Monday, February 13, 2006

Oberlin Vies For More MENA Studies

Not surprisingly Middle Eastern Studies has become a significant topic in different universities in the US. And my school, Oberlin is no exception to this new notion.

the ME.jpg

By Kaitlin Barrer
The Oberlin Review Staff

The 2005 Student Senate referendum reports that a little over half the student body feels that Oberlin College should establish a Middle Eastern and North African Studies program. Snagging a national grant might just be the way for the financially-strained school to achieve this goal.

President Nancy Dye and 99 other college and university presidents were invited to a conference last weekend in Washington D.C., titled “International Education in the United States.” This invitation signifies that Oberlin is in the running to receive a portion of a $114 million federal budget for a program to aid in foreign language education: the National Security Language Initiative.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Education Margaret Spelling sponsored the conference. President Bush opened with a speech supporting the program’s mission: more young Americans learning such critical modern languages as Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and Chinese.

“This initiative will cover K-12 foreign language programs and also help establish new foreign language programs in colleges and universities,” said Dye.

Although Dye was skeptical of the capabilities of the program’s budget, she affirmed the importance of such an initiative.

“I very much agree that far more young Americans should learn these and other languages,” she said.

“Oberlin and other colleges and universities must do more to encourage serious foreign language study.”

Dye cited Oberlin’s Chinese program as one of the best in the country. She expressed an interest in developing a strong Arabic program and possibly adding instruction in Farsi, something very rarely taught in American undergraduate programs.

“Given the importance of Iran in world affairs, far more Americans should also have an opportunity to learn Farsi and to learn about Iran,” said Dye, who has herself extensively traveled in Iran.

Despite this interest on the administration’s part, many Oberlin students are disappointed with the college’s recent failure to enrich its MENA course offerings. Last year, Oberlin politics professor Khalid Medani left the department for Stanford University and has yet to be replaced. Medani specialized in Middle Eastern politics and was the advisor to the Middle Eastern Students Association.

Azadeh Pourzand, a College junior, is an active member of MESA. Last fall, she and a group of students reactivated the organization and have been working since to develop an official concentration. She described Medani’s departure as a dispiriting setback, though the group is still active and passionate.

“We really think that a college like Oberlin really needs to have some sort of concentration, minor or major [in Middle Eastern studies],” said Pourzand.

She and another junior, Ozlem Gemichi, ran for Student Senate on this platform, and were responsible for the items relating to MENA studies on the recent referendum. The group has also brought in numerous speakers from the Middle East.

Recently, an ad hoc committee focusing on MENA was established, partly in response to Medani’s departure. Professor Anna Gade, the Islam specialist in the Religion department, identified the committee’s purpose.

“To examine the manner in which Oberlin teaches all subjects relevant to the field, including language instruction,” said Gade. “To make recommendations, as appropriate, for reorganization and/or expansion in these fields of study.”

Professor Gade did not confirm whether or not the committee would replace Medani.

“[The committee will] discuss whether [the] position should be returned, and if so, in what form,” said Gade.

The committee will also discuss offering courses in Arabic language and study abroad options regionally relevant to MENA.

Gade emphasized the importance of student input in this process.

“We are all very eager to know what students think about the future directions we could take at Oberlin and more widely,” she said.

Pourzand, for one, feels that the student body is clamoring for information about the Middle East.

“I personally sometimes feel like I am attacked by so many questions about the Middle East and Iran by students that if there were more professors, more of a guide, it wouldn’t be such an issue,” she said. “Oberlin’s a progressive college, and these are current events happening.”

Friday, February 10, 2006

My mom in Oberlin

My mom came to Oberlin this past January and taught a short-term course on women's rights in Iran. Here is the article that has been written about her course on my shcool's website(


Iranian Female Activist Leads Winter Term Project
By Betty Gabrielli / Photos by Brandon Ramos '06
February 6, 2006

Mehrangiz Kar, an attorney, writer, and one of Iran's leading activists, was a teacher-in-residence at Oberlin in January. The residency also offered her the opportunity to be with her daughter, Azadeh Pourzand, who is a student at Oberlin.

"Mehrangiz Kar has a distinguished career as a lawyer and advocate for human rights and women's rights," says Frances Hasso, associate professor and director of the gender and women's studies program. "Oberlin College was fortunate to have someone of her stature teaching here during winter term."

Kar has published widely on women's issues in Iran. Among her publications are Angel of Justice and Patches of Hell, a collection of essays that examine the status and position of women in pre- and post-revolutionary Iran.

Her Oberlin course addressed a subject she knows intimately: how women's lives in Iran changed after the Islamic Revolution of 1979; specifically the kinds of strategies that Iranian women have adopted throughout years under the Islamic regime and the ways in which they have faced various legal and religious obstacles in order to defend their rights.

Unable to return to Iran for the time being because of personal and public dangers, Kar had this to say: "Iran is in a very sensitive place right now. We're trying to overcome a long history of dictatorship, and this is the process. There are prices to pay, and I see myself as a sacrifice to this process."

