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.

It would be no surprise to learn that that there's an Anti-Iranian Activities Committee modeled on the old House Un-American Activities Committee that held sway during one of this country's more fearful moods.

If you rate three stars, which means you've been spotted attending a protest rally or daring to openly support an opposition candidate, you are banned from any of the country's institutions of higher education. For life.

In Iran, education is being reserved for those who solemnly promise not to use it to think for themselves. It's a terrible thing to do to a society, let alone a once great civilization. It is the equivalent of a nation's destroying its seed corn.

Remember the case of Neda Agha-Soltan, the young woman whose killing was captured on a video? How could anyone forget? The people of Iran remember her.

So will all these star students. Some of them, denied places in graduate school, are quoted as wondering what will happen to them in life. I take this opportunity to hazard a prediction: One of them will turn out to be prime minister of a new, free Iran. For today's revolutionaries have a way of becoming tomorrow's leaders.

Despite their bully boys and all the other accouterments of a police state, the mullahs in transient power in Iran are making a big mistake, the same one all their kind do. They're betting against their people's noblest aspiration: liberty.

However long it takes, freedom will sprout. Naturally it was a Russian -- Ilya Ehrenburg -- who said it: "If the whole world were to be covered with asphalt, one day a crack would appear in the asphalt, and in that crack grass would grow."

The American method of suppressing dissent is more subtle, and effective.

Here anyone who dares challenge the reigning orthodoxy in this country's politically correct, well-policed groves of academe may find himself facing just as well-calibrated a system of penalties, from a failing grade to being denied tenure. But there is no need in a free country to use an instrument as blunt as force. In the supposedly free world, intellectual fashion reigns, and ostracism is the instrument of choice.

Note the tactics used by the "scientists" who contributed those revealing emails out of the formerly respected Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in England. Anyone who harbored doubts about man-made climate change was to be treated as a heretic. Doubts were to be suppressed and the doubters themselves reduced to unpersons in the scientific hierarchy, their work unpublished.

To quote one of the hacked e-mails: "I can't see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow -- even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!" That was Professor Phil Jones, who now has stepped aside as head of the CRU while his activities there are investigated, writing to his collaborator Michael Mann at Penn State.

The moral of this story: When it comes to anti-intellectualism, no one practices it so assiduously as the West's own intellectuals.


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.