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December 27, 2004
The Ayatollah & I
'Muslim women don't have a problem with the fact that their husbands have a few other wives," declared the Iranian ayatollah with great conviction. Sitting across the conference table from him, in the magnificent 17th-century Villa Serbelloni on Lake Como in Italy, I disagreed.
My conversations over the years with Muslim women colleagues had given me a quite different picture.
"I would suggest that you don't really know how women feel since you're a man. I'm a woman, and I can tell you that women do not want to be one of several wives."
While ordinarily this kind of challenge might be considered a bit too provocative, the ayatollah and I were old hands at sparring by now as we were into the third day of an interfaith conference on Family Law and Religious Law being held at the Rockefeller Foundation's Conference Center in Bellagio, Italy, in April, 2004.
A Shi'ite religious leader as well as a professor of Islamic Law in Teheran, the ayatollah had been discussing religious laws on marriage, divorce and women's rights with me for several days. Our discussions took place in formal conference sessions, as well as during meals in the elegant dining room, coffee breaks, and in chance encounters while strolling in the grounds of the 50-acre estate, or by the lake.
We had developed a collegial respect for each other which bordered on a sort of friendship.
"You are right, Sharon," he said with a somewhat embarrassed grin. "I am a man, and I admit that I probably do not know how women feel about such things."
Muslim women participating in the conference, including two chador-clad Iranians, nodded their heads in agreement. We had indeed come a long way in a few days.
SO HOW does a women's rights lawyer from Jerusalem (and a nice Jewish girl originally from the west side of Chicago) come to discuss polygamy with an ayatollah from Iran?
It all began two years earlier, when I was a resident scholar at the Bellagio Center for a month in April, 2002 and attending a four-day conference of Iranians and Americans on Science and Ethics.
Also present was a high level Muslim cleric who had refused to speak to the American female experts attending his conference.
During the pre-dinner cocktail hour in the garden one evening, upon discovering that I had some expertise in Jewish law as it applied to marriage and divorce, he requested that I be brought over to him to answer some questions.
Apparently the ayatollah's intellectual curiosity about Jewish law overcame any personal, political and religious barriers he might have had to engaging in conversation with an Israeli women's rights lawyer.
Surrounded by his Iranian male colleagues and clothed in his impressive clerical robes, the ayatollah began a lengthy discussion with me regarding the positions of Jewish law and Islamic law on specific issues such as polygamy, custody of children, divorce, division of marital property, and women's rights in marriage.
To the fascination of the other resident scholars and conference participants (who stopped their own conversations to stare at this strange couple), I answered the ayatollah's questions and asked a few of my own.
IT WAS a bit like a medieval disputation. Although he did not always like my questions about the rights of Muslim women at divorce or upon the husband taking multiple wives, he seemed compelled to continue the discussion.
He sought me out repeatedly during the following days so that we could continue to talk about the differences and similarities between Judaism and Islam and their legal systems.
He took my publications on women and Jewish law, which had been placed on display alongside the other scholars' publications on the large table in the villa's library.
On the last day of his conference the ayatollah asked me to provide him with books on Jewish law as he wanted to learn more, and perhaps teach Jewish law in Teheran.
I suggested, diplomatically, that obtaining books would not enable him to understand Jewish law, and that it would be much more effective if he could meet with scholars and practitioners to discuss the meaning and practical application of religious source materials.
The ayatollah agreed and we decided that we would attempt to set up future meetings. It was also agreed that due to the sensitive political situation in the Middle East at this time, such meetings should be held in Europe, if possible.
Upon returning to Israel I drafted a proposal for an interfaith conference on religious law and family law. The Rockefeller Foundation accepted the proposal and agreed to host the conference at the Bellagio Center.
Given the political difficulties of communications between Israelis and Iranians, I set up a partnership with colleagues on the Law Faculty of the Catholic University in Washington, D.C., who arranged for the participation of the Iranians and assisted in the organization of the conference.
The 25 Catholic, Jewish and Muslim participants were carefully selected and included the chief rabbi of Haifa, two ayatollahs from Iran, and a Catholic priest who was a canon law expert representing the Vatican.
The other participants included scholars and practitioners from Iran, Italy, Egypt, Switzerland, the US and Israel, half of whom were women.
During the four day meeting, the participants openly shared their knowledge, experience, research and progress in dealing with current issues in religious marriage and discussed new interpretations of traditional texts.
The intensive work sessions of the meeting were accompanied by even more intensive informal discussions during meals and free time. The highlight of the meeting was the lunch cruise we organized on Lake Como on day three.
The informal atmosphere of the boat combined with the beautiful weather and gorgeous scenery seemed to break down all cultural, religious and gender barriers.
The group shopping spree in the village of Bellagio after the boat trip deepened this bonding, as we all enjoyed Italian ice cream.
The local merchants and villagers seemed a bit dazed by this unusual-looking group with their various religious outfits.
