The Oxford Don-Keys – A Tale of Middle Eastern Corruption in the Heart of Academia

Photo courtesy A Chump at Oxford (1940), Hal Roach Studios starring Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy

American art historian and museologist Homa Taj Nasab began her doctoral research at the Oriental Institute, University of Oxford, in 2004. Prior to joining the OI, she had been awarded three graduate degrees from Harvard University (Extension), Courtauld Institute of Art and the Department of History of Art at the University of Oxford… Today, Nasab, an institutional critic, is advised that the only way through which she ought to deal with Oxford is a lawyer.

On January 2, 2012, Emanuele Ottolenghi wrote in The Weekly Standard, “Oxford University’s Wolfson College, which the late Sir Isaiah Berlin helped establish, is now the academic home of 42-year-old Mehdi Hashemi Bahramani Rafsanjani, the fourth child of former Iranian president [Ayatollah] Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani… As president, Rafsanjani dispatched Iranian hitmen to kill Iranian exiles across Europe. There is [also] an arrest warrant against him from Argentinian prosecutors for the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center [AMIA] in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people.”

In Ottolenghi’s words, “The son it seems has followed in his father’s path.” It turns out that this new addition to Oxford University’s student body also has a £7.8 million judgement brought against him by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice “for ordering the torture of a [Canadian-] Iranian businessman who … suffered ‘unspeakably outrageous torture at the hands of the defendant or at his instigation.’” Rafsanjani is now pursuing a doctorate in constitutional history under Edmund Herzig, the Professor of Persian Studies at Oxford University, and an employee of consulting firm Oxford Analytica.

It also happens that Mehdi’s academic qualifications are less than stellar: Herzig had ordered a student to help Rafsanjani with his application; Rafsanjani does not have minimum requisite level of English mandated by Oxford; and, his MA in systems engineering (received in 2009 prior to applying to Oxford) is an equivalent degree for a training course which he had allegedly completed in 2006.

The application of the convicted torturer was being processed and approved by Mohammad Ali (aka Homa) Katouzian (& Edmund Herzig) during the very period that he and other affiliates at the Oriental Institute were deeply problematizing Homa Nasab’s academic career. At the same time, some of these individuals (including Katouzian and Tim Stanley of the Victoria & Albert Museum) were receiving funding from an organization that was co-founded by Vahid Alaghband, a UK-based businessman. Between 2008-2010, Alaghband was being investigated & later fined $17 million by the US State Department for selling aircrafts to one of Ayatollah Rafsanjani’s companies.

…Upon learning about the Rafsanjani-Katouzian-Herzig affair, in December 2011, it became clear to Nasab that her problems with Oxford over the past several years (2006-2011) were not scholarly or academic in nature. She realized that it did not matter at all that her two Viva (doctoral thesis) Examiners lacked basic qualifications to critique her scholarly production: It no longer mattered that Tim Stanley not only does not hold a doctorate but there are no references to him possessing a Masters degree.

Neither did it matter that Mohammad Ali (aka Homa) Katouzian is a self-appointed historian who only two years after receiving an equivalent doctorate in economics in 1984, “retired” from teaching at the University of Kent and shifted his interest to Persian history and literature at Oxford University. Note that Katouzian never wrote a doctoral thesis hence had never gone through the most basic of academic processes – that to which he was subjecting Nasab: a Doctoral Viva or Examination! It also happens that Katouzian’s “doctorate” is an equivalent degree. In other words, neither one of Nasab’s doctoral examiners at the esteemed University of Oxford had ever written a doctoral thesis hence never been through the most basic of academic processes.

By February 2012, it appeared to Nasab that since her arrival at the Oriental Institute, University of Oxford, in 2004, the Institute’s mission too seemed to have shifted:

Why had Oxford appointed (2009) Tariq Ramadan – the grandson of the Founder of the Muslim Brotherhood and the son of that organization’s most prominent figure – a professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies? Since April 2008, Tariq Ramadan has been hired to host a television show for the Islamic Republic of Iran’s English language Press TVstation.

At that point, Nasab also became curious as to why a former Dean of Imam Sadeq University whose primary mission is to eliminate “the distance between Howza [Islamic seminaries]” and academia, has been serving on the OI’s Faculty?

And, why was a student of Mohammad Ali (aka Homa) Katouzian at Oxford University providing material support/ advice to the “The Butcher of Beirut,” Mir Hossein Mousavi?

A secular minded American, Nasab strongly believes that politics and religion have NO place in academia.

.After twenty months of resisting pressures from Oxford to re-write her doctoral dissertation to suit her Examiners’ peculiar preferences, Nasab refused (to re-sit for a Viva) doctorate at Oxford University. “It is despicable that these characters were expecting me, an AMERICAN, to produce a dodgy dossier for them and their affiliates,” Nasab firmly states.

Nasab is now writing a screenplay about her experiences in academia called The Don-Keys: an ode to the late Right Honourable Alan Clark’s The Donkeys (1961). A former minister in Margaret Thatcher’s government, Clark was the son and the brother of eminent art historians Sir Kenneth Clark and T.J. Clark. Drawing on the expression “lions led by donkeys,” The Donkeys criticizes the actions of British Army commanders during World War I. Clark’s book inspired a musical and later the movie Oh! What A Lovely War (1969). Directed by Lord Richard Attenborough, the movie stars Baron Laurence Olivier, Sir John Gielgud, Sir Ralph Richardson, Sir Michael Redgrave, Dame Maggie Smith, Sir Dirk Bogarde, Sir John Clements, Sir John Mills, Colonel Sir Jack Hawkins, Sir Ian Holmes, and Dame (declined) Vanessa Redgrave …among others.

PLEASE see PDF files for full details, links & documents:

Attachment One – Refusing Oxford Doctorate

Attachment Two – Homa Taj Nasab on Oxford’s Criticisms (a perversely entertaining, if somewhat technical, academic criticism)

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