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Columbia Spectator Staff

Columbia has a minute obsession with Iran. Over the past month, clubs and departments have hosted events on the nation, and this trend only appears to be on the rise, especially in anticipation of LionPAC's "Iran Week." These events, while disparate in content and target audience, all share one common theme: None of them promote a positive discourse with the current Iranian regime. From discussions on Iran's burgeoning Green Movement—an opposition party that sent shock waves globally after attempting but failing to dethrone President Ahmadinejad—to panels on the feasibility of an Iranian-Israeli showdown, these events implicitly and explicitly relay a message of dissatisfaction with Iran. Our relations with Iran have been cast in binary terms—antagonize government supporters by propping up opposition leaders, or play the war card and make Tehran feel vulnerable. Eerily missing from campus is discussion of a third rail: continued diplomacy. This university should revaluate U.S.-Iranian relations instead of regurgitating pre-existing stances. There is a justification for this university-wide stance toward Iran. The Iranian government has seemed to bypass all protocol for interaction with the international community, neglecting requests to halt nuclear proliferation, stymieing the democratic process within its borders, and lashing out against its neighbors with caustic rhetoric. In many senses, our campus events are mere reflections of Washington's perception of Iran and what message the U.S. government would like to drive home. It's this exact parallelism between Columbia and Washington that is troubling. This approach—scorn and shame—has not worked. It has categorically failed to alleviate hostility between Iran and Israel or stop Iran's nuclear program. The speeches being made by pundits today on the possibility of war with Iran are exact carbon copies of those seen during the Bush "axis of evil" era. A recent news development serves as an example of our failed policies towards Iran and the media's failure to properly cover Iran. Last week, the New York Times reported that the office of the Afghan president Hamid Karzai has been receiving bags of cash from Iran estimated in the tens of millions of dollars. The report called out one specific individual in Karzai's inner circle: Umar Daudzai, Karzai's chief of staff. Daudzai is cited as a former member of Hezb-i-Islami, a group that fought alongside the Taliban in the '80s. Because Daudzai was a member of this group and has been the middle man receiving Iranian cash, the New York Times put two and two together and implicated the Afghan and Iranian governments in supporting the Taliban. In response to the hoopla surrounding the damning report, which seemed to justify all American concerns with Iran as a regional behemoth, Karzai has publicly addressed the New York Times' allegations. But surprisingly, he did not deny that his office was receiving cash from Tehran­—he confirmed it. Not only did he confirm it, but he also noted that other nations, including the U.S., were similarly giving bags of cash to the Afghan government. The most important point of Karzai's response that has been unfortunately left out of the mainstream is that the Bush administration knew about the Iranian cash payments. In light of this debacle, we can note that the fanfare surrounding Iran too often lacks substance. First, the Times was questionable in arranging Iran and the Taliban in one neat equation, since the Iranian regime has consistently opposed the rise of the Sunni Taliban. Why would Ayatollah Khomeinei funnel millions of dollars into the pockets of his adversaries? Second, the media has been too busy covering the Iran implications of this development and has failed to criticize the U.S. government's funneling cash into the Afghan government. Couldn't those millions of dollars have been better invested in the development of Afghan civil society at large? The U.S. has been partially successful in promoting democracy within Iran. The fact that the democracy-seeking Green Movement made so many headlines when it opposed the government is a testament to its resonance across Iranian society. However, U.S. support for resistance movements has not been entirely benevolent. It largely serves the purpose of undermining the current Iranian regime, beckoning the question of what the fate of these opposition movements will be when they are in power but choose to oppose U.S. foreign policy. Will they too be relegated to the depths of the international community, scorned and threatened with war? A complete revaluation of our policies with Iran needs to occur, starting at the campus level. We need to pay close attention to the implications of these discussions. We should reject and see through the negative discourse surrounding Iran in order to come up with effective solutions to Iran's obstinacy. Such Iranian obstinacy can only be countered with American innovation. You never give a rebelling teenager the punishment he expects to receive. Rhonda Shafei is a Columbia College junior majoring in history. She is an executive board member of the Columbia International Relations Council and Association and the secretary general of the Columbia Model United Nations Conference and Exposition 2011. The Politics of Hummus runs alternate Fridays.

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