Iranian trouble a reminder of college in the ’70s

Published 10:44 am Thursday, January 9, 2020

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For a few weeks in 1977 or 1978, I lived with a poster of Ayatollah Rohollah Khomeini of Iran on the wall.

I didn’t put it there. My college roommate did. I wasn’t offended, but I wondered why a teen-age or early 20s young man would want a photo of an old bearded man on his wall.

I favored my poster of Farrah Fawcett. It was more colorful, and had a much more pleasing typography. My roommate found it disgusting, pornography, and proof that America was going straight to hell. More on that later.

The recent news concerning Iran and increasing tensions got me to thinking – and worrying.

It was the fall of 1976, and I was a new student at Chowan College in Murfreesboro. I was also the editor of the school newspaper, and soon after arriving I found myself covering a protest by Iranian students. Going by memory, I think they were complaining that they weren’t being treated the same by the community and the college as the American students.

It turns out that American colleges and universities have helped educate tens of thousands of Iranians over the years – and still are. Some say that’s great, some say the opposite.

I never understood why those students would pick Chowan, which at the time, had 50 or more students from the Middle East among its student population of just over 1,000. And being a college owned by the Southern Baptist Convention which required weekly chapel (Christian) sessions, I wondered how these Muslims could survive there, especially since most only spoke broken English. I guess if they couldn’t understand what the pastor was saying, it wasn’t so offensive. How they managed to understand what professors were saying is another story.

But they were there.

Fast forward about a year, and I came to school in the fall with a new roommate. I can’t remember his name, but he was from Iran and prayed almost all of the time. He chastised us Americans for not praying, for wanting to party, and for not understanding his position. It took me three weeks to get the college to put him in a room with another Iranian, and me in a room with another American.

Some research into what these Middle Easterners did after attending college here found some disturbing results – worse than those airline schools who trained the pilots.

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed also went to Chowan – in 1983 – and later graduated from NC A&T. He was one of the masterminds of the 9/11 attacks.

Chowan was a Christian-founded school run on Christian principles, but it had a liberal entry policy. The school also did not require the standard English proficiency test that most international students faced. Most, according to reports, paid their tuition with cash.

I’m not going to lie, we weren’t nice to those students. They didn’t like us, and we didn’t like them. It had nothing to do with politics, but more with lifestyles. Many called them “Abbie Dahbies.” There rooms were sometimes flooded by Americans, at other times trashed.

I did make one friend at Chowan from the Middle East. He was from Jordan. He called me Jimmy Carter and I called him King Hussein. He was a great guy, and we enjoyed each other’s company.

Even before he enrolled at Chowan, Mohammed had joined the Muslim Brotherhood. And soon after he left A&T, he became involved in a jihad against Russia. His terrorist activities after that are well documented.

I’m not trying to put a blame here on Chowan. Although I didn’t and don’t understand why a Christian school would allow foreign students of different religions (Or why those students would want to go there in the first place). I applaud the school for trying to be a more diverse community, if that was the goal. No blame on Muslims or Iranians, either. After all, there are some self-proclaimed Christians here who are evil. A big country, I’m sure that not all Iranians want the United States destroyed; and vice versa.

I would like to say that I wish I had treated the Iranians I met in the mid-1970s with more respect, but I can’t. Respect is a two-way street, and the ones I met had no respect for my way of life. So there.

And according to Mohammed after his capture, our college hijinks against his kind did not affect his opinion of the United States. He didn’t like our government’s cooperation with Israel. He said that his interactions with Americans just confirmed his opinion that the United States “is a debauched and racist country.”

I do know one thing. If someone prefers a poster of Ayatollah Khomeini over one of Farrah Fawcett, it’s time for an investigation.

– Mike Barnhardt