Liberal as in Liberty and Freedom. Iranian as in Cyrus and Ferdowsi.
Defusing the Cover of Conflict
In two different articles, the New York Times considers the effects of the hike in tensions between Iran and Europe and the US. What has sparked these new articles appears to be
that "[u]nder cover of the international furor over its nuclear activities and its support for Hezbollah, Iran is trying to silence its most prominent human-rights activist, and, by extension, all of the Iranians who speak for fundamental rights." It is argued
that "the regime's moves against government critics have recently intensified." Recent examples include the banning of Shirin Ebadi's Center for Defense of Human Rights and the death of Akbar Mohammadi, a student activist, in Evin prison in Tehran.
In the second article, Lionel Beehner gives
a detailed account of the current dominant view in the intellectual circles of the West about the human rights situation in Iran and the role the West can and should play. On "Why is Iran's human rights situation worsening?" he quotes Bill Samii of Radio Free Europe: "Because of Ahmadinejad's conservative stance on cultural issues and embrace of strict Islamic law." He then informs us that Ghaemi and Ebadi had opined, in a February 2005 New York Times op-ed
[T]he threat of foreign military intervention will provide a powerful excuse for authoritarian elements to uproot [human rights organizations] and put an end to their growth... .
Moreover, he reports that "experts say" Europe and the US have "not much" leverage on human rights in Iran, and that
[T]he best U.S. policy should be, like the doctor's oath, "to do no harm."
It is clear that by "harm" it is meant any challenge to the regime in Tehran since it gives, the theory goes, the regime a "cover" to increase its crackdown on human rights activists. But does this theory stand the test of reason? The short answer is, no!
First, the abuses of human rights in Iran and the pressure on its activists have not increased; they just have become more official. We cannot forget that many such activists were murdered under the rule of the past two "moderate" presidents, many more were jailed and tortuted, and still more beaten and threatened to silence during the same time. The fashionable story these days that Ahmadinejad's ascent to presidency has had a dramatic effect on worsening this situation is but a false, and at best useless, representation of the facts.
Then, let us ask this simple question: if, according to this theory, the conclusion is that we shall not challenge the regime so we do not give it a "cover," then what is the purpose of even bothering with the issue of human rights inside the country? By standing by and doing nothing, we defeat the purpose of concerning ourselves with human rights in Iran in the first place. Simply put, this is an irrational conclusion.
The truth is, the claimed "cover" is not provided only by a confrontation, but also by detaching the resolution of the conflict from the regime's human rights record. Such a conflict gives the regime two birds with one stone: they use it to justify their grip on power in the face of an "external enemy" while they continue
to abuse the rights of their citizens at no cost
. The second part is what has to be changed: the regime shall not only be challenged, but any possible resolution of the ensuing conflict must be tied to improvements in its human rights record.
It is not difficult to see that this provides the West with a huge leverage on human rights in a tyrannical regime, contrary to what "experts" say. A tyrannical regime cannot rely on the creativity of its citizens for its survival, for it cannot trust them, and for they are not given the freedom necessary for such creativity. So it inevitably has to convince outsiders to help it directly or indirectly on financial and economic issues. By levying a cost on the regime for abusing the rights of its citizens, it will not only face an unsolvable existential dilemma, but also human rights activists will be further boldened in their just demands. The regime is thus deprived of both those birds it would get for free otherwise.
It is only in this simple way that the "cover of conflict" is defused. But at the moment it appears, sadly, that understanding, let alone demanding, this simple policy requires a grasp of reality and an intellectual honesty beyond what the "experts" can afford.
Bias and Control on Media
In a brilliant and short article
, Ahmad Zeidabadi writes
In the first few days of war Shargh reported the entry of the Israeli army into southern Lebonan. This simple piece of news angered [state-owned] Keyhan so much that it warned, and threatened, Shargh against publishing any news that would seem to portray Hezbollah as weak. From then on, all the news in the Iranian media of the war became completely one-sided, and the whole business turned into a part of the propaganda machine of the Islamic republic. [...] In the war between Israel and Hezbollah, all the media in Iran were put on pressure to arrange their news so it reflects Hezbollah's strength and Israel's weakness, as if the result of the war would be determined on the paper sheets of the press in Iran, and not in southern Lebonan. Surprising as it may be, Iran's state media took their proof for the weakness and defeat of Israel from the Israeli newspapers and quoted Haaretz, Jerusalem Post, Maariv, and Yedioth Aharanoth one after another. But they never asked themselves once how it is possible that the media of the country that is itself a party of the war can attack the military policy of their government with no fear and reveal its weaknesses and defeats, but the media of Iran, which has only an alliance with Hezbollah, should not be able to run a headline on the entrance of the Israeli army into Lebonan.
