Mr Khatami, a former president of the Islamic Republic of Iran (1997-2005) has been invited to St Andrews University on October 31 to receive an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws in recognition of his ‘efforts to encourage interfaith dialogue’.
Giving a theocrat a degree in secular law and doing so ‘considering global tensions relating to… faiths’ that incidentally he and his regime have been instrumental in creating is like giving PW Botha or FW De Klerk honorary degrees in race relations in recognition of their efforts to encourage inter-race dialogue!
Nothing could be more offensive, not only to those of us who have fled or lost loved ones to this vile regime but also to the innumerable who have lost lives and limbs to Islamists everywhere.
But there is more. In its attempt to dispel any illusion that it is organising student protests against this action as reported in media outlets [it is the National Union of Students, we and others who are doing so], the University of St Andrews Students’ Association’s statement blatantly and shamelessly defends Khatami and his presidency.
It asserts that Mr Khatami was never the ‘highest ranking political or judicial authority in the land, and held minimal influence...’ Clearly, this is untrue. Saying so is a deliberate attempt at whitewashing his role in the crimes of the Islamic regime of Iran. Power sharing mechanisms in a government, however dictatorial, do not mean that the executive role lacks power.
One case in point is the April 1997 German court’s verdict that found the then president responsible for the September 1992 assassinations of opposition leaders in Berlin. The court found that the killings had been ordered by a ‘Committee for Special Operations’ whose members included the Leader (Khamenei), the president, the Minister of Information and Security and other security officials.
In the past week, too, Argentine prosecutors have issued warrants for a former president for directing Hezbollah to carry out the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people and wounded hundreds.
And today, there are reports of two Iranian exiles, Safa Einollahi, 29, and Ali Ebrahimi, 34, who have lodged complaints under the 1988 Criminal Justice Act against Khatami for his accountability in the atrocities and tortures they endured as political prisoners.
Far from the rosy picture often portrayed in the Western media, Khatami’s presidency has been anything but.
During his bloody rule, over 1,300 people were executed, including sweet 16 year old Atefeh Rajabi for ‘acts incompatible with chastity’; 27 people were stoned to death or sentenced to die by stoning, 18 of them women; student and other demonstrations were crushed and their leaders arrested or killed; Ahmad Batebi was given a death sentence for holding up a bloody t-shirt; an opposition activist in Kurdistan, Showaneh Qaderi, was shot and his body dragged through the streets; Arezoo Siabi Shahrivar was arrested along with up to 14 other women, at a ceremony commemorating the 1988 “prison massacre” in Evin prison, Tehran, in which thousands of political prisoners were executed. In detention she was suspended from the ceiling, beaten with a wire cable and sexually abused. Journalists and webloggers were detained; papers were shut down; the Canadian journalist, Zahra Kazemi was tortured and murdered in prison; the murders of two political activists and three writers – a case known in Iran as the “Serial Murders” took place; hundreds of labour activists were arrested and tortured and on and on.
Only in a topsy turvy world can a president who oversaw such murder and mayhem not be deemed accountable...
And it was not only his eight years as president that Khatami is accountable for. In the 1980s in the Majlis, Khatami was known as an active member of the Line of the Imam, the dominant grouping within a party set up via Khomeini’s decree and most closely identified with Khomeini’s policies, including his theory of velayat-e faqih, or absolute clerical supremacy in government. Mr Khatami was appointed the Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, and was the chief censor in film, media, arts and culture. As a member of the Supreme Council on Cultural Revolution, Khatami played an important role in purging dissidents from universities and educational centres. Moreover, he was the director of cultural affairs in the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces and the head of the War Propaganda Headquarters for years. Today, too, he remains a member of several organs of the Islamic regime.
Absurdly, though, whilst being declared powerless, Khatami is also always lauded as a reformer; the St Andrews Students’ Association statement asserts that he ‘strove for moderation and liberalisation whilst in office’.
This is a contradiction in terms.
One cannot have minimal influence and be a reformer at the same time. Moreover, reforms have a specific meaning in our world – changes, particularly in law, which improve the lot of the population at large. Again, this was never the case. In fact, Khatami and his ‘reformist’ faction were merely attempts by the regime to put forward a more palatable face in order to prolong its life given the explosive situation in Iran.
In the face of escalating protests and opposition to Khatami’s visit, the university persists in its decision to confer an honorary degree upon him and in its rewriting of contemporary history. A spokesperson for the university has said the decision to invite Khatami was based on his “vision and willingness to change”. At least Chancellor Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democratic leader, has pulled out from presenting the degree before it turns into a scandal for him.
But this is not enough.
Far from honouring him with a degree, Khatami should be arrested for his crimes against the people of Iran.
On Tuesday, we will be there at St Andrews to remind the world that we will not allow it to forget what has taken and is taking place in Iran. We ask students and professors alike, along with concerned and outraged people everywhere to join us in preventing a centre of science from being transformed into a bastion of reaction.
And on this note, it is apt to end with Khatami’s own words at Harvard University this past September when questioned about the execution of gays in Iran:
We’re at a university, the cradle of science, so we can speak of it scientifically...In all schools of thought and in all religions there is punishment and punishment is not a form of violence...Punishment is seen as a response to violence or deviance in society and if there is no punishment in a society a society cannot run effectively…’
And that is Khatami’s unchanged vision pure and simple.