article, Ahmari claims, "Prof. Gautney betrayed not the slightest suspicion that the rosy picture of Iran she absorbed may have been stage-managed by her regime handlers." In fact, in reflecting on whether to accept the invitation from Tehran University, Dr. Gautney wrote she was, "naturally filled with suspicion" but with encouragement from her friends and academic colleagues, she decided to accept the invitation.

Dr. Gautney also acknowledged that the short 100 hours she spent in Tehran, did not foster enough understanding to give her agency into deeper issues; such as the election fraud, the repression and the lack of freedom imposed by the Iranian regime. But Ahmari ignores this and continues with absurd reductionism to assert that "mere naivete cannot account for how these gruesome realities eluded professors Gautney, Hammond, and Vitae, or how they allowed themselves and their institutions to be co-opted by a theocratic regimes PR campaign."

Ahmari gives much credit to the Islamic Republic's power of persuasion and propaganda and deliberately ignores the basic reasoning power and liberties that America's academics and citizens have to accept or reject the knowledge that they consume. If it were left to Ahmari, he would extend the "No Contact Policy" of the State Department that bars U.S. diplomats from communicating with their Iranian counterparts to the academic arena.

Three decades of growing strife in U.S.-Iran relations is a testament that our current silent treatment has failed as a tool of statecraft, yet Ahmari wishes to contaminate our academic institutions with similar dubious limitations that would restrict the free flow of information and make vigorous debate and exchange of ideas impossible. His imperious remarks are a reminder that our academic institutions are under grave threat from neoconservative forces that wish to impose political constraints on freedom of academic inquiry. Mindful of Ahmari's desire to limit academic freedom, I don't see why he left Iran in the first place; for that is where such repressive measures are welcomed, yet Ahmari is here, promoting them in America.

Constrained by the White House's resolve to find a diplomatic solution, the neocons have resorted to using whatever coercive means available to intimidate and discourage any level of engagement, including greater academic exchange, between Iran and the U.S. for fear that such exchanges will foster a more human perspective of Iranians, which is exactly what Dr. Gautney does at the end of her article: "After we said goodbye to our new friends in Iran, Glenn [her husband] said, 'We can't go to war with this country. We just can't.'"

It is precisely this message the neocons fear will be conveyed to the American public and threaten the potent political climate conducive to their war-driven agenda, and replace it with a nuanced understanding that just might pave the path for a peaceful resolution.

Dr. Gautney's message is clear -- it is one of peace and those who are displeased with it are not of the same view as those peace-loving Iranians, film director Asghar Farhadi refers to in his victory speech at the Oscars.

In a recent Zogby poll views of Iranians useful to the neoconservative cause, like Ahmari and Kohanloo, placed well outside the fringes of mainstream Iranian-American thinking. To the neocons' disappointment, the polls showed that the majority of Iranian Americans prefer to see a diplomatic and peaceful resolution to hostilities between the U.S. and Iran, while only 3% of Iranians would like to see military action taken against Iran. Ahmari is clearly part of these three-percenters who desire attacking Iran, as he himself admits in an issue of Commentary:

"The likelihood of an all-out Western land invasion aimed at toppling the mullahs is low. But a limited military intervention aimed at destroying their nuclear facilities may nevertheless precipitate regime collapse. Iran's nuclear sites are spread out over a wide geographic area; an intervention aimed at disabling them must be wider in scope than the Israeli strikes that destroyed Iraq's facilities in 1981 and Syria's in 2007. A successful strike will require destroying much of the country's national defense and security architecture. Having invested so much prestige, moreover, in one signature national project -- the nuclear program -- the regime stands to lose what little legitimacy it has left should a week-long airstrike rubble its nuclear sites."

Later in a podcast, Ahmari's lackey, Peter Kohanloo, was asked how he, as an Iranian American, can support a war that will hurt Iranians. Kohanloo responded: "I would say the Iranian American community is not in any position to initiate or prevent a war, that is up to the president and the U.S. government."

It is evident that the ultimate objective here is to silence the voice of Iranian Americans and smear those who attempt to fairly represent them. In this regard, Ahmari and Kohanloo serve as useful tools in promoting the neoconservative war agenda against Iran. As 'native informants', they shamelessly exploit serious issues of human rights as a lubricant to promoting their employers' broader agenda.

In the markets of opinions, ethnic heritage can easily be conflated with expertise, and it is not surprising that these Iranian American outliers have chosen to sell their heritage to causes unpopular to the community they purport to represent. By employing these native outliers as 'analysts,' the neocons present the illusion of credibility in order to diffuse representative voices and slowly inject divisive war hawk jargon into the debate.

Be it the voice of Iranian Americans, the freedom of academics, or the decision of diplomats, neoconservatives will attempt to set fire to any bridge that attempts to mend the people of Iran and America. American academia is only the latest victim of this wicked witch hunt.

First published in

Beheshteh Farshneshani holds a BA in Government & Politics from the University of Maryland and an MFA in Film Writing from Columbia University. Her MFA thesis is a feature length screenplay of the 1953 Iranian coup, in which the American CIA covertly overthrew Iran’s democratically elected prime minister, Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh. She has made several films, both in Iran and in the United States, that are primarily focused on social and political issues facing Iran and Iranian society. She is presently wrapping her thesis to be optioned to film studios for production and doing research as an associate at the National Iranian American Council.


Soosan Khanoom

Bruce and Faramrz you two seems to be more interested

by Soosan Khanoom on

In her than her wise words written in this article ... oh well .. I am not surprised at all !!

Here more on her to save you two some time ...She directed as well as acted in this music video.. 

Ehsan Khajeh Amiri - Salame Akhar [HQ]







Great column Beheshteh!


