Scholars Speak Out
Freedom of speech is a right we Americans often take for granted. In dozens of countries around the world, teachers and revolutionaries are silenced daily for peacefully speaking out against injustice. The Ford Hall Forum here at Suffolk hosted two people who have been forced away from their home countries because of their social and academic pursuits. The discussion, called “Scholars Rescue,” was moderated by Director of the Graduate Program in Ethics and Public Policy Nir Eisikovits.
Alemayehu Weldemariam is currently a Visiting Scholar from Ethiopia who underwent discrimination and prejudice after publicly speaking out against his country’s current regime. In the nation’s largest newspaper, Weldemariam was quoted saying “unless the army stages a coup, I see no future for opposition political parties,” translating to the government that he was a threat. “If you are from a place where the regime in power is convinced you are a terrorist, are dangerous to the regime, you have no option.” Weldemariam then travelled to the United States where he became a Scholar Rescue fellow and continues to teach about conflict in the modern world.
The other academic refugee speaking at the forum was Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh, an Islamic feminist who was jailed multiple times for publicly condemning her Iranian government. “We are not aggressive people, we don’t want to fight,” she says about Islamic people in general and her colleagues in particular. Abbasgholizadeh is a member of the Stop Stoning Forever Campaign and the Iranian Women’s Charter movement. Despite the fact that her people are taught “that any kind of reform is not sustainable,” Abbasgholizadeh has fought for her idea of social justice for years and now must continue that study at Rutgers University.
These foreign teachers were exiled from their countries for spreading their thoughts against an unjust government. The main issue they faced was living under a regime that has coerced the people into surrendering their basic rights for a promise of safety. “Here you have freedom of speech,” Abbasgholizadeh said. “In my country, to compare, people are not always relaxed enough to speak.”
Eisikovits comments on this situation by saying “you make people well off in the economy and they stop caring about free speech.” Both Iran and Ethiopia are governments run under the false pretense of being a republic or democracy when really a powerful few intimidate the people into submission. This makes any kind of opposition not only risky, but life threatening. Weldemariam understands that the line between simple discussion and treason is difficult to foresee in such an environment. “You try to speak and you never know what will happen until it happens to you,” he solemnly stated.
The Scholar Rescue Fund allows intellectuals and teachers to continue their academic pursuits by providing them with financial aid and the freedom of speech they deserve. Proclaiming a mission to “rescue scholars and, by protecting their lives and work, increase their country’s and the world’s level of knowledge,” the Scholar Rescue Fund has spent ten years working under the Institute of International Education to assist in the spreading of revolutionary ideas.
To find out more about the Scholar Rescue Fund, please visit scholarrescuefund.org.
For upcoming Ford Hall Forum events, go to fordhallforum.org.