As millions of Iranians prepare for the new school year, the scene is being set for what could be a long hot autumn on university campuses across the nation. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has promised to "cleanse" the Iranian educational system of what he calls "the corrupt influence of the infidel" and has mobilized a special militia to crush the expected student revolts.
The radical president refers to his "academic cleansing" plan as "The Second Great Islamic Cultural Revolution." The late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini closed the universities and launched the first "Great Islamic Cultural Revolution" in 1980. A committee created to "cleanse" academia purged more than 6,000 professors and lecturers, virtually destroying Iranian academia. Dozens of academics were executed as hundreds fled into exile. The committee also expelled thousands of students on charges of monarchist or leftist tendencies. It also censored or totally rewrote dozens of textbooks to conform to the Khomeinist ideology.
When the universities were reopened two years later, the committee tried to fill them with students and teachers sympathetic to Khomeinism. The trick was to allocate special places for members of The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and children of families believed to be loyal to the regime.
Further, it established a blacklist of banned authors and writings - an index that has grown every year since, reminding one of the worst days of the Inquisition in medieval Europe. The madness of censorship, supervised by the so-called Ministry of Islamic Orientation and Culture, reached a new peak last week with the banning of a new volume of memoirs of former President Hashemi Rafsanjai - who was a member of the original "cleansing" committee!
More than two decades of purges and "cultural cleansing" didn't prevent Iranian universities from becoming bastions of opposition to the Khomeinist ideology. In the 1990s, Iran experienced the largest and longest student revolt in its history. Then-President Muhammad Khatami crushed the revolt through the Revolutionary Guard with mass arrests and the expulsion of thousands of students.
Ahmadinejad launched his second "Islamic Cultural Revolution" last year by appointing a semiliterate mullah as chancellor of Tehran University - the first time that a cleric took charge of the nation's oldest and largest center of higher education.
Ahmadinejad's purge started last July with the replacement of 20-plus college deans. In almost every case, a bona fide academic was pushed out in favor of a Revolutionary Guard member.
Scores of professors and lecturers have reportedly been told that their services are no longer required. The purged teachers include individuals who had served as members of the Islamic Majlis (Iran's ersatz parliament) or, in two cases, as ministers in pre-Ahmadinejad Cabinets. Dozens of academics have been arrested, including some returning from conferences abroad.
An unknown number of students have been arrested. In Tabriz, all seven members of the students union were picked up and taken to an unknown destination last month. The families of two of them claim that they may have died under torture. In Tehran, more than 150 student activists have been "disappeared" in recent weeks.
As part of the purge, 30 privately owned colleges have been shut and their assets seized. Thirteen others are under investigation. The moves could interrupt the studies of some 100,000.
Serving notice that any protest on the campus will be crushed, a special force (known as the Ashura Brigade) commanded by Guard veteran Gen. Qassem Kargar has been assigned the task of "ensuring a peaceful atmosphere" at centers of higher education.
Ostensibly mandated to enforce the Islamic Dress Code (enacted in May 2006), armed guards are posted at all centers of higher education to prevent anti-regime demonstrations.
"Cleansing" the universities through expulsions and arrests may be easy for a government prepared to use force against unarmed civilians. But when it comes to the education's content, things are not as easy as the Tehran radicals might wish. A report prepared for Ahmadinejad claims that at least 40 percent of the textbooks in use in Iranian universities do not conform to Khomeinist dogma.
The problem for the regime is that it has alienated the intellectual elite. No author, academic or scientist of note would be prepared to participate in the "Islamic Cultural Revolution." Efforts to find somebody to prepare a course on Khomeini's "philosophy" have provoked only derision among intellectuals approached to assume the task.
After months of efforts to prepare a special course on Ahmadinejad's denial of the Holocaust, the committee charged with the task has produced nothing but a pamphlet that consists almost entirely of translations from Western writers.
Iran today is a society whose "muscle" power is at war against its "brain" power.
Ghulam-Hussein Hadad-Adel, the speaker of the Islamic Majlis (Iran's ersatz parliament) says the Islamic Republic must prevent "dangerous thoughts and ideas." But who decides what is dangerous?
In fact, the central role of the university is to allow dangerous thoughts and ideas to be expressed and measured against other thoughts and ideas. The imposition of a uniform mode of thought and prefabricated ideas is better suited to a concentration camp than a university campus.
The first "Islamic Cultural Revolution" failed to subject generations of Iranians to mass brainwashing in the name of education. The second one will also fail: Iranians love dangerous thoughts and ideas.