Here's a link to the Globe article today on the interview, and also video coverage by staff photographer Yoon Byun.
The interview covered three main subjects: the nuclear issue, US-Iran relations, and Iranian domestic issues. Click on the "extended" button below for the extensive excerpts from the nearly hour-long interview:
The alternative -- imposing ever tougher sanctions against Iran -- will only punish the Iranian people and give more ammunition to the hardliners in Iran, ElBaradei told a forum tonight at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
And sanctions are likely to be no more effective than they have been over the past several years in getting Iran to give up its nuclear program, said ElBaradei, who stepped down in November after 12 years as director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency. "Going the sanction route is an act of desperation.... Sanctions in fact hurt the vulnerable."
ElBaradei, an outspoken critic of repressive regimes in his native Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world, was guarded about whether he will run for the presidency of Egypt in 2011. There is much speculation that Hosni Mubarak, in power for nearly 30 years, won't run again, and that he is grooming his son Gamal to succeed him. ElBaradei said his focus since he returned home to Egypt in February is on pushing Egypt toward more democratic practices, not toward winning power for himself. But he didn't rule out a run.
El Baradei, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with the IAEA in 2005, recalled his political battles with the Bush Administration in 2002 and 2003 as he contended there was no evidence that Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq had revived its nuclear weapons program, and argued for more time for inspections.
The US went ahead with its invasion of Iraq -- and found no weapons of mass destruction. ElBaradei said Iraqis have been "pulverized by a war that was launched on wrong assumptions."
He said the Bush Administration missed several opportunities to reach a deal with Iran by emphasizing punitive sanctions and refusing to negotiate unless Iran suspended its uranium enrichment program, which now has grown to 4,000 centrifuges. Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful, aimed at producing nuclear energy. Western countries suspect Iran wants to build nuclear weapons.
President Obama came into office more willing to negotiate, El Baradei said, but Iran quickly was engulfed in domestic political turmoil, which derailed hopes for talks. Now US congressional pressure is growing for tougher sanctions.
"I think frankly, there still is a deal to be made," he said, such as getting Iran to agree to store its nuclear materials on an island in the Persian Gulf, under IAEA control but still technically within Iran. In turn, the United States and Iran could start to negotiate solutions to the gamut of grievances that have divided them for decades.
For them the nuclear program is a means to an end. They want to be recognized as a regional power."
US diplomats have insisted that they won't reward Iran's bad behavior with negotiations, but ElBaradei said, "You negotiate with your adversaries to change their behavior."
The French consulate is sponsoring the visit this week of cartoonists including the famed French cartoonist Jean Plantureux, whose front-page cartoons in the daily Le Monde under his pen name, Plantu, help set the French political agenda.
Plantu is here with other prominent members of the group Cartooning for Peace, which he launched in 2006 to use the power of cartooning to get people to think more creatively about world conflicts and how to stop them. Participants in the forums this week include Palestinian cartoonist Khalil Abu Al Arafeh, Israeli Uri Fink, and Americans Daryl Cagle, Jeff Danziger and the Globe's own Dan Wasserman.
An exhibition of cartoons opens Tuesday evening at Northeastern University in Gallery 360, and runs through May 12. The visiting cartoonists also are taking part in discussions on Wednesday morning at Northeastern and at Harvard in the afternoon. Details at the French consulate web site.
Today at 5 p.m., the consulate says:
"all the cartoonists will be in the Boston Common in presence of Michael P. Ross, President of the Boston City Council and Chair of the Special Committee on Boston Common for a brief ceremony. The artists would each offer an original cartoon made especially for the occasion. The cartoonists will underline the importance of the Boston Common in American History and of its place as a forum for so many eloquent speakers and defenders of freedom.Organized by French Consul General Christophe Guilhou, the Cartooning for Peace exhibition and forums give the cartoonists a chance to discuss the use of political satire to change minds and provoke debate. It also will shed light on the risks for cartoonists who use their artistry to challenge conventional thinking.
Plantu has been making waves with Cartooning for Peace since 2006, shortly after the publication of political cartoons by a Danish newspaper depicting the Prophet Mohammed, considered offensive by many Muslims, set off protests that claimed more than 200 lives.
Coincidentally, another event on Tuesday evening at Harvard also will take up the theme of the Danish cartoons. As part of the Boston Muslim Film Festival being organized by the American Islamic Congress, a documentary called "Bloody Cartoons" is being screened at 6 p.m. in Boylston Hall in Harvard Yard, along with a short but provocative animated video by Daniyal Noorani, called "Find Heaven."
After the screenings, I will moderate a panel discussion with Noorani, who lives in Boston, and Brandeis University Professor Jytte Klausen, author of the 2009 book, "The Cartoons that Shook the World." Klausen's book became controversial when publisher Yale University Press decided to omit the reproduction of the Danish cartoons in Klausen's scholarly work.
The festival, started in 2008, is organized by the Boston office of the American Islamic Congress.
The festival's blurb on the film: "Filmed in six years, twelve countries and nine languages, “A Jihad for Love” explores the complex intersections between Islam and homosexuality around
the world. Award-winning filmmaker Parvez Sharma, himself a gay Muslim, explores a diversity of Muslim gay experiences by illuminating personal stories in locales as wide-ranging as Egypt, France, India, Iran, South Africa, and Turkey. Sharma’s film also tackles the subject of “jihad” by reclaiming the term as a struggle for love."
"Then join a discussion with Sharma and Yusuf Nasrullah, an openly gay member of the local Muslim community, moderated by Emmy-winning reporter Jared Bowen of WGBH."
This is the second of five films in the Spring 2010 festival. For details see the full festival web page.
On the Monadnock Quaker blog, Hawthorn provides a vivid personal account of her journey to the Egyptian capital, recounting the successes and frustrations she encountered along the way -- not least the effects of her own days of fasting in solidarity with the Gazans.
The Gaza Freedom March was organized by activist groups to draw attention to what they regard as Israel's siege of Gaza, virtually closing the border crossings with Israel and blocking the rebuilding of Gaza after the destruction of the three-week military action. The fighting left more than 1,300 people dead in Gaza, including hundreds of civilians (hence the number of protesters).
Israel has said it had to act militarily to halt persistent and indiscriminate rocket fire from miitants in Gaza against civilians in towns across the border in Israel. Thirteen Israelis were killed in the fighting. Israel says it will reopen the crossings when its security concerns are met.
More unusually, the Gaza march also focused not only on protesting Israel and US policy in the region but also on what the organizers view as Egypt's complicity with the Israeli crackdown on Gaza. Hawthorn's journal entries recount the cat-and-mouse tactics of the marchers as they tried to hold protests in Cairo, while Egyptian police sought to disrupt the gatherings and prevent any march toward the Gaza border.
