Common Sense

In order to make the point that Irans illicit acquisition of AMD processors to build a supercomputer should not be allowed to fuel a blanket indictment of the Iranian IT community, I asserted in a column I wrote last month that the vast majority of Iranian technologists are no different from their U.S. counterparts. Was that a stretch?

Some readers thought so.

I agree that it is most likely true that there are good people in Iran who are trying to use technology to improve peoples lives, and that to assume all Iranian technological progress is inherently dangerous is ignorant, one wrote. However, I think Mr. Tennants assumption that the vast majority of Iranian technology guys are like us, too is equally ignorant, if not more so.

I, in turn, agree that assumptions are too often born of ignorance. But the fact is, this one was born of common sense.

Ill get to the explanation, but first, let me stress that no one should construe my defense of the Iranian IT community as a defense of the Iranian regime or ignorance of the atrocities that those in authority in Iran have been committing for decades. The religious persecution that has occurred in Iran, especially since the overthrow of the Pahlavi government in 1979, is one of the cruelest injustices of our time. Many of us have had the opportunity to get to know people whose families fled from that cruelty and resettled in the U.S., and we know firsthand that they tend to be people who are worthy of our admiration and respect.

Others of us dont make the effort, and look at anyone from Iran with a suspicious, accusatory eye.

One reader who wrote in response to Patrick Thibodeaus initial reporting on an Iranian research institutes success in obtaining Opteron processors despite the trade embargo identified himself as a former AMD employee. It doesnt surprise me, he wrote. When I worked at AMD in Austin, Texas, in the late 90s, half of my fellow co-workers were from Iran. In fact, there were so many Iranians working in AMDs Fab 10 that when I suited up for my shift, I felt like I was in another country. The inference is that those Iranians working in Austin were part of some elaborate international conspiracy that ultimately delivered the processors to their homeland. Come on.

Thats the same sort of nonsensical thought proc­ess that identifies the Iranian IT community with the offenses of those who are in power in Iran, and therefore as a body thats inherently different from the U.S. IT community. Iran is not the sum of the wrongdoings of the politicians and clerics who are in authority.

Iran is, according to CIA figures, a country that in 2006 had a GDP of nearly $600 billion. Clearly, it would have been even higher were it not for the states control of so much of the countrys economic activity and the inefficiencies that creates. Persecuting some of its best talent doesnt help, either. But none of that makes Iranian IT pros who work in the trenches of that economy different or unique. Theyre trying to solve the same sorts of problems you are. Its just that they have even more obstacles to contend with. Common sense.

Another reader who wrote in response to Thibodeaus reporting was Ali Parvini, founder of Minoo Software Solutions in Tehran. His comment, which Ive edited for clarity, is enlightening.

It is a fact that Iran can acquire anything listed in U.S. sanctions indirectly from other countries. And it is not odd in the modern world of communication and business moving forward to globalization, Parvini wrote. I hope all these tools lead us to a better world with peace and harmony for everyone of any race, religion or country.

As it happens, Parvini is active in the Tehran/Iran chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery, a professional association to which many of our readers belong. To the extent that ACM members here concern themselves with working for a better world, hes just like them.

Don Tennant is editorial director of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Contact him at don_tennant@computerworld.com, and visit his blog at http://blogs.computerworld.com/tennant.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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