Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the US government has spent billions of dollars on diplomacy, intelligence, and military efforts to neutralize the ever-growing threat of the apocalyptic regime in Iran, scoring sporadic success on those fronts. However, there is one apparent arena where the US government has decisively lost the battle: the heart of America. By infiltrating American academia, the Iranian regime has succeeded in getting the upper hand in the ideological war inside the US.
The Iranian regime has greatly invested in shaping the academic discourse in the West, especially in America. Following the former Soviet and contemporary Chinese attempts to infiltrate and influence American academia, the regime has become fully aware of the fact that in the West – and particularly in the US – academia plays a significant role in day-to-day politics as well as long-term political plans. Simply put, in our contemporary world, Western academia is a pillar of politics. Therefore, if the regime can make Western academia sympathetic to its vision, it can practically set up a shield in the very heart of the West to defend itself against its adversaries.
The academic milieu in the West in general and the US in particular automatically favors the Islamic Republic. And this makes sense. The overwhelmingly leftist currents in academia see a strategic – if not totally ideological – ally in the Iranian regime in their fight against the supposed capitalism and imperialism of the Western political establishment. On top of that, the Iranian regime’s security apparatus also consciously manipulates Western academia through funding, shaping curriculum, and planting pro-Tehran professors, researchers and students in American universities and other centers of higher education and research.
The conduct of the Alavi Foundation is a brazen instance of that trend. This institute is the successor to the Pahlavi Foundation, endowed by the late Shah of Iran in 1973 to promote the vision of his regime in America under the guise of cultural activities. The foundation’s ownership was transferred to the Islamist regime after the 1979 revolution in Iran while it still maintained ties with some of its previous well-placed personnel. Today, this institute is an overseas arm of the Mostaz’afan Foundation of the Islamic Revolution, a powerful political and financial conglomerate connected to the Supreme Leader and the Revolutionary Guards.
Since the revolution in Iran, the Alavi Foundation has acted as a front organization for the promotion of pro-regime ideas and activities in North America. One of the favorite methods of the foundation to achieve that goal is to fund Iranian, Islamic, and Middle East Studies departments in some of the most prestigious centers of higher education and other institutions, including think tanks, in North America so that they promote the specific vision of the Iranian regime in those areas. According to a 2017 report by Conservative Review, “The institute has financed and installed Iran-friendly professors and curriculums at 41 universities across the United States.” Some of the universities that have received funding from the foundation are the Ivy League institutes of higher education such as Harvard University, Columbia University, Princeton University, and the University of Pennsylvania.
The report continues, “Alavi has entered into a cost-sharing agreement with many of these universities, facilitating deals that support the hiring of tenure-track professors.”
The centers funded by the Alavi Foundation and similar institutions have a strong tendency to employ professors, fund fellows, and admit students who work along the Iranian regime’s ideological lines. In fact, many of these anti-American doctors and fellows are groomed by the regime and directly dispatched from Tehran to advance the regime’s agenda in the heart of the Great Satan.
Coincidentally, these centers hardly ever promote Iranian dissenting experts who do not toe the line of the Islamist regime. Along the same lines, these centers usually publish research that, while not completely uncritical, never really criticizes the regime on a fundamental level, and most importantly, the research fails to lay bare the necessity to supplant the totalitarian Iranian system with a liberal democracy.
As such, the Alavi Foundation and its sister institutions, by boosting the voice and vision of the Iranian regime on the one hand and silencing dissenting voices on the other, police and shape the academic discourse on Iran, Islam and the Middle East in North America. And they duly reap the benefit of their long-term investment. At least for a while they were able to cast Tehran’s agenda and vision of the Middle East as US foreign policy. By constantly smearing Arabs and Israel as the major regional allies of the United States, these influencers succeeded in coaxing the American public to welcome the disastrous Iran nuclear deal. In addition, they managed to whitewash the regime’s bloody intervention in Syria and its broader imperialist designs on the Middle East.
After almost a decade of legal battles, in June 2017 the Alavi Foundation was finally prosecuted by the US Department of Justice for acting as an instrument of a hostile government, skirting US sanctions against the Iranian regime, and funding pro-Tehran and anti-Israel professors. Prosecutors called the conviction the “largest terrorism-related civil forfeiture in United States history.” In August 2017, the Republican Congressman Dan Donovan from the state of New York asked federal authorities to investigate how the foundation had steered millions of dollars to dozens of American universities. However, no systematic action has followed since to stem the broader tide of the Iranian regime’s influence campaign in the US. As a result, even at the height of the US government’s maximum pressure campaign against Iran, the Iranian regime’s propaganda machine continues to target the US government on American soil with the intent to undermine US policy toward Iran.
When a certain discourse is promoted in the media and academia in a sustained manner over a long period of time, that discourse will become the norm. By that, and by actively excluding from the public arena other discourses that can pose a threat to its dominance, that discourse gets to overwhelm and guide public opinion. As such, the regime’s strong presence in American academia poses a significant security threat to the United States and her allies in the Middle East.
To win the 40-year war in the Middle East, the United States must first win the ideological war at home.
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