The sessions on the last day of the meeting were the most intellectually exciting, marked by a general feeling of collegiality and warm friendship. The Iranian participants, who had initially refused to be photographed and were hesitant to publicize the existence of the meeting, now requested that the group produce a joint statement.
Encouraged by this surprising initiative, we quickly changed the agenda for the last afternoon session and devoted it to a group-drafting session led by "my" ayatollah.
A lively discussion produced a rough draft of the statement, which has since been refined and published.
We're now planning for our next meeting.
As a parting gift, the ayatollah and his colleagues gave me a handsome black briefcase with brown trimming, embossed in Farsi and English, which reads: "International Appreciation of Selected Women from the Islamic Republic of Iran, Islamic Culture and Relations Organization, Centre for Women's Participation."
I've been showing it to friends and colleagues, and it's quite an attention-grabber.
The writer, director of the International Jewish Women's Rights Project, was formerly legal advisor to Na'amat.
Iran says not hasty to talk directly with US
www.chinaview.cn 2004-12-27 14:10:42
BEIJING, Dec. 27 -- Iran says it will not have a direct dialogue with the US on its nuclear issue in the near future.
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hamid Reze Asefi says Iran is not convinced the US even wants to join the European trio, including Germany, Britain and France, in their nuclear talks with Iran.
The spokesman also says US participation in the nuclear talks might jeopardise Iran's national interests.
Last week, Iran's top nuclear negotiator said Iran did not oppose the EU's proposal to invite the US into the nuclear talks but said Iran thinks a US presence is unnecessary at this current stage.
However, he did not rule out the possibility of direct talks between Tehran and Washington in the future.
In the end, it all comes down to Bush, and his prioritiesIraq is the litmus test of American resolve
Palestine regains its importance, especially given the U.S.'s rough position with Iran By Edward S. Walker, Jr.
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
The American election and the return of President George W. Bush to the White House will not change the character of the difficult problems we face in the Middle East. Nothing that Bush said in the campaign or in the aftermath of his re-election indicates a substantial change in American policy. While there will undoubtedly be some new faces around the cabinet table, the fact is that for the last few years we have been following Bush's game plan - not the Cheney or Wolfowitz plan, and certainly not the Powell plan. Bush now has a clear mandate from a majority of Americans for his strategy - a mandate that will stretch out at least until the mid-term elections two years hence.
In Iraq, the Bush objective continues to be democracy. Regardless of the difficulties and the costs, the president exudes confidence that his vision of a democratic state in the heart of the Arab world is attainable. Anyone who thinks that the president would settle for some kind of papered-over, face-saving, Vietnam-style retreat, leaving Iraq to a restored dictatorship, fragmentation or the chaos of a civil war hasn't been listening. So the U.S. and the international community had better get used to the idea that this will be a protracted and difficult fight that the administration has to pursue relentlessly despite external or internal second-guessing and pressure.
In reality, we do not have any other option. Like it or not, Iraq has become the litmus test of American resolve. To waiver now, or to be seen in any sense to be backing away from our commitment, would be a massive victory for terrorism. The message we sent in Vietnam, Iran, Lebanon, and Somalia was that if you make the Americans bleed, they will retreat. We cannot afford, in this day of Al-Qaeda and international terrorism, to send that message yet again in Iraq. Such a message would swell the ranks of the terrorists and embolden them. Iraq may not have been linked to Al-Qaeda before our invasion, but it most certainly is today. And it is inside Iraq that Bush has to make his stand if he is to rebuild American credibility and discredit terror as a political vehicle. Iraq, as the president's foremost priority, is where Bush will have to continue to invest American military might and spend American capital.
In Iran, Bush faces a perplexing problem. He has made it clear that a nuclear-armed Iran is "unacceptable," but his options for dealing with this problem are not very attractive, largely because his stand in Iraq, and to a lesser extent in Afghanistan, leaves him with no credible military stick.
While some Pentagon planners may be considering air attack options for the U.S. or by a surrogate Israel, it is by no means clear that the proliferation threat can be effectively destroyed or delayed by air - similar attempts by the Clinton administration in Iraq proved fruitless.
Covert efforts to destabilize the Iranian regime do not appear to be any more realistic, nor would they likely remain covert. No single event would trigger the strong nationalism of the Iranian people and preserve and extend the rule of the ayatollahs more than an American attack - except possibly an Israeli attack. Of course, the ayatollahs are not without weapons of their own. Their long border with Iraq and influence therein can exacerbate problems for Bush inside Iraq. And their control over Hizbullah and its terror capabilities could be another recourse.
No one I know, here or in Israel, underestimates the danger to us and to Israel of an unleashed Hizbullah. So it would appear that Bush will need to keep pressing for a Europe-based compromise solution with Iran that is less than ideal, but has a chance to prevent Iran from operationalizing its nuclear capability.