This is what bias and control over media really means, and all other allegations of such charges must be measured against it.
Sent to Hell vs. Joining the Heaven!
John Kifner of New York Times reports
in a front-page overview
Nehme Y. Tohme, a member of Parliament from the anti-Syrian reform bloc and the country’s minister for the displaced, said he had been told by Hezbollah officials that when the shooting stopped, Iran would provide Hezbollah with an "unlimited budget" for reconstruction. [...] Hezbollah’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, offered money for “decent and suitable furniture” and a year’s rent on a house to any Lebanese who lost his home in the month-long war.
At the same time, Iran's supreme leader, Khamenei, sent this message
through Hezbollah's Al-Manar television,
"Your unprecedented holy war and steadfastness are beyond the limits of my description. It's a divine victory. It is a victory of Islam, [...] With God's help you were able to prove that military superiority is not (measured) in the number (of soldiers), planes, warships and tanks. Rather, it depends on the power of faith and holy war, [...] [t]hey (Israeli attacks) have also uncovered the level of falsehood surrounding the hollow slogans ... about human rights and democracy."
By reversing the order of these sentences, one chould see the real chain of logic: "democracy and human rights are ploys. There are no such values. We have our own values. And we fight those who think otherwise. This is holy."
But seeing the reality in such a confusing situation and through the destruction of a war is particularly difficult for an observer in the West. With all the different opinions and manipulation, it is a daunting task to discern the truth of the matter. It is, by contrast, a painfully clear view from the inside of a tyrannical system, where the truth is sitting bare naked on the side, for those who dare
to look at it:
I would like to know if the money that was spent in the past two decades in Palestine and Lebonan and Bosnia, was spent for preparing the people and organizations for the earthquake [of December 25, 2003 in Bam, Iran], how many of the thousands who died under the rubble would survive? By the way, how many did Lebonan's Hezbollah and Palestnian Islamic organizations send to help us? What about Bosnia? or Iraq's Shiites? Or Syria and Libya? On the other hand, Israelis have offered to help, but our masters have taken a major offense and refused. I bet they have bit their hands and said: "Astaghfor-allah! Would we offer to help if it had happened in Israel?!!" [...] One night, I heard this news on the state TV: "This afternoon a Palestinian teenager, in a martyrdom operation [suicide mission] joined the heaven and sent four Israelis to hell." Now, the one who would be sent to hell if he dies, has put aside his grudges and offered to help as a human, but the ones whose death would be equal to joining heaven don't even bother to send a message of condolences.
These days, too, the state-financed media are counting
the Israelis "sent to hell!"
Let me ask then, how would we find moral equality here? How would we relativize this? That should make for a good afternoon exercise of sophistry and advanced contextualization.
In his "interview" with Ahmadinejad, Mike Wallace, the host of CBS's "60 Minutes" said
: "I couldn't be happier for the privilege of sitting down with the president of Iran." I completely believe him. He was all too happy, in fact, to be able to do his job. Jeff Jacoby, a columnist with the Boston Globe observes
Time and again Wallace let Ahmadinejad brush him off with inanities and lies he would have pounced on had they been uttered by a business executive or an American politician. When Wallace asked why Iranian Revolutionary Guards are helping terrorists in Iraq kill US soldiers, Ahmadinejad's non-reply was that the Americans shouldn't be in Iraq, since it is ``a civilized nation with a long history of civilization." The ``60 Minutes" star's withering rejoinder, according to the transcript: ``Mm-hmm." Wallace didn't press for an answer to his question, so Ahmadinejad flung it back at him. ``According to international laws," he said, Iraqi security is the responsibility of ``the occupation" -- that is, the US military. ``Why are they not providing security?" The befuddled Wallace changed the subject.
Could Wallace not at least ask which way is it in Ahmadinejad's fractured view: Americans should be or should not be in Iraq? Should they or should they not provide security according to their international obligations?
Jacoby also tells us a little anecdote, which I find very befitting for Wallace today:
Neville Chamberlain flew to Munich to see Adolf Hitler, Walter Winchell observed in 1938, ``because you can't lick a man's boots over the phone."
As if having heard that story, Mr. Wallace describes the taste, too: "very smart, savvy, self-assured, good looking in a strange way . . . infinitely more rational than I had expected him to be." To what horrifyingly low levels does Mr. Wallace think our understanding of "rationality" has sunk?
Errors of Freedom
A system based on the principle of freedom and structured in order to safeguard it (e.g. democracy) is still prone to mistakes. Does this mean that it is a bad or evil system? No! Since freedom and democracy do not
mean the absence of mistakes, but the possibility to peacefully correct them. This is simply the best we can do.
Robin Wright recalls in a Washington Post article
A year ago, President Bush issued a statement saying [...] "[Ganji's] valiant efforts should not go in vain. [...] Mr. Ganji, please know that as you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you."
