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Week of November 18, 2003

Program 0346


Chinese Dissident | Transcript | MP3

China Bears | Transcript | MP3

International Labor Issues | Transcript | MP3

Sex Trafficking Report | Transcript | MP3

Iran University Women | Transcript | MP3

Syrian Internet | Transcript | MP3

Dee Dee Bridgewater | Transcript | MP3

This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.

XU WENLI: [via a translator] I would comfort myself by taking two steps forward and two steps back. That way I could walk thousands of miles. There are only two words for it in Chinese—forbearance and perseverance.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, a former Chinese political prisoner tells his story.

KEITH PORTER: Plus, saving China’s Moon Bears.

JILL ROBINSON: It wasn’t only until our eyes became used to the darkness that we saw cage after cage of Asiatic black bear in cages so small that they couldn’t move.

PORTER: And new data on human trafficking.

FRANS ROSELAERS: We have seen in a number of countries that it has resulted in children being withdrawn from hazardous forms of child labor, from slavery, from exploitation, from trafficking, from sexual exploitation, and being put into schools.

MCHUGH: These stories—coming up next.

[Musical interlude]

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Chinese Dissident

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MCHUGH: Common Ground is radio’s weekly program on world affairs. I’m Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. For all the dizzying economic and social changes sweeping today’s China, there is a darker side to the Communist party’s one-party rule: a well hidden China of labor camps, secret trials, and prisons, where 6,000 citizens silently serve sentences for their political and religious beliefs. Few men know as much about this hidden China as Xu Wenli, one of the country’s most important democracy activists, released earlier this year in a diplomatic deal with the United States. Nina-Maria Potts reports.

[The sound of Xu Wenli’s laughter.]

NINA-MARIE POTTS: The free laugh of a free man. Xu Wenli is one of China’s leading pro-democracy activists, a man who has spent 16 of the last 21 years in a Beijing jail.

[The sounds of a busy street outside Xu Wenli’s window.]

POTTS: Sitting opposite Xu Wenli, with his wife and daughter, in a small apartment above a dentist’s office on a busy street in Providence, Rhode Island, it’s hard to imagine what a windowless cell three yards square could be like. But Xu Wenli, who is nearly 60 and who lost nearly all his teeth in jail, spent five whole years in solitary confinement in just such a cell. For three of those years he was not even allowed to speak to his family. His so-called crime—”subverting state socialism.” He admits he nearly lost his mind.

[Mr. Xu Wenli speaks while pacing back and forth in his apartment.]

XU WENLI: [via a translator] I would comfort myself by taking two steps forward and two steps back. That way I could walk thousands of miles. In the summer it was really hot. I was sweating as if it was raining. At night I lay on the concrete to try and cool down. There are only two words for it in Chinese—forbearance and perseverance.

POTTS: For years the subject of intense high-level American lobbying, Xu Wenli was finally released to the United States by the Chinese government on Christmas Eve, 2002. He’d contracted Hepatitis-B in 1999 while in prison, and China was worried he might die in jail. His release was a bargaining chip in a deal to improve Sino-US relations. Xu Wenli says he didn’t believe he’d been released until the plane actually took off.

XU WENLI: [via a translator] They took me in a van without me knowing where I was going, and we arrived beneath the wing of the aircraft on the runway. There were Chinese and American officials waiting for me there. One of the American officials came over to me and said, “You are free now. Get on the plane and leave for the US. They’ve released you on medical parole. Your wife’s already on the plane.” So I went up the stairs, and my wife was down the corridor already in tears. I saw her, and they put us in first class. The whole thing happened in just a couple of minutes. I held my wife’s hand and said “We’ll never be apart again.” My wife said, “We’ve finally escaped the hands of evil.”

POTTS: Xu Wenli started out life as a Marxist railroad electrician, but as a young man began to question China’s one-party state. His beliefs changed forever in 1976, when he witnessed Beijing police viciously beating a defenseless student at a mass-gathering in Tiananmen Square. He says the Chinese authorities began watching him in 1978 for three reasons. He wrote a defense of Wei Jingshung, China’s leading dissident, in a 1979 pro-democracy newsletter, which was then shut down. The same year he also staged a protest for artistic freedom. The last straw was a private discussion on democracy among friends in 1980. The meeting was bugged and a spy informed on him. Again, Xu Wenli.

XU WENLI: [via a translator] Around 1978 to 1979, I said to my mother, who realized the danger I was in by standing up to the Chinese government, “I’m not only a worker. I’m beyond that point. I am a thinking person, with the social responsibility of an intellectual.”

POTTS: They came for him in the middle of the night on April the 9th, 1981. His daughter Xu Jing, had no idea what was happening, but still had to go on a school trip the next day. Xu Jing says she had to keep her father’s arrest secret.

