Iran now takes on its academics

By Claude Salhani

Otempora! O mores! Those familiar with Latin will recognise those words attributed to Cicero. It translates as “Oh, what times! Oh, what customs!” Or if you prefer a more modern adaptation, though somewhat less poetic, you could say, “What the f…?” An appropriate exclamation for some of the mayhem that is going on in Iran.

Iran’s Islamic Revolution is struggling amid growing insecurities and failures. People are getting restless. To cover up its blunders and shortcomings, Tehran’s ruling imams borrowed a page from Leon Trotsky’s handbook on how to keep an entire population in tow, obedient and subservient.

Trotsky favoured executions to instil fear and therefore gain obedience among the people. Even if it meant killing complete innocents, it increased the people’s fear of the authority. When the Bolsheviks did away with the death penalty shortly after the overthrow of the tsar, it was Trotsky who convinced his fellow politburo members to bring back the death penalty. It was a clever if somewhat diabolical scheme to allow him to get rid of political opponents permanently.

That is not at all different from the modus operandi of the regime in Iran. This time the Iranians are targeting academics, accusing them of espionage. A very serious crime in Iran, spying for a foreign power carries the death penalty.

What’s at stake here? Population control.

Some weeks ago, Iranian security forces arrested Iranian-Australian academic Meimanat Hosseini-Chavoshi, a widely respected population researcher at the University of Melbourne, at the airport as she was leaving Iran. Her colleague, Mohammad Jalal Abbasi-Shavazi, professor of demography at the University of Tehran and director of Iran’s National Institute of Population Research, was also detained for questioning.

Iran’s state news agency IRNA said Hosseini-Chavoshi and Abbasi-Shavazi, who had previously conducted research on population growth and fertility in Iran, were charged with “espionage” and intrusion “in the area of population control.” Iranian media reported that the scientists were allegedly producing false statistics about the rate of fertility in Iran in an attempt to obscure its “population crisis.”

Population control has become a sensitive issue in Iran since Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for population increase in a speech in 2012, deeming Iran’s decades-long, state-sponsored birth control policy a “mistake.” Under his leadership, the state is encouraging Iranians to have as many children as possible in a bid to increase the country’s population from about 81 million to 150 million-200 million in the near future.

Abbasi-Shavazi and Hosseini-Chavoshi’s book, “The Fertility Transition in Iran: Revolution and Reproduction,” on the country’s demographic challenges the government’s position. It won the International Book of the Year award offered by the Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance in 2010.

Oh, but what a difference a few years make. From winning a book prize and being recognised for their work, now, because their findings did not align with those of the government, they find themselves accused of “espionage” and intrusion “in the area of population control.” Almost overnight they go from being acclaimed scientists to being considered enemies of the state.

Iranian media reported that the scientists were allegedly producing false statistics about the rate of fertility in Iran in an attempt to obscure its “population crisis.”

Now the state is encouraging people to have as many children as possible.

The plain truth is that some people are reluctant to bring children into this world when their future is so uncertain amid rising unemployment, economic and travel sanctions imposed by the Western powers as punishment for Tehran’s continued quest to obtain nuclear technology that would allow it to develop military-grade uranium.

Iran wants to have both its (yellow) cake and eat it but as some officers of the Red Army falsely accused by Trotsky of counter-revolutionary acts simply because they disagreed with him stated: “The revolution devours its own children.”

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