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Dame Fortune

By Alireza Haghighi, Tehran

On a cold day of November 1996, at New York's JFK airport, an officer of the US immigration bureau, while holding passport of a non-resident Iranian passenger, looked at her and asked some questions about her travel intentions and directed her to the fingerprinting room. This officer was enforcing a new regulation, recently endorsed by the US Congress, that required Iranian passengers to be fingerprinted. This fifty-year-old woman had just encountered this new regulation. She could not speak English at that time, and she desperately tried to present her invitation letter which was issued by a well-known US institution, and explain that she was going to be awarded by that institution. However, the officer's response was; "this is not my concern and you must be fingerprinted."

This woman's request to call her host who was waiting outside the airport was denied. They took her to a room where some people were sitting there with chains on their hands and feet. This Iranian woman, who incidentally was a solicitor, panicked by this situation, had to spend two hours in that room and only after finishing the fingerprinting process she was allowed to leave the room and airport area and join her host who was worried and anxious also.

Ironically enough, this officer had no clue that seven years later this very same woman who had been fingerprinted by him on suspicion of terrorist activities would receive greeting letters from the President of the United States and the Secretary of State. He could not recognize Dame Fortune smiling at her. This woman was no one but Shirin Ebadi, the winner of Nobel Peace Prize, who seven years ago at the invitation of Human Rights Watch traveled to United States to receive the Helman Hamet Prize, and her host was Mrs. Elahe Hicks, head of Iran section in that institution.

The terrified Mrs. Ebadi gave her views of that incident. She had no previous knowledge of this legislation and she could not imagine that when invited to receive the human rights prize, she would be humiliated by fingerprinting because of anti-terrorist regulations. The Human Rights Watch, instantly, filed an official protest with the US Immigration office for the disagreeable behavior of its officers, but this protest lead to no results. [1] Meanwhile, the government of Iran remained silent on this incident and Iran's then ambassador to the United Nation, who is now the Foreign Minister, did not protest the humiliation of an Iranian citizen. Only some years later when a semi-official delegation, including some clerics, were fingerprinted, did the Iranian government officially protest. Probably, if on that occasion the government of Iran had decided to protest the treatment of Mrs. Ebadi and had not disregarded her citizenship rights, today she would not receive the Nobel Peace Prize, or this Prize would be analyzed on a different basis.

This incident is an evidence of internal contradictions of the United States policies; policies that use artillery barrage for hunting down a swallow. It seems that they are putting on glasses with two different lenses. In one instance, they ignore intentional hunting down of children by tank shells, and in another instance they send a greeting message, at the highest official level, to a children rights activist.

However, Mr. Bush and Mr. Powell's greeting message to Mrs. Ebadi has an important element of opposition of State Department to the Neo-conservative group of Americans. The policy of this radical group, who is the core base of shaping the US policy in Middle East, is based on changing the regime in Iran. On the other hand, the State Department pursues a more pragmatic approach with an eye to the problems she faces in Iraq and prefers a carrot and sticks policy, although there is no balance between carrot and stick and the stick is more obvious.

Furthermore, the hidden political meaning of Mrs. Ebadi's prize reveals some aspects of the European Union strategy towards Iran as well. Europeans are worried about Iran's policies with respect to nuclear energy, Middle East problems and arrangement of internal power relations. They fear that these may cause problems for security and strategic interests of US and provide the necessary ground for Neo-Conservatives to follow their Iraqization policy of Iran. Therefore, they try to become more active and play a leading role concerning Iran's issue. The political analysts advise EU politicians to find the roots of Iran's international and military behavior inside the internal developments of power structure in Iran. They believe that Iran's post-war experience has made it clear that unless democratic institutions gain ground in Iran, her foreign policy will continue to be of inconsistency and unreliability for Western interests.

France and Germany's ultimatum to Iran for signing the optional protocols, EU's explicit statement about human rights in Iran, and immediate greetings of President Chirac of France and Chancellor Shrouder of Germany to Mrs. Ebadi on the occasion of winning the Nobel Peace prize, are all signs of European desire to provide Iran with a new opportunity to reconstruct and reform its internal and external policies in accordance with international system.

On the other hand, this prize signifies other European considerations about Iran's situation. If previously they just focused on changing Iran's political leaders point of view, now they have reached this conclusion that post-Khatami's developments reveal further capabilities of civil society in Iran, and women are definitely key players in this development. Therefore, Europeans are determined to support and strengthen this progress. Furthermore, they do not favour radical changes, replacing the system with external alternatives.

Europe seems to want to establish a peaceful atmosphere in the Middle East, this somehow battleground of Islam and West, by way of rational and smooth combination of Islam and democracy, and by doing so to preserve her interests vis--vis the US. Spread of violence and instability will increase the chances of US presence in this region for the sake of peace-keeping and ensuring the free flow of energy to the world. In this situation, US will consider the geographical change of the region as well. Therefore, Europeans are keen to persuade powerful and influential countries of the region to see this dangerous outlook as well. They are well aware that if Khatami had not come to power and the hope for gradual and peaceful transition had not been revived in Iran, this symbolic and important prize would not be granted to an Iranian woman. Presumably, like Francis Fokuyama, the US political analyst, they believe that Iran's revolution had caused such radicalism in the region, which only intelligence can take it back to the rational path of democracy, and this must be realized from within.

Apparently, Europeans can see Dame Fortune smiling on Iran in establishing security in the region and preserving their strategic interests. Do the political leaders of Iran feel the burden of this opportunity?

1- Details of this incident and the protest of Human Rights Watch are based on Mrs. Hicks' account.

About the author:
Alireza Haghighi is a contributing writer for Jame'e and Bonyan newspapers in Tehran, Iran. He has received his PhD. in politics from Tehran University. His area of expertise are the media and current events.

... Payvand News - 11/4/03 ... --

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