Paul Greenberg

I have just read about a new high-water mark in the persecution of intellectuals. Or just the intelligent. For setting it, the world can thank the Hon. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and his clerical keepers, notable among them the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader, General Exaltedness, Most High Nabob, etc.

Forgive me if I lose track of the exact titles now used by the higher-ups of the Islamic Republic, just as I used to have trouble keeping track of the Grand Dragons and Imperial Wizards of the Ku Klux Klan, Inc., in these Southern latitudes. And probably for the same reason -- there is a comic-opera aspect to such official designations that won't let me take them seriously. At least not until till said officials turn homicidal. Then they become serious indeed. As in threats to the peace.

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Lest we forget, as late as 1940 some found even A. Hitler a figure of vaudevillian fun -- see Charlie Chaplin's "The Great Dictator." But a buffoon with a great army ceases to be a buffoon and becomes a clear and present danger. The same goes for a grand ayatollah who's on the verge of acquiring his own nukes.

But today let's give the devil/grand dragon/Supreme Leader his due. For the first time in my admittedly limited knowledge, a regime has decided to identify its most promising students not in order to make use of their minds and talents, but to bar them from further study, or maybe from society in general.

That's right: If you're a star pupil in Iran, you're less likely to get a good report card than a stiff prison sentence. Iran's rulers have made a capacity for thought grounds for suspicion, even suspension, expulsion and incarceration. If not worse.

Here's how Iran's star system works, according to an eye-opening and brow-furrowing front-page story by Farnaz Fassihi in the Wall Street Journal:

If one star appears beside a student's name in the extensive dossier kept by Iran's secret police, he -- or she -- may stay in graduate school but only after signing a promise not to take part in any objectionable activities. Like freedom of expression.

But if you're awarded two stars by Big Brother, uh oh. You're suspended from school and become eligible for interrogation by the authorities. After which you may be required to write a letter (if your hand still works) pledging you'll forgo any unapproved politics.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.