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Thursday, September 10, 2015

September Lunch and Learn: Iran's Revolutionary Past and Uncertain Future

Tehran, as viewed from the Modares Expressway (wikimedia commons)
As an undergraduate, Jonathan Pinckney began what would become a years-long endeavor to better understand the complex history of nonviolent revolution and rebellion in countries around the world, including in Iran. While studying abroad in Hosni Mubarak's Egypt, Pinckney, this month's International Services Lunch and Learn speaker, became interested in populist political movements around the world. As he worked toward his graduate and doctorate degrees following the 2011 Arab Spring, Pinckney focused his academic interest on the subject of extra-institutional political uprising, a choice due in no small part to the experiences of close friends in the demonstrations that enabled change across the Middle East.

"I had friends who slept in Tahrir Square, for three weeks, because they wanted to oust Hosni Mubarak" Pinckney said. "Having that close personal connection to the place where I lived, and to see it so transformed by a movement for political change, really fascinated me. I had lived there, not that long before, and I never would have predicted that."

While Pinckney's firsthand experience of the region was in Egypt and with Egyptian friends, the subject of grassroots political agitations remained a focus of his research as a SiĆ© Fellow at the The University of Denver's Korbel School of International Studies. In his studies of nonviolent revolutions, he has extensively studied the history of Iran, a nation with a tradition of nonviolent rebellion dating back to the early 20th century. With its theocratic regime and highly educated population, as well as a complex national identity, the country continues to be a distinct political and cultural presence in the region and the world.

With the achievement of a recent comprehensive deal to prevent a nuclear-enabled Iran, the nation once again presents the rest of the world with more questions than answers. For Pinckney, many clues to Iran's future come from its current political divisions, and an awareness of its revolutionary history.

"What a lot of people don't realize about Iran is that the political elite are actually very divided, and have been since the revolution, over what the Iranian Regime is supposed to be about," Pinckney said. "An impact of the agreement could be to dramatically raise the profile and improve the popularity of moderates like Rouhani and others who are from the more moderate tradition. That's certainly ground for optimism that the deal will have positive impacts on Iranian politics and what Iranian public opinion looks like"

Iran is of particular interest not only to scholars like Pinckney but to humanitarian organizations, including the Red Cross. The International Committee of the Red Cross has had a presence in the nation since 1977, working toward the implementation of International Humanitarian Law and helping to reconnect families displaced by the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. Optimism that the deal could promote a more open and democratic Iran is particularly hopeful from a humanitarian context, in that it might lead to greater stability and transparency for Iran and the surrounding region.

Pinckney said that he hopes the Lunch and Learn lecture will help shed light on the nation's multifaceted history, its transitional present, and how both can help discern Iran's place in an increasingly globalized future.

"It's a very complex society, actually among the most modern, sophisticated and intellectual societies in the Middle East, with a dramatic history of agitating for greater democracy and greater political rights," Pinckney said. "In a sense, there are a lot of cultural and political similarities between American society, American values and Iranian values and Iranian society."

The Lunch & Learn lecture will be presented Wednesday, Sept. 16, from noon to 1 p.m. at the American Red Cross, 444 Sherman St. RSVPs are requested by 12 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 15, by clicking here. Webinar options are also available for remote audiences. For more information, contact Tim Bothe.

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