Published online: 2 November 2006; |
Islam and Science: Q&A – The
Mostafa Moin is a paediatrician and
medical researcher who has served as Iran's minister for higher education and
for science. He was a reformist candidate in Iran's presidential election last
year, which was won by religious conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Declan Butler
asks Moin about the prospects for science in Iran.
How do you see the interplay between
science, religion and reform in Iran?
Iranian society has long been deeply
religious, even before the Islamic era began in 651. But over the past 150
years, Iran has also pioneered struggles for freedom and opposition of
past few decades, reformers and religious neo-intellectuals with a common
attachment to the principles of a civil and democratic society have cultivated
democratic structures in Iranian society.
undoubtedly prepare the ground for greater scientific development and help a
knowledge-based society to materialize. Islam itself is not anti-science, but I
have always been concerned that superficial, narrow-minded and non-democratic
interpretations of Islam — and the political behaviour of certain traditional
administrators — risk having a negative impact on both scientific development
and social reforms in Iran.
your assessment of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's track record on science, academic
freedom and social reforms?
government has overlooked the science and higher-education sectors in the 14
months it has been in power. It has also replaced almost all the university
chancellors, and senior research and higher-education officials. When I was
minister of science, research and technology, senior university officials were
elected by the academic staff; the new government appoints them directly.
no doubt that this political control has resulted in purging, restrictions and
criticism of independent forces. Renowned academics have been forced into
retirement, and repression of politically active students and student
organizations is escalating. International scientific exchange has not been
immune from these narrow-minded approaches: students are no longer sent abroad
and sabbaticals are restricted.
government has cracked down on reformist newspapers, activists and political
parties. The Shargh Daily,
for example, one of the highest-circulation reformist newspapers, was shut down
in September. I've also heard that admission of female students to universities
is being restricted; I hope my information is incorrect.
optimistic are you that Iran can find a route to political reform?
short term, it can't be predicted whether things will get better or worse. But
I'm optimistic for the medium term. There is a global movement towards greater
civil rights, and an expansion of democracy. It is this, and the growing
awareness of the Iranian people of these issues, the vigilance of its youth and
women, that will shape Iran's future.
are the biggest obstacles to improving Iran's international isolation?
International scientific cooperation with Iranian universities and scientists
has greatly increased in the past few years. But it's not surprising that the
nuclear crisis and the unscientific and unsustainable policies of the new
government may have overshadowed this process. Current foreign policy is based
on confrontation, and is shifting away from former president Mohammad Khatami's
'dialogue of civilizations'. This is the main obstacle at present.
should colleagues elsewhere think about Iran's nuclear programme?
I am sure
that my learned academic colleagues abroad would not accept discrimination
against Iran's legitimate right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy within the
framework of global regulations. The problem is the accusations by the ruling
neo-conservative radicals in the United States over programmes of weapons of
mass destruction in Iran, while proposing double standards within the Middle
East and the rest of the world.
accusations have been made before, but experts, scholars and international
institutions proved them unfounded. If the United States were to implement
unilateralist, violent and non–negotiable policies against Iran, this would be a
great catastrophe, increasing regional and global crises, expanding terrorism
and consolidating dictatorships.
were the major defining events in Iranian science over the past two decades?
expansion of higher education in the country, with university students
increasing from 400 to more than 3,000 students per 100,000 people, between 1979
and 2000. The student–lecturer ratio has also improved from about 36:1 in 1989
to 18:1 in 2006.
that the structural reform in higher education in Iran has remained unfinished,
and that the autonomy of universities and academic freedom were not
are your own plans for the future?
past two to three years I have founded two non-governmental organizations, the
Association for Scientific Development of Iran and the Iranian Association for
Ethics in Science and Technology. As president of the Immunology, Asthma and
Allergy Institute at Tehran University of Medical Sciences, I'm active in
teaching and research.
respected the commitment I made to the Iranian people during last year's
election, with the creation of the Democracy and Human Rights Front. I want more
than ever to strengthen civil and scientific institutions and structures,
particularly for the young.
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