Correction: In the previous version of this post, I stated that the National Iranian American Council was affiliated with the Iranian government. That was incorrect: it is an independent lobbying organization advocating for the interests of Iranian-Americans. I have made this correction below.
Well, we had an attempted deplatforming of a speaker here this week. But first, a bit of background.
The University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics (IoP)is a nonpartisan organization that hosts a diversity of speakers from all parts of the political spectrum (see a partial list below). It exists to promote political engagement of young people; as Wikipedia notes:
The Institute of Politics is an extracurricular, nonpartisan institute at the University of Chicago designed to inspire students to pursue careers in politics and public service. The Institute accomplishes its goals through four major avenues: a civic engagement program, where students take part in community service projects and gain leadership skills, a fellows program that hosts a group of political and policy professionals to lead seminars for an academic quarter, a speaker series featuring public events with a diverse array of political figures, and a career development program featuring hundreds of internships in government, politics and policy. It was formally established in 2013 with David Axelrod, who was President Barack Obama’s chief campaign advisor, as its director.
Since its inception, the IOP has hosted prominent speakers including Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Mitt Romney, Rand Paul, Al Gore, Rick Santorum, John McCain, Newt Gingrich, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Andrew Yang, Amy Klobuchar, John Brennan, Frank Bruni, Edward Snowden (via videochat), Jon Stewart, Arthur Brooks, Bill Browder, Gina Raimondo, and Chance the Rapper; hosted fellows such as Beth Myers, Michael Steele, Roger Simon, Husain Haqqani, Matthew Dowd, Howard Wolfson, Mark Udall, Tom Harkin, Michael Morell, Jeff Roe, Reihan Salam, and Bakari Sellers. It has arranged over 250 student internships to institutions like the U.S. Capitol, the Brookings Institution, and the White House, and placed over 300 students in civic engagement projects.
And students have protested IoP speakers before, like former Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Some IoP speakers have even been shut down by both student and non-student disruption, including Cook County attorney Anita Alvarez, criticized for “state violence against brown and Black people” (their capitalization) and deplatformed by, among others, Black Lives Matter protestors. Some speakers, like Natalie Jaresko, executive director of the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico, were subject to attempted student disruption, but protestors were kicked out by the cops. Note that all these protests came from the Left, like most recent disruptions and deplatformings in American colleges.
Finally, an op-ed at the Chicago Maroon, our student newspaper, has called for disbanding the IoP as a whole, dubbing it “an institution that encourages and enables new drones to enter a career in politics and spend a lifetime getting paid to manufacture the illusion of progress and problem-solving—the Institute of Politics.” That’s just bizarre. Are we not to have politics at all?
Yesterday another speaker was disrupted—and her panel canceled as a live event— as someone phoned in bomb threats to the IoP’s building before the discussion was to take place. As the Maroon reported:
The University of Chicago Institute of Politics (IOP) told student staff not to enter the building Tuesday afternoon after the institute received a bomb threat this morning over a panelist for an event on protests in Iran. The panelist, Negar Mortazavi, has been accused of having connections to the Iranian government despite criticizing it in the media. Multiple sources at the IOP familiar with the situation informed The Maroon that the closure was due to safety concerns.
The bomb threat was received via email, according to a source that communicated with The Maroon.
Another source told The Maroon that law enforcement had searched the IOP’s house on South Woodlawn Avenue with bomb-sniffing dogs. The source also said that people had been coming into the Institute throughout the day falsely claiming to know IOP staffers.
The IOP had been receiving calls critical of Mortazavi since last week in regard to “Taking it to the Streets: the Power of Iranian Women Now,” an event scheduled for this afternoon at 3:30 p.m. that was shifted from in person to virtual Tuesday morning in consultation with the University. Another IOP event scheduled for today, a seminar with IOP fellow Laura Dove, moved to a building across the street.
The panel was called “Taking it to the Streets: The Power of Iranian Women Now”.
I myself received two emails from a correspondent who refused to give his/her name, asking me to help shut down the event because of Mortazavi’s supposed complicity with the government of Iran. She is a member of the National Iranian American Council, a group (not affiliated with the Iranian government) that lobbies in America for the country. Mortazavi recently published a piece in The New Republic critical of the regime’s treatment of women, and her TNR video below buttresses that criticism of the regime. The Maroon adds “Mortazavi, who has been critical of the Iranian government’s crackdown on protests, responded to the controversy surrounding her on Twitter and labeled the attacks on her as ‘smears.’” I have no idea why anyone would phone in a bomb threat against her unless they were supporting the insupportable present actions of the Iranian government.
Regardless, I was asked to help deplatform her; my anonymous correspondent (who used an untraceable Protonmail email address) wrote this:
Such a person who whitewashed the regime’s crimes should not be on campus speaking about the current situation. She should not take the spot from qualified Iran experts who have highlighted the Iran regime’s human rights infractions for years.
Sorry, but although I am a huge opponent of the Iranian regime, I am, like my University, a big supporter of free speech. I don’t believe in prohibiting people from speaking, but opposing them by favoring counterspeech, and I’m constantly criticizing the Iranian government. The University of Chicago does not ban invited speakers or deplatform them, so there’s nothing I could do about this, even if I wanted to.
I have to say that it crossed my mind that my correspondent might have been involved in the bomb threat; why else would someone hide their identity this way? Who knows?
At any rate, the show did go on: they did hold the panel, but it was virtual:
The IOP had been receiving calls critical of Mortazavi since last week in regard to “Taking it to the Streets: the Power of Iranian Women Now,” an event scheduled for this afternoon at 3:30 p.m. that was shifted from in person to virtual Tuesday morning in consultation with the University. Another IOP event scheduled for today, a seminar with IOP fellow Laura Dove, moved to a building across the street
Here’s the video, which seems to show Mortazavi to be sufficiently critical of Iran that she would be punished or detained were she to return to Iran: