Thursday, October 30, 2008

Too modern , too soon

In fear of falling behind developing countries sometimes push forward and move ahead too fast. This jeopardizes the whole development process and could take developing nations to a state of superficial development or unsustained development. This race for rapid progress goes on at the expense of the environment and natural resources. The strong emphasis on environmental programs and policies in the National Fourth Year Development Law has not resonated well with the current administration in Iran and since the economy is mostly government funded this has led to a serious neglect of environment standards and policies. In addition to the social and environmental damage, the serious economic loss cannot be overlooked. Degradation of natural resources leads to major economic challenges and can contribute to poverty and unemployment.

This is a lesson which industrialized nations learned through a process of several decades, however developing countries do not have that opportunity. Their youth are restless and expect to enjoy the benefits of economic development quickly .

I remember in 2002 at the Johannesburg Sustainable Development Summit , the Japanese Prime Minister Mr. Kouzomi spoke in the High Level Working Group that I headed. He mentioned how Japan had achieved a sustainable development policy through education, change in lifestyle and attitudes as well as stringent standards and serious regulation. Developing countries should learn from the experiences of Japan, he said. While acknowledging the significant achievements of Japan in this regard, I told him we in developing countries have a major problem and that is a shortage of time . There is a sense of urgency in these countries that pushes governments to take decisions which are not always sustainable.
This push for advancement and modernity has other consequences as well. I went to a MS immunology class last week with my notes and information on transparencies only to realize that the projection facilities for transparencies had been considered as obsolete and wereno longer available. Instead, only the PowerPoint option was available. I delivered the lecture without any visual technology that day and I later had to explain to our educational managers that even in most international conferences today the transparency option is still available. I had the traditional transparency technolgy back in class this week.
Too modern, too soon!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Speaking to Young Iranian Students

At the heart of political resistance and struggle against despotism and imperialism , the Islamic Students Association (ISA) is a six to seven decade long student movement in Iran. I was invited to speak for an audience of 500 freshmen students newly enrolled and members of the ISA from Tehran University on Thursday. I had to address a very lively and youthful audience on the history and features of the student movement in Iran.

During the Shah's regime, alongside communist activists the ISA formed the major focal points of dissent and resistance. The culmination of their protests and strikes in the universities led to the victory of the Islamic Revolution. Many from the ISA were imprisoned and tortured by the dictatorial regime of the Shah.

After the Revolution, the ISA continued on an independent path to promote a progressive democratic and revolutionary interpretation of the Revolution and Islamic tenants. They faced many pressures from governments which did not approve of their critical and independent positions. The culmination of these pressures led to the 18 th of Tir event in which students faced both physical and psychological trauma.

I spoke about these developments and criticized the current government for some of its policies in curbing the freedom of speech in society and particularly in universities. I also spoke about the generational gap and the need to understand our history and culture and to deal with the globalizing world while preserving our identity and heritage.

The students were constantly responding to my political references to the criticisms of the current government and also to my references to the former President Khatami. They repeated their applause for the political views I was elaborating and seemed very excited about the possibility that Khatami would nominate himself for the upcoming elections.

I am not sure that everybody here in the political spheres of Iran would welcome the idea.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Headscarf, Radicalism and Yazd

The VIP guests of President Khatami also took part in the second day of deliberations and many of them spoke on issues pertaining to security and peace in today's world. Mary Robinson pointed to the issue of the Islamic covering and why this matter was obligatory for even non Muslim women in Iran. One of the clergy who is a university scholar as well explained that according to Islamic sharia nonMuslim women are not obliged to wear a headscarf but that in Iran the covering has become a social regulation. I also explained that the issue is in part a faith issue and in part a social regulation. For Muslim women, the Hijab provides a sense of identity and it has become a symbol of resistance in face of the capitalist campaign to commodify women. Mrs. Robinson responded by saying that she understood the identity issue and was also concerned about the commodification of women but that she could not go along with the obligatory approach on this matter.
The roots and causes for violence and radicalism in today's world were discussed. Poverty , despair, injustices and the role of double standards in international affairs were mentioned by practically all participants. To create confidence among nations many of those trends need to be reversed.
I have written in my Farsi blog how satisfied and contented the guests were following their meeting with the Supreme Leader . The American Bishop Chane and Prime Minister Bondevik expressed their gratitude for what they described to be a very informative and lively dialogue . They were surprised at his knowledge on contemporary and international issues.
The guests also visited Yazd on the third day. They had some time to visit the historical sites of Yazd which are very beautiful.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Long List of VIP Guests in Tehran

