Tuesday, April 19, 2016

No Human Rights in Iran

Bahareh Hedayat

For the babies who read “What’s the Diehl?,” there was a time when the Republic of Iran was scarier than a gulag in the USSR or a dark neighborhood in Detroit, when just saying the word “Iran” made people shiver, swear or sigh. This is partly because we always need Boogey Men – be they Russians or North Koreans, Cubans or Mexicans – to distract and scare us, and partly because some Iranian students did kidnap more than 60 Americans in November of 1979 and hold them hostage for 444 days. (They were released minutes after Ronald Reagan was sworn in as our 40th POTUS in January of 1981.)

It’s still difficult for some to reconcile images of the frowning, stern-looking Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s Supreme Leader and the Osama bin Laden of the late 1970s, with those of smiling Iranian citizens waving American flags and holding their babies. But I can.

I used to have friends in Iran – in Tehran and Shiraz, to be exact – with whom I’d chat online. This was back around 2009 when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was president and his re-election, which many thought was rigged and invalid, was the impetus for massive riots in the streets of several Iranian cities. I lost touch with these folks, sadly, but not before I learned that contrary to what I was led to believe by my government and media, Iranians aren’t ignorant, savage terrorists. Most are honorable, intelligent, peace-loving individuals who dislike their government as much as many of us disliked ours when Dubya was screwing things up over here in ‘Murika.

It was during the anti-Ahmadinejad protests that Neda Agha-Soltan, a 26-year-old student who was watching the action in Tehran but not participating, was shot in the chest and killed by Basij, the volunteer paramilitary force established by Khomeini in 1979 to police morals, suppress dissident gatherings and back up law enforcement. Neda’s death was captured on video by bystanders and was broadcast over the internet. I saw it and still can’t forget it.

See “Sorry, Iran” from November of 2011.

Courtesy Hamed Saber
I still have the photos I found and saved of the crowds in the streets and the green ribbons they wore and waved to signal their united opposition to Ahmadinejad. But I hadn’t looked at them in years and all but forgot about the place until it was in the news last year for successfully negotiating with the United States about its nuclear ambitions. The Obama Administration used diplomacy, not saber-rattling, to ratchet down tensions and prevent Iran from becoming the next Iraq.

Then I received an e-mail asking me to join in the call for the release of Bahareh Hedayat, a women’s rights defender and activist in her mid-30s who was sentenced in 2010 to years in prison for “insulting the Supreme Leader” and “acting against national security.” When I asked the one Iranian friend I still have – let’s call her “Mandana” – about Bahareh, she responded this way:

“It’s a heart-wrenching story. It’s made the international news and I hope they release her soon, but there are thousands more just like her who may never see the light of day.

“Human rights abuses around the world are beyond the average American’s comprehension,” she added, “and still we want to throw up roadblocks needlessly for folks fleeing these cesspools.”

(This is exactly why I find the carnival freak show that is Donald Trump alarming, not amusing. But more on this in a future blog post.)

“Patrick,” she continued, “you would be hard-pressed to find an Iranian who has not been impacted by the incarceration process. My cousin was arrested as an older teen, around 19 at the time. My aunt used to visit him in prison weekly. One week, she went and they told her, ‘Wait here.’ Then they dragged his tortured, dead body out and laid it at her feet. She never recovered. His crime? Speech. I have several other relatives who faced similar fates. I only mention him because he was so young.”

But Mandana wasn’t finished.

“I have a knit blanket that was made by a 20-something woman who had acid poured on her by the Basij for having hair showing out of her hijab. She was blinded in the attack and learned how to knit just one pattern. She made baby blankets to earn a living. I never had the heart to use it with my babies; there was just too much pain in the thing. I still have it, though.

“The Basiji are assholes. It triggers all kinds of similar fears when I see armed Trump supporters roaming to ‘protect’ their own at rallies. We just never learn.”

Mandana and I agreed that the ignorance of humanity and our collective insistence on repeating the same mistakes are worse than hemorrhoids, snakes and sour milk combined.

The petition for Bahareh Hedayat has been signed by 130,665 supporters; organizers need just 19,335 more to reach their 150,000 goal. As Mandana said, there’s an untold number of others suffering like her but I don’t know their names or if they have petitions. I do know, now, about Bahareh.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

~ Pastor Martin Niemöller

By the by, my country is not entirely peace-loving and guilt-free. Few Americans are taught that the U.S. shot down a civilian Iranian airplane in the summer of 1988 over Iran’s territorial waters in the Persian Gulf, killing 290 innocent passengers and crew – including 66 children. And I read that America has been at war 222 out of 239 years since 1776. So there’s that.

I love this photo of Iran's Sadegh Saeed Goudarzi
and American Jordan Ernest Burroughs embracing
on the medal podium after a wrestling match
during the 2012 Olympics (Reuters)

Mandana fled Iran during the 1979 Revolution, came to the United States, married and raised two children. (She’s now divorced; her daughter is 19 and her son is 17.) She gave me permission to share what she told me.

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