To do this, he is going to have to consider the carrots he is willing to part with to make the deal more attractive while he induces the Europeans to brandish bigger sticks.
Bush has to look at his problems in the region as being inextricably linked and will have to have a very clear sense of priorities and timing to succeed. That is why Bush may now turn to the Palestinian issue as a way to enhance his position against the growth of terrorism, his leverage with the Europeans, and his need for a positive outcome in Iraq. Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's death opens new doors for the Palestinians, the Israelis, and Bush. If the U.S. and Israel play it smart, we can lend credibility to a new leadership which adopts a commitment to real reform and opens the way for measured movement on the "road map." Mahmoud Abbas does not have the credibility nor constituency yet to be the partner for peace. But if he is seen to deliver a deal on the Sharon plan for evacuating settlements that serves basic Palestinian interests (through American encouragement and Israeli compromise), then he will gain in stature and strength and become the partner that Arafat never was and never could be.
Author: Edward S. Walker, Jr. is president of the Middle East Institute. He has served as assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, and as ambassador to Israel, the Arab Republic of Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates, and deputy permanent representative to the UN.
Disclaimer: Assertions and opinions in this article are solely those of the above-mentioned author and do not reflect necessarily the views of the Middle East Institute, which expressly does not take positions on Middle East policy
Iran reformists name election candidateBy Najmeh Bozorgmehr
Published: December 29 2004 02:00 | Last updated: December 29 2004 02:00
Mosharekat, Iran's largest reformist party, announced the candidacy of Mostafa Moein for president in the forthcoming elections, defying speculation his nomination would be disqualified by conservatives.
Mr Moein, a 54-year-old doctor, is a close ally of President Mohammad Khatami, with 10 years' experience as higher education minister.
He resigned two years ago in protest at the obstacles to his reforms by conservatives.
Iran's Guardian Council disqualified more than 2,000 reformist candidates in parliamentary elections in February. Najmeh Bozorgmehr, Tehran
Iran biggest producer of ballistic missiles in region after China and RussiaTEHRAN, Dec. 28 (MNA) -- The dean of the Police Academy said on Tuesday that Iran ranks third in the region in producing ballistic missiles after China and Russia.
Speaking at a ceremony commemorating the martyrs of Qom University, General Shabani said the United States is angry about young Iranian experts achievements in the field of military technology.
Noting that the Iranian armed forces should always remain vigilant about the activities of the enemies, he added, If the enemies try to disrupt the security of our country, we will deprive them of security.
Riyadh to Host Iranian Cultural Week
Riyadh, Dec 28, SPA -- For the first time, an "Iranian Cultural Week" will be held in Riyadh from Saturday.
The event, to be sponsored by the Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance and Iran's Islamic Culture and Relations Organization (ICRO), is part of a strategy to boost cultural links between the Kingdom and Iran.
"The event will promote cultural relations between two major members of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC)," diplomatic sources said here. More than 50 prominent Iranian cultural figures will participate, according to a press statement published today.
"This event will play an important role in promoting Riyadh-Tehran relations", said the sources, adding that Iranian Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Ahmad Masjed Jamei and ICRO Chairman Mahmud Mohammadi Araqi will be among those attending.
An Iranian exhibition featuring a range of cultural items such as rare copies of Holy Qur'an and Qur'an software, paintings, calligraphy, carpet portraits, handicrafts, books and stamps will be organized at King Fahd Cultural Center. Films and documentaries focusing on the Iranian and Persian culture will also be shown. This will be in addition to Iranian traditional teahouses to be
displayed at the expo. A special pavilion for children and young adults will also be set up to promote youth cooperation.
The sources said that "the status of Makkah and Madinah in Persian literature, the historical references to the Arabian Peninsula in Iranian geographical works, and the architectural designs of Arab mosques used in Iranian mosques are among the topics to be discussed at the event by Iranian and Saudi scholars".
The week will be officially inaugurated by the culture ministers of Iran and Saudi Arabia. A Saudi cultural week was held in Iran two years ago.
Relations between the two Islamic countries have improved substantially since President Mohammed Khatami assumed office in 1997.
More than 30,000 Saudis visited Iran this year as tourists. The two countries also signed an agreement in June this year to establish a joint bank. At the moment, there are 18 joint venture projects set up with a capital of more than SR1.2 billion.
1109 Local Time
PLO's Qaddumi: Iranian infiltration of Palestinian ranks welcome - good
PLO's Qaddumi on Iran Visit, Ties With Syria, Suicide Attacks, Apology to
Kuwait GMP20041220000246 Doha Al-Jazirah Satellite Channel Television in
Arabic 1730 GMT 20 Dec 04 [Interview with Faruq Qaddumi, "foreign minister
of the state of Palestine and Fatah Movement chairman" by Abbas Nasir in
Tehran; from "Today's Encounter" program; date not given--recorded]
[FBIS (US Government service) Translated Excerpt]
[With thanks to www.mideastweb.org/mewnews1.htm ]
Doha Al-Jazirah Satellite Channel Television in Arabic, independent
television station financed by the Qatari Government, at 1730 GMT on 20
December caries a 25-minute recorded interview with Faruq Qaddumi, "foreign
minister of the state of Palestine and Fatah Movement chairman" by Abbas
Nasir in Tehran; from "Today's Encounter" program. The date of the
interview is not given.
