Cinnamon Stillwell

I’m the West Coast Representative for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum that focuses on Middle East studies. I was a political columnist for (San Francisco Chronicle online) from 2004-2008. I've written for the American Thinker, Frontpage Magazine, Family Security Matters, Accuracy In Media, Newsbusters, Israel National News, The Jewish Policy Center, J-The Jewish News Weekly of N. CA, Intellectual Conservative and many others. More info at

Thursday, July 26, 2007

University of Minnesota's William Beeman Praises Iranian Regime, Ignores Detainees

My latest post at the Campus Watch blog examines an article (scroll down) in which University of Minnesota professor William Beeman somehow manages to both sugercoat Iran's oppressive and belligerent regime and ignore the group of foreign academic and activist detainees in its hold:
William O. Beeman, formerly of Brown University and now professor and chair of the department of anthropology at the University of Minnesota, as well as president of the Middle East section of the American Anthropological Association, has some strange ideas about the theocratic regime in Iran.

He seems to think that Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recurring threats to annihilate Israel and the regime's forging ahead with a nuclear program against the wishes of the international community, holding Holocaust denial conferences, taking British soldiers hostage, detaining a number of foreign and domestic pro-democracy intellectuals and activists, all the while repressing its own population and actively aiding the murderous insurgency in Iraq, constitutes the "exquisite art" of "politeness."
Continue reading "University of Minnesota's William Beeman Praises Iranian Regime, Ignores Detainees"

Update (7/27): As can be noted in the comments section of this post, Prof. Beeman has responded and objected to my characterization of his article. He also sent a letter to Campus Watch along similar lines, which is posted, followed by my response, at the CW blog. I am also reposting it below:

The following is Professor Beeman's response:
Dear Campus Watch,

Cinnamon Stillwell badly mischaracterizes my article published through New America Media ("University of Minnesota's William Beeman Praises Iranian Regime, Ignores Detainees" July 26, 2007).

I do not "praise Iran" in the article, which Ms. Stillwell has not read carefully. The article explains Iranian communication dynamics, and offers advice for those who would enter into negotiations with Iranians. I explain that elaborate courtesy for both parties is a normal feature of Iranian public communication, and does not imply any actual approval or positive evaluation of the other party--as Ms. Stillwell would have her readers believe. This and other structures of Iranian communication is analyzed in my Language, Status and Power in Iran.

Dealing with the detainees was an issue that was irrelevant to the article, but for the record, I have condemned the holding of Iranian-American detainees Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh in public forums, in print and directly to the Iranians themselves on their own broadcast media. In fact, I am to my knowledge the only person anywhere who has condemned these detentions on Iranian television or radio.

Best regards,

William O. Beeman
Cinnamon Stillwell responds:

It was certainly not my intention to mischaracterize Professor Beeman's New American Media article, but, rather, to read it as would a lay person. That is, with common sense. And in this light, the article still comes across to me as an apologia for the belligerance of the Iranian regime. Certainly, communication styles vary among different cultures, but this does not mean that there aren't certain underlying truths that cross all cultural boundaries. In its dealings with the Iran, therefore, I do not share Prof. Beeman's contention that it is the United States government that needs to alter its mannerisms in order to appease a regime that has done nothing but express hostility and outright aggression towards America and its allies, but rather the other way around.

Furthermore, I highly doubt that adjusting our "structures of communication" will in fact succeed where all other approaches have thus far failed. When one side of a dispute is bent on the outright destruction of the other, there is little one can do, short of rising to the challenge at hand, to convince them otherwise.

Prof. Beeman's approach asks that the United States alter itself accordingly, but not that the Iranian regime reciprocate. This is where my impression that he is not placing both on an equal footing, but, rather, implying the superiority of one over another comes in. His reference to the "exquisite art" of "politeness" allegedly practiced by Iranian officials, coupled with condescending advice to the United States to be "polite and humble" only strengthens this impression. However, I will concede that this may not have been his intention.

As for Prof. Beeman's lack of reference to the foreign academic and activist detainees currently being held by the Iranian regime, I was specifically pointing to the New American Media article at hand. It just seemed odd that in a piece that took such pains to advise the United States to kowtow to Iranian mores, he would leave out the fact that the regime in question happens to be holding U.S. citizens, among others, hostage. This hardly strikes me as "irrelevant" to the article at hand.

But I appreciate the fact that he has otherwise condemned the inhumane actions of the Iranian regime in this regard, including appearing on Iranian television and radio (which, it should be noted, are entirely state-run). I would only hope that Prof. Beeman uses these spheres of influence to impart a clear and unequivocal condemnation.


Anonymous Paul said...

Talk about a syncophant! Give him the Neville Chamberlain Award !

