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Iran's Antidemocratic Forces - Part I: Their Treatment of Shirin Ebadi

By Dr. Mohammad Sahimi, Los Angeles

Iran's future in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United State, and the subsequent invasion and occupation of Iraq by the US, have been subjects of intense debates among Iranians, both within and without Iran. The debates have taken on new urgency in the light of the bitter confrontation between Iran's reformist movement and the radical right over the elections for the seventh session of the Majles, and the subsequent elimination of the vast majority of the reformists from the Majles. Taking advantage of these developments, the Iranian die-hard royalists - that faction of the monarchists whose only goal is restoration to power of the Pahlavi dynasty - have been promoting a "national coalition" or a "united front" of supposedly all the forces that are opposed to the present situation in Iran.

Are the die-hard royalists sincere in advocating their "national coalition?" Their deed speaks much louder than their words: These are the same people who advocated (and still continue advocating), explicitly or implicitly, US military attacks on Iran following the September 11 terrorist attacks and President Bush's famous "Axis of Evil" speech.

At the same time, Dr. Shirin Ebadi, the 2003 Nobel Laureate for Peace and an internationally-recognized and admired champion of human rights, visited southern California from May 14-17. The die-hard royalists - these "champions" of democracy - called on people, using their radio and satellite TV stations in Los Angeles, to demonstrate against her! Many of these short-sighted political dwarfs who are hungry for power, had never ever heard of Nobel Peace Prize before Shirin Ebadi received this Prize!

These developments have only reinforced what this author expressed in an article a year ago. On May 6, 2003, this author posted a piece on in which he argued that the real Axis (as opposed to the imaginary Axis that President Bush discovered two years ago) - evil or otherwise - is the one that effectively exists between Iranian die-hard royalists, the Israeli lobby in the US, and the radical reactionary right in Iran. It was also pointed out that, whereas the alliance between the die-hard royalists and the Israeli lobby in the US and its supporters is organic, the one between the die-hard royalists and Tehran's radical right is due to their similar positions regarding democratic values and ideals: These two groups may have different reasons for being for or against something, but the net effect of their positions is the same.

Evidence, which is now well-known, was also presented in the May 2003 piece that pointed to an - until then - not much noticed alliance between Iran's die-hard royalists and another group, namely, the neoconservatives in and out of the Bush Administration who were the driving force behind invasion of Iraq. This connection is further discussed in Part II of this article. The connection between the neoconservatives and Israel's Likud Party led by Ariel Sharon is now widely known (see, for example, the article posted on Payvand by Dr. Ismael Hossein-Zadeh; see also Michael Lind's review of the book, An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror, by two neoconservatives, David Frum and Richard Perle, in The Nation magazine, February 23, 2004, page 23).

The present article is Part I of a two-part series on Iran's antidemocratic forces, and in particular the radical right and the die-hard royalists. It is a follow-up to the May 2003 piece, and is motivated in part by the very large number of supporting e-mails that this author received for the views described in that article. Although it is likely that, similar to May 2003, this author will again receive a few hate mails, the issues discussed in the present piece are, in this author's opinion, too important to be ignored out of the "fear" that a few people may send hate e-mails to this author.

It should be pointed out that a few days after the May 2003 piece was posted, an article was published in the Financial Times of London whose author, Mr. Guy Dinmore, kindly wrote to this author and pointed out the many similarities between his article and last year's piece. Whether Mr. Dinmore also received hate e-mails of the type that this author received is unknown!

In this author's opinion, the events of the past year have given further credence to the existence of the proposed Axis. Among them, however, three sets of events particularly stand out: One is awarding the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize to Dr. Shirin Ebadi. She has taken strong, principled positions regarding many important national and international issues, which have angered both the die-hard royalists and Tehran's radical right.

The second set of events consists of the confrontation between Iran's reformists and the radical right over the elections for the seventh session of the Majles. The invasion of Iraq and its aftermath over the past year, and their possible implications for Iran's future, constitute the third set. This author believes that these events and the reaction of the die-hard royalists and Tehran's radical right to them clearly illustrate the fact that these two seemingly different groups envision the same thing for Iran, namely, an undemocratic, authoritarian political system in which the role of people is minimized, if not annihilated altogether.

Before the similarities between the reactions of the radical right and the die-hard royalists to the various principled positions that Shirin Ebadi has taken are described, I would like to point out that I fully recognize people's right to agree or disagree with Shirin Ebadi, as well as criticizing her if they do not agree with her and her positions. Moreover, I believe that we must, in fact, analyze and critique, if necessary, Shirin Ebadi's positions regarding various issue. In addition, the mere disagreement of a person or a political group with Shirin Ebadi does not necessarily imply in any way that that person or group is antidemocratic. However, a person's or a political group's disagreement with Shirin Ebadi does not give that person or group the right to viciously attack her, as happened here in Los Angeles, on May 14, after Shirin Ebadi finished her speech at the University of California in Los Angeles. It is this aspect that this author, as well as many other people, are opposed to.