Could not have said it better myself!


Dont mind the neocon trolls below me. 


NIAC Intern, the Guardian of Iranian-Americans!

by Faramarz on


With all due respect to freshmen, sophomores, graduate students, summer interns and the graduating class of 2014, I believe that the Iranian-American community deserves someone with more experience and knowledge to represent them than Trita and his interns.

After all, Iranian-Americans have been on the forefront and on the receiving end of the Regime’s hostage-taking, “Marg bar Amrika” slogans, terrorism against Americans and the recent plots against the foreign diplomats and the cultural misunderstanding in the Brazilian swimming pool. And a more forceful representative that would have immediately and unconditionally placed the blames squarely on the Regime would have been most useful.

As for the poll that states 2/3 of Iranian-Americans worry about a war with Iran, I would say that we Iranian-Americans are the “worrying” type and tend to worry about the next earthquake, the state of the economy or the cost of healthcare. But Trita and his interns should not worry about what we worry about but rather do something about what we want done.

The 2011 Zogby poll states that 2/3 of Iranian-Americans want a Regime change in Iran and the current Regime be replaced by a secular democracy. It would be great if Trita and his interns can come out and explain how a policy of lifting the sanctions and allowing the big US corporations do business with Khamenei and Sepah Mafia will result in a secular democracy in Iran instead of empowering the current Regime.

But come to think of it, Khamenei has declared himself the guardian (Vali Faghih) of 75 million Iranians without really asking their opinions. By the same token, Trita and his interns have appointed themselves the guardian (Vali) of 1 million Iranian-Americans. So their action is not without precedence.

I for one, if I had to choose between Khamenei or Beheshteh as my guardian, I would choose Beheshteh. She is much cuter than Rahbar! See for yourself.




by Simorgh5555 on

Well said. Great reply. Occupy Wall Street going to Iran is like Occupy Wall Street going to Wall Street. The American academics in question went to Iran simply because the enemy of my enemy is my friend mentality.


Niac et al are definition

by vildemose on

Niac et al are definition of both upstart and kitsch all rolled into one.

It's astounding that a  morally and ethically bankrupt bunch of opportunists have been running around misrepresenting Iranians.



All Oppression Creates a State of War--Simone De Beauvoir


Smearing those who attempt to fairly represent Iranian Americans

by bahmani on

Are you serious?

When was the election that elected you as our representative?

NIAC is not representative of Iranian-Americans
NIAC has no Council

Your entire name is fraudulent and the dangerous posing you are doing is unauthorized.

This is not democratic. This is ironically, more dictatorship and tyranny by Iranians against Iranians.

Occupy Wall Street going to Iran is like Occupy Wall Street going to Wall Street. They were hosted and used by the 1% of Iran!!!

That's the objection Joon-Joony!

If they had gone to South Tehran for just 1 hour out of the 100 hours they spent being toured around like royalty (0.1%) to see the grandeur and greatness of the Islam and its diamond studded mosques, I would have been OK with the trip. But you cannot deny the arrogant hypocrisy of it. If you do, that proves you are part of the 1% as well. Which given your educational pedigree and Twitter profile pic and sassoon-esque Ally McBeal hairstyle and distant look and thoughtless pout, I'd say you already know that. Certainly you are deluded. I mean wake up dude! You're defending NIAC? Here?

Please stop this nonsense. Spend some of that here-shut-up-and-don't-mention-me-dot-com-millionaire money in LA and the 5 other cities where a majority of Iranians live (You can look that up in the PAAIA poll as well), advertise you are coming 90 days in advance (don't sneak into town and then sneak out again and say nobody showed up), ask them to give their authority to Trita to proceed, ask them what they want him to do. Then you and he get to go do it. Don't be surprised if they don't though. Your reputation precedes you.

What you have now isn't activism. You are just an amateur "Politics Club". Apparently primarily designed to sell books about how bad US Foreign Policy has been.

Really? That's your conclusion? Man! Forget what I said, you guys are freaking geniuses! We all thought it was always Iran's fault!

Cancel your internship sweetie, sell your film to C-SPAN before they actually watch it and toss it on the pile with all the others just like it, and start looking for a real job. Hurry.

Sorry, I could not tweet this. Some things are more important and take longer to say properly. I needed more than 120 characters.

What! No MEK Tweets? Or is that the other intern's job?

To read more bahmani posts visit: //


So Farshnesha and her

by Simorgh5555 on

So Farshnesha and her goofball NIAC friends believes in academic ties between the Islamic Terrorist Regime and the USA? 

I bet you that most of NIAC members are part of the boycott Israel/Israel divestment campaign and support organisations in USA and Europe which seek to ban Israeli academics, students, artists in events and cultural exchanges?

Be honest, has Fashnesha ever been to Israel? Would she travel to occupied East Jerusalem? Would she buy kosher hummus?  



by Fred on

While you’re wrapping your thesis to be optioned to film studios for production and doing research as an associate at the National Iranian American Council, would you ask the lifetime president of the NIAC lobby the following 2 questions for the starter?

1- It has publicly been alleged by a Washington newspaper, and he has never refuted, that the lifetime president of the NIAC lobby has given lectures to the agents of the Central Intelligence Agency, the same CIA responsible for 1953 which your “feature length screenplay of the 1953 Iranian coup.” is about

2-Ask the lifetime president of the NIAC Lobby about his court documented connection to various high officials of the Islamist Rapist Republic.

Good luck with calling the growing number of Iranians and non-Iranians who question NIAC lobby’s MO as Chalabi, Neocon, warmonger, etc,…

ps. a blog on your Dr. Heather Gautney along with her video.