Error: no such theme PatternSkinTheme

Comments on William O. Beeman: Iran Is Not What You Think It Is

Grinnell College Scholars' Convocation, held 16 September 2010.

To say that Beeman was casual in his approach to his sources would be high praise indeed. -- SP

Beeman's speech confirmed for me SamR's great wisdom. -- SR

Andrew Frerick:

When I first heard the convocation speaker was William Beeman with the topic Iran Is Not What You Think It Is I wasn’t really interested at all. Beeman seemed interesting enough to keep my attention, with writing 20 books and even being an opera singer. However, his speech was dull and boring for the most part. His slides didn’t seem to help communicate his points, and he seemed to just ramble on and on. However, I did enjoy the Q&A part of the speech when he got criticized by an audience member about his interpretation of that well-known quote and what the Iranian presidents actually meant when he said it.


Siddharth Dhananjay:

When I heard that I was about to attend a convocation on Iran by a world expert in Persian culture, I got excited. For such a huge build-up, I have to say William O Beeman's talk was quite underwhelming. Although his credentials glean brightly - Chair of the Anthropology Department at the University of Minnesota, Author of 20 books, Opera singer - his little short of 60 minutes speech dull in comparison. Mr. Beeman's speech was full of stutters, pauses and confusions. Although his information on Iran was authentic and hard hitting, Mr. Beeman frequently bored us with too much statistical data. So much so, that my two neighbors Jayson and Andy were put to a sound sleep at one point. But not all was gloomy. An occasional infusion of humor and wit kept the convocation alive. In terms of the content, Iran's strong sense of culture and history as well as the power of women stood out to me as the strong points of the convocation. The fact vs. fiction segment of the presentation was also mildly interesting. Probably the most intruiging part of the convocation was the Q&A session at the very end where Mr. Beeman amuses us by citing himself as "[one of the] world's best experts on Persian culture" to answer a criticizing question from the audience. To conclude, althought Mr. Beeman's presentation skills were lackluster, his knowledge of Iranian culture and its uniqueness saved the afternoon.

Till next time,


Rogelio Calderon:

For me, the convocation on Iran was a learning experience, in that somehow I now know more about the misconceptions on Iran. There were a few charts and statistics to complement Beeman’s statements. As of now, I know more about Iran than I ever knew. The Q&A session at the end was odd. Beeman used his expertise on the subject of Iran to justify statements he made during the convocation before elaborating on the specifics of his comments. I also find it interesting that one of his books is pirated in Iran for educational uses, and that Iran does not enforce any U.S. copyright laws in Iran. Beeman's presentation was professional overall, although he appeared to gather his thoughts sometimes (there were a lot of ums and pauses).


Claire Tseng:

I felt like the Beeman convocation delivered less than I expected, though I did like the way he presented his information. The slides with the words were either headers or simple and straightforward. He utilized graphics very well. However, I did not feel like he addressed the issue holistically. All of his points seemed to only skid the surface of the topic. He gave examples but none of them seemed to fully paint the entire picture that we were meant to take away from the presentation. I did not feel like my view on Iran was completely revolutionized, though I did learn some interesting facts. Also, I felt like he did not recognize his audience as well. He has a lot of background on this very broad issue, but I don’t feel like a lot of the audience did, and sometimes it felt like he simplified too much or spoke with the assumption that the people listening were already educated on topics that, in fact, are not within our knowledge. I was also irked by how defensive he got when he was asked questions.


Andrew Clark:

I was not able to attend Beeman's convocation today because it turns out that i have strep. As for the two possible topics i can talk about, I can see how his book "Language, Status, and Power in Iran" is pirated. It's basically a key to Iranian life. The locals may want to know how a person from somewhere else is characterizing them. They also may want to know more about the culture of the country (even if an "outsider" did write it). In my efforts to find evidence that the book is widely pirated in Iran (which I failed at...), I found another interesting article by Beeman. ( In that article, he claims that Iran is not close to becoming a nuclear threat. Iran doesn't have the factories or proper materials in place to create nuclear weapons. It was quite fascinating actually.