In the end, nearly 100 of the activists were allowed to travel into Gaza with two busloads of humanitarian aid, thanks to the intervention of Suzanne Mubarak, wife of President Hosni Mubarak. But that compromise divided the protesters, as Hawthorn recounts in detail.
She says she was inspired to join the fast because of the example of Hedy Epstein, the 85-year-old Holocaust survivor who was a key organizer of the protest and who initiated the hunger strike to press for the borders to be opened The fasting marchers declared on January 1: "We recognize that the Palestinians of Gaza continue to hunger for food, shelter, and most of all for freedom. We continue to hunger for justice for Gaza and all of Palestine. At this time we announce that we will feast when Gaza feasts. Until that time, each of us will choose the time to end her/his fast and again take food. Our pleasure in that food will always be mixed with the pain of Palestinians....”
On the front page of the Sunday Globe, Stockman explores Sharp's impact in Iran, where a number of activists have read and cite his thinking as they challenge the authority of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The Iranian government has in turn named Sharp in indictments of more than 100 activists -- and views him as the epicenter of a conspiracy by the West to undermine the Islamic revolution. In the eyes of many Iranian specialists, that's a sign of the government's paranoia about Western conspiracies, and a convenient excuse for dismissing the popular protests.
Stockman takes note of Sharp's impact far beyond Iran. His thinking on how people can challenge dictatorships -- and his premise that power is not monolithic, and depends on cooperation from the citizenry -- has been invoked by protest movements for more than 40 years. And throughout that time, he has been condemned by repressive governments.
The former Harvard researcher runs the little-known Albert Einstein Institution, "which dedicates itself to researching nonviolent activism out of a two-room office near a bodega in Maverick Square. It doesn't look like the nerve-center of a US-funded coup. He has one assistant, three computers, a teapot, and a dog. Its two rooms are crammed with old boxes, books about Mahatma Gandhi, and a giant, empty aquarium..."
At least 4,000 people have been detained in Iran since the disputed presidential election last summer, and many are still in custody. Other foreign academics have also been accused by the Iranian government of fomenting violent dissent, including John Palfrey and Ethan Zuckerman of Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, apparently because a now-detained Iranian blogger attended one of their conferences. Stockman also notes that Gary Sick, a Columbia University professor, was named in the sentencing hearing of an Iranian-American associate.
Judging by recent newspaper front pages, there's plenty of reason to be pessimistic about prospects for improved relations between Muslims and Christians any time soon.
But a short and readable new study by a Brandeis academic explores an ambitious movement by senior Muslims and Christians to find common ground for peace and against extremism. The paper, written by Joseph Lumbard, traces the fascinating evolution of "A Common Word," the series of face-to-face gatherings that have taken place between top-level delegations of Muslims and Christians of many denominations since 2008.
Lumbard, an American Muslim who was a signatory to "A Common Word," is assistant professor of classical Islam and Brandeis and chair of the Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies Program. He was an an adviser on interfaith issues to King Abdullah II of Jordan. His paper, "The Uncommonality of 'A Common Word'," was published last month by the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis.
The outreach was launched by leading Muslim clerics and scholars after a lecture by Pope Benedict XVI in Regensburg, Germany, in 2007. The resulting letter from the Muslims to leaders of Christian denominations around the world was entitled, "A Common Word Between Us and You." The Vatican's initial response was cautious, Lumbard notes, but the process gathered steam, culminating in a major Muslim-Christian conference at Yale University Divinity School in July 2008, and a ground-breaking followup in November 2008 at the Vatican.
The official web site of A Common Word offers further details.
The process is very much alive. The latest encounter took place just last month, at Georgetown University in Washington. Jewish scholars also are participating. Praise has come from many quarters, not least Harvard theologian Harvey Cox, in a recent column in the Globe's Ideas section on "Why Fundamentalism Will Fail."
Lumbard writes: "We have no previous record of leading Muslim authorities representing all branches of Islam engaging the Vatican as a single voice." He expresses hope that "the positive effects of Christian-Muslim dialogue will spill over from the pens and lips of theologians to the 'minbar' and the pulpit, from where they can also reach into the schools and the streets."
Associate Professor Matthew Bunn of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government offers a stark dose of realism in a new policy paper assessing the prospects for reaching a deal with Iran over its nuclear program.
Bunn, an expert on nuclear security and proliferation issues, argues that a new round of negotiations with Iran has virtually zero chance of getting Iran to stop all enrichment of uranium, however tough the sanctions become. Iran already has 8,000 centrifuges in place, after all. So insisting on zero centrifuges would all but ensure there is no deal -- a dangerous outcome that could raise the chances of a military showdown.
Bunn says the best alternative for the United States and its European partners is to reach a deal that would allow Iran very limited enrichment in exchange for full transparency and strict controls on Iran's nuclear program. That would fulfill the ultimate Western goal of ensuring Iran does not pursue a nuclear weapons program.
Here's a link to the report, titled Beyond Zero Enrichment: Suggestions for an Iranian Nuclear Deal.
Bunn is a lead investigator for the Managing the Atom program in the Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, one of the country's leading academic research institutes on nuclear and defense policy issues.
The Israeli media have extensive coverage today of the forum at Brandeis University last night in which South African Justice Richard Goldstone defended his United Nations report on Israel's invasion of Gaza -- and former Israeli diplomat Dore Gold sharply challenged Goldstone's methods and findings.
Brandeis promises to post a link to the archived video of the debate either today or Monday at the website of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies, which cosponsored the debate with the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life.
And here's a link to the article I wrote about the forum in today's Globe.
Several Israeli correspondents based in Washington came to Waltham for the event. Some of the online accounts include:
An article by Yitzhak Benhorin on YNetnews.com, the website of the largest Israeli newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, goes into more detail on Goldstone's explanation of why he believes Israel adopted a strategy that was designed to inflict widespread destruction in Gaza.
An account on the site of Ahrutz Sheva, israelnationalnews.com, notes that the UN General Assembly adopted an Arab-backed resolution on the Goldstone report just hours before the debate took place. The United States and several other Western countries voted no.
And the Brandeis Hoot student newspaper wonders in an editorial whether Goldstone and Gold -- and those in the audience -- were really listening to each other or just defending their own viewpoints.
Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish made stops at several Boston-area synagogues and other venues last week to describe the terrible loss he suffered in Gaza in January and to find in it a reason to push forward with reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis.
