It's the ultimate hypocrisy of the West to punish Iran for a crime Iran has not committed.
America's Role Archives
February 18, 2007 11:00 PM
March 17, 2007 7:11 AM
Two well-known and moderate women's rights activists have been detained in Iran since last week for participating in a peaceful street protest. The incident has outraged activists in Iran and elsewhere, but there is much more to it.
It was a big day for the 14 female MPs, who had tirelessly pushed for the bill in the hope that it would be a serious start to a series of changes in Iranian legal system - and an attempt to repair the Islamic republic's terrible international image on human rights.
But the law, to little surprise, was rejected by an ultra-conservative body (The Guardian Council) which has six top clerics and six lawyers and oversees parliament to make sure its decisions are not against the Iranian constitution or the core values of Islam. (Or their reading of those values.) They said the bill violated both Iran's sovereignty and Islamic law.
The then-77 year-old secretary of the council, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, an infamous opponent of the reform movement at the time and a strong supporter of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad now, said it was his saddest day of his work on the council, according to an Iranian official.
The rejection came after months of lobbying and protests (including street protests) by ultra-conservative clerics and their supporters who opposed the bill - despite a small minority of high-ranking clerics, such as Ayatollah Sane'I, who supported the law and didn't find it un-Islamic. The unlucky bill has so far been passed between various legislative councils and bodies and its future is entirely unclear.
Four years later, women's activists in Iran have tried alternative routes to abolish the discriminative laws against women, in areas such as employment, divorce, inheritance and custody rights, among others.
Two different approaches have emerged: One approach believes that the best way to silence the conservative critics, who accuse the reform movement of being a Western import with an aim to undermine religious values, is to construct a broad and inclusive manifesto, from bottom up, by mostly Muslim Iranian women, based on the experiences of post-colonial feminists in Asia and Africa.
The other approach is focuses around a campaign that wants to create local and international pressure on the Islamic republic by collecting one million signatures from ordinary Iranian women, and use that leverage to raise awareness of and abolish the discriminatory laws.
While the former approach tries to work within the current social, political and juridical structure, the latter rejects the structure in the first place and, by using methods of organised, massive civil disobedience, tries to force the establishment to accept the changes.
Both approaches have been more or less tolerated by the Islamic Republic in the past couple of years and, as a result of various conflicting opinions within the establishment, a neutral position has emerged in regards to the women's movement.
But in the past few months, there have been some signs that the American 'pro-democracy' project has developed an appetite for Iran's women's movement. And why not? What else can potentially mobilise half the population of a country against its government and possibly foment Ukranian or Georgian-style coloured revolution?
A Dutch newspaper discovered last year that a controversial Dutch grant to promote 'pro-democracy' media projects was awarded to an American organisation, Freedom House, to launch an online Persian-language magazine (Gozaar) to promote human rights and democracy.
Immediately, Iranian authorities who were already suspicious of the Dutch government's intentions (they are the perhaps the only country other than the US that has publicly created a fund to promote democracy in Iran) started to closely watch the other projects aided by the 15 million Euro fund, which was mostly awarded to European-based Iranian exiles. They began to see the whole budget as a Dutch cover up for the American regime-change project.
One other grant was awarded to an Iranian dissident to start a web magazine on Women's issues. But it emerged that the woman in charge of the web magazine, Shahrzad News, was an active member of what was once an armed opposition group that was outlawed and dismantled in the early years after the Iranian revolution.
Shahrzad News developed close ties with some of the women's activists, mainly with those who favored the civil disobedience approach, and, in addition to having them write articles, it organised a workshop in Dubai to improve the journalistic skills of some women's activists.
At the same time, the US State Department announced that it had created a special office in Dubai to gather intelligence on Iran and establish easier contact with Iranian dissidents. New York Times reported last December that US State Department has indirectly funded workshops on organising civil disobedience, hoping to foment massive revolts in Iran and overthrow the regime.
