Wednesday, September 03, 2014


رفتار بهانه جویانه و تبعیض آمیز دولت نروژ با دانشجویان ایرانی

Norway's shame: educational discrimination against Iranian students
POOYAN TAMIMI ARAB 2 September 2014
Iranian students are being systematically discriminated against by the 
Norwegian government. This is a closed minded approach that goes against 
long term European interests.
For several months now there have been disheartening reports from Norway 
that Iranian students are being denied residence permits and visas due to 
international sanctions, even though their areas of expertise do not appear 
to pose any security threats to European interests.
The same happened two years ago in the Netherlands. In response, I argued 
that Iranian students should not be seen as posing a threat, that those 
accepted in European and American graduate degree programs include the 
brightest minds from Iran, and that the international sanctions imposed on 
Iran did not even include the option of such blatant educational 
discrimination. Iranian students in the Netherlands were not merely targeted 
because of the sanctions, but found themselves caught up in a broader, 
xenophobic political context that fed bias against them.
Fortunately, though to no avail for those who lost scholarships or hard 
earned savings, the Dutch government responded positively to criticisms and 
a Supreme Court ruling that confirmed allegations of discrimination.
In Norway, unsurprisingly, bias against Iranian students has grown since the 
2013 rise of a new conservative government. Such allegations of 
discrimination go against the international image of Norway as an open, 
inclusive society. Rather than going through similar legal procedures as in 
the Netherlands, the Norwegian government should reassess its interpretation 
of its implemented policy concerning the admittance of Iranian students. 
When it does reject students’ applications, this should be based on 
transparent and concrete reasoning. A secretive attitude of the immigration 
authorities will only reinforce accusations of arbitrary discrimination.
A glance at the students’ Facebook page, Stop Educational Discrimination 
Against Iranians (SEDAI), shows massive academic support for their cause. 
Among the supporters are the usual critical academic superstars, such as 
Noam Chomsky: “We call upon the Norwegian government to withdraw the unjust 
decision and to put an end to discrimination in education”. But also Gunnar 
Bovim, rector of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), 
who has said that “We may lose the battle for the best brains”, because the 
PhD students whose visa applications were rejected are “the best qualified 
applicants for their positions”. That this is not an exaggeration is clear 
from the many prestigious positions in western universities and companies 
occupied by Iranian migrants over the past decades.
For example, among the studies that the Norwegian Security Police Service 
(PST) has concerns about is mathematics. Is training students in graduate 
level mathematics really that dangerous? Imagine that because of fear and 
bigotry, rather than genuine security threats, a European country turns away 
the next Maryam Mirzakhani, born and raised in Iran and since this year the 
first woman ever to win the prestigious Fields Medal (often said to be the 
Nobel Prize of mathematics). Such would be a loss for all, and this from the 
country which is famous for the most prestigious award in natural science.
In addition to being supported by a wide variety of academics, the students 
have gathered support from Norwegian citizens as well. On 20 August, two 
copies of over twelve thousand signatures were submitted to the Norwegian 
government, to a political adviser at the office of Prime Minister, as well 
as to a Member of Parliament. On Facebook, the SEDAI campaign requested “the 
Norwegian authorities change the unfair decisions limiting the educational 
opportunities for Iranian nationals and to care about so many people in 
Norway and abroad who gave their signatures to the petition and keep 
watching the developments closely.”
Europeans must not underestimate the negative publicity caused by their 
governments’ discriminatory policies. The Netherlands, for example, has 
again welcomed Iranian students to its universities, allowed their 
employment after graduation and grants citizenship to those with five years 
of work experience. Many take advantage of these excellent opportunities, 
but there are also badly needed and brilliant young scientists and scholars 
who choose to leave. For example Kambiz (pseudonym), who graduated in one of 
the most complex areas of expertise at Delft Technical University, told me 
that among his reasons for leaving the Netherlands after several years were 
a closed minded attitude towards migrants.
In the Netherlands, Kambiz felt, he would never be really respected for his 
talents and achievements, perpetually remaining an outsider. And all of this 
despite this young man’s very open attitude towards the country, its people, 
places, language and achievements. Other European countries such as Norway 
should reconsider how toxic such discrimination policies are, pushing away 
potential contributors to their societies and unnecessarily feeding 
That the sanctions are indeed being disproportionately applied to students, 
by which I mean that there is no relation with nuclear weapons technology, 
is clear from the many stories available on SEDAI’s Facebook page. The page, 
which currently has three thousand likes, has posted information about 
various cases of Iranians who appear to be rejected by immigration 
authorities in an arbitrary manner. Take for example Vahid Rasoulzadeh, a 
student working on offshore technology, who had to appeal a decision by the 
Norwegian Directorate of Immigration to be able to pursue his educational 
goals. In the meantime, he had to wait for over a year in Norway without 