In 2000, Kar was among 19 prominent Iranian writers and intellectuals arrested for participating in an academic and cultural conference in Berlin that publicly debated social reform in Iran. She was subsequently tried, convicted, and sentenced to four years in prison. An appeal reduced her sentence to six months.

In 2001, she came to the United States for treatment for breast cancer. Because of her involvement in the Berlin conference, after her departure from Iran, her husband was kidnapped, tortured, released, and re-arrested. Though she wishes to see him and continue her legal work and activism at home, Kar has been advised it is not yet safe to return.

Support from the international community is aiding her in continuing her activism from abroad. In 2002 she received the Ludovic Trarieux International Human Rights Prize from the Human Rights of the Bar of Bordeaux and the European Lawyers Union.

Kar lives now in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she is a fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. She is working on a number of books and articles, including an account of her husband's experiences in prison and a memoir of her 22 years as a lawyer in Iran. She also receives weekly checkups on the cancer. "I am not completely clear," she said in a recent interview for the web site of the weekly TV program IranDokht, "but the cancer is under control."

In the interview, Kar took the opportunity to address the women of Iran directly. Again, there is no doubt she was speaking from her own experience:

"I know that there is a long, arduous road ahead, but it is important to keep in mind that the struggles have only made us stronger. If the last two decades of pain indicate how women will react when faced with turmoil, then we do not have to worry.

"For we have met strife with hardened surfaces and determined spirits. The recent international attention toward the Iranian woman and her situation, together with the dedication of the females within Iran, speaks volumes. I see the women of Iran at the beginning of something far greater."

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

You are Iranian, right?

So a few days ago I received an email from an American friend who graduated from my university last year. He is now out in the real world working. I knew him through other friends and I had also taken a Spanish class with him a couple of years ago. And a few days ago, I received an unexpected email from him. He is a nice and sincere guy and I want to somehow respond to him. But on the other hand, his email has made me think a lot about my responsibility as an Iranian abroad, as a person who knows both Iran and America well by now. How do I have to explain things? This email is only a small sample of what I experience everyday and of the questions and wonders that come to me about Iran? Professors ask me, students and friends ask me? Bus drivers, waiters and so many other people ask me. How could I answer them? What do they want to hear from me?

Here is the email:
Subject: You are Iranian, right?


First of all, it's been too long. We should play catch-up. How are you? Are you in Oberlin? Tell me things.

Also, you're Iranian AND you're liberal, right? So lemme know what you think of the
Op-Ed in New York Times called A New Face in Iran Resurrects an Old Defiance
by Michael Slackman, published on January 30, 2006.

Do you think Ahmadinejad is a crazy-psychopath like the US media tries to portray him, or is it more subtle than that? Also, are you in favor of an Iranian nuclear energy program?

Like I said, tell me things.

his name

Sunday Night Wonders

Sometimes too many things happen over a short period of time in a person’s life. It’s interesting. I mean there are days, for instance, that you could experience so many emotions, incidents and changes. Those experiences don’t have to be outrageous, tragic or anything like that. They could simply be routine experiences that turn into life changing experiences and observations. I had a few of those days these past couple of weeks. It’s been only two weeks…And yet I feel at least a couple of years older. I feel as though so much has changed and that things are shifting towards me becoming an independent individual more than before.

True, I am not alone. Every one of us experiences individual and even private things in our lives. Those are what make our lives ‘our life’. Well, I, too, have been experiencing individual things! And lately I have been observing my life, gradually splitting off from my family and old friends.

Let me put it this way…These days, I imagine myself as a traveler on a hiking trip, sitting in a rest stop. I am sitting there, having a cup of tea and delicious chocolate cake and preparing myself for the rest of the trip. My fellow hikers, though, are kissing me goodbye. This is where we take off and continue towards our own individual destination. It is a different feeling to continue this journey without the company of other old fellow travelers. It is at times fearful to thing to imagine the rest of this journey considering the absence of old fellow hikers and the presence of some new yet to be known hikers.

Weird. I don’t even know what I am talking about. I mean, I do…I just don’t know how to explain it to you. I guess the bottom line is that very soon it’s about the time for me to emotionally and financially be on my own. And man, it’s scary. I know that so many people in this world are forced to become independent very early on in their lives. But I have had the opportunity to be able to emotionally rely on the family and friends and financially I have been almost fully supported by my family.

But now the situation is so that I have to find new ways to be emotionally motivated and also soon enough financially I will have to be fully on my own. Emotionally speaking, I feel that my parents and my sister have to face their own numerous problems right now and my friends, too, have started different journeys in their lives one way or another. And, I, too, can’t hold onto history. In a way, the world is sending me hints of all kinds to tell me that I have to start a new stage and I have to work on myself, my habits and my goals as a person and as an individual. This is what I mean, when I say people are kissing me good-bye.

I have faith in me. I have a feeling that I will be fine. On the other hand, though, I must admit I am scared and I know that I have to work very hard. There are hard and exciting times ahead of me, indeed! How about you? Do you remember the day that you felt that way? Were you scared, too? Were you, too, hopeful?

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