During Israel's invasion of Gaza, two Israeli tank shells struck Abuelaish's house and killed three of his daughters. The Palestinian doctor spoke of that personal loss, but he sought to focus more on the need for both sides to look at their own failings, and find ways to break through the cycle of finger-pointing and suffering. I spoke with Abuelaish between stops and wrote an article about his life and work in the Sunday Globe.
The real impact comes in Abuelaish's interaction with his varied audiences as they wrestle with his message. My former Globe colleague, Charlie Radin, who is now at Brandeis, wrote a moving column in the Jewish Advocate describing one such exchange at a Brandeis talk.
The Advocate, sensibly, does not give away its content, but here's a link to the intro.
Radin recounts an exchange between Abuelaish and an Israeli "refusenik" who has refused military service and blames her own government for the deadlock. She criticized Abuelaish for an apparent lack of Palestinian nationalism. Radin recounts the doctor's reply: those involved need to look at themselves, and examine their own conduct, before they aim the blame at others. He criticizes Palestinians for launching rockets at Israeli civilians -- and he asks Israelis to look at their own conduct in a self-critical light.
"Abuelaish has put his finger on something important. We must first look in the mirror.
"This does not mean weeping and expressing outrage at the casualties on one side while speaking politically correct platitudes about regretting the deaths of noncombatant women and children on the other - wherever those deaths occur.
"I have been to Gaza and to Jerusalem in the immediate aftermath of horrors, and while there is no equivalency in ways, means or intentions, it is a fact that many, on both sides, have become emotionally calloused. And it is a fact that this callousing of the heart and soul has become, in itself, an obstacle to peace."
Worth the price of the latest issue.
Fatemeh Haghighatjoo is one of Iran's most prominent dissidents. She'll be speaking at a dinner Thursday night hosted by Boston International, the organization of young professionals interested in global issues. The dinner is at 7 p.m. at Maggiano's in the Back Bay, at 4 Columbus Avenue in Boston. The cost of the dinner is $38.00, and RSVP is required.
I wrote a profile of Haghighatjoo in the Globe in July, at the height of the protests in Iran over the presidential election results. A former member of Iran's Parliament, she resigned in 2004 after she was charged and convicted for her outspoken criticism of the ruling Islamist leadership. She has lived in the Boston area since 2005, when she became a visiting fellow at MIT's Center for International Studies. She is currently a visiting fellow at the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy at UMass Boston's McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies.
Brandeis University says it will host a forum next month with South African Judge Richard Goldstone, the author of a fiercely controversial United Nations fact-finding report that accused Israeli forces as well as Palestinian fighters of committing war crimes in Gaza.
In what is sure to be a heated debate, Goldstone will discuss his report for the first time with a senior Israeli political figure. Dore Gold, the former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, will respond to Goldstone in the forum, and then both will take questions from the audience.
The dispute over the report has become so heated that it threatens to disrupt attempts to revive peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Under US pressure, the Palestinian government at first agreed not to press for the UN Security Council to take up the report, but after a domestic outcry, reversed its stance. Some Palestinian analysts, in turn, have accused Israel of trying to exploit the controversy to fend off growing US demands for concessions.
The UN report covers the three weeks of the Israeli incursion into Gaza in December and January, which Israel said was necessary to halt fighters from the Hamas faction in Gaza from firing rockets into civilian areas. More than 1,000 Palestinians were killed in air strikes and ground operations before the Israelis pulled back. Israel argued that Hamas fighters hid behind civilians, itself a war crime, making civilian casualties unavoidable.
The fact-finding report focused most of its criticism on Israel, saying the battle plan ensured that civilians would be targeted and that civilian infrastructure was deliberately attacked. The report also said Palestinian armed groups had caused terror by launching thousands of rockets at civilians in Israel since 2001.
The Goldstone-Gold forum on November 5 is being co-hosted by the university's International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life, and by the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies.
Goldstone, a South African Jew, is a prominent jurist who has taken part in numerous international tribunals as a prosecutor. Professor Daniel Terris, the director of the ethics center, said he has worked closely with Goldstone for a decade in his role as a member of the center's advisory board, and "he has a longstanding reputation for integrity and courage."
Professor Ilan Troen, who heads the Schusterman Center, said in an interview, "what we're in for is learned, direct and honest drama. I don't know that we'll resolve anything, but we can certainly clarify, and that's what universities do."
Several leaders of Boston-area Jewish organizations said that while they were highly critical of the Goldstone report, they respected the university's role as a venue for for airing different views and fostering debate.
Rob Leikind, head of the American Jewish Committee' Boston office, said, "It's pretty clear at this point that the Goldstone report has been co-opted by nations and groups that are committed to delegitimizing the state of Israel. That said, it is an appropriate role for a college or university to present people involved in controversial issues, particularly when they are making an effort to get well-informed responses from people with a different point of view."
Nancy Kaufman, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, the umbrella group for Jewish organizations, said, "I think the report is just an outrage. It's a one-sided report from a group that was out to get Israel... He's coming into the lion's den in some respects. He knows this is of concern to the Jewish community. I actually applaud Brandeis."
Nadav Tamir, the Israeli consul general in New England, said, "it's the job of universities to have debates, I have nothing against that. But I'm very worried about the report.... The message of the report is you cannot defend yourself because your enemies are using human shields and we don't want you to harm them. So they are giving absolute immunity to Hamas to fire rockets against Israel."
Brandeis did not provide details on the time or venue for the forum on Nov. 5.
Gold served as an adviser on foreign policy to prime ministers Benjamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon. He is president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and has three degrees from Columbia University, including a doctorate.
For those wondering how the Obama Administration is faring with its initiative to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis is offering a seasoned perspective at midday on Thursday, Oct. 8.
David Makovsky, the Ziegler Distinguished Fellow and director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, will discuss his new book, co-authored with long-time American diplomat and Mideast troubleshooter Dennis Ross.
The brown bag seminar is from 12:15 - 1:45 pm in the Heller Building, Room 163. For more information, see the Crown Center for Middle East Studies web site.
Makovsky, who was born in St. Louis, worked as an editor and diplomatic journalist for major Israeli publications, including the Jerusalem Post and Ha'aretz, traveling to Syria and elsewhere in the Arab world in the 1990s. Since then he has written numerous scholarly articles assessing the stalemated peace process, and US policy.
The Crown Center says of his new book with Ross: "Why has the United States consistently failed to achieve its strategic goals in the Middle East? According to Dennis Ross and David Makovsky, two of America's leading experts on the region, it is because we have been laboring under false assumptions, or mythologies, about the nature and motivation of Middle East countries and their leaders. In 'Myths, Illusions, and Peace,' the authors debunk these damaging fallacies, held by both the right and the left, and present a concise and far-reaching set of principles that will help America set an effective course of action in the region."
