Iran As Victim? University of San Francisco’s Prof. Stephen Zunes Thinks So

Berkeley resident Rima Greene co-wrote this article with Cinnamon Stillwell, the West Coast Representative for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum. She can be reached at stillwell@meforum.org.


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A crowd of would-be revolutionaries gathered last month at Revolution Books in Berkeley to hear Stephen Zunes—chair of the program in Middle Eastern studies and professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco—speak on a panel with the improbable title, “U.S.-Israeli Assault on Iran Escalates: The Danger of War Grows.” The title originated with an article by co-panelist Larry Everest, author and correspondent for Revolution, the newspaper for the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, an organization whose cult of personality revolves around well-known Stalinist Bob Avakian. Fittingly, event posters on the walls sported slogans such as “Re-visioning Socialism” and “Another World is Possible,” and the shelves were filled with books by Avakian and other communists.

Revolution Books inhabits a choice retail location just blocks from the University of California, Berkeley campus, and in contrast with other events featuring left-wing academics whose talks are assigned to students, the audience in this instance was largely middle-aged to elderly. Spanish speakers provided simultaneous translations in the rear seats, producing a continuous background hum, while a very casually dressed woman entered, radio to her ear, listening to President Obama’s 2012 State of the Union address.

All who entered were handed a copy of Revolution along with a flier for International A.N.S.W.E.R.’s then-forthcoming “national day of action” in San Francisco, which trumpeted the do-nothing rallying cry, “No War on Iran, No Sanctions, No Interventions, No Assassinations!” Like the rally to come, the atmosphere at Revolution Books was fiercely anti-American, anti-Israel, and apologetic towards, even supportive of, the Iranian regime.

In a nod to the setting, Zunes proclaimed at the outset, “I’m not a communist,” but his repetitive references to “imperialists” demonstrated his familiarity with leftist jargon. He elaborated: “A lot of what I’m going to say overlaps, but I am coming from a slightly different angle.”

Affirming the contention of the preceding speaker, Larry Everest, that the Iranian regime had allegedly given up pursuing nuclear weapons in 2003 according to a 2007—and later discredited—National Intelligence Estimate, Zunes added, “No one who is intellectually honest could disagree with your analysis.” Was International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Yukiya Amano intellectually dishonest when he stated last month that the IAEA, “has credible information that Iran is engaged in activities relevant to the development of nuclear explosives”?

Zunes reiterated a position he took in a 2009 article—on the heels of Iran’s stolen election—titled, “Why U.S. Neocons Want Ahmadinejad to Win”:

What’s important is that Neocons and the imperialists in this country want the green revolution crushed. They need each other to justify the kinds of policies the U.S. imperialists want.

This logic, such as it is, concludes that Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad provides a handy excuse for so-called warmongers in the U.S. to block the Obama administration’s diplomatic overtures to Iran. Such a conspiracy theory ignores the fact that Neoconservatives and others on the right were strong critics of the Obama administration’s refusal to offer moral support to the green revolution at its outset.

Zunes insisted that U.S. intervention only inspires the Iranian people to side with their government:

Everyone emphasizes the Islamic characteristics of Iran, but what’s really kept the regime in power is nationalism. The Iranians are the most nationalistic people in the entire world . . . it’s something the regime can capitalize on when it hears these threats [of sanctions]. What we don’t hear in the media is that the opposition supports the government in its conflict with the U.S. They oppose U.S. intervention.

Yet dissident voices within Iran continue to express disgust with the regime and a lack of animosity towards the U.S.  For instance, a young Iranian woman who corresponds regularly with American journalist Michael Yon recently sent him the following:

To make the long story short, people in Iran, not just youth, hate the government and want to move out of the country as soon as they can. . . . The Iranians do not hate you nor do they hate ur [sic] government. This is all the media. . . . No one is against you here except for those on the government’s side.

Iranian exiles who were tortured in Iran’s Evin Prison provided letters and live testimony at the UN Watch-organized event, “We Have A Dream: Global Summit Against Discrimination and Persecution,” held in September, 2011 to coincide with the United Nations 66th Session of the General Assembly. To no avail, the organizers begged the international community to intervene.