XU JING: I was nine. I was nine. They woke me up. It was midnight when they broke in to take Dad away. And then they started searching the house and, you know, it was quite loud and they took things everywhere. And I was actually on my bed, and the only things saved were right underneath my bed. Underneath my bed I had a box of articles and things from Dad, and that was the only thing left in the house. They took everything else away.

POTTS: Xu Wenli’s wife and daughter didn’t know if he was alive or dead. They spent a year and a half, searching for him in Beijing’s police stations and court houses. The authorities finally told them he’d been tried and sentenced to 12 years in jail. In prison, Xu Wenli was referred to only as Prisoner 001. His five years in solitary confinement were punishment for smuggling out a secret diary. Throughout his time in jail, Xu Wenli was monitored by guards or trusted prisoners through a spy-hole, writing reports on him every half hour. But Xu Wenli is still able to smile:

XU WENLI: [via a translator] Lights were left on 24 hours a day, but I knew I had no guilt in my heart, so I could sleep easy. I now say to my wife, “If ever I have a sleeping problem, there’s no way I can go back to jail.” Because if a person loses sleep, you can get so easily homesick and depressed.

POTTS: When a Beijing Olympics bid focused western attention on China’s human rights record, Xu Wenli was released in 1993. He then spent five years traveling round China trying to rally younger dissidents. But in 1998, in order to mark President Clinton’s visit, Xu Wenli decided to found an opposition party, called the China Democracy Party. He tried to register the party formally. His aim was to show up the government’s claim that all its citizens had rights. Xu Wenli was sentenced to another 13 years. This time, he was put in a cell with three other prisoners—often violent offenders on death row. Eight cameras were trained on him at all times. And there he stayed until his unexpected release at the end of last year. Once outside China, dissidents tend to lose their political effectiveness, which is why Xu Wenli had always rejected going into exile. But his frail health made him realize he didn’t want to die in jail. He says he only has one regret.

XU WENLI: [via a translator] I want to apologize to my wife and daughter. I didn’t do well being a family man, being away for so many years. My regret is that I didn’t put them first.

POTTS: And as for democracy in China?

XU WENLI: [via a translator] In China, it’s not likely we can be like Poland, or like South Africa or like South Korea. There’s no solidarity, no Mandela, and any dissident movement is crushed before it can begin.

POTTS: For Common Ground, I’m Nina-Maria Potts in Providence, Rhode Island.

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China Bears

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MCHUGH: China is stepping up efforts to stop the practice of keeping Asiatic Black bears–or Moon Bears, as they are commonly known—in captivity to milk their bile for use in Chinese medicine. In a rare instance of a Western activist group working hand in hand with the Chinese government, British-born Jill Robinson and her group, the Animals Asia Foundation, are having great success in shutting down mainland bear farms. Celia Hatton filed this report from Beijing last spring on the ongoing fight to save the moon bear.

[The sound of caged bears making hollow popping sounds.]

HATTON: These are the sounds that changed Jill Robinson’s life.

[More popping sounds.]

HATTON: As a dedicated animal activist based in Hong Kong, Jill had heard gruesome tales of endangered Chinese Moon bears that were being kept on farms just over the border in mainland China. The bears were allegedly kept in cages barely bigger than their own bodies for up to 2-20 years at a time so that their bile, a precious commodity in Chinese medicine, could be milked directly from their gallbladders. Jill confirmed her suspicions when she snuck onto a bear farm with an Asian tour group in 1993.

JILL ROBINSON: We walked into a darkened room and in the background, we heard these strange sort of popping sounds and it wasn’t only until our eyes became used to the darkness that we saw cage after cage of Asiatic black bear in cages so small that they couldn’t move.

HATTON: The popping noises turned out to be sounds that the bears made to alert each other when they were scared. Once Jill had witnessed the firsthand effects of bear farming, she began to use her charity organization, the Animals Asia Foundation, towards creating a sanctuary for all of China’s captive moon bears.

[The sound of traditional Chinese music.]

HATTON: The use of bear bile in traditional medicine can be traced back to the seventh century AD. However, bile is still in use in Chinese medicine today. Sonya Pritzker is a licensed practitioner of Chinese medicine in the US and a Fulbright scholar who is now completing research in Beijing. Here, she lists just a few of the things that bear bile can be used to treat.

SONYA PRITZKER: Bear bile, in essence, is used to clear heat. And this means that it is used in inflammatory conditions and in some cases to stop convulsions due to seizures.

HATTON: The active ingredient in bear bile is an extremely potent substance called ursodeoxycholic acid, or UDCA, that is only produced in substantial amounts by bears. However, bear bile is no longer necessary because UDCA can now be recreated synthetically without using any animal parts. Moreover, many practitioners of Chinese medicine argue that there are many other things that can take the place of bear bile.