Friday, July 27, 2007 4:39:00 AM  
Blogger William O. Beeman said...

I hate to dignify this ethnocentric gross mischaracterization of my article with a comment, but readers should understand that I was writing about Iranian commmunication dynamics, which requires both parties in a negotiation to practice self-lowering and other-raising to stabilize the communication. Because Americans will not normally know how to use this communication practice, the article was designed to educate the public about effective communication with Iranian partners. Those who wish to learn more can read my LANGUAGE, STATUS AND POWER IN IRAN (Indiana U. Press). The article addressed the American talks with Iran over the Iraqi situation. I have condemned the detaining of American scholars Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh in print and on the public media.

Bill Beeman

Friday, July 27, 2007 6:55:00 AM  
Anonymous GM Roper said...

Dear Professor Beeman, I've known Cinnamon Stillwell for better than a year and we have corresponded often. She writes well, and I do not believe that she has mischaracterized your article, which I did read in it's entirety.

You are talking about treating Iran as an equal partner in open and honest communication. I do not believe that will happen because the Iranians do not want it to happen. You seem to know quite a bit about their communications habits, and I will bow to your greater knowledge, but
I doubt however that you understand the nature of the Islamic Republic. If you did, you would understand that one does not make treaty with rattlesnakes. And, metaphorically speaking, the Islamic Republic is indeed a rattlesnake and their actions over the last quarter of a century should have proved that to you time and time again.

Do not misunderstand me, I am not saying that we should invade or declare war on Iran. I am saying that we should put one of our armoured divisions on their border and say "cease forthwith" and if you do not, we will attack a large Iranian military installation and reduce it to dust (not glass, I'm not calling for a nuclear strike). If they continue, we select another military target. That sir is how you treat with rattlesnakes.

You may just toss this comment off as "some damn right-wing knuckle dragging Neanderthal war monger" and that would be fine with me, but I suspect that I have a better understanding of the beast than you do.

Friday, July 27, 2007 3:55:00 PM  
Blogger Old Labour said...

Why would the professor mention Iranian detainees. The United States claims the right to detain anyone in the world and hodd them without charges forever and subject them to torture. We have even detained children whose only "crime" is having a father who is wanted for questioning. If Iran wants to detain some of its citizens what could we possibly have to say.

Maybe as part of the negotiations we could compare interrogation techniques.

Friday, July 27, 2007 5:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Paul said...

I see nothing wrong with detaining people (and that includes children) who may be bent on destruction,mayhem and murder. The Iranians are not above using "children" as human bombs. As for reading Professor Beeman's book I shall refrain - it seems to me that he has an agenda of his own that is apparent. And as for "self-lowering", I shall defer to the good Professor in this regard.

Saturday, July 28, 2007 4:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Roper Method:
1.Form opinion.
2.Don't make a concerted effort to understand Dr. Beeman's article.
3.Believe that previously held opinion is right.

Result: Your opinion is worthless.

Beeman is describing aspects of Iranian culture and communication style vis a vis negotiation.
The rest of roper's discussion is a paranoid fantasy that leaves out any of the complicated current situation (there are plenty of Iranians who would love to have normal, friendly relations with the US) and the history of US-Iranian relations. A good starting point for you would be to learn of the role in the US/CIA perpetrating a coup 1953, choosing the Shah to be dictator/Monarch, and facilitating his rule for 20 years.

Monday, July 30, 2007 12:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is a pity that this conversation deteriorated -it started so well! Let's go back to the top where William O. Beeman said that Iran should be addressed within the dynamics of "elaborate courtesy ... (being this) a normal feature of Iranian public communication".
How would recurring threats to annihilate Israel ...and... holding Holocaust denial conferences fit the label of "elaborate courtesy"? How would this 'politeness' explain that, for instance, all the way to Venezuela the government has imported Iranian formulas of "elaborate courtesy" to demonize its own Jews?
Iran is not only proposing the destruction of another nation, because it is a Jewish nation, but it is also exporting its credo via Syria, the militias in Lebanon, Hamas and to anyone else who needs anti-Semitic ammunition. And I mean anti-Semitic, not anti-Israeli, because the State of Israel encompasses Muslim and Christian inhabitants and they are not targets of said hate even when no other Arab or Muslim country wants to integrate Palestinians into their society. Not even Jordan, in fact a Palestinian state, or Egypt, who occupied Gaza for decades. Maybe Iran should teach other despotic regimes to communicate in a "self-lowering and other-raising (fashion) to stabilize the communication manner" but first, to be sure, they will have to practice it themselves. Beeman, with his access in the Iranian media could be of big help here.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007 8:58:00 AM  

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