THE BLOG

Iranian Students in the U.S. and America's Public Mandate

02/19/2014 02:03 pm 14:03:09 | Updated Apr 21, 2014

A few days ago the Washington Institute for Near East policy published a report on the situation of the Iranian students who seek higher education in the U.S. each year. This report has been prepared mainly through personal interviews and surveys from an unknown number of Iranian students currently studying in U.S. educational institutions. Being from two minority groups among these students -- a female student and a student who studies humanities and social sciences (an even smaller minority) -- I felt it necessary to express my perspective as well.

The report makes some sensible recommendations about easing up many challenges confronting the Iranian students, who, as the author puts it, have "strong enough nerves" and manage to pursue their higher education in the USA. However he emphasizes that it is necessary for the U.S. government to go through with these changes mainly in order to uphold its public diplomacy mandate aiming to reach out to the Iranian people and bring them democracy and human rights.
Nonetheless the report clearly suffers from a very limited historical scope. The author believes that despite the fact that academic achievements and history are notable, "Iranian students today can only be understood through the lens of politics." And this is only because since the contested elections of summer 2009 Iranian enrollment at American universities has more than doubled. Even the recent changes in the domestic politics has not decreased this demand since the author believes that all these students are escaping political "repression" and economic hardship in Iran. Through a very instrumentalist perspective, this report recommends that the application and visa issuance for the Iranian students be eased up in order to secure and strengthen the "goodwill" of the Iranian people to the U.S. and advance its public diplomacy. Needless to say that all these recommendations to policy makers in the U.S. government are long overdue and this lag has already put many of these students including myself, through countless unnecessary hardships. But naively simplifying the multitude of goals, aspirations and interests among these few thousand Iranian students is equal to bluntly stripping them from their human agency. The author believes that all these Iranian students enter the country with blank minds and automatically absorb "American experiences and values," although the report stays vague about what exactly these experiences and values are. Consequently, even if they are qualified enough to find a job in U.S. and successfully manage to stay in the country, or in case they have to return to Iran (due solely to the inability to find a job in the U.S.), through maintaining professional contacts and personal relationships among fellow American-educated graduates, they can serve as a critical part of the public diplomacy "follow-up" and help share the internalized American values to their countrymen. Therefore, through this process: "If the U.S. government can facilitate the pursuit of education for education's sake, political payoff is likely to follow" and these U.S.-educated students will be the source of both short-term and long-term change in Iran. The author even goes so far as to suggest that U.S.-educated Iranian students will be able to play a similar role to that which Western-educated Libyans played after the removal of Ghadafi in Libya. Therefore, in the probable scenario of a formation of a transitional government in Iran's future, a network of U.S.-educated graduates will be instrumental in safeguarding America's national interest in Iran.

If the author had a closer look to the history of the Iranian students presence in the U.S. he would have definitely noticed that last time this presence reached it peak during the 1970s, making Iranian students' population three times larger than the next largest community of international students in the U.S., the course of history followed the exact opposite route to his prediction. During the 1970s The Confederation of Iranian students a grassroots organization with an anti-colonial perspective played a major role in the victory of the Islamic revolution and defeating the U.S.-backed royal regime. This event was not necessarily desired by the U.S. administration at the time, and was an incident unforeseen by many Washington-based analysts back then!

This report insists that Iranians students who choose to pursue higher education in the U.S., solely to escape difficulties in Iran, will dramatically change upon arriving in the U.S. and after being exposed to the American culture, can never therefore be agents of their own history. They are either lucky enough to be able to stay in the U.S., or they will go back, and in both situations they carry the message of liberation and automatically will further the American national interests.

Nevertheless, this one basic report with its assumptions about the Iranian students having very few, if any, academic aspirations, merely escaping "repression" in Iran and suffering from a collective historical amnesia, absorbing certain values through their blank minds and trying to redistribute those values to their countrymen and therefore reinforce America's public mandate in the region is only but one banal hope to enforce the critically endangered American cultural hegemony in the Middle-East. This reveals the heavy shadows of the affective mechanisms and guiding suppositions behind Washington's analysts who make recommendations to the likely minded policy makers.