Nasir begins by asking Qaddumi the following question: "Let me begin by
asking you about the Iranian-Palestinian relations, now that you are on an
official visit to Tehran. Clearly you have been visiting Iran from time to
time. Clearly the Islamic Republic of Iran shut down the Israeli embassy
and replaced it with the Palestinian embassy, and that the late President
Yasir Arafat was the first Arab leader to visit the Islamic republic after
the revolution. But despite all of this, Iranian-Palestinian relations
went through a crisis, especially after the Oslo agreements. Does your
visit today mean that there will be a comprehensive revision of
Qaddumi replies that the Oslo phase was very difficult and adds:
"Therefore, the Palestinians themselves differed on Oslo. I myself did not
support Oslo. This created some differences or led to lukewarm relations
between some Arab states and Palestine or between the PLO and the Islamic
states that are basically concerned with this issue, such as the Islamic
Republic of Iran. These tensions resulted from everyone's eagerness to
support the PLO and the Palestinian resistance in order to liberate the
"I have always visited Tehran because I know that Iran adopts a firm and
principled stand on the liberation of the occupied Palestinian and Arab
territories. Our relations have started to take their normal course only
recently. They have started to improve. Therefore, now that brother
Abu-Ammar [Arafat] has departed, we should explain our stand to the states
concerned, be they Arab or Islamic, and brief them on the Palestinian cause
and developments and on the general conditions in the region."
Asked if this means that Arafat had been an "obstacle or a barrier" to
improving these relations, Qaddumi says: "No, on the contrary, Abu-Ammar was
flexible. He worked as mediator, along with the Islamic states, between
Iraq and Iran, and I worked with the nonaligned states for reconciliation
between Iraq and the Arab states on the one hand and Iran on the other.
However, Oslo stopped these relations because this approach was
Asked what has changed now, given the current Palestinian approach to a
settlement and to negotiations, Qaddumi says that the death of Arafat had a
great impact on the Palestinian leadership and was a tragic development for
all the Arabs and Muslims.
Asked what he heard from the Iranians, given that "Tehran adopts a
negative stand on negotiations with Israel," he says: "This is not true.
They are aware that the solution will be a political solution. However,
they support what the Palestinians consider to be solutions to this problem,
provided the occupied Palestinian territories are liberated and provided
Jerusalem is liberated. They say that if the Palestinians want this, then
it is up to them."
Nasir asks Qaddumi: "Some say that Iran is infiltrating the Palestinian
ranks, as far as Gaza, through the Hizballah cadres or the Palestinian
Islamic organizations in Iran. Is this true? What do you think?"
Qaddumi says: "If you say infiltration, then we welcome it because this is
good. It means that they are extending support for the Palestinians
because they support the Palestinian people and the Palestinian cause and
the liberation of Palestine. Therefore, this is truly a positive and not a
negative thing. Therefore, we welcome all the Arab and Islamic countries
to come and infiltrate us with such support."
Nasir then cites the newspaper Al-Watan [not further identified] as
saying that "you will receive $5 million from the Iranian embassy in
Damascus or from an Iranian representative in an Arab states." He asks
Qaddumi if this is true. Qaddumi says: "I believe that Al-Watan is not an
embassy for Iran. So far we heard this report only from Al-Watan and our
pockets are still empty."
Nasir asks: "About the comprehensive revision that you mentioned,
Abu-Mazin paid visits to Syria and Beirut, does this comprehensive revision
come within this diamond triangle, as Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabil
Birri calls it; namely, Iran, Lebanon, and Syria? How far you reached in
this revision?" Qaddumi says that his relations with Syria are very old
and he has his Arab nationalist roots. He says that he paved the way for
the Palestinian leaders to go to Syria, and adds: "As a result of Oslo,
there was really tension with the Palestinian Authority. The visit of the
brothers and officials in the Palestinian Authority was essential. We
arranged this and we informed them that His Excellency the president would
Asked "what has changed" and "has Syria changed by allowing Abbas
to come to Damascus?" Qaddumi says: "What happened was that the settlement
of the Palestinian issue failed. Oslo failed and everybody realized that
Oslo was a failure. Therefore there were no longer any differences between
us and there is no settlement except the Road Map. This also failed
because Mr Bush committed several violations of this Road Map by eliminating
all positive aspects of the Road Map. Bush says the 1949 borders are not
legitimate, the refugees will not return to their property but to the new
Palestinian state, if it is ever established, and there is no partner for
the war criminal Sharon to negotiate with."
