Thursday, April 30, 2009

Lecturer Beeman dicusses U.S.-Iranian relations (Wheaton Wire)

Lecturer Beeman dicusses U.S.-Iranian relations

By: Elspeth Lodge '10

Posted: 4/29/09
The United States and Iran have been 'ghahr' with each other for approximately 30 years now: while the two countries do not diplomatically talk to each other, they have not exactly broken off their relationship. "We keep sticking needles in each other from afar," confides William Beeman, Middle East Studies Specialist and Professor and Chair of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.

There is a need for "someone to force the relationship back together," due to the U.S. not understanding Iranian's cultural differences from the United States.

Beeman gave his lecture titled "Learning to Live with Iran: How Cultural Awareness Can Improve U.S.-Iranian Relations" to a full crowd. He meant to impart an understanding of Iran's cultural mechanisms, which are very foreign to the American sensibility.

"The people who want to create change in Iran have got to deal with this," says Beeman. "It is true that the United States and Iran have cultural conceptions of each other that sometimes get in the way of understanding each other. As an anthropologist I am especially aware of cultural differences."

"Iranians, like all humans have the same basic wants and desires in life. There is no 'Iranian mind' any more than there is an 'Arab mind' to site the egregious and misleading title of Raphael Patai's thoroughly discredited book of three decades ago."

Beeman uses a PowerPoint presentation to discuss a myriad of culture oriented topics including. but not limited to, patterns of interaction, complexity in Iranian interaction, independent symbiosis in Iranian hierarchy, and dimensions of different social status. And, of course, he discusses Iranian linguistics. "I'm a linguist, I can't resist," he says.

One example of a cultural misunderstanding of Iran is how political structures function and the basic schema of Iranian government, which according to Beeman, is "a very complex structure." It is designed to keep one group of people in power for a very long period of time; terms of political office are staggered. In effect no group is completely out of power at one time.

An example of one misunderstanding of government is something so simple as how the Iranian president functions. While in the U.S. the executive branch has a great deal of power, in Iran the president has very little power in any arena. He has no control over military, foreign affairs, or the infamous Iranian nuclear program.

Beeman also covers political strategies and factions and the emerging factors, such as media, which are effecting the government. He imparts that the Internet is alive and well in Iran, saying "every candidate has a blog." Beeman also cites that women are becoming more involved, as evident by the fact that more woman than ever are attending universities and literacy rates have increased. There is also an emerging youth population which will soon have a major impact on the balance of the political system.

There are many polarities between the U.S. and Iranian culture. While Iran recognizes hierarchy, the U.S. suppresses hierarchy. While Iran makes distinctions between the private and public political spheres, people in the U.S. try to conflate the private and public spheres of politics. Iranian culture values personalism in public business -- family and personal ties are essential. Contrastingly the U.S. culture denies personalism.

"It is only with the Obama administration that we are starting to see a thaw. I am hoping that with the Obama administration [Iran and the U.S.] will have a greater understanding of each other," says Beeman. © Copyright 2009 Wheaton Wire

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Minneapolis Star-Tribune: Editorial: Step up push for Saberi's release

Editorial: Step up push for Saberi's release

Senior statesman could help secure journalist's freedom.

The news about North Dakota journalist Roxana Saberi is increasingly grim. First arrested in Iran, ostensibly for buying wine, the 31-year-old journalist is now held in a notorious Iranian prison on espionage charges. Her quickie trial on Monday played out behind closed doors. A military tribunal is now secretly weighing her fate.

Still, there's reason to be optimistic about the scholar/beauty queen's prospects. Experts point out that others jailed in Iran under similar circumstances were released relatively quickly. And while Iran remains a nation of hardline theology, it is increasingly aware of its worldwide reputation and diplomacy's opportunities. There are more advantages than disadvantages for this status-conscious nation to let Saberi go. The thousands of supporters who have rallied on Facebook and elsewhere shouldn't lose hope because there's more work to do on her behalf.

Although the espionage charge may give some pause, here's some perspective. State Department officials, as well as North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad and U.S. Rep. Earl Pomeroy, have bluntly dismissed the allegations. Iran has offered up zero evidence, and the fact that her trial was done in a day suggests to University of Minnesota expert William Beeman that officials didn't have much on her.