-Andrew C.


I found the talk very interesting. I felt slightly like he was overcompensating for the negative view we have of Iran in America; whether that's justified is questionable. I enjoyed the presentation and it did challenge some of my views.

Martin Estrada:

I really like Beeman's convocation, because he tight what we were discussion on tutorial and he also include Sarah, the hiker who got release last week or so. It was funny how no one know how she got release, because the U.S. can not transfer money to Iran with the trade sanction law that the U.S. has. I think we will never know, because then that person or government would get in big trouble and also be in prison for helping her get out. Now I wonder if this will also happen to the other two hiker that are still in prison in Iran. The presentation was kind of an eye open, because I did not know some of this stuff, like how Iran it moving more to an technology and modern time. I always had the impression of going to Iran and seen it like in the movies with the dessert and dirty, but it actually looks like the U.S in some ways. I also got interested in reading Rumi poetry and see how it different from other style of poetry. The population charts were also surprisingly shocking to know that the age of 20-25 is the biggest population and that by 2025 it would dominated the voting process in a way and that they can really make a difference in their country. It was also shocking to know that most of the population of Iran is in the middle class and that 5% is poor. The statistic that women were overpopulating the men was not shocking, because it happening world wide. The false statement were hilarious like the one of Iran having nuclear weapon program is so false or not get proven. Also the one of the President of Iran having a big power is false and that Iran has threatened to "wiped" Israel of the map is so false. Lastly, I got really interested in visiting the largest mall in Iran when it open that will have 2500 shopping stores.


One of the good things about the second convocation was that I was awake throughout!

I thought William Beeman presented his points well and cleared some misconceptions about Iran. However, he did say in one of his slides that Iran does NOT have a nuclear program and there is no evidence that can prove otherwise. Then three slides later he says that the president of Iran has no control over the nuclear program. That was a little confusing to me. Prof. Beeman could have done a better job in the Q&A session. I thought he kept flattering himself there instead of answering the questions.

All in all, it was a good convocation.

- Sadhana

To put it simply (and kindly), I thought Convocation on Thursday was, interesting. I learned a lot about Iran that I didn’t know before, but I don’t think I learned a lot about Iran that contradicted any prior belief I had. The speaker presented the background information well, but I thought the “myth-busters” section was unsupported and vague. His expertise validates, to some extent, his argument that contrary to prior belief, Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program, but I wish he would have had some evidence supporting the supposed evidence that doesn’t exist. I was also confused when, a few minutes later, he claimed that Iran’s President has “no control over the nuclear program,” that doesn’t exist? From a presentation standpoint, I didn’t think the presentation was presented very smoothly, so I was slightly distracted. On the contrary, I appreciate the new perspective I was given on Iran just from the cultural information that was presented.


I have not been able to find anything that Beeman has said or written which seems to say "that people falsely claim that the president of Iraq spoke about bombing Israel" (Sam's email). While I haven't found a direct quote from Iraq's president, the Deputy Prime Minister made that claim pretty clearly in the build-up to the Gulf War. If I were to assume that Beeman actually did claim this, I might look for possible motivations for saying something so demonstrably false (technically that video doesn't show the president speaking, but if it had been, he would have been representing the same body as the Deputy Prime Minister was, namely the Iraqi government). Possible motivations, if one accepts that Beeman made this claim:
  • Beeman often writes that the United States wrongly accuses Iran of building a nuclear weapons program. Perhaps he is trying to establish a pattern of false accusations coming from the United States.
  • Likewise, by disregarding or sanitizing some of the actions of Iraq that provoked a US response, Beeman can show the US intervention against Iraq as an earlier stage in a pattern of needless interference that continues today, he claims, when the United States attempts to regulate Iran's nuclear program.
Topic revision: r11 - 2010-09-20, MichaelHimmel

This site is powered by FoswikiCopyright © by the contributing authors. All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
Ideas, requests, problems regarding Foswiki? Send feedback