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Iran's 'Think Tank' Outreach

5:45 PM, Sep 26, 2012 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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The DAAD supervises another German-Iranian academic exchange program with the University of Qom, connecting it to the University of Paderborn in North Rhine-Westphalia. DAAD president Wintermantel summarized, “No doubt there is a difficult situation in Iran. The country’s official policy is highly problematic, and international links are under considerable pressure. . . . Especially in this situation, it is important to maintain the few existing channels of communication with Iran.”

Although accused of unfairness in opposing collaboration between the University of Potsdam and the Iranian University of Religions and Denominations, Wahied Wahdat-Hagh is not alone in his criticism, as an Iranian living in the West. Seyed Mostafa Azmayesh, the Paris-based leader of the Gonabadi-Nimatullahi Sufis, a large spiritual movement, and an activist in the International Organization to Preserve Human Rights in Iran (IOPHR), released an interview-based article with Wahdat-Hagh on September 16. In it the URD was described as one of a system of “intertwined” entities spawned by the University of Qom.

These include the “Islamic Center for the Study of Religions and their Different Interpretations”—separate from the URD—and the “International Center of Ahl-e Beyt.” The latter concentrates on propaganda among and about Shia Muslims—Ahl-e Beyt or “People of the House of Muhammad” is the common self-descriptive used by Shias. It refers to their history as partisans of Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law Ali Ibn Abi Talib during the succession conflict, after Muhammad’s death, that produced the Shia sect. It is also claimed by supporters of the Hashemite king Abdullah II of Jordan and other Sunni descendants of Muhammad.

Both the “Islamic Center” and the “International Center” are coordinated by the “World Forum for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought,” which advocates ostensibly for better relations between Sunni and Shia Muslims and is close to Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Yet another element in the apparatus is the “Center for the Study of Religions and Sects in Qom”—again distinct from the URD. The network is redundant, convoluted, and therefore difficult to obstruct.

Wahdat-Hagh and Azmayesh point out that through the Qom think tanks, the Iranian tyranny continues its repression of spiritual Sufis, although Sufism is a major element of Iranian culture. Wahdat-Hagh writes, “these centers are the ideological backbone of the regime, representing their interests, when they do ‘religion researches.’ They not only attack the Sufis and mystics . . . but all other religions are also represented as deviant and their followers depicted as devil worshipers. According to Dr. Azmayesh, even mullahs who are interested in Islamic philosophy and logic are attacked.”

Wahdat-Hagh adds, “The Sufis have established cooperatives, homes for the elderly and hospitals, and are successful, especially in large cities of Iran. The rulers of the Islamic Republic, who are against such diversity, have a serious and intractable problem with the Sufis.” Last year, Ayatollah Khamenei removed Hojatoleslam Seyyed Abolhassan Navvab as head of the URD for appointing a Sufi teacher to the faculty, even though Navvab is a follower of a notorious hard-liner, Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi.

Azmayesh offers self-evident explanations for Iranian interest in sending students and academics to universities like Potsdam and Paderborn in Germany: “[T]o observe the [Western] universities. . . . The aim of the URD in Qom is to . . . persuade Western intellectuals that Iran speaks the truth and that the opinion of others is wrong.”

Germany’s academic hierarchy, like its business and political elite, has wavered on Iran. Germany has declared a nuclear-armed Iran unacceptable and supported, with Britain and France, “sharper” sanctions on the theocratic state, but maintains that a negotiated solution to the nuclear challenge is possible.

The verdict of Azmayesh on the Iranian political elite is pessimistic: “Some groups [in the ruling elite] are slightly less fascist than others.” The sanctions, negotiations, and attempts at benevolent dialogue between universities and think tanks approved by Germany are all likely to produce the same outcome. That is, more opportunities for evasion of sanctions, manipulation of negotiations, and expansion of its field of action in the West by Iran, its bloodthirsty Syrian ally, Hezbollah and other Iran-subsidized terrorist militias, and, above all, Ahmadinejad’s treasured nuclear weapons program.

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