[The sound of Beijing street traffic.]

HATTON: On the streets of Beijing, bear bile is still easy to obtain. Whole bear gall bladders remain extremely valuable, demanding as much as $10,000 on the black market. This price has traditionally put wild bears at risk of being shot by poachers so that their gall bladders can be sold in traditional medicine shops around the world. In the 1980s, the Chinese government began to issue licenses for bear farms in the belief that if some bears were kept alive and milked for their bile in captivity, wild bears would no longer be sought by poachers. Unfortunately, the plan backfired. Jill Robinson explains what she sees when bears from bile farms arrive at the Animals Asia Rescue Center:

ROBINSON: My goodness, we see some horrendous sights. You know, we’ve had 15 percent of the bears at our center have arrived missing limbs. They’ve been caught in leg-hole traps in the wild. And obviously they’ve just lead a horrendous existence from start to finish.

HATTON: In what might seem quite amazing to some, Jill and her team have elected to work hand in hand with the Chinese government to end the practice of bear farming. Amazing, because it is the government which started bear farming and to this day, many bears are still held captive on state-owned farms. However, Jill is adamant that her foundation has the support of the Chinese central government.

ROBINSON: They can’t be kinder. They, they help us every step of the way. They are responsible for closing the farms. We know that there are some other officials that still want bear farming to remain, but we’ve got a very, very strong allegiance with the officials that we’re working with and we are making darn sure we are holding onto them.

HATTON: In China, it is the government who decides to shut down farms and alerts the rescue center when more sickly bears will be arriving at their doorstep. To the government’s credit, 35 farms have already closed down since an agreement was signed with Animals Asia in the year 2000. Animals Asia compensates the bear farmers for their lost income and in return, the farmers must turn over their bear farming licenses to the Foundation.

[The sound of a Beijing street market.]

HATTON: In China, it seems that the market for bile products has the potential to change just as quickly as the attitude of the Chinese government. Chinese medical doctors, both in the West and in China, are beginning to pay attention to the calls of animal activists. However, in response, practitioner Sonya Pritzker is quick to defend traditional medicine by stressing that not all Chinese medicinal use endangered animal parts.

PRITZKER: Animal products are useful in some circumstances. You cannot, by any means, say that they are more potent or more useful in all cases. In some cases, they are. And in some cases, the animal products are, are not—to get them does not require hurting the animal, as in the case of the bear gall bladder.

HATTON: Jill Robinson acknowledges that many Chinese medical doctors have already joined her in the fight against bear farming.

ROBINSON: These Chinese doctors are very, very disturbed when they see bears being treated in this way.

HATTON: Although attitudes are changing, the Animals Asia Foundation is still struggling to raise enough money to cope with the growing numbers of rescued bears. It costs $600 a year to feed just one moon bear. So, five years into the foundation’s fight to save the moon bears of China, the Hong Kong staff of the Animals Asia Foundation spend a large portion of their time raising money at schools and charity events.

[The sound of school children chattering in an auditorium.]

HATTON: On a typical spring day, Jill Robinson is visiting an international school in Beijing to thank students for raising money for her cause.

[Ms. Robinson is introduced and the children clap and yell.]

HATTON: Both students and teachers have responded warmly to Jill’s story and her plans to expand the bear sanctuary. An 11-year-old member of the audience summed up the kids’ response to the problem:

YOUNG GIRL: I was terrified about how people could do that to bears.

HATTON: Sixth grade teacher Jenny Wilson says she isn’t surprised that her students have embraced the bear issue.

[The sound of children clapping and yelling.]

JENNY WILSON: Children are very sensitive to animal issues. And I think you could present them with an issue about worms and they would be just as responsive.

HATTON: So far, the Animals Asia Rescue Center in Southern China houses 54 bears and another 30 bears have already been released into the foundation’s bamboo forest sanctuary, enjoying freedom—the ultimate gift that Jill Robinson says she can give to each animal.

ROBINSON: To all intents and purposes, once those bears go out in that forest, they have the choice whether they come back at night or whether they choose to sleep under the stars.

HATTON: For Common Ground, I’m Celia Hatton in Beijing.

PORTER: The global campaign against child labor, next on Common Ground.

[Musical interlude]

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International Labor Issues

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PORTER: It’s one of the most pernicious issues on the global agenda—child labor, the often-forced employment of the youngest in society. It’s estimated that more than 246 million children around the world—that’s one in six—spend their days working instead of studying, playing, and enjoying their adolescence. Now a new campaign is underway aimed at combating the child labor problem. But experts say it won’t be easy.

[The sound of child weavers in a textile factory.]