Professor Graham Allison of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government earns full marks for prescience about Iran's covert nuclear site.
As long ago as 2006, he was warning in an article for a Yale on-line publication that the West's focus should not only be on Iran's known nuclear operations but on potential covert sites as well. Allison said Iran was much more likely to be carrying out work relevant for nuclear weapons capacity at a location beyond the reach of the monitors of the International Atomic Energy Agency than under their noses.
Today, President Obama and the leaders of Britain and France announced at a summit in Pittsburgh that Iran had informed the IAEA this week of a previously undisclosed nuclear site, about 100 miles southwest of Tehran. The underground site is said to be a second nuclear enrichment facility, with about 3,000 centrifuges installed but not yet operational. Iran's primary enrichment site, which is well-known to the IAEA and monitored by its inspectors, is at Natanz, south of Tehran. Another known nuclear research site is at Isfahan, farther south. Iran insists that its nuclear program is purely peaceful, aimed at producing nuclear energy.
News reports today say US intelligence has known of Iran's secret site for several years. Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, responded that Iran was under no obligation to disclose all its nuclear facilities, an interpretation that other nations immediately challenged. As Obama put it, "Iran is breaking rules that all nations must follow."
Allison, the former dean of the Kennedy School and an expert on nuclear weapons policy and nuclear terrorism, was assistant secretary of defense early in the Clinton Administration, focusing on nuclear issues and US relations with the forrmer Soviet Union. He now heads the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School.
His 2006 column for YaleGlobal online, entitled "How Good is American Intelligence on Iran?", pointed to the risk of covert programs beyond the monitors' reach.
"The dog that hasn’t barked is Iran’s covert programs for acquiring nuclear weapons," Allison wrote. He cited four “known unknowns,” to use former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's language, that "lie at the heart of judgments about the threat posed by Iran." The first of those: "Is success in Iran’s overt effort a necessary condition for success in its covert programs? President Bush and his European colleagues operate on the assumption that it is. Otherwise their operational objective – a moratorium on research activities at Isfahan and Natanz – would be beside the point."
Allison said that focusing too heavily on Natanz and Isfahan risked giving Iran the impression that it could move ahead elsewhere with impunity.
In a follow-up column in June this year for the Washington Post, Allison was more colorful. He said Iran had moved far along in its development of nuclear technology. "The brute fact is that Iran has crossed a threshold that is painful to acknowledge but impossible to ignore: It has lost its nuclear virginity."
Even more vividly, Allison suggested that the obsessive focus on Natanz and other known sites was akin to "the drunk looking for his car keys under the lamppost, even though he knows he dropped them a hundred yards away, because that is where the light is."
The former Iranian member of Parliament, Fatemeh Haghighatjoo, is a visiting scholar at UMass-Boston in the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy within the McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies. I recounted her work in Iran and her life in Boston in a profile on Haghighatjoo in the Globe earlier this month.
It's worth noting that she is also a member of the Women Waging Peace Network, set up by philathropist and human rights activist Swanee Hunt. The former US ambassador to Austria, Hunt moved to Cambridge in 1997 to join the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and at the same time she has steadily built up the portfolio of her non-profit organization, Hunt Alternatives Fund, to support a range of peacemaking and women's empowerment initiatives at home and abroad.
The Women Waging Peace Network includes more than 300 prominent women activists who work in development, conflict resolution and related fields in troubled countries. Supporting women's rights is a common thread.
So it's not surprising that Hunt enlisted Haghighatjoo, who has been living in virtual exile in the Boston area since 2005 when she arrived at MIT for a fellowship. A year later, another Hunt organization, the Institute for Inclusive Security, produced a report citing the critical role that women have played in Iran's democracy movement. That report feels prescient now, given the central role of women in the recent protests.
This gives me an opportunity to give appropriate space to the photo of Haghighatjoo taken by Globe staffer Barry Chin, which did not make it into the newspaper version of the profile.
|Fatemeh Haghighatjoo at Umass-Boston campus, Photo by Barry Chin, Globe staff|
Iran has appointed a new chief of its nuclear energy program after the long-time leader of the organization resigned -- perhaps in relation to the political turmoil shaking the country. The new director of the Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, has long ties with the Massachusetts Institute of Techology, and its respected nuclear studies program. He earned a doctorate in nuclear physics from MIT in the late 1970s.
Salehi was not part of a program created by MIT and the Shah of Iran in 1975 to develop a team of nuclear specialists who could drive Iran's atomic energy program forward. But Salehi rose through the ranks in Iran's nuclear hierarchy, and after the overthrow of the Shah in the Islamic revolution of 1979, he sought to recruit a number of the scientists who were in the MIT program.
|Ali Akbar Salehi talking to journalists at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna in June 2003. (AP Photo/Rudi Blaha, file)|
The Globe's Washington-based international affairs writer, Farah Stockman, wrote a detailed account of that program in March 2007. Her story traced the paths of 28 of the program's 35 graduates. She found that "at least three have spent their careers building the Iranian nuclear program that Washington is now fervently trying to curtail."
Stockman underlined the unintended consequences of a program that the United States then pushed hard -- advocating nuclear energy as a viable development tool for the Shah's Iran.
She quoted Mohammad "Moe" Moghimi, a Newton resident and professor at Middlesex Community College, recalling that Salehi approached several of the program's graduates in America about returning to Iran. It wasn't clear how many actually did go home and how many stayed abroad, as Moghimi did.
Salehi was Iran's representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency until his appointment last Friday by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to head the Atomic Energy Organization. For an interesting analysis of Salehi and his background, see this article by Gareth Smyth on the Tehran Bureau website.
Eric Hooglund, a visiting professor at Bates College in Maine, has been putting to good use his expertise on rural Iran to help inform the current debate over alleged electoral fraud in the Islamic Republic.
I wrote two articles in the Globe this week on New England's links to the turmoil in Iran, and both in turn have indirect links to Hooglund. Today I noted the fascinating ways in which a 23-year-old graduate student, Daniel Berman, has contributed to understanding the election landscape in Iran.
The report that Berman co-authored is available at the Chatham House research website.
Berman is a Bates alumnus -- and studied with Hooglund. It was Hooglund who suggested to Berman that he pursue graduate work at the Institute of Iranian Studies at St. Andrews University, with another noted Iranian scholar, Ali Ansari, who is the lead author of the Chatham House report.
Hooglund also was the author of an influential column a few days after the Iranian election that dispelled an oft-repeated myth -- that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad might have won the June 12 election because of rural support, even if urban residents opposed him.
