By Sophie Baron
On April 18, the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University hosted the first of a series of events entitled “Rethinking Iran.” As the program series’ website describes it, its goal is to bring “a fresh perspective to exploring the cultural, societal, and political consequences of the 1979 Revolution within Iran and across its borders.”
The backgrounds and character of the individuals behind these events clearly manifest the “fresh perspective” that is on offer, which is nothing more than another excuse for apologists to promote the Islamic Regime.
SAIS’s dean, Vali Nasr, who is the main host of “Rethinking Iran,” is a former Obama administration State Department analyst. In his books and articles, he has consistently promoted the regime’s discredited narrative that “dialogue” and “trade” with the West would mollify its’ aggressive and expansionist actions. Nasr has further argued for a Khomeiniist Shi’a dominated Middle East, claiming that it would stabilize the region, and most recently, he has been a champion of the disastrous 2015 Nuclear Deal that the US withdrew from, last year.
Another key figure moderating “Rethinking Iran” is Hopkins professor Narges Bajoghli. A social anthropologist, Bajoghli earned her PhD doing “ethnographic research with Basij, Ansar-e Hezbollah, and Revolutionary Guard media producers.” A book resulting from her doctoral research was published this year, called “Iran Reframed,” and is advertised as offering “a multilayered story about what it means to be pro-regime in the Islamic Republic, challenging everything we think we know about Iran and revolution.” In interviews, Bajoghli has defended and praised the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). In addition to frequent appearances at, and collaborations with, NIAC (National Iranian American Council), the Khomeiniist regime’s US lobby group, Bajoghli is a co-founder of “Iranian Alliances Across Borders,” (IAAB) an organization that has been promoting the regime amongst the Iranian-American population along with NIAC.
The most prominent funder of IAAB, and also a big donor to NIAC, is the Neda Nobari Foundation. Established by its namesake, San Francisco-based Neda Nobari, along with her former husband Manny Manoush, is the cofounder of the Bebe chain of clothing stores and fashion accessories. The foundation focuses on providing grants to pro-regime Iranian-American organizations, liberal and leftist American “social justice” organs, such as Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now.
The first in the “Rethinking Iran” series was a fashion show by the openly gay Iranian-American fashion designer and artist, Hushidar Mortezaie, entitled “Ctrl + Alt + Fashion: Manufacturing Iranian Identity.” Mortezaie achieved much success and acclaim in the NYC and Hollywood art and fashion worlds though his imagery, which is often based on pre-1979 Iranian pop culture; nonetheless, he has flirted with pro-regime stances over the years. A longtime associate of Narges Bajoghli and IAAB, in the early 2000s, he created a fashion design series entitled “Basiji Beauty.” When confronted with the oppressive and malicious nature of the Basij in a 2007 interview, Mortezaie dismissively defended his choice to use the organization as an inspiration for his art, and he still stands by it today.
The hypocrisy of a gay man using his name and voice on behalf of one of the most violently homophobic regimes in the world was pointed out by many Iranian activists over Twitter.
If @SAISHopkins/@vali_nasr’s intent by glorification of the #IRGC/Basij via the #RethinkingIran circus was to restore @NIACouncil’s credibility & contrive a pathway for reengaging #Iran’s Islamofascist regime in dialogue, it failed miserably. It only infuriated Iranian-Americans. pic.twitter.com/r9Rgr4teYM
— Reza Behrouz (@Behreza) April 20, 2019
Iranian dissidents & all victims of the violent crimes committed by Notorious #Basij militias of #IRGC Terror Org. must file official complaint against whom organized the #rethinkingiran event in Washington DC which promoted notorious #Basij & #IRGC terrorists in the #US! https://t.co/ewYCYHx93Z
— Babak Taghvaee (@BabakTaghvaee) April 20, 2019
— Alireza Nader (@AlirezaNader) April 20, 2019
The next “Rethinking Iran” event will occur on April 29th. This time, it will be featuring Ali Vaez, an analyst for the International Crisis Group who was involved with the negotiations leading up to the 2015 Nuclear Deal, and Dina Esfandiary, a fellow at the Center for Strategic International Studies in London who often writes in support of the regime’s foreign policy positions. More of these lectures and receptions will be taking place at the Hopkins over the rest of this year, giving regime supporters a large amount of time and space to promote their line and views to Western audiences.
The Islamic Republic has long been active in gaining support for itself in the West. The regime requires access to trade and investment from foreign corporations in order to continue funding its war and police machines that maintain its stranglehold over the Iranian people, who have risen up in massive protests over the past year. The regime has also found a bespoke base of supporters for itself in the large number of Western liberals and leftists who, being largely uninformed of the history, easily accept the regime’s propaganda painting itself as a victim of “imperialism” and “colonialism.” It was this base of support which enabled the 2015 nuclear agreement, and now that Donald Trump has re-imposed tough sanctions on the Islamic Republic, the regime has eagerly and rather successfully courted the large body of anti-Trump liberal and leftist “resisters.”
With the recent decision by the US to label the IRGC as the terrorist organization that it is, the regime is now brazenly enhancing the IRGC’s image among Trump opponents in the United States, as the April 18th fashion show indicates. It is incumbent, therefore, on all those who know the vicious and horrific history of this organization to expose it. Iranian-Americans must continue to call out the regime lobbyists and spokespersons spouting propaganda and disinformation into the media, and LGBT people should especially disavow any group or event acting on behalf of the Khomeiniist Islamic Republic, and instead use their voices to amplify and bring to light the realities of the lives of their oppressed brothers and sisters in Iran.
Views and opinions expressed in the above blog are the authors’ own and not those of ISICRC.