Asked if Abu-Mazin's visit came because the Syrians also joined the idea
of a settlement, he says: "No it is not so. Everybody wants a political
settlement. We are sincere in our intentions to reach a political
settlement. Israel lies and the United States support Israeli lies."
Nasir argues that Abu-Mazin himself is advocating negotiations with
Israel and a political settlement with it, and Qaddumi himself supported
Abu-Mazin, criticized Marwan al-Barghuthi's nomination, and threatened him
with expulsion from Fatah. Qaddumi replies: "We notice that those who work
in Al-Jazirah always speak in a language that twists the meaning and
substance of words that we utter. It was said that I threatened brother
Marwan. Marwan is one of our young men. How can I threaten him? I just
reminded him of laws and regulations."
Interrupting Qaddumi, Nasir asks: "Is this not a threat?" Qaddumi
replies: "Please let me speak. I do not like anyone to interrupt me.
This is not a valid logic. There is no political settlement. There is
the Road Map which is devoid of any meaning."
Qaddumi says that there is a new phase after Arafat, and Abbas goes to
various states, adding: "They must know us and understand our principles and
our political program." He further adds: "We have never denied that we
support a political settlement. But it must be a just settlement.
However, the other side is a liar and keeps stalling. Therefore, the only
way to deal with them is resistance; yes, resistance."
Asked to comment on Abu-Mazin's statement that he does not support the
militarization of the intifadah, Qaddumi says: "That was in the past."
He adds that when the Palestinian revolution began armed struggle was the
basis of the revolution. He says: "It is wrong to use the term
militarization of the intifadah. Intifadah means armed resistance against
the occupation." He says: "The popular war is the war of the masses, the
war of convictions, the war of morale. It is not a war of confrontation.
We fight for one hour and incite the masses for 23 hours. We fight when we
find fighting to be useful and stop fighting when it is not useful. We
might stop for a month and then resume the resistance." He says that
"armed struggle is a basic requirement if there is no political settlement."
Asked his opinion on methods of resistance of the Islamic Jihad, HAMAS,
and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, he says: "They wanted us to stop the
martyrdom operations. We told them that we are not a regular army. We
are a people's army and we cannot control our fighters. When the struggler
sees the tank just near his house; when the struggler--whether he is within
the popular army or not--finds that the Israelis are demolishing his home or
killing his father or mother, we cannot prevent him. We told them:
Please withdraw to the 28 September  borders so that we might have a
political achievement by which we can convince the fighters, whom we cannot
control, of our demands." He argues that "it is not easy for us to stop
Nasir tells Qaddumi that the Palestinian Authority is of the opinion
that Sharon is the only one who can realize a political settlement that
preserves the Palestinians' primary demands, and asks him if this is right,
he says: "This is wrong because Sharon is a war criminal and has no
intention of realizing peace. I believe that his political life will end
next year." He says he does not believe that there will be any settlement
Asked about the role of Egypt and Jordan, he says both countries have
"certain obligations" because they signed agreements with Israel. He says
they advise the Palestinians and if the advice suits the Palestinians they
Qaddumi praises Al-Barghuthi as "a staunch struggler" and says "we were
very pleased when he withdrew is candidacy."
Asked about the apology to the Kuwaitis, he says: "I do not know why the
apology, if it really happened. I chaired the Arab League Council [when
Iraq invaded Kuwait] and issued the resolution as the chairman of the Arab
League council at that time, denouncing the Iraqi incursion into Kuwait.
Why then should we apologize?"
Asked if he objects to the apology, he say: "I say that there is no
reason for an apology. This reason is not valid. However, in order to
calm down our Arab brothers, we in fact show them our good intentions. As
for me, I will not apologize because I myself issued the resolution and I do
not find any reason whatsoever for an apology."
Asked if that is why he is not welcome in Kuwait, he says: "Yes.
Whether they welcome me or not, I am a Palestinian revolutionary. I
struggle for the sake of pan-Arab security and not only for the sake of
Palestine alone. If some want to join us, we welcome them. We are the
sons of Jamal Abd-al-Nasir and we were educated by him."
Asked if he intends to return to the Palestinian territory, given his
previous statements that Oslo was unjust and he would not return to live
under this injustice, he says: "You are right. I will not return to the
Palestinian territories as long as they are occupied. I am not prepared to
live under occupation so that Sharon might besiege me. God cursed him when
he was born and will also curse him when he dies and the dogs eat his
The Other Middle East FrontlineIran's restless youths want rights as well as jobsWith the US and Europe fixated on Iraq, where insurgents are trying to stop the masses from adopting democracy, next door in Iran a parallel struggle for democracy remains largely unnoticed. It shouldn't, especially given the West's concern over Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Young Iranians, who make up more than half the population and are restless from massive unemployment, have been pushing for Western-style political and social reforms for nearly a decade. But they've been losing ground to the conservative ruling clerics, especially over the last year, and need discreet international support.
