Iranian-American Journalist Lectures at Athenaeum

Roxana Saberi, an Iranian-American journalist who was detained in Iran earlier this year on charges of espionage, gave a lecture at CMC’s Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum on Wednesday.

Rather than her recent incarceration, Saberi focused on the experiences she had with Iranian youth, women and media during her six years in the country.

In response to the protests following Iran’s disputed presidential election, Saberi discussed the concerns of young Iranians. She said economic opportunity, education, privacy, and political agency stood foremost in the minds of many young Iranians.

A government official admitted to Saberi that many Iranian youths leave the country in search of better education and jobs.

Saberi noted that 97 percent of high-achieving students leave the country at some point. Half of them, however, eventually return, turning the ostensible “brain drain” into a “brain gain” in the eyes of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s administration.

While Iranian youth might oppose the harsh steps the government has taken and many of its policies, Saberi warned against making generalizations about their sentiments.

Saberi cited one young Iranian musician who emphasized that “Iranians need peace” above all else, and that the international community should worry more about the justice and fairness of Iran’s political system than “the nuclear issue.”

She added that Iranian women are rapidly becoming more politically active and educated. Perhaps as a sign of women’s growing assertiveness in politics, Saberi said even Ahmadinejad has appointed a woman to his cabinet. The Majlis, Iran’s parliament, approved Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi as health minister on Sep. 3, making her the first woman to serve on the cabinet since the Iranian Revolution in 1979. In addition, well over half of college students in Iran are women.

Tempering the gains that women have made in Iran, Saberi said that the government has considered implementing quotas for the number of women higher education institutions can accept. Saberi also presented photographs of the police detaining a woman in western clothing, apparently for a public display of affection with her boyfriend.

Saberi then described the plight of journalists in Iran. She listed pressured confessions, solitary confinement, torture, and show trials as potential perils of reporting in the country.

In response to a question following her lecture, Saberi said she felt unsure of Iran’s future. She said many Iranians did support Ahmadinejad and the theocratic system, but that there is also a widespread desire in Iran for the Islamic Republic to be “more of a republic” or “more democratic.” Nonetheless, she said, “Iran will never go back to what it was” before this summer’s election.

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