Three prominent Iran critics wrote a public letter to Oberlin College’s President Carmen Twillie Ambar accusing the college of “whitewashing” the alleged crimes against humanity carried out by its professor Mohammed Jafar Mahallati.
One of the critics included Iranian lawyer Shirin Ebadi, the first Nobel Prize laureate from the Muslim world.
The stinging letter was released on Monday and stated that “the process by which the [Oberlin College] investigation was conducted, and its bizarre finding that Mr. Mahallati had no knowledge of the killings, leads us to conclude that the investigation was an exercise in whitewashing a controversy rather than an attempt to arrive at the truth,” wrote Ebadi, along with the popular author Azar Nafisi, and Ladan Boroumand, a historian and co-founder of Abdurrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran.
Amnesty International determined in an exhaustive 2017 report that Mahallati covered up the mass murder of at least 5,000 innocent Iranian dissidents in 1988. In a statement to the Jerusalem Post in 2020, Mahallati denied the Amnesty International allegation that he was complicit in the 1988 massacre.
Mahallati, who teaches Islam in the religious studies department at Oberlin, served as the Iranian regime’s ambassador to the UN between 1987 and 1989. The authors of the letter requested, “that Oberlin authorize a third party to conduct a transparent investigation of the allegations against Mr. Mahallati. Your university’s reputation, and your commitment to justice and fairness, depend on it.”
The letter added that the “cumulative weight of the evidence is why we were so disappointed to learn that, aside from hiring Mr. Mahallati and granting him tenure, Oberlin conducted a secretive investigation that arrived at his wholly implausible exoneration. To our knowledge, Oberlin spoke to no experts or victims about this issue in its investigation.”
Nafisi: Oberlin 'knowns ' it is distorting reality
Nafisi, the Iranian-American author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, told the London-based news organization Iran International that “the university probably knows, and like Mr. Mahallati, they are also trying to distort the reality and this is a fundamental problem. As Mr. Mahallati represented the Islamic Republic in the United Nations, he should believe in the values of the Islamic Republic, i.e. marrying girls at the age of nine, stoning people for prostitution or adultery, and considering women to have half the value of men in the judicial system. These are the things he ought to believe. I don’t know how Oberlin College was willing to hire him, considering what he had represented before.”
Daniel Pipes, a Middle East historian, who is president of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum, told the Post that “It is encouraging that such renowned figures as Shirin Ebadi, Azar Nafisi and Ladan Boroumand have taken up the cause of investigating Oberlin College professor Mohammad Jafar Mahallati. One would hope that Oberlin having to pay out $37 million just a week ago in a defamation case would prompt its administrators to stop stonewalling and take their Mahallati problem seriously.”
Mahallati stated that “The official positions I formally took at the United Nations during the time I served do not portray my personal views.”
Pipes fired back “That’s rich; he pretends that his service to Iran’s totalitarian regime has no bearing on his views or his record. This alone points to his complete untrustworthiness.”
Lawdan Bazargan from the Alliance Against Islamic Regime of Iran Apologists told the Post that “After more than two years of advocacy, a letter to the board of trustees, extensive media coverage, protests in front of the businesses of Oberlin’s board of trustees in Berlin, London, Atlanta, New York, Washington DC, and, most importantly, three protests on Oberlin’s campus, President Ambar and the Oberlin administration has failed to address the issues we outlined in our initial letter or engage in any constructive forms with the families of victims. Also, the board of trustees ignored our letter directed to them and our complaint against the sham investigation Oberlin College claims it conducted.”
She added: “After the new wave of uprisings in Iran, five hundred members of Yale University condemned Iran’s Islamic Regime’s atrocities, and more than 3,500 academics, including 10 Nobel laureates, sent a letter to President Biden demanding ‘urgent attention to a dire situation in Iranian universities’ and beseeched President Biden to take ‘further tangible actions,’ including an end to negotiations with Iran. It is baffling that Oberlin College and Mahallati stayed silent.”
Bazargan expressed gratitude to Ebadi, Nafisi and Boroumand for “their letter to Oberlin College questioning its flawed investigation into Mahallati and demanding a transparent investigation by an independent third party. We repeat our campaign demand of October 2020 and ask for Mahallati’s immediate removal. If Oberlin continues to ignore us, we will organize a sit-in demonstration for Spring 2023.”
The Post reported in 2021 that Mahallati called for the destruction of Israel at the UN and lashed out at the persecuted religious minority community, the Bahá’í, at the UN. The Oberlin College student paper, The Oberlin Review, headlined its 2021 editorial “Evidence Against Mahallati Irrefutable” with respect to the allegation that Mahallati covered up crimes against humanity in 1988. The student editorial also noted Mahallati laid the ideological foundation to plan a genocide against the Bahá’í with his anti-Bahá’í tirades at the UN.
Post press queries were sent to the president of Oberlin College, the chairwoman of the religious studies department at Oberlin, Cindy Chapman, as well as to all the academics in the religious studies department, including Mahallati.
The Post also reached out to MIT economics professor Joshua David Angrist, who won the 2021 Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences. Angrist is a graduate of Oberlin College.