MCHUGH: The sounds of child labor. In the former Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan, a group of children weave carpets by hand in a bid to help sustain their families. The enormous looms cast a shadow over the children—eleven- and twelve- year-olds, whose labor produces traditional carpets that are sold all over the world. It’s commonplace for children here and in many other countries to go to work, whether it’s weaving carpets, picking cotton, working in the sex trade, or being forced into child slavery. There have been many attempts to combat the problem, but now a new campaign is using some childhood heroes to wage a very adult struggle.

INTERNATIONAL LABOR ORGANIZATION PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: The road to a word without child labor is long. But the line is clear.

MARKS: The International Labor Organization, based in Geneva, Switzerland, has unveiled the “Red Card to Child Labor” campaign, using some international soccer stars to spread the word.

INTERNATIONAL LABOR ORGANIZATION PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: [The sound of a referee’s whistle.] With Real Madrid and the International Labor Organization, Red Card to Child Labor.

MARKS: In soccer, the red card is used then when the referee wants to expel a player from the game. An effective metaphor, says Frans Roselaers, who heads the International Labor Organization’s Program to Eliminate Child Labor.

FRANS ROSELAERS: The idea at the beginning was to sensitize the world of sports and in fact a large spectrum of the population of our child labor, and in fact to promote an active world movement against the exploitation of children by work. Soccer of course is a very popular sport in many parts of the world, it’s one that is very much carried by youth, youth has a sense of solidarity with those, the young people and children in particular that are being exploited. It’s an excellent, fertile ground for a message to combat child labor.

MCHUGH: Fertile ground in which the ILO says progressive ideas are slowly taking root. Frans Roselaers points to Africa, where he says the campaign has had some concrete results after it was promoted during the African soccer championships last year.

ROSELAERS: It has had an effect on governments taking that subject very much more seriously, on adopting very active policies and very real programs in combating child labor, especially its worse forms, and we have seen in a number of countries that it has resulted in children being withdrawn from hazardous forms of child labor, from slavery, from exploitation, from trafficking, from sexual exploitation, and being put into schools and attention also being paid to the employment and the income of their parents which need to be improved for there to be a sustainable solution to the child labor problem.

MCHUGH: But campaigns to eradicate child labor have been mounted before, and the problem still besets developing societies. Even if activists can agree on the desirability of stamping out child labor, they cannot necessarily agree on how to do it. For example, those young carpet weavers back in Azerbaijan are likely to be weaving carpets for most of their adult lives, making their early exposure to the trade as much a cultural phenomenon as an economic one.

JOHN TIERNEY: The cultural phenomenon in the so-called Third World, in depressed areas with very low income, makes it a requirement for families, villages, whole cities, indeed to use what is absolutely needed. This is a global condition.

MARKS: John Tierney teaches at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, DC. He’s written about the economics of child labor, and says those who wish to combat it need to determine a long-term strategy.

TIERNEY: It requires economic theoretical designs which would make the necessity to employ 8-year-olds unnecessary as it is in most of the post-industrial western world today.

MCHUGH: Organizers of the new campaign have some sympathies for that point. But Frans Roselaers of the International Labor Organization says he believes that action can be taken now to limit the role child labor plays in some societies.

ROSELEARS: Cultural norms, traditions, the structure of society, the perceptions of the role of boys and girls, of men and women, are definitely factors that play in favor of children being found in exploitative situations. But at the same time we feel that it is possible to change those attitudes and for populations to review that.

MCHUGH: The “Red Card to Child Labor” campaign will be prominently promoted at many upcoming international soccer tournaments, including the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

[Musical interlude]

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Sex Trafficking Report

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PORTER: People bought and sold, just like cars, jeans, or potatoes. Once, it was called slavery, but today its called human trafficking—a crime that affects primarily women and children, and as many as four million annually. It’s a crime that knows no borders. From top State Department officials, to the United Nations, to local activists, people are joining forces to stop the sale of humans. Priscilla Huff first reported on this issue earlier this year.

MICHELLE HOPE: [reading the horror stories of persons who have been enslaved] Picture a young six-year-old girl, being trotted out on the streets of Cambodia someplace—six years old—and forced to pull up the front of her tee-shirt to show her innocence to people who walk by. For people who find her particularly interesting she is then taken back into back rooms and abused horrifically—five, ten, or more times a day Picture a young Czech woman who has lived with a husband who beats her constantly, who is fearful of losing her daughter. She’s presented with the opportunity in a crumbling economy to make a little bit more money working as a waitress in Germany, so she agrees to go—to find herself taken across multiple borders to end up in the red light district of Amsterdam.

HUFF: Michelle Hope of the Protection Project is all too familiar with the practice of one person selling another person. Her group is trying to bring an end to trafficking in humans. Hope knows it’s something that happens in remote mountain villages of Nepal and right here in the United States.

