For the past week, I have watched with bewilderment and sorrow the onslaught on my friend and teacher, Dr Homa Katouzian, in connection with the admission to Oxford University of a son of the former Iranian President, Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani.
By now, Dr Katouzian has clarified his academic involvement in the process of admission of Mr Mehdi Hashemi. Oxford University too has announced that its investigation has found no basis for the allegations of impropriety in Mr Hashemi’s admission. From a formal point of view, therefore, the matter must be considered closed.
The reason for writing this note is to reflect on the scale and vehemence of the attacks on Dr Katouzian in a variety of online newsletters, both inside and outside Iran, sometimes using words that are not worth repeating. What these ‘news’ reports and readers’ ‘comments’ have in common is the absence of any information to support any of the accusations, let alone the personal insults, that have been directed at Dr Katouzian.
The outpouring of anger and hatred by some Iranians, against an Iranian academic who has spent almost all his working life researching Iran makes one wonder about the degree of maturity of those who write such ‘reports’ or ‘comments’; the professional standards of the news sites that publish such material; and the extent to which all of this can be seen as representing the Iranian society at large.
In a complex and ever changing world, we all need signposts to help us find our direction. Sometimes, for some people, these signposts are provided by those who possess wealth and power. At other times, and perhaps for other people, the compass is supplied by those who possess knowledge and wisdom and are as free from prejudice and bias as it is humanly possible. Watching them, we can at least have some idea of what is right and what is wrong.
During nearly three decades of friendship and academic collaboration, the more I have known Dr Katouzian, the more I have been overwhelmed by the depth and breadth of his knowledge and the accuracy and fairness of his assessment of people and events. The best evidence for this is his latest book, The Persians, in which rulers, invaders, and defenders of Iran are judged in the context of the conditions of their times, rather than against contemporary standards, as is often our habit. Some historical figures are shown to have been less ‘evil’ than we have been led to believe; others as less than ‘angelic’, with their own human flaws and faults. The result is a refreshing and realistic understanding of Iranian history.
In the Oxford University admission saga, this author would have expected Dr Katouzian’s approval of the doctoral research proposal to have been seen as confirmation of the applicant’s academic credentials. The reason is simple and clear: just as it is a privilege for a scholar to be on the faculty of an academic institution such as Oxford University, the University’s own credibility is also based on the fact that its faculty includes scholars such as Dr Katouzian.
Some attackers, however, have done the reverse, claiming that since the son of a politician whom they oppose has been admitted to Oxford University, Dr Katouzian and the University have lost their academic standing.
The recent torrent of ignorance, prejudice and abuse will not deter Dr Katouzian from his independent and innovative research. But it does show that some of us have not yet learned about independent and critical thinking, and continue to assess everything through the narrow perspective of personal and immediate interests. If Iran is to move towards a democratic society with a long-term pattern of social and political progress, it will need Dr Katouzian and many more like him. We owe it to ourselves to understand, learn from, encourage and support such leading lights. Not only because this is the ‘polite’ thing to do, but also because ultimately this would serve our own long-term interests. [Persian version]
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