Hooglund's column, syndicated by Agence Global, appeared on Tehran Bureau, the website edited by Kelly Golnoush Niknejad from her parent's home in Newton, Mass.
Hooglund's column was in turn picked up by the New York Times op-ed page on June 18, titled, "Stealing the Village Vote." Since then, Hooglund's work has been cited frequently.
Hooglund wrote that his 30 years of research into rural Iran made clear to him that Iranians in the countryside would be every bit as likely to support a reformist candidate as city dwellers, and in some cases even more likely. Hooglund described in detail the situation in Bagh-e Iman, a village of 850 households in the Zagros Mountains near the southwestern city of Shiraz, where villagers had heavily campaigned for Mir Hussein Moussavi. But incumbent Ahmadinejad was reported to have won more than 60 percent of the nationwide vote.
Hooglund is also editor of Middle East Critique, a peer-reviewed Middle East studies journal published by Hamline University in Minnesota.
The American Islamic Congress and Amnesty International are co-sponsoring a discussion at MIT this evening on the government's post-election crackdown in Iran.
Nasser Weddady of the Boston office of the American Islamic Congress says that after the 6 p.m. panel discussion, a candlelight vigil will be held in memory of Neda Soltan. She was the young student bystander whose killing on a Tehran street was caught on camera and sent around the world.
The event is in building W16, at 77 Massachusetts Ave, in Cambridge. The speakers are Dr. Fatemeh Haghighatjoo, a human rights advocate and former Iranian parliamentarian who is now a visiting professor at UMass-Boston, and Nazanin Afshin-Jam, an Iranian-Canadian women's rights activist working to end child executions.
For three years, from 2005 to 2008, R. Nicholas Burns was the State Department's top diplomat dealing with Iran on behalf of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. So Burns has perhaps the best-informed perspective on recent American policy toward Iran. Now he is looking back at those years with a new academic sensibility: after retiring from the foreign service, he joined Harvard's Kennedy School as a professor of the practice of diplomacy.
Yesterday, Burns testified as a private citizen for the first time to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at a hearing on Iran. His testimony is a must read for anyone concerned about how the Obama Administration should handle Iranian relations, at a time when concerns about Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions have never been greater. Burns offers a cogent assessment of the current state of the relationship, or non-relationship -- and some frank criticism of the shortcomings of the American approach while he served as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs.
Burns is hardly naive about the dangers Iran poses, and he is hard-headed about the options. Still, he says one failing was to make the US offer of talks with Iran in 2006 conditional on Iran meeting a number of demands. In hindsight, Burns says, It would have been worth the risk to make the offer unconditional. And entering into wide-ranging negotiations now -- with constraints including a limited timetable -- would also be worth the risk, he says.
Burns also laments our lack of contacts and connections with the Iranian regime and its people over the past 30 years, and that the United States needs to find ways to encourage improved ties with ordinary Iranians.
I found a thirst for better relations among ordinary Iranians when I visited Iran in December 2006. At every street corner, Iranians would stop and chat about their some family member living in an American city or town, or a nephew who had studied at a US university. As Burns suggests, the question for the United States is how to nurture and exploit those deep ties.
The minister in charge of Mideast issues for the British Foreign Office sees a once-in-a-generation chance for a comprehensive peace deal in the Middle East. But he says it's a brief moment that could be lost if the players don't grasp it urgently.
Bill Rammell, who is visiting Boston this week, says he's not naive about the serious obstacles. There are deep internal divisions among Palestinian factions, and Israelis have swung to the right in the fallout from this year's deadly Gaza incursion and barrages of Hamas rockets.
But Rammell argues that competing factors militate in favor of a rare opportunity for a breakthrough:
-- The Obama Administration has gotten involved in the conflict from its first day in office, appointing veteran mediator George Mitchell and pressing the Israelis and Palestinians alike for concessions.
-- Arab countries have shown unusual cohesion in expressing a new willingness to move toward a regionally embraced deal that would create a viable Palestinian state in return for guarantees of Israel's security.
-- Progress on Mideast peace has occurred in the past under conservative governments in Israel that have the political muscle to make compromises, not least on the sensitive issue of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian West Bank.
The Arab peace initiative was first framed by Saudi Arabia in 2002, and last month Saudi King Abdullah rearticulated the plan to President Obama. The plan essentially calls for a return to Israel's 1967 borders alongside a sovereign Palestinian state and other concessions in return for Arab recognition of Israel.
Rammell delivered an address on Tuesday at Northeastern University on the Middle East peace effort, and elaborated in a breakfast interview today at the Boston Harbor Hotel.
Rammell is one of four ministers of state under Foreign Secretary David Miliband, and has a wide portfolio, including counter-terrorism. A Labour Party member of Parliament, he was an ally of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, and joined him in endorsing the Iraq war. Rammell barely survived a Conservative Party challenge in his district of Harlow in 2005. The Middle East now takes up much of his time.
Rammell told me that the revived Arab initiative "is a very positive step," and he added: "now we do need to see a response, a particularly a response on settlements. My sense is that there is a real urgency to this issue."
At the same time, Rammell said the Hamas movement, which controls Gaza, needs to publicly commit to halting rocket attacks and other violence against Israelis, and recognize Israel.
Rammell said he has no illusions that getting to an overall settlement will be a huge challenge. That's why an overall deal requires a "confidence-building process" of smaller steps: "Israel starts to make movements on things like settlements; then diplomatic representation, trade missions -- all sorts of things that demonstrate that the Arab world is willing to recognize Israel, and through that to actually ensure its security. That's the fundamental deal: it is about security for Israel, and a Palestinian state in return."
"There's more work to be done. We need to operationalize the Arab peace initiative so that it becomes a reciprocal, step-by-step process. But it's on the table. And again, that's why timing is of the essence. The moderate states persuaded the more hardline Arab states to put this on the table, and it will not be on the table forever and a day. That's why we need to see a response, so the moderates can stay on board."
Rammell recalled one factor in the successful Northern Ireland process: "There were incremental changes that improved the lives of ordinary people, becoming free of conflict, and that reached a critical tipping point where those people turned around to their politicians and said, 'we're not going back'."
Rammell said Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, spoke by satellite to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington last week, and "the tone of his comments was quite constructive." Netanyahu, unlike recent his predecessors, has opposed the two-state solution, saying the first goal should be economic progress.
Rammell noted of Netanyahu: "Yes, he talked about an economic track. But he also talked about a political track with the Palestinians, and I don't think he has quite put it that way before.... I hope he will come out publicly in the near future and endorse a two-state solution."
