June 24, 2007 - Iran is on a campaign to clean up its social impurities. A report in today's New York Times documents the recent steps Iran is taking to transform society. Some are calling it a "cultural revolution":
- The country's police chief claims to have arrested more than 150,000 people in a drive against wearing un-Islamic clothing.
- Over 30 women's rights advocates were arrested, and five were sentenced to prison terms of up to four years. Their crime? Organizing an internet campaign supporting the repeal of laws that discriminate against women.
- After student newspapers published articles suggesting no human being is infallible, including the Prophet Muhammad, eight student leaders disappeared inside Iran's prison system.
- University professors were warned not to attend foreign conferences or to have any contact with foreign governments.
- The National Security Council issued a strong warning to the nation's newspaper editors forbidding certain topics including rising gas prices, possible international sanctions, negotiations with the U.S. over Iraq, and other things Iranians presumably don't need to know about.
- Three prominent non-governmental organizations working for civil rights have been closed down, and hundreds more forced underground.
The crackdown has taken a particularly brutal edge. A paragraph of the New York Times article that appeared in early versions but was omitted from later ones reported the following. (The deletion of the paragraph is odd, since the statements can be verified by photos from the Iranian FARS News Agency.) I quote the missing paragraph:
"Young men wearing T-shirts deemed too tight or haircuts seen as too Western have been paraded bleeding through Tehran's streets by uniformed police officers who force them to suck on plastic jerrycans, a toilet item Iranians use to wash their bottoms. In case anyone misses the point, it is the official news agency Fars distributing the pictures of what it calls 'riffraff.' Far bloodier photographs are circulating on blogs and on the Internet."
Iran is also holding prisoner three Iranian-Americans, is not allowing visits from family or legal council, and has rejected diplomatic efforts to intervene. Who are these three political criminals and dire threats to Iranian society? They are:
Haleh Esfandiari, the director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Kian Tajbakhsh, an urban planning consultant with the Open Society Institute.
Ali Shakeri, of the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding at the University of California at Irvine.
How hard is it to connect the dots?
Islamic extremism is on the rise, and with it the destruction of human freedom. Conditions in Gaza have deteriorated so badly since the Hamas takeover that many Palestinians don't want to live there anymore. Threats of violence are ubiquitous. Pakistani cabinet minister for religious affairs Muhammad Ejaz-ul-Haq recently declared that the knighthood of Salman Rushdie, who did not shed a drop of blood but only wrote a book, is justification for suicide bombing. Why shouldn't he say that? The world responded with appeasement to the violent rampage following the publication of the Danish cartoons. Why should Islamic extremists expect anything different now?
The Irish statesman Edmund Burke is noted for saying that "the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." It certainly can't be said that the world is doing nothing. Over and over again, as the violence of Islamic extremists is intensifying and extending its reach, in the great forum of international opinion people are issuing their condemnations - of Israel! Israel is not a threat to world peace, and is locked in a mortal struggle with Islamic extremism. But the latter is getting a free pass. The U.N. will not even offer a meaningful condemnation of Iran's threats, let alone issue effective sanctions.
Meanwhile Iran, which has called repeatedly for Israel's destruction, is sponsoring terrorism beyond its borders. It is trampling freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and women's rights. And it is close to becoming a nuclear power. Islamic extremism is a form of utopianism. Its nature is to spread itself as far as possible throughout the world. It is not just a Jewish problem. The more powerful it becomes, the more people it will try to dominate. To Iran, Israel is only the Little Satan. Small fish do not satisfy a large appetite.
A country in which shaking a woman's hand is a crime, which would even consider stoning women for adultery, which beats people bloody for violating a dress code, should not be trusted with nuclear weapons. I am not advocating war with Iran. There are other measures we can take. Iran's economy is very shaky. If the world were to unite with meaningful economic sanctions, it might have some effect. At the very least, it is worth trying.
If we do nothing at all, it is hard to imagine how war can be avoided. Iran's leaders are bent on destroying those whom they hate, are acquiring the means to do so, and have an apocalyptic vision that justifies - and even expects - worldwide cataclysm. It is still not too late. If we really do want to avoid a war, then, at the very least, good people must not do nothing. What we need more than anything is a united moral stand - precisely what is lacking right now. We need to stand together in opposition to the real threat against world peace: a religious vision that, unlike any other, does not represent universal compassion and love of the stranger, but rather hatred, repression, and subjugation of those who do not conform.
Or, we can keep authorizing boycotts of Israel.
Agence France-Presse. "Iran Ex-President Criticised for 'Shaking Woman’s Hand'." Khaleej Times, June 11, 2007.
Foster, Peter. "Rushdie's Knighthood 'Justifies Suicide Attacks'." Telegraph.co.uk, June 19, 2007.
MacFarquhar, Neil. "Iran Cracks Down on Dissent." New York Times, June 24, 2007.
Peace with Realism