President Khatami had important guests in Tehran, this week. The fifth in a series of workshops in Tehran , Oslo and Geneva, this Conference on Religion in A Modern World was the final sum up of dialogue between religious, academic and political leaders from various cultures and religions. Held on October 13-14 in Tehran, this event was assessed as a major breakthrough for the moderate supporters of dialogue, at a time when Americans are still taking aggressive positions against Iran and in light of the up-comming Presidential elections in both the US and Iran.
Kjell Bondevik the former Norwegian Prime Minister, Sadiq Al Mahdi former Prime Minister of Sudan, Kofi Annan the former UNSG, Joseph Deiss the former President of the Switzerland, Lionel Jospin the former Prime Minister of France, Mrs Chandrika Kumaratunga the former President of Sri Lanka , Zlatko Laumdzija the former Prime Minister of Bosnia, Romano Prodi the former Prime Minster of Italy, Mary Robinson the former President of Ireland and Jorge De Sampio the former President of Portugal , Dr Abdullah the former Afghan Foreign Minister ,Professor John Esposito from Georgetown University and the Right Reverend John Chane were all here yesterday and today. Also many other scholars and academicians from different countries attended the Conference.
There was a highly publicised opening ceremony yesterday and many members of the media, Ambassador and high level politicians attended the ceremony. President Khatami mentioned the importance of dialogue as a means to confront radicalism and violence in today's world.
Before the panel began Mr Doaee a former MP and close associate of Mr. Khatami presented him with 65 rose flowers on the occaision of his birthday. The President thanked everyone but insisted that the coincidence was purely incidental.
After the opening ceremony the first session was a Panel on Religion, modernity , globalization and dialogue. Professor Esposito moderated the session while Dr. Deiss and I were the Keynote speakers. Dr Deiss spoke on dialogue as an imperative and the importance of achieving a common understanding and strategy. I spoke on Religion and the Lost Anima in a Globalising World. I stressed on the importance of good governance and sound leadership in today's world. How can leaders who have no peace of mind and heart and cannot transcend to connect with the higher levels of spiritual life, lead and inspire the world for advancment and peace?
There is much more share about the sessions and the dialogues we had on the sidelines. I will try to write more about the event.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Spirituality and Conservation

I did not have the opportunity to tell you about the Spirituality and Conservation Dialogues we had in Barcelona. I was held on Thursday morning and I spoke along with 6 other panelists about the importance of integrating the religious perspective in dealing with conservation issues. I spoke on global environmental leadership and the spiritual deficit , with emphasis on Islamic perspectives.Human excesses greed and a totally materialistic approach to life has perpetuated an aggression against nature in addition to the wars waged against humans. I spoke of Quranic perspectives that see the earth as a cradle and human beings as caretakers or viceroys of God on earth. Concerning Islamic views on the value of natural resources I mentioned the importance attached to water as the source of life and to the tree as the connection between the heavens as the earth. A major cause of the ongoing destructive policies , I stressed was the lack of integrity and sound leadership. The global leaders, I noted, are deprived of inner peace and therefore make decisions based on aggression, control and dominion . You can see the brochure and the panel here . We had some slides from Iran as well as Iranian music in the background before the session started. Professors Grim and Tucker also did a great job. We had a press conference and a session in the Futures Pavilion after the panel.