Several Boston-area human rights activists are in Morocco for an unusual set of workshops over the next five days that they hope will help build bridges among Arabs and improve skills for creating interfaith community programs in their own countries.
Leaders of Hands Across the Middle East Support Alliance, or HAMSA, a Boston-based non-profit, are taking part in the workshops at Al Akhawayn University, an English-language school in Morocco. Also participating are staffers from the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, the international human rights organization based in Cambridge (Disclosure: my wife works for UUSC).
One of the facilitators will be Fatema Haji-Taki, a program associate for civil liberties issues at UUSC. Before departing for Morocco, she told me that the program will bring together 10 young people from Morocco and another 20 from Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt and other Arab countries. The participants are all involved in working for civil liberties in their own countries.
|Fatema Haji-Taki and Nasser Weddady (Photo: Dick Campbell)|
The Arab participants will spend five days with their US counterparts, including Nasser Weddady and Jesse Sage, who are leaders of HAMSA in Boston. HAMSA is an arm of the American Islamic Congress, which bills itself as "passionate about moderation," and works against extremism at the same time that it promotes awareness among Americans of Muslim values.
Haji-Taki says the workshops will emphasize on-the-ground organizing and leadership skills that participants can put to work in practical ways within their communities.
Among the sponsors is the United States Institute for Peace, a non-partisan group in Washington that is funded by the US Congress to promote peace efforts and conflict management around the world.
Haji-Taki herself is a walking United Nations, well-suited for bridge-building. A Shi'ite Muslim, she was born and raised in Dubai. Her parents are Tanzanians of Indian descent who became guest-workers in Dubai. She moved from there to Minnesota, and has been in the US for 10 years; she moved to Boston a year ago. As she puts it: "I'm able to see through many lenses at once. I know what it feels like to be an outsider."
A report issued today by a leading academic at MIT's Center for International Studies calls on the Obama Administration to take a bold approach to negotiating a new relationship with Iran -- including lifting sanctions and normalizing diplomatic relations.
Professor John Tirman, the executive director of the center and a political scientist, wrote the report, titled, "A New Approach to Iran: The Need for Transformative Diplomacy."
Tirman argues that the change in American administrations offers a rare opportunity to recast the relationship completely and end 30 years of tension since the fall of the US-backed Shah of Iran and the seizure of American hostages in Tehran.
He says that to break the unproductive pattern of US coercion and Iranian truculence, the Obama Administration needs to take the lead in a "big leap," which he defines as "a bold set of American initiatives that will send a clear signal to Iran about our good intentions, and create the means by which a productive relationship and negotiation can go forward. That includes a new discourse toward Iran, one of due respect and trust building; lifting of most unilateral sanctions; normalizing relations as soon as possible; proposing innovative solutions on nuclear development; addressing regional security concerns in a multilateral forum; and cooperative endeavors on an array of issues."
That leap would be big indeed: Tirman says it should include lifting of US sanctions, which he says haven't worked anyway, and normalizing diplomatic relations, broken off since the embassy seizure. He also calls for abandoning threats of regime change in Iran, and acknowledging the legitimacy of the theocratic government.
In turning away from years of incrementalism in US policy toward Iran, Tirman is throwing out a challenge for a major rethink on how the United States approaches Iran. There are certain to be howls of opposition. But the 50-page paper's detailed argument for bold measures adds a new quality of strategic thinking to what has often felt like a tactical discussion.
A prominent Turkish scholar says President Obama today gave a tactful but powerful push to the Turkish government to confront the question of whether the killings of Armenians in 1915 were the first genocide of the 20th century.
Taner Akcam is a longtime advocate for human rights for minorities in his native Turkey, as well as an academic authority on Turkey's handling of the genocide issue. He is a professor in genocide studies at Clark University in Worcester, and author of the 2006 book, "Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and The Question of Turkish Responsibility."
Akcam said of Obama's speech to the Turkish Parliament in Ankara: "I think he really pushed the borders, in a very positive and very smart way."
Obama stopped short of using the word genocide, but applauded the Turkish government for its willingness to improve relations with neighboring Armenia, which necessarily requires dealing with the sensitive genocide issue.
Akcam said Obama went as far as any president could go in addressing a foreign country's legislature. During the presidential campaign in 2008, Obama said that the killings of the Armenians amounted to genocide. Before addressing the Turkish Parliament, Obama said that he had not changed his views, which were "on the record."
In today's address, he did not address the issue directly, but encouraged Turkey to to resolve its dispute and reopen the border with Armenia, adding: "Reckoning with the past can help us seize a better future."
Obama went on to say: "I know there are strong views in this chamber about the terrible events of 1915. And the best way forward for the Turkish and Armenian people is a process that works through the past in a way that is honest, open and constructive."
Akcam said that Obama had in effect said, "'it is not important what I think -- which is a clever way of saying I believe it was genocide -- but I encourage you to talk to your neighbors, and am happy that you are developing your relationship with Armenia.' More than that, one could not expect."
Akcam said it was especially effective for Obama to note that the United States had also worked through contentious and vexing issues including slavery. "It was very clever because he put the United States in the center. He said, 'look, I am coming from a country where even people like myself couldn’t vote. And we have our history of mistreatment of native Americans. But now I am speaking as a president."
But Akcam said that words alone from the new US president won't be enough to overcome years of mistrust of American administrations. He said Obama would need to take specific actions to encourage Turkey to treat its minorities with greater respect, including the Kurds -- whose alphabet still cannot be used in Turkey. Akcam also said Turkey needs to repeal the law making it crime to insult "Turkishness."
Akcam himself was investigated in 2007 under that provision of the Turkish penal code when he aligned himself with the late Hrant Dink, the assassinated Turkish activist who had recognized the Armenian genocide. No charges were filed then. But Akcam had been jailed in several times in the 1970s. He escaped from prison in 1977 after serving one year of a nine-year sentence, and received asylum in Germany. He taught in Minnesota before moving to Clark.
It's appropriate that the global anti-slavery campaign has generated renewed energy in Massachusetts, in the form of a movement of college students engaging in protests including "freeze-ins."
The Bay State, after all, was home to William Lloyd Garrison, the famed abolitionist from Newburyport who published The Liberator in Boston starting in 1831, and two years later founded the American Anti-Slavery Society. More recently, the American Anti-Slavery Group was founded in Newton in 1993 by human rights activist and modern-day abolitionist Charles Jacobs, with support from African anti-slavery campaigners from Sudan and Mauritania, to remind Americans that slavery persists in many parts of the world -- including the United States.
