Azar Nafisi: Which Presidential candidate would deal with Iran best?
Azar Nafisi is best known as the author of the national bestseller Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, which electrified its readers with a compassionate and often harrowing portrait of the Islamic revolution in Iran and how it affected one university professor and her students. The book has spent over 117 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Azar Nafisi’s new book, Things I Have Been Silent About: Memories, a memoir about her mother, was published in January 2009.
Azar Nafisi is a Visiting Professor and the executive director of Cultural Conversations at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC, where she is a professor of aesthetics, culture, and literature, and teaches courses on the relation between culture and politics. Azar Nafisi held a fellowship at Oxford University, teaching and conducting a series of lectures on culture and the important role of Western literature and culture in Iran after the revolution in 1979. She has taught at the University of Tehran, the Free Islamic University and Allameh Tabatabaii.
Question: Which Presidential candidate would deal with Iran best?
Azar Nafisi: It’s very difficult because policies on Iran are rather vague. I do agree with Mrs. [Hillary] Clinton that you need to; I guess Obama as well would say that you need the carrots and sticks. You need to both have dialogue as at the same time support the Iranian people; although I’m not putting words in Mrs. Clinton’s mouth. I don’t think she said that.
But she has been firm in certain areas, which I agree with. I don’t think that Clinton administration’s policies during __________ times really helped, because they themselves were not sure what dialogue meant. If you go into dialogue with the devil, you should know what the context is. And I don’t think they were aware of it.
With Obama, first of all, I very much admire the fact that not just in foreign policy but also in domestic policy he feels confident enough. When you are confident you can sit with people you disagree with and respect them. So I think that policy that he uses both towards people he disagrees with at home and abroad – the fact that he says I’ll give you space to talk; we should negotiate; I admire that very much. I think that alongside of that there should be firmness. Talking with them should not be compromising Iranian people, so there needs to be a double message of talking with the government; at the same time supporting democracy in Iran.
It’s partly when U.S. policy towards Soviet Union at its best when they managed to support the dissidents not through giving __________ in money, but giving _________ in voice __________, you know? So that is what I hope.
Obama, I like the mindset. I like the way he . . . not the preachy side of it, but the attitude. The change for him is not a change in agendas. It’s a change in attitude. So that change in attitude I think will bring maybe a more . . . change in foreign policy, which would take us away from the disasters we’ve had over the past 30 years.
Question: What about John McCain?
Azar Nafisi: Well [John] McCain is always a paradox, isn’t he? I mean you like him but you don’t like his policies.
So I was avoiding that because; and I sometimes think how much of that is mythologized – the personas we create of the candidates? Would I really like him if I knew him? But as it is, what I know of him, in many ways he’s a man of integrity.
And obviously from his experiences what he says he believes in, I just happen to disagree with it. I don’t know exactly what he thinks about Iran.
I think this tough boy attitude is not necessarily the best. I think sometimes our politicians mistake; the same way they mistake compromise for dialogue – they think dialogue means forgetting about human rights – they mistake firmness for belligerence. You can be firm with Iran, but you don’t have to constantly say nasty things about them. That doesn’t make you firm.
It gives the Iranians a great space to get back at you because they’re much better than you are in this. So if you tell Mr. Ahmadinejad, “You’re an idiot,” he can turn around and say, “Okay, you’re an idiot as well,” and that’s it. If you tell them, “We’ll attack you if you do this,” they say, “We’ll attack your ships right now,” in fact. So that language is not going to work. You know that is not the way to go about it.
Recorded on: February 22, 2008
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