HOPE: Let me say that we can tell you that women and children from 49 different countries are trafficked into the United States every year and that’s what we at the Protection Project are able to document. So it could very well be very more.

HUFF: John Miller’s assignment is to tackle the issue, starting from his post at the State Department.

JOHN MILLER: What we’re really about is fighting modern day slavery and the slave trade. This issue is starting to seep into the public consciousness. I think people in this country and abroad are just starting to become aware that, well, particularly in this country—slavery based on color may have ended at the end of the Civil war, but slavery based on color, on forced labor, on military impressments, and most hideously on sex, goes on in this world. And there is no country that is immune.

HUFF: At a conference on human trafficking in Tokyo, the deputy director of UNICEF described the crime, just in the Asian region, as the largest slave trade in history. Over the past three decades, in Asia, the UN estimates 30 million women and children have been bought and sold. It’s a $7 billion business. Michelle Hope.

HOPE: This is a tragic yet ever present phenomenon of globalization. It’s really the dark side of globalization.

HUFF: John Miller with the State Department agrees with the researchers—sex is driving human trafficking.

MILLER: The fastest growing form of slavery is sex slavery. There doesn’t seem to be any question about that. That’s the fastest growing. It’s the one that has the most money involved.

HUFF: Young girls from Thai villages taken to Bangkok to fuel the sex tourism industry; women from Romania lured to Spain with promises of waitressing jobs; children taken from the Congo to South Africa, because there’s an urban legend, sex with a virgin cures AIDS. To counter this growing problem, laws are being passed, and the United Nations has established a protocol to prevent trafficking in persons. And President George Bush is taking up the cause.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The Protect Act which I signed into law this year makes it a crime for any person to enter the United States or for any citizen to travel abroad for the purpose of sex tourism involving children. Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act the United States is using sanctions against governments to discourage human trafficking.

HUFF: Both the United Nations and the US government have held conferences, with the goal of bringing people together to learn how to combat trafficking in persons and also to raise awareness. After serving in Congress, Linda Smith founded Shared Hope International, a group dedicated to helping the victims of human trafficking.

LINDA SMITH: This issue is hard but it’s real important that we talk about how certain countries are fighting it, what are the best practices, and how can we as citizens of the world do a good job in fighting trafficking.

HUFF: Recognizing that trafficking in persons is a crime is just the first step. Experts agree, the underlying problems are not legal, but cultural—that women and children are first victimized by being sold, and then by their communities, shunned as dirty or worthless. Michelle Hope of the Protection Project.

HOPE: It’s not a quick fix—come for three months of counseling and then we’ll set you back into your streets—because of the very things that you talk about—the families, the villages, no longer welcome them. So, there are several centers that have been in existence around the world that understand this, where you recognize that recovery from having been trafficked takes years.

HUFF: The victims will need time to learn their self-worth is equal to any others. Law enforcement needs time to track down the criminals. And people everywhere need to learn just because a person is young or female doesn’t make them property to be bought or sold. For Common Ground, I’m Priscilla Huff.

MCHUGH: This is Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: I’m Kristin McHugh.

KEITH PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. Coming up this half hour on Common Ground, the changing role of Iranian women.

BEHNAZ ASHTERI: [via a translator] Women are largely interested in going to university because they can increase their social position. And they can earn money, and they want to improve their situation.

PORTER: Plus, how the Internet is changing Syria. And, the music of a European jazz legend.

D.D. BRIDGEWATER: In the old days you used to had to be able to sing, to act, to dance, to do it all. And maybe part of the reason why jazz suffers as it does in terms of live performance is that there’s no show.

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Iran University Women

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MCHUGH: The role of women has been one of the most vexing issues in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The importance of the recent changes that have taken place for them varies depending on whom you ask. But one of the transformations is particularly hard to ignore. It’s the rising number of women in higher education. As Roxana Saberi first reported this summer, they now make up 65 percent of university entrants.

[The sound of students walking and talking on campus.]

ROXANA SABERI: The goals and dreams of many students at the University of Tehran’s Karaj campus are timeless and universal. The young men and women come to learn, grow, and hopefully someday, get good jobs. But over the past few decades, the look and substance of this campus have drastically changed.

ADINA MOHAMMADPOUR: [via a translator] I think a lot of families create an atmosphere where education is important. It’s not in all of the families, but a lot of them.

SABERI: Three decades ago, Adina Mohammadpour would have been an exception here. Professors say at the time, less than 10 percent of the entrants in her field of forestry were women. Then, soon after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the government shut down all universities for three years. The aim was to purify them of elements of the previous regime and to Islamicize certain courses. The universities reopened in 1983, with new rules limiting or banning women from certain fields, like technical and engineering fields, and subjects like forestry. But gradually in the late 1980s and early ’90s, almost all the restrictions were lifted. This cleared the way for women like Adina.

