Syracuse University professor Hossein Bashiriyeh was a leading faculty member at the University of Tehran in Iran - until he was expelled from the university in July 2007.
Now his future as a professor hangs in the balance. The future of his family, his wife and two teenage sons does as well.
His visa to teach in the United States will expire in a year. He will be forced to return home for at least two years. So will his family. Their U.S. status depends on if he is able to change his visa, Bashiriyeh said.
Bashiriyeh doesn't want to go back.
"I think that the future will not be very much different from what it is now in Iran," Bashiriyeh said. "Unless there are some unexpected events or developments. As a result I don't honestly know what I am going to do myself."
He took a long pause. He speaks haltingly in English, his second language.
"So, I always wait and see."
Bashiriyeh, an Iranian, has taught in SU's Middle Eastern studies department since 2006 after he took sabbatical leave from the University of Tehran. His colleagues at SU consider him a premier academic in the field of democratization in the Middle East.
The Iranian government recently targeted Bashiriyeh for his liberal writing. He supports democratic governments, and defines himself as "not-religious," two risky positions to take in a theocratic state.
Progressive intellectuals and journalists have been persecuted in Iran since the 1979 revolution. In 2007, academic Haleh Esfandiari, an Iranian and director of the Middle East program at the academic think-tank, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, was detained in Iran. She was held for 105 days in solitary confinement on charges of harming national security before she was allowed to return to the United States, according to a CNN article from Sept. 9, 2007.
The humanitarian organization Human Rights Watch has called for accountability in the Iranian government's arrests and oppression of dissidents and intellectuals.
"Prosecution of dissidents for their peaceful beliefs and opinions has also intensified in recent years," the organization wrote in a Sept. 18 press release. "Human rights defenders are routinely harassed and imprisoned for reporting and documenting rights violations."
The Iranian government emphasizes conservative religious credentials and tolerates little dissent, Bashiriyeh said. Even those in charge at the University of Tehran are religious officials.
The religious administration and government has made an effort to purge Iranians not in line with the government, Bashiriyeh said.
"The first round took place early on, after the revolution," he said. "And now they say they want to do it again. As a result, they have forced many faculty members to retire, early retirement."
In Bashiriyeh's case and the case of some of his colleagues, it wasn't just retirement, but expulsion.
Teaching in a turbulent time
Bashiriyeh comes from a Sufi family, a small religious sect of Islam known for its mystic practices. He credits some of his liberal ideas to the influence Sufism had on him.
"Sufis don't take the so-called appearances of religion seriously, like praying and fasting" he said. "But they regard the inner-most, the internal message of religion more important. Because Sufism is a liberal interpretation of Islam, it is based on toleration and accepting other people's points of view, and it is a very a-political type of sect."
Bashiriyeh began teaching political science at the University of Tehran in 1982, three years after the 1979 Iranian revolution. The revolution was driven by a popular uprising led by Shiite religious leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. It brought a conservative Islamic government to Iran, which was known for its suppression of dissidents and non-Islamic thinking.
Bashiriyeh's views didn't always mesh with those of the government. He taught during decades when other academics could not. He avoided controversial topics and political alliances.
"I've not written anything personal, in the sense of criticizing or attacking certain personalities," Bashiriyeh said. "I have been writing in a rather abstract way."
Others weren't as fortunate. Many of his colleagues were purged from universities by the religious government or left the country on their own.
Seyyed Javad Tabatabai, for one, was also considered one of the top pro-democratic Iranian intellectuals. He was forced to leave the University of Tehran more than 10 years before Bashiriyeh. Tabatabai was a visiting professor at SU from 2004 to 2006.
Bashiriyeh thrived as a progressive in the post-revolutionary atmosphere. His profile grew internationally as time went on, said Mehrzad Boroujerdi, the department chair of SU's Middle Eastern studies program.
"He manages to write a lot, translate a lot of works from English to Persian," Boroujerdi said. "His rate of productivity was quite strange, sort of outstanding. He became one of the two best known political scientists in Iran."