I think it was a positive start for IUCN dealing with religion and conservation. I hope they will continue to work on this important issue. Abrahamic religions have an immense wealth of wisdom on our relations with creation and nature, they might help humanity out of the quagmire it is currently stuck in.

There is an important international meeting underway in Tehran now. I will come back on that shortly.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

On a Ship in the Port of Barcelona

Hello to everyone from Barcelona .

The IUCN Congress is a great environmental event where you see the power of NGOs and scholars and scientists in the field of the environment. We missed the opening ceremony yesterday, since our plane arrived about 9.30 but we had a chance to see some of the exhibitions and pavillions on different topics. The dedication to the environment among these people is inspiring . I'm travelling with my son who ususally not had the chance to travel with me abroad when I was in the government but now he is with me. Our special guide or angel as she calls herself is Nicole. She is making the arrangements for us.

We met with Dr. Tucker this morning , she is a Professor at Harvard University and along with her husband Professor Grim they lead a center working on world religions and the environment. She and Professor Grim were our guests in Iran when we held the International Conference on Environment Religion, and Culture in 2001. They have done alot of excellent work in that area. We discussed many different issues including how women have to make a balance between work and family .
I also met with Dr. Achim Steiner the current UNEP Executive Director . We spoke about how the November 6 event which is being held every year by the Center for Peace and Environment, could bu up graded to include experts from the international community. November 6 is the international day for Prevention of the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict. Dr. Steiner was very positive on that matter, he also proposed a collaboration with the Tehran City Council Environment Committee.

I also attended a High Level session on a ship hosted by Prince Turki Ibn Naser , The President of Metereology and Environment of Saudi Arabia. I met many people some who I knew before but also the new Iraqi Minister of Environment she was of Kurd origin and had lived previously in Iran . There were some speeches done on the Marine Environment and Dr. Vali Moosa the IUCN President spoke about the importance of international seas and how they are being exploited.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Physiology of Memory and Learning

The Islamic Teacher's Association (ITA) is a non-governmental organization working to restore the rights and promote the welfare of teachers in Iran. They have reformist tendencies and they usually speak out against the one sided policies of the government against the welfare of teachers. Some of them have been arrested for protesting the policies and some have been charged inciting unrest among the teachers. The Ministry of Education is the largest ministry in the cabinet and while we have more than 18 million students enrolled in different levels the ministry also has about 1 million employees, teachers and personnel. There are many shortages that we still have in terms of budget, appropriate schools in remote parts of the country and other challenges , this government has the worst scorecard as compared to other governments in dealing with the issues facing this sector and the woes of the teachers.
I was invited to speak at a gathering of 2000 members of the ITA in the south of Tehran. It was after Iftar and I was actually exhausted but I began with a short excerpt from one of my lectures on psychoneuroimmunology on the formation, storage and retrieval of memory in the brain. New theories on the physiological basis for memory and learning focus on several functions which could enhance diversity and thus such a large pool of diverse information. The proliferation of neurons, the diversity of DNA and and diversity of proteins and chemicals produced are all candidates for memory formation and storage. I told them how research on this matter is still on the frontiers of science and how there is still much to understand about this mystery of human nature and physiology.
I also spoke about the difficult conditions that the country faces in terms of inflation and unemployment and stressed on the importance of making informed choices on the basis of a correct understanding of the circumstances that we face in the upcoming Presidential elections next spring. I told them that the fruits of the Islamic Democracy that we enjoy are obtained as a result of the efforts of those who have sacrificed and fought for liberty and independence in Iran. We need to make the best and prevent despair and indifference from gaining control over the political conditions.
After the speech many of the attendees were asking me whether former President Khatami would stand as a candidate for the next round. I responded by telling them that he had not decided and asked them to pray so that God would help him make the correct choice.

I will be attending the IUCN Congress in Barcelona next week. I will be speaking at a plenary session on Spirituality and Conservation on the 9 th of October. I will be also meeting with members of the press on the sidelines of that event. I will give you more on that as soon as possible.