MOHAMMADPOUR: [via a translator] People who study get a higher level of thinking. If we don’t got to college and stay at home, our relationships will be a lot more limited.

SABERI: Today around 75 to 80 percent of the entrants in Adina’s Faculty of Natural Resources are women. The statistic reflects a growing trend across Iran. A recent UN report says 65 percent of university entrants in the country are now women. It’s a trend that both reflects and affects Iran’s society, economy, and politics.

BEHNAZ ASHTERI: [via a translator] Women are largely interested in going to university because they can increase their social position. And they can earn money, and they want to improve their situation.

SABERI: Behnaz Ashteri, an Iranian researcher of women’s studies, says the number of women entrants first began to surpass men in 1998. The increase coincided with the rise of the Reformists to the Presidency and Parliament.

ASHTERI: [via a translator] With a university diploma, they can work for themselves, and they can work independently, like in medicine or as lawyers.

SABERI: Other reasons help explain the influx of women in colleges. Men are required to complete 18 to 21 months of military service, and more universities have been opening. Analysts also say many religious families who had seen universities as potentially corrupting their daughters, changed their minds after the Revolution. Today, parents know the Islamic government oversees universities and that women there are required to wear the Islamic dress. Another strong impetus for more women in colleges has to do with the sluggish economy. Iran’s official unemployment rate is nearly 13 percent, or about two-and-a-half million people. But some analysts say the number could be almost double that.

[The sound of a taxis in busy street traffic.]

SABERI: The bleak job prospects are convincing young men like Ahmad that higher education doesn’t necessarily mean better jobs.

AHMAD: [via a translator] I didn’t want to go to college. I couldn’t go. I was working.

SABERI: Ahmad started to drive taxis in Tehran after high school. He believes even if he were to attend college, he would not find a better job. The 27-year-old says maybe one day he’ll change his mind. But for now, he prefers to earn money.

AHMAD: [via a translator] I don’t have time. Going to college requires time. If there’s money, I’ll go. I’m working as a driver now.

SABERI: While the harsh job outlook is discouraging many men from going to college, it’s affecting many women in a different way. Students like Shiva Satabar, a junior studying forestry at the University of Tehran, say they just want to improve their education and their chances of any kind of employment.

SHIVA SATABAR: [via a translator] The boys prefer to go to work after high school, and the girls, because there are not many jobs for them, they prefer to go to university. I don’t think I can find a job in my subject, but I’ll try to find one in another area.

SABERI: Yahya Shamekhi believes if he studies hard enough at Sharif Technical University in Tehran, he can someday find work as an industrial engineer. He believes women should have the same opportunities. But he says, when they don’t work in the fields they study, it causes problems for the country.

YAHYA SHAMEKHI: [via a translator] A lot of them who come to these fields only come here to get a certificate, to get a bachelor’s degree, or to become an engineer not because they like their subject.

[The sound of a professor lecturing in class.]

SABERI: Nehmat Khorasani, a professor of environmental sciences in Karaj, says this occurrence has become a concern to some in Iran’s government as the number of women students has risen. He says last year the Ministry of Science asked all government universities for feedback on a proposed rule to limit the number of women entrants.

NEHMAT KHORASANI: [via a translator] They asked our opinion, should we make limitations in some subjects? They wanted to see if it’s better to have a limitation. If the majority agreed, then we’d implement it.

SABERI: The professors in his department formed a committee to discuss the proposal.

KHORASANI: [via a translator] The group decided it should be as it is now—anyone can take the exam, and anyone who passed it can continue studying, and we maintain the right of the women as such.

SABERI: So for now, Iran’s universities accept students based mostly on their test scores, instead of on their gender, although men are prohibited from entering certain fields, like gynecology. Women’s rights to this education have brought new ways of thinking and higher demands on society. Hale Sahabi, an editor of Cheshmandaz, a magazine on politics and society of Iran, says one reason is that many educated women raise their standards when choosing husbands.

HALE SAHABI: These women will not be ready to marry a man of lower education, so the age of marriage goes higher, even up to 30 or 33, the age may go up.

SABERI: At the same time, Sahabi supports the calls many educated women are making for more equal rights with men—at work, in public, and at home.

SAHABI: [via a translator] Before these women said, “This is my destiny, I have no rights. All the rights I have are whatever my husband has given me.” But today these women have gotten to know their rights so they can’t tolerate it any longer. They can’t accept living with a man who does not observe their rights.

[Sounds from a busy college cafeteria.]

