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Night of Solidarity with Esha Momeni Held in USC, California

Elahe Amani: Intolerance for Academic Inquiry and Intellectual Curiosity in Iran

Monday 26 January 2009


Change for Equality: A night of solidarity was held for Esha Momeni on January 24, 2009. Esha Momeni is a member of the Campaign from California who was arrested on October 15, 2008 while on a visit to Iran during which she conducted film interviews with women’s rights activists involved in the Campaign. She is now free on bail, but faces a travel ban and cannot leave Iran to return to the US.

Her friends and classmates in the US who are awaiting her return, organized a night of support for Esha at the University of Southern California (USC). The following is a talk given at this event by Elahe Amani, a women’s rights activists and Campaign supporter.

Intolerance for Academic Inquiry and Intellectual Curiosity in Iran

Good evening and Thank you for organizing this event tonight. I hope we welcome Esha back to Los Angles soon…

I wanted to start by reading a poem written by Langston Hughes, the acclaimed African American poet :

Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly

Hold fast to dreams

For when dreams go

Life is a barren field

Frozen with snow

I was in the train from Toronto to New York when I got an e-mail on my blackberry that Esha was arrested.

While I was shocked about this short news, Once more, I had to hold fast to my dream and not let it loose- The dream of living in a society where academic freedom and intellectual inquiry are not undermined as “national security threat”. My first encounter with the lack of academic freedom was in Fall of 1970, my first semester at Tehran University where one of the students in my class was arrested for the sole reason of challenging the lack of freedom of speech and expression at the university. She was expelled from university.

Esha, an Iranian American young woman went to Iran to work on her thesis despite the fact that her adviser at CSUN alerted her about the risk of traveling to Iran.

Esha’s keen intellectual curiosity, artistic passion and drive seeking truth led her to take the trip to Iran. CSUN President Jolene Koester made a well pointed comment that "Anyone who values knowledge and the role of academic inquiry in shedding light on the human condition should be concerned."

I met Esha when the California members of the "One Million Signatures Campaign" were planning to have a booth at the Iranian Cultural festival, Mehregan, in Orange County, California. She came across as a kind and mindful person, a talented, bright and proud of her Iranian cultural heritage. I learned from her friends that she played the Tar, studied graphic design at Azad University of Tehran and believed in the power of art as a medium to empower women and children. While a student at Tehran Azad University, she taught theater to young children at Ameneh orphanage. Esha has a great passion for peace and humanity and her interest in gender equality comes (or is derived) from her personal experience and the challenges that women are experiencing in Iran.

For her Master’s thesis, Esha hoped to make a documentary capturing the stories of young women involved in the "One Million Signatures Campaign" and communicate to her academic community a rather complete and complex image of Iranian women. She wrote a blog post reflecting on her feelings about her experience collecting signatures for the One Million Signatures Campaign at Mehregan Festival in Orange County California

The unexpected arrest of Esha Momeni was not an isolated case. Many Iranian women and their male allies who support the eradication of all the discriminatory laws in Iran, who strive to put an end to stoning and other forms of state sponsored violence against women, who are defending human rights and dignity for all in Iran, have been arrested in an ascending pace particularly in the last couple years. The recent closure of the Iran Human Rights Defender’s Office and harassment of Shirin Ebadi, which made international headlines are also part of the recent wave of pressure that the right activists are experiencing.
The campaign for equality is one of the most inspiring women’s movement in today’s world. For the first time, a diverse and inclusive movement has been shaped to exercise their civil rights and responsibilities and claim their space in public and private domain. These young women protest peacefully on the ground and in cyber space demanding their dignity. As Langston Hughes, African American poet once said :

I have as much right

As the other fellow has

To stand

On my two feet

And own the land.

I tire so of hearing people say,

Let things take their course

Tomorrow is another day,

I do not need my freedom when I’m dead

I cannot live on tomorrow‘s bread

Freedom

Is a strong seed

Planted in a great need

I live here , too

I want freedom

Just as you

In a society that an independent and peaceful movement for changing the discriminatory laws against women is being framed as a "National Security Threat", young women like Esha with a passion for peace, equity and equality are entering an unsafe zone. The young and inspired people are indeed an asset to our troubled world. Their intellectual curiosity, academic inquiry, passion and energy are the source of hope for our perplexed world which is being polarized by the forces of religious fundamentalism, globalization and militarization. It is the responsibility of each and every one of us in academic communities around the world and community at large to protect their right for exploring, educating and communicating in a better world.

The reality is that when democracy and respect for human rights and dignity is being undermined, creating an environment that encourages the spirit of academic inquiry and stimulates intellectual curiosity which is the foundation of academic achievement is equally being undermined.
Human dignity, academic freedom and an encouraging environment for intellectual inquiry was a dream of my generation which has not been fulfilled and in the words of Langston Hughes, it has been deferred.

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

Like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat

Or crust and sugar over—

Like a syrupy sweet

May be it just sags

Like a heavy load

Or does it explode?

Esha’s travel ban, is merely a reflection of intolerance for academic inquiry and intellectual curiosity in Iran. Voltaire was right when he said "It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong"

 

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