The West has an imminent opportunity to assist them. On Jan. 12, a fresh round of talks will be launched between Iran and a trio of leading European nations. The goal is to strike a grand bargain: In return for a host of economic benefits, Iran will guarantee that its nuclear-power program will not be used to develop nuclear weapons.
Powder keg under the clerics
Why are the ruling mullahs even negotiating? They know that they must create jobs soon if they want to prevent the youths' restlessness from erupting into a rebellion. That gives them an incentive to provide guarantees for cooperating on nuclear issues.
But Western countries, rightly concerned about Iran's nuclear ambitions, should not be content to open their markets and offer other benefits in exchange for security assurances alone. A more fundamental concern must also be addressed: Iran's human rights record.
A government that rules its people with arbitrary interpretations of law and restricts civic freedoms when they interfere with its agenda is unlikely to make a reliable diplomatic partner. Case in point: Iran reneged on previous nuclear agreements.
Thus, in these coming negotiations, the three European Union nations - Britain, France, and Germany - should more strongly insist that improved human rights and basic liberties be part of any final deal.
The struggle for democracy in Iran has reached a critical stage. It's been a quarter century since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 replaced an autocratic secular leader with a cleric-controlled, limited democracy. Under this government, all was (and is) subject to approval by unelected ruling clerics.
By the 1990s, many Iranians were disillusioned by this dubious experiment of imposing Islamic authority over a democracy. In response, they elected reformist cleric Mohammed Khatami to the presidency, much to the surprise of Iran's hard-liners. But despite his early progress, the clerics soon stymied Mr. Khatami's reforms, clamped down on the press, and blocked reform politicians from office.
This crackdown has worsened in recent months, causing the UN General Assembly to pass a new resolution criticizing Iran's human rights record. The world body cited in particular "increased persecution for the peaceful expression of political views, including arbitrary arrest and detention without charge or trial." It also noted some positive developments in Iran's human rights record, however - among them an April announcement of a ban on torture.
But this fall, nearly two dozen Iranian journalists and activists held at a secret detention center were tortured and kept in solitary confinement, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) statement released last week.
More recently, two Iranian women were sentenced to death for adultery. One of the women was to hang, while the other was to be stoned. After human rights groups launched protests, both cases were suspended.
Stoning is a legal form of execution for adulteresses in Iran. But the practice has been used rarely since 2002. The change is widely speculated to be the result of pressure from the EU, which has emphasized human rights in trade talks with Iran.
Making an offer Iran can't refuse
The EU trio should be encouraged by that progress and strengthen their call for better human rights for Iranians. They need to be clear that economic benefits will come to Iran only in proportion as it values its people, granting them due process of law and letting them decide the future of their country.
The clerics, squeezed between this international pressure and the restlessness of its young masses, will have little choice but to move Iran forward.
Hard-boiled, Racist or Lazy?
Ross Douthat lets a very nasty cat out of the bag in his response to a Corner post by Michael Ledeen in which Michael applauds the American involvement in the Ukrainian Orange Revolution, small as that involvement was, as an example of what we can do in behalf of democracy. Douthat doesn't see the parallels in other situations:
Finally, and not to get too old-fashioned-realist here, but . . . the Iranians are not "our people." Neither are the Syrians, the Saudis, the Chinese, or the North Koreans. And they do not become "our people" just by believing in democracy, or even by establishing democratic self-government. An Iranian democracy would be a good thing in countless ways -- but it would also probably be just as hell-bent as the current regime on acquiring nuclear weapons, flexing its muscles in Iraq, and perhaps even sponsoring anti-Israeli terrorism. As such, it would be our strategic rival, not our brother nation, even were its constitution copied word-for-word from ours.
Although Michael is my friend, I certainly don't need to do his battles for him. Indeed, we don't agree on everything. But this statement by Douthat seemed peculiar--and not just because of the off-puttingly racist locution of "our people," made espeically so in the light of the horrendous tsunami disaster in Asia. (Are these people our people?) And without rehearsing the WMD argument,which in terms of all these nations (and Iraq) should encompass the hugely dangerous proliferation issue, vastly more important than whether Saddam had gas canisters lying around or whether he destroyed them or hid them under some Syrian sand dune (who knows and finally who cares?). Anyone who doesn't think Saddam would have delighted in nuclear weapons and in the post A. Q Khan world was only a phone call or two away from them is not thinking straight. Who does Mr. Douthat believe was going to monitor those calls? The United Nations?
The problem is that Douthat et al have no answer other than the snide to Ledeen's optimism because they have no answer, no proposal, at all. They offer fashionable hard-boiled realism which, in the end, is only laziness. Whoever said democracy would be easy in those places? (Maybe some did, but they were wrong in that. But that doesn't make them wrong in their intention.) We are in this for the long haul, the very long haul. I would suggest Mr. Douthat suck it up and give the optimists their due. They're the ones driving the car forward... unless he has a better concrete suggestion.