SABERI: These calls for change are growing stronger among women like these students in the Karaj cafeteria.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE IRANIAN STUDENT #1: [via a translator] For example, about the rules in Iranian courts, the rules and regulations don’t show that women and men are equal, and in some parts important in the lives in people, they are not equal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE IRANIAN STUDENT #1: [via a translator] I have grown so much in the four years I have been here. It’s as if I’ve grown by eight years. I have learned so many things.

SABERI: This type of growth is adding to the dynamism of Iran as women flow in and out of the country’s universities. Regardless of what they do after graduation, what they learn here is transforming their lives, the society, and their country. For Common Ground, I’m Roxana Saberi in Tehran.

[Musical interlude]

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Syrian Internet

Listen to This Segment: MP3

PORTER: In the aftermath of the war to oust Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq, Syria and Iran have come firmly under the Bush administration’s spotlight. As attention shifts to locales beyond Iraq, Americans may be surprised by some of the recent changes in Syria made by young President Bashar al Assad. Simon Marks visited Syria last spring and filed this report.

[The sound of children outside a computer show.]

MARKS: It was the biggest crowd that we came across during our two weeks in Syria. A group of young people were standing patiently in line in the center of Damascus. They were not—as some other young Syrians had done just a few weeks previously—volunteering to defend Saddam Hussein or take on America’s GIs. They were waiting outside a glass-enclosed café, waiting for the doors to open….

[The sound of doors opening.]

MARKS: ….so that they could stream inside and then bump and jostle and race each other in a bid to get to dozens of computer terminals, all hooked up to the Internet.

MARKS: [interviewing a young Syrian at the computer show] Do you think it’s making a big difference to the country?

YARA BADER: Well, I think so…

MARKS: Student Yara Bader was among those eager to get online. The World Wide Web only arrived in Syria two years ago. And at this annual trade show held in Damascus, many young Syrians say they now spend up to six hours a day online.

YARA BADER: I don’t remember when, when that event start, but I remember it was like a surprise. I was really happy ’cause of that. I’ve known that there was something that is named Internet and mail and everything, but I wasn’t sure that event will happen here. So I was really happy.

MARKS: The trade show, like the Internet itself, was brought to Syria by the country’s President, Bashar al Assad.

[The sound of a cheering crowd.]

MARKS: And when the President himself paid the trade show a visit—an event previously unannounced that surprised even many of the exhibitors—a large crowd of enthusiastic young supporters cheered him on his way. At 37, Bashar Al Assad wants to be seen as the new face of Syria. The son of the late Syrian strongman, Hafez Al Assad, who ruled here for 30 years until his death in the year 2000, Bashar Al Assad moved quickly to embrace new technology that had previously been barred from country. He is an enthusiastic proponent of modernization, even while Syria remains a tightly controlled, virtual one-party state that the US accuses of sponsoring terrorist organizations including Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad.

HUSSEIN QATTAN: Today we have one high speed in Syria.

MARKS: Businessman Hussein Qattan has met President Assad. He’s working on plans to install broadband access to the Internet throughout Syria—a project that is said to be on track for completion by the end of next year. He says the President is taking a keen interest in the project.

QATTAN: It’s a new government. It found the, I think it is, it sends the needs of the Republic and the rest, and being open and communicating with the rest of the world. I think that is, I think the President has seen this one a long time ago and it’s just, it takes some time to implement things. And right now it is the right time.

MARKS: The arrival of the Internet and its eventual expansion throughout the country is putting the rest of the world just one mouse-click away from Syria. And while that could effect the outlook of young Syrians, some in Damascus say it won’t necessarily make the next generation any less loyal to a national government which has irked successive US administrations for years. Mahdi Dahlala is the editor in chief of the daily newspaper operated by Syria’s governing Ba’ath Party. He argues that the country is already relatively open to outside influences and that western ideas face stiff competition from many Arab viewpoints.

MAHDI DAHLALA: [via a translator] Since 1970, Syrians can buy any newspaper—The Washington Post, Time, The Guardian, Le Monde, and all French newspapers can be found in bookstores here. What people in the West forget is that Syrians speak Arabic, and there are 23 other countries who speak Arabic. There is a minimum of 300 satellite stations that Syrians can watch on their televisions. Different ideas and opinions. We hope that the West will see Syria outside this frame of stereotyping.

[Sounds from the computer exhibition.]

MARKS: In other words those young Syrians riding the online wave—reading the latest news from around the world, following European sports scores, and the latest showbiz gossip from Hollywood—won’t necessarily emerge as pro-western in their political outlook. At least that’s what the government of Syria is banking upon as it gradually opens up to a globalized world, but tries simultaneously to retain tight political control. For Common Ground, I’m Simon Marks in Damascus, Syria.

