If imitation is the highest form of flattery, Iran must really adore the American model of state conduct. Contrary to popular perceptions, the decision-makers in Tehran agree with their nemesis, Akbar Ganji, who recently told the Voice of America that the West was “the cradle of civilization.” Two recent moves by Iran are especially noteworthy in this regard.
First, the police in Tehran try to imitate the beating of women in Turkey on the International Women’s Day of 2005. Turkey is the closest ally of the US and Israel in all of Middle East and North Africa, and its security apparatus is modeled after and integrated with Washington’s war on terrorism. Now comes evidence that the Iranian leadership is inspired by America’s disrespect for the United Nations, too.
Following the precedent set by President Bush’s appointment of the thuggish John Bolton as the US ambassador to the world body, Iran is sending its notorious former prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi, who locked up Ganji for six years, to the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. The Bush Administration must be feeling pretty flattered.
But appearances can be misleading. Photographic evidence indicates that Istanbul police savagely attacked and beat up the peaceful rally of women on March 8 of last year, rather than just try to disperse them. In these photos, the Turkish protesters are running from the police, with panic clearly visible on their faces. It is a sign of how far behind “civilization” Iran is that the widely condemned images of the police breakup of Tehran women’s protest earlier this month show no such pandemonium.
Iran also lags behind Turkey in its treatment of Armenians, a Christian minority native to the region. Thousands of Armenians march freely through Tehran every year to commemorate the genocide their co-religionists suffered in the Ottoman Empire ninety years ago. By contrast, Turkey severely punishes any public hint that well over one million Armenians were massacred by the Turks. Armenian citizens of Turkey are reluctant to speak out on the genocide even when they travel abroad for fear that they will be placed under surveillance for “national security risk” when they return.
Iran has much catching up to do, especially as Turkey is not the only US ally that is ahead of it in teaching women the price of protest. Two months after the Istanbul beatings, a few hundred women were savaged by state troopers in Bhopal, India, as they gathered to protest the contamination of local ground water. You may recall that some 7,000 Indians died in Bhopal within days after a massive toxic leak from a local factory of the American chemical giant Union Carbide. Ever since that fateful night in 1984, India has not dared push the company hard to compensate the survivors, because it is afraid bad publicity will discourage American investment in India.
The Bhopal women were attacked last May for demanding that the government at least provide safe drinking water, because their well water is still contaminated with the leaked Union Carbide toxins. By contrast, I noticed on Iran’s sparsely populated Qeshm Island in 2000 that the islanders no longer drink their salty ground water like generations before them, because boatloads of fresh water are regularly sent there by the Iranian government for free.
Alas, at this rate, we will never catch up with America’s proxy woman-beaters in India. According to Amnesty International, 15,000 Bhopal inhabitants have died of injuries inflicted by the Union Carbide leak. That is five times the highest estimate of the Kurdish death toll from Saddam Hussein’s bombardment of Halabja with chemicals that he procured from the NATO allies of the US. 100,000 more in Bhopal are still suffering from chronic, debilitating effects of the Union Carbide poisoning, according to AI.
But we should not lose all hope; some “civilization,” as Akbar Ganji calls it, will trickle down to Iran from the West. For example, Iran’s controversial appointment of Saeed Mortazavi as a delegate to the UN Human Rights Commission is a sign that Tehran is fully committed to closing the gap. According to Human Rights Watch, Mr. Mortezavi “has been implicated in torture, illegal detention, and coercing false confessions by numerous former prisoners.” It is too early to tell whether Mortazavi can compete with the US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, for viciousness. Bolton’s record, too, is far from ordinary.
He received his early political inspiration in the 1964 campaign of Barry Goldwater, the Arizona Senator remembered for his promise to use nuclear weapons against North Vietnam if elected president. Jesse Helms, one of the most racist Neanderthals ever to chair the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was another Bolton admirer. He said fondly that Bolton was “the kind of man with whom I would want to stand at the gates of Armageddon.”
Piety did not stop Helms or Bolton from defending the Chilean mass murderer Augusto Pinochet or the Contra mercenaries who terrorized Nicaragua. It was such outrageousness that drove Larry Birns, the director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, to say of Bolton’s nomination as UN ambassador: “[T]here is no one in U.S. public life today more ill-suited for that position than Bolton. His nomination reflects nothing less than an affront to the American people, the diplomatic community and people of goodwill everywhere. . . .” 59 former US ambassadors painted a similar picture of Bolton in opposition to his nomination.
Bolton’s fondness for Contra-style war crimes was quite evident when he led the push in 2001 as Undersecretary of State to withdraw Washington’s signature on the Rome Treaty, thereby putting the Bush Administration at odds with the new International Criminal Court. He told the Wall Street Journal that ending the American endorsement of the ICC was “the happiest moment of my government service.” Had the US not quit the ICC, American atrocities in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere could, of course, be brought before the court today as war crimes.
We could also discuss how Iran imitates American interference in Iraq, executions by the dozen in Texas, torture at Guantanamo and Abu Ghreib prisons, Bush’s opposition to women’s right to abortion, and a host of other “civilized” behavior. You get the idea. Now someone tell Akbar Ganji and other heroes of the Iranian opposition movement.
Based in Washington DC, Rostam Pourzal writes regularly on the politics of human rights. MRZine has also published Pourzal’s “Market Fundamentalists Lose in Iran (For Now)” (3 August 2005); “Open Letter to Iran’s Nobel Laureate” (27 February 2006); “Open Letter to Iran’s Nobel Laureate: Part 2” (9 March 2006); “The Shah: America’s Nuclear Poster Boy” (25 May 2006); “Iranian Cold Warriors in Sheep’s Clothing” (20 May 2006); “MEK Tricks US Progressives, Gains Legitimacy” (12 June 2006); and “What Really Happened in Tehran on June 12? Did Human Rights Watch Get It Wrong?” (18 June 2006).