Special note to Mr. Douthat: I was fairly involved in the Civil Rights Movement of the Sixties, went down South on all the Freedom Ride stuff. (Yeah, I'm that old.) As I recall that took a long time, but it was worth it. Give the Iranians a shot too. They're worth it. Remember John Donne... No Man is an Island... I know it's optimistic, but think about it. Or as they say in zen--you don't get there by trying, but you can't get there if you don't try.
THE GROWING POLITICAL APATHY
Yet more evidence that fundamentalist hardliners in Iran are succeeding in robbing the pro-democracy movement of any semblance of hope for political change:As repression of political protesters increases in Iran and disenchantment with the change-oriented president, Mohammad Khatami, grows, many of the young foot soldiers in the protest movement have been retreating from politics.
Their frustration took full expression this month when Mr. Khatami visited Tehran University. More than 1,000 students showed up, boisterously expressing their disappointment with Mr. Khatami, whom they elected overwhelmingly in 1997.
"Enough lies," shouted angry students, as many turned their backs to the president.
"The students had no idea that they would face a defeated head of government after seven years," said a statement issued by the leading student movement, the Office for Consolidation of Unity, expressing concern that Mr. Khatami had not made more progress on change.
Mr. Khatami has been widely criticized for his failure to curtail repression against journalists and protesters during his tenure. Close to 100 pro-change newspapers and journals have been shut down and scores of advocates of change have been jailed and intimidated by the hard-line elements in the government.
Some politically active young people have said they are quitting politics and giving up hope for improvement in the current system.
In the latest wave of repression, more than 20 journalists and Internet technicians, most of them young and two of them women, were arrested in late summer and released only this month.
One by one, most of them appeared in front of the state-run television confessing to a series of crimes. After their release they said they had spent three months in solitary confinement and had been tortured. One woman, Fereshteh Ghazi, who had not confessed, ended up hospitalized.
A statement from the European Union in late November to protest the arrests helped to win their release, some of those released said.
Arash Naderpoor, one of the detainees, had an Internet company and gave a domain to one of the sites advocating change two years ago. He spent 97 days in solitary confinement.
"I am quitting political work for good in Iran," said Hanif Mazroui, the son of a change-oriented politician, Rajabali Mazroui, who did technical work for one of the Web sites and was arrested. "Politics is not like the game of chess here and the other side does not abide by the rules."
My thoughts on the withdrawal of reformist activists from the political process can be found here. Unless assistance is given to the pro-democracy movement from outside of Iran in order to keep it viable, this apathy will continue. Hardliners will not have to lift a finger to keep power and a golden chance for change in Iran will have been lost. The question remains as to whether the Bush Administration will notice this chance slipping away from its fingers, and will do anything to infuse Iranian politics with a semblance of hope. Obviously, it ultimately remains with Iranians to change their system of government. But it is more than a little difficult to take on a totalitarian regime while feeling entirely alone in the process.
UPDATE: The natural result of leaving the political field to the fundamentalists is, of course, barbarism.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Forgive me for being rude, but is Ross Douthat serious?I give [Michael] Ledeen points for optimism, but I'd be more convinced that "a bit of guidance in the methods of non-violent resistance, a bit of communications gear, and many words of encouragement" will bring down the mullahs in Iran if there were a single example of a successful democratic revolution anywhere in the Arab world that Ledeen could cite.
Even if there were one million six examples of successful democratic revolutions in the "Arab" world, that would not be apposite to the discussion of democracy in Iran, because Iran is not an Arab country.
And then there is this:Finally, and not to get too old-fashioned-realist here, but . . . the Iranians are not "our people." Neither are the Syrians, the Saudis, the Chinese, or the North Koreans. And they do not become "our people" just by believing in democracy, or even by establishing democratic self-government. An Iranian democracy would be a good thing in countless ways -- but it would also probably be just as hell-bent as the current regime on acquiring nuclear weapons, flexing its muscles in Iraq, and perhaps even sponsoring anti-Israeli terrorism. As such, it would be our strategic rival, not our brother nation, even were its constitution copied word-for-word from ours.
It may very well be our strategic rival, but a democratic Iran would be more transparent in its decision-making, thus reducing the chances that a misreading of intentions will lead to some kind of conflict. Additionally, the reformists in Iran have made it clear through their statements that they are not Islamic fundamentalists and are sick to death of Iran's association with terrorism. I expected better analysis on this issue from Douthat.
Bloggers tortured in Iran, says ex-VPIranian blogger Parthisan left a comment below urging us to read his translation of a post by Mohammed Ali Abtahi, the former VP of Iran -- renowned for blogging himself -- reporting on the imprisonment and torture of bloggers in Iran. It is his report on a committee meeting with imprisoned bloggers, called for by the president of Iran. An excerpt:1- Physical torture, punches and kicks: "he banged my head to the bench that made my recently-operated nose bleed, and later I found out that they broke my nose"; "they punched us"; "we were alone in single cells for months"; and things of this kind...And more....