Beeman, chair of the Department of Anthropology, is an author and linguist who has worked in Iran for the past 30 years. He believes there's strong precedent for Saberi's release. In 2006 and 2007, several scholars and journalists with dual Iranian-American citizenship like Saberi's were imprisoned in Iran on antigovernment activity charges. Three were released after several months. Beeman said Saberi's situation seems similar, and he's hopeful that Iranians will realize that they've made a point with her arrest -- that foreigners must respect their laws -- and then let her go.

Iran has also previously capitalized on its ability to generate international goodwill by releasing high-profile prisoners. In spring 2007, it allowed 15 British soldiers and marines to return home as an "Easter present" to the British people. Now's an excellent time for a similar gesture. Clemency for Saberi would only improve Iran's global stature. It would also be a welcome gesture to a powerful, popular new American president as both nations move toward more rationale relations.

Thanks to the Internet, this newspaper is read far beyond Minnesota. Comments from Iranian U.N. ministry officials suggest they've seen previous Saberi editorials. It bears repeating their message: The push for Saberi's release will continue. The Council on Foreign Relations this week offered up an excellent idea: enlisting a senior statesman whom Iranians would respect. CFR Iranian expert Elliot Abrams said Minnesota is home to just such a world figure. His name? Walter Mondale.

Mondale was traveling this week and couldn't be reached. But organizations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Society of Professional Journalists would do well to ask for his help. Every avenue that can help bring Saberi home must be explored.



"My feeling is that she will be released and I hope I'm right. I think there's been enough international attention to this; it gives the Iranians a chance to show that they are civilized and extend clemency to people.''

William Beeman, chair of the University of Minnesota Department of Anthropology and author of "'The Great Satan' vs. the 'Mad Mullahs': How the U.S. and Iran Demonize Each Other.''

Expert on Iran says clemency possible for Saberi; ND congressional delegation reacts with dismay to conviction

Published April 18 2009

Expert on Iran says clemency possible for Saberi;

ND congressional delegation reacts with dismay to conviction

FARGO – An expert on Iran said today that given the harsh sentence American journalist Roxana Saberi received, it’s possible the Iranian government may grant clemency as an act of generosity.

By: Sherri Richards, INFORUM

FARGO – An expert on Iran said today that given the harsh sentence American journalist Roxana Saberi received, it’s possible the Iranian government may grant clemency as an act of generosity.

“That’s something that’s not unknown,” said William O. Beeman, an anthropology professor at the University of Minnesota who has studied Iran for 30 years.

“Put someone in dire straits and then grant them clemency, and the person is grateful,” Beeman said today.

North Dakota’s congressional delegation reacted with dismay to news of Saberi’s conviction in an Iranian court.

In separate statements, they said they would continue to work with the U.S. State Department to bring Saberi home.

Fargo native Saberi, 31, has been jailed in Iran since late January. Authorities originally said she was being held for working without press credentials. She was later charged with espionage, and a trial was held in Iranian court Monday behind closed doors.

Her attorney said today she had been convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison.

Sen. Byron Dorgan called the verdict a “shocking miscarriage of justice.”

“The Iranian government has held a secret trial, will not make public any evidence, and sentenced an American citizen to eight years in prison for a crime she didn’t commit,” Dorgan said in his statement. “I call on the Iranian government to show compassion and release Roxana Saberi and allow her to leave Iran and come home to the United States.”

Sen. Kent Conrad called the ruling “preposterous,” and said that, “Iran is doing enormous damage to their creditability on the world stage with behavior like this.”

Rep. Earl Pomeroy described Saberi as a “fine young woman of intelligence and integrity,” and hoped she would be allowed to return to the United States as a humanitarian consideration.

Beeman said it’s possible Saberi will not be immediately incarcerated, released on bail, and be allowed to leave the country.

“I think that we’re not completely without hope in this situation,” Beeman said.

He said the harsh rhetoric against the Iranian system that the sentence will spur is going to be counterproductive, and that Saberi’s situation is an opportunity to continue toward better relations between the U.S. and Iran.

He hopes Saberi will not be incarcerated, for any amount of time.

“I think everyone, internationally and those people looking at this case in Iran, knows the charges are groundless. This (incarceration) would really set back U.S.-Iranian relations,” he said.

Her parents, who traveled to Iran from their home in Fargo in a bid to help win their daughter's release, could not be reached for comment today.