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  • David M

    Communists have found Islam as their new religion whether in the US or Iran. The Tudeh Party (Iran's and Middle East's oldest and largest communist party and a branch of the KGB) did its best for Khomeini in every aspect from intelligence, torture and executions of Iranians who resisted Khomeini. When communists had no use for Khomeini anymore and it was the time to get rid of these communist rats they fled Iran but not to Russia, China, North Korea or Cuba but to Europe and the US. No surprise that they are in bed with Iranian agents and working against the West and Iranians who oppose the Islamonazi regime in Iran. Islam, Communism and Nazism are three totalitarian ideologies and and it is natural that Muslims, Communists and Nazis all over the world are against the West because of its freedom. I warn that there are many Iranian communists and Iranian regime agents (embassy staff, businessmen, students, academia, ”human rights activists”) who pose a serious threat to the security of the West.

  • Brujo Blanco

    It curious that these Communists carp about violence directed at countries like Iran and do not address Iranian violence. I believe that Iran will eventually make an unprovoted nuke strike against some nation. No doubt if this happens against Israel the left will claim the Jews are responsible for this strike because of way the Jews are.

  • Marty

    zunes did get one thing right: the iranian people (understandably) despise their corrupt and autocratic government. But iranians, unless they are persian (perhaps half of the total population), aren't very nationalistic. The kurds, arabs, azeris certainly are not excited about preserving persian supremacy. The destruction of the nuclear program might trigger the destruction of the regime and both might inspire the disintegration of the iranian state – a good thing really. The end of the mullahs would in turn thwart hamas and hizbollah plans to murder more Israelis with iranian weapons. There is no downside to any of this.

  • bagofdirt

    Dare him not going into Iran and do his Atheist stuff. Oh, maybe he is a Muslim in disguise?

    My enemy's enemy is my friend. Sound familier?

  • Sage on the Stage

    Stephen Zunes and most of the remainder of the left-leaning faculty at the University of San Francisco are living in the past. They frequently remind listeners about how their university told a College football bowl committee to take a hike, when that committee , in 1951, invited the USF Golden Don football team to a bowl game, on condition that they leave a certain black player home. All well and good; however, that was 60 years ago;
    and one frequently hears comments from today's faculty, administrators, and students, about what a "racist country" America is, in 2012. And I find it strange, to say the least, that a university faculty that is so good at spotting racism in America, refuses to see any racism in Iran; a country ruled by a blatantly genocidal judeophobic America-hating Muslim clique. USF? Right next to the Haight-Ashbury district; no surprise there. My son and daughter won't go to school there.

  • Ghostwriter

    Is this Zunes character living in the same world as we do? Iran,a victim? Hardly. I'll shed no tears for the day that A-jad and his friends are overthrown in Iran. In fact,it'll probably be a great day for the whole world.

  • Nakba1948

    Yet another example of bipolar thinking among the Ziocons. You can dislike the Iranian regime, the Zionist regime, and the Israel-firsters in the American government without being inconsistent. Just because you reject the oppressive, backwards theocracy in Tehran doesn't mean that you by default supporting the murderous Zionists and their efforts to start WWIII. Putting aside the fact that the US has no money to fight yet ANOTHER war, it's not worth the geopolitical consequences of going to war with Iran. If you think otherwise, then I encourage you chickenhawks to put your money where you mouth is, enlist in the US military, and volunteer to go fight in these "righteous" wars half a world away.

    • Sage on the Stage

      I'll go you one better. The only power that wants to start WW3 is the murderous, backwards theocracy in Tehran. Its absolutely worth "the geopolitical consequences of going to war with Iran," because the alternative is to allow Iran to
      go nuclear. What are you going to say when Iran goes nuclear and targets the area where YOU live? And by the way, I've experienced the terror of rocket attacks, in Beersheba, firsthand; while lying, deceptive Judeophobes like you laugh at Israeli soldiers, who take great risks to not fire at, or near, Palestinian civilians. Go worship Ahmadinajad, and his cowardly minions;; and your brave Hamas warriors, who hide behind the UNWRA building in Gaza, while taking potshots from hiding, at the IDF.

      • Nakba1948

        Go harvest another organ, you illiterate Zionist pig (you obviously didn't read my comment). The IDF is nothing but a glorified terrorist organization. Easily worse than the Hamas.

        • APP

          Nakba48, you are in fact an Arab Nazi, spewing lies. Zionism = Love for Israel, the eternal home of the Israelis, the Hebrew people. King David was the ruler of which people? Where? The IDF is the army of the State of Israel, a distinguished member of the community of civilized nations. You, as all other Arabs, originate from the Arabia. You have been murdering, pillaging and raping your way on other people's lands since you demented pedophile Muhammad, whose "wife" Aisha was 9 (nine) year old!!!