Let us now begin with the reaction of Tehran's radical right and the die-hard royalists to awarding the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize to Shirin Ebadi. After over seven months, the radical right still continues to condemn this award most vehemently, declaring it a conspiracy against Iran (read against the radical right!). It has labelled Shirin Ebadi an agent of the US; a spy; a blasphemer. It has attacked her in the most vicious way for reasons as simple as, (1) she not wearing the hejaab while outside Iran, and (2) shaking hands with a man!

How about the die-hard royalists' reaction to Shirin Ebadi winning the Nobel Prize? A short time after the initial euphoria over the award, after it became clear that she would not use her international stature to recklessly attack Iran's radical right while still living in Iran, the die-hard royalists, using their satellite TV channels, began viciously attacking her, and still continue to do so, calling her names (some of which cannot even be translated into English!). They asked people to demonstrate against her in Los Angeles, because they despise her principled positions regarding many important issues. But, the most glaring aspect of their behavior is the commonality of their positions with those of the radical right in Tehran.

(a) Shirin Ebadi has stated many times that Islam and democracy are not in a fundamental conflict, for which she has been treated with contempt by both the die-hard royalists and the radical right, as both groups despise a progressive interpretation of Islam, and any talk of a link between Islam and democracy.

As a practicing muslim, this author believes in progressive interpretations of Islamic teachings offered by such Islamic thinkers as Mahdi Baazargaan, and Drs. Ali Shariati, Haashem Aghaajari, and Mohsen Kadivar. Their views are not necessarily identical (and in fact their views clash sometimes), but they all espouse progressive Islam. It is within progressive interpretation of the Islamic teachings that Shirin Ebadi (herself a practicing muslim) does not find a conflict between Islam and democracy. She sees no reason to choose one over the other, believing that one can be a good muslim and a democrat at the same time. However, AT THE VERY LEAST, she, as a practicing muslim AND champion of human rights, is entitled to her opinion. While we are all free to disagree with her regarding this issue, and are also entitled to the right for criticizing her, our disagreement or criticism does not give us the right to viciously attack her.

Shirin Ebadi has forcefully argued that what has been done by Osama bin Laden and his criminal terror group and allies has no relation with true teachings of Islam. She has asked the following critical question that her critics have not been able to respond to: Why is it that when the Serbs murdered hundreds of thousands of muslims in Bosnia, nobody attributed those crimes to ALL christians; why is it that when Israel denies the Palestinians their internationally-recognized rights - the rights that are based on the legal and binding authority of the United Nations Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 - and confiscates their lands and resources, nobody attributes these to ALL the jewish people? It is this type of double standards that Shirin Ebadi is against. Whether or not one agrees with Shirin Ebadi's position regarding this issue, it is clear that such double standards do exist.

At the same time, Shirin Ebadi has declared time and again that we should try to de-emphasize the differences between different religions, but emphasize the similarities between them, in order to contribute to a dialogue between various religions which will ultimately contribute to world's peace.

(b) Several months before the Majles elections, Shirin Ebadi said that people should not boycott these elections. She was then attacked viciously by the die-hard royalists, as they had called for a boycott of the elections. Tehran's radical right had also hoped for the boycott except, of course, by its own supporters!

Shirin Ebadi told this author that what she meant was that the elections should not be boycotted if they are competitive and fair. In fact, she supported the sit-in of the present Majles deputies, and did not vote in the Majles elections, after it became clear to her that they do not meet her standards.

(c) In a visit with the Majles deputies during their sit-in four months ago, Shirin Ebadi declared that the sixth session of Majles has been one of the best parliaments that Iran has ever had since the Constitutional Revolution of 1906, for which she was attacked by both the die-hard royalists and the radical right: The latter considers many of the deputies as spies, agents of foreign governments, and counter-revolutionaries, while the former view them as agents of the radical right!

(d) Shirin Ebadi declared that although she fully supports a peaceful resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and condemns terrorism (as do all reasonable people), she views that conflict as a war between rock and weapon. She was then harshly attacked by the die-hard royalists who do not want to hear any criticism of Israel, and by many of Tehran's radical right who thought that she did not go far enough in her criticism of Israel!