being allowed to work and was not able to travel to visit family.
In the case of Hamideh Kaffash, the appeal made by her Norwegian university 
(NTNU) was rejected. According to SEDAI, this was “without a concrete 
reasoning”. Kaffash’s story, that she has not been allowed to pursue a PhD 
in material engineering, was covered by, which cites her saying that 
her research project is aimed at “reducing CO2 emission in ferromanganese 
production … It’s a project which will benefit the environment and is now 
being applied in Iran.” Jostein Mardalen, head of the Department of 
Materials Science and Engineering, was quoted saying that the decision of 
the Department of Immigration “is baseless and wrong.”
Not only are visa applications rejected, the current situation is also 
applicable for all Iranians who migrated with their families to Norway and 
already have a permanent residence status. Mahtab Emamy Frooshany, for 
example, who is living in Oslo with her family, failed to be admitted for a 
master’s program solely due to her nationality. Her university education 
department informed her that she was “not considered eligible for admission 
to the Master in Systems Engineering with Embedded Systems because you are 
an Iranian citizen”.
She appealed twice and received a final rejection letter from the Ministry 
of Education in June, stating that “Internationalization of higher education 
is high on the agenda in Norway, and we are pleased to welcome Iranian 
students to Norway. However, universities and university colleges have a 
duty to prevent illegal transfer of knowledge relevant to the proliferation 
of weapons of mass destruction.” The letter adds that these “regulations are 
applicable also for students with permanent residence in Norway.”
What was so dangerous about her following a master’s program in embedded 
systems engineering? First of all, this particular branch of engineering is 
indeed used for developing control systems for rockets, and this could be a 
reason to deny certain types of knowledge to certain students or 
researchers. But embedded systems engineering is also used for everything 
ranging from pacemakers, cell phones, and airbags. Would a graduate student 
really acquire information and training so sensitive that it would 
facilitate creating weapons of mass destruction? Moreover, as the Dutch 
courts recognized earlier, in a globalized world any citizen can sell 
information to another nation’s government. Discrimination based solely on 
citizenship is highly questionable as an effective strategy of protecting 
security interests.
What are the broader implications of treating Iranian students with so 
little courtesy? Over the past years, the economic sanctions imposed on Iran 
by the United States and the European Union due to worries over Iran 
acquiring a nuclear weapon have slowed down the progress and emancipation of 
young Iranians seeking to broaden their horizon. In their country, the 
middle class is becoming ever more an aspiring middle class that has the 
spirit required for real cosmopolitanism but not the cash nor the visas 
required to increase its freedom of movement.
Having struck the Iranian currency hard, in some cases evaporating life 
savings and dreams of pursuing higher education outside Iran, ordinary 
citizens have become victims of political power struggles. Students as far 
apart as the United States and Malaysia have had to give up their studies, 
sometimes when only one semester was left to be completed, returning to 
their country with empty pockets and without a degree. That these bright 
students should in addition continuously worry about visa applications and 
residency permits rubs salt in their already badly hurting wounds.
These people do not only come to countries like the Netherlands and Norway 
for work and study, but also for their cultures of tolerance. As I wrote 
earlier, it is imperative that the door for exchange of good intentions, 
beyond technical know-how, stays open. Education and cultural exchange are 
among the best ways to establish such meaningful ties. Of course, very 
complex political problems remain outstanding, but burning bridges between 
Iran and the western world will help no one face the challenges that lie 
ahead. We merely need to recall the very long history of European-Iranian 
educational relations to realize the fundamental transformations of the past 
During the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, the great Iranian 
statesmen Amir Kabir created the first modern Iranian college and sent out a 
few dozen students to bring back western knowledge to Iran. Today, thousands 
of students travel to Europe and North America every year and thousands more 
dream of doing so. Their purpose is no longer mere imitation, bringing back 
(potentially sensitive) knowledge and not adding anything of major 
significance. Today, they are excellent contributors to European 
universities and often after graduation to European companies as well. Such 
a time requires going beyond simplistic prejudiced thinking in ‘us’ and 
‘them’ categories, letting go of fears and instead engaging with each other 
in dialogue, exchange, and in the process also transformation.
For the sake of a safer and more stable world, Iran and the West must 
transcend mutual enmity and fear. Appreciating Iranian students is a modest 
starting point for us here in Europe to help achieve that historical 
About the author
Pooyan Tamimi Arab studied Art History and Philosophy in Amsterdam and New 
York. He is currently a PhD candidate at the Cultural Anthropology 
department of Utrecht University, writing a dissertation on the use of 
loudspeakers for the Islamic call to prayer in the Netherlands.
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Stop sanctions against Iranian students in the Netherlands
با سپاس از منوچهر تقوی بیات، فرستنده ی این گزارش از سوِِئد

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