A mix of paranoia and intelligence has, ever since, led the Iranian government to become extremely wary of the activities of the non-governmental organisations, especially those working on women's issues. Last month they prevented a group of women from attending a new workshop in India, organised by Shahrzad News, and detained three of them for a day. Based on the accounts later published by those activists, the well-behaved intelligence officers questioned them in detail about their financial ties with Shahrzad News and other possible foreign-funded organisations.
And last week they detained over thirty female activists who had gathered in front of a court to protest the prosecution of a few other activists, who were charged with disrupting national security by participating in an street protest on Women's Day in Tehran. They have now all been released, except for two - Shadi Sadr and Mahboobeh Abbasgholizadeh. The Islamic republic has lost much of its tolerance.
It's a sad story. On the one hand, foreign 'pro-democracy' groups try to use women for their regime-change plans. On the other hand, the ultra-conservative factions in the Iranian establishment have found new justifications for painting the entire women's movement as a threat to the national security - which alienates the moderates within the establishment - and are pushing for a total crackdown on any sort of women's activism.
The only thing that could save the women's movement from a further duress is to distance itself from foreign 'pro-democracy' funding and abandon even peaceful street protests. Going back to lower-profile types of activism, engagement with moderate conservative officials (especially in the judiciary) and attempts to enter the local and national legislature are the most effective and least-costly options at the moment.
May 30, 2007 10:30 AM
June 20, 2007 2:09 PM
I have to congratulate to Ladan Archin and Mehdi Khalaji and the rest of the Pentagon staff, advisers and allies on wining the VOA Persian and Radio Farda over the State Department.
Mr. Richard Perle has been on VOA Persian TV this past week, talking for an hour about 'on the future of democracy inside Iran and last week's Prague meeting on democracy.'
Before him, Shahriar Ahi, the man behind Iran Solidarity, a group of Iranian exiles created as a back up for Reza Pahlavi's regime change, had another one-hour long interview. He is said to be Reza Pahlavi's mentor.
Meanwhile, Radio Farda, after the neoconservative Jeff Gedmin's take over of Radio Free Europe, has published extensive and exclusive interviews with Richard Perle, Michael Rubin, and of course Reza Pahlavi.
Seems to me that a report written by Ladan Archin et al in their Iran Steering Committee and the consequent pressure on Bush has been successful.
At least there is still some places where Perle can praise his wonderful ideas on regime change and the Iraqi model.
June 20, 2007 2:11 PM
In case you are interested to see what Shahriar Ahi and Reza Pahlavi are really up to with the new group they have formed, I'd suggest to read this wonderful piece of journalism by The New Yorker.
Exiles: How Iran's Expatriates are Gaming the Nuclear Threat
By Connie Bruck
March 6, 2006
On a snowy mid-December day, Reza Pahlavi, the forty-five-year-old son of the deposed Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, was seated at a table by the fire at a popular country-French restaurant in Georgetown, enjoying a bowl of cassoulet and plotting the overthrow of the Islamic Republic of Iran. He was accompanied by Shahriar Ahi, who in the months before the 1979 Iranian revolution had been an informal liaison between the Shah and the White House; after the Shah died, in exile, in 1980, Ahy remained close to Reza, whom many refer to as "the young shah." By early 2004, Ahy, who had been running a multinational media company from Saudi Arabia, had left his job to work full time on unseating the Iranian regime. Although Ahi says that he has no factional affiliations, he has become, in essence, Pahlavi's political strategist, mentor, speechwriter, monitor. He is also attempting, on Pahlavi's behalf, to unite the atomized Iranian opposition. Ahy, an M.I.T. graduate-school alumnus, is often compared to his fellow alumnus Ahmad Chalabi, who, before the American invasion of Iraq, was the head of the Iraqi National Congress. An Iranian-American political activist with ties to Ahy and Pahlavi commented recently, "If Reza is ever returned to power, it will be because of Shahriar."
