Nuclear ambitions or no, in spite of what you might think about its hypocrisy, the Islamic regime never disappoints when it comes to shocking the rest of the world with its latest outrage. Take the country’s longstanding abuse of human rights. In Geneva earlier this month, the UN’s Human Rights Council concluded a review of human rights issues in 14 focus countries, including Iran. More than a hundred nations submitted questions or offered suggestions to the Iranian government on a host of issues, including persecution of religious minorities.
Iranian government representatives claimed that the Baha’is in Iran enjoy all the rights of citizenship. In a burst of creative diplo-babble, apparently designed to undermine the application of universal norms, the Iranians introduced a concept called “multicultural universality of human rights.” Translation: “We reserve the right to interpret human rights to suit ourselves and when we are caught red-handed abusing Iranian citizens, we expect the rest of the world to mind its own business.” The Boko Haram couldn’t have said it any better.
Ostensibly, the goal of the 1979 Islamic revolution was to overthrow the monarchy of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a widely popular movement supported by a diverse coalition of Iranian groups and organizations. But the revolution that overthrew the Shah only replaced one dictatorial regime with another one.
It’s been 35 years since that revolution and Iran may be coming to some sort of crossroads: one path, tentative at the moment, leading toward greater tolerance, more freedom and increased interaction with the West, while the other path stays the course on isolation, ethnocentric exceptionalism and ambitions for power and influence in the Middle East, a current path that is pursued, well, religiously.
It was, after all, the imposition of Islamic laws in post-revolutionary Iran that helped consolidate the new government’s power, eliminate hard-won freedoms set during the time of the Shah and restrict the free flow of information from the outside world. It also inflamed religious bigotry towards any faith tradition other than Shi’a Islam. To this day, Christians, Jews, Sufis, even Sunni Muslims pay the price for being different.
But of all the religious minorities in Iran, it is the plight of the Baha’is that is the most desperate. In spite of a withering hail of international criticism championed by a string of resolutions from the U.S. congress, the United Nations, the European Union and similar efforts by a host of human rights groups, the Islamic regime refuses to acknowledge its appalling human rights record, stubbornly clinging to its fanatical revolutionary zeal. Simply put, religious freedom is an illusion in Iran.
Iranian-American activists in this country have taken the initiative to highlight Iran’s embarrassing dilemma. Last month in Los Angeles, for example, a non-profit organization called Striving for Human Rights in Iran held its fifth annual symposium at the Skirball Cultural Center. Nearly a thousand people packed the center’s Herscher Hall to learn the latest news from Iran and demonstrate their support for the oppressed in that country. Speakers such as Dr. Abbas Milani, Attorney Mehrangiz Kar and Dr. Farhad Sabetan called attention to ongoing mistreatment of Iranian minority groups fully sanctioned by the Islamic government and aimed at the most vulnerable segments of Iranian society.
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning the government of Iran for its violations of human rights and other international covenants. House Resolution 754 details a list of grievances against the Iranian government including restrictions on freedom of expression and association, discrimination and violence against women, executions of political prisoners and juveniles, targeting of journalists and activists, and harassment and persecution of religious minorities.
A similar bill, House Resolution 109, has widespread bipartisan support and is pending in the current congress. It condemns the Iranian government for persecution of the Baha’is and calls for the release of all religious prisoners. One can only hope that continued public attention will help redress the human rights crisis in Iran.
If countries had faces, Iran’s would be burning red with shame.