Labor & Human Rights Lawyer, Dan Kovalik, who teaches International Human Rights at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Law, was in Iran and had a pleasant surprise when, contrary to the intense poisonous propaganda of the western media, the Islamic Republic is a vibrantly flourishing society.
In Iran citizens have better civil liberties than most western-style democracies, and where the religious and ethnic minorities enjoy full rights to practice their rituals, in addition to representation in the national parliament.
I just travelled to Iran where was I was invited to speak at the University of Tehran about human rights and “humanitarian intervention.” I put this term in quotes because I’ve rarely ever seen any intervention that was truly humanitarian or that produced humane results, but more on that later.
Before I traveled to Iran, a number of friends and family members expressed shock that I would go there, feared for my safety and well-being, with some urging me not to go at all. Of course, this is not surprising given the antipathy of the US towards Iran and how that country is portrayed in the mainstream press.
We in the US are constantly told that Iran is our enemy; that it is indeed part of some “axis of evil” that must be sanctioned, fought against and even subject to “regime change.”
In terms of the first assertion – that Iran is our enemy – we are usually told that this is so because Iran is allegedly a “state sponsor of terrorism.” This is a quite curious claim given that Iran is a sworn enemy of Daesh and Al-Qaida, and indeed was set to help fight Al-Qaida and the Taliban after the 9/11/2001 incidents of New York until Donald Rumsfeld intervened. Meanwhile, the US’ close ally Saudi Arabia – a country we just sold $110 billion of arms to – has been covertly and overtly supporting Isis and Al-Qaida for years. Recall that fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 suspects were said to be from Saudi Arabia and that Saudi Arabia aided and abetted some of them.
The claim about Iran sponsoring terrorism is also ironic given the US’ support for the cultish MKO, known in Iran as Monafeqin or hypocrites, who dream of toppling the Iranian government, despite their unpopularity in Iran. The MKO was designated by the US as a terrorist organization from 1997 to 2012.
As the London Guardian notes, the MKO has “claimed responsibility for murdering thousands of Iranians” since 1981 (my friends in Iran put the figure of those killed at 17,000). The MKO joined Saddam in fighting Iran during the 8-year war in the 1980s, and prior to the victory of the Islamic Revolution, had at killed at least 6 Americans during the 1970’s. Yet, the MKO, which was holding a conference in Paris while I was in Iran, is now a darling of such US political bigwigs as John Bolton, Newt Gingrich, Joe Lieberman, Howard Dean and Rudy Giuliani.
Another claim that is made about Iran is that it is a despotic, sexist theocracy which is offensive to our Western values and sensibilities (as if those are the gold standard). Again, given that the US is in lock-step with the retrograde, misogynistic monarchy of Saudi Arabia, this claim rings hollow. Moreover, as any visitor to Iran will tell you, Iran is actually a quite modern country where many people speak English. It is also a country where many women wear colorful silk scarves; freely drive cars and are found in every sector of public and commercial life.
Most importantly, though, talk about “regime change” begs the question of what the regime will be changed to and how it will be changed. In the case of one of the most notable recent acts of regime change the West has effected – Libya – we see that the West is content to topple a government, doing great damage to the people, civilian infrastructure and ancient antiquities in the process, and leave nothing but chaos in its wake. In my view, the West seems to have the same plans for Syria where it has aimed at toppling the Assad government while claiming to support “moderate rebels” who do not seem to exist. The regime changes in Iraq and Afghanistan have not produced much better results with tens of thousands being killed, the countries being laid to ruin, and at best weak governments resulting from the ashes.
As I walked through the beautiful streets of Tehran and Isfahan, was warmly greeted by the beautiful people of Iran and witnessed Iran’s wealth of ancient architecture, including functioning Armenian Christian Churches and Jewish synagogues, I couldn’t help but feel pangs of fear and even anger at the thought of but another so-called “humanitarian intervention” by the US which would surely lay waste to many of the people and antiquities I was encountering.
And, I wondered what the plan would be for Iran if the US were to seek “regime change.” Would the US put in power the unpopular and bizarre MKO? Or, maybe the US would put in power the son of the last Shah.
Recall that the US installed the Shah in 1953 after overthrowing the democratically-elected Prime Minister, Mohammed Mosaddeq because Mosaddeq wished to nationalize Iran’s oil fields and use the oil revenue for the benefit of the Iranian people – an unforgiveable offense.
Till the victory of the Islamic Revolution in 1979 the Shah was kept in power through the help of the SAVAK – a brutal security apparatus which the CIA helped to set up and train in torture techniques to prevent democracy from breaking out in Iran.
I had the chance to tour the main SAVAK prison and torture center – now a museum – and see the rows and rows of photos of those imprisoned, tortured and killed by the SAVAK. Is the US interested in again handing over Iran to this terrible regime?
The truth is that Iran is a society which is progressing, and in its own way. It has a democratically-elected President and legislature and a vibrant civil society which is pushing for ever greater freedoms and reforms. If we haven’t learned by now, it is up to the Iranian people to decide their own fate and what type of government they will have.