Who, in his/her right mind, can dispute what Shirin Ebadi has said about the war between Israel and Palestinians? While it is true that radical Palestinians have carried out many terrorist attacks and have murdered hundreds of innocent jews who were going about their daily lives (attacks that must be, and have been, condemned by all reasonable people), those attacks do not change the fundamental balance of forces on both sides, namely, the powerful Israeli armed forces against the essentially (comparatively speaking) unarmed Palestinians. In the blurred vision that the die-hard royalists have of our world we must constantly speak of violations of human rights in Iran (which we must), but not about violation of the Palestinians' rights by Israel!

(e) The die-hard royalists harshly attacked Shirin Ebadi's speech in Oslo, Norway, when she accepted the Nobel Prize. Why was she criticised? Because, according to her critics, Shirin Ebadi spent too much time talking about major international human rights issues, but not enough on Iran! These critics expected her to transform her Oslo speech to an indictment of Tehran's radical right, and then go back to Iran to be thrown in jail! Shirin Ebadi was also attacked by the radical right for not criticising the US strongly enough!

Shirin Ebadi has told this author many times that she will never go into exile. She is a product of the Iranian culture and society. She was educated in Iran, formed a family in Iran, and has achieved what she has by actively participating in the social and political processes going on in Iran. She knows that the easy way for her would be leading a safe and comfortable life in exile, issuing, like her die-hard royalist critics, SECULAR FATWAAs from the comfort of her home in Los Angeles, or Maryland, or Paris, or London. But, as she has said herself, she could never have been so proud of her achievements, had they come to her easily. Moreover, the Oslo speech of Shirin Ebadi, as a Nobel Laureate (and not merely as an Iranian human rights advocate), could not have been narrow and focused just on Iran. Rather, she viewed that speech one for ages - one that would be recorded in the annals of Nobel Peace Prize speeches - read by the future generations.

The lies that the die-hard royalists and the radical right have been spreading about Shirin Ebadi only reinforce the view that they are, as it is said in Persian, the two sides of the same coin.

In addition to the above, some well-respected Iranian journalists, analysts, and others have criticized Shirin Ebadi for focusing her criticism only on the US. This author believes that such critcisms are unwarranted, for the following reasons:

(i) Shirin Ebadi has only criticized the US FOREIGN POLICY, not the US.

(ii) One of the most important issues, if not the most important one, facing the world today is what to do with the situation in Iraq. Ever since it became clear that the original reasons that we were presented with for invading Iraq, namely, Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction and its links with Osama bin Laden, are bogus, the Bush Administration has been justifying the invasion of Iraq by claiming that the goal of the invasion is establishing a democratic political system in Iraq. Once such a claim is made, its link with universal values of human rights cannot be avoided. It is from this angle that this author believes Shirin Ebadi has been criticizing the US invasion of Iraq.

(iii) Shirin Ebadi has, in fact, criticized other countries (including France and England) for what she believes to be their violation of human rights in those countries.

Some well-respected Iranian journalists and others have criticized Shirin The disgusting treatment of Shirin Ebadi by the die-hard royalists and Tehran's radical right is not, of course, the first time that a group, or a state, has willingly attacked and dismissed the Nobel Prize of its OWN compatriot or citizen. Other examples are provided by Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi (1991) versus Burma's military junta; Messrs Neslon Mandela (1993) and Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu (1984) versus the apartheid regime in South Africa, and Dr. Andrei D. Sakharov (1975) versus the communist regime in the old Soviet Union. They were all awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, yet were vilified by their own regimes and their supporters. In addition, one should remember Mr. Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, who was awarded (in 1970) the Nobel Prize in Literature and described vividly the Russian gulags (forced labor camps), for which he was the target of the anger of the Soviet Union; Dr. Lev D. Landau, the great Russian physicist who was so terrified by Joseph Stalin that thought that receiving the Nobel Prize in Physics, which he was eventually awarded in 1962 after Stalin's death, would be his only defence against getting murdered by Stalin, and Mr. Wole Soyinka of Nigeria who was awarded (in 1986) the Nobel Prize in Literature, but had to flee his country after General Sani Abacha took power in Nigeria through a military coup, and convicted Mr. Soyinka (in absentia) of treason!

Where are these noble human beings now in the conscience of humanity? The world pays tribute to Mandela, Tutu, Sakharov, Solzhenitsyn, Landau, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Soyinka, but has nothing but despise for the apartheid, communist, and military regimes of their countries (all of which are now only an ugly part of the history), and refuses to deal with the military junta of Burma. Likewise, Shirin Ebadi, who has done nothing but bringing pride, joy, and honour to Iran, is respected by humanity.

In Part II of this article entitled, "Iran's Antidemocratic Forces. Part II: Know-nothing-ism, the 'Matrix', and Regime Change in Iran," other aspects of their similarities will be discussed.

About the author:
Mohammad Sahimi is Professor and Chairman of Chemical Engineering at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

... Payvand News - 5/19/04 ... --

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