June 20, 2007 2:11 PM
Recently I've become quite suspicions of the human rights non-government organisations when it comes to their campaigns related to Iran.
Now it's quite revealing and equally disturbing to see a faithful supporter of Iraq occupation, involved in an Amnesty International event in New York.
First look at the announcement I received from a mailing list (See a copy on the Free Haleh campaign website):
RALLY TO SUPPORT HUMAN RIGHTS IN IRAN AND TO CALL FOR JUSTICE FOR DETAINED IRANIAN-AMERICAN SCHOLARS AND ACTIVISTS
THE IRANIAN GOVERNMENT HAS RECENTLY BEEN ENGAGED IN A WIDESPREAD CRACKDOWN ON ALL FORMS OF DISSENT IN IRAN
In May the government of Iran arrested four Iranian-Americans: prominent U.S. scholars Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh, journalist Parnaz Azima and activist Ali Shakeri. Esfandiari, Tajbakhsh and Shakeri remain in detention where they are subject to torture and ill-treatment. All four face serious charges stemming from their peaceful activism and scholarly work and could be sentenced to long prison terms.
JOIN AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL, THE AMERICAN ISLAMIC CONGRESS AND HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH AS WE CALL FOR JUSTICE AND FOR THE RELEASE OF DETAINED PEACEFUL ACTIVISTS
SPEAKERS TO INCLUDE SHAUL BAKHASH, HUSBAND OF HALEH ESFANDIARI, AND ZAINAB AL-SUWAIJ OF THE AMERICAN ISLAMIC CONGRESS
WHERE: Ralph Bunche Park Isaiah Wall at 1st Avenue and 42nd Street across from the United Nations Plaza
WHEN: Wednesday June 27, 12 noon to 1 pm
Feel free to bring signs calling for freedom for the detained activists
For more information contact Sharon McCarter 202-691-4016 or Amnesty International USA 202-675-8755
Now let's see who Zainab Al-Suwaij is (Source: Harvard Gazzette):
p. This is from her speech at the Republican National Convention after the occupation of Iraq, where she also personally endorsed by George W. Bush:
"Now 33, Al-Suwaij grew up under the harsh rule of Saddam Hussein, took up arms against the Iraqi ruler, and today is working to bring democracy - and especially women's rights - to a country that is struggling both with Hussein's legacy and an age-old authoritarian tradition."
She has met with President George W. Bush at the White House and spoken to the Republican National Convention.
"Before becoming a peace-wager, Al-Suwaij was a warrior - and has the bullet scar on her cheek to prove it. When her classmates were forced to march holding pictures of Hussein, Al-Suwaij often sneaked away. At 20, during the 1991 Gulf War, she heeded the words of the first President Bush, who broadcast messages on Voice of America urging the Iraqi people to rebel against Hussein, promising that U.S. forces would support them. As an armed fighter, she helped to liberate provinces and to open the gates of a prison where there was a human meat grinder for those who didn't confess. The promised support from the United States never arrived, and the battle-scarred veteran went into exile in the United States.
President George W. Bush talks with Zainab Al-Suwaij during a meeting with Iraqi-Americans and free Iraqis who are living in the United States in the Roosevelt Room Friday, April 4, 2003. White House photo by Eric Draper. (Source: White House)
"Following the tragedies of Sept. 11 Al-Suwaij created the American Islamic Congress with the goal of promoting moderation and tolerance within and outside the Islamic community. After the American occupation of Iraq she has also spent 14 months there working to develop projects focused on improving the educational system - her schools for dropouts have a 97 percent rate of success - and empowering Iraqi women.
"Al-Suwaij credits her drive to organize for democracy to lessons learned from her grandfather, a Shiite ayatollah. 'My family is shocked. I am the first woman in my family who doesn't just stay home,' she said. 'My grandmother didn't believe it when she saw my photo with Bush in the Iraqi papers.'"