So Bashiriyeh rode his country's political wave.
Political powers have varied since 1979 in Iran. The country has fluctuated from reformist-democratic to Islamic-law-conservatism in the past three decades.
In 1997, Reformist President Mohammad Khatami came to power in Iran with a tide of youth-based liberalism. Bashiriyeh's democratic teachings were picked up by the reformist movement, particularly at the university level. Many of Bashiriyeh's students ended up as high-ranking members of the Khatami government, SU's Boroujerdi said.
"He was considered as an intellectual guru to many of these reformist politicians," Boroujerdi said, "even if he wasn't active in day-to-day politics."
But the political situation in Iran deteriorated for intellectuals in the last few years as the conservative party tightened its control of the government. Khatami stepped down in 2005 and conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president after winning the 2005 election. Anti-western sentiments spread through the nation.
There were 51,300 Iranian students studying in the United States in 1979, while there were fewer than 3,000 Iranian students studying in the United States in 2008, according to an Aug. 8 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
The tension between Iran and the United States became what Bashiriyeh considered one of the worst points in recent history.
Bashiriyeh got caught in the sea change's wake. He had attended democratic forums in the United States and worked with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, based in Washington, D.C.
Bashiriyeh's ties to U.S. institutions and the Iranian reformist movement made him "undesirable" to the conservative ruling establishment, Boroujerdi said. His association with democratic organizations in Washington was particularly frowned on by the government.
Bashiriyeh taught his first semester at SU as a visiting professor in 2006. In fall 2007 he was not allowed to leave Iran and return to the United States to teach a second semester. He was held for five months before he could travel to the States.
That was a harbinger. Bashiriyeh was expelled from his post at the University of Tehran in July 2007. He had been a faculty member for 25 years. He was in America when he heard from his colleagues in Iran that he should not return to his home country.
He still doesn't know what he will do next.
Bashiriyeh has a J1 visa, which permits students and professors to study in the United States for up to 36 months. His time expires next year, and he will have to contact a lawyer to petition for a longer stay.
He would legally be required to return to Iran for two years before he could return again to the United States. He said he "doesn't feel comfortable at all" with returning.
Boroujerdi said the university and the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs may be able to help his colleague, but it's up to the administration. They may be able to initiate a petition for a change of visa status, Boroujerdi said.
"I've raised the issue with the chair of the political science department," he said, "and we will be going to see the associate dean at Maxwell in a couple of weeks."
Bashiriyeh has tried to take it as it comes. He focuses on teaching his classes at SU: Politics of Iran, Political Systems of the Middle East and Transitions to Democracy.
He shields most of his personal experiences outside the classroom.
Abbey Jorstad, his teaching assistant for the Politics of Iran, said Bashiriyeh hadn't spoken about his difficulties much.
"He's actually pretty modest and quiet about his background most of the time," said Jorstad, a graduate student.
Sophomores Meghan Nelson and Emma Kinzer, who take Bashiriyeh's Political Systems of the Middle East class, said his humbleness is apparent in the classroom.
"He never talks about it," said Nelson, a policy studies major, about Bashiriyeh's history. "He hasn't even told us where he's from."
"He's very humble, like you wouldn't even know all of the stuff he's done," said Kinzer, also a political science major.
Stuart Brown, a professor of economics, got to know Bashiriyeh and his family after he came to SU, having his family over for dinner and conversation.
"A lot of times when visiting professors come, no one knows that they are there because we are all busy," Brown said. "He's a real gentleman, and at the same time has a very quiet and engaging sense of humor."
Like he did in Iran, Bashiriyeh keeps a low profile. He concentrates on teaching and on his family.
He offers few anecdotes from his experiences with the Iranian government, out of both modesty and concern for his family who are still in Iran.
"If I reveal what happened not during the not just the last months, but even previously, (the Iranian government) will consider it as some sort of anti-regime propaganda," Bashiriyeh said. "And they may cause difficulties for some people over there.
"So I keep rather quiet about certain things that happened in such countries. I haven't made it public. I just summarize it as 'having some problems.'"