By Tala Dowlatshahi
The recent call by Secretary of State Clinton to sanction eight of the highest ranking Iranian officials ranging from the Interior Minister to the head of the Revolutionary Guards has received widespread praise. And rightly so. For decades, a triangular system within government--the judiciary, military and the internal oversight committees--has imposed a reign of terror on human rights defenders inside Iran. So many young continue to suffer injustices, their freedom and safety endangered, if they are lucky by hefty jail sentences, and if they are unlucky by the bullets of the Basij.
Iran ranks on the the top of almost all human rights predators lists. Reporters Without Borders ranks Iran as the world's most dangerous place for journalists, next to China. Reporters were beaten, detained, jailed and harassed to such a brutal extent last summer, that many have simply quit working or left the country for good.
A recent slew of films and political campaigns have reminded me not of Iran's rich social and cultural contributions over its long history, but rather of its failure to embrace notions of human rights that have won global, cross-cultural acceptance. Each time Ahmadinejad visits the United Nations and fills yet another room full of eagle-eyed reporters, I can't help but feel shame. His anti-imperialist rhetoric, though compelling to some, is obviously designed to draw attention away from Iran's inhuman treatment of women, homosexuals, human rights activists and cyber-dissidents. He is not, as he wants the world to believe, the creator of a new world order. He is simply a fear-monger whose brutality follows the model established by a long line of authoritarian governments---so nothing new here.
But still Ahmadinejad has his supporters. I recently questioned President Evo Morales from Bolivia on the Iranian President's efforts to create a new coalition to defend against imperialist nations (i.e. The United States). Morales replied " Iran has the right to defend itself... If robbers break into your house, you have to protect your family."
Surely, many would agree that the United States throws it influence around the world in ways that merit the designation "imperialist." And its economic meddling, often through the IMF and the World Bank, has endangered the prosperity of developing countries in the Middle East and Latin America. But Ahmadinejad is using the anti-imperialist agenda as a manipulative way to mask his government's own faults in economic and social mismanagement since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Though America's foreign policy adventures in recent years have played right into Ahmadinejad's hand, is it really the fault of the United States that Iran stones people? And should America be held accountable as mullahs secretly pocket away millions in Swiss bank accounts rather than help youths gain job skills?
I met an exiled Iranian journalist in France last week. We shared emancipation stories, with mine not nearing the danger she and her family recently experienced escaping the country. I asked her if Iran felt like a family under the current regime. Does Ahmadinejad really break bread with his people? "Sure," she replied. "And then he dips his bread in the blood of our youth."