Barry Rosen’s first view of Iran began in 1967, when he left Brooklyn for a two-year stint as a Peace Corps volunteer. He taught English and he learned Persian. In many ways, Iran became a second home for Rosen.
A decade later, he returned to Iran as the embassy’s press attaché and that home became his prison. On November 4, 1979, he became one of 52 Americans held under brutal conditions for 444 days by militants and Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Details of captivity, peculiar as well as profound, are never far from Mr. Rosen’s mind. In one of the many safe houses he was held, the only amusement was red ants that crawled the floor. More often, he was threatened with automatic weapons pointed to his head, a victim of mock executions, held blindfold for days on end, tied hand and foot, and thrown into Evin, Iran’s notorious prison that until today holds innocent Iranian human rights activists as well as writers, artists, and expatriates.
Mr. Rosen was described by the Iranian militants as a “famous spy and plotter” and accused him of heading a department designed to subvert the Iranian press. “When we put him on trial,” a spokesman for the militants said, “the plots of the United States will become clear.”
Although the crisis ended on January 20, 1981 with the Algiers Accords, Rosen and his colleagues spent nearly four decades fighting that agreement that gave the hostage-taking regime in Teheran immunity from any lawsuit by the long suffering men and women of the U.S. embassy.
“We were the first victims of modern state-sponsored terrorism,” Rosen said, and his voice was loud and clear about the need to make Iran pay for abrogating international law. He called the Accords nothing more than a “ransom note.” He added, “Iran really didn’t learn a lesson from hostage crisis,” pointing to Iran’s pernicious role in Syria, Iraq, and its support for terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah.
On his return to the United States, Rosen took up the position of Assistant to the President of Brooklyn College, CUNY. He wrote The Destined Hour, about his experience in Iran and convened a major conference on Iran, which led to the publication of Iran Since the Revolution.
Shortly after 9/11 Mr. Rosen persuaded Teachers College, Columbia University, where he headed the press office, to resume its work of the 1970s in Afghanistan by rewriting elementary school textbooks for the Ministry of Education.
“I felt we needed to return and pick up the work. We had a history in Afghanistan and that education was the only way to change young Afghan lives.” His contribution was part of an important multi-million-dollar international desire to revive the educational system in Afghanistan.
He led a group of Afghan and American educators in writing the curriculum and all primary school textbooks, while introducing a style of teaching and learning new to Afghan teachers and students, encouraging student participation. His yearlong posting lasted more than three years. He felt that in writing the various texts in all Afghan languages he helped create a curriculum that was both ideologically free of any Taliban influence and totally authentic to Afghanistan.
While serving as Executive Director of Public Affairs at Borough of Manhattan Community College, Mr. Rosen became a leading voice in calling on the Obama administration in to reject the diplomatic visa of Hamid Abutalebi as Iran’s new ambassador to the United Nations in March of 2014.
In interviews, Abutalebi played down his role during the hostage crisis, suggesting he was just a translator. But Rosen said, “For whom and where?” Rosen added, “It may be a precedent but if the president and the Congress don’t condemn this act by the Islamic Republic, then our captivity and suffering was for nothing. He can never set foot on American soil.” Abutalebi never did. The Obama administration denied Abutalebi his visa.
Mr. Rosen has two graduate degrees, one from Syracuse University’s Maxwell school of Public Affairs. The other is from Columbia University’s Department of Middle East Languages and Cultures. He is married to Barbara Bogutski Rosen and they have two children and five grandchildren. Mr. Rosen has written for a wide array of newspapers, appeared on network and cable television and authored a number of op-eds on U.S.-Iran relations.