2- The classical questions about sexual relationships [to create moral scandals]: "Write down the names of your boy/girl friends"; "tell us about your illegal [= out of marriage] sexual relationships"; "what kind of relationship have that girl/guy had with you?"; "how many times have you been raped, or have you raped?"; and worst of all, they gave the names of 6 reformist activist to one of the girls asking her to confess in writing that she had had illegal sexual relationship with them. And when the girl refused, they brought in a former prisoner (who had turned to their side under torture) who told the girl face to face that he had had sexual relationship with her!
3- The interrogations were managed by a formerly arrested blogger. A few other bloggers who had [given up and] repented before were under less pressure, and were in a way helping the interrogators who had lack of technical knowledge on the subject [of internet and blogs]. This proves that weak people cannot be trusted in politics. However, we understand the situation they're in and can't really blame them for what they've done.
I first discovered the amazing Iranian blogosphere when the government arrested fellow blogger Sina Motallebi. I blogged that. Others blogged that. Major media picked up the story. Motallebi got out of jail and then out of Iran and he has credited the attention his plight got from bloggers.
If what we read here is true, then it is incumbent of us to bring attention to this abuse who are doing nothing more than we are doing: excercising our right to free speech. This is citizens' media and these are our fellow citizens.
Spread the word.
"The best barrier against undue clerical influence on Iraqi lawmaking will be a federal constitution that prevents pious politicians in one region from imposing their mores on secular Iraqis in another region."
America could use some laws against pious politicians imposing their mores as well.
RE: IRAN & DOUTHAT[Michael Ledeen]
As Lopez mentioned earlier, Ross Douthat, a former intern at NRO who has graduated well and is currently subbing for the boss at Andrew Sullivans blog, has unburdened himself of a torrent of scepticism on the theme of democratic revolution in Iran and elsewhere, singling me out for unwarranted optimism. In the last couple of days hes been spanked by Roger Simon, Powerline, and Pejmanthis last pointing out the embarrassing fact that Douthats demanding evidence of Arab democratic revolution to give him a reason to believe that such could occur in Iran. But Iran is most definitely NOT an Arab country.
Douthat has not been reading NRO very much, because he demands that I provide a bit of a roadmap for the overthrow of the mullahs, whereas most of my critics complain, with some reason in my opinion, that Ive written too much about it. And he clearly hasnt read The War Against the Terror Masters, even though it was Book of the Month on andrewsullivan.com when it came out.
He rages against Roger for pointing out the ugliness of one of Douthats graphs: "...not to get too old-fashioned-realist here, but . . . the Iranians are not "our people." Neither are the Syrians, the Saudis, the Chinese, or the North Koreans. And they do not become "our people" just by believing in democracy, or even by establishing democratic self-government. An Iranian democracy would be a good thing in countless ways -- but it would also probably be just as hell-bent as the current regime on acquiring nuclear weapons, flexing its muscles in Iraq, and perhaps even sponsoring anti-Israeli terrorism. As such, it would be our strategic rival, not our brother nation, even were its constitution copied word-for-word from ours."
A lot is wrong in that horrid graph. The rejection of an American embrace of freedom-seeking people seems to me distinctly un-American, a snooty rejection of the essence of our national mission, which, as Tocqueville observed more than a century and a half ago, is to support freedom and democracy. I think that the Germans and the Japanese and the Italians became "our people" when they became democratic. When they were tyrannical they were our enemies, as tyrants always are. Thats why Tocqueville was able to predict our inevitable conflict with tyrannical Russia.
Douthat is pretty confident that he knows a lot about the Iranians, but he doesnt seem to know that, in the mass anti-regime demonstrations that have regularly taken place over the past few years, the demonstrators commonly brandish banners and signs that say "dont talk to us about the Palestinians, talk about US." If there were an Iranian revolution, I think that aid to Hamas, Hizbollah and Islamic Jihad would end, and I also think wed see a lot of members of al Qaeda scrambling for a new place to work.
Finally, he rejects the idea that vigorous American political and limited material support for pro-democracy forces in Iran could possibly bring down the mullahs. Well, virtually the entire American and European intellectual establishment thought Ronald Reagan was nuts to believe he could do that to the Soviet Communists, and they ridiculed his "evil empire" speech as at best fatuous and at worst provocative. I always thought that was an odd position for intellectuals, who claim to believe in the value of ideas and the power of words.
When Galileo was criticized for his theories, he remarked "eppur, si muove," and yet, it moves. Look at the world today. Look at the world in 1980. Is it not moving? Are we not in the age of the second democratic revolution?
Posted at 10:23 AM
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