Ron Radosh

Three American Professors: 'Useful Idiots' of the Tehran Regime

In 2001, Michael Walzer, the Princeton professor and editor of the social-democratic magazine Dissent, wrote a much discussed essay called “Can There Be a Decent Left?” He was ambiguous, but hopeful, and very critical of those on the Left who after 9/11 still saw the United States as the only real enemy of the world’s people. There have been since then scores of events that have proven that the only answer to Walzer is that there cannot be, since the raison d’etre of the Left is the opposition to democratic capitalism and to any exertion of American power in the world.

More proof came this weekend, as the internet is abuzz with a short video posted by MEMRI of a conference held in Tehran last February, but which only now is getting noticed. The video consists of interviews with three American professors who attended a solidarity conference arranged by the mullahs to publicize the Occupy Wall Street movement, the key event of the American left.

The professors identified in the video are Albert Vitale and John Hammond, who claim to be on the faculty of Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, and a sociologist from Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus in New York, Heather Gautney. I was able to find Gautney on the faculty list of Fordham, but the name John Hammond does not come up at the Brooklyn College website. Vitale is a prof. of sociology and an elected member of the PSC, the AFL-CIO affiliated union that represents the faculty and is now led by a very left-wing leadership. (I originally used Memri’s wrong spelling of his name and have now corrected it.)

In a report that appeared on the Fox News website in March, Gautney is quoted as being pleased that the Iranians supported OWS. She said the conference “is quite a welcome development, and speaks to the Iranians’ affection for Americans despite all the political conflict.” She sounded like an advertisement for the existence of American “useful idiots” for the Iranian regime. It seemed not to occur to Professor Gautney that she was being used by the very regime that brutally suppresses its own dissidents and welcomes an alliance with the Western Left, which it woos as allies who oppose the United States of America.

Although Gautney told Fox’s reporter Mike Levine that at first she worried about the regime’s motive for allowing the meeting, her fears were put aside when she studied the conference’s agenda. She concluded that “it seemed like a very legitimate kind of project.” The government media reported the event and ran a story with the heading: “Experts: Occupy Wall Street likely to topple US administration.”

Evidently another OWS meeting two weeks earlier featured American religious leaders who told the Iranians that OWS “will redesign the world order.” One such religious leader attending was Imam Abdul Alim Musa from a Washington, D.C., mosque, who stated while in Iran that OWS activists “feel that all of us are part of the 90 percent” and thus oppose any government that “killed scientists, engineers, peaceful people,” referring to the assassination of Iranian scientists working on Iran’s nuclear development program. The imam also told them that OWS was “naturally against Zionism,” which was “the monster today.”

When told what the imam had to say two weeks before their own conference, Gautney seemed surprised, obviously believing that she was hosted by Iran because she was a self-proclaimed opponent of “inequality.” Hence, she felt that the imam was “a pawn in religious conflicts” of which OWS was not a part.

Why, I wonder, does Professor Gautney think Iran hosted her and the other American academics? Does she really think that the regime in Tehran is at all interested in addressing the social issue she is concerned with, except for their hope that it will weaken the U.S. internally? As far as Gautney (who seemed to be the only professor there willing to speak to an American reporter ) was concerned, the only issue was that of a “deeply unequal social and political system” in the United States. She saw her role in Iran as “representing the movement.”

When pressed about her own feelings on the regime in Iran, she claimed that she had “no education in Islamic history” and “no real understanding of the society,” and hence it would be “irresponsible” to say anything about the society she was in for the OWS solidarity event. Is she so stupid that she did not see the press reports when the Green movement was being suppressed and the regime was killing those brave enough to take part? Doesn’t she watch TV or read the American newspapers? Or is she so preoccupied with organizing OWS she is simply totally ignorant about anything else?

When reporter Levine challenged her and asked if she was free to speak her mind on any other subjects, she replied that she was only there to “give them real information about the [OWS] movement.” When asked why the Iranians didn’t want to share their views of their own government with her, she simply said they “have to toe a line there” and thus didn’t turn their “lens inward.” But Gautney then proceeded to do the regime a little favor, by noting her firm opposition to U.S. and world sanctions against Iran, which she claimed only hurt “the poor and middle-class people.”

She seemed to think, evidently, that sanctions undercut dissent within Iran, and made Iranians turn “against the West” and thus unify “the country.” Of course, she seemed unaware that by the time she was there, and even before tough sanctions were in place, the regime already was crushing dissent and making it impossible to exist.

The participation of these three academics in an event heralded by our enemies in Tehran should teach us a few lessons. First, the tyrants in Iran welcome and support OWS, which they see as a social movement that helps their goal of weakening the United States. Two, the academics who willingly went to Tehran are playing a small part in legitimizing one of the most brutal governments that now exist, one that openly threatens to destroy Israel and then the United States. Finally, they provide living proof that although Communism for the most part is dead, useful idiots of tyrannies that do still hold power and endanger all of us still exist.

These useful idiots are exemplified by the three American professors who represented OWS in Tehran.


At the Huffington Post, Sohrab Ahmari, an Iranian-American author and opponent of the regime in Tehran, has a first rate article about their trip. He also discovered an incredibly stupid piece by Heather Gautney about the trip, that she published of all places on CNN’s GPS website, the blog area of Fareed Zakaria’s program.