In the same article, Ganji recalls
"I was in solitary confinement in prison and had no contact with anyone when Bush announced support for me." Interrogators, however, "talked to me as if I had had dinner with Bush the previous evening."
Wright adds that "Bush administration support is dangerous for Middle East democrats these days."
Wright, I guess, is doing what she is paid to do. Ganji, however, reveals here that the art of self-delusion is still alive in him. Is he suggesting that because the interrogators use Bush's support as evidence against Iranian liberals, Bush should stop supporting them? Can we not apply the same twisted logic for, say, the same liberals' belief in basic freedoms? These beliefs are used everyday as evidence by regime's interrogators and revolutionary courts that these people are "irreligious," "lackeys of the West," "traitors" and "symbols of corruption on Earth." These are actual charges brought against many who had merely dared advocate freedoms of opinion in Iran, including Ganji himself. So, should we also stop believing and advocating our own freedoms because they are used as evidence against us?
It was only last year, when Ganji wrote
in his Republican Manifesto
[The US] plan depends more on the behavior of the Iranian regime than it does on the conduct of the opposition forces. [...] [T]he only way out of a US-Iran face off is the establishment of a democratic system in Iran. [...] They believe a widespread democratic social movement can pre-empt an American military attack on Iran. With such a movement, a military attack will no longer be an issue. [...] Did Afghan Mujahedeen stop their fight and join the Taliban? Did Iraqi freedom fighters stop fighting Saddam and join his regime because America was going to attack Iraq? If they had done so, wouldn’t they have been condemned by freedom lovers around the globe?
But now, he is doing exactly what he had advised against in his writings. He "scoffs at the $75 million that the Bush administration has allocated for programs to encourage Iran's democracy movement. He said the funds would be better used for Iranian- or Islamic-studies centers at American universities." But why? Why not spend that money in programs that promote international solidarity with the people of Iran in their struggle to attain their freedoms? What use are all those Iranian-studies programs if Iranians suffocate while being studied? By missing the chance to engage the world's superpower in a program of support for the Iranians' struggle for their freedoms, Ganji is now a good candidate to be condemned by freedom lovers around the world.
Interestingly, Ganji's own account shows his fallacy: even though he was in solitary confinement, the interrogators accused him anyway. This shows clearly that it is misguided to believe that Iranian liberals' actions, specifically their seeking help from the outside world, is what causes the regime to mistreat them. It is the ideas that they advocate, which go against the very existence of the tyrannical rule of the regime, not the real or imaginary support they receive from outside, that the regime fears and tries to eliminate. So, when the regime and its agents mistreat us anyway, why not encourage the free world, which can lend enormous resources to our cause, to support our struggle for freedom?
Ganji had it right in prison! Only by encouraging the US officials to help the Iranian people can we avoid a bloody war before it becomes unavoidable by the conduct of the regime in Tehran. Ganji is wasting a unique opportunity, given to him for his acknowledged position in the eyes of the people of the world and their governments, and created by his previous couragous and correct ideas and the efforts of those who spread those ideas by translating them, holding long vigils, signing petitions and making a noise for his and others' freedom, all around the world. Instead of spending time with Hollywood celebrities
, he should meet with those who can actually make a differnece, through helpful laws that would bind any cooperation with the regime to its respect for human rights and its conduct towards its citizens. The effects of these lost opportunities can be already seen. Last year, Bush repeated the "we stand with you" language used earlier for Ganji in his 2006 State of the Union address
. This is exactly what Iranian liberals need. Now instead, human rights are losing their place as an issue altogether in the language of veteran US politicians
. This would be a fatal blow to the cause of freedom in Iran.
In his more philosophical thinkings, too, Ganji is slipping.
"I realized that repression is in the essence of revolution," he said, smiling. "And I realized that we cannot produce democracy with revolution."
He forgets that the longest standing democracy of the world was in fact created by a revoultion of the sort he thinks must be "repressive in essence." Not only that, it had to rid itself of slavery (the brazen face of repression) through a bloody civil war. Yet, the people of the US now enjoy the sort of freedoms Ganji is yearning for. The simple truth is, it is not revolutions per se that are repressive, but the ideas behind them. There is a link: repressive ideas seek their domination through revolutionary and violent methods, but the inverse (which Ganji states) is not true.
The truth is that Ganji is distancing himself from American officials for two reasons: one is that he fears, as he reveals in Wright's article, harsher treatment for himself and his friends by the regime. For not telling this straight out he is at least to blame for dishonesty. Second, and more importantly, he is against US policies because he still carries with him, from his younger days, deep and untouched assumptions about the US, an ideological baggage against "US imperialism" and the sort, albeit in a lighter and modified version.
