"IRAN BEYOND THE MEDIA" WORKSHOP
Portland State University's Middle East Studies Center and the Oregon Geographic Alliance combined efforts to sponsor "Iran Beyond the Media: A Workshop for Educators" held Aug. 3 to coincide with an Iranian cultural festival the following day, both held on the university campus. Designed for teachers from the elementary grades through college, the workshop offered an overview of political, physical and cultural Iran, along with recommended strategies, idea sharing, and an examination of curriculum materials. Educators were provided up-to-date resources and presentations to assist them in developing lesson plans.
The first speaker for the day-long interdisciplinary workshop was Dr. Masoud Kheirabadi, assistant professor of international studies at PSU who also teaches at Marylhurst College near Portland. A native of Iran, Kheirabadi is the author of Iranian Cities: Formation and Development. His presentation on "Contemporary Issues in Iran: Religion, Politics, and International Relations" focused on what he described as "a confused country" with major ideological gaps between rulers and the general population. Iranian society is undergoing dynamic changes, he explained, including freedom of the press, under which open criticism of the government increasingly is tolerated--except by Islamic hard-liners, who moved to close newspapers in 1998 and imprison reporters.
Kheirabadi defined the current Islamic Republic of Iran as a "theocracy" with "a relative degree of democratic process. The problem," he said, is that whatever legislation is passed by the Majlis [parliament] has to be approved by a council of guardians." If "they distinguish a law as not Islamic," he noted, "it will not become a law."
Members of the council, he explained, are selected by a supreme leader of jurisprudence who is not elected by the Iranian people, is "considered to be responsible only to God" and has the highest decision-making power. For this reason, Kheirabadi continued, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, who worked to enact progressive laws such as women's suffrage and a reduction in the authority of hard-line clerics, has limited powers under the Islamic constitution. Even though Khatami was reelected in June by 77 percent of the vote, Kheirabadi said, "The president is like a puppet. He is a knight without a sword."
In spite of threats to democracy in Iran, Dr. Kheirabadi believes that it still is "one of the best Middle East countries"--a judgment he bases on his frequent visits to his homeland and the "major improvements" he observes there, such as increasing literacy and the involvement of women in politics. …