Living under Saddam Hussein, we could not gather as we do now to discuss things like democracy and freedom. We could only dream of a day when we could speak freely, and worship God in ways of our own choosing.
Instead, we lived under a murderer who used every weapon in his arsenal against us-- from tanks to torture chambers to poison gas.
But today, I come to tell you that Iraq enjoys a new day.
Yes, there is still bloodshed and uncertainty -- but America, under the strong, compassionate leadership of President Bush, has given Iraqis the most precious gift any nation has ever given another --- the gift of democracy and the freedom to determine its own future.
Already, the seeds of democracy are bearing fruit --- with popular elections recently held for local officials. And we know our children face a brighter future.
So as I grieve for the courageous Americans and Iraqis who were killed and injured during Iraq's liberation, I tell you proudly that their noble sacrifice was not in vain.
As Iraqis assume full sovereignty, they embrace the American people in friendship and gratitude.
I promise you: we will never forget what your sons and daughters did for us.
Interestingly enough, she has also founded Hands Across the Mideast Support Alliance (HAMSA) that was behind a nasty campaign against Mohammad Khatami's speech at Harward, along with Boroumand Foundation. Luckily,
By a bit of more googling, I'm sure I'd find much more to thicken her impressive profile in supporting and facilitating US-backed regime change in the Middle East.
So I wonder how Zainab Al-Suwaij has ended up being endorsed by Amnesty International, with its impressive history to oppose the US invasion of Iraq and its condemnation of the occupation.
Call me a cynic or a paranoid agent of the Islamic Republic, but I can't just see all these connections and endorsements as an accident.
There is something fishy here, don't you think?
July 19, 2007 3:22 AM
Esfandiari, Jahanbegloo and Tajbakhsh's tv 'confessions' is only targeted at the ordinary Iranians inside Iran and the fact that they're broadcasting it on the Channel 1 confirms that.
But there is also another delicate detail no one has paid attention to yet that explains what exactly Iranian intelligence system is trying to achieve:
The above mentioned people, at least in the TV spots shown so far, are characterised as experts, not as prisoners.
The average man or woman in Iran who doesn't read newspapers or watch satellite television or simply doesn't follow politics has no idea about the conditions in which these individuals have said these things and would only be introduced to them as international relations experts. (The set where they are interviewed and their cloths also want to portray them as if they are in their offices or their homes.)
Personally I think it's a mistake by the Iranian government to assume such distinction or gap between the internal public opinion and external one.
Simply because of the widely popular foreign-based Persian-language satellite televisions such as the VOA and the forthcoming BBC are covering a considerable portion of the same people Iranian government try to target.
So in a few days the news that these statements were taken under pressure would be everywhere, mostly thanks to the popular VOA, and it would lose its value and effect.
I personally agree with legitimate and effective methods to expose the real intentions behind the American human rights and democracy project in countries such as Iran, Syria, Cuba, Venezuela, Russia and many eastern European states.
But I believe these televised confessions are neither legally or ethically justified, nor are effective once people realise the story behind them. They even have an opposite effect since the average Iranians would think that there is no truth to anything anyone says along the same lines.
The Americans have repeated and publicly expressed their interest in using the civil society, especially student, women and labour movement, in Iran to destabilise the government and these are exposed by the US' own mainstream media.
But what Iran does with these televised confessions undermine all these realities and help the opposition to paint them as propaganda or conspiracy theories.
- TV confessions undermine the reality of American plans to destabilise Iran
- Zainab Al-Suwaij endorsed by Amnesty International defends Haleh Esfandiari
- Solidarity Iran: Toward a US-backed non-violent regime change in Iran
- Rice loses VOA Persian and Radio Farda to Pentagon
- Khamenei's Assault on Rafsanjani's American Allies
- Iranian Women: Caught Between the U.S. and Islaimc Republic
- I'd Take Khamenei Over Bush