Now, students at Harvard and other universities are again mobilizing -- and they are offering a public symposium on Tuesday night to discuss modern slavery and human trafficking in more detail. The symposium is titled, "Destination Freedom: A learning approach to human slavery/human trafficking."
The symposium, being held from 4-9 p.m. at the Arts for Humanities Epicenter at Harvard, is sponsored by the Harvard branch of Free the Slaves; PANGEA of Tufts, a human rights group; Minga Groups, which fights sex-trafficking of teen-agers, and Human Trafficking Students of Boston alongside national organizations Free the Slaves, Love146, and The Not For Sale Campaign.
Kelli Okuji, a Harvard undergrad who is head coordinator of Harvard's Free the Slaves branch, says the purpose of the symposium "is to continue to promote community awareness and education about modern-day slavery, while also exploring avenues of student activism and ways to bridge the communities of knowledge and practice within the Boston-area and abroad."
She helped organize the "freeze-in" on Thursday in Cambridge, in which students freeze in position in public places for three minutes to call attention to the cause.
Okuji said the Harvard action was part of a national chain of freeze-ins at nearly two dozen college campuses nationwide, with more than 200 partipants. It was the first such national freeze-in by anti-slavery campaigners -- with the Harvard students taking a leading role.
Okuji wrote: "Many people today, especially within Western societies, are unaware that slavery still exists today. At the mention of slavery, people often conjure images of black bodies in chains or stooped over cotton plants during 1860s America. What we fail to realize, however, is that slavery is within our midst wherever we go, and may even be as close as our own backyard. "
One form of modern slavery, that of women trapped into lives of forced prostitution, is known to have Boston ties. The Globe's Ric Kahn wrote a detailed piece in 2007 about the long tentacles of sex-trafficking.
The American Anti-Slavery Group's website, Abolish!, offers details about the many forms modern slavery takes, including debt bondage and chattel labor as well as sex-slavery and forced labor.
CAMBRIDGE -- Several academics at a Harvard-MIT symposium on Gaza today were fiercely critical of US policy -- including that of the Obama Administration -- for not putting serious pressure on Israel to respect the rights of Palestinians in Gaza.
The two-day event includes a number of academics who have long criticized the United States for coddling Israel. Several cited the recent Israeli invasion into the Gaza Strip, which left an estimated 1,300 people dead, as fresh evidence of what they described as Israel's willingness to punish all Gazans to achieve its strategic objectives.
Israel contends it had no choice but to act militarily to stop constant barrages of rockets from Hamas fighters within Gaza aimed at civilians in Sderot and other Israeli communities.
Congressman Brian Baird, a Democrat from Washington state, described the widespread destruction he saw in Gaza in February when he visited there with two other legislators, including Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry and Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat.
Baird said that while he absolutely condemned the rocket attacks from Gaza, they did not justify the full-scale Israeli military response. He called it "collective punishment" of Gazans.
He said that while walking through Gaza, little children came up and said, "Barack Obama, Barack Obama," suggesting the hopes people are placing in Obama. He said the new administration needs to move urgently to pressure Israel as well as the Palestinians for concessions to unlock the negotiating process.
Baird also said that Obama's message to the new Israeli government, expected to be led by right-wing politician Benjamin Netanyahu, should push Israel to start meeting longstanding conditions on settlements and other issues. If it doesn't, he said, then the US should consider imposing constraints on US military support of some $3 billion per year.
Other speakers, including some who have long track records of attacking Israel and US policy toward Israel, were less conciliatory.
Irene Gendzier, a Boston University professor, said of the Obama administration's response to Israel's incursion into Gaza: "The silence has been overwhelming."
She said the new administration is preoccupied with Pakistan and Afghanistan, and is considering openings to Syria and Iran only with an eye toward undermining Hezollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank.
Gabriel Piterburg, a history professor at UCLA, described Israelis as settler-colonialists who set out to destroy the indigenous people in their way. He said what distinguished Palestinians from native peoples in countries such as his native Argentina, Australia and the United States was that the Palestinians escaped political extinction.
The resulting frustration of Israelis, he said, prompts exponential levels of violence. "They cannot resign themselves to accept [Palestinians] as an equal partner. Somehow there needs to be a recognition of the indigenous population as equal partners," he said, whether that be in a single state, in two states side by side or some other negotiated solution.
The conference concludes on Tuesday with a session at Austin Hall at Harvard Law School, with sessiions on human rights and the reconstruction of Gaza.
It’s just one of a series of high-profile Mideast-related events in coming days, including a joint MIT-Harvard conference on Gaza next week.
The one-state conference at the campus of the University of Massachusetts at Boston on Saturday and Sunday will explore arguments for a single nation with equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians within what are now the territories of Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The concept has been floating on the margins of the conflict for decades, with roots going back to left-wing intellectuals including Martin Buber in the 1920s and Hannah Arendt in the 1940s. It is adamantly dismissed by most Israelis as a prescription for the destruction of the Jewish state, not least because Arabs will soon outnumber Jews in the combined land areas.
Opinion polls suggest that most Palestinians have also embraced the two-state approach, with Israel and Palestine existing side by side. The United States and Europe have thrown their support behind a two-state solution, as have Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
However, supporters of the one-state or binational solution contend that the massive growth of Israeli settlements in the West Bank in recent decades makes a viable separate Palestinian state impossible. They point to the turmoil in Gaza and the cutting up of the West Bank with settlement roads and numerous Israeli checkpoints as evidence that a two-state solution would mean permanent inferior status for Palestinians, and would be fundamentally unjust.
Scores of activists and scholars issued a declaration in 2007 calling for a binational solution, one of a number of recent attempts to revive interest in the one-state approach as progress toward the two-state option has lagged.
Prominent supporters of the one-state solution, including former East Jerusalem deputy mayor Meron Benvenisti and Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti are among the scheduled speakers. The gathering is being organized by the Massachusetts-based Trans Arab Research Institute (TARI), and the William Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences at UMass Boston.
On Tuesday, the Joiner Center will host a talk by Daniel Taub, Principal Deputy Legal Advisor to Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, about Gaza.
UPDATED: On Wednesday, April 1, Harvard Law School Professor Alan M. Dershowitz will speak at UMass Boston, offering what the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston bills as a rebuttal to the one-state proposal, which the JCRC calls "a plan that would effectively eliminate the Jewish State."
At MIT, on Monday and Tuesday afternoon next week, many of the most prominent Middle East specialists in the area will participate in the second annual MIT-Harvard conference on Gaza. The conference is co-sponsored by MIT’s Center for International Studies and its Program for Human Rights and Justice, and by The Middle East Initiative at Harvard's Kennedy School, among others.
Topics include assessing the current situation, the status of reconstruction, and prospects for moving forward.