PORTER: We’d like to know what you think. Does the Internet have the power to influence political thought in Syria? If so, does it inevitably mean they will be more pro-western, or could it end up reinforcing belief in their current political system? E-mail us your thoughts at [email protected]. We may use some or all of your comments on the air.

[Musical interlude]

MCHUGH: Coming up next, a conversation with a European jazz legend. You’re listening to Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.

[Musical interlude]

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Dee Dee Bridgewater

Listen to This Segment: MP3

MCHUGH: D.D. Bridgewater can do it all. She sings jazz, acts on stage and performs in Broadway musicals. In 1984 she moved to France and has become a huge sensation in Europe. Reese Ehrlich caught up with Bridgewater just over a year ago.

MCHUGH: D.D. Bridgewater can do it all. She sings jazz, acts on stage, and performs in Broadway musicals. In 1984 she moved to France and has become a huge sensation in Europe. Reese Erlich caught up with Bridgewater just over a year ago.

[The sound of “Speak Low,” a song from D.D. Bridgewater’s CD entitled This Is New.]

REESE ERLICH: In France they call her the Tina Turner of jazz. D.D. Bridgewater can belt out a song like Tina, and also looks 20 years younger than anyone else her age. Bridgewater first became famous performing on Broadway in The Wiz, and later in Lady Day—the story of Billie Holiday.

D.D. BRIDGEWATER: I believe in entertaining. You know, I used to say I came from the Sammy Davis school of entertainment. You know. In the old days you used to had to be able to sing, to act, to dance, to do it all. And maybe part of the reason why jazz suffers as it does in terms of live performance is that there’s no show.

[The sound of “Youkali,” a song from D.D. Bridgewater’s CD entitled This Is New.]

ERLICH: For the past 15 years, Bridgewater concentrated her performances in Europe, where jazz acts are promoted like pop stars in the US. Bridgewater gets a serious budget to bring her musicians to perform in stadiums, theaters, and opera houses.

BRIDGEWATER: I was able to work there without having an album, without having a record company, to do tour support. I liked it. I felt good there. I felt that I was in a lot healthier environment for my daughters who at the time that we moved there definitively, they were 14 and 8. I wanted my daughters to be at least bilingual. I wanted them to know another language. I wanted them to know another culture.

[The sound of “Youkali,” a song from D.D. Bridgewater’s CD entitled This Is New.]

ERLICH: For many years, African American performers fled to Europe to escape segregation in America. Black artists could earn a decent living and Europeans were perceived as less racist. While black Americans were treated better in Europe, Europeans always had their own prejudices. And, says Bridgewater, the situation has gotten much worse recently.

BRIDGEWATER: There is a kind of rise of segregation and racist attitudes that did not exist in the ’90s, especially the early ’90s. I started feeling it around ’96, ’97, I started saying, you know, in my interviews when people would say, “Is there still racism?” I’d say, “Of course.” It’s just that the black person isn’t the bottom rung of the ladder. It’s the Arab.

ERLICH: And, says Bridgewater, racist attitudes are not limited to white Europeans. The Middle East conflict has spawned a rise in anti-Semitism as well.

BRIDGEWATER: I saw an Arab boy kick a Jewish boy, a Hassidic Jewish boy, who had his little cap on. And I was stunned. I was shocked that we’ve gotten to that. But we have gotten to that. It’s a global disease.

[The sound of “Bilbao,” a song from D.D. Bridgewater’s CD entitled This Is New.]

ERLICH: Bridgewater recently moved from France to a town near Las Vegas. But before she left Europe, she produced a CD based on the songs of Kurt Weil. The composer is perhaps best known for the Three Penny Opera and his other collaborations with playwright Bertolt Brecht. But Weil also spent the last years of his life in the Los Angeles area, composing some wonderful popular and jazz. Bridgewater says Weil did particularly well working with Ira Gershwin.

BRIDGEWATER: The lyrics and the stories that these songs tell are much richer, more profound than our staple of standards, you know, which come from the great American songbooks. And that’s not to put down the Cole Porters or even Ira in his working with his brother George. But I find that Ira’s lyrics, for example, in his collaborations with Kurt Weil are much richer.

ERLICH: Kurt Weil and Ira Gershwin really had fun with “The Saga of Jenny,” the story of a particularly cunning, fallen woman. D.D. Bridgewater has fun with it too.

[The sound of “Saga of Jenny,” a song from D.D. Bridgewater’s CD entitled This Is New.]

ERLICH: D.D. Bridgewater’s CD featuring the music of Kurt Weil is called This is New. For Common Ground, I’m Reese Erlich.

[The sound of “Saga of Jenny,” a song from D.D. Bridgewater’s CD entitled This Is New.]

Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

Copyright © Stanley Center for Peace and Security

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