As a young man, he rallied behind Ayatollah Khomeini, served in the elite Revolutionary Guards at the same time as Iran's current hard-line president, then worked in the Ministry of Islamic Guidance, churning out its propaganda.
One is left wondering if those years had a permanent effect.
At this time it seems, unfortunately, that Ganji can only be trusted when he says, "We still don't have the emergence of a Gandhi, Havel or Mandela." Sadly, that is right. Gandhi, Havel, and Mandela never had a baggage of unattended assumptions, from their early days of supporting their later adversaries, affecting their thinking and actions years after they had nominally rejected them as false. Ganji, unfortunately, does.
Senator John McCain (R) of Arizona has commented
on US-Iran negotiations or direct talks:
Tehran should renounce its idea of removing Israel from the map as also pursuit of nuclear weapons if it wants o have direct talks with US. "As soon as the President of Iran renounces ...Two things. One is (Iran's) dedication to the extinction of the state of Israel, and the other, if it's not going to be decided with bombs, then stop your pursuit of the acquisition of nuclear weapons."
Senator McCain's concerns with Iranian nuclear threat is legitimate. And so are those of the people of Iran. And they are exactly what McCain's gets wrong in his argument. Putting "security" ahead of the "freedoms" and the "human rights" of the people of Iran is a fatal mistake many make when thinking of the crisis in the Middle East. They should be reminded that even if the government of Iran abandons its current nuclear program and threats against Israel, which in McCain's view should qualify them for direct talks and exchange, there is no guarantee the crisis won't reveal itself in the (very) near future due to the repressive form of the government. When people cannot freely discuss and decide about the policies their government chooses to pursue (for its own protection) there is absolutely no guarantee
that the day after the current government abandons its nuclear ambitions, it or the next administration, won't reopen another or even the same program, if it is seen beneficial to the survival of their tyranny, always at the expense of the ordinary people everywhere.
Cyrus Ferdowsi was born and lived most of his life in Iran. As a child, he experienced the upheavals of the 1979 revolution and the horrors of the Iran-Iraq war. In school he felt the urge to resist the brainwashing of the religious state propaganda by reading alternative ideas, and by studying math. The latter has now turned into a profession. The former included whatever was there to find; at first, other (mostly leftist) leftover propaganda from the revolution; then, after discovering some local and home libraries, the writings of a string of irrational philosophers (Hegel, Marx, Nieztche); and finally, in late teenage years, the works of the more rational ones: Kant, Descartes, Michiavelli, Mach, Popper, Arendt, Hayek, Friedman, ... . Even when spending time on the leftist literature, Cyrus' central issue was "freedom." It was only the meaning of the word that had to be clarified later by rational thinkers and rational thinking.
October 14, 2006
• Identifying MisinformationSeptember 26, 2006
• Gozaar by Freedom House
A Journal on Democracy and Human Rights in IranSeptember 21, 2006
• Akbar Ganji's Letter to America
The regime [in Tehran] is dangerous mostly because it is willing to brutally trample on the democratic and human rights of the Iranian people. ... The real goal of the nuclear program is to make these policies permanent.September 17, 2006
• Iranian blogger released after two years in prison
Mojtaba Saminejad was charged for "activity against national security ", " insulting Khomeini and Khamenei", "profanity", "opening several blogs", "having unlawful affair", ...
• Bishop Concerned About Human Rights In Iran After Visit
Clampdown on activists, discrimination against women, and the plight of political prisoners ... Christians are leaving Iran because of social, cultural, and religious restrictions.September 15, 2006
• Reza Pahlavi's Senate Statement
The best way to deal with the clerical regime of Iran is an integrated three-pronged policy of "Confrontation, Pressure and Support."
• Oriana Fallaci, 77, died todaySeptember 12, 2006
• Silencing the Voices of Dissent
Forced shutdown of another Iranian newspaper, Shargh.September 10, 2006
• Families Of Kidnapped Persian Jews Sue Khatami In US Court
Khatami has twenty days to file an answer denying the allegations or default the case.September 7, 2006
• New Death of Political Prisoner in Custody
A second prisoner of conscience dies in Iran in five weeks.September 1, 2006
• Amnesty Int'l redefines 'war crimes'
Alan Dershowitz presses on!August 28, 2006
• The "Human Rights Watch" Watch
August 26, 2006
The Harvard Law Professor, Alan Dershowitz
, who has been called "the nation's most peripatetic civil liberties lawyer" and one of its "most distinguished defenders of individual rights," and "the best-known criminal lawyer in the world," considers one of the toughest questions of all, both moral and practical.
• Iran Exhibits Anti-Jewish Art
• Muslim Sisters Need Our Help
• Exchanges of ViolenceAugust 21, 2006
• Tarek Heggy on the Lebanese Crisis