The Brandeis University International Business School today is recognizing the work of Linda Rottenberg, who founded a non-profit called Endeavor that has won global praise for mentoring entrepreneurs in developing countries.
Rottenberg is receiving the 2009 Asper Award for Global Entrepreneurship, a prize named for Leonard J. Asper, the Canadian media magnate. The title of Rottenberg's acceptance address suggests the tenor of her approach to the challenges of building businesses in Third-world economies: "Global Crisis? Opportunity for Entrepreneurs!"
Rottenberg frequently makes it onto lists of "Young Leaders to Watch," acknowledging the impact of her non-profit Endeavor. She formed the organization in 1997 to support the development of "high-impact entrepreneurs" in emerging markets. The model uses private-sector mentors to work with promising entrepreneurs. She began her work in Latin America, focusing initially on Chile and Argentina, and expanding to Colombia, Mexico and beyond this hemisphere, to countries including Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and India.
Endeavor says it has screened 18,000 candidates in selecting 400 emerging-market entrepreneurs, who in turn have generated more than 90,000 jobs and reported 2.5 billion in revenues in 2007. She went to Harvard and then to Yale Law School. The paperback edition of Thomas Friedman’s "The World is Flat" has a new chapter on Rottenberg, and calls Endeavor “the best anti-poverty program of all.”
UPDATE: In the text of her remarks at Brandeis today, Rottenberg -- who grew up in Newton -- told the business school students in her audience that it may turn out to be very lucky for them that the financial climate has turned so sour. For one thing, it may encourage them to go another route than Goldman Sachs or Boston Consulting Group.
She suggested that the MBAs she works with may not have gotten rich but they have earned "psychic equity," worth "priceless personal satisfaction and fulfillment."
"Well, today in a world where bonuses are under siege and the stock market is at its lowest point in over a decade, that psychic equity is looking even better! Hey, it doesn’t devalue! (And as my husband pointed out while watching the AIG imbroglio, bonuses paid in psychic equity can’t be clawed back!)"
"Through this financial crisis, certain doors have been closed on, or rather for, you – and that’s a GREAT thing." Rottenberg declared. "I’ve always believed too many options were a distraction – I hated the mantra that was sold to me throughout undergrad and grad school, to “always keep your options open....”
"I would encourage you to look around and start asking questions: Where’s the need, the gap, the pain point? What’s currently being overlooked by both the government and the private sector? Where’s the opportunity to bridge a gap?"
Recently I wrote in the Globe about an Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative called OneVoice, whose members were touring Boston-area campuses to discuss their work mobilizing their communities in favor of a two-state solution.
The Peace Abbey periodically presents its Courage of Conscience Award to individuals and organizations that are promoting peace around the world. The Abbey is hosting a public ceremony tonight to make the award to Combatants for Peace, which is comprised of former Israeli soldiers and former Palestinian fighters who have put down their weapons.
The ceremony is at 7:30 p.m. at the Abbey. Donna Baranski-Walker, executive director of The Rebuilding Alliance, which is co-sponsoring the Combatants for Peace speaking tour, says the Israeli and the Palestinian on this tour are among more than 600 members of the movement.
The Palestinian, Bassam Aramin, served seven years in prison for planning an attack on Israeli soldiers, and lost his ten-year old daughter, Abir, to an Israeli soldier's rubber bullet, while the Israeli, Yaniv Reshef, served in an Israeli army sabotage unit and lives in range of Palestinian rockets launched from Gaza. She says the movement's members "have pledged to abandon violence and work together using creative nonviolent tools to build justice and peace."
Reshef and Aramin will hold their final Boston-area meetings on Saturday morning at Temple Hillel B'nai Torah in West Roxbury, in the afternoon at Temple Kerem Shalom in Concord, and at 7:30 at Congregation Dorshei Tzedek in Newton.
The tour is also sponsored by the September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, formed by relatives of victims of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
The American Islamic Congress, a civic group that promotes interfaith understanding and awareness of Muslim culture, is sponsoring a series of five lectures in Boston this month, starting Monday evening at Boston University, to explore the diversity of Muslim culture from Africa to Europe to Asia.
There will be music and dance as well as talk. And the series will culminate in a cultural fair on Sunday, March 29, with poetry and other performances. Click here for the full program of the five conferences.
The AIC, which has offices in Boston and Washington as well as abroad, is avowedly moderate and non-religious. Born in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, it embraces women's equality, free expression, and nonviolence, and also confronts the stereotyping of Muslims -- noting that terrorism claims mainly Muslim lives.
The organization received a grant from the Boston Foundation to put on the five-part series on Muslim diversity, being staged at five different university venues at 6:30 p.m. every couple of days. The first, on Monday, March 16, focuses on Muslim mysticism. Then on Wednesday, March 18, at the Harvard Faculty Club, panelists will discuss the Subcontinent. And on Thursday March 19, the series moves to MIT for a session on Muslims in Europe.
Each event includes poetry and music.
The following week the series moves to the Mideast and Asia. On Monday, March 23, the discussion at the New England Conservatory will deal with Muslims in the Near East. And the final panel on Wednesday, March 25, focuses on the Far East, with with panelists including MIT Professor Alan Lightman, who recently helped build a mosque in Cambodia.
Nasser Weddady, who was born in Mauritania and came to the United States as a refugee in 2000, is civil rights outreach director for the AIC and works in the Boston office. He moved to Boston in 2007 from Kentucky. He says the lectures are part of a process of carving a civic space for Muslims in Boston, and moving the discussion beyond the usual simplistic focus on terrorism and religious extremism.
|Nasser Weddady (Globe file photo by Justine Hunt)|
"The conversation around Muslims is either conducted around counterterrorism -- a valid and real concern -- or else people think about theology and religion. But the reality is Islam stretches from Europe to the Far East, and in each area, it has taken on a local flavor. That’s what we’re showing through the series," Weddady said.
He added that looking at Islam through a religious lens, based on the premise "that the central foundation for the Muslim community is the mosque, is patently false.... Muslims don't look at themselves in terms of theology."
Thus the focus not only on discussion, but also on celebration that highlights the rich diversity of Islamic cultures.
About this blog
About James F. SmithJim Smith came home to his native Boston in 2002 to become the Boston Globe's foreign editor after spending 22 years abroad. He was previously based in Buenos Aires and Mexico City for the LA Times, and in Johannesburg, Tokyo and The Hague for the AP. In 2007 he became the Globe's national political editor, coordinating presidential campaign coverage. He is a Yale graduate, and has an MBA. He is married to Maxine Hart and has two sons, Matthew and Daniel.
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