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.Continue reading "University of Minnesota's William Beeman Praises Iranian Regime, Ignores Detainees"
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."
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 responds:
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.
William O. Beeman
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.