Anti-Mahallati Protests Lack Context

My thanks to the Review for its most recent story about the controversy involving Professor of Religion Mohammad Jafar Mahallati, as reported by Managing Editor Gigi Ewing. As the story noted, I have done extensive research on the controversy. I would like to emphasize some additional points that I think the Oberlin community should think about in considering the issues involved. 

In general, there is no statute of limitations on human rights violations of the kinds involved in the 1988 state-sanctioned executions in Iran. Anyone who participated in — or supported either directly or indirectly — those human rights violations can still be and should be held to account. That should be done according to fair judicial proceedings or investigations that weigh evidence in an objective manner. 

A key question in this is whether Professor Mahallati had direct knowledge of the executions at the time he made various statements before the U.N. that questioned reports originating with Amnesty International. So far, I have found no evidence that he would have had either direct or indirect knowledge of the executions from sources inside Iran. The executions were carried out in extreme secrecy. They did not become public knowledge in Iran until shortly after Mahallati was dismissed from his position as the U.N. ambassador to Iran.  

It is well-documented that Mahallati played a key role in gaining Iran’s acceptance of the U.N. resolution that ended the Iran-Iraq war. He did that despite significant opposition from inside Iran to his efforts. His arrest and imprisonment in Iran after he was dismissed from his U.N. position are indicative of the risks he took to bring an end to a war that by best estimates killed 500,000 people on each side and produced in excess of 1,000,000 casualties. 

The issues involved in this controversy are complex. My research into these issues is ongoing, and there are several questions I am still examining. As a result of conversations with an Oberlin alum, I have written a 5,000-word assessment of the controversy that I have labeled “tentative.” It covers not only questions involving former U.N. Ambassador Mahallati, but also concerns I have regarding the actions of the protest group and its allies.