Have you ever been accused of being a spy?

March 27, 2013

John KeaneJohn Keane

Have you ever been accused of being a spy working for MI6? I know someone who has. Even more disturbing, he has the same name as myself

I became aware of the story originally when I looked up my name on the web. My namesake is [or was at the time] a professor at The University of Westminster in London. He recently blogged about the disturbing news he received though a telephone call from a friend. He tells his story in his blog in a post entitled Laughter and Tears on being accused of spying for MI-6:

[Dateline London, Saturday 1st August, 2009]

One of those weird moments when glum silence is the most sensible reaction. A colleague telephoned to spill the bad news. ‘This morning, in a preliminary statement before the highest court of the Islamic Republic of Iran’, he began, ‘you were named by the Deputy State Prosecutor as a co-conspirator in an organised attempt to overturn the present regime by means of a velvet coup d’état.’ Surely a prank call, I thought. ‘ You’re accused [with the distinguished Western intellectuals Jürgen Habermas and Richard Rorty] of acting as CIA and MI6 agents. I’ll e-mail more details this afternoon.’

Professor Keane denies all allegations

In 2004, during one such visit to Tehran, I indeed taught an officially approved short course based on research for [my book] The Life and Death of Democracy (which has just been published).

It is not true that I participated in ‘operations geared to the collapse of the governments of Eastern Europe’. I did not spend ‘the years 1973 and 1975 in Czechoslovakia’ (I lived in Canada during this period) and at no time have I ‘often travelled to Poland’ or worked for the ‘Polandising of Iran’.

When my colleague hung up, animal laughter morphed into a cloud of pensiveness, riveted by the thought that words can ruin lives, or torture and kill. It is no laughing matter for scholars to be lumped in with plotters, mercenaries and secret agents of ‘Western’ and ‘Zionist’ reaction.

From a scholarly point of view, the most worrying development, recently confirmed by the Supreme Leader, is the link that has been drawn between the human sciences, the universities and the so-called ‘velvet counter-revolution’.

Detention without trial – which is prohibited by the constitution – and death in custody have nothing to do with reason or justice, or with the Prophet’s call for listening to people and treating them with kindness and respect. Friends: that is why you know that whatever you say or do in weakness will be used against you – and why you have resolved to be strong, cling to your integrity with all your might, and to find courage and consolation in the assurance that your loved ones, and millions of people around the world, will not forget you, or accept your ghastly predicament as fate.


I have found it strange reporting about someone with the same name as myself. An additional layer of ambiguity to a fascinating story which itself seems to challenge our sense of reality. Professor Keane captures what we can imagine to be the Kafkaesque sense of panic and disorientation through being falsely accused by a powerful court of Justice.


John Keane [Image above from the University of Sidney website] is Professor of Politics at the University of Sydney. His scholarly contributions include the concept of monetary democracy. He certainly exists, and his blog makes fascinating reading for students of politics and leadership.

The author of this post describes himself as ‘another John Keane’ interested in the processes of leadership in politics, public affairs and business organizations. He holds a position within a research institute in the United Kingdom, where he studies leadership from the perspective of social constructivism. He is also interested in how modes of learning are becoming mediated through social media.


Margaret Rope, a leading artist in stained glass, was arrested as a suspected spy in the 1930s, according to a BBC Radio documentary. She aroused suspicion by her passion for driving high power motor cycles, accompanied by her cousin who added to the confusion by also being named Margaret Rope. More information welcomed.

Anger and frustration. In Iran writ large, In Belfast writ small

June 18, 2009

Iran protestors

On the streets of Northern Ireland and those in Iran, violence simmers below the surface. There’s no easy way of linking the two sets of events. Except, perhaps, that each has its mood of deprivation and shared private anger at perceived injustice

‘They need somebody to hate’. That was the first remark I heard from someone brought up in Belfast, on hearing the news of the racist attacks on immigrant families.

A gang of racially motivated youths drove a group of Romanian immigrants from their homes.

Looking at 115 Romanians huddled together on the floor of a Belfast church hall, it was possible to see the worst side of Northern Ireland – and the best – all at once. The speed with which Pastor Malcolm Morgan and his team created a temporary home for 20 families was remarkable. At the same time, the sight of men, women and children looking so helpless and scared was a stain on Northern Ireland’s international reputation. Many of the families came to Belfast believing that the years of prejudice and narrow-mindedness were over. However, it seems that in some parts of the city, racism is the new sectarianism. [Mark Simpson, BBC News]

In Iran

in Iran, a week of remarkable demonstrations continues. The timeline is days since the Presidential elections. The hopes in the democratic process dashed as so cruelly occurred recently in Zimbabwe. Premature claims of victory met with counter-claims backed by violence against the regime.

President Obama refuses to be drawn into the internal conflict. Wisely, in my view. It would have been easy to make some overt gesture of support in the interests of democratic freedom and its abuses.

The BBC reported the complex political situation:

It’s quite clear that there are enormous disputes going on behind the scenes. But the people who run this country are not stupid. There are some quite smart people, even loyalists to Mr Ahmadinejad, and they must realise how much deeper they are digging themselves into this mess every day. But at the moment, quite inexplicably, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei seems to be quite in thrall to Mr Ahmadinejad. It’s almost as if he’s taking his orders from him. He usually stays above the fray and interestingly he’s still not been seen in public since the election [Jon Leyne, Reporting from Tehran]

Events continue to escalate.

The audacity of hope?

I wrote at the time of the elections in Zimbabwe that there would be no winners for the foreseeable future. A bleak prognosis backed up in subsequent events.

In Northern Ireland, I am more optimistic that the extended peace process is gradually edging its people away from the bleakest outbreaks of violence and tribal warfare.

And in Iran? The exercise of power is becoming increasingly moderated by the new communications media. One of the dreams of the early web pioneers was of a communications system that would survive the most catastrophic insult. That dream seems to be coming about, as the rest of the linkedin world shares the struggles in Iran in real time.

[Image captured via twitter. Full acknowledgement as soon as possible]